God and gender in Hinduism
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Male and female deities are extensively mentioned in the Vedas. The earliest mandalas ("Books"; the authorship of each mandala is traditionally ascribed to a particular
Hymn to Ushas (Abridged):
The shining tints of the Dawn have spread like the waves of the waters,
Beautifying the world, she renders all good roads easy to traverse,
She who is replete with delight, excellence and health,
Divine Ushas, though art seen auspicious, thou shinest afar,
thy bright rays spread over the sky, lovely and radiant with great splendour;
Do thou Ushas bring me opulence, daughter of heaven;
thou who art divine, who art lovely, who art to be worshipped at the first daily rite;
At thy dawning, divine Ushas, birds fly from their resting places, men arise to work;
Thou, divine Ushas, bring ample wealth to the mortal, the offerer of these prayers.— Rigveda, VI.64
Goddesses, other than Ushas, mentioned in early Vedic literature include Prthivi (earth), Aditi (mother of gods, abundance), Sarasvati (river, nourishment), Vac (sound and speech), and Nirrti (death, destruction). Similarly male gods feature prominently in the Vedas, with Indra (rain, lightning), Agni (fire), Varuna (rta, law), Dyaus (sky, virility), Savitr (Surya, sun), and Soma (drink) some of the most mentioned. The two deities most mentioned in Rigveda are
Gross states that ancient and medieval Hindu literature is richly endowed with gods, goddesses and androgynous representations of God. This, states Gross, is in contrast with several monotheistic religions, where God is often synonymous with "He" and theism is replete with male anthropomorphisms. In Hinduism, goddess-imagery does not mean loss of male-god, rather the ancient literature presents the two genders as balancing each other and complementary. The Goddesses in Hinduism, states Gross, are strong, beautiful and confident, symbolizing their vitality in cycle of life. While masculine Gods are symbolically represented as those who act, the feminine Goddesses are symbolically portrayed as those who inspire action. Goddesses in Hinduism are envisioned as the patrons of arts, culture, nurture, learning, arts, joys, spirituality and liberation.
God is not either male or female concept in ancient Indian literature. Androgynous concepts of god are common place as well.
Most major schools of
Zimmer clarifies the notion of gender in Sanskrit language and its relation to the concepts of Brahman and God in Hinduism, as follows:
It must be understood that in Sanskrit, grammatical gender is not always a sign of physical sex. Gender infers function, sex infers form; so that an individual may be masculine from one point of view and feminine from another. (...) Brahman can be regarded as the "womb" of life, and as in Christianity "this man" and "this woman" are equally "feminine to God" [in Hinduism]. Absolutely, Brahman, although grammatically neuter, is the principle of all such differentiation. Essence and nature are respectively masculine and feminine, logically distinct, but "one in God," who is neither this nor that [in Hinduism], and therefore "It" rather than "He" or "She" specifically.