Hindus do not worship images. In fact, the ferocious and forbidding, or gentle and welcoming sculptured figures of the Hindu pantheon are ritually constructed containers for the divine. Each of these deities may be worshipped exclusively, or alternately. The principle forms of the sacred in Hinduism are Vishnu the Preserver, Shiva the Destroyer, and a group of female deities collectively known as the Goddess.

All Hindu sacred objects, including these works of art, are expressions of the belief that God is manifested in every sphere of nature. All appearances, symbols, and transformations originate in the Divine, and all may be considered legitimate objects of reverence.

Vishnu the Preserver is one of the most important images in Hinduism. Here, Vishnu lies fast asleep on the huge, coiled serpent Ananta - whose name means "endless." This is the moment before creation, before things appear, and before human beings feel themselves as separate from God.

How can the worshipper achieve reunion with the Divine? One way is through the ritual interaction with an image or object. Water, flowers, sweetmeats, or clarified butter may be offered to it, or a mental connection made with it through meditation. Vishnu occasionally descends into the ordinary world in an animal or human form. These descents are called avataras, and one of the most important of these is Krishna.

Here he is, small enough to nestle into an adult's hand, one babyish leg drawn up to suckle his toe. His body becomes an endless loop, always circling back on itself, like the serpent Ananta. The image of the God is a symbol of infinity.

As the world comes into being, so must it end. Shiva the Destroyer completes the cycle of existence, and thus becomes an agent of renewal, rejuvenation, and hope. Shiva Bhairava's lethal looking weapons, and his necklace of skulls recall the attributes of Kali. With these weapons, Shiva destroys all that would prevent the ultimate release of the spirit from an endless cycle of rebirth.

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