A yoga practice allows us to put our mind at peace as we discover more of ourselves and acquire a sense of bliss within our body, mind, spirit, and the world around us.
But don’t you know that yoga is considered as an essential ritual of the Hindu belief? According to the Veda’s, the holy books of Hindu religion, yoga is an integral part of a Hindu tradition that can be traced back as early as 1500 BCE.
Since then, yoga practitioners use the elements of the triple supreme divinity of Hinduism as Brahma, the first breath and posture formation, Vishnu, the desire to practice while making subtle adjustments in every posture, and Shiva, the releasement of pose and the death of the practice.
In this section, let us take a closer look at their unique qualities for us to inspire and excerpt the wisdom they embody, so we may apply their set of principles, to achieve a more balanced effort in our yoga journey and our life as a whole.
Brahma, Vishnu, & Shiva: The Hindu Trinity
The Hinduism is centered around triple supreme divinities: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, who are in charge of the creation, preservation, and destruction of the world. Brahma, for the creation of all the creatures, cosmos, and the world itself. Vishnu is the protector and Preserver of all the universe. And Shiva, the destroyer of the world for it to become anew.
Among all of the three supreme deities, Brahma has never had a large number of followers and has only a few temples because of some mythological reasons. Brahma is almost unknown in Indian borders. On the other hand, Vishnu (and the incarnations of him, Rama, and Krishna) and Shiva (and his other forms) are the most widely praised in the Hindu gods. Moreover, these famous temples made to honor each of them are accompanied by their wives in their time. Brahma for Saraswati, Vishnu for Lakshmi, and Shiva for Devi.
Each of their wives is tagged as the divine mother or shakti. The followers of Vishnu called Vaishnavites often clashes with the followers of Shiva, who draws themselves as Saivites. This feud existed far back in the Mahabharata era.
These were proven right because it can be found in most Indian texts, though there are also attempts to reconcile each of the parties as Shiva and Vishnu is one. Thus, as stated in the Harivamsa literature, “there is no difference between Shiva who exists in the form of Vishnu and Vishnu who exists in the form of Shiva.”
Brahma is the creator of all creatures and the god of wisdom, one of the three most important Hindu gods. Brahma is portrayed as the man with red skin, enveloped with white clothing and mounting on a goose or swan. Brahma is a four-armed, which he uses to carry the Vedas, and some things such as a wand, spoon, some string of beads, water jug, and a bow. There are different versions of how Brahama came to the world, one of which is that he was born from an Indian lotus, which grew out of Vishnu’s navel. Moreover, he is responsible for creating his wife named Saraswati.
Vishnu back in the early times was just a minor deity, but later on, he became one of the main Hindu gods. Vishnu is described as a four-armed man either riding on a legendary bird or laying on a serpent. In his four arms, he carries a mace, discus, lotus, and conch shell. Vishnu goes down to Earth in any creature form to restore the balance in all aspects of the world. It is also believed that Vishnu already did it nine times. Vishnu’s famous incarnations are the heroes of Krishna and Rama, and his form of being a tortoise and a fish.
Shiva as the god who destroys the world if it becomes chaos and ungodly to live in. Shiva is believed to be the first yogi as he is associated with meditation. Shiva appears to be holding a trident while sitting on a deerskin in a crossed-legged or yogic pose. Shiva’s neck and hair are full of coiled snakes while he rides a bull named, Nandi.
Brahma: the Creator
Brahma is the first god in the Hindu triple supreme divinity, Brahma is the “father of all” and has been recognized widely as the “creator” deity. Today, his temples are almost nowhere in India, and he’s rarely worshipped as they believed that he wouldn’t do anything until the next creation cycle since he already accomplished his role by creating everything at this point.
Brahma also goes by the name Ishwara or Mahanshakti. Brahma is also recognized as the “self” and is constituted by “om,” the sound of unknown. Brahma must not be confused with Brahman, the wielder of transcendent power beyond the universe. His Shakti or wife is Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, poetry, and music. Saraswati, the consort of Brahma, often holds a musical instrument within her. The swan, which Brahma and Saraswati ride, is a symbol of knowledge.
