Chapter : Hinduism
NO OUTSIDE SOURCES
ONLY CLASS NOTES AND BOOK
BOOK Name: World Religions: eastern traditions, 5th edAmore,
Author, Roy c.,Amir Hussain, and Willard Oxtoby
Provide me with plagiarism
To successfully complete this discussion as part of your participation grade, your submission must be 5 sentences or more and put into your own words (that is, not copied and pasted from the internet). You must submit your own thread first before you can read what others have written. I encourage you to read and reply to others!
Having completed the first week of Unit 2. Hinduism, please select ONE of the following options for your discussion thread:
Option 1: Based on what you’ve read so far, what do you think are the origins of Hinduism? Or are there any origins at all?
Option 2: What do you consider to be the most important early Hindu scriptures? What is your reasoning for this choice?
Chapter : Hinduism NO OUTSIDE SOURCES ONLY CLASS NOTES AND BOOK BOOK Name: World Religions: eastern traditions, 5th edAmore, Author, Roy c.,Amir Hussain, and Willard Oxtoby Provide me with plagiaris
Unit 2 Hindu Traditions Introduction ‘Hinduism’ is contested category among scholars because it encompasses a wide variety of philosophies, texts, ritual practices, and deities. The term ‘Hindu’ is connected to a geographical region called the Indus Valley as opposed to a particular religious system or practice. It was used by British colonizers to describe the worldview of the inhabitants in India that were not Muslim. However, this incorporated other Indic traditions such as Jainism or Sikhism, which have subsequently been recognized as distinct religious traditions. In addition, Hinduism was not established by a particular historical figure, which distinguishes it from most of the other religious traditions you will study in this course. Themes In order to draw attention to the complexities and seeming contradictions found within Hinduism, this unit highlights the following: Key historical developments The Harappa Culture & Indus Valley Civilzation (2500-600 BCE) Classical Hinduism (1500 BCE – 1000 CE) Devotional Practice & Temple Construction (600-1600 CE) British Colonial Period (Mid 1700’s – 1947) Modern Era Basic concepts and terms relevant to Hinduism The caste system Brahman and Atman Karma, Dharma, and Samsara Moksha Gender and Hinduism Women’s role in Hinduism Laws of Manu Sati Hinduism and ritual practice Temple Worship Sculptures & Images Domestic Worship Annual Festival Cycle & Life-Cycle Rites Schools & Communities of Theology Vedanta Yoga Tantra Learning objectives By the end of this unit you should be able to: The inherent problems associated with the term ‘Hinduism’ and the variance that exists within this world religion. Significant changes and developments with respect to thought and practice in each of the main historical periods listed above. Noteworthy teachings found in Hindu texts including the classical deities and philosophical viewpoints. The key ritual practices discussed in the textbook and course notes. The role of women in Hinduism and identify historical periods of change where the role of women shifted in significant ways. Readings World Religions: Eastern Traditions 5th Edition, Ed. by Amore, Hussain, and Oxtoby – Chapter 2: Hindu Traditions by Vasudha Narayanan How to proceed Proceed through this unit by following the steps outlined below: Read Chapter 2 in the textbook paying special attention to the highlighted terms (definitions are in the glossary at the end of the chapter). It may be useful to keep a list of terms and definitions as you read through the chapter to use as a quick reference later when you are preparing for the final exam. Read the Unit 2 course notes and complete the exercises. Review the list of terms to know at the end of the course notes. These are the only terms from the textbook that you will be responsible for on the final exam. Answer the study questions provided at the end of the course notes. Complete the interactive assignment. Course Notes Key historical developments Tracking key historical developments related to Hinduism is a difficult task, as early writings by Hindus did not emphasize a linear understanding of history. Hindus viewed the world in terms of a cyclical history, in which series of prosperity and social decay were repeated over hundreds of thousands of years. Traditionally, history was not exemplified strictly by objective facts, but was instead informed by sources such as myth and religious texts. This concept of history proved difficult for colonizers of India to understand, and rather than accepting a Hindu notion of its own history, instead the colonizers sought to reformulate it in a way that was indicative of Western thought. That is, scholars who came to India during the 1700s and onward formulated their own notions of India’s history that were linear and followed a Judeo-Christian approach to history. Thus the historical developments outlined in this section of the unit are