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Hinduism – A Brief Description


Eight Hindu Gods


  • Hinduism is an ancient religion from India. Hinduism refers to a constellation of religious practices and ideals that range from the solitary to the social. One ancient characteristic of Hinduism is that practitioners seek liberation from the current world. This liberation is called moksha.
  • Hinduism believes that the current world is in a dark age of decline where people cannot fulfill their duties as righteous human beings. As such, people suffer and many parts of mankind has become evil. A Hindu’s actions in the current life dictate their karmic rebirth, which may be as another human being, an animal, a ghost, an insect, or any other type of sentient or semi-sentient creature.
  • Hinduism believes in a variety of gods, many of which are often in contention with one another for power over regions of the universe. Nevertheless, some Hindus believe all the gods are actually one single god. Many of the Hindu gods date back several thousand years while others, which are said to be manifestations of other gods or newly created gods entirely, are more modern.
  • Hinduism is unique in that it prizes the existence of local deities which can serve, protect, or even harm a village that worships them. Since Hinduism developed in a land where there are thousands of villages, each with a unique view towards the supernatural, gods often have various back stories and qualities.
  • In modern times, with the advent of the printing press, books, television, and even the internet, the qualities, stories, and histories of the gods have become fairly standardized since Hinduism has become an official world religion, rather than a conglomeration of local village religions.
  • Hinduism centers around a number of sacred texts. The Vedas, which are three thousand year old texts of hymns and ritual descriptions, are the holiest of these sacred texts. The Vedas are said to be composed by the gods themselves. However, later texts, are only considered to be divinely inspired or, at the very least, historical descriptions of the deeds and acts of gods on earth. In temples and home shrine settings texts, written in Sanskrit, are often recited or even re-enacted, since some stories have been transformed or retold into dramas to be performed on stage.



Eight Hindu Gods


  • Over the centuries, due to constant struggles to gain the favor of rich patrons and kings (and queens!), Hinduism was forced to adapt. In the early centuries of the Common Era, highly literate Hindus wrote down several elaborate codes of law. These codes dictated nearly every aspect of proper human life according to birth. In other words, Hindus came to strongly believe that each human was born with a specific purpose, whether that was to be a priest, to be a king or warrior, or a merchant, or a servant.
  • Large portions of these Hindu codes of law, such as Manu’s Code of Law, were dedicated to proper behavior, such as who was allowed to marry whom. Other aspects of these laws were dedicated to food purity. Who can prepare and eat food from whom? In essence, the Hindu caste system was solidified during this era and persists until the present day.
  • The caste system of Hinduism believes in four primary classes: the Brahmins, or priests, the Kshatriyas, the kings and warriors, the Vaishyas, the mercantile types, and the Shudras, the servants. However, within these four varnas, or “colors,” which is the designation of how to describe each of the castes, there are thousands of “sub castes.” These sub-castes, called jatis, are often much more important than the main castes since each village has their own grouping and organization of these categories. Sometimes these categories may be fluid and transparent. For instance, a person of one sub caste may not have the history and duties of another person from the same sub caste from another village. In other words, caste is not the same all over India, especially in modern India where it is common for people to struggle to be accepted. 
  • All Hindus worship gods, whether they are all considered to be the same god or individual separate ones. Hinduism cannot exist without temples. Temples are considered to be the houses of the gods where the primary image or sculpture is thought to be the god themselves in stone or picture form. Therefore, priests in charge of temples tend to the murtis, or deities in sculpture or picture form, as if they were real royalty. The gods are offered food, clothed, and have oblations performed towards them. Some temples are devoted to one or more gods often grouped together by the gods’ own kin groups. So, for a temple devoted to Shiva there may also be smaller sub-shrines devoted to Shiva’s son Ganesha or his wife Parvati. In other temples, Vishnu, who is the preserver of the universe, may have his own wife, Lakshmi, represented.
  • Temples are elaborated decorated with designs of various significance. For the most part, Hindu temples in India may be characterized by their shikhara, or “peak.” These are protruding towers over the inner sanctum where the main deity resides. This form of the Hindu temple came into existence around the 9 th century of the Common Era but continues to serve as the template for most Indian Hindu temples.
  • Outside of India, temples may take a variety of forms that do not adhere to the traditional architecture.  Each of Hinduism’s gods have many elaborate stories told of them. Some of the stories are well known and famous, such as the stories about Krishna or Rama. Other stories are more obscure, such as those about Brahma the creator god.
  • Due to the sheer breadth of Hinduism’s history and propensity to incorporate many local village tales, there is no single creation story. However, every person who acknowledges themselves as a Hindu will point to the Vedas as the most authentic and advanced source of theological knowledge about the universe.
  • However, since the Vedas are very difficult to understand and written in a complicated ancient language, a priest is often required in order to comprehend their knowledge. As such, priests in modern India are still extremely important since they have harnessed the sacred knowledge pertaining to the gods.


