Some Interesting Questions about Hinduism… (Part 5)
- Gods and Goddesses; their families, friends and foes
It is said that there are more than 330 million Gods/Goddesses in Hinduism, it has become a general perception specially among the non-Hindus. Which may indicate that Hinduism is essentially a pluralistic religion based on a philosophical thought/ Dharma. Some expert believe that these 330 million figure refers to ‘Deities’ which are the manifestations of One Supreme Being – the Ishwar/ Param-Brahaman.
In the Vedas, Thirty-three Deities are listed. followed by the Sanskrit word koti, which is used for “class” as well as ’10 million’. Some scholar believe that the phrase may have meant 33 ‘Class’ of Gods rather than 33×10 million Gods. Another view contends that 330 million is a figure symbolizing infinity, indicating infinite forms of God. Following are some of the major Gods/ Goddesses in Hindu religion.
- Dyaus and Prithivi
- Apam Napat
There are big, happy families of Gods/Goddesses, having a number of deities and each having their own unique personality and powers, and also their own personal pet animal (which also work at times as their private jets that rich and famous people own in today’s world).
- The Para Brahman – Supreme Cosmic Spirit – Godhead
But where do all these Gods/Goddesses/ deities come from?
Every Hindu believes that all these Gods/Goddesses are just an image of that one and only one Supreme Para-Brahman which is Lord of the universe. ParaBrahman means Supreme Brahman, or Supreme Cosmic Spirit, or Godhead. Some call it by a specific name e.g. Vishnu (or Swaminarayan) and believe that all the other deities are the forms and expansions of this Para-Brahman. Under terms of some schools of Vedanta, It has three modal aspects – Brahma – the Creator of the Universe; Mahesh/Shiva – the Destroyer of the Universe and at the highest Para Brahman level Lord Vishnu – the Caretaker of the whole Universe.
It is believed that all Vaishnava and other schools attribute Personhood to this concept of Svayam bhagavan (god present in each one of us and in everything around us). Although an ineffable entity, it could be said to be that which contains and pervades the universe. ParaBrahman, from beyond, encompasses the transcendent and immanent ultimate reality, Brahman, The Absolute Truth is both subject and object, so there is no qualitative difference.
Terms like Parameshvara, Ishvara, Bhagavan, Brahman, Paramatma are held to be synonymous with ParaBrahman. Hindu sects like Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism have concept of ParaBrahman.
Adi Shakti is the personification, of divine feminine creative power, sometimes referred to as ‘The Great Divine Mother’ in Hinduism. She is regarded as the one who remote controls trinity, Devas, planets and other heavenly bodies. Scriptures refers her as the originator of all. Adi (Never Ending) Para (Beyond) shakti (Energy) is Divine Energy beyond universe. She took many forms. Srimad Bhagwat Purana and Shiva Purana associate shakti as ‘Chinmai’ and there is concept of only Shakti (energy to destroy and preserve) but Srimad Devi Bhagwat purana is talking about energy beyond universes, hence associating herself as Param Brahman or ultimate GOD.
There is difference between Shakti and Adi Parashakti. Shakti can referred as power of any deity typically known as Parvati or Sati or Durga but Adi Shakti is not associated with any god including Trimurti of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh. She is power of Param Brahman. Shaktas call Adishakti as dynamic ParamBrahman and on the other hand Param Brahman is Static Adi Parashakti.
Shiva and Vishnu are regarded as the great Gods (Mahadevas) due to their central positions in worship and scriptures. These two along with Brahma are considered the Trinity of Hinduism (Trimurti) – the three aspects of the universal supreme God. These three aspects symbolize the entire circle of Universe in Hinduism: Brahma as creator, Vishnu as preserver or protector, and Shiva as destroyer or judge.
The female side of the Trinity is known as Tridevi or triplet goddesses of Hinduism who have equal importance as their male counterparts.
