Mahabharatha and Ramayana are the two epics in Hindu religion. Essentially Mahabharatha is the story of the incidents which lead to Kurukshetra war between Pandavas and Kauravas and its aftermaths. The epic reflects the game of politics, human beliefs and wisdom which nourishes human life. It is divided into eighteen Parvas and ends with the death of Lord Krishna. The end of Mahabharatha is also the beginning of Kaliyuga where values and virtues collapse and manhood move towards destruction.
The story of Mahabharatha not only travels through the lives of Pandavas and Kauravas but it is also insightful and has many layers of meanings which never loses its relevance. This text of long narratives on lives of Pandavas and Kauravas and the Kurukshetra war has devotional and philosophical aspects engrafted in it. Through this epic, Veda Vyasa explains the four goals of life vis Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. These are Purusharthas meaning the purpose of man in his life. These are four things that man seeks for in his life. It has not been able to find out when and where Mahabharatha was was created but the epic is unmatched and reflects the depth and magnificence of Indian culture.
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Hinduism is one of the oldest and respected religions of the world. It has evolved in many ways and consists of thousands of religious groups and is third largest religion in the world. People who seek solace and peace of mind have found their place in Hinduism. This is exactly the case of popular Hollywood actress Julia Roberts. She says it is not a trick for publicity but a natural way of finding her self. She believes in the uniqueness of individuals as well as religions. Each religion has its positive values and she believes Hinduism has given her the spiritual answers she was searching for. She believes religious faith is a very personal affair.
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Hindu religion has varied school of thoughts, faith and form of worships. Despite this diversity in philosophy, Hinduism projects the eternal laws of nature which has to be passed over to generations and holds true for all at any time and place. Dharma is this eternal law of nature which binds all the forces of universe together. Dharma is essential to reach God. You need to observe patience, forgiveness, self control, honesty, sanctity, control of senses, knowledge or learning, truthfulness and absence of anger to lead a good life. You will need to practice non-violence, truth and control your mind and senses to attain the perfect mode of Dharma. Hindu pilgrimage is also a way of keeping the faith alive and uniting people.
Karma literally means and an act or deed according to Hindu scriptures. The basic principle of karma is action and reaction or cause and effect of your practices in the world. It is believed that whatever we do, good or bad, will be followed by the effects it caused and will return to ourselves. Hinduism also advocates reincarnation until you attain moksha. According to Hindu philosophy karma is accumulated in four different ways in one’s life. These are by thoughts, actions, words and instructions given by us to perform some action. Some actions will have its reactions immediately and some will be carried on next birth.
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The New York Travel magazine has listed pilgrimage to Rameshwaram in South India as one of important things to do in by any rich man in his lifetime. Other travelling destinations in the world, as listed by the magazine included France, Rio De Genero and Beunos Aires. Rameshwaram stood out for its sanctity, in addition, to cold weather which was one of the criteria in selection. This clearly indicates the popularity of Rameshwaram as pious land within the masses. Rameshwaram, situated in Tami Nadu is famous for its temples and the important deity here is in the form of Linga called by the name of Sri Ramanatha Swamy. This temple has the biggest corridor in India and is known to have twelve wells and water in each well tastes different.
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India is home to some of the most famous Hindu pilgrimage destinations as well as festivals and gatherings. It is through these gatherings that people show their faith in God. Kumbh mela is one such gathering where the old, the young, the frail and the poor unite for peace, faith and harmony.
According to legend, Devas and Asuras decided to acquire ‘Amrit’ which is the nectar of immortality. They started churning the mountain and amrit appeared in a pot which was taken by Asuras. For twelve long days and night they fought together for this nectar, which is equivalent to 12 years on Earth. It is believed that drops of Amrit were spilled over some places on Earth. So Kumbh mela in conducted on these places, when Jupiter and sun enter in different zodiacal positions. The important places where Kumbh melas have been observed are Prayag in Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh and Nasik in Maharashtra.
The regular Kumbh mela is organized every four years. The Ardh kumbh mela is observed in six years, the Poorna Kumbh mela in twelve years and Maha Kumbh mela in 144 years. Maha Kumbh mela is celebrated after every twelve poorna Kumbh melas.
