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Hindu Mythology

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The deities of Hinduism have evolved from the Vedic era (2nd millennium BC) through the medieval era (1st millennium AD), regionally within Nepal, India and in Southeast Asia, and across Hinduism's diverse traditions. The Hindu deity concept varies from a personal god as in Yoga school of Hindu philosophy, to 33 Vedic deities, to hundreds of Puranics of Hinduism. Illustrations of major deities include Vishnu, Lakshmi, Shiva, Parvati (Durga), Brahma and Saraswati. These deities have distinct and complex personalities, yet are often viewed as aspects of the same Ultimate Reality called Brahman.

The Hindu Pantheon

There are, traditionally, three gods who make up the core of the Hindu pantheon: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. These three represent the power of creation, preservation and destruction.

  • 1 Brahma, “the Creator”- periodically creates everything in the universe. (The word periodically here refers to the Hindu belief that time is cyclical; everything in the universe — except for Brahman and certain Hindu scriptures — is created, maintained for a certain amount of time, and then destroyed in order to be renewed in ideal form again.) Brahma is typically portrayed with four heads – indicating his all-knowing nature and the four vedas – and four hands, which hold various symbolic items.
  • x Saraswati is the consort of Brahma the Creator and is worshipped as the goddess of learning, wisdom, speech, and music. Hindus offer prayer to Saraswati before beginning any intellectual pursuit, and Hindu students are encouraged to offer prayers to her during the school/college term and especially before and during examinations. Brahma had created Shatarupa for his own pleasure, but she did not share the interest. Brahma pursued her. As she changed form, he changed form, and he took her by force. He sprouted five heads in order to watch her. But Shiva was so angered by the lust, he wrenched off one of Brahma’s heads. At that point, Brahma returned to Sarasvati, who was then able to tame his wandering desire. She is the goddess of knowledge and the arts.
  • 2a. Vishnu, "the Preserver" maintains the order and harmony of the universe, which is periodically created by Brahma and periodically destroyed by Shiva to prepare for the next creation. Vishnu is worshipped in many forms and in several avatars (incarnations). Vishnu is an important, somewhat mysterious god. Less visible than nature gods that preside over elements (such as fire and rain), Vishnu is the pervader — the divine essence that pervades the universe. He is usually worshipped in the form of an avatar - & as the overseer of cosmic order, has entered into the world ten times (or 22 times or countless times, depending on the source), assuming form as a fish, a tortoise, boar, a man-lion and several humans, including Rama, Krishna, and even Buddha to deliver humanity from destruction.
  • x Lakshmi - the goddess of beauty, pleasure and wealth – and the mother of Kama, the god of desire. When she is associated with Vishnu, she is known as Sri Devi – the Lord Goddess. She was born of the churning of an ocean of milk, and after searching out the demons (who were too corrupt) and the gods (who were too obsessed with pleasure), she found Vishnu, who alone selflessly carried out his duty. As the consort of Vishnu, she plays a role in every incarnation. (She is Sita, wife of Rama; Rukmini, wife of Krishna; and Dharani, wife of Parashu Rama, another avatar of Vishnu.)

Avatars of Vishnu:The literal meaning of the word avatar is “descent,” and it’s usually understood to mean divine descent. Avatars are savior forms of a god that descend to earth to intervene whenever help is needed to restore dharma (moral order) and peace. Two of Vishnu’s ten avatars are Rama and Krishna.

