Hindu Deities – All About the Gods
Hinduism as a religion is called as `apauruseya` which means of impersonal origin. Hindu Gods are also known as such, they are eternal deities appearing to be sovereign and different, but in reality are aspects of the same ‘Supreme God’. A Hindu deity (god or goddess; note small g) represents a particular aspect of the Supreme Being. Within Hinduism a large number of personalities, or ‘forms’ of this Being, are worshiped as deities or incarnations.
Hindus view cosmic activity of the Supreme Being as comprised of three tasks: creation, preservation, and dissolution and recreation. Hindus associate these three cosmic tasks with the three deities, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Lord Brahma brings forth the creation and represents the creative principle of the Supreme Being. Lord Vishnu maintains the universe and represents the eternal principle of preservation. Lord Shiva represents the principle of dissolution and recreation. These three deities together form the Hindu Trinity. The oneness of the three gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is brought out by the mystic symbol AUM where ‘A’ represents Vishnu, ‘U’ Shiva and ‘M’ Brahma.
List of Indian Gods
Brahma is the God of Creation, an important deity among the Hindus. According to the Puranas, Brahma is self-born (without mother) in the lotus flower which grew from the navel of Vishnu at the beginning of the universe.
Brahma is usually conceived of by Hindus as a bearded, four-faced, four-armed deity. In popular images, He carries a rosary in the upper right hand, a book in the upper left hand, a kamandalu (water pot) in the lower left hand, and bestows grace with His lower right hand. The four faces represent the sacred knowledge of the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva), and this is the most prominent feature of any image of Brahma. The four faces, therefore, symbolize that Brahma is the source of all knowledge necessary for the creation of the universe. The four arms represent the four directions and thus represent the omnipresence and omnipotence of Lord Brahma.
His divine consort is Saraswati, the Goddess of learning and knowledge. Goddess Saraswati provides Lord Brahma with knowledge that is necessary for the process of creation.
Although Brahma is one of the major gods in Hinduism, few Hindus actually worship him. India today has very few temples dedicated to Brahma alone as opposed to the thousands of temples dedicated to the other deities in the Trimurti: Shiva and Vishnu.Myth has it that Shiva cursed him that he would not be worshiped on earth.
The Hindu god Vishnu is the preserver and protector of creation and sustains the universe. Vishnu is the embodiment of mercy and goodness, the self-existent, all-pervading power that preserves the universe and maintains the cosmic order Dharma.
Vishnu is often represented by a human body with four arms. In His hands He carries a conch (shankha), a mace (gada), and discus (chakra). He wears a crown, two earrings, a garland (mala) of flowers, and a gem around the neck. He has a blue body and wears yellow clothes. The Lord is shown standing on a thousand-headed snake (named Shesha Nag), and the snake stands with its hoods open over the head of the Lord. Vishnu’s consort Lakshmi is often shown massaging his feet.
The worship of Lord Vishnu is very popular among Hindus, especially among the followers of the Vaishnava tradition (Vaishnavism).Lord Vishnu is also known by other names, such as Vasudeva and Narayana. The following ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu are described in Hindu mythology and are popular among Hindus. These incarnations reveal the help rendered by God during various stages of human evolution. As shown below, the first two incarnations are in the animal form, the third one is half-human and half-animal, and the fourth and the subsequent ones are all in human form. These incarnations relate to human evolution from aquatic life to human life, and are consistent with the modern theory of evolution suggested by science:
– Matsya (fish)—saves Sage Manu from floods and recovers the Vedas from demons.
– Kurma (tortoise)—sustains the earth on his back.
– Varaha (boar)—brings the earth back from the bottom of the ocean where it was dragged down by a demon, known as Hiranyaksha; Varaha kills the demon.
– Narasimha (man-lion)—kills the demon King Hiranyakashipu, who was planning to kill his own son, a devotee of Lord Vishnu.
– Vamana (dwarf)—the first human incarnation of the Lord, kills the demon King Mahabhali, who had deprived the gods of their possessions.
– Parasurama (the warrior with an axe)—saves Brahmins from the tyranny of the arrogant Kshatriyas.
– Rama—kills Ravana, the demon king of Lanka.
– Sri Krishna—the most popular incarnation; Krishna’s contributions throughout his life include the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna.
– Buddha—Hindus consider Buddha as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and accept his teachings, but do not directly worship him.
