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Introduction to Hinduism



Ancient India


Some of the first visitors to come to India were the ancient Persians. The ancient Persian language had a quirk of replacing the ‘s’ sound with the ‘h’ sound when they spoke. In the North-West part of ancient India flowed, a river called river Sindhu. The ancient visitors mispronounced the name as Hindu thus the word Hindu came into being and the people living across this river acquired the name Hindus. In days to come the name of the river was again mispronounced and the river became known as river Indus. Today the river is still called river Indus and the people living in this part of the world were called people of Indoi. This word gave rise to the name of the country India.  





Om (aum) Symbol

Om (sometimes written Aum) is the most important symbol for Hindus. Hindus claim that this is a sound heard in the deepest of meditation when one experiences God. Hence this sound and is said to be the most fitting name of God. Many Hindu prayers and chants begin with this word. This sound is extensively used during practice of meditation.



Swastika Symbol

Swastika is a symbol that denotes good luck drawn from all four corners of the world. It has four arms drawing in good luck from all corners. It is considered to be a symbol of auspiciousness. The word ‘Swastika’ derives from the Sanskrit root Swasti literally meaning ‘well being’. The symbol is seen on walls, doors, and is extensively used as a form of Hindu decoration. During the Second World War the Nazis misused this symbol for promoting fascism. This had nothing to do with the auspicious relevance of this symbol in Hinduism.



Lotus Symbol

Lotus flower grows out of muddy water, it emerges pure, beautiful and detached. In the same way, Hindus are encouraged to live in a pure state detached from worldliness.






Rishis  ( ancient and modern)

Hinduism is unique in that it does not rely on the spiritual experiences of just one prophet who lived in ancient times. Instead, it is able to refresh its message of spirituality through the teachings of many enlightened personalities throughout the ages. These enlightened people are called Rishis. They claim first hand experience of God. These Rishis were male or female, young or old. They continue to be born in Hindu society and continue to refresh and revive the message of Hinduism in different times. Some like Vashista & Vishwamitra lived in ancient times. Some like Shankaracharya (788 – 820), &  Ramanujacharya (1017 – 1137) lived in medieval times. Some like Ramana Maharshi & Ramakrishna or Vivekananda lived in modern times.


The ten Avatars of Vishnu


Special Personalities: Avatars

Avatars – God coming down to earth:  Hindus say that from time to time, God comes down to earth for the good of mankind and for re-establishing religion. Hindus refer to grand personalities like Rama, Krishna and Buddha as avatars. Avatars differ from other saintly figures because they seem to have the power of not only experiencing God for themselves but also have the power to let others experience God.  Hindus accept that such grand personalities are also visible in other religious traditions.





Krishna’s dialogue about religion is  called the Bhagavad Gita

Shrutis the Scriptures of authority

The Shrutis are the books of authority. The word Shruti literally means ‘that which is heard’. These scriptures are so called because they were passed on for thousands of years by word of mouth. They contain spiritual knowledge acquired by the rishis in deep meditation. The main set of Shruti texts is called the Vedas. Portions of the Vedas containing the Hindu philosophy are called the Upanishads. The Bhagavad Gita, the central text of the Hindus, is also considered to have the authority of a Shruti. The name ‘Bhagavad Gita’ means ‘the song of the divine’. Even though it is not part of the Vedas, it is a highly significant text for Hindus as it contains the synthesis of the Upanishads.


Ramayana: The Noble story of Rama and Sita


Smritis are Scriptures with lesser authority they contain:

v      Epics  are part of Smriti scriptures. They contina historic stories like the Ramayana (the story of Rama and Sita) and Mahabharata (the story of the Pandava brothers overcoming adversaries with the help of Krishna).


v      Puranas form part of the Smriti scriptures. There are eighteen grand puranas called the Mahapuranas. These legendary tales do not have the same authority as the Shruti scriptures they are vital in Hinduism as they make religious teaching interesting, colourful and easy to understand. Most of these stories make it easier to grasp difficult philosophic ideas of Hinduism. Though it is necessary to remember that these lovely colourful stories about Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism should not be interpreted as literal truths.


v      Law-books like the Manusmriti also form part of the Smriti literature.  Such law books of Hinduism offer codes of conduct for a Hindu society. These laws come with a sale-by-date. Very few Hindus follow these ancient law books. Most Hindus follow the codes of conduct prescribed by modern proponents of Hinduism. Hardly any modern Hindu reads or lives by the codes of conduct set by the Manu-smriti. 



Hinduism is a family of Sectarian movements



The Swaminarayan movement is one of the main sectarian  movements of Hinduism in the West

Pluralism: Hinduism allows for many sectarian movements to exist side-by-side

Pluralistic teachings of Hinduism allows for many different approaches in spirituality. As we are all different the way we progress spiritually individually or as groups must also necessarily be different. This is what pluralism teaches. Hinduism is a family of sectarian movements. Each sectarian movement promotes different spiritual paths taught by different religious teachers. No one religious movement or sectarian movement is considered better than others. All are seen as different pathways used by different people or groups for making spiritual progress. This teaching of pluralism is at the heart of Hinduism. It is very relevant in the multi-faith society we live in as it teaches how people of different religions can live with each other peacefully without feeling threatened or without having to threaten each other.























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