UPDATE: Hindu God Family Tree posters are ready!

Let me begin by saying this is not a comprehensive Hindu God family tree – not even close. It’s also at least partly wrong, although I’m sure folks will disagree over which parts. I’m trying not to feel bad about that, because it’s not entirely my fault.
Hinduism is the product of 6000 years of contradicting and coalescing religious ideas, in which time is cyclical, the world’s an illusion, and more or less everyone is an incarnation, reincarnation, preincarnation, aspect, or avatar of someone else. For the most part, Hindu gods don’t have consistent, universally accepted relationships with one another, and even the most popular have seemingly contradictory myths.

So with that in mind, a few specific disclaimers:

1) This chart isn’t the only, or most common, or most authoritative version of anything.

2) Please, for the love of god(s), don’t use this for any school projects or anything. I’m not some brilliant scholar, just some guy who’s trying his best.

3) If you’re looking at this and thinking “it’s all wrong,” you’re probably right, or at least part-right. Send me an email at VeritableHokum@gmail.com and I’ll see if I can fix it. (Update: Thanks for the corrections! And especially thanks to Debasis, for an absurdly long and helpful email which pointed out, among many other things, that I’d totally missed a few third eyes.)

4. If you’re thinking “this is so wrong it’s actually offensive,” please email me at VeritableHokum@gmail.com and I’ll probably apologize.

Now, on to what I (think I) know about all those gods up there:


Depending who you ask, Devi is a goddess, and/or a bunch of goddesses, and/or a personification of creative power and/or energy and/or will of any number of other gods. Confused? Me too, but bare with me.
Devi (“goddess”), also called Shakti (“power”), is the most important deity in one of the biggest branches of Hinduism, called Shaktism. She’s both a goddess and a sort of all-encompassing divine energy that’s the source of everything ever. Sometimes she’s worshipped in her own right, sometimes through other goddesses who are considered aspects or forms of hers (especially Parvati), and sometimes through other gods whose powers and actions she makes possible.
I’ll try to note further down the list where goddesses are especially identified with Devi, but as a general rule of thumb, any Hindu goddess is probably also Devi.


Brahma is the first of a trio of major Hindu gods called the “trimurti,” which includes Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. Of the three, Brahma’s probably the easiest to get a handle on, mostly because he’s the least written about. Vishnu and Shiva both have whole branches of Hinduism dedicated to them, but Brahma’s sort of fallen out of favor.
According to ancient texts, the Hindu universe is infinite, timeless, and endless – but our world isn’t. We’re all manifestations of Brahma’s meditation, and when Brahma finishes meditating for the day, our world finishes existing. But don’t worry – one of Brahma’s days is a couple million of our years, and even when our world does end, another will take its place.

But you’re probably wondering about the whole “belly button lotus” thing. That comes from one of several creation stories that arose as Brahma was displaced by more recently popular gods. According to this one, Brahma wasn’t the first god — Vishnu was. Vishnu created a vast primordial ocean, and then a hundred headed snake to float on as he meditated. Then, from Vishnu’s bellybutton emerged a lotus, and from the lotus emerged Brahma, and from Brahma’s meditation emerged everything else.


Saraswati is a goddess of wisdom, learning, and the arts, and the wife/consort of Brahma. She’s often put into a group called the “tridevi,” opposite the trimurti, which is made up of the female counterparts of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. She’s also very old, showing up in some of the earliest Hindu texts as a goddess of water and purification.
In case you’re wondering, the big thing in her hands is a traditional Indian instrument called a veena. It’s kind of like a giant guitar.


Depending on the source, Vishnu is either one of the most important gods in the universe, or the most important god in the universe, or he literally is the universe, or (more likely) all of the above. One of the largest branches of Hinduism, Vaishnavism, holds Vishnu as its top god. He’s called the preserver (opposite the creator, Brahma, and the destroyer, Shiva) and his role is to keep the universe universing until it’s time for it to end.
While he’s often addressed as more of a concept than a character, Vishnu’s probably most famous for his avatars – that is, the times he took actual, physical, earthly forms to deal with actual, physical, earthly threats. But we’ll get to those in a second.


