Hindu goddesses such as Uma, Durga, Kali, Lakshmi and Saraswati, are manifestations of Shakti, the creative energy of Brahman, the universal supreme entity.

Lakshmi – Goddess of Abundance and Good Fortune

Lakshmi – Goddess of Abundance and Good Fortune

Lakshmi (note 1) is the Shakti aspect of Vishnu and resplendent goddess of wealth and happiness. When expressing the universal principle of beauty, Lakshmi is known as Sri (note 2). Lakshmi not only represents material wealth but also for abundance in courage, knowledge, strength, victory, children, education, etc. Wealth in all its forms is important for the preservation and happiness of life on earth and in her role as nourisher, preserver and provider, Lakshmi bestows her blessings according to the worshipper’s past karma and degree of devotion. Her worshippers are expected to adhere to a strict code of conduct and maintain utmost purity to earn her grace. In Tantric worship, she is worshipped with Mantras and yantras (mystic diagrams). 

As Vishnu’s Shakti aspect, Lakshmi provides the primal creative energy (Prakriti) to his consciousness (Purusha). He is the word, she is the meaning. He is the thought, while she is the action. Whenever Vishnu incarnates on earth in human form, Lakshmi incarnates along with him as they restore dharma to the world. She incarnated as Padma when Vishnu incarnated upon the earth as Vamana, as Dharani when he incarnated as Parasurama, as Sita when he incarnated as Rama and as Rukmini when he incarnated as Krishna.

Lakshmi is traditionally depicted sitting on an open eight petaled lotus, representing the enlightened and pure mind, as she holds lotus flowers in her two hands and holding the other two hands in Abhaya (assurance) and varada (bestowing) mudras (gestures) (note 3). Her complexion varies from pink to golden yellow or white. She is usually associated with water, illustrated by elephants standing on either side of her emptying pitchers through their raised trunks. Sometimes she is shown in the company of Vishnu and sometimes alone, showering gold coins upon her devotees. In the company of Vishnu, she is Samanya Lakshmi with lotuses in both hands with two hands and when alone, she is Varalakshmi with four arms and hands with four hands, holding a lotus, a conch, a pot of nectar and fruit respectively. As an aspect of Mari Amma (Durga), Lakshmi is also depicted with four additional hands, each carrying a bow, an arrow, a mace and a discus. 

Note 1 – translates as “She of the Hundred Thousands”.

Note 2 – Lakshmi and Sri in Vedic times were separate goddesses but amalgamated with the passage of time.

Note 3 – the lotus is Lakshmi’s primary attribute and inextricably linked as both represent immaculate purity and enlightenment. The lotus grows out of mud (samsara) but rises to the surface and opens to the sun (enlightenment). A closed lotus bud represents potential while an open flower symbolizes actualization. 

Lakshmi – Goddess of Abundance and Good Fortune2019-11-19T14:12:59-08:00

Bhu Devi – The Earth Goddess

Bhu Devi – The Earth Goddess

While Lakshmi, The Goddess of Abundance and Good Fortune, is Vishnu’s main consort, Bhu Devi, The Goddess of Mother Earth, as sustainer, enricher and provider, is an essential aspect of Vishnu’s role as Preserver (note 1).

Bhu Devi was created from the three petals which came from the navel of Vishnu after the creation of Brahma. In early Rig Vedas, Bhu Devi is Mother Earth and consort of Dyaus, Father Sky, though over time Dyaus morphed to reflect the growing importance of Vishnu.

The best-known legend involving Bhu Devi was after she was abducted by the demon Hiranyaksha, Vishnu took the form of his boar avatar, Varaha, and plunged into the depths of the cosmic ocean to save her. After lifting Bhu Devi above the waves on his tusks, Vishnu vanquished the demon with his discus (chakra), then spread out Bhu Devi as Mother Earth, creating the seven continents and the land required for humankind to exist.

As a Chola Bronze, Bhu Devi is often shown as part of a trinity, with Vishnu in the centre and Lakshmi and Bhu Devi either side. Both are of equal beauty and both will be holding a lotus. The pair are usually differentiated by Lakshmi wearing a kuchabandha, or breast band, while the Bhu Devi is bare-breasted. When depicted with either two or four arms, Bhu Devi’s right hand may be holding a blue, or night lotus (kumuda or utpala), while the left gestures either fear not (abhayamudra) or hanging freely in lolahasta, which symbolizes nothing – it just looks right. When depicted with four arms, she may be holding a water vessel, a pomegranate, a bowl containing healing herbs or another bowl containing vegetables. Her vehicle (vahana) is the cow.

Note 1 – Bhu Devi translates as Bhu (Earth) Devi (goddess). She is also known as Prthivi.

Bhu Devi – The Earth Goddess2019-11-07T17:31:13-08:00

Saraswati – Goddess of Knowledge and Music

Saraswati – Goddess of Knowledge and Music

Saraswati is young, beautiful, graceful, and alongside Uma and Lakshmi, very much the Maha Devi, or Great Goddess. She fearlessly challenges the great male gods when they try to manipulate her and the only female goddess to keep her name, rank and power intact throughout the millennia. It was Saraswati who organized and transcribed The Vedas, again out of the formless Brahman. She is also responsible for all non-Vedic knowledge (note 1), music, yoga, ritual, speech, Sanskrit and the units of measurement and time (note 2). She personifies civilized behaviour, refined taste and the arts.

