The Hindu Pantheon

	The Hindu gods are a colorful and variegated community and their number
is enormous. The average non-Indian is not a little baffled by this variety 
and enormity of number. This little document is an effort to gently introduce
the Hindu pantheon to the non-Indian (read American) populace.

 	First of all the Divine Trinity :

1. Brahma  : the god of Creation :
		He is usually depicted as a four faced, hoary, old man 
	     with a flowing white beard seated on a lotus flower. He is 
             one deity you won't find anybody worshipping or any temples
             built for.

2. Vishnu  : the god of Sustenance : 
	 	 He is perhaps the most colorful of all the gods with very
	     many incarnations. He is also known by many different names 
	     (a list of some of those can be found in the glossary at the end).
	     He is usually depicted as reclining on a huge coiled serpent with
	     his consort serving him at his feet. He is also a four handed deity
	     with a mace in one hand a conch in another and a spinning disc on 
	     a finger of yet another.

3. Maheshwara : the god of Destruction :
		 He is ususally depicted sitting in meditation, his locks 
	     matted atop his head with a crescent moon decorating it, an eye
	     in the middle of his forehead, a serpent coiled around his neck,
	     a trident beside him.

	These physical descriptions are for you to recognise a picture or
idol of one of these deities when you see one. Do not be hasty to imagine a
grotesque image of the Hindu deity from the above descriptions. 

	Each of these trinity of gods is associated with a divine consort,
herself a goddess. 

1. Saraswati : the consort of Brahma :  goddess of Knowledge.
		 She is usually depicted sitting on a swan, playing a veena 
	      (an Indian stringed instrument).

2. Lakshmi : the consort of Vishnu : goddess of Wealth.
		 She is depicted sitting on a lotus gold coins showering 
	      out of her blessing hands. 

3. Parvati : the consort of Maheshwara : goddess of Valour.

	Other distinguished divinities are :

1. Vinayaka : the lord of Prosperity .
		 He is also the lord of "Vighna"s i.e "unexpected problems". So he
	     has to worshipped first before any auspicious ceremony/event can begin.
	     He is a well feared and widely worshipped god. He has the face of an
	     elephant and how it happened to be is a very interesting story but some 
	     other time may be ..! He is the son of Maheshwara and Parvati. His 
	     birthday is celebrated with much pomp and gaiety all over India. 
	     Huge colourful idols are made and worshipped in a public place in every
	     locality for 12 days after which the idols are taken out in a procession
	     and immersed in a nearby pond or lake. 

2. Kali  :       The fierce form of goddess Parvati. She assumes this fearsome form to 
	    kill some wicked demon. She is a many handed deity with various weapons 
	    adorning each hand. She is depicted as red eyed with her dark red tongue 
	    put out as if to devour the demon's blood. Occasionally she is shown piercing
            this demon with a trident holding him down with a leg.

3. Rama : 	 One of the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu, Rama is an epic hero. His
	    life story forms the epic Ramayana, written by Sage Valmiki. He is the 
            embodiment of virtue : the Perfect Man, the Perfect husband, the Perfect 
            brother, the Perfect king, the obedient son. He is believed to have taken birth 
	    to kill the demon king Ravana. Any further description of him would entail
	    the telling of the Ramayana. This Perfect One is depicted usually with his
	    wife Sita and his obedient brother Lakshmana and his great devotee, the monkey
	    Hanuman at his feet. 

4. Hanuman :  	 This great devotee of Rama is himself a deity. He is a very mighty, 
	    intelligent, knowledgeable monkey minister to a monkey king Sugriva. He is 
	    said to have been born with the divine influence of Lord Maheshwara. His 
	    childhood pranks make a very interesting story. He is purported to be the 
	    deathless one and a bachelor. Worshipping him is said to give one the strength
	    to fight off evil. There are many traditional style gymnasiums in India 
	    which are named after him, where the practitioners also worship him.

5. Krishna :	 This deity is another incarnation of Lord Vishnu and is the key figure
	    in yet another epic of India namely the Maha Bharata. He is much more colorful
	    and mystical than Rama. He performed many miracles all through his lifetime 
	    and his childhood episodes are very interesting. Among other things he was a
	    known lurer of women, prankster etc. Maybe I should include a couple of 
	    documents more to tell those stories. He is also regarded as the person who
	    gave the Bhagavad Gita (the Divine Song) that magnificent philosophical guide
	    to the world.

6. Shanmukha :   He is the younger son of Maheshwara. He is the commander in chief of the 
            Divine Army. He is supposed to have been conceived for demolishing the Demon king
            Tarakasura. He is depicted atop his vehicle viz. a peacock, holding a spear in 
            one hand.

To be continued.

A list of alternate names for these deities :

(By no means to be considered exhaustive or accurate. Each deity usually has 
 a long list of names (108 or 1008 etc) composed by some devotee or described
 in the puranas most of which are lengthy descriptive phrases. Some times the 
 various names are associated with either various incarnations or particular 
 physical features. You will find that most Indian (hindu) names come from these!)

1. Maheshwara :  Siva, Sankara, Nataraja, Rudra, Parameshwara, Ishwara, Hara, Shambhu
2. Vishnu     :  Narayana, Hari, Narasimha, Narahari, Vittala, Panduranga, Venkateshwara 
3. Krishna    :  Keshav, Madhava, Govinda, Sridhar, Vasudeva, Shyam, Murari, Giridhar, Gopal,
		 Murali(dhar), Venu(gopal), Giridhar 
4. Vinayaka   :  Ganapati, Vighneshwara, Ganesha, Gajanana 
5. Shanmukha  :  Muruga, Subrahmanya, Kumaraswami
6. Parvati    :  Uma, Chandi, Kali, Durga, Bhavani, Annapurna, Shakti, Jagadamba, Ishwari, Shyamala 

Check out some images of the Hindu deities

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