Sanatana Dharma (Hindusim)

A Lecture Given at Ranjanee Inc.,NY, Annual Anniversary at Ganesh Temple on June 21, 2009

Let me first introduce myself as a Priest of Bangladesh

Hindu Mandir. I am Sri Shankar Parial and would like to thank you all. I am highly appreciative to Subhra Goshwami on bhibehalf of Ranjanee Inc., NY, who invited me to speak about the Hindu religion.

Hinduism is still a developing, living tradition, one which maintains a capacity to adapt and modify itself according to the needs of its believers and its perceived relevancies to the socio-religion environments in which it functions.

Hinduism looks like a Banyan Tree. It is varied in doctrinal roots, the energy to nourish the spreading boughs of expression and practices, under the shade of which the varied definitions and experiences of the faith many thrive. It has been suggested that there are as many ideas of Hinduism as there are Hindus, and Hinduism does offer the individual considerable freedom of understanding and worship; but the roots of Sanatana Dharma, the Universal rule, or duty, hold firm for all, and secure the life of the faith.

Hindus use Murtis to represent the supreme spirit Brahman in worship, either at home shrine or in temples. This murtis are mostly made of stone or some metal alloy.

Hindus classified into many groups. Those who worship Vishnu or Laxmi or Vishnu’s important incarnations Rama, Krishna, etc. they care called Vaishanava.

Those who worship Siva in the form of the lingam or Natanaja, the cosmic dancer, are known as Saiva.

Those who worship the Mother Goddess Shakti, Durga, Kali, Sati, Mahadaxmi, Amba, are called Shakta.

Those who worship Ganesha are called Ganapatya.

The mythologies of these higher gods and goddesses of Hinduism are given in sacred texts called The Paranas. There follow the mythologies of some important deities.

Now the question is how many gods and goddess are in Hinduism? We have given rise to a misleading statement that Hindus have 330 million gods.

According to the Rig-Veda we have only 33 gods. They are 11 gods in The Heavens, 11 in the atmosphere, and 11 on earth. The phrase "33 Koti Devas" actually means "33 different kinds of Gods." Because the word Koti means "kind or type." The 10,000,000 of the alternative meaning of the word koti has given rise to the statement that Hindus have 330 million gods. Without going into arithmetical acrobatics, it can be said that Hindus have one Divinity, which is worshipped in various appearances and under different names.

Diversity in Hinduism

Hindus in different parts of Indo-Bangla follow varied systems of naming individuals.

In northern India and Bangladesh, a person’s name very often has two parts; the first is his/her personal name, the second is the family name. For example- Shankar Parial, Subhra Goswami, Sakiti Yadav, Uma Sharma, Ranesh Chatterjee.

In western India a person has three names. The first one identifies the individual, the second one is the fathers name and the first is the family name. For example, Sanguna Baburao Patil.

In the South a person has four names. The first initial denotes the village of origin, the second is the father’s name, the third is the person’s given name and the fourth signifies caste. A famous southern Indian was Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar.

The Hindus always take two types of food. On is vegetable and another is non-vegetable dishes. Some people take both.

We always need certain things for worshipping the Gods. These are Pradip (light) Agarbathi (Westerners often call it a joss stick) Sindur (red powder) Chandan (Sandal) Flower, fruit, rice, etc. We have three types of temples: One the family temple. Two the community temple. Three the shrine temple.

The Priests:-

The Priest belonged to the Brahmin Varna’s. His ritual purity sets him apart from other Hindus and enables him to represent them to God. His task is to make offerings, perform ceremonies on rituals and teachings, and guidance to the ritual rights. Priests fall into three types: Some prefer to teach, some conduct rituals and ceremonies for their patrons, while others become religious mendicants seeking their salvation through asceticism and meditation.

A priest need the ability to learn Sanskrit, the classical language of Hinduism, to under take a long course of study under the guidance of a local scholar and study the various scriptures. The scriptures include the Vedas and certain branches of post-vedic studies. Vedas and certain branches of post-Vedic studies are considered essential to the understanding of the Vedas, such as the texts giving the mantras. The order of actions in various religious rituals performed in the home of the householders. They further include the study of the dharma sastras, the further include the study of the dharma shastras, the law books, phonetics, grammar and the matras of the Vedas. Some knowledge of Hindu philosophy, the epics (i.e. the Ramayana & the Mahabharata) and the Paranas, is also necessary. The priests who conduct the performance of rituals are called as Brahmins, Purshita, Panda, Pujani, Shastri, Guree, Swamiji, or Acharya.

The Four Stages of Life:-

Hindu tradition holds that a man passes through four stages as he goes through life towards the fist goal of spiritual liberation, on Moksha. These four stages, called the ashramas are of unequal length.

The first stage is Brahmacharya, when some boys embark upon a long course of study of the Vedas and other scriptures. The second state is that of a married householder, garhastha.

