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.