A Young Muslim’s Guide to Religions in the World


The Indian Peninsula is really a subcontinent more than 1500 miles long and about the same size in width at its broadest. It narrows towards the south and tapers off to the area in which Coromdel is situated. There are countries larger in size in both Asia and Africa, but no comparable tract exhibits the same variety in its history and culture. This variety is a reflection of its racial diversity.
Who the original inhabitants of the Peninsula were we do not know for certain.
Dark-skinned Dravidians are believed to have been the first to colonise the territory. Their descendants are now concentrated in the south, but the evidence unearthed by archaeologists at Mohenjo Daro in modem Sind and Harappa in Panjab points to the fact that the Dravidians once occupied the whole of the subcontinent. The ancient civilizations whose ruins have been uncovered in those places are sa id to be Dravidian; they were contemporaneous with the civilization of ancient Egypt and are over four thousand years old. They had a city-based culture and had established well-planned towns. Sorne statues and images discovered form the basis of the assumption that they worshipped a god not unlike the Siva of the Hindus, but beyond this it is impossible to go. One strong
reason for this is that their script has not to this day been deciphered. Until this clue is recovered theories about the people of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa will continue to belong to tltle realm of guesswork.
About 1500 B.C. a wave of Indo-Europeans entered India. These are called Aryans. They were able to oust the Dravidians from the north, but not before their own culture had been coloured by contact with the dark-skinned people whom they describe in their literature as uncivilised barbarians or dasyus. It appears that the Dravidians were less powerful than the Aryans and withdrew to the South and South-East as the Aryans advanced. The latter also succeeded in .imposing their religion and culture on the Dravidians to an extent which cannot be calculated exactly.
It is gradually on Indian soil that the religion we cali Hinduism at present took shape. Hinduism is a modern term; so is the word Hindu. Both were coined by foreigners to describe the religion and people found in the peninsula. The Muslims are believed to have been the first-to use the term Hindu to designate the ancient Indians. Hindu is Persian and means dark. The original Aryans must have been light-skinned but by the time the Muslims started coming to this area-that is, by the 7th century A.D. intermingling with the local population must have had an effect on their pigment. In any case what is important is that until very recent times there was no generic name for the varied religious practices of the different racial groups who inhabited the Peninsula. There is no mention of Hindus in the earliest religious literature now call1ed Hindu. The Vedas, the Puranas, the Upanishads do not mention the word; nor do we find it used in the two epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana, which are today regarded as providing an authentic picture of life in ancient India.
The philosophical thought developed by ancient Indians is sometimes-nowadays almost universally-termed Hindu philosophy, but this too is misleading. Anyone trying to deduce clear ideas about the religious life of Hindu masses from a study of Hindu philosophy will have the most unrealistic notions about their beliefs and practices. On the other hand, to ignore this philosophy will also be a mistake. The rerefied and abstruse speculations of the Hindu scholars seem in man y of their aspects to be either deductions from or intellectualisations of popular concepts. A distinction must be made between popular and philosophical Hinduism, although few could with any certainty draw a line between the two. They overlap.
Hinduism is often employed nowadays as a description of ail religious practices in the subcontinent other than those of people who belong to creeds recognised as distinct religions such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and so on. On this account sorne people, including sorne Hindu scholars, speak of Hinduism j:ls an anthropologieal proeess embraeing a wide speetrum of beliefs and praetiees, sorne very crude and primitive, a continuation of rites dating from prehistoric times, sorne local without being applicable to ail classes of Hindus ail over the subcontinent, and others which lend sorne support to the view that Hinduism represents a religious attitude shared by millions.
Whatever view one takes of Hinduism, the most important fact which must not be lost sight of is that unlike sueh religions as Islam and Christianity which believe in proselytisation, Hinduism does not accept converts. One is either bom a Hindu or is not a Hindu at ail.
The religion is indigenou$ to India.The only country outside where sorne forms of Hinduism are practised is Nepal. The inhabitants of Bali in Indonesia are also said ta be Hindu; they are reputed ta be the descendants of a group who long aga migrated ta the island. In modem times Hindu migrants are ta be found in most of the countries of the world. A very large number are found in the West Indies, in Mauritius and also Britain. But they are outsiders on alien sail.
If there is a single feature common ta ail varities of Hinduism,
it is the caste system, a system which divides ail adherents of
the Hindu creed into four groups, Brahmins, Kshatriyas
Vaishyas and Shudras. The Brahmins, the priestly caste,
stand at the top of the scale; they alone are thought to be
qualified by virtue of their birth ta hold religious office; they are
entitled ta the veneration of ail subordinate castes. The
Kshatriyas are the warrior caste fit ta rule and join armies. The
Vaishyas represent the mercantile caste; they are free to man
professions other than those reserved for the Brahmins and
Kshatriyas. At the bottom of the social ladder come the
Shudras, the untouchables. They are thought ta be unclean;
their touch pollutes every body else. They must step aside
wt1en the Brahmins walk; they are not allowed to draw water
from the same wells. Down the ages they have performed such
menial offices as those of scavengers, cleaners, and .. sweepers; carpenters, potters, day labourers are also recruited
tram this caste. Interdining and intermarriage are strictly
forbidden between the castes.
How a system which seems ta outsiders to epitomise social injustice of the worst kind and is inhuman in its operation has SUlVived for centuries often puzzles non-Hindus, particularly Muslims. Undertying it and sustaining it is a belief in the doctrine of rebirth deriving its justification from the twin doctrine of Karma.
Karma bears a superficial resemblance to the Greek concept of Nemesis and presupposes that there is a cosmic force which causes human beings and ail animais to pay for what they do on earth, not by being punished in hell or rewarded with the joys of heaven eternally as in Christianity or Islam, but by being sent back to the earth after death in a fresh incarnation. What the human being or animal will be in the next birth depends on the nature of his actions in the previous birth. If he has led a blameless or virtuous life he may be reborn into a higher caste or a higher category in the case of anmials. A human who is Quilty of sins may find himself rebom as a dog or cat or mouse. His liberation from animal existence will depend on what he does as an animal. Or the sinner may be reborn into a lower caste, a Brahmin as a Shudra and 50 on. On the other hand, a good Vaishya or Shudra can always hope to be reincanated as a Brahmin.
The process is almost endless, but not quite. At the end of a long succession of births in the course of which ail sins have been atoned for, the soul will find release in Moksha when reincarnation will cease. The Buddhists who took over the doctrine of Karma use the term Nirvana to describe this release.
