What are the rituals and practices of Hinduism?
The religious life of many Hindus is focused on devotion to God (perceived as Brahman, Shiva, Vishnu, or Shakti) or several gods. This devotion usually takes the form of rituals and practices associated with sculptures and images of gods in home shrines.
More philosophically-minded Hindus ignore the gods altogether and seek Realization of the Self through intense meditation. Still others focus primarily on fulfilling the social and moral duties appropriate to their position in life.
These various approaches are regarded as equally valid, and in fact are formally recognized as three paths (margas) to liberation: bhaktimarga (the path of devotion), jnanamarga (the path of knowledge or philosophy), and karmamarga (the path of works and action).
Hindu religious stages
Hindu religious practices center on the importance of fulfilling the duties associated both with one's social position and one's stage of life. With regard to the latter, traditional Hindus are expected to pass through four stages (ashramas) over the course of their life:
- Brahmacharga, which takes place during the school years, is focused on acquiring knowledge and developing character;
- Grastha, the middle years, is focused on worldly pursuits and pleasures such as marriage, family and career;
- Vanaprastha, when one's children reach adulthood, is a time of increased focus on spiritual things; and
- Sanngasu, in the last years of life, one may abandon the world entirely for a life of contemplation.
All stages of life for the Hindu, however, involve religious rituals and practices. Some of the major Hindu practices are described in the articles below.
Hindu religious practices
Ayurveda is an ancient Hindu system of medicine and healing that has found new popularity in the west today.
Outside of Hindu culture, the word "yoga" is usually understood to refer to the practice of meditative movement, or Hatha Yoga. However, Hatha Yoga is only one part of the Hindu traditions of Yoga and Tantra. It is one of the paths leading to the ultimate goal of Raja Yoga, or contemplation of the One Reality.
Kundalini yoga is a tantric form of yoga focused on awakening the kundalini, the latent psychic energy that lies at the base of the spine, and making it rise through the seven chakras to the top of the spine.
The gesture (or mudra) of namaste is a simple act made by bringing together both palms of the hands before the heart, and lightly bowing the head. In the simplest of terms it is accepted as a humble greeting straight from the heart and reciprocated accordingly.
Puja is a religious ritual which some Hindus perform every morning after bathing and dressing but prior to taking any food or drink. Puja is seen as a way of relating humans to the domain and actions of the divine, and can be performed for anything considered divine, from Vishnu to a holy tree.
The Sadhu (Holy Man)
Some Hindus choose to leave their homes and dedicate their lives to spiritual disciplines. They renounce their possessions and devote themselves to a particular god and/or meditation, yoga and spiritual discussion. These are called sadhus, or holy men.