Hinduism: Understanding Sanatana Dharma
Hinduism is the oldest major religion. It has about 900 million adherents; 780 million of those are in India, comprising 79 percent of that country’s population. Hindus also make up 89 percent of the population of Nepal, where there are about 19 million adherents. In the United States, roughly two million individuals are Hindu. There are many forms of Hinduism, all with unique faiths and customs. This guide teaches you about the main varieties of Hinduism, and their rituals and practices; it also introduces you to Hindu news, music and art, points out some Hindu organizations, and helps you connect with the Hindu community online.
Known as Sanatana Dharma, or “the eternal law” in Sanskrit, Hinduism is a conglomeration of different beliefs that have evolved in the Indian subcontinent over millennia. As a result, Hinduism is not easy to codify. For example, some Hindus worship many Devas, or “heavenly beings," while others pay special attention to only a few. The links in this section attempt to explain the basic concepts of the Hindu faith.
- As you read through these links, keep in mind that although Hinduism has certain major tenets, there is great diversity in the beliefs and practices of the religion. One link may present only one interpretation of the religion.
- If you type “India” and “religion” into a search engine, you’ll find plenty of resources on Hinduism. In the process, you’ll also come across information on Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, religions that also have strong roots in India.
For general information about Hinduism …
has a comprehensive section on Hinduism, but you’ll need to scroll past the ads that typically appear at the top of each page. Don’t let this deter you, though, because the site is a great introduction to all aspects of the Hindu religion, with an extensive archive of articles and vivid pictures. Some of the articles are original to ReligionFacts; others are drawn from a variety of sources. Learn that the god “Ganesha swallows the sorrows of the Universe
,” or that the swastika is an ancient Hindu symbol for good luck
, later misused by the Nazis.
lays out many elements of the religion in a series of short articles focusing on Hindu ideology, history, and culture. As this user-friendly site is primarily concerned with health and lifestyle, the sections on Hindu culture (clothes, music, and art) and Hindu festivals and weddings are especially detailed.
“Religion & Ethics” section provides trustworthy facts about the religion and interesting features. Answer questions you may have about the religion, on matters such as the significance of the various Hindu gods
or the controversy over the impact of the Aryans on the Hindu religion
For a more in-depth look at the Hindu religion …
Heart of Hinduism
is based on the textbook of the same name; commonly used in the United Kingdom, it’s produced by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness Educational Services. Although this society is specifically affiliated with the Hare Krishna movement, the site broadly explores the different Hindu belief systems. Learn the concepts of Hinduism in a unique and easy-to-comprehend way: for example, the relationship between body and soul is described using an image of a car and driver.
is an extensive source on the religion, covering basic and more advanced topics on Hinduism; it also provides information on Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. Look for a very helpful page that pinpoints the differences between Hinduism and Buddhism
. Also find articles on Hindu theology, translations of sacred texts, and Hindu news.
is the site of the Sanskrit Religions Institute, and it brings together books, articles, links, and scholarly material about Hinduism. Take a look at A Hindu Primer
, a recently written (and not yet complete) topical guide to Hinduism. Don’t miss the Vedic Chants
page to hear a number of audio recordings.
is a very interesting resource. Find information here on topics you may not find anywhere else, such as “Hinduism & Quantum Physics
” and Hinduism and “Procrastination.”
The graphic design is lacking and the font size is small (go to “View” on your browser options and increase the text size), but the site is definitely worth a look despite its visual flaws.
The Hindu tradition is filled with unique ceremonies and customs, from the multicolored, powder-hurling festival of Holi to the solemn funeral rites. This section explores Hindu rituals and practices, including controversial traditions such as those stemming from the age-old caste system. Also learn where to find sacred Hindu texts on the Internet and where to find a Hindu temple.
- Many of the general Hinduism sites in the previous section of this guide also have information about rituals and practices. As the many types of Hinduism have varying rituals and customs, you may also want to look at the sites in the next section of this guide, “The Denominations of Hinduism.”
For general information about Hindu rituals and practices …
The American Museum of Natural History
presents an online version of their exhibition from 2001–2002 entitled “Meeting God: Elements of Hindu Devotion.” Start with the “Introduction
” to read about prayers, home worship, community worship, sacred acts, renunciation, and more; use the tabs under “Elements of Hindu Devotion” near the top of the page to navigate. Take a look at the “Portraits of Worship
” section for a gallery of photos depicting Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains at worship.
, a Web site of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Wyoming, provides this section on Hinduism. Don’t miss the “Time & Worship
” page for particularly interesting information on festivals and prayer that revolve around the Brahma-centered system of time. Also visit “Texts & Tales
” for a summary of the meaning, purpose, and structure of the Vedas and other Hindu texts.
is a blog with a helpful entry about “Hindu Rituals and Prayers,” compiled by the author to teach rituals to her children in the United States. Read about the rituals of lighting a lamp, using a prayer room, and doing Namaste, the Hindu practice of bowing in greeting. Learn more by reading part two of the rituals and prayers
For the caste system …
goes into extensive detail about the caste system. Learn about the five main castes, how the system was enforced, and its history, development, and justification. Read about the advantages and disadvantages of the system, and how it relates to modern India.
The Wall Street Journal
provides this article called “Caste Away,” published in June 2007, about the Dalits, or untouchables, in the Indian caste system. Read how, according to the article, the Dalits may be improving their lot in life, thanks to India’s globalization and economic development—especially in the high-technology sector. Don’t miss the helpful graphic illustrating the caste system’s social ladder; scroll down to find it on the right.
The Washington Post
published this article in June 2007, entitled “A 'Broken People' in Booming India.” The article presents the caste system in a different light than the previous link, and details the lives of the Dalits who sit at the bottom of India’s caste system. Read the author’s pessimistic view about the social and financial future of this group, which at one point appeared to be benefiting from the technological advances.
For sacred texts …
The Internet Sacred Text Archive
does a good job digitizing the sacred Hindu texts. Not every available interpretation and transcription is provided here but you’ll find a variety of options. Look for English and Sanskrit versions of the Vedas
, and Puranas
; the Mahabharata
epics; the Bhagavad Gita
; and some additional texts.
For temples in India …
is your best bet if you’re ever in India and looking for a place to worship. Use the left sidebar to find an abode of Ganesha, Shakti, Shiva, Vishnu, or any of the other major Hindu gods. Choose one of the abodes to get a brief sketch of the general worship customs related to that divinity, in addition to a description of temples and a summary of that god. Or search by location in India using the list of locations below the abodes on the left sidebar.
There are innumerable forms of Hinduism, as was mentioned above. The sites in this section will attempt to differentiate the various Hindu denominations from one another in terms of beliefs, practices, and the major geographic locations of its adherents.
- The faith can essentially be broken down into four forms: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism. These four denominations are further broken down into sects. A grouping tends to be characterized by its monist or dualist beliefs.
- Dualism refers to the Hindu belief that the “soul” (atman) and the “supreme spirit” (Brahman)are distinct. Monism refers to the Hindu belief that the atman and Brahman are one and the same.
- Unfortunately, the Internet is not a particularly helpful resource for the casual researcher of Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, or Smartism. There are surprisingly few high-quality sites out there on these broad topics. If you would like to find more information on your own, try searching for a more specific sect, like Sri Vaishnavism.
For Vaishnavism …
offers a general FAQ on Vaishnavism. Get the answers to common questions about the faith, including “Why is Vaishnavism relevant in today's world?” and “Is it necessary to be vegetarian, to be Vaishnava?” This site’s specific focus is a dualistic sect of Vaishnavism, Dvaita Vedânta: for more information, view the Dvaita.org
homepage or read the Dvaita FAQ
For Shaivism …
is associated with Hinduwebsite, and is a good starting point for learning about Shaivism. Explore the sects of Shaivism, learn about the main aspects of the faith, and read articles, e-texts, and prayers.
is an informative and visually appealing site about Shaivism. Find the beliefs and practices of Shaivism, a glossary of terms, stories, quotes, festivals, and books and news on this faith, all accompanied by colorful pictures.
For Shaktism and Tantric traditions …
Shiva Shakti Mandalam
contains vast amounts of information on the various Tantric traditions and the traditions surrounding Shakti. Although everything is laid out on the left sidebar, the site can still be difficult to navigate. Go to the How to use this site
section and use the Glossary
to get a better handle on everything that’s available.
has a lengthy article, “The Concept of Shakti: Hinduism as a Liberating Force for Women,” by Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D. Although the article is not entirely concerned with Shaktism, it does provide a great deal of information on Shakti, the primary figure in the religion, and her history and contemporary significance. Don’t miss “The Shakti Principle in Spiritual Practice” section; scroll a little more than halfway down the page to find it.
For Smartism …
The Adi Shankara Advaita Research Centre
is closely affiliated with Smartist beliefs. Located in Chennai, India, it initiates lectures, seminars, and symposia, and publishes books and a quarterly newsletter called “Voice of Kanchi Math.” Learn about the organization, read some articles, and find out about events. There aren’t many general Smartist sites available on the Internet, so explore this important site to learn the basics of the denomination.
There is a vast Hindu network on the Internet waiting for your presence. Read a Hindu or Indian online newspaper, post on some Shaivism forums, view a Hindu mother’s blog, or find a future spouse, date, or friend on one of the Hindu dating and matrimonial sites.
- Many of the newspapers don’t restrict their content to Hinduism. The newspapers mentioned below devote most of their attention to the current events of India, which often involve Hindu issues.
- Dating sites can ask for a lot of personal information. Just realize that you don’t have to include everything they ask for to find the girl/guy of your dreams.
- Most of the organizations offer memberships, which may or may not require payment. Many of these organizations also offer newsletters; subscribe to stay updated with events or news.
- One of the themes in this guide has been the fact that Hinduism is the majority religion in India, shaped by Indian culture and values. However, many dating Web sites are not solely for Hindus, but for Indians in general. Take note that you often have the option on these sites to restrict your search to Hindus, or even a specific denomination or sect of Hindus.
