All about Sapta Puri: Hinduism's seven most-sacred cities
Living DharmaTemple Series

All about Sapta Puri: Hinduism’s seven most-sacred cities

By February 20, 2024 No Comments

Ayodhyā mathurā māyā kāśī kāñcī hy avantikā | purī dvāravatī caiva saptaitā mokṣadāyikā ||“These are the seven sacred cities that bestow liberation upon seekers: Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar, Varanasi, Kanchipuram, Ujjain, Puri, and Dwarka.” — Garuḍapurāṇa — (16.114)

Every world religion has certain places that are irreplaceably sacred in the eyes of its followers.

Muslims, for example, have Mecca, considered the fountainhead of Islam. It’s here, the prophet Muhammad was born, where he’s believed to have received the Quran, and where the Kaaba, revered as “the house of god,” resides in all its venerated glory. Christians, on the other hand, have the Old City of Jerusalem, where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — regarded as the site Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected — calls on all who yearn to see it. And for those who are Jewish, the same city is just as significant, but for reasons different, paramount of which being the Temple Mount, where stood the Jewish Temple, said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant.

Hinduism, as it happens, also has places of such significance, known as Sapta Puri, or seven most-sacred cities. Lacking, however, the same global recognition afforded those of other major religions, few non-Hindus are aware of their key sites, much less the controversies surrounding them.

Here’s a little to know about Hinduism’s seven most-sacred places.

1) Ayodhya

India has given birth to many great stories, all of which have brought some level of joy, solace, and inspiration to those who have heard them. But if there’s one that has permeated Hindu consciousness and culture deeper than any other, The Ramayana, detailing the life and pastimes of Prince Ram, might just be it.

An ancient Sanskrit epic of love, friendship, courage, and sacrifice, the narrative has also been told in the vernacular languages of every region in India, making Ram, who is seen as a divine embodiment of dharma, or righteousness, an especially penetrating symbol of devotion. As his popularity has extended beyond India and Hinduism to people of other countries and faiths, the places associated with his story have become increasingly sought after pilgrimage destinations, foremost of them being Ayodhya, containing the immensely sacred site of his birth.

The area has been tangled in controversy, however, going back hundreds of years when Babur, the first Mughal emperor, destroyed the last and largest Hindu temple located there in 1528, replacing it with a mosque that came to be known as the Babri Masjid. Hiding the remains of what stood long before, archaeological evidence confirming this fact was eventually unearthed after the mosque’s controversial removal in 1992, culminating in a 2019 Supreme Court order allowing for a new Hindu temple to be built. 

In January 2024, consecration of the sacred icon of the infant Ram finally took place in the sanctum of the new temple under construction, as celebrations rang across the global Hindu diaspora, bold and true. And though there are many who, unaware of the site’s monumental significance, may continue to show dissent, the celebrations will press on. The devotion that fuels it, after all, has persevered for thousands of years, and will continue to do so for thousands more.

2) Mathura

To some, he is a figure of myth, especially enshrined in ancient lore as the speaker of The Bhagavad Gita, Hinduism’s most widely read text. To others, he is something more, a powerful avatar of Vishnu (the god of preservation) who, like Ram, descended to uphold righteousness, and do away with those who would oppose it. And for others more, his transcendent stature goes ever further, reaching the heights of divinity, as the supreme spiritual being from whom all of creation manifests and exists.

However one may view him, one thing’s for sure, from north to south to east to west, Krishna is embedded in the spiritual psyche of numerous within and beyond India, his many pastimes cherished throughout for their profound displays of love and devotion. Hoping to delve deeper into the mood of this devotion, devotees visit the prominent sites of his time on earth, which began, of course, in the place he was born, Mathura.

Flowing through the city by the thousands, for millennia pilgrims have gravitated towards a number of worshipable spots here, including, naturally, the Krishna Janmasthan Temple Complex, located in the area he took birth. While, for the most part, the premises serves the desired function of enabling devotees to honor Krishna’s earthly appearance, it, like Ram’s birthplace, is also not without controversy.

Before the current structures were established, there was a much older shrine, believed by some to have been erected thousands of years ago by Krishna’s great-grandson, Vajranabha. Whether this is true, what we do know is that a temple called Keshava Deva was later built as an expansion of the site, destroyed and reconstructed several times throughout the Mughal period until, in the 17th century, Aurangzeb finally had it replaced with a mosque.

Though the building of today’s complex was eventually made possible in the vicinity, Aurangzeb’s mosque is still there, sitting adjacent to it on the remains of Krishna’s original birth shrine.