Brahman & god
All Hindu deities are believed as the refracted likeness of Brahman, the wielder of transcendent power beyond the universe. Brahman created the universe and founded the practice of teachers. He then imparted everything he knew to the prominent sage named Narada Muni, who then taught to the Vyasadeva, the maker of the famous Bhagavad Gita.
Vedanta, the core of Hinduism, declares that Brahman the god, is the absolute truth. Brahman is responsible for creating, preserving, and destroying all in one. This is the complete origin of the three supreme divinities, namely Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Most Hindus believe that Brahman permeates everything, although they no longer worship Brahman. Why is Brahma not worshipped so much?
Of all the Hindu Trinity, Brahma is the least followed and worshipped gods in Hinduism today. There is news circulating that there is only one shrine that honors Brahma in all India. But this is entirely untrue. There are still other Brahma temple, and it is safe to say that there are not many of them.
Several stories of Hindu mythology supports why Brahma today is rarely worshipped. According to it, Brahma’s role as the creator is over as he is done creating all the creatures and the world, making it less necessary to worship him. As Vishnu continues to preserve the world and Shiva keeps the cycle of rebirth and death, making it more essential to worship them.
Vishnu: the Preserver
Vishnu is known as the Preserver in many incarnations. Widely tagged as sweet, forever young, and enticing, he is often portrayed with a coiled-snake enveloped around his neck and head while a lotus flower is emerging from his navel. Vishnu is known as a four-armed man. Vishnu’s consort is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.
As one of the most worshipped gods in the Hindu religion, Vishnu’s well-known stories are one of the focus of his faithful sects to his worship. Vishnu’s incarnations are the result of his desire to save us (the earthly creatures) from chaos or destruction. In one story, the world was about to sink by a vast flood, so to keep it inhabitable, Vishnu being the giant tortoise, lifted the world on his back out of the massive waters.
Another tale that can be found in the Vedas talks about a particular devil whose undefeatable. As a response to the pleas of the gods, Vishnu himself appeared before the devil as a dwarf. This devil, in the form of pride, underestimated this dwarf and gave him as much of the world so he could walk in three steps. Vishnu then transformed into his massive universal form that is equivalent to the universe and beyond, crushing the devil in the process.
Vishnu’s incarnations & other gods
The incarnations and embodiments of Vishnu are famous to almost everyone in India. Vishnu’s life as Ram, the prince from the ancient north Indian empire of Ayodhya, and in the following stories known as the travels of Ram (Ramayana).
In one adventure story, Ram is being punished by the empire and has to wander in the deep forests of southern India with his beautiful wife named Sita and with his loyal younger brother named Lakshman. With that adventure, Ram was able to befriend the king of the monkey kingdom and eventually joined forces with the prominent great monkey hero named Hanuman.
The ruthless king named Ravana abducted Sita and took her to his fortress on the isolated island of Lanka (Sri Lanka at present). A destructive war then emerged, as Ram with his animal forces combats the demons, tamed them all, and returned in his triumph to North India to snatch back his rightful throne. Villagers, local theater players, and some movies all have their own ‘versions’ of this story.
In different parts of India, but especially the northern region, the annual celebration of Dussehra commemorates Ram’s epic adventures and his triumph by burning some huge statues of Ravana as part of the activity. Every Hindu knows that Ram is Vishnu, who went down to the world to get rid of the earth’s demon settlers and freed the entire empire. In the story, Sita is the goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and the wife of Vishnu. Hanuman the king of the monkeys, as the loyal sidekick and is capable of some magical powers, is one of the most adored in the Hindu pantheon with shrines in his own all across the Indian country.
Vishnu is seldom used to symbolize the universe with his left eye as the night, right eye as the day as the clouds emerge from his hair while the sun is radiating from his mouth, the air comes from his nose as the breath of life which if properly mastered can produce enlightenment.
The conch shell he is holding is a symbol associated with Vishnu, which constitutes with the creation and is often shown at temples to demonstrate the presence of Vishnu. Vishnu iconography is often featured the god inside a fiery wheel.
