Hinduism in Context by Nathan Strom

When initially arriving to India I was so shocked by the environment. The cars, the traffic, the structure of cities and basically everything in my site were completely new. After a few short weeks, I have become accustomed too much of this. I started to notice aspects deeper than just the physical surroundings of India. One of these aspects is India’s relationship with religion. Religion is a huge part of India. With a population of over 1 billion, there is an endless variety of religious practices and beliefs.  However, Hinduism is dominant by number. Coming from the US, I am very familiar with Christianity being the major religion, and here it is Hindusim. This well-known fact makes sense, considering India is the birthplace of Hinduism. What I found very intriguing was the way religion is ingrained into the society. I have never been surrounded so greatly by another religion other than Christianity. Just as every American town has several churches, India has temples. I realize the influence of Hinduism more and more the longer I experience the Indian culture. Many Hindu aspects and practices are unheard of in the US. Therefore being able to come to a new country observing these new characteristics of religion have been extremely eye opening. Below are some examples of what I have observed:

Hinduism in Indian society-

Bindi. If you ever take a stroll down the roads of Pune (or sometimes even in the US) you might notice a very common trend on many Indians. Many women will be wearing a dot on their forehead. Often times they are worn in red but now days can be black, green or various other colors.  This mark/dot is placed between the eyebrows (Bhrumadhya) an area also known as the third eye. The placement is significant because it is where one centers their vision and focus in meditation. A bindi has many religious purposes and meanings. One is that it is used to remind others and self of prayer and life purpose throughout their daily routine. Traditionally a bindi is the mark of a Hindu woman. However in today’s society it has become an Indian fashion as well. Men may also have a mark on their forehead that looks like a bindi. This is called a tilak, which serves for many purposes similar to a bindi.

Puja. When my host family first greeted me at the door, I was presented with a special surprise. Upon arriving, my family preformed a ritual called “Puja” on me. Puja is a Hindu ritual done for special occasions and guests. During puja, camphors and ghee (clarified butter) is burnt along with other rituals to resemble welcome and hospitality. Following this, a Tilak (male Bindi) is placed on the forehead. I have seen puja done in many other places such as a Hindu baptism and even on Indian sitcoms! Even in TV shoes and advertisements, Hinduism is quite prevalent.

Devgarh. Within every Hindu household, you can almost always find a Devgarh. A Devgarh in other words is a Hindu shrine. Within a Devgarh there are several idols of gods and other religious icons. These shrines are often decorated with items such as flowers, paintings and rangoli (traditional Indian patterns made from colored powder). Twice a day, a family will gather at the Devgarh and give their offerings and prayers to the Hindu gods. Often incense will be burnt to offer a closer connection when praying. Devgarh’s are not just found in Indian households. They can be found almost anywhere from work places to grocery stores. Even at the gym I go to they have a Devgarh!

Prayer. Prayer is another religious aspect of society here. My driver may or may have not altered the route to pass by a Hindu temple. Every morning on our way to school, our driver makes a quick stop and says his prayers to the idol of Ganesh.  You will often see a variety of many other Indians stopping and saying their prayers on their way to work. Prayer is a huge characteristic of Hinduism just like any other religion. Every morning at school we sing a prayer to the Hindu Gods. The beginning goes “Guru Bramha, guru Vishnu….” which gives our praise to the gods for substantial learning. Prayer is a positive practice that doesn’t even have to be correlated to religion.

Religion has always been a special interest to me. No matter what religion it may be, I have always found it intriguing. So I am very pleased that I am abroad in the birthplace of Hinduism. Being able to observe the religions of India first hand has been exhilarating. Since there is around three hundred and thirty million gods (Don’t ask me how they got that number) there is always something new to learn about it. Whether it is the stories, morals or life principles, there are always positive components you can pick out of any religion.

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