Belief in Karma and the transmigration of souls has embedded in the Hindu mind the conviction that a man’s status in life is the result of a cosmic process and has nothing to do with the social system. A Shudra will not consequently blame the Brahmin for his sufferings. He regards.them as a punishment for wrongs committed by him in a previous incarnation. He must live as carefully as he can in order to obtain emancipation.
Every Hindu mind is 50 imbued with faith in Karma that it is impossible for any member of this group to think of interpreting life differently. Karma dominates his consciousness perhaps far more subtly and pervasively than any similar doctrine or belief among other religious groups. It is the bed-rock on which the caste system rests. For nearly two thousand years now the caste system has defined sociallife among the Indians. Modern legislation designed to mitigate the cruelties which are incident to it has had some effect on educated classes, but by and large the caste system remains intact.
The Brahmin who considers the Shudra untouchable feels perfectly justified in doing so in the conviction that the latter’s lowly status is an outcome of past sins. Conversey, the Shudra yields to the Brahmin out of a corresponding belief about the Brahmin’s superiority. The laws prescribed for violations of untouchability are severe on both sides. A higher caste man who allows himself to be polluted by a Shudra intentionally or unintentionally must do penance; the Shudra may in certain circumstances be slain with impunity. To serve the Brahmin is in itself an act of piety for a Shudra or a Vaishya or Kshatriya.
The caste system and ail its laws, penances, expiations, the transmigration of souls, rules of diet, the duties and functions of different castes, and the final state of the blessed that is Moksha derive from the code given by a mythical lawgiver called Manu. Nothing is known about his ancestry or life. He may even be a convenient fiction used for the purpose of streamlining social practices of long standing, but ail that is important in popular Hinduism must be referred to him.
The doctrine of Karma postulates a cosmic force behind ail visible and invisible phenomena, so powerful that even the gods are subject to it. Jt is problematic whether this force can be equated with God in the sense in which the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam understand God. While the pagan Hindu would not deny the existence of a Supreme God variously called Iswara, Bhagwana, or Siva he also believes in the reality of a hierarchy of lesser deities who are credited with the power of influencing human life as weil as the course of nature. Whether Iswara is the right description of the Hindu Supreme Gad seems to outsiders open ta doubt. For the Hindu sometimes speaks of Parama Brahma as the correct way of referring ta this Being. He is said to be nameless, out of reach of human language, devoid of qualities which human beings can comprehend. But Parama Brahma as a concept plays a less important role in the consciousness of an ordinary Hindu than Iswara or Bhagwana. He is seldom mentioned except by the educated.
Parama Brahma is not very different in conception from Allah among Muslims or God among Christians, even though both Christians and Muslims attribute to Gad such qualities as mercy and kindness and Gad is also sought ta be described in linguistic terms. But essentially the concept of God is the concept of a Being who is not susceptible of comprehension in full by human beings, and in that sense a likeness can be perceived between god and Parama Brahma. But ta stretch the likeness tao far wou Id be to invite confusion.
Without the slightest sense of inconsistency, the Hindu who thinks of parama Brahma as a Being who defias human understanding believes in a hierarchy of gods or godasses whom he worships. In one respect Parama Brahma is utterly unlike Allah or God. Not being susceptible of definition he lacks personality. He cannot be prayed to. He is at best only an idea. But the popular mind among Hidus has sought to fill the void which the absence of a Gad with personality craates by postulating an Iswara who has personality and also numerous deities among whom the attributes Christians and Muslims attribute to God are distributed.
It is these smaller deities who are worshipped in temples. They range from sorne who are supposed to have ail embracing powers and others whose jurisdiction is limited. The multiplicity of these deities or powers and the fact that few of them command universal reverence in ail parts of the subcontinent give rise to the question whether Hinduism can be regarded as a religion in the same sense in which Judaism, Christianity and Islam are regarded as religions with a recognisable physiognomy. The utmost that can be said is that ail Hindus share a common pantheon, but each locality or each sect chooses from this pantheon the particular god or goddess whom to adore. Rama and his consort, for instance, enjoy a much higher degree of reverence in northem and southern India than in Bengal and Assam which lie in the South-East. Durga is popular in Bengal and the deep south but is seldom worshipped in the north. Saraswati, the goddesss of learning, and Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune, are Bengali goddesses more than they are universal in their appeal. Ganesh, who has the features of an elephant with a longish trunk or snout, is on the whole more popular among nonBengali businessmen than in Bengla and Assam. Hanuman, the monkey god, is almsot an object of ridicule in Bengal and eastern India but he is venerated in the north and south of the subcontinent. Siva belongs to a higher order among the gods and is worshiped ail over the subcontinent, but the degree of veneration he commands varies from province to province. He is a much more important figure in the north and south than in Bengal and eastern India. Temples dedicated to him are found everywhere but the cult of the Siva phallus is more popular in
parts of India other than Bengal and Assàm. In ~adras-that is, Tamilnadu and also in Telegu speaking Andhfa, it is common among males to have the word lingam meaning phallus added to their names as a sign of piety. Such’ names and the likeness of the phallus carved in stone to which worship is offered openly by both men and women offend against conventional ideas of decency among Muslims, but of this the Hindus seem oblivious. The concept of Siva as the god of sexual energy is carried to great lengths which to outsiders appear to cross the limts of propriety in Hindu sculpture where Siva and his consort Parvati are depicted in various explicit poses of the secual act.
The same indifference to conventional ideas of decency and propriety is also noticeable in the Hindu attitude to Krishna. He is mentioned in the epic Mahabharata as the avatar or incarnation of Vishnu; he is like Christ in Christianity both man and God. One of the most sacred texts in Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, is a record of what he said to Arjuna on the battle-field. Much in this text could appeal 0 outsiders as a guide to right action and right conduct, but as a popular god, and his popularity like that of Siva transcends provincial boundaries, Krishna is the lover of Radha, a milk-maid, the wife of someone else. But Krishna’s amours, and these extend to a.’ large number of milk-maids besides Radha, are regarded by the devout Hindu as an expression of universal love, not as acts of adultery or unlawful love.
It is necessary to mention that the Bhagavad Gita does not contain any account of these amours; nor does Radha figure in it. 80th Radha and Krishna’s dalliances with milk-maids are part of the legend of Krishna as a popular god, but this legend cannto be wholly ignored in one’s estimate of the influence Krishna exerts. He is spoken of as the god of love per se whereas the Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita is not concerned with love as such.
