Maha Vishnu and Lakshmi
Among the holy trinity of Hindu gods – Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh – Vishnu is considered the preserver and the protector. He is lovingly known by various other names such as Vishnu, Venkateshwara, Balaji, Narayana Padmanabha and Jagannatha. Lakshmi is Maha Vishnu’s consort. She is the goddess of wealth, prosperity, light and wisdom. Maha Vishnu is often represented as resting on a coiled serpent with Lakshmi by his feet. Maha Vishnu has 10 avatars (incarnations) – Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vaman, Parsuram, Ram, Krishna, Budha and Kalki.
Shiva (Mahesh) is the third god in the holy Hindu triumvirate. He is considered as the one responsible for destroying the universe in order to recreate it. Shiva is accompanied by his consort Parvati, the mother-goddess. Parvati is seen as the one responsible for bringing balance in Shiva’s life. Shiva has a third eye which represents his wisdom and insight. Every year on the 13th night or 14th day of the new moon in the Krishna Paksha of Maagha or Phalguna, ‘Shivaratri’ is celebrated to honor him.
Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, of both the material and the spiritual kind. She is depicted as an embodiment of beauty, grace and charm. She sits on a full-bloomed lotus and also holds lotus buds in her hands. The flower stands for the purity and fertility the goddess brings. Lakshmi brings good luck and protects from misery and sorrow, especially issues that are money related. That’s why she is often associated with gold and other valuable gems. She is the female counterpart of Vishnu and therefore is also referred to as the female energy of the Supreme Being.
Ram is the seventh and the ‘perfect’ incarnation of Vishnu. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, Ram is “the embodiment of truth, of morality, the ideal son, the ideal husband, and above all, the ideal king.” Ram is depicted with an arrow in his right hand and a bow in his left. He is always accompanied by his wife Sita, younger brother Lakshman, and Hanuman. Ram’s day of birth is celebrated as Ram Navami. It falls on the ninth day of the Hindu lunar year.
Krishna is the eighth incarnation of Vishnu. He is also the most powerful and the most popular one. His portrayal is very diverse – from a god child, a prankster, a model lover and a hero, to the Supreme Being. The word ‘Krishna’ has Sanskrit origins and means ‘black’ or ‘dark’ or ‘dark-blue.’ He is shown wearing yellow clothes with a peacock feather adorning his crown. Krishna is often worshipped along with his gopi consort Radha as ‘Radha-Krishna.’ His main queens are Rukmini and Satyabhama.
Venkateswara, Padmavati and Bhudevi
Venkateswara is a form of Vishnu. The word ‘Venkateswara’ means the one who destroys the sins of people. According to ancient texts, Vishnu incarnated as Venkateswara out of love for his devotees and for the salvation of humanity. He is also known as Srinivasa, Balaji and Venkatachalapati. Venkateswara’s consort is Padmavati who is Mahalakshmi herself. Bhudevi is the wife of Vishnu’s third avatar – Varaha.
Also known as Ganesha, Vinayak, Vigheneshwara and Pillaiyar (and many other names), Ganapati is one of the most widely-worshipped deities. He is revered as a ‘remover of obstacles’ and is therefore honored at the beginning of every holy ceremony. Ganapati is also referred to as the ‘lord of letter and learning’. He is the son of Shiva and Parvati, with Kartikeya being his brother. He is especially remembered at the 10 day festival of Ganesh Chaturthi where it is believed that he comes and visits his devotees’ homes.
Durga is the mother of our universe. She is the power related to the creation, preservation and destruction of the world. The word ‘Durga’ comes from the Sanskrit word ‘durg’ meaning a fort or a place that is well protected. Durga was so named because it is believed that she protects mankind from all sorts of evil and misery. Kali, Bhagvati, Ambika, Gauri, Lalita and Rajeswari – these are all her incarnations. This supremely radiant goddess is depicted as having eight arms, riding a lion, carrying weapons and a lotus flower and killing the demon ‘Mahishasura’ with a trident.
Satyanarayan is the Narayan form of Vishnu. The word ‘Satyanarayan’ simply means ‘truth is god’ and therefore signifies Vishnu as the embodiment of truth. ‘Satyanarayan Puja’ is performed usually on a full-moon day. This puja is commonly performed in the home with family and friends. Satyanarayan is worshipped especially on an auspicious occasion like a marriage or a house warming in the family.
Hanuman is the ardent devotee and disciple of Shri Ram. He played an important role in the great epic Ramayan. He is the son of the wind god – Vayu. He is often looked upon as the ultimate hero. He is known by many names such as, Anjaneya, Anjaniputra, Maruti, Pavanputra and Bajrangbali. Fasts are kept on Tuesdays (and sometimes on Saturdays as well) to honor Hanuman.
Murugan is the son of Shiva and Parvati. He is also known as Kartikeya, Subramaniam, Sanmukha, Skanda and Guha. Thaipusam is an important festival celebrated to honor Murugan. The festival celebrated the day when Parvati presented a lance to Murugan to end the evil Tarakasura.
Ayyappa is believed to be the son of Shiva and Vishnu (in his female incarnation, Mohini). Because of this Ayyappa is also known as ‘Hariharan Puthiran’ which means the son of both Shiva and Vishnu. Sabrimala in Kerala, India, is the most famous of Ayyappa’s Shrines.