Has arrived the Mahar caste

Hinduism - Overcoming the cycle of rebirth

Hinduism emerged from the Vedic religion, which developed at the time of the Aryan immigration to India in the 2nd millennium BC. BC, had developed. Four Vedas (Sanskrit: knowledge) handed down sacred formulas, songs and verses, which were later supplemented by the philosophical considerations of the Upanishads.

Vedism followed, after the formation of the castes in the 1st millennium BC. BC, the heyday of Indo-Aryan culture - Brahmanism. Knowledge of the sacred formulas for sacrifices -brahman - gave the priests, the Brahmins, the highest position in the social order, the caste system. The term "Hinduism" stands not only for Indian religious traditions - the totality of all rites, customs, and myths - but also for the social system to which the majority of Indians adhere.

Unlike Christianity, Buddhism or Islam, Hinduism is not a founder religion. If one chooses the image of a garden, the founder religions are systematically laid out gardens, while Hinduism, on the other hand, is a wildly grown primeval forest. Only aisles and paths were cut in different epochs. The Indian religion is characterized by diversity instead of dogmatics. Belief in a single, transcendent God does not matter, rather a large army of gods stands side by side on an equal footing.

Some ideas apply to all believers: A Hindu belongs to a caste from birth. So you are born as a Hindu. Another thing they have in common is their belief in the cycle of rebirths. Every believer strives to be born again in a higher form of existence and determines his path through his actions, karma. The longing of the believers is not for eternal life, but exactly the opposite: for overcoming the world through liberation from the cycle of rebirths.

The Upanishads: Basic Text of Hindu Philosophy

What are the Vedic Upanishads?

The Upanishads (Sanskrit "secret doctrine", more precisely the "sitting close to the teacher") are a collection of philosophical writings; the scriptures that were created in the middle of the 1st millennium BC form the last part of the Vedic tradition, i.e. the holy scriptures of Hinduism, after the Samhitas, Brahmanas and Aranyakas. Like the philosophies based on them, they are therefore also referred to as the "end of the Veda" (Vedanta).

Almost every Vedic school had such an Upanishad section in its text collection. The Upanishads mark the transition from the sacrificial cult of the Vedic, i.e. pre-Hindu, religion to Indian philosophy. Numerous passages, even from the oldest Upanishads, contain speculative, philosophical sections which later, in the course of the development of Indian philosophy, justified the removal of these texts from the respective Vedic collection.

Why do the texts represent a turning point?

The knowledge comes to the fore over the ritual processes. In contrast to the older texts of the Veda, the Upanishads deal more with knowledge that is effective in redemption (jñana) than from the ritual (karma). With the separation of the Upanishads from the rest of the Vedic revelation, there was a dichotomy into the ritual part of the Veda on the one hand and the knowledge part on the other. This fundamental separation was accompanied by a criticism of the salvific effect of rituals.

What are the Upanishads about?

In the early Upanishads we encounter, as it were, the origin of philosophical thought in India. The practice of the Vedic sacrifice is replaced by a knowledge of the processes on which the cosmos is based. Based on the theology of sacrifice and the observation of natural processes, such as the water cycle, but also the psychological states of deep sleep and dreams, the question of the determination and identity of humans in the cycle of rebirth (samsara) as well as the possibilities to get liberation from it.

What influence did the Upanishads have on Indian philosophy?

The basic constants discussed in the Upanishad texts have become determinative for a large part of Indian philosophy. This includes, for example, the doctrine of the "breath of life" (prana), the states of consciousness of waking, dreaming, deep sleep and the "fourth" state of liberation lying beyond these.

Core topics of Indian philosophy are dealt with there, for example the question of the bearer of life. Depending on the teaching tradition, various elements were thought to be carriers of life force. But also the question of the fate of the human soul after death and the doctrine of rebirth are central components of these investigations.

Perhaps the most effective teaching, however, was that of the actual self (atman) of the human being, who with the absolute (brahman) was thought to be essentially identical. This view formed the cornerstone for the philosophical school of Vedanta, which was first systematized in the "Guide to Vedanta" ("Vedantasutra"). In their monistic (advaita) Interpretation by the philosopher Shankara (788-820) it is now often regarded as the most important philosophy of Hinduism.

How many Upanishads are there today?

