Hinduism: One Religion – Multiple Cultures and Practices

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Hinduism: One Religion – Multiple Cultures and Practices

By Deepthi K

Hinduism is the most followed religion across the world next to Islam and Christianity. This religion has no founder and hence its exact origin is not known. However, research indicates that it can be traced back to as early as Indus Valley civilization. Most followers or Hindus refer to Hinduism as a way of life. There are various sects in Hinduism and each sect adheres to its own cultures, beliefs and practices.

Let’s look at some interesting aspects of this wonderful religion that is followed in a major part of the country.

Belief in God

Hindus believe that there is only one Supreme God and that is the Brahman. Brahman has no form, is omnipresent, and infinite. Hindus also pray to several gods and goddesses either individually or along with their consorts. There are different worshipping styles and prayers associated with each deity. However, all of them are several manifestations of the ultimate power.

Each sub-sect has its own belief regarding the path to god. However, all paths lead to the same destination, i.e., Brahman. A Hindu can worship to the Almighty in any form that he/she feels comfortable with.

According to Hindus, there are three major gods collectively represented to as the Trinity. One is Brahma who is said to be the creator of the universe. The second is Shiva and he is known as the destroyer. The third is Vishnu who is the preserver and protector of the world. There are also several avatars, each having unique significance and deeply symbolic.

Religious Books

Unlike the Bible for Christians and the Quran for Muslims, Hindus do not follow just one religious book. They hold the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Smritis, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita (a key part of the Mahabharata), and the Puranas close to their heart. All these books were originally written in Sanskrit.

The Vedas are the oldest among all the religious books. Most hymns and mantras chanted today were first mentioned in the Vedas.

Mark on the Forehead

Hindus like to place a special mark on the forehead. The most common sub-sects that have such marks on their foreheads are Shaivites and Vaishnavites who practice Shaivism and Vaishnavism.

Shaivites are hard-core devotees of lord Shiva and consider him as the supreme power. They pray devoutly to him and recite various Shiva mantras in his honour. This sub-sect of Hindus often have three horizontal stripes of the holy ash or vibhuti on their forehead.

Vaishnavites pray to lord Vishnu and chant several hymns as a mark of paying their respect to him. They also recite the Vishnu chalisa to praise him. These devotees usually have two vertical lines joined together like a V on their forehead.

Puja

A puja or prayer plays an important role in the life of any devout Hindu. Puja can be done by anyone in the house. Often, all members of the household take part in this puja. The puja can be quite simple and last for just a few minutes or it could also be an elaborate affair. Durga puja and Lakshmi puja are two of the most elaborate pujas that are performed in any Hindu household.

Durga puja is often done on a grand scale during the nine-day Navaratri or Dussehra festival with the deity represented in a different form on each day of the festival. It is believed that chanting the Durga chalisa with full fervour during this period is the simplest way to please Ma Durga.

The other key puja performed by Hindus is the Lakshmi puja on Diwali night. Hindus believe that the goddess blesses them with prosperity and wealth if this puja is carried out with utmost devotion.  

The complexity of Hinduism cannot be undermined. It is considered to be a very tolerant religion, which implies why a Hindu is free to associate with god the way/he she is most comfortable and feels best. The religion is also associated with a plethora of beliefs and practices that guide its followers to the supreme power through various paths.

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