World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Hindu deities

Article Id: WHEBN0000099585
Reproduction Date:

Title: Hindu deities  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Hindu mythology, Hinduism, Worship in Hinduism, Indra, Historical Vedic religion
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Hindu deities

Ganesha (centre) with Shiva (top left), Devi (top right), Vishnu (bottom left) and Surya (bottom right); each of them has a sect which considers them as the Supreme Being.

Hinduism is the dominant religion of the Indian subcontinent. It comprises three major traditions, Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism,[1] whose followers considered Shiva, Vishnu and Shakti (also called as Devi) to be the supreme deity respectively. Most of the other deities were either related to them or different forms (incarnations) of these deities. Hinduism has been called the "oldest religion" in the world, and many practitioners refer to Hinduism as "the eternal law". (Sanātana Dharma).[2] Given below is a list of the chief Hindu deities followed by a list of Hindu deities (including demi-gods).

Within Hinduism, a large number of personal gods (Ishvaras) are worshipped as murtis. These beings are significantly powerful entities known as devas. The exact nature of belief in regard to each deity varies between differing Hindu denominations and philosophies. Often these beings are depicted in humanoid or partially humanoid forms, complete with a set of unique and complex iconography in each case. The devas are expansions of Brahman into various forms, each with a certain quality.

Hindu god

Para Brahman

According to Adi Shankara, there is only one supreme Para Brahman, and all of the other deities are its forms and expansions.

Under terms of some schools of Vedanta, it has three modal aspects, with the highest being Para Brahman. Para Brahman means Supreme Brahman, or Supreme Cosmic Spirit. Although an ineffable entity, it could be said to be that which contains and pervades the universe. Para Brahman, 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, and Paramatma are held to be synonymous with Para Brahman.

Hindu sects like Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and Shaktism have a concept of Para Brahman, identifying it with the deities Shiva, Vishnu and Adi Parashakti/Shakti (the Goddess) respectively. However, in contrast with Vaishnavism (in which Para Brahman denotes Saguna Brahman as Vishnu), either Saguna Brahman or the impersonal Nirguna Brahman may be connotated by other sects.

Trimurti and Tridevi

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva with their consorts.

Shiva and Vishnu are regarded as Mahādevas ("great gods" ) due to their central positions in worship and scriptures.[3] These two along with Brahma are considered the Trimurti—the three aspects of the universal supreme God. These three aspects symbolize the entire circle of samsara in Hinduism: Brahma as creator, Vishnu as preserver or protector, and Shiva as destroyer or judge. The Hindu trinity consisted of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the followers of the last two formed two major sects.

The Tridevi or triplet goddesses of Hinduism have equal importance as the Trimurti and function as their consorts. Brahma is creator, so he needs knowledge or goddess Saraswati (Vaak) to create. Vishnu is preserver, so he needs the goddess of wealth and prosperity, goddess Lakshmi (Shri). Finally, Shiva is destroyer and re-creator, so he needs goddess Parvati, Durga, or Kali for power. They are the various manifestations of Goddess, Shakti.

Popular deities


In their personal religious practices, Hindus may worship primarily one or another of these aspects, known as their Ishta Devata or Ishvara[4] (chosen deity).[5] The particular deities worshipped are a matter of individual preference,[6] although regional and family traditions can play a large part in influencing this choice.[7] Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, and the Ganapatya sects of Hinduism states that Vishnu, Shiva, Devi (shakti), and Ganesha respectively equate to Brahman, and that all other deities are aspects of their chosen deity.[8]

Besides the Trimurti and Tridevi and aspects of the goddesses already mentioned, Shiva's sons Ganesha and Kartikeya, Vishnu's avatars like Rama and Krishna are popular deities.

Some deities have regional popularity. Regional forms of Vishnu include Jagannath, Vithoba and Venkateshwara.

Avatars as incarnations of gods

Many denominations of Hinduism, such as Vaishnavism and some schools of Saivism, teach that occasionally, a god comes to Earth as a human being to help humans in their struggle toward enlightenment and salvation (moksha). Such an incarnation of a god is called an avatar, or avatāra. Hinduism teaches that there have been multiple avatars throughout history and that there will be more.

Ten avatars of Vishnu

The most famous of the divine incarnations are Rama, whose life is depicted in the Ramayana, and Krishna, whose life is depicted in the Mahābhārata and the Bhagavata Purana. The Bhagavad Gita, which contains the spiritual teachings of Krishna, is one of the most widely read scriptures in Hinduism. Mohini is a female incarnation of Vishnu who appeared during the early struggle between the Deva and Asura.

