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Sanatana Dharma for Kids: One God, many gods

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The family was at the dining table. Mummy, and the twins Arvind and Padma, were happy that daddy was back home early for dinner. When everybody was seated, mummy served the first course of dinner--roti, dal and onion raita--and took a seat near Arvind. Padma sat near her daddy, who seemed very relaxed that evening.

"Daddy", began the kids together, "can we ask you something?"

"Shoot it", said daddy.

"We're really confused, daddy", began Padma. "Our class teacher said today that we Hindus have really only one God named Brahman and not many Gods as we think."

"Before the teacher could explain it", Arvind added, "the bell rang and the class was over."

"Daddy", said Padma, "is it true that we have only one God?"

"No, we have several in the Puja room!", pleaded Arvind. Counting on his fingers, he continued, "Ganesha, Shiva, Vishnu, Muruga, Rama, Krishna, Durga, Lakshmi, Sarasvati and many more!"

"And Ganesha is our favourite God!", said Padma.

"I don't know who is Brahman." said Arvind. "I have not seen him. How does he look like, dad?"

"I am not giving up Ganesha for Brahman", said Padma sternly.

"Or any other God for that matter", said Arvind.

"Don't worry, I will explain to you." said daddy. "What did your mummy say to your question?"

"Well I said, just like we are a family of four people, the one God is a family of many gods."

"We will put it this way. Padma, who are you?"

"I am a girl, daddy."

"Who are you to me?"

"I am your daughter."

"So, Padma has two forms, a girl and a daughter. She is a girl basically, but to me and mummy, she is a daughter."

"Same way, I am a boy and a son", observed Arvind.

"You understand? Now, Padma, do you have any more forms?"

Padma was quick to grasp the idea. Nodding her head, she said, "Yes daddy, many more! I am a sister to Arvind, a student in the class, a friend of Valarmathi, a granddaughter to my four grandparents..."

"Are you the same or different in each form?"

"The same, of course!"

"No she is different", corrected Arvind. "She goes to school smartly dressed, she is often naughty to me, a helping daughter at home and, always the pet granddaughter!"

"You both are right. Padma looks different in each form or role, but she is the same girl in all of them. In the same way Arvind, you are what Padma is at each of your roles, but only your form is different."

"I understand that dad," said Arvind. "But Padma and I are different, aren't we? She is a girl and I am a boy."

"Yes and no. You are a boy and she is a girl alright, but both of you, and me and mummy too, are humans. Therefore, all of us are human forms."

"But dad", said Arvinid, "Is God a human too? Because every God we have is in the human form."

"Except our Ganesha", said Padma. "He is special. He is a human with an animal head."

"Yes, God takes a human form when He wants to take a form. Because a human is the best of all the forms that God has made in this world."

"But aren't these forms different, dad?" said Arvind, "just as you and mummy and Padma and I are different?"

"Yes Arvind. The God forms are different, but the God in them is the same One God, whom we call Brahman."

"But daddy", asked Padma, "why do we worship God in many human forms when He is Brahman, the only one?"

"This world of ours is a colorful world. We have different types of humans here. Some want wealth, some want health, some knowledge, and some, nothing except what God would give them. Since God creates, gives and controls everything in this world, He appears as Lakshmi to those who want wealth, as Ganesha to those who want health, as Sarasvati to those who want knowledge, and so on; generally, as any personal God according to human nature."

"We have many Gods in our Puja room", said Arvind. "Does this mean that we want everything dad?"

Daddy laughed. "You are right in a way. For you and Padma, Ganesha is your favourite God. In the same way, everyone has a personal God, an Ishta Devata. But since we all love everyone of our God forms, we worship them in many forms."

"If Lakshmi gives wealth and Sarasvati knowledge, what do Shiva and Vishnu give daddy?" said Padma.

"That will be a long discussion. We can have it some other day. For now, you understand two things: firstly, God is only one, called Brahman, but is worshipped by us Hindus in many forms. And secondly, though we worship God in many forms, we know that God is only one."

"Yes, we now understand Daddy", said the children in chorus. Arvind continued, "Dad, if God appears in human form, then we are God, too?"

"Yes we are, basically, but most of us don't realize it. That is why we think of ourselves as separate human beings."

"If God is human, then daddy is my favourite human God!", said Padma.

"And mummy is my favourite human God!", said Arvind.

"Don't forget your teacher and the guest", said mummy, who was listening to the whole chat with interest.

"Yes mom", said the children together. "We now understand what you often tell us. Matru Devo Bhava; Pitru Devo Bhava; Acharya Devo Bhava; Athithi Devo Bhava.".

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