Unlike other major religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism which believe that there is only one god, Hinduism is a religion with thousands of gods although many are reincarnations of another. Each of the gods and goddesses has different abilities and legends.
The three most important gods are called the Trimurti, comprising of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Their supreme importance is due to their roles in the creation, preservation, and destruction of the universe.
However, many other gods are also highly esteemed by Hindus, especially those with beneficial powers. For example, Lakshmi is the goddess of prosperity and domesticity, Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge, art, and music, and Ganesh is the remover of obstacles.
- The three most important gods, referred to as the Trimurti include Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
- Even though there are numerous gods and goddesses in Hinduism, they believe that these are all ultimately just varying parts of Brahman, the Supreme Being.
- An avatar is the incarnated form of a god or goddess. Its role is to restore dharma, or moral order.
- A god or goddess may have many avatars. Vishnu is a well-known example of a god with many avatars.
- There are various denominations in Hinduism which are distinguished by the main god that they worship
1. Brahma, Hindu God of Creation
Brahma the Creator is the first god listed as one of the Trimurti, along with Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer. He is not to be confused with Brahman the Supreme Being, or Brahmin the highest caste in the Hindu caste system. Brahma is depicted with four heads and arms.
Hindu concept of time is cyclical, meaning, that everything gets created by Brahma, preserved by Vishnu, and then destroyed by Shiva. This happens periodically, so that creation is not just a one-time event.
2.Vishnu, Hindu God of Preservation
Vishnu is the blue eagle-riding god with four arms, also known as the Preserver or the Sustainer of life. In accordance with his title, Vishnu’s role is to protect the world from danger, in which case he would be incarnated as various avatars who will defend the world. He represents order, righteousness, and truth.
His two consorts are well-respected in their own right. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and domesticity, while Devi is the Earth goddess. He has a total of ten avatars, but his most famous and commonly worshipped are Rama and Krishna.
Learn more about Vishnu and his 10 Avatars here.
3.Shiva, Hindu God of Destruction
Shiva is known as The Destroyer, whose role is to destroy the world that has been created by Brahma and preserved by Vishnu. He can be distinguished by his third eye on his forehead which is usually closed. It is said that he is able to destroy by opening his third eye.
Shiva, Hindu God of Destruction
Mahashivrartri is a festival which takes place in February or March, celebrating the wedding of Shiva and Parvati. On this day, Hindus perform rituals such as chanting, fasting, and meditating.
One of the best places to witness the Mahashivrartri celebration is in Varanasi, the home of Kashi Vishwanath temple. This temple is one of the most important Shiva temples in India.
4.Rama, Hindu God of Truth and Virtue (7th Avatar of Vishnu)
Rama is the beloved central character in the legend of Ramayana, one of the epic mythologies of Hinduism. He is portrayed as the ideal human being mentally, spiritually, and physically. The story tells about his struggles as a young prince in exile for 14 years.
Indian deities Rama and Sita
Diwali, or Festival of Lights, is a famous Indian festival that celebrates Rama’s triumph over a demon king called Ravana, after which Rama was able to return to his people after 14 years of exile.
The celebration takes place over five days and each day has its own significance. During this festival, light lights around their homes, symbolizing the victory of good over evil. The goddess Lakshmi is also commonly worshiped during this festival.
5.Krishna, Hindu God of Love and Compassion (8th Avatar of Vishnu)
Krishna is known as the blue-skinned god commonly depicted playing his flute with seductive powers. He is one of the most well-known gods with a witty and playful character. As one of Vishnu’s avatars, his role is to bring hope to the earth and free it from the evil rulers.
Krishna’s story unravels in Bhagavad Gita, which is the story section of Mahabharatha, the longest poem in the world. In the story, Krishna’s role is as a moral advisor to Arjuna, the main protagonist.
Krishna and Arjuna
Janmashtami festival in August celebrates the birth of Krishna. During the two-day festival, Hindus pray, fast, sing, and perform enactments of the life of Krishna. In Mumbai, this festival culminates in an exciting activity called Dahi Handi where people form a human pyramid to reach a clay pot of yogurt that hangs from a tall building.
6.Saraswati, Hindu Goddess of Knowledge, Art, and Music
Saraswati who is the wife of Brahma, and the daughter of Shiva and Durga (Devi), is the goddess of knowledge, art, and music. She is portrayed sitting on a white lotus and playing the veena which is a traditional stringed instrument.
Hindu students are encouraged to pray to her especially before examinations or other intellectual pursuits as she is believed to be able to impart wisdom.
7.Lakshmi, Hindu Goddess of Prosperity and Domesticity
Lakshmi, Hindu Goddess of Prosperity and Domesticity
Lakshmi, the wife of Vishnu, is the goddess of prosperity, domesticity, beauty, and purity. She is distinguished by her four arms and golden complexion. In Hindu mythology, Lakshmi is incarnated as the avatars of Vishnu’s wives, namely as Sita, the wife of Rama, and Rukmini, the wife of Krishna.
It is common for Indian households to have her image in the home. She is celebrated during the 5-day Divali festival along with Rama.
8.Parvati, The Divine Mother
Parvati is the wife of Shiva and is also known as The Divine Mother. She is the reincarnation of Sati, who is Shiva’s first wife. Her popular avatars are Durga and Kali, the goddess of time and death.
The wives of the Trimurti gods together include Parvati, Lakshmi, and Saraswati, are referred to as the ‘Tridevi’, which means triple goddess.
9. Durga Puja, Hindu Goddess of War (Avatar of Parvati)
Durga is goddess with ten arms who fights to restore dharma (moral order)
Durga is the goddess of war and one of the avatars of Parvati. Reflected in her title, she is a fierce and frightening goddess with ten arms who fights to restore dharma (moral order).
Durga Puja is the celebration of Durga defeating the buffalo demon Mahishasura. This 5-day festival is celebrated in Kolkata and West Bengal every September or October. In the rest of India celebrates Navaratri in place of Durga Puja. The two festivals are similar and actually occur at the same time. During Navaratri, Hindus focus on the purity of their minds and on cleansing negative feelings.
During Durga Puja, each neighborhood competes to make the largest and best statue of Durga which are then paraded around the city for viewing and submerged into the Hugli River on the last day of celebrations.
10. Ganesha, Hindu Elephant God of Success and Remover of Obstacles
Ganesha, Hindu Elephant God of Success and Remover of Obstacles
Ganesha, recognizable by his elephant head, is the son of Shiva and Parvati. He is one of the most beloved Hindu gods because of his role as the remover of obstacles and god of success. Pictures or statues of Ganesha can be found in most Hindu households and even hanging in cars or trucks.
The city of Mumbai celebrates his birth through a 10-day festival every year calledGanesh Chaturthi. Similar to Durga Puja, during Ganesh Chaturthi festival, there is a competition between neighborhoods to make the most beautiful statue of Ganesh.
The statue is then given offerings and celebrated with rituals until it is carried to the ocean on the last day and submerged, symbolizing its departure from Earth to the heavens.
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Every god and goddess has its own unique characteristics and is celebrated by Hindus in a different way. Experience some of India’s most popular festivals and exotic temples as you learn about Hinduism during your trip to India. Travel with us and learn about how local people worship the Hindu gods through our tailor-made tours and one-on-one service!
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