West Midlands Faiths Forum

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Hinduism

hinduHindu traditions comprise a very wide variety of religious beliefs and practices associated with the people of India and their descendents. Even more so than other ‘faiths’, it is difficult to speak of ‘Hinduism’ for there is no one founder or hierarchy, creed or code. Nevertheless, the major principles can be readily summarised: samsara, the endless cycle of birth and rebirth intrinsic to the universe; dharma, ‘duty, law, order, morality’ which, in theory at least, varies according to a Hindu’s occupational caste and stage of life; karma, a soul reaps in this life what it has sown in a previous birth; and finally moksha, ‘liberation’ or ‘salvation’ depending on which Hindu teachings are followed, the soul’s release from rebirth as it becomes at one with the Divine. The idea of rebirth and the presence of the divine in everything means that life is sacred, and most Hindus are vegetarian. The diverse texts known as the Vedas are the ancient scriptures of the Hindus. These include the petitionary hymns and ritual manuals associated with sacrifices intended to propitiate various deities and they continue to be an important part of Hindu practice today. It is only later, in more philosophical treatises such as the Upanishads, that the Divine (Brahman) becomes a single impersonal principle, seen as the underlying ground of all being. However, the dominant mode of Hindu practice was to become worship of one of several important deities with different qualities and attributes, such as Vishnu, Shiva or the Goddess. Indeed, it was this devotionalism (bhakti) which saw the emergence of the Hindu temple or mandir, although domestic worship is also very important for Hindus, who often have a shrine at home. Hindus also celebrate many festivals and may undertake pilgrimage to religious sites in India.In the UK most Hindus are of Gujarati or Punjabi heritage though many are ‘twice migrants’ who arrived in the 1960s and 1970s from East Africa. At the local level, Hindu communal organisation has routinely been along the lines of caste, regional or linguistic groups, as well as religious movements, the latter often associated with particular gurus, e.g. the Swaminarayans. There are also organisations which accept Western converts including the Krishna Consciousness movement (ISKCON), the Brahma Kumaris and the Sai Baba Centres, all of which are represented in the West Midlands urban region. There too are numerous Hindu temples, some of them purpose built, including the largest in Europe, Tividale’s Balaji Temple.The religious symbol is the omkar written in Indian script, the primordial sound of creation.More information on the BBC website www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/