Hindu Gods and Goddesses

Hinduism has many Gods - some worshipped by all Hindus while others are local to a community or region. However all these local Gods are usually different forms of the basic main Gods worshipped by all. It is said that Hindus have 330 million Gods, but this is actually just some confusion between the beings of the angelic or devic evolution who are also referred to as devas, the same term as Deva or God but are not actually the same as Gods. The list given below only covers those Gods popularly worshipped through out India. Other Gods that are not included, can usually be equated with one of the listed ones. All these Gods have various myths associated with them. Deciphering the symbolism and meaning behind these myths is not easy. In many cases, these colorful myths added later by devotees, merely confuse the original meaning of the various Gods. Here only the myths that serve to illuminate the roles of these Gods are mentioned.

Essentially there are three main Hindu Gods (similar to the Christian Trinity*):

*Father, Son and Holy Spirit respectively. Here is a comparison between Hinduism and Christianity (and Islam)

Brahma, the Creator, then joins with primordial Matter to produce

One way to understand the significance of the main personal Hindu Gods is to look at their relationship with the Elements of Creation and the Chakra system in the human body:

Diety Element Chakra Role Ray Energy/Quality (From Theosophy)
Shiva (the Father) Spirit (Paramatma) 7 Sahasrara/Crown Destroyer/Transformer 1 Will, Purpose or Power
Vishnu (the Son) Rama, Krishna, (Jesus) Soul (Atma) 6 Ajna/Eyebrows Sustainer/Savior 2 Love and Wisdom
Brahma (the Holy Spirit) +
His Creation
Saraswati Mind+Body Ether/Space (Akash) 5 Vishuddha/Throat Sound/Speech/Learning 3 Active, Creative Intelligence
Hanuman Wind/Air (Vayu) 4 Anahata/Heart Strength/Support/Healer 4 Harmony through Conflict, or Beauty or Art
Laxmi Fire (Agni) 3 Manipura/Solar Plexus Prosperity/Abundance 5 Concrete Knowledge or Science
Parvati Water (Jala) 2 Swadhisthana/Sacral Passion/Self Sacrifice 6 Devotion or Idealism
Ganesha Earth (Prithvi) 1 Muladhara/Root Ritual/Mantras 7 Ceremonial Order or Magic or Ritual

In the Ramayana, Sita is the Kundalini Shakti that rises from the Muladhara Chakra to meet Rama at the Ajna center. The goal is of course to go beyond that to meet Shiva at the Crown Chakra for ultimate liberation.

According to Adi Shankaracharya (8th Century Hindu scholar, teacher, philosopher, leader), all Hindus should worship the five following Gods (Panchayatana/Pancha Devata) in order:

Others have added Kartikeya to the list to make six.

I have added some information based on Theosophical literature and clearly marked it in green color to indicate that it may not be main-stream Hindu thought (in my opinion, Theosophy is to Hindu Thought as Quantum Physics is to Newtonian Physics - there is no contradiction, one just expands on the other). Incidentally, the energies of the Chakras are referred to in Theosophy as the energies of the Seven Rays - however they are numbered in reverse. So Ray One, is the energy of the Crown or seventh Chakra and Ray Seven is that of the Muladhara or first Chakra.

Please click on each name to read more (or Expand All):

Incarnations that embody the energies of the Gods:

Celestial objects like planets, stars, comets etc, may appear to us, as dead objects without a will or a mind of their own or the ability to act outside their apparent fixed orbits. This is totally incorrect. Almost all celestial bodies are ensoled by a heavenly, living being. In fact all the beings that ensole each planet of our solar system can be considered to be like a 'God' with the Sun being the highest God in our solar system.

Human Incarnations (or as in the case of Hanuman- part human/part animal): Cosmic Incarnations:

There is another class of Divine Incarnations that take place in India - unlike the human incarnations listed above (where divinity descends into mortal humans). These are incarnations of Divine Beings, themselves, as mortal humans. To put it a bit simplistically, in the previous case, a man becomes God and in this case a God becomes man, i.e. in one case a man like Rama becomes an Avatar when the divine spirit descends into him and in the other case, a God like Saibaba becomes a man by taking birth in a human body. To understand the difference better, please read this webpage. The first type of Avatars (Rama, Krishna, Jesus) come only approximately every 2160 years, while the second type occur every century in India (often several living at the same time). India and Hinduism have been very lucky and very blessed that these second type of divine beings (Gods from outside our system) take birth regularly in India as mortal humans (the first type of Avatars can occur in any country). The main task of these type of Avatars is anchoring of 'Good' on this planet and help balance out the 'evil'.

