[FOUNTAIN]Comprehending the gods

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[FOUNTAIN]Comprehending the gods

India is a country of gods. Most of the 1 billion people in India are Hindus and they worship all sorts of gods. Depending on the time and place, they pray to different gods. Their subject of worship also changes in accordance with the prayer they make. To understand the complexity of the god-world of India is challenging. For instance, one of the gods is the subject of unjustified fear. That's the goddess Kali. With her long red tongue and multiple arms, Kali can be frightening to an outsider.

Nevertheless, this unreasonable fear could be resolved if one goes beyond the ferocious appearance and studies the true nature of this goddess. Kali is the wife of Shiva, who is one of the three main gods of India. Besides Shiva, there are Brahma and Vishnu, who stand at the center of Hinduism. The gods of India have their own territories. In Hinduism, the world is a place where creation and extinction, and life and death repeat themselves in a cycle called transmigrationism. Brahma is responsible for creation, Vishnu for preservation and Shiva for destruction.

One aspect that foreigners find hard to understand is that the same god changes his name when the place or the role changes. Thus, Shiva has more than a thousand different names in India. Polytheism accounts for countless gods. Through thousands years of history, these countless gods of India have been integrated, and they have been made avatars. Kali is no different from other gods that go by several different names. Kali also goes under different names with each province and assigned role. Regionally, the goddess is worshiped in the northeastern area of India, in Bengal, and she is also the protector of Calcutta. Her role is confined to death and fear.

Nevertheless, in the world of Hinduism the word death takes another meaning as well. In the doctrine of transmigration, death is also the beginning of a new life. Hence, Kali can be a goddess of life and fertility. Her frightening figure also protects people from evil. In Hinduism, the goddess of death can become a patron and symbol of life as well.

Last week, a Korean man in his 30s and two high school girls committed suicide together. The man was said to have taught the two teens to believe in the goddess Kali. But what he taught them was only one side of the Indian goddess. The tragedy began out of ignorance. Without attempting to understand the true meanings of India's gods, the man merely believed what he saw with his eyes. In India, such ignorance is considered a sin.

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang

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