Indian gods or more specifically, those mentioned in various hindu scriptures are very famous for having many heads and arms. Even many deities and demigods in hindu mythologies can be seen with as far as ten to twelve arms. In another of my articles, I have written a detailed explanation behind the actual reason why some hindu gods are often depicted with multiple heads and arms. You can read it from here. But for a quick recap – below is an overview.
Why Hindu Gods Have Many Hands?
According to the popular belief, which is also accepted by most scholars, hindu gods and deities are believed to be supernatural beings. They don’t possess any material body like we living beings do here on earth, so the common laws of physics don’t apply to them. It’s believed that their realm is from another dimension which is beyond the reach of human intelligence. We can not understand through our limited sensory knowledge.
Thus, to materialize the concept of such supernatural beings, seers and sages of ancient India depicted gods with multiple heads and arms to signify their different personalities, traits, and qualities. To be honest, every god in the entire hindu pantheon, has at least one of their avatars mentioned or shown with multiple arms. Also, you may have heard before that – “Hinduism has over 33 million gods.” Listing all of them would be impossible for a single blog post, so I tried to list only those gods and deities who are much lesser known to people.
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 was 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’s described as the ultimate soul.
I often see people get confused with Adi Narayana and Lord Vishnu, because they look very similar in appearance. You have guessed it right, they are actually the same god, but often described individually. It’s so because, hindu texts and scriptures have a common culture of calling one deity with many names, and that’s why they are mistaken as completely separate beings. They are like two sides of one 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 with having four arms, and each holding a similar set of objects. The first hand on the lower-left holds a lotus, the second one on the upper-left holds a conch. The upper-right hand holds a chakra, and the lower-right holds a mace.
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 biggest and respected scientific research centers in the world, has a two metre tall statue of Nataraja on its campus, which represents the three crucial roles of Shiva – the 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, the lower-right one 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 which Lord Brahma wanted to perform with her. As per the legends found in several Puranas, Brahma first asked goddess Saraswati to become his divine consort, or in another word – 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 creation 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 upon 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 in 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 appeared in front of him. The woman was none other than the Gayatri herself, and this is how she came into existence.
Later she was personified as a Goddess for helping Brahma do 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, where 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 who is always thirsty for demons’ blood. Unlike other goddesses mentioned in hindu texts, Mahakali has the largest number of forms, and in which 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 a version of Kali’s birth, there was a story of a terrible demon causing a great deal of nuisance. The demons became so strong that the combined strength of all 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 to the ground.
Therefore, each time they were attacked by the gods, more demons got produced as a result. Frustrated by this situation, the gods decided to wake up goddess Durga, and give all of their combined energy and divine weapons to her. This is how Kali was born. So now you’ve known 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.