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Glossary of Hinduism

Definitions of terms related to Hinduism.

This glossary of Hinduism provides definitions of terms related to Hinduism, with links to full articles where available.

A person's true Self or underlying vital force. According to Vedanta philosophy, "atman is Brahman."
("growth, expansion"). The impersonal Absolute, the unproduced Producer of all that is. In the Vedas, Brahman is the force behind the magical formulas. In the Upanishads it is the supreme, eternal principle behind the origin of the universe and of the gods. In Vedanta philosophy, it is the Self (atman) of all beings and knowledge of Brahman results in liberation (moksha).
Hindu philosophy manuals based on the Vedas.
Hindu Mother Goddess whose major forms are Durga, Parvati, and Kali. In the Vedas, the Goddess was associated with natural phenomena such as dawn, night, and the Ganges River. In the post-Vedic period, Mahadevi (Great Goddess) became the source of energy in the cosmos and the counterpart of Shiva. For Shaktas, she is not a counterpart but the supreme deity herself.
(Sanskrit; Pali dhamma). Truth, teaching, or religion.
("Lord of Hosts"). Also Ganesha, Vinayaka, Ekadanta, Lambodara, Siddhadata, Vighnaraja. God of wisdom and good fortune, represented with a pot belly and the head of an elephant. Ganesh has been one of the most popular Hindu gods since medieval times and is claimed by all sects as their own. As the remover of obstacles, he is invoked before religious ceremonies and worldly undertakings.
(Sanskrit) Spiritual teacher.
Hatha Yoga
The yoga (path) focusing on bodily postures to improve meditation. Popular in the West as a means to health, fitness, and relaxation.
The Hindu festival of colors, celebrated in early spring with bonfires, colored powders, and general merrymaking.
Caste. The Indian caste system determines social status based on birth and lineage, and is generally not alterable. Its importance has declined somewhat in urban areas, but is still important in marriage.
("action" or "deed"). Impact of previous deeds (usually in former lives) on one's current circumstances.
Path of works. One of three paths to moksa.
("snake"). The spiritual force in every human being that lies at the base of the spine, coiled like a snake. It is also called "serpent power." Once awakened through yoga and meditation, it rises through the chakras, producing spiritual knowledge and mystical powers.
The flower that is rooted in the mud but blooms pristinely above the water represents non-attachment to the world in Hinduism and Buddhism.
One of the names of Shiva.
Consort of Mahesvara; a name for Shakti; one of the goddesses created by Shiva who constitute the Divine Mothers (Matrkas).
In ancient India, foreigners, especially those considered barbarians or less civilized.
("release"). Liberation from the cycle of rebirth, which is believed by most philosophical schools to be the ultimate goal of life.
Gesture of greeting with spiritual and symbolic significance.
Moral observance; something one should do. Comparable to the western idea of virtue.
Very popular Hindu epic, composed around 700 CE by Valmiki. It is as long as the Christian Bible and tells the story of the virtuous hero Rama who rescues his beloved Sita from the evil king.
A holy man who has renounced the material world to devote himself to spiritual practice. He wanders from place to place and owns nothing. A female sadhu is a sadhvi.
In yoga, movement from meditative concentration into total mental absorption.
sanatana dharma
("everlasting truth"). Hindu word for Hinduism.
The Great Goddess and consort of Shiva. Her many forms include Durga, Kali and Amba.
("auspicious"). Major deity and the third in the Hindu trinity (with Brahma and Vishnu). Shiva has roots in the pre-Vedic period, there associated with the god Rudra. To Saivities, Shiva is creator, preserver and destroyer, and the supreme deity.
(Sanskrit) Discourse or section of teachings.
(Sanskrit svastika, "all is well") Ancient symbol of good fortune and well-being, with a variety of uses and meanings in Hinduism, Buddhism and many other faiths.
("heat"). Self-discipline. One of the five niyamas.
("color"). Four categories of Hindu society dating from the time of the Vedas: Brahmans, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras. The varnas are ordered according to occupation, whereas castes (jati) are based on social status into which one is born, but the two systems are historically related.
("knowledge"). Collection of Hindu scriptures regarded as sacred and authoritative by all Hindus.
("pervader"). Major deity and member of Hindu trinity with Brahma and Shiva. Seen as the preserver of the universe and embodiment of goodness and mercy. To Vaisnavites, Vishnu is the supreme deity (Isvara) who becomes incarnate in times of crisis and declining dharma. Vishnu is usually depicted standing, holding weapons, or reclining on a serpent.
Something one should not do. Comparable to the western idea of sin.
a geometrical diagram representing the universe
(Sanskrit, "yoke").