– Kalkin (a man on a white horse)—this incarnation is yet to come and will mark the end of all evil in the world.
Lord Shiva represents the aspect of the Supreme Being that continuously dissolves to recreate in the cyclic process of creation, preservation, dissolution and recreation of the universe. Shiva is the God of destruction and is highly revered among the Gods of India.
The tasks of Lord Shiva are numerous,and He cannot be symbolized in one form. For this reason the images of Shiva vary significantly in their symbolism.
– The unclad body covered with ashes: the unclad body symbolizes the transcendental aspect of the Lord. Since most things reduce to ashes when burned, ashes symbolize the physical universe. The ashes on the unclad body of the Lord signify that Shiva is the source of the entire universe which emanates from Him, but He transcends the physical phenomena and is not affected by it.
– Matted locks: Lord Shiva is the Master of yoga. The three matted locks on the head of the Lord convey the idea that integration of the physical, mental and spiritual energies is the ideal of yoga.
– Ganga: Ganga (river Ganges) is associated with Hindu mythology and is the most sacred river of Hindus.Ganga, symbolically represented on the head of the Lord by a female (Mother Ganga) with a jet of water emanating from her mouth and falling on the ground, signifies that the Lord destroys sin, removes ignorance, and bestows knowledge, purity and peace on the devotees.
– The crescent moon: shown on the side of the Lord’s head as an ornament, and not as an integral part of His countenance. The waxing and waning phenomenon of the moon symbolizes the time cycle through which creation evolves from the beginning to the end. Since the Lord is the Eternal Reality, He is beyond time. Thus, the crescent moon is only one of His ornaments, and not an integral part of Him.
– Three eyes: Lord Shiva, also called Tryambaka Deva (literally, “three-eyed Lord”), is depicted as having three eyes: the sun is His right eye, the moon the left eye and fire the third eye. The two eyes on the right and left indicate His activity in the physical world. The third eye in the center of the forehead symbolizes spiritual knowledge and power, and is thus called the eye of wisdom or knowledge. Like fire, the powerful gaze of Shiva’s third eye annihilates evil, and thus the evil-doers fear His third eye.
– Half-open eyes: when the Lord opens His eyes, a new cycle of creation emerges and when He closes them, the universe dissolves for creation of the next cycle. The half-open eyes convey the idea that creation is going through cyclic process, with no beginning and no end. Lord Shiva is the Master of Yoga, as He uses His yogic power to project the universe from Himself. The half-open eyes also symbolize His yogic posture.
– A snake around the neck(Vasuki Naga): is shown curled three times around the neck of the Lord and is looking towards His right side. The three coils of the snake symbolize the past, present and future – time in cycles. The Lord wearing the curled snake like an ornament signifies that creation proceeds in cycles and is time dependent, but the Lord Himself transcends time. The right side of the body symbolizes the human activities based upon knowledge, reason and logic. The snake looking towards the right side of the Lord signifies that the Lord’s eternal laws of reason and justice preserve natural order in the universe.
– Rudraksha necklace: Rudra is another name of Shiva. Rudra also means “strict or uncompromising” and aksha means “eye.” Rudraksha necklace worn by the Lord illustrates that He uses His cosmic laws firmly – without compromise – to maintain law and order in the universe. The necklace has 108 beads which symbolize the elements used in the creation of the world.
– Trident (Trisula): a three-pronged trident shown adjacent to the Lord symbolizes His three fundamental powers (shakti) of will (iccha), action (kriya) and knowledge (jnana). The trident also symbolizes the Lord’s power to destroy evil and ignorance.
– Damaru (drum): a small drum with two sides separated from each other by a thin neck-like structure symbolizes the two utterly dissimilar states of existence, unmanifest and manifest. When a damaru is vibrated, it produces dissimilar sounds which are fused together by resonance to create one sound. The sound thus produced symbolizes Nada, the cosmic sound of AUM, which can be heard during deep meditation. According to Hindu scriptures, Nada is the source of creation.
– Nandi: the bull is associated with Shiva and is said to be His vehicle. The bull symbolizes both power and ignorance. Lord Shiva’s use of the bull as a vehicle conveys the idea that He removes ignorance and bestows power of wisdom on His devotees. The bull is called Vrisha in Sanskrit. Vrisha also means dharma (righteousness). Thus a bull shown next to Shiva also indicates that He is the eternal companion of righteousness.
