Wednesday, April 22, 2009

HINDUISM : Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Where and when did Hinduism begin?
A. Hinduism basically started with Sruti “that which is heard”. The master of vedic age called Rishis, heard eternal truths in their heart and they taught their disciples telepathically, by transfer of thoughts. Later Vedas and Upanishads were taught in chanted lyrics and they laid the foundation of Hindnuism.
The exact date of when Hinduism actually stared begin with the age of this universe which is 155.5 trillion years ago.
Mythological Stories -
Hindu mythological stories says that it is trillions of years old. Some say Hinduism started soon after ice age ended and some even say its origin is 6000-7000 years before Christ [6000-7000 B.C.].
Theologians View – Brahmaputra in India started a “Thinking Process” later known as Hinduism. Other Hindu Theologians say that the early settlers of North India exchanged knowledge with dark colored people of South India called Dravidians and thus laid the foundation of Hinduism in India.
Archeological Evidence –
Evidence found at Indus valley civilization at Mohanjodaro and Harappa dates Hinduism to have started 6000-7000 years before Christ.
Major events in the development of the history of Hinduism are –
The original name of Hinduism was Santana Dharma meaning “righteousness forever “of” that which has no beginning or end”. The name Hindu was given by Persians when they invaded India in 6th B.C.
For long periods of time there was no written Hindu scripture. It was just in the forms of Sruti [that which is heard] and was narrated by rishis to their disciples with careful sound of words. Later with coming of various civilizations in India, Hinduism became a blend of various ideas and thoughts and thus came to be known as “The thinking process”.
In the development process of Hinduism the Hindu scriptures play a very vital role. The scriptures are written in Sanskrit and are –
Rig Veda [Vedas of Hymns] consists of 1028 hymns to gods like Indra & Agni.
Yajur Veda[Vedas of Liturgy] concerns the knowledge of how to perform all rites and rituals.
Sama Veda [Vedas of Music] concerns the knowledge of chants.
Atharva Veda – This Veda contains the knowledge given by Sage Atharvana. It contains many magical charms and incantations.
The word Upanishad is composed of Upa [Near], Ni [Down] and Shad[To sit]. Upanishad is a teaching given by Guru [teacher] to his disciples and it is a rule that no one except the disciple could hear his guru’s teachings.
Dharma Sutras
These are the backbones of Hinduism ethics and morality. They are basically the first lawgiver code books to Hinduism written by sages like Manus, Yatnavalka, Parasara and Gauthama. The earliest Dharma sutra is called “Code of Manu” and is popularly known as Manusmriti.
It is a collection of stories told by Vishnusharman to princes to teach them worldly affairs. Each story has a moral and is like a fable book in which human characters are replaced by animal characters. It teaches what exactly should be the course of action of a wise man.
It is the code of ethics for kings written by Kautilya of Maurya Dynasty. It consists of methods of spy system, how to deal with the enemy and various political and social subjects.
Brahma sutra
These describes the nature of Brahman in depth and is written by Sage Badarayana [Veda Vyasa].
These are a group of literature which deals with worship of god in many forms and they have their own set of rules and regulations for their devotee. These Agamas gave rise to 3 branches of Hinduism –
Famous Indian Epics
The 2 famous epics are Ramayana and Mahabharata written by Sage Valmiki and Sage Veda Vyasa respectively. The Bhagwad Gita is the form of conversation between warrior Prince Arjuna and Lord Krishna at the outset of Mahabharata war.
These are called Vedas of common folk and are written in question & answer form. They consist of religious stories which make common people understand the higher truths of life. The major puranas are called Mahapurana.
Thus all the above Hindu scriptures played a key role in the development of Hinduism and paved a way for a religion which is appreciated by the entire world.
Q. What are the main ideas this religion professes?
A. Hinduism is more a way of life than a specific religion. In Hinduism one can find all religions of the world. Various religions like Buddhism, Sikhism emerged from it. The most important aspect of Hinduism is being truthful to oneself. Hinduism has no monopoly on ideas. It is open to all. Hindus believe in one God expressed in different forms. For them, God is timeless and formless entity. Hindus believe in eternal truths and these truths are opened to anyone who seeks them, even if he or she is ignorant of Hindu scripture or ideas. This religion also professes Non-violence - "Ahimsa Paramo Dharma" - Non violence is the highest duty. True Ahimsa implies curtsey, kindness, hospitality, humanity and love.