She is always dressed in spotless white, the colour of light, knowledge and truth, and seated either on a white lotus or swan. She may have four arms or less often just two. If four, she may hold the same attributes as Brahma or a stringed instrument (veena), representing the arts and sciences, and all emotions and feelings expressed in speech or music (anuraga). Finally, Saraswati is often depicted near water, a reference to her ancient Rig Veda history as a river goddess (note 3).

In the Vac Sutra, Saraswati boasts:

“I move among the Gods, I hold them, sustain them… whosoever breathes, sees, hears or eats does so because of me… I create powerful creators and embed them with wisdom and sight… my powers overflow the universe.”

Note 1 – On the fifth day of spring, the festival Vasant Panchami honours Saraswati by teaching young children the alphabet. It is also an Indian tradition that if you step on a book (a symbol of knowledge and therefore Saraswati), you must perform a mudra of apology with the right hand.

Note 2 – Time (Kala) is another term for Yama, the god of Death. At the time of one’s death the soul (Atman, or essence) may depart one of two ways; the Way of the Gods, which brings it through days, bright fortnights, the half-year of the northern course of the sun, to the full year and eventually to Brahman; or the Way of the Ancestors, through nights, dark fortnights, the half-year of the southern course of the sun, and, failing to reach the full year, eventually back to earth clinging to raindrops. If the soul happens to fall upon a plant and that plant is subsequently eaten by a man, the man may impregnate a woman, and thus the soul may be reborn.

Note 3 – Saraswati is also the name of a river which once flowed in the Thar Desert but lost due to a shift in monsoon patterns. It is believed to be on the banks of the Saraswati that The Vedas were composed.  

