Hindu Temple, Nainital, Uttarakhand.
Wherever one goes in India, a frequently seen thread in the fabric of Indian culture (and neighboring Nepal) is that of Hinduism. It is seen in frequent shrines and temples scatted throughout India, seen in the colorful flower and cloth offerings available to devotees in street-side stands, seen in the bindi dot worn by many on the forehead. Approximately 80% of India’s 1.2 billion population practices Hinduism (BBC).
Despite it prevalence and status as a world religion, Hinduism, I think, is largely misunderstood by westerners. I do not claim to be an expert on Hinduism, but I have had the opportunity to observe and interact with Hindus for weeks. During that time what has struck me as most erroneous is the typical western view of Hindus worshiping multiple gods in what is often characterized as an idolatrous manner. Yes, there are many significant Hindu “gods” that fit into a pantheon and are interwoven into allegorical stories that reach back millennia into the Vedic texts. And yes, these “gods” are depicted as having superhuman and/or animal characteristics to whom reverence is shown and offerings are given. However, to stop there at that superficial level of observation is shortsighted.
Hanuman, the monkey god, a monumental sculpture seen on the road to Jaipur.
The numerous gods present throughout the Hindu world, though worshipped and part of a complicated stories, are but many manifestations or avatars of a single omnipresent and omnipotent creator. A Hindu practitioner told me, “there are many names but only one God.” Hindus may say that God has taken on a physical form as a man, or as a “god” with anthropomorphized animal characteristics, all are said to be manifestations of the creator of the universe — that which cannot be fully conceived. This supreme entity is also symbolized as Om
(Om symbol & Shiva, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
In it’s barest essence, Hinduism believes in the existence of one infinite Supreme Power, or God, worshipped by Hindus in various representative forms, such as of the Father or the Mother and Who is the Creator and progenitor of the Universe. The most fundamental tenet of our religion lays down that doing good to other beings is the highest form or Worship of the the Lord and, conversely, harming them the worst form of sin.
-Birla L.N., Hinduism: A Philosophy of Life
Shri Lakshmi Narain Temple, New Delhi