There are now 150, but "only" 108 belong to the canon. What has been said so far applies here exclusively to the so-called Vedic Upanishads, that is, that arose during the Vedic period. Based on this important genre of text, different schools of Hinduism later wrote their own "secret doctrines". These were codified as canons (officially recognized) in a list that included 108 Upanishads, although the production of such texts continued afterwards. In addition to the few Vedic Upanishads, here we find a large number of much later texts of Vishnuism, Shaivism and other Hindu religions.

When was the Hindu canon established?

The establishment of the canon falls at the time of the construction of an orthodox Hinduism in the southern Indian kingdom of Vijayanagara. In view of the military and cultural supremacy of the Muslim rulers of North India, a Hindu canon of script was supposed to be established there around 1400 through intensive exegesis work by the brothers Sayana and Madhava. The most recent texts contained there are likely to have been written shortly before the canon was finalized.

Did you know that …

the Upanishads also had an impact on Western philosophy? They became known in Europe via the Persian language and influenced, for example, the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer.

the texts of the Veda were transmitted orally for a long time? Even today there are Brahmins who know the Veda by heart.

Classical Hinduism: The Path to Final Liberation

How was the Vedic religion developed?

When the Vedic religion, i.e. the religious ideas of the pre-Hindu period based on the Vedas - the holy scriptures - lost their importance, on the one hand religious communities emerged which - like the Buddhists and Jainas - rejected the entire Vedic tradition. On the other hand, religious-philosophical schools emerged that explicitly referred to this tradition. They propagated their new image of the world, of God and of man in a genre of texts called the "Upanishads". From around 200 BC. various religious schools emerged, which are assigned to "classical" Hinduism.

With the decline of the old pantheon of gods with Varuna and Agni, the god of fire, who were responsible for the cosmic order, new deities appeared, such as the one from the 4th century BC. verifiable Krishna, who was the result of an amalgamation of an epic hero with a cowherd god, or the later identified gods Vashudeva and Narayana, who were later identified with Vishnu. Shiva, who emerged from the Vedic god Rudra and became the creator and lord of the world, rose to become the second important deity of Hinduism alongside Vishnu. In addition to these central divine figures, people also venerated personal protective gods and spirits in popular religion.

What scriptures do the Hindus have?

The Vedas belong to the basic text of classical Hinduism. So it was believed that the Vedas were the eternal (sanatana) Contained truth that the seers (rishis) had been revealed. They were only recorded because the world according to the cyclical understanding of time (yuga) to a period of decay and collapse (kaliyuga) in which the oral transmission of the Vedas was no longer sufficient. The revealed scriptures were called shruti ("What has been heard"). In addition, many also counted the Puranas, which contained narratives about the creation of the world, genealogies and stories about the deities in the foreground, to the literature of revelation.

Most Hindus especially venerate a certain section of the great epic "Mahabharata", the so-called Bhagavadgita ("Song of the Sublime"). In the Bhagavadgita, three Hindu paths of salvation (that of knowing, that of acting without intention and that of devotion to God) are presented side by side.

The second most important source of authority are the texts of smrti ("The remembered", the tradition), which deal much more closely with the course of everyday life and set up certain legal norms. Of these texts, the "Code of Manu" enjoys particularly high esteem, because it contains many regulations about customs, norms and castes, although these were never followed by everyone.

What rules of conduct apply to Hindus?

The right behavior depends on the individual life situation. It is true that the holy scriptures lay down norms, a kind of religious world and life order, which in their entirety are referred to as "Dharma" ("that which supports"). However, Dharma has many meanings. In principle, the word can be reproduced as "appropriate behavior", but this is defined differently for each caste, age group or gender. The way of a decent life is expressed in the division of professions and in the caste system connected with them.

In general, Hindus consider four goals in life to be legitimate and worth striving for if they are pursued within the Dharma - which is itself one of the four goals. The other three goals are acquisition and politics (artha), the pleasure of love (kama) as well as the pursuit of salvation (moksha). Every profession and every caste has its own Dharma, which can be completely different from that of others. Hinduism permeates all aspects of life, from the most humble hut to the politics of the state. According to the Vedic tradition, the young men of the upper castes received a religious education before founding a household and were then initiated - "born for the second time" - which is why they are called dvija ("Born twice"). Usually one is expected to be dvija four life stages (ashrama), in which he first takes on the responsibility and joys of life, only to let go of them in anticipation of death.