Eager to reclaim access to the site, Hindus have been engaged in an ongoing legal dispute, hoping to honor it as it once was, in all its glory. Needless to say, the future is uncertain, yet whatever the result, the devotional power of Krishna’s pastimes will forever stand, impervious to the touch of time, place, and circumstance.

3) Haridwar

The Ganga is India’s largest river basin, streaming through roughly 1,569 miles of northern country. Irrigating numerous farmlands, villages, towns, and cities along the way, it has been a vital cog in the nation’s economy, providing support to the region since before the dawn of civilization.

Still, discerning the sacred in all, Hindus view the waterway as more than just a resource of sustenance. Hailed as a motherly goddess whose constant flow of compassion is worthy of the highest worship, devotees can be found bathing everywhere along her banks, paying their respects in a spirit of deep gratitude. And while each spot, imbued by the goddess’ presence, is capable of awarding the kind of benefit promised in texts dating back thousands of years, there are a few places considered distinctly beneficial, with Haridwar housing an exceptionally potent one.

Known as the “Gate of the Ganga,” where the river leaves the Himalayan mountains and enters India’s plains, the city is replete with bathing sites, yet none more popular than Hari Ki Pauri, the “Feet of Hari.” Invoking the divine essence of Mother Ganga’s spiritual origin, said to be from the toe of Vishnu himself, the amphitheater-like pool — its edges dotted by her shrines — bustles with activity, especially for evening worship. And during the city’s great festivals, like the mammoth Kumbha Mela that happens every 12 years, the place becomes further inundated by pilgrims, who show up by the millions to bathe in her waters.

Gathered together, all watch with reverence as the priests of the area offer brass oil lamps in her honor. Setting the air ablaze with a fire of gratitude, they chant prayers and ring bells, while she glimmers as the liquid goddess, who gives freely to all without asking anything in return.

4) Varanasi

Shiva, according to a 2021 Pew study on religion in India, is the deity Hindus most commonly feel close to, making his worship unquestionably common within a tradition containing some 1.2 billion people.

His temples, countless in number, can be found in all parts of the country, providing solace and inspiration to the wide spectrum of his devotees. Each shrine offering unique insight to the multilayered complexion of his enigmatic identity, those who revere him most know, of all his manifestations, 12, referred to as jyotirlingas (“emblems of sacred light”), are especially great, and among them, one stands out above the rest — in a place called Varanasi. Famous to Hindus as Kashi, or the “Shining City,” where Shiva is said to have transformed into an unfathomable column of light in a display of his boundless potency, Varanasi is one of India’s most important pilgrimage sites, serving as a center of learning, philosophy, and spiritual pluralism throughout the years.

Home to hundreds of sanctums, large and small, Kashi Vishvanatha, the “Golden Temple,” is its most popular, situated where Shiva’s light is believed to have pierced the earth. But like the Janmasthan complex in Mathura, it too is a replacement of a much older temple that was destroyed and reconstructed several times over the centuries, before being turned into a mosque by Aurangzeb in the 17th century.

And though there’s no telling whether a temple will be able to stand there again, in January 2024, the Varanasi district court permitted Hindus to pray in one of the mosque’s cellars, sparking immense joy in the hearts of adherents all over. Things may not always play out exactly as devotees desire, but as long as they remain determined in their devotion, Shiva’s light will never go out in Varanasi.

5) Kanchipuram

India is known as the land of temples. To call one of its cities unique for having a lot of them, therefore, may seem a little absurd. Yet, those who’ve been to Kanchipuram know: its epithet, the “City of a Thousand Temples,” is well-earned, even if there aren’t quite that many.

Unlike most temple towns in Tamil Nadu, where a single sacred compound occupies the urban center, Kanchipuram is strewn with shrines throughout, as an intricate jumble of streets weaves to and between them. Seemingly extraneous to present eyes, the city’s many religious sites played a pivotal role in helping it flourish between the 7th and 12th centuries, functioning as spaces where diverse groups could not only worship, but participate in a dynamic interplay of economic and political exploration. Thus an important center of knowledge that welcomed those of all religious backgrounds, Kanchipuram was a pluralistic hub, and its numerous temples a powerful reflection as such.

Today, the thousands of pilgrims who flood the city everyday, while in awe of the copious structures surrounding them, usually know about five prominent ones, of which the Kamakshi Amman Temple is the most famous. Dedicated to Kamakshi, a manifestation of Goddess Parvati, she is revered as a motherly aspect of the Divine who performed severe austerities to win the love of her consort Shiva.

Sitting on a lotus pedestal where these austerities are said to have taken place, her golden icon has attracted countless seekers over the centuries, beckoning them to dive into a similar tenor of devotion. Bearing the spiritual heart of the city, she helps all tap into the divine benefits Kanchipuram has to offer, regardless of the temples they do or don’t visit beyond her.

