Key Terms for the Lecture on Hinduism
1. sanatana dharma: eternal law. An alternative term designating a comprehensive tradition, but it is
common in only a few parts of India & some classes of society. The term is seldom used to refer to local
manifestations of the faith.
2. tilak (or tilaka): A dot of mark on the forehead made with colored powder. Or forehead markings
Bharata: Indigenous term for India
Karma: Action, good and bad, as it is believed to determine the quality of rebirth in future lives.
3. Samsara: The continuing cycle of death and rebirths
Indus Valley Civilization: The Indus Valley civilization may have spanned over one million square kilometers.
Most important of the excavating sites are Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Indus Valley culture flourished
between 3000 to 1500 BCE.
4. Mohenjo-Daro: a town on the banks of the Indus River in Pakistan. Mound of the Dead. The citadel at
Mohenjo Daro has a huge swimming pool like structure that archaeologists call the Great Bath,
surrounded by porticos & flights of stairs.
5. Harappa: A large town on the banks of the Indus River in Pakistan. The culture extends well beyond the
Indus Valley itself & is therefore called the Harappa culture.
6. Aryans: They were not highly organized. They were nomads rather than settled agriculturalists. The
standard vew in the early 20th century was that it had grown from a fusion of the indigenous religions of
the Indus Valley with the faith of the Aryans, an Indo-European people usually thought to have migrated
there sometimes between 1750 & 1500 BCE.
7. Sanskrit: The Aryan language evolved into the Sanskrit, the official language of the Hindu religion.
8. Puranas: ‘Old tales’, stories about deities that became important after the Vedic period.
Bhagavad-Gita: A section of the Mahabharata epic recounting a conversation between Krishna and the warrior
Arjuna, in which Krishna explains the nature of God & the human soul.
Vedas: The 4 collections of hymns and ritual texts that constitute the oldest & most highly respected Hindu
sacred literature. Almost everything we know about the gods comes from a collection of writings known
as the Veda. In the Hindu tradition, the term Vedas denotes the whole corpus, starting with the hymns,
continuing through the ritual treatises, and concluding with the texts of a more philosophical character.
Rg-Veda: One of the 4 samhitas or collections of the Veda. Rg Veda is the oldest & most important. Some
people argue that the Rg Veda is more than 30,000 years old. The earliest section og the Rig Veda
contains 1,028 hymns.
9. Yajur-Veda: One of the 4 Vedic collections. The hymns of the Yajur Veda are largely borrowed from
the Rig Veda.
10. Sama-Veda: One of the 4 Vedic collections. Hymns from the Sama Veda are largely borrowed from the
Rig. The Sama Veda was meant to be sung.
11. Atharva-Veda: One of the 4 Vedic collections. It differs from the other 3 Vedas in that if includes
material that scholars consider non-Aryan, such as incantations and remedies to ward off illness & evil
spirits. Unlike the hymns of the other Vedas, these chants were used for purposes other than sacrificial
rituals. Some call for hard to befall one’s enemies and one verse refers to the use of herbs to make a
lover return. Another requests luck in gambling.
12. Samhitas: One of the 4 sections in the 4 collections. Many Orientalists & Wester Indologists have used
the Veda only for the hymns, the samhita portion of each collection. Hymns, the earliest parts.
13. Brahmanas: One of the 4 sections in the 4 Vedic collections regarding rituals; directions for the
performance of sacred rituals.
14. Aranyakas: One of the 4 sections in the 4 Vedic collections called ‘compositions for the forest’.
15. Upanishads: One of the 4 sections in the 4 Vedic collections. Philosophical texts/works in the form of
reported conversations on the theory of the Vedic ritual and the nature of knowledge, composed around
the 6th century BCE.
Prana: an internal air current of the body, is often spoken of as the basic animating principle. The Prana is
what makes us alive.. No specific detailed definition but has to do with breathing & energy
16. Atman: The individual self, held by Upanishadic & Vedantic thought to be identical with Brahman, the
17. Brahman: The world-soul, sometimes understood in impersonal terms; Supreme Being, the single
source of all that is
Rita: The world was believed to be governed by an abstract impersonal principle called ‘Rita’. A delicate
connection was understood to exist between the rituals and the maintenance of cosmic and earthly order, or
rta. Rta is truth & justice. The rightness of things that makes harmony & peace possible on earth & in the
heavens. Although it is an impersonal cosmic principle, it was upheld by Vedic gods like Varuna.
18. Purusha (or Purusa): A great primeval sacrifice performed by the gods in which the body of a victim
called Purusha was dismembered. Another account of the Creation describes how the universe itself was
created through the cosmic sacrifice of the primeval man (Purusha). This account, entitled the ‘Hymn to
the Supreme Person’ (Purusha Sukta) is important even today in both domestic & temple rituals, & has
figured continuously in the tradition for some 3000 years.
