Hindus worship multiple gods and they are addressed by various names. This is because of the plethora of sub-cultures followed by people who follow Hinduism. Each sub-culture has its unique style of associating with the Omnipresent. Moreover, in ancient times, Hindus believed in nurturing the environment and anything that gave them life, believing that it was important for their survival. All forms of gods, thus signify a particular aspect of the Absolute supreme power, collectively referred to as Brahman.
Manifestations of the Supreme Power
Hindus believe that the supreme power manifests itself in two ways, namely, the Trinity and their avatars. The gods represented by the Trinity are Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. Hinduism is also associated with four key denominations or religious orders. Each order has a unique role. These four orders are Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Smartism, and Shaktism; and ea is linked with its own god or goddess. Let us learn a little about them.
People who follow Shaivism consider Lord Shiva as the Ultimate Power. They are referred to as Shaivas or Shaivites. This faith supports its followers’ desire to embrace ascetism and stresses on the importance of yoga. It is believed that most of the essential concepts and traditions of modern-day Hinduism are largely influenced by Shaivism. The origin of Shaivism is not exactly known but is believed to be at least as old as the time of the Indus Valley civilisation.
Shaivites chant the famous Sri Rudram in praise of Lord Shiva. They also recite Om Namah Shivaya as their Vedic mantra.
Hindus who profess the Vaishnavism faith are called Vaishnavites. They consider Lord Vishnu as the Supreme Power. They worship Him through His various incarnations. Among all the incarnations, Rama and Krishna are the incarnations worshipped most by people who practise this faith. Vaishnavites associate god with several qualities such as total self-sufficiency, complete knowledge, unlimited energy, complete power, and supreme strength.
Vaishnavism stresses on the fact that god is a personal being one can get to know and bond with. There are many sub-sects in Vaishnavism. Each sect has its own way of interpreting its relationship with the Lord. The main texts followed by Vaishnavites are the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and the Pancaratra or Agama. Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya and Om Namo Narayana are two popular mantras associated with Vaishnavism.
This faith was propagated by Adi Shankaracharya. Followers of the Smartism faith are known as Smartas. Their temples feature five deities that are collectively referred to as Panchadevata or Pancopasana. All deities are treated and respected equally. These five deities are Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, Shakti, and Surya. A Smarta can worship any one or more deities of his/her choice. One is also free to worship any other deity.
This order is not as prevalent as Shaivism or Vaishnavism. They follow the Vedas as their religious text and depict god as nirguna (formless) and saguna (with form). God as nirguna represents pure consciousness while as saguna, He has several positive traits such as justice, compassion, and love.
The sect of Hindus who follow Shaktism are called Shaktas. They worship Mother Shakti as their key deity. Mother Shakti represents several goddesses, the most popular being Durga, Parvathi, Kali, Lakshmi, and Saraswathi. This order is primarily followed in North East India in states such as Assam and West Bengal.
Each manifestation of the divine has its own set of beliefs for bringing followers closer to god. There is no one right or wrong approach in any of the above-mentioned manifestations. A Hindu has full freedom to follow any faith that he/she feels comfortable and can relate to.