One God or many Gods, a Shaiva perspective

Many people think of Hinduism as polytheistic. In fact most Hindus are monotheistic, and Shaivas, fall into this category. How do the other Hindu deities, Vishnu, Ganesha, Krishna, etc. fit into this perspective. Ultimately there is nothing but Shiva. All the other Gods, in fact everything is a creation, emanation, or view of Shiva. The way that the multiplicity of different Gods are viewed.

Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva, (the Trimurti)

NatarajaProbably the most iconic image in Shaivism is the Nataraja, Shiva as Lord of the Dance. This pictures Shiva in the dance of creation, preservation and destruction. In this form Shiva holds a drum in one hand, representing creation, the fire of destruction in another. One of his right arms is in the Abhayaprada Mudra, a gesture meaning “no fear”, signaling preservation. His fourth arm is held in an elephant trunk like posture, alluding to Ganesha, the removal of obstacles, again showing help and preservation to all people. It is clear from this that Shiva holds the properties of Vishnu and Brahma. In other words Vishnu and Brahma are alternative views of Shiva. Whereas a Vishnava or would see things differently I don’t think it is useful to talk about better or correct views; this  is out view as Shaivas and we acknowledge that others may see things differently. Shaivas (and Vishnavas) believe in a good and merciful God, and all will be redeemed so this means there is no need for the type of conflict with other beliefs that we see in Islam and Christianity.


Durga, an aspect of Shakti

Durga, an aspect of Shakti

Shakti is the feminine power, represented in different aspects as Parvati, Kali, Durga, Uma. Shakti is seen as an emanation of Shiva, and though shown as the wife of Shiva in mythology is actually another aspect of Shiva Himself. The different forms of Shakti correspond to the different forms of Shiva, Kali corresponding to Bhairava, Shiva the annihilator.  Just Just as Vishnu can be seen as a different way of viewing Shiva, we can look at Lakshmi and Parvati from the Vishnava tradition as ways of looking at Shakti from a different tradition’s perspective. Within that Shaiva tradition Shakti is sometimes looked at as personal “mother Parvati”, but more usually as the energy of Lord Shiva.

Murugan (Kartikaya) and Ganesha

Lord Ganesha

Lord Ganesha

Ganesha and Murugan (also known as Kartikaya) play a special role in Shaivism. They are created, and therefore not the ultimate godhead like Shiva. They can be viewed in a similar way to the Judeo-Christian archangels. They are great Lords, doing Shiva’s bidding. Due to their high state of development they are constantly aware that they are part of Shiva, and so can be seen as aspects of Shiva.

Shaivas often pray to Ganesha for worldly things, reserving prayers to Shiva for worship and asking for spiritual insight, help and advancement. Thus we might ask Ganesha to help us do our best preparing for and taking an exam, but ask Shiva to help us see our true spiritual nature.

Shiva comprises of the archetype of all human possibilities, so Shiva Parivar the divine family of Shiva, Parvati, Murugan, and Ganesha are an example of the perfect family. Shaivas may pray to Ganesha and Murugan, but this is usually for specific requests and purposes. Worship should be as respect due to Shiva’s greates lords, not worship of the ultimate divine.

Devas and Devis

There are many Devas and Devis, which are beings more advanced than humans but still created beings. These are traditionally said to be lead by Indra, king of the Devas. They are equivalent to the Judao-Christian lower angels. They are generally wise an benevolent servants of Shiva. Shaivas do not worship or call on the Devas and Devis, but would thank one if helped as you would thank a wise and helpful person.
Aum Namah Shivaya

16 responses to “One God or many Gods, a Shaiva perspective

  1. An excellent post that serves to correct the commonly mistaken view that Hinduism is a polytheism. I personally don’t believe there is any good reason for religions to be in conflict with each other. Underneath the externals of dogma I have found there is an amazing unity underlying the religions which suggests that humankind’s relationship with the infinite is universal. Every religion needs to treat every other religion with respect, else how are we going to teach the nations to live in peace if we don’t live in peace with each other first?

    God bless.

  2. Nicely written…

    “Murugan and Ganesha, also known as Kartikaya play a special role in Shaivism. ”

    I think you meant to say- That Murugan is also known as Kartikeya. There are other names too for Murugan – Subramanya, Skanda, Shanmugan etc.. He is considered as a Lord of War.
    Ganesha on the other hand is associated with Intellect, Will and Perseverence, therefore the Remover of Obstacles.

    I agree, that many view Hinduism as Polytheistic and I wouldnt fault them. Hindu Philosophy gives room for students in Kindergarten all through to Sainthood. Thats the way it is – it allows for the individual to learn, understand and grow within his own limits(or limitlessness) and still be under the umbrella of One Family – Hindu. I think that is a Beautiful Aspect of Hinduism.

  3. Thanks mysoul, you are right I somehow wrote it the wrong way round. – I will correct the post. Murugan is also the God of yoga and the spiritual path as well as the God of war.

  4. I just had a tattoo in Sanskrit but with the computer keyboard and it doesn’t look good. I need someone who can write Sanskrit to send me a picture of the word Shakti handwritten please.


