Glossary of Hindu Gods, Hindu History and Hindu Historical Characters
Glossary of Hindu Gods, Hindu History and Hindu Historical Characters
Hindusim has a wide variety of Gods, characters, scriptures and mythologies. While it is impossible for any single source to capture the entire breadth and depth of the Hindu religion, we have tried to compile here a list of the most recognized deities, characters and scriptures of the Hindu religion.
You will find in this list short profiles of various Hindu Gods and Hindu Goddesses from Lord Ganesh, Lord Shiva, Love Vishnu and Lord Brahma to Goddess Durga, Goddess Parvati and Goddess Kali.
Similarly profiles of popular heroes like the Pandavas and Lord Rama and villains like the Kauravas and Ravana are also included.
- Arjun/ Arjuna: Arjun is one of the central characters in the great Hindu epic Mahabharat. Arjun was one of the five sons of Pandu who are together known as the Pandavas. He was born to Pandu’s first wife Kunti who used one of the five boons granted to her by the sage Durvasa to give birth to Arjun as the son of Hindu God Indra. Arjun grew to become one of the best archers in the Mahabharat universe and played the leading role in winning the great Kurukshetra war against his cousins – the Kauravas.
- Asura: The term asura is used to refer to the class of demons in Hindu scriptures. An important thing to note is that despite being described as demons, asuras were rarely evil. They were however usually positioned against the devas (or Gods). The Rigveda identifies asuras as the older cousins of devas – the Gods of the Aryan people. Over time, as these stories evolved, asuras were assigned to the dynasty of demons and described as the sons of Kashyapa prajapati with his two wives Danu and Diti. The sons of Danu and Diti came to be known as Danavas and Daityas respectively.
- Balarama: Balarama is the elder brother of Lord Krishna and one of the avatars of Vishnu. He was born to Rohini, one of the wives of King Vasudev, who resided in the city of Mathura. While some sources describe Balarama as a partial incarnation of Lord Vishnu, others describe him as an incarnation of Ananta – the serpent that Lord Vishnu used as his vahana (vehicle) in the milky ocean.
- Bhagavad Gita: The Bhagavad Gita is one of the most quoted scriptures of Hinduism. It was written as a part of the larger epic Mahabharat. The Bhagavad Gita captures a specific moment in the epic war when Arjun was overwhelmed by doubt about the virtue of going to war with the army of the Kauravas which comprised of his cousins and friends. He expressed his doubts and uncertainty to his charioteer Krishna. At that moment in the war, Krishna revealed himself to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and delivered the lines of the Bhagavad Gita to Arjun guiding him to carry out his dharma (sacred duty) as a warrior even if that meant going to war with his relatives.
- Bharat: Bharat was the younger brother of Lord Rama and the second oldest son of King Dashrath of Ayodhya. He was born to one of King Dashrath’s wives, Kaikeyi.
- Bheem: Bheem was one of the Pandavas (five sons of Pandu). He was born to Kunti out of her wish to Vayu – the God of Air. He was physically the strongest amongst the Pandavas and also had the largest appetite for food.
- Brahma: Lord Brahma is one of the three figures of the Trimurti (divine triad) in Hinduism. He is considered to be creator of the universe. Lord Vishnu is believed to be responsible for Lord Brahma’s birth according to many Hindu myths.
- Buddha: Lord Buddha is one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu according to many Hindu texts. Teaching compassion and nonviolence is considered to be one of the prime purposes of the Buddha incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
- Dashrath: Dashrath was the king of Ayodhya and father of Lord Rama. His history involved a curse by the aged parents of Sravan (a boy that he accidentally killed) which led to Lord Rama’s fourteen years of exile in the forest. Dashrath died in sorrow at having to send his son into exile.
- Duryodhana: Duryodhana was the eldest of Kauravas (the hundred Kaurava brothers) and the son of Dhritarashtra. He led the army against the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war the events of which are captured in the epic Mahabharat. He was represented as a deceitful character who was willing to go to any lengths out of hatred for the Pandavas.
- Ganesh: Lord Ganesh is the Elephant God in Hinduism and one of the most recognized Hindu figures globally. He was the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Lord Ganesh is also referred to as the ‘Lord of all beginnings’.
- Ganesh Chaturthi: Ganesh Chaturthi is a Hindu Festival that marks and celebrates the birth of the Hindu Elephant God, Lord Ganesh. It usually falls in the months of September-October according to the English calendar. Ganesh Chaturthi is a community festival that is usually celebrated over a period of ten to eleven days and concludes with the immersion of Lord Ganesh’s imagess in water – a ritual called Ganesh Visarjan.
- Garuda: Garuda was an eagle and is considered to be the king of birds in Hindu mythology because of his function as the servant vehicle or vahana of Lord Vishnu.
