Getting a handle on Hinduism


Hinduism has been one of the most difficult religions for me to conceptually grasp here in India. It is not so much the tenets of the faith (karma, rebirth, etc) that are difficult to understand. It is the rituals that leave me perplexed above all else, followed by the mixing of the real history of places and people with the mythological gods and goddesses.

Hinduism is messy in a kind of glorious way. One need look no further than the Meenakshi – Sundareswarar Temple for an example. All manner of activity mingle here from blessings by elephant, ritual bathing, offerings, snacking, hanging out, souvenir shops, meditation, and prayer. The layout seems to mirror the lack of hierarchy present in Hinduism, as does the layer upon layer of painting, signage, architectural style, and worship alters to various icons. It seems very much to me that Hinduism bears very little separation between the sacred and profane. Put another way, all of life is sacred or all is profane, the flow of all is present here in the temple as it is on the street.

I need a lot more time in India to understand Hindu worship and ritual — and how they relate to basic concepts like Dharma (ethics and duties), Samsāra (The continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), Karma (action and subsequent reaction), and Moksha (liberation from the cycle of samsara). When I have asked people what the worshippers are doing (for example when they prostrate themselves before a statue of a particular diety) I am invariably told that they are asking for some favor or wish to be granted or asking for advice. How this relates to basic tenets of the faith is beyond my current understanding. I need to find out more, but am not sure where to turn. Stay tuned.

From Madurai