The Hindus have created a rich, complex mythology which is still very much alive. Hundreds of millions of people continue to believe in the multitudes of gods which inhabit the Hindu pantheon. This tapestry of religion is the result of millennia of integration. The Indian sub-continent has been a crossroad for several cultures, and the Indian people have incorporated numerous ideas from different faiths. Still one cosmic truth holds in Hindu thought and that is that all things are simply a part of a greater, whole One. In early Hindu belief this Universal whole was called Brahmam. All beings and things from the gods and demons through humans on to the lowliest pebble on the beach were and are part of this One. In later times the neuter Brahmam became equated with the masculine Brahma but the original idea is still very much a part of Hindu thought.
The history of Hindu mythology can be broken up into several different ages, all of which have contributed to the faith as a whole. The first is the pre-Vedic age, which goes back to the time of the early Indus valley civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, which were established around 2400 BC. These cities were destroyed by 1700. Some think that the Aryan invaders who came to dominate the sub-continent destroyed those cities, but current archaeological evidence suggest they may have disappeared before the Aryans arrived. In any event, the Indo-European invaders known as the Indo-Aryans came and conquered both much of India and Persia by about 1500 BC. They brought with them new gods and hymns dedicated to them. These hymns came to be called collectively the Vedas. The Vedic age is when Hinduism proper begins. The Indo-Aryans became the lords of India, and their gods became the most important in the pantheon, but earlier gods were still revered; they were just given different roles. The Aryans also brought with them a distinct class structure which included a priestly class, a warrior or ruling class, and the trade or merchant class. The native peoples who were subject to Aryan rule were incorporated into a fourth class. This is the basis for the caste system which still is very much a part of Indian life. By the end of the Vedic period, these castes were called, respectively: Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras. The Vedic gods were led by Indra, the archetypical thunder god and they got their strength from the drink Soma, a form of ambrosia.
From around 900 BC to 500 BC as Aryan culture spread further into the sub-continent, Hinduism underwent some major changes. This period has been referred to as the Brahmanic Age, for it was during this time that the Brahmans and the Kshatriyas fought for supremacy over Indian life. New thought had been adopted with the idea of the soul or atman becoming a major part of Hinduism and the transmigration of that soul becoming a foundation of the religion. It was during this time that the Brahman caste asserted that the gods need human priests to keep their power and some of the rishis or sages became more powerful than the gods. Sacrifice became the chief form of worship. The major Vedic deities began to fall from their high positions and were slowly usurped by the cults of the three gods who came to dominate Hinduism: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
From 500 BC to about 100 AD, the age of Buddhism and Jainism put Hinduism in
decline. The Buddha's doctrine took India by storm, and the older religion
almost was suppressed entirely. Hinduism still included its child into itself
however and was able to survive the storm with new ideas. Sacrifice went out of
favour and influence by the ascetic worshipers of Jainism and Buddhism led to
the composition of the Upanishads. It was also during this time that Vishnu and
Shiva completed their eclipse of Indra and the other Vedic gods. The next age was the Epic or Classical period, the time of the great Hindu epics
the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. These great works were compiled into their
present form during thins time, but their origins go back at least to Vedic
times. The Puranas were also composed at this time. Finally around 1000 AD we
come to modern Hinduism when the religion once again became the dominant faith
on the sub-continent.
Some Hindu Gods;
Aditi - Supreme creator of all that has been created. Variously described as the mother, wife, and/or daughter of Vishnu; mother of the gods, and all heavenly bodies.
Adityas - The divine sons of Aditi, chief among them was Varuna (Aditya). The others were Indra, Mitra, Rudra, Tvashtar and Vishnu.
Agni - God of fire. He exists as lightning.
Aizen-Myoo - A deity, who despite his terrible appearance, is full of compassion for mankind. He is pictured with six arms, three eyes, a lion's head with bristling mane, and atop his head a thunder-bolt (Vajra), with which he calms evil passions and forbidden desires.
