Hinduism is a religion practised throughout the world, but is especially common in India and Nepal. According to ReligiousTolerance.org, there are more than 950 million Hindus in the world and 1.5 million of them practice in the United States. Hinduism acknowledges one supreme deity, but incorporates a belief in many other gods as manifestations of that deity.
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Hinduism features a divine triad headed by Lord Brahma, creator of the world, Shiva the destroyer and Vishnu the preserver. According to Hinduism, Brahma created the world and human beings out of two halves of himself, one half of which was a woman and the other half a man. Brahma is the god of wisdom and possesses four arms and four heads from which sprang the four Vedas, or scriptures that underpin all of Hinduism. One of the main beliefs of Hinduism is that Brahma will be forced to recreate the world after it's destroyed by Shiva.
Shiva is the god of destruction, not just physical, world-level destruction, but also the dissolution of ego and pride within a believer. Part of this destruction includes a denial of self and giving up all earthly attachments. Shiva is a symbol of killing the old ways in a believer in order to develop new, spiritual ways of living and thinking. Shiva, often depicted in a classic yoga pose, also represents meditation and calm, and can take on many forms, including a five-headed incarnation.
In the great Hindu trinity, Vishnu represents protection and preservation, a balancing force between Brahma's act of creation and Shiva's propensity for literal and figurative destruction. Hinduism teaches that there are equal forces of good and evil on Earth and that, occasionally, evil gains an advantage that requires Vishnu to take on human form and restore the balance. Vishnu has 10 avatars or incarnations, nine of which have descended to Earth to battle evil. The tenth and final incarnation, known as Kalki, is predicted to manifest itself at a future date, and will destroy the corrupted world in order to usher in a golden age.
Ganesha is another major Hindu deity, ascribed with the power to remove obstacles and to grant wisdom and prudence. It's not uncommon for modern-day Hindus who own their own businesses or are involved in business activities, to seek Ganesha's blessings prior to starting their day. Ganesha is often depicted as a stout man with a huge belly, four arms and a distinctive elephant's head that features only one tusk. He is said to be the son of Shiva and his wife Parvati, a mountain goddess.
Krishna is one of Vishnu's incarnations -- the eighth one -- and is the deity of divine joy and love that overcomes sin. One of Krishna's lasting legacies is the Bhagavad-gita -- translated as the song of God -- which takes the form of a dialogue between a warrior named Arjuna -- who is actually Krishna -- and a supreme being. In this dialogue, Krishna lays out great spiritual verities such as the distinction between the body and the soul, the distinction between the supreme being and the soul and the meaning of life for all believers. Krishna is often depicted as having blue skin.
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