Life is a challenge, meet it! Life is a gift, accept it Life is an adventure, dare it Life is sorrow, Overcome it Life is a tragedy, face it Life is a duty, perform it, Life is a game, play it!

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The Dhaarmic Traditions

धार्मिक साम्प्रदाय

Edited and Compiled by

Kosla Vepa PhD

Indic Studies Foundation

What is Life (adapted from the Bhagavad Gita)

Life is a challenge, meet it!

Life is a gift, accept it

Life is an adventure, dare it

Life is sorrow, Overcome it

Life is a tragedy, face it

Life is a duty, perform it,

Life is a game, play it!

Life is mystery , Unfold it

Life is a song, sing it

Life is an opportunity, Seize it.

Life is a journey, Complete it

Life is a promise, Fulfill it.

Life is Love, enjoy it

Life is a beauty , Praise it.

Life is a spirit, realize it,

Life is a struggle, Fight it.

Life is a puzzle, solve it,

Life is a goal, Achieve it

This is a first attempt at providing the basics of the Hindu dharma to a select group of people. I have in mind second generation Americans of Indian descent as well as the members of the Hindu Diaspora residing in the English speaking world. Reliable sources of information even on a subject as widely recognized as the Hindu Dharma are hard to come by, and this book attempts to place at the youngsters fingertips basic information that they need to have, to remain a practicing Hindu. It is my hope that even though the target audience is a select group of people, a wider range of people will find this book a useful reference.

This booklet is being disseminated under the rubric of the Indic Studies Foundation (ISF). ISF based in the San  Francisco Bay Area, seeks to promote a comprehensive and more accurate realization of the Indian Civilizational experience in the world, particularly in the United States and India. While India regards herself as a Civilizational Power, the image that India evokes is far removed from that of the Indics as they see themselves. Every civilization owes the obligation to preserve her tenets and traditions against ever present threats(we will describe some of these threats below), so that future generations will not be denied the choices of their ancestors.It is our belief that the Sanatana Dharma is faced with a disproportionate number of such threats. It is Will Durant, the eminent and perceptive American Historian who empasizes in The Story of Civilization: "...the Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex order and freedom can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without and multiplying from within…The bitter lesson that may be drawn from this tragedy is that eternal vigilance is the price of civilization. A nation must love peace, but keep its powder dry."

We feel that a part of the process of keeping our powder dry is for the Indics to be well armed with an accurate rendering of our traditions (which we have largely relegated to people other than of Indic origin in the last two centuries). This book is part of my humble endeavors to swing the pendulum back into the center and thereby, arm the Indic with accurate sources of his or her own tradition

As we demonstrated in our first presentation, titled the South Asia File, some of the best minds in Europe have devoted their life to the study of the vast literature as well as the archaeology of India only to misinterpret it or even trash it in very unambiguous language. In those instances where Indologists like Max Mueller have made favorable statements about the contributions of the ancient Vedics, it turns out that their private views were greatly at variance with their public pronouncements and that in reality his contempt for the Vedas was total and scathing. Such is the honesty of Western scholarship, where the pronouncements of a man hired to denigrate the Indic civilization are so venerated that the dates he arrived at in a very cursory manner and which he himself repudiated later on in his life have become the foundation for the chronology of events in ancient Indian history, a chronology that we feel while being vastly incorrect is also misleading. Such scholarship today would almost certainly not qualify as a good term paper much less a PhD degree at any of the better schools in the West.

A great deal  of attention is vouchsafed on denying the antiquity and geographical extent of the Indic civilization and thereby granting India the respect ,which the Indics  feel is rightfully hers, due as a consequence of her valuable contributions to human civilization. Further almost the entire western media starting from the Economist magazine to the Washington Post has been consistently critical of India’s economic performance and especially scathing in individual instances such as the liberation of the Portuguese enclave of Goa and the declaration that India would henceforth be a Nuclear weapons state. It is as if India could get nothing right. It is understandable that Europe would be antagonistic, particularly since the independence of India set the ball rolling for the dismantlement of the Colonial empires. There is however no apparent reason for America to take an anti Indian stand right from 1948, when they voted against India on the Kashmir issue, unless of course the American feels a racial kinship, for understandable reasons with the rest of the Occidental world. There is even less reason to depict the Sanatana Dharma in the demeaning light in which it is generally portrayed in the American Media today.

