The true definition of Hinduism is called "Sanatan Dharma" - the eternal way of conduct which covers every aspect of life.
Religion means duty towards yourself, your family, society, nation and the whole of humanity. Hindu religion has no one founder, no single scripture or creed. It encompasses many beliefs and practices.
Hindus believe in one God ("Brahman"), manifested in many forms as is said in the Upanishads "Eki Aham Bahu Syam" (I am One but I manifest Myself into many forms).
The Vedas also echo the same message that "God is one, Sages call Him by different names". Each manifestation - Shiva, Uma, Vishnu, Laxshmi, Brahma, Krishna, Radha, Durga, Hanuman, Ganesha is the projection of the Absolute Truth.
In whatever form one worships the Supreme power, in that form God shall be revealed to them. Truth is like a many sided gem.
Daily Prayer and Worship
There is no dogma, the individual is free to worship Almighty God in many different ways. Worship (Puja) for Hindus can take place in a Temple (Mandir) in front of the deities or at home.
The image/picture of deities (divine manifestations) are used as symbols of the divine to concentrate the mind of praying.
Prayers can be said individually, with the family or in a large gathering. Hindus are under no obligation to worship at the temple every day, but the serene atmosphere of a mandir helps to concentrate the mind to bring one closer to God.
The worship is done in the form of singing hymns from Vedas, Upanishads and Ramayana, chanting of mantras or singing devotional songs.
Meditation is an important part of worship. A devout Hindu may do Puja or say prayers in the morning after a shower, in the evening and before going to bed.
There are no set times for praying, everything is left to the individual. They can listen to the devotional songs on the audio cassette if they are unable to pray at that time.
Hindus have a library of Holy Books which are written in Sanskrit. The Vedas form the basis of Hindu Dharma which is also called "Vedic Dharma". The four Vedas which means knowledge are:-
- Rig Veda
- Yajur Veda
- Same Veda
- Atharva Veda
There are many other varied sacred texts but the Puranas, the Upanishads and the great moral epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata can be singled out.
The Bhagavad Gita or "Song of the Lord" is part of the Mahabharata. It is sometimes called the Bible of Hinduism because it teaches philosophy of the life and death and plan of action (Karamyoga).
Feasts and Festivals
Although services are held on weekday evenings, people in Britain usually gather for worship on Saturday and Sunday.
Maha-Shivrati: This is a solemn festival celebrated by Hindus in February. Some devotees spend the whole night singing praises to the lord Shiva. Special celebrations are held at most of the Mandirs with offerings of milk, fresh fruit and nuts offered by the devotees.
Holi - March: A colourful Spring Festival associated with Shri Krishna's childhood with his friends in the village. This is also associated with a legend concerning Prince Prahlad who overcame evil by his trust in God. In the evening people celebrate with a bonfire and roasted coconuts.
Rama-Navami: Celebrated in March/April, this is the birthday of Prince Rama, a Divine Incarnation of God and the hero of the epic "Ramayana". A cradle is decorated and the image of baby Rama is placed in it. The story of the birth of Shri Rama is read ceremoniously at home and in the Mandir. People share a feast.
Raksha Bandan: Love and purity, which form the basis of the relationship between brothers and sisters, are kept alive by this festival in August. The sister offers prayers to God and ties a Rakhi (a band of protection) on the wrist of her brother's right hand. Disciples also tie a Rakhi onto their Guru (Spiritual Master).
Janamashtami: A very popular festival among Hindus when they all get together to celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna in the month of August. The devotees fast for the whole day, singing devotional songs and bringing offerings to the Mandir. The celebration ends after midnight.
Navaratri/ Durga Puja / Dassehra / Vijayadasmi: A nine-night festival in September/October in which the Divine Mother, Amba Maata is worshipped. The Hindu Gujurati community celebrates the festival with singing, dancing and worship in a colourful way. Bengali Hindus celebrate Durga Puja by erecting a shrine to Shri Durga Maata (the Divine Mother) with beautiful images. In Northern India, people celebrate by performing a play from the Ramayana story. On the last and tenth day, they celebrate the victory of good over evil by setting fire to an effigy of the wicked king Ravana.
Deepawali (Diwali): The festival of lights is the most important festival which takes place in October or November. Small earthenware bowls filled with oil or candles are lit in the evening after the prayers at home or a visit to the Mandir. New clothes are worn, parties organised and fireworks are lit on Deepawali. Many Hindus send greeting cards and give presents/sweets to friends and relatives.
Dushera, Skandar Sasti and Ganesh Chaturthi are other Hindu festivals.
Diet and Hygiene
India is a vast country and all the regions have their own dietary requirements depending on the choice of crops that is available. People from South India living in the coastal regions have fish and rice as their staple diet, while people from North India consume more chappatis, lentils and fresh vegetables.
