The Hindu roots of yoga: Surya Namaskar
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The Hindu roots of yoga: Surya Namaskar

By May 22, 2023 May 30th, 2023 No Comments

Sometimes Hindu worship, especially to those unfamiliar, can seem difficult to understand, filled with gods and goddesses of fantastical abilities, whose extraordinary deeds take the center of confusing stories.

The practice of such worship, however, while seemingly complex on the surface, really has many of its roots in something rather basic — something people of all backgrounds can connect to on some level, whether they consider themselves Hindu or not.

According to tradition, Hinduism’s earliest sages, who lived simple lives in the world’s mountains and forests, had a deep sense of appreciation for Earth’s natural gifts, without which none of us could survive. Filled with gratitude, a gratitude that demanded a form of expression, they became experts in devotional ceremonies, using various physical and mental techniques to convey their sincere feelings.

Perceiving Divinity’s presence in all of creation, they worshiped all of nature’s aspects as more than just matter. They revered them as personal deities. The River Ganga became known as a goddess of the same name, the Earth as Bhumi, the wind as Vayu, the ocean as Varuna, and fire as Agni.

The sun, especially honored for its role in the sustainment of all life, was worshiped using different names, depending on the qualities one wished to appreciate. Though there were many, the most common evolved into a set of 12 mantric sounds, used as part of a ritual called Surya Narayana Puja. They are:

  • Mitra (“friend of all”)
  • Ravaye (“one who is praised by all”)
  • Surya (“guide of all”)
  • Bhanave (“bestower of beauty”)
  • Khagaye (“stimulator of the senses”)
  • Pushne (“nourisher of life”)
  • Hiranyagarbhaya (“promoter of virility”)
  • Marichaye (“destroyer of disease”)
  • Aditya (“inspirator of love”)
  • Savitre (“begetter of life”)
  • Arkaya (“inspirator of awe”)
  • Bhaskara (“effulgent one”)

Performed at dawn while facing the sun and offering water in the deity’s honor, the practice calls for the sun to provide the strength, nobility, and dignity one needs to overcome life’s obstacles. Recognizing not only the spiritual benefits of the ritual, but also the physical ones, as the early morning rays indeed proved to have a nourishing effect on the body, the yogis of the time began experimenting with the core concepts of the Surya Narayana Puja, developing a practice that eventually came to be known as Surya Namaskar.

Known famously as “Sun Salutations,” Surya Namaskar is now one of the most globally recognized yoga practices. There are a number of variations, but the general sequence flows through a series of 12 postures as follows:

  • Pranamasana (Prayer Pose)
  • Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
  • Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)
  • Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Low Lunge)
  • Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank Pose)
  • Ashtanga Namaskar (Eight-limbed Salute)
  • Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog Pose)
  • Ashwa Sanchalanasana (Low Lunge)
  • Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)
  • Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
  • Pranamasana (Prayer Pose)

Engaging the mind, body, and spirit in a discipline that offers one’s entire being in gratitude to the sun, Surya Namaskar, on a fundamental level, is simply about connecting us to our natural roots, so we can learn to live in harmony with the world around us. Surya’s worship, along with many of Hinduism’s other gods and goddesses — despite centering on stories involving astonishing feats — is thus actually rather easy to understand, especially in regards to those who expressed sincere devotion to him.

To get a better idea, here are a few quick examples.

Rama

Of the many instances conveying Surya’s reciprocation with a devotee, The Ramayana, a Hindu epic that tells the story of a noble prince named Rama, details a moment that stands out as particularly notable.

The oldest of his father’s sons, Rama was meant to inherit the throne, but was instead exiled to the forest for 14 years by his jealous step-mother who wanted her own son to become emperor instead.

One day while Rama was living in the forest with his wife, Sita, and his younger brother Lakshman, both of whom had followed him into exile, a powerful demon named Ravana, overcome by Sita’s beauty, kidnapped her while the brothers were distracted. Realizing what had happened, the brothers tracked Sita to Ravana’s kingdom, where Rama engaged the demon in what turned into a long and arduous battle.

