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Kanchipuram Temple
Hinduism is a rich and varied religion. It could not be summed up
in a set of unified beliefs and practices and has no single founder.
However, there is a long tradition of spiritual teachers. There is not
one holy book but several collections of sacred writing. Spiritual
truth can be revealed in different forms and Hindus recognise the
authority of this saint or spiritual teacher as the words of the
sacred text, which carry the authority of the God. Many Hindus
follow the teachings a guru or spiritual teacher. Some Hindus
belong to ‘Krishna Consciousness Movement’ and look to the
example of the teachings of the Bengali saint Chaitanya, who
taught his followers to accept Krishna as the Supreme Lord.
The word Hindu originally was the Persian rendering of the Indian word Sindhu-the Sanskrit name of the river Indus.
The Persian name Hindu must have come into being in the 6 th century B.C. when the territory round Indus formed
part of the Persian Empire. But the name disappeared from India, with the exit of the Persians. It came back to India,
centuries later, with the Muslim invasions from the north – west.
At that time, however, the word Hindi simply meant Indian and had no religious connection. Subsequently, under the
Mughal emperors, the word assumed a religious tint and under the British it came to be applied exclusively to the
people, who followed the age-old religion of India.
The basis of Hinduism lies in the four Vedas of the Aryans. The word is derived from vid, to know. The Vedas are
known as sruti, or that which is heard or revealed. The orthodox Hindus think that the Vedas are anandi, without a
beginning. Others believe that the Vedas were revealed to ancient rishia (sages).
The Rigveda is the earliest and the most important of the four Vedas. It is the oldest scripture in the world having been
composed in the third millennium B.C. it consists of over 100 hymns. Each Veda is divides into mantras (hymns),
Brahmans that explain the mantras.
When the Aryans came to India, they encountered a highly civilized people- the Dravidians - the builders of the
civilization of the Indus Valley. They defeated the Dravidians and probably enslaved them.
The mainstay of popular Hinduism is the later Vedic literature, which consists of the puranas (old stories) and itihasas
(epics). There are 18 purans. Some purans are believed to date back to the pre-Christian era. But many are believed to
have been written between the 3 rd and the 7 Th centuries A.D. The itihasas or epics are two – the Ramayana and
Mahabharata. The imprimatur or theological sanction for pja is found in the Bhagavad-Gita Gita, which is the
bedrock of modern Hinduism. When Buddhism rose as a challenge to orthodox Hinduism, Hinduism reacted by
sanctifying the Buddha as an avatar (Incarnation) of Vishnu. Similarly, the Jain idea of non-violence or non-injury to
living things appealed to many people as a gospel of mercy.
From time to time, Hindu reformers have sprung up, brilliant intellects and devout ascetics like Sansaracharya (8 the
century A.D.),
Ramanuja (12 the century) and Madhwa (13 th century)-who have not merely restored popular faith but also
countered heretical or fissiparous tendencies, by a re-interpretation of Hindu philosophy and reformation of Hindu
practices, to meet the demands of the times.
Modern Hinduism may be dated from the days of Sri Sankaracharya, more than 1000 yrs. Ago. He is by far the
greatest of Hindu reformers. He purged Hinduism of many evil cults and practices. Ramanuja (12 th century) and
Madhwa (1238 A.D.), the next great reformer, they modified Sankara's philosophy. The renovation of Hinduism
started by this great trio of South India and continued by a number of Saints and Sagas in the rest of India. The most
famous leader of the Mission was Swami Vivekanand, carried the message of Hinduism to far off countries like USA.
The Ramakrishna Mission stands for social and religious reform, based on the ancient culture of India.
This God of knowledge and the remover
of obstacles is also the older son of Lord
Shiva. Lord Ganesha is also called
Vinayaka (knowledgeable) or
Vighneshwer (god to remove obstacles).
He is worshipped in the beginning of any
auspicious performance for blessings and
auspiciousness. He has four hands,
elephant's head and a big stomach. His
vehicle is a tiny mouse. In his hands he
carries a rope (to carry devotees to the
truth), an axe (to cut devotees'
attachments), and a sweet dessert ball,
laddoo, (to reward devotees for spiritual
activity). His fourth hand's palm is
always extended to bless people. A unique
combination of his elephant-like head and
a quick moving tiny mouse vehicle
represents tremendous wisdom,
intelligence and presence of mind.
Lord Shiva is the great Yoga ascetic, the
Lord of the Dance. He is the universal
teacher, the omnipresent and all knowing.
Shiva assumes all forms. Originally known
in the Vedas as Rudra, Shiva is also
identified with the god of fire, Agni. As the
Vedic Rudra, Shiva appears to be a
terrible god-- the Destroyer--who always
needs to be pacified. When worshipped,
however, Shiva/Rudra becomes a
beneficent deity. As further synthesis
occurs between Vedic and Aryan religion,
Shiva becomes the Auspicious. He is the
supreme God of Medicine, who protects
both animals and humans from disease.
