Sanatan Dharma

Ista Devata, Mantra and more

Updated on: 22-11-2020

Part II - Sanatan Dharma, Chapter 5/11 - Ista Devata, Mantra and more

This is Part II - Sanatan Dharma, Chapter 5/ 11

Table of Contents

[Updated on 22-11-2020]

12.b. Īśṭa devatā, mantra, demi-gods, pīṇḍāṇḍa-brahmāṇḍa and more

Though there are many Gods in Hinduism, for an individual, only one God as Brahman is preferred to be worshipped as Supreme God. This chosen deity is called as Īśṭa devatā. There are reasons for preference of worship of one God. Two of the many reasons are one-pointedness and emotional bonding with Ishvara. Let's understand the concept of Īśṭa devatā.

13.1. Concept of Īśṭa devatā

The is a common misconception that Hindus are Idol worshippers. No Hindu is an Idol worshiper. Idol worship is the worship of any deity other than supreme Godhead which independently exists and has autonomy. This is not the case in Sanātana Dharma. It is not ‘Idol worship’, it is ‘Ideal worship’. We worship the ideals behind the personality of God.

When one worships and chants holy name of Īśṭa devatā, say Bhagavān Rāma, with faith and dedication, then the qualities of Īśṭa devatā begins to manifest in the devotee. In this case, the qualities of Bhagavān Rāma like Truthfulness, compassion and love for all living beings, etc begins to manifest. This is because, the stuti-s, stotra-s and other material that we read creates a divine character of our Īśṭa devatā in our mind. When any incident like Rāma-Rāvaṇa-yuddha is narrated or recalled, the whole incident is erected in our mind and mind stays absorbed in it. When one chants mantra of Īśṭa devatā, or gazes at his picture, seeds of divine qualities of Īśṭa devatā are sowed in heart. When ‘ghee’ of devotion is constantly poured into our hearts, these divine qualities are cultivated and gradually begin to blossom in our hearts. One pointed devotion to one Īśṭa devatā as Supreme Brahman is important for divine transformation of heart.

Sects like Vaishnavism believe in Viṣhṇu, having a definite form, to be a Supreme Brahman They worship none other than Viṣṇu or Kṛṣṇa (Krishna) or Rāma. All other forms of Īshvara are inferior to Visṇu and subordinate to him. Though other forms of Īshvara are revered, they are not worshipped as Supreme Brahman as one-pointedness is necessary. Just like one country can have only one Prime Minister (PM), there can be only one Supreme Brahman. One person will worship only one form of God. Worshipper of Rāma will not worship Kṛṣhṇa.

Śaiva-s believe in Śiva as supreme Brahman. For them, Śiva is both with form and formless. Initially, devotee worships Śiva with form. After they have sufficiently purified themselves inwardly, they begin to worship Śiva-tatvam which is formless. The journey is from ‘OM namaḥ Śivāya’ i.e. ‘I (humbly) bow to Bhagavāna Śiva’ to ‘Śivoham’ meaning ‘I am Śiva’. Here Śiva is not a person but a formless aspect, Śiva tatvam, i.e. pure consciousness.

Smārta-s worship five forms of Īśvara - Gaṇeśa, Śiva, Śakti, Viṣṇu and Sūrya. Though they do have a form, their real form is formless. In other words one brahman have have many rūpa-s (forms) but it’s svarūpa (True form) is formless only. There is a tradition to worship natural stones which are round or oval shaped in place of idols to remind us that true nature is formless. Even in Viṣṇu temples there is supposed to be a round stone called as Śāligrāma which is considered as formless representation of Viṣṇu, which is Brahman. In Smārta tradition, one God (Īśṭa-devatā) is placed in center and four are placed in four corners. Deity in center is the main God for a devotee i.e. his Īṣṭa devatā and all other forms are secondary and support him in his spiritual quest. All five are worshipped with an understanding that all are manifestations of Brahman and are equally potent. Different family members can have their own Īṣṭa devatā and can swipe their Īṣṭa devatā in center for worship. After attaining sufficient purity, a smārta will renounce temple worship and will contemplate on formless aspect of God. In the in-between state, many chose to do mental worship of their Īṣṭa devatā.

