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Hinduism, with 330 Million Gods and Goddesses, Confuses Even Hindus

January 31, 1989

ALLAHABAD, India (AP) _ One holy man walked naked among his disciples, offering sacred ash, blessings and cardamoms as consecrated host. Not far away, another holy man delivera religion believed to have been practiced since the third millennium B.C.

They also showed that Hinduism, with 330 million gods and goddesses, can be confusing even to Hindus.

The religion claims a following of 730 million people in India and Nepal and parts of Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand in Southeast Asia; Mauritius, in Africa and Fiji in the South Pacific. For comparison, the Roman Catholic Church claims a following of 850 million.

An estimated 500,000 holy men and their followers started camping at Allahabad on Jan. 14, for a seven-week congregation, or fair, during which 30 million to 40 million pilgrims were expected to take dips at the ″Sangam,″ the confluence of the three rivers most sacred to Hindus - the Ganges, the Jamuna and the Saraswathi.

The ″Sangam,″ which takes it’s name from a mythical fight between gods and demons over a pot of nectar, is held every 12 years when Jupiter enters Taurus and the Sun and the Moon are in Capricorn.

″You can’t explain Hinduism,″ said M.P. Asthana, who has attended four earlier fairs. ″It is a way of life, where karmas (the results of deeds) are most important. Even to an average Hindu, the faith is so confusing.″

He added: ″No one can explain how we got to acquire and where are our 330 million gods and goddesses.″

Believers worship images and statues of gods and goddesses as well as live animals, including rats. In Hinduism every god has his steed, or vehicle, and the rat is the vehicle of Ganesha on whom the elephant-headed, master-of- ceremony god rides.

Hinduism postulates that everyone goes through a series of rebirths, or reincarnations, that eventually lead to Moksha, the spiritual salvation that frees one from the cycle of rebirths.

″With each rebirth you can move closer to or further from eventual moksha,″ said Asthana, who is the spokesman for the state government of Uttar Pradesh, in which Allahabad is a major city.

″The deciding factor is one’s karma. Bad actions result in bad karma, which leads one to lower incarnation and a step further from salvation.

″But if one’s actions have been good he or she will reincarnate on a higher level and be a step closer to eventual freedom from rebirth.″

Coming to Allahabad has special significance for Hindus and tens of thousands come daily to take holy dips at the Sangam, believing doing this during the auspicious planetary conjugation will wash away all the sins of a lifetime and release them from the cycle of births and rebirths.

″It is like appearing directly before God for confessions,″ said Jagannath Dwevedi, the chief adminstrator of the fair.

″No one knows how bathing will wash off sins, but the belief is so great that no logic stands.″

Before taking the dip, pilgrims offer milk and marigolds to the rivers in a purification ritual and later throw water with their hands toward the sky, believing that some drops will reach their ancestors in the heaven.

″Now, this sounds like a total nonsense, but people do it,″ said the 56- year-old Dwevedi. ″It is the age-old belief. It is above logic.″

Nagas are the naked recluses of Hinduism and they have their own logic.

″Nakedness ends all dichotomy in human life,″ said one, refusing to give his name. ″We were born naked and therefore should remain naked and die naked.″

Fifty-two different religious groups put up sprawling tent homes at the fair. Each has its own way to reach God. Most of them constantly smoke marijuana. They say it helps them meditate and become closer to God.

″This makes Hinduism unique,″ said Asthana. ″There is no restriction on how you reach your goal - salvation.″

Only vegetables appear on the fair’s menus because devout Hindus are vegetarians and eating beef is taboo. Hindus worship the cow.

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