Hindu deities

Brahmā

Brahmā is the God of creation in Hinduism. According to the hinduistic Trimurti Concept (“Great Trinity” or “Brahmā-Vishnu-Maheshwara”), the cosmic functions are personified by the forms of Brahmā the creator, Vishnu the maintainer or preserver and Shiva the destroyer or transformer. Brahmā’s wife is Saraswati. According to the Purāṇas, Brahmā is self-born in the lotus flower. Other legends say that Brahmā was born in water or from a golden egg. Brahmā is traditionally depicted with four heads, four faces, and four arms. With each head, he continually recites one of the four Vedas. He is often depicted with a white beard (especially in North India), indicating the nearly eternal nature of his existence. Brahmā also holds a string of prayer beads called the ‘akṣamālā’, which he uses to keep track of the Universe’s time. Brahmā’s vehicle or vāhana is the haṃsa, a swan or a goose.

Vishnu

Vishnu is the Supreme Being in Vaishnava traditions of Hinduism. Vishnu governs the aspect of preservation and sustenance of the universe, so he is called “preserver of the universe”. He keeps up the Dharma in the sense of a righteous cosmological and human order and incarnates for this purpose again and again as an animal or as a human being. The Goddess Lakshmi is considered to be his wife. Several Purāṇas talk about Vishnu and his incarnations are listed among others in the Bhagavatapurāṇa. Vishnu is usually portrayed with four insignia, which he holds in his four hands: a flying disc (chakra), a conch (shankha), a lotus (padma), and a mace (gada). His mount (vāhana) is the half-human and half-eagle Garuda. Often Vishnu, also called Narayana, is shown resting on the cosmic serpent Ananta or Shesha.

Shiva

Shiva is the supreme God within Shaivism. He is considered to be the “the Destroyer” or “the Transformer”. Mount Kailash in the Himalayas is his traditional abode. Shiva’s wife is Parvati, his two children are Ganesha and Kartikeya. The main iconographical attributes of Shiva are the third eye on his forehead, the snake Vasuki around his neck, the adorning crescent moon, the holy river Ganga flowing from his matted hair, the trishula as his weapon and the damaru as his musical instrument. He is often shown seated upon a tiger skin. Shiva is usually worshiped in the aniconic form of a “lingam”. Particularly the Shiva Purāṇa and the Linga Purāṇa, discuss the various forms of Shiva. Nandī, is the name of the bull that serves as Shiva’s mount (vāhana). The city specially loved by Shiva is Varanasi (Benares).

Saraswati

Saraswati is the Hindu Goddess of speech, learning and knowledge. The legend states that she created the Sanskrit language, invented the Vīṇa, a musical instrument, and is the wife of Brahmā. She is dressed in white and rides a swan as her mount (vāhana). Generally, an image or a statue of Saraswati shows her with four arms. Two arms hold the Vīṇa. In the other two arms she holds a book and a mala (prayer beads). As already mentioned her mount (vāhana) can be a swan (haṃsa) a goose or, in South India, also a peacock. The beautiful Goddess is standing or sitting on a lotus, which is a symbol for her beauty and her wisdom. An important book for the worshipers of the Goddess is the Devi Mahatmyam. In South India Saraswati is especially honored during the Navaratri festival.

Lakshmi

Lakshmi is the Hindu Goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity (both material and spiritual), as well as the embodiment of beauty. She is the wife of Vishnu. Lakshmi is also called Sri. Many Hindus worship Lakshmi on Diwali, the festival of lights. In Lakshmi’s iconography, she is either sitting or standing on a lotus and typically carrying a lotus in one or two hands. The lotus, a flower that blossoms in clean or dirty water, also symbolizes purity and beauty, regardless of the good or bad circumstances in which its grows. Sometimes Lakshmi is also shown with one or two elephants, which symbolize work, activity, and strength. Lakshmi typically wears a red dress embroidered with golden threads, a symbolism for beauty and wealth. Ashta Lakshmi is a group of eight manifestations of Lakshmi, who preside over eight sources of wealth and therefore represent the eight powers of Sri Lakshmi.