largely constructed by early Western scholars, and while these delineations of specific historical eras in Hinduism are helpful in understanding key developments within the tradition, they are by no means precise representations of how the Hindus themselves viewed the world or their history. Keep in mind that India’s history is not limited to these periods of time, but that these eras denote radical changes in the way in which Hinduism was viewed. Lastly, it should be noted that Hinduism is often categorized as a polytheistic religion (“many gods”) but despite the fact that there are numerous deities, many Hindu philosophers have explained that all deities are in fact manifestations or various forms of a singular divine entity called Brahman (which will be discussed below). Therefore, Hinduism is also classifieds as a monotheistic religion (“one god”). Harappa culture (2500-600 BCE) The Harappa culture includes two large cities called Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, as well as smaller settlements scattered along the Indus River. Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa are considered the oldest major cities of India, and collectively represent a culture that is viewed by scholars as the earliest known influence on present-day Hinduism. The information obtained and assumed by scholars about the Harappan culture is largely speculative. However, certain discoveries are pertinent to your study of Hinduism. For example, the archaeological dig at Mohenjo-Daro revealed an elaborate sewage and drainage system along with complex bathing units. While archaeologists found very few public buildings, they did discover what they refer to as the Great Bath. Connected to the bathing units, the Great Bath consisted of one massive bath with individual chambers adjoining it. Based on this archaeological evidence, it is speculated that ceremonial bathing was an important facet of religion in the Harappan culture, though we do not have specific details on when or how bathing rituals took place. Scholars are still unsure how such an advanced civilization as the Harappa culture died out. It was long argued that Indo-Europeans, or Aryans, invaded and conquered Harappan civilization or perhaps flooding or famine played a key role. While the Harappans were advanced for their time, they did not progress to meet changing needs of the society. For example, their pottery remained well crafted but plain, and their cities were continually rebuilt in the exact same fashion as needed. Indo-Aryans Between 2000 – 1500 BCE the Aryans settled along the Indus River, entering the area from the northwest. This group likely originated in southeastern Europe. While there is uncertainty about the Harappan language, scholars know that the Aryans spoke and later wrote in Sanskrit—a language that we now consider to be the ancient language of Hinduism. The term aryan, for example, translates from Sanskrit to mean noble ones, contrary to Adolf Hitler’s later usage of the term to denote racial superiority. Aryans were initially nomadic before settling along the Indus River. This patriarchal culture was grouped according to familial tribes, with each tribe headed by a chief. The role of chief was not hereditary, but earned, contrary to later developments in Hinduism that designate societal roles according to caste by birth. Each tribe had domestic priests, important positions that required the priests to perform rituals for the group, and helped ensure prosperity for the whole tribe. Prior to the systematization of Sanskrit into written form, these rituals initially consisted of oral hymns and verses chanted by the priest and aimed primarily at male deities due to the patriarchal structure of the tribe. The Vedas (1500 BCE – 1000 CE) The Vedas represent a diversified and continuous tradition extending from around 1500 BCE (the probable date of beginning of the Rig Veda) to 400 BCE (the probable date of some of the later Upanishads). Collectively, the Vedas consist of many different books, or sections, each composed at different times in different places. While some practitioners recognize the RigVeda as the only Vedic text, others recognize a wider body of literature. The term veda means knowledge and these collections of books are thought to contain all knowledge. The Vedas are not traditionally viewed as being composed by human authors, but rather, practitioners believe the Vedas to be eternal (“shruti” or “that which was heard”). The human authors of the Vedas have merely discovered the Vedas, which have eternally existed in the universe. These authors are commonly referred to as rishis, or seers. The Rig Veda This is the largest and oldest vedic text. It contains over 1,000 hymns, most of which refer to various gods. However, it also contains magical poems, riddles, and legends. The Rig Veda is formulaic in that it consists of the following: praising a god, and then petitioning the god for benefits. In other cases, gods are asked forgiveness for wrong