What is the path to salvation?

It runs through rebirths. The good and bad deeds accumulated in an earthly existence - which actions are considered good or bad, determines the respective Dharma - cause a corresponding rebirth. Every new existence also means a new possibility of progress on the way to salvation; it does not necessarily have to be just another "wandering" through the many different levels of unsavedness. This journey through different lives does not only take place on earth, it also takes place in heavens and hells.

Why are there so many Hindu gods?

The sometimes confusing diversity of gods and goddesses results from the fact that high gods of central rank can reveal themselves in many different forms. Such manifestations are called "avatars". There have also been attempts to bring this diversity into a system, the best known of which is the Shivaitic conception of a trimurti (threefold manifestation of God). According to this concept, Brahma is the creator, Vishnu the sustainer, and Shiva the destroyer of the world. It is always God who manifests himself in this way, and it is only through the special power of God that things take on their external appearance.

In India, belief in one or more personal gods outweighs the more abstract teachings of an impersonal primordial ground of being. Basically every region or every village, but probably even every individual, has a special center of worship, a personally chosen deity (Istadevata). This complements the larger gods but does not replace them.

How can the cycle of rebirths be broken?

To redemption (moksha) there are three ways (marga): the Karmamarga (the way of dharma-like works), the Jñanamarga (the way of knowledge or philosophical truth) and the Bhaktimarga (the way of devotion to God, the love of God). Probably the best known and most revered didactic poem of Hinduism, the "Bhagavadgita", attempts to reconcile all three paths, which is one of the reasons for its popularity.

The six classical philosophical systems or also point the way to salvation darshanas ("Views"), which are traditionally combined in pairs: Samkhya and Yoga, Nyaya and Vaishesika as well as Mimamsa and Vedanta.

What does the philosophical teaching of Samkhya say?

The Samkhya assumes a fundamental opposition between a conscious, intelligent self (puruhsa, "Spirit") and an eternal, unconscious matter (prakrti, "Nature"). It is made up of three qualities (gunas) together: sattva (the subtle principle of potential consciousness), rajas (the principle of action) and tamas (the principle of passivity). The unfolding or evolution of matter takes place when the puruhsa Forgets his true identity (the self) and thereby the duality of subject and object arises. He sees the true self in the body. Salvation means breaking away from this wrong view. It is important to recognize that the amalgamation with the prakrti only apparently took place. The more practical side with its exercises to reverse the entanglement of the spirit in matter is expressed in yoga.

What is the approach of the Nyaya philosophy?

The nyaya ("reasoning") is the philosophical method by which the mind comes to a conclusion. Here the logical argumentation or deduction applies, as it were as a third means next to the authorities of the Shruti and Smrti literature. This darshana associated with the oldest of the six systems, the Vaishesika ("referring to distinctions"), which starts out from six categories or objects of experience and analyzes them, viz guna, the quality; dravya, the substance; karma, the plot; samanya, the generality; vishesa, the distinguishable features and samavaya, the unique relationship between substance and quality. A seventh was later added to these: the cessation of being, non-existence (abhava).

What is the theme of the Mimamsa philosophical system?

The Mimamsa ("investigation") is a school that deals with the Vedic ritual and tries to prove the infallibility of the Vedic scriptures through a logical chain of arguments. The Vedanta, the "perfection of the Veda", which relates in particular to the Upanishads and their philosophy, is linked to this infallibility of the Vedic writings. Therefore his literature consists mainly of commentaries by various philosophers on the "Bhagavadgita", the Brahma Sutra and the Upanishads. The main theme is the relationship of the absolute (brahman) to the single soul (atman) and the world.

So Shankara represents in the 6th or 7th century AD. the Advaita-Vedanta, according to which Brahman is the absolute and the source on which the whole world of appearances rests. Those whose eyes have become seeing through knowledge can perceive Brahman as the only real and immutable that lies in or behind the manifold appearances perceived by the normally trained senses. From this it follows that there is not even a difference or a duality (dvaita) can give between the human subject or self and Brahman, because Brahman is precisely this self and underlies all appearances.

What is the Mahabharata?