Saraswati – Goddess of Knowledge and Music2019-11-07T16:46:15-08:00

Glossary of Terms – Hindu Mythology

Glossary of Terms – Hindu Mythology

CategoryTermTranslationDescription
MythologyAdi ShaktiFirst MotherAdi Shakti is First Mother, the dynamic force of Brahman and source of all power and consciousness. Adi Shakti is Mother of all that is divine and mortal. See also; Shakti.
MythologyAdiyogiLord of YogaShiva as Adiyogi is the first yogi or guru who "teaches in silence the oneness of one's innermost self (Atman) with the ultimate reality (Brahman).” Stella Kramrisch, “Manifestations of Shiva”. See also; Yoga, Brahman and Atman.
MythologyAlvarsTamil Vaishnava poet saintsAlvars were Tamil saint-poets who, between the 6th and 9th centuries, wandered south India expressing deep personal devotion (Bhakti) to Vishnu through poems and songs of longing and ecstasy. The Bhakti Movement quickly spread throughout the rest of India as worshippers rejected formal ritual, caste and theosophy to express their devotion in sensual mysticism. Some of Bhakti’s most active proponents were women, such as the saint Mirabai and the poetess, Andal. Their Saivite counterparts are known as Nayanars. See also; Bhakti, Nayanars and Bhakti.
MythologyAnandatandavaDance of BlissAs Nataraja, Shiva performs Anandatava (tr; bliss dance) dancing a weary world into extinction in preparation for Brahma the Creator to fulfill his role. This is all part of the Hindu cyclical nature of the cosmos and everything in it.
MythologyAnanthasnakeAnantha is a serpent floating upon the ocean of the changing world forming a bed for Vishnu. Five, seven, but more commonly a thousand-headed serpent, often with each head ornately crowned. Anantha is also known as Sesha - endless - as he is believed to remain in existence even after the end of the Kalpa when Nataraja destroys the world.
MythologyApasmaradwarf of ignoranceApasmara (also known as Mushalagan) is a dwarf-demon manifesting spiritual ignorance. Shiva as Nataraja manifests spiritual knowledge and the two are locked in a neverending struggle. Nataraja will forever suppress Apasarma for if the dwarf (ignorance) is slain, knowledge becomes devalued. In iconography, Apasmara is portrayed offering the anjalimudra of adoration as he is trampled by Nataraja’s right foot.
MythologyApparsaintOne of the 63 Nayanars, or Saivite saints, who wandered south India in the 7th to the 9th centuries singing hymns dedicated to Shiva and Uma. From that time forward the sensual metaphors of their hymns influenced how the divine couple are portrayed in bronze. See also; Alvars, Sambandar and Sundarar.
MythologyArjunamortal princeArjuna is the mortal charioteer who receives Krishna’s divine guidance in the epic, Bhagavad Gita.
MythologyAsurasVedic demonsVedic gods responsible for moral principles. Mitra (contracts), Aryaman (guardian of guest, friendship and marriage), Bhaga (sharing) or Varuna, the supreme Asura (or Aditya). In later Vedic texts the asuras became demons. See also; Devas.
MythologyAyyannarguardian deityAyyanar, or Shasta, is a guardian folk deity common to villages of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka. Some believe he is the son of Shiva and Mohini, a lesser known female avatar of Vishnu. Ayyannar is often depicted riding a horse, white elephant or tiger, upon which he patrols at night. Ayyannar is a Dravidian term meaning; respected elder.
MythologyBhikshatanaThe Supreme BeggarShiva’s in his role as Supreme Renouncer. In a rage, Shiva had severed the fifth head from Brahma’s shoulders and to atone he wandered as a beggar for a time. He is depicted nude with four arms, while cobras writhing about his hair and waist. The front right holds grass (kusaa) for the deer leaping playfully at his side, while his front right holds a skull cap (kapala) made of Brahma’s skull used as a begging bowl. His back hands hold traditional Shiva attributes, a drum (damaru) in his right, his trident (trishula) in his left. Unique in Hindu iconography he wears wooden sandals (paduka). Bhikshatana is often depicted as being followed by love-sick women, many of whom let slip their clothing in their lust for him.
MythologyBhu DeviGoddess EarthBhu Devi is the Earth Goddess and, along with Lakshmi, wife and consort to Vishnu. When Bhu Devi was abducted by the demon, Hiranyaksha, Vishnu took on the form of Varaha, his boar avatar, and dove into the cosmic ocean to save her. After lifting her on his tusks, Varaha vanquished the demon with his disc-weapon (chakra). See also; Lakshmi, Vishnu and Varaha.
MythologyBrahmaThe CreatorBrahma, as Creator of all living beings, emerged as the first differentiated consciousness from Brahman, The Ultimate Reality. In this role it is his consort Saraswati, Goddess of Knowledge who brought order to Brahma’s formless creation. Although Brahma is equal in status with Shiva, Vishnu or Shakti, he isn’t worshipped with their devotional ardour. It is believed Brahma’s work is done and it is Shiva, Vishnu and Shakti with the power to change our world now. See also; Saraswati, Shiva and Vishnu.
MythologyChamundawrathful goddessOne of the Hindu goddesses representing a destructive aspect of Devi, The Great Goddess
MythologyDakshinamurtiLord GuruDakshinamurti is Shiva’s manifestation as teacher of yoga, music and the wisdom found in the sacred texts. Especially popular in south India.
MythologyDevasDevas are ancient Vedic gods controlling the forces of nature, such as fire, air, wind, trees, water, etc. For example, Indra (weather), Agni (fire), Apa (water), Vayu (winds), and Naksatra (stars). See also; Asuras.
MythologyDevisahitadivine groupingA sculptural group when God and Goddess are together.
MythologyGajasurasamharaShiva as Slayer of Elephant DemonShiva’s aspect as slayer of the elephant demon, Gajasura. There are several Puranic myths about Gajasura’s origins but they all agree that a demon transformed into an elephant, Shiva as Gajasurasamhara, many armed and filled with rage, appears and slays the demon, flays the skin and wears it as he performs his victory dance. Uma and Murugan are commonly portrayed looking on.
MythologyGanasupernatural beingIn northern Indian mythology Gana is a member of Shiva’s ghost entourage.
