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• Word used by outsiders to refer to religions they found in that area
• Sindhu – ancient Indian Snaskkrit name
• Indos – ancient Greek name
• Hindu – ancient Persian name


Major traditions of Hinduism based on the Vedas

• Centred on the worship of Vishnu/Krishna
• Centred on the worship of Shiva
• Centred on the worship of Devi (the Mother-Goddess)
• The tradition of advaita (non-dualism)
• Plus the numerous village and tribal traditions of what might be called “Folk Hinduism”


The Vedas

• sacred scriptures of the Hindus
• composed between 1500 BCE and 600 BCE
• the earliest texts consist of verses of praise to the various gods of the ancient Aryan peoples
o Surya – sun god
o Candra – the moon god
o Agni – god of fire
o Indra – god of storms
o Yama – the lord of death


The stratification of Vedic Aryan Society

• The priestly (Brahmin) class who memorized the Veda, and conducted the fie ritual, which was the main religious ritual
• The warrior/ruler class whose job it was to protect the people
• The merchant class who constituted the commercial sector of society
• The servant class, landless labourers who served others and worked the land
o Those, like the indigenous tribal mountain people, who did not fit into society were outside of the social (caste) system and were considered “outcaste”



o Dharma = law of duty
o Two aspects:
o Religious, social, and family duty (ethics)
o Eternal cosmic Law or Truth



o Karma = action
o According to a person’s good or bad actions (karma) the soul (atman) takes rebirth in good or bad conditions. The eternal cycle of rebirth and re-death is called samsara
o In the Vedic period, Karma referred to the ritual action of the fire sacrifice (1500-800BCE)
o In the Upanishads period, karma referred to all intentional action and results of actions (800-600BCE)



• the liberation from samsara by realizing the true nature of atman (soul)
• Soul is understood to be undying, unborn and eternal – transforms from life to life taking on that form in this life and the other form in another life but as long as the person does not realize the true nature of the soul, then so long that person is born and dies and re born and redies in the cycle of samsara – Moksha means freedom from rebirth and redeath


Three paths (marga) to liberation (moksha) from samsara

1. Karma Marga – the path of action associated with the ancient sacrificial religion of the Vedas
2. Jnana marga – the path of knowledge related to the later Vedic tradition of the Upanishads
3. Bhakti Marga – the path of devotion related to worship and devotion to a particular deity


Karma Marga - 4 realms of the Vedic universe

i. the celestial realm inhabited by sky gods
ii. the atmospheric realm inhabited by gods of the atmosphere like the win and storms
iii. the earth inhabited by humans and gods of the earth eg. River gods, mountain gods
iv. underworld or world of the fathers inhabited by the dead ancestors
b. main religious ritual was the fire sacrifice so if you did these 4 things, you would have success into the World of the Fathers


Karma Marga - Symbol of Fire

major symbol of transformation – positive connotations of purification and relatedness of things where as fire generally contains negative connotations in monotheistic religions


Karma Marga - The power of the ritual action in the Vedic Period

→ if sacrifice was carried out properly, then it was thought to have great power. Even the gods could not prevent the results of a properly conducted sacrifice.
o A good afterlife was not dependent on the gods, but on whether or not the ritual action (karma) of the sacrifice had been properly performed


Karma Marga - Vedic Death Rituals

o One goes to the World of the Fathers
o Sons performed death rituals intended to create a new body for the deceased and nourish the soul
o Death rituals end in the sapindikarana ritual – transformation of person’s spirit into an ancestor (if annual ritual offerings on the death anniversary were neglected, it was said that ancestors would go hungry in the afterlife)
o Emphasize household life – they needed to marry and secure sons to have a good afterlife – marriage and procreation at this time, would not be considered an option