I have listed them below in the order of their importance (in my opinion). There are many of them, but I have just listed the most important and well known ones.

River Goddesses of India:

Just as planets are ensouled by 'Gods', bodies of water, particularly rivers, are ensouled by 'Goddesses'. These are highly evolved, spiritually advanced beings from the angelic evolution who play a role in not only nourishing the land but purifying it as well as making it sacred. The many rivers of India are one of the main reasons that the land is sacred (in spite of filth and squalor which seems to be everywhere).

Below are the seven main rivers of India approximately in the order of their spiritual status and importance. All rivers are feminine and can be considered to be incarnations of Parvati.

Brahman - The Absolute Who is a 'God'? How many Gods are there? (Click to read more...)

A Note on Hindu Temples:

Many monotheists find the worship by Hindus in front of an idol to be quite ridiculous and may accuse Hindus of idolatory or something even worse. The educated Hindu will then often become defensive and protest that he is only using the idol as a 'symbol' similar to the Christian cross and he does not believe that the idol itself is a God. Actually both of them are wrong to some extent.

When a temple is built and the idol established and consecrated, the priests perform a ritual called Prana Pratishta in which the deity is invited to enter the idol and become part of it. The priests use various tests to verify that the spirit of the deity has indeed entered the idol (some of these tests are supposed to be secret, so I won't mention them here). Regular daily aarti/puja has to be conducted from then on, to ensure that the spirit remains resident in the idol. If ever the temple is desecrated (by some person or a natural event), the Prana Pratishta ritual has to be repeated. So the idol is not just a symbol, it does indeed contain a part of the God (to whom the temple is dedicated) and a sensitive person can experience this fact when entering the temple.

Sabarimala controversy: Sabarimala Temple is a temple in Kerala, South India dedicated to the God, Ayyappa. As mentioned earlier, this God is considered 'celibate' and women (of child bearing age) are usually not allowed inside such temples. Recently, the Supreme Court of India declared this practice discriminatory and ordered that all women should be allowed to enter. But the locals, especially priests have refused to obey the order and still do not allow women to enter. There have been major, impassioned protests by women as well as traditionalists for and against the court's decision.

An explanation of a God's 'celibacy': There are some Gods (the Lord of our Planet among them) who do not participate in the 'creation' aspect of divinity. As theosophists have put it: these Gods 'refuse to create'. This not a big problem, since there are separate Gods who actually specialize in the process of creation, so there is really no need for all Gods to participate in it. However, ancient Indian Rishis in their 'wisdom', declared these Gods as 'celibate'. They are often known as 'Kumaras' (virgin boys). Of course the fact that these Gods do not create has nothing to do with human sexuality or gender or celibacy or any antipathy towards women. It is perfectly fine for women to enter their temples and the Supreme Court of India was quite correct in prohibiting the custom of denying women entrance to the temples (and the traditionalists should just suck it up and accept the decision).

Having said that, it is true that while a woman is menstruating (having her period), her spiritual level is indeed pretty low and it is best that she does not enter any temple during those few days. Her presence does indeed lower the spiritual level of the temple premises. Other persons who can also lower the spiritual level of a place:

  • A person who is very angry (or someone evil who is perpetually in a low spiritual state)
  • A person who has not had a shower for a while
  • A person who has recently worked in an abattoir or butcher's shop
  • A person who has recently performed an autopsy or handled a corpse
So it is not just menstruating women who should avoid entering temples (but no major crisis, even if one of them does enter). But after the time has passed and after having a shower/putting on fresh,clean clothes, everyone should be allowed to enter.

Created: March 17, 2013

This page is still under constructon...

Palo Alto, California

comments powered by Disqus