In Hinduism, Deities are often depicted with multiple arms. These many arms become visible when they are battling with cosmic forces. The pictorial representation of Hindu Gods having multiple arms in the human form is the artist’s attempt to express the supreme powers of Gods. It shows their immense strength and power to perform numerous acts at a single time.
The multiple arms of Hindu Gods and Goddesses show the greater power of Deities over humans.
Each hand holds some object which symbolizes the various qualities of that particular deity. Some hands are shown empty but with different mudras (position) of the fingers and palms that signify the character of God. For instance, when the fingers are pointing towards the ground, they convey the charitable nature of God, whereas, when the fingers point upwards, in the form of a blessing, convey the protective nature of God.
The number of arms varies basis the symbolism portrayed. Usually, Deities are shown having four arms each holding a different object having a different significance. For instance, Lord Ganesha.
The Abhaya Mudra translated to English means a gesture of fearlessness (Abhaya = fearless, mudra=gesture). In this gesture, Ganesha’s lower right hand symbolizes his grace, blessings, and protection on a person’s journey through life. Holding an axe in his upper right hand, Ganesha symbolizes detachment that is, to cut off all attachments. He holds a rope in his upper left hand to pull the devotees nearer to the spiritual path. It is said that Ganesha offers rewards in the form of modak (sweets) for penances (sadhana) done with the modak which he holds in his lower left hand.
At times, the Deity is also shown with more than one head. This representation symbolizes the various aspects of the character of that deity. For example, when the god Shiva is portrayed with a triple head, the central face indicates his essential character and the flanking faces depict his fierce and blissful natures.
As per Ancient Hindu Texts,
Lord Brahma formerly possessed one head. When he created a woman, Shatarupa, from his own body, Brahma fell in love with his own female creation. He could not escape his eyes from her astounding beauty. As Shatarupa felt shy, she tried to elude his gaze by moving away on all sides. It is believed that to follow Shatarupa wherever she moved, Brahma created his FIVE heads, facing each side, East, West, North, and South and one facing upwards.
Like Hindu Deities, the Puranas also mention of demons (Asura) having multiple arms and heads. This depiction is done to convey their superhuman power.