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Young Shiva slaying demons
Shiva (Siva) is regarded as the destroyer, preserver, and creator because he completes the Hindu cosmological cycle and ushers in the return of creation. He wears a chignon with curls and has a vertical third eye in the middle of his forehead. He often is depicted with four arms, carrying a string of beads, a symbol of his teaching, and a trident. The beads are called Rudraksha beads, a reference to his early name. Hindus who worship Shiva as their primary god are members of the Shaivism sect.

Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Shiva is worshipped as the ascetic god, remote when in meditation but also at times wild, passionate, and loving. As Lord of the Dance, he both destroys and creates the universe. His cosmic dance visualizes the cycles of creation and destruction in human lives, in the history of nations, and in the universe. Shiva is also manifest in a phallic emblem called a linga, and it is in this form that he is most often portrayed in the inner sanctum of his temples. Worshippers of Shiva believe that he is the supreme god who contains and controls all creation.” [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]

In the Vedic verses Shiva was known as Rudra, a minor deity that protected cattle and was associated with the howl of the wind and healing herbs. He had both and positive and negative side: he could bring disease and he could cure it. In the Rig Veda he is mentioned only three times. Over time Rudra absorbed merged with an early fertility god and became Shiva. By the second century B.C. Shiva had become popular as indicated by the large number stone lingams, symbols of Shiva, found in archeological sites. In the A.D. 2nd century there were Shiva cults made up of devotees who made lewd gestures at women and sneering noises during ceremonies and slept in the ashes left behind from funeral pyres. By the seventh century Shiva had became a more mainstream Hindu God.

Shiva lives in his paradise on Mt. Meru (believed by many to be Mt. Kailas in Tibet), ), where he created the Ganges. He is the originator of all the performing arts. The rhythm of his drum and his dancing are thought to control the fate of the world and prepare it for a new creation. Shiva has many incarnations and appears in many different forms. They are sometimes better known and depicted more than Shiva himself. In the "Shiva Purana", a medieval text devoted to Shiva, he has over 1,000 names, including Mahakala, the Lord of Time, and Maheshvara, the Lord of Knowledge.

Websites and Resources on Hinduism: Hinduism Today hinduismtoday.com ; India Divine indiadivine.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Oxford center of Hindu Studies ochs.org.uk ; Hindu Website hinduwebsite.com/hinduindex ; Hindu Gallery hindugallery.com ; Encyclopædia Britannica Online article britannica.com ; International Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu/hindu ; The Hindu Religion, Swami Vivekananda (1894), .wikisource.org ; Journal of Hindu Studies, Oxford University Press academic.oup.com/jhs


Ganesh is the elephant-headed god of prosperity, wisdom, success, intelligence and good luck. Very popular, particularly in Bombay and southern and western India, he is known as the creator and remover of obstacles, bestower of happiness and the eliminator of sorrow. Hindus pray and make offerings to him before beginning a journey, buying a house, starting a performance or launching a business venture. Even other gods pay tribute to him before they engage in any kind of activity so he can remove obstacles.

Ganesh is the son of Shiva and Parvati. Believed to have evolved from a fertility god, he is often depicted with a huge pot belly, slightly dwarfish, sitting like a Buddha or riding on a five -headed cobra or a rat. He has two or four arms. In one hand he carries rice balls, or sweetmeats (he is fond of eating and especially loves sweets). In another he holds broken pieces of his tusks, with which it said he inscribed the “Mahabharata” as the sages dictated it to him. Sometimes his trunk rests in a bowl that he hold in one of his hands. Sometimes he carries a trident to indicate his link to Shiva. Other times he carries a noose or an elephant goad. Ganesh’s association with rats comes from the ability of rats to gnaw through anything and remove obstacles.

Ganesha has the head of an elephant but the body of a human. He is also a good scribe. The tiny rat or mouse he rides on who runs very quickly. Ganesha is always worshipped at the beginning of any project or journey, and before a book is written. The sage Vyasa is supposed to have dictated the epic Mahabharata to Ganesha.