Observing the struggle from the heavens, a sage named Agastya, who noticed Rama’s exhaustion and wanted to help, descended to the prince during a break in the fight, and taught him a prayer known as Aditya Hridayam, which had the ability to invoke the sun’s power. Following the sage’s instructions, Rama, who is said to have come from a long line of kings descending from Surya himself, swiftly turned toward the sun with a natural affection, and began reciting the hymn.

Immediately experiencing a change in his mind and body, which became infused with Surya’s spiritual energy, Rama felt incredible strength and happiness. His fatigue gone, he thus took up his bow with renewed enthusiasm, and went on to slay Ravana.

Karna

In The Mahabharata, Hinduism’s other great epic, one can find the narration of another figure who displayed exceptional devotion to the sun deity, a warrior named Karna, born under astounding circumstances to a princess named Kunti.

As described in the text, Karna was conceived during Kunti’s teenage years, shortly after she was granted a boon by a sage named Durvasa, which enabled her to summon any celestial being she desired to see. Wanting to test the boon, she called upon Surya who, to her amazement, had indeed appeared in front of her. To her horror, however, she also learned the boon required whoever she summoned to give her a child. And so Surya left Kunti with a remarkable baby boy, who came into the world donning a natural golden armor and pair of earrings.

Scared of the potentially dire social consequences that could come upon an unmarried teenage mother, she put the baby in a basket and sent him floating down the river, hoping for the best. As it happened, the river carried him to a kingdom called Anga, where he was discovered by a couple who lovingly adopted and raised him as their own.

Unaware of his true origin, Karna grew into one of Earth’s mightiest warriors, joining the ranks of a king named Duryodhana, who ironically was the enemy of the five other sons (collectively known as the Pandavas) Kunti had later after she was married. When the conflict between the two parties was on the verge of war, Indra, the king of heaven who favored the Pandavas, knew Karna would be especially hard for them to defeat, as the celestial armor and earrings he was born with provided him supernatural protection. Hatching a plan, Indra decided he would disguise himself as a beggar and ask Karna to give up his armor and earrings in charity. If he approached him right after the warrior finished his morning sun prayers, surely he would agree, as Karna had famously promised to grant anything requested of him during that auspicious time of the day.

Surya, who wanted to protect his son after learning of Indra’s intention, spoke to Karna in a dream, and warned him not to fall for the dishonorable trick. From an early age, Karna had exhibited an innate affection for the sun god, diligently worshiping the deity on a daily basis. To meet him, even in his sleep, was therefore a huge honor. But the idea of breaking his vow was one he would simply not consider. It was a promise he made to the world, and he would rather die than experience the infamy of going back on his word.

Thus giving up his divine gifts when the time came, Karna went on to fight the Pandavas in a more vulnerable state, eventually dying in combat. Yet, to say he was a failure would be a grave offense to his life and story. Believed to have united with his father after death, his name became one of legend, respected by all for his love, strength, and integrity of character.

Yudisthira

Before the conflict between The Mahabharata’s two sides turned into war, Duryodhana, hoping to weaken the Pandavas’ powerful influence, had them exiled from society for 12 years, forcing them to live in the forest. Widely beloved due to their virtuous characters, however, many ascetics chose to follow them into exile, and provide them spiritual guidance and nourishment throughout their banishment.

Though Yudisthira, who was the oldest of the brothers, was delighted at having the ascetics’ company and counsel during what was a challenging time, he also couldn’t help but feel anxious. As a wealthy king in his city, he was always able to provide for his subjects. But in the forest he was materially poor, unable to look after those who would have normally depended on him. How, he therefore wondered, could he keep them comfortably fed?

Reflecting on Yudisthira’s anxiety, a sage named Dhaumya suggested he make an appeal to Surya, by whose potency all of the Earth’s food was produced. Hence heeding the sage’s advice, Yudisthira turned towards the sun, and spent the next three days offering numerous prayers to the deity, abstaining from food, water, and sleep all the while. Moved by the king’s determined sincerity, on the third day Surya appeared in front of the Pandava, and gave to him a large copper plate known as the Akshaya Patra, which had the ability to produce an inexhaustible supply of food, thereby solving Yudisthira’s predicament.

