At one time Indra was called the supreme god (―Supreme is Indra over all” – Rig Veda X.86)
“Indra is sovereign Lord of earth and Heaven.Indra is Lord of waters and of mountains.Indra is Lord of prosperers and sages. Indra must be involved in rest and effort (Rig Veda X 89.10) Soon after Agni began to occupy that first place (Brahma, the creator of the universe, is not even mentioned). After this Surya took away the heat from Agni and He became the supreme god. Yet at another place in the Rig Veda Soma is called the king of the universe. This place is then offered to Varuna (Rig II, 27.10) who is called the Lord of heaven and earth. This indicates how the relative importance of gods suffered vicissitudes of fortune even during the Vedic period.
At one time Vishnu was connected with the Vedic god Sun but the devotees of Shiva later connected Vishnu with Agni. They applyash (Bhasma, Vibhuti) on their bodies because they believe that Shiva too applied it on his body. The Upanishads state that while applying Bhasma a devotee must recite the following Mrityunjaya mantra ― Tryambakam yajaamahe, Sugandhim pushtivardhanam, Urvaa rukamiva bhandhanaan, Mrytyor muksheeyamaa amrutaat. (“We worship the three-eyed Lord Shiva who nourishes and spreads fragrance in our lives. May He free us from the shackles of sorrow, change and death – effortlessly, like the fall of a ripe brinjal from its stem.”)
Brahma is not worshipped widely these days. The main stream of the Hindus worships only Vishnu, Shiva, Sri Ram Chander and Sri Krishna. The last two (Sri Ram Chander and Sri Krishna) are not equal in status to the other two. They are said to be the Avatars of Vishnu hence not their equal. The relative position of Hindu gods to one another is rather confusing. One would imagine that Brahma being the creator of the Universe must have created the other two gods as well but that is not so. According to Skanda Purana Vishnu lay asleep on the bosom of Devi (which one?). A lotus arose from his navel. Out of this sprang Brahma. He imagined himself to be the first born in the world and therefore resolved to investigate if his claim was true. He glided down the stock of the lotus and found Vishnu asleep. He asked him who he was and Vishnu replied that he was the first born. As they were arguing Mahadev (Shiva) appeared and said, ―It is I who am truly the first born but I will offer this honour to anyone of you who reaches behind my head or touches the sole of my foot. Brahma played a trick. He falsely claimed that he had reached the head and called a cow as his witness. Shiva saw through his trick and did not like the false claim. Vishnu however truthfully acknowledged that he had not been able to see the feet of Mahadev. Vishnu was declared the first-born (superior) by Mahadev and he cut off the fifth head of Brahma to punish him for his lies. We also read in Bhagvad Puran that Brahma had incestuous relationship with his daughter in spite of being restrained by his son Marichi and was therefore demoted. The other two gods vied with each other for supremacy. The Puranas are full of rivalry between them. The followers of Shiva claimed that Shiva had more Avatars than Vishnu.
They attributed the origin of river Ganges to Shiva‘s hair. Vishnu‘s followers claimed that the river flowed from the foot of Vishnu in baikunth (heaven) and fell on the head of Shiva proving that Ganges was not brought by Shiva and that Shiva was inferior because he received the water emanating from Vishnu‘s feet. When the gods and the demons churned the ocean using Mandara Mountain as a churn and the Shesh Naga as a rope, the earth began to shake violently and could have been destroyed. Vishnu immediately changed himself into a tortoise (Kurma) and held the earth on his back. Thus he did a very good job of saving the universe from disaster. The Shaivites however tell a slightly different story. According to them Vishnu‘s act resulted in the production of 14 things out of the ocean. One of them was poison. This poison could annihilate all life on earth if only Lord Shiva had not drunk it. Thus they proved that Vishnu instead of preserving life was in fact the cause of bringing it to extinction and the only compassionate god was Shiva who saved the earth from being poisoned to death.
The story of Akrur is very interesting. Pleased with Akrur‘s prayers Vishnu blessed the demon with a boon according to which no one anywhere in the world could kill him. Akrur being insolent began to tease and oppress the gods and goddesses. The gods ran to Vishnu asking him to save their lives from Akrur. Vishnu was greatly perturbed at the malignant ingratitude of the demon but he could not take his boon back. When he was sitting in anger Mahadev emerged from his eyes. He requested Mahadev to make the boon ineffective. Mahadev agreed and saved the gods by making the boon ineffective. The story proves Vishnu to be a dullard because he failed to know if the recipient was a deserving case or not. Another equally interesting story is about a demon named Bhasmasura. Bhasmasura received a boon from Shiva by which he could burn anybody on whose head he placed his hand. Bhamasura threatened Shiva himself so Shiva ran to Vishnu who agreed to help him. Vishnu turned himself into a very beautiful woman and appeared before Bhasmasura. The later was enticed but the woman agreed to marry him only if he obeyed him in all respects. Bhasmasura agreed. The woman (Vishnu) told him to put his hands on his own head. Bhasmasura had to do what he was told to do and got burnt. Thus Vishnu saved Shiva from his own blunder. This story may have been invented to restore Vishnu‘s honour. According to Bhagvad Puran when Daksha entered the assembly of gods all except Brahma and Shiva (Daksha‘s son–in–law) rose up to show him respect. Daksha felt offended at the treatment he received from his own son-in-law (Shiva) and castigated him in public. Soon after, Daksha organized Vrihaspatisava sacrifice. Everybody attended it but Shiva did not attend it. He even advised his wife not to attend it but she did attend the function nevertheless. Daksha completely ignored his daughter at the ceremony. She felt humiliated and committed suicide. At this Shiva‘s army fell upon Daksha and tried to kill him but through Bhirgu‘s timely help Shiva was defeated. Thereupon Shiva tore a lock of hair from his wife‘s head which turned itself into a demon. The demon destroyed Daksha‘s sacrifice, attacked his guests and insulted the attending ladies. Shiva even plucked Bhirgu‘s beard. In the end he cut off Daksha‘s head. Brahma had to intervene to pacify Shiva and his men.
Wars of the gods
Vedic literature (especially the Brahmanas) is full of references to internecine wars and those against the Asuras (Demons). We do not wish to go into the details of these wars here. All these wars were fought by the male Vedic gods and the goddesses took no part in them. The situation however changed with the Puranic goddesses. In the Puranic times wars (especially with the Asuras)were left to be fought by the goddesses alone and the gods took no part in them.
The internecine enmity of the gods was also evident even in their pets. Shiva had a snake around his neck which was the enemy of the mouse used by Ganesha for riding. Kartkaya rode on a peacock which was the enemy of Shiva‘s snake. Parvati rode on a lion which was the enemy of a cow ridden by Nandi. In Hinduism there are wars where the Asuras (demons) were routed and killed by the gods (devtas) and on the other hand there are also wars where the gods (devtas) are killed or harassed by the demons. One wonders what spiritual lessons can one draw from such wars fought without any aims.