Ishtadevta Concept in Hinduism

In Hindu way of life one may choose the deity that satisfies one's spiritual longing and make that the object of one's adoration, love and worship. Since each name and form of God constitute a pointer to something that is beyond and since each is at the same time a representative of some aspect or manifestation of the Supreme Reality, it is the entire array of all names and forms of God that will perhaps point to the fullness that is God. But it is advisable for each individual to concentrate on and have a special place for one particular manifestation or form of God and this would be his Ishtadevta. Even a person, who has realised the Brahman as the Ultimate Reality, does not reject image worship. For him all deities are alike. He is not averse to worshipping or meditating on any particular form of the Absolute. This is the reason why we see our Adwaita Acharyas give as much importance to idol worship and temple offerings as the non Adwaita Acharyas.

Hindu tradition has mainly six types of Ishtadevta worship. These can be listed as:

1.       Aditya, the Sun-God;
2.       Ambika, the Mother-Goddess, in her three forms of Durga, Lakshmi or Saraswati;
3.       Vishnu, belonging to the classic Trinity;
4.       Ganesa, the elephant-faced God, considered as the primal God of all worship;
5.       Mahesvara or Shiva, the third God of the Trinity, mostly in the form of the un-anthropomorphic linga;
6.       Subrahmanya, the six-faced God known also as Kumaran or Murugan in Tamil.

These six are the original subtle manifestations of the Absolute Transcendental Reality. The Avatars (Divine Descents) of Vishnu, like Rama and Krishna are more concrete manifestations of the same Absolute Reality. So they are identified with Vishnu in the above list. Every variation of the Ishtadevta worship may be considered as belonging to one or a combination of these six traditions. In addition, the choice of the Ishtadevta, instead of being an academic exercise, could also be a choice of one among the thousands of temples all over the country and the deity chosen may very well be the particular deity enshrined in that particular temple. It can have a specific name and form, though belonging to one of the six streams of divinities listed above. Thus arose the tradition of each family having a kula-devata (family deity). It is this variety that gives richness to Hinduism and it is this possibility of 'to each according to his need and capacity' that brings together under the one banner of Hinduism people with varying practices, attitudes and states of evolution. The religious life of India has thus been nourished through the ages on a visual panorama, unmatched, perhaps, in the history of any civilisation.

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