An Indian Civilizational Perspective

One God but Many Names and Forms

This is an old Birbal tale .. but got to read it from Jasleen’s blog… worth a read..

The Emperor was once in a very thoughtful mood. “Is anything the matter, Sire?” Birbal inquired.

“Not at all, Birbal,” Akbar replied. “I was just thinking about something. We Muslims worship Allah. Christians believe in Christ. Buddhists have Buddha. Various other religions have a God of their own. But Hindus worship so many gods. Why is this so?”

Birbal replied: “Jahanpanah, God is actually one. Even for Hindus. He is simply referred to by different names.”

The Emperor shook his head: “How is this possible? How can one God assume different forms and yet be one and the same?”

“Why not, Sire? Let me explain,” Birbal responded.

The wise minister summoned a man wearing a turban. Pointing to it he asked: “What’s this?”

“A turban, huzoor!” the man replied.

“Fine! Now untie it, roll it and tie it around your waist,” Birbal commanded.

The man did as told. “Now what is it?” Birbal asked.

“Why Sir, not it’s a cummerband!” The man couldn’t understand what the wise minister was up to.

“Okay! Untie it and wrap it around your waist. That’s fine. Now what’s this?” he asked.

“It’s a dhoti, Sir,” the man replied.

“Great! Next, wrap it loosely around your shoulders. That’s right. Now what would you call it?” Birbal continued.

“Why, Sir, this is a shawl,” the man wondered when this would end.

“Perfect! Now drape it around your neck . . .” Birbal said, but was cut short by the Emperor.

“Birbal, I’ve got your point!” Akbar was truly astonished at the simplicity of Birbal’s explanation.

“Jahanpanah, the cloth in every instance remained just the same. Yet, it was called by different names. That’s simply because the user or the usage changed. This happens with water too. It is water vapour in the sky or coulds. It is rain when it falls to earth. It is river when it flows. It is ice when it freezes. Bu the central element is one and the same.

“Likewise, God is one and the same. It is only the worshippers who are different. So each person or religion calls God by different names,” Birbal concluded.

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