Hinduism is the religion of the majority of people in India and Nepal. It also exists among significant populations outside of the sub-continent and has over 900 million adherents worldwide.
In some ways Hinduism is the oldest living religion in the world, or at least elements within it stretch back many thousands of years. Yet Hinduism resists easy definition partly because of the vast array of practices and beliefs found within it. It is also closely associated conceptually and historically with the other Indian Religions Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
Unlike most other religions, Hinduism has no single founder, no single scripture, and no commonly agreed set of teachings. Throughout its extensive history, there have been many key figures teaching different philosophies and writing numerous holy books. For these reasons, writers often refer to Hinduism as 'a way of life' or 'a family of religions' rather than a single religion.
The term 'Hindu' was derived from the river or river complex of the northwest, the Sindhu. Sindhu is a Sanskrit word used by the inhabitants of the region, the Aryans in the second millennium BCE. Later migrants and invaders, the Persians in the sixth century BCE, the Greeks from the 4th century BCE, and the Muslims from the 8th century CE, used the name of this river in their own languages for the land and its people.
The term 'Hindu' itself probably does not go back before the 15th and 16th centuries when it was used by people to differentiate themselves from followers of other traditions, especially the Muslims (Yavannas), in Kashmir and Bengal. At that time the term may have simply indicated groups united by certain cultural practices such as cremation of the dead and styles of cuisine. The 'ism' was added to 'Hindu' only in the 19th century in the context of British colonialism and missionary activity.
The origins of the term 'Hindu' are thus cultural, political and geographical. Now the term is widely accepted although any definition is subject to much debate. In some ways it is true to say that Hinduism is a religion of recent origin yet its roots and formation go back thousands of years.
Some claim that one is 'born a Hindu', but there are now many Hindus of non-Indian descent. Others claim that its core feature is belief in an impersonal Supreme, but important strands have long described and worshipped a personal God. Outsiders often criticise Hindus as being polytheistic, but many adherents claim to be monotheists.
Some Hindus define orthodoxy as compliance with the teachings of the Vedic texts (the four Vedas and their supplements). However, still others identify their tradition with 'Sanatana Dharma', the eternal order of conduct that transcends any specific body of sacred literature. Scholars sometimes draw attention to the caste system as a defining feature, but many Hindus view such practices as merely a social phenomenon or an aberration of their original teachings. Nor can we define Hinduism according to belief in concepts such as karma and samsara (reincarnation) because Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists (in a qualified form) accept this teaching too.
Although it is not easy to define Hinduism, we can say that it is rooted in India, most Hindus revere a body of texts as sacred scripture known as the Veda, and most Hindus draw on a common system of values known as dharma.
- Hinduism originated around the Indus Valley near the River Indus in modern day Pakistan.
- About 80% of the Indian population regard themselves as Hindu.
- About 90% of the Nepalese population regard themselves as Hindu.
- Most Hindus believe in a Supreme God, whose qualities and forms are represented by the multitude of deities which emanate from him.
- Hindus believe that existence is a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, governed by Karma.
- Hindus believe that the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives and its next incarnation is always dependent on how the previous life was lived.
- The main Hindu texts are the Vedas and their supplements (books based on the Vedas). Veda is a Sanskrit word meaning 'knowledge'. These scriptures do not mention the word 'Hindu' but many scriptures discuss dharma, which can be rendered as 'code of conduct', 'law', or 'duty'
- Hindus celebrate many holy days, but the Festival of Lights, Diwali is the best known.
- The 2001 census recorded 559,000 Hindus in Britain, around 1% of the population.
Hindu worship, or puja, involves images (murtis), prayers (mantras) and diagrams of the universe (yantras).
Central to Hindu worship is the image, or icon, which can be worshipped either at home or in the temple.
Individual rather than communal
Hindu worship is primarily an individual act rather than a communal one, as it involves making personal offerings to the deity.
Worshippers repeat the names of their favourite gods and goddesses, and repeat mantras. Water, fruit, flowers and incense are offered to god.
Worship at home
The majority of Hindu homes have a shrine where offerings are made and prayers are said.
A shrine can be anything: a room, a small altar or simply pictures or statues of the deity.
Family members often worship together. Rituals should strictly speaking be performed three times a day. Some Hindus, but not all, worship wearing the sacred thread (over the left shoulder and hanging to the right hip). This is cotton for the Brahmin (priest), hemp for the Kshatriya (ruler) and wool for the vaishya (merchants).
At a Hindu temple, different parts of the building have a different spiritual or symbolic meaning.
- The central shrine is the heart of the worshipper
- The tower represents the flight of the spirit to heaven
- A priest may read, or more usually recite, the Vedas to the assembled worshippers, but any "twice-born" Hindu can perform the reading of prayers and mantras
Hindu religious rites are classified into three categories:
Nitya rituals are performed daily and consist in offerings made at the home shrine or performing puja to the family deities.
Naimittika rituals are important but only occur at certain times during the year, such as celebrations of the festivals, thanksgiving and so on.
Kamya are rituals which are "optional" but highly desirable. Pilgrimage is one such.
Worship and pilgrimage
Pilgrimage is an important aspect of Hinduism. It's an undertaking to see and be seen by the deity.
Popular pilgrimage places are rivers, but temples, mountains, and other sacred sites in India are also destinations for pilgrimages, as sites where the gods may have appeared or become manifest in the world.
Once every 12 years, up to 10 million people share in ritual bathing at the Kumbh Mela festival at Allahabad where the waters of the Ganges and Jumna combine.
Hindus from all walks of life gather there for ritual bathing, believing that their sins will be washed away.
The bathing is followed by spiritual purification and a ceremony which secures the blessings of the deity.
The Pashupatinath Temple (Nepali: पशुपतिनाथ मन्दिर) is a famous, sacred Hindu temple dedicated to Pashupatinath and is located on the banks of the Bagmati River 5 kilometres north-east of Kathmandu Valley in the eastern city of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. This temple is considered one of the sacred temples of Hindu faith. The temple serves as the seat of the national deity, Lord Pashupatinath.This temple complex is on Sites’ list Since 1979. This "extensive Hindu temple precinct" is a "sprawling collection of temples, ashrams, images and inscriptions raised over the centuries along the banks of the sacred Bagmati river" and is included as one of the seven monument groups in UNESCO's designation of Kathmandu Valley as a cultural heritage site. One of the major Festivals of the temple is Maha Shivaratri on which day over 700,000 devotees visit here from around the world.
The river Ganges is the holiest river for Hindus.
This city, also known as Benares, is situated on the banks of the Ganges and is one of the most important pilgrimage centres.
It is said to be the home of Lord Shiva where legend has it that his fiery light broke through the earth to reach the heavens.
A Hindu who dies at Varanasi and has their ashes scattered on the Ganges is said to have experienced the best death possible.
Atman means 'eternal self'. The atman refers to the real self beyond ego or false self. It is often referred to as 'spirit' or 'soul' and indicates our true self or essence which underlies our existence.
There are many interesting perspectives on the self in Hinduism ranging from the self as eternal servant of God to the self as being identified with God. The understanding of the self as eternal supports the idea of reincarnation in that the same eternal being can inhabit temporary bodies.
The idea of atman entails the idea of the self as a spiritual rather than material being and thus there is a strong dimension of Hinduism which emphasises detachment from the material world and promotes practices such as asceticism. Thus it could be said that in this world, a spiritual being, the atman, has a human experience rather than a human being having a spiritual experience.
Dharma is an important term in Indian religions. In Hinduism it means 'duty', 'virtue', 'morality', even 'religion' and it refers to the power which upholds the universe and society. Hindus generally believe that dharma was revealed in the Vedas although a more common word there for 'universal law' or 'righteousness' is rita. Dharma is the power that maintains society, it makes the grass grow, the sun shine, and makes us moral people or rather gives humans the opportunity to act virtuously.
But acting virtuously does not mean precisely the same for everyone; different people have different obligations and duties according to their age, gender, and social position. Dharma is universal but it is also particular and operates within concrete circumstances. Each person therefore has their own dharma known as sva-dharma. What is correct for a woman might not be for a man or what is correct for an adult might not be for a child.
The importance of sva-dharma is illustrated well by the Bhagavad Gita. This text, set before the great battle of the Mahabharata, depicts the hero Arjuna riding in his chariot driven by his charioteer Krishna between the great armies. The warrior Arjuna questions Krishna about why he should fight in the battle. Surely, he asks, killing one's relatives and teachers is wrong and so he refuses to fight.
Krishna assures him that this particular battle is righteous and he must fight as his duty or dharma as a warrior. Arjuna's sva-dharma was to fight in the battle because he was a warrior, but he must fight with detachment from the results of his actions and within the rules of the warriors' dharma. Indeed, not to act according to one's own dharma is wrong and called adharma.
Correct action in accordance with dharma is also understood as service to humanity and to God. The idea of what has become known as sanatana dharma can be traced back to the puranas - texts of antiquity. Those who adhere to this idea of one's eternal dharma or constitution, claim that it transcends other mundane dharmas - that it is the para dharma, the ultimate dharma of the self. It is often associated with bhakti movements, who link an attitude of eternal service to a personal deity.
