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The term 'Hindu' comes from the name of the River Indus in India, and 'Hinduism' has come to represent the complex of religions that flowed out from that area. Many Hindus prefer to call their way of life Dharma or Sanatana Dharma (eternal way of life). It has no single founder or fixed beginning. Its roots go back at least 8500 years (many Hindus trace a much longer history), and its branches have grown to embrace a very wide range of philosophies and practices from different parts of India, making it hard to give a single account of modern belief. There are more than 1 billion Hindus around the world, the third largest religious group. The vast majority of Hindus, approximately 940 million live in India and almost 560,000 are in the UK, with nearly 4,000 in Greater Nottingham.

In Hindu philosophy there is only one God. God is 'beyond form' and so may be worshipped in many forms and under many names and guises. Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer are the best known 'aspects' of the one God. Other popular Hindu deities, each an aspect of the one God, are Durga the Mother Goddess, Ganesha the Remover of obstacles, Hanuman, Krishna [an avatar of Vishnu], Rama [an avatar of Krishna], Lakshmi, the goddess associated with prosperity and wellbeing, and Saraswati, goddess of the arts and of practical wisdom.

Hindus believe that all living beings are animated by Atman [Soul] which is Paramatman, the Supreme Soul, or God, in each of them. This is why they greet each other by saying 'Namaste', meaning I bow down to God in you.

Religious Scriptures and Symbols

The four Vedas ('knowledge') are the most ancient of the Hindu sacred texts, and contain over 20,000 mantras (verses) for spoken and sung worship and other purposes. The Ramayana and Mahabharata, which includes the Bhagavad Gita, are epic stories showing the activities of the gods and how morality can guide personal life and protect the social order.

A Hindu place of worship is called a mandir or temple. The common symbol for Hinduism is the aum. It represents a sacred sound, often used in meditation, with three elements linked to the major gods Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer..

What do Hindus believe?

Atman is the spirit present in all life, the energy that activates the body. It is eternal: after death it is reborn as another creature. Due to karma, the universal principle of actions and their consequences, past actions determine the nature of the new life. This cycle of birth and death is called samsara, and the goal of living beings is liberation from it, moksha.

There are three principal paths to liberation:
karma, the path of good works, acting according to duty without getting attached to the consequences;
jnana, the path of knowledge, meditating on God; and
bhakti, the path of devotion, a great love for a particular god.
They are all valid, and a person may pursue more than one.

A number of powerful traditional ideals about life are less rigidly applied in modern society. There are four main castes of people: brahmins are intellectuals and priests; kshatriyas are administrators, military and leaders; vaishyas are farmers and merchants; sudras are workers. Opinions differ as to whether they should be hereditary or based on individual qualities.

Life progresses through four stages called ashramas: study under a teacher; marriage, family and social obligations; focusing on the spiritual life; and, rarely, renouncing all earthly ties. Values shared by most Hindus include: respect for parents and elders; reverence for teachers; regard for guests; non-violence; tolerance of all races and religions; the sanctity of marriage; and the equality of all living beings. Women and men are of equal worth but have different social roles. Although Hindus seek to promote the Sanatana Dharma they don't generally try to convert others.

Many believe the history of the world is a cycle of four ages called Yugas, lasting 4,320,000 years altogether. This is the fourth, Kali Yuga, which began around 3100BC and has seen a gradual spiritual degradation. At the end of this age, in 426,896 years from now, the planet Earth will sleep and regenerate itself and the whole cycle will start again.

What do Hindus do?

Most Hindus have a small shrine in their home, with pictures or figurines of favourite gods or goddesses. Some of these might be murtis, which are especially dedicated and thought to contain the presence of the deity. Daily worship, called puja, involves prayers and offerings of food, water, flowers and incense. They also attend the mandir or temple to join with other Hindus for spiritual and social activities. Visitors must remove their shoes before entering the main hall. There one sees a number of murtis and pictures of holy people. There is usually incense to purify the air and give a spiritual atmosphere. One often sees the aum symbol and the swastika - Hindus are outraged at the way the Nazis appropriated and used this sacred symbol. Sometimes a conch shell is blown, and there are often many other symbolic objects. People often perform puja.

A typical service includes songs, mantras and a sermon. The arti ceremony is performed several times a day: the deity is offered articles of worship including small oil lamps, water and incense while worshippers play instruments, sing and clap. Priests perform ceremonies in the temple, look after the shrines and attend family homes to mark important stages of life. They are usually male, but can be female. They are often from India, staying for a while and then returning.

Many Hindus are vegetarian, based on the principle of ahimsa ('non-harming'), avoiding meat, fish and eggs. Strict vegetarians avoid any food containing or cooked in animal products, like chips cooked in animal fat. Even meat-eating Hindus usually avoid beef. They often refrain from intoxicating drinks, and sometimes from tea and coffee too.

Dates of Importance

Hindu festivals are based on the lunar calendar, so dates vary. Here are some of the major ones. Shivaratri, in February or March, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Holi, also in February or March, is a festival of colours, associated with Vishnu, and is celebrated with bonfires and sprinkling of coloured powders and water. Yugadi in March or April marks the New Year for many Hindus, and is celebrated with puja, feasting and greetings. Janmashtami in August or September celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna. Diwali, the festival of lights, falls in November or December and Hindus celebrate victory over darkness and ignorance by lighting lamps, and in recent times with fireworks.

Within the wide streams of Hinduism are many different organisations. A jati is a hereditary group associated with one of the castes. These have a significant influence on social, economic and cultural life for Hindus in the UK. Local and national jati associations help to link and support their members. There are also sampradayas, spiritual traditions, with their own beliefs and customs. These include Swaminarayans and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

Hindus in Nottingham

Hindus started to settle in Nottingham in noticeable numbers in the late 1950s and the numbers grew considerably in the 1960s and 1970s. At first they usually met in community halls. The Hindu Temple of Nottingham developed out of this small beginning. This Temple is in Carlton Road Nottingham. Sai Dham (Nottingham) in Egypt Road New Basford was started in 1993. There are two others - Shri Swaminarayan Temple in Palm Street and Shri Bhagwati Mata Temple, in Eland Street, both also in New Basford Nottingham.

These temples have spacious worship halls where the religious deities have been ritually installed. There is also space for community functions in halls within each complex. Marriages and other community festivals are held at some of these temples. The temples open twice daily in the morning and the evening, Monday to Sunday. Their priests are available at these times at the temples, and also offers prayers and carry out ceremonies at devotee's residences