Religious Studies

Hinduism: beliefs about God

Hindus believe in one true god, Brahman, but Brahman has many forms.

The nature of the Hindu god

Hindus believe that there is one true god, the supreme spirit, called Brahman. Brahman has many forms, pervades the whole universe, and is symbolised by the sacred syllable Om (or Aum).

Most Hindus believe that Brahman is present in every person as the eternal spirit or soul, called the atman. Brahman contains everything: creation and destruction, male and female, good and evil, movement and stillness.

There are three main aspects of Brahman.

These are expressed in the trimurti and are:

  • Brahma, the creator
  • Vishnu, the preserver
  • Shiva, the destroyer
Hindu TrimurtiHindu Trimurti

Hindu Trimurti




Vishnu on the Serpent Sesha Floating on the Cosmic Waters


The god Shiva

There are many thousands of lesser gods and goddesses in Hinduism. These are all ways of understanding the one true god called Brahman.


10 avatars of Vishnu

Vishnu in the centre of his ten avatars

Enlarge image

Hindus believe that sometimes a god will appear on the earth in living form.

Such an appearance is called an avatar. Perhaps the best English translation of avatar is 'incarnation', however avatar also conveys the belief that God has the ability to take any form and will descend to earth at times when there has been a decline in goodness, and evil is influencing human actions.

  • For whenever the law of righteousness (dharma)
  • Withers away, and lawlessness (adharma) raises its head,
  • Then do I generate myself on earth
  • For the protection of the good,
  • For the destruction of evildoers
  • For the setting up of righteousness
  • I come into being, age after age.

Bhagavad Gita, 4: 7 - 8

The principal avatars are those of Vishnu [Vishnu: A Hindu god. With Brahma and Shiva forms the Trimurti. ]. Vaishnavas (worshippers of Vishnu) normally recognise ten avatars, although figures such as Gandhi and Jesus are recognised as avatars by some. The tenth avatar, Kalki, is yet to appear on earth.

The ten avatars of Vishnu are:

  1. Matsya - The Fish
  2. Kurma - The Tortoise
  3. Varaha - The Boar
  4. Narasimha - The Man-Lion
  5. Vamana - The Dwarf
  6. Parasurama - Rama with the Axe
  7. Rama of Ayodhya (Ramachandra)
  8. Krishna
  9. Buddha
  10. Kalki

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