Hindu Gods and Goddesses


Hindu Gods and Goddesses


I am not myself Hindu, but the religion holds a certain facination for me. I have gathered this material on the Gods and Goddesses from a wide variety of sources to present it here for your use in creating ritual. Perhaps the biggest misconception about Hinduism is that it is polytheistic. In fact it is monotheist. All the many Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu faith are simply aspects or facets of the one divine principal. While this concept may be difficult for Christians to get their heads wrapped around, I suspect that Wiccans will relate to it easily. They are familiar with the three aspects of the Goddess and will find these in Parvati. The deities all have their special areas of influence and can be utilized in rituals for those purposes. I was able to find a large number of pictures of the deities which I have linked to their descriptions. You may want to print out the image of the deity you plan to use in your ritual and place it on your altar as the Hindus do.

The three supreme manifestations of the divine principal are: Brahma, the creator, who introduces the soul into the cycle of life; Vishnu, the sustainer, who helps the soul participate in the cycle of life; Shiva, the destroyer, who liberates the soul from the cycle of life. The Hindu trinity are also aligned as the transcendent Godhead, Shiva, the cosmic lord, Vishnu and the cosmic mind, Brahma. In this regard they are called Sat-Tat-Aum, the Being, the Thatness or emminance and the Word or holy spirit. The trinity represents the Divine in its threefold nature and function. Each aspect of the trinity contains and includes the others.


Brahma is on the right, Vishnu, depicted in the center, and on the right is the god Shiva

Each God in the trinity has his consort. To Brahma is Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge. For Vishnu is Lakshmi, the Goddess of love, beauty and delight. For Shiva is Kali (Parvati) , the Goddess of power, destruction and transformation. These are the three main forms of the Goddess, as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are the three main forms of the God. The three Goddesses are often worshipped in their own right as well as along with their spouses.

Hindu Gods

The ultimate divine principal is unfathomable. But it makes itself known through many manifestations. The foremost manifestation is that of the gods. The gods of the Hindu universe are guardians of the natural order. They help humans enjoy a worldly life. They also provide the means to break free from the wheel of existence.

Shiva

Shiva is the destroyer and destroys all of the old or useless so that new can be created. He is part of the on-going circle of life and one of the three main gods. He is also known as Lord of the Dance and is often portrayed as the image of the dancer in red. Shiva was married to Parvati and together they created another of the most well known Hindu gods: Ganesh. (Shiva, Parvati and Ganesha) Note the third (red) eye in the middle of his forehead. A coconut is often an offering to Shiva because it too has three eyes. Lord Shiva appears in a meditating but ever-happy posture. He has matted hair which holds the flowing Ganges river and a crescent moon, a serpent coiled around his neck, a trident (trishul) in his one hand and ashes all over his body. The Lord's attributes represent his victory over the demonic activity, and calmness of human nature. He is known as the "giver" god. His vehicle is a bull (symbol of happiness and strength) named Nandi. Shiva-Linga, a sign of the Lord, is adored instead of him. Shiva temples have Shiva-Linga as the main deity. Shiva´s creative role is physically symbolised by his representation as the frequently worshipped lingam. Shiva is also known as Nataraj, the cosmic dancer whose dance shook the cosmos and created the world.

Brahma

Brahma is one of the three most important gods in the Hindu religion. He stands for all practical purposes on a somewhat lower level than the two other members of the triad, and his worshippers have become steadily fewer in number. He is, however, worshipped by seekers of knowledge, such as students, teachers, scholars and scientists. He is the creator god. At his own command Brahma can divide himself into any sort of life and so can populate the world after Shiva has destroyed it ready for new creation. The creator god of the Trinity appears seated on a lotus (a symbol of glorious existence), He has four heads and hands. Each hand is holding a sacificial tool (sruva), the Vedas (knowledge), a water pot (kamandalu) and a rosary respectively.(example) His vehicle is a swan (hans) which is known for its judgment between good and bad. Brahma´s consort is Sarasvati, the goddess of learning. She rides upon a white swan and holds the stringed musical instrument known as veena. In popular tradition and imagery Brahma rose out of the Egg of the Universe. He comes forth from a lotus flower growing out of the navel of Vishnu. Brahma's 4 heads are said said to represent the four Yugas or cycles of time in Hinduism. At the end of these cycles of time the Universe is ripe for destruction and must be created again. The four faces also represent the sacred knowledge of the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva), and this is the most prominent feature of any image of Brahma. The four faces, therefore, symbolize that Brahma is the source of all knowledge necessary for the creation of the universe. The four arms represent the four directions and thus represent the omnipresence and omnipotence of Lord Brahma.