Krishna like Siva has adherents among ail sections of Hindus. A whole group of Hindus who cali themselves Vaishnavas and follow the teachings of a Bengali Hindu reformer of the 15th century, Sri Caitanya, identify him with God in the Crhistian sense, an embodiment of love and mercy who for the sake of humanity caused himself to be incarnated in human form.
Such deities as Siva, also called Mahadeva, and Krishna have more than a local appeal but while Siva represents the legacy of the ancient pantheon which is associated with the first Aryan immigrants, Krishna is a later accretion. The older gods such as Indra and Varuna are mentioned in books but they have ceased to be worshipped. Vishnu whose ancestry is less ancient than Indra’s is still remembered. Temples are erected in his honour but for centuries the practice has been, in northern India at least, to honour him by proxy, by worshipping Rama, his incarnation. Direct worship can be offered in Hinduism to any object which is believed to be holy, whether it is directly connected with any god or not. For popular Hinduism, and also certain schools of philosophical Hindu thought are strongly attached to the idea of pantheism. Ali visible and invisible phenomena are manifestations of one Being; there is nothing outside of him. On this theory even tbe inanimate objects such as rocks, mountains and trees are divine in nature and deserve worship. The distinction which is made in Western thought between pantheism and panentheism is to Hinduism. Like those Sufi mystics who advocate the doctrine of wahdatulwajud or unity of ail beings, the Hindus believe in the identity of God and the universe and dismiss the phenomenal world as an illusion or Maya. The concept of Maya is widely held, and even ordinary Hindus who have no education speak of the world as a Maya. This to outsiders seems to make nonsense of the concepts of virtue and vice, but in Hindu thought the belief in Maya and the belief in virtue and vice coexist.
Hindus with sorne education emphasise the triune aspects of the universe embodied in the concepts of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. Brahma is the creator; Vishnu, the preserver and Siva, the destroyer. They reflect the three processes of growth, continuity and decay discernible in nature. This Brahma incidentally is different from Parama Brahma, the supreme Being who embraces ail aspects of existence.
One of the curious features of paganism in Hinduism is that it comprehends within its fold many varied beliefs which strike outsiders as incompatible with each other. But the average educated Hindu is content to tolerate these inconsistencies by declaring that reality is many-sided. The Hindu is at one and the same time a believer in the unity of God and in the existence of a large number of forces which are operative in nature, directive forces which cannot be ignored and must be sought to be placated.
This belief is best mirrored in Hindu mythology which is one of the most elaborate systems of its kind, comparable in certain respects to the mythology of the ancient Greeks, but more comprehensive. Having grown slowly over hundreds of years this mythology exhibits traces of original Aryan beliefs grafted on Dravidian deities, with man y accretions, local and possessed of no significance outside of small regions as weil as many additions which have a more than local significance.
Starting with cosmogony designed like the creation myths in ancient Babylonia, to account for the genesis of the universe, Hindu mythology offers an elaborate and complex picture of innumerable forces and agencies which compete for dominion. Creation began with a decisive act by Parama Brahma by which he set the whole process in motion. Parama Brahma in this aspect is also known as Prajapati. He is the Lord and Father of ail beings, His original progeny consisted of three classes of being, gods, Asuras, and Rishis. The gods were given the upper heavens as their abode, the Asuras the underworld and the Rishis become the progenitors of men. Rivalry between gods or Devas and Asuras lasted for many eons but it ultimately ended in the triumph of the former.
The main source for the creation story is the Puranas, but the epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana, also provide much information not only about the origin of the universe but also about the miraculous power of the Rishis who in sorne instances appear mightier than the gods. The gods were afraid of their penances, and are sometimes seen to panic when these exercises seemed to topple them. The usual method they adopted to distract the attention of the Rishis engaged in penances was to lure them into sexual temptation. On occasions the gods sought the intervention of the Rishis in their disputes with one another. The Rishis could countermand their orders and courses, ride to heaven when they so desired, and return to the earth at convenient moments. They would sometimes live with beautiful women and breed children.
The gods for their part were vulnerable to the charms of mortal women. Like their Greek counterparts they had their favourites among the female sex, and the progeny of mixed unions remained, like Achilles, semi-divine capable of seeking the help of their divine parents in crisis. The Indian epics mention many men and women of semi-divine origin, children of river gods, earth gods, tree gods and sky gods who were content to live Iike ordinary mortals but were apt to disappear suddenly when the ordeal of mortallife became intolerable. To give an example, when Sita, the consort of Rama, found that her husband was made unhappy by false rumours about her chastity during her abduction, even after she had undergone several tests, including an ordeal by fire, she begged her earth god-parent to receive her back. The ground clove immediately and she vanished.
Such myths testify to the Hindu belief that the rigid boundaries that other communities draw between the human and the divine are really unreal and that not only are gods incamated from time to time in human form but men can also rise to divine status by virtue of penances. This belief is responsible for the attribution of the apellation Bhagwan or God to great men even in modern times. Thus Ramakrishna, a Hindu saint (1836-86), is usuailly referred to as an avatar, His followers believe in this implicitly.
Hindu scripture consists of several things. First in sacredness come the Vedas, which are considered so holy that low-caste men have no right to touch are considered so holy that low-caste men have no right to touch or read them. High caste Brahmins alone enjoy the exclusive privilege of studying and interpreting them. Almost as holy are the Upanishads. They too are regarded as divine revelations. Written in prose the Upanishads explore the mystery of the universe, the character of the godhead, the nature of the human soul and the reciprocal relationship of matter and spirit. The next category of scripture is the Puranas. They are less sacred th an the other two and deal with mythical history if the term is permissible. The main theme of the Puranas is the genealogy of the gods.
There are sorne who attribute a semi-divine character to the epics. But while the educated classes would not share this view, the Bhagavad Gita which is embodied in the Mahabharata is universally regarded by ail classes of Hindus as a revelation.
No single scripture has had in modern times the same popularity as the Gita as a document holding the key to Hindu religious thought. It has been written about, commented upon, and interpreted by scholars and laymen alike; its tenets are believed to be an infallible guide to action. The Gita purports to consist of the admonitions addressed to Arjuna by Krishna on the battlefield when the former felt unsure whether it would be right for him to take up arms against his own kith and kin. Krishna explains to him that war in the cause of truth and justice was not only justified but a moral imperative. To avoid it or shirk it was to shirk a duty and incur the displeasure of God. Krishna spoke as an avatar. He persuaded Arjuna that man who does not know the whole truth must not desist from doing what morality and ethics teach him to do, no matter what the apparent consequences. God alone can jujdge whether an action is right or wrong; man’s dut Yis to carry out the divine commands.