An important idea that developed in classical Hinduism is that dharma refers especially to a person's responsibility regarding class (varna) and stage of life (ashrama). This is called varnashrama-dharma. In Hindu history the highest class, the Brahmins, adhered to this doctrine. The class system is a model or ideal of social order that first occurs in the oldest Hindu text, the Rig Veda and the present-day caste (jati) system may be rooted in this. The four classes are:
- Brahmans or Brahmins - the intellectuals and the priestly class who perform religious rituals
- Kshatriya (nobles or warriors) - who traditionally had power
- Vaishyas (commoners or merchants) - ordinary people who produce, farm, trade and earn a living
- Shudras (workers) - who traditionally served the higher classes, including labourers, artists, musicians, and clerks
People in the top three classes are known as 'twice born' because they have been born from the womb and secondly through initiation in which boys receive a sacred thread as a symbol of their high status. Although usually considered an initiation for males it must be noted that there are examples of exceptions to this rule, where females receive this initiation.
The twice born traditionally could go through four stages of life or ashramas. The ashrama system is as follows:
- Brahmacarya - 'celibate student' stage in which males learned the Veda
- grihastha - 'householder' in which the twice born male can experience the human purposes (purushartha) of responsibility, wealth, and sexual pleasure
- Vanaprastha - 'hermit' or 'wilderness dweller' in which the twice born male retires from life in the world to take up pilgrimage and religious observances along with his wife
- Samnyasa - 'renunciation' in which the twice born gives up the world, takes on a saffron robe or, in some sects, goes naked, with a bowl and a staff to seek moksha (liberation) or develop devotion
Correct action in accordance with dharma is also understood as service to humanity and to God. The idea of what has become known as sanatana dharma can be traced back to the puranas. Those who adhere to this idea, addressing one’s eternal dharma or constitution, claim that it transcends other mundane dharmas – that it is the para dharma, the ultimate dharma. It is often associated with bhakti movements, who propose that we are all eternal servants of a personal Deity, thus advocating each act, word, and deed to be acts of devotion. In the 19th Century the concept of sanatana dharma was used by some groups to advocate a unified view of Hinduism.
Karma and Samsara
Karma is a Sanskrit word whose literal meaning is 'action'. It refers to the law that every action has an equal reaction either immediately or at some point in the future. Good or virtuous actions, actions in harmony with dharma, will have good reactions or responses and bad actions, actions against dharma, will have the opposite effect.
In Hinduism karma operates not only in this lifetime but across lifetimes: the results of an action might only be experienced after the present life in a new life.
Hindus believe that human beings can create good or bad consequences for their actions and might reap the rewards of action in this life, in a future human rebirth or reap the rewards of action in a heavenly or hell realm in which the self is reborn for a period of time.
This process of reincarnation is called samsara, a continuous cycle in which the soul is reborn over and over again according to the law of action and reaction. At death many Hindus believe the soul is carried by a subtle body into a new physical body which can be a human or non-human form (an animal or divine being). The goal of liberation (moksha) is to make us free from this cycle of action and reaction, and from rebirth.
Hinduism developed a doctrine that life has different goals according to a person's stage of life and position. These goals became codified in the 'goals of a person' or 'human goals', the purusharthas, especially in sacred texts about dharma called 'dharma shastras' of which the 'Laws of Manu' is the most famous. In these texts three goals of life are expressed, namely virtuous living or dharma, profit or worldly success, and pleasure, especially sexual pleasure as a married householder and more broadly aesthetic pleasure. A fourth goal of liberation (moksha) was added at a later date. The purusharthas express an understanding of human nature, that people have different desires and purposes which are all legitimate in their context.
Over the centuries there has been discussion about which goal was most important. Towards the end of the Mahabharata (Shantiparvan 12.167) there is a discussion about the relative importance of the three goals of dharma, profit and pleasure between the Pandava brothers and the wise sage Vidura. Vidura claims that dharma is most important because through it the sages enter the absolute reality, on dharma the universe rests, and through dharma wealth is acquired. One of the brothers, Arjuna, disagrees, claiming that dharma and pleasure rest on profit. Another brother, Bhima, argues for pleasure or desire being the most important goal, as only through desire have the sages attained liberation. This discussion recognises the complexity and varied nature of human purposes and meanings in life.
Brahman and God
Brahman is a Sanskrit word which refers to a transcendent power beyond the universe. As such, it is sometimes translated as 'God' although the two concepts are not identical. Brahman is the power which upholds and supports everything. According to some Hindus this power is identified with the self (atman) while others regard it as distinct from the self.
Most Hindus agree that Brahman pervades everything although they do not worship Brahman. Some Hindus regard a particular deity or deities as manifestations of Brahman.
Most Hindus believe in God but what this means varies in different traditions. The Sanskrit words Bhagavan and Ishvaramean 'Lord' or 'God' and indicate an absolute reality who creates, sustains and destroys the universe over and over again. It is too simplistic to define Hinduism as belief in many gods or 'polytheism'. Most Hindus believe in a Supreme God, whose qualities and forms are represented by the multitude of deities which emanate from him. God, being unlimited, can have unlimited forms and expressions.
God can be approached in a number of ways and a devoted person can relate to God as a majestic king, as a parent figure, as a friend, as a child, as a beautiful woman, or even as a ferocious Goddess. Each person can relate to God in a particular form, the ishta devata or desired form of God. Thus, one person might be drawn towards Shiva, another towards Krishna, and another towards Kali. Many Hindus believe that all the different deities are aspects of a single, transcendent power.
In the history of Hinduism, God is conceptualised in different ways, as an all knowing and all-pervading spirit, as the creator and force within all beings, their 'inner controller' (antaryamin) and as wholly transcendent. There are two main ideas about Bhagavan or Ishvara:
- Bhagavan is an impersonal energy. Ultimately God is beyond language and anything that can be said about God cannot capture the reality. Followers of the Advaita Vedanta tradition (based on the teachings of Adi Shankara) maintain that the soul and God are ultimately identical and liberation is achieved once this has been realised. This teaching is called non-dualism or advaita because it claims there is no distinction between the soul and the ultimate reality.
- Bhagavan is a person. God can be understood as a supreme person with qualities of love and compassion towards creatures. On this theistic view the soul remains distinct from the Lord even in liberation. The supreme Lord expresses himself through the many gods and goddesses. The theologian Ramanuja (also in the wider Vedanta tradition as Shankara) makes a distinction between the essence of God and his energies. We can know the energies of God but not his essence. Devotion (bhakti) is the best way to understand God in this teaching.
For convenience Hindus are often classified into the three most popular Hindu denominations, called paramparas in Sanskrit. These paramparas are defined by their attraction to a particular form of God (called ishta or devata):
- Vaishnavas focus on Vishnu and his incarnations (avatara, avatars). The Vaishanavas believe that God incarnates into the world in different forms such as Krishna and Rama in order to restore dharma. This is considered to be the most popular Hindu denomination.
- Shaivas focus on Shiva, particularly in his form of the linga although other forms such as the dancing Shiva are also worshipped. The Shaiva Siddhanta tradition believes that Shiva performs five acts of creation, maintenance, destruction, concealing himself, revealing himself through grace.
- Shaktas focus on the Goddess in her gentle forms such as Lakshmi, Parvati, and Sarasvati, or in her ferocious forms such as Durga and Kali.
The terms guru and acharya refer to a teacher or master of a tradition. The basic meaning is of a teacher who teaches through example and conveys knowledge and wisdom to his disciples. The disciple in turn might become a teacher and so the lineage continues through the generations. One story that captures the spirit of the teacher is that a mother asks the teacher to stop her son eating sugar for he eats too much of it. The master tells her to come back in a week. She returns and he tells the child to do as his mother says and the child obeys. Asked by the mother why he delayed for a week, he replied 'a week ago I had not stopped eating sugar!'
Gurus are generally very highly revered and can become the focus of devotion (bhakti) in some traditions. A fundamentally important teaching is that spiritual understanding is conveyed from teacher to disciple through a lineage and when one guru passes away he or she is usually replaced by a successor. One guru could have more than one successor which leads to a multiplication of traditions.
Hinduism and abortion
Hindu medical ethics stem from the principle of ahimsa - of non-violence.
When considering abortion, the Hindu way is to choose the action that will do least harm to all involved: the mother and father, the foetus and society.
Hinduism is therefore generally opposed to abortion except where it is necessary to save the mother's life.
Classical Hindu texts are strongly opposed to abortion:
- one text compares abortion to the killing of a priest
- another text considers abortion a worse sin than killing one's parents
- another text says that a woman who aborts her child will lose her caste
Traditional Hinduism and many modern Hindus also see abortion as a breach of the duty to produce children in order to continue the family and produce new members of society.
Many Hindus regard the production of offspring as a 'public duty', not simply an 'individual expression of personal choice' (see Lipner, "The classical Hindu view on abortion and the moral status of the unborn" 1989).
In practice, however, abortion is practiced in Hindu culture in India, because the religious ban on abortion is sometimes overruled by the cultural preference for sons. This can lead to abortion to prevent the birth of girl babies, which is called 'female foeticide'.
The status of the foetus in Hinduism
The soul and the matter which form the foetus are considered by many Hindus to be joined together from conception.
According to the doctrine of reincarnation a foetus is not developing into a person, but is a person from a very early stage. It contains a reborn soul and should be treated appropriately.