With 100,000 double verses, it is the longest poem in world literature, written between 400 BC. And 300 AD. The main plot tells the story of the warring clans of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The most famous insertion is the Bhagavadgita.What is new is that it places the belief in the continued existence of the individual soul after death alongside the idea that the individual soul is absorbed into the impersonal world spirit (Brahman) at the end of the cycle of rebirths, as the Upanishads had taught.

What is the goal of yoga?

Yoga (»yoke«, »concentration«) is a method of changing consciousness that is supposed to lead to liberation. Those who practice yoga lead ascetic lives. You control the breath as well as body and mind through meditation in order to reach higher states of consciousness up to the transformation of the body and thus conquer old age and death. Yoga later combined with the great theistic traditions of Shaivism and Vishnuism as well as their female counterpart, Shaktism. Yoga is an integral part of Hinduism to this day and has produced important exponents (such as Ramakrishna and Aurobindo) in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Festivals: Magnificent celebrations in honor of the gods

When is the Holi Spring Festival celebrated?

It takes place around the full moon in the month of Phalguna (February / March). The Hindu festival calendar is closely related to the course of the seasons. Everywhere in the country, the Holi festival seals the end of winter. The day before the actual festival is dedicated to prayer. In northern India, wreaths made of dried fruits and lotus seeds are offered as offerings. In the evening, large fires are kindled in many places, in which all sorts of things that have become useless are burned; this symbolizes the burning of the evil demon Holika. In the region around Mathura she is equated with the demoness Putana, defeated by Krishna, who is burned as a paper mache figure. The believers transform the fire seven times, throw in specially made sweets and are thus purified. The actual festival day begins with a hilarious hustle and bustle in which colored powder is thrown at each other; all enmity is to be forgotten about Holi. The red colored powder, reminiscent of blood, suggests the origin of the festival from ancient fertility rites.

What happens at the Naga-Pañcami snake festival?

On the fifth day (Pañcami) of the month of Shravana (July / August) the cobra and various other snakes (Naga) are worshiped, which now emerge from their holes in the earth at the beginning of the monsoon. On the one hand, snakes are feared because of their dangerousness to humans and cattle, on the other hand, they are respected as "guardians of the earth's treasures". For this day you whitewash a piece of the house wall and decorate it with a picture of a cobra. Women fast and offer the snakes a cup of milk. Basins for these milk donations have been documented in the Mathura area since the 1st century AD. The festival dates back to pre-Aryan times and was adopted by early Hinduism.

At what festival is all of India on its feet?

The families come together at Durgapuja, they take time off and travel to their home village. Public life sometimes comes to a standstill, and many shops and offices close during the festival. Durgapuja ("worship of Durga") is also called Navaratri ("nine nights"), since the festival begins on the new moon day of the month of Ashvina (September / October) and lasts nine nights and one day. Durgapuja is celebrated all over India, but Bengal is its stronghold. One particularly commemorates the victory of the goddess Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura. Months before the festival begins, large statues of the victorious goddess are made out of clay or paper mache. During the nine nights of the festival, the believers venerate her image, which on the "victorious tenth day" is brought in procession to a river or the sea and handed over to the flood: after visiting her followers, the goddess returns to her husband Shiva.

Which deity is honored with the festival Divali?

Lakshmi is worshiped, the goddess of happiness, beauty and prosperity. She would not visit a dirty place, which is why the entire house is cleaned and whitewashed at Divali at the beginning of the month of Karttika (October / November) after the end of the rainy season. And because she also disdains the darkness, rows of butter lamps burn all over the house on this dark new moon night (dipavali), from which the festival takes its name. Specially made clay figures of the Lakshmi and the elephant-headed god Ganesha, the Lord of the Beginning, are venerated on the house altar. The new financial year begins the day after Divali: The old books are closed, Lakshmi is to donate her blessing to the company.

How is the most popular pilgrimage festival celebrated?

The annual in Pushkar (Rajasthan) is very well known mela, a pilgrimage festival, the main event of which is actually the ritual bath that removes impurities. But it is often associated with lively market activity, which is reminiscent of the fair at church fairs. The market in Pushkar starts on the full moon day of the month of Karttika (October / November) and lasts for a week. The camel trade attracts shepherds and breeders from all over Rajasthan. At the same time it is a temple festival in honor of the god Brahma. After bathing in the holy lake of Pushkar, pilgrims go to the temple of God.

