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Wikipedia: Hindu

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A Hindu (pronunciation , Devanagari: हिन्दू) is an adherent of the philosophies and scriptures of Hinduism, a set of religious, philosophical and cultural systems that originated in the Indian subcontinent.

When and how the word ‘Hindu” was coined is not precisely established. It is absent in early sacred literature of Indian origin. It was used by ancient Persians, without religious connotations, for the people inhabiting the lands of river Indus. Regular usage of the word is encountered in the accounts of foreign invaders of the medieval period, to describe collectively the followers of Indian religions. British Raj, with the help of the academia, defined Hindus precisely for demographic and legal purposes .(Citation needed)

There are approximately 920 million Hindus,of the world population making Hinduism the third largest religion in the world after Christianity and Islam; of these, about 890 million live in India, and 30 million in the Hindu diaspora.[1] Other countries with large Hindu populations include Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka, Fiji, Guyana, Nepal, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Mauritius, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, Netherlands and United Kingdom.[2]

Contents

Who is a Hindu?

See also: History of Hinduism

Due to the wide diversity in the beliefs, practices and traditions encompassed by Hinduism, there is no universally accepted definition on who a Hindu is, or even agreement on whether Hinduism represents a religious, cultural or socio-political entity. In 1995, Chief Justice P. B. Gajendragadkar was quoted in an Indian Supreme Court ruling:[3]

“When we think of the Hindu religion,Unlike other religions in the world, the Hindu religion does not claim any one prophet; it does not worship any one god; it does not subscribe to any one dogma; it does not believe in any one philosophic concept; it does not follow any one set of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not appear to satisfy the narrow traditional features of any religion of creed. It may broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more.”

Thus some scholars argue that the Hinduism is not a religion per se but rather a reification of a diverse set of traditions and practices by scholars who constituted a unified system and arbitrarily labeled it Hinduism.[4] The usage may also have been necessitated by the desire to distinguish between “Hindus” and followers of other religions during the periodic census undertaken by the colonial British government in India. Other scholars, while seeing Hinduism as a 19th century construct, view Hinduism as a response to British colonialism by Indian nationalists who forged a unified tradition centered on oral and written Sanskrit texts adopted as scriptures.[5]

A commonly held view, though, is that while Hinduism contains both “uniting and dispersing tendencies”, it has a common central thread of philosophical concepts (including dharma, moksha and samsara), practices (puja, bhakti etc) and cultural traditions.[6] These common elements originating (or being codified within) the Vedic, Upanishad and Puranic scriptures and epics. Thus a Hindu could :

  • follow any of the Hindu schools of philosophy, such as Advaita (non-dualism), Vishishtadvaita (non-dualism of the qualified whole), Dvaita (dualism), Dvaitadvaita (dualism with non-dualism), etc.[7][8]
  • follow a tradition centered on any particular form of the Divine, such as Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, etc.[9]
  • practice any one of the various forms of yoga systems; including bhakti (devotion) in order to achieve moksha.

In 1995, while considering the question “who are Hindus and what are the broad features of Hindu religion”, the Supreme Court of India highlighted Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s formulation of Hinduism’s defining features:[3]

Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and the realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of Hindu religion.

Some thinkers have attempted to distinguish between the concept of Hinduism as a religion, and a Hindu as a member of a nationalist or socio-political class. Veer Savarkar in his influential pamphlet Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? considered geographical unity, common culture and common race to be the defining qualities of Hindus; thus a Hindu was a person who saw India “as his Fatherland as well as his Holy land, that is, the cradle land of his religion”.[10] This conceptualization of Hinduism, has led to establishment of Hindutva as the dominant force in Hindu nationalism over the last century.[11]