Durga

Durga meaning “the inaccessible” or “the invincible”, is the most popular incarnation of Goddess Shakti in the Hindu pantheon. Durga is the original manifested form of Mother Parvati or Adi-Parashakti. Durga is Adi-Parashakti herself. The Devi Gita declares her to be the greatest Goddess. Thus, she is considered the Supreme Goddess and primary deity in Shaktism, occupying a place similar to Lord Vishnu in Vaishnavism. As Mahamaya (“great illusion”), the all powerful Goddess outwits the demons by influencing their minds to think they can overcome the Divine. According to the Skanda Purāṇa, the Goddess Parvati is given the name “Durga” after she killed the demon Durgamasura. Her vāhana is a tiger or a lion.

Ganesha

Ganesha also known as Ganapati and Vinayaka, is one of the best-known and most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon. Ganesha has the head of an elephant and a big belly. He holds his own broken tusk in his lower-right hand and holds a delicacy, which he samples with his trunk, in his lower-left hand. Ganesha is the “Lord of Obstacles”, and is therefore popularly worshipped as a remover of obstacles. As the “God of Beginnings”, he is honoured at the start of rituals and ceremonies. He may be portrayed standing, dancing, heroically taking action against demons or playing with his family as a boy. Ganesha is often shown riding on or attended by a mouse, shrew or rat as his vāhana. Though Ganesha is popularly held to be the son of Shiva and Parvati, the Purāṇic myths give different versions about his birth. An annual festival called “Ganesha Chaturthi” honours Ganesha for ten days, which is typically in late August or early September.

Hanuman

Hanuman is a Hindu God and an ardent devotee of Rama. He is a central character in the Hindu epic Ramayana and its various versions. Hanuman meets Rama during Rama’s 14-year exile. Together wih his brother Lakshmana, Rama is searching for his wife Sita, who had been abducted by Ravana. In a popular story from the Ramayana Hanuman needs to search for a precious herb to cure Lakshmana and is unable to identify the herb, so he lifts the entire mountain and delivers it to the battlefield in Lanka. Hanuman is also mentioned in several other texts, including Mahabharata, the various Purāṇas and some Jain texts. Several texts also present him as an incarnation of Lord Shiva. He is the son of Anjana and Kesari, and is also described as the son of Vayu, who played a role in his birth. According to one theory, Hanuman was born on ‘Anjaneya Hill’, in Hampi, South India.

Dattatreya

Dattatreya is considered to be an incarnation of the Trinity Brahmā, Vishnu and Siva. He is the son of Atri and Anasuya. In some traditions Dattatreya is seen as an incarnation of Lord Shiva and as the Adi-Guru (First Teacher). Although Dattatreya was at first a “Lord of Yoga” with Tantric traits, he was adapted and assimilated into the more devotional cults. While still worshiped by millions of Hindus, he is approached more as a benevolent God than as a teacher of the highest essence of Indian thought. Dattatreya left home at an early age to wander naked in search of the Absolute. He attained realization at a place not far from the town now known as Ganagapur. In the Bhagavata Purāṇa we can find a list of Dattatreya’s twenty-four gurus: earth, air, sky / ether, water, fire, sun, moon, python, pigeons, sea, moth, bee, bull elephant, bear, deer, fish, osprey, a child, a maiden, a courtesan, a blacksmith, serpent, spider, and wasp.

Venkateshwara

Venkateswara, also known as Śrinivasā or Bālāji, is a form of the Hindu God Vishnu. His most prominent shrine, the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple, is located in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh. According to a legend in the Tirumala Sthala Purāṇa, Lakshmi once had a fight with Vishnu and left Vaikunta (heavenly abode). She came on earth in disguise. Vishnu soon arrived on earth searching for her. He settled on Tirumala hills in the form of a forest gatherer and to continue his search. He then met Padmavathi who was the daughter of the King of the seven hills in Tirumala. They both fell in love and decided to get married. The father of Padmavathi asked for a huge bridal price and to pay the money Lord Vishnu took a large loan from Kubera, the Hindu God of wealth. Kubera gave the loan on the condition that Vishnu cannot return to Vaikunta without paying off the debt. Therefore Vishnu resides at Tirumala until the payment is made. To help him repay his debt, devotees offer him wealth and in return Lord Vishnu fulfills their prayers.