Brahma is creator, so he needs knowledge to create the universe – hence there is Goddess Saraswati (who is considered daughter of Brahma) – the goddess of knowledge and learning.
Vishnu is preserver, so he needs the goddess of wealth and prosperity – hence there is goddess Lakshmi as his partner.
Finally, Shiva – the destroyer and re-creator, needs all the power – hence his partner is goddess Parvati/ Durga/ Kali.
They are all manifestations of Female Goddess Power (Shakti) same as Brahma-Vishnu and Mahesh are the manifestations of the Supreme Power, the ultimate Godhead.
- Female and Male Deities (Devis and Devatas)
The Hindu pantheon consists of many deities – Gods are called Devas/ Devatas and goddesses are called Devis. The most ancient Vedic devas included Indra – the Rain God, Agni – the Fire God, Soma, Varuna – The Air God, Mitra, Savitr, Rudra, Prajapati, Vishnu, Aryaman, and the Ashvins. Important Devis were Sarasvati, Usha and Prithvi (mother earth).
Later scriptures called the Puranas recount traditional stories about each individual deity and their siblings, Such as Ganesha (son of Shiva and Parvati) and Hanuman (son of Varuna, friend of Rama), and reincarnations of Lord Vishnu at various times such as Rama and Krishna. Some of the key Devis/Devatas in alphabetic order are:
- Aditya/ Surya (Sun God) – Chief solar deity in Hinduism. The term Surya also refers to the Sun, in general. Surya is the chief of the Indian classical 9 planets’ and important elements of Hindu astrology. He is often depicted riding a chariot harnessed by seven horses or one horse with seven heads, which represent the seven colours of the rainbow or the seven chakras. Surya as the Sun is worshipped at dawn by most Hindus and has many temples dedicated to him across India.
- Aagneya/ Agni (Fire Goddess & God) – Agni the Fire God is the eldest son of Brahma. Agneya is his daughter and Fire Goddess. One of the most important of the Vedic gods, he is the acceptor of all sacrifices. The sacrifices made to Agni go to the deities because Agni is a messenger from and to the other gods. He is ever-young, because the fire is re-lit every day, and also immortal.
- Antariksha (Space)
- Ashwinis – Sons of Surya (Sun God) these are the two Vedic gods, divine twin horsemen in the Rigveda, sons of Saranya (daughter of Vishwakarma), a goddess of the clouds and wife of Surya in his form as Vivasvat. They symbolise the shining of sunrise and sunset, appearing in the sky before the dawn in a golden chariot, bringing treasures to men and averting misfortune and sickness. They are the doctors of gods and are devas of Ayurvedic medicine. They are represented as humans with head of a horse. In the epic Mahabharata, King Pandu’s wife Madri is granted a son by each Ashvin and bears the twins Nakula and Sahadeva who, along with the sons of Kunti, are known as the Pandavas.
- Brahma (The creator of the universe) – One of the Trinity of Hindu Gods – Brahma is the God of creation, the others being Viṣņu and Shiva. He is the father of Manu, and from Manu all human beings are descended. In the Ramayaņa and the Mahabharata, he is often referred to as the progenitor or great grandsire of all human beings. He is not to be confused with the Supreme Cosmic Spirit in Hindu Vedanta philosophy known as Brahman, which is genderless. In Hindu tradition, the creation of Vedas is credited to Brahma. Brahma’s wife is Saraswati, also known by names such as Savitri and Gayatri, and has taken different forms throughout history. Brahma is often identified with Prajapati, a Vedic deity. Being the husband of Saraswati or Vaac Devi (the Goddess of Speech), Brahma is also known as Vaagish, meaning Lord of Speech and Sound.
- Brihaspati – Deva-guru (guru of the gods). He is considered the personification of piety and religion, and the chief offerer of prayers and sacrifices to the gods (Purohita), with whom he intercedes on behalf of humankind. He is the arch-nemesis of Shukracharya, the guru of the Danavas (demons). In astrology, Bṛhaspati is the regent of Jupiter and is often identified with the planet.
