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Hinduism, the world's third largest religion, is often considered a polytheistic faith, as the religion does not advocate the worship of one particular deity. However, the Hindu belief system includes a complex structure of deities that is not easily categorized.
The full list of Hindu gods and goddesses includes thousands of deities, each one representing a certain aspect of the Supreme Absolute, which is known as Brahman. Because they are all manifestations of the same divine spirit, these forms of Brahman are different in essence from the gods of ancient Greek and Roman religion, two of the more famous examples of polytheism. Therefore, Hinduism is consistent with a variety of different belief systems, including monotheism, polytheism, and pantheism.
Who Is Brahman?
In Hinduism, the impersonal Absolute, the underlying reality of all things, is also known as Brahman. Everything in existence, living or non-living, from rocks to plants to people, is believed to come from it. For this reason, Hindus regard all things as sacred. Brahman, unlike any particular god, is formless or nirakara, beyond anything that can be conceived of. However, this ultimate reality can manifest itself in myriad forms, including the forms of various gods and goddesses, the sakara forms of the Brahman.
Professor Jeaneane Fowler, in the book "Hinduism: Beliefs, Practices, and Scriptures," explains the connection between Brahman and the many gods and goddesses of Hinduism:
“The relationship between the many manifest deities and the unmanifest Brahman is rather like that between the sun and its rays. We cannot experience the sun itself but we can experience its rays and the qualities, which those rays have. And, although the sun’s rays are many, ultimately, there is only one source, one sun. So the Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism amount to thousands, all representing the many aspects of Brahman."
Hindu Gods and Goddesses
Although Hinduism includes thousands of deities, a few are more significant than others. The primary deities include:
Hindu gods and goddesses, when they descend to Earth, take the form of avatars ("incarnations" or "manifestations"). Avatars are most often mentioned in connection with Vishnu, who, according to the Bhagavad Gita, took on different forms to perform certain tasks on earth. Some of Vishnu's avatars include:
By Subhamoy Das
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