(also: Saiva; Shaivite) Shaivism is the name for the tradition of those who worship Shiva, one of the great Gods of the Hindu tradition. Shaiva is an adjective describing that tradition or form of worship. A Shaivite is one who follows Shiva. There are several streams of Shaivism, such as Shaiva Siddhanta and Kashmir Shaivism.


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

guru puja

Guru puja is the honoring of the guru or teacher with puja, or ritual devotion.


Moksha means freedom or liberation; freedom from the constant round of birth and death called samsara. Many Hindu schools of thought insist that jnana, profound self-knowledge or knowledge of atman, is the prerequisite of moksha. In the Jain tradition the attainment of kevalajnana, the supreme, omniscient knowledge of the nature of the universe, brings moksha.


Sabha is a general term for an assembly, a council, or the hall in which such an assembly meets.


A Yuvakendra is a center or program for young people affiliated with a Hindu temple.

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.

Gandhi, Mohandas

M.K. Gandhi (1869-1948) was one of the great religious leaders and social reformers of the 20th century. He came to be called Mahatma, the “Great Soul.” Born in western India in Gujarat, he studied law in London and then spent twenty years with the Indian diaspora community in South Africa, where he began his work of non-violent social change. Returning to India, he was a leader in the movement for independence from England, again resorting to non-violence, which he called satyagraha, “holding fast to Truth.” His ashrams included people of all religions and castes, including... Read more about Gandhi, Mohandas


Lokayata is school of philosophical thought that defined itself against Hinduism by emphasizing that matter and sense data derived from it is the only source of knowing and that physical forces were active in the world although not alive.

Ramakrishna Mission

The Ramakrishna Mission, headquartered at Belur Math in Calcutta, was founded by Swami Vivekananda in 1897. Named after Vivekananda’s mystic teacher, Ramakrishna (1836-86), its “mission” has been to revitalize the Hindu tradition for the task of service, education, and nation-building. Monks of the Ramakrishna Mission have also supplied direct leadership of America’s Vedanta Societies for nearly a century.


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.


Kumbhabhishekam means the “sprinkling” (abhishekam) of the temple with sacred waters carried in a “water-pot” (kumbha). This consecration rite is the most important ritual in the life of a newly built Hindu temple. The main rites ordinarily take place in a large tent erected adjacent to the new temple. There brick fire altars are constructed so that offerings may be made into the fire by priests as they chant mantras and sacred texts. The Divine is invoked into the fire, into the water, and then the consecrated waters are sprinkled over the temple cupolas and towers,... Read more about kumbhabhishekam


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.


Kabir was a late 15th and early 16th century poet-saint of North India who glimpsed and praised the one, formless God who could not be confined within the religious establishments of either the Hindus or the Muslims. Kabir’s songs are still widely known and loved and some of them are included among the songs of the saints in the Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth.


For the religious traditions of India, prashad or prasadam refers to God’s “grace,” especially as received in return for the gifts that have been offered in puja. In the Hindu tradition, after the offerings of water, fruit, flowers, and the oil lamp have been presented to the deity, the officiating priest then distributes them among the worshippers as forms of prashad. In the Sikh tradition, prashad is most commonly a sweet of wheat flour, sugar, and butter that is distributed in communal worship as the divine gift of the Guru.