The worship of Lord Vishnu is very popular among Hindus, especially among the followers of the Vaishnava tradition (Vaishnavism). Lord Vishnu is also known by other names, such as Vasudeva and Narayana. Ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu that are popular among Hindus reveal God's help in various stages of human evolution from aquatic to human life. They include incarnations in the animal form (i.e., Matsya, the fish; Kurma, the tortoise; Varaha, the boar), incarnations in half-human and half-animal form (i.e., Narasimha, the man lion; Vamana, the dwarf), and incarnations in human form (i.e., Parasurama, the warrior; Rama; Sri Krishna; Buddha; and Kalkin).
Shiva is recognized as the third form of God. Due to His activity of dissolution and recreation, the words destroyer and destruction are often wrongly associated with Lord Shiva. When the process of creation is disturbed and life becomes impossible, Lord Shiva dissolves the universe to create the universe anew so that unliberated souls can have the opportunity to free themselves from bondage with the physical world. Lord Shiva protects souls from pain caused by an unbalanced or unhealthy universe and is therefore considered the Lord of mercy and compassion. He also protects devotees from the evil of lust, greed, and anger.
Shiva was originally considered a minor deity, known as Rudra in the Rig Veda, but eventually He gained more importance after absorbing some of the characteristics of an earlier fertility god. Shiva is attributed with many titles that signify His many strengths, including Mahabaleshwar (Great God of Strength), Tryambakam (Three-Eyed One), Mahakala (Great Time), and Nilkanth (the One with a Blue Throat). He is considered anadi (without beginning or birth) and ananth (without end or death). The five mantras that constitute Shiva's body are Sadyojaata or Mahadeva (earth), Vaamadeva or Uma (water), Aghora or Bhairava (fire), Tatpurusha or Nandi (air), and Eesaana or Sadasiva (space).
Shiva is often worshipped in an abstract manner, as God without form, because Hindus believe that God transcends all personal characteristics. Yet Hindus believe He can also have personal characteristics as long as the human devotee understands that God is not limited to a particular form. Shiva is represented in a variety of forms, most notably the lingam-an ovoid shape thought to signify the mystical experience of the absolute perfection of Shiva. The representation of the lingam comes from the story of Shiva rejecting samsara and smearing his body with ash, closing his eyes and performing austerities. Shiva generated so much heat that his body transformed into a pillar of fire-represented by a blazing lingam that threatened to destroy the world. Unable to control the fire, the gods did not know what to do when suddenly a yoni appeared-the divine vessel of the mother goddess, which contained the heat from the lingam and saved the cosmos from destruction. The nonanthropomorphic lingam form of Shiva is revered in temples throughout Asia. The lingam is a symbol of that which is invisible yet omnipresent-a visible symbol of the Ultimate Reality that is present in us.
Shiva is believed to live in Kailasa, immersed in deep meditation on Mount Kailash in the Himalayas with His wife, Parvati, and their sons-the six-headed Skanda (also known as Karttikeya or as Murugan) and the elephant-headed God of wisdom, Ganesh. Ganesh acquired his head due to the actions of Shiva, who decapitated him because Ganesh refused to allow him to enter the house while Parvati was bathing. Shiva had to give him the new head to placate his wife. In another version, Parvati showed the child off to Shiva, whose face burned his head to ashes, which Brahma told Shiva to replace with the first head he could find, an elephant. Skanda or Karttikeya is a six-headed god and was conceived to kill the demon Tarakasura, who had proven invincible against other minor gods. Shiva is often represented as being on His holy mount, the Bull Nandi, alongside His attendant Bhadra.
According to the Bhagavata Purana, Lord Shiva emerged from the forehead of Lord Brahma when Lord Brahma asked his sons to create children in the universe and they refused. This angered Lord Brahma and his anger caused a crying child to appear from his forehead. As the child was crying he was called Rudra. He later became Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva was also asked to go forth and create children in the universe, but when Lord Brahma observed the progeny shared the qualities of Lord Shiva, he asked Shiva to observe austerities instead of creating progeny. A slightly different version is told in the Shiva Purana. In the Shiva Purana, Shiva promises Brahma that an aspect of His Rudra will be born, and this aspect is identical to Him.
Hindus look to the Supreme Being and to the Lords of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva for knowledge, guidance, and protection. The Supreme Being is worshipped in its many incarnations in many different ways and through different practices. As such, the Supreme Being and the Hindu trinity described herein have a significant and leading role in the religious and spiritual development of Hindus around the world.