From this Krishna passes on to an exposition of the Hindu theory of incarnation. He tells Arjuna that hé who was God in man causes himself to be reborn in human form wh.enever wrong and injustice deflect man from the path of virtue. For without this direct intervention by deity man is apt to go astray. He has been born before and will assume other incarnations in later ages whenever the need would arise.
ln the course of this address Krishna also throws light of the ideals than man must have in view in life. Human perfection, he says, consists in the capacity to overcome weaknesses incident to mortal life by achieving full control over the passions so as to be able to see that the phenomenal world is only an appearance, a Maya; those who do not understand this are deluded, and delusion causes man to stray.
Hindus who believe in reading the scriptures as a daily religious exercise use the Gita as a vade mecum. Its teachings are susceptible of varied interpretations and have been konwn to appeal equally to religious men, politicians, political terrorists and ordinary men.
Neither the Gita nor the Vedas, nor the Upanishads or Puranas advocate the stratification of society into four castes. It is in the epics, especially the Mahabharata, that one cornes across references to caste division. Nor does any of these scriptures identify the people for whom they are meant as Hindus. The concept stressed in ail of them is the concept of Dharma, a word loosely translated as religion in English but possessing much wider implications. Dharma stands for morality, ethics, good conduct; it is also employed to refer to Manu’s laws and the observance of rites and ceremonies which are prescribed by Manu and other teachers. Dharma in certain senses connotes good as distinguished from evil, and the pious Hindu who wishes to protest against any wrong will invoke Dharma to make his point. In a narrower sense it can be equated with what Muslims mean by the term Shariah but it is also interchangeable with Deen. Althoug the worship of images in modern Hinduism is regarded by the masses as part of Dharma, Dharma by itself has no connexion with idol worship.
Another interesting feature of Hinduism is that although nowadays it is indentified with polytheism, the Upanishadic concept of religion seems monotheistic. It is, however, a monotheism much less uncompromising than the stern monotheism of Islam, but the idea that there is one Supreme Being who governs the universe is not absent. It is in the Puranas and the epics that polytheism is taken for granted, and here too behind the hierarchy of gods and goddesses the notion that ail phenomena, despite their variety and multiety, are manifestations of one single reality is seldom lost sight of.
It is impossible to say when idol worship began in India. Idols are not mentioned in any of the sacred books. Sorne believe that it was only after the ancient Indians came into contact with the Greeks following Alexander’s invasion that Idol worship began. This theory is however weakened, if not completely disproved, by the discovery of sorne statues of gods at Mohenjodaro. One of these gods has been identified with Siva. If this is correct, idol worship seems to have a long ancestry. Others think that the practice of making images of gods was inspired by the Buddhist practice of venerating the images of Lord Buddha. But whatever its origins, idol worship is regarded by the Hindu masses today as an inseparable feature of their religion. A Hindu temple invariably means a structure enshrining one or other of their numerous gods and goddesses, or sometimes, as in the case of Siva, his lingam or phallus. The lingam is usually exhibited along with a female symbol and the two together are said to represent Nature’s generative power. Non-Hindus are apt to find the symbolism as weil as its sculptural representation shocking but the average Hindu is not conscious of anything gross or vulgar in this.
While popular Hinduism as a mass of paganistic rites and practices, varying from place to place, with an enormous pantheon of gods and goddesses, seems à puzzling phenomenon, scarcely describable like Islam or Christianity as a religion in the sense in which the term is understood among others, there is a philosophical aspect to it which is very different. It is doubtful whether the schools of speculative thought which are known as Hindu philosophie systems are an outgrowth of paganism or owe their origin to independent attempts to arrive at an intellectual understanding of the world and the universe.
The six classical systems are Sankhya and Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta, and Vaiseshika and Nyaya. In some points they contradict one another, propound beliefs which are difficult to reconcile; 50me appear frankly atheistic, while others endorse the idea of a Supreme Seing deserving of worship; some are too rarefied to be concemed with any code of practical life; others deal in detail with man’s duties on earth and methods of worship, including rites designed to propitiate the gods or other cosmic forces. Irrespective of their character they display a subtlety which amazes those who approach the study of Hinduism without preconceived ideas.They are also remarkable as betraying no alien influence such as can be documented or proved. These systems sprang from Indian soil and at higher levels have contiued to fascinate and influence the Indian mind.
The systems cannot be dated with precision, but none goes beyond the fourth century. They are mainly concerned to elaborate and expound the intellectual basis of the ancient scriptures, vedas, Upanishads, the Gita and Puranas and formulate in logical terms their implications. They go in pairs, Sankhya with Yoga, Mimamsa with Vedanta, and Vaiseshika with Nyaya. The two systems in each pair complement each other, and in some cases one is a commentary on the other.
Sankhya and Yoga are the most abstruse and deal rather with abstract theories than with ritual. Sankhya whose origins are not known is found expounded in a poem by Isvara
Krishna believed to have belonged to the 4th century. He proceeds from the premise that since nothing can be produced out ot nothing, there must exist something which is eternal. This eternal entity is given the name of Prakriti or Nature which possesses three Gunas or essences. These essences are Sattva or goodness, Rajas or energy, and Tamas or darkness. The Sankhya trinity constitutes the raw material of ail that is and the substances that emanate trom Prakriti. There are twenty-three Sattvas or entities which derive from Prakriti and form the visible and sensible world. Prakriti is the eternal primordial germ. For the edification of those who do not appreciate pure abstract thought, Prakriti is explained in the Puranas as a female principle whose union with Purusha, the primeval male, has led to the origination of the world. Yoga is regarded as a branch of Sankhya and is said to have been founded by Patanjali who belonged to the 4th century.Yoga accepts the principles postulated by Sankhya but adds an additional principle : namely, Isvara, the lord or the Universal Soul. It aims at teaching man how to achieve union with the Supreme Spirit of Soul who is eternal and omniscient, not subject ot Karma or transmigration. The suppression of ail physical activity and mental concentration are recommended as the best means of achieving union with the Supreme Soul, and eight different physical postures or disciplines are insisted upon as methods of achieving mental concentration. Yoga is indifferent to the caste system. There has been in modem times a general revival of interest in Yoga, outside the Hindu fold, on account of the belief that the physical exercises it advocates have an efficacious effect on health.
