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induism is thousands of years old and is
practised by almost 850 million Hindus,
mostly in the Indian subcontinent. The
religion’s creator, God and Spirit of the
Universe, Brahman, is present in everything.
Some Hindus explain Hinduism as a binding
of ancient philosophies, values and practices – and call their
religion ‘Sanatana dharma’ (eternal teaching). Hindus live
according to the rules of Dharma: patience, forgiveness,
physical self-control, honesty, sanctity, control of the senses,
reason, learning, truthfulness and absence of anger.
Catherine Chambers guides you
through the basic beliefs of the six
core religions. This month: Hinduism
Main beliefs
and practices
There are many ways of seeing Brahman
and these are represented by thousands of
gods and goddesses.
❖ The three principal avatars (aspects) of
Brahman’s being are the gods Brahma,
the creator, Vishnu, the Preserver of the
Cosmos, and Shiva, the Destroyer (seen
largely as destroying in order to recreate).
❖ Epics help to explain the roles of gods
and goddesses, and the nature of good
and evil.
❖ Hindus honour deities in the Mandir
(Hindu temple) and at shrines at home
through Puja (Hindu worship). Flowers
and food are offered, deities’ names and
attributes are chanted, and divas are lit.
❖ Hindus live according to Dharma (literally
‘that which binds together’). It is both a
religious philosophy and way of life. For
Hindus, it means doing their duty towards
their family and friends.
❖ A person’s Dharma affects their
Karma (the cycle of birth, death and
reincarnation), in other words the state
into which they will be reborn. A person’s
‘true self’ (Atman) is eternal.
Hindu sacred texts, at their core, explain
good and evil, and the balance of human
spirituality and worldliness. They include
the Vedas (the earliest sacred verses of
praise), written in Sanskrit; the Ramayana
(The epic poem about Lord Rama and
his wife Sita); the Mahabharata, which
includes the Baghavad Gita (about Lord
Krishna), and the Puranas (expounding on
the deities).
Key dates
and festivals
3000BCE (at least): the kernels of Hindu
religious thought develop in the Indus
Valley. ‘Hinduism’ stems from ‘Indus’.
❖ Circa 1500–500 BCE: the Vedic period
heralds Hindu sacred texts.
❖ A number of festivals honour deities,
their roles in the epics, and the triumph of
good over evil.
❖ Navaratri (Festival of Nine Nights).
Takes place at beginning of October,
around harvest time. Celebrates the
‘motherhood of God’ through the Mother
Goddess, Durga.
❖ Divali (String of Lights). Usually falls in
October or November. Celebrates when
good triumphs over evil through the story
of Lord Rama and his consort, Sita.
❖ Holi (Festival of Colours). A spring
festival. Celebrates how Prahalad
overcame evil to free himself to worship
Lord Vishnu. People throw brightly dyed
water over each other.
Points to
❖ Brahma is not worshipped in the
same way as, say, Vishnu and Shiva. One
explanation is that Brahma’s work as a
creator has already been
❖ Caste is the religious,
social and economic state
into which every Hindu is
born. Indian government
legislation and social policies
since 1950 aim to loosen
the economic and social
effects of the system.
is also available to
download from
and music
❖ Mantras (literally meaning ‘instrument
of thought’) are chanted as perfectly
as possible, to reach their purity. Gurus
(teachers) can help achieve this. Drums
and lutes are key traditional instruments.
❖ Nataraja is ancient Hindu dance. Every
move and hold of hand, head, eye, and so
on has its own meaning and emotion, to
unfold Hindu epics.
PLUS… This article
Art and design
All over India, gods, goddesses and epics
are represented by incredible, elaborate
and often enormous public and private
works of art in stone, bronze, wood and
paint. Some are paraded during religious
processions. One amazing site is Ellora
mountain cave temple.
For more information see www. and ■
Catherine Chambers Education writer
APRIL 2008