The reverence for life "Ahimsa" (mental, emotional and physical non-injury to all beings) is cherished as one of the highest principles. This makes many Hindus vegetarians, because they are reluctant to consume other creatures as food. Some strict Hindus do not eat eggs, cheese, onions or garlic.
Dairy produce is only acceptable as long as it is free of animal fat. Some Hindus will eat only cottage cheese - it is best to check with the individual.
It is very important to remember that strict vegetarian Hindus will not eat off a plate or with the same utensils with which meat has been served, so the staff should be able to provide plastic plates/cutlery when requested.
A small minority of Hindus who follow the Jain religion are very strict vegetarians and will not eat any root vegetables, garlic, onions, eggs or cheese.
Fasting (vrat) means voluntary restraint in consuming food or doing other "normal" activities. There are no set rules and fasting is taken on according to one's individual capacity and choice. This could include Mouna-vrat (not speaking) as well as abstaining from food/drink etc.
Any food saved should be given away to the needy. Some Hindus may have committed themselves to fast on a particular day of a week or month or on a certain holy day in the religious calendar as a sign of devotion to God.
On these days, some might refrain from cooked food but may take a drink. It is best to ask each individual about his or her requirements.
Toilet and Washing Facilities: Most Hindus are accustomed to having water in the same room as the toilet. If there is no tap or bidet or if a bedpan has to be used, then a container of water should be provided for washing.
Hindu patients prefer to wash in free flowing water i.e. shower or a bucket rather than sitting in a bath. They want to wash their hands before and after a meal and will also want to rinse their mouths after a meal.
As with all Asian patients, Hindu women prefer to be seen by female healthcare staff. Consideration should be given to their modesty when being dressed for x-ray or surgery (especially elderly patients). Long dressing gowns should be provided to meet the above requirement.
Hindu women will feel more comfortable in a ward which has women patients only and the same applies to Hindu men who feel less embarassed in all male wards.
It is a Hindu custom for the family, friends and other members of the community to visit a sick relative or acquaintance. It is the family way of life to be visited by a number of people when sick or in hospital.
It would be helpful if visitors were not limited to two per bed as this may cause offence to people who are concerned about the health of the patient.
Elderly patients need visitors for moral support and assurance and often like to see the whole family together. Visitors may also help with any communication problems caused by the language barrier which can cause frustration on both sides.
Hindus believe in rebirth, that the soul is reborn many times in different bodies. During pregnancy the mother is encouraged to read the Hindu scriptures and to do meditation as it is believed that the unborn child is aware of the surroundings and also to provide a suitable atmosphere for the new arrival.
The Priest is told the date and exact time of birth and this information is used to make a horoscope for the child. After birth the baby is ceremonially washed and a golden pen dipped in honey is used to write the word AUM on his or her tongue ("AUM" is the very essence of Hindu Dharma).
Later the Priest will suggest a suitable syllable for the name of the child. The naming ceremony will take place on the tenth day after a religious ceremony by the Priest followed by family/friends getting together and sharing a meal.
The mother and baby are taken to the Temple after a few weeks for thanksgiving.
A Hindu patient or relative may request the services of a Hindu Priest during the last stages of life. If a Hindu patient requests to lie on the floor during his/her dying moments then every possible step should be taken to grant their wish.
There are several reasons for the custom. The main reason is to ease the breathing (lying straight on the floor clears the airways) so that the soul can depart easily.
Hindus believe that the human body is made of five elements i.e. earth, water, fire, air and ether. A wish to lie on the floor symbolises the closeness to mother earth.
Hindu patients may wish to die at home which has religious significance.
A dying Hindu may receive some comfort from hymns and readings from holy books. Some may wish to have images or pictures, praying beads and blessings (e.g. flowers) on or near the bed.
A Hindu priest (pandit) may be called to perform holy rites - the priest may tie a thread around the neck or wrist of the dying person to bless him/her.
Blessed water from the River Ganga may also be sprinkled over the dying person or a sacred tulsi leaf placed in his/her mouth.
Relatives may bring money or clothes for the patient to touch before distribution to the needy.
The family should be consulted before handling the body. The body can be handled by non-Hindus ensuring that a female body is handled by female staff and a male body by male staff.
After death the eyes should be closed and limbs straightened, leaving jewellery, sacred threads and other religious objects in place and the body should always remain covered with a plain white sheet. In India and elsewhere the body is cremated within 24 hours.
The hospital should try to release the body as soon as possible so that the family can make arrangements for the cremation. Infants and young children may be buried. During the period of mourning, the family will not cook any food in the house until the cremation/burial takes place.
Post mortems are disliked, however prior permission may be obtained. Hindus may have no objection for organ donation. However, it is advisable to obtain prior permission.
There is a Hindu chaplain as well as Hindu visitors on the chaplaincy team who can be requested to visit Hindu patients. Contact through the duty chaplain on 01274 542200.