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Gods of India


Krishna and Balarama, the two brothers were the sons of Vishnu and are sometimes regarded as his joint incarnations. Balarama is normally shown with two hands holding a club (gada) and plough. According to the Vishnu Purana, Vishnu took two of his haris, one black and the other white, and implanted them in Devaki’s womb. Shortly before their birth, they were miraculously transferred to Rohini’s womb in order to prevent them from being killed by the king Kansa. After they were born, it was noticed that the complexion of Krishna was dark and Balarama was light. They grew up together but Balarama never became as popular as Krishna. Both brothers seem to have been the most human of all the incarnations. One day, Balarama ordered the river Yamuna to move closer to him so that it would be more convenient for him to bathe, and when it said no, then he threatened him with his plough.


The Lord Brahma has four faces, though only three can be seen. He has matted hair, wears a pointed beard and the eyes are usually closed in meditation. He has four hands which may hold a variety of objects such as a rosary, water-pot, book, scepter, spoon, bow or lotus, sometimes two of his hands may be in a boon-giving and protective attitudes. The rosary represents time. The whole universe evolves out of water, therefore Brahma carries water in the water-pot. He wear a tiger skin or the skin of a black antelope as a garment and the sacred cord over his left shoulder. He is sometimes shown riding the goose, or sitting in the lotus position in a chariot being pulled by seven swans. The swan is his vehicle which is the symbol of knowledge. In Hindu cosmology, the basic cycle of cosmos which passes through all eternity, is the Kalpa or the Day of Brahma, equivalent to 4320 million years. A night is of equal length, and 360 days and nights of this duration form one year of Brahma’s life. This is expected to last 100 years. In the Rig Veda, the word Brahmin (or Brahma) was used to indicate the mysterious power contained in sacred utterances. Later, this was associated with the skill of the priest who spoke the words and he was described as a Brahmin. In the Upanishads, this power was regarded as universal and forms the elemental matter from which everything including the gods themselves originally emerged. Later, this supreme creative spirit became fully personalized under the name of Brahma. Since this idea is linked with the origin of the universe, it was inevitable that Brahma should become associated with Hindu cosmogony. Many legends grew in the later texts, surrounding the connection with the origin and control of the universe. In one of them, the supreme soul and self-existent lord created the waters of the earth and deposited in them a seed which became the golden egg, out of which he was born as Brahma. According to other texts, he became a boar who raised the earth from the primeval waters and thus created the world. He is described as assuming the appearance of a fish or a tortoise at the beginning of the ages. In much later developments of Hindu mythology these aspects are attributed to Vishnu and Brahma assumes a secondary role. His worship slowly declined and has not been wide spread since the 6th century A.D. The images of Brahma are still made. Many temples include them in their scheme of sculptural decoration, although it is only in extremely rare cases that he occupies the position of the main icon. There are very few temples of Brahma in India. The Brahma temple in Pushkar and Orissa are the famous temples of Brahma in India.


The Hanuman, the monkey god, is a very popular deity and is worshipped all over India, specially in villages. His image is found in many forms, often with one head, two arms and a long tail looped over his head. He has a monkey’s face on a very well built and strong human body. There are several other forms also where he has ten arms and five heads which includes his own head, heads of garuda (half man, half bird), boar, horse and man-lion, which represents the five most important avataras of Vishnu. Hanuman was an important character in the Ramayana in which he is shown as the epitome of devoted service and loyalty. His search for the Sita, captured by Ravana, illustrated his superhuman powers and zealous performance of the tasks assigned to him. When he came to know that she was held captive in Lanka, then he set Lanka on fire with his flaming tail and returned to Rama and helped him in various ways to besiege Lanka. He flyed twice to the Himalayas during the war, and his wish to remain as Rama’s faithful servant was granted. So, every Rama temple also has an idol of Hunuman as a minor deity. His worship is believed to destroy all evils. The Hanuman Jayanti festival is celebrated in the month of March or April as the birthday of Lord Hanuman all over the country. People visit the temples where the idol is given a new coat of vermilion mixed with clarified butter and then richly decorated. Fasting is done and the Hanuman Chalisa (hymns of Hanuman), Ramayana and Tales of Hanuman’s love for Rama are also read.