Vishnu

Vishnu seems the most powerful of the three main gods. He is the sustainer and preserver of creation. As a deity, Vishnu embodies goodness and mercy. Vishnu's consort is Lakshmi, the Goddess of love, beauty and delight. Vishnu's followers argue that his mild character makes him the greatest of the gods. At the beginning of each birth of the universe there is nothing but a huge empty ocean. Vishnu appears with a lotus flower growing from his navel, Brahma is born from the lotus flower, and so life is enabled. Vishnu, the preserver, is usually shown in one of the physical forms in which he has visited earth. In all, Vishnu has paid nine visits, and on his tenth, he will be called Kalki and will appear riding on a white horse. Avatars of Lord Vishnu: Matsya; Kurma; Varaha; Narasingh; Vaman; Parasuram; Rama; Balaram or Budha; Krishna; and Kalaki. On earlier visits he appeared in animal form, as in his boar or man-lion (Narasingh) incarnations, but on visit seven he appeared as Rama, regarded as the personification of the ideal man and the hero of the gods, including his helpful ally Hanuman, the monkey god. Naturally, incarnations can also have consorts, and Rama´s companion was Sita. Next Vishnu came as Rama, the ideal man and main character of the Ramayana. Vishnu´s last incarnation was on visit nine, as the Budha. This was probably a ploy to bring the Buddhist splinter group back into the Hindu fold. When Vishnu appears as himself, rather thn one of his incarnations, he sits on a couch made from the colls of a serpent and in his hands, he holds two symbols, the conch shell and the discus. Vishnu´s vehicle is the half-man half eagle known as the Garuda. Lord Vishnu is also known as Hari, the remover.

Hanuman

Hanuman is a monkey god. He is a noble hero and great devotee of Lord Rama of the Ramayana. This deity is a provider of courage, hope, knowledge, intellect and devotion. He is pictured as a robust monkey holding a mace (gada) which is a sign of bravery and having a picture of Lord Rama tatooed on his chest which is a sign of his devotion to Lord Rama. He is also called Mahaveera(the great hero ) or Pavan-suta (son of air). Hanuman´s faithful nature is symbolized in the representations of him often found guarding fort or palace entrances.

Ganesha

Ganesha, god of knowlededge and the remover of obstacles is also the older son of Lord Shiva. Lord Ganesha is also called Vinayak (knowledeable) or Vighneshwer (god to remove obstacles). He is worshipped, or at least remembered, in the beginning of any auspicious performance for blessings and auspiciousness. He has four hands, elephant's head and a big belly. His vehicle is a tiny mouse. In his hands he carries a rope (to carry devotees to the truth), an axe (to cut devotees' attachments), and a sweet dessert ball -laddoo- (to reward devotees for spiritual activity). His fourth hand's palm is always extended to bless people. Ganesh is often pictured riding a mouse or rat. A unique combination of his elephant-like head and a quick moving tiny mouse vehicle represents tremendous wisdom, intellegence, and presence of mind.

Kartikeya

Kartikeya, the second son of Lord Shiva represents a person of perfection. In one hand he carries a spear called sakti which symbolizes the destruction of negative tendencies in humans. With his other hand he always blesses devotees. The Lord's vehicle is a peacock which is capable of destroying harmful serpents (symbolizing harmful ego and negative desires in people). Kartikeya is the god of war. Kartikeya is also known as Subramaniam, Skanda, Guha, Shadannana or Sanmukha (because he has six faces). He is the war God, the Hindu equivalent of Mars and Ares. He was created by all the Gods to lead the heavenly hosts and destroy the demons. He is the most masculine and fierce of all the Gods. He is also fire, Agni and is very Pitta (fiery) in nature. While Ganesh removes all obstacles, Skanda bestows all spiritual powers, particularly the power of knowledge.

Krishna

Because of his great Godly power, Lord Krishna is another of the most commonly worshipped deities in the Hindu faith. He is considered to be the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu. On visit eight, Vishnu came as Krishna, who was raised by peasants, and thus became a great favorite of the working classes. Krishna is renowned for his exploits with the gopis or shepherdesses, and his consorts are Radha( the head of the gopis), Rukmani and Satyabhama. Krishna is often blue in color and plays a flute. Shree Krishna delivered Bhagwad Gita on battlefield to Arjun. He, like Lord Rama, is also known for his bravery in destroying evil powers throughout his life. The Lord is usually depicted as playing the flute (murali), indicating spread of the melody of love to people. He is also shown with his childhood devotee Radha. The Lord is usually remembered and worshipped as Radha-Krishna. The pair symbolizes the eternal love between people and god. Lord Krishna is also shown with his pet cow, his childhood favorite. Lord Krishna performed many divine sports (leela) as a child.

Rama

Lord Rama is one of the most commonly adored gods of Hindus and is known as an ideal man and hero of the epic Ramayana. He is always holding a bow and arrow indicating his readiness to destroy evils. He is also called "Shri Rama". More commonly he is pictured in a family style, (Ram Parivar) with his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana and devotee Hanuman who is sitting near Lord Rama's feet.

Satyanarayana

Lord Satyanarayana is another form of Lord Vishnu who is commonly worshipped by Hindus in their homes along with family and friends. The worship is performed usually on a full moon (purnima) day of the month. People worship by reciting the gracious story of the Lord which was once told by Lord Vishnu himself to the sage Narada for the benefit of humankind. The Lord's grace is described in a Hindu book called Skanda Purana. He has four hands like Lord Vishnu, however, his fourth hand does not hold a lotus rather it is extended upward to bless people.

Venkateshwara

Venkateshwara (Venkateshwer or Venkatachalapathi) is another form of Lord Vishnu who is also very popular as a Hindu deity. He is also known as Balaji or Bithala. He has a dark complexion and four hands. In his two upper hands he holds a discus (a symbol of power) and a conch s hell (a symbol of existence). With his lower hands extended downward he asks devotees to have faith and surrender to him for protection.

Planetary Deities

There are nine planetary deities which are also referred to as Nava (Nine) Grahas (Planets). These grahas are supposed to have a significant impact on the lives of an individual. The Hindu science of study of these planets is called the Vedic Astrology. Classical Vedic astrology uses the seven visible planets; the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn, along with the two lunar nodes, the north and south nodes, Rahu and Ketu.