By the ninth month the foetus has achieved very substantial awareness.
According to the Garbha Upanishad, the soul remembers its past lives during the last month the foetus spends in the womb (these memories are destroyed during the trauma of birth).
The Mahabharata refers to a child learning from its father while in the womb.
The doctrine of reincarnation, which sees life as a repeating cycle of birth, death and rebirth, is basic to Hindu thinking.
The doctrine of reincarnation can be used to make a strong case against abortion:
If a foetus is aborted, the soul within it suffers a major karmic setback. It is deprived of the opportunities its potential human existence would have given it to earn good karma, and is returned immediately to the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Thus abortion hinders a soul's spiritual progress.
Reincarnation can also be used to make a case that abortion should be permitted. Under the doctrine of reincarnation, abortion only deprives the soul of one of many births that it will have.
The consequences of abortion in the framework of reincarnation are therefore not as bad as they are in those religions where a soul gets only one chance to be born and where abortion deprives the soul of all possibility of life.
Abortion and non-violence
Ahimsa - non-violence - teaches that it is wrong not only to kill living beings, but to also to kill embryos.
Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa or non-violence. All life is sacred because all creatures are manifestations of the Supreme Being.
Hinduism and capital punishment
There is no official Hindu line on capital punishment. However, Hinduism opposes killing, violence and revenge, in line with the principle of ahimsa (non-violence).
India still retains the death penalty, and the reasons for this are likely to be similar to be those suggested in the Buddhist section.
Euthanasia and suicide
There are several Hindu points of view on euthanasia.
Most Hindus would say that a doctor should not accept a patient's request for euthanasia since this will cause the soul and body to be separated at an unnatural time. The result will damage the karma of both doctor and patient.
Other Hindus believe that euthanasia cannot be allowed because it breaches the teaching of ahimsa (doing no harm).
However, some Hindus say that by helping to end a painful life a person is performing a good deed and so fulfilling their moral obligations.
Hinduism is less interested than western philosophers in abstract ideas of right or wrong. Rather it focuses on the consequences of our actions.
For Hindus, culture and faith are inextricable. So although many moral decisions taken by Hindus seem more influenced by their particular culture than by the ideas of their faith, this distinction may not be as clear as it seems.
Karma: Hindus believe in the reincarnation of the soul (or atman) through many lives - not necessarily all human. The ultimate aim of life is to achieve moksha, liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.
A soul's next life is decided by karma, as the consequence of its own good or bad actions in previous lives. You could regard a soul's karma as somehow representing the net worth of its good and bad actions.
A soul cannot achieve moksha without good karma.
Non-violence: Another important principle is ahimsa, not being violent or causing harm to other beings.
Dharma: Hindus live their lives according to their dharma - their moral duties and responsibilities.
The dharma requires a Hindu to take care of the older members of their community.
Killing (euthanasia, murder, suicide) interferes with the killed soul's progress towards liberation. It also brings bad karma to the killer, because of the violation of the principle of non-violence.
When the soul is reincarnated in another physical body it will suffer as it did before because the same karma is still present.
Death: The doctrine of karma means that a Hindu tries to get their life in a good state before they die, making sure that there is no unfinished business, or unhappiness’s. They try to enter the state of a sannyasin - one who has renounced everything.
The ideal death is a conscious death, and this means that palliative treatments will be a problem if they reduce mental alertness.
The state of mind that leads a person to choose euthanasia may affect the process of reincarnation, since one's final thoughts are relevant to the process.
There are two Hindu views on euthanasia:
- By helping to end a painful life a person is performing a good deed and so fulfilling their moral obligations
- By helping to end a life, even one filled with suffering, a person is disturbing the timing of the cycle of death and rebirth. This is a bad thing to do, and those involved in the euthanasia will take on the remaining karma of the patient.
- The same argument suggests that keeping a person artificially alive on a life-support machine would also be a bad thing to do
- However, the use of a life-support machine as part of a temporary attempt at healing would not be a bad thing
Prayopavesa, or fasting to death, is an acceptable way for a Hindu to end their life in certain circumstances.
Prayopavesa is very different from what most people mean by suicide:
- it's non-violent and uses natural means;
- it's only used when it's the right time for this life to end - when this body has served its purpose and become a burden;
- unlike the suddenness of suicide, prayopavesa is a gradual process, giving ample time for the patient to prepare himself and those around him for his death;
- while suicide is often associated with feelings of frustration, depression, or anger, prayopavesa is associated with feelings of serenity
Prayopavesa is only for people who are fulfilled, who have no desire or ambition left, and no responsibilities remaining in this life. It is really only suitable for elderly ascetics.
Hindu law lays down conditions for prayopavesa:
- inability to perform normal bodily purification
- death appears imminent or the condition is so bad that life's pleasures are nil
- the decision is publicly declared
- the action must be done under community regulation
An example of prayopavesa:
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, a Hindu leader born in California, took his own life by prayopavesa in November 2001.
After finding that he had untreatable intestinal cancer the Satguru meditated for several days and then announced that he would accept pain-killing treatment only and would undertake prayopavesa - taking water, but no food.
He died on the 32nd day of his self-imposed fast.
Hinduism and war
Hinduism is a label that covers a wide range of Indian religious groups. While there are many differences between the various traditions they have a great deal in common.
Like most religions Hinduism includes both teachings that condemn violence and war, and teachings that promote it as a moral duty.
The teachings that condemn violence are contained in the doctrine of ahimsa, while those that permit it centre around the Kshatriyas - the warrior caste.
Hindus believe that it is right to use force in self-defence:
May your weapons be strong to drive away the attackers,
may your arms be powerful enough to check the foes,
let your army be glorious, not the evil-doer.
Rig Veda 1-39:2
The conduct of war
The Rig Veda sets down the rules of war at 6-75:15, and says that a warrior will go to hell if he breaks any of them.
- do not poison the tip of your arrow
- do not attack the sick or old
- do not attack a child or a woman
- do not attack from behind
A key teaching is contained in the story of Arjuna. Arjuna was about to go into battle when he discovered many of his relatives and friends were on the opposing side. Arjuna didn't want to kill people he loved, but was persuaded to do so by Krishna.
Krishna tells Arjuna that he should fight, for the following reasons:
- it is his duty - his dharma - to fight because he was born a warrior
- he was born a member of a warrior caste and his duty to his caste and the divine structure of society are more important than his personal feelings
- violence only affects the body and cannot harm the soul, so killing is not a fault and there is no reason for Arjuna not to kill people, nor should he be sorry for those he has killed
- behind this lies the Eastern idea that life and death are part of an illusion, and that the spiritual is what matters
Ahimsa is one of the ideals of Hinduism. It means that one should avoid harming any living thing, and also avoid the desire to harm any living thing.
Ahimsa is not just non-violence - it means avoiding any harm, whether physical, mental or emotional.
In modern times the strongest proponent of ahimsa was the Indian leader Gandhi, who believed that ahimsa was the highest duty of a human being.
Ahimsa, non-violence, comes from strength, and the strength is from God, not man. Ahimsa always comes from within.
Underlying Hindu opposition to killing or violence is the concept of Karma, by which any violence or unkindness a person carries out will return to them at some time in the future by the natural law of the universe.
When Hindus are violent (other than as a matter of duty), philosophers argue that this is because those who do harm do so because they have yet to evolve to a level where they understand and seek peaceful conduct.
Hinduism contains some of the earliest writings about peace, as this quote from the Rig Veda shows.
Come together, talk together,
Let our minds be in harmony.
Common be our prayer,
Common be our end,
Common be our purpose,
Common be our deliberations,
Common be our desires,
United be our hearts,
United be our intentions,
Perfect be the union among us.
Rig Veda 10 - 191:2
Hinduism and animals
Because Hinduism is a term that includes many different although related religious ideas, there is no clear single Hindu view on the right way to treat animals, so what follows are generalisations to which there are exceptions.
The doctrine of ahimsa leads Hindus to treat animals well:
Sacred cows are allowed to wander wherever they like, even through busy traffic
- Most Hindus are vegetarian
- No Hindu will eat beef
- Butchery and related jobs are restricted to people of low caste
- Most Hindus believe that non-human animals are inferior to human beings
- Cows are sacred to Hindus
- Some Hindu temples keep sacred animals
- Some Hindu gods have animal characteristics
- Ganesh has the head of an elephant
- Hanuman takes the form of a monkey
The cow is greatly revered by Hindus and is regarded as sacred. Killing cows is banned in India and no Hindu would eat any beef product.
There is no ban on birth control in Hinduism.
Some Hindu scriptures include advice on what a couple should do to promote conception - thus providing contraceptive advice to those who want it.
However, most Hindus accept that there is a duty to have a family during the householder stage of life, and so are unlikely to use contraception to avoid having children altogether.
Because India has such a high level of population, much of the discussion of birth control has focussed on the environmental issue of overpopulation rather than more personal ethics, and birth control is not a major ethical issue.
Hinduism and organ donation
No religious law prohibits Hindus from donating their organs and tissues.
Life after death is a strong belief of Hindus and is an ongoing process of rebirth. This could be seen as reflecting positively on the concept of organ donation and transplantation.