Customs and traditions

Ethnic and cultural fabric

The Ganga is considered one of the most sacred rivers by Hindus

The Ganga is considered one of the most sacred rivers by Hindus

See also: Indo-Aryans, Demographics of India, History of India, and Hindutva

Hinduism, its religious doctrines, traditions and observances are very typical and inextricably linked to the culture and demographics of India. Hinduism has one of the most ethnically diverse bodies of adherents in the world.[citation needed] For some,[who?] it is hard to classify Hinduism as a religion because the framework, symbols, leaders and books of reference that make up a typical religion are not uniquely identified in the case of Hinduism. Most commonly it can be seen as a “way of life” which gives rise to many civilized forms of religions.[citation needed]

Large tribes and communities indigenous to India are closely linked to the synthesis and formation of Hindu civilization. Peoples of East Asian roots living in the states of north eastern India and Nepal were also a part of the earliest Hindu civilization. Immigration and settlement of peoples from Central Asia and peoples of Indo-Greek heritage have brought their own influence on Hindu society.[citation needed]

The Indus Valley Civilization is often taken[who?] to represent the historical continuum of Hinduism. The roots of Hinduism in southern India, and amongst tribal and indigenous communities is just as ancient and fundamentally contributive to the foundations of the religious and philosophical system.[citation needed]

Ancient Hindu kingdoms arose and spread the religion and traditions across South East Asia, particularly Thailand, Nepal, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and what is now central Vietnam. A form of Hinduism particularly different from Indian roots and traditions is practiced in Bali, Indonesia, where Hindus form 90% of the population[citation needed]. Indian migrants have taken Hinduism and Hindu culture to South Africa, Fiji, Mauritius and other countries in and around the Indian Ocean, and in the nations of the West Indies and the Caribbean.[citation needed]

Many New Age Movements have adopted variants of Hindu practices.[citation needed]

Linguistics of Hinduism

See also: Sanskrit

Although the Vedas, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were composed and recorded in language Sanskrit, several other important religious and philosophical works were written in languages like Pali, Prakrit, Tamil, Hindi, Nepali, Kannada, Assamese, Punjabi, Malayalam, Telugu, Gujarati, Marathi, Oriya, Bengali and Maithili.

Many modern discourses, essays and analysis of Hindu religion and society, as well as retellings of its greatest epics, are published in the English language.[citation needed]

Hindu ceremonies, observances and pilgrimages

Main article: Hinduism

Hinduism is also very diverse in the religious ceremonies performed by its adherents for different periods and events in life, and for death. Principal Festivity of the Hindus also vary from region to region which include Diwali, Shivratri, Ram Navami, Janmashtmi, Durgapuja, Holi, Navatri, etc.[citation needed]

Initiation

Main article: Initiation in Hinduism

Some Hindus, may perform initiation ceremonies like Upanayana or Janoy or ‘Bratabandha’. These ceremonies have variants depending on the caste, the culture and the region.[citation needed]

In a ceremony administered by a priest, a coir string, known as Janoy or Poonal, is hung from around a young boy’s left shoulder to his right waist line for Brahmins and from right shoulders to left waistline by Kshatriyas. The ceremony varies from region to community, and includes reading from the Vedas and special Mantras and Slokas.[citation needed]

Young females (prepubescent until married) do not have similar ritual passage as young males. However, some young Hindu females, especially those from southern India, may follow annual Monsoon Austerity Ritual of Purification by not eating cooked food for one or two weeks, depending on age of child. This is known as “Goryo” or “Goriyo”.[citation needed]

Generally speaking, Hindus are free to join an order or inner circle, and once they have joined it they may submit to its rites and way of living. But this type of joining is voluntary and has the possibility of leaving the order at any time without serious objection from fellow followers as long as one says and does things without associating them with the order which he or she has left. It is a social form of co-option of life style. It is said in Sanskrit that, “dharmo hi hato hanti, dharmo rakshati rakshitah”, which translates to “Dharma, when destroyed, destroys; dharma protects when [it is]protected”, meaning the path of righteousness will protect one as long as one upholds and follows it. The initiation (diksha), a sort of purification or consecration involving a transformation of the aspirant’s personality, is regarded as a complement to, or even a substitute for, the previous initiation ceremony rite of consecration that preceded the Vedic sacrifice in ancient India; in later and modern Hinduism, the initiation of a layman by his guru (spiritual guide) into a religious sect. In the soma sacrifices of the Vedic period, the lay sacrificer, after bathing, kept a day-long (in some cases up to a yearlong) silent vigil inside a special hut in front of a fire.[citation needed]