  1. Matsya, the fish, appeared in the Satya Yuga. Represents the beginning of life.
  2. Kurma, the tortoise, appeared in the Satya Yuga. Represents a human embryo just growing tiny legs, with a huge belly.
  3. Varaha, the boar,appeared in the Satya Yuga. Represents a human embryo which is almost ready. Its features are visible.
  4. 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.
  5. Vamana, the Dwarf, appeared in the Treta Yuga. Represents a young child.
  6. Parashurama, Rama with the axe, appeared in the Treta Yuga. Represents both an angry young man and a grumpy old man simultaneously.
  7. Rama, Sri Ramachandra, the prince and king of Ayodhya, appeared in the Treta Yuga. Represents a married man with children and depicts and ideal society. one man one one wife etc..,. Lord Rama is considered Purna avatar, which means full incarnation of Vishnu.
  8. Krishna, Krishna is considered Purna avatar, which means full incarnation of Vishnu. Represents a more realistic society. As chaotic as it looks there is clear demarcation between right and wrong.
  9. Buddha
  10. Kalki ("Eternity", or "time", or "The Destroyer of foulness"), who is expected to appear at the end of Kali Yuga, the time period in which we currently exist, though it has not happened yet. 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.

Some consider Balarama, brother of Krishna, to be the eighth Avatar of Vishnu. They make Krishna the ninth avatar and delete Buddha.[9] But other legends state that Balarama was an incarnation of Shesha and hence Buddha, founder of Buddhism, is the ninth avatar of Vishnu and Kalki the tenth one who is yet to come at the end of Kaliyuga. Helmuth von Glasenapp attributed these developments to a Hindu desire to absorb Buddhism in a peaceful manner, both to win Buddhists to Vaishnavism and also to account for the fact that such a significant heresy could exist in India.[10]

Devas and devis

Indra is the god-king of heaven and god of thunder, lightning and rain.

The pantheon in Śrauta consists of many deities. Gods are called devas (or devatās) and goddesses are called devis. The most ancient Rigvedic deities included Indra, Agni, Soma, Varuna, Mitra, Savitr, Rudra, Prajapati, Vishnu, Aryaman, and the Ashvins. Important goddesses were Sarasvati, Ushas, and Prithvi. Later scriptures called the Puranas recount traditional stories about each individual deity, such as Ganesha and Hanuman, and avatars such as Rama and Krishna.

The Thirty-three gods of the Vedas are:


Assistants of Indra and of Vishnu

  • Agni the "Fire" god, also called Anala or "living"
  • Vāyu the "Wind", the air god, also called Anila ("wind")
  • Dyauṣ the "Sky" god, also called Dyeus and Prabhāsa or the "shining dawn"
  • Pṛthivī the "Earth" god, also called Dharā or "support"
  • Sūrya the "Sun" god, also called Pratyūsha, ("break of dawn", but often used to mean simply "light"), the Saura sectary worshipped Sūrya as their chief deity.
  • Soma the "Moon" god, also called Chandra
  • Aha ("pervading") or Āpa ('water' or ether), also called Antarikṣa the "Atmosphere" or "Space" god,
  • Dhruva ("motionless") the Polestar, also called Nakṣatra the god of the "Stars",

They are the 8 personifications of god Rudra and have various names.


The Ashvins (also called the Nāsatyas) were twin gods. Nasatya is also the name of one twin, while the other is called Dasra.

Number of deities

There is no fixed "number of deities" in Hinduism any more than a consistent definition of "deity". There is, however, a popular perception stating that there are 330 million (or "33 crore") deities in Hinduism.[11]

The number 33 is based on a verse in the Rigvedaand Brihadaranyaka Upanishad - Chapter 3. which 11 gods each in heaven, on earth and in mid-air. Another verse of the Rigveda states that "3,339 gods have worshipped Agni".[12] The extension to 330 million in popular tradition has been attributed to mistranslation.[4][13] Another source suggests the number is just "intended to suggest infinity".[14] In the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (1.9.1), Yajnavalkya asked how many gods there are, and he answers that there are 303,303. When the question is repeated, he says 33. When the question is repeated again, he says six, and when asked yet again, he answers one. The number 33 according to the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (1.9.2) consists of eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, plus Indra and Prajapati.