A minority argument, though, says that if someone donates an organ as intrinsic to the body as a heart, the principle of karma means the recipient will have to return the favour in the donor's next life - which means the donor will have to have a next life. Hindus hope to be liberated from the cycle of rebirth, so this would be a disadvantage. However, most Hindus would view this argument as selfish.
According to Shaunaka Rishi Das of the Oxford Centre for Vaishnava and Hindu Studies, most Hindus take the view that after the soul has departed, the body is no more than a machine, and there is nothing to stop the parts being shared with others.
Decisions about organ donation and transplantation are left to individuals to make, but there are many references that support the concept of organ donation in Hindu scriptures.
In the list of ten Niyamas (or virtuous acts) in the Hindu scriptures, Daan (or selfless giving) is third, and is held as being very significant within the Hindu faith.
That which sustains is accepted and promoted as Dharma (righteous living). This could also be seen as supporting the idea of organ donation.
But, the only constraint on the idea of organ donation is imposed by the very nature of Dharma.
Every act or intention of anyone should be dharmik. Therefore, it is right to donate organs, only if the act of donating an organ has beneficial results.
In Hindu mythology there are also traditions which support the use of body parts to benefit others.
Scientific papers also form an important part of the Vedas. Sage Sushruta looks at features of organ and limb transplants, and Sage Charaka deals with internal medicine.
Rites and rituals
Hindu baby rites
Hindu rituals (sanskars) begin before a child is born.
Hindus believe that it is the responsibility of each individual to continue the Hindu race.
Hindus believe that it is the responsibility of each individual to continue the Hindu race and therefore soon after a couple are married, a prayer called Garbhadana (conception) is recited for fulfillment of one's parental obligations.
During the third month of pregnancy the ceremony of Punsavana (foetus protection) is performed. This is done for the strong physical growth of the foetus.
The Simantonnyana is performed during the seventh month. This is the equivalent of a baby shower and means 'satisfying the craving of the pregnant mother'. Prayers are offered for the mother and child with emphasis on healthy mental development of the unborn child. Hindus believe that mental state of a pregnant woman affects the unborn child.
Once the child enters the world, Jatakarma is performed to welcome the child into the family, by putting some honey in the child's mouth and whispering the name of God in the child's ear.
Other rituals include a naming ceremony (Namakarna), the Nishkarmana (the child's first trip out) and the Annaprasana, (the child's first taste of solid food).
The ear-piercing ceremony (Karnavedha) and first haircut (Mundan) ceremonies are also considered highly significant. These sacraments are performed on both the sexes. Hindus believe that the piercing of a hole in the lower lobes of the ear have benefits of acupuncture.
Head shaving is connected to the removal of impurities.
When the child reaches school-going age, the Upanayana (sacred thread) ceremony is performed. The three strands of the sacred thread represent the three vows (to respect the knowledge, the parents and the society) taken before the start of formal education.
Although Hindu scriptures explain the rituals, it is possible that Hindu rituals and rites will differ according to particular castes and regions.
According to Hindu scriptures, men and women are both equal but in practice women are considered inferior to men. This is mainly because of socioeconomic conditions in India. Many people blame this to Hinduism, but Hindu religion is not responsible for this. In the ancient times, Hindu women enjoyed a very good status in the society. There was no child marriage, Sati, or restrictions on education but this status deteriorated with time mainly because of security concerns from foreign invaders and internal conflicts. Some of the unscrupulous foreign invaders used rape as a weapon against Hindus. It had become impossible for Hindu girls to move out of the house. This resulted in restrictions on activities of Hindu women. Evil traditions like child marriage and Sati also might have started because of this insecurity. In the recent years after the independence as the things have normalized from the security point of view and because of modern education, Hindu women are coming out of the house and have established a significant presence in this world. There has been a gradual shift in the attitudes of Hindu males towards the women and Hindu women are getting more freedom than they used to get before.
Now a day, Hindu women are not limited to the family only but they are very ambitious about their career. There are many Hindu women who are CEOs of big businesses. They are active in every field of life including politics, cinema, army, software industry, etc. She has started taking seriously her career as the males. She is doing her job responsibly on both fronts of career and family.
Women in Hinduism:
In Hinduism, the chastity of a woman is of utmost importance. A woman must always maintain her chastity and guard her virtue. The same thing applies for men also but in practice, this thing is overlooked. Premarital and/or extramarital sex is not allowed both for Hindu men and women. It is a matter of debate whether widow marriage was allowed during ancient times or not but during medieval times, it was prohibited. Now a day, Hindu woman does get remarried after the death of her husband but still orthodox people do not agree with it. Her husband and her family top her priority. Child marriages are prohibited by law now. A Hindu woman gets equal share in the ancestral property as her brothers by Hindu law. The life of a man is said to be incomplete except his wife. A married woman is called Ardhangini (half part of a male’s body) of the husband. The main Hindu deity, Lord Shiva, is depicted as half part male and half part female. This form of him is called as Ardhanarinateshwar.
Clothing for Hindu women:
Sari is considered as an official clothing of Hindu women, but in general, the clothes which cover most of the parts of the body are considered as good. The dressings change from region to region. Punjabi dresses, Saris, Ghagra Choli, Salwar Kameez, lehengas, etc. are very common. Modern Hindu women also wear jeans, T-shirts, skirts, tops, etc.
What Hindu scriptures say about Hindu women?
According to Hindu scriptures, men and women are equal. Nobody is superior or inferior with respect to each other. The same soul dwells in the men and in women. The discrimination we find in Hindu society is not based on Hinduism but it is based on the socioeconomic conditions.
There are mentions of women saints in Upanishadas who were highly revered. In Rig-Veda, there are many sarcastic remarks on polygamy which clearly indicates that polygamy is prohibited by Hinduism.
“Where women are honored, there the Gods are pleased. But where they are not honored, no sacred rite yields rewards.” Manu Smriti 3.56
Worshipping the womanhood:
Hindus worship goddesses like Parvati, Amba, Durga, Kali, and other female deities since ancient times. This trend can be linked to Indus Valley Civilization when people used to worship Mother Goddess. Shaktism is a sect of Hinduism, which focuses on the worship of female goddess called as Devi. Shaktism believes Devi is the Supreme God, which is one of its kinds in the history of mankind.
Position of Hindu women during Vedic period:
There were no evil practices such as Sati or child marriages. In several Vedic schools, there were women graduates. The caste system was not based upon birth; hence, there were no restrictions on marriages. The position of widow was satisfactory. The widow was allowed to get married with the dead husband’s brother. If she did not have a son, she was allowed to get it through Niyoga. Niyoga was not compulsory. The status of women was very high in the society. Utmost importance was given to the character of both men and women.
The Laws Concerning women in Manu-Smriti:
13.1 Always dependent
By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house. [5.147.]
In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent. [5.148.]
She must not seek to separate herself from her father, husband, or sons; by leaving them she would make both (her own and her husband’s) families contemptible. [5.149.]
She must always be cheerful, clever in (the management of her) household affairs, careful in cleaning her utensils, and economical in expenditure. [5.150.]
Him to whom her father may give her, or her brother with the father’s permission, she shall obey as long as he lives, and when he is dead, she must not insult (his memory). [5.151.]
For the sake of procuring good fortune to (brides), the recitation of benedictory texts (svastyayana), and the sacrifice to the Lord of creatures (Pragapati) are used at weddings; (but) the betrothal (by the father or guardian) is the cause of (the husband’s) dominion (over his wife). [5.152.]
The husband who wedded her with sacred texts, always gives happiness to his wife, both in season and out of season, in this world and in the next. [5.153.]
13.2 Worships and obeys husband
Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure (elsewhere), or devoid of good qualities, (yet) a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife. [5.154.]
No sacrifice, no vow, no fast must be performed by women apart (from their husbands); if a wife obeys her husband, she will for that (reason alone) be exalted in heaven. [5.155.]
A faithful wife, who desires to dwell (after death) with her husband, must never do anything that might displease him who took her hand, whether he be alive or dead. [5.156.]
13.3 Faithful to her deceased husband
At her pleasure let her emaciate her body by (living on) pure flowers, roots, and fruit; but she must never even mention the name of another man after her husband has died. [5.157.]
Until death let her be patient (of hardships), self-controlled, and chaste, and strive (to fulfil) that most excellent duty which (is prescribed) for wives who have one husband only. [5.158.]
Many thousands of Brahmanas who were chaste from their youth, have gone to heaven without continuing their race. [5.159.]
A virtuous wife who after the death of her husband constantly remains chaste, reaches heaven, though she have no son, just like those chaste men. [5.160.]
But a woman who from a desire to have offspring violates her duty towards her (deceased) husband, brings on herself disgrace in this world, and loses her place with her husband (in heaven). [5.161.]
13.4 Non-virtuous behaviour
Offspring begotten by another man is here not (considered lawful), nor (does offspring begotten) on another man’s wife (belong to the begetter), nor is a second husband anywhere prescribed for virtuous women. [5.162.]
She who cohabits with a man of higher caste, forsaking her own husband who belongs to a lower one, will become contemptible in this world, and is called a remarried woman (parapurva). [5.163.]
By violating her duty towards her husband, a wife is disgraced in this world, (after death) she enters the womb of a jackal, and is tormented by diseases (the punishment of) her sin. [5.164.]
She who, controlling her thoughts, words, and deeds, never slights her lord, resides (after death) with her husband (in heaven), and is called a virtuous (wife). [5.165.]