Surya/Sun He is the God - a living God - whom everyone can see, perceive and pray to. Though he is visible, he also has been presented in a variety of forms. He is the life-giver and time-giver. In the six sects established by Adi Sankara, Souram is one devoted to Sun God. Even in other religions, Sun worship has place. In the Zodiac, Sun occupies a prominent place - the Center. The griha is the source of life and He is therefore described as the life-giver (Pranadhata). He helps one gain his eyesight and Suryanamaskar (worship by prostration) will strengthen one's bones, cure illness, howevre sever it may be, cleanses the devotee from his sins and bestows on him progeny, wealth, good-health and long life. He is the cause for rain-fall benefiting the world. The Vedas adore him as a witness of all actions (Sakshi). Worship of this devata on Sunday is supposed to bring in manifold benefits to the worshippers. He is the lord of Leo in the Zodiac. He stays one month in each Rasi and takes 365 days or 12 months to complete a round of 12 Rasis.

Angaraka/Mars In the Zodiac. ANGARAKA or MARS is regarded as a God of martial character, red in every aspect. A prayer to this planet frees one from debts, poverty and illness afflicting the skin. This griha bestows property and conveyance (Locomotion). Loss of eyesight can be restored by a prayer to Angaraka. Tuesdays are intended for the worship of Angaraka who loves the chanting of Sama Veda. In the Zodiac, He is the Lord of "Mesha" and "Vrischika". He stays 1 1/2 months in each Rasi taking 18 months to complete the cycle.

Brihaspati/Jupiter Worship of BRIHASPATIor GURU (JUPITER) Devata results in a cure from ailments affecting the stomach and helps one to ward off his/her sins, helps him/her in gaining strength, valor, longevity etc. He grants the boon of father-hood to the childless, good education (Vidya). He is revered as the Guru of Devas, protector of the world and is a Sreshta among the wise. Kind-hearted he is considered the Loka Guru and dispenser of justice and can be known only by a proper study of the Vedas. Thursdays are considered to be the best day for the worship of Jupiter. In the Zodiac. He is the Lord of Dhanus and Meena. Guru stays for one year in each Rasi, taking 12 years to complete the cycle.

Budha/Mercury BUDHA or MERCURY is considered as the greatest among the wise. This Devata bestows wisdom and wealth etc. on his devotees. He removes evil thoughts from their minds. He is the chief among Gnanis (Realised souls). He is considered Vishnu Rupi, because of his beauty and resemblance. A prayer to Him, especially on Wednesdays brings in manifold benefits like removal of all obstacles, helps one to get a progeny, possession of fertile lands etc. In the Zodiac this devata is the Lord of Mithuna and Kanya. He stays like the Sun, one month in each Rasi completes the cycle in 12 months, more or less closely in the footsteps of the Sun.

Chandra/Moon CHANDRA (MOON) is a lovable God - a loving god. Pleasing to children as well as elders universally appealing to everyone whatever may be the religion of the onlooker. Sages and devotees invoke the Goddess Mother in Chandra and meditate for hours. This griho (Moon) causes nightfall strengthens the mind, purifies the blood and is considered as the mother who radiates nectar (Amrut). Worship of this griha is said to be beneficial for relief from all sorrows, helps in curing mental afflictions. etc. His cool rays radiate happiness around. He adores the head of Lord Siva. Worshipping Chandra on Mondays is said to be very effective in getting one's prayers answered. In the Zodiac he is the lord of Cancer. He stays 2 1/4 days in each Rasi completing a round of the 12 Rasis in 27 days.

Ketu/South Node of the Moon Ketu brings prosperity to the devotee's family removes the effect of snakebite and illness arising out of poisonous matter entering one's body He grants good health, wealth, cattle and all around prosperity. Lunar and solar eclipses are said to occur because of Rahu and Ketu.

Rahu/North Node of the Moon The Skanda Purana says that Rahu is instrumental in strengthening ones power and converting even an enemy into a friend The effect of snake bite is removed by his grace. The lunar and solar eclipses are attributed to Rahu and Ketu Rahu and Ketu stay 1 1/2 years in each Griha.

Sanischara/Saturn The griha SANISCHARA (Saturn), also known as Manda, is generally known to affect one adversely on occasions when he occupies certain positions in one's horoscope like Saade Sati (7 1/2 years) Ashtama Sani (Saturn in 8 Th house - 2 1/2 years) etc. A prayer to this Devata, especially on Saturdays, is said to mitigate the hardships one will have to face during these periods. Sanischara is considered equally a bestower of all benefits to the devotees who pray sincerely to him. He is the Lord of Makaram and Kumbam He is the slowest moving planet taking 2 1/2 years in each Rasi, completing one cycle every 30 years.

Sukra/Venus Sukra is the bestower of long life, wealth, happiness, children, property and good education. He is the Guru for Asuras. Well learned in Neeti Sastras follower of such sastras and one who dispenses justice, Sukra is considered a beneficial devata. He blesses the devotees with power to control one's Indriyas (Sense organs) and enables the devotee to obtain fame and name. Fridays are considered to be effective for the worship of Sukra. In the Zodiac, he is the Lord of Tulo. Sultra takes one year to complete the Zodiac cycle living one month in each Rasi.

Devatas

Vedic deities are generally referred to as devatas. These Indra, for example is the king of all the devatas and rules the swargloka. Agni and Surya (a planet deity) are also very important Gods of the Vedic era. Yagna or Homa, or the ritual involving fire was a very important sacrament during the vedic period, during the homa, offerings were made to Agni.

