“At the time, there were not yet visible any signs of manhood on the boy’s beautiful face, which was dark-blue in complexion and had an all-auspicious gaze. Rama had a gold chain round His neck, a small tuft of hair on His head, wore only one piece of clothing, and held a bow in His hands.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.14)
Among all the major religions of the world, Hinduism is especially known for its beautiful artwork. Since there are so many famous demigods and saints, we see that many of them are depicted in beautiful statues and paintings. More importantly, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, Lord Krishna, and His primary expansions are also seen in famous pictures and other works of art. If one visits stores in India, they will see pictures of God everywhere. These depictions of the Lord aren’t based on the imagination of the mind, but rather come from the authorized statements of the Vedas.
Every religion has its major scripture that is revered and widely read. What is referred to as the Hindu religion today can be more accurately described as sanatana-dharma. Both being Sanskrit words, sanatana means that which has no beginning or end, and dharma means religiosity or occupational duty. The Vedas are the original scriptures espousing sanatana-dharma. Veda means knowledge, and there can be no higher knowledge than that which explains God. The Vedanta-sutras tell us that everything in this world emanates from the Supreme Absolute Truth. Knowledge is included in this definition, meaning that the topmost knowledge system also comes from God.
The Vedas were originally one doctrine known simply as the Veda. The information contained within was passed down through an oral tradition. As time passed, man’s mental capabilities diminished, therefore requiring a written form of scripture. Lord Krishna, the original personality of Godhead, partially incarnated as a great sage by the name of Vyasadeva, who not only divided the Veda into four separate branches, but also further explained Vedic knowledge in the form of stories. These ancient stories became known as the Puranas. Each Purana is quite lengthy since it chronicles the life and pastimes of the Supreme Lord and His various incarnations. Vyasadeva’s most famous work is the Mahabharata, which is also sometimes referred to as the fifth Veda. Literally meaning “Great India”, the Mahabharata contains the entire history of the world up until around five thousand years ago. Lord Krishna’s pastimes on earth are also detailed in this book, along with His great discourse on religion known as the Bhagavad-gita.
Lord Krishna’s return to the spiritual world signaled the beginning of the Kali Yuga, the last of the four time periods of creations. Kali Yuga is known as the Dark Age since quarrel and hypocrisy are rampant in society during this time. Because of this decline in religiosity, people’s adherence to the Vedic doctrine is greatly diminished. Even the professed followers of Vedic traditions, the brahmanas, became lax in their responsibilities at the outset of the Kali Yuga. They started to abuse the animal sacrifice process in order to enjoy meat eating. As a result, people started to break away from the original religion of the Vedas. They started forming their own religions, with their own set of scriptures. The situation we are left with today is that there exist many different religions, with followers of each group claiming their religious system is correct.
A common trait of the major religions of the world today is that they describe God in an impersonal manner. The Vedas tell us that we are spirit souls at our core, and that our constitutional position is that of servitor to the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna. This material world is a flawed replica of the spiritual world, and thus is not meant to be our permanent home. Due to the pure nature of the soul, most living entities inherently recognize the existence of a God. Since this is the case, most of the major religions of the world acknowledge the existence of a God, but they don’t go into much detail regarding His name, form, or attributes. Religious leaders generally prescribe adherence to a set of rules and regulations. They ask people to be God conscious, to pray, and to act in a righteous manner. Nevertheless, their depiction of God is that of an impersonal spirit.
“And I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness, and which is immortal, imperishable and eternal.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.27)
The Vedas definitely do acknowledge an impersonal aspect of God. This feature is known as Brahman, which is also referred to as the Absolute Truth. Brahman is typically defined as the sum and substance of all things material and spiritual in this world. However, Brahman is a limited realization of God. The Vedas tell us that the Supreme Lord can be realized in three distinct features: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. A higher realization than Brahman is Paramatma, which is God’s expansion as the Supersoul residing in the heart of every living entity.
“Although the Supersoul appears to be divided, He is never divided. He is situated as one. Although He is the maintainer of every living entity, it is to be understood that He devours and develops all.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 13.17)
Paramatma is a higher realization than Brahman because it describes the personal aspect of the Supersoul, which resides within everyone. And yet the Supersoul also has a source, which is Bhagavan. Many religious leaders tell us that God is great, but the Vedas go one step further by attempting to put this greatness into words. Bhagavan means one who possesses all fortunes. Only God can possess the qualities of wealth, fame, beauty, renunciation, power, and wisdom to the fullest degree and at the same time. Since God is the fountainhead of all these features, only He can possess them to the fullest extent. Bhagavan also means the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is a person just like us, except that He is the supreme and original person, adi-purusham.
