Definition - What does Ishta Devata mean?
Ishta devata is the term in Hinduism for a worshipper's personal preferred deity. Because Hindus may worship many gods and goddesses or their incarnations, they may choose one beloved deity as their focus for devotion.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, ishta devata is not a deity but an enlightened being with whom a person identifies during personal meditation. In this sense, it is often translated as “meditational deity.” It is also a key component of Deity yoga, in which the yogi imagines him/herself in the form of the Buddha.
Ishta devata comes from the Sanskrit, ishta, meaning “desired,” “cherished” or “preferred”; and devata, meaning “godhead” or “divinity.” It translates as “cherished divinity.”
Yogapedia explains Ishta Devata
The concept of ishta devata underlines the tolerance that the Hindu faith has for religious pluralism. Because Hinduism is composed of many traditions and paths to salvation, a wide range of deities are worshipped. Some Hindu traditions believe the many deities are all manifestations of the formless Absolute Reality called Brahman. Regardless of their belief in one god with many incarnations or multiple gods, Hindus may choose the divine form that most inspires them as their ishta devata.
The importance of an ishta devata varies based on the particular Hindu tradition. While some sects encourage the choice of a personal deity, others believe the god chooses them. In Smartism, choosing an ishta devata is very important because of the acceptance of many gods and the emphasis on personal choice. Shaivism (which reveres Shiva as the supreme god) and Vaishnavism (which venerates Vishnu), on the other hand, are not as accepting of the concept of ishta devata within their traditions.
Then again, in other Hindu traditions, living human beings have claimed to be, or their followers have asserted that they are, incarnations of deities. So, some of these gurus have been worshipped as ishta devatas.