Photo courtesy of British Library WD 3426

6) Ujjain

Varanasi might be home to the most popular of Shiva’s 12 great manifestations, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s the only jyotirlinga city worth knowing about.

Sure, Kashi is the “Shining City,” where he is revered for having displayed his boundless potency, however, in Ujjain he dwells in a particularly profound aspect of his called Mahakala, or the “Great Lord of Time.” A fitting name, this other city of his indeed seems to stretch beyond the boundaries of age, eternalized in some of Hinduism’s oldest texts — mentioned even as a place where a drop landed from the gods’ vessel of amrita, or immortal nectar.

Yet, even for those who don’t buy into such unfathomable ideas of antiquity, Ujjain is still ancient as they come, reaching back at least to the time of Buddha, when it was known as the capital of the kingdom of Avanti. Flourishing also during the golden age of the Gupta empire, between the third and sixth centuries, it was the famed poet Kalidasa himself who described the city as one that must have been built by those from heaven.

Though lacking the same renown of its illustrious past, Ujjain has grown in recent decades, with the expansion of business, industry, and spiritual commerce. Exceptionally busy during Simhastha, a month-long mela that happens every 12 years, millions of pilgrims inundate the city’s various sites, of which the Mahakaleshwar Temple is most prominent

There, where Shiva is said to have appeared in fierce protection of his loyal devotees, the linga of Mahakala resides in a three-story structure, surmounted by a tall shikhara that pierces the sky. A sight of power and solace, devotees throng to its shelter, under which they pray to be shielded from the ceaseless onslaughts of spiritual adversity.

7) Dvarka

Krishna was born in Mathura, and so the city, as conveyed above, is a natural pilgrimage destination, drawing devotees from all over the world who aspire to bask in the spirit of his devotional glory.

Devotional glory, however, has many shades depending on the set of pastimes one chooses to delve into. While emphasis is given to places like Krishna’s birth site, which immerses one in the exultant fortune of his sacred appearance, the poignant settings of his departures are also important, counterintuitive as this might seem. Engulfing followers in the piercing ache of separation, they have a way of deepening one’s meditation, thereby increasing a person’s connection to Krishna in the most earnest of ways. It should thus come as no surprise that those looking to attain such connection actively seek the places known for his disappearances, and that Dvarka, where he spent the last chapter of his earthly life, is one that’s high upon the list.

Shrouded in legend, the ancient kingdom of Dvarka is where Krishna is said to have ruled in his adult years, on the far-westernmost point of Saurashtra, the peninsular region of Gujarat. There on the seacoast, he built his illustrious capital, believed to have been laid out by Vishvakarma himself, the architect of the gods. Constructed from the finest of materials, it was seen as heaven on earth, and stood as such until the day Krishna left the world, after which, according to ancient texts, the sea rose and submerged the city, turning it into but a memory in a matter of moments.

Though, to many, the account is nothing more than a fable of myth, the story still has elicited immense interest over the centuries, sparking several major archaeological expeditions in the area, which indeed have led to the discovery of what appear to be city remains lying beneath the coastal waters. Yet, captivating as these findings are, whether they actually prove the historicity of Krishna and his kingdom is really only marginally pertinent to the faithful who travel from far and wide to visit the city as it exists today. 

It’s there, after all, where one can find the Dwarkadish Temple, on the edge of the ocean, brandishing a huge golden flag that flies atop its towering shikhara. Thought by some,  like the original Janmasthan shrine in Mathura, to have been erected thousands of years ago by Krishna’s great-grandson, its original structure was also destroyed under Islamic rule, before being rebuilt sometime during the 15th to 16th centuries.

In any case, the temple’s deity — a jet-black, four armed image of Krishna in the demeanor of a royal monarch — has endured as the city’s central focus, standing as more than just an emblem of a possible past. Residing in all his eminence, he serves as a window to a great and powerful spiritual one, inviting pilgrims to come and explore the depths of a devotion more vast than the oceanic waters surrounding him.

If you enjoyed this piece, then you may also be interested in reading “Char Dham: the pilgrimage tour that takes you around all of India”

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10/30/22Sanatana Dharma in the Movies

Hinduism is often referred to as Sanatana Dharma (the ‘eternal way’), indicating the religion’s emphasis on eternal truths that are applicable to all of humanity. Thus, it makes sense that a medley of mainstream movies could convey Hindu ideals that resonate strongly with audiences, while not actually talking directly about anything understood by the public as Hindu.

In Groundhog Day, for example, when cynical TV weatherman Phil Collins discovers he is trapped in a time loop, living the same day over and over, only to be released after transforming his character from an egocentric narcissist to a thoughtful and kindhearted philanthropist, it’s hard not to be reminded of the Hindu notion of samsara, a cycle of reincarnation from which a soul attains liberation by realizing its divine nature after lifetimes of spiritual practice. 