doings. These gods were predominantly male warrior gods who battled demons and destructive spirits. The Rig Veda does not really contain mythical stories about gods, but instead includes hymns to them. The Sama Veda This Veda contains verses to be sung during sacrificial rites. They are choral renditions of the Rig Veda, which have been rearranged according to how they are used in specific ceremonies. The Yajur Veda This Veda provides formulas spoken by the priest during sacrificial rites. Like the Sama Veda, it also borrows heavily from the Rig Veda. Collectively, the Rig, Sama, and Yajur Vedas are often referred to as the Triple Knowledge of Hinduism. One way to remember this is to think of the Rig Veda as hymn knowledge, the Sama Veda as chant knowledge, and the Yajur Vedaas ceremonial knowledge. The Atharva Veda This Veda provides incantations which a priest may recite for everyday events, including births, coming of age, and food rituals. While this Veda is not considered part of the Triple Knowledge of Hinduism noted above, one way to remember it is to think of it as teacher knowledge (atharva means teacher in Sanskrit). For example, the priest, as a teacher, shares knowledge with others during birthing rites and food rituals, The Atharva Veda also contains books of spells and/or chants used to rid people of evil spirits. Many of the chants are supposed to be used in conjunction with special plants or potions. This Veda has been used as a basis for Ayurvedic medicine, a practice that is still relevant in present time. The book of medicine, called the ,em>Ayurveda , is often used as a supplement to the Atharva Veda. The Epics – Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita These poetic compositions are often the first Hindu text that a child might be privied to and they contain a variety of mythological narratives that provide the basis for moral and ethical imperatives. They also provide a template that explains how people should interact with one another and idealized relationships, which has specific consequences for understanding the role of women in Hinduism. For example, the Ramayana tells the story of Sita and her husband Rama and Sita is often understood as an exemplary model for female virtue and intelligence. British Colonialism The fall of the Mughal Empire in India corresponded with a greater European presence, specifically the British who viewed Hindu religious practice as blasphemous and sought to convert people to Christianity through missionizing movements. Various movements that sought to defend and preserve Hindu traditions emerged as a response to colonization and eventually India gained independence in 1947. However, the affects of British colonization can still be seen today in India, which has technically been declared a secular state but in recent times both traditional devotional practices and philosophies have made a resurgence within the general populace. Key Concepts The caste system The caste system, which can be thought of as a class system, is divided according to social status and occupation. In general, the caste system can be broken down into four distinct groups, which, in reality also consist of hierarchies within each group, of which kin groups are further broken down into more detailed hierarchies, according to social status. This system did not, theoretically, represent a static, unchangeable system. However, in reality, the caste system became fixed through of the British systemization of Hinduism. The Rig Veda outlines the caste system as originating from divine origins from which the four distinct groups sprang forth from ,strong>Purusha , the cosmic man. The shudras, or servant class, came from his feet; the vaishyas or merchant class, came from his legs; the kshatriyas or warrior class came from his arms; and the brahmin or priestly class came from his mouth. At this time, the idea of separate groups was considered dynamic, and people could move within these groups. However, this hierarchy later became set and dictated by birth. Another class was later added to this system, called the untouchables. The untouchable class includes vocations of people that are considered ritually and socially impure (see Fisher for examples of “impure” occupations). Brahman and Atman Brahman is considered to represent Ultimate Reality or knowledge—a notion that includes all aspects of the universe that is indescribable to humans in general. Atman is tied to notions of Brahman as Ultimate Reality in that it is a specific facet of Brahman that represents the unchanging reality found within us. It can be likened to a soul, residing within each individual. Atman is in fact Brahman, yet humans are largely ignorant of this. However, when individuals come to understand atman and Brahman as being one and the same (i.e., we are Brahman), one obtains higher knowledge, or enlightenment. But how does one obtain this understanding that atman is actually Brahman? According to the Samnyasa Upanishads, a book within