You might’ve seen many Hindu gods and goddesses having multiple heads and arms. But have you ever asked yourself why? Even being a Hindu by birth, I’d never encountered this question until last night, when one of my friends brought up the topic during a discussion. So, after a quick research on the internet I’ve come up with the most accepted theories that could clarify this confusion in detail.
Why Do We See Hindu Gods With Multiple Heads, or Arms?
The main theory behind this phenomenon, which is also mostly accepted throughout the Hindu beliefs, is that the ancient sages of India must be trying to demonstrate to us the immense power and qualities of the deities. However the extra hands of the deities only come up visible when they’re either engaged in a war against demons or busy battling the universal cosmic forces.
In Hinduism, often only the supreme or important deities are shown with many hands to display their significance from the other group of deities, to whom devotees bow down and worship as the almighty. However, beside the mainstream beliefs there are other alternative theories which many Hindu mythologists strongly believe upon.
To put it simply, this question has no single correct answer, because in Hinduism there’s not even a single questionable authority that could be held accountable for these confusions. As it has a vast diversity of ideas on spirituality, it’s very obvious for other alternative theories to co-exist parallel with the mainstream beliefs.
That is why, you may have seen many websites simply giving their own interpretation on it, because there is simply no right and wrong concept in Hinduism. Every possibility is believed to attain and realize the higher truth.
Presenting The Deities As Supernatural Beings
One of the famous mythologists of India – devdutt pattanaik is often seen discussing the actual motive behind this depiction of Hindu deities in such superhuman-like forms on various TV interviews.
According to him, the deities are shown with multiple heads just to show their supernatural abilities. It’s not like Hindu deities actually have multiple arms or legs, but they are being shown in this exaggerated form just to make them identifiable as supreme beings.
In other words, every child in India can tell the difference between a normal human being and a deity just by giving a glance on their extra hands sticking out from the back. Therefore, it’s used more like a symbol over anything. It is only there to remind us of deities being the owners of supernatural powers that humans can not possess.
Showing Multiple Personalities & Qualities
Image or idol worshiping is a huge part In Hindu religion. The importance of it is so huge that what version of a deity (with or without extra hands and arms) to be placed in a temple gets the utmost priority, even before building the temple. Therefore, the people following Hinduism take the image of their deities pretty seriously.
Thus oftentimes many Hindus are seen presuming the supremacy of a deity just by the number of their hands and arms. However, it is not a hard fact as many important gods in Hinduism don’t have any extra hands, heads or arms for that matter, such as Lord Shiva.
So it’s safe to say that the depiction of hindu gods with multiple arms and hands are there for showing their certain characteristics, personalities and qualities. All deities in Hinduism are very representational with their various markings, colors, and objects surrounding them. They hold deep significance and abstract meaning.
Take Lord Ganesha (The Elephant-Headed god) for example, he is shown below with four hands holding some objects which symbolizes his various qualities. In this image, Lord Ganesha is shown in the Abhaya Mudra or the gesture of fearlessness if translated in English.
In this Abhaya Mudra, Lord Ganesha is shown with his lower right hand in an upright position while palm facing outwards. This is a gesture of safety and reassurance that removes the fear of uncertainty from its devotees’ mind and gives a divine protection to them from the negative cosmic energies.
He is also shown holding an axe in his upper right hand, which symbolizes the detachment from the Maya (the cosmic illusion that the world is real). The rope in his upper left hand represents the guidance he gives to his devotees for coming closer to the spiritual path. The sweet he holds in his lower left hand represents the rewards of following the rule of dharma.