Hindu gods – the trimurti

Three of the most significant forms of Brahman are Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. These three gods are key aspects of Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. The word ‘trimurti’ means ‘three forms’. In the trimurti, Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver and Shiva is the destroyer.

In a Hindu temple, there are no images of Brahman. However, there are many images of gods and goddesses, which are aspects of the Divine One.

Remember the difference between Brahman (with an ‘n’), which refers to Ultimate Reality, and Brahma (with no ‘n’), which refers to the creator god.
The trimurti – Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer are central to Hindus’ understanding of God

Brahma the creator

Images, or murtis, of Brahma have four heads, seeing in all directions at once and symbolising the four Vedas. Brahma’s four arms carry symbols of power – a goblet, a bow, a sceptre and the Vedas. In Hindu creation stories, Brahma brings the universe into being. Brahma is not worshipped by many Hindus today, in comparison to the other two murtis.

Vishnu the preserver

Murtis of Vishnu express splendour and power. His four arms carry symbols of power – a discus, a lotus flower, a conch shell and a mace. Vishnu, god of light and enlightenment, has appeared on Earth through avataras. Vishnu (and his avataras, including Krishna) are worshipped by many millions of Hindus today.

Infographic depicting the Hindu god Vishnu.

Shiva the destroyer

Murtis of Shiva vary. He is often pictured dancing and with four arms. He holds a drum and a flame, and he points to his dancing feet with one hand and holds in the other hand a pen, meaning ‘fear not’. His necklace of cobra snakes is another sign of power. Shiva is worshipped by many millions of Hindus today.

An infographic that illustrates the Hindu god, Shiva.
The three forms of God that make up the Hindu trimurti are Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer.

Why do most Hindu worshippers use murtis of the gods and goddesses?

Source of wisdom and authorityWhat does it mean?
“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifest, the path of realisation is full of tribulations. Worship of the unmanifest is exceedingly difficult for embodied beings. (Bhagavad Gita 12.5)”The ‘unmanifest’ is Brahman, Ultimate Reality (God), with no form or qualities. This verse of scripture recognises that almost all humans (‘embodied beings’) need a form, such as one of the gods or goddesses, to worship if they are to make progress along the path towards spiritual reality.

What the Hindu scriptures say about the trimurti

Source of wisdom and authorityWhat does it mean?
“Brahma decided to start creation afresh but discovered that the earth was submerged in water. How would his creations survive if there was no earth? He therefore requested Vishnu to bring up the earth from under the water. (Kūrma Purana 1.6)”There are many Hindu scriptures that tell creation stories. This short extract narrates the making of the universe and shows that two of the trimurti gods played cooperative parts. Brahma as creator led this process, but Vishnu used his power in the creation as well.
Source of wisdom and authorityWhat does it mean?
The Kūrma Purana (1.9) tells a Hindu story of creation, summarised here: Brahma and Vishnu together killed the demons that wanted to sabotage the creation of the universe. After being frustrated in his creative work, Brahma cried, and died, but then Shiva was born from Brahma – who revived. Shiva lived in all of the elements, including the sun, water, sky, fire, wind and trees.This creation story emphasises the role of each of the gods of the trimurti in the making of the universe.

How are the three forms of god in the trimurti related to Brahman, the Ultimate Reality?

They represent three important aspects of Brahman (the Divine One, or God).