Lakshmi, also called Sri, is a goddess of wealth and luck and wife to Vishnu.
Her birth is the end of one of Hinduism’s great myths, the Churning of the Ocean of Milk.
A long, long time ago, the devas (“gods”) and asuras (usually translated as “demons” but not the pitchfork kind — well, except the ones that are) teamed up to churn the Ocean of Milk. The idea was that, if they churned it hard enough, they could dredge up all the amazing treasures from the bottom, including Amrita, the nectar of immortality.
The gods all stood on a mountain on Vishnu’s back and stirred the ocean with an enormous snake. First a horrible poison came out, but Shiva saved the universe by drinking it, and Parvati saved Shiva by choking Shiva so he coulnd’t actually swallow it. Once that was done, a whole bunch of treasures emerged, including the moon, the nectar of immortality, a super-cow, and Lakshmi.
The rest of the story involves the devas and asuras all fighting over who’d get to be immortal, with the devas ultimately winning thanks to some well-timed seduction by Vishnu in goddess-form.

A Note of Avatars

The next bunch of entries are all avatars, or mortal incarnations of gods (mostly Vishnu). Most sources agree that Vishnu has 10 avatars, but they all seem to disagree on who those avatars are. I found this one in a book, but there are lots of other versions. The most common substitution seems to be the Buddha, which seems like it *might* be a millenia-old screw-you to Buddhism. When Buddhism was new and growing, some Hindu sects started claiming that Buddha was just an avatar of Vishnu, but that his role was to trick good Hindu folks into believing in illusions.
Also, they’re all a bit out of order because I wanted to fit an arrow pointing from Lakshmi to Sita.


Vishnu’s seventh avatar, and the hero of one of the oldest, longest, and most awesome stories in human history, the Ramayana. It’s like, part religious scripture, part Star Wars, part Lion King, and part Lord of the Rings, and the climax has thousands of magical monkeys assaulting a demon’s island fortress.
I’ll give it a super short summary here, but seriously, it’s worth reading the whole story.

There’s this demon king named Ravana, and he’s arranged it so he can’t be harmed by gods. So, to defeat him, the gods incarnate themselves as mortals: Vishnu as four princes, Lakshmi as a princess, and most of the rest of the gods as magical monkeys.

Vishnu’s main incarnation, Rama, marries Lakshmi’s incarnation, Sita, but a dispute over the throne winds up forcing Rama, Sita, and Rama’s brother Lakshmana into a fourteen year exile. For thirteen years, they live as hermits.
One day, a demon-lady shows up and tries to sleep with Rama, and when he says no, she attacks, and when Rama and Lakshmana defeat her, she gets her big brother to attack with a demon army, and when Rama and Lakshmana defeat THEM, she gets her even bigger brother, Ravana, to kidnap Sita.
Rama and Lakshmana set out to rescue Sita, having adventures, fighting demons, and befriending thousands of super-powered monkeys. Eventually, they assault Ravana’s castle, kill him, rescue Sita, recover Rama’s kingdom, and live happily ever after. Or, well, almost.


Problem is, that’s not the end of the story. In the years after her rescue, Rama’s kingdom was consumed by rumors that maybe Sita wasn’t as faithful as she seemed – she sure had been in that castle for a long time, and everyone knew Ravana could be, ahem, “convincing.” In truth, Sita had been faithful, but Rama kept asking, and then exiled her for political reasons, and then asked her to come back, but only if she’d swear her innocence. Sita replied, basically, “If I’m telling the truth, let the earth swallow me up!” and then the earth swallowed her up and Rama was left to think about what he’d done.


Hanuman isn’t a god as such, but he’s one of Rama’s best friends, and he’s basically monkey superman Some sources claim he’s an incarnation of Shiva. I think I read somewhere that he might be a major influence behind a Chinese mythological figure named the Monkey King, but I can’t find it now so it’s possible I made it up.


Balarama is sometimes considered Vishnu’s eighth or ninth avatar, and sometimes not. Either way, he’s most famous for being Krishna’s older brother. He’s a great farmer, and uses a plow both to till soil and bash demons.


