The modern pantheon takes shape

One of the ways the deities are integrated into a coherent pantheon is through their participation in the evolution of the cosmos; Vishnu plays a central role, resting on his great serpent Shesha during the aeon-long Night of Brahma
When it's time for a new yuga to begin, a lotus springs from Vishnu's navel, and the Brahma for that yuga appears-- and creates that particular universe
Early in cosmic history, the gods all pull together, as they and the Asuras jointly perform the great Churning of the Ocean of Milk
From this churning emerges the "Kama-dhenu," or wish-fulfilling cow, who can be shown as containing all the deities

Of the three great gods, it is BRAHMA who tends to get short shrift; independent images of him are relatively rare, and he is not widely worshipped nowadays

VISHNU comes to have his avataras (incarnations), usually numbering ten (though not always quite the same ten), including not only *Rama* and *Krishna* but also the Buddha, and a future avatar named Kalki who will appear at the end of the yuga
Vishnu is also sometimes given the heads and attributes of Shiva, Ganesha, and many other deities, in one of many displays of what Max Muller called "henotheism"; and he has his own powerful consort, Shri Lakshmi

Though SHIVA has no avataras, he has a particularly diverse set of forms; his aniconic form, the lingam, develops early, and sometimes includes his face or figure
Shiva's unforgettable eyes-closed cosmic dance too can be seen developing gradually over time
Shiva is the god of paradox, the austerely focused "erotic ascetic": he punishes Kamadeva, the god of desire, for shooting at him-- but he's vulnerable to the arrows, too
Struck by those arrows, Shiva can be depicted in domestic poses-- sometimes holding a family picnic in a burning ghat with Parvati, Ganesh, and often Karttikeya
Shiva also has a paradoxical half-man half-woman form, Arddhanarishvara ("half-woman-lord"); and he always bears the river-goddess Ganga in his hair
In addition, he participates in a half-Vishnu half-Shiva form called "Hari-Hara"
The famous Elephanta "trimurti," or triple vision of Shiva, becomes an archetype as well, giving rise over time to its own remarkable variations

The three great gods themselves nowadays often form a "trimurti" of one kind or another; some Hindus even call it a "trinity"
The gods and their consorts can be shown as a kind of family, sometimes with equal prominence, but more often with one of them preeminent and honored by the others
Their "vahanas," or animal vehicles, also connect the gods strongly to the natural world
Pilgrimage sites are often seen as sponsored by several of the gods together; many stories and images link less famous local gods to more famous ones
Not only the *Upanishadic OM symbol*, but also the auspicious swastika (later reversed and *appropriated by the Nazis*), can be a sign of unity and harmony
Small depictions of Vedic fire sacrifices are often inserted at the edges of deity pictures, and suggest ancient legitimacy and continuity

Samples from a set of modern gold-embossed religious prints, showing some aspects and configurations of the pantheon that are especially popular nowadays

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