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.
Origin and definition of "Hinduism"
Students learn how the name “Hinduism” was geographically derived, circa 500 BCE, from the name of the River Sindhu, which today flows along the northwest border of India with Pakistan, and that the original scriptural name of the religion is, in the Sanskrit language, Sanatan-dharma. They learn of the deep significance of this original Sanskrit name, which reflects the Hindu understanding of the eternal equal nature of all living beings as servants of God.
Key philosophical concepts in Hinduism
Students learn about
Atman, the spiritual self, and the nature of the spiritual self as sat-cid-ananda (eternal, and full of knowledge and bliss)
Samsara, reincarnation, or bondage in the cycle of birth and death
Karma, the law of action and reaction
Moksha, liberation of various types
Brahman as ultimate reality, both nirguna (void of qualities) and saguna (possessing qualities)
The main Hindu deities
Students explore the concept of God as one, and the concept of God as many. They make a focused study of the Tirmurti, and are introduced to the concept of avatar.
Students explore the detail within the Hindu concept of matter (prakriti): maya (illusion), the three gunas (binding qualities of material nature), and the nature of evil.
Spiritual progress in human society
Students learn about the Hindu concept of human development through four progressive stages of pious engagement, one leading to another, which can be traced both in the lives of individuals and in the history of countries. These progressive stages are dharma (religiosity), artha (economic development), kama (material enjoyment), and moksha (liberation).
The universe and its history
Students learn about the cycle of cosmic creation, and of the cycles of four ages (yugas) within each universal manifestation: satya, the golden age; treta, the silver age; dvapara, the copper age; and kali, the iron age.
The main Hindu denominations
Students study the main denominations with examples of the various advaita and dvaita traditions within Hinduism. Advaita is adherence to the philosophy of non-dualism or oneness, and dvaita is adherence to various philosophies of dualism. We explore and compare the different world views and their impact upon practices.
In connection with this they may learn about some of the sampradaya acharyas (founding fathers), as follows:
Shankaracharya 788-820 CE, consolidator of the advaita denominations
The four Vaishnava sampradaya acharyas, Madhva Acharya 1238-1317 CE (Brahma Sampradaya); Ramanuja Acharya 1017-1137 CE (Shri Sampradaya); Nimbarka Acharya, born 1162 CE, (Kumar Sampradaya); and Vishnu Swami, third century BCE, (Rudra Sampradaya).
The four paths
Students explore four paths of Hinduism: karma (fruitive work), jnana (pursuance of knowledge), yoga (pursuance of mystic union with God), and bhakti (loving devotional service to God). They can learn about different views on the relationship between these processes.
Worship and ritual
Students discover various Hindu practices of puja, worship, such as the arati ceremony, adornment of the deity, and offering of food to the deity. They explore the rationale behind deity worship and learn of the distinction between deity worship and idol worship.
Hindu samskaras, rites of passage, include, among others, garbhadan samskara, preparing to conceive a child; jata karma, birth ceremony for a newborn baby; annaprasna, feeding the child his first grains; upanayana, the spiritual initiation or sacred thread ceremony; vivaha yajna, wedding ceremony; and antyeshti, the funeral ceremony by cremation. For enactment at school, we offer mock vivaha and upanayana ceremonies, which students can take part in acting out.
Values and moral issues
Students explore how philosophical concepts, such as atman, reincarnation, moksha, and karma inform lifestyle and choice when it comes to moral issues such as war and peace, abortion, euthanasia, crime and punishment.
Attitudes to sexuality
The presenter will speak candidly about his or her own thoughts and feelings on sexuality and gender issues, and how knowledge of one’s spiritual identity comes into play here.
Ahimsa and animal rights
Students go into more depth on the subject of non-violence toward animals, gaining an understanding of why the cow is special to Hindus, and how vegetarianism and kindness to animals go hand in hand, contributing to the health of the body, the environment, and the economy.
Students learn about Hindu attitudes toward the environment, and how they see the earth as Mother. They find out about some ways that Hindus today are attempting to protect the environment in India and around the world. They also study how traditional rural village communities in India lived harmoniously with nature prior to the introduction of modern industrialisation and urbanisation, and how environmental problems have arisen in India as a result of mixing the old with the new. They may brainstorm for ideas on how today’s environmental problems in India might be remedied.
Students learn about Hindu customs around food and eating, about fasting and feasting, about special dishes and when these are prepared, and about sacred food, prasadam.
Diwali, Holi, Raksha Bandhan, Rama Navami, Janmastami–just a few examples of the many colourful festivals on the Hindu calendar, each of which possesses its own special story to listen to and act out, and its own associated customs for students to dip into and get a taste of.
Here is a list of just a few important festivals:
DIWALI, an autumn term festival. This Hindu festival of lights celebrates the rescuing of Sita after she was kidnapped by the ten-headed demon King Ravana–the conquering of light over darkness.
HOLI, a spring term festival, celebrates Aunt Holika’s protecting her young nephew Prince Prahlad from the tyrannies of his demoniac father.
RAMA NAVAMI, a spring term festival, is Lord Rama’s birthday.
RAKSHA BANDHAN, a summer festival, celebrates the love between brothers and sisters. The sister ties a beautiful thread called a rakhi round the wrist of her brother as a gift which symbolises her prayers for his wellbeing, as well as his vow always to protect her.
JANMASTAMI, a summer festival, is Lord Krishna’s birthday
Features of India special to Hindus include places of pilgrimage, holy rivers, shrines, the Himalayas, and seasons including monsoon.