Shiva: the Destroyer
Shiva’s name doesn’t appear in the Vedas. Instead, he was known as Rudra or the fearful and destructive one. Being able to wield the power of destruction, he can destroy the world and recreate it once it is full of ungodliness. In the Hindu cosmological cycle, on the other hand, Shiva is considered as the destroyer, preserver, and creator as he completes and ushers in the return of creation.
The Hindus who worship Shiva as their primary god are members of the Shaivism sect and calls themselves Saivites. The temples of Shiva can be found in almost every corner and crannies of India. Shiva wears a curly chignon, and he happens to have a vertical third-eye in the middle of his forehead. Shiva was described to be a four-armed man, that holds a trident, and a string of beads (rudraksha beads) to symbolize his teachings.
There are many iconic representations of Shiva as he appears as the yogi, and associated with meditation, penance, the naked Digambara, the life of austerity, and many more. In the Shiva Purana, an ancient book devoted only to Shiva stated that he has over 1,000 names, including the Lord of Knowledge, the Lord of Time, Mahakala, and Maheshvara. Naming all the representation of Shiva is like unraveling all the multiple layers of Indian civilization.
Based on the Hindu traditions, Shiva lives in his paradise at the foot of Mt. Meru, where it is the purest and holiest lake around the world (believed to be Mt. Kailash in Tibet). Out of it, he created the river Ganges. Moreover, he’s considered the father of the performing arts. It is believed that the rhythm of his drum and dances can control the fate of the world and prepare it for a new beginning.
Shiva & other gods
Shiva, the destroyer, has many consorts that enabled him to express his many sides and bring out the full potential of male and female. This is based on the ancient mother goddesses cult that was involved in Hinduism. Shiva’s consort is the divine mother Devi or Shakti, the source of his enormous divine energy. Devi has already taken so many forms in the past, including the goddess of death, the goddess of marital felicity, Gauri, Durga, Sati, and Kali.
Nataraja, as the incarnation of Shiva, is the goddess of dance. Nataraja is often portrayed in bronze statues with four arms and one-legged raised on the other pressing down Apasmara, a dwarf-evil in the form of confusion and ignorance. Nataraja’s one hand assumes to protect, and the other one points to the raised foot, the other hand holds the drum that keeps the beat of the rhythm of creation and the last hand holds the fire of dissolution.
Nandi, the hallowed bull that Shiva rides all across the heavens, demonstrate the fertility, and is often as white just like the Himalayan peaks, and stands at the entrance to a Shiva temple. Moreover, the crescent moon that encircles Shiva’s third eye is the symbol of his bull, Nandi.
Shiva’s sexual energy
As Shiva controls and holds back his sexual urges, Shiva can also transmute his sexual energy into tremendous power, by causing high heat.
The heat generated from austerity and discipline is seen as the source for the transformative power of all renunciants, and in a sense, Shiva is often connected with wandering practices of the monks in modern India.
For the intermediate worshipper, the sexual energy power of Shiva can be seen in the most common image that constitutes him, the lingam— a round stone in several feet tall, with a rounded top, standing in a disk-shaped base.
On another level, this is considered as a basic image of supreme divinity, showing a particular focus for worship with a minimum of imaginative touch, trying to constitute the infinite. The addition of these carved anatomical features on many lingams, however, leaves no uncertainty for the worshipper that this is a fully erect male sexual organ, demonstrating the procreative power of god at the cradle of all things.
Hindu concept of god
In the rich history of Hinduism, most Hindus believe in god in different ways and traditions. There are two main points about Bhagavan or Ishvara that means “lord” or “god”: Bhagavan is a neutral energy. In the fullness of time, god cannot be described in words, and anything that can be said about god isn’t able to capture reality.
According to the teaching of Adi Shankara, even before, the soul and god is one and identical, until this can be realized, liberation cannot be initiated. This teaching comes from “non-dualism” or Advaita-Vedanta as it claims that there is no difference between the soul and the reality.
Most Hindus believe in god subjectively. They may relate to brahma, vishnu, and shiva as their king, parent figure, friend, child, as a beautiful woman, or even as a powerful goddesses. It varies on the strength of their faith and devotions. Each person may relate to god in a distinct form or desire, as god being unlimited, he may have endless forms and expressions.