Some Hindus will give offerings to their gods by placing rice or flowers in a bowl above the stove every morning before they eat, and behind this bowl may be a picture of one of their gods. Along with giving offerings they might also pray to the god they gave an offering to.[citation needed]

Hindu New Year

Hindu New Year is celebrated at different times of the year by people of different states. Many regions have different calendars with some starting in March while others begin at the time of Diwali, the festival of lights in autumn. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra states celebrate New Year on the different days called ugadi in andhra pradesh. Hosavarsha in Karnataka .[12], but West Bengal, Punjab, Assam,Tamil Nadu and some parts of coastal Karnataka celebrate the New Year at different time (April 14). The names of the new year vary also. For example Bengali people call their new year as Poila Boishak and Assamese people call it Bihu. Marathi people call new year Gudi Padwa while Kannadigas & Telugu people call new year Ugadi.[12] Tamil people call their new year as Varusha Pirapu. People from coastal Karna14th of April). People from other northern states celebrate Holi as their New Year day which is first day of first month Chaitra according to Hindu calendar.[citation needed] The Hindu new year is also celebrated in Nepal in the month of April, usually falling on the 14th of the month. Nepal is the only Hindu country (now a secular nation) where the Hindu calendar, known as Bikrama Sambat, is the official calendar. 14th April in 2007 will herald the beginning of the year 2064 BS.[citation needed]

Fasting

Fasting is very common among most Hindus. They Fast on certain days of the week based on their belief and to appease certain deities. Most fasting Hindus abstain from eating meat and only live on fruits and milk. Some people refrain from using edible salts in the preparation of the meal and have it only one time on the day. There is a month called Shravan or Savan and ” Karthika” when Hindus fast for the whole month and abstain from eating any form of meat. Also they fast during the holy days like Ganesh Chaturthi (Chauth), Shivaratri, Rama Navami and Navaratri. Some people view fasting as a form of penance (tapasya) or alternatively as a means to develop a close bond with the Supreme Being. The purpose for fasting (tapasya) was instituted into the religion with a twofold purpose. The first purpose was to instill a sense of discipline in the followers, since disciplined lives are believed to be most productive. The second reason was to use these fasting days as a form of ‘body cleansing’. For instance, on certain fasting days, people usually eat only fruit throughout the day, followed by one meal thus leading to a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, in the early centuries when Hindus were beginning to gain identity in the religion, there was disparity among the rich and the poor (which continues to exist in cultures all over the world) and fasting was a way for ‘resource sharing’ and to ensure that no one was claiming more rights on scarce resources like grains and other crop, merely because of their economic advantage. The Hindu religion does not require or mandate its followers to fast, it only proposes these suggestions as a way of life.[citation needed]

Marriage

Main article: Marriage in Hinduism

Wedding ceremonies and rituals vary in Hinduism. Most Hindu parents look for a prospective match for their children from their own community or caste. The ritual of matching the prospective’s jathakam or janampatri (Hindu horoscope) with the help of a holy priest is also widely practiced by many Hindus. Modern day couples usually approve each other before getting the elders of the family approve their ‘arranged’ marriage. The important difference between a Hindu marriage and other types of marriage is that, Hindu marriage is a 3-party contract, as much as it is a 2-party contract in the western civilization. The third party that needs to approve the marriage is essentially the elders of the family representing the interest of the clan. In today’s India, with the social evolution, the approvals of elders and family are slowly becoming obsolete. Also, the marriages between different community and castes are becoming quite common and frequent.[citation needed]

