HINDUISM

Introduction, Sacred Texts & Beliefs

Introduction, Sacred Texts & Beliefs

religious studiesHinduism is a difficult religion to define because it has many different sects which hold different, and even contradictory beliefs. Hinduism originated in the Indus Valley in what is now Pakistan and around 80 per cent of India’s population define themselves as Hindus. Most Hindus regard the Vedas as the most important holy scripture, most adhere to a system of values called the Dharma, and most believe in a Supreme God as well as subsidiary Gods. Another widely held concept is that of Atman. The idea of Atman is that everyone has a real self within them, something like a soul.

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Sacred texts

Hindu texts come in two types, the Smitri and the Shruti. The Shruti texts are considered to be the most important. The principle sacred texts are the Vedas. They were created gradually from 1200-200 BC and are divided into four parts.

Religious Studies

The Samhitas are the oldest of the Vedas and are hymns worshipping God.

The Brahmanas describe Hindu rituals and are used by priests.

The Aranyakas are about worship and meditation.

The Upanishads are interpretations of Hindu teachings.

Other texts

The Bhagavad Gita forms part of the epic poem, the Mahabharata, and deals with faith and divinity. The Ramayana is the story of Rama and his wife Sita and is about the battle between good and evil.

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Beliefs and Sources of Authority

Trimurti

The Trimurti are the three gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma is the first god of the triumvirate, Vishnu the second and Shiva the third.

religious studiesBrahma

The principal Hindu God is Brahma who is the creator of the universe and is represented as having four heads and four arms. Brahma’s four heads are said to symbolise the four Vedas, the most important sacred texts for Hindus. In fact Hindu’s seldom worship Brahma, some say because his role as creator is complete.

Vishnu

Hindus who worship Vishnu to the exclusion of other Gods are called Vaishnava. Vishnu is represented in human form with blue skin and four arms. Vishnu’s role is to preserve creation.

Shiva

Shiva has a blue face and leads two lives. Sometimes he is puritanical and at other times he dedicates himself to pleasure. Shiva’s wife is Parvati, who is a moderating influence on him. Hindus who primarily worship Shiva are Shaivists.

Other deities

– Shakti represents female creative power.

– Lakshmi is the consort to Vishnu and is the Goddess of wealth and purity. Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu.

– Rama is an incarnation of Vishnu.

– Shakti as a symbol of female power.

– Hanuman is the King of the Monkeys in the epic Hindu story Ramayana.

– Ganesh has the head of an elephant and is the God of good luck.

The four aims of life are:

– Dharma – Following the moral code.

– Artha – Achieving success and wealth.

– Karma – Pursuing good behaviour.

– Moksha – Reaching a sacred state of holiness.

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Worship

Hindus call worship Puja and it can take place in the home or in a Mandir (temple). Worship revolves around Murtis (images), Yantras (diagrams of the universe) and Mantras (prayers).

Religious StudiesMandirs, often decorated in elaborate style, have a central shrine which symbolises the worshipper’s heart and a tower that represents the rising of the spirit to heaven. Most Hindus have a shrine in their home to their chosen God or Gods. They make offerings at the shrine of things like incense, food and flowers.

Hindus have three types of religious rite:

Nitya are daily rituals often involving the making of offerings at shrines in the home.

Naimittika rituals are ones that happen only once a year to mark important annual celebrations.

Kamya are optional rituals which believers are encouraged to observe and include pilgrimage.

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