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The well recognized icon of Lord Sri Krishna imparting the eternal verities of the Dharma to his disciple Arjuna at the inception of the The Great Bharata Battle dating approximately to the  4th millennium BCE




              in comparison to the poverty stricken conditions prevalent during much of the 20th century ?


  • What is the situation regarding the Caste system in Hindu society ? Was such a system endorsed by the ancient Vedics in any of the scriptures. Did the  Hindu scriptures endorse Untouchability  ?

  • What are the central core tenets of the Sanatana   Dharma ? If you had to pick the  most important  5 among them which ones would you pick


Look to this day!
For it is Life, the very Breath of Life.
In its brief course lie all the varieties
And realities of your existence :
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of beauty.
For yesterday is already a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today well-lived, makes every
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day!
Such is the salutation of the dawn.
- Sanskrit Verse

attributed to Kalidasa in Ushavandanam


(thanks to Sheshadri for pointing this out to me



The Sacred Texts

The corpus of Scriptures

The ethics and responsibilities

The Goals of life

The Underlying Philosophies

Puranas and Itihaasa
Yogashastra and Brahmavidya

Aham Brahmasmi

Tat Twam Asi

Prajnanam Brahman

Ayam Atma Brahman








  1. What is the meaning of the Om symbol ?

       OM is the single most ubiquitous symbol in all of Hinduism


The symbol Om, Ohm or Aum is believed to be the primordial sound that emanated during the creation of the Universe

  • It is made up of three separate sounds, and saying these together makes Om the ultimate mantra.

  • Saying the three sounds together in the right way helps to awaken the inner self, the atman, which is a spark from the divine Brahman. When said in this way, Om is called Pranava, the sacred sound (sacred humming).

  • It is the representation of Brahman, who is unreachable and unknowable. By using the symbol (or saying the word), Hindus can approach Brahman in both the mystical and earth-bound planes.

  • The symbol has enormous significance in Hindu life, appearing everywhere – on temples, on amulets worn by almost everyone and even painted onto the tongue of newborns using honey, to welcome them into life.

         The Mandukya Upanishad has an excellent discussion on the significance of the Om sound. See the section on the Upanishads for a overview of the main Upanishads.


  1. What are the main scriptures (Shastra) of the Hindu ?

To those who are relatively unfamiliar with the Hindu Dharma, the vast panoply and canon of Hindu shastras is both bewildering and overwhelming. Just as there is order in the cosmos, an order that needs effort and diligence to discover and comprehend, so also it is the case with the discovery of the ontology and structure of the Dharma, an effort which I might add is more than rewarding. Shastra is a Sanskrit word used to denote education/knowledge in a general sense. The word is generally used as a suffix in the context of technical or specialized knowledge in a defined area of practice. For example, Astra shastra means, knowledge about "Handling of weapons", Astra means weapons, and Shastra is their knowledge

The scripture of the Hindu is broadly divided into Shruti   (Sanskrit ?????? , that which is heard) and Smriti  (??????????,that which is remembered)

Shruti , the main body of the Hindu canonical scripture, comprises the following

The Veda or Vedas  -  the Rig-Veda, the Sama-Veda, the Atharva-Veda, the Yajur-Veda. The four Vedas comprise the Samhitas - texts of prayers and hymns, charms, invocations and sacrificial formulae. The Rig Veda is the Book of Devotional Verse, the Yajur Veda is the Book of Sacrificial Formulae, the Sama Veda is the Book of Chants, and the Atharva Veda is the book of Mystico-therapeutic Priest craft. Their composition precedes their arrangement into the four Samhitas by a long period of oral transmission.

The word Veda is derived from the root word Vid or Knowledge and is cognate with the English words wisdom, wit

Then there are the 3 Vedic appendices

The Aranyakas

The Brahmanas

The Upanishads

The Bhagavad Gita (the Song Celestial) is actually a part of  the Mahabharata epic (The Great Bharata epic) but by  universal consent and acclaim has attained the status of Shruti over time because of the eternal verities that it espouses. The scene develops as a dialogue between Sri Krishna (the 7th Avatar of lord Vishnu) and Arjuna ,the Pandava prince and is set in the backdrop of the Mahabharata  War (The Great Bharata War) which takes place in the battlefield of Kurukshetra not too far from the environs of present day Delhi. The iconic significance of this historic dialogue between the Lord (the manifestation of Brahman) and his disciple (a metaphor for all of humanity) to the Indic throughout the ages till the present day is so immense and so timeless and relevant in its message, that hyperbole would not suffice to describe the same. It remains indeed a stirring call to the observance of Dharma in one's own life. The date for the Mahabharata war remains unsettled to this day but compelling arguments can be made for dating it to the end of Kaliyuga circa  3100 BCE. We will describe some of the methodologies and the results  of these attempts later in the FAQ

Smriti comprises the rest of the scriptures

There are eighteen main Smritis, each one named after its principal author;

Manu Smriti
Yajnavalkya Smriti
Parasara Smriti
Vishnu Smriti
Daksha Smriti
Samvarta Smriti
Vyasa Smriti
Harita Smriti
Satatapa Smriti
Vasishtha Smriti
Yama Smriti
Apastamba Smriti
Gautama Smriti
Devala Smriti
Sankha-Likhita Smriti
Usana Smriti
Atri Smriti
Saunaka Smriti

and can be broadly categorized into
Dharma Shastra (the laws)
Mahakavya (the Epics; they include
Mahabharata and the Ramayana
Purana (the fables or writings)
Sutra (proverbs or aphorisms)
Agama (the philosophies;
including Mantra, Tantra, and Yantra)

