Hindu pantheon is very complex and very structured.
Overtime, the pantheon underwent many changes, additions and
deletions. In the early Vedic period, the Vedic gods
occupied a place of prominence, with Agni, Indra, Vayu,
Soma, Varuna, Adityas, Maruts, Visvadevas, Brahma, Prajapati,
Pusan, Asvins etc. playing a central role in the sacrificial
rituals. Later they were replaced by Vishnu, Siva, Shakti
and their attendant deities. Presently we have many gods and
goddesses. Although numerically they were said to be
hundreds and thousands, Hindus worship chiefly a few gods
namely Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Sarasvathi, Lakshmi, Parvathi,
their manifestations, incarnations and emanations. Chief
among the incarnations of Vishnu are Rama, Krishna,
Narasimha. His prominent emanations are Lord Venkateswara,
Ranganatha, Pandarinatha, Vittalnatha and Jagannatha.
Prominent manifestations of Siva are Dakshinamurthy and nine
Jyotirlingas. The goddesses also have various aspects.
Prominent among the attendant deities are Lord Ganesha,
Kumara, Nandi, Hanuman, Garuda. Apart from them, Hindus also
worship many saintly persons such as Dattatreya, Chaitanya,
Mantralaya Raghavendra Swami and Shirid Baba.
Although Hindus worship many gods and goddess, strictly
speaking Hinduism is not a polytheistic religion. Hinduism
has elements of both monotheism, polytheism and sometimes
classified as "henotheism or kathenotheism - a belief in
single gods, each in turn standing out as the highest."1
The highest God of Hinduism is known as Brahman who is
extolled in the Vedas as the Supreme Universal Self. He is
both manifested and unmanifested, Being and Non-Being,
Existence (sat) and non-existence (asat). His reflection in
the quality of sattva is considered Isvara, in Rajas is
considered Hiranyagarbha and in tamas is considered Viraj.
These three aspects are also identified with Vishnu, Brahma
and Siva respectively in their roles as the preserver,
creator and destroyer respectively. All the numerous gods
and goddesses are the eyes, ears, hands and feet of Brahman
only. In their individual aspects they represent diversity
and His numerous duties (dharmas); but in their unified and
highest aspect they represent Brahman, the Supreme Self.
Thus Hinduism is neither monotheistic nor polytheistic, but
represents elements of both. The following internal links
provide information on various popular gods and goddess of
Hinduism. The articles on Vishnu and avataras explain
the significance of reincarnation of gods and why gods reincarnates
upon earth from time to time. The article on Vedic pantheon
provide brief descriptions of popular Vedic gods and goddesses
such as Indra, Varuna, Agni, mitra and Soma. In the Hindu pantheon
FAQ you will find the reasons why Hindus worship popular gods
and goddesses, how they are worshipped and whether idol worship,
which a popular practice among the Hindus, is justified.
1. An Advanced History of India, by R.C.Majumdar,
H.C.RayChaudhuri, Kalikinkar Datta