You might want an introduction to Hinduism that will cover some of these topics and touch on others. If, however, you require a specific focus, have a certain theme, or want to cover specific subjects, please let us know. We can build in your personal requirements.
Basic concepts (beliefs)
At primary level, children explore the following concepts:
- Atman, the spiritual self
- Reincarnation, the cycle of birth and death
- Moksha, becoming free from the cycle of birth and death
- Karma, actions and consequences
Our presenters pitch their talks on these subjects sensitively to suit the age of the audience. We generally reserve focused talks on these subjects for Years 5 and 6. For younger children, we may only touch on some elements of these ideas in the course of other activities. For example, we would bring out the point that Hindus think all life is special and worthy of respect while teaching how to say “Namaste”.
With primary pupils we discuss basic values and moral choices, such as honesty, respect, delaying gratification, sharing, persistence, and so on, from the point of view of Hinduism.
While revisiting these topics from the perspective of Hinduism, children make connections between cultures, thus coming to see these values and morals as universal. These can then become for the children a potential bonding point with people around the world.
In this way, we aim to support and reinforce your school’s efforts at inculcating good citizenship and tolerance.
Attitude to animals
We will discuss with your children why Hindus place emphasis on kindness to animals, and why the cow is particularly special to Hindus.
Linked to this, we will discuss that many Hindus are vegetarians, abstaining from meat, fish, and eggs. This can lead in to talking about food and offering of food at the shrine.
With young children we will talk about the wildlife and weather of India.
Older children additionally enjoy talking about geography, particularly the Himalayan mountains and the monsoon season they produce, and the famous Ganges River.
With older children we also discuss history and historical and current society in India.
We discuss Hindu attitude to the environment and Mother Earth, as well as the concept of “simple living, high thinking”, and how an agrarian society is closer to nature, which fosters awareness of our dependence on God.
We talk about ISKCON’s UK farm at Bhaktivedanta Manor in Hertfordshire, where bulls are used to plough the fields instead of tractors, cow dung is used to create fertile, pest repellent compost, and solar and wind energy are used to generate some of our electricity, all contributing to a more natural, organic, eco-friendly agrarian system.
The main deities
We assure children that although there are many Hindu deities, if they learn a bit about the most famous ones, they’ll know more about Hinduism than most people. And then we dress some children up as the Hindu Trimurti, Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer. We also dress up the wives of these deities, the goddesses Sarasvati, Lakshmi, and Parvati. We talk about the characteristics of each, and their roles in the universe.
Of most significance, we are able to clarify for young children the often confusing subject of Hindu theology by explaining in a simple way the two main Hindu schools of thought on God: 1) the impersonalists, who say that all the deities are equal; and 2) the personalists, who, in a similar way to the Abrahamic religions, say that there is only one God (for many Hindus, Vishnu), and that the other deities are demigods, akin to angels, and are God’s helpers.
We discuss how there are very large numbers of temples in the towns and villages of India, and that in addition to visiting their community temples, Hindus also like to have a small temple in their home so that they can serve God in a personal way throughout the day by cooking and offering food to their deity, performing a form of worship called arati for the deity, by sewing clothes for their deity, and by bathing the deity and putting him or her to bed at night.
Hindus may visit their local community temple daily or weekly, and many Hindus enjoy performing tirtha yatra, walking on a long pilgrimage that may take many days, to visit one temple after another and enjoy being in each holy place, and seeing and praying to each deity along the way.
Rites of passage
Hindu rites of passage are marked by ceremonies and prayers, beginning even before birth with the garbhadan samskar, a spiritual preparation by the parents for conceiving the child. Other rites of passage include spiritual initiation, marriage, and passing to the next life.
During our school visits, we tend to choose marriage as the rite of passage to make an in-depth experience of for the children, because of the joyous nature of the wedding ceremony.
We can also go into the other rites of passage, explaining how Hindu parents believe in reincarnation and wish to welcome the soul that will be joining their family to become their child, explaining the vows of a spiritual initiate, and explaining why Hindus choose cremation for their funerals.
During school visits, we can discuss traditional Hindu cuisine and Hindu culture around food preparation and offering of food to God before consumption. Regrettably, we cannot include cooking demonstrations. Occasionally, we can arrange for food tasting by special request.
A related topic is the vegetarian diet of many Hindus, and the ethical rationale behind this.