Ambika - A feminine personification of Parvati in Hindu mythology. An astonishingly beautiful woman she lured demons to their deaths. She announced to them that she would not bed with anyone who had not bested her in battle, and when they approached to fight her she killed their retinue with a supersonic hum, then transformed herself into the fearsome Kali and slew them.
Ammavaru - An ancient goddess of India who existed before the beginning of time. She laid an egg that hatched into the divine trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Ananta - (Shesha) The coiled serpent of infinite time.
Annapurna - (Annapatni) A Hindu avatar of Durga who ruled over food production.
Aruna - God of the dawn.
Ashvins - Benevolent gods. Twin horsemen and sons of the sun.
Balarama - Older brother of Krishna. Fought against the evil King Kamsa with Krishna. He was later killed in a drunken brawl.
Banka-Mundi - A hunting goddess in India.
Bhairavi - Goddess of terror.
Brahma - The post-Vedic form of Prajapati, the creator.
Brihaspati - The god of incantation and ritual, the personification of priestly magic.
Buddha Gautama - the founder of Buddhism. Regarded as an avatar of Vishnu.
Budhi Pallien - A forest goddess in North India who roamed the jungle in the form of a tiger.
Candi - Another name for the goddess Durga (in her moon form). The moon was considered a god one month (Chandra), a goddess (Candi) the next.
Challalamma - Goddess of buttermilk.
Chandra - God of the moon.
Dakini - Female attendants of Kali. Terrifying-looking, they were pictured as huge in size, and sometimes with fish bodies.
Devas - Gods at perpetual war with the Asuras (demons).
Devi - A twelve-armed warrior goddess, created by Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva to slay Mahishasura, the shape-shifting monster who menaced the universe. She rode a lion into the fray and was victorious.
Dewi Nawang Sasih - (Sundanese) Celestial nymph who taught people how to cook rice. The myth says she gave the women a simple recipe; place one grain of rice in a pot, boil, and wait until it sub-divides again and again until the pot is full. Her one restriction was that no man ever touch a woman's cooking utensils. The people feasted fully, and easily, following her instructions until one king who felt above all others deliberately touched a cooking implement. The goddess in disgust departed the earth, and since that time it takes a whole bunch of rice to fill a pot, because although the grains swell up, they no longer divide and reproduce.
Dewi Shri - The rice goddess of Bali. Goddess of both the underworld and the moon, she has both earthly and celestial powers. Although she rules life, through her control of the foodstuffs of the earth, she also controls death, which returns us to her bosom.
Dharma - God of justice.
Dhisana - Goddess of prosperity.
Diti - An Indian goddess. Many mythographers see Aditi as the endless sky; Diti as the earth. Both apparently come from a non-Aryan source of Hindu mythology, for their children, though recognized as supernatural, were never part of the official pantheon. Diti's children were asuras, non-gods. They were powerful beings, especially the warrior Maruts, who might have conquered the gods. Diti, whose earlier children Indra had killed, practiced magic when pregnant again. So threatened was Indra that he watched her constantly. When Diti fell into a doze, Indra entered her vagina, traveled to her womb, and dismembered the fetus. Even cut to pieces, the fetus was so powerful that it reformed into forty-nine separate warriors.
Draupadi - A heroine of the Mahabharata, she was a polyandrous woman who slept in turn with each of her five husbands, who were all brothers.
Dyaus - God of the rain.
Durga - One of the forms of the goddess Shakti, and the wife of Shiva. She was born fully grown. Durga is famous as the many-armed many-weaponed goddess that slays the buffalo-demon.
Dyaush - The first supreme god.
Ganesa - (Ganesha) The god of prosperity and wisdom. He is depicted with a fat human body, four arms, and an elephant's head. Son of Shiva and Parvati.