In those instances where the Indics have sought to correct the record, such as in the case of the blatantly egregious conjuring of the Aryan Invasion Theory they have been accused of nationalistic bias. Never mind that when it was postulated by Max Mueller it was never put forth other than as a conjecture and a hypothesis, and  as admitted by Max Mueller himself  that ‘no power on earth will be able to determine the true age of the Vedas’. Never mind also that the original endeavor to study the ancient texts was explicitly in order to denigrate them and to demonstrate to the Indic all that was reprehensible in their tradition. In other words the initial motivation to study these ancient texts was purely political and was by no stretch of the imagination, an academic exercise. So, to suggest now that the debate has turned political is to ignore the fact that it was always thus since its inception, when the British chose to use every means at their disposal to prolong their overlordship of the Indian subcontinent

We have been perplexed and could not find adequate explanations between these seemingly contradictory viewpoints where on the one hand great attention is paid to ensure that India is not accepted within the first ranks of countries by virtue of her size, geography, Civilizational reach and even economic and military power while at the same time maintain with monotonous regularity that India is an inconsequential third world  country with nothing of lasting value emerging from the Indic civilization. If indeed India was so inept and as some would maintain so hopelessly incompetent in governing herself, then surely she should be of no major threat to anybody much less a superpower . Therein lies the cognitive dissonance, and it is up to the Indic to recognize it as such and take steps to unravel the motivations for such a transparently contradictory posture. A thorough knowledge of ones own traditions forms the first step in refuting these wild allegations which are de rigeur in most occidental societies

Kosla Vepa, Pleasanton,Ca


Preface 6

Chapter 1 FAQ on Hinduism 7

The Vedantic Paradigm  50

Brahmavidya and Yogasastra 50

Chapter 4 74

The Nakshatras  122

Chapter 2 The ehtical Value System of the Hindu 60
Chapter 3 The Core Values 71
Chapter 4 Some important quotations 74
Chapter 5 The Essential teachings of the Bhagavad Gita 84
Chapter 6 A Typical South Indian Wedding
Chapter 7 Hindu Cosmology and the Celestial Timekeepers
Chapter 8 References on Hinduism and other Indic Dharmas 130
Appendix A Central Core Beliefs of Sanatana Dharma 132
Appendix B The Hindu Vedic Wedding 139
Appendix C The Riddle of Fate and Free-Will 146
Appendix D The Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2 (verses 54 -72) 172
Appendix E Caste 169
Appendix F Illustrations 182
Appendix G Glossary 212

Chapter 1

FAQ on Hinduism
What is the meaning of the Om symbol?  

What are the main scriptures of the Hindu?

What do Hindus understand by religion and what do they call their religion?

Can you elaborate on the meaning of Dharma?

Do Hindus pray to God and how do Hindus pray ?

What does a Hindu hope to attain when he prays ?What  is meant by PurushArtha ?

Who composed the Hindu scriptures and when were they composed ?

What was the language  in which the  vast Vedic scriptures (Sruti and Smriti ) were composed ?

What are the ethical values  of the Hindu ?

Why are there so many Gods and Goddesses in the Sanataana Dharma ?

How did the name Hindu originate ?

When did the Sanaatana Dharma originate and who was the founder of this faith.?

Were the people who developed the tenets of the Dharma  relatively prosperous  ?

Does Hinduism demand or expect exclusive allegiance as some faiths do ?

You say sutras are aphorisms and were used in the interest of brevity. Can you elaborate ?  

What is the situation regarding the Caste system in Hindu society ?

What are the central core tenets of the Sanatana   Dharma ? If you had to pick the  most important  5 among them which ones would you pick

Answers to FAQ

What is the meaning of the Om symbol ?

       OM is the single most ubiquitous symbol in all of Hinduism


The symbol Om, Ohm or Aum is believed to be the primordial sound that emanated during the creation of the Universe It is made up of three separate sounds, and saying these together makes Om the ultimate mantra. Saying the three sounds together in the right way helps to awaken the inner self, the atman, which is a spark from the divine Brahman. When said in this way, Om is called Pranava, the sacred sound (sacred humming). It is the representation of Brahman, who is unreachable and unknowable. By using the symbol (or saying the word), Hindus can approach Brahman in both the mystical and earth-bound planes. The symbol has enormous significance in Hindu life, appearing everywhere – on temples, on amulets worn by almost everyone and even painted onto the tongue of newborns using honey, to welcome them into life.

