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Rachel Parikh. The Forged and The Divine: Weapons and Goddess Worship in Hinduism

Although Hinduism is a peaceful religion, weapons are embedded in its divine mythology, rituals and visual iconography. Deities are represented with multiple arms, emphasizing their immense power, and carry astra, or supramundane weapons, that are specific to their identity and mythology. For example, Vishnu, the god of preservation, is shown with a spinning, disc-like weapon known as the Sudarshana Chakra, which was used by several of his incarnations to vanquish demons and obliterate entire armies. In some areas, particularly in southern India, the Sudarshana Chakra is personified and worshipped as a deity. Shiva, the god of destruction and change, carries a trishul (trident) to destroy the three worlds—the physical world, the world of past cultures and civilizations, and the world of the mind—to bring about rebirth and positive change. Indra, the god of the heavens and storms, brandishes a vajra (thunderbolt) to strike down his opponents. The gods’ powerful weapons play a pivotal role in sacred Hindu epics, such as the Ramayana and, particularly, the Mahabharata, as the latter poem uses war to discuss philosophical concepts, like dharma (the eternal law of the cosmos) and moksha (liberation from the cycle of rebirth). As a result, weapons in sacred iconography have come to symbolize the triumph of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness and hope over despair.

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Jan/Feb 2018
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