Hindu Deity: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva

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  • 1:49 Brahma
  • 2:38 Vishnu
  • 3:37 Shiva
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explore the Hindu system of belief in reference to its deities. It will explain the concept of Brahman, while also explaining the attributes of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.

Brahman

For those of the Western mindset, we tend to think religion is either monotheistic, meaning worships only one god, or polytheistic, meaning worships more than one god. Anything that doesn't fit neatly into these two terms is rather confusing or puzzling to the Western paradigm. However, Hinduism does just this - it steps out of these parameters and can be seen as both monotheistic and polytheistic all at the same time.

To explain, Hindus revere many gods, like Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. Despite this reverence of several deities, Hinduism still has a monotheistic bent. Like I said, this can be downright confusing, so listen carefully as we put the pieces together.

Although there are many different Hindu deities, Hindus believe all of these deities are manifestations of one divine entity known as Brahman. With this, Hindus hold to the concept that all reality is unified under one sacred or divine entity. Known as Brahman, this sacred, yet rather vague, divinity is at the cornerstone of Hinduism. To a Hindu, all of reality, which includes all their gods, is part of this unified Brahman. To try to state it simply, all of reality is part of the whole. This central belief in the divine Brahman is what leads some to consider Hinduism monotheistic

Under this blanket of Brahman, Hindus see this divine entity broken down into a sort of triad of three main gods. These three main Hindu deities, known as the Trimurti, are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. As we study the attributes of these three, keep in mind that they are all part of a whole.

Brahma

Let's start with the first god known as Brahma. Like other parts of the Hindu faith, this name is confusing since it sounds so much like Brahman. Fortunately for us, Brahma's role in Hinduism gives us a clue as to why his name might sound so much like Brahman. To explain, Brahma is considered the creator god. It was he who created the universe and its creatures.

Again being very un-Western, Brahma is depicted with four heads and four arms. It is from these four heads that some believe Hinduism's sacred texts, known as the Vedas, were given.

In order to remember his role as creator, let's keep in mind that Brahma sounds very much like Brahman, which denotes all of reality and creation.

Vishnu

Next in the Hindu Trimurti of gods is Vishnu. Vishnu is the god who preserves the creation. Yes, Brahma may have set it in motion, but Vishnu keeps it humming. Whenever the precarious balance between good and evil is at stake, Vishnu returns to Earth to restore order. Being rather versatile, Vishnu can incarnate himself to fit the present need. One of the most famous of Vishnu's incarnations is the popular Krishna.

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