  5. The whole concept of “Advaitha” propagated by Adi Shankara is about non-duality and one God concept. And later Ramanuja came up with a theory – “Vishistadvaitha” – meaning the one Lord expresses himself in many forms. These saints are predecessors of those who invented the Big Bang theory etc., . Their works contain different arguments about the creation.

    Regarding Ganesha and karthikeya, one school of thought considers that Ganesha represents the knowledge/intelligence aspect(or potential energy) of Shiva and karthikeya represents the actionable aspect(like strength, power or kinetic energy) of Shiva. The many different Gods in Hinduism is the basis of the theory of Ramanuja – Vishishtadvaita

  6. I won’t say that Ganesha or Subrahmanya are like archangels[btw,are they different from simple ‘Angels’?]
    They are Supreme Godheads in their own right{though,Shaivites and Vaishnavaites or others may not agree}. AdiShankara ,who had expounded the Advaitic Philosophy in continuation of His Guru Shri Govinda Bhagavatpada,had formulated the Shanmathas,or the Six ‘religions'[for want of a better word] called Shaivam for Shiva bhaktas, vaishnavam for Vishnu bhakthas,Shaaktam for worshippers of Devi,Shauram for worshippers of Surya, Gaanapteyam for the worshippers of Ganapathy and Kaumaaram for the worshippers of ‘Kumaran'[another name for Kaarthikeyan].He had sung numerous slokas/sthothras/Hymns for all these Deities.Each one beautiful and Powerful,still in use to this day.There are still followers of each of these traditions and some of us follow all these traditions without any conflict.;the main reason ,[I believe] is that we think of the Deities as related/family.The Ishta Dievams are identified with oneself;therefore,for a Gaanapatheya,a Vaishnava becomes the worshipper of one’s Deity’s Maternal Uncle[Maama,in most Indian Languages,which is second only to ones Father,in the Indian Family Tradition,akin to one’s ‘Godfather’ of the X’tian/Western Tradition[I think],and so on.

  7. ok so i had a dream and lord shiva vailed me with a yellow yail trimmed in black and when i was covered fully with the vail he wripped the black trimming off what does that means in the hindu culture.

  8. very interesting

  9. Hinduism maybe not polytheistic but its definitely not monotheist either.These are just colonial constructs going back to british rule in India when many hindu sects were redefined as monotheist better explained by VamaDev Shastri (Hinduism, Not Simply a Monotheistic Religion)
    Shiva is no confined to a One which just a number

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  12. Hinduism is absolutely NOT monotheistic. Hinduism’s view of divinity is mostly pantheistic and monistic. And the way most hindus approach this divinity is through polytheism. There is not one God in Hinduism, instead Hinduism teaches that we are all ONE but we live in the illusion that we are separate beings when in fact everything that exists is only a manifestation of divinity/ultimate reality. In other words everything that exists is God and God is everything. Everything is ONE, just different manifestations of this ONE! WE ARE ALL ONE. WE ARE GOD AND GOD IS ALL THAT EXISTS, THAT HAS EVER EXISTED AND THAT WILL EXIST IN THE FUTURE!
    And the worship of the many aspects (Gods and Goddesses) of divinity is polytheistic. Polytheism can have different meanings. Some polytheists believe there are many ultimate realities, others like hindus worship/approach many aspects of the ultimate reality, which is also polytheism. In the end Hinduism is mostly a pantheistic and monistic religion with strong elements of polytheism. Just like we humans percieve ourselves to be different being we are all ONE, the different Gods and Godesses are different Gods and Goddesses yet they are all ONE. This is NOT monotheism.

    • You do have a point here. It all depends on how you define “monotheism” and “polytheism”. Christians are content to call a belief the three persons of God as monotheistic. By this definition, so is the belief that all is ultimately God.

      Reading this article five years on I think that monism would have been a better term than monotheism.

      And the way most hindus approach this divinity is through polytheism.

      Maybe … or perhaps katchenotheism is a better description.

  13. Shiva's Friend

    You know whats the best thing is? He dont even allow me to call him a god. Everytime i do that he says i am his friend.

    He respect everyone equally and the same. He is always there meditating. I dont dare to disturb his meditation. I asked him one day who is he meditating to. He said everytime i am meditating on him then he is meditating on me.

    He is a simple guy. The elders is right. He is so beautiful being so simple.

    I at times wish i could tell everything but of course i would be labelled as crazy. But i know this, the reason why he is called a madman in some scriptures is because the truth he speaks is so simple that it sounds like its out of this world.

    I didnt choose his path but naturally by belief or religion everyone reaches him. By beleive in God or no God everyone reaches him. All end goal of all religion is the same. He once told me that he loves those who can see him in Christ. Who can see him in Allah. Who can see him in Buddha and those who can see him beyond the eyes of a person.

    How can you not love this madman? lol. I love you Shiva, thank you for making me your friend. Why am i writting this? I dont know lol.

    Om nama Shivaya. May all have a full bloomed life. Love you Shiva

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