the larger group of texts that comprise the Upanishads, one way to do this is by practising renunciation and asceticism. Karma The term karma means action in Sanskrit, and refers to an accumulation of actions, both good and bad. According to the doctrine of karma, there are specific conditions that account for the fortunes and misfortunes in the life and afterlife of every living being. What this means is that every action that we make has good or bad consequences, with both immediate and long-term effects. Within the early Vedic period, worshippers were already aware of the importance of action but keep in mind that action is not limited to these rites. Karma involves a variety of practices concerning both individual and societal actions. Exercise #1 – Write down as list of actions that you performed today (i.e. eating breakfast, talking to your friends, helping a family member) and indicate whether they would fall under the category of positive, neutral, or negative karm and explain your rationale. Dharma Good karma is generated by fulfilling one’s duty or dharma. One may obtain good karma by following the prescripts set out in the Vedas and Upanishads with respect to one’s role in the community. However, an individual is not limited to caste dharma; one must also adhere to individual duty, as found in the four stages of life. 4 Stages of Life: Student – celibate, learning religious knowledge Married man – have a family, earn money to support the family, enjoy material possessions, experience sexual pleasure Forest-Dweller – re-treat from the physical and material world, some cut partial ties with family, focus on meditating and cultivating spiritual awareness Renunciate – give up everything and live on the bare minimum Since the 5 stages of life are generally considered to be for males only we must comment briefly on the status of women in classical Hinduism – prior to the Laws of Manu Hindu women (at least in high castes) played an important role in things like religious ceremonies but after the caste system became strict in terms of social roles, women were expected to fill a domestic role – wife and mother. The laws of Manu state that women are subjected to the authority of their male relatives or later husband. But as our text points out, these are idealistic presentations of gender relations and certainly women played other important societal roles. And later there is a section on female ritual, which suggests that women participated in religious ceremonies but they were also restricted during certain times – particularly during their menstrual cycle or after giving birth because they were thought to be in a state of impurity and would have to go through ritual cleansing to purify the body. Samsara Samsara refers to reincarnation, or the idea that people are reborn continually. This cycle of rebirth occurs again and again until one knows the truth that atman is Brahman. The ability to obtain the knowledge needed to cease rebirth is made easier by a good rebirth, such as a woman being reborn into a man, or a shudra being reborn into a Brahmin. For example, a male brahmin, who had not performed his duty properly, could be reborn into a kshatriya woman, whereas a shudra who followed his duties meticulously, could be reborn into the vaishya class. It is also important to note that rebirths are not limited to human form—one could be reborn into a plant or animal as well. But why reincarnation? People sought to find answers to the suffering they were experiencing as a result of urban population increase and the spread of disease. Hindus needed to be able to explain why some people who adhered to their appropriate dharma were suffering in the world. The idea of previous lives and continual rebirth accounted for seemingly good people experiencing dire circumstances. Moksha Until now, this unit has referred to the idea of upper knowledge as enlightenment, but what this really refers to is moksha or liberation as understood within the Hindu tradition. Specifically, moksha is the term used to denote liberation from cycles of rebirth. It is knowing that the atman and Brahman are one that brings about liberation. The ultimate goal of life, after fulfilling one’s dharma, is to seek liberation or moksha. Achieving liberation is considered quite rare, as one is expected to go through thousands of births in order to achieve the knowledge needed for moksha. Moksha as the ceasing of rebirth is the absorption of atman by Brahman. A good analogy is a fizz bomb one can purchase at a bath shop. If you put the fizz bomb in water, it disappears, but only because it is absorbed by the water, not because it has been destroyed by it. Philosophical Schools Vedanta The Vedanta schools was started by one of the most famous philosophers named Shankara who lived in the end of the 8th century and he argued that reality is non-dualistic. In other words, the only reality that exists is Brahman – therefore the soul or the atman is the same as Brahman. The Sanskrit term