Popular Deities

Buddha is widely worshipped by both the Buddhists and Hindus of Nepal. Mahakaala and Bajrayogini are Bajrayana Buddhist deities and worshipped by Hindus as well.

Hindu Nepalis worship the ancient Vedic gods. The much worshipped are Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, different manifestations of the Supreme Hindu Trinity. Shiva Linga or the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva represents the supreme power in most Shiva temples.

Female deities are revered and feared in this Himalayan country. Their Shakti cult aspires to appease the dynamic element in the female counterpart of Shiva. Mahadevi, Mahakali, Bhagabati, Ishwari are some of the names given to Shiva Shakti. Many temples in Nepal are dedicated to Shakti. Kumari, the virgin goddess, also represents Shakti.

Other popular deities are Ganesh for luck, Saraswati for knowledge, Lakshmi for wealth and Hanuman for protection. Krishna, believed to be the human incarnation of Lord Vishnu is also worshipped widely. Hindu holy scripts Bhagawat Gita, Ramayan and Mahabharat are widely read in Nepal.

Islam and Christianity, being monotheistic religions, do not have different deities but believe in supreme power.

Some popular Hindu deities are:

Brahma , the self-created God of Creation, is said to have created the cosmos. Brahma, in art forms, is depicted as having a long beard, radiant skin, wearing white robes, with four arms and at times mounted on a goose. Legend has it that after the world was created Brahmaji started feeling unbearably lonely, and so he created a female partner (also identified as Savitri and Saraswati) who was extremely beautiful and Brahma fell in love with her at very first sight. It is also believed that Brahmaji had to pursue her over many times before she finally gave in and that Brahmaji’s fifth head was cut off as a punishment for his passionate affair with his creation.

Indra is traditionally regarded as the God of Heaven. The Vedas describe him as the valiant fighter who destroys devils, dispels drought and gives people rain and food. This could be the reason for his popularity. The Puranas too speak highly of Indra, often dramatizing his numerous battles against devils. Indra Jatra is a very famous festival celebrated in to honor of Indra.

Saraswati, the Goddess of Knowledge and Fine Arts, is often portrayed having a pure white form seated on a full blown lotus or mounted on a Hansa (swan). The Hansa is often regarded as our inner-consciousness and is said to be capable of driving away Avidya or ignorance. Among her four arms the two lower arms are shown playing the Veena (musical instrument) and the upper hands are shown holding a book and a rosary.
Manjushree, the Buddhist Goddess of Knowledge and Inner-vision, is also worshipped equally as Saraswati is worshipped among the Hindus. Saraswati Puja is a festival celebrated during spring by students. According to an age-old tradition a young child is introduced to alphabets for the first time on this day.

Kumari , the Living Goddess also known as Virgin Goddess, represents the state deity of Nepal known as Taleju and is said to be the incarnation of Kanya Kumari. A Kumari candidate is selected for a highly honored Hindu temple from a Buddhist family of Shakya clan. Once she is selected, she is highly honored by both Hindus and Buddhists including the head of state. She is taken out of her temple to participate in several festivals. Once a Kumari attains puberty, she loses this divine status and the selection for another Kumari begins. The famous Kumari Temple is situated right across the historical Gaddi Baithak Hall at Basantapur in Kathmandu Durbar Square. There are different Kumaris in Patan, Bhaktapur, Bungmati, Thimi and other Newar towns.

Hanumana, or the Monkey God, is worshipped as the God of Protection. He is said to be full of strength and power, thus, his whole body is shown to be red. He symbolizes courage, strength and loyalty. The image of Hanumana, found in most temples and palaces, is always in a state of devotion towards Lord Ram. The powerful god is said to be a devout Brahmacharya.

Dhyani Buddhas, Vairochana, Akshobhaya, Rathasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi, represent the five basic elements of which the world is made- earth, fire, water, air and space. These Buddhas, described as the progenitors of the five kulas, or families, termed as Dvesa, Moha, Raga, Chintamani and Samaya, are associated with the fulfillment of desires as well as the attainment of Nirvana. Buddhist philosophy conceives these Gods to be the manifestation of Sunya or absolute void. We often find the images of the Dhyani Buddhas in stupas. Akshobhaya is placed facing the east, Amitabha facing the west, Amoghasiddhi facing south, Ratnasambhava facing north and Vairochana in the center. Except for Vairochana, which is considered to be the presiding deity of a stupa, all the other Dhyani Buddhas are seen in meditation. In most stupas the central Buddha is either hidden or seated next to Akshobhaya. Though there are only five Dhyani Buddhas, sometimes an additional Dhyani Buddha- the Vajrasattva is also included. Vajrasattva is regarded as the priest among the Dhyani Buddhas and is seen holding a Vajra on his right hand and a Ghanta(bell) on the left.

Ganesh , the God of Luck, Wisdom and Success, is a very popular deity worshipped by both Hindus as well as Buddhists in Nepal. The figure of Ganesha is childlike and unique as it has an elephant head, a big round belly, an exceptionally short body and four or more hands. His upper right hand holds a hook, representing the right path to follow, and the lower hand is seen holding a noose, representing self-restrain. The rosary on his third lower hand represents concentration, which is very important for the development of spiritual knowledge, and his lower four hands are in a gesture that assures his devotees fearlessness, indicating that he is the protector. A religious text describes the bulky body of Ganesh as the cosmos and his elephant-like shape as the embodiment of cosmic intelligence. A legend has it that he even broke his most valued tusk so that Vyasa, a great Hindu Vedic writer, could write the Mahabharat.

