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I used to believe that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion because of the sheer number of Gods around.

But now I'm not so sure.

Personally, I've always been a devotee of Krishna (member of ISKCON). I'd come to believe that Krishna is the ultimate form of the divine. Everything else came from him. Including Vishnu (We believe Vishnu is merely a form of Krishna).

But most other Hindus don't believe in that. They believe in trimurthis. Bramha (The Creator), Vishnu (The Preserver) and Maheshwara (The Destroyer) are in fact the 3 supreme, prime forces of the universe, with neither of them better or inferior than the other. They believe that Krishna is a form of Vishnu and not the the other way round. And this is just one small example.

There are plenty of examples I've noticed regarding Temples and Gurus.

  • Temples are generally concerned with one particular God. They do not necessarily disapprove other Gods but they are nevertheless indifferent to them.

    1. ISKCON does not celebrate any festival of any kind that is not related to Krishna in one way or the other (Like Ganesha festival).
    2. Good many Temples even proclaim their respective Gods of worship is the supreme and most powerful. Like the Temples of female Goddess in Tamil Nadu who claim that mother is truly the most powerful as she gave birth to the Trimurthis. In Shiva temples, Shiva is the most powerful and so on.
  • Then we have the Gurus. Gurus are given so much importance in this country that many devotees place them above Gods. In fact I know some of my friends who believe Sai Baba or Ravi Shankar as incarnation of Gods and their words are given precedence over any Vedas or scriptures.

So it got me thinking. Is Hinduism really a polytheistic religion or is in fact an amalgam of monotheistic religions? I mean Islam and Christianity are monotheistic. For them, their respective Gods are most important, just like in any other Temple. Songs are sung and festivals are celebrated just like any Temple. But unlike Temples, these Western monotheistic religions disapprove of other Gods and go as far as to convert people in order to keep them from straying out.

The Indian counterparts are of course more tolerant than that. But is this extra tolerance the reason Hinduism or better, Indian religions, seem polytheistic? What are your thoughts on this?

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Hinduism is a monotheistic religion where the object of worship(Godhead) is decided by your sect or your choice as in Smarthism.

Lets consider for example Sri Sampradayam, I belong to Sri sampradayam which is a sub-sect of Vaishnavism. So for me Shriman Naryana or Shri Hari Vishnu is supreme.

Similarly you are a gaudiya vaishnava so for you the object of worship is Krishna.

While in case of Smarthas the Object of worship is not Strict they would worship 5-6 types of gods and they can consider any one as their ishta devata or main object of Worship.

Smartha worship is Panchayatan based. Advaita Philosophy says that Supreme Bramhan can take any form and to limit exploitation(adding of new gods or worshipping many gods without any good reason) of this philosophy Adi Shankaracharya set a limit on number of gods by creating Panchayatan system.

In Bhagwad Gita chapter 12 Bhakti-Yoga/Path of Devotion krishna talks about nature of worship and why humans cannot worship the Avyakta or the unmanifested Bramhan.

Here is the relevant part of Discussion

Arjuna inquired: Which are considered to be more perfect, those who are always properly engaged in Your devotional service or those who worship the impersonal Brahman, the unmanifested?

The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Those who fix their minds on My personal form and are always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith are considered by Me to be most perfect.

But those who fully worship the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, the all-pervading, inconceivable, unchanging, fixed and immovable—the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth—by controlling the various senses and being equally disposed to everyone, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all, at last achieve Me.

The reason for worshipping Manifest form of God, which leads to choices and thus to polytheism.

For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.

Note: No sect of Hinduism allows worship of Gurus as gods, but worship of Guru is allowed and is encouraged.

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