Ashok, last time you explained about how the Hindu icons are symbolic of higher meanings
and history, just as the icons on the computer represent different programs. Now tell me
about the divinities and villains with multiple heads as the stories from Hindu scriptures
tell about. I suppose these multiple heads have different meanings too", said Eesha.
"Yes, indeed. Last time we saw how the
elephant's head on Lord Ganesh represents removal of ego and development of sense of
discrimination, learning and knowledge. Let us look at some other symbols" said
"But before that let me tell you something. Having
multiple heads is a medical impossibility. As you know, human brain is the largest in size
relative to the size of baby, when compared to brain size of other species. Also during
birth process, once the head comes out, rest of the body can slip out easily, because the
head has the largest perimeter and the least flexibility compared to the rest of the body.
Hence natural birth of 'babies with multiple heads' is near impossible. Hence it is
important to remember that multiple heads in Hindu icons represent a higher aspect",
"Let us look at it from other angle. The VCR (Video
cassette recorder) in your home has two or four magnetic 'heads'. Now if some one were to
draw a picture of it with two or four 'heads', would that be correct representation ?
Because the 'head' in a VCR is a 'information processing device' -- a chip which changes
the magnetization as it 'writes', or changes current as it 'reads'. Thus even now, we use
the word magnetic 'head' to indicate a sensor which performs some 'knowledge'
"So let us now look at the significance what many heads
in Hindu icons represent", he continued.
"Brahma, the creative aspect of God is represented with
four heads each representing a Veda or the Hindu holy books. The term Veda in itself means
'Knowledge'" said Ashok.
"Dattatreya, with three heads and 6 hands is the Hindu
trinity. It is a confluence of the creative aspect, namely Brahma, the preserving aspect,
VishNu and the destructive aspect, Shiva, all combined. Even all around us, we see these
three aspects working simultaneously. We see new life taking shape, and old withering
away, be it grass, trees, insects etc. Even inanimate objects follow the same pattern --
it is new at the beginning, in use, then breaks down and disintegrates," said Ashok.
"Kartikeya or Subrahmanyam (Su-Brahmani-Om) is
sometimes depicted with six heads and hence called ShaNmukham (Shat-mukham). He is the
chief of the army of the Devas. These six heads are representation of the five sensory
organs - jnan indriyas (which are eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin) and Mind."
"In Ramayana, the great Indian epic, the villain RavaNa
is depicted as Dashaanan (Dash-aanan) with ten heads. These are symbolic of five sensory
organs (jnan indriyas) and five Karma indriyas (hands, legs, tounge (and others associated
with speech), external reproductive organ, and organ for excretion", said Ashok.
"Wait a minute, did you not just say that five sense
organs represent five of the six heads of Kartikeya, and now you say in Ramayana, these
five also represent five of the ten heads of the villain RavaNa, How is that possible
?" asked Eesha.
"It is really simple, Eesha. One can use a kitchen
knife to cut a fruit or vegetables. But one can also use it to stab someone. So is the
knife really good or bad ? No, it is how one uses it that determines if the action is good
or bad. Similarly, the five sense organs focussed on the good and controlled by mind
become part of ShaNmukha. But the same organs along with the five Karma indriyas if
focussed outwards (extrovertedness) become the part of RavaNa and take a devotee away from
inner peace. Gita says 'Ones own self is own's friend and one's own self is one's own
enemy'. So how you use, or focus your jnana and Karma indriyas makes the difference
between ShaNmukha and RavaNa. And understanding the various meanings of the symbolism is
the first step", replied Ashok.
"Let us look at what scriptures describe as demons --
the Rakshas or Asur. Unlike what the popular 'misbelief' is, these were not people with
large ugly heads with protruding teeth, or long untidy unkempt hair and grotesque, huge
bodies. Templeton Award winner Pandurang Shastry Athawale quotes following scriptural
definitions for Asuraas: 'Asushu ramante iti asuraah:' those who dwell in the 'PraaNa' and
in the sense objects, are asuras. Similarly 'Rakshas' is one who does not need the
protection of Deva - divinity or divine qualities. Examples abound of humans
behaving like animals or demons, even in the twentieth century."
Even today we say that an egotistical person is one with a
swollen head, but does s/he really ? and we call a psychotherapist 'a shrink', but does
s/he really shrink 'the patient's heads' ?"
"It is important to understand that Hindu scriptures
have 3 to 7 meanings or levels operating at the same time. There is a story as it is.
There is history blended in it. There is a message to a spiritual aspirant for improvement
in personal life and endeavor. Some times there is a message relevant to Yoga and
meditation and its practices. There is a lesson to a leader of the society on what is good
for the society as a whole. The interesting aspect of Hindu scriptures is you can see the
past, you can see the external world as well as your own reflection in them. Most
importantly, life is a journey. The higher you climb, the farther you will see and broader
will your vision be", Ashok concluded
For more information please refer to
1. Symbolism in Hinduism edited by R.S.Nathan, Chinmay Trust Publication ,Mumbai,
2. Sanskruti Poojan by Pandurang Shastry Athawale, Sadvichar Darshan
Trust, Dr.Wilson Rd, Girgao, Mumbai (available in Hindi/ Gujarati/ r
3. The definition of Rakshas and Asur from discourses of Pandurang
shastry Athawale. It also appears in his books 'Dashaavataar', and
'Vyaas Vichaar' both published by Sadvichar Darshan Trust