Modern Issues:
  • Sexuality and Marriage Sexuality and marriage is one of the defining features of Hinduism. Hinduism may be characterized as a heavily household-centric religion. Priests, also called Brahmins, are encouraged to marry and have sons to carry on the traditional religious knowledge stemming from the Vedas, which only they can read, understand, and convey to others. 
  • Very few Hindus take vows of chastity, although such vows can be sometimes encouraged. Temporary vows of chastity are thought to assist students in learning their trade so that their focus is one pointed. 
  • Ascetics in Hinduism, traditionally called sadhus, are known to live in the wild and beg for alms. Most ascetics live in quiet seclusion so that they may practice intense yogic techniques. Most of these yogic techniques involve concentration and restraint as opposed to yoga in the modern West which primarily involves postures and physical movements. Such Hindu sadhus do not marry or have children, although it is possible for them to renounce their family later in life to begin the wandering, ascetic life. 
  • Other castes also hold family life as the premier mode of life. Without sons, a lineage, even if that lineage is of a low caste, cannot continue. In the ancient law texts, such as the Laws of Manu, the fulfillment of duty is the ultimate goal of Hinduism. Duty means occupation, morality, sustenance, ritual practice, affection towards others, mode of godly worship, and a host of other things. 
  • Each caste and sub- caste has their own duty as dictated by learned priests and by the gods themselves. Famously, the story of King Rama from the famous text the Ramayana, is an elaborate description of Kshatriya, or kingly duty. King Rama is portrayed as the ultimate king and warrior and thus his actions ought to emulated. To this day, reproductions of the text in every available medium are the most popular of all godly stories. Embedded secretly within the action-packed love drama is a message about caste duty. Other stories tell of other duties and function symbolically as moral tales.

Modern Issues: 
  • Politics and Sociality Because of the caste system, Hinduism is intimately tied to politics and society. In a way, without the caste system, politics and society in India cannot function. Historically, kings sought out of the counsel of Brahmins in order to rule their kingdoms while the merchants actually ran the kingdom while the shudras were the servants. 
  • However, in modern India, the caste system is not so rigidly imposed. In fact, some lower caste Hindus have taken advantage of their prescribed duties to become materially wealthy since they do the jobs nobody else wants to do, such as clean up the garbage. In this way, the caste system in the modern era allows for upward mobility and expansion. Given the intense sub-caste Jati system it is also possible to marry outside of your own caste if the background of the bride or groom is obscured by region or historical repositioning. Politics has now become a battleground where all castes may succeed, although in sometimes strange situations. 
  • Often people from the lower castes who succeed politically have converted to religions other than Hinduism, such as Islam or Buddhism. B.R. Ambedkar is the most recent and classic example of such an individual. He is the known founder of what is now called the Neo-Buddhist movement. Nevertheless, even though conversion outside of Hinduism is one option, Hinduism itself has long struggled to find a space in society for peoples of the lower caste other than in their traditional roles. Role models, such as Cricketers, may come from any caste as long as they are skilled. It is similar for actors, although many Bollywood actors are known for being from Parsi or Islamic families. 
  • Hinduism also varies greatly regionally. The best example is a brief analysis of north India in comparison to south India. North India privileges Sanskrit and Sanskrit-based languages primarily because Sanskrit is the language of the gods in the world of men. Hinduism developed in the north and Sanskrit came from the north so therefore northern Indians tend to adhere to classical forms of Hinduism that contain stories of gods in Sanskrit. 
  • Meanwhile, in the south, Tamil and other Dravidian languages, such as Telugu, stories of different gods are popular as are their tales of morality. Additionally, although the same theological principles and caste system are pragmatically in place, the south also thinks of itself as distinctly different and in some ways superior than the north. For instance, many places in southern India contain different versions of familiar stories, such as the Ramayana. These variations to the stories contain different focuses, sometimes inverting the heroes and antagonists. 
  • Hinduism in this way allows for great diversity and continued development. Given the core elements of Hinduism, the Vedas (sacred hymns), caste, duty (also known as dharma), and godly stories (known in Sanskrit as katha), it is no surprise that the religion is vibrant and prosperous given that it can, in many ways, relate to the common man within society.


