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Personal God In Hinduism – Ishta Devata

The concept of personal god, or ishta devata, is one among the numerous aspects that makes Hinduism different from monolithic religions. Hindu religion gives an individual the freedom to see God in a particular form the individual likes. An individual is even given the freedom to create a form of God that the individual likes.

A devotee can choose a form which satisfies his/her spiritual longing and make that the object of adoration and love. This is the personal god of the devotee.

Vedas emphatically states that Reality is one, sages call it by different names. The concept of personal God in Hinduism is based on this teaching.

A devotee can choose his personal god from Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Ganesha, Hanuman or one of the avatars or one of the myriad forms of Shakti.

Hinduism believes that God incarnates Himself for helping the spiritual evolution of mankind. Rama and Krishna are two of the prominent avataras of God. One may choose any one of these avatars as the ishta and practice devotion and love. Vaishnavas who are the preachers of bhakti yoga take either Sri Rama or Krishna as their ishta devata.

Shaivaites choose Shiva or Subramanya (Murugan) as their ishta devata. Tantriks and Devi upasakas regard the chosen idol as their mother. It may be Durga, Lalita, Lakshmi, Meenakshi or any other Mother Goddess worshipped in the temple in their native places. Some people choose Ganesha as Ishata Devata.

Hanuman, the greatest devotee of Lord Rama, said, “I know that the God of Lakshmi and the God of Janaki are one, as the supreme self (Paramatma) is my God Ramachandra.” This is devotion to the chosen god (ishta nishta). Without such an unflinching devotion to one’s own chosen ideal, a devotee cannot make any progress. 

Personal God In Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti Yoga suggests that we have to love God intensely – as a father, mother, friend, child or a beloved companion. We have to shift the focus away from worldly objects to God. This sort of love is accompanied by pure joy. That is why bhakti yoga on the path of love appeals to the majority of mankind. This is the easiest approach and suited to the taste and capacity of most of us. Personal deity is the chosen ideal. Millions of varkaris in Maharashtra have Lord Vithal has their chosen deity.

One is used to thinking of anything through its form. Thinking and fixing the mind on an abstract idea is very difficult. One needs a personal God whom he could love as his mother, father, friend and companion. Who is always ready to care as well as help when one cries out to Him.

There is the story of Gajendra (the elephant king), who was seized by a crocodile. Gajendra cried out to Narayana. Vishnu appeared at once on Garuda and rescued Gajendra. Hence, a belief is established in the God one personally worships, Narayana or Vishnu is chosen as the ishta devata of many.

Worship of the chosen ideal with an unflinching devotion is the main course for the novice. For ensuring better effect, it is to be supplemented by certain other practices: the devotee is to sing bhajans (devotional songs), listen to or read bhakti texts, resolve to live in holy places (especially those associated with hi chosen ideal), and always seek the company of spiritually advanced souls.

Love of God becomes easier if we can make it flow through any of our familiar channels. We know the child’s love for his parents, a faithful servant’s love for his master. We know what a real friend’s love means; the father’s and mother’s love for her children and a faithful wife’s love for her husband and vice versa are well known. These are different attitudes through which one expresses love towards another. Bhakti yoga teaches one to take up any of these bhavas (attitudes) in relation to one’s chosen ideal. One may look upon the chosen ideal as one’s parent, master, friend, child or lover and try to develop love accordingly. Devotion to personal god without any distraction brings about a calm pose which is called Shanta Bhava.

Sakhya, Vatsalya, and Madhurya stand for the attitudes of a comrade, a parent and a lady love – assumed by different devotees towards their chosen deity. Sudama and other cowherd boys of Vrindavan, Bhima and Arjuna typify the Sakhya mood. Yashoda and the milkmaids of Vrindavan exhibit the ideal pattern of Vatsalya and Madhurya Bhava. The love of princess Meera for her chosen ideal, Krishna, is well-known; she forsook her husband to have Krishna like that, singing songs from her heart that remain a treasure house for devotees and devotional performers to this day.