Hinduism differs from Christianity and
other Western religions in that it does not have a single founder, a specific
theological system, a single system of morality, or a central religious
organization. It consists of "thousands of different religious
groups that have evolved in India since 1500 B.C.." Hindus have a
saying: "Ekam Sataha Vipraha Bahudha Vadanti," which may be
translated: "The truth is One, but different Sages call it by Different
Names". Hinduism is a henotheistic religion -- a religion which
recognizes a single deity, but which doesn't deny the existence of other gods
and goddesses as facets or manifestations or aspects of that supreme God.
Although the caste system was abolished
by law in 1949, it remains a significant force throughout India. Each
follower of Hinduism belonged to one of the thousands of Jats (communities) that
existed in India. The Jats were grouped into four Varna (social castes), plus a
fifth group called the "untouchables." A person's Jat determined the range of
jobs or professions from which they could choose. Marriages normally took place
within the same Jat. There were rules that prohibited persons of different
groups from eating, drinking or even smoking with each other. People were once
able to move from one Varna to another. However, at some time in the past
(estimates range from about 500 B.C. to 500 A.D.), the system became rigid, so
that a person was generally born into the Jat and Varna of their parents, and
died in the same group. "The caste system splits up society into a multitude of
little communities, for every caste, and almost every local unit of a caste, has
its own peculiar customs and internal regulations." The Rigveda defined four
castes. In decreasing status, they are normally:
Brahmins (the priests and academics)
Kshatriyas (rulers, military)
Vaishyas (farmers, landlords, and
Sudras (peasants, servants, and
workers in non-polluting jobs).
The Dalit were outcasts who did not
belong to one of the castes. Until the late 1980's they were called Harijan
(children of God). They worked in what are considered polluting jobs. They were
untouchable by the four castes; in some areas of the country, even a contact
with their shadow by a member of the Varnas was considered polluting. Practicing
untouchability or discriminating against a person because of their caste is now
illegal. The caste system has lost much of its power in urban areas; however it
is essentially unchanged in some rural districts. Many Dalit have left Hinduism
in recent years. This has sometimes been motivated by a desire to escape the
The colored dot is variously referred
to as a "tilaka," "bottu," "bindiya,"
"kumkum," or "bindi." It is a sign of piety, and a
reveals to other people that the wearer is a Hindu. It symbolizes the third eye
-- the one focused inwards toward God. Both men and women wear it, although the
practice among men is gradually going out of style. In the past, many unmarried
women wore black marks, whereas many married women wore red. But in recent
times, women often wear dots that match the color of their saris.
Hindus organize their lives around certain
activities or "purusharthas." These are called the "four
aims of Hinduism," or "the doctrine of the fourfold end of life."
The three goals of the "pravritti,"
those who are in the world, are:
righteousness in their religious life. This is the most important of the
artha: success in their
economic life; material prosperity.
kama: gratification of
the senses; pleasure; sensual, sexual, and mental enjoyment.
The main goal for the "nivritti,"
those who renounce the world. is:
They believe in the divinity of the Vedas, to be the
world's most ancient scripture, and venerate the Agamas as equally revealed.
They believe these hymns are god's word and the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma,
the eternal religion which has neither beginning nor end.
Hindus believe in the repetitious Transmigration
of the Soul. This is the transfer of one's soul after death into
another body. This produces a continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth
through their many lifetimes. It is called samsara.
They believe that the universe undergoes
endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.
in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own
destiny by his thoughts words and deeds. Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be reborn at a
higher level. Eventually, one can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment. Bad
deeds can cause a person to be reborn as a lower level, or even as an animal.
The unequal distribution of wealth, prestige, suffering are thus seen as natural
consequences for one's previous acts, both in this life and in previous lives.
The believe in meditation and it is often practiced, with
Yoga being the most common. Other activities include daily devotions, public
rituals, and puja, a ceremonial dinner for a god.
They believe that a spiritually awakened master is
essential to know the transcendent absolute, as are personal discipline, good
conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry and meditation.
They believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and
They believe that no particular religion teaches the
only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths
are facets of god's pure love and light, deserving tolerance and