Named after this very plate, today’s largest NGO school meal program is called the Akshaya Patra Foundation. Providing hot, nutritious lunches to over 2 million children in 22,000 schools every day, the service it offers is a tribute to Surya himself, the energy from whom we all depend on, and should accordingly show immense gratitude towards.

Aditya Hridayam

Beholding Sri Rama, standing absorbed in deep thought on the battlefield, exhausted by the fight and facing Ravana, who was duly prepared for the war, the glorious sage Agastya, who had come in the company of gods to witness the encounter (battle), now spoke to Rama as follows:

Oh Rama, oh mighty armed elegant Rama, listen carefully to the eternal secret by which, oh my child, you shall conquer all your enemies on the battlefield and win against your adversaries.

By chanting the Aditya Hridayam (the meditation of sun in the heart), which is very auspicious and highly beneficial, you will be victorious in battle. This holy hymn dedicated to the sun god will result in destroying all enemies and bring you victory and permanent happiness.

This supreme prayer is the best amongst auspicious verses. It will destroy all sins, dispel all doubts, alleviate worry and sorrow, anxiety and anguish, and increase the longevity of life. It is a guarantee of complete prosperity.

Worship the sun god, the ruler of the worlds and lord of the universe, who is crowned with effulgent rays, who appears at the horizon and brings light, who is revered by the denizens of heaven (devas) and asuras alike.

Indeed, he is the very embodiment of all gods. He is self-luminous and sustains all with his rays. He nourishes and energizes the inhabitants of all the worlds as well as the host of gods and demons by his rays.

He is Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the sustainer), Shiva (the transformer), Skanda (the son of Shiva), Prajapati (the progenitor of the human race), the mighty Indra (king of heaven), Kuvera (the god of wealth and lord of riches), Kala (eternal time), Yama (the lord of death), Soma (the moon god that nourishes), and Varuna (the lord of the sea and ocean).

Indeed, he is Pitris (the ancestors), the eight Vasus, the Sadhyas, the twin Aswins (the physicians of the gods), the Maruts, the Manu, Vayu (the wind god), Agni (the fire god), Prana (the life breath of all beings), the maker of six seasons, and the giver of light.

He is the son of Aditi (the mother of creation), the sun god who transverses the heavens. He is of brilliant golden color, the possessor of a myriad rays. By illuminating all directions he is the maker of daylight. He is the all pervading, shining principle, the dispeller of darkness, exhibiting beautiful sight with a golden hue.

He has seven horses yoked to his chariot, shining with brilliant light and infinite rays. He is the destroyer of darkness, the giver of happiness and prosperity, mitigator of sufferings and is the infuser of life. He is the omnipresent one who pervades all with an immeasurable amount of rays.

He is Hiranyagarbha, born of Aditi of a golden womb. He is Sisirastapana, the destroyer of the cold, snow and fog. He is the illuminator, bearer of the fire and conch. He is the remover of ignorance and giver of fame.

He is the Lord of the firmament and ruler of the sky, the remover of darkness, and the master of the Vedas. He is a friend of the waters (Varuna) and causes abundant rain. He swiftly courses in the direction south of the Vindhya mountains and sports in the Brahma Nadi.

He, whose form is circular and is colored in yellow and red hues, is intensely brilliant and energetic. He is a giver of heat, the cause of all work, of life, and death. He is the destroyer of all and is the omniscient one sustaining the universe and all action.

He is the lord of the constellations, stars, and planets, and the origin of everything in the universe. Salutations to Aditya, who appears in 12 forms (in the shape of 12 months of the year) and whose glory is described in his 12 names.

Salutations to the lord of sunrise and sunset, who rises at the eastern mountains and sets in the western mountains. Salutations to the lord of the stellar bodies and to the lord of daylight.

Oh! Lord of thousand rays, son of Aditi, salutations to you, the bestower of victory, auspiciousness, and prosperity. Salutations to the one who has colored horses to carry him.

