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Ten Things You should know about Hinduism

Updated on January 22, 2014

Ganesha, the destroyer of all obstacles

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Simhachalam Temple

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The Essence

Hinduism is not a religion per se, but a way of life. Though the origins are unknown, the basic tennets followed have an agelessness about them.The various fables, epics and tales associated with Hinduism, encompass a whole range of situations and dilemmas that are relevant even in modern day life.

The Mahabharat and The Ramayana are two of the Epics that are associated with Hinduism.In the Mahabharat, Shri Krishna reveals the Bhagavat Gita, the treatise on the Duties that a man has to perform, the righteous path of living and the ways to attain the Lord.

Yes the gods worshiped are numerous, Yes the rituals are many, Yes there are a multitude of sects and sub-sects, but the one binding factor is an amorphous quantity, Hinduism.

Intricate carvings on the walls of the Belur Temple

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The Basics

1. In ancient times before any recorded history, people did not understand the various facets of nature.It was beyond their comprehension the affects Rain, Water, Fire, Wind , Sun, Moon and Stars had in their day to day lives. They feared the elements. This fear led them to believe in some power that controlled these elements and this gave rise to each element being associated with a God, an unseen power and this in turn gave rise to the Sun God Surya, The God of Water Varuna, Agni the God of Fire , Vayu the Wind God and so on.

It also gave rise to the Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara. Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer and Maheshwara or Shiva the Destroyer.

To appease them small places of worship were built, with each God represented as idols. They were worshiped, rituals performed and offerings made to satiate the Gods.Idol worship started from there, as the ancients in their wisdom wanted something the common man could relate to, something he could see, feel and touch. As the citizenry of that period were not advanced. Even today 'Pancha Bhoota'( Sun,Wind,Water, Fire and Earth), the five Elements are thought to be the basis of life on Earth, as even scientists will agree.

2.The four stages in life according to Hindus is, Brahmachari( Youth), Grihasta( Family person), Vanaprashta( Dwelling in the forest)and finally the Sanyasi( who has renounced all worldly pleasures).

  • Brahmachari: From birth till youth, is a period of learning, not that the learning process stops thereafter. But in this period all the knowledge required to live life well is learned.The skills necessary for maintaining him and others in the family form part of the learning process.
  • Grihasta: Marriage and leading a householders life. Maintaining a family, looking after elders in the family and progressing to the next stage in life.
  • Vanaprashta: After formally completing his family duties, he proceeds to the forests to pray and slowly get away from all family ties.
  • Sanyasi: One who has relinquished all wordly pleasures and does penance, atoning for his wrong doings and concentrating all his energies on the supreme being.

3. The four Vedas, Rig Veda, Atharva Veda, Sama Veda and Yajur Veda, are the repository of many of the rituals and practices followed by Hindus. They consist of four parts. The Samhikas( Hymns), Brahmanas( Rituals), Aranyakas( Theology) and Upanishads.The origin of the Vedas is unknown and are oldest known treatise . Many of the Hymns found here are in use even today.

  • Samhikas: They consist of hymns dedicated to the lord.
  • Brahmanas: The rituals to be conducted, the method of conducting them, the necessary ingredients needed and the time the rituals should be performed.
  • Aranyakas: basically for asetics.
  • Upanishads: consist of the summary of the veda. It is adorned with many short tales which bring home the points described in the veda.

4. The red dot ( Kumkum) adorning the foreheads of Hindu women and men has a special significance. If the center of the forehead is pressed it is supposed to awaken the third eye leading to perceiving or seeing something beyond the ordinary and leading to higher consciousness.

Similarly Hindus decorate the floor outside the porch with delicate artistry( rangoli).The main ingredient used was a fine powder, which has given way to paint.usually.

5. Hindus are believers of life after death. Depending on the Karmas( acts of omission and commission) done in this life affects the future. This cycle of birth, death and rebirth continues till the accumulated bad Karma is wiped out and they become one with the Supreme.

6. It is a belief that death at Varanasi( Kashi) is the ultimate that a Hindu can dream for. As it guarantees freedom the Life-Death-Rebirth cycle.It is a fact many people in the last stages of their life end up in Varanasi.

7. Hindus believe that there is a God in everybody and hence greet each other with folded hands ( Namaste). If one were to just brush against another even then they pay respect to the other person.

8. The elders are considered to be Gods on earth especially the parents( Matru devobhavah Pitru devobhavah- Mother and Father represent God on earth). The youngsters in the family therefore make it a point to show respect to their parents, by touching their feet and receive their blessings before undertaking any work.

9.Many of the rituals and practices followed in Hindu households as far as worshiping God is concerned is handed down from generations.

10.Though visits to any temple is not mandatory, in these times of stress, many undertake ardous journeys to many temples. Many such temples are situated atop hills, in hostile terrain and involve trekking long distances.


Finally

The calendar year is dotted with many festivals. Beginning with the harvest festival celebrated by different names, then beginning of the New Year as per the Hindu calendar( Solar or Lunar), then Ganesha , Dasara and finally Deepavali, the festival of Lights.

The concept being to celebrate an event regularly so that the family can all congregate in one place and enhance the feeling of oneness in the family.

Angkor Vat, an ancient Hindu temple in Kampuchea.

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