Hinduism cannot be defined in precise terms as it has no common credo, dogma, doctrine, or universally accepted canon. It has no church, cleric or hierarchy of ecclesiastical authority as in Christianity. Hinduism has no uniformity of worship and belief in god is not necessary.
Indeed, the use of the term “Hinduism” in the singular is misleading and it does not justify its greatness which encompasses a multitude of faiths, philosophies, and social observances that have been born, inculcated and have evolved in the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism has undergone drastic changes since its very inception. Also, it never started as “Hinduism”. The Hindus or the people living in India over the centuries have seen changing patterns in the religion. The word “Hindu”, as all of us know, was derived from Sindhu, the Indo-Aryan word for river Indus (Hindavi for its inhabitants). Earlier this word had no religious connotations – but it soon gained one in the 17th century, when Shivaji used the term Hindu to distinguish his followers from the Mughals, whom they were fighting. With the differentiations made between Hindus and Muslims, and the codification of the “Hindu Law”; the ‘Hindu’ came to denote the followers of a certain norms of conduct and social practices known as Hinduism.
Hinduism is very well known for its conspicuous characteristics of tolerance, pluralism, and absorptive capacity. The linear development of this exuberant religion is extremely interesting. The Pre-Dravidian faiths included animism and totemism, while the later pre-Vedic faiths included meditative techniques as yoga, lingam or phallic worship, and then saw diversions of non-theistic faiths which got incorporated into Jainism and Buddhism. Hinduism saw a pantheon of deities, with the three most important gods being, Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Shiv). The Vedic religion based on the Vedas was the next stage in the growth of Hinduism.
Then came the Orthodoxy, which almost ruined the base of this religion. Brahmanism, stressing the authority of the Vedas, and the following of Varna-Asram-Dharma, as a way of life led to the creation of a hierarchy. The Indians have always been religious by nature and in a religious background, it was apparent that the religious milieu would only enhanceit. The Brahmans have always confined their knowledge to their own community. It is beyond doubt that it is always the highest caste that rules in a society, comprising of the most intelligent and intellectual people. The confinement of knowledge and purity of this community kept them in a semi-divine state. Pen is mightier than a sword. This is an apt phrase to symbolize the past when the Rajputs and other castes, despite being powerful, could not supersede the Brahmans.
Brahman, a term of neuter gender, was used in the Rig Veda as one entity filling all space and time. The Omnipresent and the human soul from whom the entire universe sprang was the Brahman. The entire priestly and the intellectual class were categorized as the Brahman, who possessed magical power and uttered sacred words. These Brahmans belonged to the highest Varna order and their function was to study and teach and perform other priestly duties along with receiving and giving gifts. The Brahmans enjoyed the highest status in the caste order; hence enjoyed several privileges, but they led an extremely strict life. Their high status gave them the access to learning which gave them power over the masses. The Brahman status gave them immense power which was abused and manipulated. As Brahmanism did not allow other religious leaders to claim the high status enjoyed by them, it gave rise to a lot of opposition from the Janis and Buddhists. This religion was one of imposed hierarchies, rules and regulations, and several superstitions. The God could not be approached personally, as the Brahmans acted as intermediaries. It was in the Post-Buddhist Hinduism period in which the Buddhist influences were absorbed and the Puranas provided the basis for worship of a personal god. The rigidities in this religion were many.
The division into castes based on the type of work the people did led to the divisions in work sectors. To maintain the hierarchy, many could not perform certain tasks which would push them into a lower caste. This division has continued over the ages and today, when we have surely moved ahead from the past, these mindsets still impinge on our daily lives. Menial work is still considered to be so, and the caste bars still chase us.
