Hindu Beliefs – Devas and avatars

The Hindu scriptures refer to celestial entities, called Devas (or devī in feminine form; devatā used synonymously for Deva in Hindi), “the shining ones”, which may be translated into English as “gods” or “heavenly beings”. The devas are an integral part of Hindu culture and are depicted in art, architecture and through icons, and mythological stories about them are related in the scriptures, particularly in the Indian epic poetry and Puranas. They are however often distinguished from Ishvara, a supreme personal God, with many Hindus worshiping Ishvara in a particular form as their iṣṭa devatā, or chosen ideal; the choice being based upon their individual preference, and regional and family traditions.

Hindu epics and the Puranas relate several episodes of the descent of God to Earth in corporeal form, in order to restore dharma in society and guide humans to moksha (liberation from the cycle of rebirth). Such an incarnation is called an avatar. The most prominent avatars are of Vishnu, and include Rama (protagonist in Ramayana) and Krishna (a central figure in the epic Mahabharata).

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