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Hinduism - A Museum of Religions
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Hinduism - A Museum of Religions
OM Hinduism defies attempts to define it in any specific sense. To be a Hindu you must be born one. To outside world, Hinduism often appears as a complex mix of contradictory beliefs of multiple gods. At its heart, Hinduism does not depend on the belief in the existence of multiple gods. Essentially, all Hindus believe in Brahman, the one without a second, without attributes. Brahman is eternal, uncreated and infinite, everything that exists emanates from Brahman and will ultimately return to it. The multitude of gods and goddesses are merely manifestations - knowable aspects of this formless phenomenon.

Although beliefs and practices vary widely from region to region, there are several unifying factors. These include common beliefs in reincarnation - KARMA and DHARMA, and in the CASTE system. Hindus believe earthly life is cyclical, you are born again and again, the quality of these rebirths being dependent upon your karma in previous lives. There is no escaping your behavior. It is only as a human that you will gain sufficient self - knowledge to escape the cycle of reincarnation and achieve Moksha or liberation. For Hindus, fulfilling one's ritual and social duties is the main aim of worldly life. The Gita is clear about this, doing your duty is more important than asserting your rights.

There are three stages in life recognized in Hinduism. Brahmachari - chaste student, Grihasta - the householder and Sanyasin - the wandering ascetic who has renounced worldy things. The disinterested discharge of your ritual and social obligations is known as Karma Marge and is one path of renunciation. Then there is Jnana- marga or the way of knowledge - the study of Yoga and Meditation and lastly Bhakti Marga, devotion to a personal god. The latter path is open to women and caste of labourers.

OM - Pronunced as aum, this is an important mantra - sacred word and one of Hinduism's most venerated signs. The 3 shape symbolizes the creation, maintenance and destruction of the universe - the Trimurti. The inverted Chandra - crescent or half moon represents the discursive mind and bindu ( dot) within it, Brahman.

The Hindu pantheon is prolific, some estimates put the total number of deities at 330 million. No beliefs or forms of worship are rejected by Hinduism. All are regarded as a manifestation of Brahman, and the particular object of veneration and supplication is often a matter of personal choice or tradition at a local or caste level. Brahman is often described as having three facets, the Trimurti : Braham, Vishnu and Shiva.

Sacred Tests :
Hindu sacred texts fall into two categories: those which are believed to be the word of god and those produced by people.

The Vedas -
Rigveda. Introduced to the sub continent by the conquering Aryan invaders, are regarded as God Knowledge and are considered the authoritative basis for Hinduism. The oldest of the Veda texts, the Rigveda, was compiled more than 3000 years ago. With in its 1028 verses are prayers for prosperity and longevity as well as an explanation of the origin of universe.

The Upanishads -
The last parts of Vedas, reflect on the mystery of death and emphasize the oneness of the universe.

The Mahabhartha - It is thought to have been composed sometime around the Ist Millennium BC and to have been the prerogative of ruling and warrior classes, focusing as it did then on the exploits of their favourite deity Krishna. By about 500 BC, the Mahabaratha had evolved into a far more complex creation, with substantial additions, including the Bhagavad Gita. It is infact the world's largest work of literature, eight times longs than the Grek epics the illiad and the Odyssey combined.

The Ramayana - It was composed around the 3rd or 2nd Century BC and is believed to be largely the work of one person, the poet Valmiki. The epics centres on conflict between the gods and demons.

Sacred Places - The number Seven has special significance in Hinduism. There are seven sacred cities which are major pilgrimage centres - They are Varanasi, Haridwar, Ayodhya, Mathura, Dwarka, Kanchipuram and Ujjain.

No other religious tradition is so eclectic, so diversified in its theoretical premises, as well as its practical expressions. It is the only religion which does not have a holy book as the one and only scriptural authority. One may regard the Rig Veda as one's personal Bible or one may turn to the Upanishads, or the Bhagvad Gita, One may worship Vishnu or Shiva or some other god or goddesses, or One may not worship any deity and meditate on Supreme Spirit dwelling within one's own heart. Some Hindus visit temples for prayer, worship or devotional music, others prefer sacrificial ritual, or bathe in holy rivers, or go on pilgrimages, still others dispense with all sacred texts, disregard all rituals and still claim to be a good hindu.