In reward of such conduct, a female who controls her thoughts, speech, and actions, gains in this (life) highest renown, and in the next (world) a place near her husband. [5.166.]
A twice-born man, versed in the sacred law, shall burn a wife of equal caste who conducts herself thus and dies before him, with (the sacred fires used for) the Agnihotra, and with the sacrificial implements. [5.167.]
Having thus, at the funeral, given the sacred fires to his wife who dies before him, he may marry again, and again kindle (the fires). [5.168.]
(Living) according to the (preceding) rules, he must never neglect the five (great) sacrifices, and, having taken a wife, he must dwell in (his own) house during the second period of his life. [5.169.]
Honour of women according to Manu-Smriti:
No father who knows (the law) must take even the smallest gratuity for his daughter; for a man who, through avarice, takes a gratuity, is a seller of his offspring. [3.51.]
But those (male) relations who, in their folly, live on the separate property of women, (e.g. appropriate) the beasts of burden, carriages, and clothes of women, commit sin and will sink into hell. [3.52.]
Some call the cow and the bull (given) at an Arsha wedding ‘a gratuity;’ (but) that is wrong, since (the acceptance of) a fee, be it small or great, is a sale (of the daughter). [3.53.]
When the relatives do not appropriate (for their use) the gratuity (given), it is not a sale; (in that case) the (gift) is only a token of respect and of kindness towards the maidens. [3.54.]
Women must be honoured and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers-in-law, who desire (their own) welfare. [3.55.]
Where women are honoured, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honoured, no sacred rite yields rewards. [3.56.]
Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers. [3.57.]
The houses on which female relations, not being duly honoured, pronounce a curse, perish completely, as if destroyed by magic. [3.58.]
Hence men who seek (their own) welfare, should always honour women on holidays and festivals with (gifts of) ornaments, clothes, and (dainty) food. [3.59.]
In that family, where the husband is pleased with his wife and the wife with her husband, happiness will assuredly be lasting. [3.60.]
For if the wife is not radiant with beauty, she will not attract her husband; but if she has no attractions for him, no children will be born. [3.61.]
If the wife is radiant with beauty, the whole house is bright; but if she is destitute of beauty, all will appear dismal. [3.62.]
Rituals form an important part of every religion. Hinduism is no exception to it. In fact, Hinduism has most number of rituals than any other religion. Most of the rituals are for personal benefits while some of them are for world peace and for benefits of the whole society and environment also. Hinduism divides life in some stages and each stage is associated with a ritual e.g. birth of a child, marriage, death, etc. It is not compulsory to follow all of them but they are highly recommended. Now a day, Hindus do not perform all of the rituals because of the changes in lifestyle. Hindu rituals have some kind of mystical science associated with them. Some people could find them outdated or useless, but they do have deep meanings and really help people.
1. Garbhadhana: First Samskara done immediately after the marriage.
2. Pumsavana: A ritual done in the third month of pregnancy.
3. Simanatonayana: A ritual done in the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy.
4. Jatakarman: A ritual done immediately after a male child is born.
5. Namakarana: Naming ceremony performed on the 12th day of the birth.
6. Nishkramana: A ritual done when child is first taken out of the house.
7. Annaprashana: When child starts to eat solid food in the sixth month.
8. Chudakarna: Cutting the child’s hair for the first time.
9. Karnavedha: Ear piercing.
10. Vidyarambha: Starting the education of a child.
11. Upanayana: Thread ceremony
12. Praishartha: Learning of Vedas and Upanishadas.
13. Keshanta and Ritushuddhi: Keshanta is for boys and ritushuddhi is for girls.
14. Samavartana: Ceremony at the end of formal education.
15. Vivaha: Marriage ceremony.
16. Antyeshti or Antim Sanskar: A ritual done at the time of cremation.
Hindu wedding ceremony
Hindu sacraments are called 'sanskars' and the sacraments performed at the time of a wedding are called 'Vivah Sanskar'.
This sanskar marks the start of the second and the most important stage of life called the 'Grihistha Ashrama' which involves setting up of a new family unit.
Two individuals who are considered to be compatible form a lifelong partnership at this ceremony in which the responsibilities and duties of a householder are explained.
The precise details and rituals performed in a wedding ceremony vary from region to region and often take several hours to complete.
The main stages of a Hindu wedding are:
- Firstly, the bride's parents welcome the bridegroom and his family at the boundary of the house where the wedding is taking place. A red kum-kum (kind of powder) mark is applied to their forehead. Members from both families are formally introduced, marking the start of relationship between two families. The bride and the bridegroom then exchange garlands (jayamaala) and declare: "Let all the learned persons present here know, we are accepting each other willingly, voluntarily and pleasantly. Our hearts are concordant and united like waters."
- The bridegroom is brought to a specially decorated altar called 'mandap' and offered a seat and a welcoming drink - a mixture of milk, ghee, yoghurt, honey and sugar.
- Gau Daan and Kanya Pratigrahan
- 'Gau' means cow and 'Daan' means donation. Nowadays, the symbolic exchange of gifts, particularly clothes and ornaments takes place. The groom's mother gives an auspicious necklace (mangala sootra) to the bride. Mangla sootra is the emblem of marital status for a Hindu woman. 'Kanya' means the daughter and 'Pratigrahan' is an exchange with responsiveness on both sides. The bride's father declares that their daughter has accepted the bridegroom and requests them to accept her.
A sacred fire is lit and the Purohit (Priest) recites the sacred mantras in Sanskrit. Oblations are offered to the fire whilst saying the prayers. The words "Id na mama" meaning "it is not for me" are repeated after the offerings. This teaches the virtue of selflessness required to run a family.
A sacred fire is lit and the Purohit (Priest) recites the sacred mantras in Sanskrit.
This is the ceremony of vows. The husband, holding his wife's hand, says "I hold your hand in the spirit of Dharma, we are both husband and wife".
Shilarohan and Laaja Homa
Shilarohan is climbing over a stone/rock by the bride which symbolises her willingness and strength to overcome difficulties in pursuit of her duties. Both gently walk around the sacred fire four times. The bride leads three times and the fourth time the groom leads. He is reminded of his responsibilities. The couple join their hands into which the bride's brothers pour some barley, which is offered to the fire, symbolising that they all will jointly work for the welfare of the society. The husband marks the parting in his wife's hair with red kumkum powder for the first time. This is called 'sindoor' and is a distinctive mark of a married Hindu woman.
This is the main and the legal part of the ceremony. The couple walk seven steps reciting a prayer at each step. These are the seven vows which are exchanged. The first for food, the second for strength, the third for prosperity, the fourth for wisdom, the fifth for progeny, the sixth for health and the seventh for friendship. In some regions, in stead of walking the seven steps, the bride touches seven stones or nuts with her right toe. A symbolic matrimonial knot is tied after this ceremony.
A symbolic matrimonial knot is tied after this ceremony
Surya Darshan and Dhruva Darshan
The couple look at the Sun in order to be blessed with creative life. They look in the direction of the Dhruva (Polar star) and resolve to remain unshaken and steadfast like the Polar star.
The couple are blessed by the elders and the priest for a long and prosperous married life.
It is important to clarify two misconceptions about Hindu marriages: arranged marriages and child marriages.
The couple are blessed by the elders and the priest for a long and prosperous married life
Hindu scriptures prohibit use of force or coercion in marriages.
Arranged marriages are based on agreement from both the bride and the groom, and should not be confused with forced marrige.
In the Vedic period, child marriages were strictly prohibited. Later, due to political and economical changes, some new social traditions started which deviated from the Vedic teachings.
Child marriages and the associated tradition of dowry were some of the deviations which reformist movements in modern times have attempted to correct. Child marriages are now banned by law in India, although reports suggest that the practice has not been eradicated.
Sex and Hinduism
According to Hinduism, sex is an integral part of life. It is not a taboo. In fact, it is part of the four Purusharthas of life. Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha are the four Purusharthas of a Hindu’s life. The Kama here means all the activities, which give us pleasure. Sex is also one of those activities.
Kamasutra is the oldest book about the sex written by Vatsayana, a Hindu sage. This book gives detailed descriptions about sex like types, positions, importance, compatibility of partners, eunuchs, etc.
The ancient Khajuraho Temple in India is famous for the sculptures on it in which the statues of men and women are depicted as having sex in different positions.
According to Hinduism, sex is sacred only if it is marital. Hinduism prohibits premarital or extramarital sex.
Some sects in Hinduism worship Yoni (female genitalia) as the Goddess.
Hindus worship Lord Shiva in the form of Lingam, which is a symbol of male creative energy, and is always shown with Yoni, the symbol of female creative energy.
In ancient India, a widow without children was allowed to have sex with the appropriate person in order to have a child. This process was called as Niyoga.
In Mahabharata, Draupadi is depicted as having five husbands who were Pandavas.
Though Hinduism does not support prostitution, you will find prostitutes in all parts of India. Sex without marriage is a bad Karma and the person has to pay the price for it.
Traditions in Hinduism were considered mainly as superstitions, but with the advent of science, it is becoming evident that these traditions are based on some scientific knowledge and moved from generations to generations as traditions. Though the common people did not know science in it, they were following it very faithfully over the years. This article is an attempt to bring forward the science involved in these traditions and rituals. Ancient Rishis, which were scientists actually, did not tell the common people the science involved in these traditions, but instead related them with the God and religion, so that the common people would benefit from them.