Krishna is usually listed as Vishnu’s eighth avatar, but depending who you ask, he’s also a god in his own right, and/or the most important god, period. He has a starring role in an astoundingly long Hindu epic called the Mahabharata, in which he herds cows, plays tricks, saves people, fights demons, and famously refuses to fight in a world-shaking battle, although he agrees to drive a prince’s chariot. The chariot part alone is a massively important holy book called the Bhagavad Gita Krishna lays out some of the core morality and philosophy of Hinduism (there’s a whole lot there, but in general it seem to come down to doing your duty as best as you possibly can).


Matsya is almost always listed as Vishnu’s first avatar, a fish-man who warns Manu, the first man, that there’s a flood coming, and that he should build a boat and load his family and some sages and animals seeds aboard
If you’re reading this and thinking “Noah’s Ark,” you’re not alone, but don’t assume one copied the other — the world’s basically overflowing with flood myths, and they go back far enough that no one’s sure about the source, or if there even is one source.


When they went to churn the Ocean of Milk (see Lakshmi above), the gods needed somewhere to stand. So Vishnu turned into his second avatar, a huge turtle, and the rest of the gods stood on a mountain on his back. In the story, he’s actually a turtle, but in every picture I saw he was an awkwardly serene looking turtle-taur, so that’s what I drew.


There’s a running theme in Hindu myths where demons manage to gain immunity to all sorts of things, and gods defeat them by turning into the one thing they forgot. In this case, a world-stealing demon named Hiranyaksha had forgotten about boars, so Vishnu became one, Robert-Baratheon’d him, and stole the world back.


Hiranyaksha’s brother was a step smarter, and gained immunity to all people, gods, and animals, at day and night, both inside and outside of any building. So Vishnu chose as his fourth avatar a half-man-half-lion (neither human nor animal), and killed him at dusk (neither night nor day) in a doorway (neither inside nor outside).


Vishnu’s fifth avatar was a dwarf named Vamana who saved the gods from a human king who’d managed to conquer the gods’ kingdom. Vamana convinced the king to grant him as much land as he could cover in three steps, and the king, seeing Vamana’s tiny legs, agreed. Then Vamana grew huge enough that three steps took him clear across the earth and the heavens, which he returned to the gods.

UPDATE: Thanks to Sanjay for the following correction!

“Just wanted to chime in about Vamana- he wasn’t opposed to a human king but rather to Mahabali, an asura. Asuras are kinda, sorta demons but not really, basically they can act nasty like Ravana in the Ramayana, but they aren’t necessarily opposed to the Hindu gods (and some of them *are* Hindu gods, like Varuna, god of the ocean).

Mahabali was essentially such a great ruler that his power rivaled the Gods and so they got Vishnu to take care of it as you outlined.

A neat quirk is that Mahabali was traditionally supposed to be the King of the South Indian region of Kerala, and an added tweak to the myth there states that after having all his realms taken away he asked Vamana for one favour- to visit his home kingdom once a year. The festival commemorating that, Onam, is still the most important festival in Kerala.”


Vishnu’s sixth avatar was a guy who resolved a political dispute between the brahmin (priests) and kshatria) warriors.

Kalki (not pictured)

I’m including him here because he’s technically the last avatar, but he hasn’t actually appeared yet. When he finally does arrive, he’ll be riding a winged horse, and our world will end.


Don’t let his position in this chart fool you (it’s just how things fit). Shiva is a big, important, powerful god, the highest god of the largest branches of Hinduism, Shaivism. He’s also a super complex figure. He’s a god of destruction and creation, and depending on the story, he’s a calm, detached ascetic, and/or a loving, engaged husband and father, and as prone to supernaturally calm meditation as he is to destroying everything in a fit of rage. I’m not saying he’s erratic, or ill-defined, just that there’s been enough written and said about him in the past few thousand years that it can be tough to make sense of it.
He’s often called the destroyer (alongside Brahma, the creator, and Vishnu, the preserver), but that might not mean what you think it means. Or — well, yes, he does destroy worlds, and returns everything to the formless chaos from which it emerged, but philosophically speaking that’s not a bad thing, because a) everything’s cyclical and destruction is required for creation, and b) he’s only destroying illusions anyway — the real, all-encompassing truth of the universe survives.
Shiva has a third eye, from which he can produce a laser beam made of pure fiery enlightenment. He’s used it to destroy demons, gods, things that annoyed him, and, in one story, millions upon millions of cows.