Dyasana or Darshana
(the philosophies; including the Vedanta)
They can also be classified
according to the following taxonomy
The Upa-Vedas
ArthaVeda (the sciences of Economics,
Commerce, Geopolitics and Sociology)
Dhanurveda (the science of War)
GandharvaVeda (the science of Music)
AyurVeda (the science of Medicine)


















The Vedangas provide the infrastructure
and disciplines needed to study the Veda

Vyakarana ( the Grammar of Language and
Sanskrit in particular was first codified by Panini
in his  Epoch making work , the Ashtadhyayi.
We will have more to say about this extraordinary
individual later under the topics of Mathematics,
and his possible discovery of Zero and the
study of Linguistics. Panini was undoubtedly
one of the earliest grammarians in the
history of the world)

Jyotishi (Astronomy and Astrology)
Nirukta (Etymology and Linguistics)
Shiksha (Phonetics)
Chandas (Metre, chanting of poetry)
KalpaSutra (Ritual procedures)










The Darshanas

The Agamas

In Sanskrit 'agama' means acquisition of knowledge. In terms of religious significance, the Agamas are as important as the Vedas. They are also not derived from the Vedas. The Agamas are  manuals of divine worship. They deal with such topics as the codes of temple building, image making, and the modes of worship. Saivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism have their own respective Agamas. 

Saivism recognizes 28 principal Agamas and 150 sub agamas. Some of them date back to 2nd Century AD.  Various schools of Saivism such as the the Saiva Siddhantha school, Tamil Saivism, Kashmiri Saivism and Vira Saivism  follow these texts and base their religious activity upon them. The most prominent agama text in Saivism is the Kamika. These texts consider Siva as the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, the Highest Self, the Conscious Principle while Shakti is regarded as the unconscious or the natural principle who is the cause of bondage. The union of Shakti with Siva at the highest level leads to the freedom of the soul (pasu) from the Pasa or the attachment.

The Followers of Shaktism follow 27 Agamas also called Tantras. Shaktism considers the Mother Goddess as the Supreme Self and relegates Iswara, the Divine Father, to a secondary position. In Shaktism the Divine Mother is both the cause of delusion (maya) and the source of liberation. Shaktism gave birth to the practice of Tantric forms of worship which were not generally acceptable to the followers of Vedic methods of worship. The Agamas of Shaktism deal with magical and occult knowledge, besides mechanical, ritualistic,  devotional and spiritual aspects of Tantric forms of worship

The Vaishnava Agamas are grouped into four categories namely the Vaikhanasa, Pancharatra, Pratishthasara and Vijnanalalita. Of these, the Vaishanavites consider the Pancharatra Agama as the most important (Swami Sivananda). These Agamas are believed to have been revealed by Narayana Himself. The Pancharatra Agama is again subdivided into seven sub agamas namely, the Brahma, Saiva, Kaumara, Vasishtha, Kapila, Gautamiya and the Naradiya. The Pancharatra  Agamas consider Vishnu as the Supreme Lord of the Universe and  devotion to Vishnu as the sure path to liberation. According to another opinion, the Vaikhanasagama is the most ancient and most important Agama and all the Agamas practically and literally copied all their  information from this sacred Agama. It is believed that the Vaikhanasa Agama was originally compiled under the guidance of sage Vaikhanasa during the early Vedic period. Sri Madhavacharya held Pancharatra texts in high esteem and equated them with the Vedas and the epics, while Sri Shankaracharya had a different opinion. 

According to another classification the Agamas are five types namely:Sakta Agamas, Soura Agamas, Ganapatya Agamas,  Saiva Agamas and Vaikhanasa Agamas


The Puranas

Bhashyam (commentaries) such as Sankara's BhAshya of the Bhagavad Gita


To quote Swami Sivananda

"The Friendly Treatises

The Puranas are of the same class as the Itihasas (the Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc.).They have five characteristics (Pancha Lakshana), namely, history, cosmology (with various symbolical illustrations of philosophical principles), secondary creation, genealogy of kings, and of Manvantaras . All the Puranas belong to the class of Suhrit-Sammitas, or the Friendly Treatises, while the Vedas are called the Prabhu-Sammitas or the Commanding Treatises with great authority.

Vyasa is the compiler of the Puranas from age to age; and for this age, he is Krishna-Dvaipayana, the son of Parasara.

The Puranas were written to popularize the religion of the Vedas. They contain the essence of the Vedas. The aim of the Puranas is to impress on the minds of the masses the teachings of the Vedas and to generate in them devotion to God, through concrete examples, myths, stories, legends, lives of saints, kings and great men, allegories and chronicles of great historical events. The sages made use of these parables to illustrate the eternal principles of religion. The Puranas were meant, not only for the scholars, but for the vast majority of the populace who found the Darshanas too abstract and who could not, for whatever reason, study the Vedas.

The Darsanas or schools of philosophy are very abstract. They are meant mainly for those with an introspective temperament. The Puranas can be read and appreciated by everybody Religion is taught in a very easy and interesting way through the Puranas. Even to this day, the Puranas are popular. The Puranas contain the history of remote times. They also give a description of the regions of the universe not visible to the ordinary physical eye. They are very interesting to read and are full of information of all kinds. Children hear the stories from their grandmothers. Pundits and Purohits hold Kathas or religious discourses in temples, on banks of rivers and in other important places. It is the tradition for bards to recite these stories in song and poetry.

