Indian religion and mythology has given us a
tremendous set of insights into existence and has developed many paths toward
spiritual enlightenment. And these achievements reach their height with the
Hindu gods and goddesses.
For thousands of years, the Hindu pantheon has
inspired an enormous amount of artwork and storytelling of all kinds. Today,
they not only create the central expression of spirituality for over a billion
people, but they also give rise to countless movies, comic books, children stories, novels, video games, and
epics. But of course, their most important role has
been their ability to make the mystical truths accessible for Hindus. Through
ritual practice and worship of these deities, we are made wiser and more whole.
For that reason, Exotic India
has assembled this quick guide to the most popular Hindu gods and goddesses.
The Vedas did not set out a strict set of
religious doctrines, but a way of life. Their wisdom guided people to begin
worshiping those things in nature that brought them peace, joy, fear, wisdom,
and even laughter.
Through this practice, gods and goddesses
began to emerge. These unique identities became attributed to phenomena in the
world, and people continued to develop ways to depict them in art and honor
them in ritual.
This process began focusing on incredibly
powerful gods like Agni, god of
fire. The image of Agni is that of a powerful warrior, and early Hinduism gave
this god a lot of attention and focus. Other important gods of early Hinduism
include Vayu, god of wind, and Surya, the sun god.
In the following millennia, many new gods
begin to emerge and take shape. And these have become the most popular in the
tradition. As sages began to accrue Hindu gods and goddesses for each concern
and feature of life, 33 core deities became prominent.
Of all these, there are 10 that make up the
most important gods and goddesses for most practicing Hindus today. Let’s get
to know each in a bit of detail.
Known for his elephant head, Ganesha is popular for his ability to
remove obstacles and help worshipers achieve success. He is the son of Shiva
and Parvati, and his consort is depicted as either Riddhi or Siddhi — though he
is sometimes unmarried. Because he is the son of such auspicious deities, he is
given great significance.
Ganesha is widely worshiped and given
offerings for those wanting to remove obstacles. For that reason, many people
will make sure to seek his aid when beginning new businesses and ventures of
any kind. But he also contains great wisdom, and those seeking to know will often
reach out his guidance.
For Hindus who follow Shaivism, Shiva is the supreme being. In this
view, he is the lord over all. But for other Hindus, he is one of a trinity
(called the trimurti) of supreme
beings. Here, he is considered the lord of time and death — the god who brings
about the end of things with his sacred dance.
He is likely the survival of one or many very
ancient gods brought under the same image. He is often depicted with a serpent around
his neck, a third eye, a trident, a damaru drum (with which he gave us the
Sanskrit alphabet), a crescent moon, and the river Ganga flowing in his hair.
He is also represented as Shivalinga. His concert is Parvati (sometimes
Sati), and his children include Kartikeya, Ganesha, and Ayyappan.
Due to his immense power and prestige, he is
considered one of (if not the) most
important gods in all of Hinduism. And he is often sought for support in
gaining success, power, and the perfect husband.
Vishnu is believed to be the supreme being for Hindu’s following Vaishnavism.
In the trimurti, he is the sustaining god who both keeps the universe safe and
allows it to transform. His consort is Lakshmi, and his children are Kamadeva,
Mangala, Narakasura, and Ayyappan.
In Vaishnavism, Vishnu is said to sleep among
the cosmic waters in between cycles of existence, leading to some of the most
beautiful imagery in all world myths. He is also central in the Samudra-manthan,
where the Ocean of Milk is churned to produce the nectar of immortality. Many
tales tell of times where the world is in crisis, and Vishnu must appear in the
form of an avatar to restore Dharma. The 10 most important of these are
collected in the Dashavatara, with Krishna and Rama
Vishnu’s central role in existence makes him,
like Shiva, one of the most important gods, and for many, he is the most
important of all.
Krishna is a widely beloved and fabled character in Hinduism. An avatar of
Vishnu, he plays a key role in the Mahabharata
epic. Part of that epic, the Bhagavad
Gita, follows Krishna’s advice to a struggling prince Arjuna. The god’s
words in this tale have inspired countless people to pursue liberation. And
indeed, many Hindus worship Krishna himself as the supreme being.
He is often shown with his flute and with
black or blue skin. While he is sometimes placed in bucolic settings with a cow
(connecting him to Govinda, the divine herdsman), he is also
often seen in jocular situations playing the trickster.
Devotion to Krishna is widespread and quite
devout. Popular worldwide movements like the International Society for Krishna
Consciousness continue to maintain his relevance to this day.
Hanuman is the monkey-form companion to Shri Ram in the Ramayana epic. The son of Vayu, he is endowed with great strength
and courage. His disciplined ways and devotion to Ram make him a wonderful role
Historically, he has been widely used as a
symbol of India and its struggle for freedom and self-rule.
Lakshmi is seen by followers of Shaktism to be the supreme goddess. For
others, she is a member of the trinity called the tridevi. In this role, she is the sustainer and caretaker, much
like her husband Shiva. He is known as the goddess of power, love,
fortune, beauty, and the illusions of the world (called maya). Because of these traits, she is frequently worshiped
alongside Ganesha. Lakshmi’s widespread prominence places her at
the very top of the pantheon, and she enjoys popular festivals in her honor —
including Diwali and Sharad Purnima.
Durga is famously shown as riding a lion to conquer demons. This is no doubt
the image of a goddess who represents power and great protective energy. She is
the all powerful mother who contains tremendous rage for those who seek to
upset the order of good over evil in this world. As a beloved mother goddess, she engenders
deep adoration and respect. And in both the Devi
Mahatmya and Devi-Bhagavata Purana,
Durga is said to be the ultimate creator of existence.
Known as the goddess of art, speech, learning,
wisdom, music, knowledge, and the river that is her namesake, Saraswati stands as one of the most
important among all the Hindu gods and goddesses. In the tridevi, she is the creator of the
universe and the holder of all cosmic understanding. Appropriately, she is
married to Brahma, the creator in the male version of the tridevi, the
trimurti. In iconography, she is typically seated on a swan and connected to
the color yellow. Hindus celebrate Vasant Panchami to honor
Saraswati every spring.
Parvati is tremendously respected among Hindus as the goddess of fertility,
harmony, devotion, nourishment, and power. She is married to Shiva, lord of
destruction. And because of this connection, she has the role of destroyer in
the tridevi. Parvati is sometimes said to manifest herself
as Sati, Durga, and Kali — all fearsome in their own ways. In one myth, she is
the reincarnation of Shiva’s wife Sati who died in a sacrifice. Her popularity is apparent with her widespread
image in temples across Asia alongside Shiva.
The plant tulsi
(ocimum tenuiflorum) appears in many
Hindu gardens and homes — often in a specially designed pot placed near the
entrance. It is venerated as the embodiment of the goddess Tulsi, who is an avatar of Lakshmi. The leaves of the plant are used in the
worship of Vishnu and his avatars. It is also used as a prasad, the ritual consumption of plant-based food after worship.
The Hindu gods and goddesses are a
kaleidoscopic vision of the cosmos rendered understandable. The more time we
take to understand them, the closer we get to understanding the true nature of
reality and our place in it. If you would like to explore more, go to Exotic
India today. With hundreds of thousands of products including ritual
items and religious art created by Indian craftspeople and artists, our selection
has anything you need.
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