Hinduism

 

Hinduism is generally regarded as the world's oldest organized religion. Most forms of Hinduism recognize a single God, called Brahman, although here things become a little complicated because Brahman is also thought to be the same thing as the Ultimate Reality, as if God is united with and part of everything in the universe. Brahman is also viewed by some as composed of three parts:

·         Brahma – the creator is usually pictured with four faces, each one pointing towards one of the four points of the compass which is meant to symbolise that God created the whole universe.

·         Vishnu – the preserver who maintains and keeps Brahma’s creations safe and orderly. Vishnu is usually shown either lying on a snake or with a snake behind his head. This symbolises cosmic time and energy. The colour blue represents his endless spiritual power. He has four hands which often hold a conch shell which symbolises the music of the universe.

·         Shiva – the destroyer (or re-creator) of the universe has three different forms: firstly Shiva Nataraj, or “lord of dance”, secondly as a man meditating in the Himalayas suggesting his pure concentration and ability to prevent himself from being distracted by earthly things and finally the lingam which symbolises Shiva’s creative and reviving powers.

 

When creation is troubled and the laws and balance that make things work seem to be threatened Vishnu comes to Earth in the form of a human being. Krishna, who is a Christ-like saviour figure, is the 8th incarnation of Vishnu and he came to earth in order to right wrongs and destroy the evil Kamsa, a demon’s son whose tyrannical rule was terrorizing the planet. In a similar way to which Christ and his disciples are believed to have left behind the New Testament as a guide for mankind to live by Krishna left behind the Bhagavad Gita, a guide for how Hindus should live their lives.

 

Hindus also believe in Samsara, the idea that people are reincarnated again and again in different bodies. The body you get when you are reincarnated depends on your Kharma (how good or bad you have been during your previous life). If you have been good, you’ll have a better body and be closer to God. The ultimate aim of Hinduism is to escape this cycle of reincarnation and become at one with Brahman and the ultimate reality. This state is often called Nirvana or Moksha.

 

In Hinduism there is a caste system that ranks different people in terms of how close they are to escaping from life into Nirvana and never being reincarnated again. These different levels are:

1)       Brahmins – priests, scholars and philosophers (the closest to Brahman)

2)       Kshatriyas – warriors

3)       Vaishyas – traders and merchants

4)       Shudraslabourers

5)       Untouchables

 

One additional important element of Hinduism is the purifying role of water. Just as Baptism is a cleansing ritual for Christians suggesting rebirth most Hindus also believe water to have spiritually cleansing powers. In water the distinctions of caste are supposed to count for nothing, as all sins fall away.