Eighteen Puranas

There are eighteen main Puranas and an equal number of subsidiary Puranas or Upa-Puranas. The main Puranas are:

Srimad Bhagavata Purana,

The Srimad Bhagavata Purana is a chronicle of the various Avataras of Lord Vishnu. There are ten Avataras of Vishnu. The aim of every Avatara is to save the world from some great danger, to destroy the wicked and protect the virtuous. The ten Avataras are: Matsya (The Fish), Kurma (The Tortoise), Varaha (The Boar), Narasimha (The Man-Lion), Vamana (The Dwarf), Parasurama (Rama with the axe, the destroyer of the Kshatriya race), Ramachandra (the hero of the Ramayana—the son of Dasaratha, who destroyed Ravana), Sri Krishna, the teacher of the Gita, Buddha (the prince-ascetic, founder of Buddhism), and Kalki (the hero riding on a white horse, who is to come at the end of the Kali-Yuga).

The object of the Matsya Avatara was to save Vaivasvata Manu from destruction by a deluge. The object of Kurma Avatara was to enable the world to recover some precious things which were lost in the deluge. The Kurma gave its back for keeping the churning rod when the Gods and the Asuras churned the ocean of milk. The purpose of Varaha Avatara was to rescue, from the waters, the earth which had been dragged down by a demon named Hiranyaksha. The purpose of Narasimha Avatara, half-lion and half-man, was to free the world from the oppression of Hiranyakasipu, a demon, the father of Bhakta Prahlada. The object of Vamana Avatara was to restore the power of the gods which had been eclipsed by the penance and devotion of King Bali. The object of Parasurama Avatara was to deliver the country from the oppression of the Kshatriya rulers. Parasurama destroyed the Kshatriya race twenty-one times. The object of Rama Avatara was to destroy the wicked Ravana. The object of Sri Krishna Avatara was to destroy Kamsa and other demons, to deliver His wonderful message of the Gita in the Mahabharata war, and to become the centre of the Bhakti schools of India. The object of Buddha Avatara was to prohibit animal sacrifices and teach piety. The object of the Kalki Avatara is the destruction of the wicked and the re-establishment of virtue.

Vishnu Purana,

Naradiya Purana,

Garuda (Suparna) Purana,

Padma Purana,

Varaha Purana,

Brahma Purana,

Brahmanda Purana,

Brahma Vaivarta Purana,

Markandeya Purana,

Bhavishya Purana,

Vamana Purana,

Matsya Purana,

Kurma Purana,

Linga Purana,

Siva Purana,

Skanda Purana and

Agni Purana.

























Itihaasa (epic history) or Mahakavya


Mahabharata (the Bhagavad Gita is a part of this monumental epic)

When one adds up all of the above, it constitutes a substantial corpus of the record of the Indic civilization ever since the mists of time and it can be safely asserted with a great deal of certitude that this  is probably the largest body of extant work, assembled by man in the ancient era

Fables and allegories


Popular literature   in Prakrit Languages

The Popular literature consists of the works produced in the Prakrit languages, other than Sanskrit, such as Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Kannada, Bengali, and so on by eminent scholars over a period of more than three thousand years. Included in this category are both the translations from the Sanskrit and also original works. Since it is not possible to deal with the entire list we are mentioning a few important works.

Tamil is the oldest of the South Indian languages and in terms of antiquity it may be as old as the Sanskrit itself. A lot of devotional literature was composed in Tamil by the Nayanars and Alvars in the early Christian era. The Sangam literature is a true reflection of the greatness of Tamil as an excellent medium of devotional literature.

Any Telugu literature prior to Nannayya Bhattarakudu’s Andhra Mahabharatamu (1000 to 1100 CE) is not available, except by royal grants and decrees. So, Nannayya is known as Aadi Kavi (the first poet). The advanced and well-developed language used by Nannayya suggests that this may not be the beginning of Telugu literature. Andhra Mahabharatamu was later furthered by Tikanna Somayaji (1205 1288) , to be finally completed by Yerrapragada (14th century). Nannaya, Tikanna and Yerrapragada are known as the Kavitraya or the three great poets of Telugu for this mammoth effort. Other such translations like Marana’s Markandeya Puranam, Ketana’s Dasakumara Charita, Yerrapragada’s Harivamsam followed.

Literary activities flourished, during the rule of Vijayanagara dynasty. Krishnadevaraya’ s time (16th century) is considered the golden age in the history of Telugu literature. The king, a poet himself, introduced the Prabandha (a kind of love poetry) in Telugu literature with his Amukta Malyada. His court had the Ashtadiggajas (literal: eight elephants) who were the known to be the greatest of poets of that time.

 Tyagaraja (1767 1847) of Thanjavur composed devotional songs in Telugu, which form a big part of the repertoire of Karnatak music.

In Kannada, another South Indian language, the Virasaiva movement led to the composition of Vachakam containing the sayings of Basava.

In the north notable works in the vernacular languages included the Ramacharitmanas of Tulisdas and the Sursagar of Surdas, both in Hindi, Chatanyamrita of Sri Chaitanya and Mangal kavyas in Bengali,  the devotional compositions of Namdev in Marathi, the poems of Mirabai in Gujrathi, the Gitagovinda of Jaidev and so on. Both the epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata were translated into many local languages.



  1. What do Hindus understand by religion and what do they call their religion?

The word religion as it is understood in the west and in the Judeo Christian Islamic world does not translate very easily into  any Indian language because of the baggage of dogma and unquestioning belief that the word religion invokes in the  west. The closest word to Religion is Dharma which roughly translates into responsibilities and duties of an individual to the society at large. These duties are accompanied by a set of ethical values, but the emphasis in Hinduism is on introspection to determine the path most suitable for each individual . Hindus call  their Dharma the Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Dharma to distinguish it from other Dharmas such as Buddhism and Jainism and Sikhism

In the words of  Sir John Woodruffe

It has been asserted that there is no such thing as Indian Religion, though there are many Religions in India. This is not so. As I have already pointed out (Is India Civilized?) there is a common Indian religion which I have called Bharata Dharma, which is an Aryan religion (Aryadharma) held by all Aryas whether Brahmanic, Buddhist or Jaina. These are the three main divisions of the Bharata Dharma. I exclude other religions in India, namely, the Semitic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Not that all these are purely Semitic. Christianity became in part Aryanized when it was adopted by the Western Aryans, as also happened with Islam when accepted by such Eastern Aryans as the Persians and the Aryanized peoples of India. Thus Sufism is either a form of Vedanta or indebted to it.

