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Hinduism Essay, Research Paper

Hinduism is a religion that originated in India, and is still practiced by most of its inhabitants. It is proclaimed as the oldest religion in the world, and is declared as the official religion of the country and is also practiced in other parts of the world including East and South Africa, Southeast Asia, the East Indies and England. The word “Hindu” comes from the word “Sindhu” meaning the river. To Hindus, Hinduism is not just a religion but a way of life. The religion has created a set of rules for good living on this earth. “The Hindus define their community as those who believe in the Vedas or those who follow the way of the four classes and stages of life.” (Kinsley)

“Hinduism is one of the worlds major religions, not because of its numerous followers, but because of its influence on many other religions.” (Bowen)

Fundamental Principles

Hinduism’s main rule is defined by what people do rather than how people think. Most Hindus have an admiration for cows, an abstention from beef and marriage within a wealthy class in hopes of producing male offsprings. Hinduism’s two main gods are Shiva and Vishnu. However, Hindus practice in worshiping many other minor gods.” (Fowler) The real beauty of Hinduism is that it allows real freedom of choice in worship Each individual has an arranged pattern that gives meaning to his or her own life. There is no hierarchy present in Hinduism, but the social system gives each person a sense of place within their community.

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The ultimate authority for all Hindus is the Vedas. The oldest of the four Vedas is the Rig-Veda, which was composed in an ancient from of the Sanskrit language in northwest India

The text was most likely composed between 1300 and 1000 BC., and consists of over 1,028 chants to a temple built for their gods. It has been memorized syllable for syllable, and is still preserved orally to this day. The Rig-Veda was added by two other Vedas; the Yajur-Veda, which is the text for sacrifice followed by the Sama-Veda, which is a collection of chants. The fourth book, the Artharva-Veda is a collection of magic spells, and was added at around 900 B.C.

The Vedas is known as an intone from the gods. It is so sacred that no syllable can be changed. A summary of Hinduism can be found in the Smriti. There is no prohibition on rewording or challenging the Smriti. The Smriti includes two great Sanskrit epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. There are many other types of chants, known as puranas, also present in the Smriti. The Dharmashastras and Dharmasutras are the ones that are most often cited. The epic Mahabharata tells the story of a war between the Pandava brothers, led by their cousin Krishna and their cousins Kavravas. The other epic Ramayana tells about the journey of Rama to recover his wife Sita after she is abducted by the demon Ravana. These two epics are believed to have been composed between 300 B.C. and 300 A.D. Over the centuries these two epics were translated into the languages of India, namely Tamil and Hindi.

Philosophy of Hinduism

Deep in their literature lives a complex form of cosmology. “Hindus believe that the universe is a great, enclosed sphere within which there are numerous heavens, hells, oceans and continents, with India in the center.” (Cross). They feel that time is corrupt, going from the


golden age known as Krita-Yuga through two intermediate levels of diminishing goodness to the present age which is known as Kali-Yuga. At the end of each Kali-Yuga, the universe is

destroyed by fire and flood, and a new golden age begins. A cycle as you would say. Humans also endure cycles. After the soul leaves the body, it is reborn in another individuals body, as an animal, or as a vegetable or mineral. “And as a goldsmith taking a piece of gold turns it into another, newer and more beautiful shape, even so does this body and dispelled its ignorance, make unto himself another, new and more harmful shape like that of the fathers or of the Gandaharvas, or of the gods.” (Www.atributetohinduism.com) Hindus call this eternal entanglement Samsara, but is known to us as reincarnation. How you turn out is based upon the actions that your soul has committed in its past life.

The aspect of Hinduism has three Vedas, three classes of society (priests, warriors, and the populace) known as Varnas. Three stages of life are known as Ashramas, and three “goals of a man”, known as Purusharthas. The goals of a woman are barely discussed in the text. The Atharva-Veda was added to the first three Vedas. The first three classes were derived from religious and social institutions of ancient Greece and Rome.

“The three original Ashramas were the unsullied student (brahmachari), the householder (grihastha), and the Forrest dweller (vanaprastha). They were said to owe three debts; study of the Vedas (owed to the sages); a son (to the ancestors); and sacrifice (to the gods).” (Flood).The three goals were artha (material success), dharma (righteous social behavior), and karma (reincarnation).

The primary goal of a Hindu is to produce and raise a son who will make his offerings to his ancestors. The second way of Hinduism, is based on the unity of the soul. Nothing could be


more detrimental to salvation than the birth of a child. Hinduism also highly encourages discrimination against the less fortunate.


