Although Hinduism is frequently described as polytheistic, Hindus believe that Brahman -- not to be confused with Brahma -- is the "Supreme Being" and the principle of all reality. Brahman should, however, not be directly interpreted as "God," as the term does not represent so much a figurehead as it does a universal and transcendent power.
The Concept of Brahman
Brahman is believed to be an infinite and indestructible power that continually creates, maintains and destroys the universe over time. Most Hindus believe that this all-pervasive force takes on countless forms and is embodied through an unlimited number of deities. This malleability allows followers to approach Brahman in numerous ways such as a god-like figure or as a friend. Three of the most important embodiments of Brahman include Brahma, the creator of the universe; Vishnu, the protector of the universe; and Shiva, the destructive force in the universe.
Worship, referred to as puja, of the different embodiments of Brahman can take place at home, at a street-side shrine or at a temple. It is considered a wholly private and individual matter and is not -- unlike in Christianity or Islam -- considered a communal act. At home, followers offer prayers to a household shrine dedicated to a Hindu deity; the shrine is often a simple image or a statue representing the deity. At a temple, the shrine is also at the center of worship. Priests or Hindus thought to be "reincarnated" can perform mantras and prayers from the Vedas during worship. Puja, whether it takes place at the home or at a temple, is frequently performed at least once a day by a household member and may be done at any time of the day.
Importance of Icon
Images or statues of the deities of Brahman are visual tools that Hindus use to better understand the incomprehensibility of Brahman. They are also at the center of daily Hindu worship. While some images or statues are believed to directly inhabit the deity of Brahman, other representations are dressed to invite the spirit of the deity to inhabit its form. Representations of Hindu deities are depicted with large eyes, which are believed to promote communication between the Hindu worshipper and the deity through glances. These exchanges of glances are considered to be an aspect of "darshan" or the reciprocal communication between the Hindu follower and the deity.
During puja, a Hindu worshipper can present the Brahman deity with a number of different offerings, including types of grain, foods, oils, incense, water, fruit and flowers at a household shrine or temple. If a follower makes the offering at temple, the temple keeps a portion of the offering while the rest is blessed and returned to the worshipper.
- BBC: Brahman
- BBC: Hindu Concepts
- University of Wyoming: Hinduism Glossary for Introduction to Religion
- Ramarkrishna: Hinduism, The Ultimate Reality
- University of Wyoming: Time and Worship
- BBC: Worship
- Smithsonian Institute: Worship in Homes
- Smithsonian Institute: When do Hindus Worship
- The University of Pittsburgh: About Hinduism
- Smithsonian Institute: How are Sculptures of Deities Used in Hindu Worship?
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images