Or in The Matrix when Neo chooses the red pill of knowledge over the blue pill of ignorance, and is subsequently unplugged from an illusory world and cast into the truth of reality, the film seems to be conveying a foundational Vedic teaching: that we must transcend our own ignorance — a product of maya, literally meaning “illusion” in Sanskrit — to uncover our true nature. Hindu concepts appear to be further exhibited in Neo’s relationship with Morpheus, which starkly reflects that of a disciple and guru, as the latter reveals to the former the knowledge he needs in order to understand this “true nature.” As Neo’s faith in Morpheus’ words develops, so does his capacity to see past the illusion of the matrix, garnering him the ability to manipulate the laws of this false reality, similar to the Jedi and yogis described earlier.

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10/29/22Hinduism and American Thought

Hindu Americans and the Vedanta philosophy have significantly influenced notable intellectuals such as Henry  David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, J.D. Salinger, Christopher Isherwood, Aldous Huxley, Huston Smith, and Joseph Campbell just to name a few. Some feel that it started back In 1812, when Thomas Jefferson recommended to John Adams the writings of Joseph Priestley, a Unitarian minister who had published works that compared Christianity to other religions — Hinduism in particular — Adam’s interest was piqued.

Going through Priestley’s writings, Adams became riveted by Hindu thought, as he launched into a five-year exploration of Eastern philosophy. As his knowledge of Hinduism and ancient Indian civilization grew, so did his respect for it. This legacy took shape in the 1830s as Transcendentalism, a philosophical, social, and literary movement that emphasized the spiritual goodness inherent in all people despite the corruption imposed on an individual by society and its institutions. Espousing that divinity pervades all of nature and humanity, Transcendentalists believed divine experience existed in the everyday, and held progressive views on women’s rights, abolition, and education. At the heart of this movement were three of America’s most influential authors: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau.

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10/27/22The Hindu Diaspora in Afghanistan

Before becoming an Islamic state, Afghanistan was once home to a medley of religious practices, the oldest being Hinduism. A long time ago, much of Afghanistan was part of an ancient kingdom known as Gandhara, which also covered parts of northern Pakistan.Today, many of Afghanistan’s province names, though slightly altered, are clearly Sanskrit in origin, hinting at the region’s ancient past. To cite a few examples, Balkh comes from the Sanskrit Bhalika, Nangarhar from Nagarahara, and Kabul from Kubha. Though Gandhara’s earliest mention can be found in the Vedas, it is better known for its connections to the Hindu epics the Mahabharata and Ramayana. There is also the historic Asamai temple in Kabul located on a hill named after the Hindu Goddess of hope, Asha. The temple has survived numerous conflicts and attacks but it still stands. The temple is a remnant from Hindu Shahi Kings, who ruled from the Kabul Valley as far back as 850 CE. However, Hindus are indigenous but endangered minorities in Afghanistan, numbering approximately 700 out of a community that recently included over 8,000 members. Many have left for new homes, include in New York which is home to a large Afghani Hindu population.

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10/26/22Dogs and Diwali

According to the 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey, 70% of U.S. households (90.5 million homes) owned a pet as of 2022, with 69 million U.S. households having a pet dog. Recognized for their loyalty, service, companionship, and the special relationship they have with humans, Hinduism’s reverence for dogs is expansive, as they are worshiped in festivals and appreciated in connection to a number of Hindu gods and stories. Observed in Nepal, Bhutan, and the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal, Kukar Tihar (the 2nd day of Tihar) honors dogs as messengers that help guide spirits of the deceased across the River of Death. In the Mahabharata, Yudhisthira, his brothers, and the queen Draupadi renounced their kingdom to ascend to the heavens. However, Yudhisthira was the only one that survived along with a dog that had joined them. Yudhisthira refused to go to heaven without the dog, who turned out to be Yamaraj, the God of Death. Sarama, the “female dog of the gods,” was famously asked by Indra to retrieve a herd of cows that were stolen. When the thieves were caught, they tried to bribe Sarama but she refused and now represents those who do not wish to possess but instead find what has been lost. The symbolic import of dogs is further driven in connection with Dattatreya, as he is commonly depicted with four of them to represent the Vedas, the Yugas, the stages of sound, and the inner forces of a human being (will, faculty, hope, and desire).