For connecting with the Hindu community …
has an assortment of features related to Hinduism (and unfortunately, plenty of advertisements, too). Each day spotlights a few Hinduism articles, holiday e-cards, polls, quizzes, or videos. Look for discussion topics listed near the bottom of the page, such as the “Do Animals Have Karma?” thread, or the “Featured Discussion.”
The Hindu Universe
has a large forum for discussion of Hindu beliefs, politics, defense, economy, foreign policy, terrorism, media, education, Indian history, and more. Expect plenty of activity on many of the threads.
For Hindu news …
is a publication that offers news and features related to the Hindu community around the globe. Register for free to download the digital version of current and past issues to your computer, or subscribe to the quarterly print edition for $35 annually.
The Times of India
is a major English-language newspaper in India. Although the paper is certainly not restricted to religion, the majority of the country’s population is Hindu, and as such, Hinduism is an integral part of Indian current events. There are many pesky advertisements but the site is easy to navigate.
, founded in 1878, is an independent paper based in India that boasts a readership of more than four million people. Look for coverage of important people and events in India, or news from abroad that has a bearing on India. Unfortunately, the Web site doesn’t have the cleanest design; use the navigation bar on the left to find information of interest.
For Hindu blogs …
tackles everyday issues related to Hinduism. The author notes that the blog is “for common people, not for scholars,” and it promotes “practical Hinduism
." Find frequent posts on a variety of topics, or scroll down the right sidebar to find “Popular Posts.” Be aware that the author is highly critical of the caste system.
is written by a chemical engineer turned writer and musician. Look for an emphasis on Hindu passages about Indian spirituality and Vedic culture, and their relation to daily life. As a musician, the author also frequently mentions music and its relationship to religion.
Mera Bharat Mahan
is written by a Hindu woman living in Virginia. Believing that India is “a nation whose nationhood is rooted in Hindu culture,” her blog examines Indian political, socioeconomic, and humanitarian issues as they relate to Hinduism. Find typical posts covering a recent issue in the news related to India or a book written by an expert on the area.
For Hindu organizations …
The Hindu American Foundation
claims to represent the roughly two million Hindus in the United States. The organization raises awareness about issues affecting the Hindu community in the United States and abroad, and fights against discrimination.
Hindu Students Council
was created as a resource for young Hindus living in North America and elsewhere around the world. The council seeks to preserve traditional Hindu religion and culture for students and others who may feel isolated from the religion. Find a local chapter
of the council, read the site’s blog, “Samskar,” and learn about their campus study groups and seminars, among other services.
Hindu Collective Initiative of North America
spreads information and awareness about Hinduism. This New Jersey-based nonprofit organization hosts the Hindu Dharma Summit, which brings together Hindu organizations, scholars, and paramount figures throughout the world to speak and share information. Download the PDF flier on the 2007 Hindu Dharma Summit
that took place in December.
For Hindu dating and matrimonial sites …
, founded in 1997, is the oldest and one of the most well-known matrimonial sites. The focus of the site is marriage. Basic membership is free but a premium membership provides you with more choices. Post photos and videos, read horoscopes, talk with other members on “Shaadi Messenger,” and use the “eMatchMaker” tool to find that perfect match.
is one of the more popular sites for Indian dating with the aim of finding a spouse. The site is unquestionably meant for marriage seekers as opposed to casual daters; besides the “matrimonial” name of the site, your two search options are “bride” and “groom.”
is not as marriage-focused as the two previous sites; look here for a friendship, date, or marriage. And unlike the other sites, Indian FriendFinder is not restricted to the heterosexual community. The site boasts hundreds of thousands of members throughout the world (with a substantial base in New York). Indian FriendFinder is part of the larger and trusted FriendFinder network.
Hinduism is renowned for beautiful music and art. The Internet makes it simple to listen to a melodic mantra or admire an exquisite sculpture of Shiva.
- Some of the sites that offer streaming audio require a plug-in. If you’re not sure if you have the proper plug-in, the site should let you know what you need to download or direct you to a Web site that offers the plug-in.
For Hindu art …
specializes in “Fine Hindu Deity Paintings from India.” Find product information on each painting, and an easy system for purchase and checkout.
offers DVDs of Hindu images. The site markets these discs to “parents, teachers, web designers and communicators” for the purpose of disseminating and furthering the images of the Hindu religion. Look at some of these rich images on the Web site.
For Hindu music …
is not a pretty site, but it does have a great deal of religious music that you can listen to in streaming format. Hear mantras, bhajans, and aarti, and watch music videos. Some of the sections are accompanied by explanations relating to Hindu culture and tradition. You will need RealPlayer
to access much of the material.
, part of The India Today Group, provides a wide selection of Hindu “devotional” music, from “Vedic chanting” to “classical forms.” Listen to a sample song from the track listing; a clickable speaker icon will appear next to the track duration if a sample is available. The CDs are available for purchase directly from the site.
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