Answered: Frequently Asked Questions About Hinduism

Hinduism, which is considered as much a culture and way of life as it is a religion, began in approximately 3,000 BC with the Indus River civilization and the Sindh Indo-Pakistani region.  Two main cultures blended together to create the beginnings of Hinduism: the Aryans of the north and Northwest regions of India and the Dravidians, who are thought to be of central Asian origin, of south India.  The Aryan culture was similar to that of Rome and Greece.  The Aryan myth and culture were based on a hierarchy of deities, which were dominated by the lords of the upper region.  This hierarchical establishment was the premise for the establishment of the caste system.   The Dravidian deities revolved around more earthly realms such as farm and pasture, while the Aryan deities revolved around the forces of nature.
1.  Q. Does Hinduism have a founder?
     A. No, Hinduism does not have a founder like Christianity and Islam.  Hinduism evolved from a mixture of       cultures in India, especially the Aryan and the Dravidian cultures.  Hinduism as a religion was officially started with Rishis,  “teachers of humankind” who heard the eternal truths and then telepathically taught their disciples.

2. Q. How did Hinduism get its name?
    A. Hinduism was originally called Sanathana Dharma, which means righteousness forever.  The Persians, who invaded India in the sixth century BC, gave Hinduism its name from the root word Indus.

3. Q.  Does Hinduism have its own language?
    A. Yes, the Hindu scriptures are written in the ancient language Sanskrit.  Some scholars believe that English words such as mother and father came from the Sanskrit words mata and pitha.  Sanskrit is also the source from which all sixteen Indian languages emerged.

4. Q.  Have any other religions developed from Hinduism?
    A. Yes, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism are several religions that began with Hindu
principles.  Other sects of Hinduism have developed in the United States such as the Vedanta Society and the Hare Krishnas.

5. Q.  Is Hinduism a static religion?
    A. No, Hinduism is a religion that absorbs other cultures and religious and scientific developments. Whereas the basic principles of Hinduism have not changed, some of the social aspects have.  For instance, the caste system, which was a part of Hinduism from its beginning, was abolished in India in 1949.

Hinduism has two groups of scriptures; Sruti, “that which is heard,” and Smriti, “that which is remembered.”  All Hindu scriptures are considered as revelations of God and are written in Sanskrit.  The Sruti scriptures include the Vedas and the Upanishads and the Smriti scriptures include the Vedangas, Darsanas, Ithihasas, Puranas, Upavedas, Agamas, Upangas, Tantras, and Charvaka.

1. Q.  What are the most sacred texts of Hinduism?
    A. The four Vedas are the most sacred texts because they teach devotees the truths that lead them to God. The four Vedas are the Rig Veda (Veda of the verses), the Yajur Veda (Veda of the sacrificial sayings), the Sama Veda (Veda of the songs), and the Atharva Veda (Veda of Atharvan, a mystical fire priest).

2. Q.  Do Hindus have a text similar to the Christian Bible?
    A. Yes, the most important Hindu scripture is the Bhagavad Gita, which consists of 18 chapters and over 700 verses.  The Bhagavad Gita describes all of the yogas and paths to god-realization. The Gita also covers many of the problems that people face on a day-to-day basis.

3. Q.  Do all Hindus rely as heavily on the same texts?
    A. No, different Hindus put more emphasis on different texts.  For instance, the most important text for Hare Krishnas is the Srimad Bhagavatam, and the most important text to Saivites, worshippers of the god Siva, is the Thirukural scripture.

4. Q.  Are Hindu scriptures contradictory?
    A. Hindu scriptures do contain many contradictory ideas, but the contradictions stem from Hinduism’s tolerance of many different ideas and from its development from a primitive to an advanced religion.

5. Q.  Who are the Hindu scriptures written by?
    A. Most of the Hindu scriptures’ authors are anonymous, but they are all said to be
revealed by God.

Hindus view the world and all of life’s processes as cyclical.  They believe that dharma (the absolute law), karma (the causal chain), rebirth into the causal chain, and eventually moksha (the liberation from the chain into nirvana) govern every living creature.

