Hindu Gods and Goddesses: Quick Guide to Key Deities

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Table of Content

  • Introduction

  • Understanding Deities in Hinduism

  • Key Deities Worshiped in Hinduism

  • Ganesha - Shiva - Vishnu - Krishna - Hanuman

  • Lakshmi - Durga - Saraswati - Parvati

  • Want to Know More?

Indian religion and mythology have given us a tremendous set of insights into existence and have developed many paths toward spiritual enlightenment. And these achievements reach their height with the Hindu gods and goddesses.

For thousands of years, the Hindu pantheon has inspired an enormous amount of artwork and storytelling of all kinds. Today, they not only create the central expression of spirituality for over a billion people, but they also give rise to countless movies, comic books, children's stories, novels, video games, and epics. But of course, their most important role has been their ability to make the mystical truths accessible to Hindus. Through ritual practice and worship of these deities, we are made wiser and more whole.

For that reason, Exotic India has assembled this quick guide to the most popular Hindu gods and goddesses.

Understanding Deities in Hinduism

The Vedas did not set out a strict set of religious doctrines, but a way of life. Their wisdom guided people to begin worshiping those things in nature that brought them peace, joy, fear, wisdom, and even laughter.

Through this practice, gods and goddesses began to emerge. These unique identities became attributed to phenomena in the world, and people continued to develop ways to depict them in art and honor them in ritual.

This process began focusing on incredibly powerful gods like Agni, the god of fire. The image of Agni is that of a powerful warrior, and early Hinduism gave this god a lot of attention and focus. Other important gods of early Hinduism include Vayu, the god of wind, and Surya, the sun god.

In the following millennia, many new gods began to emerge and take shape. And these have become the most popular in the tradition. As sages began to accrue Hindu gods and goddesses for each concern and feature of life, 33 core deities became prominent.

Key Deities Worshiped in Hinduism

Of all these, there are 10 that make up the most important gods and goddesses for most practicing Hindus today. Let’s get to know each other in a bit of detail.

Ganesha

Known for his elephant head, Ganesha is popular for his ability to remove obstacles and help worshipers achieve success. He is the son of Shiva and Parvati, and his consort is depicted as either Riddhi or Siddhi — though he is sometimes unmarried. Because he is the son of such auspicious deities, he is given great significance.

Ganesha is widely worshiped and given offerings for those wanting to remove obstacles. For that reason, many people will make sure to seek his aid when beginning new businesses and ventures of any kind. But he also contains great wisdom, and those seeking to know will often reach out his guidance.

Shiva

For Hindus who follow Shaivism, Shiva is the supreme being. In this view, he is the lord of all. But for other Hindus, he is one of a trinity (called the Trimurti) of supreme beings. Here, he is considered the lord of time and death — the god who brings about the end of things with his sacred dance.

He is likely the survival of one or many very ancient gods brought under the same image. He is often depicted with a serpent around his neck, a third eye, a trident, a damaru drum (with which he gave us the Sanskrit alphabet), a crescent moon, and the river Ganga flowing in his hair. He is also represented as Shivalinga. His concert is Parvati (sometimes Sati), and his children include Kartikeya, Ganesha, and Ayyappan.

Due to his immense power and prestige, he is considered one of (if not the) most important gods in all of Hinduism. And he is often sought for support in gaining success, power, and the perfect husband.

Vishnu

Vishnu is believed to be the supreme being for Hindus following Vaishnavism. In the Trimurti, he is the sustaining god who both keeps the universe safe and allows it to transform. His consort is Lakshmi, and his children are Kamadeva, Mangala, Narakasura, and Ayyappan.