Another contributing factor is that the Hindu traditions are made depending on the climate of India as Hinduism is the main religion in India. Even in India, there are different regions with different climate, so they vary from region to region.
1. Why every Hindu should have a Tulsi plant in front of his/her house?
Answer: The Latin name of Tulsi plant is ” Ocimum Sanctum.” It is also called as Holy Basil. For thousands of years, Tulsi has been worshiped by Hindus. It is considered as a sacred plant and it is necessary for every Hindu family to have a Tulsi plant in front of their house. The recent studies, have shown that Tulsi plant releases Ozone (O3) along with oxygen, which is very essential for ecological balance. World Ozone Day is celebrated on 16th September of every year, at which time some environmental organizations distribute Tulsi plants in large number.
Besides that Tulsi has lots of medicinal uses and is a very important herb according to Ayurveda. Tulsi leaves strengthen our immune system. So, the Tulsi leaves are mainly used for treating fever, common cold, cough, sore throat, and respiratory disorders.
Therefore, I think not only Hindus but all of us should have a Tulsi plant in front of our house.
2. Why Hindus worship some particular trees and not all the trees?
Answer: It is true that Hindus honor all the trees but some particular trees and plants are considered sacred and have been worshiped over thousands of years.
Some of the examples are Peepal Tree (Ficus religiosa) and Audumbar Tree (Ficus racemosa). These two trees are 24-hour oxygen generators and cannot be planted manually. They grow on their own mainly through the birds, which eat their fruits. Audumbar tree is associated with Guru Dattatreya, one of main Hindu deities and cutting or dishonoring the tree in any way is considered as a sin. Both of these trees are very important for ecological balance. So by associating them with Hindu deities, they have been protected, so that no one would cut them.
3. Why Hindus pierce ears of a baby?
Answer: After a baby is born, it is a general practice in Hindus to pierce his/her ears. Actually, it is a part of acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture and acupressure is not new to Hindus. Even it is said that these techniques originated in India and later they were conserved and modified by Chinese. Outer part of ears carry a lot of important acupuncture and acupressure points. The point where the ears of a baby are pierced is known for curing asthma. That is why even ancient Hindus used to wear earrings but now a days most Hindus do not wear earrings. They do not even pierce the ears after first piercing. The holes in their ears become invisible after as they grow up. Only Hindu female wear earrings as a tradition.
But there are males of some castes in Hinduism who wear earrings as a tradition till now.
4. Why Hindus do not eat meat on particular days?
Answer: Hindus do not eat meat on particular days, not limited but including:
Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays of every week, Sankashti Chaturthi, Angarki Chaturthi, Ekadashi, Gudhipadwa, Akshaytrutiya, Diwali (all the days) and many more auspicious days.
Amongst these, the reason for not eating meat on some particular days excluding weekly days is purely religious. Killing of animals is considered as a sin in Hinduism. So, people avoid eating meat at least on those auspicious days to maintain sacredness of that particular day.
The reason behind not eating meat on weekdays including Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays is that as a human being we need only a little amount of meat to fulfill requirements of our body such as iron, vitamin B12 and other vital nutrients. But human being basically is an animal and we get addicted to eating meat. As we all know eating excessive meat is not good for health. It can cause diseases like piles, kidney stones, colon cancer, blood pressure, heart attack, etc. Then also people cannot refrain themselves from eating flesh. Therefore, Hinduism has placed some restrictions by assigning the days to particular deities. E.g. Monday is dedicated to Lord Shiva, Thursday to Lord Dattatreya, and Saturday to Lord Hanuman. In this way, people have been assigned some religious restrictions and as most of Hindus are religious, they do obey this rule. In this way, they restrict the meat in their diet which is good for their health.
5. Why only some castes are allowed to eat non-vegetarian food and others are not?
Answer: Basically, who should eat and who should not depends on the occupation of a person. If you ask a modern doctor, he will simply tell you that if you have need for more calories and you do a lot of physical labor, then only you should eat nonvegetarian food. If your occupation is of sedentary type and you eat a lot of high-calorie food, you are bound to gain more weight and invite many sorts of diseases related to obesity.
The medieval caste system of India was based upon the occupation of a person. Therefore the people from a particular caste doing more physical labor were allowed to eat meat. For example, job of a Kshatriya was to fight with enemy and protect the people. So, they required a lot of energy. Hence, Kshatriyas were allowed to eat meat. In the same way, a farmer who requires a lot of physical work was allowed to eat meat. On the other hand, other castes like Brahmins who do Prayer and intelligent work requiring less hard labor were restricted from eating meat. In the same way, weavers, businessmen were not allowed to eat meat.
Aside from that, some nonvegetarian products like meat and chicken are hard to digest. If you do not have enough body movement, it will be hard for you to digest that food and you will be unnecessarily inviting the ailments.
6. We get the human body after our soul passes through 84,00,000 species.
Hindus believe we get a human body after our soul passes through 84,00,000 species. Initially, critics of Hinduism used to say that this is just a myth, so many species do not exist. But with the advent of science, it is revealed that there are about 84,00,000 species on the earth. So, the above statement is symbolic for the fact that human being is born through evolution and we human beings are the most advanced stage of evolution.
7. How Yogis float in the air?
You must have seen in some advertisements or in cartoon films based on Hindu mythologies that some Yogis possess the power of floating in the air while meditating. This can be explained with the phenomenon of superconductivity. This is a possible scientific explanation.
Superconductivity is a phenomenon in which the electrical resistance of certain materials becomes exactly zero, below a characteristic temperature, usually well below 0 degrees Celcius. For example, some cuprate-perovskite ceramic materials become superconductors at -183 degrees Celcius.
When the material becomes superconductor, magnetic lines do not pass through them and they float in the air. This can be easily demonstrated in the lab using liquid nitrogen and the superconductor material. The same principle applies to the body of the Yogi.
In Dnyaneshwari, written by Saint Dnyaneshwar, he has described his experience of what happens when Kundalini Shakti arises in the body. He has mentioned that it feels like Kundalini power drinks all the blood and eats up all the flesh in your body and your body becomes very, very cold. After some time, it again regenerates everything and your body becomes as fresh as a newborn.
It is quite possible that when the temperature of Yogi’s body decreases, it reaches to a point where Yogi’s body becomes a superconductor and hence, the gravitational lines do not pass through his body and he floats in the air. Though, there is no proof for this but it is quite possible.
Hence, it is not a superstition that Yogis float in the air. The ad makers who mock the Hindus in the ads by making fun out of the Yogis floating in the air should consider this fact.
8. Theory of atom was first put forth by Indian scientist Kanad.
We learn in our science text books that the everything in this universe is made up of atoms i.e. atom is the smallest parts of the matter and this theory was first put forth by Dalton. Hence, the theory is known as Dalton’s atomic theory. But this theory was first put forth by an Indian scientist Kanad before 500 B.C. It is not just a rumor but it is a proved fact. The evidence is there to prove this but still the credit goes to Dalton and not to Kanad.
Views about Hinduism
Let us see what great personalities of all the time born on the earth think about Hinduism.
“When I read the Bhagvad Gita and reflect about how God created this universe, everything else seems so superfluous.”
Albert Einstein – World Famous Scientist.
“I go into the Upanishadas to ask questions.”
Niels Bohr – Famous Scientist who developed Bohr’s Atomic Model.
“The apparent multiplication of gods is bewildering at the first glance, but you soon discover that they are the same GOD. There is always one uttermost God who defies personification. This makes Hinduism the most tolerant religion in the world, because its one transcendent God includes all possible gods. In fact Hinduism is so elastic and so subtle that the most profound Methodist, and crudest idolater, are equally at home with it.”
George Bernard Shaw – Nobel Laureate in Literature.
“After a study of some forty years and more of the great religions of the world, I find none so perfect , none so scientific, none so philosophical and none so spiritual that the great religion known by the name of Hinduism. Make no mistake, without Hinduism, India has no future. Hinduism is the soil in to which India’s roots are stuck and torn out of that she will inevitably wither as a tree torn out from its place. And if Hindus do not maintain Hinduism who shall save it? If India’s own children do not cling to her faith who shall guard it. India alone can save India and India and Hinduism are one.”
Annie Wood Besant – Social Activist.
“After gradual research; I have come to the conclusion that long before all heavenly books, God had revealed to the Hindus, through the Rishis of yore, of whom Brahma was the Chief, His four books of knowledge, the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda and the Atharva Veda.The Quran itself made veiled references to the Upanishads as the first heavenly book and the fountainhead of the ocean of monotheism.”
Views of Mahatma Gandhi about Hinduism.
1. I am a Hindu because it is Hinduism which makes the world worth living. I am a Hindu hence I Love not only human beings, but all living beings.
2. Hinduism is a living organism liable to growth and decay subject to the laws of Nature. One and indivisible at the root, it has grown into a vast tree with innumerable branches. The changes in the season affect it. It has its autumn and its summer, its winter and its spring. It is, and is not, based on scriptures. It does not derive its authority from one book. Non violence has found the highest expression and application in Hinduism.