1. Q.  Do Hindus worship idols?
    A. No, Hindus use the idols to help focus on their devotion to and worship of God.

2. Q.  Are Hindus Polytheists?
    A. Hinduism consists of over 330 million gods.  While some Hindus consider themselves polytheists and consider all the 330 million gods to be separate gods, some Hindus consider themselves monotheists and consider the 330 million gods as really many different names and aspects of one god.

3. Q.  Do Hindus try to convert people of other religions to Hinduism?
    A. No, Hindus believe that many different paths to god-realization exist and that most of the world religions are different paths to it.

4. Q.  Do Hindus believe God has been reincarnated into a human form?
    A. Yes, Hindus call an incarnation of God an avatar.  A guru, a religious leader, or a
Saint could be an avatar.  Many Hindus believe the next avatar will come at the end of kali yuga, 427,000 years from the present.

5. Q.  Do Hindus not believe in going to doctors?
    A. Some Hindus do rely on the Ayuveda for medical treatment.  The Ayurveda use clinical observation to identify an imbalance in the three basic forces, vata, pitta, and kapha.  Vata is responsible for physical and psychological movement; pitta controls heat and metabolism; and kapha maintains structure and stability.  One can stay healthy by balancing these three forces through meditation, diet, herbal supplements, and exercises.  While some Hindus do rely solely on Ayuveda, most Hindus do have physicians.

Women’s Role:
In the past, women in Hinduism were viewed as subordinates.  The Bhagavad Gita classifies woman as equivalent to outcasts and slaves.  The Law of Manu says woman should not be allowed liberty, should not be independent, and are the cause of all world problems.  While in reality women were treated poorly, there were Hindu goddesses who were and are revered and worshipped.  Examples of some female goddesses include Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth; Saraswathi, the Goddess of knowledge; and Parvati, the Goddess of power.  Over the years women have gained more rights and freedoms such as the right to divorce and remarry.  India even had a woman chief executive, Indira Gandhi.

1. Q.  Do only married Hindu woman wear dots on their foreheads?
    A. No, married women are supposed to wear a red dot made of herbal powders.  All Hindu women, especially those who belong to the Brahmin caste, are supposed to wear dots on the foreheads.  The dot is supposed to protect the location of the “spiritual eye.”  Widows are the only ones who are not supposed to wear a dot.

2. Q.  Are Hindu widows supposed to kill themselves?
    A. No, the scriptures do not tell a widow to commit sati, the act of a widow killing herself by jumping into the funeral pyre of her dead husband.  The British officially abolished sati in India in 1829, and it is no longer practiced.

3. Q.  Is there a goddess who is seen as exceptionally powerful?
    A. Yes, Kali is considered the Mother Goddess. Outwardly, she represents terror and death. Inwardly, she is loving and compassionate.  Kali is best known for conquering the most demonic forces after the god Rama’s troops were defeated.  Feminists in the United States have used her as a symbol of female power and dominance.  They use an image of Kali standing on her mate and eating his entrails.

4. Q.  Are women completely equal with men in Hinduism?
    A. No,  although women have gained many rights over the years, women are still not completely equal to men.  For instance, a woman does not have total control over her inheritance.  She must listen to her husband’s male heirs, who will be benefiting from her death.

5. Q.  Can Hindu women be gurus?
    A. Yes, gurus are seen as beyond gender, so woman gurus are not seen as taboo even though, there are more male gurus.  One famous woman guru is Nirmalasundari Bhattacharya. She was wed at 13 years old, but the marriage was never consummated, and her husband became a sannyasin with her as his guru.

Fun Facts about Hinduism:
1. The most powerful laser ray on Earth is called “Siva,” symbolizing the Hindu god Siva’s powerful “third eye” ray.
2. The word trident came from the weapon that Siva always carried.
3. The swastika is actually a Hindu symbol for good luck.
4. Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion.
5. The Lotus is a symbol of beauty and purity.
6. Hinduism is the 7th largest religion in the United States.
7. Nepal has a greater Hindu proportion (89%) of Hindus than India (79%).
8. New York has the greatest Hindu proportion in the States with .6%.

Am I a Hindu?, Ed Viswanathan
Hinduism, Herbert Ellinger
Responses to 101 Questions on Hinduism, John Renard