Yaska in his commentary on the Rigveda states that there are three deities, Agni (in the earth), Vayu or Indra (in the air), and Surya (in the sky).

Hindu religion

Origin and historical development

Many of the names of the Indo-Aryan deities (e.g. Agni, Indra, Varuna) are almost synonymous with deities in Persian, Greek and Roman religion (see Proto-Indo-European religion).[15] It has been speculated that this is due to the several waves of Aryan immigration that are believed to have taken place in northwest India around 1500 BC.[16] Through a slow process of hybridization the Indo-Aryan deities are believed to have merged into the many local cults, a process that spread from the northwest to the east and south of the subcontinent through the movement of "fortune-seekers, traders or teachers", and still continues today in some parts of India.[17]

Denominations of Hinduism

Shaktas worship manifestations of Devi like Durga as the Supreme Being.

Contemporary Hinduism has four major divisions: Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism. Minor monotheistic denominations include the Ganesha-centric Ganapatya and the Surya-centric Saura.

Hinduism is a very rich and complex religion. Each of its four denominations shares rituals, beliefs, traditions and personal gods with one another, but each sect has a unique philosophy on how to achieve life's ultimate goal (moksa, liberation). For example a person can be a devotee to Shiva and a Vishnu devotee but one can practice the Advaita Vedanta philosophy which believes there is no difference between Brahman and a person's individual soul. Conversely, a Hindu may follow the Dvaita philosophy which stresses that Brahman and the soul are not the same. But each denomination fundamentally believes in different methods of self-realization and in different aspects of the one supreme God. However, each denomination respects and accepts all others, and conflict of any kind is rare.

Vaishnavism, Saivism, and Shaktism, respectively believe in a monotheistic ideal of Vishnu (often as Krishna), Shiva, or Devi; this view does not exclude other personal gods, as they are understood to be aspects of the chosen ideal. For instance, to many devotees of Krishna, Shiva is seen as having sprung from Krishna's creative force. Ganesha worshippers would connect themselves with Shiva as Shiva is the father of Ganesha, making him a Shaiva deity. Often, the monad Brahman is seen as the one source, with all other gods emanating from there. Thus, with all Hindus, there is a strong belief in all paths being true religions that lead to one God or source, whatever one chooses to call the ultimate truth. As the Vedas – the most important Hindu scriptures state: "Truth is one; the wise call it by various names" (transliterated from Sanskrit: Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda Vadanti.)


Cults of goddess worship are ancient in India. The branch of Hinduism that worships the goddess, known as Devi, is called Shaktism. Followers of Shaktism recognize Shakti as the power that underlies the male principle, and Devi is often depicted as Parvati the consort of Shiva or as Lakshmi the consort of Vishnu. She is also depicted in other guises, such as the fierce Kali or Durga. Shaktism is closely related with Tantric Hinduism, which teaches rituals and practices for purification of the mind and body.[18][19][20] The Mother Goddess has many forms. Some are gentle, some are fierce. Shaktas use chants, real magic, holy diagrams, yoga and rituals to call forth cosmic forces.[21]


Saivism is the Hindu sect that worships the god Shiva. Shiva is sometimes depicted as the fierce god Bhairava. Saivists are more attracted to asceticism than adherents of other Hindu sects, and may be found wandering India with ashen faces performing self-purification rituals.[18][19][20] They worship in the temple and practice yoga, striving to be one with Siva within.[21]


Vaishnavism is the sect within Hinduism that worships Vishnu, the preserver god of the Hindu Trimurti ('three images', the Trinity), and his ten incarnations. It is a devotional sect, and followers worship many deities, including Ram and Krishna, both thought to be incarnations of Vishnu. The adherents of this sect are generally non-ascetic, monastic and devoted to meditative practice and ecstatic chanting.[18][19][20] Vaishnavites are mainly dualistic. They are deeply devotional. Their religion is rich in saints, temples and scriptures.[21]


Smartism, a relatively modern Hindu tradition (compared to the three older traditions ), invites the worship of more than one god including Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganesha (the elephant god) and Surya (the sun god) among other gods and goddesses. It is not as overtly sectarian as either Vaishnavism or Saivism and is based on the recognition that Brahman (God) is the highest principle in the universe and pervades all of existence.[18][19][20] Generally Smartas worship the Supreme in one of six forms: Ganesha, Siva, Sakti, Vishnu, Surya and Skanda. Because they accept all the major Hindu Gods, they are known as liberal or nonsectarian. They follow a philosophical, meditative path, emphasizing man's oneness with God through understanding.[21]

Smartism, is monist as well as a monotheist and understands different deities as representing various aspects and principles of one supreme entity, Brahman or parabrahman. Teachers such as Swami Vivekananda, who brought Hinduism to the West, held beliefs like those found in Smartism, although he usually referred to his religion as Vedanta. Other denominations of Hinduism do not strictly hold this belief.