3. I have no other wish in this world but to find light and joy and peace through Hinduism.
4. Hinduism insists on the brotherhood of not only all mankind but of all that lives.
5. On examination, I have found it to be the most tolerant of all religions known to me. Its freedom from dogma makes a forcible appeal to me inasmuch as it gives the votary the largest scope for self-expression.
6. Hindu Dharma is like a boundless ocean teeming with priceless gems. The deeper you dive the more treasures you find.
Reincarnation or rebirth can be defined as getting born again in a living form after the death. The word reincarnation literally means “entering the flesh again.” Punarjanma is the Sanskrit word for reincarnation. Punarjanma literally means rebirth.
What is reincarnation?
According to Hindu scriptures, a soul, which is a part of the Supreme Soul, dwells in every living organism. The term death applies to our body only and not to the soul because the soul is immortal. The soul changes the bodies after the death as we change our clothes everyday. Depending upon our Karma, we get a new body. That is if you have done good Karma in this birth, then you would get the rewards for those in this and/or next life. If you have done bad Karma, you would get punishment for that in this or next life. The present conditions in our life are results of our Karma in this and/or past life. This cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation continues until we get salvation i.e. becoming one with the Supreme Soul.
Occurrences of reincarnation:
Many important religions on the earth like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism believe in reincarnation. Many ancient cultures like Egypt and Greek also believed in reincarnation. Some sects from Christianity and Islam believe in reincarnation. Many cases of reincarnation have happened not only in those religions who believe in rebirth but also in those religions and cultures, which do not believe in it. The incidences of reincarnation have happened all over the world in all races, all genders, with almost 100% uniformity. Many cases have been investigated and marked as authentic by different scientists and institutes. Thousands of books have been written on this topic. The famous scientist Thomas Alva Edison was a Theosophist (Theosophists also believe in reincarnation). In a survey in 2005 in USA, about 20% of adults showed belief in reincarnation. Dalai Lama is considered as the biggest leader of Buddhists. Before the death, every Dalai Lama tells his disciples about how and where he would be born again.
Rules of reincarnation:
There are certain rules known to mankind about reincarnation. These rules are told by sages, which were revealed to them in the state of deep meditation.
1. Most of the times a human being is born again as a human being only, but sometimes, he/she might get an animal body.
2. In general, after getting the three births of the same sex, we get the next birth of a different sex but there is no thumb rule.
3. Doing good Karma does not eradicate bad Karma. You have to undergo sufferings for bad Karma and get happiness for good Karma.
4. If a person dies suddenly with strong wills unfulfilled, he/she might become a ghost and remain there until the favorable conditions are available for next birth.
5. After death, we do not get the next birth immediately. In the meantime, our soul is in one of the seven levels. Once the proper conditions are created according to our Karma, we get born again.
6. The soul is always learning from its experiences. In its initial births, it gets attracted towards physical things more but as it grows in knowledge, it becomes more spiritual.
7. All our good and bad Karmas are recorded in our body and when we are dead, those memories also enter a new body with our soul. When the soul becomes fully knowledgeable, it attains salvation.
8. Some sages believe that everything since the time of big-bang is stored in our body but only a few people are able to recall those memories.
9. Only human beings can attain salvation. We get a human body after our soul travels through 8,400,000 species. Hence, salvation should be the final aim of our life.
Reincarnation in Bollywood movies:
The concept of reincarnation has been used in many Bollywood movies and some of them were great hits like Karz, Karan Arjun, Madhumati, Milan, etc. Recently, this concept is not used very much by Bollywood film makers as many movies had been made on this topic.
Reincarnation in Hollywood movies:
Hollywood has also used the concept of reincarnation many times. The movies like Reincarnation of Peter Proud, Dead Again, Kundun, Fluke, What Dreams May Come, and Birth are based on reincarnation.
Books on reincarnation:
So far thousands of books have been written on this topic by many well-known personalities of the world. We are giving here a brief list of those books.
Many Lives Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss
Life after Life by Raymond Moody
Reincarnation by Carry Williams and Sylvia Cranston
Claims of Reincarnation by Dr. Satwant Pasricha
Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation by Dr. Ian Stevenson
Is it possible to predict your next birth?
It is possible but this can only be done by a sage who has powers to see future and not by the websites or softwares. Many websites claim that they can predict your next birth but these are just frauds. So, do not run after them or do not take them seriously because your next birth depends upon your Karma and the software cannot predict your Karma.
Reincarnation is not a miracle but it is just a scientific phenomenon, which modern science has not yet understood.
As Hinduism is the oldest religion on the earth, it has more numbers of symbols than other religions. Each Hindu symbol has a different meaning and is used on different occasions. Hinduism symbols are also used as body tattoos in the Western countries as well as in India. Hinduism signs and symbols are very popular in India and are also known as Indian symbols. We are providing here a comprehensive list of major Hindu symbols and their meanings.
Aum, also known as, Om, is the most important symbol in Hinduism. It is made up of three Sanskrit letters namely A, U, and M and is written as No. 3 with a curved line like a tail going out from the center on the back side of three with a moon-shaped curve and a dot above 3. All the major Hindu mantras start with Aum. Aum represents Brahman, the Almighty. You would understand the importance of this symbol by this only. It is the sound heard at the time of creation of universe.
It is considered as sacred and is worn in pendants, rings, printed on T-shirts, cups, temple walls.
Swastika is the second most important Hindu symbol. Swastika looks like the Nazi symbol. The only difference is Nazi symbol is tilted as if standing on one point while the Hindu symbol seems as if standing on a horizontal branch. The word Swastika can be broken as Su+Asti+ka where Su means good and Asti means “it really is” and “ka” makes the word a noun. That means “Everything is good.”
Swastika is also considered to be sacred and represents luck and prosperity. A Swastika is drawn on Kalash at the time of Hindu rituals. It is also used in pendants and printed on walls of the Hindu temples.
Tilak is a vertical sign made by kumkum on the forehead exactly between two eyebrows of a Hindu male. This is used mainly at the time of rituals or any religious ceremonies like weddings, birthdays, Munj, etc.
Lingam is the representation of Lord Shiva through which Lord Shiva is worshipped mostly. The lingam is also called Shivling, Ling. It is a vertical cylindrical pillar surrounded by a nearly completely round object with an opening on the right side which stretches out to some length.
The interpretation of this Hindu symbol is controversial as some people believe that it is a union of the Linga of Shiva and Yoni of Shakti while others believe that it represents the infinite nature of Shiva. Most of the Hindus worship Lord Shiva in the form of a lingam instead of an idol of Lord Shiva.
Trishul is a weapon with three points residing on a long rod with outer two points curved at the end and the middle point straight and sharply pointed.
Trishul is the main weapon of Lord Shiva which he always carries with himself and is highly revered in Hinduism.
A bindi is a small rounded sign made with Kumkum between the two eyebrows of a married Hindu woman. Though unmarried girls also use the sign but they do not use Kumkum for that.
A Kalash is a vessel with five green leaves placed at the entrance of the vessel in such a way that they cover the entrance of the vessel and then a coconut placed on top.
Yantra actually means a machine but when it is used as a Hindu symbol, it looks like a geometry figure. These are simple as well as complex figures. Sometimes numbers are written on it. If placed at a desired place, they are believed to have good effects on the life of the possessor.
9. The saffron-colored flag:
- Saffron Flag
The saffron-colored flag is the official flag of Hinduism. It looks like two partial triangular waves connected to each other in the middle and flat at the other end. Saffron color represents sacrifice and renunciation of materialism.
10. Rudraksha Bead:
Rudraksha is a tree whose seeds are traditionally used by Hindus for medicinal as well as spiritual purpose. Rudraksha is a dark-brown colored seed with some linings on it. Rudraksha is believed to be of 1 to 108 faces. One-faced Rudraksha is scarcely available.
The flower of lotus is of great importance in Hinduism. It represents culture and politeness. You will see lotus in the hands of some important Hindu deities such as Lord Ganesha and some goddesses. A main Hindu deity Brahma is always shown sitting in the big lotus. The flower of lotus is used in some Hindu rituals.
12. Shankha (Conch Shell):
Shankha is used both as a symbol and as a trumpet in Hindu rituals. Shankha is a sea shell which is kept inside Hindu altars and worshiped. Shankha is an emblem of Hindu God, Lord Vishnu. Shankha is a symbol of longevity and prosperity for Hindus.
In ancient times, Shankha was used as a trumpet before the start of the war.
Dharmachakara, means the Wheel of Dharma, represents Hindu Dharma or law. This wheel has eight spokes to it.
You will always find this lamp near the Hindu altar and/or in Hindu temples. Hindus believe that a lamp should always be lit near the Hindu deities. Many cultural and social functions in India are opened with lighting the lamps by chief guests. This lamp symbolizes the light and hence is sacred.
15. Banyan Tree:
Banyan tree is a Hindu symbol of longevity. It is not only a Hindu symbol but also is national tree of India. Hindu married women worship this tree on Vat Pournima and tie a white thread around it asking for the longevity for their husbands.
Nandi is a bull which is also the carrier of Lord Shiva. A nandi is always found in front of a Shivlinga. It is a symbol of Lord Shiva. It represents strength and fertility.