All devotees present at venue will immerse themselves in the river Ganges, who is supposed to wash off all sins from one’s soul. Devotes involve in religious disclosures, perform aartis, chant of mantras and sing songs of worship in this holy gathering.
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Believers of Hinduism and its ideology consider Amarnath as one of the holy places to visit before they leave the physical body and leave the world. The caves of Amarnath, situated in Jammu and Kashmir in India are believed to be more than 5000 years old. These caves are considered as sacred Hindu shrines and most important for place for Hindu pilgrimage. People believe pilgrimage to Amarnath will help them to wash away their sins and bad habits in this present life.
According to history of Hinduism, Amarnath caves are the abode of Lord Shiva. It is believed that, it was in this place where Lord Shiva disclosed the secret of life and eternity to Goddess Parvati, his consort. These caves are known for their pious and calm environment which ultimately resonates in your mind. It’s because of these energizing vibrations you feel fresh and rejuvenated at the end of your journey. It has been observed for several centuries that a Linga which represents Lord Shiva appears every year and continue in this shape from May to August. Pilgrims from different parts of the world come to offer their prayers to this Shiva Linga and request for forgiveness. Groups of devotees visit this holy place every year from July to August, which is celebrated as Shravani Mela, by travelling four to five days.
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Karthiga Deepam is the festival of lamps and an extension of Deepawali (Diwali) in South India. Mainly celebrated in Tamil Nadu, this festival lasts for nine days long. Special poojas are performed and offering are made by people to Lord Shiva. This is one of the oldest festivals celebrated in the South and is believed to have existed even before Navrathri. Legend has it that Brahma and Vishnu desired to see Shiva’s full stature and went in search of Him. They found Him as the light in Thiruvannamalai hill and this is how the festival also came to be known as Annamalai festival. People light lamps in their homes and welcome the God with pious thoughts. They believe that lighting the lamp will bring prosperity and scare away the evil forces from entering their homes.
Some people chant Ganesh chalisa and some people perform Lakshmi aarti during different festivals and based on their beliefs.
Hindu Philosophy or Hindu school of thought is divided into six different parts each of them consist of various concepts. These concepts base themselves on the Vedas and accept Vedas as the Supreme authority. These basic Hindu principles are
· Samkhya – refers to philosophical analysis
· Nyaya – logic and methodology
· Vaisheshika – refers to atomic and void stages of the universe
· Mimamsa – concerns the orthodox part of Vedas
· Yoga – related to mind and body
· Vedanta – refers to the end part of Vedas
There are three more school of thoughts as part of Hinduism but they disagree in accepting Vedas as the ultimate authority. They are Buddhism, Jainism and Caarvaka. These schools of thoughts were predominant in Gupta period which was considered as the golden period of Hinduism.
The word Hindu is mistakenly believed to be religious and does not mean only people believing in Hinduism or born as Hindus. But based on historical evidences, the word is secular and only refers to the people in general. The word is derived from the ‘Sindhu’ which is the name of a major river of Indian subcontinent. Greek referred to the people residing beyond the river as Hindu. Later on when the Muslims came to India they used to call as Hindustanis referring to the native residents. This could help them in differentiating between the Muslims and the local people. The word is not originated in India and does not belong to Sanskrit or any Indian language. The name India is derived from the word Hindu. Upanishads and Ramayana are considered to be ancient Hindu scriptures among many other texts which tell the story of ancient culture even before the period of Indus Valley Civilization. These epics and holy texts are very important in Hinduism. The other of India which is Bharath is mentioned in the holy texts as the kingdom of Bharatha.
Swastika is a sacred Hindu symbol and has history dating back to the Indus Valley civilization. The Sanskrit name Swastika means any lucky object and it is believed that the sign would bring luck to the person or the place where it is marked. Swastika is an equilateral cross shaped symbol with its arms bent at 90 degree angles. These can be found turned to both right and left sides. Swastika represents forms of Brahma and processes before evolution according to Hinduism. This is also one of the symbols associated to one of the Hindu gods Vishnu, representing Sun’s rays on which life is depended. Historical evidences show symbol of Swastika was used in Mauryan Empire where Buddhist monks initiated the usage. After the decline of Buddhism in India it was only during Gupta period that Hindus started marking Swastika symbol again.