- Ghatotkach: Ghatotkach was the son of Bheem (one of the Pandavas) and his wife Hidumbhi from the rakshasa clan. Ghatotkach played a pivotal role in the Mahabharat wherein Karna had to use his magical weapon (vaijayanti shakti) to assassinate Ghatotkach, hence preventing its usage again Arjun.
- Hanuman: Lord Hanuman is a monkey God and one of the central characters of Ramayana. He was a devout follower of Lord Rama and one of the lead warriors in the latter’s battle with Ravan.
- Jatayu: Jatayu was a bird and one of the peripheral characters in Ramayana. He had spotted Ravan as the latter was escaping in his celestial chariot after abducting Sita. Jatayu engaged in a fierce battle with Ravan in an attempt to stop him only to have his wings cut off. As a result Jatayu lost his life, but not before informing Lord Rama and his brother Lakshman that it was Ravan who had taken Sita away.
- Kaikeyi: Kaikeyi was one of the three wives of King Dashrath of Mathura. She was the mother of Bharat. Kaikeyi was responsible for Lord Rama’s exile of fourteen years as she utilized one of the three wishes granted to her by King Dashrath to force him to exile his oldest son Lord Rama.
- Kailash: Kailash, also known as Mount Kailash, is a mountain that is described as the celestial home of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.
- Kali: Goddess Kali is one of the incarnations of the Great Goddess Mahadevi. She is often considered as a form taken by Goddess Parvati in a state of extreme anger. Goddess Kali is frequently portrayed as dancing on her husband Lord Shiva.
- Kalki: Kalki is the tenth incarnation of Lord Vishnu who is predicted to take birth towards the end of the current cosmic age. Scriptures specify that Kalki would appear in the form of a human riding a white horse. His appearance is expected to bring an end to the world as we know it and mark the re-initiation of the Krita Yuga (the age of truth)
- Kansa / Kamsa: Kansa was the primary adversary of Lord Krishna as part of the latter’s early history. Kansa was the brother of Devaki (mother of Lord Krishna). He had imprisoned Devaki and her husband King Vasudeva in response to the prediction that Devaki’s eighth son would be responsible for his death. Lord Krishna, who was born as Devaki’s eight son, eventually assassinated Kansa bringing an end to his evil rule.
- Karma: The literal meaning of the word ‘karma’ is ‘action’. In Hindu and Buddhist theology, karma refers to the sum total of a being’s actions in current and previous phases of existence and is believed to influence their future existence in the form of the results they reap through the justice of the universe. It ties-in to the underlying interaction between cause and effect where a person’s actions influence his future.
- Karna: Karna was the first son of Kunti – the mother of Yudhistira, Bhishma and Arjun, the three oldest brothers of the Pandavas. Kunti gave birth to Karna as a virgin through a wish she had made to Lord Surya. Kunti, however, abandoned Karna by putting the baby in a box and floating him down the river Asva. In his later life, Karna developed into a skillful archer and went on to become an ally of Duryodhana during the Kurukshetra war. He was eventually killed by Arjun when a curse given to him in his earlier life came true rendering him defenseless.
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- Kaushalya: Kaushalya was one of the wives of Kind Dashrath of Ayodhya and the mother of Lord Rama.
- Krishna / Lord Krishna: Lord Krishna was one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu born to Devaki and brought up by Yashodha. He was responsible for the death of evil king and his uncle Kansa. In later life, Lord Krishna played one of the major characters in the Mahabharat as Arjun’s charioteer. He took on the form of Lord Vishnu to narrate the Bhagavad Gita in the middle of the Kurukshetra war guiding Arjun to follow the path of dharma even if it required battling against his friends and cousins.
- Kumbhakarna: Kumbhakarna was a demon and brother of Ravan – the abductor and the prime antagonist in the story of Ramayana. Kumbhakarna was known for the boon that he had received from Lord Brahma which allowed him to sleep for stretches of six months followed by a day of being awake. He was woken in the middle of Ravan’s battle with Lord Rama to aid his elder brother in the fight. He was eventually killed by Lord Rama who severed his head.
- Kunti: Kunti was the wife of King Pandu and is one of the characters in the epic Mahabharat. She was the mother of the Pandavas and a sixth son Karna.
- Lakshman: Lakshman was the younger half-brother of Lord Rama. He accompanied Lord Rama on the latter’s fourteen year exile in the forest. Lakshman was the son of King Dashrath and his youngest wife Sumithra.
- Lakshmi: Goddess Lakshmi is the wife of Lord Vishnu. She is also considered to be the Goddess of Wealth and is the central deity of worship during the festival of Diwali.
