Hinduism and Multiple Heads

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Hinduism for Beginners Series - 3


Hinduism and Multiple Heads

by Namdev Nirakar



."Uncle 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 Ashok.

"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", he continued.

"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' function."

"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


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