The general Indian Religion or Bharata Dharma holds that the world is an Order or Cosmos. It is not a Chaos of things and beings thrown haphazard together, in which there is no binding relation or rule. The world-order is Dharma, which is that by which the universe is upheld (Dharyate). Without Dharma it would fall to pieces and dissolve into nothingness. But this is not possible, for though there is Disorder (Adharma), it exists, and can exist only locally, for a time, and in particular parts of the whole. Order however will and, from the nature of things, must ultimately assert itself. And this is the meaning of the saying that Righteousness or Dharma prevails. This is in the nature of things, for Dharma is not a law imposed from without by the Ukase of some Celestial Czar. It is the nature of things; that which constitutes them what they are (Svalakshana-dharanat Dharma). It is the expression of their true being and can only cease to be, when they themselves cease to be. Belief in righteousness is then in something not arbitrarily imposed from without by a Lawgiver, but belief in a Principle of Reason which all men can recognize for themselves if they will. Again Dharma is not only the law of each being but necessarily also of the whole, and expresses the right relations of each part to the whole. This whole is again harmonious, otherwise it would dissolve. The principle which holds it together as one mighty organism is Dharma. The particular Dharma calls for such recognition and action in accordance therewith. Religion, therefore, which etymologically means that which obliges or binds together, is in its most fundamental sense the recognition that the world is an Order, of which each man, being, and thing, is a part, and to which each man stands in a definite, established relation; together with action based on, and consistent with, such recognition, and in harmony with the whole cosmic activity. Whilst therefore the religious man is he who feels that he is bound in varying ways to all being, the irreligious man is he who egoistically considers everything from the standpoint of his limited self and its interests, without regard for his fellows, or the world at large. The essentially irreligious character of such an attitude is shown by the fact that, if it were adopted by all, it would lead to the negation of Cosmos, that is Chaos. Therefore all Religions are agreed in the essentials of morality and hold that selfishness, in its widest sense, is the root of all sin (Adharma). Morality is thus the true nature of man. The general Dharma (Samanya Dharma) is the universal law governing all, just as the particular Dharma (Vishesha Dharma) varies with, and is peculiar to, each class of being. It follows from what is above stated that disharmony is suffering. This is an obvious fact. Wrong conduct is productive of ill, as right conduct is productive of good. As a man sows, so he will reap. There is an Immanent Justice. But these results, though they may appear at once, do not always do so. The fruit of no action is lost. It must, according to the law of causality, which is a law of reason, bear effect. If its author does not suffer for it here and now in the present life, he will do so in some future one. Birth and death mean the creation and destruction of bodies. The spirits so embodied are infinite in number and eternal. The material universe comes and goes. This in Brahmanism has been said (see Sanatana Vaidika Dharma by Bhagavan Das) to be "the Systole and Diastole of the one Universal Heart, Itself at rest -- the moveless play of Consciousness". The appearance and disappearance of the Universe is the nature or Svabhava of That which it ultimately is. Its immediate cause is Desire, which Buddhism calls Trishna -- or Thirst, that is desire or thirst for world-enjoyment in the universe of form. Action (Karma) is prompted by desire and breeds again desire. This action may be good (Dharma) or bad (Adharma) leading to enjoyment or suffering. Each embodied soul (Jivatma) will be reborn and reborn into the world until it is freed from all desire. This involves the doctrine of Re-incarnation. These multiple births and deaths in the transmigratory worlds are called Samsara or Wandering. The world is a Dvandva, that is, a composite of happiness and suffering. Happiness of a transitory kind may be had therein by adherence to Dharma in following Kama (desire) and Artha (the means) by which lawful desires may be given effect. These constitute what Brahmanism calls the Trivarga of the Purushartha, or three aims of sentient being. But just as desire leads to manifestation in form, so desirelessness leads away from it. Those who reach this state seek Moksha or Nirvana (the fourth Purushartha), which is a state of Bliss beyond the worlds of changing forms. For there is a rest from suffering which Desire (together with a natural tendency to pass its right limits) brings upon men. They must, therefore, either live with desire in harmony with the universal order, or if desireless, they may (for each is master of his future) pass beyond the manifest and become That which is Moksha or Nirvana. Religion, and therefore true civilization, consists in the upholding of Dharma as the individual and general good, and the fostering of spiritual progress, so that, with justice to all beings, true happiness, which is the immediate and ultimate end of all Humanity, and indeed of all being, may be attained.

Anyone who holds these beliefs follows the Bharata Dharma or common principles of all Aryan beliefs. Thus as regards God we may either deny His existence (Atheism) or affirm it (Theism) or say we have no sufficient proof one way or another (Agnosticism). It is possible to accept the concept of an eternal Law (Dharma) and its sanctions in a self-governed universe without belief in a personal Lord (Ishvara). So Samkhya, which proceeds on intellectual proof only, doe not deny God but holds that the being of a Lord is "not proved".



























  1. Can you elaborate on   the meaning of Dharma

Surely, here is an excellent essay  by Dr S .Kalyanaraman


  1.  Do Hindus pray to God and how do Hindus pray

There is  a lot of latitude in the manner in which one prays to ones God   but this is one way

  1. What does a Hindu hope to attain when he prays ?What  is meant by Purushartha ?

PurushArtha or ManushyArtheha is the  pursuit of  the four kinds of human aspirations, which are dharma, artha, kAma and moksha. The four pursuits in which humans may legitimately engage, also called chaturvarga, "four-fold good" , is a basic principle of Hindu ethics.