- Mantra: A Mantra is a phrase, word or sound the repetition of which is used either during meditation to attain focus or to seek favor and blessings from a specific deity. While mantras are originally a feature of Hinduism, there are also instances of mantras being used in Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. A mantra need not always have a literal meaning attached to it and might just be a sound like ‘Om’. Other examples of Mantras in Hinduism include the Gayatri Mantra (Om Bhur Bhuvah Swaha, Tat Savitur Varenyam, Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi, Dhiyo Yonaha Prachodayat.) and Ganesh Mantra (Om Ganadhyakshaya Namah).
- Mahadev: Mahadev is a title assigned to Lord Shiva. It literally translates into ‘Great God’.
- Murugan: Lord Murugan was the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and the brother of Lord Ganesh. He is one of the most worshipped Gods in Southern parts of India, specifically Tamil Nadu. He is also referred to by multiple other names like Murukan, Skanda, Karthikeya and Subrahmanya. He is considered to be the God of War in Hinduism.
- Pandavas: Pandavas were the five sons of King Pandu in the epic Mahabharat. While Yudhistira, Bheem and Arjun were the sons borne by Pandu’s older wife Kunti; Nakul and Sahadev were sons of Pandu’s younger wife Madri.
- Pandu: Pandu was the father of the Pandavas – the central characters of the epic Mahabharat. He was born to the sage Vyasa and his wife Ambalika.
- Parvati: Goddess Parvati is one of the incarnations of the Great Goddess Mahashakti. Parvati was the second wife of Lord Shiva and is believed to have been a re-birth of Sati – Lord Shiva’s first wife. She is also the mother of Lord Ganesh and Lord Murugan.
- Radha: Radha is the companion of Lord Krishna and is identified as his favorite consort from his many wives amongst the Gopis (cow-herds) of Vrindavan.
- Rama: Lord Rama was the elder son of King Dashrath and his wife Kousalya. He was exiled for fourteen years into a forest as the result of a wish made by his step-mother and second wife of King Dashrath – Kaikeyi. Lord Rama is the protagonist of the Ramayana and goes on to battle and defeat the rakshasa Ravan in order to obtain the release of his wife Sita.
- Ravan: Ravan was a rakshasa (demon) and the main antagonist of the Ramayana. He had abducted Sita – the wife of Lord Rama thus sparking a chain of events which led to his battle against Lord Rama and his consequent death.
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- Reincarnation: Reincarnation has its roots in the philosophical/religious concept of rebirth where a being is believed to go through cycles of birth and death till he/she is freed from cyclical existence as a result of righteous action. The word reincarnation refers to the new form that a being takes after biological death in its previous life.
- Saraswati: Goddess Saraswati is the goddess of learning and knowledge in Hinduism. She was the wife of Lord Brahma.
- Shiva: Lord Shiva is one of the most important Gods in Hinduism. While he is mentioned across scriptures of different times, he is usually identified as one of the most powerful Gods. He is considered to be a part of the Trimurti (the Divine Triad) along with Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu and is assigned the role of the ‘Destroyer’.
- Sita: Sita was the wife of Lord Rama and the daughter of King Janaka. She was abducted by the great demon king Ravan from the forest where she was on exile with her husband Lord Rama and her brother-in-law Lakshman. The pursuit of Sita led Lord Rama into battle with Ravan and resulted in the latter’s death.
- Surya: Surya is the Sun God in Hinduism. He is also known by other names like Aditya, Savitri and Savitur.
- Third-eye: The term ‘third-eye’ has both philosophical and physical meanings. Philosophically, ‘third-eye’ refers to an invisible eye possessed by beings that enables perception beyond ordinary sight. It is often linked to ideas of clairvoyance and omniscience. Physically, ‘third-eye’ refers to an outwardly visible eye that is located on the forehead above the eyebrows. While many Hindu deities are represented with a third-eye, it is most commonly associated with Lord Shiva. The ‘third-eye’ of Lord Shiva is typically represented in a closed position and it is believed that its opening causes destruction and chaos in the universe.
- Valmiki: Sage Valmiki is one of the most popular sages in Hindu history and is believed to be the author of the Ramayana.
- Vayu: Vayu is the Wind God in Hinduism.
- Vishnu: Lord Vishnu is one of the three major Gods in Hinduism and a part of the Trimurti (the Divine Triad). He is considered to be the Preserver of the Universe alongside Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva who take the roles of Creator and Destroyer of the universe respectively. Lord Vishnu is said to have ten incarnations in the current cosmic age each of which make appearances at different times to restore righteousness in the world. The ten avatars are Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parasuram, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki.
- Vyasa: Sage Ved Vyasa is one of the most recognized sages in Hindu history. He is believed to be the author of the great epic Mahabharat which he preserved for eternity with help from Lord Ganesh as his scribe.
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