Mimamsa is not so much a philosophy in the conventional sense as a method prescribed for the study of the Vedas which are regarded as the unquestionable basis of ail truth. Also called Purva Mimamsa it is concerned with incantations and Mantras and seems addressed exclusively to the priestly class, the Brahmins. The system’s founder is one Jaimini (4th to 5th century). It differs in one interesting respect from other system in that it posits no Supreme God. It calls upon its adherents to aim at realising the truth of Dharma as propounded in the Vedas. The system is populary known as Vedanta.
A distinction can however be drawn between Mimamsa proper and Vedanta by attending to the fact that whereas Mimamsa deals with the Vedas, Vedanta, also called Uttara Mimamsa, has for its object the exposition of the inner meaning of the Puranas.
Vedanta or Purva Mimamsa as a distinct system of thought is believed to have been founded by Badarayana (4th of 5th century) and elaborated by three principal exponents, Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva. Ali three belonged to south India and of them again Sankara is the most famous and is sometimes likened to Thomas Aquinas in Christianity or Ghazzali in Islam as the author of a commentary on the Gita which is regarded as authoritative. Sankara is a believer in monism called Advaita Vedanta among the Hindus. Reality is one and indivisible, according to him. Brahma-that is, the ultimate reality is without attributes. Sankara taught that man superimposes the universe on the Reality which is the eternal substratum. The literai meaning of the term Advaita is nondualism.
The position of Ramanuja and Madhva is slightly different. They upheld what is designated as qualified monism. Ramanuja postulates a loving God who produces, sustains and reabsorbs the universe. Madhva Acarya (13th century?)
held that the individual soul is not to be indentified with the Supreme Soul. He classified souls into three categories, those doomed to eternal suffering, those who will revolve for ever in transmigration, and those who are destined to eternal bliss in the presence of God. This last idea is not unlike the concept of heaven in Christianity and Islam. Islam also believes in eternal punishment for sinners, but there is no question in Islam of revolving eternally in transmigration. The doctrines of Madhva also predicated salvation on the mercy of Vayu, the son of Vishnu, a belief which bears some resemblance to the Christian doctrine of grace. Madhva himself is believed by his followers ot have been an incarnation of Vayu.
Vaiseshika is attributed to another southern philosopher, Kanad Kasyapa. His system is called atomistic realism. The universe consists, according to his belief, of atoms which are eternal. There is no mention of a Supreme Seing; everything proceeds from Adrishta or Destiny, an unknown and unknowable force. Kanada distinguishes in nature five or six categories which are Dravya or substance, Guna or quality, Karma or movement, Samanya or association, Visesha or difference and Samavaya or inherence. To know the categories and understand them is to obtain release from the chain of rebirths.
The last of the six classical systems is Nyaya which is more a system of logical reasoning than philosophy proper. It lays dwon the methods to be employed in the understanding of the world and lists sixteen topics which should be subjected to analysis and investigation. Th~se include things to be proved, doubt, motive, sophistry, fallacious reasoning and so on. A complete Nyaya or syllogism comprises five stages: proposition; the reason; the instance; the application and the conclusion. The system is attributed to a man named Gotama.
The method prescribed in Nyaya is applied to the investigation of truths which lead to bliss and deliverance from the round of lives.
It will be noticed that ail six systems take Karma and transmigration for granted. It is in their attitude to the nature of ultimate reality that they differ from one another. In one respect they seem to agree; they offer a very inadequate clue to the actual practices and rituals which pass for Hinduism among the masses.
There is yet another body of literature in the sacred Hindu language, Sanskrit, which offers a mixture of philosophy, religious doctrine and mythology. This literature is called Tantras. They, grew up slowly over a period of several centuries from the 7th onwards until the 15th or later, and aim at explaining how to obtain union with the Divine and are also concerned with such mundane objects as success in love and business, prevention of disease, and punishment of enemies. The Tantras form the basis of witchcraft and magic in Hindu society and have been responsible for su ch practices as human sacrifice, extreme forms of asceticism, unrestrained promiscuity, the use of charms as a means of influencing the course of nature, and many other superstitions. Great power is supposed to inhere in certain sounds and incantations which when repeated in certain ways invest man with supernatural gifts. The principal Tantras number sixty-four and consist of conversations between Siva and his consort Kali which is another name for Parvati. Union between Siva and Kali being the source of everything in the universe, sexual union between husband and wife is taken to symbolise the blissful union of the mortals with the Divine Spirit.
Human sacrifice as a way of attaining supernatural powers was common until fairly recently and is reported to have been practised far into the 19th century. The Tantriks or followers of Tantras, especially the class known as Kapaliks, were a dreaded sect who did not hesitate to abduct children and young girls with a view to using them as victims in rites which called for the propitiation of Siva and Kali by blood and skulls worn as necklaces. Stories abound in Indian literature of children being seized and fatted for sacrificial ceremonies.
Tantrikism is one of the less edifying aspects of popular Hinduism. While human sacrifice may have ceased because of administrative restrictions, the belief that Tantrass can help in the attainment of great magical power persists to the present day.
The Tantriks are also known as Saktas, worshippers of Sakti, one of the attributes of Siva. Sakti worship involves the adoration of the male and female organs of reproduction-called lingam and yoni, and although Sakti is personified in Uma or Parvati or Kali, which are the various designations of Siva’s consort, Siva himself is the supreme embodiment of ail reproductive energy, having on the left half of his body a female breast and on the right a prominent male organ. Saktas are divided into the right-handed ones or Dakshinacharis and Vamacharis or left-handed ones. The Vamacharis form a kind of esoteric society with secret modes of worship. They are reputed to meet in circles at midnight. Their rites require the five M’s (Panchamakaras), namely madya (wine), mansa (meat), matsya, (fish), mudra (parched corn), and maithuna, (copulation). Worship consists in the offering of homage to a beautiful young girl, stripped of ail clothes, or if a girl is not available, to a yantra or a drawing of the female reproductive organ or yoni placed in the centre of a circle of nine yonis and is said to be characterised by orgies of drinking and sexual licence. Once admitted to the sect, members ceased to observe caste restrictions and considered themselves a society of initiates with exclusive access to secret knowledge and power.