Laxmi is the Goddess of Wealth and the consort of Lord Vishnu. Laxmi is among the most worshipped of all gods and goddesses in Nepal. One of the most important festivals, among the multitude of Nepali festivals, is Laxmi Puja. Laxmi Puja is significant for those who celebrate it for it gives them a reason to hope for financial progress in the years to come. The celebration is usually done with elaborate preparations. Lights play a huge role during Laxmi Puja since it is celebrated at night. Oil fed clay lamps are kept burning throughout the night. Laxmi Puja is also known as the festival of lights.

Mahakaala is one of the highly fascinating Bajrayana Buddhist deities. In art forms the deity is portrayed as dark, dwarfed and big bellied, with a Mukuta or headdress with skulls set in and a garland of human heads. He holds a Kurtri (flaying knife) in his right hand and a Kapala (a skull cup) on the other. He has three eyes, opened wide giving him a fierce look, and teeth dripping blood. He wears tiger skin as girdle and snakes as various ornaments. Though he looks fierce, he is said to be very kind hearted. According to Sadhanmala, a very old Buddhist text, the number of arms and heads Mahakaala would have depended on the nature of purpose he was called for. He could have one face with two, four or six arms or even eight faces with sixteen arms. It is popularly believed that his fierce look is not to scare every other person but to scare away evil.

Rato-Machhendranath or Bhunga dyo , the Buddhist Rain God, is also known as Karunamaya Lokeshwara (most compassionate god of the universe). Bunga Dyo is worshipped in its male as well as female form like Umaneshwara, Laxminarayan, Praynayopaya and so on. There are two temples of Machhendra, one is at Bungmati, which is about 8 km away from Kathmandu and one is at Patan. The festival of Bhunga dyo begins every year on the first day of Baishakh (March- April) and continues for a month or so. Since Nepal is an agricultural country, the monsoons are very important for the Nepali people. This festival frees the farmers from worries about not getting ample amount of rain as this festival implies the worship of the rain god. During this festival a chariot carrying the Macchendra is pulled and thousands of people participate.

Bhimsen is one of the heroes of the Mahabharata and the God of Trade and Commerce. Bhimsen is portrayed in images as a red-faced deity with angry eyes and a thick black moustache. He is often shown lifting a horse in the air and pressing an elephant under his knee with a huge cobra and a lion watching in awe. This fierceness in his images is meant to symbolize his determination to kill Dushshasan, his enemy who had insulted Draupadi in public. Bhimsen is worshipped widely by Nepali traders. Several Guthis (a sort of trust) are devoted to the regular service of this deity. One of the most remarkable statues of Bhimsen can be seen in Patan Bhimsen Temple built by Shreenivas Malla in the early 18th century.

Vishnu , in his various forms of incarnation Vishnu Dharma Purana (an old Hindu text) describes him as the Preserver of the Universe and the Upholder of Dharma. According to the Geeta, whenever Lord Vishnu sees Dharma declining and the weak and innocent suffering he comes down in different forms of incarnation to undo the wrong. The different incarnations of Vishnu are:

Matsya – The Fish : Manu, the first founder of human civilization, was saved from a terrifying flood by Vishnu in the form of a fish. The flood is said to have been caused by Hayagriva, the most cruel sea-monster dwelling deep in the ocean with innumerable fierce marine animals.

Kachhap or Kurma – The Tortoise: When Vishnu saw the sins of Danavas or devils weighing down the earth he assumed the form of a tortoise and dived deep into the sea to raise the earth on his back and changed the earth to its natural self.

Baraha – The Boar: When a demon named Hiranyakashyapa drowned the earth, Vishnu rushed to rescue the earth incarnated as a Boar (Varaha). He plunged into the water and rescued the earth by killing the demon.

Narasimha – Man-lion: Vishnu, in this incarnation killed Hiranyakashyapa by tearing open his stomach for his attempt to kill his own son- Prahlad, the most sincere devotee of the Lord Vishnu.

Bamana – Dwarf Brahman: In this Avatar (incarnation) Vishnu reclaimed the earth from Mahabali, the lord of all the three worlds, by visiting Bali in this avatar and asking him to give the land measured by three steps. As soon as Bali agreed he got back to himself and in three steps covered the universe and won it.

Parashurama – The heroic Brahmin: with a militant personality Vishnu in this form, with an axe on his right hand and a bow on the next, is said to have annihilated all the “kshatriyas” (warrior class) in 22 battles.

Rama – The highly perfected human-god: Vishnu incarnated as Rama, the ideal king and the hero of the Ramayana, killed the king of demons- Ravana.

Krishna - The most widely worshipped incarnation of Vishnu. This incarnation of Vishnu killed the ogress Putna when she tried to kill him by feeding him poisoned milk when he was a child. Later, Krishna subdued the most fatal cobra- Kaliya, and then went on to kill the evil Kansa, the King of Mathura.

Buddha – The Supreme Teacher: Buddha, the enlightened one, was born in Lumbini of Nepal around 563 B.C. This incarnation of Vishnu was born to guide suffering souls to the right direction. He has taught lessons of humanity, truth and peace.

Kalaki – The last incarnation: The last incarnation of Vishnu has yet not come, but people believe that it will appear at the end of the Kaliyug. It is believed that this incarnation of Vishnu will come mounted on a horse, killing all the evil and saving only pious souls