Three Main Focuses of Worship

Aside from the Trimurti, there is another group of three deities – the three main focuses of worship. They again include Vishnu and Shiva, but Shakti replaces Brahma. They correspond to the three main denominations, as shown below. (Sometimes a fourth denomination, worshipping many deities, is included – see Four Main Denominations)

The three main types of worshipper in order of prominence

  • Vaishnavas – worshippers of Vishnu
  • Shaivites – worshippers of Shiva
  • Shaktas – worshippers of Shakti

Shakti is the consort of Shiva and is considered the personification of material energy (Mother Nature or Prakriti). Like nature she can be nurturing and bountiful but also cruel and dangerous, As Parvati she is kind, but as Kali appears cruel and frightening. Durga, in a warlike form, is equipped for battle to protect her devotees. This picture shows her in her form as Durga. Shakti is often addressed as Devi (goddess) or Mataji (respected mother). This term is also used to address the other goddesses, who are the “Shaktis” of their respective spouses. Therefore, the worship of Shakti sometimes includes the veneration of both Lakshmi and Sarasvati, as in the festival of Navaratri. Shakti literally means “energy.”

Four Main Deities

The Trimurti and Shakti comprise the four main deities. All other deities fall in one of four corresponding categories:

  1. as a form of Vishnu
  2. as a form of Shiva
  3. as a goddess (Shakti)
  4. as a powerful soul, who has taken on a very elevated body (such as that of Brahma).

Divine Couples

Two of the three main focuses of worship, namely Shiva and Shakti, are husband and wife. They are shown here as Shiva and Parvati, together with Ganesh, one of their two sons.

Similarly, the other two members of the trimurti have their consorts. There are thus three main goddesses, the respective partners of the trimurti, as shown below:

  • Vishnu + Lakshmi
  • Shiva + Shakti
  • Brahma + Sarasvati

Krishna and Rama (as Vishnu forms) have their respective consorts, Radha and Sita (see Twelve Principal Deities), who are forms of Lakshmi.

Animal Carriers

On this spread, Shiva is shown with his mount, the bull called Nandi. The four main deities shown here have their respective mounts, as shown below:

  • Vishnu – Garuda, the giant eagle
  • Shiva – Nandi the bull
  • Brahma – the swan
  • Shakti – the lion or tiger