Hinduism Glossary Terms


Abhishekam is the Hindu “ritual shower” of water, milk, honey, yogurt, and sandalwood paste that is poured over a murti (sacred image) as part of daily, weekly, or festival rites. The term was used in ancient India to mean the ritual anointing of a king and these royal meanings still attend the abhisheka rites as they are offered to the Divine.

Advaita Vedanta

Advaita Vedanta is a school of Hindu philosophy based on the doctrine of non-dualism associated with Shankara. That doctrine attests that Brahman is the only reality.


Ananthapadmanabha is a name of Vishnu as the Infinite Lord, in the Hindu tradition, from whose body or navel the lotus of the whole created world arises.


Andal was a Tamil woman saint and poet of the 9th century, beloved for her poetry called the Tiruppavai. She is honored as one so filled with the love of Vishnu that she is said to have merged into his image as his bride at the great temple of Sri Rangam.


In the Hindu tradition, arati is the circling of oil lamp-lights before the murti (image) of the deity so as to illumine each part of its face and body. This is often the final act of puja (worship). So important is this lamp offering that the term arati is often used to describe the entire sequence of honor-offerings made to the deity.


Archana is a short form of puja (worship) offered on behalf of a individual or family, in the Hindu tradition. It often involves the chanting of the names of the deity.


Arya is a Sanskrit term meaning “noble,” used to designate the people whose religious insights and ritual life are recorded in the Vedas.

Arya Samaj

The Arya Samaj is a Hindu reform movement launched in the late 19th century by Swami Dayananda Sarasvati, who advocated a return to what he believed to be the monotheism of the Vedas, rejecting image-worship.


In the religious traditions of India, an ashram is a retreat center, where the cultivation of religious life takes place under the guidance of a teacher or guru.


In Hinduism, an avatara is the “descent” of a deity upon earth, an incarnation, especially of Vishnu, whose avataras include Krishna and Rama.


In the Hindu tradition, Ayyappa is popular pilgrimage deity of the mountain-top shrine of Sabarimalai Kerala, said to be a son of Vishnu and Shiva.

Bal Vihar

A Bal Vihar or Bal Vikas is a program or center for the religious education of Hindu children.

Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita or “Song of the Lord” forms part of the sixth book of the epic Mahabharata and contains Lord Krishna’s teachings to the warrior Arjuna. The Gita is beloved by Hindus for its message of selfless action and devotion to God.


Bhagavan means venerable, illustrious, honored. In some contexts, i. may be the epithet of both the Supreme and personal God. It may also describe a scripture, such as the Bhagavad Gita, or it may be an honorific applied to a person, such as one of the Jain Tirthankaras.

Bhagavata Purana

The Bhagavata Purana, also called the Srimad Bhagavatam, is one of the most widely cherished of the 18 Hindu Puranas, the scriptural traditions which are filled with myth, legend, and ritual. The Bhagavata Purana is famous for its stories of Lord Krishna.

Bhajan, Yogi

In 1968 Harbhajan Singh (1929-2004) popularly known as Yogi Bhajan, brought the message of the Guru Granth Sahib to the West. He soon attracted many young American followers with the universalism of the Sikh message, the practice of yoga and meditation, and the emphasis on a natural and healthy lifestyle. In 1969, he formed the movement called 3HO, (Happy, Healthy, and Holy Organization), which later became known as Sikh Dharma.


In the Hindu tradition, a bhakta is a devotee of God, one whose heart is filled with devotion or love (bhakti).


Bhakti is devotion to or love of God. The term is derived from a Sanskrit root meaning “to share.” Hence, it conveys the sense of a personal relationship with the Lord, expressed in such forms as chanting, singing, dancing, and temple worship.

Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada, A.C.

Following the instructions of his teacher in India to carry the message of Krishna to the West, Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada (1896-1977) arrived in New York in 1965 and launched the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), one of the most visible forms of devotion to Krishna in the West.

Bochasanwasi Swaminarayan Sanstha (BSS)

Bochasanwasi Swaminarayan Sanstha is a worldwide organization under the leadership of Shri Pramukh Swami Maharaj. It is one of the two major branches of the Hindu Swaminarayan movement, honoring Swaminarayan, a 19th century Gujarati teacher who is seen to be the human manifestation of the highest Divine reality.

Brahma Kumari

The Brahma Kumari movement is a worldwide spiritual movement founded in India in 1936 by Prajapita Brahma, with its international headquarters at Mount Abu and over 3,700 branches worldwide. Under the leadership of its present head, Dadi Prakashmani, the Brahma Kumaris have been active in interfaith cooperation throughout the world.


Brahman is a term used in the Hindu tradition to refer to the Supreme Reality that is the source of all being and all knowing, pervading and yet transcending all that is. Brahman is said to be one with Atman, the inner reality of the self or soul.


A brahmin is a member of the priestly class, charged with the duties of learning the Vedas, teaching the Vedas, and performing rituals. It is the highest of the four general castes of Hindu society.


Caste comes from a Portuguese word “casta” which was used by early traders to describe India’s complex class structure of varnas. The four major inherited varnas are the Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (kings, warriors), vaishyas (merchants), and shudras (craftsmen and servants). The term caste was also used to describe hundreds of sub-castes called jatis, literally birth-groups. The caste system distinctive to India governs religious, social, and economic interactions. This social structure, while hierarchical, is not inflexible; it has changed through time and continues to change today.


Chaitanya is a 16th century charismatic Hindu saint; a devotee of Krishna, who urged the simple chanting of the Lord’s name as a powerful form of devotion. The ISKCON or “Hare Krishna” movement is one of several devotional movements that look to Chaitanya for inspiration.

Chidvilasananda, Gurumayi

Gurumayi is the spiritual successor to Swami Muktananda (1908-1982), the founder of Siddha Yoga Dham Associates (SYDA), a worldwide meditation movement.

Chinmayananda, Swami

Swami Chinmayananda (1916-1993) was a Vedanta teacher and disciple of the influential guru Swami Sivananda. He founded the Chinmaya Mission in India in 1953 and the Chinmaya Mission West in 1975 to teach the wisdom of the Vedanta tradition in the context of Western culture. Today there are some twenty-five Chinmaya Mission centers in the United States and Canada.


In the Hindu tradition, darshan is the “auspicious sight” of a deity or even a holy person. Darshan includes both beholding the deity and receiving the gaze of the deity.


Devi is a common term for goddess. It is used in the Hindu and Jain traditions to refer to female divinites, many of them localized goddesses. In the Hindu tradition, Devi also refers to the Goddess as the Supreme Being.

Devi, Sarada

Sarada Devi was the wife of Sri Ramakrishna, the 19th century mystic of Calcutta. She was originally a village woman, who became worshipped by Ramakrishna not as his earthly wife, but as the divine Holy Mother. Her special place in the Ramakrishna movement in India and the Vedanta Societies in America is perhaps second only to Ramakrishna himself. Her image is invariably present in Vedanta Society sanctuaries. She lived three decades after Ramakrishna’s death, dying only in 1920.
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