He is male and female, Shiva and Shakti,
thus encompassing the total possibilities of
human form.
The ten incarnations of Vishnu is a Hindu theological concept in Vedic history.
Vishnu exists as the Creator and also within every being as our soul, our
Supreme. He also enters or descend to our world in the form of Avatar
whenever his presence is needed. The Ten Avatars or Dasha Avatar of Vishnu
are important and very interesting as you can see that he incarnates
progressively from fish to human form. The nine Avatars are: 1.Matsya - The
Fish 2. Kurma- The Tortoise 3. Varaha- The Boar 4. Narasimha- The Man-Lion
5. Vamana - The Dwarf 6. Parasurama - The Warrior 7. Sri Rama - The King 8.
Sri Krishna - The Cowherd 9. Kalki - The Slayer
Brahma is the Lord of creation and is
assisted in this process by his consort
Saraswathi, who is the possessor of ultimate
knowledge. Brahma was born from the navel
of Lord Vishnu at the end of one cycle to
begin a fresh creation. He has four heads
(originally five), representing the four vedas,
which are said to have sprung from his
heads. His four heads are also said to
represent the four yugas (cycle of life on
earth). He is bearded & his eyes are closed
in meditation. He sits on a lotus & his
vehicle is the swan. In his four arms he holds
the Vedas, the kamandal (water pot), suruva
(sacrificial spoon) & a mala. He is a serene
soul and is the provider of all sources of
knowledge & wisdom.
Mayura (mayil in Tamil) means
peacock. Vahana is a form in which
Subrahmanya is seated on a
peacock. The peacock was
associated with Karthikeya since
the Gupta period as noted in
Kalidasa's Raghuvamsa (5th
century AD). As Sikhivahana,
Subrahmanya has one face, three
eyes and four hands The hands
bear the abhaya mudra, varada
mudra, sakti and vajra. His
peacock vehicle is called
Indranilaratha. The Sritattvanidhi
associates the other forms of
Muruga like Karthikeya,
Shanmuga and Desika with the
peacock. They are ten, twelve and
Goddess Kali is another form of Goddess
Durga or Parvati. She is goddess of
destruction. She has eight hands and great
power and energy (Shakti). Kali rides on a
corpse of a demon. In her terrifying aspects,
the most commonly worshipped forms are
Durga & Kali. These are forms taken by the
Goddess in an effort to destroy some form of
evil & hence even these forms need not invoke
fear, for she is the mother who has risen in
anger only to destroy evil forces and provide
eternal happiness and peace to her children.
As Kali (the Goddess of Time) she presents the
most terrifying aspect, usually seen in a burial
or war field. She is standing on a dead body
with her hair let loose and disheveled. She
wears a garland of skulls
Saraswati is the Goddess of learning,
knowledge, and wisdom. The Sanskrit word sara
means "essence" and swa means "self." Thus
Saraswati means "the essence of the self."
Saraswati is represented in Hindu mythology as
the divine wife of Lord Brahma, the Creator of
the universe. Since knowledge is necessary for
creation, Saraswati symbolizes the creative
power of Brahma. Goddess Saraswati is
worshipped by all persons interested in
knowledge, especially students, teachers,
scholars, and scientists. In Her popular images
and pictures, Goddess Saraswati is generally
depicted with four arms (some pictures may
show only two arms), wearing a white sari and
seated on a white lotus. She holds a book and a
rosary in Her rear two hands, while the front two
hands are engaged in the playing of a lute
(veena). Her right leg is shown slightly pushing
against Her left leg. She uses a swan as Her
vehicle. There is a peacock by Her side gazing
at Her.
Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth and
prosperity, both material and spiritual. The
word ''Lakshmi'' is derived from the Sanskrit
word Laksme, meaning "goal." Lakshmi,
therefore, represents the goal of life, which
includes worldly as well as spiritual
prosperity. In Hindu mythology, Goddess
Lakshmi, also called Shri, is the divine
spouse of Lord Vishnu and provides Him
with wealth for the maintenance and
preservation of the creation. In Her images
and pictures, Lakshmi is depicted in a female
form with four arms and four hands. She
wears red clothes with a golden lining and is
standing on a lotus. She has golden coins and
lotuses in her hands. Two elephants are
shown next to the Goddess.
Hanuman is a monkey god. He is a
noble hero and great devotee of
Lord Rama of the Ramayana.
This deity is a provider of courage,
hope, knowledge, intellect and
devotion. He is pictured as a robust
monkey holding a mace (gada),
which is a sign of bravery and
having a picture of Lord Rama,
tattooed on his chest, which is a
sign of his devotion to Lord Rama.
He is also called Mahaveera (the
great hero) or Pavan-suta (son of
air) or Bajarang bali