Similar is the way of worship of Ganapatya-s and Saura-s, the worshippers of Gaṇapatī and Sūrya deva. They may keep other deities in their home temple, but they consider their Īśṭa devatā to have form and also be formless.

In Tāntrika way of worship, a yogī will visualise his Īśṭa devatā in front of ājñā chakra i.e. it protrudes one feet from ājña chakra . All the material like flowers, ghee, water and even fruits for prasāda are created mentally. All procedure is done in mind. Some may even visualise their Īśṭa devatā in their anāhat chakra or protruding out from Anāhat chakra. It is up to the Yogī to decide. There is a popular Śiva Mānasa Pūja composed by Śrī Ādi Śankarāchārya jī. There are also various Tāntrika practices involving use of shakti, prāṇa , chakra and nāḍī-s. Then there are kriyā-s involving yantra -s. It is said that Śrī Yantra Upāsanā is the most difficult of them all. All these vidyā-s do not involve us of madirā (alcohol) or sambhoga (women partner), etc. These are pure tānstika practices. Tantra is a beautiful path and can be taught to all irrespective of their varṇa or jātī even in medeival period. However the progress depends upon the inner purity and character of the practioner. Though this knowledge is taught to all, practising it is advised strictly under the guidance of an accomplished guru. The progress and the advanced kriya-s are only taught to selected few due to adhikaara bheda which depends upon many factors like sincerity, following guru's advice with heart and soul, high moral character, inner purity and sātvika nature. Tāntrika kriyā-s begin with bahurmukha (external), and end with antarmukha (internal) kriya-s. In between state is known as mishra.

Some following tantra will activate kunḍalinī and will worship their deities mentally by extrapolating the image of their devatā from forehead (ājnā chakra) or from heart (anāhat chakra) or deities residing in chakra-s via energy based process. For them devatā-s are energy centers within our subtle body i.e. prāṇamaya kośa (energy body, bioplasmic body, etheric body). Chakra-s are activated by chanting particular sound which resonates in the similar frequency as that of the chakra to be activated. This sound is known as bīja mantra of that chakra. Each major chakra has a bīja mantra. Bīja mantra-s are vibrations resonating in chakra-s. This is altogether a different way of worship. Details of subtle bodies and chakra-s are given later in article Yoga, haṭha yoga, nātha yoga, aghora, tantra and kriyā yoga and Five bodies in sanātana dharma.

We Hindus believe that no one can limit the power of God. God cannot just be only formless nor is it true that he cannot have any form. God can incarnate or manifest in any form he wishes to and in a way he likes, be it human birth like Rāma and Kṛsṇa or direct manifestation like in case of Dakshiṇāmurtī. His formless aspect is considered to be absolute reality which is unborn and beyond space and time.

Mind has habit of holding on to names and forms. Hence it is easy to focus on a form of God having definite personality. Recalling his divine deeds will re-create the events in our mind and mind will remain absorbed in it. As concentration and inner purity is attained, depending upon temperament, devotee is gradually shifted to worship formless God or he may be asked to continue to worship his beloved God, chant his name, and sing his glories until he is graced by divine vision of his beloved God. Such a fortunate devotee has purified his heart to great extend. God himself shows his true nature to such devotee who has ‘unconditionally’ surrendered to God at appropriate time. In either case, this birth is his last birth as Īshvara is capable of bestowing moksha and showing his true nature.

13.2. Reason for worshipping only one form of God

Worshipping one form of God is necessary for developing one pointedness. One may respect any many forms of God as one wishes to or can visit and take prasādam of more than one form of God worshipped as Brahman. However, s/he must chant the name of only one God. Chanting beeja mantra of one God is important.