MythologyGaneshaRemover of ObstaclesGanesha, or Pillai as he was/is known in south India, is the son of Shiva and Uma though his origins may be much older than the Puranic myths indicate. Ganesha is well-loved by Hindus as he quietly listens with his elephant ears to every prayer before passing it on to other dieites and their respective spheres of influence. He was blessed by his father giving him all the knowledge and power to remove all obstacles (material and spiritual), fear or self-doubt from our minds, and worshipped before beginning of any important task. Ganesha is also known as Ganapati and Vinayaka. See also; Shiva, Uma, and Murugan.
MythologyGangaThe River Ganges personifiedThe divine personification of the Ganges River. Bathing in the Ganges washes away sin and facilitates Moksha. Incarnation of Mother Goddess. Sister of Uma. See also; Mari Amma.
MythologyGarudaman-eagleGaruḍa is depicted as the mortal enemy of snakes and thus symbolizes courage. Snakes represent factors such as ignorance obstructing the spiritual path. See also; Unnati and Naga.
MythologyGayatriembodiment of the Gayatri MantraThe Gayatri Mantra, dedicated to Savitri, god of the five elements, is the most widely known and possibly the most ancient of Hinduism’s sacred chants. It is so important the mantra embodies as the goddess, Gayatri. This YouTube video by Deva Premal is our favourite interpretation; https://youtu.be/yQjHSIHPJfw
MythologyGopiyoung cowherding womenTypically girls and young women tasked with herding cows.
MythologyHamsawhite swan or gooseThe swan vahana of Saraswati, Goddess of Knowledge and Music.
MythologyHanumanRama’s devoted friendHanuman, the monkey-general, is the Hindu ideal of loyalty and service. He demonstrates these qualities in the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, when he works unfailingly to help Rama defeat his demon enemy, Ravana, and rescue Sita from the clutches of the demon king.
MythologyHayagrivaavatar of VishnuFrom Wikipedia In Hinduism, Lord Hayagriva is an avatar of Lord Vishnu.[2] He is worshipped as the god of knowledge and wisdom, with a human body and a horse's head, brilliant white in color, with white garments and seated on a white lotus. Symbolically, the story represents the triumph of pure knowledge, guided by the hand of God, over the demonic forces of passion and darkness.
MythologyIndraKing of HeavenThe foremost diety of early Vedic belief, Indra was the god of the monsoon, in the form of rain and wind, and war. All concerns very important to the early Hindu society. His weapons is the vajra, or thunderbolt. His vahana, or mount, is the cow Kamadhenu.
MythologyKalifearsome goddessKali is both a maternal figure and a fearsome destroyer. According to some Hindu stories, She was born of the wrath of Durga and Uma, embodying the most frightening aspects of destruction. To many of her devotees, Kali is a beloved mother goddess who initiates the natural process of death and renewal.
MythologyKaliyasnake demonThe Bhagavata Purana (Chapter 16, Canto 10) tells a story of Krishna subduing Kaliya a giant poisonous naga, or snake, who had been bothering the gopis, or cowherds, along the banks of the Yamuna River. See Krishna Kaliya for more detail.
MythologyKalkiHorse RiderVishnu’s 10th incarnation, Kalki is expected to arrive at the end of Kaliyuga, the twilight of this age of strife, "when all kings will be thieves." He will be riding a white horse and brandishing a flaming sword, to root out all the evil of the present dark age. Kalki heralds a new golden age will begin when only pure souls exist.
MythologyKamaGod of Love and DesireKama is the god of love and desire, represented as a young, handsome green-skinned man carrying a bow and quiver of arrows. His bow is a stalk of sugarcane with a string of honeybees, and his arrows are decorated with five kinds of fragrant flowers; ashoka, white and blue lotus, jasmine and Mango tree. Kamadeva’s vahanas and attributes are a cuckoo, a parrot, humming bees, the season of spring, and gentle breezes. All symbols of spring, when his festival is celebrated as Holi, Holika or Vasanta.
MythologyKirttimukhaglorious faceA swallowing fierce monster face with huge fangs, and gaping mouth, quite common in the iconography of south India. As a decorative element on the lintel of temple doorways or gates they symbolize the reabsorption of entering a temple. Not to be confused with Simhamukha, or Lion Face, which leads the worshipper to Brahman.
MythologyKrishnaThe Philosopher KingVishnu’s 8th and most popular incarnation; Vishnu descended to be born as Krishna, a cowherd who later killed several demons. As a youth, Krishna loved to play the flute and seduce the village girls, but as he grew older he had one particular favourite, Radha. Their relationship has come to symbolise the ideal bond of love between the gods and humans known as bhakti. Later he helped the Pandavas in the Mahabharata war against their evil cousins. On the battlefield he revealed divine knowledge in the form of the Bhagavad Gita to his friend, Arjuna. Krishna is well loved by all Hindus as the conduit between gods and mortals. See also; VIshnu, Radha,
MythologyKurmatortoiseVishnu’s 2nd incarnation assumed the form of a tortoise who held the Mandhara mountain from beneath as the gods and demons used it to churn the oceans for the sake of amrit, the elixir of life.
MythologyLaksanadistinguishing markA quality, characteristic or identifying mark. An example would be the triangular birthmark upon Vishnu’s chest.
MythologyLakshmiGoddess of Wealth and HappinessAlso known as Sri or Sri Devi, Lakshmi embodies Shaktic energy as the Goddess of Wealth and Happiness. Lakshmi is a Mahadevi, a Great Goddess. Hindus ask blessings of Lakshmi for the health of their families and success in their business ventures. She, along with Bhu Devi, The Earth Goddess, is consort to Vishnu and his creative force. See also; Vishnu and Bhu Devi.
MythologyMaheshwarthird eyeShiva’s third eye is a powerful source of fiery energy. For examplte, Kama, the god of human love, is sent by the gods to gently wake Shiva from one of his long mediations. Shiv is startled when struck by one of Kama’s love-arrows and while his two eyes remain closed, his third eye hits Kama with its fiery energy, instantly incineratiing Kama. Kama’s grieving wife begs Shiva to restore Kama back to life, but rather restore Kama to corporeal form, disperses Kama’s love throughout the universe.
MythologyMakarasupernatural beingA mythological crocodile-like creature, auspicious symbol of abundance, life-giving waters and the primal energy of life. Commonly featured as the source of fire on the Nataraja prabhamandala. The vahana of Ganga.