- Durga – Meaning ‘the inaccessible’ or “the invincible”; durga) is the most popular incarnation of Devi and one of the main forms of the Goddess Shakti in the Hindu pantheon.
- Dyaus – One half was a big red bull bellowing thunder and the other was a black horse covered in pearls representing stars at night.
- Indra – The leader of the Devas/ gods and the lord of heaven in the Hindu religion. He is also the god of rain and thunderstorms. He wields a lightning thunderbolt known as vajra and rides on a white elephant known as Airavata. Indra is one of the chief deities and is the twin brother of Fire (Agni) and is also mentioned as an Aditya, son of Aditi (daughter of Sun). His home is situated on Mount Meru in the heaven. In Puranic Sacred History of India, Indra is bestowed with a heroic and almost brash and amorous character at times, even as his reputation and role diminished in later Hinduism with the rise of the Trimurti of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh/Shiva.
- Ganesha – The Elephant God, Son of Shiva and Parvati, Ganesha also known as Ganapati and Vinayaka is a widely worshipped deity in the Hindu pantheon. His image is found throughout India and Nepal. Hindu sects worship him regardless of affiliations. Devotion to Ganesha is widely diffused and extends to Jains, Buddhists, and beyond India. Although he is known by many attributes, Ganesha’s elephant head makes him easy to identify. Ganesha is widely revered as the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences and the deva of intellect and wisdom. As the god of beginnings, he is honoured at the start of every Hindu ritual and ceremony. Ganesha is also invoked as patron of letters and learning. Several texts relate mythological anecdotes associated with his birth and exploits and explain his distinct iconography. Ganesha emerged as a distinct deity in the 4th and 5th centuries CE, during the Gupta Period, although he inherited traits from Vedic and pre-Vedic precursors.
- Kali – The Hindu goddess associated with empowerment, Shakti. The name Kali comes from dark shade – black, Time, Death, lord of death – Shiva. Since Shiva is also called Kaala – the eternal time -as his consort, Parvati/ Kali also means ‘Time’ or ‘Death’. Sometimes presented as dark and violent, her earliest incarnation as a figure of annihilator of evil forces still has some influence. Various Shakta Hindu cosmologies, as well as Shākta Tantric beliefs, worship her as the ultimate reality or Brahman. She is also revered as Bhavatarini (literally ‘redeemer of the universe’). Comparatively recent devotional movements largely conceive Kali as a benevolent mother goddess. She is the fierce aspect of the goddess Durga (Parvati).
- Lakshmi – The Hindu Goddess of wealth, prosperity – both material and spiritual, fortune, and the embodiment of beauty. She is the consort of the God Vishnu. She is said to bring good luck and to protect her devotees from all kinds of misery and sorrows. Representations of Lakshmi are also found in Jain monuments. Lakshmi is called Shri or Thirumagal because she is endowed with six auspicious and divine qualities, or Gunas, and also because she is the source of strength even to Vishnu. When Vishnu incarnated on earth as avatars Rama and Krishna, Lakshmi incarnated as his consort Sita (Rama’s wife), Radha (Krishna’s lover). Rukmini, Satyabama are also considered forms of Lakshmi. Lakshmi is worshipped daily in Hindu homes and commercial establishments as the goddess of wealth. She also enjoys worship as the consort of Vishnu in many temples. The festivals of Diwali is are celebrated in her honour.
- Marutas – Also known as the Marutagana and sometimes identified with Rudras, are storm deities and sons of Rudra and Prisni and attendants of Indra, an ancient Vedic deity who later came to be identified with Shiva. The number of Marutas varies from 27 to 60 . They are very violent and aggressive, described as armed with golden weapons – lightning and thunderbolts, as having iron teeth and roaring like lions, as residing in the north, riding in golden chariots drawn by ruddy horses. In the Vedic Sacred History of India, the Marutas, a troop of young warriors, are Indra’s companions. According to later tradition, the Marutas were born from the broken womb of the goddess Diti, after Indra hurled a thunderbolt at her to prevent her from giving birth to a too powerful a son. The goddess had intended to remain pregnant for a century before giving birth to a son who would threaten Indra.