A Smartist would have no problem worshiping Shiva or Vishnu together as he views the different aspects of God as leading to the same One God. It is the Smarta view that dominates the view of Hinduism in the West. By contrast, a Vaishnavite considers Vishnu as the one true God, worthy of worship and other forms as subordinate. See for example, an illustration of the Vaishnavite view of Vishnu as the one true God. Accordingly, many Vaishnavites, for example, believe that only Vishnu can grant moksha.[22] Similarly, many Shaivites also hold similar beliefs for Shiva.


The sun-god Surya riding a chariot.

There are some Hindus who consider the various deities not as forms of the one Brahman, but as independently existing entities, and may thus be properly considered polytheists.

In fact according to Umesh M Chauhan a lecturer in Sociology and human communications the number 330 million was mentioned during the formation of Vedas and corresponds to Pluralism in Hinduism. By scriptures the 330 million number actually corresponds to the assumed population of the world at that time between 1200 BC to 800 BC and would mean to each individual his own God. In other words it advocates the concept of God being a very personal experience and with every person's own perception of God different from that of other people one can actually fathom the thought of 330 million Gods of 330 million people at that time.

Although the panentheistic tendency in Hinduism allowed only a subordinate rank to the old polytheistic gods, they continued to occupy an important place in the affections of individual Hindus and were still represented as exercising considerable influence on the destinies of man. The most prominent of them were regarded as the appointed "loka palas", or guardians of the world; and as such they were made to preside over the four cardinal and (according to some authorities) the intermediate points of the compass.

Thus Indra, the chief of the devas, was regarded as the regent of the east; Agni, the fire, was in the same way associated with the southeast; Yama, lord of death and justice with the south; Surya, the sun, with the southwest; Varuna, originally the representative of the all-embracing heaven (atmosphere), now the god of the ocean, with the west; Vayu (or Pavana), the wind, with the northwest; Kubera, the god of wealth, with the north; and Soma with the northeast. In some traditions, Ishana—an aspect of Shiva—is regarded as the regent of the northeast and Nirrti the regent of the southwest.

In the institutes of Manu the loka palas are represented as standing in close relation to the ruling king, who is said to be composed of particles of these his tutelary deities. The retinue of Indra consists chiefly of the Devas, gandharvas, considered in the epics as the celestial musicians; and apsaras, lovely nymphs, who are frequently employed by the gods to make the pious devotee desist from carrying his austere practices to an extent that might render him dangerous to their power. Narada, an ancient sage (probably a personification of the cloud, the water-giver), is considered as the messenger between the gods and men, and as having sprung from the forehead of Brahma. The interesting office of the god of love is held by Kamadeva, also called Ananga, the bodyless, because, as the scriptures relate, having once tried by the power of his mischievous arrow to make Siva fall in love with Parvati, whilst he was engaged in devotional practices, the urchin was reduced to ashes by a glance of the angry god. Two other divine figures of some importance are considered as sons of Siva and Parvati, viz. Karttikeya or Skanda, the leader of the heavenly armies, who was supposed to have been fostered by the six Knittikas or Pleiades; and Ganesha (lord of troops), the elephant-headed god of wisdom, and at the same time the leader of the dii minorum gentium.

Hindu mythology versus Greek mythology

Similarities between Kama and Cupid, Vishwakarma and Hephaestus and Indra and Zeus do lead many to hastily conclude that Hindu mythology is similar to Greek mythology. But Greek mythology is quite different from Hindu mythology; the two peoples' attitudes to cosmology and the nature of the gods themselves were too different to allow too close a comparison. The Greeks did not believe in only one god – they had gods and goddesses. The gods of Greek mythology became masters of the universe by overthrowing the Titans, an earlier pantheon of powerful deities, who in turn had become powerful by overcoming Uranus. Such a theme of repeat succession is missing in Vedic literature. Like Greek gods, the Devas (Hindu gods) have also feared the Manavas (humans) would overthrow them. This has been depicted in Ramayan, Bhagavatam in the mythologies of Trishanku and Satya Harischandra. In Ramayana there are depictions that explains Indra creating obstacles for Aswamedha yaga conducted by noble kings of Raghu Dynasty, the ancestors of Rama.