Maya refers to the illusions that exist in the world which give us a false image of reality. This false image basically gives humans the idea that they are different from Brahman and therefore not identical but Shankara argued that this is not the case. One this realization is made a person can achieve spiritual liberation. In this way, knowledge is the key to ridding oneself of ignorance and delusion. The soul is free and liberated only when this realization is made and this can occur in one’s life time. The term living liberation or ‘jivanmukti’ is a state of realization that a person may reach while their soul is still embodied in human form. However, the soul’s final release can only happen after death. Other Hindu philosophers argued that Shankara’s model, however, had certain flaws. For example, if maya or illusion is real then there are actually two realities (and this assertion negates the non-dualistic assertion of Shankara). The other objection that if maya is not real then it could not be the cause of delusion. Shankara tried to refute some of these claims by stating that maya had no essence and was neither real nor not real. Tantra There are two schools of tantric practice: the right-handed and the left-handed. The right-handed is considered more mainstream and focuses on yoga postures, meditation, devotional practices, and other ritual engagements. The goal is awaken the inner energy centers of the body (referred to as shakti) in order to unite the soul with the divine. This type of practice can lead to a mystical or spiritual experience with may lead to visions of this union and eventually the aim is to reach a state of liberation. The left-handed schools follow a similar philosophy but they engage in a variety of practices that are considered taboo by the majority of Hindu society – things like sexual intercourse outside of marriage, eating fish and meat, and drinking alcohol. The theory is that engaging in these types of activities allows to the mind to transcend thinking about that which is wrong. Therefore having no taboos means that there is nothing to distract the mind from attaining the goal of liberation. Yoga (paths) According to the Upanishads, one of the ways to obtain enlightenment (or higher knowledge) is through renunciation, but since approximately the 6th century BCE, other writings have suggested alternate means to understanding Brahman and Atman as one. The three paths to enlightenment can be broken down into three yogas: the jnana path, which entails renunciation and meditation already noted above; the karma path, whichfocuses on proper actions and rituals; and the bhakta path, which requires complete devotion to one’s chosen deity. Any one of the three paths is a means to enlightenment, yet all are based on three key concepts: karma, dharma and samsara. Exercise #2 – Have you been to a yoga class? If yes, what type of concepts did your instructor emphasize? What type of postures did you do? Where did you direct your concentration while you were participating? Hinduism and gender Much of the material covered in this unit so far has been discussed in patriarchal terms. You may have noticed, for example, that when the term samsara was discussed, it was noted that it was better to be reborn into a male than a female. This is an example of a patriarchal attitude. Therefore, this section is dedicated to the role of women within Hinduism. If we look to the Upanishads and the Rig Veda, for example, we see that prescriptive actions were described primarily in terms of male practitioners. In scholarship, it was assumed that women practised Hinduism in the same way as their male counterparts, or that specific practices possibly unique to women were ignored. In the Classical period, women share an important role with male figures – for example, both genders can be spiritual masters and teachers who transmit this sacred knowledge found in the Vedas. There are examples where women philosophers challenge male teachers to public debate and they are viewed as spiritual equals who were both respected and revered by others. However, when the Laws of Manu were written around 200 CE, it is evident that the role of women had shifted to a more subservient position. Some passages report that women should worship their husbands and that women are always subject to the authority of their male family members. Women and sati The emphasis that scholars have placed upon sati, which means faithful wife, is misleading, as it tends to suggest that sati as a practice is an accepted regular occurrence in India. This assumption tends to be rooted in modern reports of incidences of sati, as can be noted in the Roop Kanwar case of 1987. However, while instances of sati still occur, despite its legal ban in 1829 (Klostermaier, 1994), historically sati has been practised by a small percentage of upper-caste women. Students should be aware that the practice of sati had very little to do with the women who were expected to throw themselves onto