Only a few temples are dedicated to Brahma, because once Shiva cursed him not to be worshiped anymore. But when they wanted to build a temple for Brahma's wife Gayatri in Pushkar, according to legend, she demanded that a temple should be built for her husband beforehand. And so it happened. Nowadays, Pushkar also attracts tourists from the west - but neither meat dishes nor eggs are available for them to eat in this holy place.

What is the name of the biggest festival in the world?

It is the Kumbhamela, for the last one in 2001, 25 million people came to Allahabad, where the three sacred rivers - Ganges, Yamuna and the underground, mythical Sarasvati - converge. When gods and demons once around a pot (kumbha) Quarreled immortality potion, a few drops were spilled. The places where they met - Allahabad, Hardwar, Ujjain, and Nasik - were henceforth particularly sacred.

Kumbhamela is celebrated here every twelve years as a reminder that a god brought the pot to heaven after twelve days. In Hardwar, the festival is for the year 629 AD. first attested. The ritual baths are strictly regulated. Nagasadhus (naked ascetics) lead the procession, followed by other groups of religious specialists. Eventually, the ordinary believers also take their baths for the next two weeks.

Did you know that …

a religious festival in honor of a deity takes place almost every day somewhere on the Indian subcontinent? In addition to the major national festivals, there are countless holidays of predominantly local importance.

in regions of India where the cult of the mother goddess is less pronounced, is the Durgapuja festival called Dashehra? It then recalls the victory of the god Rama over the demon Ravana, which is described in the Hindu epic "Ramayana".

Indian cosmology and its gods: a complex world

How does the Hindu imagine the universe?

The theories about the origin of the universe are very different. Some assume that a deity is active. For example, the creator god Brahma is considered the source of the universe and lord of all creation. Other schools teach a development of all things from a state of preexistence, the existence of the world as an idea that has no beginning or end. From a cosmic egg (brahmanda) all creatures are said to come from.

The justification of the four-tier order goes with the idea that the universe emerged from a primal victim (varna) hand in hand. If a non-materialistic origin of the universe is assumed, it is regarded as an emanation from the impersonal primordial ground of being, which in later times will be referred to as the Brahman.

In addition, the idea arose that the cosmos was in a constant process of development and decline. First of all, the elements organize themselves into an order. This order finally disintegrates again during the dissolution of the universe, which is known as the "sleep of Brahma". But already in the Rigveda the possibility is given that one cannot make a definite statement about the origin of the cosmos and only state the existence of the gods: “He, the overseer of this world in the highest heaven, he alone knows it - or maybe knows neither does he «.

How is the universe structured?

On the other hand, there was broad agreement about the nature of the universe and the world. Accordingly, the world consists of seven continents (dvipa), which are grouped in concentric circles with oceans in between around the central world mountain Meru, whereby India, the »continent of the rose apple tree« (Jambudvipa), plays a special role. In the vertical, too, different worlds are grouped in a series of superimposed layers. At the very top are the worlds (loka) of the gods and those beings who have reached these spheres because of their good karma. This is followed by the area of ​​the planets, the heavens and the earth, under which the underworlds and finally the twenty-one hells (naraka) are located. In part, this mythical worldview is also merged with real geography: for example, the mountain Kailasa is equated with the world mountain Meru and the seat of the gods, mainly Indra and later Shiva. The river goddess Ganga (the Ganges) also originally came from heaven.

How do the gods appear?

In the theistic religions of Hinduism, the great gods Shiva and Vishnu, as well as the sun god Surya in the period from the 6th to the 13th centuries, assume the rank of omnipotent deities. According to the religious ideas of the Hindus, they could appear in many different forms. Shiva, for example, took various forms (murti), such as that of the Great God, the yogin, the ascetic, the Bhairava (a terrifying form) or that of the Nataraja ("king of dance"), which is particularly popular in southern India. As the latter, he embodies the god who tramples a demon in a devastating way in cosmic dance. Though omnipresent, according to mythological beliefs, it resided in the Himalayas. The same applies to Vishnu, who incarnates himself in ever different forms in every age - i.e. at very great intervals - in order to restore the order of the Dharma.

These avatars were originally independent deities or heroes, like the Iranian god of war Verethragna with the boar's head or Rama. Among the avatars, Krishna is certainly the most popular god.

What female deities are there?

