Hinduism is the main religion of India, and the third-largest in the world after Christianity and Islam. Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, and atheism.
Its roots are in the religious beliefs of the Vedic "Aryan" people, who were nomads that are believed to have originally roamed the area encompassing Persia, or Iran. They would spread both westward and eastward, spreading similar ideas, mythological rituals, and deities; in the West, they would assimilate in the form of polytheistic Greek and Norse religions, while to the east in India the Hindu religion was formulated. Examples of shared deities and mythological motifs include that of the thunder-wielding sky god slaying the chaotic serpent (Zeus against Typhon, Indra against Vritra, and Thor against Jormundgand).
The primary religious texts of Hinduism consist of the Mahabharata, a massive devotional and mythological text (featuring Krishna); the Ramayana, a heroic epic of its titular character Rama; the Vedas, containing hymns and Hinduism's oldest extant texts; and the Upanishads, a collection of philosophical material.
With the diaspora of the Vedic peoples, eventually a philosophical split would occur between the borders of Persia and the Indian subcontinent. As Persia and the west were to become influenced by Zarathustra's Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and the eventual advent of Christianity and Islam, so would Hinduism influence central and east Asia as its deities were adapted into Buddhist divinities that spread as far east as Japan.
A triad of the central deities who govern the causality of existence. The term in Sanskrit for male deities is "Deva."
- Shiva, god of destruction and rebirth.
- Vishnu, god of maintaining order.
- Brahma, god of creation.
Goddesses who can represent the essence of cosmic energy, called Shakti. Counterpart to "Deva," female deities are called "Devi."
- Parvati, wife of Shiva. Formerly known as Sati, and with many forms, including Durga and Kali.
- Lakshmi, goddess of good fortune and wife of Vishnu. She incarnates when Vishnu assumes his many avatars.
- Sarasvati, wife of Brahma and goddess of knowledge and music.
Other major gods
- Indra, god of thunder and subject of many humiliations.
- Ganesha, the much-revered elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati.
- Agni, the god of fire. Originates from early Vedic belief.
- Rama, hero of the Ramayana and avatar of Vishnu. Widely worshipped in his own right.
- Krishna, avatar of Vishnu. Depicted as youthful and known in the west for the Society for Krishna Consciousness, or Hare Krishnas.
- Surya, god of the sun.
- Kama, god of love. Was burned to ash by Shiva but subsequently scattered across the world.
- Kartikeya, son of Shiva and god of war. Also known as Murugan.
- Ardhanari, a syncretic deity comprised of half of Shiva and half of Parvati.
- Hari-Hara, a twinning of Vishnu and Shiva.
- Brahman, the monadic concept of a singular universal consciousness.
- Maya, the concept of illusion.
Sacred animals and mounts
- Nandi, bull mount of Shiva. Was once depicted as a humanoid, but his bull form led to Hindus' veneration of cattle and subsequent avoidance of the consumption of beef.
- Garuda, giant eagle-humanoid mount of Vishnu.
- Ananta, the thousand-headed serpent upon which Vishnu rests, also known as Shesha.
- Hanuman, the ape-man who aided Rama in the Ramayana. Revered as a demigod.
- Hamsa, a sacred goose which serves as a mount for Brahma.
- Dawon, the tiger mount of Durga.
- Airavata, the white elephant mount of Indra.
- Asura, a class of divinities that scheme against the Devas.
- Vritra, the chaotic serpent who dammed a river with his body, only to be slain by Indra.
- Ravana, a king of demons who stole Rama's wife Sita in the Ramayana.
- Indrajit, son of Ravana and conqueror of Indra, hence his name.