         The Mandukya Upanishad has an excellent discussion on the significance of the Om sound. See the section on the Upanishads for an overview of the main Upanishads.


What are the main scriptures (Shastra) of the Hindu ?
To those who are relatively unfamiliar with the Hindu Dharma, the vast panoply and canon of Hindu Shastras is both bewildering and overwhelming. Just as there is order in the cosmos, an order that needs effort and diligence to discover and comprehend, so also it is the case with the discovery of the ontology and structure of the Dharma, an effort which I might add is more than rewarding. Shastra is a Sanskrit word used to denote education/knowledge in a general sense. The word is generally used as a suffix in the context of technical or specialized knowledge in a defined area of practice. For example, Astra shastra means, knowledge about "Handling of weapons", Astra means weapons, and Shastra is their knowledge

The scripture of the Hindu is broadly divided into Shruti   (Sanskrit श्रुति , that which is heard) and Smriti  (स्म्र्रुति,that which is remembered).

Shruti , the main body of the Hindu canonical scripture, comprises the following

The Veda or Vedas  -  the Rig-Veda, the Sama-Veda, the Atharva-Veda, the Yajur-Veda. The four Vedas comprise the Samhitas - texts of prayers and hymns, charms, invocations and sacrificial formulae. The Rig Veda is the Book of Devotional Verse, the Yajur Veda is the Book of Sacrificial Formulae, the Sama Veda is the Book of Chants, and the Atharva Veda is the book of Mystico-therapeutic Priest craft. Their composition precedes their arrangement into the four Samhitas by a long period of oral transmission.

The word Veda is derived from the root word Vid or Knowledge and is cognate with the English words wisdom, wit

Then there are the 3 Vedic appendices

The Aranyakas

The Brahmanas

Figure 1 The structure of the Vedic literature

The Upanishads
The Bhagavad Gita (the Song Celestial) is actually a part of  the Mahabharata epic (The Great Bharata epic) but by  universal consent and acclaim has attained the status of Shruti over time because of the eternal verities that it espouses. The scene develops as a dialogue between Sri Krishna (the 7th Avatar of lord Vishnu) and Arjuna ,the Pandava prince and is set in the backdrop of the Mahabharata  War (The Great Bharata War) which takes place in the battlefield of Kurukshetra not too far from the environs of present day Delhi. The iconic significance of this historic dialogue between the Lord (the manifestation of Brahman) and his disciple (a metaphor for all of humanity) to the Indic throughout the ages till the present day is so immense and so timeless and relevant in its message, that hyperbole would not suffice to describe the same. It remains indeed a stirring call to the observance of Dharma in one's own life. The date for the Mahabharata war remains unsettled to this day but compelling arguments can be made for dating it to the end of Kaliyuga circa  3100 BCE. We will describe some of the methodologies and the results  of these attempts later in the FAQ

Smriti comprises the rest of the scriptures

There are eighteen main Smritis, each one named after its principal author1;


Manu Smriti
Yajnavalkya Smriti
Parasara Smriti
Vishnu Smriti
Daksha Smriti
Samvarta Smriti
Vyasa Smriti
Harita Smriti
Satapata Smriti
Vasishtha Smriti

Yama Smriti
Apastamba Smriti
Gautama Smriti
Devala Smriti
Sankha-Likhita Smriti
Usana Smriti
Atri Smriti
Saunaka Smriti

They can also be classified

according to the following taxonomy

The Upa-Vedas

ArthaVeda (the sciences of Economics,Commerce, Geopolitics and Sociology)

Dhanurveda (the science of War)

GandharvaVeda (the science of Music)

AyurVeda (the science of Medicine)
and can be broadly categorized into
Dharma Shastra (the laws)

Mahakavya (the Epics; they include Mahabharata and the Ramayana)

Purana (the fables or writings)

Sutra (proverbs or aphorisms)

Agama (the philosophies; including Mantra, Tantra, and Yantra)

Dyasana or Darshana (the philosophies; including the Vedanta)