13.2.1. Mantra: meaning and importance

Mantra is that which protects the one who chants it when it is repeated uninterruptedly for a particular time. It cleans mind of any unwanted thoughts, keeps it focused and does not allow any thoughts to enter into the mind as mind remains engaged in chanting mantra.

Yogī-s say that one needs to chant mantra continuously for 3 hours so that it can continue by itself throughout the day in subconscious mind. One is expected to at least meditate i.e. do japa for 45 minutes so as to have any prolonged effect of mantra.

While one is busy in day-2-day activities and fully concentrated in any particular work and even during sleep, mantra continues by itself in the subconscious mind. When mind frees itself from work, mantra automatically pops-up in the conscious mind without making any conscious effort to chant it. While we find this phenomenon odd, we all experience this fact. Imagine that just before leaving house for work we listen to any favorite song. This song keeps popping up in our mind and we keep singing it without making any conscious effort on our part. When mind is highly influenced by anything, it keeps recalling it on it’s own. In the same way, mantra when chanted with calm mind with no distracting thoughts, with utmost devotion, unconditional surrender to almighty and with strong faith in God, ready to renounce everything for the sake of God, then mantra will definitely have its effect. Slowly bhāva ( spiritual emotion) cultivates in us i.e. attraction towards God cultivates in us. Along with bhāva, divine qualities like faith, surrender, ets blossoms in our heart. Animal qualities like hatred, anger, frustration, tension, etc fades away unnoticed. The change is gradual and so natural that the meditator hardly notices how and when this change has taken place. S/he only knows that s/he has changed, but not when and how s/he has changed.

Sri Ramakrishna says, “He who is described in the Vedas is also described in the Tantras and the Puranas. All of them speak about the one Satchidananda.” P. 490, Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.

Thus we understand that there is only one Supreme God and why only one God needs to be worshipped. Scriptures recognize only one God as supreme Brahman. (For more details on God with and without form and why is a form of God eulogized as supreme Brahman and what it actually means, please visit here. )

13.3. Then why are Demi-Gods worshipped?

Here we must point out that unlike Abrahamic religions, worshipping demi-gods is not forbidden. They are worshipped for the good of all. Just like a Chairman and M.D. of a company has appointed many officers in various fields like marketing, production, etc, and given them certain powers in decision making, so has God created demi-gods (devatā-s) for specific tasks necessary for the functioning of the universe. They are considered as partial manifestations of Brahman and are created by him. As one attains sufficient inner purity, vedic karma kāṇḍa i.e. vedic rites and rituals drop. Many Gods are the forces of nature like Wind God, God of Fire, etc. There are several reasons for worshipping demi-gods.

13.3.1. We all have desires and Path of Renunciation is difficult

In the path of Jnana (renunciation), the formless God, Brahman, is contemplated from the beginning of advaitic sādhanā. Contemplation on formless Brahman very difficult. The mind should be sufficiently inwardly pure to walk on this path. It is like walking on razor’s edge. Staying constantly one-pointed in one form of God and keep chanting his name day and night is difficult too. Both Jnāna and Bhakti are for few handful pure souls. Mind of average person cannot hold onto one thought for long. It needs to change the topic, else it will produce stress and the task will be more of a burden. Wise say that anything in excess is poison. Mind would not cooperate the intellect to stay focused only on God. We are born with many dissatisfied desires. One of the purpose of birth is to get them fulfilled. If they are not fulfilled then mind begins to revolt and will not be ready to meditate and stay focussed on one form of God and renounce everything else for the sake of God.

Only a pure mind can do it as a pure mind does not demand anything except moksha. Purified mind has little or no material desires to be fulfilled. Dissatisfied desires are uprooted by God in Meditation. Mind should be strong enough to renounce worldly desires. If mind is not prepared to renounce desires but wishes to fulfil them, then one cannot walk on the path of advaita i.e. Jnana as God tries devotee to rise above Māyā and for this to happen devotee must stop giving importance to anything except God. Devotee cannot demand for anything of material nature to formless God, which is nirguṇa i.e. beyond attributes. Having such pure mind is very rare. Hence in most cases a form of God is worshipped. Even in case of worshipping God with form, sooner or later one has to change the perception about this material world and has to select between God and world.