Jnana marga

o Karma becomes associated with the intention leading to the action
• Karma = intentional actions (positive or negative) and the capacity of the action to bring about results independent of any divine force
• Karma = a natural law operating in the universe
• According to one’s karma (intentional actions) one would be reborn in good or bad conditions
• Note the difference between this and the early Vedic world-view where karma mean ritual action and the dead went to the world of the fathers


the Upanishads -Samsara

unending cycle of rebirth and redeath
o Samsara keeps on going due to self-oriented intentional action (karma)


o Moksha

– liberation from samsara and rebirth


• Unchanging Reality in the Upanishads

o In a world of impermanence there is an unchanging reality that has two aspects:
• Brahman – refers to unchanging reality on a cosmic or universal level. Brahman can be understood both as an impersonal absolute and person God
• Atman (individual soul) – refers to unchanging reality on a personal or individual level


• Path of knowledge

practice of Study, contemplation and meditation leading to the realization of the true nature of the individual soul (Atman) as not other than the essence and foundation of the entire universe (Brahman)


Bhakti Marga

• Path of devotion: Love and devotion to a personal Lord (complete trust) – like Krishna or Shiva, or the Great Mother (devi)
• Everyone may enter the way of devotion
• The devotee aims to be in union with the universal Beloved Lord not to become the universal
• Afterlife goal is rebirth in the heaven of the Beloved and the opportunity to continue loving and worshipping one’s personal Lord
• Also considered a path of liberation


Path of Action in the Bhagavadgita

• In the Gita, the path of action = all action dedicated to the Lord Krishna without attachment to the fruits of action
• Combined with the way of devotion, all actions are an offering to the Lord
• Note the difference between this and the path of action in the Vedic period, which related to the ritual action of the sacrifice


Ideal stages of life of an upper caste male

• Student (studying the vedas and life skills)
• Householder (fulfilling family, social and ritual obligations)
• Retirement (turning to spiritual pursuits)
• Renunciation (dying to the world and focusing entirely on liberation)


Elements of a Hindu Funeral Ritual

• The body is cremated within 12 hours of death
• The eldest son lights the cremation fire
• The ashes are immersed in a river or the nearest ocean
• An oil lamp is kept lit for the deceased and the family goes into mourning for 11 days
• During the 11 days, the immediate family are considered to be in a ‘liminal’ zone – they cannot enter the temple
o Various death rituals including the sapindikarana ritual to transform the soul into an ancestor are carried out to ensure the safe journey of the soul to its destination
• At the end of the 11 days, the family returns to normal life. A feast is prepared and the oil lamp is allowed to burn out
• Every year on the death anniversary, to ensure the well being of the parents in their next incarnation, sons perform a memorial ceremony (sacrifice) in which Brahmin priests are fed, given gifts and alms are distributed to the poor


What happens to the soul?

• A sincere devotee would go to the heaven of their chosen lord, and after spending some time there, the soul is reborn and its new form depends on the karma from its previous life
• The wicked would go to hell (naraka) a place of torment, the underworld dwelling of Yama, Lord of Death and judge of a person’s deeds. But no place is permanent and after some time, the soul would again be reborn in the never-ending cycle of samsara


The contemporary Hindu funeral ritual is a blend of the three paths to liberation

• The ancient Vedic path of action – nourishing the ancestors through the yearly rituals
• The Upanishadic path of knowledge and liveration – where the soul is reborn until it attains ultimate liberation by realizing the oneness of the universal and the individual (Brahman and Atman)
• The path of devotion where the destination of the deceased devotee is the heaven of a particular deity like Vishnu or Shiva



• Sumangali – auspicious woman – a married woman with a living husband. If a woman outlives her husband, then she is no longer sumangali
• A woman could die a sumangali by immolating herself on her husband’s funeral lyre. This was called Sati or Suttee – the ancient practice of widow suicide – outlawed by the British in 1829 and presently illegal under the Indian constitution
• Plain white is a funeral colour and the colour of widow’s
• Mother of son’s – worst case would be of a woman’s husband who dies before she can burry her son – lives a horrible life after and she experiences issues whilst trying to remarry


Naciketas in the House of Death (Yama) - 3 boons

• Naciketas’ three boons (favours)
o That his father will not be angry with him
o How to perform the fire sacrifice
o To know what happens when we die


Tad etad (This is That)

• Must understand what is this, and what is that
• This = Atman (the true self, not the small ego-self)
• That = Brahman (basic of all existence)
• The innermost self of the individual (Atman) is not other than Ultimate Reality or God, the universal ground of existence (Brahman)