In Vaishnavism, Vishnu is said to sleep among the cosmic waters in between cycles of existence, leading to some of the most beautiful imagery in all world myths. He is also central in the Samudra-Manthan, where the Ocean of Milk is churned to produce the nectar of immortality. Many tales tell of times when the world is in crisis, and Vishnu must appear in the form of an avatar to restore Dharma. The 10 most important of these are collected in the Dashavatara, with Krishna and Rama particularly beloved. Vishnu’s central role in existence makes him, like Shiva, one of the most important gods, and for many, he is the most important of all.

Krishna

Krishna is a widely beloved and fabled character in Hinduism. An avatar of Vishnu, he plays a key role in the Mahabharata epic. Part of that epic, the Bhagavad Gita, follows Krishna’s advice to a struggling prince Arjuna. The god’s words in this tale have inspired countless people to pursue liberation. And indeed, many Hindus worship Krishna himself as the supreme being.

He is often shown with his flute and with black or blue skin. While he is sometimes placed in bucolic settings with a cow (connecting him to Govinda, the divine herdsman), he is also often seen in jocular situations playing the trickster. Devotion to Krishna is widespread and quite devout. Popular worldwide movements like the International Society for Krishna Consciousness continue to maintain their relevance to this day.

Hanuman

Hanuman is the monkey-form companion to Shri Ram in the Ramayana epic. The son of Vayu, he is endowed with great strength and courage. His disciplined ways and devotion to Ram make him a wonderful role model. Historically, he has been widely used as a symbol of India and its struggle for freedom and self-rule.

Lakshmi

Lakshmi is seen by followers of Shaktism to be the supreme goddess. For others, she is a member of the trinity called the tridevi. In this role, she is the sustainer and caretaker, much like her husband Shiva. He is known as the goddess of power, love, fortune, beauty, and the illusions of the world (called maya). Because of these traits, she is frequently worshiped alongside Ganesha. Lakshmi’s widespread prominence places her at the very top of the pantheon, and she enjoys popular festivals in her honor — including Diwali and Sharad Purnima.

Durga

Durga is famously shown as riding a lion to conquer demons. This is no doubt the image of a goddess who represents power and great protective energy. She is the all powerful mother who contains tremendous rage for those who seek to upset the order of good over evil in this world. As a beloved mother goddess, she engenders deep adoration and respect. And in both the Devi Mahatmya and Devi-Bhagavata Purana, Durga is said to be the ultimate creator of existence.

Saraswati


Known as the goddess of art, speech, learning, wisdom, music, knowledge, and the river that is her namesake, Saraswati stands as one of the most important among all the Hindu gods and goddesses. In the tridevi, she is the creator of the universe and the holder of all cosmic understanding. Appropriately, she is married to Brahma, the creator of the male version of the tridevi, the Trimurti. In iconography, she is typically seated on a swan and connected to the color yellow. Hindus celebrate Vasant Panchami to honor Saraswati every spring.

Parvati


Parvati is tremendously respected among Hindus as the goddess of fertility, harmony, devotion, nourishment, and power. She is married to Shiva, lord of destruction. And because of this connection, she has the role of destroyer in the tridevi. Parvati is sometimes said to manifest herself as Sati, Durga, and Kali — all fearsome in their own ways. In one myth, she is the reincarnation of Shiva’s wife Sati who died in a sacrifice. Her popularity is apparent with her widespread image in temples across Asia alongside Shiva.

Tulsi

The plant tulsi (ocimum tenuiflorum) appears in many Hindu gardens and homes — often in a specially designed pot placed near the entrance. It is venerated as the embodiment of the goddess Tulsi, who is an avatar of Lakshmi. The leaves of the plant are used in the worship of Vishnu and his avatars. It is also used as a prasad, the ritual consumption of plant-based food after worship.

Want to Know More?

The Hindu gods and goddesses are a kaleidoscopic vision of the cosmos rendered understandable. The more time we take to understand them, the closer we get to understanding the true nature of reality and our place in it. If you would like to explore more, go to Exotic India today. With hundreds of thousands of products including ritual items and religious art created by Indian craftspeople and artists, our selection has anything you need.

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