“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.11)
God has a personal form. We see that many famous conversations and instructions of the Lord are chronicled in the Vedas. These statements typically start with the words “Shri Bhagavan uvacha”, which mean “The Supreme Lord said”. We also see that Krishna uses possessive terminology such as “Mine” and “I am”. For the living entities, this type of thinking is flawed, for God is the actual proprietor of everything. We really have no claim on anything since our most prized possession, our body, must be given up at the time of death. Since God is the source of everything, His use of the words “Mine” and “I am” is completely justified. This terminology also proves without a doubt that God is a distinct person. Sometimes foolish scholars or atheists study the Bhagavad-gita and write commentary on its teachings, and still take Krishna to be an elevated form of Brahman or, even worse, an ordinary human being. Krishna is the ultimate authority on Vedic knowledge, so when He says “I” and “Mine”, He is referring to Himself as God, and not as some impersonal energy.
Brahman is an impersonal effulgence which pervades all of creation. However, there is something beyond the Brahman conception, or the brahma-jyoti. This is Lord Krishna’s spiritual realm known as Krishnaloka. For those incapable of fostering an attachment to God’s original personal form, they remain stuck at Brahman. They can never enter the Lord’s spiritual realm where the spirit souls enjoy personal association with God and His direct expansions. Direct expansions refer to vishnu-tattva forms of the Lord. The living entities are also expansions of the Lord. God has an inferior energy known as the material world, and a superior energy known as the spiritual world. We living entities are technically part of the marginal energy because we have a choice as to which energy we associate with. Lord Krishna’s primary expansion is that of the four-handed Narayana, or Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu then further expands into other Vishnus and incarnations technically known as vishnu-tattva. All these expansions are considered to be as good as God Himself since they are part of the spiritual energy.
“The worshipers of the demigods will be promoted to the respective planets of the demigods, but devotees of the Supreme Lord will go back home, back to Godhead.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.25)
The highest achievement for the living entity is to learn about Lord Krishna, or one of His expansions, and to gain an attachment to Him. This attachment will lead one back to the spiritual world at the time of death. Once a spirit soul returns to Krishna’s personal realm, they never return to the material world. To aid the living entities in rekindling their love for God, the Lord personally descends to earth from time to time. One such appearance took place many thousands of years ago in the town of Ayodhya. An avatara means one who descends, thus the Lord Rama avatara represented Krishna’s descent to earth as a pious prince. Born as the eldest son of Maharaja Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya, Rama was loved and adored by all family, friends, and neighbors. As part of His pastimes, Rama served a fourteen year exile period in the forest. At the time, Rakshasa demons were on a rampage against the saintly class who had set up hermitages in the forest.
Lord Rama specifically appeared on earth to grant protection to these sages. He and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were expert defenders, well versed in military science. On one occasion during Rama’s younger days, a particular demon by the name of Maricha came to harass the venerable Vishvamitra Muni. To his surprise, Maricha found that Vishvamitra was guarded by an exquisitely beautiful and powerful prince. Not knowing that this person was Rama, Maricha proceeded to attack, an act which caused Rama to soundly defeat him in battle. In the above referenced statement, Maricha is describing the features of Lord Rama, as he saw them, to the Rakshasa leader Ravana.
From this description, we see just how beautiful God is. Since Rama is a qualified incarnation, there is no difference between Himself and Krishna. He is God, and His body is completely spiritual and exists eternally. Maricha was very fortunate to see God face to face. He was no ordinary soul, for he surely had performed many pious deeds in his previous lives. In fact, as events would play out, Maricha would be killed by Rama, and would thus have the benefit of seeing and thinking of God at the time of death.
Most of us don’t have the good fortune of seeing God face to face. There is no need to worry, however, as Maricha and other great personalities have described the Lord’s features in great detail for us. Maricha’s statement is by no means the only description of Lord Rama found in the Ramayana. In fact, Lord Krishna’s beauty is described in great detail in the Bhagavata Purana and other famous texts. These descriptions are not only statements of fact, but they serve as a benefit to us. Great devotees have used these descriptions to paint pictures of the Lord and to construct beautiful sculptures of Him.
Worship of God in His personal form is the highest form of religion. There is no difference between a picture or deity of the Lord and God Himself. Hindus are not lowly idol worshipers because since the material elements of stone and wood are used to create a deity, the elements become spiritualized. These forms aren’t imagined either, as they are based on the authoritative statements of the Vedas. God is so kind, beautiful, and merciful that we will all benefit by taking up His service. In this age, not only does the Lord incarnate in the forms of His pictures and deities, but He also appears through the transcendental sound vibrations of the His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The aim of human life is to love God. This love can easily be awakened by viewing beautiful pictures of Him, and by chanting His holy names.