Vishnu is known as the Preserver and is a god with many incarnations. Generally regarded as nice, eternally young and attractive, he is often depicted with a crown and reclining on a multi-headed serpent with a lotus flower emerging from his navel. He usually has four arms. One carries a mace, which represents the basic force from which all other forces are derived. The others hold a conch, a disc, and a ball or a lotus. Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth is Vishnu's wife. Their mount in Garuda, the man-eagle.

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Vishnu, Raja Ravi, Varma and Lord_Garuda
Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts from The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Vishnu preserves and maintains order in the universe. Whenever destructive forces, usually symbolized by demons, threaten to overwhelm the world, Vishnu descends in the form of an avatar to restore moral order. His concern for human political and social activities expresses the gentle and just-minded side of the One. It is believed that in our present universe, Vishnu has already appeared in nine incarnations, taking such animal forms as a fish and a tortoise and various human forms such as Krishna, Rama, and the Buddha. It is believed he will appear once more in the future. As Rama, he symbolizes the importance of loyalty and obedience. As Krishna, he is the divine lover as well as a slayer of demons. Krishna’s consort, Radha, and his female devotees, in their passionate longing for him, symbolize the soul’s desire to be one with God.” [Source: Steven M. Kossak and Edith W. Watts, The Art of South, and Southeast Asia, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York]

The historical Vishnu is good example of a single god that was coalesced from multiple gods over time. In the early Vedic verses Vishnu was a dwarf capable of crossing the universe in three strides. He was a minor deity who performed these feats mainly to amuse the other gods and was mentioned only five times in the Rig Veda. His antics as a dwarf made him popular and he became a major god, it is believed, after he was merged with an early sun god.

Vishnu is associated with “right action” and is considered an upholder of Hindu values. He preserves the universe by staying awake. If he falls asleep creation will withdraw intro a seed from it which it will emerge when creation occurs again. His role as preservers is greatly valued by Indians who worship Vishnu and pay homage to him in many ways. Vaishnavites, devotees of Vishnu, are one of the largest Hindu sects. See Sects.


Another widely known incarnation of Vishnu is Krishna. Krishna, the God of Mercy and Childhood, is a popular avatar of Vishnu. Associated with love and mischief, he is a cowherd and a divine charioteer who sometimes takes on the role of protecting the world from the forces of “adharma” . He is often depicted with blue skin, playing a flute. “ Krishna” means "Dark" or "Black" He is believed to have evolved from a god of an aboriginal tribe and may have been connected an ancient erotic herb.

Krishna is quite different from other religious figures such as Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha. He likes to cavort with milkmaids in the forest, eat clay, steal butter and play pranks. As a child, he slew ogresses and seduced cowherd wives and as an adult he made love to dozens of women at one time “amidst the merry tinkling of bracelets, armlets and anklets.” His consort is Rukmini. He pursued his great love, the married mortal beauty Radha, with the help of a “sakhi” , or go between.

Vinay Lal, professor of history at UCLA, writes: “Though one can speak of many Krishnas in the Indian context, it is most productive to think of Krishna as falling either within the ‘historical’ or ‘mythical’ traditions of Indian thought; within, in turn, each of these traditions, one can speak of multiple traditions. The historical Krishna is the Krishna who is encountered in the Mahabharata, and his stock rose considerably in the nineteenth century with the advent of the Indian nationalist movement. [Source: Vinay Lal, professor of history, UCLA ==]

Krishna is loved “as the "butter thief", the simultaneous lover of 16,000 gopis or nubile young women, the man-about-town who frolics on the village green, the toddler who eats mud but is recognized by his mother as the Supreme Being, and the initiator of the rasa lila, or cosmic dance — are recounted, celebrated, and interpreted with evident delight. It is this Krishna who has ever predominated in the Indian tradition, to whom paeans were sung by the bhakta or devotional poets, over whom the great Mirabai went mad, and who furnished Indian artists and musicians with the material from which they drew their sustenance.” ==

Krishna is fond of adulation. He once said: "Fix Thy Mind on Me; be devoted to Me; sacrifice unto Me; bow down to Me.” He is worshiped by many in many ways. At festivals priests shape cow dung into images of the god. At school, children are entertained with stories about his adventures. On Sunday morning, television programs depict episodes from his story. Hindu devotees claim that Krishna’s sensual "pastimes" are manifestations of "love of the individual soul for God" not desire.