  • 2a1 Matsya, the fish. King Vaivasvata Manu finds a little fish in the palm of his hands when performing the tarpana (water-offering). Manu keeps the fish, which keeps growing, eventually releasing it into the ocean, realizing it is Vishnu. Vishnu informs Manu of the coming destruction of the world, by means of fires and floods, and directs Manu to collect "all creatures of the world" and keep them safe on a boat built by the gods. When the deluge (Pralaya) comes, Vishnu appears as a great fish with a horn, to which Manu ties the boat, which leads them into safety
  • 2a2 Kurma, the giant tortoise. When the devas and asuras were churning the Ocean of milk in order to get Amrita, the nectar of immortality, the mount Mandara they were using as the churning staff started to sink and Vishnu took the form of a tortoise to bear the weight of the mountain.
  • 2a3 Varaha, the boar. He appeared to defeat Hiranyaksha, a demon who had taken the Earth, or Prithvi, and carried it to the bottom of what is described as the cosmic ocean (much like in ether theory) in the story. The battle between Varaha and Hiranyaksha is believed to have lasted for a thousand years, which the former finally won. Varaha carried the Earth out of the ocean between his tusks and restored it to its place in the universe.
  • 2a4 Narasimha, the half-man/half-lion. Jaya and his brother Vijaya are cursed by the sage Sanaka when they stop him from seeing Vishnu, and will be reborn three times as demons (asura) to be killed by Vishnu. In their first demonic birth they become Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu. Hiranyakashipu persecuted everyone for their religious beliefs including his son who was a Vishnu follower. he was protected by Brahma, and could by no means be killed.[33] Vishnu descended as an anthropomorphic incarnation, with the body of a man and head and claws of a lion. He disemboweled Hiranyakashipu, and brought an end to the persecution of human beings including his devotee Prahlada
  • 2a5 Vamana, the dwarf. The fourth descendant of Vishnu, Bali, with devotion and penance was able to defeat Indra, the god of firmament. This humbled the other deities and extended his authority over the three worlds. The gods appealed to Vishnu for protection and he descended as a boy Vamana.[35] During a yajna (यज्ञ) of the king, Vamana approached him and Bali promised him for whatever he asked. Vamana asked for three paces of land. Bali agreed, and the dwarf then changed his size to that of a giant Trivikrama form.[35] With his first stride he covered the earthly realm, with the second he covered the heavenly realm thereby symbolically covering the abode of all living beings.[35] He then took the third stride for the netherworld. Bali realized that Vamana was Vishnu incarnate. In deference, the king offered his head as the third place for Vamana to place his foot. The avatar did so and thus granted Bali immortality and making him ruler of Pathala, the netherworld. This legend appears in hymn 1.154 of the Rigveda and other Vedic as well as Puranic texts
  • 2a6 Parashurama, the warrior with the axe. He is son of Jamadagni and Renuka and was granted as boon, an axe after a penance to Shiva. He is the first Brahmin-Kshatriya in Hinduism, or warrior-sage, who had to follow the Dharma of both, a Brahmin as well as a Kshatriya. Once, when king Kartavirya Arjuna and his hunting party halted at the ashrama of Jamadagni, the father of Parashurama, and the sage was able to feed them all with the aid of the divine cow Kamadhenu. The king demanded the cow, but Jamadagni refused. Enraged, the king took it by force and destroyed the ashram. Parashurama then killed the king at his palace and destroyed his army. In revenge, the sons of Kartavirya killed Jamadagni. Parashurama took a vow to kill every Kshatriya on earth twenty-one times over, and filled five lakes with their blood. Ultimately, his grandfather, Rishi Rucheeka, appeared before him and made him halt. He is a chiranjeevi (immortal), and believed to be alive today in penance at Mahendragiri. He also credited for creating coastal belt of Karnataka and Kerala throwing his mighty axe as per Hindu mythology. The place the axe landed in sea got its water displaced and the land which emerged thus came to be known as coast of Karnataka and whole of Kerala.
  • 2a7 Rama - the prince and king of Ayodhya, is thought of as the ideal model of a common prince without super powers, despite being an incarnation. His story is recounted in one of the most widely read scriptures of Hinduism, the Ramayana. While in exile from his own kingdom with his brother Lakshman and the God Hanuman, his wife Sita was abducted by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. He travelled to Lanka, killed the demon king and saved Sita. Rama and Sita returned home and were crowned. The day of the return of Prince Rama to the kingdom of Ayodhya is celebrated in the form of festival Diwali all over India.
  • 2a8 - Krishna was the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudeva and the foster-son of Yashoda and Nanda. A frequently worshipped deity in Hinduism, he is the hero of various legends, particularly the Kansa-vadha and Mahabharata and embodies several qualities such as love, duty, compassion, and playfulness. Krishna's birthday is celebrated every year by Hindus on Krishna Janmashtami according to the lunisolar Hindu calendar, which falls in late August or early September of the Gregorian calendar. Krishna is usually depicted with a flute in his hand. Relatively late in the history of Hinduism (ca. 200 B.C.E.), the epic poem the Mahabharata told the story of Lord Krishna. One section of that epic is known as the Bhagavad-gita, and many hold that it encapsulates all of modern Hinduism. In later tales, Krishna is portrayed as cosmic and playful, a fully engaged lover, both of Radha (and lots of milkmaids) and of humanity.
  • 2a9 Buddha - Siddhartha Gautama Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, is commonly included as an avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism.
  • 2a10 Kalki -t he final incarnation of Vishnu, who appears at the end of each Kali Yuga. He will be atop a white horse and his sword will be drawn, blazing like a comet. He appears when only chaos, evil and persecution prevails, dharma has vanished, and he ends the Kali Yuga to restart Satya Yuga and another cycle of existence

3a Shiva "the Destroyer" is tasked with destroying the universe in order to prepare for its renewal at the end of each cycle of time. Shiva’s destructive power is regenerative: It’s the necessary step that makes renewal possible. Hindus customarily invoke Shiva before the beginning of any religious or spiritual endeavor; they believe that any bad vibrations in the immediate vicinity of worship are eliminated by the mere utterance of his praise or name. is the ascetic god, but in Bhakti he is celebrated within his wild marriage to Parvati. His lingam (=phallus) is a central image in his temples. In his mythic tradition, his dreadlocks saved the world by breaking the Ganga’s waters into the seven sacred rivers. The iconographical attributes of Shiva are the serpent around his neck, the adorning crescent moon, the holy river Ganga flowing from his matted hair, the third eye on his forehead, the trishula or trident, as his weapon, and the damaru drum. One common portrayal of Shiva is as the dancer – Nataraj. He dances on the demon of ignorance. Shiva the Dancer has two earrings, one male and one female, thus symbolizing both natures in his dance. He holds a drum, signifying the Creation through sound, and a flame, signifying his power to destroy – and purify.

  • x Parvati. Born as a human, she was so devoted to Shiva that she eventually succeeded in winning him over as her husband. With Shiva she has two sons, Shanmukha and the elephant headed Ganesha. But most surprisingly, as Uma, the Mother Goddess, she in time came to be associated with Mahadevi (also known as Shakti). As such, she came to rival her husband, Brahma and Vishnu for the devotion of the continent.