- Mitra/ Mitravaruna – Ancient God of Oaths — and one of the Sun Gods known as the Adityas. He shines far and wide. Later on he became a colleague of Varuna and shares the task of keeping law and justice. He is invoked when oaths are sworn and with a thousand eyes (stars) at his command he can easily spot oath-breakers and liars.
- Parvati – Known as the motherly form of Mother Goddess, Parvati is another form of Shakti, the wife of Shiva and the gentle aspect of the Great Goddess. Parvati is considered to be a complete incarnation of Adi Parashakti, with all other Goddesses being her incarnations or manifestations. Parvati is nominally the second consort of Shiva, the Hindu God of destruction and rejuvenation. However, she is not different from Sati, being the reincarnation of Shiva’s first wife. Parvati is the mother of the Gods Ganesh and Kartikeya. Some communities also believe her to be the sister of Vishnu. She is also regarded as the daughter of King Himavan. Parvati, when depicted alongside Shiva, generally appears with two arms, but when alone, she is depicted having four, eight or ten arms, and is astride on a tiger or lion. Generally considered a benevolent Goddess, Parvati also has wrathful incarnations, such as Durga, Kali, Tara, Chandi, and the Dasha Mahavidyas, Tripur Sundari, Bhuvaneshwari, Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagla Mukhi, Matangi and Kamala, as well as benevolent forms like Katyayani, Maha Gauri, Kamalatmika, Bhuvaneshwari and Lalita.
- Prajapati – In Hinduism, Prajapati is referred to the lord of creatures, a group of Hindu deities presiding over as procreation, and protector of life.
- Prithvi (Mother Earth) – Sanskrit name for earth and its essence Prithivi Tattwa, in the form of a mother goddess or godmother. Prithvi is also called Dhra, Dharti, Dhrithri, meaning that which holds everything. As Prithvi Devi, she is one of two wives of Lord Vishnu. His other wife is Lakshmi. Prithvi is another form of Laxmi. Another name for Her is Bhumi or Bhudevi or Bhuma Devi. As Prithvi Mata (Mother Earth) she contrasts with Dyaus Pita ‘father sky’. In the Rigveda, Earth and Sky are frequently addressed in the dual, probably indicating the idea of two complementary half-shells. She is not the wife of Dyaus Pita (father Dyaus). She is associated with the cow. Prithu, an incarnation of Vishnu, milked her in the cow’s form to get food from her.
- Rudra – A vedic deity, associated with wind, storm and hunt. The name has been translated as the Mightiest Terror, the Roarer”. The name Rudra has been taken as a synonym for the god Shiva and the two names are used interchangeably in Hindu scriptures.
- Saraswati – The Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science. She is a part of the Hindu trinity of Female form of God – Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati. These three forms help the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in the creation, maintenance and destruction of the Universe. She is known in Burmese as Thurathadi in Chinese as Biàncáitiān, in Japanese as Benzaiten and in Thai as Surasawadee. Saraswati is the daughter of Lord Shiva & Parvati and Ganesha and Karthikeya are her brothers.
- Savitr – A solar deity in the Rigveda and one of the off-spring of Vedic deity Aditi. His name in Vedic Sanskrit connotes impeller, rouser, vivifier. He is sometimes identified with and at other times distinguished from Surya – the Sun. When considered distinct from the Sun proper, he is conceived of as the divine influence or vivifying power of the Sun. The Sun before sunrise is called Savitr.
