That man or woman attains Peace who lives devoid of longing, freed from
all desires, and without the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘Mine’.
Hinduism, one of the world’s oldest living religions, has approximately 800 million followers, most of them
Hinduism is an amalgamation of several faith traditions. It may be helpful to view Hinduism not so much as
a single religion, but as a family of religions. Hindus themselves use various terms such as sanatana-dharma
(loosely translated as “eternal religion”) to describe their faith; the word “Hindu” is originally a geographic
designation (those who live east of the Indus River) and is not found in any Hindu scriptures.
Hinduism has no single founder. While Hinduism may be a collection of faiths, one basic tenet of Hinduism
is a belief in the difference between spirit (eternal) and matter (temporary).
With 400,000 followers, Hinduism is the fourth largest religion in the UK.
The Vedas are the oldest Hindu scriptures and, as with most Hindu scriptures, are written in Sanskrit. The
word Veda means knowledge.
The Vedas are divided into four books, each section dealing with different aspects of knowledge. They are,
Rig-veda,Yajur-veda, Sama-veda, and Atharva-veda.The Vedas were codified into sutras (aphorisms) in a
scripture known as Vedanta-sutra. Much of Hindu philosophical writing stems from this and develops the
ideas in Vedanta-sutra according to time, place, and circumstance.
As well as the Vedas other classes of scriptures include:
Itihasas: Histories, such as Mahabharata and Ramayana
Brahmanas: Instructions for ritual worship
Puranas: Epic texts explaining Vedic teaching through historical and allegorical narrations
Upanishads: Philosophical texts, such as Bhagavad-gita
Of all these scriptures, Bhagavad-gita is probably the best known and most widely taught.
Reincarnation and Karma
One of the main teachings of Hindu scriptures (sastra), is that the living entity is caught in a cycle of birth,
death, and rebirth; this cycle is called samsara. The soul, as eternal spirit, is caught in a world of temporary
matter. This is an unnatural position, and escape means return to the spiritual world.
According to all Hindu traditions, one’s next birth is decided by one’s karma (work) and one’s consciousness
at the time of death. Karma is a principle of universal justice. Whatever action is performed, good or bad,
there is a subsequent reaction, if not in this life then in the next. But ultimately the aim is to become free
from repeated birth (and subsequent old age, disease and death) by engaging in spiritual activities.
According to Bhagavad-gita there are three paths a Hindu can follow in order to break the cycle of birth and
Work (karma yoga): The performance of meritorious religious deeds including rituals, giving in charity, and
Knowledge (jnana-yoga): Realisation of the true nature of matter and spirit.
Devotion (bhakti-yoga): Devoting one’s life to developing a loving relationship with God.
God and demigods
One of the fundamental differences of opinion within Hinduism is the identity of God. Some schools teach
that God is impersonal, that he has no form or identity, and other schools teach that God is personal, that
He is the supreme person. And within each of these schools are further sub-schools with different
understandings of the nature and personality of God. These differences of understanding are the reason
that Hinduism cannot really be viewed as one religion. Although these theological disputes exist, there is a
tradition within Hinduism of accepting all valid religious traditions, Hindu or non-Hindu, as part of God’s
plan to teach people according to their abilities and inclinations.
The three main branches of Hinduism are Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Shaktism. The Vaishnavas worship
Lord Vishnu as God, specifically in His forms of Krishna, Rama, and Narayana. Shaivites worship Lord Shiva
and Shaktas worship Durga-devi, the Goddess in charge of the material energy. Worship of the deity form
(murti) of the Lord is considered to be an integral part of worship because all aspects of God – His name,
forms (including the deity form), pastimes, and words – are considered to be equally part of God and equally
As well as these main deities are the numerous demigods. These personalities, while not God, are of a
higher level than humans and have specific roles to play within the functioning of the universe.
A central figure in Hinduism is that of the guru. The teacher who passes on the teachings of his or her
lineage, without changing the essence but with consideration of changes in society. The lineage of the guru
is known as parampara (disciplic succession) and orthodox Hindus will generally see their place in Hinduism
in terms of their particular parampara.
There is no particular day of worship in Hinduism. To Hindus, every day is a day of worship.
Traditionally Hindus will have a shrine for worship at home and, depending on proximity, will visit the
temple regularly as well. The temple is a sacred focus for Hindus. However, respectful visitors are generally
Worship consists of items such as kirtan (singing the names of God), bhajan (devotional songs), puja
(offering items such as flowers, food, water and incense to God), sastra (reading from scriptures), sanga
(associating with fellow devotees), and prasadam (sharing food offered to God). There are many cultural
variations that determine which of these are performed and how they are performed.
There are many rites-of-passage within Hinduism. Again, these vary according to tradition but can include
rituals to mark birth, babies first hair-cutting, babies first grains, formal acceptance of a guru, sacred-thread
(brahmin) initiation, marriage, death and many others.
Holy Days and Festivals
It has been said that in Hinduism there is a festival for each day of the year. This may be an underestimate!
In common with other faiths, Hindu festivals mostly fall into two broad categories: Those that celebrate
teachers and saints in the tradition and those that celebrate notable events from scripture.
Hindu festivals are an opportunity for devotees to refocus on their spiritual life and to increase their
meditation on God and his pure followers. Most festivals include prayer and reading of scripture while
some will include fasting for part or all of the day. Some festivals are immensely joyful, such as Holi where
revelers throw coloured dyes and powders over each other. Other festivals are very attractive, such as
Diwali, when houses and temples are lit up with candles.
Hindu holy days and festivals follow a lunisolar calendar, thus dates vary from year to year. A few of the
most popular are:
· Diwali. Known as the festival of lights, this commemorates the return of Lord Rama from His exile in
the forest. It is, for many traditions, a new-year celebration. It takes place between late October and
the middle of November.
· Dussehra. A celebration of good conquering evil, this festival lasts ten days and takes place between
late September and the middle of October.
· Holi. A spring festival to celebrate creation and renewal, linked with Lord Krishna.
· Navaratri. A nine day festival which celebrates the triumph of good over evil.
· Janmastami. A celebration marking the appearance on earth of Lord Krishna.