- dharma: "Righteous living." The fulfillment of virtue, good works, duties and responsibilities, restraints and observances - performing one's part in the service of society. This includes pursuit of truth under a guru of a particular Parampara and sAmpradaya. Dharma is of four primary forms. It is the steady guide for artha and kama.

- artha: "Wealth." Material welfare and abundance, money, property, possessions. Artha is the pursuit of wealth, guided by dharma. It includes the basic needs - food, money, clothing and shelter - and extends to the wealth required to maintain a comfortable home, raise a family, fulfill a successful career and perform religious duties. The broadest concept of wealth embraces financial independence, freedom from debt, worthy children, good friends, leisure time, faithful servants, trustworthy employees, and the joys of giving, including tithing (dashamamsha), feeding the poor, supporting religious mendicants, worshiping devoutly, protecting all creatures, upholding the family and offering hospitality to guests. Artha measures not only riches but quality of life, providing the personal and social security needed to pursue kama, dharma and moksha. It allows for the fulfillment of the householder's five daily sacrifices, pancha mahayajna: to God, ancestors, devas, creatures and men.

- kAma: "Pleasure, love; enjoyment." Earthly love, aesthetic and cultural fulfillment, pleasures of the world (including sexual), the joys of family, intellectual satisfaction. Enjoyment of happiness, security, creativity, usefulness and inspiration.

- moksha: "Liberation." Freedom from rebirth through the ultimate attainment, realization of the Self God, PArasiva. The spiritual attainments and superconscious joys, attending renunciation and yoga leading to Self Realization. Moksha comes through the fulfillment of dharma, artha and kAma (known in Tamil as aram, porul and inbam, and explained by Tiruvalluvar in Tirukural) in the current or past lives, so that one is no longer attached to worldly joys or sorrows. It is the supreme goal of life, called paramartha.


Among these, dharma and the attainment of a dhaarmik life style takes precedence  and is the gateway to moksha or immortality and eternal bliss. Practice of proper Dharma gives an experience of peace, joy, strength and tranquility within ones-self and life becomes thoroughly disciplined. It is classified as [ i ] Samanya dharma or the general and Universal Dharma and [ ii ] Visesha dharma or specific personal dharma. Samanya dharma includes contentment, forgiveness, self-restraint, spiritual knowledge, absence of anger, non-greediness, non-stealing, truthfulness, purity, non-violence, control of senses and desire, discrimination between right and wrong and between real and unreal. Visesha or specific dharma includes duties due to one's birth, age and family and duties to society and family, due to one's career and job and spiritual life. They also include the specific dharmas for the four ashramas and four varnas. These are the regular duties including the rituals and services to the family, community, ancestors and God that every one is expected to perform. .

  1. Who composed the Hindu scriptures and when were they composed

There were many composers of the Veda. It was not unusual for the brother of the King to become the Rishi Chronicler of that reign and compose the relevant Mandala of the Veda. We will compile the names of these composers and make these available in  Tabular form.

 It is difficult to ascribe an  individual to each and everyone of the texts, but if there is any one individual that had a major part in writing the later texts it must  have been VedaVyaasa or Krishna Dvaipayana. Veda Vyasa (or Baadaarayana) which was also one of his names composed the Mahabharata and the Brahma Sutras. Veda Vyasa was born of the union of a fisherwoman and the  sage Parasara. There is as yet no consensus on an  accepted date for the composition of the scriptures. If one accepts the end of Kaliyuga as a marker for the Great Bharata War, then the logical date for the chronicling of the Mahabharata war is around 3139 BCE. The Vedas predate the Epics by about 2 millennia.

  1. What was the language  in which the  vast Vedic scriptures (sruti and smriti ) were composed ?

The language in which they were written was Sanskrit. More specifically the Vedas and many of the earlier texts were written in Vedic Sanskrit before it was codified by Panini. At  that time the scripts were not fully developed and the transmission of knowledge was primarily oral. The transition to a likhita Parampara (scriptural tradition)  was of course not instantaneous but took several centuries. It took several more centuries for standardized script to evolve from the proto scripts (Brahmi and Kharoshti)


  1. What are the ethical values  of the Hindu

  2. Why are there so many Gods and Goddesses in the Sanataana Dharma

This is a question that frankly had never occurred to me till I left India and lived in the West and to this day I remain  somewhat puzzled as to the reasons why somebody should ask this question in the first place. What difference should it make, i would respond with a touch of asperity. Here is how the sage Yajnavalkya responded to a query in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. We will meet Yajnavalkya later in this Chapter

Then Vidaghdha, son of Shakala, asked him, "How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?" Yajnavalkya, ascertaining the number through a group of mantras known as the Nivid, replied, "'As many as it says in the invocation of the hymn to the Visvedevas of the gods: three hundred and three, and three thousand and three."
"Very good," said the son of Shakala, "and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"
"One and a half."
"Very good, and how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?"

There is an excellent discussion of this topic in Arvind Sharma's "An introduction to Classical Hindu Thought", Oxford University Press, 2000 in Chapter 1.In short, a person can choose a  deity that suits his mix of gunas (Rajas, Tamas, and Sattva). Hinduism does not subscribe to a one size fits all theory when it comes to personal worship.

