BRAHMAN and the Indian Deities: Faces of the Divine – Part 2

The wheel of fire of Shiva's dance, the sleeping Vishnu and many other images of the Indian deities are mediators which try to enable the viewer to realize their inherent Atman.

BRAHMAN and the Indian Deities: Faces of the Divine – Part 2

(Return to part 1)


The images, temples and statues try to call us to search our innermost being and in doing so to experience, to realize that we are part of BRAHMAN, indeed that we can merge into BRAHMAN. The wheel of fire of Shiva’s dance, which represents the overcoming of the world and its demons and radiates an unearthly joy, power and hope, the sleeping Vishnu, lying on the world serpent in the ocean of infinities and watching over everything that happens in the universe – they all touch the viewer in their own way, they try to enable them to realize their inherent Atman. They are mediators, often misunderstood and reduced to externals. They can touch us, their powers want to create in us ears that can hear and eyes that can see.

It is similar to the many representations of Buddha, the enlightened one.


The Buddha statue radiating perfect peace and serenity shows the “coming” Buddha Maitreya in standing form. It can reveal to us the teaching of Buddha and his overcoming of this world. It is not the form (the outer face of the Divine) that is essential, but the presence of another world that works through the form, the Nirvana of the Buddha. Doesn’t it correspond to what the Hindus call BRAHMAN? In the Diamond Sutra[1], Buddha answers the question of how to recognize a Perfect One, an Enlightened One, with the following verse:

He who seeks me in form,

He who seeks me in sounds,

He has gone astray on the path,

For he cannot recognize the Tathagata (the Exalted One).

Shiva’s dance

Shiva’s dance in the wheel of fire is probably one of the most famous and widespread representations of the deity of destruction and renewal. Because of its dynamism, the image appears from the view of our physical perception to be the opposite of the Buddha’s tranquility and sublimity. But doesn’t the dance of overcoming the demon, on which Shiva stands, also express the connection to another world and the attainment of another consciousness? Transient and small is our world – which is ruled by the demon –, compared to the joy, freedom and power of the Other who exists within us, the Atman who is in unity with BRAHMAN. This is what Shiva’s dance can show us. His mystical, sacred dance wants to take hold of us and take us along the path that leads from the world of separation and dualities to the world of heavenly freedom. Shiva wants to help us dissolve our ties to this world and achieve a new life. Therefore he is called the destroyer and the recreator.

Ramakrishna, a yogi from Calcutta who lived in the 19th century, a sage and worshipper of Kali, the destructive female manifestation of Shiva, the divine mother, said about worshiping God:

When I invoke the supreme being in its resting state, I call it BRAHMAN. When I think of it as active, creating, sustaining and destroying, I call it Shakti, Maya or Prakriti (also Kali), the personal God. […] The personal God and the impersonal God are one and the same, like milk and its white color…. It is impossible to think of one without the other. The Divine Mother and BRAHMAN are one [2].

Vishnu’s Sleep in Budhanilkata Kathmandu valley

A mythical representation of Vishnu shows him as sleeping on the serpent Ananta-Shesha in the ocean of the Infinite. This representation (e.g., in Budhanilkhanta in the Kathmandu Valley) attempts to depict the infinity of BRAHMAN (as water, ocean) and the divine serpent Shesha symbolizing wisdom and creative power. Her 11 heads surround and protect Vishnu’s head. Shesha is the many-headed king of serpents and a faithful servant of V


Although the representations and symbols held by the statue clearly indicate a representation of Vishnu, however, the name Budhanilkanta (blue throat) indicates a legend that is widespread in Nepal concerning Shiva. According to this legend, Shiva was asked to save the world from doom and the grip of a demon. He swallowed the evil, the demon, the worldly poison, but it burned in his throat like fire. To extinguish this fire, Shiva struck the ground with his trident on the Gosainkunda mountain range north of Kathmandu, creating the Gosainkunda lakes, to quench his thirst. These lakes are still revered as sacred and especial pilgrimages are taking place annually till today. With the water of the Gosinkunda lakes, he could extinguish the fire in his throat. The overflows of the lakes are said to feed the pond where Vishnu lies in Budhanilkanta. This legend brings together the three deities Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in their principal attribution: Brahma: the infinite ocean, Shiva: the destroyer and saviour of the world, and Vishnu: the preserver in union with the sacred serpent Shesha.

The forces of the Trimurti form a trinity. Can we also experience their work in ourselves? In every human being the formless creative manifests itself. Furthermore, the forces of preservation and those of destruction work in everyone, so that the new becomes possible. The pictorial representations want to be impulses which awaken in us the inner ears and eyes with which we receive impressions of the divine working. For this we have to enter into a silent awareness, into a listening and looking.

Krishna explains in the Bhagavad Gita that the ultimate truths about God and the world cannot be transmitted from mouth to ear. He tries to open the inner eyes of his disciple Arjuna:

He who sees the supreme being existing imperishably in all perishable things, sees truly. […] He who realizes that all his actions are performed only by nature, and that the innermost self is not the doer, truly sees. And when he realizes that all things are encompassed by the One, he attains the supreme mind.[3]


[1] Meditations Sutras des Mahayana Buddhismus, Diamant Sutra

[2] Ramakrishna, Bildmonographie, rororo publishing house, p. 6

[3] Bhagavad Gita: XIII, 28-30

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Share this article

Don't Miss Out

Would you like to receive updates on our latest articles, sent no more than once a month? Sign up for our newsletter!

Our latest articles

Article info

Date: January 14, 2022
Author: Horst Matthäus (Nepal)
Photo: Horst Matthaus

Featured image: