Get Religious Studies help

Discussions and homework support for your

Religious Studies Class

Hinduism Today

Typologies and Orientations – Dynamics of Hinduism

  • Brahmanic vs. Renunciant orientations (e.g. Early Vedic vs. Yoga/asceticism)
  • Margas: “Paths”
    • Karma marga: path of action (karma) exemplified by Vedic/Brahmanical ritualists
    • Jñana marga: path of knowledge exemplified by Upanishads and renunciant traditions of the Buddhists, Jains, and Shaivas)
    • Bhakti Marga: path of devotion exemplified by numerous devotional cults to various gods/goddesses
    • Folk vs. Classical orientations (Local vs. translocal or national traditions)
    • There has always been an important dialectic between folk and classical Hinduism both mutually influencing each other since the beginning of Indian history (i.e. Vedic)
    • Hinduism today can be best understood as a synthesis of folk, classical, devotional, renunciant and yogic religions

Branches of Modern Hinduism

  • Folk/tribal cults local and clan god/goddesses
  • Theistic centered around a specific god or goddess (usually equated with Brahman)
    • Vaishnavism Vishnu
      • Krishnaism
      • Rama
    • Shaivism Shiva
    • Shaktism The Great Goddess
  • Brahmanic schools: NeoVedanta and Advaita Vedanta
  • Various gurucentered traditions of all sorts


Folk/Popular Hinduism

  • Many people do not belong to any of the institutionalized or “classical” religions and may practice their own variant forms or some form of popular or “Folk Hinduism”
  • Much of Hinduism has roots in these folk/tribal practices (i.e. archaic religions) which may go back to the time of the Indus Valley and are characterized by:
    • Emphasis on local village or family deities and nature spirits –  especially goddesses
    • Deification of ancestors and the dead ancestors or great heroes of the past may be divinized and worshipped
    • Strong nature and animal symbolism
    • Shamanlike religious specialists oracles, mediums, healers, diviners, magicians
    • Oral traditions
    • Natural shrines
    • Animal sacrifice/offerings
    • Devotionalism

The Puranic/Epic Period [500BCE500CE]

  • The Puranas ”ancient stories”: a huge corpus of texts (creation stories, tales of kings, heroes, gods, sages, cosmology, philosophy etc.) written in the postVedic period
  • Arose with the rise of devotional (Bhakti) cults each Purana usually gave prominence to a particular deity and their associated philosophies/religious practices
    • With this literature more local and nonVedic gods/goddesses come to the fore while earlier Vedic deities fall to the background
    • However, late Vedic terminology remained in this case each deity was proclaimed to be the Supreme God and usually equated with, Brahman though with form.


Brahma: The Creator

  • Certain Puranas and late Upanisadsmake mention of the Trimurti (literally “the three forms” i.e. the Trinity or the three aspects of the Supreme God, Brahman)
    • Brahma: The Creator
    • Vishnu: The Preserver
    • Shiva: The Destroyer
  • Brahma, however, never became a popular or devotional deity, and only a few Brahma temples still exist today 
  • Prototype was the creator god Prajapati in the Vedas thus he was a Vedic or Brahmanical oriented god 
  • Father of Manu, the first human (like Adam) from whom all human beings are said to be descended
  • Husband of Sarasvati, Goddess of Wisdom, Arts & Music


Vishnu:  The Preserver

  • He who supports, preserves, sustains, and governs the cosmic and social order
    • More of an orthodox Brahmanical/Vedic and royal god depicted in royal garb and holds a lotus flower a mace, a conch, and a discus weapon called a chakra in his four arms
    • Consort is Goddess Lakshmi, goddess of Wealth, Love, and Prosperity
  • It is said that whenever dharma(righteousness) languishes and adharma (nonrighteousness) thrives, Vishnu incarnates in various forms (avatars) in order to save the world
    • There are 10 avatars, including the most popular Rama and Krishna
    • Even The Buddha was said to be an avatar of Vishnu, in an effort to subsume Buddhism under Vaishnavism


