Reporting on Hindu Traditions



With nearly one billion followers, Hinduism constitutes the third-largest religious community in the world. 

Most Hindus reside in India, but there are robust diaspora populations, including in the United States. 

This guide provides journalists with background information on Hindu traditions and a brief guide to covering them in the U.S.



Here at Mira’s Temple the legendary Meera (Mira), the mystic poet and leading light of Bhakti movement, prayed to Lord Krishna in Chittorgarh Fort. Creative commons image by Koshy Koshy
Here at Mira’s Temple the legendary Meera (Mira), the mystic poet and leading light of Bhakti movement, prayed to Lord Krishna in Chittorgarh Fort. Creative commons image by Koshy Koshy

Hinduism is widely believed to be the oldest living religious tradition and is referred to by many practitioners as “the eternal religion” (sanatana Dharma). 

Hinduism, with a range of up to 33 million deities, is less a singular religious tradition and more an extended family of traditions that share certain traits. In fact, the term “Hinduism” has only recently been adopted by Hindus themselves, with the word originally coming from the Persian term referring to those who lived on the other side of the river Indus.

Thus, there is no single founder of Hinduism and it has never been under the sway of a single authority. Although few specifics can be known about their origins, Hindu traditions developed as a synthesis of religious movements in India over the course of five millennia. 

Prehistoric religious traditions existing in the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization, for which India was named, fused with Vedic religion (also called Vedism), the tradition of Indo-European settlers. The language of these Indo-Europeans developed into the ancient Indian Language of Sanskrit, closely related to Latin, Greek and English.

India’s proto-Hindu Vedic tradition developed from the texts of the Vedas, which have an oral transmission dating back 3,000 years. The Rig-Veda is the oldest surviving work, followed by the Sama-Veda, Yajur-Veda and the Atharva-Veda. These are all dated between 1500 and 800 BCE and passed on orally.

What are often considered the six main branches of Hindu philosophy developed in around the second century BCE: Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta. The Bhakti movement, still influential today, developed out of the influence of the monotheistic Shaiva tradition and the influence of Islamic rulers in India. Later reform movements also developed out of the 18th century colonial movement and later, anti-colonial movements in the 20th century.

Buddhist and Jain traditions emerged as reform movements within Hinduism, before distinguishing themselves as separate traditions. Though there remains a certain symbiosis between them, they should be treated as distinct communities. Sikhism (or, Sikhi) also has historical links to Hindu traditions.

Photo by Udayaditya Barua/Unsplash/Creative Commons
For up-to-date reporting on Hindu traditions, explore the “Hinduism Channel” at Religion News Service.




Indian pilgrims wait for the sunrise at Kanniyakmari, Tamil Nadu, India. Creative commons image by Patrik M. Loeff
Indian pilgrims wait for the sunrise at Kanniyakmari, Tamil Nadu, India. Creative commons image by Patrik M. Loeff

Of the world’s nearly 1.1 billion Hindus, the vast majority reside in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia. They hold a majority in India, Nepal and Mauritius.

According to the Pew Research Center:

The number of Hindus around the world is projected to rise from slightly more than 1 billion in 2010 to nearly 1.4 billion in 2050. This increase will roughly keep pace with overall population growth. As a result, Hindus will remain fairly stable as a share of the world’s population over the next four decades, at about 15% in both 2010 and 2050.

In the U.S., the Hindu population has topped 3 million according to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Other significant Hindu populations can be found in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Myanmar, China, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, South Africa, Australia, the Gulf States (especially the United Arab Emirates and Qatar), Uganda, Singapore, Fiji and Guyana.

Example Coverage

Largest Hindu temple outside India in the modern era opens in New Jersey

By Luis Andres Henao and Deepa Bharath, Associated Press

October 7, 2023

(AP) – If stones could talk, sing and tell stories, Yogi Trivedi believes the marble and limestone that adorn the spires, pillars and archways of the stunning Hindu temple in central New Jersey would compose a paean to the divine.

Monks in saffron robes walk in front of the BAPS Swaminarayan Akshardham, the largest Hindu temple outside India in the modern era, on Wednesday Oct. 4, 2023, in Robbinsville, N.J. The temple was partly built using marble from Italy and limestone from Bulgaria hand-carved by artisans in India and shipped to New Jersey. (AP Photo/Luis Andres Henao)The tales these stones tell are those of seva (selfless service) and bhakti (devotion), which form the core of the Swaminarayan sect, a branch of Hinduism, said Trivedi, a scholar of Hinduism at Columbia University.

It took a combined total of about 4.7 million hours of work by artisans and volunteers to hand-carve about 2 million cubic feet of stone. The four varieties of marble from Italy and limestone from Bulgaria traveled first to India and then over 8,000 miles across the world to New Jersey.

They were then fitted together like a giant jigsaw to create what is now touted as the largest Hindu temple outside India to be built in the modern era, standing on a 126-acre tract. It will open to the public on Monday.

The largest temple complex in the world is the Ankgor Wat, originally constructed in the 12th century in Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia, and dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu by King Suryavarman II. It is now described as a Hindu-Buddhist temple, and is one of 1,199 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The Robbinsville temple is one of many built by the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha or BAPS, a worldwide religious and civic organization within the Swaminarayan sect.

“Service and devotion are the two basic elements that form the subtle foundation of how a temple so majestic gets built here in central New Jersey,” said Trivedi, who studies the Swaminarayan faith tradition and follows it.

This temple will be the third Akshardham or “abode of the divine” the organization has built after two others in New Delhi and Gujarat, where BAPS is headquartered. The former is the largest Hindu temple complex in the world. The sect, which will celebrate its 50th year in North America next year, oversees more than 1,200 temples and 3,850 centers around the world.

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Hindu traditions

  • Vaishnavism

    Vaishnavism is the branch of Hinduism that sees Vishnu, or one of his reincarnations, as the Supreme God. Adherents to Vaishnavism are called Vaishnavites or Vaishnavas. Approximately 80 percent of Hindus are Vaishnavites. The Vedas, the Bhagavad Vita, the Bhagavata Purana, the Vishnu Samhita and the Gita Govinda are regarded as especially important in Vaishnavism. Vaishnavims is distinguished by its consideration of God as a personal being. Vaishnavism identifies six qualities of God: all knowledge, all power, supreme majesty, supreme strength, unlimited energy and total self-sufficiency.

  • Shaivism

    Shaivism (also written as Saivism and Shavism) is the branch of Hinduism that sees Siva as the Supreme God. It is regarded as the oldest Hindu denomination. Shaivism is prominent throughout India, with particular influence in Southern India and Sri Lanka. Shaivism is a very mystical denomination. Siva is considered to transcend physical form and is seen as symbolizing the entire universe. Shaivism emphasizes self-realization and attaining moshka (liberation).

  • Shaktism

    Shaktism is the branch of Hinduism that sees the goddess Devi as the Supreme deity. The Tantras, which were written as Shaktism was developing between the fourth and seventh centuries, are the only holy Hindu texts in which Devi takes the role of the Supreme, and as a result, they are particularly influential in Shaktism. Shaktism looks at the Supreme Goddess as the source of life and the controller of nature. Shaktism is seen by many as being complementary to Shaivism. Devi is represented as Shiva’s consort, so Shiva embodies the male principle and Devi embodies the female.

  • Smartism

    Smartism is the branch of Hinduism that worships five deities, Vishnu, Shiva, Surya, Ganesha and Devi. Any deity may be worshipped in Smartism. Adherents to Smartism are called Smartas. Smartas comprise the smallest of the four Hindu sects. In Smartism, all of the deities are regarded as equals, though individuals are allowed to give preference to one particular deity according to their personal beliefs. Smartism is linked to the ideology of the guru, Adi Shankaracharya. The idea behind the founding of Smartism was to do away with certain practices in Hinduism, such as animal sacrifice; and also because Adi Shankaracharya believed in the concept of Advaita Vedanta, in which Brahman is the fundamental and highest reality above all gods. All of the Hindu epics and Puranic literature are accepted by Smartism.

Core Beliefs


It is important to note that across Hindu traditions there are numerous variations according to community context and regional dynamics. There is no single Hinduism. “Hinduism has never been a ‘creed’ with a set of beliefs,” writes Harvard University’s Diana Eck, “but rather a culture and way of life.” 

With that said, among Hindu traditions there are four important terms (dharma, karma, samsara, moksha) you will hear often and which come to play in Buddhist and Jain traditions as well.

  • Dharma, the way of life in accord with cosmic truth. Hinduism is viewed as the eternal way of life (sanatana Dharma). Dharma also has a sense of “balance” to it and the sum total of the meaning of your life, the cosmos, the seasons, etc. The idea is that when things are out of balance (or outside the way of dharma), problems will arise.
  • Karma, or “action,” the personal consequences that accrue from action. It is the record of one’s own dharma. When there are imbalances in one’s karma, the system is self-correcting. Unpaid karmic debt can stick from one life to the next in the cycle of rebirth, or samsara.
  • Samsara, the transmigration of the soul from one life to the next, more popularly referred to as “reincarnation” or the eternal cycle of rebirth. The goal of Hinduism is not to continue in samsara, but to be released from this vicious cycle. Samsara continues because of imbalance. Until dharma, balance, is reached, samsara continues and the atman (soul) returns to life in one form or another.
  • Moksha, release, the liberation of the soul from the cycle of rebirth. It is the cessation of samsara.

Furthermore, Hinduism has numerous deities, which are interpreted by many Hindus as manifestations of one divine source. The primary trio is made up of Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva (also spelled Siva), the destroyer. Hindus believe that animals have souls, and some are worshipped as deities. These beliefs have evolved over several thousand years and are embedded in an array of ritual, mystical and ascetic practices.

For example, central to some Hindu traditions is the idea of a “chosen deity” (ishta devata) to which an individual devotes themselves and focuses their puja — loving offering and rituals of devotion, including gifts of flowers, food, water, or light. For the worshipper, the divine essence of the deity is visible and tangible in the image or statue. Thus, an interaction is possible between human and their deity and/or guru. This reciprocal “seeing” is called darshan.


A priest distributes prasada to worshipers in Agara, Karnataka, India. Creative commons image by Harsha K.R.


Puja, worship or ritual praise, is an essential component of Hindu practice, which includes offerings to the deities and the sharing of food (prasada, prasadam). The practice of prasada represents an acknowledgment of the generosity of life and possibility. Archana is a short form of puja offered on behalf of an individual or family, often involving the chanting of a deity’s names.