- Shiva – Meaning the Auspicious One, also known as Mahadeva, Mahesh or Bholenath, is a popular Hindu deity and considered the Supreme God within Shaivism, one of the three most influential denominations in Hinduism. Shiva is regarded as one of the primary forms of God, such as one of the five primary forms of God in the Smarta tradition, and the Destroyer or the Transformer among the Hindu Trinity of the primary aspects of the divine. Shiva is also regarded as the patron god of yoga and arts.
- Soma – In Hindu art, the god Soma was depicted as a bull or bird, and sometimes as an embryo, but rarely as an adult human. In Hinduism, the god Soma evolved into a lunar deity. Full moon is the time to collect and press the divine drink. The moon is also the cup from which the gods drink Soma, thus identifying Soma with the moon god Chandra. A waxing moon meant Soma was recreating himself, ready to be drunk again. Alternatively, Soma’s twenty-seven wives were the star goddesses, the Nakshatras – daughters of the cosmic progenitor Daksha – who told their father that he paid too much attention to just one of them, Rohini. Daksha subsequently cursed Soma to wither and die, but the wives intervened and the death became periodic and temporary, and is symbolized by the waxing and waning of the moon. Monday is called Somavāram in Sanskrit and modern Indian languages.
- Varuna – is a god of the water and of the celestial ocean, as well as a god of law of the under water world. A crocodile named Makara is his mount. In Sacred Hindu history, Varuna continued to be considered the god of all forms of the water element, particularly the oceans.
- Vayu (Air) – A primary Hindu deity, the Lord of the winds, the father of Bhima and the spiritual father of Lord Hanuman
- Vishnu – Vishnu has one thousand names and is considered the Supreme God who takes manifest forms or avatars across various ages or periods to save humanity from evil beings, demons.
- Ten Reincarnations (Avatars) of Vishnu
There are 10 most famous of the divine incarnations of Lord Vishnu as per the Hindu scriptures.
- Rama – Life is depicted in the Ramayana, the prince and king of Ayodhya, appeared in the Treta Yuga. Represents a married man with children. Lord Rama is considered Purna avatar, which means full incarnation of Vishnu.
- Matsya – The fish, appeared in the Satya Yuga. Represents the beginning of life.
- Kurma – The tortoise, appeared in the Satya Yuga. Represents a human embryo just growing tiny legs, with a huge belly.
- Varaha – The boar,appeared in the Satya Yuga. Represents a human embryo which is almost ready. Its features are visible.
- Narasimha – The Man-Lion (Nara = man, simha = lion), appeared in the Satya Yuga. Represents a newborn baby, hairy and cranky, bawling and full of blood.Regarded as the greatest and most powerful avatar.
- Vamana – The Dwarf, appeared in the Treta Yuga. Represents a young child.
- Parashurama – Vishnu incarnation as angry Brahmin with the axe, appeared in the Treta Yuga. Represents both an angry young man and a grumpy old man simultaneously.
- Buddha – Born as a Hindu Prince, Siddhartha, who gave up the luxuries of royal palace and meditated in search of the truth. As Buddha, Siddhartha founded a new religious philosophy – Buddhism.
- Kalki/ Eternity/ Time/ The Destroyer of Evil – Who is expected to appear at the end of Kali Yuga, the time period in which we currently exist. However, over the centuries many sects have believed their spiritual leader to be Kalki. For example, Ismaili Khojas, a Muslim group from Gujarat and Sindh who are followers of Aga Khan, believe in the 10 incarnations of Vishnu. According to their tradition Imam Ali, the son-in-law of prophet Muhamad was Kalki.
- Hinduism-Entry One: Some Basics (themosaicoflife.wordpress.com)
- HIndu Dharma: the Hindu Trimurti (cootefreya.wordpress.com)
- Continuing the Study of Hindu Dharma (beccaunsworth.wordpress.com)
- Hinduism Fast Facts (wyff4.com)
- Goddess Shakti becoming a half into Lord Shiva (shivshankardaily.wordpress.com)
- Hinduism (cheapbestessaywriting.wordpress.com)