You might’ve seen many Hindu gods and goddesses having multiple heads and arms in India, but have you ever asked yourself why? Even being a Hindu by birth, I had never encountered this question until last night, when one of my friends brought it up during a discussion.
So, after a quick research on the internet, I have come up with the most accepted theories of Hindu mythologists that could clarify this confusion in greater detail.
Why Do Hindu Gods Have Multiple Heads and Arms?
The main theory underlying this phenomenon, which is widely accepted in Hindu beliefs, is that ancient Indian sages were attempting to demonstrate to us the immense power and qualities of the deities. However, the extra hands of the deities only come into view when they are either engaged in a war against demons or busy battling the universal cosmic forces.
In Hinduism, only the important deities and gods are frequently depicted with many hands to distinguish them from the other groups of deities. In addition to the mainstream beliefs, there are numerous alternative theories that hindu mythologists vigorously debate.
To put it simply, this question has no single correct answer.
Because there’s not even a single authority in the entire umbrella of Hinduism that could be held accountable for these confusions. The vast diversity of spiritual practices, rituals, and ideologies is the reason for alternative theories to co-exist in parallel with mainstream beliefs.
That is why you may have seen many gurus and scholars simply giving their own interpretation of it, as there is simply no right or wrong concept in Hinduism. It’s said that 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 in various TV interviews discussing the actual motive behind the depiction of Hindu deities in such superhuman-like forms. According to him, the deities in the hindu pantheon are shown with multiple heads and arms just to display their supernatural abilities.
It’s not like the deities actually have multiple arms or legs, but they are being projected in this exaggerated form to only make them identifiable as supreme beings.
In other words, every child in India can tell the difference between a normal human being and a Hindu deity just by giving a glance at their extra heads or hands sticking out from the back. Thus, it’s used more as a symbol than anything else. It is only there to remind us of the deities’ being the owners of supernatural powers that humans cannot possess.
The Projecting Purpose of God’s Existence
In the entire pantheon of Hinduism, every god and deity has a set of their own purposes for existence. Having multiple arms and heads shows a glimpse of the duties that they’re bound to perform in order to maintain and sustain the dharmic laws of the universe.
For instance, Goddess Durga was created to slay the army of Mahishasura (Buffalo demon) that even Lord Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva combined were unable to kill because of a boon that gave him absolute immunity from the gods.
Only a fierce goddess could kill him, but at the time, there was no such goddess with the required strength to deal with Mahishasura. So, the gods decided to give every one of their divine strength and weapons to embody an even more powerful goddess who could destroy the demons.
Therefore, she has multiple arms and weapons because of her duty to fight and eliminate suffering from evil powers. Thus, the next time you see a hindu deity or god with multiple arms, pay close attention to their weapons and hand gestures as they may reveal the deity’s purpose.
Showing Multiple Personalities and Qualities
Image or idol worship is a huge part of the Hindu religion. It is so important that people prioritize which version of a deity should be placed in a temple. The followers Hinduism take the image of their deities pretty seriously. Oftentimes, many Hindus are also seen presuming the supremacy of a deity just by the number of their hands and arms.
However, it is not a hard fact that 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 is there to show their certain characteristics, personalities, and qualities.
All deities are very representational with their various markings, colors, and objects surrounding them. They are said to hold both a deep significance and an abstract meaning. Take Lord Ganesha (the elephant-headed god) for example. He is shown below with four hands holding some objects, each of which represents some of his qualities and personalities.
In this image, Lord Ganesha is shown in the Abhaya Mudra, or the gesture of fearlessness if translated into English. This is a gesture of safety and reassurance that removes the fear of uncertainty and gives divine protection 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 to come closer to the spiritual path. The sweet he holds in his lower left hand represents the rewards of following the rule of dharma.