Sanjay Hinduism emphasizes duty and honor. If you do the basic things,
like if you look after your family, your friends, and those around you,
that's the best way of worshiping God. You can sit and worship an idol or
you can pray every day, but if you [aren't dutiful and honorable], it doesn't
People think of Indians as having many gods. But Hinduism
is not polytheistic, it's monotheistic. It's just that God can be viewed
in different ways. A Christian may go to church and pray to God, "Please,
God, help me with my exam," whereas a Hindu could pray to Saraswati,
the Goddess of Knowledge. When you pray to Saraswati, you are just focusing
on one particular aspect of God. Since God has no form, you can view God
in many different ways.
Anura You don't need idols [to worship], but they are very helpful for
visual learning. If I have a picture of the god in my head, it helps me
concentrate on the idea better.
Nithya Each of the images tells a story and each story has a lesson that
is trying to be portrayed through the image.
Sanjay People ask, "Why do gods have multiple arms?" Well,
have you ever said, "I wish I had more arms-I can't do everything"?
If you had eight pairs of arms you could do a lot more.
People ask, "Why does the god Ganesha have an elephant's head?" Well, the elephant
is considered one of the wisest animals, and Ganesha is a very wise god.
His big ears mean he listens a lot. His mouth is generally covered, which
means he doesn't speak too much. He is very wise because he doesn't talk
too much and he listens. So the elephant head is a simple way of reminding
us of this.
Each idol provides a focus so that you can concentrate
on that one aspect of religion. You aren't praying to the idol, it is just
a path to God. Some people need something to focus on, others don't. It's
there if you need it.
Anura I love going to the temple because of the mood and setting, and
seeing all of the images of the gods together. You know that the gods are
there all around you. We are taught that God is always all around you, but
when you go to the temple and see all of the images of the gods, you can
really visualize it. It paints a picture.
Nithya You don't have to go to temple to worship-which is good because
up to ten years ago there was no temple in this area. Our parents kept
the religion alive at home with the religious holidays. You learn about
Hinduism from your parents.
Shruti My parents made it fun for me. My mother told me stories about
the gods, about celebrating festivals in India, and now we celebrate them
Arathi You start reading comic books [based on the Hindu epics the Mahabharata
and the Ramayana] at a young age. I remember my parents and grandparents
reading them to me.
Anura When gods interact with one another in a story, it's to teach
a lesson. A lot of these things are symbolic. The stories help you understand
a particular idea. A story is the best way to explain the idea.
Sanjay The comic books get your interest. For the guys they have the
war; for the girls they have the love stuff. But later on you start to
understand the message.
Shruti There is lots of symbolism in the stories. I know many of the
stories. I began learning them when I was two. You can't quickly explain
all of these stories.
Anura In each story there is a moral that you can use in daily life.
I love learning new stories. Half of the religion I know has been taught
to me through Indian dance. I've been taking lessons since I was six or
seven. The dances are all about the gods: what they act like, what they
look like. They each tell a story. The stories are passed down through
the dances. They tell so much about the culture.
Nithya Every time you go to an Indian concert to hear music or see dance,
you hear the stories. If you listen to the words in the songs, you are
listening to Hindu religion.
Arathi If you had to sum up Hinduism you would say it's about duty,
honor and family.
Sanjay There is one story that sums it up: Shiva
and Parvati are sitting with their sons, Ganesha and Karttikeya. They
have one mango between them and Ganesha and Karttikeya are fighting over
the mango. Shiva says, "OK, I will give the mango to whichever of
you goes around the universe and comes back first." So Karttikeya
speeds off and goes around the universe and comes back. But when he gets
back Ganesha has finished the mango. Karttikeya asks, "Father, how
can this be? Ganesha didn't pass me. I was always in the lead. How could
he have come back before me?" And Shiva says, "He walked around
his parents. That should be the universe to every child."
Arathi Duty and honor are the basis of the religion. I think all of
the gods are only stories to portray those ideas. They are meant to teach
us how we should live. How to be righteous and peaceful. That's the reason
why we pray to God. We have the gods to show us what we are trying to be.
For the main concepts of Hinduism you don't need all of the gods and all
of the stories. To be called a Hindu you just need to be good.