The term Hinduism is a modern term used to bring together the myriad practices of people who believe that God is within (athman, soul) and the quest of each individual is moksha, liberation of athman from karmic (earthly) bonds and reunion with Brahman, the Eternal, the Infinite, the Indescribable, the Ultimate Reality (God).
People called Hindus spend their entire lives searching for liberation from karma (action based on imperfect, worldly knowledge) and samsara (the relentless cycle of reincarnation). Dharma (action detached from worldly considerations) allows them to break the bonds of karma and samsara and find liberation in union with Brahman.
God in the Hindu religion is non-being therefore formless. God cannot be described and is referred to in many ways: the Eternal Unconscious, Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Law), The Absolute Reality, The Ultimate Reality. All of these are summed up in the word Brahman, an abstract conception that makes God inaccessible and remote. To bring God closer, Hindus have given form to what they consider to be God’s attributes (power, knowledge, love, etc.). As these attributes are personified and given individual names, they have become deities and intermediaries between the devotee and God. This understanding of God in multiple form is called Saguna Brahman (God with attributes).
Since God’s attributes are countless, the religion abounds in deities. Statues of these deities, called murthis, make it possible for devotees to relate to God. The proliferation of murthis gives the impression that Hindus worship idols and many gods but the murthis represent the manifold aspects of one God. God is like a vast ocean with rivers flowing into it and tributaries flowing into them and streams and rivulets flowing into them. The rivers, tributaries, streams and rivulets are paths to the ocean. Similarly the various deities are paths to God.
(God is called Brahman and is not to be confused with Brahma. Brahma is a deity representing the attributes of knowledge and creation. Brahma is a member of the Trinity along with Siva and Vishnu .)
Hindu deities usually come in pairs – a male and a female. Siva/Shakthi, Vishnu/Luxmi, Brahma/Sarasvathi.
Muruga has two female counterparts, Velli and Devayanai.
• Knowledge is the male principle and provides the foundation of existence.
• Energy is the female principle and provides the will to act.
They are inseparable.
In the world, however, the male and female principles have become separated and because of this separation, earthly reality is maya, a lesser reality, an illusion of the absolute reality. It is not perfection. Thus life on earth is a constant striving towards reunion of male and female principles, knowledge and energy, Brahman and Athman, a striving towards perfection. Each individual existence, athman, represents a separation from eternal existence, Brahman. The Athman, locked in our karmic bodies, yearns for reunion with Brahman.
To achieve this union, the human being has to shed the Karmic hold that the body (through the senses) places on the athman. This happens when the individual searches for and finds spiritual knowledge, truth and enlightenment.
People who practise Yoga and Meditation understand that God is immanent and seek within themselves for knowledge of Brahman and Moksha.
People who follow Vedic Hinduism, however, appeal to an external power and seek this union through rites, rituals and unquestioning faith. Their liturgies are appeals to various deities who, as intermediaries, help them to become one with God.
The most powerful of these deities are Shakthi, Siva, Ganesha, Vishnu, Sarasvathi and Luxmi. Muruga and Marieamman (Shakthi) are of particular importance to Tamils in South Africa.
The Gods — Saguna Brahman
(Incarnations of God’s Attributes)
Shakthi also known as
Marieamman (The Rain Goddess), Devi, Parvati (Mulaprakrti –Primordial energy), Durga, Kali (Time – transience of life), Amba, Bhavani, Kalyani, Uma, Meenakshi, Kamakshi, Chamundi, Kanya Kumari (the young virgin), Bhagavati, Jaganmata, Purani (all pervasive, all powerful cosmic force), Parasakti, Rajarajeswari, Digambary Jagaddhatri (supporter and sustainer of the universe), Bhavatarani, Lalitambika.
Sarasvathi and Luxmi are often identified with Shakthi.
Depictions of Shakti standing over the body of Siva, her consort, signify that she is Prakrti (Primordial energy), which emanates from Purusha (Omniscience). Siva represents nirguna Brahman and Shakthi, saguna Brahman.
Siva (Shiva, Sivan) also known as
Sankara Mahadeva, Ardhanareeswara (embodiment of both male and female principles), Hara, Mahadeva, Ghoratapasvin (terrible austerity), Triambaka/Trilochana (Three-eyed. He is omniscient. Two eyes perceive the phenomenal world. The third eye represents transcendental knowledge.) Rudra (Death. Presides over cremations. Cremation is the reminder of the impermanence of the corporeal body), Virabhadra, Gangadhara (the river Ganga connotes immanent and transcendant reality – Athman/ Brahman), Neelakanta (one with a blue throat – stained by the venom of a serpent), Sabhapati (presiding deity of the assembly – all creation), Nataraja – Lord of the Dance – movement of the spheres, Dakshinamurthi
Ganapaty (the Elephant –headed Deity) also known as
Gananatha, Ganesha, Vigneswara, Vinayagar
Subrahmanya also known as
Shunmuga, Arumuga (Six faces), Kartikeya, Skanda, Senapati (commander of the army), Kumaran (forever young and handsome), Guhan (indweller of the heart), Jnana Pundita (Store-house of knowledge), Swaminatha (the son is the preceptor of the father), Vadivel, Murugan (Muruga/Murugan is one of the chief deities worshipped by the Tamils in Pretoria)
Vishnu is blue like the ocean/sky indicating his infinitude – the blue of the sky/ocean denotes vastness not colour.
