The most basic difference of Hinduism is that is that there is no founder for Hindu religion . It existed from the time immemorial , from the beginning of existence. It consists of thousands of teachers and thousands of practices for reaching God. Compared to Hinduism all other religions are only a few thousand years old. Hence trying to understand Hinduism with a western approach will be a difficult task
From the religious tradition of Hinduism has evolved such original concepts and practices like Vedanta ,Yoga, Maya, Ayurveda, Vastu, Jyotish, Tantra, Karma etc.
It says you can reach God in any way you choose.That is the most unique aspect of Hinduism. But all other religions claim God can be reached only through their own particular paths or beliefs. Ancient seers have said: Ekam sat vipra bahudha vedant ? "'So many religions, so many paths to reach one and the same goal.
Earlier it was known as "Sanatana Dharma". It is not a religion in the western way of thinking.It is a way of life.The word "Hinduism" is not to be found anywhere in the scriptures, and the term "Hindu" was introduced by foreigners who referred to people living across the River Indus or Sindhu, in the north of India, around which this religion is believed to have originated.
If you want to understand Hinduism , you should have an understanding of Yoga and Vedanta . Otherwise you will be never able to understand it. Without understanding Yoga and Vedanta , you can never reach to the core of Hinduism.
The core of Hinduism lies in Vedanta, the belief in the undying soul.It tells that in essence you are God.Unless you reach to Vedanta, you are only dealing with the peripheries of Hinduism. Most of the times when people talk about Hinduism , they talk about the ritualistic aspect of Hinduism. When you know about the Vedanta ,all gods, godesses and rituals vanish and you remain as the omnipotent Soul.
Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras has systematised an eight fold path through which you can reach the ultimate state of existence ie Samadhi or Godhood.
The greatest tragedy with Hinduism is that more than 90 per cent Hindus themselves do not understand the greatness of this religion.Then why should you blame others. It is so great, that it eludes the grasp of a common man.
Many other religions try to box God and existence in their scriptures or their holy books. But Hinduism does not do it. It gives freedom for everyone to experiment with it and understand the true essence of life.It even allows others to criticize it.For one who is keen on understanding oneself, there is nothing comparable to Hinduism anywhere in the world.
And that is the reason of it being so diverse and why there are so many ways to practice it!
Today I'll describe first and foremost one of the trinity.
We find our origins in the trinity who are the main gods who we believe work as the universe.
The higher most is Mahesh whom you may know as Shiv or Natraj.
The destroyer. Easiest to please, heart of gold! He is also considered and named Bhole-Nath (Naive Lord) it is because he is known as the god who loves his children and is very good at heart. Regardless when he gets angry and the whole universe trembles beneath him, he is pleased by his devotees and is first one to answer their prayers. He has gotten in trouble for this manier times as he used to grant powers to the asuras (demons) when they they did heavy penance to seek him and then after being granted the boon ironically turn against him :P
There is in fact a tale in the upnishads about Bhasmasura (bhasm = Ashes; Asura = demon)
He is said to have done heavy penance to Bhramma at first but Bhramma refused to attend to his prayers knowing he is a vile demon. After realizing that Bhramma won't come he seeked lord Shiva who came within 12 years pleased by his devoted prayers to him, When He was granted a boon by lord Shiva, He asked to give him the power of turning anyone into ashes when he kept his right hand on his enemy's head. (the king Midas's golden touch replaced by fire)
Shiva Happily granted him the boon, But as he did so the dumb-headed demon thought that the god might be fooling him so he said to lord that he shall test this gift on lord Shiva's head. Shiva fearing his life ran into the forest and demon ran after him,(I must say the scene must be hilarious):P
Seeing no way of escape from this he called Vishnu who came smiling down on earth in a lady's form whom Hindus call mohini meaning the girl who's enchanting.
Mohini asked the panting demon to rest for a while and gave him some water the demon was hopelessly attracted to this maiden and asked her to marry him. She placed a condition that she'll marry him if he promises to never ill-treat her in any way, (Now as in our custom we promise by keeping our right hand on our head so as to stake our life if we're lying) And the asura (demon) did so saying I promise but before he could complete the sentance he turned into ashes. And thus Lord Shiva was saved by Lord Vishnu.
This is just one of the tales when boons given by lord Shiva turned on him.
I had written about the Hindu god Shiva in an earlier post, Today I'll tell you more about him.
Shiva in Sanskrit means "The Auspicious One", also known as Mahadeva (Great God), is one of the main deities of Hinduism. He is the supreme god and "the Destroyer" or "the Transformer" also his origins can not traced so he is considered the universe.
At the highest level, Shiva is regarded limitless, transcendent, unchanging and formless. Shiva also has many benevolent and fearsome forms.
Goddess Kali and Kal bairav are his creations.
In benevolent aspects, he is depicted as an omniscient Yogi who lives an ascetic life on Mount Kailash, as well as a householder with wife Parvati/uma/ambika (Different bodies but same soul) and his two children, Ganesha and Kartikeya and in fierce aspects, he is often depicted slaying demons. Shiva is also regarded as the patron god of yoga and arts such as Meditation & dance.
The main iconographical attributes of Shiva are the "third eye" on his forehead, the snake Vasuki around his neck, the crescent moon in his hair, the holy river Ganga flowing from his matted hair, the trishula(trident) as his weapon and the damaru(I can't name it in english but it's a musical instrument) as his instrument. He also is said to have a blue throat.
Shaivism is the oldest of the four major sects of Hinduism. He can also be traced in Sikhism and Buddhism.
Shiva, like some other Hindu deities, is said to have several incarnations, known as Avatars.
Hanuman is identified as the eleventh avatar of Shiva and this belief is universal. Hanuman is popularly known as Rudraavtaar (the fierce avatar)"Rudra"(Fierce) being a name of "Shiva". Rama, the Vishnu avatar is considered by some to be the eleventh avatar of Rudra.
Other forms of Shiva include Virabhadra, Sharabha, Kali & Durga is the avatar of his wife Ambika.