“Hindus believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are facets of gods pure love and light deserving tolerance and understanding.” (Encyclopedia of Religion)

“Although all Hindus acknowledge the existence and importance of a number of gods and demigods, most individual worshiper are primarily devoted to a single god or goddess, of whom

Shiva, Vishnu and the goddess are the most popular.” (World Book Encyclopedia).

Shiva is known as a god who watches his worshipers lead a life of strict self denial. He is also the deity in which the image of his penis is the central shrine of all Shiva temples and the personal shrine of all Shiva households. In addition, Shiva is said to have appeared on earth in various forms including human, animal and vegetable forms. Kapalikas is a god who carries skulls to reenact the myth in which Shiva decapitated his father, the incestuous Brahma, and made Kapalikas carry the skull.

Vishnu is known to his worshiper as being all persuasive and supreme. It is believed that he created the universe by separating heaven and earth. He is worshiped in various forms, mainly a fish, tortoise or a boar. Another famous god who in time becomes the founder of a different religion is the god Buddha, who took on a bodily form in order to teach a false doctrine to demons here on earth.

The goddess Devi is known as the goddess of destruction. In one myth she kills the buffalo demon Mahisha in a great battle. As a result, she dances in a mad frenzy on the corpses of


those she had slain and eaten, while carrying the dripping skulls and severed hands of her victims.

Worship and Ritual

The most fundamental ceremonies for all Hindus are those that include the rites of passage. These ceremonies begin with the birth till the time the child eats solid food, mainly rice. Later rites include the first hair cutting for a young boy and the purification after the first

menstruation for a young woman. Last are the funeral ceremonies which include cremation of the body, and if possible, to have the ashes sprinkled in a holy river. One of the most notable ceremonies is known as the Pinda, which involves the eldest male child giving a ball of rice and sesame seeds so that the ghost of his father may pass from limbo into rebirth. The mother, who is thought to have more power to intercede with the gods, makes offerings of flowers or fruit before a small shrine in the house.

“Many villages, and all sizable towns, have temples where priests perform ceremonies throughout the day: sunrise prayers and noises, to awaken the god within the holy of holies; bathing, clothing, and fanning the god; feeding the god and distributing the remains of the food to his worshiper.” (Encyclopedia Encarta). In addition to the ceremonies, the temple is also a cultural center where songs are sung, holy texts are read aloud in Sanskrit, and sunset rituals are performed. In many temples, especially those sacred to goddesses such as the Kalighat temple to Kali the goddess of war, located in Calcutta, goats are sacrificed on special occasions by priests outside the temple itself. “On special days, usually once a year, the image of the god is taken from its central shrine and paraded around the temple complex on a magnificently carved wooden chariot.” (Wangu).

In India, festivals are celebrated frequently. In Diwali, the festival of lights is celebrated in


early winter, and in Holi, the spring carnival , individuals mingle and let their hair down, sprinkling one another with cascades of red powder and liquid symbolic of the blood that was probably used in past centuries.

In addition, Hinduism promotes worship and other primitive practices. Cow slaughter is considered sacrilege in the religion. The cow is referred as a mother to all mankind because of the

nourishing milk that she provides. Also the early Indian society was largely agrarian and depended on the cow for living. They used the dung as a fertilizer and as a disinfectant. All these and similar reasons must have prompted Hindus to treat the cow reverentially as opposed to sending it to the butcher.


“By the sixth century B.C., Buddhism had begun to make its mark on India on what was to be more than a millennium of fruitful interaction with Hinduism.” (Www.members.tripod.com/histore1/orient/menuinde.htm). From about 200 B.C. to 500 A.D., India was invaded by many northern powers. This was a time of great change and definition for Hinduism, and is the period in which the two chants, Dharmashatras and Dharmasutras, took form. At the time of the Gupta Empire (300-550 A.D.), Hinduism found its expression. The sacred laws were transcribed and the temples were built, many of which are still standing today.

Hinduism in the 20th Century

In recent times, numerous amounts of Indian religious teachers have migrated to the United States and Europe where they have inspired large followers. One such group is the Hare Krishna sect founded by Bhaktivedanta. They claim to base themselves on classical Hindu


practices. “In India, Hinduism thrives despite numerous reforms and modernization of Indian life. (Mercea). Hindu myths endure in their films, and the rituals not only survive in the temples but also in the rights of passage. Therefore, Hinduism, which survived centuries of disruption, continues to serve a vital function by giving meaning to the lives of Hindu people today.

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