Understanding a different religion is a difficult task when it is so broad and intertwined. Hinduism is built upon a certain foundation of texts, beliefs and stories as is any other religion. However, Hinduism is a confusing journey of uncountable gods, interlaced stories and incarnations of other beings when a different state of mind take place. Hinduism is hard to follow but interesting enough to intrigue more research on its history. Brief History of Hinduism.
Professor Gavin Flood states, “Although there is an emphasis on personal spirituality, Hinduism’s history is closely linked with social and political developments, such as the rise and fall of different kingdoms and empires” (Flood, 2009, p. 1). Hinduism is a religion that is ancient and embraces many traditions. In Hindu there is no original founder and the beginning is hard to establish. It is believed that many of the practices, rituals, and traditions have been used for centuries, possibly even millenniums which makes finding the creation of Hinduism quite impossible. Hinduism has had many influences throughout history on the core religion. Hindu has been dated by archeologists to the Indus River Valley civilization. This culture has since vanished but not before being influenced by the Aryan warrior culture that introduced Sanskrit and helped develop the foundation of Hinduism. Alexander the Great introduced the Greek culture into Hinduism. Muslims and Europeans also migrate to India bringing their religious influences as well. Hindu Goddess
Saraswati, Goddess of art and knowledge. Saraswati is broken down in Sanskrit as sara means ‘essence’ and swa means ‘self.’ Saraswati means ‘essence of self.’ Saraswati is known as Thurathadi in Burmese, Biancaitian in Chinese, Benzaiten in Japanese, and Surasawadee in Thai. Saraswati is associated with the element of flowing water. She is a beautiful woman in order to support the concept that knowledge is alluring. Saraswati plays the musical instrument called the veena. She has four arms and wears a white sari. Saraswati is usually seated on or near a white lotus flower, a white swan, and sometimes a peacock. According to the Rig Veda, Saraswati is a river in its personification of a Goddess. Mythology
Legend says that Saraswati sprung from the forehead of her father, Brahma. Brahma is the deva (god) of creation, father of Manu from which all beings are descended. Saraswati’s mother is the Goddess Durga, supreme Goddess. Saraswati taught Brahma how to think, communicate, and comprehend. After learning from Saraswati, Brahma was able to see the chaos in the universe. Brahma discovered the beauty, melody, and energy of mantras. Calmness began to cover the universe and structure began to form. Seasons changed, the sun rose and set, the moon waxed and waned. The rhythm of life was set. Saraswati’s beauty was so immense that her father, Brahma, desired her for his bride. Saraswati did not want her father’s attention and disliked his actions so she avoided him by taking the form of various animals. Each animal form that Saraswati assumed her father would take the male animal form and continue to advance toward her. Saraswati also would take off in different directions trying to escape her father’s advances and each time Brahma grew another head in order to watch her.
Saraswati was so angered by the constant advance from her Father that she cursed him but he continued to pursue Saraswati. Brahma’s desires toward Saraswati were so strong that the serenity of the cosmos was disturbed and Shiva, the Supreme, was aroused from his meditations. When Shiva saw how uncomfortable Saraswati was with her father’s advances he took the form of Bhairava, Lord of Terror, and ripped off Brahma’s fifth head. Saraswati was pleased with the attack upon her father. She nursed him back to health and taught him the error in his desires and the lessons to his liberation. Brahma wanted to cleanse himself with a yagna, fire sacrifice, but in order to perform a yagna the assistance of a wife is needed. Saraswati consented to be Brahma’s wife and the two were reconciled. Functions
Saraswati is the Goddess of knowledge and the arts. She embodies the wisdom of Devi, the female aspect of the Divine. Saraswati dispels the darkness of chaos, confusion, and ignorance. Followers of Saraswati rejoice in the serenity of the spirit, the power of the mind, and not the pleasure of the senses. She embodies all that is pure, non-materialistic.
Saraswati’s temples are libraries and schools where knowledge is learned. The four Vedas, books of knowledge, are given to followers from Saraswati. The swan she rides on symbolizes knowledge. The peacock by her side symbolizes the arts. The lotus flower is the symbol for Supreme Reality. Her four arms have different meanings as do her four hands. Her front two arms symbolize her presence in the physical world and her rear two arms symbolize her presence in the spiritual world. The Kashmiri Overseas Association states, “The four hands represent the four elements of the inner personality. The mind (manas) is represented by the front right hand, the intellect (buddhi) by the front left hand, the conditioned consciousness (chitta) by the rear left hand, and the ego (ahankara) by the rear right hand” (“Goddess Saraswati,” n.d., p. 1).
