Thursday, February 24, 2011

Concept of God in Hinduism / Sanatan Dharma and other concepts

We can gain a better understanding of the concept of God in Hinduism by analysing Hindu scriptures.

Bhagavad Gita (Smriti)

The most popular amongst all the Hindu scriptures is the Bhagavad Gita.

"Those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures." [Bhagavad Gita 7:20]

The Gita states that people who are materialistic worship demigods i.e. ‘gods’ besides the True God.

Upanishads (Sruti)

The following verses from the Upanishads refer to the Concept of God:

"Ekam evadvitiyam"

"He is One only without a second."

[Chandogya Upanishad 6:2:1]

"Na casya kascij janita na cadhipah."

"Of Him there are neither parents nor lord."

[Svetasvatara Upanishad 6:9]

"Na tasya pratima asti"

"There is no likeness of Him."

[Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:19]

"Na samdrse tisthati rupam asya, na caksusa pasyati kas canainam."

"His form is not to be seen; no one sees Him with the eye."

[Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:20]

The Vedas (Sruti)

Vedas are considered the most sacred of all the Hindu scriptures.

There are four principal Vedas: Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samveda and Atharvaveda.


"na tasya pratima asti

"There is no image of Him."

[Yajurveda 32:3]

"shudhama poapvidham"

"He is bodyless and pure."

[Yajurveda 40:8]

"Andhatama pravishanti ye asambhuti mupaste"

"They enter darkness, those who worship the natural elements" (Air, Water, Fire, etc.). "They sink deeper in darkness, those who worship sambhuti." Sambhuti means created things, for example table, chair, idol, etc.

[Yajurveda 40:9]


The Atharvaveda praises God in Book 20, hymn 58 and verse 3:

"Dev maha osi"

"God is verily great"

[Atharvaveda 20:58:3]


The oldest of all the vedas is Rigveda. It is also the one considered most sacred by the Hindus. The Rigveda states in Book 1, hymn 164 and verse 46:

"Sages (learned Priests) call one God by many names."

[Rigveda 1:164:46]


Describing Almighty God in anthropomorphic terms also goes against the following verse of Yajurveda:

"Na tasya Pratima asti"

"There is no image of Him."

[Yajurveda 32:3]

Brahma Sutra

"Ekam Brahm, dvitiya naste neh na naste kinchan"

"There is only one God, not the second; not at all, not at all, not in the least bit."

Thus only a dispassionate study of the Hindu scriptures can help one understand the concept of God in Hinduism.

Caste System in Hinduism  - by Deepak Kumar Vaid 
(with my additional inputs)

The Hindu caste system is comparable to class structures in other countries, except that this Indian system has been rigidly enforced and has lasted for two or three thousand years. The caste system was enforced as law throughout the subcontinent until the adoption of the Indian constitution in 1949, which outlawed the caste system. However, it remains a deeply ingrained social structure, particularly in rural India.

There are four main castes into which everyone was categorized. At the very top were the Brahmins -- the priests, scholars, and philosophers. The second highest caste was the Kshatriyas. These were the warriors, rulers, and those concerned with the defense and administration of the village or state. Third came the Vaishyas, who were traders, merchants, and people involved in agricultural production. The lowest caste was the Shudras -- the laborers and servants for the other castes. Each caste included many hierarchical subcastes divided by occupation.

...The Shudras were the Untouchables. These people had no caste at all. They performed the most menial of jobs, such as dealing with dead bodies and cleaning toilets. Higher-caste people believed that if they touched one of the caste-less, they would be contaminated and would need to go through cleansing rituals.

Caste was determined by birth -- you fell into the same caste as your parents, and there was almost no way to change it. The caste system dictated your occupation, choice of spouse, and many other aspects of your life. If you did something outside your caste, you could be excommunicated from your caste. That would cut you off from doing any work to support yourself because you could only do the jobs allowed by your caste.

Many believe the caste system began as a form of subjugation of local populations by the Aryan peoples who invaded and settled India. The Aryans were in the higher castes, and they put the native peoples of the subcontinent into the lower castes. The system favored those at the top economically, so they were motivated to maintain the status quo. Both Buddhism and Jainism sought to reform the caste system, but were unsuccessful. Finally, the Industrial Revolution had an impact on centuries of history.

While the caste system is not explicitly religious, the Hindu religion has played a large part in maintaining its structure. Hinduism preaches a cycle of birth and reincarnation, in which a person's soul is reborn into a new form after death. Your actions in this life determine your fate when you are born again. If you are faithful and dutiful in this life, next time, you'll get a better lot. The caste system fits well with this belief. Lower-caste people believed that if they lived a good life, they could be reborn in a higher caste in the next.

Today, features of the caste system linger throughout Indian society. Laws prohibit discrimination based on caste, and the government runs affirmative action programs for lower castes, especially the Untouchables (now called Dalits). But caste continues to play a part in marriages, and some politicians actually campaign for caste-based votes. Maybe the system will change more dramatically in this new millennium.

Life for a Hindu person

Shakespeare divided life into "seven ages". In Hinduism, human life is believed to comprise four stages. These are called "ashramas" and every man should ideally go through each of these stages:

The First Ashrama - "Brahmacharya" or the Student Stage
The Second Ashrama - "Grihastha" or the Householder Stage
The Third Ashrama - "Vanaprastha" or the Hermit Stage
The Fourth Ashrama - "Sannyasa" or the Wandering Ascetic Stage
Brahmacharya - The Celibate Student:

This is a period of formal education. It lasts until the age of 25, during which, the young male leaves home to stay with a guru and attain both spiritual and practical knowledge. During this period, he is called a brahmachari, and is prepared for his future profession, as well as for his family, and social and religious life ahead.