Agni The Fire God has been worshipped by Hindus from the Vedic ages till today. Agni is one of the three supreme deities of the Rig Veda: Agni, Vayu and Surya. These three Gods preside over earth, air and sky respectively. When Agni is described in anthropomorphic form, he sometimes has two faces which are smeared with butter. He has seven fiery tongues and sharpened, golden teeth. He is red in color, with black eyes and wild, black hair. He has seven arms and three legs, and seven rays of light emanate from his body. He either rides on a ram, or on a chariot, pulled by goats or sometimes parrots. In Rig Veda, a number of hymns are addressed to Agni. Agni is the son of Angiras and the grandson of Sandila, one of the seven great sages. Vishnu Puran, however, claims that Agni is the eldest son of Brahma. His wife is Swaha and through his marriage he has three sons, Pavak, Pavman and Suchi. In Hari Vans, Agni is clothed in black and has smoke as his standard and carries a flaming javelin. He has four hands and rides in a chariots drawn by red horses. Agni Purana is said to have been recited by Agni himself to sage Vashist. It has portions on ritualistic and mystic methods of worship, the art of wars the laws of Hindus and glorification of Shiva. The proper offering to Agni, is ghee, which is clarified butter. Agni also had the power to impart immortality on mortals, as well as remove all sins at the time of one's death.

Indra is the God of firmament and the king of the abode of Gods. In the early Vedic age, Indra is the top ranking figure among Gods. Yet, he is not equivalent to Omkar or Brahma because he has a parentage. His complexion is golden and sparkling; he rides on a golden chariots drawn by two red strong horses with a thick and flowing manes and pointed tails. His favorite weapon is the thunderbolt which he carries in his right hand; sometimes he is also represented as having a big bow with long pointed arrows as well as hook and a net. He is the ruler of the atmosphere and weathers are at his command. In the Vedas, more hymns are attributed to him than any other God, indicating that he was then widely worshipped for his kindness, bestower of rains and the giver of fertility. His consort is Indrani.

Vishwakarma According to Rig Veda, Vishwa Karma is the divine architect of the whole universe. He is the personification of the creative power that welds heaven and earth together. He is the son of Brahma. He is painted white, has a club in his right hand, wears a crown, a necklace of gold, rings on his wrists and holds tools in his left hand. He is the revealer of Sthapatya Veda, or the science of mechanics and architecture. Mahabharat describes him as "The Lord of the arts, executor of a thousand handicrafts, the carpenter of the Gods, the most eminent of artisans, the fashioner of all the ornaments, on whose craft all menu subsist, and whom, a great and immortal God, they continually worship." He is the presiding deity of all the craftsmen and architects.

Yam (Yama) is the God of death and is the lord of infernal regions one visits after the cessation of life. He is the embodiment of the rule of law and imparts justice according to deeds. The word "Yam" means the restrainer, it is he who keeps the mankind in check. In Vedas, Yam is the First Ancestor and has a full distinction of a God. Yam's mouth is a fierce looking black buffalo, a form which he also adopts for himself on occasion. Yam carries a rope in one hand and a mace in another. Yam is a son of Vivasat, the embodiment of social morality, while his mother is Saranyu (clouds), who is the daughter of Vishwakarma, the cosmic architect. Yam's twin sister is Yami, who has the greatest affection for her brother.

Narad (Narada) has a lute in one hand and a pointed knotted tuft of hair in the center of the otherwise clean-shaven scalp. He plays a subsidiary but very important role in numerous religious scriptures. According to Mahabharat, Narad was the son of Kashyap and his mother was one of the daughters of Daksha. Another account says that he sprang from the forehead of Brahma. Narad is shown as a wandering seer going from one place to another. He is reputed to have invented Veena, the principal stringed instrument of India and is deemed to be the leader of celestial musicians. He is famous as a mischief-maker and in India his name is taken as a symbol of a person who is always creating one or other type of light mischief for Gods and Goddesses.

Hindu Goddesses

Hindu goddesses personify Nature – its bounty, beauty, wisdom and mystery. In benevolent forms, they nurture life. But in malevolent forms, they destroy everything. They are therefore adored and appeased with offerings of flowers and bridal finery.

Gauri

Gauri represents purity and austerity. She is the Kanya Parvati who had undergone severe penence in order to get Lord Shiva as her husband. Sita, the consort of Lord Rama, had worshipped Gauri to fulfill her desire to marry Lord Rama. Unmarried girls worship Gauri in order to get a virtuous husbands.

Parvati

Parvati is the wife of Lord Shiva and exists in various divine (both friendly and fearful) forms. Two of her fierce but very powerful forms are Durga (goddess beyond reach) and Kali (goddess of destruction). Both have eight hands and great power and energy (Shakti). Durga rides on a tiger or a lion and is also known as Lalitha. Kali rides on a corpse of a demon. As Kali, the fiercest of the gods, she demands sacrifices and wears a garland of skulls. Kali usually represents the destructive side of Shiva´s personality and is often pictured standing on him in reference to the tale of his efforts to stop her destructiveness after the battle with Mahisha. Parvati was called Sati in her previous divine incarnation. The family of Lord Shiva, Parvati and their sons Ganesha and Kartikeya is an ideal example of family unity and love. She has a charming personality. She is adored by married women for a happy married life. Devi first married Shiva in the form of Sati, the devoted wife who burned herself to death in a sacrificial fire to defend Shiva's honor (an act that led to the practice of suttee or wife-burning in India). After Devi's death, Shiva was so distraught that he lost all interest in his position as the military commander of the gods. As a result, the demons defeated the gods and drove them from their kingdom. The gods restored Devi to Shiva by having her reborn as Parvati. For the gods realized that the marriage of Parvati and Shiva would help them by resulting in the birth of Karttikeya, the great god of war. Though devoted to one another, Parvati and Shiva's marital relations were far from ideal, and there is a large canon of tales concerning their quarrels. Parvati is also the mother of the beloved deity, Ganesh, the potbellied god with the head of an elephant.

