Thursday, October 23, 2008
Hinduism is a religion practiced in India, Nepal, Malaysia, Singapore, Suriname, Canada, United States, and Trinidad and Tobago. Archaeologically, it is thought to be the oldest religion in the world as suggested by evidences of carbon dating experimented on artifacts unearthed in India and across the Indian Subcontinent(according to Archeologists). Also, Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world after Christianity and Islam. Hinduism is a religion of many gods and complex religious practices, rituals, and traditions that is hard for a Westerner to comprehend.
From the daily reverent gesture of Namaste to the discipline known as yoga, Hinduism through its law, duty, and correct behavior of dharma unlike Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam has seen changing dimensional religious postulations and the creation of gods and goddesses reaching a staggering 33 million mark and increasing. In Hinduism, the mantra is the sacred word or formula while moksha denotes to mean liberation from cycle of rebirth. Wherever one belongs in Karma, the cause/effect criterion remains solely responsible for the reincarnation of the soul.
Jnana yoga is the path of knowledge while tantra implies visual focus. The pivotal sacred text of Hinduism written in Sanskrit, the language of the Hindu scriptures, is the Vedas, epitomizing knowledge. Brahmins, Hinduism’s doyens of religious propagation, are proficient at the dissemination of the sacred word for the varied temples dedicated to particular gods of one’s choosing. Thus, depending on one’s proclivity to a particular deity, the modus operandi of the congregation pinpoints to where one belongs in the caste system-a level in society as a result of Karma.
Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism
Hinduism’s three most revered gods include Brahma the creator god, Vishnu who is the preserver god with 10 avatars, and Siva or Shiva, the god of destruction. Brahma is often identified with Prajapati, a Vedic deity, while Saraswati, the goddess of learning, serves as his consort. Brahma is thought, according to myth, to have been self-born having sprung out of the lotus flower in Vishnu’s navel at the beginning of the universe while another legend says he was born in water. Despite being one of the major gods of Hinduism, few temples have been dedicated to Brahma in present-day India.
In Vaishnavite tradition, Vishnu is the supreme god who epitomizes the five primary forms of god. He is the master of the past, present, and future. He is the creator and destroyer of all beings. He supports, sustains, and governs the universe. He is the originator and developer of all elements within the universe.
Followers who focus worship upon Siva or Shiva, the god of destruction, and over and over again called Shaivites or Shaivas, worship him in the form of Shiva Linga having the attributes of being in deep meditation and refer to him as the lord of the dance. Besides the gods, Hinduism has many goddesses having female forms. One example is Ganesha, the elephant-headed goddess whose original human-head was severed by Shiva; Annapurna is the goddess of food and cooking; while Maya is another goddess whose literal meaning of the word is “illusion”.
The Caste System
Hinduism, according to one’s Karma, categorizes society into four distinct groups. This structure of organization or criterion has been in use for centuries, and is strongly held by its adherents without distortions serving as a decisive factor for the continuation of a historical and religious legacy the Buddha, Dayananda, Gandhi, and even the British colonial administration failed to obliterate. A traditionally held theory is that a group of immigrants known as Aryans possessing unusual culture, tradition, and physical features settled in India in the second millennium B.C. imposing the current caste system in place. A fifth group or untouchables emerged afterward to add up to the number. Despite the outlawing of the caste-based system by the Indian Constitution to keep in touch with the socialist, secular, and democratic principles of the world’s largest democracy, the order still stands tall among Hindus of contemporary India. Going by the old adage ‘old habits die hard’, critical politics and social perspicacity continues to degenerate the system into marvelous dimensions throughout India.
The caste system identifies superiority through behavioral observations, purity of character and traits, food consumption associated with caste, limpidness of body and clothing, polluting substances, and traditional observations. It is a hierarchical system based on quintessentially identifiable or relative ranking chiefly beginning with the visible priestly Brahmans who are knowledgeable in the propagation of the Holy Scriptures and are adept at serving the gods.
Thereafter, the level of human arrangement drops down to a degree of depreciation. The Kshatriyas who are warriors and landowners and typically known to be vegetarians fall second in rank only to the ceremonial Brahmins. Hinduism’s most venerated Lords Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and Mahavira belonged to the Kshatriyas social order as outlined by the Vedas and the Laws of Manu. Classified as the elite military and ruling order, Kshatriyas symbolize fearlessness and vigor, forethought and formidability, and are empowered with absolute authority and reins of power to galvanize resources for the command of the armies, protection of territorial and national borders, overseeing social order, and offering top echelons with the necessary tools and means needed to govern the nation meticulously.
The third group is known as Vaishyas and they are the producers who are the skilled artisans and farmers competent at making material things. The fourth is the Shudras categorized as followers and servants. A fifth category known as untouchables or ‘Dalits’ (oppressed people), emerged a few centuries ago. Mahatma Gandhi, father of modern-day India who has been recorded in history as the first leader to usher a nation to independence without shedding a drop of blood through non-violence applications, named the Dalits ‘Harijans’, which stands for ‘god’s people’. Mahatma Gandhi went a step further raising the status quo of this oppressed people by founding the Harijan newspaper printed in English, Gujarati, and Hindi respectively.
Hinduism, known for its massive temples of awe-inspiring architectural designs, unlike Abrahamic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that are known to be missionary, is a non-missionary religion. Surprisingly, a good number of the 33 million gods and goddesses of this faith have taken leaps and bounds breaking global barriers. It has millions of adherents in almost every continent of the world who have taken with them gods and goddesses, the dharma and mantra, gurus and Gandhis, Vedas and Upanishads; and the most important holidays of Diwali and Holi and the philanthropic occasion known among its devotees as Dasehra. With India expected to become the most populous country in the world any time soon, demographers aren’t sure where Hinduism will stand in the global religious setting in terms of size within the next half century.