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10/25/22Black Panther

In 2018, the long-running Marvel comic series Black Panther, was brought to the big screen. A more prominent scene is when M’baku, a character vying for the throne of the fictional country of Wakanda, challenges T’Challa/Black Panther, and yells, “Glory to Hanuman.” However, despite dharma as an unsaid aspect of the characters’ interactions, Black Panther relies slightly more on Hindu symbolism than philosophy. But the significance of Hanuman as a transcendent deity cannot be overlooked, especially at a time when dialogues about global migration, the right to worship, and access to natural resources are becoming more overtly racialized. The film provides more than just an entertainment escape: it reimagines a world in which the current racial and theological paradigms are challenged forcefully. With the film expected to have at least several sequels, there will be more opportunities to reference Hinduism and Hindu iconography.

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One of the most celebrated Hindu festivals, Diwali (dee-VAH-lee) or Deepavali (dee-PAH-va-lee) commemorates the victory of good over evil during the course of five days. The word refers to rows of diyas — or clay lamps — which are put all around homes and places of worship. The light from these lamps symbolizes the illumination within all of us, which can overcome ignorance, represented by darkness. Devotees gather in local temples, homes, or community centers, to spend time with loved ones, make positive goals, and appreciate life.

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On this day, because Diwali is a time for dana (charitable giving) and seva (selfless service), Hindus traditionally perform a deep cleaning of their homes and surroundings, as cleanliness is believed to invoke the presence and blessings of Goddess Lakshmi who, as mentioned earlier, is the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Many will also make rangoli or kolum (colored patterns of flowers, powder, rice, or sand made on the floor), which are also said to invite auspiciousness. Observers thus begin Diwali by cultivating a spirit of generosity, doing things like giving money to charities, feeding the hungry, and endeavoring to help those in need.

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10/22/22The Hindu Diaspora in Bali

The spread of Hinduism to Southeast Asia established powerful Hindu kingdoms in the region, most notably the Khmer Empire that encompassed modern Cambodia and Thailand, and influential kingdoms in the Indonesia archipelago. Though Buddhism and Hinduism co-existed in the region for several centuries, Buddhism (and Islam in Indonesia) eventually replaced Hinduism as a primary religion. Today, there are approximately five million Hindus in Indonesia, primarily in Bali. As Bali is roughly 90 percent Hindu, this makes it a religious enclave in a country that contains the world’s largest Muslim population. There are also roughly 60,000 Cham Hindus in Vietnam, and smaller numbers in Thailand. Hinduism in Fiji, Malaysia, and Singapore is a much more recent phenomenon, with Hindus arriving in the 19th and early 20th centuries as indentured laborers. Today, Hindus are prominent in politics and business in all three countries, though they continue to experience discrimination as religious minorities.

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10/21/22Smithsonian/American History Exhibit - American Indian experience

In 2014, the first Smithsonian exhibition chronicling the experiences of Indian Americans, many of whom are Hindus,  in the US was unveiled at their National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. This exhibit was one of the largest ever produced by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, occupying 5,000 square feet and reaching millions of visitors. The message behind “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation,” aimed to dispel stereotypes and myths that have followed Indian immigrants since they first arrived in the U.S. in 1790. The exhibit explored the heritage, daily experiences, and the many diverse contributions that immigrants and Indian Americans have made to the United States. The exhibition at the Museum of Natural History includes historical and contemporary images and artifacts, including those that document histories of discrimination and resistance, convey daily experiences, and symbolize achievements across the professions. Music and visual artworks provide commentary on the Indian American experience and form an important component of the exhibition. In 2017, this exhibit went on the road, traveling from city to city so that all could see the impact of Indians on American culture.

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10/20/22Swami Yogananda

Paramahansa Yogananda was a Hindu monk and yogi who came to the United States in 1920 and lived here for the last 32 years of his life. He is considered to be the first major Hindu Guru to settle in the United States. When Swami Yogananda arrived in the US, he made his first speech, made to the International Congress of Religious Liberals, on “The Science of Religion,” and was enthusiastically received. It was soon after that he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (also known as Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS) of India) and introduced millions of Americans to the ancient science and philosophy of meditation and Kriya yoga (path of attainment). In 1927, he was invited to the White House by President Calvin Coolidge, making Swami Yogananda the first prominent Indian and Hindu to be hosted in the White House.

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For those of us who are Hindu, we have noticed that some of the biggest Hollywood films produced in the last several decades have mirrored many of Hinduism's most fundamental philosophical ideas. One example is Avatar, a film named for the Sanskrit word avatāra (‘descent’), in which the protagonist, Jake Sully, enters and explores an alien world called Pandora by inhabiting the body of an indigenous 10-foot, blue-skinned being, an idea taken from Hinduism’s depictions of the various avatars of the blue god Vishnu, who are said to descend into our world for upholding dharma. Instead of aligning with the interests of the humans, who merely want to mine Pandora for the valuable mineral unobtanium, Sully fights alongside the alien humanoids native to the world, called Na’vi, who live in harmony with nature, believe all life is sacred, and that all life is connected by a divine force — teachings synonymous with Hinduism. Thus, similar to the avatars of Vishnu, Sully defends and preserves a spiritual culture by defeating those who would destroy it for materialistic pursuit. While this film doesn’t indicate in any direct way that they have anything to do with Hinduism, it’s clear they are communicating Hindu ideas that everyone relates to and understands on a profound level.

