In Hinduism, the deities are worshipped with a different emphasis depending on what branch of the religion the follower adheres to. Shaivism is centered on worshiping Shiva primarily, Vaishnavism prioritizing Vishnu, and Shaktism recognizes the Goddess Shakti as the supreme being. These gods are centric to the Hindu religion, and have multiple forms or avatars. However, there are also countless god and spirits venerated in the Hindu faith, whether they are animals, objects, plants, etc. Below is a summary of the main gods and goddesses worshiped in Hinduism.
Brahman is the most important aspect of understanding the Hindu world view. It is the highest reality, absolute truth that cannot be defined strictly, as it has no limits. Brahman is the unchanging universal soul that connects everything and everyone in existence.
Brahma: Also referred to as "Lord Brahma" is the creator, and part of the trinity of gods. He is pictured having 4 heads and 4 hands. (Brahma is not worshiped as one of the trinity of Gods.)
Vishnu: The god of harmony and preservation often called "the sustainer" is another member of the trinity. He also has 4 hands, holding a chakra, conch shell, a lotus and a mace all symbolic of some aspect of control that Vishnu wields. He is also called "Hari, the remover."
Shiva: The third god of the Hindu trinity is called "the destroyer" who brings elements of the world to their demise, so that they may be renewed and regenerated. He finishes the cycle of life for all living things. Shiva also is regarded as a god having dominion of demonic presences, and meditating and speaking Shiva's name will destroy bad vibrations.
Shakti: She is a goddess considered the "mother" figure of great power. She has been attributed for the creation of new life, and is understood to be interdependent with the universe. She and Shiva have been described as "the divine couple."
Ganapati: Shiva's first son (also called Ganesha) has an elephant's head, and is the god of knowledge who can remove boundaries, barriers and obstacles.
Avatars: (descendants/incarnations of a primary god)
- Rama: He is depicted as the ideal man. He is the perfect husband, brother, son and king. His adventurers are described in Ramayana an epic written about Rama overcoming obstacles and handling struggles by obeying the dharma.
- Krishna: He is known for his bravery, cunning, pranks, and is devoted to humanity. Pictures of ten depict him as playing the flute which plays a song of love to his people.
Saraswati: The wife of Brahma the Creator god is celebrated as a goddess of knowledge, learning and wisdom. She is also the goddess of language and music, and her four hands represent aspects of study: mind, intellect, focus and confidence. She is frequently depicted with an instrument or a scroll in her hand, showing her devotion to music and study.
Lakshmi: She is the wife of Vishnu, and is the goddess of purity and prosperity and well being. She has four hands representing 4 virtues; one of which is extended toward her people in a gesture of blessing. (Lakshmi also has a role in incarnations, being the wife of Krishna, Dharami, Parashu Rama, and the wife of Rama.)
Durga Devi (Parvati): The goddess defends the dharma, moral law and order. She is known as a terrorizing enemy to those who oppose her, and an affectionate goddess for all who serve her loyally. She is often described as having multiple forms, Durga (the goddess beyond grasp) and Kali (the goddess of destruction). She is also worshipped by married women who seek a happy domestic life. Durga Devi is another form or the goddess Shakti, and is referred to by some as the mother goddess who is inaccessible.
Indra: He is the Lord of the Gods and ruler of heaven. His dominion over heaven extends to the weather, as Indra commands the rain and carries a thunderbolt.
Surya: The sun god rides on a chariot made of gold. He has several other forms and names, and plays a role in Hindu astrology.
Agni: The Vedic fire god who is the recipient of all burnt sacrifices. He has two heads signifying life and immortality.
Hanuman: He is the monkey king depicted in the epic Ramayana who overcame trials and tests on his journey with Rama the perfect man and avatar of Vishnu. His is worshiped for courage, hope and devotion.
Minor Hindu Gods: Kartikeya (god of perfection), Gauri (goddess of purity), Satyanarayana and Venkateshwara (forms of Vishnu), as well as Adityas, Varsus, Rudras, Ashvins, and the Gayatri (one of the sacred Vedic hymns).