– Tiger skin: a tiger skin symbolizes potential energy. Lord Shiva, sitting on or wearing a tiger skin, illustrates the idea that He is the source of the creative energy that remains in potential form during the dissolution state of the universe. Of His own Divine Will, the Lord activates the potential form of the creative energy to project the universe in endless cycles.
– Cremation ground: Shiva sitting in the cremation ground signifies that He is the controller of death in the physical world. Since birth and death are cyclic, controlling one implies controlling the other. Thus, Lord Shiva is revered as the ultimate controller of birth and death in the phenomenal world.
Ganesha – the Hindu deity in a human form but with the head of an elephant – represents the power of the Supreme Being that removes obstacles and ensures success in human endeavors. For this reason, Hindus worship Ganesha first before beginning any religious, spiritual or worldly activity. In Hindu mythology, Lord Ganesha is the first son of Lord Shiva and the Divine Mother Parvati.
Many stories describe how Ganesha got the elephant head. One tells how Parvati created Ganesha in absence of Shiva to guard her quarters. When Shiva wanted to see her Ganesha forbid it, at which point Shiva cut of his head. Later Shiva restored Ganesha to life and provided him with the head of an elephant, because no other was available. In another story, Ganesha’s head is burned to ashes when Saturn is forced by Parvati to look at her child and bless him.
Ganesha’s large head of an elephant symbolizes wisdom, understanding, and a discriminating intellect that one must possess to attain perfection in life. The wide mouth represents the natural human desire to enjoy life in the world. The large ears signify that a perfect person is the one who possesses a great capacity to listen to others and assimilate ideas.
Krishna is the eight incarnation of lord Vishnu. Krishna is the embodiment of love and divine joy, that destroys all pain and sin. Krishna is the protector of sacred utterances and cows. Krishna is a trickster and lover, an instigator of all forms of knowledge and born to establish the religion of love. Krishna was said to have been brought up in a cowherds family. As a child, Krishna had great love for his foster-mother Yashoda. Later Krishna loved to play the flute and to seduce the village girls. His favorite was Radha.
Krishna is often described as having the appearance of a dark-skinned man during his earthly incarnation, often depicted as a young cowherd boy playing a flute.
The Mahabharata depicts Krishna as an incarnation of Vishnu who is the central character in many stories of the epic The Bhagavad Gita in the Mahabharata contains the advice of Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield. The Harivamsa an appendix to this epic contains the earliest detailed version of Krishna`s childhood and youth. The Mahabharata and the Harivamsa are considered sacred by Hindus. The life of Krishna is described in details from the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa, the Bhagavata Purana and the Vishnu Purana. The scenes from the narrative are set in north India, mostly in the present states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Delhi and Gujarat .
Ram is the 7th incarnation of Vishnu and the central figure of the Ramayana epic. The worship of Lord Rama is very popular among all Hindus, as is evident by the numerous temples dedicated to him in India. In the temple images, Rama is usually shown with his faithful wife Sita, devoted brother Lakshmana, and his beloved devotee Hanuman. The life story of Rama and the main purpose of his incarnation (to destroy the demon king Ravana) is described in the great epic Ramayana.
Ram or Rama represents an ideal man, as conceived by the Hindu mind. In the story of Ramayana, Rama’s personality depicts him as the perfect son, devoted brother, true husband, trusted friend, ideal king, and a noble adversary. In images and pictures, Rama is shown carrying a bow and arrow. The bow and arrow convey that Rama is always ready to destroy evil and protect righteousness. He is himself an embodiment of dharma.
Sita symbolizes an ideal daughter, wife, mother, and queen. Whereas Rama symbolizes standards of perfection that can be conceived in all the facets of a man’s life, Mother Sita represents all that is great and noble in womanhood. She is revered as an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, the divine consort of Lord Vishnu.
Lakshmana symbolizes the ideal of sacrifice. He leaves his young wife behind in the palace and chooses to accompany his brother (Rama) in exile. He sacrifices the amenities of his personal life to serve his elder brother.
Hanuman is also known, as Anjaneya is among the most important personalities in the Indian epic Ramayana. He assisted Raam in recovering Sita from Ravana`s captivity and was blessed with enormous energy and power by the Gods. Lots of myths are associated with him and he is highly worshiped in temples all over assuming the status of a deity among the other Gods of India.