their husbands’ funeral pyre, but had more to do with the political climate and patriarchal responses to it (Mani, 1990). Nonetheless, the increase in the practice of sati during this time was explained and/or justified in terms of women’s duty, with little concern for the well-being of the women themselves. Prior to its illegalization in 1829, sati was viewed as one way for a wife to remain faithful to her husband and to remain virtuous by following him onto the funeral pyre should he die first. Communities that endorsed the practice of sati gave the women one of two choices upon the death of her husband: to either join the deceased on the funeral pyre, or to stay a widow for the rest of her life. Being a widow, by North American standards, may not sound like a bad option, but by mid-18th century Indian standards death was often a better choice. This is because typically, once a woman was husbandless, she was reduced in social and economic status, became much like an untouchable, and was considered inauspicious or a bad omen to anyone encountering her. Also, as a widow, she was viewed as a financial burden, since it was the extended family’s responsibility to care for someone who was deemed impure. The expectation on the widow’s behaviour was that of a renouncer, but unlike a renouncer, she did not merit the same respect or support. A widow could not hide that she was a widow, as she was noticeably different due to the removal of the tilak on her forehead, the shortness of her hair (which is cut or shaved after her husband’s death), and the donning of a white sari. She was not allowed to participate in future rituals, nor was she allowed to wear any jewellery or ornamentation on her body. Ideally, a widow would have many sons, who would ensure her security when her husband died. But if she didn’t have sons, life became more difficult for her (Chakravarti, 1998). A woman who opted to commit sati was revered not only for her loyalty to her husband, but for her religious devotion within her community. Today there are many markers or small shrines to women who are viewed who have committed sati. The women represented in these shrines became objects of worship, and models of ideal women to which other women can aspire, regardless if the worshippers themselves ever had the option to commit sati. The ideal woman in this instance is the woman who lives only for her husband, and thus departs with him into an alternate life after death. In this instance then, a woman’s stridharma is marked by her obedience and loyalty to her husband above all else, her selflessness for sparing her extended family the hardships that would follow should she remain alive, and her religious devotion, signified by what is perceived to be the ultimate devotional sacrifice. Classical Hindu Dieites There are many Hindu deities that gained prominence within Indic culture but the most popular deities included Vishnu, Shiva, and the Goddess (in various forms). People built shrines and temples dedicated to these deities and they became the central feature of devotional practice. The textbook revisits our earlier reference to the classifications of Hinduism as either monotheistic or polytheistic. Many Hindus will worship or show devotion to a particular deity but acknowledge the existence of others – sometimes as separate entities and sometimes as part of the same divinity. Exercise #3 – Do a google search on your computer and look for images of the Hindu goddesses Durga and Kali. What kind of images do you see? How are these goddesses pictured in the images you found? How do they compare to the description of Sarasvati in the textbook? Hinduism and ritual practice Temple Worship The Vedas do not say much about temple worship which suggests that it either was not commonplace in that time period or it simply was not written down. Public worship is only confirmed though by cave carvings of Vishnu by the early 5th century. In modern-day India, there are many variations in the number of temples as well as temple design from region to region. Hindu deities are generally represented in physical form (ie. icon, idol, object) are treated as physical manifestations of the gods and goddesses themselves. However, because the wide variance in practice and understanding, different Hindu communities understand the form and function of these icons differently. For example, some think that the deity is physically and literally present in the figurine itself while other schools of thought argue that the image is simply a representation of the deity. The third type of interpretation rejects the use of images all together. The Vedanta community does not place any importance of devotion and so they don’t worship in a temple at all. The temple itself is supposed to reflect the universe itself and therefore must be constructed according to certain specifications. Certain features of the temple in this community include 7 enclosures and a location that is near to water. There are certain bathing