Ganga - (Ganges) The story goes that this "mother of rivers" once lived in heaven with her sister, the virgin, Uma. When sea-dwelling demons harassed the earth, Agastya swallowed the ocean where they hid, thereby getting rid of the demons; but the earth was left seriously parched and dry. Because of the prayers of the people, the heavenly water goddess Ganga descended to earth. She became embodied as the sacred river Ganges. Her role is as the goddess of health, happiness, fertility, and wealth. One of the wives of Shiva, she was the daughter of the mountain Himalaya.
Garuda - The god-mount of Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi, it is usually pictured as a creature with the head, talons, beak, and wings of an eagle (or a vulture) and limbs and trunk of human shape.
Gauri - Said to be a form of the mighty Durga.
Gauri-Sankar - A mountain goddess.
Giri Devi - (Sri Lanka) This legendary woman is invoked in dances and songs. She was the sister of the evil demon Dala Kumara, who indulged himself in illicit desires for her. This grew to be an obsession with him, until her wedding, where he snapped and kidnapped her. Taking her to the forest, he raped her repeatedly and kept her as a prisoner. She finally committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree. He never recovered from this loss, but the efforts of Pattini kept him from devastating the world by instituting rituals to hold him at bay.
Gopis - The "milkmaids"; said to be the lovers of the young Krishna.
Grhadevi - God of the household.
Gujeswari - A mother goddess.
Hanuman - Chief minister and general of the monkey people.
Hari-Hara - A composite god; the combination of Shiva and Vishnu.
Hulka Devi - Goddess of cholera.
Indra - Main god of the Vedas. In Vedic myth, god of the atmosphere, storms, rain, and battle. Indra is the most celebrated Vedic god. He rides the solar chariot across the sky and wields thunderbolts.
Jagganath - (Juggernaut) The god whose name means "Lord of the World" (It is a cult title of Vishnu).
Jyeshtha - Goddess of bad luck.
Kali - Cult name of the goddess Durga. Wife to Shiva. A bloodthirsty fertility goddess to whom the Thugs (Under the title Bhavani, she was invoked by this secret brotherhood of murderers.) sacrificed their victims. Her idol is black, is smeared with blood, has huge fang-like teeth, and a protruding tongue that drips with blood. She wears a necklace of skulls, earrings of corpses, and is girdled with serpents. She usually has four arms, symbolizing absolute dominion over all finite things. One hand holds a sword, the second holds a severed human head, the third is believed by her devotees to be removing fear, and the fourth is often interpreted as granting bliss. Kali-omnipotent, absolute, and all-pervasive-is beyond fear and finite existence and is therefore believed able to protect her devotees against fear and to give them limitless peace. Finally, as absolute night, devouring all that exists, she is sometimes depicted as standing on the corpse of Shiva, which, like the garland of skulls, symbolizes the remains of finite existence. Kali's worshipers reportedly appeased her in the past with human sacrifices. She is propitiated today with the blood of mammals.
Kama - God of love and desire. Son of Vishnu and Lakshmi, and husband of Rati (goddess of voluptuousness, like the Roman Venus).
Karttikeya - God of war. He is shown riding on a peacock, with a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other. He is also called Skanda and Kumara.
Krishna - Worshipped as an incarnation of Vishnu.
Krtya - Goddess of witchcraft.
Kubera - He is the guardian of the north and is associated with all the teasures of the earth that lie underground.
Kubjika - Goddess of pottery.
Lakshmi or Laksmi - A consort of Vishnu and mother of Kama. She is the goddess of beauty, wealth, and pleasure. She was born from the foam of the sea, like the Greek Aphrodite.
Lohasur Devi - Goddess of the forging of iron.
Manasha - Goddess of snakes.
Manu - Ancestor of the human race. Saved from the flood by a great fish.
Maya - The Queen Mother.
Mayavel - Another goddess of children.
Meru - akin to "Olympus" of the Greeks, a mountain in the center of the world. The abode of Vishnu, and a perfect Paradise.
