On evolving gods

Here’s something that struck me recently. The deities that ruled the pantheon of Hindu gods in early Vedic times were markedly different from the ones that define Hinduism today. The old gods are still well-known, but they do not find worship, or even charitable mention in the more modern texts.

Indra (god of thunder, king of gods), for example, was once a mighty hero who went up against universe-threatening monstrosities and displayed plenty of courage and strength. He had vices too, but these went into giving him the appearance of a flawed hero. As time passed, these flaws became the centre of his being and he was portrayed as a constantly fearful, irresponsible, and power-hungry keeper of the throne of heaven. Take a look at any of the current mythological TV serials and you will see what I am talking about. All he ever seems to do is enjoy the company of women, bully others, and run to the higher gods whenever faced with a threat to his power.

The same goes for other Vedic deities like Agni (god of fire), Varuna (god of the seas), and Vayu (god of the winds). These guys used to be big-time legends back then. But now they have become side characters as our focus on the pantheon has shifted. And this is what brings me to my point.

I think the shift has been in a general direction. The pantheon of India’s gods, goddesses, and other deities is a spectrum of qualities and characteristics. Each god has a personality and the state of India’s civilisation has been reflected in its choice of gods. Modern India worships Ganesha (god of knowledge, remover of obstacles), Lakshmi (goddess of prosperity), and Saraswati (goddess of wisdom and knowing).

The focus has shifted from gods that govern the elements of nature to gods that govern abstract concepts of the mind. These are not new gods. They have always been around, but as times changed, they were given newer responsibilities and their hidden facets came into play. Saraswati is no longer simply wife to Brahma (creator of the universe), Ganesha is much more than the dutiful son to Shiva (destroyer of things) and Parvati. They have, for lack of a better word, grown up.

This brings me to the next logical point. If the gods of yesterday were elemental, and the gods of today are conceptual, what will the gods of tomorrow be like?

I think they will continue down this same road and end up being even more immaterial – like ideas, archetypes, qualities and characteristics. The whole business of having gods is about prioritising – about telling ourselves what our place in the universe is. It is about making an orderly list of important things and putting ourselves in the list somewhere. The nature of this list keeps changing as we learn more about ourselves and the world we live in.

So while once upon a time the elements of nature were things we considered to be above and beyond us, now we consider knowledge, wisdom and prosperity to be more important. We have changed our minds about what really matters to us. We were survivalists back then – people whose primary concern was to keep the forces of nature happy. Now we are less concerned with survival and more with meaning and learning.

My hypotheses is that in the future, humanity as a whole will become man’s primary concern. The list we have been maintaining will undergo a vital transformation as we realise that the universe is less of a hierarchy and more of a network – one where all things were created equal with the same energy at the core. When man begins looking at himself as just another part of the network, he will find himself at par with the highest of gods and with the lowest of life forms. That is when man will realise his divinity.

Our ideas regarding god are moving outwards. We know there is something out there, but we don’t know what exactly. So throughout history, we have continued pointing at various things in the hopes that they are divine. “Maybe the elements are divine? No? Well then, maybe our feelings are divine? Maybe the pursuit of knowledge is divine.”

We will keep at it and our conclusions will keep moving outward until the definition of God is widely understood to be “everything”.

So the gods of the future will be immaterial, practically non-existent abstractions. They will be qualities that we will ascribe to each other and everything around us. I imagine that this will entail a coming together of disciplines. The explorer of the future will be scientist, philosopher, priest, engineer, storyteller; all rolled into one.