The Epics

  • The two most famous epics of South Asia, was the Ramayana “The Journey of King Rama” (400 BCE400 CE) and the Mahabharata “The Great Bharata Dynasty” (400 BCE200 CE)
    • Based originally on popular oral stories and poems which spread allover South Asia and Southeast Asia
    • Although these stories may have originally been about King Rama (Ramayana) and the God Krishna (Mhb), at some point these were coopted as avatars of Vishnu as part of the Brahmanical synthesis thus this helped to popularize Vaishnavism
      • However hundreds of other gods/goddesses and other supernatural beings are also described, making this document an important window into the religious world of this period


The Ramayana

  • The Ramayana tells the epic story of Rama whose wife Sita is abducted by Ravana, the 10headed demon king of Lanka
  • More Vedic/Brahmanical in orientation 
    • Some major themes: the importance of kingship, the dialectic between city and forest (dharma vs. renunciation), and the sacred duty of husband and wife
  • Rama was not only seen as a perfect king and ideal man, but later also as a major deity in his own right, as an avatar of Vishnu
  • Hanuman: Rama’s monkey general, who was eventually divinized
    • Patronhero of warriors and wrestlers and seen seen as a model of virility.
    • Idealized also as the perfect selfless devotee (bhakta) of Ram and Sita

The Mahabharata: “The Great Tale of the Bharata Dynasty”

  • Origins of the epic probably fall between the 8th and 9th centuries BCE, though the oldest dateable parts are around 400 BCE and the text reached its final form by the 400 CE.
  • Is the longest poem ever written, consisting of over 200,000 lines – roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined
  • Narrative revolves around the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the related Kaurava and the Pandava princes


Krishna: The Supreme Lord of the MBH

  • One of the primary religions of the Mahabharata was  Krishnaism, the religion of Lord Krishna (literally “the Dark or Black Lord”)
  • Although usually considered an avatar of Vishnu, in the Bhagavad Gita he is elevated to being the Supreme Absolute God (Brahman)
  • Currently the “Hare Krishnas” are one of the largest and most wellknown manifestations of this tradition their organization ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) has over 550 centers across the world.


The Bhagavad Gita: The Song of God

  • Considered the “crown jewel” of the Mahabharata and is the most wellknown Hindu scripture around the world
  • The Gita is set in a narrative framework of a dialogue between Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide/charioteer Lord Krishna.
    • Facing the duty to kill his relatives who are on the opposite side of the battlefield, Arjuna is exhorted by Krishna to not hesitate, fulfill his Kshatriya (warrior) duty and fight in the war


Karma Yoga – The Yoga of Action

  • Ultimately Krishna tells Arjuna that he must fulfill his duty and expounds a synthesis of karma, jñana, and bhakti yoga (desireless action, knowledge, and devotion) as a prescription for Arjuna’s despondence and suggested way to moksha (liberation)
  • In contrast to the nonaction of renunciants, Krishna expounded a doctrine emphasizing desireless action
  • In contrast to ritual sacrifice of the Vedas, the Gita offers a concept of sacrifice embracing all actions done in fulfillment of one’s own dharma (duty), without attachment to the results of their action
    • Sacrifice here means all actions are performed and offered to Lord Krishna, without ego and without attachment to their fruit
    • Thus he urges Arjuna to fight and fulfill his human duties as a warrior, but to fight without regards to the results


Chapter 11 of the BHG – “The Cosmic Vision”

  • Jñana: Confers to Arjuna divine sight which allows him to see and known Krishna’s true, cosmic form (as Brahman)
    • In terms of knowledge he explains the philosophy of atman and brahman stating his relatives can’t die, because ultimately, they were never born. Additionally, as Brahman, it is ultimately Krishna who is doing the killing, not Arjuna believing otherwise is due to ignorance.
  • Bhakti: “Neither knowledge of the Vedas, nor austerity, nor charity, nor sacrifice can bring the vision you have seen. But through unfailing devotion, Arjuna, you can know me, see me, and attain union with me.” (10.53.54)


Bhakti As a Path

  • The Bhagavad Gita is the first text to explicitly use the word “bhakti” (devotionalism) to designate a religious path
    • The characteristic feature of bhakti is the expression of an intense and passionate relationship and love for the divine
  • Represented a challenge to Brahmin orthodoxy and priestly dominance of the religious sphere as well as the intellectualism of the ascetic/renunciant traditions They did not see the need for intermediaries between themselves and the divine.
    • They did not believe in meditation (some forms), elaborate rituals, or asceticism.
    • Held that God should be experienced directly, not through knowledge from reading books, obtuse intellectualism or harsh asceticism only complete devotion was needed
    • Bhakti ideology became adopted by all religions in South Asia: Jainism, Buddhism, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, and even Islam


Shiva/Rudra – The Destroyer

  • Third deity in Trimurti “The Destroyer”
  • A few hymns in the Vedas were dedicated to the fierce deity Rudra, the prototype of Shiva 
  • Known as the Lord of ghosts and cremation grounds
  • Always carries a Trident and Dumaru (two headed drum)
  • Said to have the crescent Moon as his crest and the River Goddess Ganges flows from his matted (dreadlocked) hair
  • Wears a garland of snakes
  • 3rd eye represents divine sight
  • Mahayogin he is “The Great Yogi” which all yogis and renunciants model themselves after

Shiva’s Family – Ganesha/Skanda

  • Ganesha Elephant headed son
    • Lord of obstacles both the cause and remover (always first to be worshipped in rituals)
    • Patron of arts and sciences and god of intellect and wisdom
  • Skanda 6headed son
    • God of war
    • Rides a peacock
    • Often worshipped to fight off diseases, mental illness, or possession by demonic beings



  • Compared to Vaishnavism, Shaivism is much less Vedicoriented, deriving its authority from its own set of scriptures (Agamas or Tantras)
    • Ascetic alongside more ecstatic/folk forms (possession etc.) of religion predominate
    • Strong transgessive elements in some Shaiva schools reflecting the traditions nonVedic roots and renunciant/shramanic following
      • Led to certain branches have been condemned by Brahmanical orthodoxy
  • Classifications
    • Righthanded path: more Brahmanical/Vedic oriented
    • Lefthanded path: actively subversive and transgressive against Brahmanism


The Tantras

  • Tantras (5001100 CE): ritual and philosophical texts that expounded various esoteric practices and rites
    • Extra Vedic: present themselves to be either outside, independent, or superior to the Vedas or, in some cases, to be the secret teachings of the Vedas
  • Tantric method presented as the quickest and most efficacious method to enlightenment 
    • Promised to bring liberation of the individual in one lifetime however it is also the most dangerous of paths likened to “walking on a razorblade”
    • Was a radical means to induce powerful consciousness transforming experiences, while preserving some of the technical aura of older Vedic rites
  • Eventually adopted by all religious traditions in India i.e. Vaishnava, Shaiva, Jain, Buddhism and even Islam


The Tantric Movement

  • Characterized by:
    •  Powerful/ecstatic initiations
    • “Shock therapy” techniques and use of transgressive substances (blood, alcohol, intoxicants, urine, even feces)
    • The negation of conventional morals and manners
    • Magiclike rituals and practices (e.g. deity possession)
    • Sexual imagery and ritual in more radical/extreme groups
  • Many tantric schools are nondualistic in orientation ultimately all dualities are illusory
    • No such thing as pollution or purity or caste these are human constructs which should be destroyed and transcended
    • The universe = God i.e. everything is sacred and potentially a tool towards enlightenment even the body and usually afflictive emotions like desire
    • In contrast to earlier renunciants, they saw the world and body as real and divine, not an impediment and not illusory (maya)


Tantra: The Subtle Body

  • Primacy is placed on the body as an instrument to liberation
    • As the microcosm of the macrocosm, the same energies of the cosmos reside in the body.
  • Posited a complex subtle body: system of chakras (7 subtle energy centers) and nadis (3 subtle channels or arteries which vital energy flows in the form of breath)
  • Kundalinishakti: “feminine serpent energy” described as a coiled serpent which resides at the base of the spine.
    • Shakti: the divine and activating feminine energy of the cosmos similar to ashé in Yoruba and chi in Daoism
    • Through yogic/tantric practice one raises or “awakens” this energy to the crown of the head leading to liberation (reuniting Shakti with Shiva)

Tantra and the Rise of The Goddess – Shaktism

  • There are innumerable goddess worshipped in folk cults all over the sub-continent for thousands of years. However, with the rise of Tantra we began to see a rise in status of the Goddess on a more mainstream level
  • Like Shiva, the Goddess as Shakti becomes equated with Brahman, Ultimate Reality, and thus encompasses both creative and destructive qualities
    • The creator and source of all life; the wife/mother who loves unconditionally (e.g. Sarasvati, Parvati, Lakshmi, Radha)
    • An independent, destructive, terrible force who demands offerings of blood, meat and alcohol (e.g. Durga, Kali)
  • In Tantra, all women are seen as vessels of Shakti (the divine and activating feminine energy of the cosmos) and ultimately divine
    • Shakti is similar to ashé in Yoruba and chi in Daoism



