Author : Priyanjana Das
Hinduism, to me, is not a singular concept or a particular creed which is manifested in a group of individuals, rather it is in totality an Indian way of life. The diversity in which it manifests itself is the very essence of its culture and it manages very well without a single cohesive doctrine. However the Hindu identity is established on unstable grounds due to this diversity.
Now, just as the bold lines on the map or globe segregate people and make them stand apart in the huge landmass, religion helps a person get his own secure, sanctified and unwavering identification in the country. A person’s religion gives him space to know himself coupled with the fact that he is different from, if not better than, the rest of the world. He tends to follow the guidelines, the other followers or the founder of a particular religion. There are particular signs on their bodies which distinguish people from different religions. As we see, Buddhism, Jainism or Islam are either named after their founders or according to the principle belief that is the submission to God or following their Guru. The founder, God or Guru thus forms the cental personality or defining feature of the entire religion. If you follow most of what they preach you are a part of their religion, thus you have your own identity.
If we take another example, all religions manifest a diversity of belief but they all share a common defining central idea, for Christians it is the idea of salvation through the descent of Christ and the idea of repentance in order to do away with all your sins. For Muslim’s it is the doctrines contained in the Quran. Buddhas, on the other hand, believe in the dhamma of buddha and Sikhs in the preachings of Guru Nanak. People therefore either convert or are born into any one of these religion.
When we talk about Hinduism, first of all it is merely a geographical term which means nothing more than the religion of India. Also it has no single personality, doctrine or ritual to hold on to. It does not have a central foundation or revelation rather it has prophets and events which form its backbone. Also Hinduism has a varying range of belief systems, even the Supreme deity is not one, for some it is Vishnu, for others it is Shiva. People often revere Brahmins as the preacher of the Holy books. In contrast to most of the other religions, Hinduism has no formal institution or leadership. Although there are leaders of particular sects who preach the Hindu ideals to people but the sects can also be caste based where only one caste of people can attend the Brahmins teachings. Traditionally Hinduism has never been a caste based religion. No doubt Hindu scriptures are there but they are again numerous and it is impossible to follow all of them. So different people follow different texts. Hence despite the theoritical absoluteness of the Vedas, there is no single body of sacred texts that can define Hinduism. According to Hinduism, diversity is not a barrier to religion.
It is hard to define a religion on the basis of its minor precepts, it does not seem a significant way to define such a vast institution. For instance vedas, although revered by most of the people in Hinduism, they only show the superiority of the Brahmins. Most Hindus do not even have a copy of the vedas. Hence Vedas fail to define religion. The entire knowledge and religious structure in Hinduism stands on Guru – Sishya parampara. This is the insttution caused the uninterrupted flow of knowledge over generations. All the Vedas, Vedangas, Darsanas, Dharma are all a part of this monastic institution. This is also something most Hindus do not know. Also the fact that the cow is considered a sacred animal does not stop people from consumiung beef. Idol worship which is so common in Hinduism, the act of covering our heads and removing our shoes before entering a temple are small precepts which may or may not be followed by every Hindu. Hence there is no single basic idealistic approach to the concept of Hinduism.
So what exactly is the Hindu identity?
Well, there is no single Hindu identity but rather a wide diversity of spiritualities bound into a loose yet strong association under a single undefined label of Hinduism. The Hindu identity just like Hinduism, defies definition and this could be a definition itself. The tolerance of diversity is one of the greatest strengths of Hinduism. Perhaps this is the reason the Hindu identity incorporates every single ritualistic approach into its wobbly domain. To support my points I would like to give a few realistic examples:
Every single Hindu worships Lord Ganesha before any good work. He is considered as the God of luck and prosperity and His reverence makes a person successful in whatever he does.
” Vakratund Mahakay Suryakoti Samaprabhah
Nirvighnam Kurumedevah Sarvakaryeshu Sarvadah “
is chanted in order to invoke the blessings of the Lord. Every Hindu be it Sikh, Bengali, Jain follow this ritual.
Hindus do not wear shoes in temples and any other holy place. They do not enter temples after consuming alcohol and non vegetarian food. They apply a spot or a standing line of kumkum between the eyebrows at the time of worship. There are a few days like mondays or thursdays when even non vegetarians eat only vegetarian food. Also younger people touch the feet of elders and take their blessings.
These are a few rituals followed by every Hindu which makes it easier to identify a person as a follower of Hinduism , yet again these do not form the core or principle doctrine of the religion. To me the idea of being a Hindu is not the ability to know the rituals of the religion, rather it is the ability to know oneself. In Hinduism a person encounters various ways of attaining enlightenment, that is supreme knowledge about ones body, mind and soul. He tries to establish an unbreakable bond between the Aatma and the Paramatma. It is this quest for knowing oneself that formulates the identity of a Hindu, although again it is not a base principle.