Lakshimi

Lakshmi is the goddess of prosperity, purity and generousity. Her four hands represent four spiritual virtues. She sits on a fully blossomed lotus, a seat of divine truth. Her personal charm is considered par excellence. An aura of divine happiness, mental and spiritual satisfaction, and prosperity always exist around her. Lakshmi, also known as Sri, is Vishnu's consort in each of his incarnations. When he became Rama, she was Sita. When Vishnu returned to earth as Krishna the cowherd, Lakshmi was reborn as the cowgirl Radha. Still later, Lakshmi embodies the spirit of Krishna's wife Rukmini. Just as Vishnu is milder than Shiva, so Lakshmi is gentler than Parvati. Lakshmi embodies the creative powers--without the destructive ones--of female energy. She is also the goddess of fortune and giver of wealth, as well as being linked to Vishnu's activities as preserver.

Sita

Sita is an incarnation of Lakshmi. The name "Sita" literally means "white." Sita was found in a furrow. In the epic poems the Vedas, Sita personifies agriculture and is worshipped as the divinity who rules over the fruits of the earth. In the ramayana, she is the daughter of King Janaka. Sita suffered more than Lakshmi; she was born to show what the ideal wife should be like. Every time someone says "May you be like Sita," what they mean is, "May you be a good wife." Never depicted alone, she is one of the five women in India cited as the perfect wives. She is meant to show true humiliation. She suffered, and knew it was her destiny.

Kali

Kali is depicted with black skin and a hideous tusked face, the forehead bearing a third eye like Shiva's. She has four arms. One holds a weapon, another a giant's slain head. The other two are raised to bless her worshippers. Her body is naked except for ornaments that incluse earings and necklaces of skulls and belt from which hang demon's hands. This belt signifies Karma (action and deed). During the process of a victory dance, she trampled over Shiva, who had mingled with the demons she had slain. She receives the name Kali from this legend of the conquest of Kal (time) an aspect of Shiva. Other aspects of Kali are Mahakali, the great Kali, Chandi the fierce and Bhairavi. It is in this name Bhairavi that she is counterpart to Shiva as Bhairava, where he takes pleasure in destruction, the ultimate dissolution of the universe. She is addressed as Siddhasenani (general of the Siddhas), Mandaravasini (dweller on the Mandara), Kali (black or dark), Kapali (wearer of skulls), Bhadrakali, Mahakali, Chandi (formidable), Karali (frightening), etc. To many of her devotees, she is also Kumari (virgin), Tarini (deliverer), Vijaya (victory), Jaya, `younger sister of the chief of cowherds', `delighting always in Mahisa's blood', Kausiki, Uma, `destroyer of Kaitabha', mother of Skanda, Svaha, Svadha, Sarasvati, Savitri, `mother of the Vedas', Mahadevi, Mohini, Maya, Hari, Sri, Sandhya, Vindhyavasini (an epithet of Durga), Chamunda, etc. Mahakali is very dark, usually naked, and has long, disheveled hair, a girdle of severed arms, a necklace of freshly cut heads, earrings of children's corpses, and bracelets of serpents. To add to her dreadful appearance, she has long, sharp fangs and claw like hands with long nails and blood smeared on her lips; she laughs loudly, dances madly.

Saraswati

Goddess Saraswati (Sarasvati) is the wife (consort) of Lord Brahma and possesses the powers of speech, wisdom and learning. She has four hands representing four aspects of human personality in learning; mind, intellect, alertness and ego. She has sacred scriptures in one hand and a lotus (a symbol of true knowledge) in the second. With her other two hands she plays the music of love and life on the violin (veena). She is dressed in white (sign of purity) and rides on a white goose (swan).

Gayatri

Gayatri Mata represents the most sacred Gayatri Mantra a hymn from the Rig Veda. Worship of Gayatri Mata by reciting this mantra brings every kind of fortune at the physical, mental and intellectual level. Gayatri is the name of one of the most important Vedic hymns consisting of twenty-four syllables This hymn is addressed to Lord Surya (Sun) as the supreme generative force. The hymn says, "We meditate on that glorious light of the divine Surya, may he, the lord of light illuminate our minds". One of the sacred texts says, "The Gayatri is Brahma, Gayatri is Vishnu, Gayatri is Shiva, the Gayatri is Vedas" Gayatri later came to be personified as a Goddess. She is shown as having five heads and is usually seated within a lotus. The four heads of Gayatri represent the four Vedas and the fifth one represents almighty God. In her ten hands, she holds all the symbols of Lord Vishnu. She is another consort of Lord Brahma.

Stories About the Gods

The following are stories about the Gods from various Hindu texts which explain aspects of their nature and describe their history.

