Introduction to Hinduism
Report by John
In the Vedic age the land of India was called Sapta Sindhu, the land of the seven rivers. The same name appears in the Zend Avesta, the holy book of the ancient Persians, as Hapta Hindu, with the Sanskrit s replaced with an h, a sound shift that occurs in various Indian dialects as well. The Greeks called the land India or Indika, which also derives from the term Sindhu, removing the initial sound altogether. So clearly Sindhu or Hindu was a name for India going back to very ancient times. India was Sindhu Sthana, the land of the rivers or Sapta Sindhu Sthana, the land of the seven rivers. - From David Frawleys "How I became a Hindu"
Hinduism is not a religion, it is more a way of life, open to theology and philosophy, no one report, or peice of text or holy book can capture the true essence of Hinduism, however I will squash up the basics for people who are interested to learn here.
The basic beliefs of Hindus are:
Karma - All actions (positive or negative) will come back to you in some way or another, for example, if you are born into this life with negative surroundings (poor, hardly any food, diseased), then this is a result of bad actions in your past life. If you are good enough in this life and manage to erase all negative karmas, then you can attain soma (enlightenment).
ReBirth - Being reborn again and again, reincarnation is a commonly used term for this however, rebirth is the correct term.
Ashima - Non-violence in thoughts, actions and words.
The concept of God in Hinduism is very deep rooted, but basically it goes like this:
The ParBrahm is God, it is genderless, formless, past time and cannot be worshipped. The ParBrahm is so great that it is past description or mortal attributies like a personality, the ParBrahm is also beyond worldly affairs, time space and matter. The ParBrahm firstly manifested himself into two formless essences, the Nirguna Brahman (without attributies) and the Saguna Brahman (with attributies). The Brahman is the supreme personality, but cannot be seen. The first manifestation of the Saguna Brahman is maha kal (time), and then it manifested itself into the Trimurti (Trinity - see below) and then other forms.
Hinduism is a panesthetic monosthetic faith, which basically means, the belief that God is one, but resides in all that exists.
The Hindu trinity is as follows:
Brahma The creator (manifestation of) god Brahma creates new things - Brahma has four heads to show his mind thinks of all things.
Vishnu The preserver (manifestation of) god Vishnu preserves things and keeps the word going.
Shiva The destructive (manifestation of) god Shiva destroys worn out things in order to make space for new creations.
Ganesh - The elephant headed deity
Here is the story of how Ganesh got his elephant head:
Shiva had gone off to meditate while his wife Parvati stayed at home, she decided to take a bath, so to protect her while she bathed, she make a carved a statue of a boy and blew him into life, she told the boy to protect her while she was in the bath. When Shiva arrived home, he was furious that this child he did know was not letting him into his home, so out of fury he severed his head, but when Parvati told him that the boy was his son Shiva was torn up, so he Parvati ordered that he cut off the head of the first animal he could find, and to fix it onto Ganesh's body, clearly the first animal Shiva could find was an elephant, this is the story of how Ganesh got the head of an elephant, and became able to answer prayer.
People will generally question how Hindus can believe in the existance of something with more than one head or more than two arms. Generally Hindus will either believe these deities had no physical existance due to them having just a plain meaning, others will believe that anything is possible - past science and what we can see with our eyes.
List of deities
There are many deities in the Hindu tradition, millions infact, so here I will mention the most commonly noticed ones:
Brahma The creator god Brahma creates (new) things.
Vishnu The preserver god Vishnu preserves things and keeps the word going. There are many avatars of Vishnu. (Of the ten universally recognized avatars, nine have already manifested whereas the tenth is yet to appear).
Shiva/Mahesh The god of destruction Shiva destroys worn out things in order to make space for new creations.
Ganesh The remover of obstacles, his wives are Riddhi and Siddhi.
Krishna The god of love - A human avatar of Lord Vishnu
(Lord Krishna has also very similar to Lord Jesus in his way of life and activities - this has been compared).
Radha The consort of Krishna.
Rama An incarnation of Vishnu.
Sita The consort of Rama.
Laxman The brother of Rama.
Kalki/Man on the white horse This form/incarnation of Vishnu will come when it is time to destroy the world, he will do so by fire and blood.
Lakshmi Goddess of beauty and wealth - The consort of Vishnu.
Buddha The enlightened one - Another human incarnation of Vishnu.
Agni The god of fire.
Indra The god of weather.
Hanuman - The monkey god of service, also looked up to as the ideal devotee, as he was a devotee to Rama.
Saraswati - The goddess of knowledge - Also the consort of Brahma.