Grihastha - The Married Family Man:

This period begins when a man gets married, and undertakes the responsibility for earning a living and supporting his family. At this stage, Hinduism supports the pursuit of wealth (artha) as a necessity, and indulgence in sexual pleasure (kama), under certain defined social and cosmic norms. This ashrama lasts until around the age of 50. According to the Laws of Manu, when a person's skin wrinkles and his hair greys, he should go out into the forest. However, in real life, most Hindus are so much in love with this second ashrama that the Grihastha stage lasts a lifetime!

Vanaprastha - The Hermit in Retreat:

This stage of a man begins when his duty as a householder comes to an end: He has become a grandfather, his children are grown up, and have established lives of their own. At this age, he should renounce all physical, material and sexual pleasures, retire from his social and professional life, leave his home, and go to live in a forest hut, spending his time in prayers. He is allowed to take his wife along, but is supposed to maintain little contact with the family. This kind of life is indeed very harsh and cruel for an aged person. No wonder, this third ashrama is now nearly obsolete.
Sannyasa - The Wandering Recluse:

At this stage, a man is supposed to be totally devoted to God. He is a sannyasi, he has no home, no other attachment; he has renounced all desires, fears and hopes, duties and responsibilities. He is virtually merged with God, all his worldly ties are broken, and his sole concern becomes attaining moksha, or release from the circle of birth and death. (Suffice it to say, very few Hindu men can go up to this stage of becoming a complete ascetic.) When he dies, the funeral ceremonies (Pretakarma) are performed by his son and heir.
What About Women?:

Although these ashramas are predominantly designed for the male, females too have a vital role to play in each one of them. So women are not actually excluded because they are always supposed to have an active social and religious life at home. However, a woman's role is of a dependent nature since, traditionally, they need the protection of a responsible male at every stage of life.

History of Ashramas:

This system of ashramas is believed to be prevalent since the 5th century BCE in Hindu society. However, historians say that these stages of life were always viewed more as 'ideals' than as common practice. According to one scholar, even in its very beginnings, after the first ashrama, a young adult could choose which of the other ashramas he would wish to pursue for the rest of his life. Today, it is not expected that a Hindu male should go through the four stages, but it still stands as an important "pillar" of Hindu socio-religious tradition.

Favorite traditional festivities

Diwali is a five day festival that represents the start of the Hindu New Year. It honors the victory of good over evil, and brightness over darkness. It also marks the start of winter. Diwali is actually celebrated in honor of Lord Rama and his wife Sita returning to their kingdom of Ayodhya, following Rama and monkey god Hanuman's defeat the demon King Ravana and rescue of Sita from his evil clutches (celebrated on Dussehra).It is celebrated almost everywhere India and is the most important festival in India one can say, though for example in West Bengal Durga Puja is most important.

When is Diwali Celebrated:

In October or November, depending on the cycle of the moon. In 2012, Diwali starts with Dhanteras on November 11. Each day of the festival has a different meaning. The main festivities take place on the third day (this year, on November 13), while the the fourth day is celebrated as new year's day. Merchants open fresh accounts for the new year, and offer prayers. On the fifth and last day, brothers and sisters get together and share food, to honor the bond between them.

Where is Diwali Celebrated:

Throughout the whole of India. However, the festival isn't widely celebrated in the state of Kerala, as it's not part of their culture. This is because Diwali has traditionally been a festival of wealth for merchants, and being a Communist-ruled state, the Hindus of Kerala have never freely engaged in trade.
One of the best places to experience Diwali is in the "pink city" of Jaipur, in Rajasthan. Each year there's a competition for the best decorated and most brilliantly lit up market. It's a dazzling display that attracts visitors from all over India.

If you'd prefer a more traditional Diwali, head to Varanasi where the river banks are lined with the glow of candlelight, people chant, and bathe in the river in the early hours. It's magical! The Varanasi Ganga Aarti is also a highlight there.

In Goa, the focus of Diwali celebrations is on the destruction of demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna. Competitions are held in every village and city to see who can make the biggest and scariest effigy of the demon. Some are really huge! They're burned at dawn on Narakasura Chaturdashi, the day before the main day of Diwali.

How is Diwali Celebrated:

On the third day, lots of small clay lamps (called diyas) and candles are lit and placed in houses, and fireworks are let off everywhere, giving Diwali its name of “Festival of Lights”. People also clean and decorate their homes with Rangoli (Hindu folk art), buy new clothes, gamble, and give each other gifts and sweets during the festival.
What Rituals are Performed During Diwali:

The rituals vary according to region. However, special blessings are given to Laxshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, and Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. The Goddess Laxshmi is believed to have been created from the churning of the ocean on the main Diwali day, and that she'll visit every home during the Diwali period, bringing with her prosperity and good fortune. It’s said that she visits the cleanest houses first, therefore people make sure their houses are spotless before lighting lamps to invite her in. Small statues of the Goddess are also worshiped in people’s homes.

What to Expect During Diwali:

The candlelight makes Diwali a very warm and atmospheric festival, and it's observed with much joy and happiness. However, be prepared for lots of loud noise from the fireworks and firecrackers going off. The air also becomes filled with smoke from the firecrackers, which can add to breathing difficulties.
Diwali Safety Information:

It's a good idea to protect your hearing with ear plugs during Diwali, especially if your ears are sensitive. Some crackers are extremely loud, and sound more like explosions. The noise is very damaging to hearing.

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