rituals associated with this structure – in other words people must ritually bath before entering. Each part of the structure contains symbolism and meaning – for example the tower enclosures are said to rid a person of their sins. Walking around the temple structure is also an integral part of expressing one’s devotion to the deity. Interestingly, women were some of the main contributors toward the construction and upkeep of temple buildings. Generally, this donation would be recognized by an inscription dedicated to the person that provided the financial means for construction. Sculptural and Pictorial Symbolism The serpent or naga has always been an important symbol in Hindu tradition and has been historically associated with Shiva and Vishnu. Shiva is also generally portrayed in a dancing pose and this symbolizes ultimate control over energy in the universe and also absolute tranquility. Dance is associated with both creation and destruction and therefore it is a key medium through which deities act. The linga, or stone pillar, is also an important feature specifically associated with Shiva. It is associated with creation and fertility. There are also erotic sculptures which are associated with kama or sensual pleasure which was considered to be a legitimate goal within the confines of married life. Forehead markings are also well-known visual signs of Hindu culture. For example, married Hindu women will often wear a red dot on the forehead referred to as a bindi. Many Hindu males also wear certain markings, especially during religious rituals and celebrations. Sometimes these markings are even representative of one’s caste. They are made out of a variety of different materials depending on their purpose. Domestic Worship Worship in the home is just as significant as worship in a temple. People perform rituals dedicated to specific deities in their homes and the ritualized worship which happens in the home is referred to as puja. Common features of the puja include things like lighting oil lamps and incense sticks, reciting prayers or making offerings such as food. In some cases, a priest may come into the home and aid in conducting the ceremony. There are numerous rituals that women perform in the home. Annual Festival Cycle There are many festivals in the annual cycle and there are a lot which are specific to certain regions. One of the most well-known pan-Hindu celebrations is Navaratri. However, the specifics of the celebration and the symbolic meaning varies from place to place. In certain areas, this is a day for women to celebrate and various depictions of the goddess are employed in ritual practice The women dress figurines up in exotic clothes and adornments and the women also sing songs dedicated toward the goddess. In other areas of India, the same holiday is celebrated but it commemorates the goddess Durga. The last day of the festival is usually dedicated to Lakshmi which signifies a time for new beginnings – learning new things, starting new business ventures, and honouring revered teachers. Deepvali is the other famous Hindu festival. It translates to necklace of lights and many Hindus celebrate by decorating their homes with lights and setting off firecrackers. Some regions of India consider this the New Year celebration and gifts are often exchanged. Life-Cycle Rites Birth is an important event in Hindu life. Traditionally, Hindu families perform a ritual ceremony which asks the gods for a healthy baby boy. At the moment of birth, an astrological horoscope is conducted. Astrology is a significant part of the Hindu life cycle and so it is very important to get an accurate reading. There is also a prayer ceremony that is performed shortly after birth which requests health and strength for the infant as well as longevity for the parent. One a young Brahmin boy reaches the age of maturity they undergo a ritual ceremony which initiates the young boy into Vedic study. The sacred teachings of the Vedas are passed down to the younger generation around the age of 8 and this is the entrance into the first life stage – that of the student (brahmacharya). The Brahmin priest blesses a bath full of water and the young boy is submerged into the holy water which symbolizes purity and peace. The boy also wears a cord over the left shoulder which acts as a sacred thread – although the meaning is somewhat ambiguous. One possibility is that is represents an umbilical cord attaching the student to the teacher but there seems to be no definitive textual reference that states exactly what the symbolism is here. The young boy is given a short mantra to repeat many times and commit to memory. Today, this ceremony is not as common and is not generally performed outside the Brahmin caste. The interesting thing is that due to modernization and reform within the Indian social structures, a similar ceremony is beings formulated in some areas for young girls. Hindu weddings are also in integral part of the life cycle. In fact, it is stated in the