The Trimurti. Image useful charts

How to Navigate the Hindu Gods

When I was travelling in India for my first time, I could not help to notice the large variety of symbols, temples, statues and all religious related symbols and monuments India holds. It looked like there were so many of them! More than this, there is not only one religion in India – Hinduism, but a few major ones, that each has more gods, temples and symbols… I was confused. When I asked people their answers make me even more baffled… In fact, the Hindu belief system can seem complicated because it contains lots of layers and structures. Of course it is mission impossible to learn the matrix of Hinduism from just a few posts, but I will try my best to introduce the India Travelz guide to the Hindu gods for the confused tourist in India. Which will cover at least the basics. I will start with a short presentation of the main Gods in Hinduism.

Statue of Shiva

Statue of Shiva

The Trimurti

Westerners like to see the three main Hindu gods as ‘the trinity’. Actually, there is no similarity what so ever to Christianity. Also the perception that each god is ‘responsible’ for one thing is not accurate. But anyway, we can start with a quick (and somewhat superficial…) overview of the three gods that complete the Hindu Trimurti – the 3 headed cosmic function of creation, maintenance, and destruction. The three principals are personified by the forms of three Hindu gods: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer or preserver and Shiva the destroyer or transformer.

Brahma. Image from Useful Charts

Brahma. Image Useful Charts

Brahma

Brahma’s role as the creator of the universe doesn’t make him the main god to worship. As his work finished with the creation, he spends the rest of his time in meditation and does not get involved in the world, unlike Vishnu and Shiva. This is probably the reason why he is not widely worshiped and you can find only a few places and temples that are dedicated to Brahma, unlike the thousands for Shiva and Vishnu. The most famous one is the Brahma temple in Pushkar, Rajasthan, next to the sacred Pushkar Lake that is mytho logically connected to Brahma.

Shiva

Shiva. Image Useful Charts

Shiva. Image Useful Charts

Known in more than 1008 names, in my opinion Shiva is the most interesting god from the three. He is interesting because of his dualism and complexity. From one hand he is the destroyer of the universe and symbolizes a dark and wild energy but from the other hand, without his destruction creation could not take place and the universe could not progress to different ions. He is the lord of yogis dwelling in the serenity of the Himalaya but also smears his naked body with the ashes of the cremations from the Ganges banks in his city Varanasi. He is the Nataraja, lord of the cosmic dance of the universe (especially in south India) and also Pashupati, the champion of the animals. Due to his great and creative energy, he is worshiped many times as a Lingam, a phallic symbol which represents his unique powers. We can find Shiva Lingams all around India. For example, a natural huge Lingam made out of ice, is in Amaranth cave which is one of the centres of pilgrimage for Shiva followers.

Vishnu. Image Useful Charts

Vishnu. Image Useful Charts

Vishnu

Known as the preserver or sustainer, Vishnu is always associated with the protection on everything that is good in the universe, with the right choice and action, with law and order and with the perfect image of the devout Hindu. Usually, Vishnu is not very accessible and quite indifferent, but he intervenes in the universe whenever he is needed and in a time of danger through his Avatars (yes, like the movie…), a deliberate descent of the deity incarnations to earth. His main 10 avatars include a fish, a boar, a turtle, half man-half lion and more, all based on rich mythological stories. His main two avatars that are most popular and highly beloved by Hindus, are those of Rama the hero prince, and Krishna, maybe the most loved deity in India. Like in the case of Shiva, you can find Vishnu and his avatars in many places in India: Dwarka in Gugarat is the epic capital of prince Rama, Mathura and Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh are the mythological habitat of young Krishna, in Puri, Orissa he is Jagannanth, the lord of the universe, and the list goes on.

Shiva Lingam made from ice at the Amaranth cave

Shiva Lingam made from ice at the Amaranth cave

 

See part 1 to learn about Hinduism before your travels

 

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  1. […] of particular tales which you may hear, the theme of the appearance of the divine, whether as Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, or the Goddesses comes up repeatedly. Often, the local story will subscribe to the larger one by […]

  2. […] my last two posts I covered a short introduction with the three main male Hindu gods and the three main female goddesses. Of course, it is mission impossible to write about all the […]

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