Nearly all the sects and cults respect the Vedas (“revealed knowledge”), the ancient collections of religious writings. The Rig-Veda, whose origins probably go back to before 1500 B. C. , consists of about 1,000 hymns and prayers addressed to various deities. Later Vedas are the Sama-Veda, Yajur-Veda, and Atharva-Veda. The philosophical portions of the Vedas are the Upanishads (“approaches”). These are speculative treatises dealing with the nature of man and the universe. The fundamental doctrine is that of the identity of the individual soul with the universal soul (Brahman), or God.
Brahman exists through a trinity of gods. Brahman is the principle of creation, Vishnu of preservation, and Siva of destruction. In addition to this trinity, most villages have their own godlings, demons, spirits, and ghosts to which the people make sacrifices and prayers. Vishnu is believed to have appeared from time to time in avatars, or divine incarnations, in both animal and human forms. The highest human forms are Rama and Krishna, who are worshipped as savior deities (Chaudhuri, 2001). This paper scrutinizes the Hindu caste system. II. Discussion
A. Hindu Caste System Hinduism has many sacred objects and places. The cow is the most sacred of animals and must be protected. Most sacred of all places is the Ganges River, to which millions go each year to bathe and to become purified. Hindus believe in rebirth, or reincarnation, and in what they call the law of karma. Under this law the conditions of each new lifetime are determined by the actions of the preceding life. To the Hindu, salvation consists of liberating the soul from attachment to worldly desires in order to gain union with Brahman.
If a Hindu dies unliberated, he must be born again into this world and again endure its suffering (Stutley, 2000). The Vedas describe four main castes. 1. The Brahmins exercise spiritual power. 2. The Kshatriyas are warriors who exercise secular power. 3. The Vaisyas are merchants and cultivators. 4. The Sudras are artisans and laborers. Indian society has thousands of castes and subcastes, each of which identifies itself with one of the four castes in Hindu literature. Membership in a caste is based on family association and occupation.
Below the castes are the outcastes, or untouchables, who historically have been denied certain social rights. The Indian constitution of 1950 outlawed discrimination against untouchables (Wilkins, 1999). The scriptures do not make the caste system an essential element of Hinduism, but it is perpetuated by tradition. III. Conclusion Hindu worship for the most part takes place in the home. A Hindu temple or shrine is considered an abode of a deity and is not used for communal worship. There are many kinds of Hindu clergy. Temple priests collect offerings and care for temples and shrines.
Domestic priests perform rites involving births, marriages, and deaths. Gurus are spiritual teachers. Sadhus are monks; most live in monasteries, but many live as wandering mendicants (beggars).
1. Chaudhuri, N. C. Hinduism: a religion to Live By (Oxford University, 2001). 2. Stutley, Margaret and James. Harper’s Dictionary of Hinduism: Its Mythology, Folklore, Philosophy, Literature, and History (Harper& Row, 2000). 3. Wilkins, W. J. Modern Hinduism: an Account of the religion and life of the Hindus, 4th ed. (Humanities press, 1999).