Living Hinduism

The Most Comprehensive Multimedia Guide to Hinduism and Hindu Culture

Introduction

There are nearly 1 billion Hindus Worldwide, 98% of whom live within South Asia. Over 80% of all Hindus live in India. Many of the overseas communities live in areas linked to the trading routes of colonial powers. Hinduism is an all-embracing term to describe a huge array of beliefs and traditions.

The Religion

Hindus believe in one Godhead or Divine Power, with innumerable forms. Three major forms are: Brahma, creator of each universe; Vishnu, sustainer and defender; and Shiva, destroyer and re-creator. Vishnu has ten main forms or avatars which come to the help of the universe. These include Krishna and Rama.

Holy Book -

There are many sacred books, of which the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads are seen as the most important.

There are thousands of Hindu gurus, reflecting the huge variety of teachings. A guru, or teacher, is someone who has gained enlightenment through knowledge and practice. A Hindu wanting to follow a particular path of prayer, meditation and devotion usually has a guru.

Before birth and in the first months of life, there are many ceremonies. These include: reciting the scriptures to the baby in the womb; casting its horoscope when it is born; cutting its hair for the first time. At death, bodies are cremated and the ashes thrown on to a sacred river. The River Ganges is the most sacred river of all.

There are many festivals, of which the main ones are: Mahashivaratri celebrating Shiva (February-March); Holi, the harvest festival in honour of love and of Krishna (March-April); Diwali, celebrating the New Year and Rama and Sita, central figures of The Ramayana, a Hindu epic (October-November).


Places of Worship -

India is a land of temples. The Hindu temple is a house of worship with unique features. This is because it is symbolically designed in such a way that the place where it is built, the manner of its construction and the rituals that are traditionally enacted within it all have spiritual significance. All these aspects are so formulated as to indicate the spiritual path a Hindu has to follow to achieve self-realization, which is the ultimate goal of their existence.

Symbols -

Symbolism is used extensively in Hinduism as a means of understanding and describing concepts like God, Self and Creation. The underlying principles behind these concepts are very abstract and are not easy to grasp, which is why in Hinduism abstract ideas have been translated into more tangible and concrete symbols.

History

The history of Hindus, and almost equivalently that of India, has its beginnings in the distant past. Just like there are upheavals and periods of distress in the life of a human, the historical traditions and philosophical concepts underlying the history of India have witnessed similar ups and downs. The understanding of the present day Hindu psyche, its conditioning and the actions springing from it requires the study of the Hindu history and the innumerable events and incidents associated with it. Hinduism today is very different to the Hinduism of pre-1880s. Many Hindus beleive that Hinduism in its original sense no longer exists.

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