The word trimurti means ‘3 forms’: creation, preservation and destruction. These three forms have worked in an eternal loop. The Hindu Trimurti is made up of Brahman the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer (in order to re-create).
The fact that the Supreme Spirit, Brahman, is everywhere and makes up all things is both comforting and problematic for Hindus: on the one hand, it means that Hindus can feel close to the ultimate reality of the universe at all times and in all situations. On the other hand, being everywhere and all things makes it very difficult to think about or conceive of. While there are said to be tens of millions of gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon, there are three that are considered to be most important.
Vishnu: The Preserver God
Vishnu is the god who preserves universes: he maintains their harmony and protects things from decay. He is usually shown standing on a lotus flower, a symbol of purity because the lotus is so beautiful and yet it grows in mud.
Vishnu’s body is blue to show that he is infinite like the sky. On his forehead are three vertical lines, symbolising the Trimurti.
He has four hands, each holding something different. One holds a mace, which acts as both a weapon and a symbol of royalty; Vishnu uses the mace to protect the world from evil.
Another hand holds a discus or ‘chakra’ (wheel/circle). While this can act as another weapon for fighting evil, the fact that the chakra is spinning on Vishnu’s finger shows how he maintains balance in the universe.
There are two very important avatars of Vishnu who are worshipped and celebrated in the Hindu calendar and in regular worship. One is Krishna and the other is Rama. They are both thought to be heroic, brave and romantic figures but they are very different in other ways.
Krishna is thought to represent wisdom and beauty, even though he is mischievous and has lots of wives and lovers. Many Hindus see this as the love between God and devotees to Hinduism. He also demonstrates a love for life.
Rama on the other hand represents the perfect moral man. He is brave and attractive and good at many sports and disciplines. He is a just ruler and a devoted husband who takes only one wife. He makes sacrifices and often doesn’t do what he wants to because it’s not the best thing for everyone else.
Krishna: The god Vishnu is believed to have many avatars. Krishna is believed to be incarnated when humanity is in danger or needs guidance. An Avatar is a human embodiment of a god/goddess.
"To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of righteousness, I manifest myself, millennium after millennium" Chapter 4, Shloka
Importance of Krishna
Krishna represents Vishnu on earth and the side of Brahman which wants to lead and help human beings
Krishna represents wisdom. He gives advice to Arjuna on the natural order of life.
His teachings in the Bhagavad Gita form the basis for the practice of varnashramadharma. This is how most Hindus live their lives in order to gain good karma and hope to achieve Moksha.
Krishna is followed by some Hindus as a god in his own right.
What does Krishna teach Hindus about the nature of God?
If we remember that all of the pantheon of gods/goddesses are all aspects of the one true Brahman then we can understand that Krishna is popular because he teaches Hindus some of this nature.
Shiva: The Destroyer God
While Shiva is responsible for destroying universes, it is important that he is also deeply involved in the process of creation. This is so because, for example, it is necessary to clear a space before you can build something in it.
One hand holds flames showing his destructive power. Another hand holds a damaru, a hand drum shaped like an hour glass.
One hand points down towards the dwarf, showing how he has overcome ignorance. The other is held palm outwards in the mudra (position of body) of giving protection.
Brahma: The Creator God
Brahma is the god who is responsible for creating universes. He is usually shown as a royal figure with four faces and four arms: the four faces which look out in the four directions show that he sees or ‘knows’ all things (or is omniscient) and the four arms show that he has power over all things, (or is omnipotent). Each of his four hands holds a different object.
- Kamandalu - A water pot as water is important in the process of creation.
- Spoon/Ladle - Brahman's royal sceptre and again is an important ritual tool.
- Rosary/mala - prayer beads used by Hindus to help guide the recital of god's names.
- Holy Writings/Vedas - Brahma holds these so that when he is recreating universes he can use them like an instruction manual.