Forms of God in Prayers

The various forms of Divine manifestations of God as deities are derived from the scriptures called Agamas and based on the Ithihãsãs and Purãnãs. The idea that every deity whom men worship is the embodiment of a limited ideal, and that the deity is a symbol of some aspects of the Absolute is one of the most fundamental characteristics of Hinduism. It is this idea that makes Hinduism the most tolerant of religions accepting alternate beliefs and averse to proselytization.

The three important functions of the Supreme are Creation, Protection, and Destruction or Dissolution. These came to be established in the popular imagination as the Hindu Trinity - Brahma (NOT the Supreme Brahman of the Upanishads), Vishnu and Shiva. The power associated with these gods came to be personified as their respective consorts. So Creator Brahma's consort is Saraswati (the goddess of Speech and Learning), Protector Vishnu's consort is Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and prosperity), and Shiva's consort is Shakti (the goddess of power).

The simple equation here is that creation needs knowledge, protection, and preservation needs wealth and prosperity and destruction and power or energy are linked together. Since Vishnu is the protector, He is the One who can take on an avatãra, taking human form whenever the world order is disturbed by a colossal form of evil. So, whenever the evil forces show ascendancy, God manifests Himself in various forms to protect humanity and preserve righteousness in society.

The gods were then provided with their own heavens, attendants, vehicles and even progeny. The more intelligent among the people understood this symbolism, but to the masses, the symbols formed an end in themselves. So, the various levels of understanding are accepted and the faith provides the proper level of devotion to the people the way they can understand them for a peaceful life. The symbolism is common to all Hindus, but the exclusive emphasis on a particular god or goddess in this scheme at a later time gave rise to the four major sects in Hindu Religious practice.

They are Shaiva (worshipers of Shiva), Vaishnava (worshipers of Vishnu) and Shaakteya (worshipers of Shakti). Those that do not belong to these three sects nor go by their sectarian scriptures (Ãgamã), but go by the ancient traditions (Smrutis) and worship all gods without any exclusive preference came to be known as Smãrtas. However, all sects teach that the particular name and form of their deities are limitations, just one aspect of the Supreme Divinity, which we, in our weakness, impose on the all-pervading Brahman.

Even the highest theism is regarded only as a sort of glorified anthropomorphism. The worship of a personal god is taught to be only a halfway house in a man's journey to the Ultimate Reality. However, the idea of a personal god is the most important prop for the mind to contemplate upon it. Hinduism achieves unity in diversity by cherishing the many ways in which men have represented and worshipped the various aspects of the Supreme as various Deities manifesting to perform a specific activity.

Minor Deities
Deva or devata means demigod. Sthala-devata specifically refers to a minor deity who has jurisdiction over a particular place – a river, forest or village. They are often worshipped in village shrines. A popular deity is Sitala (right), the goddess of smallpox, who is worshipped in the hope of avoiding the disease.

Other "Higher Beings"
There are many other lesser deities and higher beings, who often appear in the various stories. These include:
  • The Asuras (demons) who always fight
  • The Devas (the gods or demigods)
  • The Apsaras (celestial nymphs)
  • The Nagas (celestial serpents)
  • The Gandharvas (heavenly singers)
  • The Rakshasas (a race of man-eaters)
  • The Prajapatis (progenitors of mankind)

"Modern" Deities
Some deities have risen to prominence more recently. They include:

Santoshi Ma – the goddess of contentment, worshipped mainly by ladies
Ayyappan – popular in Kerala, he is considered the son of Shiva and Mohini (the female incarnation of Vishnu)

Also Read:
 Devatas or deities - A multifaceted concept in Sanatana Dharma
 Hindu Gods and Goddess
      List of Deties (Devatas)
 LORD NATARAJ - The Lord of Dance
 Lord Brahma
 Lord Vishnu
 Lord Shiva
 Maa Durga
 Lord Ganesha
 Lord Kartikeya
 Lord Krishna
 Lord Jagannath
 Lord Rama - The Role Model
 Lord Hanuman
 Shakti - The Dynamic Energy of Siva
 Lord Kubera
 Minor Deities associated with Lord Shiva
 Goddess - Lalita Tripurasundari
 Lord Balaji
 Lord Ayyappan
 Goddess - Lalita Tripurasundari
 God Varuna - Brief description about God of Rain
 God surya - Brief description about GOD OF FIRE
 Lord Indra
 Lord Vayu
 God Yama
 God Soma
 Ashwins - twin gods
 Goddess Parvathi
 God Kubera
 Ashta Dikpalakas
 Matsya Avatar (fish)- Lord Vishnu
 Kurma Avatar
 Varaha Avatar (the Boar)
 Lord Ganesha - the Son of Shiva
 GARUDA: The carrier of " Lord Vishnu "

By: Bala N. Aiyer, M.D.

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