MythologyMari AmmaMotherA south Indian folk manifestation of Shakti as Mother, Mari Amma, or Durga as she is known outside of south India, is the warrior aspect of the Great Goddess Devi. She is slayer of demons, protector of the village, and curer of diseases. See also; Shakti, Devi, Uma and Kali.
MythologyMatsyaFishVishnu’s 1st incarnation assumed the form of a fish to recover the The Vedas from a demon and return them to Brahma for their completion. Matsya also rescued Manu (the primal man) from a flood that inundated the whole earth by carrying his boat to the top of a mountain.
MythologyMayurapeacock vahana of MuruganMayura is the peacock vahana of Murugan, representing pride, arrogance and notions of superiority, all of which which need to be controlled to maintain the spiritual path of darshan. See also; Murugan and Darshan. .
MythologyMundalamalanecklace of skullsThe transient nature of all phenomenon in the material world, the false personalities we assume for creating identity and the myriad forms that egoism (ahaṅkāra) takes.
MythologyMushikaratGanesha, like the rat, penetrates even the most secret places.
MythologyNagasnakeSymbolises all those factors such as ignorance that obstruct the spiritual path. Mortal enemy of Garuda, whose weapon against ignorance is Vedic knowledge.
MythologyNandibullShiva's vahana, or transport, is Nandi, a white bull and symbol of happiness and strength. Nandi is the source of the term; 'sacred cow’. Saivite temples typically have a sculpture of Nandi in the courtyard facing the sanctum containing the Shivalingam and represents Nandi’s eternal devotion to his master.
MythologyNarasimhaMan-LionVishnu’s fourth incarnation and a man-lion. Vishnu helped his young devotee Prahlada when he was tortured by his demon father, Hiranyakasipu for intense devotion. Listening to the calls of his young devotee, Vishnu sprang out of the pillar of a building as Narasimha and slew the demon.
MythologyNavagrahanine planetsEach planet has it’s own diety with appropriate qualities, attributes and characteristics. The Cholas were very accomplished astronomers and kept close watch on the heavens. Naturally they were looking at the night sky hrough the lens of Hinduism.
MythologyNayanarsTamil Saivite saintsThe Nayanars were sixty-three Saivite poet-saints of south India who lived between the 6th and 9th centuries CE. They are best known for expressing deep personal devotion (bhakti) to Shiva through poems and songs of longing and ecstasy. Their ten, perhaps twelve, Vaishnava counterparts are known as Alvars. The Bhakti Movement quickly spread throughout India, and in the 14th to 17th centuries, a bhakti resurgence swept through central and northern India as worshippers rejected ritual, caste and philosophy to express their devotion for their chosen deity in erotic mysticism. See also; Alvars and Bhakti.
MythologyParasuramaaxe warriorVishnu’s 6th incarnation. A forest dwelling hermit armed with an axe, connotes completion of the basic development of humankind. In another story Parasurama, again with his axe, saves Brahmins from the tyranny of arrogant Khastriyas (warrior caste) who grew wicked and tyrannical, neglecting the upholding of the Dharma and protecting the people.
MythologyPashupatiLord of AnimalsShiva as Lord of Animals dates from about 3500 BC.
MythologyPithaPoint of divine femail energy.Geographic points where divine female energy (or Shakti) is particularly concentrated. See also; Shakti
MythologyPranabreathThe life giving element for all living things in the material world. The spiritual essence within the bodies of the gods and goddesses. In iconography the smooth rounded aspect of their bodies is an example of their prana. See also; Caitanya.
MythologyRamaVishnu’s 7th incarnation and central figure in the historical epic, Ramayana, an allegorical tale of Dharma and dharmic living though model characters; Rama, Sita and Hanuman.
MythologyRatrito giveThe giver” of bliss, of peace, of happiness.
MythologyRikRitual RhythmsThe rhythms of the sacrificial ritual performed by Vishnu. See also; Sama and Yajus.
MythologySalabhanjikabreaking a branch of sala treeOriginally an ancient tribal belief that young women had the ability to bring a tree to flower by touch or song. The term now applies to a sculptural temple figure of a young woman under a stylized tree in various poses, such as dancing, grooming herself or playing a musical instrument. Her female physical characteristics, such as breasts and hips, are often exaggerated. Images of salabhanjika are positioned in both Hindu and Buddhist temples at points of transition from the secular to the sacred space. As auspicious guardians they bless the worshipper’s journey to the central shrine of the temple. See also; Dohada and Yakshi.
MythologySamaritual soundsThe sounds of the sacrificial ritual performed by Vishnu. See also; Rik and Yajus
IconographySambandarsaintSambandar is one of the 63 Alvars, Saivite saints who wandered south India in the 7th to the 9th centuries singing hymns dedicated to Shiva and Uma. From that time forward the imagery invoked by their hymns and poems influenced how The Divine Couple have been depicted in Chola Bronzes. See also; Alvars, Appar and Sundarar.
MythologySaraswatiGoddess of Knowledge and MusicSaraswati is Goddess of Knowledge and Music and embodies those qualities in her role as embodiment of Shaktic energy. Her Vedic origins are the banks of the extinct Saraswati River in the Thar Desert where she is believed to be the keeper of the river of knowledge that flows from her consort, Brahma. Saraswati personifies civilized behavior, refined tastes and artistic talent. She is wife to Brahma and as such created the knowledge and wisdom which brought order to Brahma’s formless creation. See also; Brahma.
MythologySarpasnakesSymbolises the sexual energy latent within the lowest chakra (muladhara) at the base of the spine. Also the control of anger, the worst of all negative emotions.
MythologySeshanagserpentA massive coiled serpent symbolizing the sleeping universe.
MythologyShrikanthaLord of the Auspicious NeckShiva’s role as savior of the world when he consumed the lethal Halahala poison released when the oceans were churned by the serpent Vasuki. Shiva drankd the poison and held it in his throat thereby allowing the nectar of immortality to rise and save the world.
MythologySimhalionSymbolizes glory.
