underlying tenets of Hinduism cannot be easily defined.
There is no unique philosophy that forms the basis of
the faith of the majority of India's population. Hinduism
is perhaps the only religious tradition that is so diversified
in its theoretical premises and practical expressions
as to be called a "museum of religions". This religion
cannot be traced to a specific founder nor does it have
a "holy book" as a basic scriptural guide. The Rig Veda,
Upanishads and the Bhagwad Gita can all be described
as the sacred text of the Hindus.
Unlike most other religions, Hinduism does not advocate
the worship of one particular deity. One may worship
Shiva or Vishnu or Rama or Krishna or some other gods
and goddesses or one may believe in the 'Supreme Spirit'
or the 'Indestructible Soul' within each individual
and still be called a good Hindu. This gives an indication
of the kind of contrasts this religion is marked by.
At one end of the scale, it is an exploration of the
'Ultimate Reality'; at the other end there are cults
that worship spirits, trees and animals.
There are festivals and ceremonies associated not only
with gods and goddesses but also with the sun, moon,
planets, rivers, oceans, trees and animals. Some of
the popular Hindu festivals are Deepawali, Holi, Dussehra,
Ganesh Chaturthi, Pongal, Janamasthmi and Shiva Ratri.
These innumerable festive occasions lend Hinduism its
amazing popular appeal and make the Indian tradition
rich and colorful.
Hindu Mythology and the Living
of epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are immortalized
and are still alive in the day-to-day existence of the
common people. The gods of Hinduism are at once super-human
and human and there is distinct feeling of warmth and
familiarity towards them.
Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, represents qualities
such as honour, courage and valour and is held up as
a model of manliness. His wife Sita is the prototypal
Indian wife who is carried off by Ravana, the king of
Lanka, while Rama and Sita are on exile. Sita's eventual
rescue by Rama, his brother Lakshmana, and Rama's faithful
monkey-general Hanuman are all woven into this engrossing
tale. Stories from this epic have been passed down orally
from one generation to the next. Religious fairs, festivals
and rituals have kept these legends alive, and there
is never an occasion that does not offer an opportunity
to retell the old stories.
The stirring verses of the Mahabharata tell the story
of the dynastic struggle between the Pandavas and the
Kauravas, who were close cousins. Lord Krishna plays
a very important role in this Great Epic. He is a friend,
philosopher and guide to Arjuna, one of the Pandavas,
and he helps Arjuna overcome his hesitation to kill
his close relatives in the battlefield. The wise philosophy
of Krishna and his teachings have been embodied in the
Bhagwad Gita. Although the popular image of Krishna
is that of a god who steals butter as a child, and who,
as a youth, plays the flute and entices cows and cowherd
girls alike; in his mature years he is depicted as the
wise philosopher with a more serious side to his nature.
There are numerous gods and goddesses worshipped by
Hindus all over India. Among these, the most fundamental
to Hinduism, is the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva
- creator, preserver and destroyer respectively. Brahma
has four heads corresponding to the four directions
of the compass. He is the creator of life and the entire
universe. Vishnu is the preserver who guides the cycle
of birth and rebirth. He is also supposed to have taken
many incarnations to save the world from evil forces.
Both Rama and Krishna are believed to have been incarnations
of Vishnu. Shiva, usually seen with a coiled cobra around
his neck, destroys all evil and also has many incarnations,
not all of which are terrifying.
The invisible deities are represented by a complexity
of images and idols symbolizing divine powers. Many
of these idols are housed within ornate temples of unparalleled
beauty and grandeur. The Hindu gods are very much alive
and live in temples, snow-capped peaks, in rivers and
oceans and in the very hearts and minds of the Hindus.