When I reflect on my understanding of prayer in Hindu religion, the first thing that comes to mind is the religious origins of yoga. Having taken a yoga class in high school and a Hindu religion course in university, the rituals I encountered had ties to religion, adapted for spiritualism in the present day. The spiritual benefits of yoga cannot be denied. The aim of yoga is likened to prayer because the practice brings about clarity, self-realization, and liberation. (1)
The practice of yoga and its relation to the sun connects it to the Hindu religious realm, but its origins can be traced to before the revelation of the Vedas. Also, roots of this form of prayer appear in many continents, but in India, it took on its full form as a religious practice.(2) My other brush of knowledge was from films based on popular culture; I had a vague idea that dance is a form of worship in Hinduism, as are many other rituals. My knowledge was basic at most, however on further reflection, I realized that there are stark similarities between all religions regarding the aims of the acts of worship which I will delve into here.
A mantra is a form of prayer in Hinduism that at times is chanted out loud or kept secret by the worshipper. It is present in many different prayer ceremonies and takes on differ- ent forms according to the ceremony. The repetitive nature can be likened to Islamic prayers that invoke blessings onto the Prophet Muhammad (sa), or chanting by Gregorian monks. We will come back to the idea of ‘invoking’ some- thing later on when I go into detail about the aims of Hindu prayer.(3)
Yajna is one of the elements of Hindu worship. It can occa- sionally be offered or five times daily like the Muslim worship which is offered five times daily. It needs to be performed by a priest to follow the specific procedure, and at home, three domestic fires need to be maintained for various sacrifices. The complete way to perform it is found in the Vedas, which is the revelation given to Hindus, similar to the Bible for Chris- tians and Quran for Muslims. Specifically, Muslims are given directives in the Quran on when to pray. In the Vedas, there are around 400 yajnas mentioned, all of which are not performed in the present day. The need for a priest does not apply to daily sacrifices offered at home by higher caste Hindus.(3)
Puja is a simpler ceremony that may be performed by anyone except for certain exceptions, unlike the elaborate sacrificial ceremonies. Even today it is practiced in many Hindu house- holds in various forms. In the ceremony, Hindus offer flowers and water to the deity, as well as reciting the names of God. There is a spiritual dimension of puja that follows from these prayers where the inward spirit of the worshipper is supposed to be awakened, and the devotee believes it makes the deity come to life too. The practice revolves around offering sacrific- es and paying respects and is supposed to be the way a host honors a guest in their home. The ceremony includes recita- tion of sacred verses, incense, food offerings, hymns, and prayers. Following this initial rapport building with the deity, the worshipper intensifies his supplications and carries on with prayers and supplications. The ceremony typically ends with the offering of a sacred flame and distribution of the remains of the offerings.(3)
Now I wish to turn to the theme of “awakening” or “invoking” which I have come across a lot as I learned about the Hindu faith. In Hindu worship, we see statues, which is the outward element of worship, as well as importance is given to the inward spirit of a worshipper. The connection these statues have with God in this world and the next. This element is important in all religions, including Islam. That is why Yajna and Puja can be performed inwardly, and in Islam, this concept is important too. For example, in Islam, one inward prayer is invoking blessings on the Prophet Muhammad (sa) known as “Durood.” These invocations show devotion, sincerity, and attract the Grace of God on the worshipper. This concept relates to the spiritual realm and how a person can internally purify themselves to achieve communion with God. The outward and inward nature of Hinduism is a concept in many religions, however in Islam, it is characterized through recitation or movement in prayers for outward, but there are no statues present. In Christianity, the concept of God is also a higher being, with no statues, and Jesus is not like Krishna. Revelation comes from God, and Jesus is a being spiritually connected to God as the son of God, but in Hinduism it is believed that God manifests Himself as a human.(5) Orthodox Judaism has many outward expressions in appearance. For example the tzitzit for men, which reminds them of Gods commandments. Sikh men have a head covering, the turban. Interestingly, even though the outward rituals are different for each religion, the inward aims of prayer appear to be closely similar.
In more detail, intense love for God is a part of the Bakhti movement of Hinduism which is a human expression that is not easy to attain, perhaps one of the most sublime.(4) A theme running through Bakhti is liberation from worldly desires and finding this path. Lord Krishna is the highest god, would lead to one God, and this is interesting because there seem to be many deities to worship. However, these are supposed to provide a worldly image to worshippers to help them to advance to the Highest God only. Bakhti, like other forms of prayer, comprises many types of worship, for exam- ple singing, chanting, remembrance of the Lord and deity worship. Bakhti being a sublime expression of human devo- tion links it to a state of inner peace that similarly is the goal of Islam.(3) Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (as), describes the final stage of spiritual development of the soul to be “the soul at peace,” in Arabic this is “al-Nafs al-Mutma’innah.” This is also the liberation of the soul from worldly troubles and a union with God.
There are some concepts in Hinduism that need to be high- lighted here, including reincarnation. The main belief is that you come back to earth as a different being. Therefore, the idea of punishment and reward is unlike heaven and hell. If you are a good person, the reward for this is coming back to earthly life again, which appears as a paradox to many. How- ever, it is not a certainty you will return as a human, if your religious and moral conduct is not up to par, you will come back as a monkey or worse as a lower animal form. Hindus believe in karma which is the consequences of your negative actions, and the earth is seen as a place of punishment and reward. The prayers get you in touch with your inner self, and your relationship with God strengthens. The spirit or soul is in another realm with the Lord, but in this world, the matter is in a constant chain and development state.(5) This is in contrast to the concept of the afterlife being the ultimate reflection of your worldly life after you live one life and die. The Holy Quran tells us:
“Behold how We have exalted some of them over others in the present life, and surely the Hereafter shall be greater in degrees of rank and greater in excellence.” (6)
It would also be useful to point out a fundamental difference between Islam and Hinduism because it is a major part of Hindu worship and this is the use of statues which are forbid- den in Islamic worship. It is also important to discuss the names of certain gods that Hindus offer their sacrifices to. The Holy book the Vedas is supposed to invoke the various gods and prayers highlight the virtues of the various gods and seek favor for them. An example of one god is Shiva who symbolizes life and death, existence and non-existence and who also destroys ignorance and negative emotions. His appearance is quite humanlike. He has a wife and two children. He is the master of all dance forms and employs dance to relieve world- ly sufferings and to alleviate the pain of the followers, all forms of dance being a form of expression and all with different names. His appearance also carries symbolism, his hair symbolizing power and spirituality, the snakes representing control over desire and sensuality, and so forth. Each god represents quality and is a way to reach the Ultimate One and Only Creator, the Highest God. Other names of gods are Brahma the creator, and Vishnu, the preserver for example.(3) Krishna is God. However, he came to earth in human form and performed Prophet like deeds and led a life as an exemplary human distinguishing good from evil like many prophets in all the religions.(5)
A study of prayer in Hinduism has given me a greater appreciation of the roots and branches of the Hindu faith and the unity between us all and our Creator.
- Carrico, M, (2007) A Beginners Guide to the History of Yoga (2007) https://www.yoga journal.com/yoga-101/the-roots-of-yoga
- Dr. Ishwar V. Basavaraddi, Yoga: Its Origin, History and Develop ment, (April 23, 2015) http://www.mea.govin/in-focus-article.htm?25096/Yoga+Its+OrIin+History+and+Development
- https://www.alislam.org/library/books/revelation/part_2_sec tion_1.html
- The Holy Quran translation, (17:22). Malik Ghulam Farid (2010 edition), Islam International Publications Limited.
Last modified: January 2019