Agni is the god of fire who was prominent mostly during the Vedic period.
Since fire was the means of sacrifice, Agni was regarded as the mediator
between heaven and earth and hence between the gods and humans. He is
closely linked with the Vedic god Soma who is a personification of the
intoxicating soma plant that is sacrificed to become the drink of
immortality. Agni appears in the epic Ramayana when Sita undergoes
her trial by fire.
Brahma is the first of the so-called Hindu "Trinity".
He is the great four-headed god of creation. Although he still maintains a
place in Hindu mythology, he no longer has any real importance in Hindu
daily worship. His consort is Saraswari, the goddess of wisdom and his
vehicle is a goose.
Ganesh is the elephant-headed son of the god Siva and
his wife Parvati. He is the patron god of scribes and the remover of
obstacles. Because of this latter aspect, invocations are made to Ganesh at
the beginning of any undertaking in order to insure its success. In Hindu
mythology, there are differing accounts of how Ganesh acquired the head of
an elephant. In each of them, however, he is said to have come between Siva
and Parvati in some way (usually with sexual overtones) and was rashly
beheaded by his father who promptly replaced his head with that of an
Indra is the example par excellence of a king
and warrior-god. He is sometimes referred to as the Hercules of Vedic
mythology. His importance reaches a high point near the end of the Vedic
period and then begins to decline somewhat. He is well known from one famous
battle in which he acquired the title "slayer of Vrtra" since he killed
Vrtra, the demon of drought and thereby released the waters that were
imprisoned by him. He also appears in several places in the Ramayana
epic. In one story, he acquires a thousand eyes (vaginas in some versions)
all over his body as a punishment for sleeping with the wife of the holy man
Kali is one of four major Hindu goddesses that each
have an association with the god Siva. Besides Kali, these include Parvati,
Uma, and Durga. Kali is most frequently portrayed in her terrible
blood-drenched form. Around her neck hangs a necklace of human skulls and
her tongue hangs out dripping with blood. Around her waist are human hands
while she holds a decapitated head. Despite her terrible form, she is adored
still today by certain groups of Hindus, especially in the region of Bengal.
In Sanskrit, the word kama means "desire" and
the proper name Kama is used for the Hindu god of love. Kama is often
compared to the figure of Cupid from Greco-Roman mythology and in fact there
are many interesting similarities between the two figures. The most obvious
is his representation as a beautiful youth armed with a bow and arrows. His
bow is made of sugar cane, his string from a line of honey bees, and his
arrows are each tipped with a flower.
Siva's name literally means "auspicious" and it is an
appropriate description of him. He is often portrayed as a king, yogi, or
ascetic in Hindu mythology and art. His importance earns him a place as the
third member of the Hindu "trinity" in which he is usually thought of as the
god who destroys (recall, Brahma is the Creator and Vishnu the Preserver).
Actually, he is one of the more complex images of deity in the Hindu
pantheon. His destructive power leads ultimately to good for he removes
impurity for the sake of liberation. Like in other places in Hindu religion,
we find in Siva the union of opposite principles which make him a
representation of the totality of life. He is at the same time creator and
destroyer, ascetic and erotic, life-denying and life-affirming, spiritual
and material. He combines the Hindu life-stages (asramas) of
householder and ascetic. In at least one depiction, he exhibits both male
and female qualities. In the West, he is best known in his form as Siva "Nataraj"
-- Lord of the Dance -- who dances the world both into and out of existence.
Several attributes or associations which are related to Siva are his bull (Nandi),
cobra snake, phallus (lingum), trident, matted hair, and tiger-skin
loincloth. His wives include Parvati and Sati and his sons are Ganesh
(elephant-headed) and Skanda (many-headed).
As the second member of the Hindu "trinity", Vishnu
is generally said to be the Preserver or Sustainer of life, especially in
his associations with the principles of order, righteousness, and truth (dharma).
Every now and then, when these are threatened, he come out of his
transcendence in order to restore order. In each case, he takes on an
earthly form and becomes incarnated. There are a total of ten incarnations (avatars)
of Vishnu. These include a fish, tortoise, man-lion, boar, dwarf,
Parasu-Rama, Rama (of Ramayana fame), Krisna, Buddha, and Kalki, who
is yet to come. Vishnu is often depicted reclining on a coiled and
many-headed cobra which rests on the cosmic waters. Out of his naval
blossoms a lotus which hold Brahma, the god of creation whose
responsibilities Vishnu has assumed. Beside him is his consort, Lakshmi. In
his four hands he holds a conch shell, mace, lotus, and discus.