dharmashastra codes that a man must take a wife so that he can pay his debts to his ancestors and the gods. Therefore, it is viewed as a religious duty as well as a social duty. Having children is also part of this system since this is the mode through which debts are fully paid. Most marriages in India were arranged (and this is still a common practice). The parents of the bride would arrange this with the groom and generally the two families would be of similar socio-economic and educational status. Before the marriage can take place, an astrologer does a horoscope analysis to ensure compatibility between the two people but it also predicts both positive and negative events that may occur within the marriage. The ceremony itself must have several key features including a gift (sometimes referred to as a dowry) given by the bride’s family to the husbands. The couple must hold hands and takes seven steps around a fire and generally they exchange garlands of flowers during the ceremony. Weddings are also quite large and joyous celebrations which can be quite lavish depending on the economic status of the families. Funerals in India incorporate a variety of ritual aspects from both the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita. But again there are regional variations depending on the location of the funeral and the caste of the deceased. Generally a body is cremated in the Hindu tradition although there are certain exceptions including infants and ascetics who are often buried instead. There is a funeral ceremony at which certain scripture passages are read and these rites are generally carried out by the eldest son in the family. There are offerings presented to the spirit of the deceased person and their family is considered to be living in a state of pollution (or mourning) for a certain period of time after the death. Terms to Know Advaita Jnana Samsara Ashramas Karma Sati Avatara Ksatriya Shudra Bhagavad Gita Linga Tantra Bhakti Mahabharata Upanishads Brahma Mantra Vaishya Brahman Moksha Vedas Brahmin Murti Yoga Dharma Puja Guru Ramayana Study Questions Why is it difficult to determine the “origins” of Hinduism? What type of material do we find in the Vedas? Explain the Cycle of Samsara and be sure to define the terms “karma”, “atman”, and “moksha” in your response. Why is Bhakti yoga the most popular school of yoga (or path to liberation) among Hindus? What are the 4 stages of life within the Hindu tradition? What is the purpose of each stage? Explain the difference between temple and domestic worship in Hinduism. What does a bindi (forehead marking) tell an observer about the status of a woman? What does the annual festival of Navaratri celebrate? Explain the concept of an arranged marriage. Describe the key features of a Hindu funeral and explain what happens to the body during this process. What are the main differences between Patanjali’s ‘classical yoga’, karma yoga, and bhakti yoga? What is the caste system? Where did it originate and what are the 4 main castes? How has the caste system shaped the social system in India? Outline the main features of Shankara’s philosophy that is the basis for the Hindu school of Vedanta. How are Hindu deities represented? Provide at least two examples and explain how there are different interpretations on the nature of divine representations. Explain the various meanings of the term “Dharma”. Why are the mythological figures of Sita and Rama important to Hindu tradition? What do they represent? What wisdom does Krishna impart to prince Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita? Describe at least one manifestation of the Goddess popular in Hindu mythology. Outline some of the common attributes associated with the gods Shiva and Vishnu. How do some of these is opposition to each other? Explain the following statement: Brahman = Atman What are the main differences between “right-handed” and “left-handed” tantra? What effects has British colonization had on Hinduism in India? How did they first describe/understand the worldview they encountered during this period and how did this shape Western perceptions of Hinduism? What is sati? Why has this ritual been so controversial, both within India and in the West? What role have women traditionally played in Hinduism with respect to ritual practices and the social system? How have modern Hindu philosophers responded to questions about environment ethics and reproductive technology? Suggested readings Chakravarti, U. (1998). Rewriting history, The life and times of Pandita Ramabai. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Griffith, R. T. (1992). Sacred writings, Hinduism: The Rig Veda, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers PVT. Go to top Copyright © (2016). Minor revisions (2016) All rights reserved. No part of the material protected by this copyright may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior written permission from the copyright owner. University of Manitoba, Distance and Online Education