The various superstitions only lead to greater problems. The basic Hindu beliefs regarding bad omens are too many in number. The crossing of a cat on the road bringing bad luck, the act of combing hair in the evening bringing the ghosts upon you etc still form a major role in the lives of the Hindus. Sneezing right when a person is about to leave for an important work brings hurdles in his way, crossing over ones’ legs stops height growth, the extinguishing of the diya in front of the deity causes bad omen, seeing fish and curd before an exam brings good luck etc. are just few examples out of those thousands of beliefs which still affect us even though it is the 21st century. Ekta Kapur’s serials only heighten them. She has actually brought to light the several superstitions that are ingrained in this religion. What she fails to understand is that she is leaving no stone unturned to create havoc in each of the viewer’s lives. I too am a Hindu, and a very staunch supporter of my religion but I feel that the superstitions only make us look for more and more excuses for our failures. The thousands of viewers of these TV soaps take these very seriously and it is high time they realized that such baseless superstitions should not be encouraged.
The Hindus believe in offering food and milk and flowers to the deity. It is a very noble thought that the devotee first offers it to God, and later eats himself. The Hindu temples are extremely sacred and full of positive energy. I believe it would enhance the positive energy of the temples ten folds if the devotees did it by keeping the temple clean. In search of true devotion and blessings of God, we Hindus have a tendency to offer loads and loads of milk, sweets and flowers making it impossible for the other devotees to worship. The Pundits are now busy minting money by grabbing one devotee and ruthlessly performing all rites, some which may not be even necessary. Religion has started taking a different colour. Dont you think that it has now become a source of minting money? If you remember the short stories of a recent past, you would realize the dominance of the Brahmans. One of the stories of Prem Chand narrates the turmoil’s of a family that killed a cat. The pundit demanded huge amount of money and was in the process of performing an expensive sacrificial rite when suddenly the cat ran away. They soon realized that the cat had only gone into a swoon. Another story of Premchand speaks of a woodcutter (chamaar) who had been forced to cut logs by the pundit in the process of which he died and was later thrown into the jungle and made a prey to vultures and eagles. Such satires in our very own Hindi literature gives a graphic picture of the brutalities of castes cutting across almost all the sections of society. There are several stories in the Indian pantheon that narrate the dogmas of Hinduism and its rigidities. Not only a money minting machine, but it has also succeeded in taking the role of a political weapon. The way in which the ministers play with the emotions of the innocent only to fill their vote banks is heart-rending. The ministers bully the masses and in the name of religion gain support for their inefficient political parties. Also not forgetting the size of the population and of course the History’s brutal turns, the rift in religions seems only natural. Hinduism and Islam, Hinduism and Christianity, etc have only become a part and parcel of our daily lives. Where there is secularism with only a handful believing in it, such rifts are bound to happen. Communal politics has led to communal riots and violence and almost destroyed the peace. It surely acts as a hurdle in the making of a secular society.
The democracy as it exists in our country depends mainly on the social divisions. Caste politics and the misuse of caste differences cause the politicians to hurt the sentiments of the lower castes. The socio-economic structure acts as a catalyst in this process of dividing people. What we see now is that the role of religion is gradually being taken over by caste. Religion only exists as a mere philosophy. What was earlier because of religion is now the result of the caste politics. The candidature of the ministers in the elections is based on the caste appeal and not on their performance. If karma was the main motto of Hindu religion, why do we not see it today? Dharma and Karma are farce now. The moral implications that these words once carried do not even exist in the dictionary of today. Now people take the name of a very well known personality and cash in on his being of the same caste, as it occurred in the case of Dr. Ambedkar.
The Reservation issue today only proves that Dharma and Karma are hypothetical and no longer work in a capitalist society. In order to bring oneself in the fore front, all that is left in the hands of the people, is to use caste as a weapon. Caste breeds caste confrontations and conflicts which hampers social harmony, peace and brotherhood. It also directly hampers the democratic process and its ideals. By incorporating inefficient people into the system, the quality of governance gets hampered. The way to reduce casteism is to strengthen the nation, first as a society and then encourage the mixing of castes by socially accepting inter caste marriages and encouraging their interactions.
No matter how hard we try to combat such problems that are so deeply ingrained in our society, there seems to have taken place a role reversal!! The hierarchy has taken a topsy turvy turn…. We have a rich past and have been boasting about it too, but are we leaving a history for our future generations?
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