  1. How did the name Hindu originate ?

This is a very pertinent question. In the very distant past (about 7 to 8000 years ago) when there were major cities and towns along the river valleys of the  Saraswathi and Sindhu  Rivers and the Doab surrounded by their tributaries , the people were known either by the regional appellations or by their lineage of the royal house that was ruling the land at that period in history. I have been referring to the people in the aggregate as the Vedics. There were many tribes or clans among the Vedics who went by names such as Bharatas, Panchalas, Yadus, Druhyus, Anus, etc... These tribes or clans were very much like the Scottish clans of much more recent vintage. Many of these clans inhabited an area that came to be known as the Sapta Sindhu area, the Sapta standing for the 7 tributaries of the Indus river at that period in history. Eventually some of these clans moved westward towards the area we know now as Iran. Their dialect was slightly different from those that were left behind. They got into the habit of pronouncing an 's' as a 'h'. Thus Sapta Sindhu eventually came to be known as Hepta Hendu or Hindu for short and the people who  inhabited the area came to be known as Hindus. During that era there was no religious connotation for the word Hindu. It was simply a geographic connotation. As the millennia rolled on, the word Hindu took on a life of its own. The Arabs began referring to the whole peninsula as al-Hind. The Latinized version of this was used by the Greeks (Indikos) and Romans in its present form as India. So also did the Chinese refer to India and its inhabitants  as Yindu.


The use of Hindu purely as a reference to those who practiced the Sanaatana Dharma is a relatively recent development fostered by the British in their zeal and obsession to invent distinctions even when the differences were of a secondary nature. Even as late as 1857 the Moghal emperor called himself the Emperor of Hindustan, referring to the Geographical area, rather than as a home for Hindus.

  1. When did the Sanaatana Dharma originate and who was the founder of this faith.

The date when the Dharma was founded is lost in the mists of antiquity, but it can be assumed very safely that by the time the Vedas were written, there was already well established a system of beliefs, so the origin of the belief system predates the composition by at least a millennium ,so that we can say that the basic ideas of the Dharma began to coalesce around 6000 BCE.

There was no single founder of the faith, but there were a collection of Rishis and sages who composed the various mandalas of the Rg.

  1. Were the people who developed the tenets of the Dharma  relatively prosperous in comparison to the poverty stricken conditions prevalent during much of the 20th century

If we invoke the notion of the hierarchy of needs most recently postulated by Abraham Maslow, we can infer that the Vedics must have satisfied most of their basic needs relating to physiological wellbeing and those relating to security before they could begin contemplating their needs for self realization or self actualization as Maslow terms these higher needs

Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs.








What are some of the characteristics of a self actualized person according to Maslow;

Truth, rather than dishonesty.
Goodness, rather than evil.
Beauty, not ugliness or vulgarity.
Unity, wholeness, and transcendence of opposites, not arbitrariness or forced choices.
Aliveness, not deadness or the mechanization of life.
Uniqueness, not bland uniformity.
Perfection and necessity, not sloppiness, inconsistency, or accident.
Completion, rather than incompleteness.
Justice and order, not injustice and lawlessness.
Simplicity, not unnecessary complexity.
Richness, not environmental impoverishment.
Effortlessness, not strain.
Playfulness, not grim, humorless, drudgery.
Self-sufficiency, not dependency.
Meaningfulness, rather than senselessness.

While these qualities are for the most part universally acclaimed as desirable ,there are some that appear to be quintessentially Vedantic, especially those dealing with qualities such as Unity, wholeness, transcendence of  opposites, and self sufficiency. There are quite a few who have remarked on the relationship  of the Vedantic, in particular the Non dualistic approach, to the transpersonal psychology espoused by Maslow.

We will have more to say on the congruence between Non-dualist conceptions and the Maslow taxonomy    of hierarchical  needs.

  1. What is meant by   the Smarta  tradition and who are the Smartas ? What is the origin of the name ? What are the beliefs of  the Smartas ? How distinct are they and what are the distinctions 


see for instance the Wiki encyclopedia


some excerpts

"The Smarta tradition is a denomination of the Hindu religion. This term is usually used to denote a certain category of Brahmanas. Smartas consider the Vedas supreme. The majority of members of Smarta community are followers of Advaita. In practicality, Smarta and Advaita have become almost synonymous because of the prevalence of Advaita philosophy among Smarta Brahmanas. But not all believers in Advaita are Smartas. In ancient times, all Brahmanas who specialized in the Karma Kanda of the Vedas, and who followed the Vedas and Sastras (both Smriti and Shruti) came to be known as Smartas. They therefore should not be confused with followers of Advaita philosophy who may not or need not come from this family tradition." In  reality  substantial percentage of Smartas no longer practice the profession of Brahmana for a living and have migrated to other professions such as Engineering, Law, teaching, research, academics, and Medicine. They are doing reasonably well  despite draconian laws of reverse discrimination directed specially against Brahmanas. Many have migrated to other countries


In Sanskrit smarta has several meanings including one who remembers, a teacher, and smarta means "relating to memory, recorded in or based on the smrti, based on tradition, prescribed or sanctioned by traditional law or usage, (etc)", from the root smr ("remember").

Distinction from others

The Smartas consider themselves followers and propagators of Smriti or religious texts derived from Vedic scriptures. It is from this that the name is derived. This term is used with respect to a certain specialized category of Brahmanas. Not all Brahmanas specialized in this Smriti tradition. Some were influenced by Buddhism, Jainism or Charvaka tradition and philosophy. This did not mean that all these people rejected the authority of Vedas, but only that their tradition of worship and philosophy was based not on smriti texts. In time, Shankaracharya brought all the Vedic communities together. He tried to remove the non-smriti aspects that had crept into the Hindu communities. He also endeavoured to unite them by arguing that any of the different Hindu gods could be worshipped, according to the prescriptions given in the smriti texts. He established that worship of various deities are compatible with Vedas and is not contradictory, since all are different manifestations of one nirguna Brahman. Shankaracharya was instrumental in reviving interest in the smritis, and the entire Vedic community rallied around him and are known as Smartas. Also,his philosophy of Advaita was also followed by all the smartas. And even those smartas who did not follow the Advaita philosophy considered Shankaracharya as a guiding light for reviving the smriti texts and tradition.