Shiva

Shiva is the destroyer - destroyer of ignorance, desire, ego, and death. Worldly matters do not interest Shiva. Unaffected by the whims of the world, he is innocent and guileless, pure of mind and heart. He does not adorn his body with jewels or flowers; he mats his hair; wraps his body in animal hide and lets the serpent slither around his neck. He rejects social norms and does not mind the company of ghosts, gnomes , goblins, bhutas, pisachas and yakshas. He even rejects his body; hence he is worshipped as a linga.

Sometimes he wanders into crematoriums, smears his body with ash and dances in the light of the funeral pyres, reminding all about the transitory nature of material things. Shiva prefers to isolate himself atop Mount Kailas, shutting his eye, restraining his senses, meditating and transcending samsara. In fact so intense is the power of his tapas that it transforms him into a pillar of fire that has neither an origin nor an end.

But the gods seek his wisdom. They wanted him to participate in the worldly affairs. They wanted him to marry and produce mighty sons who would protect the world. So they enlisted the help of the mother-goddess Shakti. Manifesting as Parvati, the goddess succeeded, after great difficulty, in becoming Shiva's consort. Together they created two sons: the wise Ganesha and the mighty Kartikeya. Parvati inspired Shiva to compose music, choreograph dances and unravel the mysteries of the Tantra and the secrets of Yoga for the benefit of the universe. He even enlightened her on the art of lovemaking, delighting man and god alike.

Occasionally, Shiva does tire of family life and goes back into the forest to meditate or dance in serene isolation. As he alternates between being an austere hermit and an amorous householder, the cosmos either withdraws into itself or blooms like a lotus.

Vishnu

Vishnu is the preserver of the cosmos, the keeper of universal laws, the sustainer of life, who resides in Vaikuntha, the highest heaven. He constantly participates in worldly affairs making sure all is well. When order prevails in the cosmos, he rests on the coils of Adi-Sesha, the serpent of time. When there is disorder, he mounts his eagle Garuda and battles with the forces of chaos. Vishnu descends from heaven incarnating as man or beast to set things right. Vishnu uses both force and guile to ensure the stability of the universe. His consort Laxmi, goddess of wealth and power, offers him the wherewithal to maintain the integrity of the world.

Krishna

Krishna or Kama is the god of love. Priti and Rati, the goddesses of longing and lust, are his consorts. The god of spring Vasanta, the apsaras and the gandharvas are his companions. They carry his banner bearing his symbol - the makara. Kama uses the cane of sugarcane as the shaft of his bow and a line of buzzing bees as his bowstring. He rides a parrot across the three worlds shooting his five flower-tipped arrows that arouse the five senses and enchants the mind with visions of beauty.

He has been identified with the principle of desire that entraps the soul in samsara. In fact, in Buddhism, he is called Mara, the demon, and enemy of all enlightened beings. When Kama shot his love-dart into Brahma's heart, Brahma was so aroused by desire, that he stirred the still cosmic waters and set in motion the cycle of life. But when he shot his love-dart at Shiva, Shiva opened his third eye, let loose a fiery missile and reduced his dart to ashes. Shiva seeks to transcend all worldly matters and his rejection of Kama is therefore understandable.

Wounded by Kama's darts, man craves for the wonders of existence, the beauty of life, Kama excites artists, inspires poets. He is a patron of arts. Kama enchants lovers. He brings the bee to the blossom, the man to the woman, thus catalyzing the creation of new life. Little wonder then, he is considered the son of Laxmi and Vishnu. As the son of the goddess of affluence, he follows wealth and bestows the gift of luxury and pleasure. As the son of the preserver, he makes sure people crave for life and participate in worldly affairs.

Brahma

Brahma is the creator. But he is not worshipped because he is responsible for distracting the mind away from the soul and towards the cravings of the flesh. Before the cosmos existed, Brahma was all alone, self contained and self-content. Wounded by the love-god Kama's darts, however, he felt inadequate and longed for company. He split himself and created Shatarupa, the goddess of samsara. She was ephemeral yet enchanting. Her many forms captivated Brahma. He desired to posses her, hoping that the union would restore his peace of mind.

But that was not to be. Like all material things, Shatarupa would turn into something else every time Brahma got to her. She turned into a cow, a mare, a goose and a doe. Brahma kept pursuing her, taking the form of the corresponding male - a bull, a horse, a gander, a buck. Thus all creatures of the cosmos, from the smallest insect to the largest mammal, came into being. Brahma became Prajapati, lord of progeny. Brahma, in his obsession, sprouted five heads, so that he could look upon Shatarupa at all times. To restrain his lust, Shiva as the ferocious Bhairava wrenched off one of his heads. Sobered by the experience, Brahma took Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, as his consort. With her help, he regained control of his mind, drawing it away from the senses towards the bliss of the soul.

Devas

The Devas are the guardians of light and life. They are the sons of the primal sage Kashyapa, a manifestation of Brahma, and his wife Aditi. Aditi's first-born was the Indra; he became the leader of the Devas and the god of rain. Her last-born was Vishnu; he became the champion of the gods. The other Devas are: Agni, the god of fire; Vayu, the god of wind; Varuna, the god of the sea; Yama, the god of death.

The Devas live in Amravati, the eternal city, where they drink Soma or Amrita, the sap of life and enjoy music and dance. They are energized by the Yagna ceremony. The Devas constantly fight the Asuras, their half brothers. When the Devas are victorious, the day dawns, the moon waxes, the tides rise, the rains fall, the plants grow, the animals breed. When they lose, the sun sets, the moon wanes, the tides ebb, the rains stop, the plants wither, the animals die.

