People commonly misunderstand Hinduism to be a polytheistic tradition. This became quite apparent when I recently facilitated a discussion at Leicester University entitled ‘Misconceptions of Hinduism’. Ironically, the word Hindu is itself a misnomer. It’s not mentioned anywhere in the Bhagavad-gita (the principle scripture for Hindu’s) or any other Vedic scripture for that matter. For conventional usage (vyavaharika) we may employ the term, but in the ultimate sense (paramarthika) followers of the Bhagavad-gita would not use such an identifier.
Back to the subject of God, the Vedic path was actually a strictly monotheistic tradition but one could say it was also poly-cultural. Throughout the teachings of Bhagavad-gita, numerous passages affirm Krishna to be the one Supreme God, known by different names in different world religions. Interestingly, however, the Vedic teachers were aware that the majority of people would not simply be searching for that one God in life, but would also have many other ‘not-so-spiritual’ desires during their sojourn in this world. Thus, different types of worship were recommended so that they could step onto the ‘spiritual ladder’ while simultaneously pursuing their material aspirations. For example, different scriptures recommend worship of nature and worship of different ‘demigods’ to attain fame and fortune. The master plan was that gradually they would come to a more focused and pure sense of spirituality, completely divorcing themselves from worldly pursuits. Ultimately, they would come to the point of worshipping the one Supreme God.
Thus, although strictly monotheistic, the Vedic tradition did recommended different types of worship. Unfortunately, people nowadays misinterpret all such worship to be on an equal level, asserting quite erroneously that all paths lead to the same destination. On the other extreme, many become confused and frustrated by seeing so many so-called contradictions and conflicting recommendations of worship. Thus, only when one is able to understand the various scriptures and their different injunctions in context of the entire body of knowledge, will one appreciate the ingenuity of the multi-level spirituality offered in the Vedic path.