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CHANGE versus RELIGIOUS CONSERVATISM in INDIA

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Trends in Hinduism

India has an educational system derived from Western secular culture, and complaints have arisen among people who identify themselves as Hindu that this system is producing people ignorant of their ancient cultural traditions and Hinduism's spiritual wisdom. Atheism in India appears to be on the rise. In May, 2009, some complained that among the 13 being sworn in as members in Prime Minister Manhohan Singh's new cabinet, six were non-believers taking the religious-based oath of office that "solemnly affirmed" that they would bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution.

Hinduism's once high and mighty Brahmins have fallen in status. In ancient India they had been most respected and powerful. They had kept materialist ideas and skepticism out of the culture's collection of printed matter known as the Upanishads. But after something like 2,500 years, materialism has become prevalent. The Brahmins have lost the power to censor. The animal sacrifice rituals that they led have vanished. Their recitations of the Vedas and practice of Ayurvedic medicine do not command the respect that it did. Brahmins no longer have the wealth they once had or the political power they had occasionally stepped into. Brahmin family land holdings have been reduced, making it difficult for most Brahmins to make a living from the land. The average income of a Brahmin has been described as less than that of the average Indian. The unemployment rate among Brahmins in 2009 was said to be as high as 75 per cent. Many Brahmins sensed that their poverty and traditional style of dress made them the butt of ridicule.

The old religiously based class structure, from Brahmins at the top to Untouchables at the bottom, has largely evaporated. Some of the old prejudices regarding the Untouchables were still around in 2009, but in 1962 a law was passed making it illegal to discriminate against the Untouchables. All castes are to be treated equally by the law, and education is free and open to all castes. The discrimination that continues has been described as more of a personal matter rather than that of a religious identity.

Surveys have 80.5 percent of India's population claiming to be Hindu. And Hindus are still proud of being Hindu. They still revere as sacred scripture the Bhagavad Gita. They still have their sacred story, the Ramayana, and they have the Puranas and other supplementary literature. There are film versions of their religious stories as great as Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments. On television is a chat show on the Bhagavad Gita. The show's founder, Krishna Bhatta, has a book he has authored, Gita Today, and a website. All of the revered historic personages are depicted as they have been traditionally, in dress befitting royalty, including golden crowns, in keeping with ancient political establishments and ruling class values.

Hindus continue to hold to ideas that give them their religious identity. They believe that people have an innermost soul that has not been created, that with birth a species is passing on life, The body not as a mere vessel containing the soul but as the soul itself, described by Hindus as the finest of subatomic forms. Hindus see soul as eternal and evolving as consciousness evolves, becoming more and more refined until it reaches its true and eternal form united with the perfections of their supreme god. This unity they label as "soul-body."

Hinduism still includes yogic traditions and a wide spectrum of established norms – including marriage customs. Unity with god and a cosmic consciousness is still a goal among Hindus. Cosmic consciousness is a blissful state that you grasp when you arrive. It is a liberation and difficult to describe to those who have not yet arrived. It is not something that can be passed on to others through debate. The unconvinced may be left with a mere cold scientific methodology and math-like logic.

Meanwhile other traditions among the Hindus remain – traditions perhaps older than Hinduism but still resorted to by Hindus. In July 2009 in rural India, in the state of Bihar, farmers wanting rain were reported by Reuters news service to have sent their daughters into their field naked to shame the gods into supplying rain. Witnesses said the naked girls ploughed and chanted ancient hymns to invoke the gods. They said elderly village women helped the girls drag the ploughs. A village council official described this as "the most trusted social custom in the area" and added that "the villagers have vowed to continue this practice until it rains very heavily." It was an old religious custom that had been abandoned by people who had moved to an urban setting.

Another religious custom among Hindus developed in southern India and is said to have been inspired by the building of a railway by the British that local people did not want. Their protest including having coconuts smashed on their heads – a form of plea. By 2009 the population had grown enough in size to elevate the significance of the ritual. The railway is no longer a part of it; the plea to the gods is for health and success.

Hinduism has been described as a variety of "distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid, common set of beliefs," to quote Wikipedia quoting someone else. It has been described as polytheistic as compared to the monotheism of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But individual Hindus have been monotheistic, and Jews, Christians and Muslims have been covering up their polytheism by a tradition that renamed their gods as angels, devils and perhaps other spirits.

Hindus have been described as looking upon their faith as other than a religion. "Religion" has become pejorative among believers across the globe, resented by various people who want to be thought of a different from the others. Some Hindus are known to have called their faith a way of life. Academics, on the other hand, see religion as containing ritual, and Hindus are known for a variety of rituals, including what are described as recitations, meditation, family-oriented rites of passage, annual festivals and pilgrimages.

Copyright © 2010-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.

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