Hinduism: The eternal truth of life
Hinduism, known as the oldest world religion, is believed to have flourished for at least three millennia in areas of the Indian subcontinent. Sanatan Dharma, another name for Hinduism, means “the eternal truth of life.” Therefore, people regard its observance as an eternal duty. Unlike many other faiths, Hinduism has no specific founder. It is considered an overarching faith that includes varying regional, cultural, and religious identifications and practices. Sanskrit is the root language among Hindus because ancient legends and literary works (e.g., Ramayana) were written in Sanskrit, but many have been translated into other languages.
The Concept of God
The Sanskrit word Bhagavan means “God” and refers to an absolute reality that has powers to create, sustain, and destroy the universe over and over again. While the supreme god is unitary, different forms of deities represent various aspects of god and are all aspects of the single power. A god has a jurisdiction but also belongs to the ultimate god.
The many gods do not exist exclusive of each other. It should be noted that communities and cultures may identify different gods as the main god for their temples without excluding or disbelieving others. For example, a temple with Shiva as the main god may have the two sons (Ganesh and Kumar) on either side; another temple may place Ganesh as the main god but have other gods on the sides. Many temples are devoted to one god and then contain murti (statues) of as many additional gods as can reasonably fit in the space.
Because Hinduism’s foundational concept of god has a close affinity with Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and, in some respects, Zoroastrianism, these communities of differing cultures and religions can exist in harmony.
Dharma refers to the moral order of the universe and to a way of living that encompasses fundamental principles governing all reality. Dharma arises from the laws of nature and shapes the inner workings of conscience and thus the Hindu understandings of duty, ethics, law, and religion. Dharma includes ritual actions such as the naming and blessing of a child, the initiation of his/her education, and the performance of funeral rites for one’s parents. Dharma outlines the moral duty of individuals in a society in rather broad terms. Thus, even in modern times, people from different traditional practices can still fulfill their roles in society. Further, dharma for men, women, young people and the elderly differ from each other according to their specific social roles.
Hindu holidays in August
¯ Raksha Bandhan – Aug. 3
Literally in Sanskrit, raksha means “protection” and bandhan means “to tie.” This holiday falls on the full moon day of the lunar calendar in the month of Shrawan. In this festival, priests tie rakhi (sacred thread) on the arms of devotees. In some regions, the festival serves to strengthen relationships between sisters and brothers. Sisters offer rakhi to their brothers and wish them good health and longevity while brothers present their sisters with gifts and the same wishes.
¯ Sri Krishna Jayanti – Aug. 11
This holiday, also known as Janmashtami, celebrates the birthday of the Lord Krishna. Krishna, viewed as the eighth incarnation of the God Vishnu (The Preserver), is believed to have been born on the eighth day of the fortnight known as the Ashtami of the moon cycle. Krishna taught the Bhagavad Gita, a summary of Hindu teachings.
The New Vrindaban temple near Moundsville, West Virginia is a Krishna temple, so it attracts a large number of people on that day. The temple is named for Vrindaban, India, where Krishna spent his early life.
People get dressed with new clothes in honor of Krishna and Radha, Krishna’s wife. Because Krishna was born at midnight, devotees observe a vigil and fast until that hour. Then they offer milk, yogurt and sweets to god and partake of the foods themselves as holy offerings.
¯ Ganesh Chaturthi – Aug. 22
Ganesh Chaturthi observes the birthday of Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed god. A deva (demigod) of wisdom and lord of arts and sciences, Ganesh is the son of Lord Shiva and Parwati. Also the god of good luck, he is prayed to in the beginning of any worship. He is worshipped for his ability to remove obstacles and bring good fortune.
Dr. Tej Gautam, author of this column, is an Associate Professor at Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio. Mid Ohio Valley Interfaith seeks to cultivate a welcoming and inclusive community whose members are knowledgeable and appreciative of diverse faith traditions and their cultural contexts. To learn of resources and upcoming events, please visit us on Facebook at Mid Ohio Valley Interfaith or @midohiointerfaith.