Though primary intention to chant God’s name is to have his divine vision or to be one with God, not many have desire to be one with God. Though the supreme God is capable of fulfilling all kinds of desires, still, mind of a neophyte is not stable enough and patient enough to remain focused on one form of God. demi-gods fulfil our wishes faster if we worship them. They are capable to bestow blessings, ward of evils, reduce hardships and give clarity in life. Average mind is weak and it wants to get rid of hardships and obstacles in fulfilling dis-satisfied desires very fast by removing the malice effects of the heavenly planets. Though we may be sitting in a closed room, still Saturn and other planets influence us by influencing our subtle bodies and our thoughts. Each and everything in this universe is interconnected and has influence on each other. Subtle world spreads far and wide. Worshipping demi-gods to ward off malice effects or fulfil desires is prescribed by sages with a sole purpose of developing divine qualities like faith in higher power, one-pointed devotion, control over body and mind, control over desires and impulses i.e. desires, discipline and diligent effort. This divine qualities will help a spiritual aspirant in his inner journey. If demi-God can fulfil our desires so can God. After our wishes are fulfilled, mind becomes calm. Calm mind is necessary for meditation. When there are no obstacles, mind is at peace and hence can easily contemplate on God for spiritual progress. When desires are fulfilled, faith in deity increases. Calm mind will think of the source from where demigods receive their powers, which is obviously the Supreme God. After attaining sufficient purification, vedic rites and rituals are renounced and the sole objective of chanting God’s name is to abide in him, known his true nature.

However, this is not the only reason for worshiping demigods.

13.3.2. Celestials and mortals help each other

Celestials and mortals help each other. While celestials bestow their grace and maintain peace and harmony in nature and in our minds, chanting of mantra-s nourishes them. It is their food. Hence celestials and mortals help each other. Since demigod is a higher race than ours, it is we who worship them. Demigods are also devoted to God and great Gods like Īndra (King of heaven known as svarga) and Agni (God of fire) have realised their true nature says Kena Upanishad (Kena Up 3.12). Hence they too can bestow hidden secrets of veda-s onto devotees. Vedic karma-kāṇḍa is not just rituals to fulfill our needs. Vibrations generated from chanting mantra-s spread far and wide and purify the atmosphere. Since plants and animals are a lifeform and they have sentiments, they too are positively affected by chanting of holy mantra-s which are special vibrations which purify atmosphere. Chanting vedic mantra-s will bring harmony in the world.

There is one more reason for performing vedic rites and rituals, tāntrika one.

13.3.3. Piṇḍāṇaḍa and Brahmāṇḍa (Microcosm i.e. and Macrocosm) - The inner science of Yoga

(microcosm is inner universe, while macrocosm is outer universe)

Though there is heaven and hell outside us in a particular place in different dimension, there is heaven and hell within us too. Thoughts and emotions of divine nature are symbolically represented by demigods while negative qualities are represented by asura-s or demons. Similarly, as earlier explained, demigods are the definite energy centers within our subtle bodies. Chanting a mantra will activate these psychic nerve centers i.e. chakra-s, cleanse psychic nerves called as nāḍī-s raise the kunḍalinī to get enlightenment.