See also


  1. ^ Nath 2001, p. 31.
  2. ^ Knott 1998, p. 5.
  3. ^ Fuller (2004), p. 32.
  4. ^ a b Explaining Hindu Dharma (2nd Edition). Vishwa Hindu Parishad (UK). 2002. p. 14.  
  5. ^ Werner (1994), p. 80.
  6. ^ Harman (2004), p. 106.
  7. ^ Harman (2004), p. 104.
  8. ^ "What is Hinduism?: Modern Adventures Into a Profound Global Faith". Himalayan Academy Publications. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  9. ^ O'Flaherty, page 200.
  10. ^ von Glasenapp 1962 page 113, cited in O'Flaherty, page 206.
  11. ^ Lynn Foulston, Stuart Abbott (2009). Hindu goddesses: beliefs and practices. pp. 1–2.  
  12. ^ W.J. Wilkins, Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic, 1900, p. 9.
  13. ^ Chandra, Lokesh (2007-01-01). Buddhism: Art and values : A collection of research papers and keynote addresses on the evolution of Buddhist art and thought across the lands of Asia. International Academy of Indian Culture and Aditya Prakashan, 2007.   said that Hindus have 33 crore (330,000,000) gods. Thirty-three divinities are mentioned in the Yajur-veda, Atharva-... Tibetan masters who translated Sanskrit texts into Tibetan, rendered koti by rnamwhich means 'class, kind, category'. The thirty-three supreme deities are specified in the Satapatha-brahmana as: 8 Vasus + 11 Rudras + 12 Adityas...")
  14. ^ Joe David Brown; Time-Life Books (1961), Joe David Brown, ed., India, Time, Inc.  "Though the popular figure of 330 million is not the result of an actual count but intended to suggest infinity, the Hindu pantheon in fact contains literally hundreds of different deities [...]"
  15. ^ Keay 2000, pp. 25
  16. ^ Keay 2000, pp. 27
  17. ^ Keay 2000, pp. xxvii
  18. ^ a b c d Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  19. ^ a b c d Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  20. ^ a b c d Dubois (2007-04-01). Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies. Cosimo. p. 111.  
  21. ^ a b c d Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  22. ^ Dvaita Documentation: Vaishnava FAQ. Retrieved on 2011-06-04.


  • Daniélou, Alain (1991) [1964]. The myths and gods of India. Inner Traditions, Vermont, USA. ISBN 0-89281-354-7.
  • Fuller, C. J. (2004). The Camphor Flame: Popular Hinduism and Society in India. Princeton University Press, New Jersey. ISBN 0-691-12048-X.
  • Harman, William, "Hindu Devotion". In: Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice, Robin Rinehard, ed. (2004) ISBN 1-57607-905-8.
  • Kashyap, R.L. Essentials of Krishna and Shukla Yajurveda; SAKSI, Bangalore, Karnataka ISBN 81-7994-032-2.
  • Pattanaik, Devdutt (2009). 7 Secrets from Hindu Calendar Art. Westland, India. ISBN 978-81-89975-67-8.
  • Swami Bhaskarananda, (1994). Essentials of Hindusim. (Viveka Press) ISBN 1-884852-02-5.
  • Vastu-Silpa Kosha, Encyclopedia of Hindu Temple architecture and Vastu. S.K.Ramachandara Rao, Delhi, Devine Books, (Lala Murari Lal Chharia Oriental series) ISBN.978-93-81218-51-8 (Set)
  • Werner, Karel A Popular Dictionary of Hinduism. (Curzon Press 1994) ISBN 0-7007-0279-2.

Further reading

  • Chandra, Suresh (1998). Encyclopaedia of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Sarup & Sons, New Delhi, India. ISBN 81-7625-039-2.
  • Pattanaik, Devdutt (2003). Indian mythology: tales, symbols, and rituals from the heart of the Subcontinent. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company. ISBN 0-89281-870-0.
  • Kinsley, David. Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions. Motilal Banarsidass, New Delhi, India. ISBN 81-208-0379-5.

External links

  • A chart of the main Hindu deities (with pictures)
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.