|Festival of light.www.maavaishnavi.com|
|Pancha Bootham -kailasanadhiswarar.org|
Hinduism does not restrict itself to one cult or doctrine. It is a blend of various beliefs, sects and tradition that make the fabric of the Hindu culture. Conceptually and historically, it is close to other Indian religions Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. There are no founders of Hinduism. Nor is there any compulsion to follow certain tenets. There is a Supreme God, all-pervading whose qualities and forms are represented by the multitude of deities which emanate from him. A person can choose his own deity and worship Him or Her. Hinduism gives importance to spiritual, physical and mental well being. The people who follow it should submit themselves to ''Karma''- cycle of birth, death and rebirth, governed by their past deeds. The followers are expected to work hard sincerely, make an honest living by treading the path of righteousness or ''Dharma''. There is no room for either ego or greediness. Right from the adulthood till death in every phase of life they should do their religious duty without fail. So, most Hindus draw on a common system of values known as Dharma. Hinduism follows the Vedas and gives much emphasis on the great epics - The Ramayana and Mahabharata.
All Hindus believe in idol worship in the form of stones, animals, birds and reptiles, besides various deities in the Hindu Pantheon. This religion has neither prophets nor messenger of God who guide the people to read a particular book or follow a certain way of life. Hindus, being secular, follow different methods of worship to meet their needs. This kind of flexibility does not find expression in other religions. Hinduism has a broad spectrum of freedom within the confines of four Vedas. It follows Sanatana Dharma, the eternal path. The paths are many, but the goal is one - salvation and eternal bliss at Lord's feet. Temples are part of Sanatana Dharma.
Spiritual, physical and mental cleanliness are the hall mark of Hinduism. Among the religions in the world, Hinduism is very closely associated with all five elements of Nature (Pancha Bootham) that play a major role in our lives. Water, fire, earth, air and atmosphere without which denizens of the Earth can not exist. Worshiping the nature is a way of praying to the almighty. Lord Shiva, the cosmic dancer represents Pancha boothams - five elements of nature. He has fire on one hand, drum (Uddukku) on the other hand that represents time, water on the head (the river Ganga), he dances on the ground (prithvi), his disheveled hair represents firmament.
There are temples dedicated to nine planets (Navagrahas) whose positions and duration, based on horoscope, it is believed, have, considerable influence on the people. The Hindu religion, besides having close relationship with elements of Nature, is also associated with certain animals, birds, flowers and trees.
Some Hindu festivals are associated with certain planets and seasons as well. Makar Sankaranti (Pongal in Tamil Nadu; Chhath in Bihar; makara chaula in Odisha) is an important astrological event and on that day the sun enters the Capricorn (Sanskrit: Makara) zodiac constellation. In many Indian states, it is celebrated as a harvest festival (January) and the Hindus worship the Sun and also it marks the arrival of Spring.
|Tamil Nadu.Navagraha Route Map:www.navagrahatemples.net|
|Happy Makar Sankranti Greeting www.happymakarsankranti.in|
|Kati Bihu festival, Assam, Village women offer prayers at paddy field. demotix.com|
|Festival of Agni (fire). Tiruvannamalai Arunachaleswarar Temple. www.thehindu.com|
|Gosala-protecting cows. www.chinnajeeyar.org|
|Sri. Nagaraja Temple, Nagercoil, Tamilnadu.wikimapia.org|
As I pointed out earlier, the Hindu religion is also interwoven with certain animals such as elephants, cows and even serpents (Nagas). Worshiping of snakes - particularly cobra is common and in many temples there are stone snake images. Mannarasala" Nagaraja temple, Haripad, Kerala is a famous snake temple and it has over 30,000 stone images of snakes. Likewise many temples in the south, particularly in Kerala, have one or more elephants that participate in temple festivals. As part of the Pongal festival in Tamil Nadu, on the day of Mattu Pongal people decorate the cow and bull and do pooja. Another interesting fact is many Hindu temples have Gosala where cows and also bulls are being maintained. Hindus worship cows because they give us milk from which we get many byproducts and they are the favorite of Lord Krishna, who is often referred to as ''Shepard God''. In Bikaner, Rajasthan in December and January Camel festival is a famous one and it is a way of thanking the camels that are being widely used there - predominantly a desert area.
Invariably, the Hindu temples are closely connected with Trees (Viruksham) and each temple has a tree called ''Sthala Viruksham''.
Likewise there is a close link between ubiquitous water and Hindu religion, for many holy places are located on the banks of rivers, sea shores, etc. Plants, animals and humans depend on it and hence water is a symbol of fertility and prosperity. Aadiperukku (Tamil Nadu) and Pushkaram - these festivals are associated with the worship of river. The former comes once in a year and the latter in very 12 year period. All Hindu temples have a fairly big water tank called ''Pushkarani'' for a few reasons. Water is daily needed for daily pooja rituals, and temple festivals. Particularly in villages such temple tanks are useful not only for the temple and the devotees, but also for the local community. In case of shortage of water, temple tanks will be useful and if there is excess rain, water can be stored in the temple tanks. Like water Agni - fire or Deepam is closely associated with the Hindu religion and temples. For all kinds of pooja, homams (yajna) and Aarti Agni is a must.
|Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam. Madurai, globalvisiontours.com|
The religious marks on the forehead of people - Namam or Thiruman or Veebuhthi (ash made from burning dried cow dung) constantly remind us not to be egotistical and of our ultimate journey back into the earth. Hinduism, the "oldest religion" in the world, is regarded as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with diverse root interwoven with nature.
Klaus Klostermaier (2007), A Survey of Hinduism, Third Edition, State University of New York, ISBN 978-0791470824, pages 337-338