A Note on Shiva’s Wives

I should mention here that, while the chart might make it seem like Shiva has a bunch of wives, they’re really all the same wife. because they’re all incarnations or aspects of Parvati and/or Devi.


Parvati’s technically a reincarnation of Shiva’s first wife, but I’m listing her first because she’s by far the far more important incarnation. She’s a goddess of love and devotion, beautiful, kind, fierce, and seemingly the only one who can change Shiva’s mind about stuff. While all goddesses are sometimes considered aspects of the Devi, from what I can tell, Parvati is often considered one and the same.
But take note, ladies: as beautiful as Parvati may be (and she is), beauty isn’t the way to Shiva’s heart. It took Parvati years of religiously motivated suffering and deprivation, and unwavering loyalty.


Sati was Shiva’s first wife, but although they loved each other completely, Sati’s family did not. Her father, Daksha, thought Shiva was a smelly ol’ hermit and wanted nothing to do with him. After one insult too many, Sati threw herself into a sacrificial fire and died. Shiva killed Daksha (don’t worry, he got better) and mournfully danced around the world with Sati’s corpse on his shoulders, until the other gods managed to make him stop.


Durga means something like “the inaccessible,” but is more famous for being really powerful and really angry. She’s was created out of the other gods’ anger at an evil buffalo demon, and over the course of that myth she beheads him, stabs him, benoses him, stabs him again, and beheads him again, and then he finally stays dead.


Once, Durga fought a demon who could create new demons whenever his blood touched the ground. The more she fought, the more demons were born, and the more demons were born, the angrier Durga got. Eventually Durga, a goddess who was literally created from anger, got so angry that her anger turned into yet another goddess: Kali.
No goddess has ever been so bloodthirsty — literally, she drank all the blood, killed all the demons, and saved the gods. But then she kept going and going, killing and eating everything in her path in an unstoppable torrent of destruction. Shiva finally managed to stop her, by lying down in her path. When Kali realized who she’d just stomped on, she calmed down at once.
But like Shiva, Kali isn’t just about destruction. It’s another of those cyclical things – destruction and creation being two sides of the same coin, or something like that.

Oh, and not that this is at all representative of normal, modern Kali-worship, but she was also worshipped by the Thuggees, a group of murder-cultists who wandered India in the 1800’s, made friends with travellers, and then strangled them in their sleep. Over a few decades starting in the 1830’s, the British colonial government wiped them out, but their legacy lives on, sort of, as the source of the English word “thug.”


Kartikeya, also called Skanda, is a god of war, a wise general of the gods’ armies. I found several birth-stories for him, which usually involve some combination of Shiva and/or Parvati and/or Agni and/or a river and/or several other goddesses. But my favorite myth of his is his race around the world against his brother, Ganesha, to decide who’d get to marry first. As soon as they started, Kartikeya sped off over the horizon. Ganesha, meanwhile, walked in a circle around his parents, on the grounds that Shiva and Parvati together are, more or less, the world. Ganesha was declared the winner.


Ganesha might be the most well-known Hindu god. I think it’s partly that he’s popular and respected, partly that he’s a god of success (and who doesn’t want more of that?), and partially because he’s just really, really darned cute. From what I hear, it’s not uncommon to ask him for help with just about any endeavor, especially business deals.
He has a bunch of birth stories, but my favorite says he was sculpted by a Parvati. While Shiva was out one day, Parvati took a bath, and decided to create someone to keep her company. She collected some of the dirt and molded it into a boy, and then brought the boy to life and had him guard the house. Later on, when Shiva returned, he found himself blocked from entering his own home by some boy he’d never met. So, he cut off his head.
When Parvati saw what happened, and collapsed, screaming that he’d killed her son. Shiva dashed off and came back with an elephant’s head, and Ganesha came back to life, fatter and wiser and elephantier than ever before.

Riddhi and Siddhi

Some myths give Ganesha two or three wives, named Riddhi (prosperity), Siddhi (spiritual power), and sometimes Buddhi (wisdom). I think they’re more concepts than actual goddesses, though.


You could make a case that I shouldn’t have listed Rudra as separate from Shiva, because nowadays Rudra is just another name for Shiva. But thousands of years ago, it was the other way around – Shiva was a name for Rudra, a ferocious god of storms. There’s a whole lot of crossover in symbols, myths, and depictions, and I haven’t found any solid explanation for how or why one gradually replaced the other.
His name means something like “roarer” and he’s got a lot to do with fertility. Oh, and his wife is named Prsni, which means “water bag”, which I find funny despite myself.


