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)
Probably 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.
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
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