Learning about the legends and iconography of the many Hindu gods is interesting and inspiring. The ancient captivating Indian epics describe the spiritual and material powers of the many of the popular Devas and Devis, whose names are invoked in sacred Sanskrit mantras. You do not have to belive these deities are real or be a Hindu to benefit from invoking these names in your japa practice. By attaining a deeper understanding of these deities, we can choose and use mantras for meditation with greater skill, dedication, and power.
Hinduism is a religion that believes in one supreme being–Brahman–who is the originator of the universe. The array of supporting gods and goddesses is organized in a multi-tier system. Below Brahman sits Vishnu (the sustainer and ruler of balance) and Shiva (the ruler of peace and transformer of worlds). These three create a holy Trimurti triad that governs over the remainder of the deities. These gods and goddesses are represented holding different power objects and weapons and are often paired with an animal friend or mount. These symbols, along with other items they wear and how they are physically depicted, are all important in describing the function, purpose, power, and potency of each deity.
The 11 Most popular Hindu Deities
While there are 33 Million deities in Hinduism, only a handful have unique and complex personalities that are considered the major figures of devotion. Several of these are also singularly worshiped by the followers of Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism. We have narrowed down the list of deities to the eleven most popular and renowned in India and abroad. Most yogis will have one or two favorite deities that they resonate with and feel inspired by. Which Hindu deity are you most attracted to and intrigued with?
In Hindu cosmology, Brahma is the creator of the universe. He grew out of a cosmic golden egg. Upon his manifestation, he created light and dark, good and evil. He symbolizes the endless cycle of creation and transmutation. Brahma is depicted with four faces, which represent his role as the ruler of the mind and intellect.
Shiva is depicted as a blue-skinned renunciate Yogi, who is most often in deep meditation on top of Mount Kailash. He is adorned with multiple Rudraksha mala beads, ashes, and a coiled snake. He holds a trident with a drum tied to it, and the river Ganges flows from the top of his matted hair. He represents the enlightened path of yoga and is said to help his devotees overcome worldly passions such as greed, anger, and lust. The mount of Shiva is a bull which reflects Shiva’s attributes of happiness, joy, and satisfaction.
Vishnu’s main role is the sustainer of life and the protector of the universe. Vishnu is often depicted sitting on a giant serpent that is floating in the milky ocean. In his four hands, he holds a conch that represents the primeval sound of creation, a discus which symbolizes the mind, a lotus flower representing liberation, and a mace confirming his mental and physical strength. Vishnu represents the principles of order, righteousness, and truth.
Ganesha’s large elephant head represents his role as the ruler of wealth, knowledge, and success. He is widely known and used in helping to remove obstacles and difficulties to allow one to achieve their tasks and goals. His mount is the mouse He represents three virtues of Buddhi (wisdom), Siddhi (spirituality), and Riddhi (prosperity). He is a master of astrology, mantra, and yoga.
Krisha is one of the many incarnations of Vishnu, and certainly the most popular and powerful of these. He is often depicted as a blue-skinned cow herder with a flute that he plays that seduces the hearts of his devotees. He is the ruler of love, devotion, tenderness, and compassion. Krishna is well known as the sage advisor and charioteer of Arjuna in the revered yogic text, the Bhagavad Gita.
Rama’s adventurous exile from his princedom is documented in the epic Ramayana. He is also a powerful incarnation of Vishnu and represents truth, righteousness, and virtue in all circumstances. The Diwali festival is celebrated to commemorate his return from fourteen years of exile. He is depicted as carrying a quiver of an arrow and a bow that symbolizes his zeal to destroy evil and protect honor.
The monkey god Hanuman was a life-long devotee of Rama, who helped him fight and defeat evil forces, and to win back Rama’s captured wife. The son of the wind god, Hanuman is depicted as a symbol of great strength, perseverance, and service.
Lakshmi is a powerful mother goddess who rules over success, abundance, purity, and beauty. Lakshmi depicted a four-armed woman who sits on a lotus flower. She holds lotus blossoms in two of her hands and performs mudras in the other hands. She uses the Varad Mudra to bestow wealth and prosperity and the Abhaya to bestow courage and strength.
Durga is depicted as having many arms, all of them holding different weapons, each of which was given to her by several of the male deities. She rides a fierce tiger and is the ruler of leadership, strength, and warrior goddess power. She is considered the destroyer of the evil and protector of the righteous.
Kali is one of the most adored gods in Hinduism despite her fierce, frightening, and fearful appearance. She is often depicted as standing on Shiva with her tongue out, and the lips colored with blood. She is the ruler of time and change. Kali wears a mala made from severed human heads, which represent her role as the slayer of ego.
Saraswati is the goddess of learning, knowledge, art, and music. She is represented as sitting on a white lotus flower and plays the Veena with two hands and holds mala beads and scriptures in the other two. She is often depicted seated on a swan with a peacock next to her.