India is vibrant. From the instant a foreigner arrives, their senses are overwhelmed with all of its colorful sights, deafening sounds, potent smells and exotic tastes. India is a land very different from what we know in the Western world. One of the most distinct aspects of India is its major religion, Hinduism.
To most outsiders, Hinduism is an unknown and mysterious religion. It is one of the largest and most misunderstood religions in the world. Hinduism is distinctly Indian. Originating around 3000 BC, its beginning is directly tied to India’s first people group in the Indus River Valley. While other religions base their beliefs on central figures, such as Mohammed for Islam and Jesus for Christianity, Hinduism has no singular leader responsible for its inception. Instead, Hindu belief is founded solely on its holy writings—the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. These texts have preserved Hindus’ history and belief system for thousands of years.
One of the most recognizable characteristics of India is its millions of temples that line the streets of the most urbanized cities and remote rural villages. These temples are home to hundreds of deities. Hindu gods are diverse. For instance, Shiva, the Destroyer, is believed to be responsible for the chaotic elements in the world, while Vishnu, the Preserver of life, has a creative role in the world. According to Hindu thought, the gods work together to bring balance and harmony to the universe.
While Hinduism appears complicated to outsiders, most Hindus value living a good life of devotion. Families are very close and value relationships with one another. In many ways, Hindu values are not very different from Christianity. Though India’s culture is different from our own, by looking beyond the surface we see that the people of India have a similar love for the beautiful things of life and desire to lives of devotion.
While in India last summer, we had the chance to get to know a small community of Hindus who live in a slum behind a Shiva worship center. We quickly became friends with a woman named Pushpa and her family. Pushpa works as a day laborer at a nearby high-rise construction site. Making less than $2 a day, she does everything she can to provide for her two young daughters. Though she has very little, Pushpa always offers hospitality when we visit her. Even though her life as a Hindu is drastically different than ours, we bonded over shared experiences. Language was our biggest obstacle in developing a relationship with her - not the difference in our religious beliefs. Women like Pushpa teach us that all humanity desires to provide for their families and live good lives.
Written by: Maria Pratt