“The Blessed Lord said: My dear Arjuna, O son of Pritha, behold now My opulences, hundreds of thousands of varied divine forms, multicolored like the sea.” (Bhagavad-gita, 11.5)
पश्य मे पार्थ रूपाणि
शतशो ‘थ सहस्रशः
paśya me pārtha rūpāṇi
śataśo ‘tha sahasraśaḥ
“One of the many unique aspects to the sanatana-dharma presentation, the science of self-realization, through the parampara associated with Brahma, Shiva, Lakshmi, or the four Kumaras, is the detail involved in the discussion of God.
“We use more generic terms in general conversation, as the most commonly invoked ‘God’ is itself open for debate, interpretation, speculation, contemplation, and so forth. While the Vedic tradition has the analogous ishvara, there are still more descriptive names and terms; bountiful and plentiful.
“Each name has its own nuance and extended meaning. The idea is to describe God in terrific detail, to bring the person closer in their worship, upasana. Just as the more a child hears about the history of their parents, the more affection they tend to have, so the children of God take great interest in His appearances, pastimes and qualities.
“At least this is the case with the children who are not against Him, who are not competing for the same title. I was thinking to myself about the contrary position. What if someone objects to defining God to such a granularity? Is there not something missing; offense by omission? This seems to be one of the primary objections to deity worship, that man is limiting God to a statue or picture.”
For instructional purposes, Arjuna asked to see the virata-rupa. He already accepted Shri Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He knew that the person standing near him, ready to guide the chariot and also the fortunes of the submissive and inquisitive disciple, was the same Ishvara that everyone already had an idea of.
Arjuna referred to the same Krishna, of a singular identity, with various names. Krishna is Govinda because He gives pleasure to the cows and to the senses, as witnessed in the years spent in Gokula and Vrindavana. Krishna is Janardana as the leader of men. He is Keshava since He once killed a demon named Keshi.
The names are too many to count, and devotees take great pleasure in using them, remembering, and contemplating their meanings. Arjuna had no need for further proof, but for the benefit of the world he asked to see Krishna as the universal form. This is the complete everything. This is the extent to which man can understand.
The virata-rupa is like the largest point of reference. Take everything together and put it into a single image. We have the depths of our personal experiences, observed and recorded through the senses. Then we have the recorded observations of others, both living now and from the past. As much as we can absorb contributes to the collective, the sum total.
Krishna as the virata-rupa explains God’s position as the complete everything. At the same time, the image is limiting. It does not include everything precisely because the human mind is incapable of conceiving the inconceivable, achintya. We don’t know everything that goes on in every single universe.
We are astounded that Krishna could display such a vision, but even more amazing is His skill and craftsmanship in creating, maintaining, and destroying. He does these effortlessly; it’s as easy as lying down in rest and breathing.
We notice the importance of defining God when we come upon cheaters, charlatans, competitors, and bad actors. If God is inconceivable, the supreme Divine being, then who will be able to properly validate? Any person can make the claim, and what information do I really have to refute or accept?
Bhagavad-gita and Vedic literature, in general, provide the necessary knowledge. If someone claims to be God, for instance, I can ask them to show the virata-rupa. This would be a bare minimum, if I am inclined to doubt. They should show no signs of aging, as Krishna was a great-grandfather at the time of the Bharata War and still looked like a teenager, nava-yauvanam.
They should have full capability in the six areas of opulence: beauty, wealth, strength, fame, wisdom and renunciation. Granted, we cannot properly measure unlimited fame or strength, but at least we should have some idea that the person is extraordinary.
Shri Krishna, the guru to Arjuna, checks every box. He is not lacking in anything, and so we know that He is the real God; the one and only. The granularity in definition is for our benefit, to save us from unwarranted doubt, and to help us accept the path of dharma for our greatest long-term wellbeing.
Since the senses to confine,
Important God to define.
Otherwise cheaters to emerge,
From principles of dharma to diverge.
The fooled with them taking,
Inauspicious situation making.
Virata-rupa way for doubt to remove,
From single vision confusion to lose.