Story and performance

Narrative storytelling, specifically about the major deities, is a cornerstone of Hindu life. Whether through spoken word or live performance, religious epics pass down stories of love, strife and dharma.


Bhakti is a tradition of devotion to a spiritual teacher or personal God. A devotee is a bhakta, whose heart is filled with love or devotion (bhakti) for a particular deity. The term is derived from a Sanskrit root meaning “to share,” conveying the sense of a personal relationship, expressed in chanting, singing, dancing, and temple worship.



Example coverage

In chic Soho, a Hindu temple offers itself as a spiritual oasis

By Richa Karmarkar, Religion News Service

September 19, 2023

(RNS) – On Broome Street, in the heart of Manhattan’s fashionable Soho neighborhood, a Hindu temple dedicated to the elephant-headed deity Ganesha is striving to develop its own sense of cool. Its location allows it to draw guest teachers such as prominent spiritual author Deepak Chopra, and devotees — or at least influential fans — such as the actor Willem Dafoe, who was recently spotted wearing a Broome Street Ganesha T-shirt.

“Here, it’s cool to come to the temple,” said Shruti Bramadesam, the temple’s assistant director. “It’s cool to be spiritual. It’s cool to meditate. It’s not something we had to have been made fun of for growing up.”

This week, the 20-year-old temple is celebrating Lord Ganesha in a distinctly New York way, ending its celebration of its deity’s birthday, the 10-day holiday Ganesh Chaturthi, with a visarjan — a ritual that sends Ganesha home by immersing his clay idol into a body of water — in the Hudson River.

Bramadesam wants all New Yorkers to know that the visarjan, and the temple, is for them, no matter their age, race or spiritual background. The Broome Street Ganesha Temple, she said, hopes to meet people where they are— whether they are Hindu or not.

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Select Celebrations


Diwali, the five-day Hindu festival of lights, is the most popular festival in the Hindu diaspora and is celebrated by Sikhs and Jains as well as Hindus. It occurs every year between October and November, with the date on the Gregorian calendar shifting to match the third, and darkest, day of the lunisolar month of “Diwali.”

Singapore population includes a large South Indian origin population, who have celebrated Diwali and other Hindu festivals for over a century. Little India in Singapore decorated a week before Diwali. Creative commons image by Shankar S.
Singapore population includes a large South Indian origin population, who have celebrated Diwali and other Hindu festivals for more than a century. Little India in Singapore is decorated a week before Diwali. Creative commons image by Shankar S.

Though very popular in India, it is also popular in the United States.

Diwali symbolizes the victory of dharma, and good over evil. The word is a variation of the Sanskrit word “Deepavali” and refers to the rows of earthen lamps celebrants place around their homes. 

Hindus believe that the light from these lamps symbolizes the illumination within the individual that overwhelms ignorance, represented by darkness.

Diwali commemorates the return of the avatar Lord Ram (the incarnation of Lord Vishnu), his wife Sita and brother Lakshman to their capital, Ayodhya, after 14 years of exile. The residents of Ayodhya, overjoyed at the return of their beloved king, lit lamps in his honor. Thus, the entire city looked like a row of lights.

Diwali is also observed by Sikhs, who celebrate the release of the Sixth Guru, Hargobind, from captivity by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, and Jains, who commemorate the day Lord Mahavira attained nirvana, or liberation, after his death in 527 B.C. Some Christians also celebrate Diwali, although the practice is contested. 

At Diwali, relatives and friends exchange food and gifts. At weddings, the families of the bride and bridegroom exchange gifts, otherwise, gift exchange is not central to mainstream Hindu tradition.


Holi is a spring festival celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and others in northern India. marks the end of the winter season and the celebration of springtime flowers. It celebrates the eternal and divine love of the deities Radha and Krishna. Additionally, the day signifies the triumph of good over evil.

Durga Puja

Durga Puja is a ten-day annual festival, with the last five days dedicated to celebrate the goddess Durga with certain rituals and practices, including the worship of Shiva, Lakshmi, Ganesha, Saraswati and Kartikeya. Held  the seventh month of the Hindu calendar — “Ashvina” — it falls between September and October, it marks the victory of goddess Durga in her battle against the shape-shifting Mahishasura. It is also a harvest festival celebrating the goddess as the motherly power behind life and creation. It is the biggest biggest Hindu festival celebrated in Bangladesh.

Example Coverage

How Americans have adopted — and adapted — the Indian festival of Holi

By Kalpana Jain, Religion News Service

March 17, 2022 

The Hindu tradition of Holi is one of the many festivals that has been adopted by many Americans. The recognizable throwing of color is now found in events and festivals across the U.S. Courtesy photo(RNS) – The arrival of spring always brings sweet memories from my childhood in India of Holi: the sound of drumbeats and people dancing merrily in the streets, bodies smeared with a multitude of colors. In our home, buckets filled with wet colors would be kept ready to be poured on friends, family and neighbors, who would walk in with their own fistfuls of colors. The visitors were served freshly prepared sweets and savories from my mother’s kitchen along with a delightful almond drink, suffused with saffron.

Traditionally celebrated on the last full moon in the lunar month of Phalguna, which falls this year on Friday (March 18), Holi commemorates the triumph of good over evil. In Hindu mythology the demon king Hiranyakashipu commands his subjects to acknowledge him as the supreme God, but his son Prahalada, a devotee of the god Vishnu, refuses. In a rage Hiranyakashipu gives his sister, Holika, a protective cloak and instructs her to take Prahalada in her lap and sit on a burning pyre.

As Prahalada chants Vishnu’s name, the cloak flies off Holika and wraps around him. Holika is charred to death, while Prahalada remains unharmed.

In different regions of India, it comes with different rituals and meanings. Some light a bonfire on the evening before, while elsewhere Holi is a celebration of love honoring the divine love of Lord Krishna and Radha. With its fun and brightness, the festival has long since become a secular celebration — not unlike the West’s Christmas.

But with the Indian diaspora, Holi has gone global, adapting to local conditions and sensibilities. Deep in Mormon Utah, Salt Lake City’s Holi celebration, organized by ISKCON — the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (more familiarly known as the Hare Krishnas) — draws a crowd of around 25,000 people for a ticketed event held over two days (March 26 and 27 this year.) Holi celebrations in other cities have become highly commercialized, with food, yoga classes and rock bands.

“When I was a child growing up in Boise, Idaho, my parents organized the Holi festival,” said Ravi Gupta, a scholar of religious studies at Utah State University, “About 25 Indian families and a couple of other friends would turn up. But in past one or two decades, Holi has gone beyond that demographic. It has been an opportunity to involve and engage other communities.”

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Example Coverage

In Hinduism’s celebration of Durga, lessons for how to navigate global conflicts (commentary)

By Murali Balaji, Religion News Service

October 24, 2023

Women dance in front of an idol of Hindu goddess Durga before it is immersed in the Hooghly River in Kolkata, India, Oct. 24, 2023. The immersion of idols marks the end of the festival that commemorates the slaying of a demon king by lion-riding, 10-armed goddess Durga, marking the triumph of good over evil. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)(RNS) – As the nine-day festival of Sharada Navaratri comes to an end Tuesday (Oct. 24), Hindus will mark the holiday Vijayadashami, also known as Dussehra, with devotions and celebrations dedicated to the goddess Durga. Hindu Scripture tells how the Durga, a manifestation of divine feminine energy, battled the shape-shifting demon Mahishasura over nine days before prevailing and restoring dharma, or righteousness, to the world.

As the world appears increasingly consumed with conflict, the themes of Sharada Navaratri, the most widely celebrated of the four Navaratris in India and across the Hindu diaspora, may be a guide for all people around the globe to navigating our turbulent times. It is a clarion call to improve ourselves, to act with empathy and understanding for others and realize that the battles against evil, terrorism and injustice must also be fought with a moral compass.

The divine qualities of Durga, particularly her conflation of feminine energy, or shakti, and strength, have been extolled for centuries. The renowned eighth-century Indian scholar-saint Adi Shankara composed the hymn “Mahishasura Mardini” (“Slayer of the Demon Mahisha”) to honor Durga as one of the strongest deities in Hinduism.

But Durga’s victory reminds us too of evil ability to take many forms, just as the shape-shifter Mahishasura did. Facing down evil, therefore, takes persistence. Even when we have moral clarity and righteousness on our side, our ever-evolving battles against evil, injustice and other ills do not necessarily translate into quick wins. Instead, Durga’s spiritual battle tells us, we need perseverance.

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Hindus share an extensive textual tradition, the bulk of which addresses philosophy, mythology and theology. There are a few that are widely revered and looked to by a large number of Hindus worldwide: the Vedas, the Upanishads, Epics, and Puranas. Issues of polytheism, monotheism and the relationship of the divine singular to the plurality arise frequently in these texts, most notably the Vedas.

The Gitas

  • The Devî Gita

    This is an excerpt from a much larger work, the the Srimad Devî Bhagavatam, which describes an incarnation of the goddess Devi who speaks on her nature and how she wants to be worshipped, particularly with Yogic practices, meditation and rituals.

  • The Bhagavad Gita

    This epic is actually book six of the Mahabharata, but often stands on its own. It is told as a dialogue between Krishna and the soldier Arjuna on a battlefield before the fighting begins. It was composed about 200 B.C. has an online translation by Edwin Arnold.

The Vedas

  • The Rig Veda

    An ancient Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns. It is one of the four sacred canonical Hindu texts known as the Vedas. There are just over one thousand hymns in the Rig Veda, made up of more than ten thousand verses.

  • The Sama Veda

    The Sama Veda, or Veda of Holy Songs, third in the usual order of enumeration of the three Vedas, ranks next in sanctity and liturgical importance to the Rig Veda, or the Veda of Recited Praise. Its Sanhita, or metrical portion, consists chiefly of hymns to be chanted by the Udgatar priests at the performance of those important sacrifices in which the juice of the Soma plant, clarified and mixed with milk and other ingredients, is offered in libation to various deities. The collection is made up of hymns, portions of hymns and detached verses, taken mainly from the Rig Veda, transposed and re-arranged, without reference to their original order, to suit the religious ceremonies in which they were to be employed.

