Hindu Gods
Priya Hemenway
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Buy *Hindu Gods: The Spirit of the Divine* online

Hindu Gods: The Spirit of the Divine
Priya Hemenway
Chronicle Books
96 pages
May 2003
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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This beautifully illustrated book attempts to explain as succinctly as possible the Hindu religion and its popular beliefs. The book begins with an introduction to Hinduism and how it came into being. It explains that “the outstanding quality of Hinduism, and which has contributed to its survival, is the ability of its followers to embrace and learn from everything.” This can be taken for fact; this religion has been in existence for more than five thousand years, and has evolved over the time and adapted to changing times and circumstances.

Hindu Gods explains that Nirvana or "becoming one with God" is the goal which Hinduism aspires to. This can be achieved through “a variety of highly evolved rituals and esoteric practices” which include mantras (sacred chants), yantras (symbolic drawings) and mudras (highly developed physical movements). It is interesting to observe how the natures of sound, sight and movement, the three basic senses, are utilized in this. Hindu festivals, their temples and how religion is a part and parcel of its practitioners' daily lives is described in simple and yet evocative terms.

The Hindu religious texts -- namely the Vedas (the earliest scriptures), Upnishads (which explore the nature of the soul), Ramayana (the tale of Rama, one of Vishnu’s incarnation), Mahabharata (which contains the Bhagvad Gita) and the Puranas (collection of ancient Hindu mythology) -- are explored and brief descriptions are provided.

An interesting aspect of Hindu religion is that there is no one basic God; instead, Hindus worship some 330 million gods. However, there are three primary Hindu gods, also known as the Holy Trinity. They are Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva, the destroyer. Together they represent the three primary energies in existence. Shakti is the feminine energy which binds these three and makes them inseparable. Shakti takes the forms of Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Parvati and is the consort of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, respectively. The tale of the origin of the universe and how Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva came into existence is also interestingly described.

Author Priya Hemenway proceeds to narrate Vishnu’s ten avatars, or incarnations, over a period of time -- or Yugas, which is how the cycle of time is divided in Hindu religion. These ten tales briefly describe how Vishnu, the preserver, takes varied different forms and comes to the aid of both humans and other gods. Hemenway also describes some other prominent gods in the Hindu pantheon and gives some popular stories associated with them.

Priya Hemenway has done a marvelous job in capturing the essence of the highly complex Hindu religion in Hindu Gods. Aptly supported by beautiful illustrations, this book hits upon and concisely describes the high points of Hindu beliefs, gods, traditions and mythology. While brief in nature, this volume is nevertheless effective in conveying the subtle nuances which make Hinduism the long lasting religion it is. Very commendable.

© 2003 by Rashmi Srinivas for Curled Up With a Good Book

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