Hanuman

Hanuman, the monkey-god, has a body of steel and the mind of a yogi. His physical prowess, mental discipline and spiritual purity have won him many admirers. As a child, he mistook the rising sun for a fruit and tried to eat it, in the process disrupting the movements of the nine astrological bodies, the grahas. When Indra, lord of the skies, hurled his thunderbolt to stop Hanuman, Vayu was so angry that he sucked away the air from the three worlds causing all creatures to choke. Vayu was only pacified when the gods granted him eternal life and absolute wisdom. This event also gave Hanuman the power to overcome the baneful influence of all celestial bodies. Because of this, humans who seek to avert the malevolent influence of Mars and Saturn worship Hanuman.

In the Ramayana, we are told how Hanuman helped Rama rescue Sita who had been abducted by Ravana, the rakshasa-king of Lanka – how he flew across the sea and located Sita in the island-kingdom of Lanka; how he was caught by rakshasas who set his tail on fire; how he managed to break free and set alight the city of Lanka with his burning tail; how he built a stone bridge across the sea to Lanka; how he helped Rama launch an attack on rakshasa-kingdom by raising an army of monkeys and bears; how Rama rode into battle on his shoulder and shot Ravana dead, thus liberating his beloved Sita from the pleasure-gardens of Lanka. The epic extols Hanuman's humility and devotion that has made him worthy of reverence.

Ganesha

The Goddess Parvati wanted a child but her consort Shiva was not interested in a family. Determined to be a mother, the goddess decided to create a child on her own. She scrubbed her skin, collected the dirt, mixed it with clay and moulded out of it an idol into which she breathed life. She called this being, created without the help of her husband, Ganesha and declared him her son.

Parvati ordered Ganesha not to let any strangers enter her cave. Ganesha, who had never seen Shiva in his life, stopped his mother's consort from entering her abode. Enraged, Shiva beheaded Ganesha with his trident. When Parvati learnt of her son's death, she threatened to destroy the whole world unless he was brought back to life. To appease his consort, Shiva cut the head of a cow-elephant, placed it on Ganesha's severed neck and brought him back to life. From that day, Ganesha came to be known as "Vighneshwara" - the lord of hurdles. He blocks the movements of the undesirable.

Hindus salute the elephant-headed god Ganesha before beginning any activity or journey in the hope that there are no obstacles in their endeavour. His image is placed near gateways and above thresholds as he blocks all malevolent forces and lets only benevolent ones enter the house. Ganesha rides a mouse and prevents it from destroying crops. He ties a serpent round his stomach to prevent the food in his stomach from falling out. Thus Ganesha ensures the prosperity of man and is often shown seated beside Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and fortune.

Kartikeya

The gods wanted Shiva to father a child because only his son could destroy the demon Taraka who threatened the celestial realms. But Shiva was not interested in family; he preferred to meditate. So the gods begged his consort Parvati to help. The goddess managed to soften her stern husband's heart and obtain his divine essence in the form of a seed which she gave to the gods. So fiery was this seed that it burnt the fire-god Agni, singed the wind-god Vayu, boiled the river-goddess Ganges and set alight the forest of reeds.

When the fire died down, the six forest nymphs known as Kritikas found a six-headed child under the embers within a lotus. They nursed the child after naming him Kartikeya. On the sixth day of his life, the child let out a piercing war-cry, picked up his lance, attacked and killed Taraka. Then taking command over celestial armies, he led the gods to many victories. This virile commander of the gods rides a peacock and wields a lance. In North India he is considered to be a bachelor. But in South India, he has two consorts – Devasena, daughter of Indra, king of the gods, who was given to him in recognition of his valour and Valli, a tribal maiden who won his heart as she stood in the middle of her father's millet field.

Durga

The gods could not defeat the buffalo-demon Mahisha. So they turned to Shiva who advised all the devas to release their shaktis (spiritual prowess) locked within their bodies. The shaktis of the gods emerged in female form – Shivani from Shiva, Vaishnavi from Vishnu, Brahmani from Brahma, Aindri from Indra, Kaumari from Kumara. These goddesses fused together in blinding light from which arose a magnificent goddess with many arms.

The gods called this goddess Durga, the invincible one. They armed her with their weapons – Varuna, the sea-god, gave her a rope; Indra, the god-king, gave her a thunderbolt; Vishnu gave her a discus; Kumara gave her a lance; Surya, the sun-god, gave her a bow and arrow; Chandra, the moon-god, gave her an axe; Yama, the god of death, gave her a mace; Brahma gave her a shield; Agni, the fire-god, gave her an axe; Vayu, the wind-god, gave her a conch; Shiva gave her a trident. Thus armed, Durga rode to the top of a mountain on a lion.

Attracted by her beauty, Mahisha came to the mountain and proposed marriage. "I will marry only he who defeats me in battle," said Durga. Mahisha immediately attacked the goddess. She hurled many weapons at the buffalo-demon but each time he rose unscathed. Finally she kicked him. Mahisha, immune to the weapons of the gods, succumbed to the touch of her feet. Durga immediately impaled him with her trident and blew her conch in victory. All the gods saluted this warrior-goddess and celebrated her triumph.

Lakshmi

Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, fortune, beauty, bounty, pleasure, prosperity, pleasure, affluence and abundance – all the goods things in life. Hence, gods, demons and humans adore her. She sits on a lotus, draped in red sari, bedecked in jewels and holds the pot of bounty, overflowing with grain and gold. White elephants, symbol of rain clouds consecrate her with water that brings life to parched land.