  • The Yajur Veda

    The Yajur Veda is primarily comprised of prose mantras for worship rituals. An ancient Vedic Sanskrit text, it is a compilation of ritual-offering formulas that were said by a priest while an individual performed ritual actions.

  • The Atharva Veda

    This is the Ralph T.H. Griffith translation of the Atharvaveda. The Atharvaveda is a Vedic-era collection of spells, prayers, charms and hymns. There are prayers to protect crops from lightning and drought, charms against venomous serpents, love spells, healing spells and hundreds of verses, some derived from the Rig Veda, that are all very ancient.

The Puranas

  • The Puranas

    The Puranas are a narrative of the history of the cosmos from creation to destruction. There are 17 or 18 divided into categories named for the Hindu deities Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

  • The Vishnu Purana

    One of the great texts of Vaishnavism, it primarily centers around its supreme deity, Lord Vishnu, and his avatars such as Krishna.

  • The Garuda Purana

    Another key text in Vaishnavism, the Garuda Purana centers again around Lord Vishnu, this time in the form of a dialog between Vishnu and Garuda, the King of Birds.

  • The S’rîmad Devî Bhâgawatam

    Composed in Sanskrit by Veda Vyasa, the text is considered as a major purana for Devi devotees.

  • The Prem Sagar of Lallu Lal

    Based on the tenth book of the Bhagavata Purana, this is the tale of the deeds of Krishna, composed by Lallu Lal between 1804 and 1810.

The Upanishads

  • The Upanishads

    These are mystical texts often written in the form of dialogues between deities and men. They were composed between 400 and 200 C.E.

The Epics

  • The Mahabharata

    The Mahabharata is an ancient religious epic originally composed in Sanskrit. It tells of the many adventures of Krishna.

  • The Ramayana

    This is an epic tale of the adventures of the deity Rama who fights to free his love, Sita, from the hold of Ravan, the King of Ceylon. has an online translation by Ralph T.H. Griffith.

Major Issues


Below are some issues of concern to, and concerning, Hindus in United States.

  • Determining what it looks like to be Hindu in the U.S. Raising U.S.-born children in the faith has forced immigrant parents to define Hinduism’s beliefs and doctrines to an extent that they would not have had to do in India or other places where the religion is part and parcel to daily life.
  • Constructing temples. Issues concerning the construction of Hindu temples in the U.S. have to do with freedom of religion, land use and the challenges of satisfying the religious needs of a diverse Hindu-American population. One U.S. temple may have to serve Hindus from Northern and Southern India, Guyana and the Caribbean, as well as their U.S.-born children. Conflict can arise over style of architecture, selection of temple deities and priests. Temples in the U.S. also serve a range of purposes that Indian temples do not, with many functioning as community meeting halls, cultural resource centers and religious education schools as well as places of worship. In June 2006, the first national meeting of Hindu mandir (temple) executives was held in Atlanta. Executives came from 57 temples in more than 20 states, Canada and the Caribbean Islands attempting to set standards for a general approach to “pan-Hinduism” North America, including temple guidelines and guidance on textbooks and community service.
  • Caste refers to the traditional social, economic and religious structure of Indian society, which divides people into four broad groups, or castes (“varna” in Sanskrit), plus a large group of outcastes (Dalits, formerly called “untouchables”) and thousands of smaller groups, or subcastes (“jati”). The caste system has long encoded inequality and is justified in some premodern Hindu legal texts. Today, it is a rigid hereditary hierarchy across South Asian religious communities in which restrictions are placed on one’s social mobility, job opportunities, marriage prospects and even whom one can eat with. Although caste discrimination is illegal in India, it is still common among followers of all religions throughout South Asia. The Indian government has various schemes to assist historically oppressed caste groups (called the “Scheduled Castes”) but these have not eliminated casteism. Caste is a socio-cultural practice that does not have many visible markers. In some cases, surnames denote particular castes. Other indicators can include marriage choice, diet restrictions, wearing of some sacred items, language word choices, ancestral home, and certain ritual practices. These are often difficult to discern for people outside of South Asian communities and can also shift depending on region (or, in the diaspora, familial regional origins within South Asia). The comparison between caste and race helps many Westerners understand the caste system, although there are significant differences. The biggest difference is that caste is usually not immediately apparent based on physical appearance. However, the systemic marginalization that racialized individuals in the US experience is comparable to that of caste-oppressed people. Also, casteism and racism are sometimes supported by citations to religious texts (e.g., Brahmin-authored dharmashastra and the Bible, respectively).Some try to make the case that the British invented caste as part of their colonial empire in South Asia (1757–1947). Although caste was reified and altered in certain ways during British colonial rule, scholarly consensus is that caste-based hierarchies in the religious, social, and political life of South Asian communities date back to ancient India. The caste system has been dynamic through various forms of religious, social and political change. There have been some recent attempts by state legislatures to pass anti-caste bills into law. Some US-based groups argue that anti-discrimination measures which include caste will: increase discrimination against Hindus, single out Hindus and South Asians alone as culprits of caste discrimination, be difficult to enforce since caste typically lacks visible markers, impose caste hierarchies on Hindu communities when most diaspora Hindus don’t recognize caste or know their caste and violate Hindu religious freedom. Others argue that caste is a social hierarchy found in several cultures and traditions (not only in Hinduism). Research, court-proceedings and individual reports indicate that caste-based discrimination is widespread among the US South Asia diaspora.
  • Monitoring textbooks. This has been a growing concern among U.S. Hindus since 2005, when California proposed the adoption of nine school textbooks that some Hindus felt misrepresented their religion and were otherwise discriminatory (cases were also brought in Texas and Virginia). In September 2006, a California judge ruled that the state did not have to withdraw the textbooks but agreed that the process by which they are adopted is unfair. Out of the conflict, the Hindu Education Foundation was formed, and it now holds educational seminars for educators and parents in other states. Textbook debates have continued since, emerging again in California in 2016/17.
  • Discrimination. Responding to insensitivity, intolerance and hate crimes. Hindus often join together to defend their faith and educate others in response to temple vandalism and offensive remarks by public officials. There is, however, no evidence of systematic discrimination against Hindus in the United States. The FBI began collecting data on hate crimes that targeted Hindus in the late 2010s, and the data since then shows that such cases are exceedingly rare.
  • Hindu nationalism. Hindu nationalism is a political ideology that views Indian national identity and culture as inseparable from Hinduism. According to Hindutva ideology, Hindus are viewed as an ethnic, rather than explicitly religious, category. It has parallels with other forms of extremist religious and racial nationalisms, such as white Christian nationalism. The Hindutva endorsement of violence has also proved a threat in India and abroad, as its reach and popularity evolved over time and its influence expanded beyond Indian borders beginning in the 1940s. Today, Hindu nationalism is a worldwide phenomenon that negatively impacts multiple communities, especially of South Asian descent, across the world. In addition, Hindutva used to be a fringe ideology embraced by only a minority of Indians. In recent times, Hindu nationalism increasingly defines the Indian political mainstream and a Hindutva political party (BJP) has governed at the federal level in India since 2014.

Example coverage

Gen Z Hindu Americans reckon with faith and politics

By Richa Karmarkar, Religion News Service

September 21, 2022

(RNS) – Three years ago, Abby Govindan, a Twitter personality and stand-up comic, was invited to perform at “Howdy Modi,” a rally featuring Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then-President Donald Trump, held in her home city, Houston. 

The Hindu tradition of Holi is one of the Hindu festivals that has been adopted by many Americans. The recognizable throwing of color is now found in events and festivals across the U.S. Courtesy photoAfter much deliberation, Govindan turned the appearance down. While it was a chance to perform at NRG Stadium in front of 50,000 fellow Indian Americans, Govindan didn’t want to show tacit support for the Indian politician whose name has become synonymous with Hindu nationalism.

“I love India. I am so proud to be Indian, but I am not proud of Modi,” said Govindan. “It would make my parents proud, but at the end of the day, my morals are all I have.”

For Hindus of Generation Z, the age cohort that is now in college or just graduated, fashioning an Indian and a Hindu identity apart from India’s contentious political climate is increasingly difficult. Since Modi was elected prime minister in 2014 as leader of the Hindu nationalist BJP, he has been criticized as a threat to India’s long-standing secular democracy, and the partisan rancor has begun to divide the Indian diaspora in the U.S.

For American students looking for a Hinduism absolved of politics, there is a distinct lack of places to turn.

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Example Coverage

This India Day, Indian Americans want to be independent from politics

By Richa Karmakar, Religion News Service

August 15, 2023

MIke Ghouse, on left holding binder, leads an India Independence Day event on the National Mall in Washington, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023. RNS photo by Richa Karmarkar(RNS) – Edison, New Jersey, home to the highest concentration of Indian Americans in the nation and often referred to as Little India by outsiders and natives alike, has been the hub for India Day celebrations for years.

This year was no exception. Crowds gathered Sunday (Aug. 13) in an advance celebration of the Aug. 15 anniversary of India’s independence from Britain in 1947. Loud music, vibrant flags, traditional costumes and even the Hindu deities Ram and Hanuman colored the streets of Edison. Businesses and temples passed out lassis and prasad.

In the United States, where 4.4 million people of Indian heritage reside, Indian Independence Day is a recognition of freedom — a multifaith, multicultural celebration of Indian civilization before and after the British Raj. But for many Indian Americans today, celebrating India Day comes with the complicated decision of whether to celebrate, ignore or protest their ancestral homeland’s current political atmosphere and the rise of Hindu nationalism there.

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Example Coverage

This India Day, Indian Americans want to be independent from politics

By Sonia Paul, Wired

March 1, 2022

reflection of a man on water ripples(Wired) – Siddhant was 14 when he learned of the watch. His father, a low-wage worker on the Indian railway, was trying to save up for it, tucking away a few rupees when he could. Made of steel, the watch had in its dial a sketch of a portly man, his face framed by round glasses and his broad shoulders clad in a wide-lapelled jacket. It was his father’s hero, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the man most responsible for weakening the caste system’s grip on Indian society.

After school, Siddhant liked to ride his bike down the crowded streets of Nagpur, India, past groups of kids playing cricket, to a squat concrete building where his father rented a modest office with his friends, all anti-caste activists. Inside, he’d find the men sitting in plastic chairs, swapping tales of their exploits with Ambedkar, surrounded by posters of the man and newspapers spilling off bookshelves. As he sat listening, Siddhant couldn’t help but notice as one friend and then another and a third appeared at the office with the watch strapped to their wrists.

