India, Gods and Goddesses of India

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Gods of India


The Lord Shiva is considered as the creator and destroyer of the universe. The Lord Shiva, the third god of the Hindu triad, has three eyes, the third eye between the eyebrows is usually closed, except at the time of destruction. He has long hair and supports the holy Ganga river on his head and the crescent moon on his matted hair. He has two to four arms, holds a trident in his hand, is naked except for a tiger-skin, besmears himself with ash and is decorated with snakes on his head, neck and arms. He is very fair but has a blue throat as he drunk poison during the time of the churning of the ocean by the gods. In his other hands he holds an axe, antelope, and an hour-glass shaped drum called a ‘damru’. He wears a garland of skulls and is also known as the lord of the cremation grounds. The Lord Shiva lives on Mount Kailash with his wife Parvati and two sons, the elephant-headed god Ganesh and the six-headed Kartikkeya, who is known in south India as Subrahmanayam. They form a model for the family life. His vehicle is Nandi, the bull. He was not a Vedic god and in his earlier forms he was known Rudra. 

Lord Shiva, Shiva in India

The Lord Shiva represents destruction, austerity and the more malignant forces of life. He is represented by different aspects of his own powers and that of his consort. The Lord Shiva is worshipped as Rudra, Shambhu and Shankara. His spiritual ancestor, Rudra, was ambiguous, benevolent and malevolent, and the latter aspect gradually prevailed. The combination of the ideas of creation and destruction is expressed in his late aspect as the Supreme Being (Mahadeva). In this form he is frequently represented as the phallic symbol (linga) which is worshipped in all the Shaivite temples in India. The lingam represent the powers of regeneration and procreation and also is a symbol of energy, fertility and potency. Professor Wendy O’Flahert suggested that the worship of the Siva linga can be traced back to the pre-Vedic societies of the Indus valley civilization, but it first appeared in Hindu iconography in the 2nd century BC. From that time a wide variety of myths appeared to explain the origin of linga worship. The myths surrounding the twelve Jyotirlinga (linga of light) found at centers like Ujjain go back to the 2nd century BC, and were clearly developed in order to explain and justify linga worship. He is also widely portrayed in sculpture and art, and most commonly as the dancing Nataraja on the bronze, the Lord of the Cosmic Dance. He is also shown as an ascetic, sitting among the mountain peaks around Mount Kailasa, accompanied by his wife Parvati and meditating on the nature of the universe. Shiva-ratri (night of Shiva) is both a festival and a time to keep a vow. It is celebrated in February or March all over the country and the devotees spend the whole night singing devotional songs in praise of Lord Shiva. The lingam is first washed with Ganga water and then milk, curd, honey, ghee, flowers, etc., are poured over it. Devotees on this day abstain from food and end the fast with a meal of dates, fruits, nuts, sweet potatoes and beaten rice. Special celebrations are held at important Shiva Temples at Chidambaram, Kalahasti, Khajuraho, Varanasi and Kashmir.


Nataraja or the Dancing Shiva is a very popular image of Lord Shiva. It illustrates a legend in which Shiva, accompanied by Vishnu disguised as a beautiful woman, set out to subdue ten thousand holy men who were living in a nearby forest. The holy men became angry and invoked a fierce tiger out of a sacrificial fire but Shiva flayed it and wore its skin as a cape. Later, he was attacked by a poisonous snake but Shiva tamed it and wore it around his neck as a necklace. A dwarf was also sent on whom Shiva put his foot and performed a dance which was so brilliant that the holy men acknowledged Shiva as their master. The symbolism of the dance, called Tandava, can be interpreted in many ways. It may show Shiva as the moving force of the universe and his five acts of creation, preservation, destruction, embodiment and release (of the souls of men from illusion). The last can be linked to the fire of the cremation ground, perhaps symbolized by the ring of flames round the dancer. In the image of Natraja, Shiva is caught in the middle of the dance with one foot on the dwarf and the other in the air. The dwarf is said to be the embodiment of ignorance, the destruction of which is the pre-requisite to enlightenment, true wisdom and release. Shiva’s long hair fly out while he plays the drum. The drum indicates that God is the source of sound, the Nada-Brahman. The upper left hand carries the fire, the instrument for the final destruction of the universe. The lower right hand bestows protection. The lower left hand points to the left foot, showing that his feet are the sole refuge of the individual souls. The lifted foot stands for release from illusion.


Nandi, the bull is the vehicle of Lord Shiva and is normally found in all Shiva temples either near the idol or facing it from a distance. It is also placed at the entrance of Shiva temples in a sitting or standing posture. In paintings he is shown as pure white. He has a round body, large brown eyes, heavy shoulders, a shining coat and a black tail. The hump is like the top of a snow-capped mountain. He has a golden girth around his body and sharp horns with red points. Originally, under the name of Nandikeshvara, Nandi seems to have existed in human form as a sage (rishi) who acted as Shiva’s door keeper before achieving divine status. The reasons for the association may have came from Shiva’s relationship with Rudra who was sometimes referred to as the bull. This probably has roots in the vast mythology and the symbols surrounding bulls that are found in ancient cultures. Nandi’s association with fertility is illustrated by the custom of the devotees touching the feet and testicles of the Nandi idol when entering a Shiva temple.

