When I was travelling in India for my first time, I could not help but 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… 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.
Westerners like to see the three main Hindu gods as ‘the trinity’. 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’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 mythologically connected to Brahma.
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. On one hand, he is the destroyer of the universe and symbolizes dark and wild energy but on 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 that 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 centers of pilgrimage for Shiva followers.
Known as the preserver or sustainer, Vishnu is always associated with the protection of everything 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 Gujarat is the epic capital of prince Rama, Mathura and Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh are the mythological habitats of young Krishna, in Puri, Orissa he is Jagannath, the lord of the universe, and the list goes on.