Salutations to Martandaya, the son of Mrukanda Maharisi, the terrible and fierce one, the mighty hero, the one that travels fast. Salutations to the one whose appearance makes the lotus blossom (also the awakener of the lotus in the heart).

Salutations to the lord of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. Salutations to Surya, the sun god, who (by his power and effulgence) is both the illuminator and devourer of all, and is of a form that is fierce like Rudra.

Salutations to the dispeller of darkness, the destroyer of cold, fog and snow, the exterminator of foes. The one whose extent is immeasurable. Salutations also to the annihilator of the ungrateful and to the lord of all the stellar bodies, who is the first amongst all the lights of the universe.

Salutations to the lord shining like molten gold, destroying darkness, who is the transcendental fire of supreme knowledge, who destroys the darkness of ignorance, and who is the cosmic witness of all merits and demerits of the denizens who inhabit the universe. Salutations to Vishvakarma, the architect of the universe, the cause of all activity and creation in the world.

Salutations to the lord who creates heat by his brilliant rays. He alone creates, sustains, and destroys all that has come into being. Salutations to him, who by his rays consumes the waters, heats them up, and sends them down as rain again.

Salutations to the lord who abides in the heart of all beings, keeping awake when they are asleep. Verily he is the agnihotra, the sacrificial fire and the fruit gained by the worshipper of the agnihotra.

The sun god (Ravi) is the origin and protector of the Vedas, the sacrifices mentioned in them, and the fruits obtained by performing the sacrifices. He is the lord of all action in this universe and decides the universal path.

Listen Oh Rama! Oh Raghava, scion of the Raghu dynasty, any person singing the glories of Surya in great difficulties during affliction, while lost in the wilderness, and when beset with fear, will not come to grief (or lose heart).

If you worship this lord of the universe, the god of all gods, with a concentrated mind and devotion by reciting this hymn (Aditya Hridayam) thrice, you will emerge victorious in the battle.

Oh mighty armed one, you shall triumph over Ravana this very moment. After blessing lord Rama thus, and predicting that he would slay (the demon) Ravana, sage Agastya took leave and returned to his original place.

Having heard this, that great warrior Raghava, feeling greatly delighted, became free from grief. His clouds of worry thus dispelled, the lustrous Lord Rama obeyed the sayings of Sage Agastya with great happiness. With a composed mind he retained this hymn in his memory, ready to chant the Aditya Hridayam.

Having performed Achamanam (sipping water thrice) and being purified, Rama, gazing at the sun with devotion, recited the hymn Aditya Hridayam thrice. Then that great hero was thrilled and lifted his bow.

Lord Rama thus cheered, seeing Ravana coming to fight, put forth all his effort with a determination to kill him.

Then knowing that the destruction of Ravana was near, the sun god, surrounded by all the gods in heaven, looked at Rama with a delighted mind and exclaimed, “Hurry up, be quick.”

If you enjoyed this piece, then you may also be interested in reading “The Hindu roots of yoga: The Saptarishis” 

Aditya Hridayam povided by Harekrsna.de

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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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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.

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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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10/25/22Black 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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10/24/22Diwali

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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10/23/22Dhanteras

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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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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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10/19/22Avatar

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.

What do the Matrix, Avatar, Groundhog Day, and Star Wars have to do with Hinduism?

10/15/22Ayurveda

The term Ayurveda is derived from the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge), translation to the knowledge of life. Ayurveda is considered to be the oldest healing science, originating in 1000 BCE. Based on the five elements that comprise the universe (space, air, fire, water, and earth), they combine and permutate to create three health principles  that govern the functioning and interplay of a person’s body, mind, and consciousness. These energies are referred to as doshas in Sanskrit. Ayurveda can be used in conjunction with Western medicine and Ayurvedic schools have gained approval as educational institutions in several states.

5 Things to Know About Ayurveda

In Hinduism, What is the Relationship Between Spirituality and Health?

10/14/22OM

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. 

5 Things to Know About Om

Religious Symbols

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?

10/10/22Yoga

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.

Yoga.Day

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

10/8/22108

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

10/6/22Tattoos

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

10/5/22Navaratri

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

10/4/22Dussehra

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