MythologySimhamukhalion faceLike the kirttimukha the Simhamukha is often carved into the lintel of temple doorways and gates but while kirttimukha is a swallower, simhamukha leads worshippers to Brahman, The Immensity. Simhamukha is also associated with solar and lunar eclipses. The prabhamandala on icons such as Shiva as Nataraja may include a simhamukha. See also; kirttimukha.
MythologySimhavyalalion-headedAs powerful predators lions instill fear and therefore used to symbolise fierce power. Most commonly seen as Narasimha and Yalis. See also; Narasimha and Yali.
MythologySomaskandaThe Holy FamilySomaskanda is a Tamil concept of the Holy Family found in south India. Originating with the pre-Chola Pallava culture it depicts Shiva, Uma and a young Murugan (Skanda). Occassionally they are joined by his elder brother, Ganesha.
MythologySrivatsaendless knotSymbolizes the way things are; endless and complex. Without beginning and end.
MythologySukaparrotSymbolizes teaching The Truth. A parrot repeats exactly what it hears without clarifying, modifying or distorting.
MythologySundararsaintOne of the 63 Alvars, or Saivite saints, who wandered south India in the 7th to the 9th centuries singing hymns dedicated to Shiva and Uma. From that time forward the imagery from their hymns influenced how the Great God and Goddess are depicted in the arts, particularly icons. See also; Alvars, Appar and Sambandar.
MythologySurasundaricelestial beautyA temple sculpture depicting a young woman embodying feminine beauty and sensual grace. They normally embody thirteen specific types, such as tree goddess (Salabhanjika), and celestial dancer, (Apsara). As temple figures their spiritual function is to represent a creative aspect of Shakti, The Divine Feminine. See also; Prakriti and Shakti.
MythologyUmaDaughter of the MountainUma, or Parvati as she is known outside of south India, is a principal manifestation of Shaktic creative energy. She represents the divine feminine, embodying beauty, grace and wisdom. In pre-Aryan Vedic times she was venerated as ascetic Himalayan goddess but over time she was absorbed into the Vedic pantheon as the primary manifestation of Shaktic spiritual power in her new role as Shiva’s consort. She is the interdependent feminine prakriti principle to Shiva’s male purusha principle. Uma was born to lure Shiva from the life of the ascetic into the more active realm of husband and father. She represents the ideal wife and mother, a perfect balance of purity and sensuality. See also; Shakti and Shiva.
MythologyUnnatiQueen of KnowledgeUnnati is Garuda’s wife and helpmate in the battles against the evils of ignorance.
MythologyVamanaDwarfVishnu’s 5th incarnation took birth as a dwarf to slay the demon Bali and restore the heavenly kingdom of Indra back to him (note; Vamana is Vishnu’s first human form). With one step he covered the whole earth. With another he covered all of heaven and with his third he pushed Bali's head deep into the nether world.
MythologyVarahaMan-BoarVishnu’s 3rd incarnation assumed the form of a boar and slew the demon Hiranyaksha when he carried away Bhu Devi, Mother Earth, to the nether worlds. See also; Bhu Devi.
MythologyVibhutiashesAshes are the diverted power of procreation. Kama was destroyed and turned into ashes by the ray from the third-eye of Shiva. Symbolizes the Ultimate Metaphysical transience of everything not divine.
MythologyVidyadharassupernatural beingAngels
MythologyVishnuThe PreserverKnown to the Cholas as Mayon, the Dark One, Vishnu is preserver and protector of dharmic stability and order. It is said that whenever there is imbalance between good and evil on earth, Vishnu as the preserver will reestablish the balance. One of the ways he does this is to incarnate himself here on earth, something which lessens his power not at all. He has incarnated (with Lakshmi by his side) nine times with the tenth to come. See also; Lakshmi, Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parasurma, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki.
MythologyVrishabhavanaShiva as Rider of The BullShiva as a common farmer (albeit a farmer wearing princely jewellery) resting his elbow on a (missing) Nandi. Usually accompanied by Uma. According to tradition, the ultimate boon sought by a Shiva devotee is that he be set free from the shackles of life and allowed to remain forever in the presence of Shiva. While granting this boon Shiva assumes the form of Vrishabhavana.
MythologyYajusritual methodologyThe methodology of the sacrificial ritual performed by Vishnu. See also; Rik and Sama.
MythologyYakshaancient forest spiritYaksha, mythical nature spirits of early indigenous origin. Generally benevolent and known for their beauty and charm, yakshas could be mischievous, capricious, sexually rapacious, sometimes murderous subterranean guardians of treasures hidden in the earth. They are also powerful magicians and shape-shifters, and often worshipped as guardians of villages, and water sources such as springs and wells. Their worship, together with popular belief in serpent deities, or nagas, feminine fertility deities, and mother goddesses (female yakshas are known as yakshis), predates the The Vedas, although yaksha worship coexisted with priestly Vedic practice. They were also prototypes for the attendants of gods and kings in later Hindu and Buddhist mythology and art. See also; Salabhanjika.
MythologyYalitemple ornamentA yali is a grotesque temple ornament similar in purpose and meaning as a gargoyle in that it serves as a demonic symbol of the ugly and imperfect; a counterpoint to the beauty and perfection of the divinities inside the temple. There are no specific references to yalis in mythology, rather they represent the darker side of human nature against which the devotee must struggle. They usually serve as a cornice bracket with their back to the temple as its protectors. The body of a yali is usually a lion or tiger but is often portrayed with the torso or head of an elephant or bird. We have a Yali sculpture on offer but it is not shown in Our Gallery.
MythologyYogeshwaraLord of YogaThose who believe Krishna alone is Supreme Being believe it was Krishna, not Shiva, who created yogic philosophy and techniques and therefore referred to as Yogeshwara. The practice of Yoga is central to experiencing the divine through deep meditation, therefore its importance requires that Krishna be credited with its creation.
Glossary of Terms – Hindu Mythology2019-11-07T17:49:00-08:00