One day, Siddhant showed up on his bike and, to his immense surprise, saw on his father a different version of the watch. A gift from a big-shot friend, this one was comparatively luxe. Instead of the metal strap it had a leather band, and it was quartz, battery-powered rather than a windup. Siddhant couldn’t help but blurt out: “I want that watch!”

Siddhant, like his father, is a Dalit, a member of the most oppressed caste in South Asia’s birth-based hierarchy. Even among Dalits, their family was especially poor. Siddhant sometimes spent his evenings crouched near the firepit where his family cooked their food, repairing his torn rubber sandals with a hot iron rod that melted the straps back onto the sole. Seeing his father’s watch, something clicked: This was a symbol of everything he was after—to be an elite, educated Dalit, just like Ambedkar.

Siddhant’s father made him a deal. If Siddhant finished high school with first honors, he could have the watch. A year later, Siddhant came home brandishing his report card from the Maharashtra board of education: He’d done it. While his father, beaming, scanned the results, Siddhant grabbed the watch off a shelf and adjusted the strap to his wrist.

Siddhant has worn the watch nearly every day since—while riding his bike 12 miles to college, while earning his first paycheck as an engineer, while getting married. When he flew across the Atlantic to start a tech career in the San Francisco Bay Area, he wore it. It was on his wrist when he interviewed for, and landed, the job that convinced him he might finally escape the orbital pull of India and his family’s multigenerational poverty: as a software engineer at Facebook, with an offer package that totaled almost $450,000.

In Silicon Valley, it’s routine for people from India to land high-paying jobs; they make up a full quarter of the technical workforce. Yet those successes have, almost exclusively, come from historically privileged castes. Seven decades after India legally abolished “untouchability,” many Dalits still contend with enormous setbacks—hate crimes, poverty, limited economic opportunity.

When they do find their way to the US, Dalits tend to keep their backgrounds private to avoid inviting trouble. “It is very, very dangerous, revealing the identity even to any person,” says Siddhant, who asked to use a pseudonym. In 2020, such fears may have seemed justified when a California state agency filed a lawsuit against the San Jose–based tech giant Cisco, alleging caste discrimination against a Dalit employee. In the weeks that followed, more Dalit tech workers came forward. A South Asian civil rights group called Equality Labs received more than 250 unsolicited complaints against colleagues at Google, Netflix, Amazon, and Facebook, among other places. The individuals claimed that other Indians had made casteist slurs, engaged in discriminatory hiring and firing, sexually harassed them, and aggressively hunted for evidence of a closeted Dalit’s caste.

For outsiders, caste grievances can be difficult—bordering on impossible—to recognize. “One of the most dangerous things about caste,” says Yashica Dutt, author of the memoir Coming Out as Dalit, “is that it’s invisible. And because it’s invisible, there are many codes and secret languages that exist around us.” Questions about a person’s last name or home village can be seen as invasive attempts to identify caste. A pat on the shoulder might be a friendly greeting—or a search for a sacred thread that some dominant-caste Hindu men wear beneath their shirts. What counts as a transgression varies from person to person, but Dalits tend to agree that constantly navigating caste is a tremendous burden. Their lives are weighed down by always wondering whether a bad thing happened to them because of who they are.

Example Coverage

As caste bill meets defeat, Hindu Americans on both sides make their voices heard

By Richa Karmakar, Religion News Service

October 11, 2023

People demonstrate against Senate Bill 403 during a rally near the California state Capitol in Sacramento, Sept. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Sangeetha Shankar/HAF(RNS) – On Saturday (Oct. 7), California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill intended to outlaw discrimination on the basis of ancestry, adding a definition of caste to the list of protected categories under California’s existing civil rights laws.

“In California, we believe everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter who they are, where they come from, who they love, or where they live,” said Newsom in his veto statement, calling the bill “unnecessary” because existing civil rights law prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, ancestry, national origin and other characteristics.

The veto appeared to end — for now — a debate that has raged at least since February, when state Sen. Aisha Wahab, a Muslim who represents Fresno, introduced the measure, Senate Bill 403, eliciting fierce opposition from Hindus who claimed it would increase discrimination against their entire community. Other Hindus rallied just as passionately in support of the bill: Newsom’s veto ended a hunger strike by activists hoping to put pressure on him to sign it.

But both sides say the fight over SB403 has just begun, and as for the veto, Hindus on both sides count the moment as a win.

“SB-403 forced our community to find its voice,” said Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation, which led the opposition to the bill, in the group’s press release. “We’re grateful to Hindu Americans across the state who have shown tremendous resilience and to our allies for coming together like never before.”

Meanwhile, the group Californians for Caste Equity, founded to support Wahab’s bill, said that despite Newsom’s veto, it has also come out of the fight stronger.

“With the caste equity movement being flanked by so many civil rights leaders, we will play an even bigger role in the future of American politics and democracy,” said Sarita Sagar, deputy director of Equality Labs, one of the coalition’s constituent groups, whose members were in day 30 of their hunger strike when Newsom’s veto was announced.

“Our progress is the direct result of the passion, dedication, and hard work of our caste-oppressed community members,” the group tweeted.

SB403 was supposed to be the culmination to a surge of bans on caste discrimination across the country in the past few years. First universities and colleges such as Brandeis and Barnard added caste to their anti-discrimination policies; last year the California State University did so for its 23 campuses. Apple since became the first company to update its employee conduct policy to explicitly prohibit caste-based discrimination.

In February this year, Seattle banned caste discrimination and in late September, the city of Fresno, California, followed suit, adding caste and indigeneity — the identity of Indigenous people — under municipal law.

The trend has made some Hindu Americans uneasy, as they argued that South Asians, particularly Indian Hindus, have long been unfairly associated with a caste hierarchy. Many said that caste is not integral to Hinduism itself and that the practice, which can dictate social status based on one’s birth, had been left behind when they or their families had come to the United States.

In the years after the tragedy of 9/11, the main concern of Hindu, Sikh and other South Asian Americans was the sometimes dangerous ignorance of their neighbors, and Hindu advocacy organizations of the time concentrated on educating Americans about the Hindus’ real identities and goals.

Since then, the Hindu American population has grown by more than 2 million, and the once inward-looking community has broadened its participation in local and national politics.

“There was a time just a few years ago when the priorities of Hindu Americans in voting for a candidate were based on bread-and-butter issues such as health care and Social Security, and immigration,” said Ria Chakrabarty, policy director for the organization Hindus for Human Rights, a 4-year-old advocacy group that was part of the pro-SB403 coalition.

“As the Hindu American community grows, it brings with it the complicated dynamics of the countries they came from, including caste and Hindu nationalism,” she added. “And these issues have become important political issues for democratic participation.”

In 2013 Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat at the time, was elected the first Hindu member of Congress. Four years later, Ro Khanna and Raja Krishnamoorthi, both Democrats, joined her. Eight total members of Congress have been either practicing Hindus or born into Hindu families but adhering to other religions.

In 2019, Indian Americans filled NRG Stadium in Houston to greet a visiting Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, with then-President Donald Trump in attendance, demonstrating the power of the Hindu American vote. This year, Vivek Ramaswamy became the first Hindu to run a major Republican campaign for president.

The Coalition of Hindus of North America, a relatively new Hindu advocacy organization, held its second annual Hindu Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill in July, hoping to highlight the issues that Hindu Americans face, from “narratives that portray Hinduism in a pejorative manner” to rising anti-Hindu sentiments, or Hinduphobia.

“Grassroots organizing and active civic engagement is critical in a thriving democracy and to ensure the Hindu community’s interests are represented in an impactful manner,” said Nikunj Trivedi, CoHNA’s president, who added that the group’s ultimate goal is to empower Hindus to run for office at all levels.

CoHNA applauded the way Hindu Americans helped to defeat the caste discrimination bill in California with months of phone calls, emails and letters, exhibiting its power in a way it had never done before.

“This is a culmination of the efforts of the entire Hindu American community, and the hundreds of organizations, temples, businesses, and allies that fought against profiling,” CoHNA tweeted. “Proof that if we unite and take action, nothing is impossible.”

Samir Kalra, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation, said it is “now more critical than ever” for the Hindu American community to be civically engaged, acquainting policymakers with the tenets of the Hindu faith, spearheading voter registration drives or simply coming out to protest.

“Such participation is the best way to ensure that the issues and concerns of the Hindu American community are taken seriously and receive the attention they deserve,” he said.


  • Working to get Hindu holidays recognized by school districts and businesses. New York now takes religious holidays, including Hindu ones, into account when scheduling exams. New Jersey schools recognize Diwali as a holiday. Members of Congress have made floor statements, issued press releases or introduced resolutions to recognize Hindu holidays and observances, including the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, “CAPAC Members Celebrate Diwali,” press release in November 2021; Representative Buddy Carter, “Hindu Heritage Month,” in October 2021 and Senator Ted Cruz, “Sen. Cruz Commemorates Diwali,” press release in October 2016. Presidential statements have been issued for Hindu holidays by the past three presidents (Joseph R. Biden, Donald J. Trump and Barack H. Obama).
  • Becoming politically involved. As with other immigrant groups, Hindu-Americans feel pulled in two directions. Those who are U.S. citizens know that becoming involved in local politics is a major path to acceptability and sense of authenticity in society. But most also feel deep political ties to their country of origin. Striking a comfortable balance can be difficult. The Hindu American Foundation, for example, divides its resources among a number of political causes, lobbying American Congress members on a range of issues, from human rights in India to wider recognition of Diwali as a holiday. 
  • Promoting language. There is a small but growing move to promote the speaking of Sanskrit, the classical language of India and the liturgical language of Hinduism, among the Hindu diaspora, especially in the U.S. The move was started by a group of students at the University of Maryland and young professionals from the same area. They launched a website in July 2006.


Example Coverage

Asian faiths try to save swastika symbol corrupted by Hitler

By Deepa Bharath, Associated Press 

November 27, 2022

Sheetal Deo and her husband, Sanmeet Deo, hold a Hindu swastika symbol in their home in Syosset, N.Y., on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. Hindus, Buddhists and Native Americans are trying to rehabilitate the swastika, a symbol of peace and prosperity, and to restore it to a place of sanctity in their faiths. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)(AP) – Sheetal Deo was shocked when she got a letter from her Queens apartment building’s co-op board calling her Diwali decoration “offensive” and demanding she take it down.