Thus, a bedrock of Smartas who also follow Advaita philosophy, is their belief in the essential sameness of all deities, the unity of Godhead, and their conceptualization of the myriad deities of India as various manifestations of the one divine power. Smartas accept and worship the six manifestations of God, (Ganesha, Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu, Surya and Skanda) and the choice of the nature of God is up to the individual worshipper since different manifestations of God are held to be equivalent. Thus, it is false to say that Hinduism has 330 million gods, which are more correctly devas or celestial beings; even the liberal Smarta denomination only considers six forms of God to be objects of worship and consider it to be derived from one nirguna Brahman; where as other denominations of Hinduism, such as Vaishnavism and Shaivism follows worship of a single manifestation of God, but both are ultimately  monotheistic."

It is our view that  a taxonomy  based on mono/polytheism is not suitable for the Dharma where the multiplicity of the deities is not central to the belief or  value system and the choice of deity by and large is left to the individual so as  to act as a suitable symbol for his daily worship. This is a source of much misunderstanding and bewilderment for the west which refuses to recognize the multiple identities of  a person and insists on a one size fits all taxonomy and as a consequence insists on pigeon holing a person as a mono or polytheist and then  having done so insists that he or she is a child of a lesser God (or worse).

  1. Does Hinduism expect or demand exclusive allegiance as some  faiths do and does it take the approach of, 'unless you believe in Me you are damned to perdition'

No. The Dharma does not take an exclusivist 'one size fits all' approach. The Dharma recognized the immense diversity in the human species and that different paths to self realization are appropriate depending  on the many factors surrounding the individual human being. There are many potential paths that are prescribed, including Naastik belief systems , which do not recognize the primacy of the Vedas and their central place as the 'Sruti'.

The emphasis in the Dharma is on one's behavior and  one's actions. There is implicit in the teaching of the Dharma , the belief that certain behaviors and actions are more efficacious in attaining one's Moksha and that others are harmful to the realization of the true Self, but it does not ask the aspirant to abandon his/her set of beliefs and start with a clean slate. There is definitely no Dhaarmik sanction to say for instance, you are the child of a lesser God ,merely because you do not call yourself a Hindu, a belief that is very explicit in some other faiths. This is a major distinction between Hinduism and the other great religions of the world.. Hinduism is  not merely tolerant of other faiths, but it embraces the diversity inherent in the many ideologies inherent in a civilization.

It is probably true to say that throughout the ages it has been the most accepting of all major faiths, so much so that   competing ideologies like Communism have sought to portray this as a weakness of the Hindu and have sought to  take undue advantage of it. It is however a grave mistake to assume that this is a sign of  docility on the part of the Hindu. History indicates otherwise.  For instance, the Sassanian Persian empire succumbed within a period of two years to the onslaught of the followers of  Mohammad, whereas it took them 500 years to reach the gates of Delhi. The Indic civilization remains the only extant civilization in the modern world, to survive from an ancient era, and it has done so in the face of incredible odds. Today, the tradition is under siege from a wide array  of  formidable adversaries of whom the most formidable are the children and descendants of our fellow Hindu brothers and sisters. If you accept what i have said so far , I would entreat you my fellow Hindus  never  to denigrate your tradition publicly (or even privately for that matter). That in fact is what most adherents of other faiths are already doing and it remains merely a matter of emulating a sound strategy.

  1. You say sutras are aphorisms and were used in the interest of brevity.can you elaborate

Posted by Poster Sunder in

The Ability to conceive and keep up with a technique of documentation called Sutras is surely a technological and linguistic marvel of high order. Sutras are compilation of major works where very few words are used. (If it's not readily interpreted without proper background needed for the subject, Sutras may seem confusing.) Some of the Famous sutras are

(*) Yoga Sutra - Pathanjali.
(*) Brahma Sutra - Bhadharayana.
(*) Bhakthi Sutra - Naradha.
(*) Kama Sutra - Vatsyayana.
(*) Neethi Sutras - Chanakya.

Here is the definition of a Sutra.

alpaaksharam asandigdham saaravath vishvatho mukham,
asathobham anavadhyam cha sutram sutravidho viduh.

Those who know the definition of a sutra define it as possessing  the following qualities..

Alpa aksharam = With bare minimum (use of) alphabets.
Asannigdham = Free from doubts and ambiguities; clear and accurate.
Saravad = like the essence; devoid of unnecessary pulp.
Viswatho mukham = Universal; applicable anywhere and everywhere. [Not limited by time, space, cultures etc.]
Asathobham = Shining, Illuminating, highlighting the point at hand, never diminishing in radiance/value.
Anavadyam = Without any bugs, errors, mistakes or shortcomings; perfect.

  1. What is the situation regarding the Caste system in Hindu society ? Was such a system endorsed by the ancient Vedics in any of the scriptures. Did the  Hindu scriptures endorse Untouchability  ?