Lord Hanuman, Hanuman


Indra is the Vedic god of rain and thunder. He is also the king of the gods. He has four hands. In one hand he holds a thunderbolt, and in other hands he holds a conch-shell, bow and arrows, a hook and net. He is also shown as having two hands and eyes all over his body, and is called the thousand eyed one. His vehicle is the king of the elephants, Airavat, who is white in colour and has four tusks. He is not directly worshipped in temples, but he appears in the tales of religious scriptures. His idol appears on the walls of many Vishnu temples. Indra is also the guardian of the East. In the earlier Vedic period Indra was very powerful and was shown as the protector of cows, priests and gods. There are more hymns in praise of Indra than in praise of the other Vedic gods. He has a beautiful consort, known as Indrani. In the post-Vedic period and in the Puranas, Indra was shown as being given a lower status in all respects. He was still the king of the smaller gods, but was inferior to the holy triad of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. At a later stage he is described as the ruler of Swarga (heaven) where the gods live. At this stage he is shown as having developed human frailties.



Kamadeva, the god of love, is very fair and handsome and the best looking god. He carries a bow made of sugarcane and strung with a line of humming bees. He shoots with his bow the five flower-tipped shafts of desire. He is accompanied by his wife Rati (passion) and his friend Vasanta (spring), who selects the shaft to be used on the victim. The vehicle of Kamadeva is the parrot. He is generally described as the son of Lakshmi and Vishnu, and is also said to be the son of Brahma. He is surrounded by beautiful nymphs (Apsaras), and loves to wander around specially in springs, loosing his shafts indiscriminately, but with a preference for innocent girls, married women and ascetic sages. One day, Lord Shiva burned him to ashes as punishment for disturbing his deep meditation, but Kamadeva’s shaft had gone home and Shiva could not obtain peace until he married Parvati. During this time, Kamadeva lay dead and love disappeared from the earth. Later, Shiva allowed him to born as the son of Krishna. The god of desire thus became the son of the Krishna in the pantheon associated with love.

The Lord Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is considered as the most important incarnation. The Lord Krishna is widely worshipped as the most recognizable human form of the gods. He is usually shown in blue or black skin color, having two hands and playing the flute or holding a conch-shell or flute in his hand. He also wears colourful garments and is richly ornamented. By his side is his consort Radha and usually some cows. The flute playing adds to the pastoral character of many of his stories and the effect it has on the gopikas provides a rich source of speculation on its symbolism which is apparent in a lot of poetry and in many dance forms. One of the theories behind its blue color is that Vishnu, because of his association with water, is depicted blue. So, all his incarnations, including Krishna, are shown as such. In Hinduism, persons who have depth of character and the capacity to fight evil are depicted as blue skinned. As per another theory Vishnu implanted two hairs, one black and the other white in Devaki’s womb (which miraculously got transferred to Rohini’s) and as a result, from the black hair Krishna took birth, with a dark skin, and from the white hair his brother, Balarama.

Lord Krishna, Krishna

In paintings he is shown standing on one leg with the other crossed in front, resting on its toes. He is also shown as dancing with the cow herds, girls (gopis), as a child eating butter, or as Arjuna’s charioteer addressing him in the battlefield. According to Hindu mythology, the Lord Vishnu manifested himself as Krishna so as to kill the evil king Kansa. The king had been forewarned that the eighth child of Devaki would kill him, so he prisoned Devaki and slaughtered her new born babies one by one. The seventh child, Balarama was saved by this kinsmen. When the eighth child was born, there was a big storm; the doors burst open, the guards fell asleep and Vasudeva (Krishna’s father) walked out of the prison, take the baby Krishna with him to Yashoda with whom he spent his childhood. The incarnation of Vishnu has accumulated a great variety of myths. Krishna showed all the aspects of human development usually associated with childhood, adolescence and adulthood. His advice on the battlefield of the Mahabharata to Arjuna is one of the major sources of guidance for the daily living for many Hindus today. The Janamashtami festival is celebrated in the month of August or September all over India as the birth of Lord Krishna. On this day, the temples are decorated, bells are rung, the conch-shell is blown and Sanskrit hymns are sung in his praise. The majority of devotees observe a fast for twenty-four hours which is broken at midnight, the time when Lord Krishna was born. The idol at that time is washed with milk and his name is chanted 108 times. In most places and particularly in Mathura and Vrindavan, tableaux (jhankis) depicting episodes from Krishna’s life are shown. Special sweets are prepared for this festival.