Shri or Sri is another most important symbols of Hindus. Shri represents auspiciousness. It also is one of the names of Lord Ganesha. Shri is added before the names of Hindu males as Mr. is added in English. It is used as short form of Shriman in this regard. It is also a symbol of Devi Laxmi.
Lord Ganesha is an important demi-God of Hindus but he is also used as a symbol many times. This symbol represents auspiciousness as Ganesh is known as remover of obstacles. Lord Ganesha is worshiped first of all demi-Gods. Hindus wear Ganesha symbol as a pendant or print his pictures in the house. Some people use metal rings on which Ganesha is carved.
Kamandalu is an oblong vessel mainly used by ascetics who live in forests and do meditation. It is a symbol of asceticism. It is mainly used to store water. It looks like a Kalash but it is different from it.
Cow is the most sacred animal for Hindus. It is considered as a very poor animal. Cow is a symbol of good nature, purity, motherhood, and prosperity.
21. Sudarshan Chakra: Sudarshan Chakra is a weapon as well as a symbol of Lord Vishnu. It is considered as the most lethal weapon. It is circular in shape like a flat disc and is toothed as a saw around the circumference.
22. Veena: Veena is a musical stringed instrument of Goddess Saraswati but it is also a Hindu symbol of art and education. It is also associated with Dev Rishi Narad.
Paduka actually means footwear, the wooden slippers wore by saints and Hindu deities. Laxmi Paduka is the symbol of wealth. The footprints of Hindu deities and saints are also called as Paduka and are worshiped as a symbol of that deity.
24. Peacock Feather: The peacock feather is the symbol of Lord Krishna as he used to wear a feather in his crown. Sometimes, a flute with peacock feather is depicted as the symbol of Lord Krishna.
25. Symbols of a married Hindu woman: Hindu women wear some ornaments as a symbol of marriage including but not limited to Mangalsutra (the sacred thread), bangles, Jodawe (a silver ring wore in the toe), ear-rings, nose-rings, etc. These symbols vary according to the region. Different things are used as symbol of marriage in different parts and societies in India. Besides those, Hindu married women apply Kumkum between the two eyebrows and on the center of the head.
26. Sun: Sun is considered as a deity by Hindus and is also a symbol of light and truthfulness. Sun worship is still prevalent in Hinduism. People offer water to the sun in the morning.
27. Snake: Snake is a symbol of rebirth as it casts its skin after a period of time. Lord Shiva always wears a cobra around his neck and Lord Vishnu rests on a snake named Sheshnaga.
Hindu Sanskrit Mantras
Mantras have a great importance in Hinduism. There are thousands of Hindu mantras which are mostly composed in Sanskrit.
Remember that chanting the mantras in the right way with stress on the particular word is very important. So, before practicing any mantra, it is advisable to learn it from an authorized person.
We are listing some popular Hindu Sanskrit Mantras here, both in English as well as Hindi:
1. Gayatri Mantra:
ओम भूर्भुव: स्वः तत्स्वीतुर्वारेन्यम भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि धियो यो न: प्रचोदयात ||
Om Bhurbhuvaha Swaha| Tatsaviturvarenyam| Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi| Dhiyo Yo Naha Prachodayat|
2. Mahamritunjaya mantra:
ओम त्र्यम्बकम यजामहे सुगन्धिं पुष्टीवर्धनम
उर्वारुकमिव बंधनान् मृत्योर्मुक्षीय मा मृतात् ||
||Om|| Tryambankam Yajamahe Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam| Urvarukamiv Bandhanat Mriturmikshayamamrutat|
Om<” is the one-word mantra in Hinduism. This is the most important mantra. In fact, most of the Hindu mantras start with “Om.” It is called as Bij Mantra.
4. Lord Shiva Mantra:
ओम नमः शिवाय ||
Om Namah Shivay |
5. Lord Vishnu Mantra:
ओम नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय नमः ||
Om Namo Bhagvate Vasudevay Namah|
6. Lord Ganesha Mantra:
A. ओम गणपतये नमः ||
Om Ganpataye Namah|
B. वक्रतुंड महाकाय सुर्यकोटि समप्रभ: | निर्विघ्नं कुरु में देव सर्वकार्येषु सर्वदा: ||
B. Vakratund Mahakay Suryakoti Samaprabhah Nirvighnam Kurumedevah Sarvakaryeshu Sarvada (This mantra is chanted before the start of every ceremony, Puja, or Arati)
C. श्री गणेशाय नमः ||
C. Shree Ganeshay Namah ||
7. Shri Hanuman Mantra
मनोजवं मारुततुल्यवेगं, जितेन्द्रियं बुद्धिमतां वरिष्ठम् |
वातात्मजं वानरयूथमुख्यं, श्रीरामदूतं शरणं प्रपद्ये ||
Manojavam Maruttulyavegam| Jitendriyam Buddhimatam Varishtham| Vaatatmajam Vanarayothmukhyam| Sriramdutam Saranam Prapadhye
8. Lord Kartikeya Mantra
Om Saravanabhavaya Namah
9. Shani Mantra
Om Sham Shanaiscaryaye Namah
10. Rahu Mantra
OM Dhum Ram Rahave Namah
11. Laxmi Mantra
Om Mahalaxmeya Namah |
Hindu Customs and Traditions
Customs and traditions have always been an important part of every religion and culture. Human civilization is incomplete without them. As Hinduism is the oldest religion on the earth, there are a lot of Hindu customs and traditions observed in India. Some customs are so important for the people that sometimes, they sacrifice their lives for them. Mainly, people living in villages in India are very conscious regarding these. It does not mean that people living in the cities do not observe them but they are not as staunch as the people in villages are. There are literally thousands of customs and traditions in Hinduism. They vary from region to region and caste to caste. Many of them are common in all parts of India. We would try to list down each and every Hindu custom and tradition here.
When Hindus meet each other, they greet each other by saying ‘Namaste’ or ‘Namaskar.’ They put together the palms of both hands while saying so. Some religious words like Ram Ram, Jai Mata Di, Jai Ram Ji Ki, Om Namah Shivay are also used sometimes.
2. Before the start of any good work and social and religious ceremonies, Hindus worship Lord Ganesha and chant mantra:
वक्रतुंड महाकाय सुर्यकोटि समप्रभ:
निर्विघ्नं कुरु में देव सर्वकार्येषु सर्वदा:
Vakratund Mahakay Suryakoti Samaprabhah Nirvighnam Kurumedevah Sarvakaryeshu Sarvadah
3. Hindus do not wear footwear inside homes, temples, and other holy places. They do not enter the temples after consuming alcohol and/or nonvegetarian food.
4. They apply a spot or standing line of kumkum between the eyebrows on the forehead at the time of worship.
5. They do not eat nonvegetarian food on Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays, Chaturthis, Ekadashis, and many other festival days.
6. Most of the marriages are of arranged type with the consent of bride and groom. Marrying outside the caste is considered as a bad practice.
7. Arranged marriages generally take place within the respective castes only.
8. Marriage is a big ceremony for them and they do not hesitate to take loan for that. It is like a prestige issue.
9. They do not kill snakes on Mondays and on the festival day of Nagpanchami.
10. Hindus pierce the ears of babies and put golden earrings in them.
12. Hindu girls and women pierce their nose also.
13. A married Hindu woman wears a Mangalsutra around her neck, bangles in her hand, and toe rings, which indicate that she is married. She also applies a Kumkum spot or sticks a bindi between her two eyebrows.
14. Showing respect to elders is an integral part of Hindu culture. A son must take care of his parents in their old age. Younger people touch the feet of their elders to show respect and take blessings from them. Mother, Father, and Teacher are considered as next to god and are highly respected.
15. Hindus worship many deities. It is believed that there are 33 crore deities in Hinduism.
16. Many festivals are celebrated throughout the year. There are different festivals for different deities. Ganesha, Shiva, Vishnu, Laxmi, Parvati, Hanuman, Shri Ram, Shri Krishna, and Kartikeya are the most popular deities.
17. Hindus believe that Lord Vishnu incarnates on the earth from time to time to restore Dharma.
18. Lord Brahma is not worshiped separately as he is cursed. There is only one temple of Brahma in India which is in Pushkar, Rajasthan.
19. Laxmi Pujan in Diwali is considered as the biggest festival of Hindus. On that day, they worship Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of money.
20. Generally, Hindu women and girls wear clothes, which would cover all the body except face such as Sari, Lehengas, Salwar Kameez, Ghagra choli, etc.
21. A married Hindu woman considers her husband as God and the husband considers her as his Ardhangini (Half Body).
22. Before going for a long travel, they put lemons under the wheels of vehicles. They believe that it would save them from perils. They also break coconut and light incense stick in front of the vehicle for the same purpose.
23. Many people tie seven chillis and a lemon woven in a thread or wire to the vehicle as they believe it saves them from negative energies.
24. They tie a black doll over the front door of the house to stop bad powers from entering the house.
25. A ceremony called Vastushanti is performed before going to live in a new house. The yagya performed during the ceremony is supposed to wipe out ghosts and other types of negative energies from the house.
26. You would find an altar in every house which contains miniature idols of many Hindu deities. They clean and worship them everyday.
27. The idols or pictures of Hindu deities are kept in such a way that they do not face South. The practice is observed in temples as well as homes also. It is believed that hell is located at South and paradise at North.