"Believing that life is a constant process of lessons to learn, Hindus seek understanding that will give them the eyes and heart to see clearly," writes Priya Hemenway in this beautifully designed volume on 23 gods in this ancient tradition. These deities are gifts from nirvana — the state of absolute freedom, liberation, or truth.

The word "Hinduism" refers to a way of life, and on this path, there is no single sage or holy book but centuries of wisdom conveyed through the stories of the many deities. According to the author, who has spent more than 20 years in the East, the outstanding quality of this religion is its followers' ability to embrace and learn from everything. For them, the gods bestow meaning and vibrancy to everyday life.

Many colorful and lively stories of the gods have been passed down through the generations in the form of long epics. They chart the forces of creation and destruction in the affairs of the world. The basic triad is Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva, the destroyer. Married to them, in different manifestations, is shakti — the feminine divine energy that permeates all existence.

With playfulness, Hemenway presents profiles of many of the most popular gods including Ganesha, the remover of obstacles; Indra, the fertility god who brings rain; and Hanuman, the one who possesses healing powers for sickness. The author explains their attitude toward the world: "With compassion and patience the gods serve mankind, sometimes torn with grief by the difficulty of the task. The spirit of the Hindu gods is an understanding spirit. It is a spirit that guides humans to nirvana or the experience of God." Hemenway offers a very handy overview of the Hindu gods and the multiple ways believers relate to them through devotion.