Humankind’s search for a supreme embodiment of the universe reflects itself in the form of religion. The desire to understand an individual’s existence, the role of karma and the time here on earth, can be concluded as major reasons behind the search for religion and attachment to a supreme being. Hinduism, one of the oldest and third largest religion in the world, has numerous deities worshiped as gods and goddesses. While the number of gods cannot be stated with a certain figure, it can be said that all devotees of Hinduism believe in a supreme being which is worshiped in various forms throughout the world.
Indra is the ruler of heaven and the leader of the devas. He is the god of rain. His vahan (vehicle) is a white elephant named Airavat. He also has a chariot drawn by ten thousand horses. His weapon is the thunderbolt vajra. He is the son of Aditi and sage Kashyap. Indra is one of the most important deities in the sky. Indra is also sometimes portrayed as a cunning and conspiring god, sending apsaras and obstacles while some believe that this is just a test for the devotees. He is the symbol for strength and courage and is the supreme god in the Rigveda scripture.
Hanuman, the son of Pawan- the air god, is a faithful devotee of Lord Ram. He is also known as the monkey god. He is one among the astachiranjiwi (the eight immortals). As a young child Hanuman was very mischievous with an incident where he tried to swallow the sun. Thus, his powers were restricted until his meeting with Ram. Hanuman had a central role to play in the epic Ramayana as Ram’s alley, burning Lanka (Ravan’s Kingdom) and even saving Lakshman, Ram’s brother by carrying an entire mountain that contained the sanjivani buti (life-saving herb). Hanuman is worshiped as the god of strength/protection and is also the representation of the power of devotion.
Harihara is the fused form of Vishnu (Hari) and Shiva (Hara), that combines the two powerful deities of Hinduism. Harihara is thus followed by both Vaishnavites and Shaivites as a form of the Supreme God. It is a representation of Shiva and Vishnu as one and the same, as well as the equivalence of all gods as the supreme powers in the universe. The iconography of Harihara has one-half representing Shiva and other half representing Vishnu. The hands of Shiva holds the Trishul (trident), a drum, and a small deer while the hands of Vishnu hold his characteristic conch shell and a chakra.
7. Kumar Kartikeya
Kumar also known as Kumar Kartikeya or Kartikeya is a warrior god of Hinduism. He is the first son of Shiva and Parvati. As a young child, he was raised by the Kritikas, kept separate from his parents so that the demon or Asur Tarkasur would not be able to kill him before he achieved his powers. He was appointed as the commander in chief of the army of the devas, the gods of heaven in the war against the demon Tarkasur. He was also once offered to be the King of heaven but denied because Kumar considered his duty as commander more important. His vahan is the Peacock.
Krishna, also known as Shri Krishna, Gopal, Vasudev, Madhusudan, is the eighth incarnation of Vishnu. While his parents were Basudev and Devaki, he was raised in Gokul by Yashoda and Nanda to keep his uncle Kansa from killing him, as the prophecy stated that Krishna would kill his uncle. His birth is celebrated as a festival named Krishna Jamastami. Krishna is one of the central figures in the epic Mahabharata. He was Arjuna’s chariot rider in the battle of Kurukhetra and vowed not to use any weapon. It was Krishna who provided the knowledge of Gita to Arjuna during the battle of Mahabharata in Kurukhetra. He is considered to be one of the greatest warriors and philosophers in Hindu Mythology. His weapon is the Sudarshan chakra.
Ram, also known as Rama/Ramchandra is the seventh incarnation of Vishnu. He is the eldest son of Kaushalya and Dasharatha, ruler of Ayodhya Kingdom. The birth of Ram is celebrated as a festival, Ram Nawami. He is the central figure of the epic Ramayana. The prime reason behind Ram’s birth is to save the world from the demon Ravan, the King of Lanka. Ram is exiled as per the wish of his step mother Kaikeyi and is accompanied by his wife, Sita, and brother Lakshman. It is during this exile that Sita is abducted by Ravan which eventually leads to the war where Ram defeats Ravan.
Ganesh or Ganesha is the elephant god in Hinduism. He is the second son of Shiva and Parvati. Ganesha is the first god in order of importance in performing puja or rituals. Due to a misunderstood feud with his father, where Shiva did not know that Ganesh was his son, he cut off his son’s head. Later after realization, an elephant head was placed and Ganesh was revived. After the incident, he was also granted the power to be the first god in order of importance. The mouse known as Mushak is his vahan. Ganesha is often associated with good luck.
Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh are the trinity gods in Hinduism. Vishnu, also known as Narayan, Hari, is one of the trinity gods and is the protector of the universe. Before there was creation, it is believed that Vishnu was asleep in a vast sea of nothingness. Vishnu is often famous for his incarnations known as avatars. Being the god of protection, his incarnations are responsible for protecting the world from evil powers and prevailing peace and order. Vishnu has incarnated nine times. It is believed that the tenth incarnation, Kalki, will arrive close to the end of the world. The mythological bird Garuda is his vahan. He resides in Vishnuloka.
Brahma, one of the trinity gods, often portrayed as the four-headed god is the creator of the universe. Four heads are believed to represent four directions. It is also believed that Brahma, in fact, had five heads. His fifth head was too proud and was thus cut off by Shiva. While Brahma himself is the creator of the universe, it is believed that he evolved from a lotus flower from the navel of Vishnu. His vahan is the Swan or goose. Brahma resides in Brahmaloka.
1. Mahesh (Shiva)
Mahesh also known as Shiva, Mahadev, Ashutosh, is one of the trinity gods in Hinduism. He is the destroyer of the universe. He is the only god among the trinity who reside on earth, at Kailash. In benevolent aspects, he is described as an omniscient Yogi who lives an ascetic life as well as a householder with wife Parvati and his two children, Ganesha and Kartikeya. In his fierce aspects, he is often portrayed as slaying demons. Shiva is also regarded as the patron god of yoga, meditation, and arts. He is decorated with Ganga (the river) and Chandra (the moon) on his head. Shiva is also regarded to be a very simple god. He is usually worshiped in the aniconic form of Lingam.
Final Conclusion: The gods of Hinduism can be seen through the lens of functionality, the most famous being the tridev/ trimurti or trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh as the creator, protector, and destroyer of the universe. Likewise, Indra as the rain god, Kumar as the commander in chief and others add to the variety of functions and powers that the gods wield. While the popularity of a certain deity may vary from place to place and time to time, all the deities have their backstory and role in the creation, continuation, protection, destruction of the universe and its elements.