Sunday, 10 February 2013

Qualities Man Attributes to God (Stories about God - III)

AN Moorthy Rao

The issue of the superiority of Vishnu or Shiva came up incidentally. Now, let us return to our original subject.

We began - didn't we? - by considering the stories about God which are prevalent among the common people and trying to understand through them the nature of God. Now, let us list the qualities[i] and beliefs about God that emerge from them:

  1. God is not necessarily immortal. Even He could die.  Example: Our Dakshyani, Asiris of Egypt, Balder of the Norse people.
  2. Gods love being worshipped. We must perform ‘vratas’ and so on and they will grant our prayers. Example : Satyanarayana Vrata
  3. Gods are short-tempered and, at times, even merciless. They kill young boys. Proof: Shiva killing t e y who was later to become Gajanana: Athena of Greece who, casting her spell on Ajax, caused him to commit suicide; Sathyanarayana, who because the merchant’s daughter failed to partake of His prasada, caused her husband's ship to sink.
  4. Gods love money and ostentation. Proof: Venkateshwara who accepts offerings and grants prayers and who is pleased with the golden sheets to cover this temple towers; Udupi Krishna who wants a silver (or, is it gold?) chariot and a diamond crown.
  5. They do not hesitate to commit even heinous deeds in return for some benefit. Proof: Vishnu, who violated the modesty of Brinda.
  6. It is likely that they lack discrimination. Proof: some of the boons they granted to monsters: Shiva, who fixed up the head of an elephant for Ganapathi, instead of Ganapathi's own head.
  7. They could be womanizers, too. Proof: Zeus of the Greeks, our Indra, and Shiva, who fell at the feet of Mohini.
  8. They are not ail-knowing. Shiva could not know that Parvathi had asked Ganapathi to stand guard.
  9. They are not omnipotent, either. Proof: Shiva, who chased Mohini, could not check his own lust. There is a belief among some people that if we master some 'mantras' we can even gain control over deities. In Janamejeya's 'Sarpa Yagna', the moment the priest chanted "Sendraya Takshakaya swaha", Indra, along with Takshaka, would have fallen into fire, if he had not taken proper care! There are also stories in which men are said to have cursed God.


Having bestowed names, forms and bodies similar to those of himself on God, it was only natural that man should also ascribe to God his own qualities - good and bad. Also, such attributions give us a certain kind of joy. Through such attributions, God, instead of being remote and abstract, comes close to us. That explains why we talk of the ‘marriage’ of Gods, harassment by the sec­ond wife and so on. Krishna, it seems, got a taste of it after He married Satyabhama. It is pleasing and comforting to know that even Vishnu was not spared these tribula­tions.

But, in reality, what have we done? We have brought down God from His sublime status and we have made Him just another human being. It is difficult for us to attain sublime heights and so we brought Him down to our level. The happiness we get from the feeling that even the one whom we revere is not spared our travails is trivial.

Some decades ago, Sthanam Narasimha Rao's troupe from Andhra staged the play 'Sri Krishna Parijatha' (?) in Mysore. The play was full of the envy between Rukmini and Satyabhama. The younger wife Satyabhama was very aggressive and domineering. Krishna appeared helpless before her, which pleased the audience no end.

Some folk stories, which describe the jealousy between Ganga and Gowri, give us great happiness. Even Kalidasa had described it in his 'Meghadoota'[ii].'The hero of that epic, Yaksha, tells Megha: 'Go to Kanekhala. There Gange, the daughter of Jahnu, who elevated the sons of Sagara to heaven, has come down from the Himalayas. Her jealousy aroused by the approach of Gange, Gowri stands frowning. Laughing derisively at her displeasure Gange pulls down Shiva's hair with her billowy hands'.

Both 'Sri Krishna Parijatha' and Kalidasa's poem attribute envy to the gods. Both these give us happiness. But, this happiness is not trivial. Our happiness here is not because God is brought down to our level but because the context is beautifully rendered Art veils, in literature and music. (one recalls Jayadeva's 'Geetagovinda' ) value ­related shortcomings But, all rational persons would agree that God cannot have such shortcomings.

Obviously, the qualities listed above cannot be those 0 an all-knowing, all-powerful God Who rules and sustain the world and Who is to serve as the model for all man kind. Is it not our belief that God is immeasurably noble than man? But, the God who emerges from these stories is certainly not superior to us if we ignore his ability t break the laws of nature. That one power alone cannot make Him great. Even we ordinary mortals do what we can for those who praise us. We cheat. We do have the shortcomings of anger, lust, revenge etc. And, sometimes, we do good things, too.

These stories affirm that in all these matters, God is very much like us. If that is true, how is He superior? We cannot but say that He is no God.

[i] Clearly, it is the stories which attribute them to God, not I.

[ii] Tesmadgacharanukhanatehalam Shilarajavatheeram
Jahnoh kanyam Sagarathanayaswargasopanapanktim|
Gowrivaktrabhrukutirachanam' yaa vihasyea vhenyaha
Shambhosh keshagrahanamakarodindulagnormihasta||
(Meghadootam' edited by KoB. Pathak - Poorvamegha - 52)

Akkihebbalu Narasimha Murthy Rao (June 16, 1900—August 23, 2003) was an eminent Kannada writer.  He was the first Director of Kannada and Culture Department of the Karnataka Government.

His popular book, Devaru (God), won (1992) the Pampa Award instituted by the Government of Karnataka.

This essay is from Chapter III (Stories about God) of the book, which was translated into English by Prof LS Seshagiri Rao and published by Kannada Sahitya Parishath, Bangalore in 1995


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