Since Hinduism is often not really talked about in terms of pantheon (”all the rage” is with Greek/Roman/Egyptian, MAYBE Norse, depending on the circle you’re talking to), I wanna take the time to discuss some important deities within the Hinduism pantheon. There are other important ‘mythical’ type figures in Hinduism, so this list does NOT include everyone.
My information for this list was taken from the amazing book The Little Book of Hindu Deities by the great author, Sanjay Patel.
Ganesha: Best known for ‘good luck’, Ganesh/Ganesha is often spoken to when someone is asking for good luck. He is the son of Shiva and Parvati. He loves sweets! He is the brother of Karttikeya, and is the son of Shiva and Parvati
The Hindu Trinity (trimurti)
Brahma: Creator of the world and all living things, he designed the goddess Sarasvati. She was very shy and when she tried to avoid his gaze, he sprouted another head (coming to four heads in total). He can commonly be seen riding a goose or swan. He is the keeper of the Holy Vedas (the story of how the world was created according to Hinduism)
Vishnu: He is known as the ‘invisible protector’. He preserves justice and has 10 avatars. He is very popular in Hinduism
Shiva: He is known as a meditator, yogi (someone who acts as an inspiration for all is the simplest way to describe this; the Bhagavad Gita, which is a famous holy piece of text in Hinduism, describes it as: fearlessness, purity of heart, strives for wisdom, studies Hindu scripture, is self disciplined, straight forward, is truthful, does not hold grudges against someone, promotes peace, shows compassion for all creatures, does not exhibit greed, is gentle and modest, is not restless, is forgiving and patient and does not hold onto hatred and is not conceited). Shiva is the god of destruction, transformation, and regeneration. Deer and snakes are often associated with him. He is the dad of Ganesha and Karttikeya and husband to Parvati. He can often be seen with a trident next to him, the trident symbolizing creation, protection, and destruction of the universe
Mahadevi (mother goddess)
Sarasvati: Goddess of knowledge and arts, she was the first goddess ever to be worshipped in Hinduism. She is the sister of Lakshmi and Parvati. She is a symbol of being a great thinker, a gifted creator, and an independent woman. It is believed that mortal musicians, artists, writers, and students are part of her family. Her companion is a white swan. She is also NOT interested in romance with others.
Durga: Shiva suggested to create a new god, and thus Durga was made. She is known to be pretty, fierce, and a great warrior. Hindus celebrate her with Durga Puja, which is a 10 day celebration. She fights suffering and injustice and brings harmony and kindness. She is known to feed animals and people and is a fearless goddess. She can commonly be found riding on lions or tigers.
Lakshi: She is the goddess of wealth and happiness. The Hindu gods fell in love with her when she emerged from the ocean. Shiva claimed her as his wife, but she was only interested in Vishnu. Shiva also already had a wife, so Lakshi became his consort (life partner). She is known for good luck, but she does NOT have tolerance for those who wish to use her for money (such as luck with gambling). Lakshi is known to gift prosperity and often carries an ancient symbol of well being.
Parvati: Parvati has numerous names: Uma, Guari, and Shakti. She was born into royalty. She fell in love with Shiva and visited him often, gifting him with flowers and fruit. Shiva, however, was deep into meditation and never noticed her. Parvati grew extremely frustrated and threw herself into seclusion, going into her own meditation. She wanted to create enough energy from the meditation to force Shiva to noticed her. It worked and he accepted her as his wife. Parvati is the mother of Ganesha and Karttikeya. Parvati is the goddess of fertility, love, divine strength, and devotion.
Sita: Sita is said to be made from the earth and be the child of an earth deity because of that. She is an avatar of the goddess Lakshmi. Sita was kidnapped from her beloved. When she was returned to her husband, Rama, people questioned her “purity”. To prove it, she walked through fire, and remarkably, she went unscathed!
Kali: Known as the “black one”, Kali is known to encompass paradoxes. She is not the goddess death (this is a common misconception with her). However, she is the goddess of time, liberation, and is considered to be a loving mother goddess to her devotees. An extremely fierce fighter, Kali defeated a supposedly ”unbeatable” enemy that was causing the other Hindu gods trouble!
Nagas: they were semi-divine beings and were commonly depicted as half-cobra and half-human (and handsome!). Nagas held a dual identity - semidivine and semidemonic. They were known to protect the Earth’s treasures. They were commonly seen as symbols of creation, life, and fertility. They were known to help the Hindu gods on different quests and sheltered Buddha from a terrible storm.
Garuda: Known of the kind of birds, he moved at the speed of light! Garuda was known as the messenger to rely messages between gods and humans. He is also known to have a huge appetite. So much so, that Vishnu asked him if he wanted to peck at his arm and eat his flesh. Garuda attempted to peck him, but saw that the god’s skin was impenetrable, and realized he was asked a question by a god! Since this incident, Garuda promised to serve Vishnu
Hanuman: He is the son of Vayu and is known as the Monkey King. He can greatly expand his size or shrink to a very small size. He is known to be strong, clever, loyal, and a very faithful friend. He was good friends with Rama (an incarnation of Vishnu). Rama had a younger brother, named Lakshmana, who was injured in battle. Hanuman went to find herbs to help him heal, but was unsure of what to grab. To rectify this situation, he brought the whole mountain of what the herbs were on!
Surabi: She is the mother of all cows. She is a symbol of abundance, nonviolence, respect, prosperity, generosity, help purifies bodies, and blesses people with good health. According to Indian law (India), cows can NOT be harmed.
I have left off the 10 avatars of Vishnu, demigods, the nine planets, and summaries of some important holy texts in Hinduism. I felt like this list served as a good general introduction to the Hinduism pantheon. This list was NOT supposed to be an ‘in depth’ review of the Hindu pantheon! Again, much thanks to The Little Book of Hindu Deities by the great author, Sanjay Patel.
Mahakala Bhairava with Buddhas, Ganesha, Karttikeya, Achala, and Devotees. Newar Lineage. Malla Period, Nepal. 1500s.
Newar religious practice employs a unique mix of Buddhist and Hindu elements. The five transcendental buddhas at the top of this painting and Achala (the blue-skinned Buddhist protector at the bottom center) are joined by deities more often affiliated with Hinduism. These include the elephant-headed Ganesha and dancing Karttikeya, who flank their father, Shiva, in his form as Mahakala/Bhairava. Another important feature of Newar art and practice is the depiction and participation of both men and women devotees. In the lower two registers seventeen men (in white-and-red-striped outfits) and seven women (in Malla period red skirts with white-and-blue stripes) offer flowers. Also typical of the Malla period are the shapes of Mahakala’s triangular eyebrows, his neatly trimmed moustache and beard, and his round, full eyes. -Asian Art