  • Durga: mother/warrior goddess and destroyer of demons, more aggressive aspect of the goddess
    • Goddess of war, created by the energy of all the Gods who also gave her their weapons in order to slay the buffalodemon
  • Kali: Most fierce aspect of Shakti who arose out of Durga’s wrath
    • The “Black Goddess” of “time” & “death” (kala)
    • Wears a garland of human skulls and skirt of limbs and carries a machete/sword
    • Special object of worship among Shakta and Tantric cults throughout India


Advaita Vedanta

  • While all this was going on the tradition of the Vedanta, rooted in the Upanishads, continued on and evolved into Advaita Vedanta, a “radical monist” and nondualist school of Vedanta, which to this day is considered the most prestigious philosophy of Hinduism.
    • Everything is Brahman and we are already ultimately liberated it is only due to our ignorance that we don’t realize this
  • Most famous proponent was Adi Shankara (8th century) and it was in many ways a resurgence of Vedic philosophy in reaction to the more popular cults of Vishnu, Shiva, and the Buddhists.
    • Was heavily influenced by Shaivism/Tantrism, Buddhism, as well as the Bhagavad Gita and is essentially a Vedic synthesis of these competing philosophies.
    • Established great monasteries all over the subcontinent and unified many of the disparate Hindu philosophies and traditions
    • He was famous for battling Buddhist teachers and converting them and their disciples when they lost


Hinduism Today

  • Spread well beyond India’s borders as well, into Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma, and throughout SE Asia such as Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
    • With the diaspora it has now spread to almost all countries in the world
  • Visible features:
    • Thousands of temples, local and home shrines, and holy pilgrimage sites
    • Hundreds of holidays and colorful festivals (local and national) held throughout India


Temples and Shrines

  • Throughout India there are countless temples and shrines to a variety of transnational or local deities some complexes reaching a quarter of a mile, while others may be just small objects under a tree
  • Everyday devotees go to perform puja (worship), ask for blessings, and experience the vision (darshan) of the deity
  • It is quite possible to be “religious” in the Hindu world without visiting a temple at all. It is very common for families to have puja (worship) rooms in their homes.


Holy Varanasi

  • One of the oldest pilgrimage centers in the world and considered the holiest city in India.
  • The sacrality of Varanasi is based on several factors
    • The sacred Ganges river (also considered a Goddess) which comes from the Himalayas Mountains, the abode of the gods
    • Believed that by bathing in the holy water, one can be purified from past sins it is sanctified thanks to the gods but also the innumerable saints who have come here since time immemorial
    • Finally, Varanası is a place propitious for dying and performing death rituals. To die and be cremated here is to go straight to heaven or liberation.


Gurus and Their Movements

  • “Gurus” and guruoriented religions and “cults” are still abundant in the Indian landscape
    • The gurudisciple relationship goes back at least to the days of the Upanishads and is still a mainstay in contemporary India as well as in the Indian diaspora.
    • Some of the more recent and famous contemporary and international movements associated with these gurus are Satya Sai Baba, the Hare Krishnas, Amma, and the infamous Osho
  • Ashrams centers where disciples go for spiritual practice in the presence of their teacher



Accounting Homework

Stuck with a homework question?  Find quick answer to Accounting homeworks

Ask Accounting Tutors

Need help understanding a concept? Ask our Accounting tutors

Accounting Exams

Get access to our databanks of Discussion questions and Exam questions

How We Safeguard Your Tutor Quality

All tutors are required to have relevant training and expertise in their specific fields before they are hired.  Only qualified and experienced tutors can join our team 

All tutors must pass our lengthy tests and complete intensive interview and selection process before they are accepted in our team


Prior to assisting our clients, tutors must complete comprehensive trainings and seminars to ensure they can adequately perform their functions

Interested in becoming a tutor with Online Class Ready?

Share your knowledge and make money doing it

1. Be your own boss

2. Work from home

3. Set your own schedule