Namaste to you and me

Oct 17, 2011, 14:59 IST | Devdutt Pattanaik

Indra is the king of the Devas and lives in Amravati, above the sky.

Indra is the king of the Devas and lives in Amravati, above the sky. He has the wish-fulfilling tree Kalpataru, the wish-fulfilling cow Kamadhenu and the wish-fulfilling jewel Chintamani. He has everything he can wish for. For humans, his realm is Swarga, paradise. Yet, he is insecure. His throne starts to wobble as soon as there appears a king who performs better rituals than him, or a sage who has more wisdom than him, or a demon who has more power than him. He knows that Lakshmi is unfaithful, restless, and whimsical, always on the lookout for someone better.

Illustration/ Devdutt Pattanaik

Lakshmi has her eyes only on Vishnu, who relaxes on the coils of a serpent, or on a leaf, that swings on the waves of the ocean of milk. Lakshmi calls Vishnu her beloved, clings to his feet, sits on his lap, and multiplies herself several-fold to have more of him. Indra chases Lakshmi but Lakshmi chases Vishnu.

Indra's Lakshmi is called Sachi, hence his name, Sachin. He fears people will take her away from him. Vishnu does not need Lakshmi for his self-image, but he knows her value for Indra's self-image. So while Indra works for himself, he ignores others who turn against him and eventually herald his misfortune. Vishnu works for the benefit of insecure people like Indra. And in doing so becomes attractive to Lakshmi.

Our ancestors wanted us to be more like Vishnu than Indra, which is why they built so many temples enshrining Vishnu and his mortal forms, Ram and Krishna, and no temple enshrining Indra. Indra was deemed to be a mere Deva, a god spelt without capitals while Vishnu was identified as God, in capitals.

Indra is called the son of Brahma, which is a metaphor for someone who blames the world for his situation and refuses to take responsibility. Vishnu is svayambhu, self-created, a metaphor for someone never blames anyone and always takes responsibility for the situation.

Indra is who we are. Vishnu is who we can become. In India, when we join our palms to greet people and say Namaste, we are saluting the potential Vishnu within all of us. God in Hinduism is thus expressed in first person, second person and third person: you are god, I am god, that is God. Everyone is divine, but while you and I are works in progress, that is perfection.

Like Indra, we are children of Brahma (pronounced by laying stress only to the second vowel). That is the brahman (pronounced by laying stress to neither vowel). To move from being Brahma to the brahman we have to become Brahmana (pronounced by laying stress only to the first vowel). This meaning is totally lost in our caste-ridden society, unfortunately. 

These three similar sounding words arise from the sound 'brah', which means to expand, and the word 'manas', which means mind. Hence the Vedantic aphorisms, Aham Brahmasmi, I am the finite Brahma and the potential brahman, and Tat tvam asi, so are you.

To move from Indra to Vishnu, from god to God, from being children of Brahma, to the brahman, we have to expand our mind, include other people's beliefs, and understand why they are similar to ours and why they are not. But we do not do this because we would rather be right, and condemn the wrong, exclude rather than include.

The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.

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