Mystery of 330 million Gods in Hinduism

Concept of god in Hinduism does not have a standard definition. It is not defined by a certain appearance or bounded by a name or confined to a place or restricted by gender. The vastness of the idea of a god-which includes a variety of forms, many places of worship, and multitudes of images, icons, and symbols-has led to a wide­spread but unfounded belief that Hinduism has 330 million gods. Is 330 million the final tally after taking into account all the gods required to oversee the various portfolios of their vast realm ?

The answer is not simple. The Rigveda refers to only thirty-three gods, even though it mentions more than thirty-three by name.The Persians, the historical counterparts of the Vedic people and whose sacred book is the Avesta, also consid­ered the number of their gods to be thirty-three. The Vedas, however, have neatly categorized the gods:eleven in the heavens, eleven in the atmos­phere, and eleven on earth. Other Vedic texts also mention thirty-three gods, which some scholars have interpreted as eight Vasus (attendants of Indra and later Vishnu), eleven Rudras (deities of storm), twelve Adityas (deities of light), and Dyaus (sky god) and Prithvi (Mother Earth). In some interpretations Dyaus is replaced by Indra and Prithvi by Prajapati. In others Dyaus and Prithvi are replaced by the twin Ashvins.

Of the thirty-three gods of the Rigveda, the majority are male deities; it mentions only a few goddesses, who include Ushas (dawn) and her sister, Ratri (night). So where does the figure of 330 million come from? The scriptures mention thirty-three koti devas. The word koti in Sanskrit means either type or crore (the number ten mil­lion). It appears the latter meaning was ascribed to the word koti, although an alternative translation would have led to thirty-three types of devas. This mistranslation of koti to crore probably explains the origin of the 330 million gods in Hinduism. Many Hindus, however, believe that the supreme deity is the one and only Brahman, but they acknowledge it has many names and manifestations.

In this context it is important to remember that the number thirty-three is only a symbolic expression of a particular aspect of the pantheon. In theory the number of gods has no limit, for each manifestation is a channel through which a devotee can reach the divine.The 330 million gods are just a symbolic representation of the many manifestations that were possible. By the way, how Mark Twain came up with two million gods is beyond me, but I get his drift.

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