Q. How do Hindus worship?
A. The place where Hindus worship is called a Temple. Most of the ancient Indian Temples were constructed by Hindu Kings. The Temples were constructed on auspicious sites and the whole process was very elaborate. Two rituals associated with temple construction were a. Pratishta [installation of icons] and b. Kumbha – Abhishekam [temple dedication].
The idols of Gods are either made of special stone or wood and the artisan who makes them are called Shilpikar. The process by which worship of Gods & Goddess is done is called Pooja. It is the most common form of ritual. In the process of Pooja, Upacaras [offerings of many articles like food, perfumed water, tulsi leaves, sandal wood paste etc with honor to deity] play a vital role. The person who performs the Pooja is called Poojari.
Generally, all Indian houses have a small corner reserved for God and is called Mandir or Pooja Ghar where the Indian Family worships together. An individual family can have their own Poojari doing the Pooja or the head of the family does the Pooja. This tradition is considered a good practice in Indian houses. It is a time when all the family members come together and pray together.
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Q. What are the important rituals, ceremonies etc practiced by Hindus?
A. Rituals are basically an art of worshipping the God. Rituals may vary from home to home in some way or other but their basic concept remains the same. The rituals of Hinduism are-
Vedic Rituals called Samskaras [means refinement] – these are carried out throughout the whole life cycle and are 16 in all –
1. Garbhadhana - Ritual to guarantee conception
2. Pumsavana - Ritual to protect fetus and to have a boy
3. Simantonnayana - Ritual at the last month of pregnancy
4. Jatakarana - Preparation of astrological chart of child
5. Namakarana – Naming the child
6. Nishkaramana – Taking the child out of the house for the first time
7. Annaprasana `– First feeding of rice to the child
8. Chudakarana – First cutting of hair of the child
9. Karnavedha – Boring ear lobes of the child
10. Vidyarambha – Beginning of child learning alphabets
11. Upanayana – Wearing of holy threads by boys
12. Vedarambha – Commencement of the Vedic studies
13. Keshante – First shaving of the child’s head
14. Samavartana – Home coming after completion of Vedic Studies
15. Vivaha – Marriage Rituals
16. Anthyesthi – Funeral rituals
Shraddha –
Rituals at the time of death, these lasts for 12 days and is carried out to ensure that the departed soul is at ease and it goes to heaven where there are lesser difficulties. Tirtha Yatra – Ritual of going to holy places for purification and redemption from sin. Important places for tirtha yatra are –
1. Badrinath [North]
2. Puri [East]
3. Rameshwara [south]
4. Dwarka [West]
These are also called as Four Dhams.
Important Festivals
There are many Hindu festivals and their importance differs from place to place –
Deepavali –
It is called as the Festival of Light and comes in the month of Kartika [Oct./Nov.]. Many mythological stories prevail for Deepavali; the major two being the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after killing Ravana and the second being the Death of Titan of Hell, Narakasura by Lord Krishna. Both the events signify winning of good over evil, people light candles, diyas in their houses, worship Laxmi [Goddess of Wealth] and visit near dear ones, distribute sweets and wear new clothes etc.
Also called as Festival of Colors; it is celebrated in the month of March. The mythological story behind Holi is of Prahlada, Holika and Hiranayakshyup which signifies Holika buring to ashes and Prahlada emerging as great worshipper of Lord Vishnu and defeater of demon Hiranayakshyup. People celebrate Holi by throwing colored water and bright powders on each other and enjoying themselves.
Onam –
Celebrated in Kerala to mark the end of summer monsoons. It has a mythological story of welcoming demon King Mahabali to his lost kingdom.
Pongal –
Celebrated in Tamil Naidu during the months of Januray /Feburary. It is celebrated at the time of rice harvest.
Raksha Bandhan –
Celebrated in the months of July/August; a sister ties a Rakhi [sacred thread] to the wrist of her brother/s who in turn give her some presents and become responsible for her safety.
Rama Navami –
Celebrated as the Birthday of Lord Rama.
Ganesh Chathurthi -
Celebrated as the Birthday of Lord Ganesha.
Navratri –
Festival of Nights; lasts for 9 days with 3 days each devoted to worship of Goddess Durga [Goddess of Valor], Lakshmi [Goddess of Wealth] and Saraswati [Goddess of Knowledge].
Saraswati Puja –
A Festival honoring Goddess of Knowledge.
Shivaratri -
Celebrated as the Birthday of Lord Shiva.
Krishna Janamashtami -
Celebrated as the Birthday of Lord Krishna.