As Shreedevi, the goddess makes kings out of men, bestowing them with sovereignty, splendor and royal authority. In this form, she is Vishnu's shakti, the source of his divine power, providing him with the wherewithal to protect the universe. As Bhudevi, the earth-goddess, she gives all creatures food, clothing and shelter. In this form, she is Vishnu's reponsibility. She is earth-cow, Go-mata, whose milk nourishes the cosmos. Vishnu is her cowherd, punishing those who dare harm her.

The goddess was churned out of the ocean of milk. She went to the demons, the asuras but turned away on discovering that power corrupted them. She then went to the gods, the devas, but found them too obsessed with pleasure. As she moved from place to place, looking for one worthy of her affection, she acquired the reputation of being Chanchala, the fickle-one. The gods said she was too demanding while the demons accused her of being capricious. Finally, she chose Vishnu as her eternal consort because he selflessly carried out his duties as upholder of cosmic laws. Lakshmi, mistress of material abundance (artha) goes wherever there is Vishnu, guardian of righteous conduct (dharma) bringing with them their son, Kama, lord of worldly pleasure.

Saraswati

Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge and the mistress of the arts. Worldly possessions do not interest her; she rules the intellectual and creative realm. Libraries and schools are her temples. She does not adorn herself with gems and jewels. Draped in a white sari, she rides a swan holding a book in one hand and a flute in another.

At the dawn of Life, Brahma was so struck by the beauty of his first creation – Shatarupa, goddess of material existence – that he sprouted five heads to look upon her at all times. He chased her wherever she went, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not possess this mercurial being. To restrain Brahma's lust Shiva, the supreme ascetic, wrenched off one of Brahma's heads. Sobered by the experience, Brahma turned to Saraswati and learnt to rein in his bewitched mind. Saraswati's children, the Vedas, showed Brahma the way out of the labyrinth of sensuality. From that day, the four heads of Brahma began chanting the four Vedas.

Kali

The gods could not kill the demon Raktabija. Every drop of his blood that touched the ground transformed itself into another Raktabija. Within a few minutes of striking this asura with their weapons, the gods would find the entire battlefield covered with millions of Raktabija clones. In despair, the gods turned to Shiva. As Shiva was lost in meditation, they turned to his consort Parvati.

The goddess immediately set out to do battle with this dreaded demon in the form of Kali. Her eyes were red, her complexion was dark, her features gaunt, her hair unbound, her teeth sharp like fangs. As she rode into the battleground on her lion, Raktabija experienced fear for the first time in his demonic heart. Kali ordered the gods to attack Raktabija. She then spread her tongue to cover the battlefield preventing even a single drop of Raktabija's blood from falling on the group. Thus, she prevented Raktabija from reproducing himself.

Drunk on Raktabija's blood, Kali ran across the cosmos killing anyone who dared cross her path. She adorned herself with the heads, limbs and entrails of her victim. To pacify her, Shiva threw himself under her feet. This stopped the goddess. She calmed down, embraced her husband, shed her ferocious form to became Gauri, radiant mother.

Ganga

Vishnu once heard Shiva play the flute and was so entranced by the music that his feet began to melt. Brahma caught the liquefied portion of Vishnu in a pot and from it created Ganga, the river-goddess. Hence Ganga is also known as Vishnu-padi (she-who-was-born-out-of-Vishnu's-feet).

Ganga is the most sacred river of India. She is depicted bearing a pot and riding a makara that is sometimes identified as a crocodile, sometimes as a dolphin and sometimes as a Capricorn like sea-monster that is half fish and half elephant.

Once she flowed in the heavens but then was ordered to go down to earth. Fearing that her forceful descent might wash away the earth, the gods sought the help of Shiva. Shiva broke the fall of Ganga by capturing her in his mighty locks. Since then, Ganga resides on top of Shiva's head as his second wife, the first being Parvati.

Parvati

Shiva agreed to participate in worldly affairs and so married Sati, daughter of the primal priest-king Daksha. Shiva's unworldly ways annoyed Daksha who refused to invite Shiva . Insulted, Sati rushed into her father's sacrificial hall, leapt into the fire-altar and killed herself. The ceremony, contaminated by Sati's blood, ground to a halt. In his rage, Shiva killed Daksha.

Sati's death broke Shiva's heart. He turned into a recluse and retired into a mountain-cave, where he meditated, bridling his mind, restraining his senses, until the restrained energy transformed him into a pillar of fire. In fear, the gods approached the mother-goddess Shakti. "Let his energy be released. Let it be transformed into a warrior who will command the celestial armies," they begged. In response, the goddess took the form of Parvati, princess of the mountains, and sought to win Shiva's heart with the help of Kama, god of love. But when Kama shot his love-dart at Shiva, Shiva opened his third-eye, let loose a fiery missile and reduced him to ashes.

Parvati then became a hermitress and mortified her body through austerities that won Shiva's admiration. He accepted her as his consort. They embraced until Shiva shed his seed from which arose Kartikeya, commander of the gods. Inspired by Parvati's beauty, Shiva made music and began to dance. Parvati also cajoled Shiva to reveal the secrets of the cosmos locked in his mind. Many seers were enlightened when they overheard their conversation. Everyone worships Parvati, the goddess who transformed the austere ascetic into an amorous householder.

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