The Vedangas provide the infrastructure
and disciplines needed to study the Veda
Vyakarana ( the Grammar of Language and
Sanskrit in particular was first codified by Panini
in his  Epoch making work , the Ashtadhyayi.
We will have more to say about this extraordinary individual later under the topics of Mathematics and his possible discovery of Zero and the
study of Linguistics. Panini was undoubtedly one of the earliest , if not the first among all grammarians in the history of the world)

Jyotishi (Astronomy and Astrology)
Nirukta (Etymology and Linguistics)
Shiksha (Phonetics)
Chandas (Meter, chanting of poetry)
KalpaSutra (Ritual procedures)

Figure 2 Panini

Figure 3 The Kalpa Sutra
 The Darshanas
Figure 4 The Darshanas

The Agamas
In Sanskrit 'agama' means acquisition of knowledge. In terms of religious significance, the Agamas are as important as the Vedas. They are also not derived from the Vedas. The Agamas are  manuals of divine worship. They deal with such topics as the codes of temple building, image making, and the modes of worship. Saivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism have their own respective Agamas. 

Saivism recognizes 28 principal Agamas and 150 sub agamas. Some of them date back to 2nd Century AD.  Various schools of Saivism such as the Saiva Siddhantha school, Tamil Saivism, Kashmiri Saivism and Vira Saivism  follow these texts and base their religious activity upon them. The most prominent agama text in Saivism is the Kamika. These texts consider Siva as the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, the Highest Self, the Conscious Principle while Shakti is regarded as the unconscious or the natural principle who is the cause of bondage. The union of Shakti with Siva at the highest level leads to the freedom of the soul (pasu) from the Pasa or the attachment.

The Followers of Shaktism follow 27 Agamas also called Tantras. Shaktism considers the Mother Goddess as the Supreme Self and relegates Iswara, the Divine Father, to a secondary position. In Shaktism the Divine Mother is both the cause of delusion (maya) and the source of liberation. Shaktism gave birth to the practice of Tantric forms of worship which were not generally acceptable to the followers of Vedic methods of worship. The Agamas of Shaktism deal with magical and occult knowledge, besides mechanical, ritualistic,  devotional and spiritual aspects of Tantric forms of worship

The Vaishnava Agamas are grouped into four categories namely the Vaikhanasa, Pancharatra, Pratishthasara and Vijnanalalita. Of these, the Vaishanavites consider the Pancharatra Agama as the most important (Swami Sivananda). These Agamas are believed to have been revealed by Narayana Himself. The Pancharatra Agama is again subdivided into seven sub agamas namely, the Brahma, Saiva, Kaumara, Vasishtha, Kapila, Gautamiya and the Naradiya. The Pancharatra  Agamas consider Vishnu as the Supreme Lord of the Universe and  devotion to Vishnu as the sure path to liberation. According to another opinion, the Vaikhanasagama is the most ancient and most important Agama and all the Agamas practically and literally copied all their  information from this sacred Agama. It is believed that the Vaikhanasa Agama was originally compiled under the guidance of sage Vaikhanasa during the early Vedic period. Sri Madhavacharya held Pancharatra texts in high esteem and equated them with the Vedas and the epics, while Sri Shankaracharya had a different opinion. 

According to another classification the Agamas are five types namely:Sakta Agamas, Soura Agamas, Ganapatya Agamas,  Saiva Agamas and Vaikhanasa Agamas


Bhashyam (commentaries) such as Sankara's BhAshya of the Bhagavad Gita


The Puranas
To quote Swami Sivananda

"The Friendly Treatises

The Puranas are of the same class as the Itihasas (the Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc.).They have five characteristics (Pancha Lakshana), namely, history, cosmology (with various symbolical illustrations of philosophical principles), secondary creation, genealogy of kings, and of Manvantaras . All the Puranas belong to the class of Suhrit-Sammitas, or the Friendly Treatises, while the Vedas are called the Prabhu-Sammitas or the Commanding Treatises with great authority.

Vyasa is the compiler of the Puranas from age to age; and for this age, he is Krishna-Dvaipayana, the son of Parasara.

The Puranas are classified into a Mahā- ("great") and a Upa- ("lower, additional") corpus. According to Matysa Purana, [5] they are said to narrate five subjects, called Pancha Lakshana pañcalakaa ("five distinguishing marks"):

Sarga - The creation of the universe.