The third stage is the retirement stage called Varaprasthai. A man in practice does not leave home to live in a forest to meditate and study scriptures. The fourth stage is called Sannyasa, an optional renunciation stage which a man may enter only after all his family duties are done. He then gives up his worldly possessions- eve his name- and devotes his remaining life to pilgrimage, meditation and study of the scriptures, wandering from place to place, journeying towards moksha.

The famous lawgiver Manu says:-

"The four ashrannas, brahmacharya, garhastha, vanaprashta and sannyasa all came into being from the garhasta or householder stage. As great and small rivers finally find shelter in the ocean, so men of all ashramas final protection within householders."

Fasting:-

Fasting is a religious act undertaken voluntarily. In Hinduism fasting does not mean going without food altogether. Fasting foods include milk, yogurt, fruit, certain root vegetables, dates and sago. But rice, wheat, millet pulses, onion and garlic are excluded from the list.

In spite of there being many permissible foods, many people allow themselves only water to drink between sunrise and sunset and break their fast after the moonrise.

Scriptures:-

The earliest scriptures of the faith now known as Hinduism are believed to have been composed between 1200 BCE and 1000 BCE, by the Aryans who began to settle in northwest India around 1500 BCE. This was the start of the vast amount of literature produced during a period of 1000 years between 12000 BCE and 200 BCE. This period is known as the Vedic Age since the scriptures are called the Veda, which is comprised of four different compositions.

It is strongly believed that these texts were received by inspired scholars from God; they learned them by heart and passed them to the next generation by word of mouth.

The Vedic texts are traditionally called shruti "hearing" for two reasons: they are believed to be eternal, and were "heard" by scholars directly from God. For centuries they have were received by pupils orally from their teachers who recited them. The pupils repeated the words and intonation of the teacher exactly as they heard them, so that they have been preserved orally for thousands of years.

The shruti texts are four Vedas, brhamanas, aranyakas, Upanishads.

 The smriti texts are: Purana, the popular Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad-Gita. Gita is classed as smriti texts, which includes religions, moral and educational writings- based on "remembered" traditions. These tends were composed from 500 BCE to words.

The Bhagavad-Gita is very popular with many Hindus. Although a smriti text, it is believed to be the word of God, since Krishna is an important incarnation of the God Vishnu. The Bhagavad-Gita takes the form of a dialogue between prince Arjuna and his charioteer, Krishna.

Hinduism Since 1756

Before 1757 India was ruled by Muslims. After the war of Palushi in 1757 India became part of Britain, who was replaced the Mughal empire and ruled India until 1974. In this time European education thrived, which many liberal Hindus found attractive.

Ram Mohan Roy (1774-1833) was the first Hindu of note to respond to European influence, but it should be stated that his early education and employment had already brought him into contact with the monotheism. He was a great social reformer. He did a good job for women’s education; he was an empowered social worker who was dead against Sati Daha Pratha and child marriage.

Ram Mohan Roy pioneered the approach which many other Hindus were to follow, he especially might be said to have anticipated the influence of Swami Vivekananda.

In this context we got more reformers in this period. They are Dayananda Saraswati who was born in Gujaratin 1824, the founder of the Arya Samaj Swami Narayan (Sahajananda) who was born in Uttam Pradesh in 1781 who was the founder of the Satsang movement.

Annie Sesant (1847-1933), Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Bhimnas Raaji Ambedkar (1891-1956), Satya Sai Baba (1926)

I would like to especially make note about Sri Ramakrishna in this context.

Sri Ramakrishna (1834-1886) was a poor Brahmin. He believed that God was present in every religion, and may be found through any of them. He thought that, "A truly religious man should think that other religions are also paths leading to the truth" This has become one of the principles of modernHinduism He also maintained, "Every man should follow his own religion. A Christian should follow Christianity, a Muslim should follow Islam, and so on…for Hindus the ancient Path, the path of the Aryan Rishis, is the best." The most famous and influential of the followers was Narendra Nath Datta, better known as Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). It was he whose attendance at the Chicago Parliament of Religions in 1893 first introduced to many westerners to the spiritual richness of the East- so much so that some of them questioned the propriety of sending missionaries to India!

Sri Ramakrishna was not at all political in his motivation, nor was he antagonistic to Christianity, though he was active in the same time as Dayananda Saraswati. He himself founded no society, but his disciples established the Ramkrishna Mission, which has developed his syncretism (a blend of ideas from several religions and is therefore influenced to some extent by Christianity).

Tagore, Ramakrisna and Vivekananda, are men who emerged from their undoubtedly Hindu backgrounds to testify to something that transcended all religions and provided India with its secular ideal of respect for all religions, without according any of them a position of privilege.

 © Copyright Pandit Sri Shankar Parial Sastri. All right reversed