Hanuman hug
Hanuman, the monkey god and general, is a helper of Rama and popular in villages and rural India. Regarded as brave and loyal, he is worshiped as a symbol of strength and intelligence. He was once associated mostly with Sri Lanka but now is revered all over India as well as in Southeast Asia. Images of Hanuman are often placed at the entrances of temples because of his reputation for fiercely defending his territory against invaders. Hanuman is said to be the son of the wind god Vayi and is well known for his ability to change his appearance. He is often depicted as a warrior hero dressed in armor and carrying a mace and/or a dagger, weapons he used to defeat the demon Ravana, and is frequently connected with Vishnu because of his connection with Rama, one of Vishnu’s incarnations.

Hanuman is particularly popular in northern India. In January 1997, when a balloon carrying the adventurer Steve Fosset landed near the northern Indian village of Ninkhar, local people thought the balloon was Hanuman’s floating temple cart. Monkeys are given special respect by Hindus and allow to roam around temples because of their connection with Hanuman. One famous temple in Thailand hosts a huge banquet for monkeys in part to win the approval of Hanuman.

According to the BBC: Hanuman is worshipped for his unyielding devotion to Rama and is remembered for his selfless dedication to him. He also considered the living embodiment of the Karma Yogi (one whose meditation and devotion are demonstrated through hard work or service). Hanuman said "I am a humble messenger of Sri Rama. I have come here to serve Rama, to do His work. By the command of Lord Rama, I have come here. I am fearless by the Grace of Lord Rama. I am not afraid of death. I welcome it if it comes while serving Lord Rama." In return for his unconditional love, Lord Rama granted him everlasting life. Hanuman promised that he would be worshipped alongside Rama and that his idol would be placed next to his. [Source: BBC]

Hanuman Jayanti is a festival that commemorates the birth of Hanuman, the popular monkey God and symbol of strength and energy. A popular festival, it can be celebrated individually or in the temple where the sacred text, the Hanuman Chalisa, is recited. This text is - a set of prayers glorifying Hanuman, describing his past times and adventures. Depending on the temple where it is performed, the text is either recited non-stop for 24 hours or performed a set number of times. Special Pujas and offerings are made to Hanuman. Sometimes sacred fire ceremonies are carried out. In some places, colorful processions fill the streets. People dance, carry idols of Lord Hanuman and some people wear masks and tails to imitate the monkey God. The celebration is usually accompanied by a period of fasting and then a big vegetarian feast. [Source: BBC]


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Kali — the Goddess of Death — is a form of Shakti, a wife of Shiva and the daughter of a fierce mountain god. Also known as Durga, she is often pictured with three eyes, black skin, a tongue dripping blood, a necklace of skulls and a sword used for cutting off heads, and is sometimes shown with a severed head in one hand and a cobra wrapped around her neck. Kali is known for her dance of death and is revered for coming to earth and defeating the hideous demon Raktavijra, known for being ability to reproduce himself 1,000 times with each drop of his blood that falls to earth. Like Shiva, Kali is regarded as both a destroyer and a creator of life, but is feared because she has taken her demon slaying too far, demanding blood sacrifices from humans and once almost killing Shiva. Kali is the patron saint of thieves and a creator of problems for travelers as well a goddess that delivers good things to those that worship her. She was born as a fully grown woman with ten arms and acquired her taste for blood when she killed Raktavijra and drank his blood to prevent him from reaching the earth so he could reproduce himself.

Kali is often depicted as a warrior with weapons in each hand. She rides a tiger or lion, fights with a buffalo and frequently is shown sitting on a lotus platform, holding a lotus flower, beads, a water pot and sometimes the trident of Shiva. Many of here followers feel her hostile reputation is undeserved because most her aggression is focused on defeating and slaying demons. Kali is arguable the most popular of all Hindu goddesses and is especially popular in Calcutta and Bengal in eastern India, where she is known as Durga. Explaining why Kali is so popular despite here bloodthirsty nature, a taxi driver in Calcutta, told the New York Times, "Outside, she is looking very bad. But inside, Kali is very sweet goddess. Whatever you want — house, job, car, husband, child — when you make her sacrifice, then she will give it anything."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 3 South Asia “ edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); Wikipedia, National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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