A very important role is played by the worship of Shakti ("force", "power"), who, theistically speaking, is to be regarded as the consort of the great gods; as goddess and great mother, however, she unites all functions that Vishnu has for the Vishnuits and Shiva for the Shivaites. She is personified as Durga ("the inaccessible") or Kali ("the black one"), the terrible aspects of Shiva's wife Parvati.

What are the relationships between the various deities?

In an effort to systematize, the numerous deities are related to the great gods. Shiva has two sons, the elephant-headed Ganesha (the god of wisdom and learning) and the god of war Karttikeya. The god of love Kama was burned to ashes by Shiva because he had disturbed his asceticism and has led a disembodied existence ever since. Like many other deities, no particular cult is assigned to it. Regional deities with supraregional significance are for example Jagannatha ("Lord of the World") in the state of Orissa and Vithoba in Maharashtra, who are identified with Vishnu. The gods are worshiped in temples and bathing areas, and on certain mythological events in the course of the Hindu calendar, large festivals are held, which are often associated with processions.

Did you know that …

the Vedic religion already had a clear idea of ​​an ordered universe in which rta (fixed order, rule) prevails?

from the Hindu god Vishnu ten avatars (Manifestations) are known?

The Indian caste system: hierarchical social structures

What is the caste system based on?

The diversity and ranking of the castes, which can vary from region to region, is justified and justified by both religious and secular maxims. Basically is between the Sanskrit terms varna ("Color") and jati ("Birth"). The Varna system, which is said to be of divine origin, defines only the four great classes of Indian society: Brahmins (priests, advisers, scholars), Kshatriya (warriors, nobility, political leaders), Vaishya (originally the Indo-Aryan ranchers, then farmers, Traders, upscale craftsmen) and Shudra (the serving class, but which can also include craftsmen).

How many boxes are there?

There are many thousands of castes (and sub-castes) that have been adapted to the Varna scheme, although their origins are mostly later and are usually based on non-religious criteria. Belonging to a certain Jati corresponds to the occupation that a person exercises. In addition, the ethnic or regional origin determines the caste affiliation. For example, an occupational group that has emerged from a socially declassed tribe is lower in the hierarchy than the same occupational group that does not go back to a tribal milieu. Slight changes in the way of working or a specialization can lead to the formation of a new sub-caste and thus to an increase in the total number of castes.

How is a caste defined?

There are five criteria that define the boundaries of a caste and thus what its members have in common: the religiously justified degree of cultic impurity of the members, the commensality (with whom they may dine together), endogamy (marriage within the caste), hereditary professions and economic dependence. The caste forms an exclusive type of professional guild and only the members of a caste practice certain professions, working methods and skills in their region. Only they have a certain customer loyalty, the jajmani is called. This means that it is precisely defined which castes perform which services for other castes. In the traditional caste system, caste-specific rituals and social position in society were irrevocably established. Those who were once born into a caste remained in it for life, unless they became an outcast or casteless because of a serious offense (dalit).

What are casteless?

These are completely despised groups living on the fringes of Indian society, which mostly consist of tribal peoples. They essentially exist outside the caste system and pursue such professions as weaving, braiding and leatherworking or work as street sweepers or kitchen helpers. The Manu-Smrti, a religious law book of the 2nd or 3rd century AD, who was completely sworn to the Varna scheme, explained the origin of these layers with previous inadmissible intermingling of caste.

To what extent is it possible to move up to another caste?

An individual cannot change their ritual status on their own, but only in the collective association of a caste or sub-caste if this changes its position in the hierarchy. This could happen if she conformed to the customs of a higher caste, for example by adopting the prohibition on remarriage of widows, avoiding alcohol or switching to vegetarianism. Sometimes this could also be done through marriage relationships with a higher caste, but this was generally impossible, since one could actually only get married within one's own caste. Such restrictions could be relaxed through commercial success. In troubled times it happened that many men hired themselves as mercenaries and therefore gave up their traditional professions and castes.

Did you know that …

the caste system has lost its importance in practical life, but has a great influence on partner and career choices?

1956 over 400,000 Hindus under the leadership of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar left their caste by converting to Buddhism? Like Ambedkar himself, they mostly came from the lower caste of the Mahar.

the term caste was coined by Portuguese merchants in the 16th century? It goes back to the Portuguese word »casto« (origin, group).