“My decoration said ‘Happy Diwali’ and had a swastika on it,” said Deo, a physician, who was celebrating the Hindu festival of lights.

The equilateral cross with its legs bent at right angles is a millennia-old sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism that represents peace and good fortune, and was also used widely by Indigenous people worldwide in a similar vein.

But in the West, this symbol is often equated to Adolf Hitler’s hakenkreuz or the hooked cross – a symbol of hate that evokes the trauma of the Holocaust and the horrors of Nazi Germany. White supremacists, neo-Nazi groups and vandals have continued to use Hitler’s symbol to stoke fear and hate.

Over the past decade, as the Asian diaspora has grown in North America, the call to reclaim the swastika as a sacred symbol has become louder. These minority faith communities are being joined by Native American elders whose ancestors have long used the symbol as part of healing rituals.

Deo believes she and people of other faiths should not have to sacrifice or apologize for a sacred symbol simply because it is often conflated with its tainted version.

“To me, that’s intolerable,” she said.

Yet to others, the idea that the swastika could be redeemed is unthinkable.

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Example Coverage

Hindus urge California state board to reject textbooks due to negative images

By Theresa Harrington, EdSource

November 8, 2017

(EdSource) – As the State Board of Education prepares to adopt recommendations for new history social science textbooks on Thursday, it is being flooded with written comments – including many expressing concerns about negative portrayals of Hindus.

A coalition led by the Hindu American Foundation and other community groups that includes elected officials, nearly 40 academics and about 74 interfaith organizations is urging the board to “only adopt textbooks that are culturally competent, historically accurate and equitable in their representations of Hinduism, Jainism and Indian culture,” said Samir Kalra, foundation senior director.

By Tuesday, more than a dozen people carrying signs that said, “Don’t erase history, don’t erase caste” were assembling outside the California Department of Education building in Sacramento, said Janet Weeks, board spokeswoman.

The board has set aside all day Thursday for comments, board discussion and vote. Weeks said each publisher will be given two minutes to address the board during Thursday’s hearing and that individuals can also sign up for one minute each.

The Hindu activists join other groups expected to turn out in Sacramento on Thursday when the state board, for the first time, will consider recommending history social science textbooks that include “fair, accurate, inclusive and respectful representations” of people with disabilities and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The materials are the first history textbooks to come up for approval following the passage of the 2011 FAIR Education Act.

The recommendations will likely affect what is taught to millions of children in grades K through 8 across California. School districts are free to use any textbooks, as long as they teach history and social studies according to frameworks — or blueprints — adopted by the board more than a year ago. However, many select textbooks approved by the state board.

The controversy over how Hindus and Indian culture are depicted in textbooks has prompted elected officials from around the state and country to send letters to the board asking it to ensure fair, accurate and culturally sensitive materials are used in K-8 classrooms.

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Notes on Coverage

General guidelines

  • Do not refer to Hindu deities as “gods” or “goddesses.”
  • Hindu worship involves meditating, chanting and worshipping icons of the deities, which can include bathing them and making offerings to them (see puja above). Deities are represented by statues or pictures (murti) in temples.
  • Do not confuse Hindu with Hindi, which is a language.
  • Do not assume all Hindus have the same beliefs and practices. Hinduism is not one religion but a collection of traditions with significant variations among them. In India, beliefs and practices vary widely by region.

American life

  • Explore ways that Hindus are adapting rituals to life in the U.S. (home altars, arranged marriages, house blessings) or passing on their faith to U.S.-born generations.
  • Many Americans’ introduction to Hinduism is through the spiritual practice of yoga, which is sometimes adopted by other faiths or stripped of spiritual content altogether.
  • In the U.S., variation in beliefs are sometimes maintained, so it is best to ask if unsure. 
  • In India, the various Hindu traditions are can be at odds with each other. The same is sometimes true among Hindus in the U.S. This is a sensitive topic, which should be approached with care. 

Visiting a Hindu temple

  • Casual clothing is permitted. Shoes should be removed before entering the sanctuary.
  • Worshipers sit or stand in a room called the natmandir.
  • Arriving late and leaving early are both generally acceptable, but attendees should be silent except when chanting.
  • Priests lead the service. Panditji is a term used to address a priest.
  • Guests should address a monk as swamiji.
  • Statues or pictures represent deities.
  • A round black stone called the narayana shalagram symbolizes totality in service.
  • Other ritual related objects in service are flowers, incense, water from the Ganges River and lamps with five wicks dipped in clarified butter.
  • Guests can choose to participate or not participate (this includes the consumption of prasadam, if presented with it).
  • Cameras with flash, video cameras and tape recorders can be used with the permission of the priest.
  • Visitors should avoid drinking alcohol, smoking or consuming any mind-altering substances before visiting a temple, as this is strictly forbidden.

International sources

South America

  • Argentina Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center

    The Argentina Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center is an organization that promotes Hinduism and Hindu Dharma throughout Argentina. The website offers current news articles, additional associations on Hinduism and resources on celebrations and festivals.

  • Ashram Vrajabhumi

    Ashram Vrajabhumi is an organization in Brazil that offers resources for “simple living and high thinking” through Hindu meditation and prayer.

  • Hindu Society of Berbice

    The Hindu Society of Berbice is a nonprofit religious organization in Guyana that promotes and preserves Sanatan Dharma and Hindu culture by engaging its community in Hindu projects, programs and activities.

    Contact: 592-333-3429.


  • Hindu Federation

    The Hindu Federation in Canada is an organization that unites the different Hindu temples across the country and provides resources on the practices, beliefs and history of the religion.

  • Leslie Orr

    Leslie C. Orr is a professor of religion at Concordia University in Montreal. One of her areas of specialty is Hinduism in the West. She is the author of the book Donors, Devotees and Daughters of God: Temple Women in Medieval Tamilnadu.

  • Voice of Dharma

    Voice of Dharma in Canada is an organization that is dedicated to promoting Hinduism within the community by promoting Hindu festivals and services, and by providing resources on Hindu scriptures and prayers.


  • Bhaktivedanta College

    Bhaktivedanta College, located in Belgium, is an international institution that serves the educational needs of spiritually minded students. The college is able to do this by applying Krishna conscious principles to contemporary lifestyles and by educating its students on the history and practices associated with Hinduism.

  • Hindu Council UK

    The Hindu Council UK is an organization in the United Kingdom that works to unite the Hindu community, while representing their different denominations, to provide them with a more effective voice on policy matters with the government. The organization also works to promote the education of the general public on Hinduism.

  • Hindu Forum of Britain

    The Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB) is the largest umbrella body for British Hindus with more than 350 member organizations throughout the United Kingdom. HFB works in public policymaking, project development for the Hindu community and interfaith development with other faith communities in Britain.

  • Hindu Forum of Europe

    The Hindu Forum of Europe, based in Belgium, was founded in 2006 with the mission to promote education on Hinduism throughout Europe and to provide a unity of Hindu organizations throughout the continent.

  • Hindu Temple of Scotland

    The Hindu Temple of Scotland in Glasgow is a nonprofit organization that promotes Hinduism and supports local Hindu communities by providing educational classes on the religion and opportunities and resources to practice it.

  • Indian Sindhi Association of Madrid (ISAOM)

    The Indian Sindhi Association of Madrid (ISAOM) is an organization that promotes Sindhi culture within Madrid by hosting and supporting local practices and festivals associated with Hinduism.

  • Italian Hindu Union (Unione Induista Italia)

    The Italian Hindu Union (Unione Induista Italia) is an organization located in Italy that works for the protection, coordination, practice and study of culture and Hindu religion.

  • National Council of Hindu Temples UK (NCHTUK)

    The National Council of Hindu Temples UK (NCHTUK) is an organization that links over 200 Hindu temples and faith organizations throughout the country. The organization works to benefit the Hindu communities around the U.K.

  • Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple Berlin

    The Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple in Berlin is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to the promotion of Hinduism in Berlin and Germany by providing resources on religious customs, traditions and practices in Hinduism.

Middle East

  • Ananda Marga

    Ananda Marga is a global network of centers in nearly every country that provides support and education focused on the welfare of humanity and the world. The organization promotes meditation centers, schools, children’s homes, food distribution centers, disaster relief organizations and community development projects. The organization’s mission is twofold; “self-realization and the welfare of the universe.”

    The organization has a location in the Lebanon.

  • Indian Community Association of Egypt

    The Indian Community Association of Egypt is an online organization that unites Indian communities across Egypt by providing updates and news on Hindu activities and events within the communities and its members.

  • Hindu Temple Dubai

    The Hindu Temple Dubai offers daily worship services for Hindus in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

    Contact: 0545842951.
  • Yoga of Love

    Yoga of Love is an organization in Jerusalem that encourages mental and physical improvements in daily life through the integration of daily yoga. The website provides information and resources on the philosophies of yoga, such as vegetarianism, education for universal values, relationship building, community life and social contribution.


  • Kezevino Aram

    Kezevino (Vinu) Aram serves as a Co-Moderator and Executive Committee Member of Religions for Peace. She previously served as Member of the International Youth Committee of Religions for Peace. Aram is a Child Health Practitioner and Director of Shanti Ashram in Coimbatore, India.
  • Brahma Kumaris

    Brahma Kumaris is a spiritual, educational institution that works to promote humanism, tolerance and enthusiasm for spreading Hinduism across the globe. The institute is located in India.

  • Hindu Association of Hong Kong

    The Hindu Association of Hong Kong serves nearly 100,000 Hindus from South, South East and Far East Asia. The Temple complex is a declared heritage building according to local authorities. Contact the temple priest, Shri. Hiro Sharma.

  • Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture

    The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture provides educational resources on religions around the world, including each of their different practices, beliefs and histories. It is based in Kolkata, India.

  • Singapore Dakshina Bharatha Brahmana Sabha

    The Singapore Dakshina Bharatha Brahmana Sabha is an organization that provides resources on Hinduism, such as practices, festivals, current news and links to other informational resources. Contact the president, Sri G Srinivasan.


Think Tanks and University Centers

  • The American Institute of Indian Studies

    The American Institute of Indian Studies is a consortium of universities and colleges in the United States at which scholars actively engage in teaching and research about India. It is at the University of Chicago.

