Indian gods, or more especially, those recorded in various Hindu scriptures, are well-known for having a multitude of heads and arms. Many deities and demigods in Hindu mythology are even depicted with up to ten to twelve arms. In another of my writings, I go into great depth about why some Hindu gods are often represented with numerous heads and arms. You can read it here, but for a quick recap, here’s a brief overview.
Why Hindu Gods Have Many Hands?
According to Hindu belief, which is also accepted by most scholars, Hindu gods and deities are believed to be supernatural beings. They do not have material bodies like we have here on Earth, so the ordinary rules of physics do not apply to them. Their realm is thought to be from another dimension that is beyond the reach of human knowledge.
We are unable to comprehend due to our inadequate sensory capability. To materialize the concept of such supernatural beings, ancient Indian seers and sages represented gods with numerous heads and arms to represent their various personalities, attributes, and qualities. To be honest, every god in Hinduism has at least one avatar where they have multiple hands or arms.
You might have also heard that “Hinduism has around 33 million gods”. It would be hard to include all of them in a single blog post, so I attempted to limit myself to gods and deities who are less well known to the general public.
Adi Narayana – The Supreme God
Adi Narayana is believed to be the supreme god, who is the eternal source of all creation. According to various hindu texts, the entire cosmos and universe were created right after he came into existence. Thus, he’s also called “Adi”, or the oldest one. In the major six schools of Vedic philosophy, he is the one who is described as the ultimate soul.
I often see people get confused between Adi Narayana and Lord Vishnu because they look very similar in appearance. You guessed it right; they are the same god, but they are often described separately. It’s because Hindu books and traditions have a common culture of referring to one deity by multiple names, which is why they’re misidentified as wholly unique deities.
They’re like two sides of the same coin.
According to Madhava Acharya, who is an ancient philosopher of Vedanta, once described Adi Narayana as “one of the five Vyuhas of Lord Vishnu“. Anyway, both of them are shown as having four arms and each holding a similar set of objects.
The first hand, on the lower left, is holding a lotus, and the second, on the upper left, is holding a conch. The chakra is held in the upper right hand while the mace is held in the lower right hand.
Nataraja – The Lord Of Dance
Many people often misunderstand Nataraja as an avatar of Lord Shiva, which is not correct. Nataraja, or “The Lord of Dance” in Sanskrit, is the name of Lord Shiva in his form as the cosmic dancer. This particular form of him, with four hands and dancing within a circle of fire, is hugely popular throughout the world.
Even CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, one of the world’s largest and most prominent scientific research facilities, has a two-meter-tall Nataraja sculpture on its premise, which symbolizes Shiva’s three important roles as creator, preserver, and destroyer of cosmic energy.
Nataraja, in this appearance, can be seen dancing on top of a dwarf, which is said to be a symbol of human ignorance. It’s also believed to be an apasmara, which means “forgetfulness” or “heedlessness”. I have included this particular guise of Lord Shiva in the post because you might not have seen him with four arms in any other of his forms.
The upper-right hand holds a damaru, while the lower-right hand is posed in Abhaya mudra. The Abhaya mudra is one type of hand gesture that you can often see Hindu gods making. It means fearlessness, which symbolizes protection, peace, and the dispelling of fear.
In the palm of the upper-left hand, he holds Agni (aka, the cosmic fire). The lower-left hand is fully stretched to the right and the fingers are pointed downward to the uplifted left foot.
Gayatri – A Gorgeous Goddess
According to Hindu texts, Gayatri came into existence from the body of a cow when Saraswati didn’t make it in time for an important Vedic sacrifice that Lord Brahma wanted to perform with her.
According to legends found in several Puranas, Brahma first asked goddess Saraswati to become his divine consort, or wife. So that he can perform the sacrifice smoothly without any disturbance. The sacrifice was organized to make an offering to Lord Surya, the sun god in Hinduism.
However, when asked, Saraswati hesitated for a while because she was the actual daughter of Lord Brahma. Brahma created her with his creative power, and fortunately, she appeared to be very attractive. This might be the reason why he wanted only her to be his divine consort. Finally, after many requests, she agreed to become his wife.
Later, when Lord Brahma was busy organizing stuff for the sacrifice, she went away, saying she needed to purify herself first before joining him, but she never came back on time. No one knows for sure whether she did it deliberately or not. Anyway, under compulsion, Lord Brahma had to look out for another woman who would agree to take the place of Saraswati.
Lord Brahma was then looking for a suitable woman when he accidentally went through a cow. Just like a ghost goes through a wall, and in the next moment, a stunningly gorgeous and beautiful woman appears in front of him. The woman was none other than Gayatri herself, and this is how she came into existence.
Later, she was personified as a goddess for helping Brahma make his sacrifice. Gayatri was then gifted with many arms, heads, and other divine objects by various gods and deities for her generosity. The most common image of Goddess Gayatri is therefore shown with ten hands and five heads, while she’s sitting on top of a lotus.
Mahakali – Goddess Who Drinks Blood
Mahakali is also one of the goddesses who receives the most conflicting opinions. In general, we know her as the destroyer of evil and someone who is always thirsty for demons’ blood. Unlike other goddesses mentioned in Hindu texts, Mahakali has the largest number of forms, and of these, this is the fiercest one.
Mahakali is often seen as the most favored deity for performing any kind of tantric ritual. You can also see her being worshiped in many esoteric traditions of Buddhism. She is among those deities who are equipped with a complete set of divine arms and weapons.
In one version of Kali’s birth, there was a story about a terrible demon causing a great deal of nuisance. The demons became so strong that the combined strength of all the gods was not enough to fight against them. One of the reasons why the demons became so powerful lies in their ability to reproduce more demons every time a drop of their blood spilled onto the ground.
Therefore, each time they were attacked by the gods, more demons were produced as a result. Frustrated by this situation, the gods decided to awaken goddess Durga and bestow upon her all of their combined energy and divine weapons.
This is how Kali was born. So now you know why she is always thirsty for the demon’s blood. Because she had to drink, otherwise the battle between the demons and gods could never end.