The Sikhs: warriors of God with sword and turban

Who founded the Sikh religion?

The religious community was founded at the beginning of the 16th century by Nanak (1469–1539), a wealthy Hindu. Influenced by the poet and mystic Kabir (1440–1518), who had created a connection between Islam and Hinduism, Nanak began to independently process the religious teachings proclaimed by Brahmins, mullahs and Zoroastrian priests. Similar to Mohammed, Nanak, according to tradition, had a vision at the age of 50."God gave him a cup of nectar," reports the Japji, a kind of New Testament of the Sikhs, "and God commanded him to pronounce his name and to inspire other people to do it."

Is Sikhism closer to Islam or Hinduism?

Similar to the religious formula of Islam, the teaching of the Sikhs begins with the words: "There is only one god whose name is true: the Creator!" However, this god Nanak is more closely related to the Hindu Brahman than to Allah. Nanak's central idea was the unity of the god of the world, whose only name and spirit are truth and beings. Through this conception, Nanak approached the highest and most abstract philosophy of the Brahmins as well as the fiery spirit of the Prophet Mohammed.

But since Nanak was convinced of the correctness of the belief in the automatic effectiveness of human deeds (karma) as well as of the doctrine of salvation, his ideas remained more in the religious realm of Hinduism than that of Islam. However, Nanak turned against the popular embellishments of Hinduism. He forbade the worship of idols, the Hindu rites related to sorcery, and pilgrimages to holy places. Nanak considered the Hindu formulas and litanies to be meaningless.

What social ideas did Nanak represent?

Nanak was not only a founder of religion, but also a social reformer. He sharply attacked the impermeable Hindu caste system that presses every person into certain roles from birth. He did not grant the higher Hindu castes any privilege of birth or religious education. Nanak called widow burning a barbarism and he hated the walling up of unfaithful women.

How did the Sikhs become a major movement in India?

Accompanied by a string player, Nanak wandered through northwest India around 1500 and proclaimed the existence of the one god of the world. Legend has it that his travels took him to Ceylon, Kashmir and even Mecca. The generosity of Nanak in his concept of God became clear when he preached his teaching in mosques as well as in Shiva temples. Nanak did not create a hierarchical organization, but did appoint a successor, a guru (master), to lead the Sikh community.

Initially it was only the poorest farmers who professed the Sikhs' religion, but soon men and women from all walks of life followed. The religious community gradually developed into a serious political force. In 1604, Arjun Mal, the fifth guru, compiled the Adi Granth, the sacred book of the Sikhs. In addition to the statements of the Sikh gurus, it also contains selected texts of Hindu and Muslim origin. The extensive book with over 6000 verses is not in terms of content, but according to ragas, the beats of classical Indian music, as these hymns are also sung. Arjun Mal died a martyr's death two years later, as the Mughal rulers of northern India saw the spread of the Sikhs as a threat to their empire.

What changed after the death of Arjun Mal?

The character of Sikhism changed, the Sikhs began to arm themselves in order to avenge wrong done and to prevent something new. Especially the Mughal ruler Aurangseb was adamant about them. Teg Bahadur, the ninth guru, was captured and beheaded in Delhi in 1675. His successor, Govind Singh, transformed the religious community into a warlike fighting alliance and made himself the final guru.

In 1699 Govind Singh introduced the ritual of baptism. A Sikh was now baptized with sweetened water that had previously been stirred with a sword. The baptized swore to adhere to the code of conduct of the "five K": the regulation of the kesa forbids shaving and cutting hair on the head. The other four regulations require a comb under the turban (kangha) to stick a sword in the hair as a weapon (kripan) and a steel bracelet as protection (kara) to wear.

Furthermore, a Sikh must always wear underpants (kachh) be dressed to the knee. This symbolized the deviation from the traditional rules of dress. The baptized Sikhs thus belonged to the Khalsa ("pure"), the religious and military brotherhood that soon filled large parts of north-west India with an ineradicable hatred of Islam.

The Golden Temple in Amritsar

The Sikhs usually call their most important sanctuary Darbar Sahib. In the west it became known as the "Golden Temple". It was created under Guru Arjun Mal in the village of Ramdaspur (today's name Amritsar). The Guru had the temple built on a level lower than the surrounding land, so visitors had to come down to enter. This was in contrast to the Hindu custom of building a sanctuary on a high pedestal wall.