Because of the social stratifications resulting from 800 years of alien domination, this needs an answer along with its historical context . Pl. refer to the section on Caste for a complete discussion on Caste

  1. What are the central core tenets of the Sanatana Dharma ? If you had to pick the most important 5 among them which ones would you pick

Central Core Beliefs of Sanatana Dharma

Belief in a Supreme Brahman and the relationship between the Atman and the Brahman (the essential divinity of the human spirit)

Freedom to choose an Ishta Devata( personal Deity) realizing such freedom could result in different choices of deities

Belief in Free Will and its relationship to Karma( personal responsibility and accountability)

Freedom to pursue Purushartha or Chaturvarga (the four goals of life dharma, artha, kama and moksha) on the path to Self Realization

Freeedom to choose the appropriate path  (Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga) or combination thereof toachieve Self Fulfillment depending on onesVasanas

Observe the ethical responsibilities enjoined by the Dharma (Ethics, integrity and building of character)

  1. Do Hindus have a Chief among all Swamis, like a Pope, sort of a Parama Rishi if you will ?

No. The Dharma does not believe in interposing another entity between the Atman and the ParamAtman, another individual however learned though he may be. The Guru points the path, lights the way ,and may even suggest the  appropriate goals, but no other person can dictate these  to any individual. The Freedom to choose is the single most important characteristic of the Hindu faith. Hinduism does not believe in a one size fits all doctrine, and does not demand a uniformity in worship, a catechism. There are thousands of appropriate slokas to choose from or if one so desires one can write one's own sloka. It is recommended however that there be a disciplinary approach and that a certain time be set aside for meditation and prayer, preferably at the same time and place everyday,  and that the same prayer be chanted until it can be repeated by rote. This is where a Guru's guidance is highly recommended. One cannot become a  Doctor before writing the board exams. Remember ,the Dharma reminds us all we are potentially divine and it is our own Avidya that creates a veil and blurs the vision where we ought to go.

  1. We have all  heard of the great philosopher statesman of India ,and in modern times we have had such statesmen as Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.. Can you name one such person from the ancient times.

The most  famous of the philosopher statesman of India was by far Chanakya. But there is one who was less well known especially amongst western audiences and he is Bhartrihari. In an era when Indics with versatile interests were relatively abundant, Bhartrihari stands out as a genius of great versatility. Linguist, philosopher, king, this man did it all .we will put together a collage of Bhartrihari who was a contemporary of Varahamihira . in the meantime here is a snapshot of his life and times


  1. What are the methods of  acquiring knowledge (pramAna) in the various Dhaarmik faiths

I. JAINISM:  3  pramANas

1.  pratyaksha  (perception)
2.  anumAna  (inference)
3.  JinashAsana  (Teachings  of  the  24  TIrthankaras)

II.  BUDDHISM:  3  pramANas

1.  pratyaksha
2.  anumAna
3.  Buddhavacana  (Teachings  of  the  Buddha) (shruti)


1.  pratyaksha
2.  anumAna
3.  upamAna  (analogy)
4.  shabda  (testimony--sacred  [shruti  and  smRti]  &  secular)

 * Perception, called PratyakSha, occupies the foremost position in the Nyaya epistemology. Perception is defined by sense-object contact and is unerring. Perception can be of two types:
o Ordinary (Laukika or Sadharana), of six types, viz., visual-by eyes, olfactory-by nose, auditory-by ears, tactile-by skin, gustatory-by tongue and mental-by mind.
o Extra-ordinary (Alaukika or Asadharana), of three types, viz., Samanyalakshana (perceiving generality from a particular object), J˝analakshana (when one sense organ can also perceive qualities not attributable to it, as when seeing a chili, one knows that it would be bitter or hot), and Yogaja (when certain human beings, from the power of Yoga, can perceive past, present and future and have supernatural abilities, either complete or some). Also, there are two modes or steps in perception, viz., Nirvikalpa, when one just perceives an object without being able to know its features, and Savikalpa, when one is able to clearly know an object. All laukika and alaukika pratyakshas are savikalpa. There is yet another stage called Pratyabhij˝a, when one is able to re-recognise something on the basis of memory.

* Inference, called AnumAna, is one of the most important contributions of Nyaya. It can be of two types - inference for oneself (Svarthanumana, where one does not need any formal procedure, and at the most the last three of their 5 steps), and inference for others (Parathanumana, which requires a systematic methodology of 5 steps). Inference can also be classified into 3 types: Purvavat (infering an unperceived effect from a perceived cause), Sheshavat (infering an unperceived cause from a perceived effect) and Samanyatodrishta (when inference is not based on causation but on uniformity of co-existence). A detailed anaysis of error is also given, explaining when anumAna could be false.

* Comparison or Analogy, which is the rough translation of Upamana. It is the knowledge of the relationship between a word and the object denoted by the word. It is produced by the knowledge of resemblance or similarity, given some pre-description of the new object beforehand.

* Word, or Shabda are also accepted as a pramana. It can be of two types, Vaidika (Vedic), which are the words of the four sacred Vedas, and are described as the Word of God, having been composed by God, and Laukika, or words and writings of trustworthy human beings.

IV.  SANKHYA-YOGA:  3  pramANas

1.  pratyaksha
2.  anumAna
3.  shabda (shruti)


1.  pratyaksha
2.  anumAna
3.  upamAna
4.  arthApatti  (implication)
5.  shabda (shruti)


1.  pratyaksha
2.  anumAna
3.  upamAna
4.  arthApatti
5.  shabda (shruti)
6.  anupalabdhi  (non-apprehension)


(same  as  the  6  of  KumArila  MImAmsA).  "vyAvahAre  bhATTanayaH".


1.  pratyaksha
2.  anumAna
3.  shabda (shruti)


1.  pratyaksha
2.  anumAna
3.  shabda (shruti)

Thus there is an underlying congruence among all the Indic belief systems  at least as far as the acquisition of knowledge goes, which is why i use the term Indic ethos to indicate a homogeneity among all faiths originating in the Indian subcontinent. We will have more to say on the various approaches to knowledge acquisition a little later. This is not to say that there are not significant differences, but the fundamental postulates that they make about the universe are not dissimilar

  1. What is Vairagya ? What role does it play in Hindu ethics

Are Brahmanas the Dalits of today ?    Read for yourself and make up your own mind

continued here FAQ on Hinduism (2)


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