Arma deumque cano...Complications Ensue
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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Here's an odd thing I've wondered. Do Hindu gods actually have multiple arms? Or are the multiple arms a sort of Cubist way of representing that they are set over certain aspects of life? I'm guessing that devout Hindus imagine their gods with just the regular pair of arms, and the multiple arms is a visual conceit, but I've never had a theological discussion with a devout Hindu. Would someone kindly enlighten me?

Also, while we're at it, if rakshasas are sort of demons, then are there also angels in Hinduism?


Asuras are also a common name for Hindu demons, if they do well though they can be reincarnated as Devas, or shining ones' - pretty much the angel equivlent.

There are also asparas and Agiris, which I believe are similar but are specific in their 'angel duties'

Though, this is all based on what little I know about the religion- So I could be wrong.

By Blogger Systemaddict, at 10:30 PM  

I always understood that the multiple arms were a way of representating movement in a static depiction.

But they made for one formidable opponent in THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD.

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 7:00 AM  

I'm not sure how in-depth you're looking into this, and my expertise (and practice) is more in Buddhism than Hinduism. But I'm not sure there's such a dichotomy between actual and mythical--that is, it's a visual conceit AND it's an important truth.

In Buddhism there's a figure called Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara (or Thousand-Armed Kwan Yin in the Chinese tradition.) His/her arms represent all the skillful and compassionate ways we can help one another.

If a Buddhist finds it helpful to use the image of Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara as a reminder to be more compassionate, then they really ought to commit to that image. It's not as effective to hold it at ironic distance and say, "Oh, it's only a metaphor--no one can really exercise that much compassion." On the other hand, if the image is making a particular Buddhist less compassionate, maybe feeling superior to someone whose deity has fewer arms, or unlikely to help because they think Avalokitesvara can do all the helping, then perhaps it's best to say it's just a symbolic representation, to remind them to help real people in the real world.

Some of my thoughts on this were shaped by A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong. Definitely worth a read.

By Blogger Andrew, at 8:47 AM  

To play devil's advocate, "I'm guessing that devout..."

...Jews believe Moses spent as long up Sinai as he did in order to come up with and engrave the stone tablets himself.
...Christians believe Jesus died on the cross. That's it, nothing after.
...Muslims believe the prophet was just a very good poet.

Sorry for the excessive snarkiness, but why would you think Hindus are any less literal in their beliefs than the Abrahamic traditions? Or Buddhists, Animists, Hellenists, etc.?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:24 PM  

This is an excellent thread!

Also: it's deumque.

Polyglot pedant, that's me.

By Blogger Emma Burns, at 3:16 PM  

I have been told, by a practicing, (that is, current and devout; not monthly and attempting), Hindu the following: ..."these images are meant to be outrageous, yet not comical. Immpossible and familiar. For, in the Hindu culture, the many deities and their evil counter parts are so highly regarded that only the most unbelievable representations are acceptable. To have done otherwise, would suggest that mankind could "see" the holiest of beings and not....well...explode".
In other words, (mine, I humbley offer), to actually know what any God or Demon looks like is a declaration of arrogance and foolishness. That, or your head would pop.

By Blogger Slater, at 10:27 PM  

p.s. thank you for your blog. My writing is a new development for me; it has come up and out like psychic vomit. I write because I am compelled to. Your blog is something of a nutrient guide for my verb-hurling, noun-spewing, letter-gagging splat fests.

By Blogger Slater, at 10:35 PM  

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