Perhaps the most famous aspect of Hinduism is its most despicable – the caste system. The origin of this was a seemingly innocent idea that different kinds of people are suited to different things. Some to fighting, others to teaching, others to farming.
However, a strong belief in reincarnation not withstanding, the holy books decreed that these callings were genetic so occupations should be handed down from father to son.
There used to be hundreds of complicated sub-castes but these days there are four worth mentioning. The Brahmins, who teach and have a monopoly on the rites of passage and temple ceremonies. The Kshatriyas, the warriors and landowners. The Vaishyas, the merchants and finally the Sudras who do the menial work. Beneath all of them are the Untouchables who do the real shit details.
It’s been argued that Hinduism should really be called Brahminism as it’s them that benefit out of this absurd hierarchy. Every time a child is born or you want to marry or ask a favour of the gods you have to cross a Brahmin’s palm with silver. Why? Because they’ve always been the only class allowed to study Sanskrit, the language of the gods. Mark Twain mentioned about funerals in India :
“To get to paradise from India is an expensive thing. Every detail connected with the matter costs something, and helps to fatten a priest”.
Life for the Sudras and the Untouchables is hell. Even their shadow is thought to be dirty and so in the villages they’re made to walk miles to collect their water so as not to dirty the village well. Should they try to rise above their station they may well have acid thrown in their face or end up in jail.
Life for women isn’t much better. With the exception of Kali and Durga, most of the female gods are pretty much doormats for their male counterparts. Women in India society have a pretty rough deal. In ancient times, wives were expected to be burned alive on their husband’s funeral pyre. Shamefully it still occurs every now and then that a woman is shamed into throwing herself on her husband’s burning body.
As famous as the caste system is the Holy Cow . It’s a comic idea to nations of hamburger eaters and almost incomprehensible given how many go hungry in India. However, when you consider that 70% of India still lives in the country it becomes clearer. If you ate your cow then you would be unable to plough your fields before the rains came and then you’d starve to death for sure. This basic feature of rural life is almost certainly the root of the cow’s sacred status.
Hindus worship in front of little shrines in their own homes and in the temples. A temple is always dedicated to a particular god but any Hindu may worship there.
Hinduism has always had respected and revered saints and personages, Gandhi being a good example but there’s no clear-cut church as such. These days some politicians try to stir up the masses in a religious fervour against the Muslims but only for their own political gain. India could absorb just about everything but Islam proved indigestible. The two religions live side by side with incredibly violent outbursts and massacres from time to time.
The Untouchables of India – Excellant essay on the realities of the Hindu caste system.