Hindu marriage ceremonies are very colorful and elaborate. Families of the bride and the groom hold numerous festivities to celebrate the wedding. Marriage without a Brahmin priest was traditionally not regarded as a “religiously accepted marriage” in Hindu society. In contemporary times, lower caste priets such as the “Pandaram” order have performed marriage ceremonies that are acceptable in society.[13][14]Saptapadi is an important ritual performed during the wedding in which the bride and the groom circumambulate a sacred fire, known as agni, seven times. As the inheritance of the family wealth was by the males only, girls who would move out to live with another family after marriage, were given a fair share of the family wealth as dowry. However, it should be noted here that there is nothing in the Hindu scriptures that makes references to dowry. This is a man-made tradition and is not condoned by the religion. With the modernization of Hindu society, some eligible bachelors started to see this as a demandable contribution from the bride’s father. The practice of demanding a dowry is still prevalent in some parts of India and sometimes the bride’s family or the bride gets harassed by the groom’s family for this. Dowry formed an integral part of Hindu marriage until it was rendered unlawful by the Indian government in 1961. Dowry is legal if it represents “stri-dhana” i.e. a girl’s share of the parents’ wealth, given voluntarily by the parents. In some parts of Indian society, the dowry system is getting phased out and regarded as a disgraceful act. Education programs, women’s outreach groups and media-based awareness have contributed to the reduction of dowry related issues, making the practice of mandatory dowries in marriages less significant in contemporary Hindu society.[citation needed]

Pilgrimage

Many Hindus make pilgrimages to the holy shrines (known as Tirthas). Hindu holy shrines include the abode of Shiva, Mount Kailash in Tibet, Shiva’s lingam in Amarnath, Anantnag, Rameshwaram, and Kedarnath; the holy cities of Haridwar, Dwarka, Puri, Prayaga, Mathura, Mayapur, Tirumala, Tirupati, Varanasi, and Ayodhya. Goddess Durga’s holy shrine in Vaishno Devi attracts thousands of devotees every year. Hundreds of millions of Hindus annually visit holy rivers such as the Ganges (“Ganga” in Sanskrit) and temples near them, wash and bathe themselves to purify their sins, make sacrifices and win pivous credits.[citation needed]

The Kumbha Mela (the Great Fair) is a gathering of between 10 to 20 million Hindus upon the banks of the holy rivers at Allahabad (Prayag), as periodically ordained in different parts of India by Hinduism’s priestly leadership. The most famous is at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh which is known as “Sangam”. It is regarded as the Arulmigu Mathusoothana perumal sevva sangam OM NAMO NARAYANA, The presiding deity, Lord Madhusudhana, in majestic splendour, with a serene countenance and four arms, is nearly five feet in height. Lord Vishnu appears in the form of Madhusudhana with four hands. While, two hands hold the disc and conch, the other right hand is held aloft in abaya hastha position and the left rests on the left thigh. He is seen with Goddesses Lakshmidevi and Bhoomadevi.[citation needed]

Death

Upon the death of a Hindu person, his or her body is ceremonially bathed and wrapped in clean, mostly white khadi cloth. At the ceremony of cremation all mourners usually wear only white clothes. An attending priest conducts the ceremony, sanctifying the body and pyre by sprinkling holy water and singing or chanting religious hymns or songs. Hindus in India are cremated on open grounds upon wooden pyres. Typically, the pyre is set alight by the eldest male child of the deceased, or the closest male relative. The ashes of the person’s remains are gathered and placed in a pot, which may be ritually immersed or released in any of Hinduism’s holy rivers, usually within 3 days.

The practice of cremation is not universal among Hindus. Hindus of various regions and castes may bury their dead as well, as per their families tradition.

Bindi and Decoration

The area between the eyebrows (where the bindi is placed) is said to be the sixth chakra, ajna, the seat of “concealed wisdom”. According to followers of Tantrism, this chakra is the exit point for kundalini energy. The Bindi is said to retain energy and strengthen concentration. [1]. It is also said to protect against demons or bad luck. In addition to the bindi a vermilion mark in the parting of the hair just above the forehead is worn by married women as a symbol of their married status. During Indian marriage ceremonies, the groom applies sindoor on the parting in the bride’s hair. Depending on the dharam of the religion colours vary. Ancient Buddhist women wore similar marks (for purely decorative purposes) since the second century, which became popular during the Tang Dynasty.