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10/18/22Swami Prabhupada

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as the Hare Krishna movement, was founded in 1966 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a highly respected Vaishnava  (devotion to the god Vishnu and his incarnations avatars) scholar and monk. At the age of 70, Swami Prabhupada traveled from India to New York City to bring the Bhakti tradition, or Krishna Consciousness, to the west. In the 11 years before his passing in 1977, Srila Prabhupada translated, with elaborate commentaries, 60 volumes of Vaishnava literature; established more than 100 temples on six continents; and initiated 5,000 disciples. Today, his writings are studied in universities around the globe and are translated into nearly 100 languages. To date, ISKCON has over 400 temples,  dozens of rural communities and eco-sustainable projects, and nearly 100 vegetarian restaurants world-wide with 56 of them in the US. 

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10/17/22The Hindu Diaspora in Africa

Hinduism came in waves to Africa, with Southern Africa getting Hindu workers during the early years of British colonization, while East and West Africa experienced Hindu migration during the 20th century. Hinduism’s roughly 0.2% presence in Africa is seen as so inconsequential, most data organizations don’t even bother explicitly mentioning it in their census reports. But Hinduism is Ghana's fastest growing religion and one in which there are steady populations in both Northern and Southern African states. Durban is now home to most of South Africa’s 1.3 million Indians, making it, according to some sources, the largest Indian city outside of India, and thus a most powerful hub of Hindu practice. In the US, there are both communities of African Hindus who have migrated, as well as Black Hindus, who according to the 2019 Pew Survey, make up 2% of the Hindu population in the US.

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10/16/22Star Wars

George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, drew much of the inspiration for this major cultural phenomenon from the teachings of his mentor who was a lifelong student of Vedanta. In these films, many aspects of Hinduism are interwoven with the story. Some include Hanuman (Chewbaca and Ewoks), Shakti (force,energy), Yodha (Yoda), Brahman (infinite being). Besides the many philosophical parallels that can be highlighted between Star Wars and Hinduism, Star Wars also exhibits similarities in story structure and character roles to one of India’s famous epics, the Ramayana. Never seen the movie? Now might be the time to see how universally relatable Hindu thought can truly be.

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While it’s synonymous to meditation, and seen simply as a doorway to tranquility for yogic practitioners, the true meaning of Om is deeply embedded in Hindu philosophy.

The word Om is defined by Hindu scripture as being the original vibration of the universe, which all other vibrations are able to manifest. Within Hinduism, the meaning and connotations of Om is perceived in a variety of ways. Though heard and often written as “om,” due to the way it sounds when it is repeatedly chanted, the sacred syllable is originally and more accurately spelled as “aum.” Broken down, the three letters of A – U – M represent a number of sacred trinities such as different conditions of consciousness (waking state, dreaming state, and deep sleep state), the deities in charge of the creation, preservation, and destruction of the universe ( Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva), aspects of time (past, present, and future), among many others. 

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10/28/22Dr. Anandibai Joshi

Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi is credited with being the first woman from India to study medicine in the United States. Born in Bombay in 1865, she was married at the age of ten to an older man who had been her teacher. Dr. Joshi had a child at the age of 13, but the child died when only 10 days old. She believed that with better medical care, the child would have lived, and she frequently cited this as motivation for her desire to attend medical school. Her husband encouraged her in her academic pursuits and in 1883, Joshee joined the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, now known as the Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. She graduated in 1886 with her degree in medicine; her M.D. thesis focused on Hindu obstetrics. Unfortunately,  Dr. Joshi was only able to practice medicine for a few months before passing away from tuberculosis.

Science in Hinduism

10/13/22The Hindu Diaspora in Guyana

Hinduism is the religion of almost 25% of Guyana’s population, making it the country with the highest percentage of Hindus in the Western Hemisphere. But from British professional recruiting agents targeting rural and uneducated Indians, to the aggressiveness of Christian proselytization of Hindus with a promise of a better life, Hinduism has been in a steady decline for many decades with many escaping to the United States for better opportunities and to practice their religion freely. Today, over 80% of Guyanese Americans live in the Northeastern United States with heavy concentrations in New Jersey and in New York, where a “Little Guyana”  helps these immigrants stay connected to their Guyanese roots.