Students are surrounded by textiles featuring traditional printed fabric motifs. There are also many artefacts from India on display for students to see and touch. They can also learn how to use Indian face paints to create authentic face and hand decorations with a partner.
MUSIC AND DANCE
Students hear a variety of styles of devotional music played at various points in their session. One activity features dancing the dandiya rasa circle dance with colourful sticks to the music.
Social system and family
Students learn about the ancient social system of varna and ashram detailed in Bhagavad-Gita. They contrast the pure form of varna and ashram with its corrupted form, known in recent times as the caste system of India.
Role of women in Hinduism
Hindu women, like women from most other communities in the world, have been known throughout the ages to serve their families as devoted wives and mothers, and to top their family responsibilities with feats of courage and leadership in greater society. Students will hear about such heroines as Mirabai, the poet princess and songwriter who gave up her kingdom for a life of saintly service to God; Gandhari, the queen and epitome of a good wife who followed her husband even in blindness; Draupadi who overcame the abuse of demoniac men by courageous surrender to God. And then there are ladies, such as the Maharani of Jhansi (1828-1858), an example amongst many, who, like Joan of Arc, led troups into battle.
Leaders and saints
We study the lives of such saintly Hindu leaders as
Mahatma Gandhi 1869-1948, known to Indians as the Father of the Nation, who led India to independence from British rule and has been the inspiration of post World War II civil rights movements around the world. His innovative and spiritually powerful non-violent non-cooperation strategy for protesting human rights violations has been emulated by Dr Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, among others.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy 1772-1833, Founder of the Brahmo Sabha, which evolved into the Brahmo Samaj, an influential socio-religious reform movement. He protected Hinduism and Indian rights while working in close cooperation with the British government ruling India during his time, and earned from the British the title Father of the Indian Renaissance. He is perhaps most noted for his efforts in abolishing the Hindu funeral practice of sati, in which a widow would sacrifice herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu 1486-1534, Founder of Bengali Vaishnavism, in which the International Society for Krishna Consciousness has its roots. He contributed toward exposing the corruption of the Indian caste system, shifting focus to the original teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita on the equality of all living beings, and making bhakti-yoga, the process of loving devotion to God, accessible to all people, including those born outside India.
The role of authority
Various spiritual authorities perform different functions in the lives of Hindus.
The purohit (priest) performs the rituals of temple worship and rites of passage, such as weddings, name giving ceremonies, and so on.
The guru (teacher) instructs disciples in spiritual wisdom, both theory and practice, and gives guidance and counselling as to how each individual may best be engaged to progress on his or her spiritual journey.
The sadhu (holy man or woman) could be any spiritual practitioner who provides one with some spiritual inspiration.
The sannyasin (monk in the renounced order of life) exemplifies detachment from the material world and has the broad minded vision of the whole world as his family. He travels from community to community, without a home of his own, teaching from the scriptures and giving guidance to whomever approaches him.
There are two main categories of scripture in Hinduism, and several sub-categories, most written in the Sanskrit language. The following breakdown is not comprehensive, but features the main works:
A. In the category of Shruti (heard directly from God as divine revelation, and unchanging):
- The four Vedas, Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva
- Within each of the four Vedas, Upanishads (sophisticated philosophical texts that set off the key points in the Veda)
- Within each of the four Vedas, Samhitas (metric poetry on various subjects)
- Within each of the four Vedas, Brahmanas (commentaries on the Vedas, including stories)
- Within each of the four Vedas, Aranyakas (texts on rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices)
- Within each of the four Vedas, Upanishads (commentary on philosophy)
B. In the category of Smriti (recollections of a human author, which may be works in progress):
- The Itihasas (epics), 1) Mahabharata (history of the life and times of Lord Krishna), and 2) Ramayana (history of the life and times of Lord Rama)
- The Bhagavad-Gita (a chapter from the Mahabharata in which Lord Krishna delivers his brilliant summation of Vedic teaching on the science of the spiritual self, which has been renowned the world over for centuries for its clarity and comprehensive conciseness. The Bhagavad-gita is the best known of all the Hindu scriptures.
- The Puranas (historical accounts)
Ramayana and Mahabharata
Within the entire scheme of the Hindu scriptures, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata stand out as being the most accessible to the general populace. Not only do they portray the life and times of the beloved Lords Rama and Krishna in captivating story form, but they also weave the philosophical, ethical, and cultural tenets of the Vedic teachings into the fabric of these stories in a way that makes them easy for all to understand. Many an evening is spent in Hindu communities and households listening to and discussing the thousands of rich and meaningful stories, which never seem to grow old.
Of particular note is the chapter of the Mahabharata known as Bhagavad-Gita, “the song of God.” In this chapter, Lord Krishna enlightens his soldier friend Arjuna before the commencement of battle with a brilliant exposition of Vedic teaching on our spiritual self, the atman, on our relationship with God, on our situation of bondage in material existence. Scholars the world over have praised the Bhagavad-Gita for its achievement in expressing the most profound spiritual concepts with a clarity and depth that resonates not only with the general Hindu population, but with people of all cultures and nations.
Students explore various manifestations of Hinduism in the modern world, taking a look at
- Hindus in India–the effects of globalisation on Hindu practice in the homeland
- The diaspora of Hindus of Indian descent around the world, including Africa, America, and the UK
- The founding of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1965, which has seen the Gaudiya Vaisnava aspect of Hinduism embraced by people of all countries around the world.
- How do the various faces of Hinduism look when adopted by people of non-Hindu origin?
- What influence, if any, has ISKCON had on those who are Hindus by birth?