Hinduism/Hindu Deities

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Hinduism has many deities that are worshipped by all and thousands of local deities whose worship is confined to a particular group or region. The practice of polytheism does not disallow the monotheist worship of one God. Hinduism encompasses the belief that all manifestations of God are of one cosmic reality (Brahmam). Christianity has a similar ideology in the divinity of Jesus; the Son of God placed upon the Earth to guide and instruct. The belief in Christ accepts the duality of divinity; the quality of the physical manifestation of God's will which is in direct concordance with the singular principle of God's absolute being. A common factor in polytheist and monotheist rituals is the assigning of spiritual properties to a person whose role was divinely ordained but who themselves are not a manifestation of a singular God. The Christian's view of Christ's mother, Mary, has this quality. Mary is the mother of the Son of God but Christians accept that she is the wife of Joseph and not the wife of God. In Italy and Spain the worship of Mary forms a cultural definition that is not found in other European countries; for example the United Kingdom. This is also true of the vast Indian sub-continent where language, custom and region may determine the primacy of a deity. Hinduism can be described as a religion with polytheist rituals and beliefs that can be reconciled to a wider underlying monotheist principle.

In Hinduism 'you have liberty to choose your favourite god/goddess to pray' similarly to choosing the right hat for your head.

Vishnu[edit | edit source]

Vishnu is one of the supreme deities that Hindus worship. The early Aryan religion mentions Vishnu as a God related to the Sun but he was not a major figure in the early Vedic period. It is through the stories of the Mahābhārata that Vishnu came to be seen as a major God within Hinduism. Vishnu is believed to manifest himself in other forms when he is called upon to fight evil. The most famous avatars of Vishnu are Rama and Krishna. Vishnu is one of the Trimurti along with Shiva and Brahma. These three deities are considered to maintain the cosmos: Brahma is the creator, Vishnu the maintainer or preserver, and Shiva the destroyer or transformer.Even Lord Budhha is considered to be the ninth avatar of Lord Vishnu

Shiva[edit | edit source]

A statue of Shiva and Parvarti (British Museum)

Shiva is a supreme deity of opposites. The destroyer and creator; a God of exemplary kindness whose anger knows no bounds; the master of inner reflection and outward focus. In Hindu art Shiva is sometimes depicted with a third eye, which when turned inwards in meditation illuminates his thoughts and actions. Shiva is the Hindu name for the Vedic God, Rudra, who is first mentioned in the Rig-Veda. The word Shiva is first used to represent an aspect of Rudra but eventually changed to encompass the whole essence of Rudra. This ancient lineage can be traced in Hindu civilization for thousands of years and Shiva's power to entrance the mind has never diminished. Shiva's many forms: beggar, yogi, dancing - have been a source of continuous inspiration for Hindu artists. Rudra is the protector of morals, conduct and law in the Vedic scriptures and in this role commands that each Hindu must live their life according to dharma.

Brahma[edit | edit source]

Brahma is a deity that is associated with the creation of the earth. Brahma is one of the oldest gods in Hindu theology. His role as creator places him before Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer). In Ancient India during the early Vedic period, Hindus placed Brahma at the pinnacle of the Trimurti and he was accorded a higher status than Shiva or Vishnu. As Indian civilization progressed; Brahma worship diminished and the importance of Shiva and Vishnu increased. In India today, only a few temples are dedicated to his worship. Hindu iconography shows Brahma with four heads and four arms. This extension of form is typical of Hindu religious art and is a representation of the multiple themes that a deity may embody. The four heads of Brahma eternally give forth the four Vedas (Rigveda, Samaveda, Atharvaveda and Yajurveda) which are the earliest sacred texts in Hinduism. The four arms each hold a religious object:

  • The Vedas - the knowledge
  • Kamandalu - a jar made of metal or coconut shell, containing water; symbolic of the first element from which creation started.
  • Akshamālā - a string of prayer beads which he uses to keep track of the Universe's time
  • Ladle - used in religious rituals for the pouring of oil.