Mitra, Mithra - the ancient Persian god of light and wisdom. In the Avesta, the sacred Zoroastrian writings of the ancient Persians, Mitra appears as the chief yazata (Avestan, "beneficent one"), or good spirit, and ruler of the world. He was supposed to have slain the divine bull, from whose dying body sprang all plants and animals beneficial to humanity. After the conquest of Assyria in the 7th century bc and of Babylonia in the 6th century bc, Mitra became the god of the sun, which was worshipped in his name. The Greeks of Asia Minor, by identifying Mitra with Helios, the Greek god of the sun, helped to spread the cult. It was brought to Rome about 68 bc, and during the early empire it spread rapidly. It was a rival to Christianity in the Roman world. Mithraism was similar to Christianity in many respects, for example, in the ideals of humility and brotherly love, baptism, the rite of communion, the use of holy water, the adoption of Sundays and of December 25 (Mitra's birthday) as holy days, and the belief in the immortality of the soul, the last judgment, and the resurrection. Mithraism differed from Christianity in the exclusion of women from its ceremonies and in its willingness to compromise with polytheism. His cult expanded to become a worldwide religion, called Mithraism. It declined rapidly in the late 3d century A.D.
Nagas - Human-headed snakes that appear frequently in myth and legend. They sprung from Kadru, wife of Kasyapa. They lived in the underworld where they rule as semi-devine beings. The Naga and Nagina are genii kings and queens. Naga women can marry humans. The Nagas are enemies of the Garuda bird (a mythical symbolic bird in the Hindu religion).
Nandi - The bull; the vehicle of Shiva.
Naraka - The place of torture for departed evil-doers.
Nataraja - Lord of the Dance.
Nirriti - Goddess of corruption, decay, and disease.
Parjanya - God of lightning and thunder.
Parvati - Shiva's wife (or consort). Turns into Kali when "necessary".
Paurnamasi - Goddess of the full moon.
Prajapati - The father of gods and demons, he is the master of created beings, and the protector of those who procreate.
Prithivi - Goddess of the earth; consort of Dyaush.
Puchan - Brings all things into relationship, blessing marriage, providing food, guiding travelers, and ushering the dead.
Purandhi - Goddess of childbirth and abundance.
Purusha - He was sacrificed and all parts of the cosmos were made from his dismembered body.
Radha - The principal mistress of Krishna.
Rakshas - Evil semi-devine creatures that practice black magic and afflict men with misfortune.
Rama - One of the 10 incarnations of Vishnu, Rama is a traditional hero. His story forms the epic Ramayana. He is perfect in every aspect; the perfect man, the perfect husband, the perfect brother, the perfect king, etc. and the obedient son. He is believed to have been born for the sole purpose of killing the demon king Ravana. This "Perfect One" is depicted usually with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana and his greatest devotee, the monkey Hanuman at his feet.
Rati - Goddess of love and sexual passions.
Ratri - Goddess of the night.
Rodasi - Goddess of lightning.
Rudra - Vedic god of wild nature and of disease.
Rudrani - Goddess of storms.
Rumina - Still another goddess of children.
Samundra - Goddess of rivers.
Sanjna - Goddess of the dawn.
Sarasvati - Goddess of knowledge and of fertility and prosperity. She is considered the originator of speech and of all the arts. She is one (the maiden aspect) of the trinity which includes Devi and Lakshmi. Sarasvati is pictured as a graceful woman with white skin, usually sitting on a lotus (or a peacock), and usually adorned with a crescent moon.
Sati - First wife of Shiva. She established the custom of suttee.
Savitar - The god of motion, with golden eyes, hands, and tongues.
Shashti - Goddess who protects children and women in childbirth.
Shatala - Goddess of smallpox.