Another Siva scet consists of those who are called lingayats, so designated because they believe in worshipping the lingam or Phallus of Siva and carrying always on their person a soapstone symbol of it, usually enclosed in a red scarf round the neck. Under no circumstances must a lingayat part with this image. Members of the sect recognise no god other than Siva, reject the caste system at least in theory, and do not consider the Brahmins to be superior to others, and also believe in the equality of women with men.
The Vaishnavas represent an attitude different from that of the Saktas and lingayats. They are the devotees of Vishnu, the embodiment of love and mercy; they reject the practices of the Power-worshippers or Saktas and command among the ordinary Hindus a greater following. Vaishnavas have produced great literature in which Krishna as the avatar of Vishnu is hymned. The Bhakti movements which have swept India from time to time owe their inspiration to Vaishnavism.
ln addition to these three there are innumberable sects and subsects, some local and some with a following across provincial boundaries. They do not in every case propound new doctrinal interpretations, but they emphasise different aspects of the same doctrines in many cases. Some are reform movements designed to cali the errant back to the fold by ridding the religion of what is considered superfluous incrustations. Three such movements deserve special notice.
The first is the Ramakrishna movement established by a Hindu mystic Gadadher Chatterji (1836-1886), a Bengali by birth who assumed the name of Ramakrishna after his conversion to a cult based on the worship of Kali. He was a priest at a temple at Dakshineshwar near Calcutta and claims to have seen Kali as a living deity in a trance first and later in person. Ramakrishna was a Vedantist and taught that there was no single exclusively valid approach to the realisation of God, and that the best way of apprehending the nearness of God was by service to humanity.
His fame as a mystic, possessed of great spiritual power, attracted adherents, among the earliest and most famous of whom was Vivekananda, scholar and orator, whose writings and speeches gained for the movement admirer ail over the Western world. Ramakrishna missions are a common sight ail over the subcontinent, even abroad, and like the Jesuits they run schools and hospitals. The mysticism of Ramakrishna as interpreted by Vivekananda influenced the French writer, Roman Rolland who devoted a book to the expositon of his teachings.
The Arya Samaj which was established in 1875 in Bombay by Dayanand Saraswati (1824-1883) was by and large a reform movement aiming to purity Hinduism of those elements which according to Dayanand Saraswati had corrupted it. He preached a return to the Vedas as the purest form of revelation and rejected idolatry for which there is no sanction in the Vedas, opposed caste stratification, and advocated widow remarriage and tried to introduce communal worship.
One important aim that the Arya Samaj had in view was to arrest the spread of Christianity and Islam, especially Islam. Its attitude towards the Muslims was militant and aggressive. It sought to counter the appeal of Islam by offering the Hindus what it believed to be an alternative available in pristine Hinduism. The Samajists have often been involved in conflict with Muslim groups. The Samaj also believes in proselytisation and has championed Shuddhi or Purification movements intended to reconvert Muslims and Christians back to Hinduism. It maintains missions both inside and outside India.
The earliest of the Hindu reform movements under the stimulus of Western thought after the establishment of British rule in India was the Brahma Samaj. It also betrayed in its doctrines a strong Islamic flavour. Founded by Ram Mohan Roy (1774-1833), a Bengali Hindu who knew both English and the Islamic languages, Arabic and Persian, it emphasised monotheism as the core of Vedic thought and regarded idol worship and other pagan practices as aberrations which must be discarded. Ram Mohan Roy wrote a book in defence of monotheism and during a visit he paid to Britain where he died sunddenly, he was much lionised by the Unitarians among the Christians who perceived affinities between his beliefs and theirs. The Brahmos later gravitated away from the Vedas when they discovered that the Vedas were in essence polytheistic. Henceforth under the leadership of Devendra Nath Tagore, father of the poet Rabindranath Tagore, progressive Brahmos went for their inspiration to ail world religions. They accepted the doctrine of one Supreme God with a personality, rejected the theory of incarnation, maintained that the soul is immortal and that salvation could be obtained by repentance and good work. .
The Brahmos split into two groups early on. One dissident group was led by another Bengali, Keshab Chandra Sen who renamed his sect the Church of the New Dispensation. The two groups are also known as the Adi or Original Brahma Samaj and the Sadharan Brahma Samaj.
Although the Brahmos began by renouncing ail customary Hindu rites and thus earned the hostility of the Hindu public who looked down upon them as renegades, they have for ail practical purposes lost their identity except in name. They are no longer active as a separate religious group with a distinct attitude to things mundane and spiritual.
Perhaps the most influential movement in the present century with an intellectual appeal has been the Krishna cult as reinterpreted by Sri Aurobindo of Pondicherry. He was educated from his early boyhood of Pondicherry. He was educated from his early boyhood in England and was so thoroughly Anglicised as to consider English his firs language. But failure to enter the Indian Civil Service changed the course of his life. He returned to India a nationalist, and organised in the first decade of the century a terrorist party with a view to wresting freedom from the British, and after a period of incarceration fled to Pondicherry, a French colony in those days, for asylum. Here he turned from terrorism to mysticism. His Pondicherry centre on Ashram became a place of pilgrimage for people attracted by the philosophy of Yoga.He preached an esotereric doctrine of union with the Divine through Krishna as the incarnation of Vishnu. In such works as Essaya on the Gita and Life Divine Aurobindo elaborated what he believed to be the essence of Yoga in terms calculated to appeal to modern minds.His followers included a French lady who settled permanently at Pondicherry and several Englishmen. To the Hindu concept Parama Purusha he gave the name of Overmind in Western terminology, a Being who is the fons et origo of ail that is. Meditation and non-attachment are according to him the means whereby knowledge of the Supreme Being can be attained. This was not however monotheism in the Islamic sense, for Aurobindo retained his belief in the reality of a hierarchy of lesser Saktis or powers who influence the world. Among these Saktis is Kali, usually represented in popular Hinduism as a ten-armed goddess, an embodiment liKe her consort Siva of universal energy.
