by Barbara Ann Oliver
Today (October 2) is a holiday in India. It is Gandhi’s birthday. The streets, normally crowded with people going to work, are nearly deserted. Bicycle rickshaw drivers sit idly along the side of the road. Busses zip by, not stopping, because there is no one to pick up. Autos (motor rickshaws) and taxis are nowhere to be found.
This is also the festival of Durga. Hindus fast during the nine days leading up to October 5 (the festivals are based on the position of the moon, so the dates vary from year to year). On October 5, they will take terra cotta images of the idols and immerse them in rivers throughout India.
The Hindu philosophers believe in God as one entity. God is personified in a triune of deities, but also exists in everything. The triune consists of Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer.
Durga, the goddess of destruction, is Shiva’s wife. There are those who still sacrifice children to Durga, although it is illegal to do so.
Ganesh, the god of prosperity, is Shiva’s son. When Ganesh was born, Shiva was so excited that he accidently looked at his son with his third eye (his eye of destruction), which burned off Ganesh’s head. So Shiva sent his servant out to get the head of the first thing he found, which was an elephant. Therefore, Ganesh has an elephant’s head.
Most Hindus have little shrines in their homes where they put an image of one of the Hindu gods or sub-gods, or a picture of their guru or one of their relatives. They decorate these little shrines with flowers and burn incense to them and pray to them. Many of the taxis or rickshaws have little shrines on their dashboards. Most shops have one, also. In India, representations and reminders of their gods are ever-present.
Ordinary people practice idolatry, going to the temples, making sacrifices, and observing the festivals and other rituals without paying much attention to the philosophy behind their religion. That is relegated to the holy men and gurus. In a simplified version, God is in everything, and everything is god. Rocks, trees, rats, cows, humans – god can take any form. Therefore, all things can be worshiped as god, and all things ultimately will return to the one entity of god.
According to Hinduism, during your lifetime, you forget that you are part of god, so you have to be reborn. If you are bad during your lifetime, you may be reborn as a rat. If you are good, you may be reborn as a holy man. Through millions of rebirths, you are finally born as a man, as a holy man. Only then can you escape the cycle of being reborn, to become again a part of the entity of god. Many people think of Nirvana as heaven, but the two concepts are not the same. Nirvana really means that you have escaped rebirth, and have been re-absorbed into the entity of god, ceasing to be a separate individual.
On October 5, about eight hundred million people in India will be celebrating the festival of Durga, the goddess of destruction, who demands appeasement with the blood of children. They will immerse their gods in water. But they will not raise them up out of the water.
On October 5, children of God will be worshipping the risen Lord, who gave his blood for all mankind, who redeems us once for all, as we are. He demands our immersion in the waters of baptism, but unlike the Hindu gods, he raises us up, fills us with the Holy Spirit and makes us children of the Living God.
Who will you be worshipping on October 5?