Hinduism is properly called sanatana dharma, which means “eternal religion” or “eternal truth” in the Sanskrit language. It is a diverse religion with many local practices, forms of worship, and traditions. The main forms of Hinduism still practiced today developed about 2000 years ago, but these formed from the older Vedic religion. Many Hindu practitioners consider their religion to have existed for as long humans have been alive to worship.
Hinduism contains a wide range of devotional practices. It has been described as a pantheistic or polytheistic religion because of the many deities or divine manifestations that are acknowledged. However, Hindus also believe in a supreme being. Worship may be directed to this supreme being or to a number of other minor gods or spiritual entities. Some common features of Hindu belief include the concepts of reincarnation, karma, and sacrifice. Adherents attempt to achieve dharma, or a righteous way of living.
There are many sacred texts associated with Hinduism, in part due to the diversity of the religion. However, special importance is placed on the Vedas, written in the ancient Sanskrit language. The Upanishads, sutras, and Bhagavad Gita are also important texts.
Many Hindu rituals take place at home or in outdoor locations. Devotees may also visit temples consecrated to a specific god. Temple priests have historically come from the Brahmin caste, the highest level in the traditional Hindu caste system. Other spiritual leaders are gurus, who establish followings of students based on their own teachings and interpretations.
Vaishnava – Though all Hindu sects affirm the existence of a supreme being, denominations differ in how that being is identified. Vaishnava Hindus worship Vishnu, who takes various forms but is commonly depicted with blue skin and four arms.
Shaiva – This sect venerates Shiva as the supreme being. Though all sects have a great variety of practices within them, Shaivism is known for its asceticism.
Shakta – Shaktism emphasizes the central importance of feminine energy. This energy can take the form of many different gods, each with its own specific form of worship.
Smarta – Unlike the other devotional sects, Smartism does not identify any single deity as supreme. Instead, devotees worship an array of gods that are all believed to be manifestations of the same divinity. Smarta practices tend to be less ritualized and more personal and introspective.
Colors are used to represent beliefs, traditions, and concepts in many religious traditions. Many Hindu deities are depicted in yellow clothing to represent their wisdom and yellow is used by devotees to symbolize knowledge and learning. Yellow is also closely associated with the spring season. Hindus may wear yellow clothes and eat yellow foods at religious festivals during the spring.
White was chosen as the exhibit’s background color because it is meaningful to each of the five religions. In Hinduism, white symbolizes cleanliness, peace, and knowledge. Saraswati, the goddess of music, art, and learning, is always shown wearing a white dress, sitting on a white lotus. Hindu religious leaders cover themselves with white ashes to represent their spiritual rebirth.