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Q. How many Gods do Hindus worship? What are the main Gods & Goddess?
A. According to Hinduism all gods are the various representation of one true God. Hinduism states that there is only one God and the Vedas call him Brahman. The vibratory aspect of Brahman is called AUM or OM. From AUM came the 3 godheads –
a. Bramha [creator]
b. Vishnu [preservor]
c. Shiva [destroyer]
These gods when take a human form are called Avtaars.
The three main Goddesses are-
Saraswati [Wife of Lord Brahma; Goddess of Knowledge]
Lakshmi [Wife of Lord Vishnu; Goddess of Wealth]
Parvati [Wife of Lord Shiva; Goddess of Power]
Hindus also believe in Powers of Nature and have gods of nature like Varuna [water], Agni [fire], Vayu [air] etc. There are also Semi-gods like Hanuman etc.
It is believed that there are 33 crores gods in Hinduism. A Hindu can worship as many Gods and Goddesses as he wants because Hindus believe that all forms of Gods and Goddesses are manifestations of one god or power. A Hindu temple can have a blend of various Gods.

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Q. How many times do Hindus pray everyday?
A. It is considered a good practice to pray 2 times a day. The Indian temples generally follow a practice of performing aarti [lighting lights] at dawn and dusk and it is believed that the gods rest during afternoon and night, so prayers should be offered at dawn and dusk.
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Q. Who is the most important God in this religion? Why?
A. It is believed that everything came from Brahman and Brahman is God. The Vedas state that "Prajapati Vai Idam Agre Aseet [In the beginning was Prajapati - The Brahman]. Later on came Mother God and Trinity of Gods; followed by Nature Gods, Minor Gods etc.
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Q. What is the final destination of all souls in Hinduism?
A. At the time of death, the body dies but the soul never dies. The soul passes from one body to another after the death, like a body changes clothes, the soul goes on taking endless number of bodies; until it pays off all the karmas attached to the soul. The path the soul takes is decided by the past actions which as popularly known as "Karmas". After death the soul seeks an ideal body to be born again. So if you are born rich or poor - it is because of your actions in your previous life. Thus the should continues the journey of life and death with karmas attached to it from one life to another by undergoing pain or pleasure. The different methods of god realization provide an easy way to put an end to the drama. Then the individual soul, which is called "Jeevatman", will merge with Absolute Soul or Infinite Power [God], popularly know as "Paramatman". This merging process is called Salvation or Enlightment.
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In order to reach enlightment a human being should adopt different methods of God realization which are as follows-
Karma Yoga –
It is a system of attaining freedom through selfless actions. The word “Karma” means “to do”, thus Karma means work. The Karmas which we do dictate our past, present and future. An individual should engage himself in good karmas.
Gyana Yoga –
It is a system of reaching enlightment by adopting the path of knowledge or Hindu Philosophy.
Bhakti Yoga –
Bhakti Yoga comes from the word “Bhaj” which means “to be attached to”. Through this the devotee goes for total surrender to God and in this process a total dissolution of “I” or “Ego” takes place.
Raja Yoga –
It is a very scientific path of God Realization. In this the individual practices self control and thought control of his body and mind.
Q. What methods do Hindus use to teach the morality and values of Hinduism?
A. The main methods are as follows-
1. Reading of Ancient Scriptures
2. Hearing preaching from some renowned saints
3. Visiting historical places
4. Having group discussions with fellow followers

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