Many Hindus believe in Brahman as the ultimate reality – one 'Supreme Spirit' in many forms. Brahman is male, female and even animal.
Brahman is also commonly understood as the Trimurti - three gods with three key functions:
Brahma - the source of all creation.
Vishnu - responsible for keeping all good things on Earth and bringing harmony when needed.
Shiva – assists in the creation of new things – some things have to end for others to begin.
However many Hindus believe in Vishnu or Shiva as the one Supreme Deity.
The atman of each of us may also hold a 'spark' of Brahman. For most Hindus, Brahman is present in the lives of all living things.
The traditional Hindu greeting 'Namaste', usually performed with joined palms and bowed head, may be translated as 'I bow to the divine spark within you'.
Shakti literally means 'strength' and symbolises feminine aspects of the divine, often referred to as Devi and Mata. Some of the many forms of Shakti include:
Saraswati – inspires music, drama, science and poetry. Many pray to her for help in these areas.
Lakshmi - many Hindus pray to her for a happy family life and financial security.
Parvati - known to be caring for others and both patient and wise. The balance of female and male is often represented in Hinduism by images of Shiva and Parvati as halves of one person.
Durga - a warrior goddess who symbolises the 'hidden strength' of women, and divine opposition to evil.
Other popular deities
Lord Krishna - one of the most popular gods and source of many legends.
Prince Rama and Princess Sita - a beautiful love story and model for how people should live. They both demonstrate loyalty, bravery and disregard for material possessions.
Hanuman - a deity in the form of a monkey, recognised for his bravery and loyalty. Many Hindus pray to Lord Hanuman for help in overcoming difficulties.
Lord Ganesh - commonly depicted with an elephant's head, Ganesh represents wisdom and prosperity.
Incarnations and avatars
Many Hindus believe that Lord Vishnu has appeared on Earth in human or animal form, called incarnations or avatars. Examples of this include Rama and Krishna who were both princes. Hindus believe they were sent to save the Earth in times of danger. Buddha is also believed to be an avatar of Lord Vishnu.