Pratisarga - Secondary creations, mostly re-creations after dissolution.

Vamśa - Genealogy of gods and sages.

Manvañtara - The creation of the human race and the first human beings.

Vamśānucaritam - Dynastic histories.

Manvantras is the period of Manu's rule consisting of 71 celestial Yugas or 308,448,000 years. Swami Sivananda
The Puranas were written to popularize the religion of the Vedas. They contain the essence of the Vedas. The aim of the Puranas is to impress on the minds of the masses the teachings of the Vedas and to generate in them devotion to God, through concrete examples, myths, stories, legends, lives of saints, kings and great men, allegories and chronicles of great historical events. The sages made use of these parables to illustrate the eternal principles of religion. The Puranas were meant, not only for the scholars, but for the vast majority of the populace who found the Darshanas too abstract and who could not, for whatever reason, study the Vedas.

The Darsanas or schools of philosophy are very abstract. They are meant mainly for those with an introspective temperament. The Puranas can be read and appreciated by everybody Religion is taught in a very easy and interesting way through the Puranas. Even to this day, the Puranas are popular. The Puranas contain the history of remote times. They also give a description of the regions of the universe not visible to the ordinary physical eye. They are very interesting to read and are full of information of all kinds. Children hear the stories from their grandmothers. Pundits and Purohits hold Kathas or religious discourses in temples, on banks of rivers and in other important places. It is the tradition for bards to recite these stories in song and poetry.

Eighteen Puranas

There are eighteen main Puranas and an equal number of subsidiary Puranas or Upa-Puranas. The main Puranas are:

Srimad Bhagavata Purana,

The Srimad Bhagavata Purana chronicles the legends of the various Avataras of Lord Vishnu. There are ten Avataras of Vishnu. The aim of every Avatara is to save the world from some great danger, to destroy the wicked and protect the virtuous. The ten Avataras are: Matsya (The Fish), Kurma (The Tortoise), Varaha (The Boar), Narasimha (The Man-Lion), Vamana (The Dwarf), Parasurama (Rama with the axe, the destroyer of the Kshatriya race), Ramachandra (the hero of the Ramayana—the son of Dasaratha, who destroyed Ravana), Sri Krishna, the teacher of the Gita, Buddha (the prince-ascetic, founder of Buddhism), and Kalki (the hero riding on a white horse, who is to come at the end of the Kali-Yuga). In short the Bhagavata Purana is the chronicle of the Indic peoples since the dawn of history ever since the human species evolved into mammals from the oceans and waters of the planet.

The object of the Matsya Avatara was to save Vaivasvata Manu from destruction by a deluge. The object of Kurma Avatara was to enable the world to recover some precious things which were lost in the deluge. The Kurma gave its back for keeping the churning rod when the Gods and the Asuras churned the ocean of milk. The purpose of Varaha Avatara was to rescue, from the waters, the earth which had been dragged down by a demon named Hiranyaksha. The purpose of Narasimha Avatara, half-lion and half-man, was to free the world from the oppression of Hiranyakasipu, a demon, the father of Bhakta Prahlada. The object of Vamana Avatara was to restore the power of the gods which had been eclipsed by the penance and devotion of King Bali. The object of Parasurama Avatara was to deliver the country from the oppression of the Kshatriya rulers. Parasurama destroyed the Kshatriya race twenty-one times. The object of Rama Avatara was to destroy the wicked Ravana. The object of Sri Krishna Avatara was to destroy Kamsa and other demons, to deliver His wonderful message of the Gita in the Mahabharata war, and to become the centre of the Bhakti schools of India. The object of Buddha Avatara was to prohibit animal sacrifices and teach piety. The object of the Kalki Avatara is the destruction of the wicked and the re-establishment of virtue.

 Vishnu Purana,

Naradiya Purana,

Garuda (Suparna) Purana,

Padma Purana,

Varaha Purana,

Brahma Purana,

Brahmanda Purana,

Brahma Vaivarta Purana,


Markandeya Purana,

Linga Purana,

Siva Purana,

Skanda Purana and

Agni Purana.

Bhavishya Purana,

Vamana Purana,

Matsya Purana,

Kurma Purana,

Itihaasa (epic history) or Mahakavya

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