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Hindu gods overview

An overview of the Hindu pantheon including: Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Ganesh, Parvati, Durga, Lakshmi, Karthikeya, Rama and Krishna.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] Hinduism is often known for its large and complex pantheon of gods. The goal of this video is to give an overview of them and to think about how they are connected, and how they are perceived. So the Hindu Trinity, as it is often called, is made up of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. They are often considered to be the three most important gods. In modern-day Hinduism, Shiva and Vishnu have far more followership, I guess you can say, or more people view Shiva or Vishnu as the Supreme Being. There's more temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu than there are too Brahma. Followers of Shiva, those who view him as the Supreme Being, they're called Shaivas. They're following Shaivism, or sometimes referred to as Shivaism. Shiva has multiple aspects and as we'll see, many of these gods have multiple aspects and multiple connections, but is often referred to as the Destroyer or the Transformer. Vishnu, as I've mentioned, also has a significant following, a significant chunk of Hindus are Vaishnivas, or followers of Vaishnavism or Vishnuism. And Vishnu is considered the Preserver. Brahma, as I mentioned, does not have as much followership in modern-day Hinduism, but he is considered to be the Creator. Now in some narratives, he is the Creator and in other narratives, he has been created by either Shiva or Vishnu. Now Brahma should not be confused with Brahman, that we talked about in previous videos. Brahman is considered the absolute reality. the true nature of things. And Brahma you could view as an aspect of it. It is one God as part of this true nature of things. In fact, everything you see on this video, in fact everything you see in reality, all of these gods to a Hindu could be considered as just aspects of the true God or the true reality of Brahman. Now what's interesting in Hinduism is that gods are not viewed to have a strict gender. For example, Vishnu has a female incarnation and there's also groups of Hindus who view God as taking a fundamentally female form. One group are known as the followers of Shaktism. To Shaktism, God is female, the supreme goddess and takes many forms. Parvati as you see listed here is referred to the Divine Mother. She's viewed as Shiva's consort or Shiva's wife, but she has other forms like Durga which is used as a stronger, more aggressive form of Parvati, sometimes referred to as Devi or Shakti. Shakti means strength or power and is a warrior goddess. You have Lakshmi who is the wife of Vishnu, who represents or has aspects of wealth and prosperity. You have Saraswati who has aspects of knowledge, music and the arts and is viewed as the consort or the wife of Brahma. Now these are some of the principal deities that we have on this top row, but there's also many, many other significant deities. And as we will see, depending on what part of India you're in and which group subsect of Hinduism you meet, they will place different levels of emphasis on different deities and have different traditions and different rituals. So Ganesh who is very recognizable because he has an elephant head, he is often referred to as Ganpati. He is viewed as the son of Shiva and Parvati. There's a great story about how he, why he has this elephant head. He is viewed as the god of new beginnings and the remover of obstacles. He has a lot of followership and he is revered in a lot of regions of western India, and that's not the only places, but he is known to be a principal God in some of these regions. Durga similarly, that I referred to, in eastern India, especially Bengal, the place where my family comes from, Durga Puja, the Puja for Durga, the rituals for Durga are considered to be a very the important part of the Hindu religion. If you go into the south, for some Hindus, Karthikeya or also known as Murugan, might be a significant deity. That is the god of war. Vishnu is known to have multiple incarnations that are very prominent. The most prominent of which are Rama, Vishnu's seventh incarnation. He is the main protagonist in the Ramayan, the famous Hindu epic. You have Krishna, who is Vishnu's eighth incarnation. And he is a significant figure throughout Hinduism, including the Mahabharata and the subset of the Mahabharata, which is the Bhagavad Gita. Now what's really interesting, and I already alluded to it, is you have all of this diversity in Hinduism. Someone who worships Shiva, you might see at a superficial level, seems more different in their rituals and their beliefs from someone who worships Vishnu, than say, a Protestant from a Catholic in Christianity or a Sunni from a Shia in Islam. And what's fascinating about Hinduism is that you don't see these traditional schisms, you don't see a lot of conflict between the Shaivas or the Vaishnavas, because to Hindus, even though you have this diversity of practice across India or across the Hindu tradition, they're all viewed as aspects of Brahman. They're all viewed as different ways to visualize or to connect with the fundamental reality or the fundamental god. And because Hinduism has been able to merge these very diverse practices, these very diverse rituals, and it's believed this emerged because as Hinduism emerged, it took traditions from the Indus valley civilization. It took significant traditions from the Indo-Aryans. It took significant traditions from the Dravidians. Instead of saying, "Hey our different traditions "are different religions," they merged over thousands of years into one religion. And the word for this merging, taking an amalgamation of multiple rituals, multiple ideas, multiple, multiple practices, and turning them into one is known as syncretism. Hinduism is perhaps the best example of syncretism where you have these incredibly diverse practices. The gods that I show here are just a sample of them, but they've been connected through this overarching, very diverse religion called Hinduism. And to a Hindu, they're all ways of connecting with the fundamental Brahman. And to remind that, we could just zoom out and we see the connection with Brahman which is viewed as this fundamental reality. Which raises an interesting question. Hinduism is oftentimes cited as a polytheistic religion. Polytheism, you have multiple gods. And clearly, I've cited multiple gods even in this video, and this is a sample of all of the gods in Hinduism. But at the same time, they're all perceived by many or most Hindus as to being aspects or ways to connect with the fundamental reality of Brahman who many Hindus would call to be the true fundamental God. And so based on that they would say, "These are just aspects of the one God." And so they would argue that it is monotheistic. So I'll let you decide how you view it or if it even matters to put apply a label like monotheism or polytheism to the idea of Hinduism. The big picture is, is that you have many gods and many practices and they are diverse across the Hindu world, but they are all viewed as connected to this notion of a Brahman.