Read on for 4 minutes, and I will give you a crash-course on Hinduism. The religion of almost one billion people in India.
Written by: Trond Skundberg (C)2013
Rather than ONE religion with a single God, think of Hinduism as an umbrella term of a large number of religious traditions. Developed locally over thousands of years. Resulting in extreme variations in practices.
Even a fellow Hindu is surprised
Arriving at a new part of India, a new part of the city or even in the neighbors home – will always surprise you with something new and exotic.
Don’t worry. A Hindu from the neighbor state would be as surprised as you. You just won’t notice. He is expecting the unexpected, so hardly anything can surprise him. He recognizes a few common building stones, and is fine with the rest. So should you be.
Don’t try to understand the logic of everything or try to see the big picture. Just enjoy the exotic details of Indian spiritualism.
Hinduism has hundreds of thousands of gods
Yes it is true, since every caste, village, group or even family have their own set of personal Gods- one for every need they might have. Gods for health, wealth and knowledge and so on. India is a large continent, hence the very large number of Gods.
In my work of simplifying this, I was lucky to find out that all this Gods are forms of one main God, or at least of the 3 main Gods Brahman, Vishnu and Shiva. That makes it easier to relate to, right?
Is there a holy book in Hinduism?
Yes. 4 sacred texts called the VEDAS. Written 2-3000 years ago. As far as I know the Vedas is respected by all Hindus, and hence is the glue and common building material.
The belief in reincarnation is central. So is sacrificyng individual needs, for acceptance and loyality to the cast one is born into.
Dharma, Karma, Nirvana
The very basics of Hinduism is living according to a strict set of rules decided specifically for you and your group. Your dharma. If you succeed in this “way of life”, and your Karma is good (actions), you are reborn to a better and better life. On the other hand, failure will simply set you back, to a lower level.
The ultimate goal is to get out of the endless cycle of rebirths and achieve full harmony- called MOCHSA, and merge with the ONE God, Brahman. This state is also referred to as Nirvana.
So no wonder why people are so loyally accepting their Dharma and their place in the abolished Hindu cast system. Achievement in the past life got you where you are today. Breaking out of your groups dharma is guaranteed to result in a worse next life. I can understand it is worth the efforts to avoid that.
If the stars are right
Most Hindus believe in astrology. Among other things it regulates exactly when to do what. Or when NOT to do certain tasks. The most Important decisions in life are taken based on advice from astrologers. Who to marry? When to marry? When to establish a business? When to invest in the stock market?
In general, a guru is a respected person with a high degree of knowledge and holy insight. A guru can have more or less saintly qualities. Looking exotic and being hairy is a must for any guru. For a Hindu it is very important to have the best possible guru, as a teacher and spiritual adviser. A guru typically lives in an Ashram, surrounded by his disciples.
Any Hindu will perform some kind of rituals every day. In the home or in a temple. A very known ritual is Pooja, which is an offering and honor of a God or a respected person. I have also many times experienced Pooja performed when starting a new venture. Like an opening ceremony.
Of all the fantastic Hindu festivals, I want to mention two of them.
DIWALI is the festival of lights. A family festival celebrated all over India. Millions of oil lamps are lit to symbolize the victory of the good over evil. Sometime October or November.
HOLI, also known as “the festival of colors”. A full moon festival celebrated February/March. You have seen photos of it: people go wild throwing colored powder on each other, celebrating the beginning of a new season – spring.
The popular Ganesh
Finally, let me introduce you to one very popular Indian God, Ganesh. You can hardly find a Hindu home without a Ganesh photo or statue. Regardless of caste and location in India. He is easy to recognize with his elephant head. Among other qualities, Ganesh is the lord of beginnings and remover of obstacles. Despite his impressive size and powers, a small mouse is always without any fear sitting next to him. Have look for it next time you see Ganesh, and try to figure out the meaning.
Well done. 4 minutes spent. Hinduism de-mystified. At least enough for you to go out there feeling less like one big question.
This is again an open draft of a future chapter of my book on business travel to India.
Trond Skundberg: Digital media adviser and project manager. 20 years of experience from digital- production and communications. 15 years international cross cultural experience. Outsourcing to India pioneer and entrepreneur – with extreme “time on ground” in India.