Hinduism perceives the whole creation and its cosmic activity as the work of three fundamental forces symbolized by three gods, which constitutes the Hindu Trinity or 'Trimurti': Brahma - the creator, Vishnu - the sustainer, and Shiva - the destroyer.
Brahma is the creator of the universe and of all beings, as depicted in the Hindu cosmology. The Vedas, the oldest and the holiest of Hindu scriptures, are attributed to Brahma, and thus Brahma is regarded as the father of dharma. He is not to be confused with Brahman which is a general term for the Supreme Being or Almighty God. Although Brahma is one of the Trinity, his popularity is no match to that of Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma is to be found to exist more in scriptures than in homes and temples. In fact it is hard to find a temple dedicated to Brahma. One such temple is located in Pushkar in Rajasthan.
In the Hindu pantheon, Brahma is commonly represented as having four heads, four arms, and red skin. Unlike all the other Hindu gods, Brahma carries no weapon in his hands. He holds a water-pot, a spoon, a book of prayers or the Vedas, a rosary and sometimes a lotus. He sits on a lotus in the lotus pose and moves around on a white swan, possessing the magical ability to separate milk from a mixture of water and milk. Brahma is often depicted as having long white beard, with each of his heads reciting the four Vedas.
The peace-loving deity of the Hindu Trinity, Vishnu is the Preserver or Sustainer of life with his steadfast principles of order, righteousness and truth. When these values are under threat, Vishnu emerges out of his transcendence to restore peace and order on earth. The Ten Avatars Vishnu's earthly incarnations have many avatars. Amongst his ten avatars are Matsyavatara (fish), Koorma (tortoise), Varaaha (boar), Narasimha (the man lion), Vaamana (the dwarf), Parasurama (the angry man), Lord Rama (the perfect human of the Ramayana), Lord Krishna (the divine diplomat and statesman), and the yet to appear 10th incarnation called the Kalki avatar. In his commonest form, Vishnu is portrayed as having a dark complexion - the color of passive and formless ether, and with four hands. On one of the backhands he holds the milky white conch shell or 'sankha' that spreads the primordial sound of Om, and on the other a discuss or 'chakra' - a reminder of the cycle of time - which is also a lethal weapon that he uses against blasphemy. It is the famous Sudarshana Chakra that is seen whirling on his index finger. The other hands hold a lotus or 'padma', which stands for a glorious existence, and a mace or 'gada' that indicates punishment for indiscipline.
Shiva is 'shakti' or power; Shiva is the destroyer, the most powerful god of the Hindu pantheon and one of the godheads in the Hindu Trinity. Known by many names - Shakara, Mahadeva, Mahayogi, Pashupati, Nataraja, Bhairava, Vishwanath, Bhava, Bhole Nath - Lord Shiva is perhaps the most complex of Hindu deities. Hindus recognize this by putting his shrine in the temple separate from those of other deities.
Shiva, in temples is usually found as a phallic symbol of the 'Linga', which represents the energies necessary for life on both the microcosmic and the macrocosmic levels, that is, the world in which we live and the world which constitutes the whole of the universe. In a Shaivite temple, the 'Linga' is placed in the center underneath the spire, where it symbolizes the naval of the earth.
The actual image of Shiva is also distinct from other deities: his hair piled high on the top of his head, with a crescent tucked into it and the river Ganges tumbling from his hairs. Around his neck is a coiled serpent representing Kundalini or the spiritual energy within life. He holds a trident in his left hand in which is bound the 'damroo' (small leather drum). He sits on a tiger skin and on his right is a water pot. He wears the 'Rudraksha' beads and his whole body is smeared with ash.
Shiva is believed to be at the core of the centrifugal force of the universe, because of his responsibility for death and destruction. Unlike the godhead Brahma, the Creator, or Vishnu, the Preserver, Shiva is the dissolving force in life. But Shiva dissolves in order to create, since death is the medium for rebirth into a new life. So the opposites of life and death and creation and destruction both reside in his character.