Vishnu also known as
Hari, Adimulam (first cause of the universe through Mahaluxmi – Prakrti), Narayana (from Nara – cosmos and ayana – resident. He is the resident of the cosmos that emanates from him), Perumal, Ranganatha (Lord of the stage, arena, theatre, assembly, island, cosmos) Harihara (Vishnu/Siva Vishnu and Siva are one).
Vishnu’s avatars (incarnations)
The avatars are symbolic of the evolutionary development of creation.
1. Matsya (the Fish incarnation)
2. Kurma (the Turtle – amphibious)
3. Varaha (Boar – land and water mammal)
4. Narasimha (Lion – land mammal)
5. Vamana (Dwarf – Hominid)
6. Parasu Rama (parasu – axe - toolmaker.)
7. Ramachandra (Rama – the model of human perfection)
8. Krishna, the Transcendent Reality, Ishwara
9. Buddha, self-realisation
10. Kalki, yet to appear, signifies the end of the present epoch
(He comes after the apocalypse)
Only a few of the chief deities and some of their alternative names are given above. There are many, many more. “All the gods are so many readings of the Saguna Brahman – God with attributes.”1 They are part of transcendent reality and they too must merge with Absolute Reality, Nirguna Brahman, and lose their individuality. Theirs is also an existence that is maya, a lesser reality, an illusion of ultimate reality.
In ritual ceremonies, icons, images and pictures represent the various deities. The statue is called a murthi.
There are many paths to God and the individual has the freedom to choose her/his own religious path. That may include one or a combination of the following:
1. VEDIC RELIGION
Ritual and sacrifice, as described in the Vedas, mainly in the Brahamanas, constitute Vedic Hinduism, which focuses on ceremonies such as the fire-raising ceremony (havan in Hindi/Gujarati or yegyim in Tamil), poojay (prayers), flag raising, kavadi and other propitiation ceremonies. These are performed at home or at the temple.
Hindu Ceremonies also include symbolic objects: coconuts, lamps, incense, betel leaves and nuts, rice, lentils, seeds, fruit and colours, all of which bring together the elements of fire, water, earth, air and ether.
Symbolic cleansing forms the major part of every ritual and denotes the purging of karmic elements. All ceremonies make extensive use of fire and water as agents of purification.
All ceremonies include the consecration and offering of food and all worshippers partake of the consecrated food to achieve spiritual union with God.
2. DEVOTION TO A PERSONAL GOD
This refers to the worship of Vishnu (Vaisnavism) or Siva (Saivism) or Shakti (Shakthism) or Ayyapan as described in the Puraanaas and other religious texts. Devotion to a personal God is Bhakthi worship because it is dependent on the love of the devotee.
Total love of God cleanses the devotee of ignorance (sin) and circumvents the processes of karma and samsara. Most Tamils, seek salvation through love of Marieamman, Muruga, Siva and Ganesha.
Thirunjanasambandar, who loved Lord Siva wrote songs in His praise and in the Thiruvachakam, Manickavachakar expresses his deep yearning to be united with Lord Siva, and his distress at not being worthy.
Where the devotee loses her/his individuality and merges with God, as represented by Siva, Vishnu or Shakthi, the union is non-dualisitc (advaitism).
3. BHAKTHI WORSHIP
Bhakthi Worship, such as is practiced by those of the Hare Krishna movement, focuses on love of Krishna. Total love leads to liberation. Here the devotee does not seek to merge with God but remains a separate, devoted and loving soul. This is dvaitism (dualism).
4. STUDY OF RELIGIOUS TEXTS
The Vedas, Ramayana and the Mahabaratha (which includes the Bhagavad Gita) give guidance on dharma
5. GUIDANCE FROM A GURU
Devotion to a Master, Guru, Prophet, assists followers to find the way to God.
6. STUDY OF THE UPANISHADS (VEDANTA)
The Upanishads are discussions about the nature of God and how to reach God.
7. YOGA AND MEDITATION
These are methods of disciplining the mind and body that lead to intuitive union of athman and Brahman.
Hindus do not have a standard way of worshipping. Their religious practices reflect regional, ethnic, language, individual and philosophical differences.
Hindus do not have one book such as the Bible or the Koran as their Holy Book. They have many different scriptures such as the Vedas, the Puraanaas, the Upanishads, the Ramaayana and the Mahabharatha. In addition, Tamils have various books of hymns and prayers and holy writings such as the Thevaram, Thirukurral and Thiruvachakam. And there are many publications by Swamis and Gurus – e.g. the writings of Swami Vivekananda.
One may reach salvation through:
• The ritual process: unquestioning faith in an external power, rituals and concrete symbols.
• Total love and devotion to God represented by a particular deity.
• Meditation: faith in one’s own power to merge with God.
Though there are different paths, all Hindus have an understanding of karma and samsara. All believe in dharma as a means of overcoming a karmic existence. And the quest of all Hindus, no matter what their practices, is to escape the onerous cycle of samsara in order to become united with God.
Only individuals, who remain tied to the ego, to individual consciousness, are incapable of unquestioning faith and surrender to God. Such individuals cannot or do not accept that the world represents transient reality (maya) and therefore cannot or do not seek union with Brahman.
As most Tamilians in South Africa seek salvation through rituals, this book is an attempt to provide a manual for religious ceremonies.