19. The Laws of Manu: The Laws of Manu, attributed to the sage Manu, articulates the etiquette and duties
of each class (varna) and of each age group in the new brahman-dominated society. One of the most
famous foundations of later Hindu laws or Dharmashastras, are the Laws of Manu, attributed to the
primordial man that Vishnu saved from the flood. These were probably codified around the 1st century
for they reflect the social norms of that time: the caste system is firmly in place, and women have
slipped to an inferior position from the relatively high status they enjoyed in the period of the Vedas.
20. Varna: Each class of the Hindu society. There are 4 classes.
21. Jatis: Castes (in Sanskrit, jatis, or “births”) are hereditary occupational groups. There are more than one
thousand jatis or birth groups in India, and people routinely identify themselves by their jati. Westerners
sometimes translate jati as caste.
22. Brahman/Brahmin: The priests (brahmans). A member of the priestly class.
23. Ksatriya or Kshatriya: A member of the warrior class in ancient Hindu society. The rulers and warriors
24. Vaisya or Vaishya: A member of the third or mercantile class in the ancient fourfold class structure. The
25. Sudra or Shudra: A member of the lowest of the 4 major clasees, usually translated as ‘servant’, though
some groups within the shudra class could be quite prosperous. A class of menials, the sudras
26. Dharmasastra: Codes of law and ethics. New texts known collectively as the Dharmasastra were
created. The Dharmasastra assume that one’s birth location is the most telling indication of one’s karma
27. Asramas or Ashramas: Four stages in life of an upper-class male: student, householder, forest-dweller,
and ascetic. In Hinduism, the Four Stages of Life are four stages of increasing dignity (asramas). The
Student Stage, The Householder Stage, The Stages of the Forest Dweller and the samnyasin
28. Samnyasin: A religious ascetic one who has reached the 4th stage of the classical stages of life for Hindu
males after student, householder & forest-dweller.
29. Artha: Wealth & power; one of the 3 classical aims in life. One of the 4 Aims of Life 1: artha (“worldly
30. Kama: Sensual (not merely sexual) pleasure; one of the 3 classical aims of life. kama (“sensory
31. Dharma: Religious & social duty, including both righteousness & faith. One of the 4 aims of life
32. Moksa: Liberation from the cycle of birth & death; one of the 3 classical aims in life. One of the 4 aims
of life moksa (“liberation”)
33. Yoga: A practice & discipline that may involve a philosophical system & mental concentration as well
as physical postures & exercises. Yoga = yoke, to join, to unite. Yoga training brings about conscious
union of one’s own soul with the universal soul. There are several systems of yoga, such as Hathayoga.
For most Hindus, yoga refers to an Eight-stage meditational discipline (attributed to the ancient sage
Patanjali): Moral restraint, Mental discipline, Posture, Breath control. The ultimate goal in yoga
meditation is to reach an awareness that is perfectly at one with and centered in the atman. The yoga
practitioner who reaches this state is said to put an end to all past karma and experience moksa. The
deities extend their grace to humanity in return for their devotees unselfish devotion. This ideal of bhakti
became the predominant ascetic practices of yoga for Hinduism until the present day.
34. Samskaras: Life-Cycle Rites, Examples of samskaras: Birth Rituals
35. Puja: Ritual household worship of the deity, commonly involving oil lamps. Incense, prayers & food
offerings, homage or worship. Built on the assumption that humanity and the divine must maintain an
36. Namaskara (or Namaste): A gesture of respect. “I place my hands at the centre of myself, the atman in
my heart, to salute your same holy centre.”
37. Prasad(a): A gift from the deity, especially food that has been presented to the god’s temple image,
blessed, & returned to the devotee. The remains of a puja offering: prasad. Prasad is seen to carry
infusion of divine blessing.
38. Bhakti: Loving devotion to a deity seen as a gracious being who enters the world for the benefit of
humans. Bhakti = devotional faith. The deities extend their grace to humanity in return for their devotees
unselfish devotion. This ideal of bhakti became the predominant ascetic practices of yoga for Hinduism
until the present day. Desireless action is possible only through egoless bhakti faith
39. Kali Yuga: the post-Vedic age begun in 3102 BCE. A period of degeneration. The worst of all possible
ages, where dharma is reduced to one leg. It lasts for 432,000 earthly years, during which the world
becomes progressively worse. According to traditional Hindu reckoning, we live in this period.
40. Saiva: “Saiva” is a tradition whose worship is focused on Siva
41. Vaisnava: “Vaisnava” is a tradition whose worship focused on Visnu.
42. Ista-devata: A devotee within such a tradition, the bhakta, would offer private pujas to his chosen deity