Some say Hanuman was born as the son of the King and Queen of the Monkeys. To others, he is the son of Anjana, an female Apsara who had been transformed into a monkey by a curse, and Vayu, the wind god. It is also said that from his father Vayu Hanuman received the ability to fly.
After his coronation, following victory in the battle with Ravana, Rama distributed gifts to all those who had assisted him in his battle with Ravana. Turning towards Hanuman, Rama said, “There is nothing I can give you that would match the service you have rendered to me. All I can do is to give you my own self.” Upon hearing these words, Hanuman stood by Rama, in all humility, with hands joined together in front of his (Hanuman’s) mouth, and head slightly bent in the pose of service for Rama. To this day, this picture of Hanuman, as a humble devotee of the Lord, is the most popular among the admirers and worshipers of Hanuman.
Indra is known as the king of the Gods and the ruler of the heavens. He was a great warrior and also God of thunder and rain. Numerous stories are also associated with him, which also tells how he lost the heavens to the Demons. Like the other Gods of India he also carries a number of things like hook, conch, noose, rainbow and a fearful weapon `Vajra`. His kingdom is situated near Mt. Meru and Indra’s love for Amrita (Soma) is legendary.
Indra is an important god in many Hindu mythological tales. He leads the Devas (the gods who form and maintain Heaven) and the elements, such as Agni (Fire), Varuna (Water) and Surya (Sun)), and constantly wages war against the demonic Asuras of the netherworlds, or Patala, who oppose morality and dharma. He thus fights in the timeless battle between good and evil. As the god of War, he is also regarded as one of the Guardians of the directions, representing the east. He is however, not a perfect being, and is ascribed with more human characteristics and vices than any other Vedic deity.
Agni or Fire-god is a Hindu and Vedic Deva. Agni is one of the most important of the Vedic gods. He is the god of fire and the acceptor of sacrifices. The sacrifices made to Agni go to the deities because Agni is a messenger from and to the other gods. He is ever-young, because the fire is re-lit every day, yet he is also immortal.
He is both beneficent and destructive. He is the messenger of gods, the acceptor of sacrifices. So all tributes made to him is distributed among other devas and devis. He retains perennial youth, and immortality because fire is utilised everyday. Agni or fire is fundamental to existence, being a constituent of the Panchamahabhutas or Five Great elements,namely, earth or Prithvi, Agni or Tejas i.e.,fire, Ap or Jala(water), and Akasha or sky.
Agni is represented as red and two-faced, suggesting both his destructive and beneficent qualities, and with black eyes and hair, three legs and seven arms. He rides a ram, or a chariot pulled by goats or, more rarely, parrots. Seven rays of light emanate from his body. One of his names is Saptajihva, “having seven tongues”.
In Hinduism, Vayu or Pavan Deva, god of air or wind, is a primary deity of worship. Like Agni, it is one of the five elements, forming Panchamahabhutas. The Sanskrit word `Vayu` is cognate to the Latin `vita`, meaning life.
In the Upanishads there are numerous statements and illustrations of the greatness of Vāyu. The Brhadaranyaka states that the gods who control bodily functions once engaged in a contest to determine who among them is the greatest. When a deity such as that of vision would leave a man’s body, that man would continue to live, albeit as a blind man, and would regain the lost faculty once the errant deity returned to his post. One by one, the deities all took their turns leaving the body, but the man continued to live on, though successively impaired in various ways. Finally, when Mukhya Prāna started to leave the body, all the other deities started to be inexorably pulled off their posts by force, “just as a powerful horse yanks off pegs in the ground to which he is bound.” This caused the other deities to realize that they can function only when empowered by Vayu, and can be overpowered by him easily.
In hymns, he is described as having “exceptional beauty” and moving noisily in his shining coach, driven by two or forty-nine or thousand white and purple horses. A white Banner is his main attribute.
Varuna is a god of the sky, of rain and of the celestial ocean, as well as a god of law and of the underworld. In later Hinduism, he continued his dominion over all forms of the water element, particularly the oceans.He rides on his mount, Makara, or a kind of a sacred sea-creature.
Varuna later became the god of oceans and rivers and keeper of the souls of the drowned. As such, Varuna is also a god of the dead, and can grant immortality.From the name Varuna comes the name Varun which means wind. He is attended by the nagas. He is also one of the Guardians of the directions, representing the west.