Ganesh, Lord Ganesha

The Lord Ganesha or Ganesh is one of the most popular gods of the Hinduism. He is represented as the elephant-headed god in the Hindu mythology. The Lord Ganesha has an elephant’s head, four to ten arms, a pot belly, and is usually red or yellow in colour. His vehicle is a rat. In his hands he holds a rope, axe, goad and dish of sweet-balls. The fourth hand is in the boon giving position. It is said that with the axe Ganesha cuts off the attachment to worldly things of his devotees and with the rope he pulls them nearer to the Truth. It is also believed that his obesity contains the whole universe, his trunk is bent to remove obstacles and his vehicle, the rat can creep through small holes to remove obstacles to reach religious ends. The Lord Ganesha is known by various names in different parts of India and also known as the Remover of Obstacles, the god of domestic harmony and of success. He is the most beloved and revered of all the Hindu gods.

 The Lord Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva and Parvati. Meetings, functions, special family gatherings, rituals, opening up of any new company and building or the beginning of a journey are said to be never completed without the prayer to the Lord Ganesh.He is endowed with a gentle and affectionate nature and also known as a god of wisdom. His image can be seen on the gateways and on the door lintels in every house with his elephant head and pot belly, and also on the outskirts of villages, as a guardian deity. The eight incarnations of Lord Ganesha are Vakratunda, Ekadanta, Mahodara, Gajaanana, Lambodara, Vikata, Vighnaraja and Dhoomra Varna. There are various stories about the Lord Ganesha's birth, how he got his elephant head, and about his exploits and antics. According to one story, the goddess Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva created him from the scruff of her body to guard her door and when Lord Shiva came there, the Ganesha refused to admit him and the Lord Shiva defeated him in the battle and cut off his head. On seeing this, Parvati was distressed. Then, Lord Shiva promised to replace the head with that of the first living being they will found. They go into the forest and get the head of the first animal they found that fit onto the boy's neck. They found a little elephant, and it worked. Thus the Lord Ganesha came into being. According to another story, Ganesha was conjured out of a piece of cloth by Shiva to produce a son for Parvati. Later Shiva brought about the boy’s death by decapitation, and then in order to please Parvati, he called on the gods to find him a new head. After much searching they gave him an elephant’s head. The tusk broke when it was cut from the elephant’s body, therefore, Lord Ganesha is normally shown with a broken tusk. The Ganesh Chaturthi festival is observed all over India, particularly in Maharashtra, in the month of August or September to celebrate the birth of Ganesha. A clay idol of Ganesha, sometimes eight metres high, is brought in the house, worshipped for two to ten days and then taken out in a procession and immersed in the sea or lake. Coconuts and sweetened flour-balls are offered to him. Devotees are advised not to look at the moon on this day as it had behaved unbecomingly towards Ganesha once. The moral interpretation of this is that one should avoid contact with people who have no faith in God and religion.

Manifestations of Ganesha
According to the Ganesha Purana, Lord Ganesha had four manifestations. The manifestation Mahakota Vinayaka has ten hands, he rides a lion and dazzles with brilliance. The manifestation Shri Mayuresh has six hands, fair complexion and rides a peacock. The manifestation Shri Gajaanana has four hands, crimson coloured and rides a mouse. The manifestation Shri Dhoomaraketu has two hands, smoke-coloured complexion and rides a horse. Lord Ganesha also has thirty-two other manifestations. Some of these popular manifestations are Vighnesh (remover of obstacles), Ekadanta (one-toothed), Modakpriya (one who loves sweets), and Ganapati (head of the semi-divine Ganas). The most fearsome incarnation of Ganesha is that of Vinayaka, who brings catastrophe, madness and misfortune if he is displeased.



Kartikeya, the god of war and general of the army of the gods, is known for his extraordinary strength. He is yellow skinned and usually has six heads. He holds a spear, bow, arrow, noose, discus, cock, shield, conch-shell, plough and sword in his hands. He has one hand in a charitable position and the other in a protective position. In many idols found in the Southern part of India, he is shown as having twelve arms. His vehicle is the peacock. His origin may has resulted from the assimilation of a deity from the Southern parts of India. In ancient times his worship was very widespread and there are references about his images in homes and temples. With the advent of Shiva, Kartikeya started losing his importance in Northern India where he was sometimes relegated to the position of a guardian deity in Shaivite temples. In the South he is still popular, and is also associated with deities like Murugan, Velam and Seyyan. In some texts he is regarded as the son of Shiva and Parvati and is therefore the brother of Ganesha. The reason for having six heads can be found in one of the stories relating to his birth. A passage in the Mahabharata mentions Agni’s adulterous relationship with six wives of the Rishis (ascetics), who represent the six stars from the Indian Pleidaes in the constellation of Tauraus. The relationship resulted in the birth of Kartikeya. Because of six heads, all his six mothers were able to suckle him at the same time. In the Hindu month of Kartik, the clay image of Kartikeya is worshipped and then immersed in the river. In the Durga Puja also, his image is set up by her side. Many women worship Kartikeya so that they may be blessed with a male offspring.

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