Servants of the Lord
The Sanskrit word for these beings is deva, and the most accurate English translation of deva is "demigod." The demigods are the administrators of the universe. They make sure that everything within the cosmic manifestation works perfectly and complies with the law and order of the universe, and they arrange for the individual and collective karmic reactions, the happiness and distress according to previous deeds, of the humans. (The astrological science studies these reactions represented by the planetary constellations at the time of birth.)
In this respect, the Vedic world view corresponds to the advanced cultures of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks or Romans, and the natural religions of the Africans, Native Americans, or Australian Aborigines. Most pre-Christian traditions accept that administrative assistants of the Lord manage the affairs of the universe.
Lord Brahma is the creator of the universe and the first created being; Lord Shiva is the destroyer of the universe; King Indra is the king of the heavenly planets and controller of the weather; Vayu is the demigod in charge of wind and air; Candra is the controller of the moon and vegetation; Agni is the god of fire; Varuna is the lord of the oceans and seas; Yamaraja is the god of death; and thousands of other demigods control the bodies of the living entities and the elements of nature.
But still -- and here is the crucial difference -- one cannot uphold that the Vedic scriptures promote polytheism or pantheism in the usual sense of these terms. Ultimately the Vedic scriptures present a purely monotheistic conception of God. They clearly say that above all the different demigods, one supreme God creates and maintains not only the humans but also the demigods and the entire cosmos.
This single, supreme God is described and worshiped not only by the Vedic or Hindu religion but by all authentic monotheistic religious systems of the world. He has unlimited names to describe His countless qualities and pastimes. The most popular Sanskrit names of God are Krishna, Rama, Hari, Narayana, and Vishnu. They all refer to the same Supreme Personality.
It is important to understand that God is not Hindu, Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. God is not limited or bound by any religious tradition. God is God. The various systems of belief merely offer different ways of contacting this one God. They may differ in their approach and understanding of reality, and they also may differ in their practical methods, rituals, rules, and regulations, but their purpose is to connect man to God, and that God is the same God for all bona fide religious systems.
Within different religious traditions, God is called by many different names (Yahweh, Allah, Jehovah, Adonai, etc.), and He is realized and worshiped in many different aspects. This does not mean that He is inconsistent or that the different systems of belief contradict or exclude each other. Rather, it proves God's unlimited greatness and diversity.
When speaking about Vedic religion and its concept of God, we often hear the expression tri-murti, which means "the three deities." It refers to the three main personalities within the cosmic manifestation: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Of these three, Brahma creates the world, Vishnu maintains it, and Shiva destroys it after each cosmic cycle. Among these three, Brahma and Shiva are the main demigods, whereas Vishnu is God Himself.
The esoteric parts of the Vedic scriptures explain that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is Krishna. He resides in His abode in the spiritual world far beyond this material creation. His form has two arms, but to create the material world, He expands Himself into the four-armed form of Vishnu. Lord Vishnu is the maintainer of the cosmic order and supervisor of the other two main deities, Brahma and Shiva.
Lord Brahma, the first created living entity within each universal cycle, is born directly from Lord Vishnu. To create all the planets and life forms within this universe, Brahma first creates the main demigods, who in turn create further progeny to populate the universe. Therefore Brahma is the father of all living beings and the chief amongst the demigods.
Besides Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva is probably the most popular deity in Hinduism. He is born as a direct son of Lord Brahma, and he has a variety of functions and duties and therefore also a variety of names. For example, he is called Nataraja, "the lord of dance," because his cosmic dance at the time of the universal devastation destroys the planets. He is also called Rudra, "the angry one," and Bhutanatha, "the lord of the ghosts and spirits." In India, he is often worshiped in his Shiva-linga form, the combined symbol of the generative agent of Shiva, the father of the material nature, and his wife, Parvati, the mother.
As with all deities, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva each have a female consort (shakti, or "energy"), a personal vehicle (vahana) and characteristic symbols:
In today's India, Laksmi and Durga, as well as Ganesh, the auspicious elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, are the main deities worshiped besides Vishnu and Shiva.
As mentioned, the Vedic scriptures describe not only the three deities of the tri-murti and their consorts and vehicles, but also many other demigods responsible for the universal administration. These demigods live in planetary systems above the earth. Considering themselves servants of Vishnu, they perform their managerial tasks on His behalf for the benefit of all beings within the universe.
The Vedic scriptures inform us that there are 33 main demigods and millions of subordinate demigods, both male and female. We can categorize this Vedic pantheon as follows:
Most of these demigods have a consort by their side and are riding on their personal vehicle. We cannot name them all, since that would go far beyond the scope of this essay.
The demigods are nourished by the offerings of sacrifice poured in the sacrificial fire by the humans. When the demigods are satisfied with the sacrifice, they reciprocate by granting all the needs and wants of human society. In this way, the humans fully depend on the demigods for health, welfare, prosperity, and peace.
All of these blessings can also be obtained directly by approaching the "God of the gods," the Supreme Personality of Godhead, because the demigods depend on Him themselves. If one worships the Supreme God, the demigods become automatically pleased. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna says that the fruits of those who worship the demigods are temporary and limited. All people are meant to worship the supreme source of the demigods, Krishna, but being influenced by lusty desires for material gain, many people worship the demigods without true knowledge.
All religious traditions advise humans to respect these powerful personalities, the demigods, and to please them by serving the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vishnu, or Krishna. If one satisfies Krishna, the root of all creation, then all the demigods are also automatically satisfied and lavishly supply all mankind's needs. For example, when water is poured on the root of a tree, the leaves and branches are automatically nourished. Therefore there is no need to worship the demigods. By worshiping Krishna alone, one's life will be perfect.
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