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Just wondering How do Hindus decide which gods or goddesses to worship?

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    Hindus decide as per their wish. Some may make their Ishta Devata some God and some other. Actually it depends on Prakirti Swabhava and Past life karma of person which determines a person will be devotee of which God... – Tejaswee Sep 11 '16 at 14:03
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    As told by Tezz most indians can identify their Ishta Devta.Plus there are specific Gods whose worship yields specific results.For ex-For attaining riches Lakshmi ,Kubera are worshiped,for removing obstacles Ganesha is worshiped,for attaining Knowledge,vidya Saraswati is worshiped & so on and so forth..Our scriptures also recommend worshiping specific Gods as remedies for specific planetary doshas. – Rickross Sep 11 '16 at 14:17
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    As a child, the parents tell - which God to worship. As a youth, many other factors, lead to a selection. As a householder, the influence of the wife/husband, and children, plays a big role-in deciding which God to worship together/ or otherwise. Worship of any God with true devotion=worship of all Gods, for God is one, even though we know it by different names. – Uday Krishna Sep 11 '16 at 14:49
  • Depends on the Philosophy and sect of the Worshiper like Advaitins or followers of Advaita follow Panchayatan system where they include worshippers of Shriman Narayana, Shiva, Shakti, Ganesha, Surya. While Vaishnavas like Shri Vaishnavas including me only worship Shirman Narayana as Bramhan, although we worship other gods but its just because its either required dharma(like Worshipping Surya sun god in Sandhyavandana daily) or just to please them(in turn Shriman Narayana) like people worship navagraha's. – Yogi Sep 13 '16 at 6:36
  • We keep in mind this verse while worshiping other devtas 'Aakashat patitam toyam yatha gacchati sagarm sarva deva namaskaram keshavam pratigacchati', meaning : "Like water from the rainy clouds ultimately reaches ocean similarly namaskar or worship to every god reaches Bramhan Shriman Narayana". – Yogi Sep 13 '16 at 6:39
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As per chapter 22 (The Lunar Dynasty) of Kurma Purana, Kartavirya Arjuna's sons also had similar question and they approached Saptarshis to get an answer.

This is what Vashishtha and other sages told them:

One worships the god that one chooses. There are no rules in this regard. All gods yield the desired fruit, if properly worshiped.

Further Vashishtha and other sages said:

To the extent that there are rules, there are as follows:

  • Kings worship Vishnu, Ishvara (Shiva) and Purandra (Indra);

  • Brahmanas worship Agni, Aditya (Surya), Brahma and Pinakdhari (Shiva);

  • Devas worship Vishnu;

  • Danavas worship Trishuldhari (Shiva);

  • Yakshas & Gandharvas worship Soma (Chandra, the Moon God);

  • Vidhyadharas worship Vagdevi (Saraswati);

  • Sidhdhas worship Hari (Vishnu);

  • Rakshasas worship Rudra Shankra (Shiva);

  • Kinnaras worship Parvati;

  • Rishis worship Brahma and Trishuldhari Mahadeva (Shiva);

  • Women worship Devi, Vishnu, Isha (Shiva) and Bhaskara (Surya, the Sun God);

  • Grihsthas worship all;

  • Brahmacharis worship Brahman;

  • Vanprasthis worship Arka (Surya, the Sun God);

  • Sanyasis worship Maheshwara (Shiva);

  • Bhutas worship Bhagvan Rudra (Shiva);

  • Kushmandas worship Vinayaka;

  • Prajapati Brahma is god for all;

  • But Men should worship Hari (Vishnu) after realizing that Rudra (Shiva) is no different from Vishnu. Else, Hari (Vishnu) will not destroy the enemies of the king.

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sectarian Hindus (in modern times, this amounts to more or less just vaishnavites) only worship the god prescribed for their sect. non-sectarian Hindus may worship one or all of their grama devata - the guardian deity of their village or their kula devata - the deity worshipped by their clan or their ista devata - or chosen, cherished deity.

Most Hindus today worship multiple Gods who may include God-men like Sai Baba.

Some deities are worshiped for specialized reasons - garbarakshambigai to get pregnant and deliver the baby safely, the deities of some temples are worshiped to cure disease and so forth. And unless their is a sectarian clash all Hindus would go on pilgrimage when they get a chance and would worship the deities of 'marquee temples' like Puri Jagannath, Chidambaram Nataraja, tirupati venkatachalapati etc.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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As S K already said, 'non-sectarian hindus(largest percentage) worship multiple Gods', but additionally they also have firm and vocal beleive that "all Gods are basically one, so it does not matter, which God basically one chooses". Hence, you will see that:

(a) Same Hindu when goes to Vishno devi yatra, he will affirm Devi as his favurite/biggest/isht devtaa.

(b) But next year same person may be going on pilgrimage to Vrindavan during holi, and he will proclaim krishna/vishnu as biggest/isht-devtaa.

(c) During Ram lila, he may proclaim Ram as jai shri ram or during death procession of somebody else he may proclaim - "Ram naam satya hai".

This practical fluidity of switching of isht-devtaa of majority of hindus comes from a philosophical basis called Smartism ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smarta_tradition ) and also the fact that Hindu religion is basically Omnist ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnism ) at core level, it beleives multiple paths are all correct simultaneously, so they have no problem switching Gods(even isht-devtaa) and paths almost at fluid level.


Also, in Gita , krishna has himself also supported sankhya yoga, which does not beleive in God per se. Many yogic tradition followers, beleive Shiva as adiyogi (and not as God). So for them even ishta-devta choice does not even arises.


But there are sectarian hindus which will stick to a particular God, depending upon which guru/tradition/clan they got initiated from/belong to. So his clan may already have a particular ishta-devtaa, and he will follow that God as isht-devtaa.

  • //practical fluidity of switching of isht-devtaa//. I appreciate your observation, but let me clarify that going to temples/dhaams of different Gods does not imply switching of isht-devtaa. Hindu sees all Hindu Gods as family. So, there is no "total ordering" (if you know maths). Just like two sets can't be compared/ordered, two Hindu Gods can't be compared/ordered. This aspect is exclusive among Hindus and is not Omnism, but unordered view of Gods as family members. – spkakkar Apr 19 at 15:50
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As rightly said in this comment, for Hindu & non-Hindu the worshipping happens based on Nature (swabhAva / Prakruti):

BG 17.2 - The Blessed Lord said That faith of the embodied beings, born of their own nature, is threefold-born of sattva, rajas and tamas. Hear about it.
BG 17.3 - O scion of the Bharata dynasty, the faith of all beings is in accordance with their minds. This person is made up of faith as the dominant factor. He is verily what his faith is.
BG 17.4 - Those with sattva, worship the deva-s; those having rajas, worship the ogres (yaksha) and monsters (rAkshasa); Other people possessed of tamas, worship ghosts and the spirits
(Gambhirananda)

In today's world, it's complicated to know who is praying whom due to various purpose underneath. e.g. if X prays to lord Krishna for money then actually X is praying "money" (Kubera). Through the particular deity one also gets results of their prayers.

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