Whatever is inside is reflected in the outside worldly more or less similarly. Many riddles in the veda-s which do not make sense like Rāhu and Ketu engulfing Chandra and Sūrya appear as unscientific from outward observation, as Rāhu and kētu are planets and covering Moon and Sun is a natural process of eclipse. However, Rāhu and Kētu represents prāṇa-s. Moon (chandra) and Sun (sūrya) are nāḍī-s known as īḍā and pingalā which are located on left and right side of Suṣumṇā respectively. They start from just above Mulādhāra chakra and end on tip of nostrils. Īḍā ends on left side and pingalā ends on right side. Eclipse is the yogic process of in-breath from īḍā towards the inverted energy triangle called yonī, where kunḍalinī hides. In-breath covers yonī and kunḍalinī with prāṇa. Out-breath rises from yonī without activating kunḍalinī. Breathing simultaneously from both nāḍī-s (nostrils) has it’s advantages and merits, but it blocks the rising of kuṇḍalinī through suṣumṇā thereby creating an eclipse. The process repeats with pingalā nāḍī. In other words, the inner breath, covers or eclipses kunḍalinī. When kunḍalinī is struck and awakened, it initially rises from iḍā and pingalā and later from susumṇā. When kunḍalinī rises from suṣumṇā, it pulls all the types of prāṇa-s from all nāḍī-s including idā and pingalā. prāṇa-s merge with kunḍalinī in suṣumṇā and kunḍalinī takes them along with her, rising upto sahasrāra chakra and gently rising out of sahasrāra, merging in infinity. When this divine phenomenon happens, one gets enlightenment. But this upward rising of kuṇḍalinī is not easy. nāḍī-s, chakra-s, prāṇa-s and mind needs to be highly purified. They get purified by chanting of mantra-s.

Mantra-s are formulated in such a way so as to resonate with certain energy centers (chakra-s) and nāḍī-s, thereby purifying and activating them for spiritual progress.

Likewise, Īndra is often represented as intellect. In veda-s and purāṇā-s, there is a legend of Īndra winning over Vritrā. Vritrā, the demon, represents ignorance or dullness which blocks the mind. Īndra, the awakened intellect, slays Vritrā and frees all the blocked rivers. Rivers represent nāḍī-s. We also find in rig veda that it is Devī Sarasvatī who slays Vritrā. Sarasvatī represents knowledge. In this case, both Īndra and Sarasvatī represent ‘awakened mind’ or ‘awakened intellect’. Hence it does not matter whether who killed Vrittrā. It is ignorance getting uprooted by knowledge.

The story of slaying of Vritrā is a yogic process of an awakened intellect destroying ignorance and cleansing nāḍī-s thereby progressing spiritually. Playing with kuṇḍalinī and chakra-s must be done under the care and guidance of a competent guru else it will do more harm and help. It is not possible for laymen to experience subtle bodies and find exact location of chakra-s and nāḍī-s by ourselves. Vedic and purāṇic stories are encrypted riddles in order to protect them from being misused or wrongly used. For an individual or a Yogī, stories are encrypted way of explaining inner yogic process and inner universe and it an encrypted process of evolution of consciousness.

Hence Vedic rites and rituals are not just polytheistic worship of demigods.

Lets summarize the worship of demigods

  1. Average mind is weak always trying to run away from hardships. Worshipping demi-gods wards off malice effects and increases faith in higher power. Mind becomes peaceful and can focus on chanting God’s name.

  2. Chanting vedic mantra-s purify environment and influence all life forms be it animals or plants and nourishes them with spiritual energy.

  3. Celestials and mortals help each other. While Celestials bestow their grace and sustain ecology, maintain peace and harmony of nature and purify our mind, vedic chants nourishes them thereby making them stronger.

  4. Demi-gods are energy centers within our body which needs to be activated in order to purify energy body. Pure body is necessary for contemplating on Brahman.

  5. Mantra-s are formulated in such a way so as to resonate with certain energy centers thereby purifying and activating them for spiritual progress.

  6. Many vedic and purāṇic stories are symbolic representation of yogic process. veda-s are encrypted to protect them from being misused or wrongly used. Activating chakras and kunḍalinī without the guidance of a competent guru may be a disaster waiting to happen. It will do more harm and help.

Let us now understand the advantages of having multiple Gods