Top Hindu Deities
Hindus have a multitude of gods and goddesses that symbolize the one abstract Supreme Being or Brahman. The most fundamental of Hindu deities are the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. But many other gods such as Ganesha, Krishna, Rama, Hanuman, and goddesses like Lakshmi, Durga, Kali and Saraswati top the popularity chart with Hindus across the world.
Easily recognizable as the elephant-deity riding a mouse, Ganesha is arguably he most popular Hindu God, and one of the commonest mnemonics for anything associated with Hinduism. The son of Shiva and Parvati, Ganesha is depicted has having a curved trunk and big ears, and a huge pot-bellied body of a human being. He is the lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. He is also worshipped as the god of knowledge, wisdom and wealth.
The most powerful and fascinating deity in Hinduism, who represents death and dissolution. One of the godheads in the Hindu Trinity, and known by many names – Mahadeva, Pashupati, Nataraja, Vishwanath, Bhole Nath – Shiva is perhaps the most complex of Hindu deities. Hindus recognise this by putting his shrine in the temple separate from those of other deities and worshipping Shiva as a phallic symbol called the ‘Shiva Limgam’ in most temples.
The great exponent of the Gita, Krishna is the ninth and the most complete avatar of Vishnu, the Godhead of the Hindu Trinity. Of all avatars he is the most popular and perhaps the one closest to the heart of the masses. This blue-skinned deity has influenced the Indian thought, life and culture in myriad ways – not only its religion and philosophy, but also into its mysticism and literature, painting and sculpture, dance and music, and all aspects of Indian folklore.
Rama, the perfect avatar of the Supreme Protector Vishnu, is an all-time favorite among Hindu deities. The most popular symbol of chivalry and virtue, Rama is “the embodiment of truth, of morality, the ideal son, the ideal husband, and above all, the ideal king.” He is widely believed to be an actual historical figure – a “tribal hero of ancient India” – whose exploits form the great Hindu epic of Ramayana or The Romance of Rama.
Hanuman, the mighty ape that aided Lord Rama in his expedition against evil forces, described in the epic Ramayana, is one of the most popular idols in the Hindu pantheon. Believed to be an avatar of Lord Shiva, Hanuman is worshipped as a symbol of physical strength, perseverance and devotion. In times of trouble, it is a common faith among Hindus to chant the name of Hanuman or sing his hymn – “Hanuman Chalisa”. Hanuman temples are among the most common public shrines found in India.
The peace-loving deity of the Hindu Trinity, Vishnu is the Preserver or Sustainer of life with his steadfast principles of order, righteousness and truth. When these values are under threat, Vishnu emerges out of his transcendence to restore peace and order on earth. Vishnu’s earthly incarnations have 10 major avatars. The devout followers of Vishnu are called Vaishnavas, and his consort is Lakshmi. Vishnu is popularly worshipped as Lord Venkateshwara in the southern India.
Goddess Lakshmi means “Good Luck” to Hindus. The word ‘Lakshmi’ is derived from the Sanskrit word Laksya, meaning ‘aim’ or ‘goal’, and she is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, both material and spiritual. She is the household goddess of most Hindu families, and a favorite of women. Lakshmi is depicted as a beautiful woman of golden complexion, with four hands, sitting or standing on a full-bloomed lotus and holding a lotus bud, which stands for beauty, purity and fertility.
The Mother Goddess — known variously as Durga, Bhavani, Sherawali, Amba, Chandika, Gauri, Parvati, Vaishno Devi — represents the fiery powers of the gods. The name “Durga” means “inaccessible”, and she is the personification of the active side of the divine “shakti” energy of Lord Shiva. Durga is usually portrayed as riding a lion, and carrying weapons in her many arms. She is the protector of the righteous, and destroyer of the evil.
