The images of Hindu deities are colorful, sacred, dramatic -- and ubiquitous. They are depicted in Hindu calendars, worshipped in temples, have a place of honor in homes, and also stare at us from bags of rice and flour in the local Indian grocery store. For centuries, specially trained artisans have been sculpting stone images of Hindu divinities. Consecrated images of deities are known as murtis. Most Hindus believe that murtis are divine, and enable the worshipper to focus on the formless divine power, Brahman.
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Each image of a Hindu deity is unique, tells a story and is rich in symbolism. Some deities are represented in more than one form. Each form highlights a particular aspect of their personality. Hindu deities are generally represented in human form, and are either male or female. Two noteworthy exceptions are Narasimha (half-man, half-lion), the fourth avatar of Vishnu, and Ardhanarishvara (half-man, half-woman), a composite androgynous form of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. Typically, images of Hindu deities have multiple heads and arms (usually to denote invincibility), carry distinctive weapons, and are mounted on lotuses or particular animals. Hindu gods and goddesses are the patrons of knowledge, wealth, and artistic disciplines. Many are personifications of natural forces like Agni (the god of fire) and Bhudevi (Mother Earth).
Most Hindus believe that there are 330 million gods and goddesses and that each represents an attribute of the Supreme Truth, Brahman. While there are some sects of Hinduism that do not worship murtis (for e.g., Arya Samaj, Assamese Vaishnavism), they are loved and revered by the majority of Hindus, especially within devotional sects of Hinduism. In temples and homes, deities are regularly given a ritual bath (Abhisheka), dressed, offered food, flowers and other offerings, and put to sleep.
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