But neither the six classical systems of Hindu philosophy nor the modern reform movements provide an adequate understanding of Hinduism as it is daily practised by millions in the towns and villages of India. They are frankly and visibly polytheistic; they worship the cow as a sacred animal which must be protected at ail costs; they regard every object on earth as a manifestation of deity and will consequently bow before a large mountain or even a tree with the same reverence with which they approach a temple; they consider certain rivers and springs to be sacred, among which the Ganges ranks supreme. An annual visit to the confluence of the Ganges and Jamuna at Allahabad in northern India is one of the greatest Hindu festivals which attracts more than a million pilgrims. The Ganges is sacred everywhere. The pious Hindu wishes his ashes after cremation to be scattered over its waters, and wherever possible a dip in the Ganges in the early morning is an auspicious beginning of the day. Cow dung mixed with water is one of the means a Hindu adopts of purifying his home. In cases where a Hindu is believed to have committed an act of sacrilege, he is required by his priests to swallow the same mixture with the cow’s urin’e added to it. No Hindu will be convinced that these substances are filth. In the vegetable world the most sacred plant, at least in Bengal, is the basil or Tulsi as it cailled locally. It is said to be the home of over a thousand gods. In any case balsil which is aromatic has wellknown medicinal proerties; basil extract is good for cough and colds. A basil plant carefully tended is a common sight in rural Hindu homes.
Although the life of a Hindu is regulated by the laws of Manu, it is difficult for an outsider to identify a well-defined mode of worship which can at sight be recognised as typically Hindu. Congregational worship is unknown. The Hindus visit their temples singly and bow individually to the god or goddess installed within. It is a dut Yhe can pertorm at any hour; nor would he be considered irreligious if he does not ever visit a temple. Those living in the neighbourhood of the sacred river Ganges make a point of bathing in it first thing in the morning and repeating, as he enters the waters, the ancient Gayatri Mantra, an invocation to the gods in which the devotee prays ta be led from darkness to light. Where a dip in the Ganges is not possible, a man may on rising from bed bow to the sun and offer an oblation ta the gods by scattering a few drops of water on the ground and repeating the name of a god. Pious Hindus have the icon of a favourite god, Krishna or Vishnu or Siva installed in their homes, and worship is paid ta him morning and evening. Another common form of worship is the Anhik usually pertormed in the evening at sunset. It requires the devotee ta chant certain Mantras seated before an icon if possible or without it, but in a formai manner. This is the nearest equivalent to a religious service or salat in Islam.
Although communal or congregational worship is not prescribed in the Hindu code, the custom has arisen in recent times, especially in Bengal, of organising what is called Sarvajanin Puja or a communal service on the occasion of the Ourga Puja in autumn. This involves the making of a large pedestal on which with the image of Kali or Ourga in the centre several other figures are exhibited. These represent the various forces of evil which Ourga subdues. Ourga carries a bleeding blade in one hand and a severed head in the other or rather in one of the other nine hands. At her feet lie a prostrate lion and a figure symbolising a demon. She wears a necklace of skulls. Economie changes having rendered such a service expensive, whole neighbourhoods cooperate in the erection of a Puja pedestal instead of depending on the generosity of an individual rich man. It must be remembered however that Sarvajanin Puja, although organised on a communal basis, bears no resemblance to congregational worship among Muslims of Christians.
It would not be out of place to mention here that there is another respect in which Hindu religious services such as they are differ fundamentally from Islamic prayer. While the Muslim believes that when he is at prayer he should not be distracted by anyting extraneous like music or singing, temple services and Sarvajanin Puja cali for the use of loud music, the ringing or bells, and the beating of cymbals. Meditation by individuals is a different thing. That too is a form of worship, and one hears of saints retiring to mountain or forest and spending years silently meditating, but normal worship invariably implies the chanting of Mantras to the accompaniment of music. Music plays so important a part in Hindu observances that it is used at cremations as weil. Those who can afford to do so hire bands to accompany a corpse to the crematorium. The Hindu conception of solemnity is entirely different from the Muslim’s.
There is nothing in Islamic traditions corresponding 0 Kirtans, the name given to devotional singing among Hindus. They have a sacred character which cannot be attributed to what Muslims in the Indian subcontinent cali Oawalis, a class of lyrics sung in praise of Muslim saints. First, this has no sanciton in the Ouran or Hadith; secondly, no Muslim will think of regarding them as a substitute for salat of prayer.
Despite the honour the Brahmins as the highest caste enjoy, Brahmin priests do not have a role in lite outside temples. But they are needed when a Hindu marries, for Hindu marriage is sacramental and is marked by vows given before a sacred fire in the presence of a priest who officiates at the ceremony. Priests are also needed to bless children, to Chant prayers over a tuneral pyre and to preside at an observance on, the fortieth day of a person’s death when food is offered to the spirit of the dead. The common belief among Hindus is that the soul of the dead can have no peace in the other world without this ceremony. The importance attached to an observance on the fortieth day of a death seems to have infected the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent who similarly hold a ceremony called Chehlam which however has no sanction in their religion.
The dead are invariably burnt. One of the frightening aspects of Hindu obsequies is the rule that widows must be cremated alive along with their husbands. Neither the Muslim nor the British rulers countenanced this practice, but Suttee, as it is called, continued clandestinely in most areas of India until the end of the 18th century. Lord Bentinck finally passed a law, on the initiative of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, totally prohibiting the burning of widows in 1829. Unfortunately, many modern Hindus consider the prohibition an interference with religion and since India gained independence cases of Suttee have been reported fram time to time from central India. Strangely, as it seems to non-Hindus, many widows themselves regard dying on the funeral pyre of their husbands as an act of great merit. But it is only fair to state that opinion among Hindus, the educated community in particular, is wholly against Suttee.
Although cremation of the dead is the general practice, holy men, even holy women, are sometimes buried, not in trenchlike graves as in Islam, but vertically in deep holes, with their legs crossed. Over these holes, are erected a kind of mausolea, usually a single tower tapering towards the sky. Such places attract the veneration of the faithful.
Both birth and death are said to pollute. A woman who has given birth has to live apart from the family for a part of the puerperal period; those who attend to her cannot enter a home without a purificatory bath. Likewise, when a death is about to occur the dying person is removed to a place outside. The sons of the deceased would not for a stated period, usually forty days, either shave or have a hair-cut; they would carry a mat wherever they go and would not sit on an ordinary chair or bed. They declare themselves to be in a state of pollution which ends when the forty-day period is over. They must then shave off ail their hair and have a purificatory bath.
The Hindu belief in the divinity of everything on earth leads to the adoration of the father, the teacher, and the hunsband as gods. Children are expected to prostrate themselves before their parents and teachers; and the wife must do the same to the husband. She cannot utter the husband’s name without committing a grave sin; she would be guilty of profanity if she did so. Certain sections of Indian Muslims have imbibed this sense of guilt from the Hindus and it is very unusual for a married Muslim woman to address her husband by his first name as in the West.