Kali, or the dark goddess, is the fearful and ferocious form of the mother goddess Durga. She is depicted as having born from the brow of Goddess Durga during one of her battles with the evil forces. Kali is represented with perhaps the fiercest features amongst all the world’s deities. Her tongue protrudes from her mouth, her eyes are red, and her face and breasts are sullied with blood. She stands with one foot on the thigh, and another on the chest of her husband, Shiva.
Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and learning, represents the free flow of wisdom and consciousness. She is the mother of the Vedas, and chants to her, called the ‘Saraswati Vandana’ often begin and end Vedic lessons. The goddess of wisdom, art and music, she is the daughter of Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga. It is believed that goddess Saraswati endows human beings with the powers of speech, wisdom and learning.
Deity of the Day
Goddess of Knowledge and Arts
Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and arts, represents the free flow of wisdom and consciousness. She is the mother of the Vedas, and chants to her, called the ‘Saraswati Vandana’ often begin and end Vedic lessons.
Saraswati is the daughter of Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga. It is believed that goddess Saraswati endows human beings with the powers of speech, wisdom and learning. She has four hands representing four aspects of human personality in learning: mind, intellect, alertness and ego. She has sacred scriptures in one hand and a lotus – the symbol of true knowledge – in the second.
The Symbolism of Saraswati
With her other two hands she plays the music of love and life on a string instrument called the veena. She is dressed in white – the symbol of purity – and rides on a white swan – symbolizing Sattwa Guna or purity and discrimination. Saraswati is also a prominent figure in Buddhist iconography – the consort of Manjushri.
The learned and the erudite attach greater importance to the worship of goddess Saraswati.
As a practice, only educated people worship her for knowledge and wisdom. They believe that only Saraswati can grant them ‘moksha’ – the final liberation of the soul.
Vasant Panchami – Day of Saraswati Worship
Saraswati’s birthday – Vasant Panchami – is a Hindu festival celebrated every year on the 5th day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Magha. Hindus celebrate this festival with great fervor in temples, homes and educational institutes alike. Pre-school children are given their first lesson in reading and writing on this day. All Hindu educational institutions conduct special prayer for Saraswati on this day.
Saraswati Mantra – Hymn for the Goddess
The following popular ‘pranam mantra’ or Sanskrit prayer, Saraswati devotees utter with utmost devotion eulogizes the goddess of knowledge and arts:
Om Saraswati Mahabhagey, Vidye Kamala Lochaney |
Viswarupey Vishalakshmi, Vidyam Dehi Namohastutey ||
Jaya Jaya Devi, Charachara Sharey, Kuchayuga Shobhita, Mukta Haarey |
Vina Ranjita, Pustaka Hastey, Bhagavati Bharati Devi Namohastutey ||
The beautiful human form of Saraswati comes to the fore in this English translation of the Saraswati hymn:
“May Goddess Saraswati,
who is fair like the jasmine-colored moon,
and whose pure white garland is like frosty dew drops;
who is adorned in radiant white attire,
on whose beautiful arm rests the veena,
and whose throne is a white lotus;
who is surrounded and respected by the Gods, protect me.
May you fully remove my lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance.”
What is ‘Curse of Saraswati?’
It is a concept where success is equated with Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. As mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik notes: “With success comes Lakshmi: fame and fortune. Then the artiste turns into a performer, performing for more fame and fortune and so forgets Saraswati, goddess of knowledge. Thus Lakshmi overshadows Saraswati. Saraswati is reduced to Vidya-lakshmi, who turns knowledge into vocation, a tool for fame and fortune.”
Saraswati, the Ancient Indian River
Saraswati is also the name of a major river of ancient India. The Har-ki-dun glacier fed into in the Himalayas producing the Saraswati’s tributaries, Shatadru (Sutlej) from Mount Kailas, Drishadvati from Siwalik Hills and the Yamuna. The Saraswati then flowed into the Arabian Sea at the Great Rann delta. By about 1500 B.C. the Saraswati River had dried up in places and by the late Vedic Period, the Saraswati ceased to flow.