Also called Chandra, Soma is an ancient god of the moon and of soma, a long-lost, probably-hallucinogenic plant/drink that featured in a lot of ancient rituals, or so I hear. No one’s sure what the plant was, but it sounds like it was a trip. Not that I’d suggest any connection between ancient Hinduism and mind-altering substances.
Soma is also the brand name of a safe(ish) narcotic in one of the most horrifying books I’ve ever read, Brave New World.


Vayu is an ancient god of wind, sometimes associated with the breath of the fire god, Agni, I guess because hot air rises?


Aditi means “infinity,” and in some ancient sources, she was the source of all living things, and the divine energy within mankind. She’s the mother of the Adityas, a bunch of sun gods whose number and membership changes depending on the source and who (depending who you ask) may or may not all be aspects of the same god.
Her article on Wikipedia quotes the an ancient Hindu text as saying “Daksha sprang from Aditi and Aditi from Daksha.” It explains right afterwords that it’s a poetic way of saying they’re made of the same divine essence, but I prefer to think that she’s her own grandmother.


Mitra is a relatively minor god in Hinduism, but I find him totally fascinating. In terms of raw miles covered, he’s one of the most widely worshipped gods in history, with artifacts and inscriptions stretching clear from India to England. The Indian and Persian Mitra is the oldest version of him we have record of, as a god of light, order, and agreements, especially those between humans. While his worship declined in India, it grew in Persia, until, by 500 BCE, “Mithra” was one of the most important gods in one of the most powerful empires in the world.
After Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 330 BCE, Mithra worship mostly vanished, reduced to one small area on the Mediterranean, but then in 136 CE, all of a sudden, “Mithras” worship seems to have taken the Roman Empire by storm, with inscriptions and engravings and statues popping up all over. By this time, he’d changed some, but he was still a god of light and order, and still had (we think) some similar rituals and iconography. His worship died out when the Roman Empire converted to Christianity. But given his history, I’m half-expecting we’ll find out they’ve been worshipping him on Mars the whole time.


Varuna is another ancient god, by some accounts the twin brother of Mitra, and with similar roles and powers. There’s a theory that he’s an Indian version of the ancient Indo-European sky god, Dyaus, which would make him a sort of evolutionary cousin of the Greek Ouranos. He’s also closely related to the top Persian god, Ahura Mazda.


Now we’re getting into some gods who aren’t especially noteworthy, but who I included anyway because they’re Aditi’s kids, and this is a family tree. Aryaman is a sun god. It’s possible he was a big deal at some point, thousands of years ago, but not anymore.


Yet another sun god, associated especially with wealth. One of the books I flipped through said he was the brother of Ushas, but another claimed Ushas was the child of Dyaus and Prithvi. I think it’s probably a case where both are right.


When I first started trying to map out a Hindu God family tree, Daksha confused the heck out of me. Some sources called him an Aditya, some said he was the son of “Prajapati,” some that he *was* Prajapati, and some that Prajapati was just a title and didn’t matter much either way. One thing they all agreed on was that Shiva cut off his head to avenge his wife Sati in a really rancorous family dispute. Daksha made out ok in the end, with a goat’s head in place of his original one.

UPDATE: Thanks to Debasis for explaining that there are ten Prajapatis, born of thought from Brahma, and that Daksha is one of them.


The artisan of the gods, who in some stories created the giant demon, Vritra, that Indra famously defeated (see Indra).


I couldn’t find much about Savitar, except that he’s probably really ancient.


Pushan was especially associated with travel, livestock, and herds.


Amsa (or Ansa, or Amsha, or Ansha) is another Aditya about whom I know almost nothing.


If the other Adityas are sun gods, Surya is *the* sun god. His name even means “sun.” A long, long time ago, he was a pretty big deal, presiding over all life, but over the past few thousand years a lot of his powers and importance transferred over to Vishnu.


Saranyu is an ancient cloud goddess, mostly known for her children, including the Ashvin twins, and Yama, Yami, and Manu (not pictured).


