We all grew up listening to our grandmothers telling us interesting stories about the various Indian deities, but with time, we have forgotten these lessons. Hinduism is varied and consists of a complex culture that can intimidate anyone on the outside. With millions of Gods and Goddesses, it can certainly get difficult to keep track. However, even with all its million deities, there are some Indian deities more frequently found in popular traditions than others. Let’s take a look at what these four major Indian deities signify or teach us!
1. Lord Shiva
Shaivism is one of the most followed Hindu traditions in India, and Lord Shiva is considered to be one of the three principal Hindu or Indian deities, the “Trimurti”, which is behind the creation, preservation, and destruction of the universe. While Lord Bramha is the creator and Lord Vishnu is the preserver, Lord Shiva is considered to be the destroyer – for he alone is capable of a wrath that can put an end to the world; his anger, in fact, is so fearsome, that he is called Rudra, which means the most frightening one.
In most cases, Shiva is imagined to be as pictured below, starting with a trident that represents the three powers that helps progress humanity: knowledge, desire, and implementation. According to mythology, Ganga descended to Earth on King Bhagiratha’s request, and to help her sustain her fall, Lord Shiva caught her in his hair. On Earth, the Ganges is supposed to be the purest of the pure – and in Lord Shiva’s head she signifies the flow of spiritual teachings from one generation to next. The Moon on Shiva’s head symbolises that like the Moon, Lord Shiva too, is timeless. As referred to earlier, Shiva’s wrath is truly unmatched, which is why a third eye rests in the middle of his forehead between his two eyes. If opened, the third eye will destroy the world, and anyone who comes before it will turn to ashes.
The snake coiled around Shiva’s neck is Vasuki, the king of all snakes. The snake signifies the ego which can be bent to one’s will once mastered, and can be worn like an ornament, like Lord Shiva does. During the Samudra Manthan, when a dangerous poison called Halahala came out of Vasuki’s mouth, it was Lord Shiva who drank the poison to save the world, which turned his throat blue. Because of this, Lord Shiva is also known as Neelkanth (Neel means blue; kanth means throat.) Furthermore, the Rudraksha beads Lord Shiva wears on his body signify purity. While Shiva is mostly bare-bodied, he does wear tiger skin around his waist, which symbolizes fearlessness, as well as victory over animal instincts.
The Damaru is believed to generate spiritual energy when played, and it is also believed that Sanskrit was recognized by the drum beats of the Damaru. Since the Vedas were written in Sanskrit, the Damaru represents the words from Vedas.
2. Maa Durga
While Hinduism has many millions of Gods, there is hardly one whose valor comes close to that of Maa Durga. According to legend, she was created to kill the demon (or Asur) Mahishasura, who could only be killed by a woman. She is the principal deity in the tradition of Shaktism, and is also recognized in other traditions, however she appears in different forms. Widely recognized as a warrior goddess, Durga literally means invincible, one who cannot be defeated. However, she is also associated with other qualities and features, such as motherhood, protection, and strength. Durga is often pictured as below, complete with her many weapons, as she, after all, is a warrior.
Out of the wapons she is traditionally pictured to be carrying, the Kharga signifies firmness while the Chakra symbolizes righteousness or dharma. The Trishul signifies three qualities: Satva, Rajas and Tamask. The bow and arrow symbolize energy while the sword signifies knowledge.
It is believed that the Shankha replicates the sound of Om when played, which is why Maa Durga is shown to carry it as well. Furthermore, the half bloomed lotus signifies that success is certain, but not final. At last, the Abhay Mudra signifies Durga’s blessings for her devotees.
3. Lord Krishna
Though the 8th avatar of Lord Vishnu, Krishna is revered as one of the most important deities in Hinduism nonetheless. Krishna enjoys a following quite unrivalled, and is loved by millions of devotees who associate him with tenderness, love, and compassion. Krishna’s baal roop (child form) is especially popular in folklore and legends, with hundreds of stories associated with his childhood adventures.
Traditionally, Krishna is imagined to be dark skinned and beautiful, however depictions deviate slightly, and he is pictured having blue skin. While Krishna is not associated with warfare or battles, he does help his devotees when they need him. As pictured below, Krishna is pictured holding a discus, also known as the Sudarshana Chakra, which means a wheel or force field. It also serves as a symbol for the mind. Krishna is also pictured wearing a peacock feather in his hair, which symbolizes beauty and knowledge. The eye in the feather signifies wisdom. The conch in Krishna’s hand signifies the five elements and eternity while his flute is the symbol of the divine music of Lord. It is believed that whenever Krishna plays his flute, no mortal being can resist its beauty, and is drawn toward Krishna.
The lotus Krishna stands on, on the other hand, signifies the cosmos, purity, and transcendence. Lastly, Krishna is always pictured wearing yellow clothes, which signifies the Earth. His blue form in yellow clothes suggests infinite consciousness.
4. Lord Ganesha
Also known as Ganapati or Vinayaka, Lord Ganesha is the son of Maa Parvati and Lord Shiva. This Hindu deity is pictured with an elephant’s head, for it is believed that it was Shiva himself who decapitated the child in a fit of anger. In Shiva Purana, it is mentioned that one day, Maa Parvati decided to take a bath, and because she did not wish to be disturbed, she made a boy out of the turmeric paste on her body. That boy was Ganesha. So when Maa Parvati began her bath, Ganesha guarded the door. When Parvati’s husband, Lord Shiva returned home, he was stopped by Ganesha, and despite Shiva’s many requests, Ganesha would not let him in. At last in a fit of rage, Shiva decapitated the child. When Parvati learned of this development, she was enraged, and decided to end the world. However, to coax his wife, Shiva agreed to her two conditions: that Ganesha be brought back to life, and he be worshipped before any other deity. Shiva sent his men to bring him the head of the first creature lying while facing North. Thus, Shiva’s men returned with the severed head of Gajasura, an elephant, and the head was presented to Ganesha’s body.
Thus, Ganesha is remembered before starting any auspicious work. Ganesha is also considered the god of arts and sciences, and is believed to be supremely intelligent.
Ganesha is usually pictured as below: his big head teaches us to think big, while his small eyes inspire us to stay focused and concentrate on what is important.
His one tusk teaches us to retain the good, and throw away the bad. Interestingly, it is believed that Ganesha broke one of his tusks to write the Mahabharata, as he did not have a quill!
Ganesha’s trunk signifies high efficiency and adaptibility, while the Modaks signify the rewards for Sadhana. His small mouth teaches us to speak less, while the axe teaches us to cut off all worldly bonds. Lastly, the mouse, or his pet ride, teaches us to control our desires.
Did you like these facts and stories about Indian deities? Tell us an interesting fact about Indian deities that you know in the comments below!