HINDUS, I have some serious questions...?

I am interested in learning a little more about your theology. It is my understanding that Hinduism is actually a monotheistic religion that believes there is one God (Supreme Being Brahman) who has three forms (kind of like a trinity) which are Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Brahma is pure spirit but Vishnu and Shiva... show more I am interested in learning a little more about your theology. It is my understanding that Hinduism is actually a monotheistic religion that believes there is one God (Supreme Being Brahman) who has three forms (kind of like a trinity) which are Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Brahma is pure spirit but Vishnu and Shiva have different incarnations or "avatars" which are often mistakenly called "gods" and "goddesses" by Westerners. So Krishna is not actually a different god but an incarnation of one of the forms of God. Is this correct? Also I know that there are female deities, are these also incarnations of God? How can they be female if Vishnu and Shiva are male? Or is gender arbitrary in your theology?

One more topic, that is puja. I have seen that Hindus make offerings to images of these avatars, put flower garlands around pictures and burn incense to statues, etc. I am wondering if in your religion, do you actually worship the image (believe the statue is god) or believe the avatar resides in the image and are thus not worshipping the image itself, but the being that dwells in it, or do you only venerate the image as a remembrance of the one it depicts? I am Catholic and am familiar with veneration of icons as opposed to worship. In my religion we do not actually worship the image but practice veneration.

I have a lot of respect for your faith and I am not in any way trying to be insulting or funny. It's just that in most "world religion" books they completely miss the point and misrepresent ideas because the authors are not religious themselves and do not understand religion, so I never get these minor distinctions clarified!
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