Day 8 Hinduism 101

Land of Faiths

Religious faith is weaved into the very fabric of life in India.

In India you often see markings on people's foreheads. These markings have slightly different meanings in each region and culture.

This mother and son both have special markings. The white marking is Vibhuti ash, indicating their family belongs to the Shaivite sect of Hinduism.

Notice the red mark on the mother? This vermillion mark might indicate she recently visited a temple or shows her marital status. She also has a black bindi that is a superstitious mark to ward off evil. The little boy also has a black marking Hindus believe protect him from evil.

India is as overflowing with spirituality and faiths as it is with people and color. It is the birthplace of Hinduism, which is practiced by nearly 830 million Indians.

India is also the world's most Muslim-populated country, with 138 million followers. Many tribal people practice animism, or nature worship. There are Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists, as well as followers of Zoroastrianism and Judaism.

When it became independent from the British in 1947, India became a secular nation. Secular means that there is no official religion.

Just like the United States, the Indian constitution promises each citizen the freedom to choose and practice their religion freely and openly.

In practice, however, Indian society and politics is dominated by the majority religion, Hinduism.

There are nearly 830 million Hindus in India, or 80.5% of the population. In contrast, just 24 million people are followers of Jesus - or 2.3% of the population.

In some regions of India, just 0.1% of people are Christians. One study showed that 87% of Hindus and Muslims in Asia don't know a single Christian!

Did you know that there are over 330 million gods and goddesses worshipped in India today? That's about 1 god for every 3 people in India!

Hindus believe each of these gods is a reincarnation of the three main Hindu gods:

  • Brahma - the creator
  • Vishnu - the preserver
  • Shiva - the destroyer

Some Hindu families worship just one or two of these gods, while other families worship dozens of different gods and goddesses.

Most Hindu homes have idols that represent their gods. They pray to these idols and perform puja, or worship, by offering sacrifices of food and flowers.

India also has many Hindu temples devoted to different gods and goddesses. Many Hindus will make a pilgrimage, or holy trip, to temples during special holidays or festivals.

Along with Hinduism, India is the birthplace of three other major world religions: Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism

Sikhism is followed by about 19 million Indians. Three out of four Sikhs live in the Indian state of Punjab, where the religion's founder, Guru Nanak, lived during the 15th century (AD). Sikh men wear turbans that cover their hair, which they never cut. Sikhs hope to achieve sainthood through their devotion to god and service to mankind. India's current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, is the first Sikh to hold this important position.

Buddhism has about 8 million followers in India. This religion is based on the 5th century (BC) teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, or Buddha ("The Enlightened One"). Buddhists hope to reach nirvana, or freedom from suffering and the cycle of reincarnation, through meditation and following moral practices.

Jainism is practiced by about 4 million people in India. This ancient religion could date back as far in history as the 8th century (BC). Jains seek spiritual development by increasing personal wisdom and self-control. Jainism does not have a creator god. Instead, Jains believe every living soul is divine. Like Hindus, Jains believe in karma and reincarnation.

Diwali, the Festival of Lights

From November 5 to 9, millions of Hindus across India and around the world will celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights.

Diwali is a very exciting and colorful Hindu holiday. Diwali is observed in almost all regions of India and has been celebrated for hundreds of years. Diwali is the Hindu New Year festival, and falls on a different date each year because the Hindu calendar is based on the lunar cycle.

Diwali means row of lights, and the main attraction is the candles and lamps, called diyas, that are lit in almost every home after puja (worship). Many Hindus also give thanks to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and pray for a good new year, which starts the day after Diwali.

Similar to Christmas, Diwali is a time when many families enjoy wearing new clothes and exchange gifts and sweets with friends and neighbors. This festival is celebrated over a period of five days with dancing, many lights, and fireworks.

Diwali also marks the end of the harvest season on many parts of India and is the last major celebration before winter.

Many kids in India eagerly look forward to Diwali

Explore some of these online resources to see how kids in India celebrate Diwali: