Followed by some, distorted by a few, and misconceived by many…what is Hinduism, after all? While explaining what it is would take an encyclopedia’s length, I’m here today to tell you what it is not. Western media and translators have misinterpreted the religion due to many cultural and linguistic barriers, but I’m here to break those stereotypes. You may be shocked but you will definitely learn, even if you are Hindu. Ready? Let’s start.
Misconception #1: Hindus worship cows.
Hindus do not worship cows, but respect them. Before copious amounts of industrialization hit India, the cow was used in a simple system that I like to call a resource triangle, as depicted below:
Agricultural benefits came from the fact that cows were used for plowing fields efficiently. Essentially, they acted as tractors before modern technology. This allowed a farmer’s harvest to be plentiful. Also, the manure produced by these bovine beauties was quite useful. We all are cognizant that homes must have this: food. You need to feed a family, and cows take care of that need too. Cheese (or paneer as many Indians prefer), milk, and butter could easily be provided to run a household. For this reason, many Hindus are vegetarians and abstain from eating beef as cattle provide them with what is basically an unlimited supply of food. Energy is produced by cow dung. It can be used to light fires and insulate homes in rural areas because it is easily flammable and can retain heat. Cows are respected because they act as a sustainability system for early Indian society. For fostering society, the cow is even seen as a maternal figure. As far as worship goes, Hindus regard all forms of life as sacred and venerate them, as they believe that no harm should be done upon to others—be it a human, a cow, or even an insect.
Misconception #2: Hinduism is a polytheistic religion.
This is perhaps the most common misconception. Hinduism is actually not a polytheistic religion. It’s rumored that Hindus worship 330 million gods or so, but that’s simply not true. Western interpreters of the religion misinterpreted this part, as one Hindu text states there are 330-million devas, or spiritual beings. Therefore, there are not millions of gods in Hinduism, making it not polytheistic. Rather, Hinduism is pluralistic. This means that there are multiple ways to connect, think, and relate to God. It’s believed that God can come in many different manifestations, and that God exists in all forms of life and in the universe.
Misconception #3: India is a poor country…of course generations of proletariat, uneducated beings would believe in such a silly religion.
Actually, India was a rich country until it was plundered and pillaged by centuries of Mughal rule followed by decades of British colonization. Indians discovered the Hindu number system (an early ancestor of the Arabic number system we use today), the concept of zero, various trigonometric functions, ayurvedic medicine, cataract surgery, plastic surgery (this happened as early as 2000 BCE, actually), shampoo (derived from the Hindustani word champo), and even the game of snakes and ladders (now also played as chutes and ladders). Hinduism has also been called a scientific religion in its teachings by several religious observers and analysts. So, while uneducated and illiterate people may be bountiful in India (just like anywhere else), that does not equate to stupidity or silliness.
Misconception #4: Hinduism endorses the caste system.
Way back when, a group of rich, upper-class priests decided to make a social hierarchy system: the caste system. What must be noted here is that the caste system was a cultural brainchild, not a religious rule. Tragically, the advent has been associated with the religion, when in reality it is a mishap of people, not divine rule
Misconception #5: Hindus use the swastika. They totally endorse Nazism.
The swastika existed in South Asian culture long before World War II, roughly about 4,000 years ago. However, the meaning of the symbol was not meant to be a social stigma towards a certain group of people. Unfortunately, during the 1930s and 1940s, a man decided to rise to power and propagandize, pervert, and misuse the swastika to accomplish a mission so murderous and heinous. The swastika actually represents the beginning of life and its swirling out into all the ends of the universe. It is meant to promote life, not destroy it.
Misconception #6: Hinduism isn’t relevant. No one really practices it and it has no influence in the world.
Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion, just behind Christianity and Islam. There are one billion believers and counting. It is also the world’s oldest religion, believed to have been founded nearly 8,000 years ago. With being the world’s oldest religion, Hinduism has had some effects on other beliefs. Buddhism’s founder, Siddhartha Gautama, was of Indian origin and a Hindu himself. Many of Buddhism’s principles are rooted in Hinduism’s teachings. Christianity’s story of the birth and childhood of Jesus Christ is analogous to that of Lord Krishna’s. Though Christians believe that Hindus “stole” that idea, the story of Lord Krishna came before that of Christ’s. Concepts of eternal truth and accounts of divinity were first recorded by Hindus. All in all, Hinduism has had an impact on the world as it has shaped policies of various mediums of spirituality.
Misconception #7: Hinduism is only practiced in India.
To be frank, with one billion followers, one country cannot contain all of Hinduism and its adherents. While most of the followers of this faith reside in India, large communities have been established in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Fiji, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Mauritius, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States of America. Hinduism has truly proven to be a global religion, spreading its ideas to a myriad of people.
I hope you had the opportunity to learn a few things from this article. Hinduism isn’t the only misconceived religion, as all faiths have had their fair share of misinterpretation, stereotypes, and misunderstandings. I want you to depart with one idea in mind: educate yourself. Educate yourself about other beliefs and cultures. I say this a lot nowadays, but only because it’s true. Twenty-first century illiteracy does not come from those who cannot read, but rather from those who remain ignorant and refuse to learn. So go ahead, learn something new during your youth. Seize the chances you have and don’t miss a single one!
Image: Nicolas Raymond, Flickr