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Hello! My name is Aastha Guptar, and I am a 14 year old Hindu. Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion and the third largest with over 2 billion followers.It is also called the “Vedic Religion” or “Sanatan Dharma” (means eternal religion). In ancient times, there was only one religion in India, the place where I live and where Hinduism began, and it didn’t really have a name (that we know of) until the British began to call anyone in India that wasn’t Muslim a “Hindu.” There is no founder, single teacher, nor any profits.  Evolving out of Brahminism, this religion has been around for at least 7 thousand years. Instead of having specific tenets and branches, it is a conglomerate of diverse beliefs and traditions, including a variety of religious groups that came out of India. It could not be described as one single religion. Today, 80% of the people of India are Hindus. I am very religious and faithful, hence my name which means “faith.”  There are three primary gods in Hinduism: Brahama (the creator of the universe), Vishnu (the preserver of the universe), and Shiva (the destroyer of the universe; destroys the universe so he can recreate it). My family and I practice Shavism, which means we mostly worship the god Shiva. However, the gods of the Hindu faith simply represent different forms of Brahman. These gods are sent to help people find the universal God, which is Brahman. Therefore, Hindus believe in a single god.

Shiva is represented in many different ways. As “Nataraja,” he is the lord of the dance, has 4 arms, wanders naked around the country, indulges in drugs, and encourages self-mutilation and starvation. As “Bhairava” (meaning terrifying), his is the god of terror, using his father’s skull as a bowl. In image representations Shiva has a blue face and throat, a third eye, a cobra necklace, trident, and a vibhuti (three lines on his forehead), Despite his mean nature, he is often depicted as smiling.

There are several important texts in my religion, all written in the Sanskrit language, but the most important are the Vedas, which include the Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda, and the Atharva Veda. The primary Vedic  Mantra is the Aum Namrah Sivaya. A version of it can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPeCc1w9bII. One of the most famous Shavist hymn is called Sri Rudram. Other texts in Hinduism include 108 extant Upanishads, the Smrutis, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Puranas. Besides reading these texts and practicing meditation, chanting, and yoga, we worship (puja) at home where we have a shrine. The whole family makes offerings to the mufti, which is our sacred statue. We often go to a temple dedicated to Shiva, Daksheswara Mahadev Temple, in the town of Kankhal, about 2.4 miles from Haridwar in the Haridwar district of Uttarakhand, India, where my home is located. Also, many Hindus make pilgrimages to sacred sites in India where gods may have appeared and become manifest.

Because of the wide variety of beliefs in HInduism, there are no basic tenets or standard set of beliefs for all Hindus. However, the general overall goal in Hinduism is self-relization and achieving Moksha, or liberation and becoming one with Brahma. There are four paths to take in achieving this: knowledge, meditation, devotion, and good works. We believe that there is a part of the Brahaman in everyone called the Atman. We also believe in reincarnation, the soul is eternal and lives many lifetimes in one body after another; samsara is going through the cycle of repeated births and deaths. This cycle is governed by karma, the idea that the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives and its next incarnation is always dependent on how the previous life was lived (similar to Buddhist ideas). We believe that all of creation is both an expression of conscious divinity and is not different from the divinity called Shiva. Because he is both the creator and the created, Shiva is both immanent and transcendent. The symbol of Aum is most important in Hinduism; it is the name most suited for god and the sound heard in the deepest meditation. My religion has allowed me to truly find myself and listen to the deepest chambers of my mind, body, and spirit. I feel more alive and connected to things around me. I find peace in the meditation and chants. I aspire above all else to live my life the best I can for the sake of karma, and I aspire above all to become one with Brahma, as all Hindus do.

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