Uma – The Divine Feminine

Uma – The Divine Feminine

Just as Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, is without form, it’s Force of Life, Shakti, is formless as well. When the power of Shakti takes physical form it manifests as the Great Goddesses (Maha Devis); Saraswati, Lakshmi and Uma (note 1), while goddesses such as Kali and Durga embody other more specific aspects of Shaktic power (note 2).

A foundational belief in Hinduism is that Shakti (female) and Purusha (male) energy are interconnected and interdependent; two halves of the complete divine whole. Uma is Shiva’s, dynamic creative energy and the force of life which connects all beings and the means of their moksha, or spiritual release.

In mythology, Uma is believed to be the incarnation of Shiva’s first wife, Sati, who immolated herself when Shiva was insulted by her father. Lost in mourning, Shiva had withdrawn into extreme asceticism, causing problems with the world, so the gods caused Uma to be born to lure Shiva into the active, sensual realm of husband and father. Uma civilizes him, therefore making him accessible to mortal worship. Uma is Shiva’s, dynamic creative energy, the Force of Life connecting all beings and the means of their spiritual release (moksha).

Shiva acting alone may perform acts of cosmic significance and protect the world from evil, but it is only in the company of Uma that Shiva’s grace is bestowed upon an individual soul. In iconography, the two are rarely depicted without each other. For example, when Shiva manifests as Nataraja, his power is considered incomplete unless a figure of Uma stands nearby.

A striking feature of many Chola Bronzes depicting The Divine Couple is their sensual intimacy. In the depiction of their marriage they tenderly hold hands and in others he will often be shown fondling her breast or gently turning her face to his. There are also many written references to their lovemaking in the sacred texts or the hymns of the Naynmar poet saints. In Hinduism it is believed the ecstasy of sacred union of worshipper with their deity is closely related to the bliss of sexual union with one’s beloved. 

Uma’s identity hasn’t always been defined by her relationship with her husband or sons, however. She was born a princess, daughter of Himavat, the personification of the Himalaya mountains, and the apsara (angel), Menā, and grew up to become an ascetic, demon-slayer, roles which morphed into those of Durga, the ultimate demon slayer, and Kali the fierce protector. As Vedic patriarchal attitudes toward goddesses prevailed, Uma lost a great deal of her earlier status and independence Balance was restored, however, when assertive, dynamic Chola queens such as Sembiyan restored Uma’s stature as a goddess in her own right. 

Smooth and curved her stomach,

like the snake’s dancing hood,

her flawless gait mocks the peacock’s grace,

with feet soft as cotton down,

and waist a slender creeper,

Uma Devi is one half of Shiva, lord of sacred Pundarai.”

Sambandar, Nayanar poet-saint.

When standing alone, Uma is the ideal of feminine beauty and wears the clothing and adornment of a queen, including the sacred thread of an ascetic – a throwback to her origins as a Himalayan renunciate goddess. She stands in tribhangasana, the threefold stance, with her hip to one side, her left arm hanging gracefully at her hip in the elegant lolahasta (note 3). Her right hand holds a (missing) lotus, symbolizing purity, in katakamudra. Sitting alone she may be Shiva Gami (Beloved of Shiva), Boga Shakti (Pleasure of Shakti) or as Somaskanda, a family group with Shiva and her second son, Murugan, and on occasion, Ganesha. 

As mother to sons, Ganesha and Murugan she is Boga Shakti and shown seated in lalitasana, the pose of royal ease (note 2).

In both these roles, she embodies the ideal balance of purity and sensuality and invariably portrayed as a slender, sensuous woman of great beauty.

Note 1 – Uma is known outside of south India as Parvati, Aparna, Lalita and Shailja (Daughter of the Mountains) from her origins as a Himalayan ascetic.

Note 2 – female deities such as Uma, Kali and Durga were originally indigenous tribal deities, worshipped in their own right without male consorts. Over time, however, as the Tridevi were absorbed into the Vedic patriarchal pantheon they were assigned supporting roles as wives to the male gods.