Shuzanghu - (Dhammai of India) He and his wife, Zumaing-Nui, exist before anything. After making love they give birth to a girl (Earth) and a boy (Sky), who marry and give birth to gods, and to two frogs. The frogs mate and give birth to people.
Sitala - (Satala) Goddess of smallpox.
Siva - (Shiva) The god of destruction. One of the gods of the Hindu Trimurti, or triad of supreme gods. Shiva, also called Siva, personifies both the destructive and the procreative forces of the universe. As the destroyer he is represented wearing a necklace of skulls and surrounded by demons. His reproductive aspect is symbolized by the lingam, a phallic emblem. Shiva is also the god of asceticism and of art, especially dancing. He rides on the bull Nandi, and his consort is the mother goddess Uma, or Kali. Some Hindus worship Shiva as the supreme deity and consider him a benevolent god of salvation as well as a god of destruction.
Skanda - A warrior-god. The six-headed son of Shiva.
Soma - Both a narcotic plant and a god who gives inspiration, liberates men, and represents the principle of life.
Sraddha - Goddess of faith.
Sunrta - Goddess of happiness.
Sura - Goddess of wine.
Surabhi - A fourth goddess of children.
Surya - God of the sun.
Tulsi - Goddess of the basil herb.
Tvashtar - Craftsman of the gods.
Uma - Another name for Shiva's consort.
Urjani - Goddess of strength.
Ushas - The beautiful goddess of the dawn.
Vach - Goddess of speech.
Varuna - The top god, ruler of the sky. He is guardian of the west and is associated with oceans and waters.
Vata - The god of the wind.
Vayu - God of air and wind.
Vishnu - The supreme Hindu god. Vishnu rose to power during the battle between the devas and the asuras. Both wanted dominion over the world. The asuras finally agreed to cede whatever territory a devas could measure out in three paces. Vishnu, who at this time was only a dwarf, proclaimed himself champion of his fellow creatures, and in three strides traversed the whole world (the earth, the sky, and all the intervening space). Vishnu's retinue was composed of Garuda (the eagle which served as his steed) and Hanuman (the king of the monkeys). Certain objects are linked to him: the disc, the conch, the lotus flower. He was married to Lakhsmi. His avatars were: a fish, a tortoise, a wild boar, a man-lion, the dwarf, Parasurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Kalkin (to come at the end of this age). He is always depicted sleeping on a large serpent named Adisesha or Ananda. The snake represents the earth and by sleeping on it, Vishnu becomes the "Preserver of the Earth" (one of many of Vishnu's names). Vishnu accomplished many things: he killed the demon Madhu, he caused people to worship, and he took and takes great care of the Earth.
Vishvakarman - He personifies the creative power. He fashioned the cities and weapons of the gods.
Visvamitra - A ksatriya (warrior), he aspired to become a Brahman (high priest). To this end he withdrew to a forest and practiced austerity. After a thousand years, Brahma gave him the title of royal rsi, (a position lower than Brahman). He attempted to create a new sky, without success, and lost all the merits he had accumulated. He returned to his austerity for another thousand years, and again Brahma made him a rsi. This time he fell in love with a nymph, Mechaka, and consorted with her for ten years. Thus again he lost all merits. Still he persisted. This time he placed himself between the five fires in summer, and in water in winter. Now he earned the title maharsi (super-rsi). But the gods sent him the nymph Rambha to tempt him. He flew into a rage that they would do this and lost all his merits again. Visvamitra then stopped eating and breathing for some years, stayed away from temptation and anger, and he finally became a Brahman.
Vivasvat - God of sunrise.
Vritra - A demon who imprisons the waters before Indra slays him.
Waghai Devi - A tiger goddess.
Yama - The lord of death. Yama was the first man, son of Vivasvant, the sun. He mated with his sister Yami to create humanity. He is acknowledged as the first man that died, creating the path which all men since have followed.
Yayu - God of air.
Zumiang Nui - Creator goddess. Mother of the earth and the sky.