  • The Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions

    The Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions is at the University of Florida in Gainesville. It is the nation’s first Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions, and it works to encourage the teaching, understanding and research of Hindu culture.

  • Hindu University of America

    The Hindu University of America in Orlando, Fla., is the only university in the West entirely dedicated to the study of all things Hindu.

  • The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies

    The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies in Oxford, England, is one of the largest and most comprehensive centers for the study of Hinduism in the West.

    Contact: +44 01865 304300.

National Political, Cultural, and Social Organizations

  • Californians for Caste Equality Coalition

    Californians for Caste Equity Coalition is an interfaith, intercaste advocacy organizations that came together to support the passage of the “anti-caste” Sb-403 bill in California in 2023, seeking to end what they say was caste discrimination in the state. Contact through website:

  • Coalition of Hindus of North America

    Coalition of Hindus of North America is an advocacy group whose stated goals is to protect, preserve and educate the public about Hindu heritage and tradition.

  • Hindu American Foundation

    The Hindu American Foundation is an advocacy organization for the Hindu American community. The foundation educates the public about Hinduism, speaks out about issues affecting Hindus worldwide and builds bridges with institutions and individuals whose work aligns with HAF’s objectives. HAF focuses on human and civil rights, public policy, media, academia and interfaith relations. It is based in Washington, D.C.

  • Hindus for Human Rights

    Hindus for Human Rights is an advocacy organization providing “a Hindu voice of resistance to caste, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.” Media contacts should go through Nikhil Mandalaparthy and Harita Iswara, communications and outreach coordinator.

  • Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference

    Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference (HMEC) is an annual initiative seeking development of network between the executives of all Hindu mandirs of America. HMEC strives to create a Hindu-American community rooted in its traditions and enhancing the American society. Contact is Tejal Shah.

  • Hindu Students Council

    The Hindu Students Council describes itself as “an international forum that provides opportunities to learn about Hindu heritage through various activities, events and projects” on college campuses in the United States and abroad.

  • The Hindu Temple Society of North America

    The Hindu Temple Society of North America is based within the Ganesh Temple in Flushing, N.Y. Its president is Dr. Uma Mysorekar.

  • South Asian Journalists Association

    The South Asian Journalists Association posts links to Hindu community leaders across the United States and provides resources on legal issues, immigration and hate crimes as they relate to South Asians, including Hindus.

Leaders and religious centers

Gurus in the United States

  • Sai Baba

    Sai Baba was an Indian-born guru who claimed between 6 million and 100 million adherents and 130 centers around the world before his death in 2011. He taught the unity of all world religions as different paths to the same God. Sai Baba’s followers credit him with many miracles.

  • Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

    Gurumayi Chidvilasananda is the leader of Siddha Yoga, which was founded by Baba Muktananda. There are ashrams and meditation centers around the world. In the U.S., there are ashrams in New York, Boston and Oakland, Calif.

    Contact: 845-434-2000.
  • Mother Meera

    Mother Meera is an India-based guru with an ashram in Colorado.

  • Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

    Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is credited with bringing Transcendental Meditation to the West. TM was a major component of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and had many celebrity adherents, including the Beatles and Mia Farrow. He died in 2008, but since 9/11, his followers have pursued “the Maharishi effect,” a power they believe can be found in collective meditation that can be used for good.

    Contact: 1-888-532-7686.

Hindu Teachers and Clergy

  • Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami

    Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami is the spiritual leader of the Saiva Siddhanta Church and publisher of Hinduism Todaya magazine of global Hinduism, which is published at Kauai’s Hindu Monastery in Kapaa, Hawaii.

    Contact: 808-822-7032 ext. 227.
  • Pravrajika Vrajaprana

    Pravrajika Vrajaprana is a nun at the Vedanta Society of Southern California, residing in Santa Barbara. She says two issues confronting contemporary Hinduism are how it is practiced differently outside of India and how Hindus identify themselves – as Hindus or Indians or citizens of the countries in which they live now. Those answers can affect the way they practice the religion and how they pass it on to their children.

  • Swami Yogatmananda

    Swami Yogatmananda is the priest of the Vedanta Society of Providence in Rhode Island.

Directory of Hindu Temples in the U.S.

Ashrams and religious communities

Additional resources

U.S. Sources & Resources

In the Northeast

  • Lawrence A. Babb

    Lawrence A. Babb is a professor in the department of anthropology and sociology at Amherst College in Amherst, Mass. He teaches a course on religions in South Asia and has studied Hinduism as practiced in India. He has also written about modern interpretations of Hinduism.

  • Catherine Cornille

    Catherine Cornille is a professor of theology at Boston College. Her research interests focus on the Theology of Religions, the theory of Interreligious Dialogue, concrete questions in the Hindu-Christian and Buddhist-Christian dialogues, and the phenomenon of inculturation and intercultural theology. She wrote about Mother Meera in The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States (2004).

  • Richard H. Davis

    Richard H. Davis is a professor of religion at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. He is an expert in the Shaiva traditions of India. He can discuss the rise of Indian nationalism and how it makes itself felt in the U.S., as well as provide background information on the textbook debate. 

  • Corinne G. Dempsey

    Corinne G. Dempsey is an associate professor of religious studies at Nazareth College and the author of The Goddess Lives in Upstate New York: Breaking Convention and Making Home at a North American Hindu Temple, a profile of a South Indian community in Rush, N.Y.

  • Diana L. Eck

    Diana L. Eck is a professor of comparative religion and Indian studies at Harvard University. She is also director of Harvard’s Pluralism Project, which explores the religious diversity of the U.S. 

  • Ariel Glucklich

    Ariel Glucklich is an of professor of theology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He teaches a course in Hindu religious traditions and has written several books on Hindu dharma. He is the author of Dying for Heaven: Holy Pleasure and Suicide Bombers — Why the Best Qualities of Religion Are Also Its Most Dangerous.

  • Peter Gottschalk

    Peter Gottschalk is a professor of religion at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. He studies the dynamic of the cultural interplay between Hinduism, Islam, and the West.

  • Khyati Y. Joshi

    Khyati Joshi is an associate professor of education at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J., and a scholar on cultural and religious pluralism in the United States. Her books include New Roots in America’s Sacred Ground: Religion, Race and Ethnicity in Indian America. She is also co-founder of the Institute for Teaching Diversity and Social Justice (IDSJ), which offers multi-day institutes, customized workshops, and one-on-one and small-group coaching for organizations and professionals seeking to build their equity and justice competencies.

  • Rachel Fell McDermott

    Rachel Fell McDermott is an associate professor in Asian and Middle Eastern cultures at Columbia University in New York, N.Y. She is an expert in the Hindu female deity worship traditions.

  • Karen Pechilis

    Karen Pechilis is chair and a professor of comparative religions at Drew University in Madison, N.J. She edited The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in the United States, which covers the American movements behind Ammachi, Anandamayi Ma, Gauri Ma, Gurumayi, Jayashri Ma, Karunamayi Ma, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, Mother Meera, Shree Maa and Sita Devi.

  • Stephen Prothero

    Stephen Prothero is former professor of Religion in America in the Department of Religion at Boston University. He is the author of numerous books including Religion Matters: An Introduction to the World’s Religions (W.W. Norton 2020), Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (HarperOne, 2016), God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter (HarperOne, 2010), and the New York Times bestseller Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn’t (HarperOne, 2007). He has also written about American Hindus. Prothero has commented on religion on hundreds of National Public Radio programs, and on television on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, and PBS. He lives on Cape Cod, and he tweets @sprothero.


  • Robin Rinehart

    Robin Rinehart is an associate professor in religious studies at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. She is an expert in Hinduism and Hindu saints.

  • Joanne Punzo Waghorne

    Joanne Punzo Waghorne is a professor of religion at Syracuse University where she works in contemporary theoretical directions in the study of religion, new religious movements, globalization, and transnational migration. She has written a book about the construction of Hindu temples and their internal organizations in urban areas, including Washington, D.C.

In the South

  • Pankaj Jain

    Pankaj Jain is a scholar of Indic Traditions and Ecology and is an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies and the Department of Anthropology at the University of North Texas. He has also taught at North Carolina State University, Rutgers, Kean, and New Jersey City University. He holds an MA from Columbia and PhD from University of Iowa.

  • Jeffrey J. Kripal

    Jeffrey J. Kripal is a professor of religious studies at Rice University in Houston. His specialty is Asian religions in America, and he focuses on European and American translations or adoptions of Hindu ideas and practices. He wrote a chapter on Adi Da for Gurus in America and has published five books concerning religious mysticism.

  • June McDaniel

    June McDaniel is a professor of religious studies at the College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C. She focuses on Hindu women’s religious rituals and mysticism and contributed a chapter about Jayashri Ma to The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States.

  • Sushil Mittal

    Sushil Mittal is professor of religion at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. He is an expert on Gandhian thought and a specialist in Indian studies. He is the author of several books on Hinduism.

  • Vasudha Narayanan

    Vasudha Narayanan is Distinguished Professor of Religion at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and she helped found the university’s Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions, of which she is director. She is a noted scholar of Hinduism and the environment.

In the Midwest

  • Brian A. Hatcher

    Brian Hatcher is a scholar of the Hindu tradition in colonial and contemporary India at Tufts University. His research interests include the transformation of intellectual and social life in colonial Bengal, the interrogation of modernity under the conditions of colonialism, and the expression of religious change among emergent Hindu movements.

  • Meena Rani Khandelwal

    Meena Rani Khandelwal is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. She has received funding from the American Institute of Indian Studies to conduct a comparative study of Hindu ashrams in India and in the United States that investigates issues of social change.

  • Shana Sippy

    Shana Sippy is a research associate in religion at Carleton College whose work focuses on Hindu publics.

  • Dheepa Sundaram

    Dheepa Sundaram is a professor at the University of Denver. Her research examines the formation of Hindu virtual religious publics, online platforms, social media, apps and emerging technologies such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

  • Hugh B. Urban

    Hugh B. Urban is a professor of comparative studies at Ohio State University in Columbus. He contributed a chapter about Osho to Gurus in America.

In the West

  • Loriliai Biernacki

    Loriliai Biernacki is an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her research interests include Hinduism in the diaspora, and the interface between religion, science, and gender.