Note 3 – when a Great Goddess stands alone they can be difficult to differentiate when all depict the ideal female form. If their breasts are bare they live in heaven and if they they wear a breast band, or kuchabandha, they live here on Earth; or in the case of Bhu Devi, second consort of Vishnu and Earth Goddess, lives within the earth. Somewhat more difficult is the headgear. Uma’s hair is worn in the style of an ascetic, in dreadlocks and arranged to look like a crown and bound with jewels, while Lakshmi and Saraswati wear kiritamakuta and are actual crowns

Uma – The Divine Feminine2019-11-07T16:55:14-08:00

Shakti as Uma, Mari Amma and Kali

Shakti as Uma, Mari Amma and Kali

In Hindu mythology, Shakti manifests as Devi, an overarching term for the goddesses, Uma (Parvati), Mari Amma (Durga) and Kali (note 1). Originally all three were independent and powerful goddesses in their own right; however, over time their roles expanded to include that of the creative energy of Shiva in their role as his consort. While Uma came to represent the gentle beauty with a will of iron, the roles of Mari Amma and Kali became goddess-warriors who restored balance when demons threatened to upset the Dharma. Their roles as demon destroyers in popular mythology, however, would have been overshadowed by Shiva as demon-slayer. 

Kali and Mari Amma are variously known as each other’s incarnation, however Tantric belief and practice focus upon Kali as the embodiment of Shaktic power and the center of many Tantric texts, rituals and iconography (note 3). In Shaktic Tantrism it is Kali who instructs Shiva in the arts of Tantra and it is Kali to whom Tantrikas turn when evil threatens.

“Most fearful, her laughter shows her dreadful teeth. She stands upon a corpse. She has four arms. Her hands hold a sword and a head and show the gestures of removing fear and granting boons. She is the auspicious divinity of sleep, the consort of Shiva. Naked, clad only in space, the goddess is resplendent. Her tongue hangs out. She wears a garland of heads. Such is the form worthy of meditation of the Power of Time, Kali, who dwells near the funeral pyres”. Kali Tantra

As the maternal and creative aspects of Shakti, Mari Amma, Kali and Uma, were revered throughout the Chola homeland, especially in the rural areas; Mari Amma as Goddess of Rain and protector from disease, and Kali as the ferocious demon slayer. Their festival worship has a distinctly non-Vedic feel with dancing, fire walking, as well as mouth and nose piercings.

Note 1 – As aspects, or facets, of Brahman, Hindu gods and goddesses are known by many names in different times and places, but their roles and characteristics are held in common. These names are very much a matter of geographic and cultural context, but in this Reference Library, I use the name by which they would have been known in south India at the time of the Chola Empire.

Note 2 – In the sect of Shaktism, it is believed that Devi is the Supreme Being and, therefore, above all other gods. As such, she is known as Maha Devi, or The Great Goddess. 

Note 3 – This embodiment often takes the form of Mahakali or Great Kali. In her ten hands, she holds the attributes most associated with individual gods (Shiva’s trident, for example), implying their power only comes through Mahakali’s grace.

Shakti as Uma, Mari Amma and Kali2019-11-08T05:42:57-08:00

The Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism

The Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism

It is said that Hinduism is a religion of 300 million Gods, but those who say it perhaps don’t understand the symbolism of the Hindu pantheon. Truth may take 300 million forms but there is only one Ultimate Truth and it is Brahman and the entire Hindu pantheon is needed to even begin to represent Brahman’s aspects and manifestations.

He is the one, the one alone, in Him
all deities become One alone.” 

Artharva Veda

Hindu gods and goddesses are broadly classified as Vedic or Puranic. The Vedic gods and goddesses are the old gods, while the Puranic deities were created later. The Puranic epics, Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana, are well-loved by Hindus everywhere, while in south India, Sangam literature told stories of the lives and adventures of south India’s royalty, however, it is within the Puranas where the major deities have their stories told. The Puranas are perhaps the most important or commonly used scriptural texts; guidebooks for the whole of life and society. These sacred texts were in their final form by about 500 AD though orally passed down for two thousand years before that. The principal Puranas tell the stories of Vishnu the Preserver (Vishnu Purana), Shiva the Destroyer (Shiva Purana) and Devi, the Mother Goddess (Markendeya Purana). The Bhagavata Purana is important to the worshippers of Krishna, while Vayu (Vedic God of Air), Agni (Vedic God of Fire), Murugan (second son of Shiva and Uma), Kalki (last avatar of Vishnu), Lingam (the anthropomorphic pillar symbolizing Shiva) each have their own Purana.

These myths and legends were more than tales of high drama and superhuman feats; they told the stories of the gods and goddesses and brought them to life. No longer seen as unapproachable statues in temples or processions, these divine beings fought demons in hand to hand combat, made love, felt pain and lost their tempers, just as humans do. These tales showed them to be wise, loyal, caring, while some even had a sense of humour. In other words, they became multi-dimensional to Hindu devotees, more real, more approachable. The stories weren’t just entertainment but allegorical lessons in Dharma, the dutiful pathway. They taught Hindus, by example, how to do the right thing.

The Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism2019-11-07T16:39:27-08:00
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