Parvati - The consort of Shiva.
Durga - The goddess which was created by the anger of the trinity Gods, also the token of shakti (energy), she is a form of Parvati.
Kali - The black goddess of destruction, a form of Durga.
Gayatri - Goddess Gayatri has five heads, each one representing the four Vedas and the fifth representing God, she is also another consort of Brahma.
Datta/Dattatrieya - Lord Datta is the three trinity deities merged into one form (Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu).
Narasimha - Half man, half lion incarnation of Vishnu.
Matsya - Fish incarnation of Vishnu.
Murugan/Kartikeya/Skanda - Son of Shiva and Parvati, brother of Ganesh, sometimes seen with six heads, he is the master of creations, he has two wives: Valli (who is sometimes green) and Devasena, he practised lifelong celibacy.
Dot on the head?
The 'dot' on the head is not a tattoo like many think, it is made out of a powder, generally kum-kum, it is worn between the eyebrows (on the brow chakra) and represents God in oneself, bindi can come in many shapes and sizes, they are usually a red circular sticker or a powder (kum-kum powder), and can be worn by man or women, a Hindu lady will usually wear a bindi as a sign of marriage, the main way to tell married women from unmarried is putting kum-kum in the parting of the hair. Forehead markings for men are called tilak. Bindi/Tilak is also commonly referred to as the third eye. Forehead markings are usually applied using the middle finger on the right hand as this is considered auspicious. There are also fashion bindis which come in a range of varieties which women wear, these are not really considered religious.
There are many scriptures in Hinduism, the most popular scripture is said to be the Bhagavad-Gita, however, the main scriptures are the four Vedas (Yajur, Rig, Sama and Atharva), there are also the Upanishads and the Puranas.
Hindus can worship at home or at Mandir (Hindu Temple), commonly Hindus worship at a shrine by praying or performing puja or aarti (forms of worship), Hindus also worship the gods with music (Bhajans) or offerings (Prasad), if a Hindu is away from home and has no access to a shrine or Mandir, they even can perform an aarti or puja on the internet!
Common types of worship:
Meditation - Focusing on the inner self.
Puja - A worship ritual usually containing 16 steps including:
washing the deity, offering food, light, flowers, garlands, milk with honey, inscence, prayers and songs to a deity. When food is offered, the deity spiritually eats the food and what is left is called prasad, this is blessed food which is eaten by the devotee(s) after puja.
(A detail of the Shodasa Puja is found here on my site.),
Aarti - A step of puja which is commonly performed alone, this involves rotating a lamp around a deity three times.
Chanting - Chanting the 108 names of a deity with mala beads, or chanting a sanskrit mantra 108 times.
Praying - Talking to God/a deity.
There are quite a few Hindu holy days here are some:
Diwali, The festival of lights, This festival leads us into truth and light and teaches us to abolish ignorance, Lakshmi is usually worshipped on this day, diya (oil lamps) are commonly left lit throughout the house at night so Lakshmi can find her way through the house so that she can fight away evil spirits, sometimes fireworks are lit.
Holi On this day people throw coloured powder at each other called gulal, on this day the triumph of good over evil is celebrated.
Ganesh Chaturthi Ganesh's birthday.
Janmashtami Krishna's brithday.
Mahashivarati On this say people fast to show there devotion and thanks to Lord Shiva, this is because Lord Shiva once found a potion upon the shore which was capable of destroying the whole world, so he drank the potion and kept it in his throat, this gives him the name the blue throated one.
Here are some sects of Hinduism:
Saivism This sect concentrates on Lord Shiva and regards him as the supreme aspect of the Brahman.
Vaishnavism This sect concentrates on Lord Vishnu, they believe he is the supreme aspect of the Brahman.
Krishna Consciousness A lot of people regard this as a sect of Hinduism, however they regard themselves as a separate faith, the Hare Krishnas believe that Krishna is the supreme God-head.
Hinduism and other faiths
The Rig Veda states: "Ekam sat vipraha, bahudha vadanti", which means "Truth is one, the wise call It by various names", this means that there is one reality that has many names, this shows us that Hinduism regards all faiths as a path to God, Allah, Bhagwan and Waheguru are just some of the names for it.
The soul and illusion
Hinduism teaches that every living creature has an atman, which is a formless immortal soul, and after birth this takes a new life (or achieves enlightenment depending on ones karma). Everything we see and touch is just maya (illusion) and our body is a physical container for our soul.
This report was originally posted in March 2003, updated and totally changed, reposted September 2003. John has updated a few things in the report on his personal site.
Copyright March 2003.
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