Yama is the Hindu Lord of Death, and ruler of Naraka, which is an underworld place where souls suffer temporary but severe punishment for the crappy things they did on Earth. After that, they’re reincarnated on Earth in a better or worse form, depending on how worthy they were in their past lives.
I’ve seen some claims that Yama was the first human to die, but there are at least three separate plausible First Mans Ever in Hinduism, and I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on that contest.


Also called Yamuna, yami is most famous for asking her twin brother Yama to marry her. In that story, Yama refused, on the grounds that incest is gross, but other, later myths seem to consider them married.

The Ashvins

The Ashvins are the twin sons of Surya and Saranyu (or, in another version, Surya and a horse) and the best doctors Hindu mythology has to offer. They’re both super ancient gods, and probably have their origins somewhere in the Proto-Indo-European past like Dyaus and Prithvi.
There are also depictions of them as human-headed gods who merely ride horses.


Originally, Kubera wasn’t a god — he was just some demon guy. But as a reward for extreme actions of penance, Brahma granted him incredible boons: godhood, lordship over wealth itself, and friendship with some of the Hindu pantheon’s heaviest hitters. I like him because he’s a little fat guy with tons of treasure.

Dyaus and Prithvi

Dyaus and Prithvi are father sky and mother earth, and they’re some of the most ancient gods we have on record. They might even predate the rest of the Hindu gods. See, there’s a theory that a huge amount of European and Asian mythology, is more or less descended from the myths of a group called the Proto-Indo-Europeans, which is archaeologist-speak for “People who lived a long time ago somewhere between India and Europe.” We don’t have much direct evidence of their mythology — just some theories and reconstructions based on what cultures have in common, and when. But one thing a lot of them have in common is a sky-god whose name sounds like Dyaus, or Dyaus Pita, or Dyeus, or Zeus, or Zeus Pater, or Jupiter.


“Kama” (as in Kama sutra) means “desire.” He’s the Hindu world’s chief love god, with a sugarcane bow and flower-tipped arrows that inspire love and desire in even their most loveless targets.
Once, Parvati asked Kama to help her get Shiva’s attention, because despite her copious feminine wiles, all he’d do was meditate. One arrow did the trick, but Shiva was so angry to be awoken that he vaporized Kama with a glance. But hey, anything for love, right?
Also, a lot of pictures show him riding a parrot made of women.


In most respects, Rati is the female counterpart to Kama. It was Rati who convinced Shiva to return him to life after the whole vaporization thing. In some versions of the story, Kama is reborn as a son of Krishna, and Rati serves as his nanny, and then his girlfriend, and then his wife.


Early Hinduism was really big on sacrifices, especially sacrifices by fire, so it makes sense that the god of sacrificial fire was among the most important back then. He’s was the connection between gods and people, a divine messenger. He’s usually depicted with seven arms, two heads, and three legs, which makes him the most awkward god I’ve ever had to draw.

UPDATE: Thanks to Debasis for pointing out that there are also depictions of Agni in which he has one head, two legs, and four arms.


Ushas, the goddess of the dawn, was one of the most important goddesses in the ancient, pre-Hindu religion. She’s still somewhat revered nowadays, although not quite as much.


It might seem weird that the king of the gods is all the way at the bottom of this tree, and I swear I didn’t do it on purpose, but in a way it’s sort of appropriate. In ancient times, Indra was the most important of the gods, the bringer of rain and the keeper of the clouds. One famous myth from back then has him rescuing the world from a drought by killing a continent-sized snake-demon named Vritra.
But over the ensuing thousands of years, as other gods like Vishnu and Shiva and Devi saw their fortunes rise, Indra was reduced to a king in name only, and his stories became less about his power and majesty and more about how drunk and lusty he is. Even his defeat of Vritra was changed so he needed Shiva’s help.

And that’s that!

If you haven’t seen them yet, and you’re interested in this sort of thing, feel free to check out the other god family trees I did: Greek, Norse, and Egyptian.

And if you’d like to put some on your walls, check out the poster versions in the Veritable Hokum store!

Oh, and I want to mention: I let this comic and its email address go for way, way too long, and I’ve got a pile of emails that I haven’t replied to yet. I’m going through them this weekend, and will reply to all of them, but I wanted to make a blanket apology here as well.

Until next time?