Hinduism

  • In South Asia, Hinduism is the main religion, particularly in India and Nepal. Even though Hinduism contains a wide range of philosophies, it’s a family of related religious cultures bounded by the questioning of authority, pilgrimage to sacred sites, shared textual resources, cosmology, recognisable rituals and shared concepts. Among others it includes Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Shaivism each with an interlinked variety of practices and beliefs. After Christianity and Islam, Hinduism is the world's 3rd largest religion by population.
  • Hinduism has been termed the "oldest religion" all over the world. Scholars consider Hinduism as a synthesis or fusion of different Indian traditions and cultures. This "Hindu synthesis" began to grow between 500 BCE and 300 CE. Hinduism recommends the eternal duties, such as compassion, self-restraint, forbearance, patience, refraining from injuring living beings (ahinsa) and honesty among others.
  • Important subjects in Hindu beliefs include the four Puruṣarthas, the proper aims or goals of human life, namely the different Yogas (practices or paths to attain moksha), samsara (cycle of rebirth), karma (intent, action and consequences), Moksha (freedom/liberation), Kama (sexuality/emotions), Artha (work/prosperity) and Dharma (duties/ethics). Hindu practices include rites such as occasional pilgrimages, annual festivals, family-oriented rites of passage, meditation, puja (worship) and recitations. In order to achieve moksha some Hindus leave their material possessions and social world and then to achieve moksha engage in lifelong Sannyasa (ascetic practices).
  • Hindu texts are categorised into Smriti ("remembered") and Shruti ("heard"). These texts discuss temple building, Vedic yajna, mythology, philosophy and theology among other topics. Major scriptures include the Agamas, the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and the Vedas.

Etymology

  • The word Hindu is derived from the word Sindhu, the Indo-Aryan name for the Indus River in modern day Pakistan and Northern India. The word Hinduism was created into the English language in the 18th century to represent the cultural, philosophical and religious traditions native to India.

Definitions

  • Hinduism has been diversely expressed as a way of life, a set of religious beliefs, a religious tradition and a religion.

Hindu Modernism

  • Swami Vivekananda was an important figure in introducing Yoga and Vedanta in USA and Europe making Hinduism a world religion.
  • Starting in the 19th century, Hinduism was re-asserted by Indian modernists as an asset of Indian civilisation. Western stereotypes were reversed, modern approaches of social problems were introduced and the universal aspects were emphasised. This approach had a great appeal all over the world. Main representatives of "Hindu modernism" are Mahatma Gandhi, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Vivekananda and Raja Rammohan Roy.

Western Understanding

  • Western scholars consider Hinduism as a synthesis or fusion of different Indian traditions and cultures. Broad variety of traditions and its tolerance to variations in belief make it challenging to define Hinduism as a religion as per traditional concepts of the West.

Diversity

  • Hinduism has been defined as a tradition having a multileveled and sometimes internally inconsistent, organic, complex nature.
  • Contrasting to other religions in the World, the Hindu religion doesn’t follow any one act of religious rituals, it doesn’t believe in any one philosophic concept, it does not worship any one God and it doesn’t claim any one Prophet. Actually it doesn’t satisfy the conventional characteristics of a religion. It is just a way of life. There is no founder of Hinduism. It is a fusion of different traditions.

Sense of unity

  • In spite of the differences, there is a sense of unity. A majority of Hindu traditions revere Vedas, a body of sacred or religious literature. These texts are a point of pride for Hindus as well as a reminder of the ancient traditional culture.



Beliefs

  • Famous subjects in Hindu beliefs comprise the various Yogas (practices or paths), Moksha (liberation in this life or liberation from samsara), Karma (intent, action and consequences), Samsara (the continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth) and Dharma (ethics/duties).

Purusharthas (objectives of human life)  

  • According to classical Hindu thought the Puruṣarthas are 4 correct aims or goals of human life: Dharma (righteousness, ethics), Artha (livelihood, wealth), Kama (sensual pleasure) and Mokṣa (liberation, freedom from samsara)

Dharma  

  • In Hinduism Dharma is believed to be the main objective of a human being. Hindu dharma comprises duties and moral rights of each individual, the religious duties and behaviours which enable right conduct and social order.

Artha

  • Artha is honest and impartial search of wealth for economic prosperity, obligations and livelihood. It includes material well-being, diplomacy and political life. In Hinduism the correct quest of artha is believed an important objective of human life.

Kama  

  • Kama means love, affection, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, pleasure of the senses, longing, passion, wish or desire with or without sexual implications. Kama is believed to be a healthy and essential objective of human life when followed without sacrificing Moksha, Artha and Dharma.

Moksha

  • Samadhi, nirvana or moksha means the eventual objective of life. It’s understood in many different ways: as separation from worldly desires, as the achievement of complete mental peace, as complete selflessness and knowledge of the Self, as understanding of the unity of all existence, as the understanding of one's eternal association with God and as the understanding of one's combination with God. This sort of understanding releases one from samsara, thus ending suffering, sorrow and the cycle of rebirth.

Karma and samsara  

  • Karma means deed, work, or action. Karma explains current conditions of a person with reference to her or his activities in past. These activities might be in an individual’s present life, probably activities in their earlier lives, moreover, the effects might result in present life or an individual’s future life. This sequence of birth, life, death and rebirth is known as samsara. Liberation from samsara by way of moksha is supposed to make sure peace and lasting happiness. Hindu scriptures tell us that the future is a function of earlier human activities which set the state of affairs as well as present human struggle derived from free will.