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 Post subject: Hinduism - Cults and Traditions
 Post Posted: Wed May 09, 2007 3:18 am 
Hinduism - Cults and Traditions

@ CDN / S. Pathmanathan
Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Complexity: The most striking feature of Hinduism, which is one of the major religions of the world, is its composite and complex character. It consists of a wide range of cults, systems of beliefs and religious practices that have prevailed in the South Asian sub-continent for a long period of time.

The sources of the Hindu tradition are also many and of diverse origins. The Vedas are the oldest among the sacred text of Hinduism and the Vedic hymns were composed about 1200 years before Jesus Christ was born. Hinduism is not an organized religion with institutions comparable to the Christian Church or the Mahasangha of Buddhism.

Yet, Hinduism has a tremendous power of assimilation and vitality for innovation in the realm of thought and ideology. It has gone through a process of transformation, which is interminable. The conflict between tradition and change has been a recurrent feature in the long history of Hinduism.

Traditionally, Hinduism was considered as a composite religion consisting principally of six cults - sanmatan - which accept the authority of the Vedas. They are generally recognized as cults derived from and supported by the Vedic tradition. Each of these had an identity of its own. The name of the principal deity that was the object of adoration, and the mode of worship and symbolism that were adopted were the principal marks of distinction.

A belief in the existence of an eternal and omniscient Divinity, the soul or atman, and the laws of karma and rebirth or transmigration are intrinsic to all sects within the fold of Hinduism.

The systems of belief and ideology developed by them have been inspired by Vedic thought. Some of the rituals and ceremonies conducted by Hindus in medieval and modern times are also of Vedic origin.

In many other important respects, the cults within the fold of Hinduism, in their most developed form, exhibited characteristics that are non-Vedic and post-Vedic. The worship of images, the sanctity of temples, processions of idols, festivals and pilgrimages, which have been the principal manifestations of religiousness in Hinduism since the early centuries of the Christian era, are alien to the Vedic tradition.

Idol worship had come into the mainstream of Indian religions probably because of Hellenistic influence. It had the effect of transforming the character of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Iconographic art and temple architecture assumed great importance in the development of Hindu culture.

They provided avenues for representing in visual form myths, ideas of cosmology and metaphysical thought. Hinduism provided the inspiration for the refinement of Indian aesthetic conceptions and the enrichment of the poetic tradition.

The art of sculpture developed to the highest level of maturity and because of its architectural grandeur and imposing dimensions, the medieval Hindu temple became a monument of unsurpassed magnificence.

Hinduism and Hindu culture made a deep impression in the lands of continental and insular South East Asia, where some of the major dynasties assimilated elements of Hindu culture and employed learned Brahmins as royal chaplains and masters of court ritual.

Saivism, Vaisnavism and other Hindu cults, as found in the early centuries of the Christian era, were monotheistic and they extolled bhakthi or devotion to a personal God as the highest means of spiritual salvation. They were popular among all classes of people and had a mass appeal. A substantial proportion of foreigners who came into India were also attracted by these cults as revealed by historical evidence.

The origins of Hinduism could be traced from the Vedas but many characteristics of Hinduism as found in the historical period could not be explained or understood within the context of Vedic beliefs, practices and thought.

There was a need for manuals and comprehensive digests describing and compiling the details pertaining to the cults of Hinduism.

That need was supplied by the compilation of the puranas and agamas the origins of which are in reality related to developments within the fold of Hinduism during the early centuries of the Christian era.

Courtesy : Hindu Temples of Sri Lanka

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