Hinduism beyond India: Guyana

Hinduism Around the World

10/12/22Karwa Chauth

Karwa Chauth or Karva Chauth (kuhr-vah-CHOATH) is a North Indian holiday in which wives fast for the longevity and health of their husbands, however, many unmarried women celebrate in hopes of meeting their ideal life partner. Typically, wives spend the day preparing gifts to exchange, and fasting until the moon is visible. It is believed that its light symbolizes love and blessings of a happy life. While there are varying legends behind this holiday’s traditions and meaning, the message of honoring the relationships women form with their family and community prevails.

Karwa Chauth

Hindu Holidays & Dharmic Days Calendar

10/11/22Hinduism and Music

As sound vibration can affect the most subtle element of creation, it is interpreted in Hindu scriptures that spiritual sound vibrations can affect the atman (soul) in a particularly potent way. Such spiritual sound vibrations are said to have the ability to awaken our original spiritual consciousness and help us remember that we are beyond the ambivalence of life, and actually originate from the Divine. As such, the main goal of many types of Hindu musical expression is to help stir us out of our spiritual slumber by evoking feelings of love and connection that help us to better perceive the presence of the Divine within all. Some of the more popular examples of musical expressions within Hinduism include shlokas (verse, or poem), mantras (sacred syllables repeated in prayer), kirtans (congregational singing of mantras), and bhajans (devotional songs). You can find musical spiritual expressions through the US in temples,  Mandirs, and community centers.

The Power of Music According to Hinduism

What is Kirtan?


Yoga is considered Hinduism’s gift to humanity. At its broadest, yoga, from the root word “yuj” in Sanskrit, means to unite. Most Hindu texts discuss yoga as a practice to control the senses and ultimately, the mind. The most famous is the Bhagavad Gita (dating back to 6th-3rd Century BCE), in which Krishna speaks of four types of yoga – bhakti, or devotion; jnana, or knowledge; karma, or action; and dhyana, or concentration (often referred to as raja yoga, though not all sources agree on the term) – as paths to achieve moksha (enlightenment), the ultimate goal according to Hindu understanding. According to a 2016 study,  in the United States there are an estimated 36.7 million people currently practicing yoga in the United States.


The Hindu Roots of Yoga

10/9/22Swami Vivekananda

According to Vedic cosmology, 108 is the basis of creation, representing the universe and all our existence. As the soul is encased in two types of bodies: the physical body (made of earth, water, fire, air, and ether) and the subtle body (composed of intelligence, mind and ego), Swami Viveknanda is often attributed with bringing Hindu teachings and practices — such as yoga and transcendental meditation — to Western audiences. In 1893, he was officially introduced to the United States at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago, where in his speech he called for religious tolerance and described Hinduism as “a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.” The day that Swami Vivekananda delivered his speech at the Parliament of Religions is now known as ‘World Brotherhood Day.’ And his birthday, known as Swami Vivekananda Jayanti, is honored on January 12th each year. On this day he is commemorated and recognized for his contributions as a modern Hindu monk and respected guru of the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism. In 1900, Swami Viveknanda founded the Vedanta Society in California and to date there are 36 Vedanta Society Centers in the United States.

Swami Vivekananda Influenced Countless Americans

Hindu Holidays & Dharmic Days Calendar


According to Vedic cosmology, 108 is the basis of creation, representing the universe and all our existence. As the soul is encased in two types of bodies: the physical body (made of earth, water, fire, air, and ether) and the subtle body (composed of intelligence, mind and ego), 108 plays a significant role in keeping these two bodies healthily connected. Hindus believe the body holds seven chakras, or pools of energy, which begin at the bottom of the spine and go all the way down to the top of the head and it is believed there are 108 energy lines that converge to form the heart chakra. Ayurveda says there are 108 hidden spots in the body called marma points, where various tissues like muscles, veins, and ligaments meet. These are vital points of life force, and when they are out of balance, energy cannot properly flow throughout the body. Sun salutations, yogic asanas that honor the sun god Surya, are generally completed in nine rounds of 12 postures, totaling 108. Mantra meditation is usually chanted on a set of 108 beads.   In Hinduism there are 108 Upanishads, the sacred texts of wisdom from ancient sages. Additionally, in the Sanskrit alphabet, there are 54 letters. Each letter has a feminine, or Shakti, and masculine, or Shiva, quality. 54 multiplied by 2 equals 108. Ultimately, breathwork, chanting, studying scripture, and asana’s help harmonize one’s energy with the energy of the supreme spiritual source. These processes become especially effective when they are performed in connection with the number 108. Hindu scriptures strive to remind people of this divine commonality by continuously highlighting the innumerable threads connecting everything in existence. One of these threads is the number 108.

