Indian Worship Traditions: Vishnu, Shiva & Devi

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  • 0:27 Vishnu
  • 1:21 Shiva
  • 2:11 Devi
  • 3:04 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 explain Hinduism's polytheistic worship of Vishnu, Shiva, and Devi. In doing so, it will explore their roles as preserver, destroyer, and protective mother of the universe.


For those of us from the Western mindset, we tend to think religion as monotheistic, meaning worships only one god. Very different from this is the Hindu faith, which is polytheistic, meaning worships more than one god. Taking a step out of our paradigm, today we're going to take a look at the Hindu worship of three of their main gods. They are Vishnu, Shiva, and Devi.


One of the most revered and most popular gods is Vishnu. Summing up his main attributes, Hindus consider Vishnu to be the god who preserves the creation. In fact, Hindus believe that whenever the perilous balance between good and evil is being threatened in the world, Vishnu returns to Earth to make things right. One of the most interesting things about this is that Hindus believe Vishnu can incarnate, or take on human form, to become whatever he feels humanity needs. One of the most famous of Vishnu's incarnations is the popular Krishna.

To many Hindus, his role as preserver and his ability to reincarnate himself makes him the greatest of all gods. To help him stick, we'll call him the very valuable and versatile Vishnu. This very valuable Vishnu appears with blue skin, a human body, and four arms.


Next, we come to Shiva, a god whose role seems rather opposite to that of Vishnu. To explain, Shiva is worshiped as the destroyer, for it is he who destroys the imperfections of the world. However, we need to try to grasp that Hindus believe this destruction is not without purpose. Although the blue-headed Shiva can be full of careless passion and extreme emotion, he destroys the imperfect things of the world in order to make way for perfection.

This earns him the contradicting roles of good and evil. His actions often bring pain and suffering, but they are meant for the greater good of the universe. Sometimes seeming as a savage and sometimes a saint, we'll remember this destroyer as Shiva, the savage saint.


Bringing a bit of the female presence into our lesson, let's now discuss the great goddess, Devi. As a mother figure for Hindus, Devi is seen as tender and welcoming.

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