The teacher means anybody from whom instruction in any area of life has been received. The term embraces members of the teaching profession, priests, spiritual guides and other holy men. To strike a teacher is to commit sacrilege.
The average Hindu who is not totally iIIiterate speaks of lite as having four stages: Brahmacarya, the period of celibacy in childhood and early youth which must be devoted to the acquirement of knowledge; Garhastya, the period when a man must enter upon his duties as a householder, many and raise a family; Banprasta, or retirement, when in old age a person should gradually withdraw from worldly life; and finally, Sannyasa, the period of renunciation when he should totally detach himselt trom the world and go to a monastery or a secluded retreat for meditation awaiting death. It is not to be supposed that the average Hindu follows this regimen, but at the back of his mind there is always this ideal as a criterion by which to measure his acheivements and failures.
Corresponding to this four-fold division of life are the four concepts defining the course of human existence. These are Artha, Kama, Dharma and Moksha. Artha implies the pursuit of worldly gain or success; Kama the pursuit of sexual pleasure; Dharma ethics; and Moksha means deliverance from the round of births and sin. The pursuit of sexual pleasure is regarded in Hindu society as a legitimate activity and on this account sex and religion are often seen to be mixed. The eroticism of the Hindu gods, exhibited in Hindu sculpture with an astonishing frankness, sometimes baffles non-Hindus.
The attitudes, beliefs, practices and rites collectively known in the present day world as Hinduism are difficult to summarise. They seem to the Muslim to be shrouded in an unfathomable mystery. Hindu civilisation is over three thousand years old; it has great acheivements to its credit in literature and philosophy, an impressive record in sculpture and painting, but little in architecture that wouId impress a Muslim, and surprisingly none in historiography. Sanskrit, their sacre~ language, is astonishingly rich in religious writing as represented by the Upanishads and Vedas; the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana are great works by any standard; the poetry of Kalidasa and his drama can be ranked with some of the best the East has produced; the works of Panini and Patanjali on grammar and linguistics earn admiration; the subtlety of Kautilya who wrote on political science; the sophistication of Vasudeva, the argumentative faculties of the founders and exponents of the classical philosophical systems have no counterpart in archiectue , and in historiogrphy the Hindu record is a near perlect blank.Hindu notions of beauty and elegance as demonstrated in such temples in the south as have survived from the past radically different from Muslim aesthetics. The sense of spaciousness and clarity of form which Muslim buildings, both religious and secular, reflect is wholly missing in even in the most stupendous Hindu constructions such as the huge temple at Tanjore. The Hindu mind best expressed itself in sculpture as an adornment on temples, but even this is characterised by minute attention to detail rather than breadth of consception. As for historigraphy the ancient Hindus ignored it altogether on account of the belief that the world is ail Maya, an illusion not worth chronicling.
Hinduism has a strongly entrenched priesthood in the 8rahmin caste, but no Pope. No one can claim to be the authoritative head of any sect or school or branch. Of course the head of a Hindu monastery or Math is venerated, but this veneration does not correspond to the religious veneration of which the Pope in Christianity is the recipient. A monastery is a place where a number of religious band together to live as a community according to some vows. They can be both male and female. Communes of this kind are especially popular among the Vaishnavites. A Vaishnavite Akhra or commune may have a population of males and females living together. They are free to live promiscuously, this being considered no shame once a woman has entered a commune and cut her hair short in token of her commitment to the vows of the order. This practice is popular among young widows who could not remarry, orthodox Hindu law not permitting remarriage. Vaishnavite nuns were a common sight in rural Bengal until about fifty years ago, and can still be seen in those areas which have a predominantly Hindu population. Members of such communes dress in yellow and wear symbolic marks on their foreheads to identify themselves before the public.
Unlike Islam which positively decries monasticism and renunciation as a virtue, Hinduism has always emphasised the value of complete non-attachment as the highest manifestation of a man’s spiritual progress. Monks and nuns are respected for this reason. Those who go further and retire to forests or mountains, or live in a state of complete nudity under trees are viewed with sentiments verging on awe. They are believed to possess supernatural gifts and to be capable of performing miracles. Known as Sannyasis, some of them practise selfmortification and soiTletimes even self-flagellation or selfmutilation. They claim to be able to forgo sleep for years; some let their arms atrophy by having them held upright bound to a post by a rope and would allow their hair and nails to grow. Matted hair on the head is recognised as a sign of spiritual powers. Their feats of austerity and self-torture amaze outsiders. Those who by years of practice have achieved complete control over their senses and bodily functions would occasionally have themselves buried al ive for periods of weeks, and claim to have the capacity to suspend respiration without damage to the body. The technical name for such burials is Samadhi.
If Hinduism has no Pope, it has no single holy place either like Merua or Rome for the Catholics. Of the cities in present day India the holiest is Benares, but it is not clearly known bow and when it acquired this holiness. But if one is looking for a place where to find the largest concentration of temples and holy men of ail castes, Benares ranks above ail other cities. The pious Hindu considers it a great privilege to die in this place and have himself cremated on the banks of the Ganges at this point in its course down from the Himalayas.
The Himalayan mountain chain is also holy and is regarded as the abode of the gods. It is especially sacred to Mahadeva or Siva. Manas Sarovar, a lake in the Himalayan fastnesses, is another holy spot to which thousands of pilgrims travel every year. The greatest centre of pilgrimage among the Hindus in contemporary India is Triveni near Allahabad in northern India, where the Ganges and two other rivers meet. The annual pilgrimage, Kumbh mela, attracts more than a million people. A dip in the river at an auspicious hour is regarded as an infallible guarantee of salvation. Put in Orissa State is another holy city famous for its temples. Brindaban, also in northern India, is believed to have been the locale ot Krishna’s dalliances with Radha and draws visitors trom the Vaishnava sect. Estuaries in general also enjoy the reputation of being sacred to the gods. Ali over India are to be found places, hills, springs, waterfalls and estuaries which for one reason or another are considered holy and are visited by the pious in search of merit.
Hinduism has innuerable facets which keep changing while retaining an inner core which enables people of different philosophical persuasions to cali themselves. Hindu without any sense of inconsistency. Of not other religion can it be said with greater truth; plus ca change plus c’est la merne chose.

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