Kuber is the god of wealth and also the treasurer of gods. His white body is dwarfish. He has three legs and eight teeth. He has two to four hands and carries a mace, a purse containing money, vase, fruit and bowl in his hands and two hands are in the boon giving and protective models. His body is covered with jewels and other ornaments. His vehicle is known as the Pushpak. Kuber is not an important deity and his images are very rarely seen, though he is frequently referred to in the epics. He is also called the god of the Yakshas (savage beings). His brother Ravana, by practicing austerities, obtained from Shiva the boon of invincibility and so was able to defeat Kuber and to seize and retain Lanka and the chariot, Pushpak. As Lanka could not be restored to Kuber, Vishwakarma, the architect god, built him a palace on Mount Kailash. He also has a beautiful garden called Chaitrarath on Mount Mandara. Kuber’s domains are in the high Himalayas, as he is the guardian of the North and the mountains are also the repository of mineral wealth. Kuber watches over the earth’s storehouse of gold, silver, jewels, pearls and the nine nidhis, special treasures.


Vishwakarma is the divine architect of the whole universe and is normally shown as white coloured. He normally has four hands in which he carries a water-pot, book and club. He may also hold craftsmen’s tools in one of his hands or are placed near his seat. He wears a crown, a necklace of gold and rings on his wrists. All the flying chariots of the gods, their weapons, etc. wear his creations. He built the city of Lanka for Ravana, and Dwaraka, the city associated with Krishna. It was he who revealed the science of mechanics and architecture (Satapatya Veda). According to Satpatha Brahmana, he performed a yagna in which he offered all creatures including himself, as sacrifice, to elucidate the cyclic process of destruction and renewal of all cosmic life and matter. His daughter Sanjana was married to Surya, the Sun god. Implements of the trade such as lathe machines, chisels etc. are worshipped when the Sun enters the Bhadrapada constellation. Jaipur has an industrial area named after him.



Yama is the messenger or god of death and the jungle of men. He is represented as a green coloured man, clothed in red garments and wearing a crown. He wears a flower on his head. He carries a mace in one hand, and a noose in the other for catching his victims. He is sometimes shown having two to four arms. His vehicle is a black buffalo. Yama was the twin brother of Yami, who later became the river Yamuna. He was the first mortal to die and having discovered the way to the other world. He is also the guide for those who depart this world. He has two ravenous dogs, each with four eyes and wide nostrils. They guards and road to his abode and wander among the men summoning them to their master. In the Puranas, Yama is called the judge of men who, when they die, are brought before him and Chitragupta (the Record Keeper) with whom their actions have been recorded. The virtuous are conveyed to heaven (Swarga) and the wicked to hell (Naraka). After death the soul takes four hours and forty minutes to reach Yama. Therefore a dead body should not be cremated before his time has elapsed. Brahma, after creating the world, realized that a place for judgement and punishment for the wicked is needed. He therefore requested Vishwakarma, the architect god, to create one. This legendary place created for Yama has a mild and salubrious climate and there is no fear of enemies or any affliction of mind or body. Each person is rewarded according to his past deeds. To the virtuous and to the sinner Yama appears in different forms. To the virtuous he appears like Vishnu, with a charming, smiling face and lotus-like eyes. To the wicked he appears to have limbs ‘three hundred leagues’ long, hair like gigantic reeds and eyes like deep wells. Yama is also the guardian of the South.


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