  • Anne Feldhaus

    Anne Feldhaus is a professor of religious studies at Arizona State University in Tempe. She specializes in folk Hinduism, medieval Hinduism and religious geography. Her publications include Connected Places: Region, Pilgrimage, and Geographical Imagination in Maharashtra (2003), and Water and Womanhood: Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra (1995).

  • Cynthia Ann Humes

    Cynthia Ann Humes is an associate professor of philosophy and religious studies at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. She is the co-editor of Gurus in America, to which she contributed a chapter on Transcendental Meditation and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

  • Bhakti Mamtora

    Bhakti Mamtora is a scholar of Hinduism and South Asian Religions in the Department of Religious Studies and Classics at the University of Arizona.

  • Norris W. Palmer

    Norris W. Palmer is an associate professor of religious studies at St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, Calif. He wrote a chapter on Sai Baba for Gurus in America and contributed an article in 2006 to Nova Religio on how Hindus use their temples to negotiate their identity in America.

  • Caleb Simmons

    Caleb Simmons is the Executive Director of Arizona Online, Professor of Religious Studies, and Faculty Director of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program. He specializes in religion in South Asia, especially Hinduism, and digital and online learning.

Related source guides

Style guide

Pronounced “AARa-tee.” In Hinduism, the most common ritual that is performed in front of the image of a deity, whether in a temple or in a home shrine. It typically consists of waving, in a clockwise motion, various items in front of the deity. It is done in conjunction with mantras or prayers.
Pronounced “ah-HIM-saa.” The Sanskrit word meaning non-injury in any form, including action, thought or speech. This is an important principle of Hinduism and a core principle of Jainism. For this reason, many Hindus and most Jains are vegetarians, as are significant numbers of Sikhs and Buddhists.
The essential, eternal self or soul in Hinduism.
Pronounced “AV-uh-taar.” Avatars are incarnations of God, who Hindus believe come to Earth at various times to promote dharma and righteousness and to alleviate suffering.
Bhagavad Gita
Pronounced “BAH-gah-vahd GEE-tah.” One of the most popular Hindu scriptures, it literally means “Song of the Lord.” It is in the form of a conversation between Lord Krishna (an avatar of Lord Vishnu) and Arjuna on the great battlefield at Kurukshetra just before the famous war in the Mahabharata. In the conversation, Lord Krishna illuminates Arjuna on righteous action that is conducive to the well-being of the world and spiritual liberation (moksha), and instructs him on karma yoga (the path of self-transcending action), samkhya yoga (the path of discerning the principles of existence correctly), jnana yoga (the path of wisdom), raja yoga (the path of knowledge) and bhakti yoga (the path of devotion).
Pronounced “BUK-tee.” A Sanskrit term meaning “loving devotion to God,” bhakti inspired major Indian religious movements, including Sikhism, by focusing on the individual’s relationship to the divine.
Pronounced “BIN-dhee.” The decoration worn on the forehead by many Hindu women. There are various explanations for the bindi: It can be a blessed symbol that signifies female energy and is believed to protect women and their husbands; a traditional symbol of marriage; a third eye, the eye of inner vision or spiritual wisdom; or simply a decoration like jewelry. It is worn by Indians of all religions.
Pronounced “BRAH-maa.” In Hinduism, the name used for God when functioning as creator of the universe. God is referred to as Vishnu when God’s role as preserver is emphasized and as Shiva when the emphasis is on God’s role as lord of time and change. While God has different roles in Hinduism, the divine is always understood to be one. See Shiva and Vishnu.
Pronounced “BRAH-mun.” The name of God or the supreme deity in the Vedas. Brahman is described as being beyond all dualities, such as gender or form; the transcendent and immanent absolute reality; the all-pervading energy; and the Supreme Being or primal soul. It also refers to a member of a Hindu varna (caste) whose traditional family occupation was priestly or scholarly. Traditionally considered by some to be the “highest” caste in India’s caste system, it is also spelled Brahmin.
caste system
The traditional social, economic and religious structure of Indian society, which divided people into four broad groups, or castes (“varna” in Sanskrit), and multiple smaller groups, or subcastes (“jati”). While it is believed that the system was once simply a division of labor and guild system, determined by skills and aptitude, it became a rigid hereditary hierarchy in which restrictions were placed on one’s social mobility, job opportunities, marriage prospects and even whom one could eat with. Although caste discrimination is illegal in India and most Hindu leaders stress that it is not sanctioned in Hinduism, it is still practiced among followers of all religions throughout South Asia. An additional group, the untouchables, was created from the lowest caste for people who performed tasks considered “polluting” in a physical or spiritual sense. Since the early 20th century, the Indian government has called this group the “Scheduled Castes.” See also Dalit, Harijan, jati, untouchable and varna.
In Hinduism, the cow represents values of selfless service, strength, dignity and ahimsa (nonviolence). Hindus respect and honor the cow but do not worship it in the same sense they worship a deity. Also, the avatar Lord Krishna was a cowherd and protected cows. For these reasons, Hindus traditionally respect and honor the cow and abstain from eating beef. Since Hindus understand God to exist in all, animals are deserving of respect and compassion.
Pronounced “DAH-lit.” A term used primarily as a label of self-identity by those from the Scheduled Castes, or lowest subcastes, who no longer identify themselves as Hindus, be they converts to another religion or no longer of any religious affiliation. The term was coined in the 1800s but did not come into popular usage until the 1970s, when it was adopted by Scheduled Caste members who wanted to separate themselves from both the caste system and from Hinduism altogether. Dalit should not be used to refer to all Scheduled Caste members – only non-Hindus who self-identify that way.
Pronounced “DEE-vee.” In Hinduism, the female aspect of the divine. For some, she is the power of Brahman, the unqualified absolute. Typically translated as “goddess.”
Pronounced “DAHR-muh.” The mode of conduct for an individual that is most conducive to spiritual advancement. It includes universal human values as well as values that are specific to persons in various stages of life. In Hinduism it also refers to individual obligations in terms of law and social law. In Buddhism it is the teachings of Buddha from which an adherent molds his conduct on the path toward enlightenment.
Pronounced “dee-VAH-lee.” The Hindu “festival of lights” is one of the most celebrated in the Hindu diaspora. It symbolizes the victory of dharma, and good over evil. The word is a variation of the Sanskrit word “Deepavali” and refers to the rows of earthen lamps celebrants place around their homes. Hindus believe that the light from these lamps symbolizes the illumination within the individual that overwhelms ignorance, represented by darkness. Diwali commemorates the return of the avatar Lord Ram (the incarnation of Lord Vishnu), his wife Sita and brother Lakshman to their capital, Ayodhya, after 14 years of exile. The residents of Ayodhya, overjoyed at the return of their beloved king, lit lamps in his honor. Thus, the entire city looked like a row of lights.
The social practice of a woman bringing money or valuables to her marriage is still prevalent in South Asia and other parts of the world. It is not a part of Hinduism.
Pronounced “DOOR-gaa.” In Hinduism, one of the principal feminine forms of the divine and associated, in particular, with the power to overcome evil. She is the consort of Lord Shiva. See Shiva.
The goal of life in both Buddhism and Hinduism. For Hindus, it is union with God and self-realization. For Buddhists, it is realization of the truth about reality, achieved by following a system of practices (which may especially include meditation), in accordance with the particular school to which an adherent belongs. See Four Noble Truths.
Pronounced “guh-NAYSH.” The beloved elephant-faced representation of God honored by Hindus and followers of other Indian religions, Ganesh is the remover of obstacles. He is revered for his great wisdom and is invoked before any undertaking. He is the son of Lord Shiva and the goddess Parvati. Also spelled Ganesha.
Pronounced “GOO-roo.” Broadly used to refer to a teacher of any subject, but especially of spiritual matters. In Hinduism, one’s spiritual guru is seen to be a representative of the divine, through whom one is given the teachings and practices necessary for enlightenment.
Pronounced “HUN-oo-maan.” In Hinduism, an incarnation of Lord Shiva and the embodiment of devotion. Hanuman is generally depicted in a monkey form but can assume any form. He is most popular among devotees of the avatar Lord Ram and others following a devotional path. There are more temples and roadside shrines to Hanuman than any other deity in all of North India. For Hindus, Hanuman is one of the finest exemplars of a life of love and service of God.
Hare Krishna
Pronounced “HA-rey KRISH-na.” This Hindu term can refer to a worshipper of Krishna or a mantra to him. It also can refer to a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), which was founded in 1966 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and is a sect that focuses on the worship and understanding of God as Krishna.
Pronounced “HA-ree-jun.” The term literally means “people of God” and was popularized by Mahatma Gandhi to refer to those in the untouchable subcastes. Today, Hindu members of these jatis identify themselves by their sectarian affiliation or with the terms Harijan or Anasuchit Jati (“Scheduled Caste” in Hindi). See caste system.
India’s most popular religious and cultural system and the world’s third-largest religion (after Christianity and Islam). Most followers live in India, but there are large populations in many other countries. Its oldest scriptures are the Vedas. Hinduism, also known as Sanatana Dharma (“the eternal natural law”), is one of the world’s most ancient religious and spiritual systems and encompasses a broad spectrum of philosophies, ranging from pluralistic theism to absolute monism. Followers believe that God (Brahman), the ultimate reality or truth, can be understood in various ways and often use the two terms interchangeably. This not only reflects the diversity of practice and perspective in Hinduism, but also the belief that this infinite reality is beyond the comprehension of undisciplined minds. Therefore, Hindus celebrate God’s various attributes through different representations. Most Hindus believe in one God, who is all-pervasive, though he or she may be worshipped in different forms, in different ways and by different names. As such, Hinduism can be described as monotheistic and henotheistic: monotheistic in its belief in one God and henotheistic in that any one God can be worshipped without denying the existence of other forms or manifestations of God. A basic belief in Hinduism is that the soul does not die but is reborn into another life form when the body dies. Under Hinduism’s rule of karma, every act and thought affects how the soul will be reborn. This cycle of birth and rebirth continues until the soul achieves spiritual perfection and is united with the Supreme Being. Hindus believe that all living beings have souls, and some are revered as manifestations of God. These beliefs have evolved over several thousand years and are embedded in ritual, mystical and ascetic practices. There are many regional variations in Hindu practice. Hindus have no formal clergy but do have spiritual teachers, or gurus. Capitalize guru before a name on first reference, and use only the last name on second reference. Swami is a title of respect and reverence conferred on a religious teacher and, in particular, one who has taken vows of celibacy and renunciation; it, too, should be capitalized before a name. See Vedas.