5 Things to know about 108

Here's How the Number 108 Binds Us to the Universe

10/7/22The Hindu Diaspora in Trinidad/Tobago

A decade after slavery was abolished in 1834, the British government began importing indentured labor from India to work on their estates in other countries such as Trinidad and Tobago.  From 1845 to 1917, the ships would continue to arrive, carrying over 140,000 Indians to the island, facilitating Trinidad's population growth from Indian laborers. Today, there are roughly 240,000 declared Hindus in Trinidad and Tobago, comprising about 18% of the island’s population. There are a total of about 300 temples on the island, welcoming all who wish to enter and where many beloved Hindu festivals take place. But for some, the migration journey doesn’t end as New York and Florida have seen the development of large Indo-Caribbean communities.

Hinduism beyond India: Trinidad and Tobago


From ancient tribes to present-day devotees, tattoos have held a special place in Hinduism for centuries. In the Indian states of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, the Ramnaami community invoked Rama’s protection with tattoos of the name “Rama” in Sanskrit on every inch of their skin, including the tongue and inside the lips.The Mahabharata tells the story of the Pandavas that were exiled to the Kutch district of Gujarat. Today, their descendants - members of the Ribari tribe - live as their ancestors did, with women covered in tattoos that symbolize their people’s strong spirit for survival. Some Hindus consider tattoos as protective emblems,such as tattoos of Hanuman are often used to relieve physical or mental pain. People will often get tattoos of other deities to invoke their blessings. Mehndi, a plant-based temporary tattoo, is commonly done at weddings and religious ceremonies as a form of celebration of love and spirituality. While tattoos have been in Hindu communities for centuries, tattoos as symbols of honor, devotion, and even fashion are incredibly popular today. Hindus and non Hindus alike adorn themselves with Hindu emblems and tattoos that reflect Hindu teachings.

Guidelines for Commercial Use of Hindu Images


Navaratri (nuhv-uh-RA-three) is a nine night celebration of the feminine divine that occurs four times a year — the spring and fall celebrations being amongst the more widely celebrated. Some traditions honor the nine manifestations of Goddess Durga, while others celebrate the three goddesses (Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati) with three days dedicated to each. This is a time to recognize the role in which the loving, compassionate, and gentle — yet sometimes powerful and fierce — feminine energy plays in our lives.

Nine Things to Know About Navaratri

Hindu Holidays & Dharmic Days Calendar


Dussehra (duh-sheh-RAH) or Vijayadashmi (vi-juhyuh-dushuh-mee) celebrates the victory of Lord Rama over the ten-headed demon King Ravana. This also marks the end of Ramalila — a brief retelling of the Ramayana and the story of Rama, Sita, and Lakshman in the form of dramatic reading or dance. It also signifies the end of negativity and evil within us (vices, biases, prejudices) for a fresh new beginning. Dussehra often coincides with the end of Navratri and Duga Puja, and celebrations can last ten days, with huge figures of Ravana set ablaze as a reminder that good always prevails over evil.

Hindu Holidays & Dharmic Days Calendar

Hinduism 101 & Women

10/3/22Ahimsa + Cow sanctuaries

Many Hindus hold reverence for the cow as a representation of mother earth, fertility, and Hindu values of selfless service, strength, dignity, and non-harming. Though not all Hindus are vegetarian, for this reason many traditionally abstain from eating beef. This is often linked with the concept of ahimsa (non-violence), which can be applied to diet choices and our interactions with the environment, and potentially determine our next birth, according to the doctrine of karma. This is part of the reason that some Hindus may choose a vegetarian lifestyle as an expression of ahimsa as well as explains the growing number of cow protection projects that are led by individuals who have felt compelled to put their Hindu values into practice. The US is home to several cow protection projects and sanctuaries

Dairy Is Traditionally Sattvic Food, but the Way We Treat Cows Today Can Be Tamasic

Cultured Meat and Animal-Free Dairy Upends the Plant-Based Food Discussion

10/1/2022First Hindu temple in US

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 facilitated the journey of many Indian immigrants to the United States. In this new land, many created home shrines and community temples to practice and hold pujas (services). As Hindu American populations grew in metropolitan and rural areas, so did the need to find a permanent temple site for worship. In 1906, the Vedanta Society built the Old Temple in San Francisco, California but as this was not considered a formal temple, many don’t credit this with being the first. Others believe it is the Shiva Murugan Temple built in 1957 in Concord, California, whereas others believe it is the Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devanstanam in New York that should be considered the first. Today, there are nearly 1,000 temples in the United States . Regardless of where you live, you have the right to practice your faith.

A Guide To Temple Safety and Security

5 Things to Know About Visiting a Hindu Temple