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Quite often we discuss among ourselves, with a slight tone of self-mockery, that we Hindus have thirty-three crore (330 million) gods. We think we have such a surfeit of gods that we do not mind accepting anything and everything. This opinion is shared by several scholars and writers. Who are all these gods?
Let us try to figure out. We can list out all the names we know – Vishnu, Shiva, Surya, Venkateswara, etc, etc. We may associate our friends from all parts of the country, count all the local deities and we may come to a figure which may be in thousands. What, in fact, is the truth?
Vedanta categorically states that the Supreme Reality is the infinitely pervading consciousness. It is not a personal god whom we see in religion. It is not denoted as 'he' or 'she' but as 'It', an impersonal entity. The name given to this impersonal entity is Brahman. The creative power which is associated with this Brahman is called as prakriti or maaya. In order to facilitate our understanding Vedanta compares this entity to an ocean. An ocean is a huge mass of water. When a huge wave emerges from it, we distinguish it from the ocean and call it a wave. Similarly in the ocean of consciousness the creative power creates a notion of 'I' or 'self'. This first appearance of ego is given a name – Hiranyagarbha. The Upanishads say that this is the source of all creation. The Taittiriya Upanishad gives a graphic description of such creation. The space emerged first, it says. From the space came air. From air the fire emerged. The fire became fluid and later it became a hard mass called earth. The whole plant kingdom originated from earth and became food for all beings. The purpose of this narration, we are told, is to say that there is nothing apart from Brahman and what all we see is a manifestation in Brahman.