Be cautious in using this word because it can imply that something is a false god. For example, do not use idol to refer to the representations Hindus use in worshipping. The correct term to use is murti. For similar reasons, idol worship is also inaccurate.
Pronounced “JI-niz-um.” A sect established in India in the sixth century B.C. as a revolt against Hinduism. It teaches that the way to bliss and liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth is to live a life of harmlessness and renunciation. Jains do not believe in a creator god; God is any soul who has been liberated from the cycle of birth and rebirth. The supreme principle is nonviolence; Jains believe plants and animals have souls, just as people do, and should be treated with respect and compassion.
Pronounced “JAAH-tee.” A subcategory of varna, or caste. Typically, these subcastes are classified by specific occupations. Initially, jati was not birth-based, but eventually it came to be.
Pronounced “KAH-lee.” In Hinduism, a form of the goddess, one of the many feminine forms of the divine as mother of the universe. She is the source of protection and liberation.
In Buddhism and Hinduism, the universal law of cause and effect; the effect (or fruits) of a person’s actions in one’s next lifetime. Lowercase in all references.
Pronounced “KRISH-na.” One of the most popular representations of God in Hinduism. He is worshipped as the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu and is best-known as the teacher in the Bhagavad Gita. For most Krishna devotees, his name refers to the unqualified absolute, or Brahman.
Pronounced “LUK-shmee.” In Hinduism, the female counterpart of Lord Vishnu, or God’s role as preserver. She represents light, beauty and prosperity. See Vishnu.
Pronounced “Ma-haa-BHAA-ra-ta.” The world’s longest epic poem is longer than the Iliad and Odyssey combined. The Bhagavad Gita is one section of it. Known as the “Great Epic of India,” the Mahabharata was written by the sage Ved Vyas and revolves around the conflict between two kingdoms and their great battle more than 3,000 years ago.
Pronounced “MUN-tra.” A syllable, word or phrase with spiritual power, it is chanted or held in the mind in connection with meditation or ritual. Mantras are commonly used by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains and are traditionally drawn from Sanskrit scriptures, such as the Vedas. The adherents of some vernacular texts, such as the Hindi Ramcharitmanas, believe their verses have the power of mantra as well. Some of the more powerful mantras consist of a single syllable, the most popular of which is “om.” See om.
Pronounced “MOOR-tee.” In Hinduism, an image or icon of God used during worship. A manifestation, embodiment or personification of the divine. Do not use the word idol as a synonym.
Pronounced “nir-VAA-nah.” In Buddhism and Hinduism, a state of ultimate peace that is the goal of all beings, which includes freedom from suffering, desire and the cycle of rebirth. The Buddha’s entrance into nirvana at his death is referred to as his parinirvana (pronounced “PAH-rih-nir-VAA-nah”).
In Hinduism, the mantra of the divine. The ancient Sanskrit name for the absolute. All mantras begin with om.
Pronounced “PAR-va-tee.” In Hinduism, one of many names for the Universal Mother. A representation of the goddess to whom prayers are offered for strength, health and eradication of impurities. Hindus believe that she is Lord Shiva’s consort.
The term used for ordained clergy of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Episcopal faith. Priest also is used by Wiccans and for some clergy in Buddhism and Hinduism. It is not a formal title and is not capitalized. Avoid the term minister when referring to Catholic priests. Also, while every priest has pastoral duties toward the baptized, the term pastor refers to the priest (and in rare cases, laymen or laywomen) charged by the bishop with overseeing a parish. A pastor may have one or more assistant pastors. Most Catholic priests in the United States are diocesan clergy, ordained by and for a particular diocese. They make promises of celibacy and obedience, but although they are expected to adhere to a modest lifestyle, they do not take vows of poverty and can own a home, for example, or a car. The term religious priests refers to priests who belong to a religious order, such as the Jesuits, and hold possessions in common.
Pronounced “POO-ja.” In Hinduism, a generic term for any ritual practice. This can be as simple as an individual saying a prayer or can encompass a complex, multiday ritual involving any number of individuals and priests. Puja generally incorporates a series of hospitality offerings to God.
Pronounced “Raam.” In Hinduism, one of the two most popular incarnations of Lord Vishnu and venerated hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana. For most Ram devotees, his name refers to the unqualified absolute, or Brahman. Ram’s exemplary life helps to set high standards of dignity and nobility as an integral part of the Hindu way of life. Sita is his wife.
Pronounced “Raa-MAY-yah-nah.” One of the two Hindu epics; the other is the Mahabharata. Originally written in Sanskrit, it is the story of God taking a human form to destroy evil and teach the path of righteous behavior. The most popular telling of the story was written by Tulsidas in Hindi and is called the Ramcharitmanas. It is the predominant scripture in North India and in the Hindu diaspora.
The belief that a person’s soul is reborn in another body after physical death. It is common in many Asian traditions — including Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism — as well as some Native American traditions. According to Hinduism and Buddhism, incarnation in the next life is determined by one’s previous actions. See karma.
Rig Veda
Of the Hindu scriptures, the Rig Veda is the earliest and among the most revered. See Vedas.
Pronounced “SAAD-han-aa.” In Hinduism, religious practice that is undertaken on a regular basis for the purpose of purifying oneself to gain wisdom, devotion or enlightenment.
Pronounced “SAA-dhu.” A Hindu ascetic who has renounced advancement in the material world and has dedicated his or her life to the search for wisdom, devotion, God, truth or enlightenment. There are many different types in India, grouped into orders according to their beliefs and practices. They may live in monasteries (ashrams) or as hermits and wanderers. They often live on alms, or provisions and gifts they are given. Sadhvi (pronounced “SAA-dhvee”) is the female form.
An ancient classical language of India in which most of the texts of Hinduism were written.
Pronounced “SAHT-vah.” In Hinduism, the quality of light and goodness.
Pronounced “SHAK-tee.” In Hinduism, the active power or manifest energy that pervades all of existence and is represented in feminine names and forms.
Pronounced “SHEE-vah.” A popular representation of God in Hinduism. He is worshipped as the lord of time and change. Brahma is the name used for God when God’s role as creator of the universe is described. God is referred to as Vishnu when God’s role as preserver is emphasized. The divine is always understood to be one. Shiva’s consort has the names of Parvati, Kali and Durga. Also spelled Siva (pronounced “SEE-vah”).
Pronounced “SEE-taa.” In Hinduism, the wife of the avatar Lord Ram, as depicted in the Hindu epic Ramayana. For millions of Hindus, Sita represents the perfect mother and expression of womanly virtue.
Pronounced “SVA-mee.” In Hinduism, a title of respect and reverence conferred on a religious teacher and, in particular, one who has taken vows of celibacy and renunciation. It literally means one who has self-control. Capitalize before a name.
Pronounced “SVA-stik-a.” It is one of the most popular symbols for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. The word swastika is derived from Sanskrit words that mean “auspicious,” “luck” and “well-being.” It is also a sign of the Sun-God Surya and his generosity. The swastika is one of the 108 symbols of Lord Vishnu and represents the sun’s rays, without which there would be no life. The swastika is used in religious and civil ceremonies in India, both public and private. Use extreme care in stories that mention the hooked-cross symbol associated with Nazi Germany and neo-Nazi groups. Although the symbol is commonly called a swastika, some historians say Adolf Hitler and the Nazis never called it that. The emblem can be referred to as the Nazi cross or by its German name, Hakenkreuz.
A building used for worship or religious purposes. Uppercase when part of a formal name or when referring to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. The word temple is used differently in different religious traditions. It is the place of worship for Hindus, Buddhists and Jews, although Orthodox Jews and many Conservative Jews believe the only temple is the one destroyed in Jerusalem and so they call their congregational buildings synagogues. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, temples are sacred buildings with restricted access; they differ in purpose from meetinghouses, where weekly worship takes place.
Transcendental Meditation
A form of meditation made popular by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced it in 1955. TM is acceptable on second reference.
The traditional English term for members of the lowest rung of the caste ladder in India. The term is increasingly being replaced in common usage by other terms, and some now regard it as offensive. In the early part of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi began referring to members of the lowest caste as Harijan (“children of God”), while the Indian government adopted the term Scheduled Castes. Since Indian independence, the government has gradually increased the benefits it provides to members of the Scheduled Castes, as well as the Shudra caste of servants and menial laborers, known collectively as the “Other Backward Classes.” See caste system.
Pronounced “oo-PAAN-ish-ud.” The Upanishads are the final sections of each of the four Vedas, or Hindu scriptures. These texts are spiritual dialogues in which teachers and students discuss ultimate questions of human existence.
Pronounced “VARN-ah.” Varna refers to the four broad groups that make up the caste system in traditional Indian society. They consisted of the Brahman (scholars, teachers, doctors and priests), Kshatriya (warriors, rulers and lawmakers), Vaishya (business people, traders, farmers, and artisans), and Shudra (servants, menial laborers). Later, a fifth varna was created, into which people who performed tasks considered “polluting” in a physical or spiritual sense were placed. Members of this new group were called “untouchables” in English. See caste system.
Pronounced “VEH-daas.” Hinduism’s most ancient scriptures. There are four: Rig Veda, Atharva Veda, Sama Veda and Yajur Veda. The Vedas include more than 100,000 verses and additional prose. The term Veda stems from a Sanskrit word meaning knowledge. Many Hindus believe that the Vedas were revealed by God and/or realized by ancient sages.
Pronounced “VISH-noo.” In Hinduism, the name used when God’s role as preserver is emphasized. Shiva is the name used when the emphasis is on God’s role as lord of time and change. Brahma is the name used for God when God’s role as creator of the universe is described. The divine is always understood to be one. For most Hindus, Vishnu is either equated with or a manifestation of Brahman. Vishnu has many avatars or incarnations, the best-known of which are Ram, Krishna and the Buddha. His consort is Lakshmi.
Most often associated with body poses, stretching exercises and breathing techniques developed in India. It is a Sanskrit term that means union; yoga is a discipline found in Hinduism. It is the philosophy, process, disciplines, and practices whose purpose is the unification of individual consciousness with transcendent or divine consciousness. One of its eight “limbs” is referred to as asana (also known as “hatha yoga”) and involves various body postures meant to keep the body physically relaxed and healthy as an important prerequisite for meditation.