Collection of modern bindis

Collection of modern bindis

Religion for the common Hindu

Murtis or deities and their worship (puja) play a crucial role in Hinduism. Shown here is the popular figure of Ganesha

Murtis or deities and their worship (puja) play a crucial role in Hinduism. Shown here is the popular figure of Ganesha

See also: Yoga, Vedic astrology, Bhagavad Gita, and Ramayana

To many Hindus, the Vedas, a large corpus of texts that originated in Ancient India, are the main source of religious social and religious practices in Hindu society. By tradition, the distinction between “believer” and “unbeliever” (Nastika) was simply whether the person, in principle, accepted the authority of the Vedas. Such acceptance was in many cases a matter of common terminology and wildly different belief systems coexist (including atheistic, polytheistic, monotheistic, among others) within the community of “believers.” Consequently, for the common Hindu, the connection to the Vedas is mostly through certain chants that are performed at various ceremonies, and not through an emotional/spiritual connection to the content of the Vedas.

The Puranas are a wide collection of religious treatises, biographies and stories on the historical, mythological and religious characters in Hindu folklore, classic literature and sacred scriptures. They are often the source of popular Hindu folk tales and religious lessons and thus play a much bigger role in the emotional/spiritual dimension of the common Hindu’s life.

Yoga is an important connection for a Hindu to his religious and historical heritage. The art of spiritual and physical exercises are a distinguished native tradition pursued by millions of Hindus worldwide.

Indian Vedic astrology is important to the conduct of any of life’s important events such as marriage, applying for a post or admission, buying a house or starting a new business. To millions of Hindus the kundali is an invaluable possession that charts the course of life for a man or a woman from the time of his birth, all ascertained by Vedic mathematics and astrology.

Perhaps the most popular Hindu scripture is the Mahabharata, depicting a civil war within a family that takes on dimensions of the struggle between dharma and adharma. Krishna’s discourse to the warrior prince Arjuna, known as the Bhagavad Gita and contained in the Mahabharata, is the guide book on life for the common Hindu. For many Hindus the Bhagavad Gita is considered a source of divine guidance and inspiration. Devotional readers apply Krishna’s teachings to the personal and worldly contexts of their life. It is often considered as the main source of religious teaching for Hindu practitioners.

Similarly, the Ramayana, depicting the life of the prince and king Rama, also plays a big role through its many different versions. To hundreds of millions of Hindus, Rama is more than just an incarnation of the Supreme, or simply a just king of Ayodhya. He is the still living, thriving soul and identity of real Hinduism. Rama is the image of Hinduism, the Perfect Man, its conscience and undying hope of deliverance.

The doctrines of moksha by the diligent discharge of personal, social and religious duty is the cornerstone of Hindu society. By following one’s duty (Swa-Dharma) one gains merit and, when the process is completed, union with the Godhead and cessation of the cycle of birth and death. Dereliction of duty will result in all sorts of misfortunes, including birth into a lower level in the social hierarchy. This is a strong motivation to stick to the right path of human nature. Commonly this swa-dharma or varna is misunderstood as caste, the class identity in Hindu society. Varna is determined by a soul’s karma, while Jat or caste is determined by birth and not necessarily in a person’s nature. So it is important for a person to follow their true nature and seek to do their duty in life.

See also

Hindu people

  • India
  • World Hinduism
  • Survey of Hindu organisations
  • Hindu joint family
  • Madhvacharya
  • Mandir (Hindu Temple)
  • Aghoris

Hinduism

  • Hinduism
  • Ramayana
  • Mahabharat
  • Bhagavad Gita
  • Vedas
  • Upanishad
  • Vaishnavism
  • Ayyavazhi
  • Shaivism

Four Sects of Hinduism

  • Saivism
  • Shaktism
  • Vaishnavism
  • Smartism

Other Dharmic religions

  • Buddhism
  • Jainism
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