Religion is an expression of humankind’s search for a complete picture of the universe. The inherent desire to understand the world, karma, existence, and time is a major reason behind religion and a person’s worship of a supreme being. Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world and also the third largest. There are many gods and goddesses in Hinduism; their exact number cannot be ascertained. While different forms of deities are worshiped, it is believed that all devotees are actually worshiping one supreme being.
Indra is the king of heaven and the leader of the Devas. He is the god of rain. Airavat, an auspicious white elephant, is his vehicle or vahan. Another of his vehicles is a chariot drawn by 10,000 horses. His weapon, representing both a diamond and a thunderbolt, is called the vajra. He is the son of Aditi and the sage Kashyap. Indra is one of the most important deities, often shown as a cunning god, sending obstacles in the way of devotees, especially the Asuras with the aim of ruining people’s efforts to please the gods. Indra stands for strength and courage.
Hanuman, also known as the monkey god, is the son of the air deity, Pawan or Vayu. He is also one of the eight immortals known as the Astachiranjiwi. It is believed that a young Hanuman once tried to swallow the sun. Due to his mischievous nature, his powers were restricted until he met Ram. After meeting Ram, Hanuman became a faithful devotee playing a central role in the epic Ramayana. He was one of Ram’s strongest allies who burned down Lanka (the great king Ravan’s kingdom). Hanuman is famously remembered for saving Ram’s brother Lakshman by carrying an entire mountain of sanjiwani buti, a life-saving herb. For all these reasons, he is the symbol of the power of devotion.
Harihara is the combined embodiment of two supreme Hindu deities. Hari stands for Vishnu and Hara stands for Shiva. Because of this fusion, Harihara is followed by both devotees of Vishnu and Shiva as the form of the supreme god. Harihara therefore shows the importance of all gods as the ultimate power in the universe. The iconography of Harihara is split into two halves. One half represents Shiva holding the trishul, a drum, and a deer. The other half representing Vishnu has the conch shell and chakra.
7. Kumar Kartikeya
Kumar is a Hindu warrior god. He is also known by the names Kumar Kartikeya or Kartikeya. He is the first son of Shiva and Parvati. One of the major objectives of his birth was to kill the demon Tarkasur. Because of this, he was raised by the Kirtikas, far away from his parents to protect him from Tarkasur’s attempts to kill him. After achieving his powers, Kumar was appointed as the commander-in-chief of the Devas in the battle against Tarkasur. Due to his courage and skill, Kumar was offered the position of the king of heaven, but he turned this down as he considered his role as the commander-in-chief to be more important. His vehicle is the peacock.
Krishna, also known by the names Shri Krishna, Vasudeva, Govinda, Gopal, and Madhusudan, is the eighth incarnation of Vishnu and one of the most celebrated philosophers and warriors in Hinduism. He was the son of Basudev and Devaki. He was destined to kill his cruel uncle Kansa, King of Mathura. He was raised by his foster parents Yashoda and Nanda in Gokul to keep him safe from his uncle’s murderous attempts. The festival Krishna Janmastami is celebrated to mark his birth. Krishna is also one of the central figures in the epic Mahabharata. In the Battle of Kurukshetra, he vowed not to use any weapon, but offered to be Arjuna’s chariot rider. It was during this battle that Arjuna was faced with the dilemma of fighting against his kinsmen, and Krishna gave him the knowledge of the Gita to help.
Ram, the eldest son of Kaushalya and Dasharatha and ruler of the Ayodhya kingdom, is the seventh incarnation of Vishnu. He is also known as Ramchandra/Rama. The festival of Ram Nawami is celebrated to mark his birth. Ram is the central protagonist of the epic Ramayana. Kaikeyi, one of his stepmothers, wanted him exiled so that her son could be the next king, so Ram was sent into exile with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman for 14 years. Consumed by evil desires and lust, Ravan, the King of Lanka, abducted Sita during their exile. This eventually led to the war during which Ram defeated Ravan.
Ganesh, the elephant god, is one of the most important Hindu deities. He is the second son of Shiva and Parvati, and Kumar’s younger brother. While performing any puja or ritual, he is the first god to be worshiped. Due to a misunderstanding where Shiva did not know that Ganesh was his son, he cut off Ganesh’s head in anger. Later, an elephant’s head was placed on Ganesh and he was revived, also being granted the power of the first god in order of importance. Mushak, the mouse, is his vehicle. Ganesh is often associated with Mangal or Mars, and good luck.
Vishnu, the protector of the universe, is one of the trinity gods of Hinduism along with Brahma and Mahesh. He is also known as Narayan and Hari. Before the universe was created, Vishnu is believed to have been asleep in a vast sea of nothingness. Vishnu is famous for his incarnations known as avatars. Being the protector of the universe, his incarnations are responsible for protecting the world from evil powers and keeping peace and order. Vishnu has incarnated nine times. People believe that his 10th incarnation, Kalki, will come close to the end of the world. Garuda, the mythological bird, is his vehicle. Vishnu resides in Vishnuloka.
Brahma, also one of the trinity gods of Hinduism, is the creator of the universe. He is often portrayed as the four-headed god, representing four directions. It is believed that Brahma in fact had five heads. Because of the pride of the fifth head, it was cut off by Shiva. While Brahma himself is the creator of the universe, he evolved from the lotus flower in the navel of Vishnu. The swan or goose is his vehicle. Brahma resides in Brahmaloka.
1. Mahesh (Shiva)
Mahesh, the destroyer of the universe, is also one of the trinity gods of Hinduism. He is popularly known as Shiva, Ashutosh, and Mahadev. He is the only god in the trinity who resides on Earth at Kailash. Mahesh is shown as a loving husband and father, and a yogi in his benign forms, while in his ferocious embodiments he is seen as the destroyer, slaying demons and Asurs. Shiva, also the guardian god of meditation, yoga, and art, is decorated with the sacred river, the Ganga and the serene moon, the Chandra, on his head. He is regarded as a very simple god worshiped in the form of Lingam.
Gods in Hinduism can be analyzed as a set of functional deities, the trinity being the most popular. Each god holds a specific purpose and power. For example, Indra is the rain god; Kumar is the commander-in-chief; the trinity gods are the creator, protector, and destroyer; and others represent different functional aspects of the gods. Depending on the time and place, the popularity of the deities may vary. While their faces and powers may be different, all of them play an important role in the creation, protection, destruction, and continuation of the universe.