There are many Hindu festivals, such as Diwali in the autumn, Holi in the spring, and Janmastami, Krishna’s birthday, in the summer.
Each festival has its own intriguing story to be told with the use of drama elements and props and costumes, or with the help of our delightful festival dolls of Rama, Sita, and Hanuman for Diwali, Narasimha and Prahlad for Holi, and Krishna and Radha for Janmastami.
With any festival you wish us to focus on, we will link in dressing up and dancing. When there is time, face and hand painting are also very complementary activities. We will also talk about, and when practical enact some of the specific cultural activities associated with the festival.
With an arts focus, we can engage children both in creating and appreciating various art forms.
Some activities for creating art:
- Colouring or building rangolis
- Dancing the dandiya rasa dance with colourful sticks to music
- Face and/or hand painting in the traditional styles of Hindu weddings and festivals
Some art appreciation activities:
- Looking at signs and symbols from Hinduism
- Looking at textiles from India
- Looking at prints of Indian paintings
- Looking at decorative clay divas imported from India
The social system
Our social studies for primary school children centre around the family and immediate community. We may talk about the traditional extended family wherein sometimes three generations of the family may live under the same roof, and explore the possible advantages and disadvantages of this arrangement.
Linked to this, we may explore social mores around marriage, and perhaps enact a mock Hindu wedding.
Primary children may also learn a bit about the traditional concept of varnashram, which looks at society as having four natural divisions of labour, and four natural stages of life. When we discuss this, we talk about how each person and group in society is meant to serve and support the whole, so as to create a well functioning, happy family, community, village, town, or country.
With primary school children, we talk about how Hindus think all living and non-living things in God’s creation are special and worthy of respect and kindness. People, animals, and anything that can be easily hurt or damaged need special care. These include children, the elderly, the sick, animals, plants, and our planet Earth.
We then talk about ways we can show kindness and be helpful to ourselves, to others, and to the planet. Some acts of charity that have been important in India for hundreds of years are planting trees, digging wells, and cooking for and feeding the poor. We discuss the significance of planting trees and digging wells, which at first may seem to young western children to have little significance or no significance at all. The abundant presence of trees is of immense importance to people and to the environment globally, as all of us are now learning from the results of widespread destruction of forests around the world. And in an arid agrarian country like India where plumbing is not as extensive as in the West, wells are an important source of water for people who may not live very close to a river.
When all people look for ways to serve others, a happy, fruitful community results. Everyone needs some kind of help, and everyone can be helpful in some way or other. We all need each other.
The head of state (king, queen, prime minister, and so on) are meant to look after the citizens, wildlife, and land that they are in charge of with the loving mood and expertise of a good father or mother. Such leaders have a greater responsibility to arrange for charity and care, and they are needed in society for this purpose.
We can count the many ways we receive help from others and from the environment and feel gratitude for all the abundance in our lives, and thankful toward a great number of benefactors. The more grateful we feel, the more joyful we become.
Holy Men and Women
Two inspirational Hindu heroines we introduce to primary pupils are Draupadi and Mirabai. And two great male religious leaders we tend to talk about are Caitanya and Mahatma Gandhi. They each have their own amazing life stories to be told.
The role and duties of the priest
Primary pupils learn about the various roles of a Hindu priest both in conducting temple worship and in providing pastoral care, tending to the needs of the congregation. They may observe an arati ceremony performed as worship at the shrine. They may become part of an enactment of a mock Hindu wedding where the priest conducts the ceremony and acts as counsellor to the couple. They may become involved in a role play where the priest takes the role of guru, spiritual teacher.
Primary pupils learn about the most famous Hindu holy book, Bhagavad Gita, “the song of God”. They explore the features of the book and the book stand it rests on, which is also used by Moslems and Sikhs for their holy books. They look at the cover illustration of Krishna and Arjuna blowing their conch shells on the battlefield and hear the history of how the words of the book came to be spoken. They look at the script of the Sanskrit language. They hear the sound of the presenter reciting a Sanskrit verse, and listen for words in the Sanskrit language that they hear used in England today, such as karma and yoga. Finally, Years 3-6 may take part in a simple discussion of the philosophical concepts introduced in the text, atman, reincarnation, moksha, and karma, with questions and answers.
We also tell primary pupils about the Pancha Tantra, a book of fables with animal characters that is thought to be the origin of the Greek Aesop’s Fables, and serves a similar didactic function providing a moral for each story.