The rosary signifies concentration and meditation. The veeda signifies harmonious living through intellect. The swan signifies the ability to discriminate between good, bad, right, and wrong. The peacock depicts unpredictable behaviors and signifies that followers must conquer fear and indecision to obtain knowledge. Sacred Texts
The role of the sacred texts, as in any religion, is to continue to share the historical foundations in which the religion is founded. In Hinduism the Vedas are the sacred texts. There are four Vedas, Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda. The Rig Veda is the oldest of the texts yet all fours texts have influenced other religions such as Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. Within the Vedas are the rituals, hymns, and incantations of Hinduism. The Vedas are believed to be some of the oldest religious texts in existence. The Vedas also give certain insights into the ancient life of India. The Rig Veda gives Hindus hymns and the mythology of Hinduism. The Sama Veda contains additional hymns as well as repeated hymns from the Rig Veda. The Yajur Veda is a detailed accounting, or manual, of the sacrifices used in Hinduism. Finally, the Atharva Veda contains incantations and metaphysical writings and is the newest of the Vedas.
In addition, there are texts that elaborate upon the teachings in the Vedas. The Upanishads teach how the soul can be united with the ultimate truth as well as the doctrine of Karma. The Puranas which “contains a complete narrative of the history of the Universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of the kings, heroes and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology and geography” (Hare, 2010, p. 1). The Satapatha Brahmana is the descriptions of the practices of mythology, philosophy, and magic. The Mahabharata and Ramayana are referred to as the Epic texts. The Mahabharata is a story or poem of the legend of Bharatas and the Ramayana is a love story. There are also many additional books and references of sacred value to Hinduism but too many to list out. Concepts of Hinduism
The concept of Maya in Hinduism is centered on “illusion.” Maya is the principal deity that governs in the phenomenal Universe. Maya misleads the soul by keeping it tethered to the temporary body on earth. When the souls concedes to lust, anger, and greed it tumbles farther into the clutches of Maya. Once a soul can grasp goodness then it can transcend and escape Maya. Karma
The concept of Karma in Hinduism is based on the actions and reactions of each individual soul. Karma only applies to human life. The Heart of Hinduism states, “talk of “good karma” and “bad karma,” which are stored reactions that gradually unfold to determine our unique destiny. The self-determination and accountability of the individual soul rests on its capacity for free choice” (“Karma,” 2004, p. 1). Moksha: Liberation
The concept of Moksha in Hinduism is liberation or salvation of one’s soul. Moksha is the highest goal for Hindus. Moksha is described as a union is two distinctly different ways. One union is described as the “annihilation of the soul’s false sense of individuality and realization of its complete non-difference from God” (“Moksha,” 2004, p. 1). The second union is described as a unity of one’s spirit to the Supreme Brahman through surrender and service to the Supreme Brahman. Samsara: Reincarnation
The concept of Samsara in Hinduism is reincarnation. The real self does not change throughout life and when death occurs it is carried to its next body or another species of life. The state of mind at the time of death influences where the real self will manifest. Hindus consider samsara very painful on the real self because it is a repeated process of birth, disease, old-age, and then death. This cycle is completed each time the real self manifests in its new environment. Atman: Self
The concept of Atman in Hinduism is one real self. This is not the body but the spirit, or brahman, that is described as eternal, never-changing, and conscious. Consciousness is described as “a symptom of the soul, and without it the body has no awareness” (“Atman,” 2004, p. 1). Belief in the soul is not just reserved for the Hindu, but is a belief throughout many religions. Conclusion
Hinduism is a rooted religious system with centuries, even millennia, of traditions and rituals that have been observed and recorded for continued use and further development. One of the main Goddesses is Saraswati. Saraswati is a favored Goddess of intellects, students, and artists. She encompasses knowledge through education. The sacred texts are the central building blocks of Hinduism and necessary for the continued development of this religion. The concepts of Hinduism are similar to other religions but unique to Hinduism.
The mantra of Saraswati used by students, artists, and intellects for knowledge and enlightenment. She, who is as fair as the Kunda flower,
white as the moon, and a garland of Tushar flowers; and who is covered in white clothes,
She, whose hands are adorned by the excellent veena, and whose seat is the pure white lotus;
She, who is praised by Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh;
O Mother Goddess, remove my mental inertia! (“Mantra,” n.d., p. 1)
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