Did you know that …

the Sikhs have a central sanctuary? It is the Golden Temple in Amritsar in the Indian state of Punjab.

Guru Arjun Mal had the temple built on a level lower than the surrounding land? So the visitors had to come down to enter, which was contrary to the Hindu custom of building a sanctuary on a high pedestal wall.

radical Sikhs founded an independent state in the Golden Temple in 1984? As a result, the sanctuary was stormed by Indian soldiers.

Neohinduism: encounter between East and West

How did Hinduism get new impetus?

Research into ancient Indian religion and literature and the enthusiastic reception of this religious wealth in colonial Europe encouraged the educated upper classes of northern India to push ahead with their reform efforts with a new self-confidence. On the religious level, this development meant that the diverse tradition of Hinduism should be committed to a binding text canon. Similar to the European Reformation, the introduction of the printing press in India in the 18th century meant a far-reaching democratization and acceleration of the reform process, since religious writings and pamphlets could now be distributed in the regional languages ​​instead of just being written in elitist Sanskrit to be accessible to a few. At the same time, an orientation towards western ethical categories emerged, which emphasized charity and social responsibility as well as rational action.

What did the first reform movements look like?

In 1828 the Bengali Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) founded the reform movement of the Brahmo Samaj and in 1875 Dayananda Sarasvati (1824-1883) called the Arya Samaj into being. Both movements turned against the excesses of the caste system with reference to the Upanishads and the Vedic scriptures. The reform efforts of Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948), who led India's social and political liberation struggle with the ideals of the »Bhagavadgita« and the Sermon on the Mount, are also related to this. Resistance has formed since 1900 from the ranks of the existing religious elites who organized themselves in the Sanatana Dharma movements and who rejected an excessive break with traditional practices.

Who saw Hinduism as an open religion?

Already in the Arya Samaj, the universal religious opening of Hinduism was spread to all people regardless of caste and nationality. This concern emerged particularly clearly in the subsequent neo-Vedantic movements, which began with the ardent love of God of the Indian saint Ramakrishna (1834–1886). His disciple, Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902), combined the mysticism of Ramakrishna with Vedanta and tried to incorporate the teachings of other religions. His speech on the love and unity of all religions before the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 was very well received. The result of Vivekananda's efforts was not only the foundation of the Ramakrishna Mission, but also the numerous Vedanta societies in Europe and the USA.

Which gurus evangelized in the west?

In the USA, the Hare Krishna movement initiated by Swami A. C. Bhaktivedanta (1896–1977) has attracted public attention since 1966. This community practices loving devotion to the god Krishna by chanting mantras in the Bengali tradition of Bhakti-Yoga. In the 1970s, the Indian Rajneesh Chandra Mohan (1931–1990) - also known as Bhagwan or Osho - began to popularize emotional and morally liberating meditation and therapy practices in Poona, India. Just as in the Osho movement, which was still active after Mohan's death, the followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (born 1917), who built up his movement of Transcendental Meditation from 1958, are mainly recruiting from Western cultures. With presumably over three million followers, Sai Baba (born 1926) is arguably the world's greatest popularity among contemporary Hindu teachers. The controversial guru preaches the ecumenism of all world religions in his self-image as the embodiment of God.

Who connected eastern wisdom with western knowledge?

Aurobindo Ghose (1872–1950) and the Kashmiri pundit (scholar) Gopi Krishna (1903–1984) made a link between Hindu spirituality and scientific thinking. Aurobindo brought together western evolutionary teachings and eastern yoga to form what is known as integral yoga, which is supposed to encompass all areas of life, and founded the ashram (monastery) in Pondicherry, India. Meanwhile, Gopi Krishna advocated (natural) scientific research into mystical experiences and found the support of the philosopher and physicist Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (born 1912). Both Aurobindo and Gopi Krishna placed their hopes on a reciprocal complement of "Western science and Eastern wisdom" and thus aptly formulated the basic theme of Neohinduism.

Did you know that …

Neohinduism already spread to the West in the 19th century? In 1875 the Theosophical Society was founded in New York, which also exerted a great influence on esoteric movements.

the question of women was a central concern of Neohinduism? A law passed in 1872 introduced civil marriage and allowed widows to remarry.