Hinduism thrives on contrasts. At one end is the most abstruse metaphysical speculation about Ultimate Reality, at the other there are popular cults based on the propitiation of tree spirits and animal deities. Absolute monism goes hand in hand with extreme pluralism. On the one hand, Hinduism accepts the vitality of many paths leading to same goal and is willing to recognize the divinity of the prophets of other religions.

This pluralistic approach, while hampering precision and homogeneity, gives Hinduism its amazing popular appeal and makes the Hindu tradition rich and colourful. The Hindu temple, which became increasingly elaborate with the passage of centuries, serves as the nucleus of the social and aesthetic, no less than the religious life of the community. Temple walls are adorned with sculptures, oft en painted. In the courtyards, sacred poems are recited, hymns are chanted, dances are performed. All these show infinite variety of style, mood, theme and atmosphere.

Hindu Pilgrimage Sites :
Allahabad
Holy bath during kumbh Mela Allahabad. Lord Brahma performed the Prakrista Yajna here and that is how Allahabad received its ancient name Prayag. The city is located 135 km west of Varanasi , at the confluence of India 's two most important rivers - the Yamuna and Ganges . Allahabad attracts millions of pilgrims every year to the confluence of these rivers where they come to bathe and wash away their sins. You could opt for any of the several pilgrim sites in Allahabad that cater to various faiths. The city plays host to some of the finest Hindu pilgrim sites like:

Kumbha Mela
Though held in other parts of India , the Kumbha Mela at Allahabad is the most auspicious and revered one. Held every 12 years the Mela draws about 15 million people from all parts of India and the globe. A huge temporary city is created for the millions of pilgrims that arrive for the most auspicious bathing days. Kumbha-mela is like a "Yogi Convention", where yogis, sadhus (saints), holy people, and pilgrims come from all over India to take a dip in the holy waters.

The Naga Babas are the famed ones who are dancing with enthusiasm completely naked. On the most auspicious bathing days there is a big parade, and the bathing order is very strictly observed. The Amavasya (the new moon day) is considered as one of the most auspicious bathing days. So the next time you visit India do visit the Kumbha Mela to wash away your sins and witness a gathering even bigger than the first Woodstock !

If you can't make it for the main event you could always attend the Ardha-mela (half mela), held every 6-years, which draws about 7 million people.

When in Allahabad you could even visit the Bharadwaja Ashram (mentioned in the Ramyana) and the Sri Rupa Gaudiya Math which are one of the finest Hindu pilgrimage places in India .

Getting There: Allahabad is best connected by rail to major cities of India. Some of the important fast trains touching the city from Delhi are the Prayag Raj, Poorva (Amritsar-Calcutta), North-East (New Delhi-Guwahati), Puri, Purshottam expresses, the Rajdhani and Kalka Mail (Kalka-Calcutta).

Amarnath Yatra
This wondrous Cave was chosen by Lord Shiva to narrate the secrets of immortality and creation of the universe to Goddess Parvati (his wife). In the Cave lies the mystical Shiva Lingam which is said to have miraculous powers. The image of Shiva, in the form of a Lingam, is formed naturally of an Ice Stalagmite, which waxes and wanes with the Moon's cycle. When the Shiva Lingam attains its maximum height millions of pilgrims flock the pious temple from various parts of the globe.

The cave is about 150 feet high and 90 feet long. Within the cave there are four or five other ice formations that resemble the figures of different gods. Though scheduled between July and August the dates vary every year pertaining to weather conditions and according to Purnima in the month of Shravan.

Getting There: Amarnath is 145 km east of Srinagar in Kashmir and can be accessed by daily flights to Delhi and Srinagar . And if you feel adventurous you could take train from Delhi , Jammu Mumbai or Kolkata. You could even hit the road with buses to Delhi (14 hr), Amritsar (5 hr), and Pathankot (3 hr).