Hinduism and Indian Culture

by Malcolm Nazareth

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Is it possible to separate two sides of a single coin? Is it possible to take a mind out of a body and still have a full human being? Can one imagine Indian culture without the Hindu religion?

Hindu ethos, Hindu mythos, Hindu religiosity and Hindu spirituality are part and parcel of Indian culture. But if you attempt to extract any Hindu element from Indian culture, you will find yourself trying to take the soul out of a body.

The bedrock of the Hindu ethos. There are four major goals that Hindus are directed to pursue in life. The first three of these – dharma, artha and kama – relate to the world: the ethical pursuit of success, pleasure and well-being in Hindu society. All three goals are subservient to the supreme fourth and final goal, moksha, or spiritual release. The spiritual and the transcendent are to he emphasized. The Absolute is the crown and fulfillment of all worldly goals.

Are all who live in India Hindu? Muslims make up the largest religious minority, roughly 11 percent of the population. About 10 percent of the population includes Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and non-religionists. Christians, half of whom are Catholic, number close to three percent of India’s population of 900 million people. Therefore, more than 70 percent of Indians practice sanatana dharma, or the ageless religion, the indigenous name for Hinduism. However, included in this portion of the population are a significant number of tribals who practice primordial religious traditions.

The wealth of India. India is often regarded as one of the world’s poorest nations. This stereotype is questionable. India’s great wealth lies in her people. Whatever the economic prosperity of the country, her linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversity is an important aspect of India’s wealth. This diversity is almost certain to plunge the casual Western visitor into culture shock. Indeed, the West pales in comparison to the stunning richness and variety of India’s different regions, peoples, languages, religions and subcultures.

Encounters. This past autumn my wife, Mariani, and I were in India after an absence of nearly five years from our beloved motherland. When one travels in India by bus, as we did throughout the states of Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra, one is far more likely to encounter Hindu India than aboard an airplane. Apart from the countless number of temples and shrines that clot the landscape – most of them Hindu – one’s eye discovers many Hindu elements of India’s rich culture.

Examples of Indian-Hindu customs. One notices that people in India wear red, white, yellow or light brown marks on their foreheads. For males these marks symbolize the religious sect to which they belong. Vertical lines in white generally mean they are followers of Vishnu, the god to whom humankind calls in times of distress. Horizontal lines indicate they are followers of Siva, the god of destruction and renewal.

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Tags: India Christianity Muslim Hindu