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Hinduism Background Information

I was asked to visit a religious service, other than my own and write a 10-12 page paper about the religion. I visited a Hindu temple in the area but to be honest, I didn't get much information out of them, I felt very much like an outsider. I need the following questions answered about Hinduism...

A. Mode of baptism
B. The after life
C. Inter-racial marriage
D. Sacraments (communion etc)
E. Marriage and Divorce
F. Moral issues (AIDS, abortion, homosexuality)

Additionaly, I need a break down of the "Lords", Lord Rama etc.

I am offering more credits than usual for this due to the lengthy response required.

Solution Preview

Well, you sure picked a tough one! Some of your categories are very "Christian" in perspective. There are a lot of other highly relevant material unique to Hinduism that I think you might want to focus on.

The Afterlife

Essentially, the "Karma" is the central focus for the Hindu faith. Hindus believe that the soul passes through a series of lives (reincarnations). The level of the subsequent incarnation is dependent on how one lived the current life. If you lived badly, you're going down into a lower form -- possibly even an animal. If you lived well, then you get to have an incarnation into a higher level of life -- possibly a higher caste.

This is called the "Transmigration of the Soul" where one's soul passes after death into another body. This cycle of death and rebirth goes on and on. It is called samsara, and it is the Karma that determines how you will live your next life. Karma is the sum of all of your good and bad deeds. Eventually, the goal is to escape samsara and achieve enlightenment. For those who renouce the world, their main goal is "moksa." That refers to being liberated from "samsara." This is considered the supreme goal of mankind.

Sacraments

Hindu sacraments are called "sanskars." The sacrament performed at weddings are called "Vivah Sanskar." Forced marriages are forbidden in Hinduism; however, arranged marriages are not. Arranged marriages are based on contractual agreement between bride and groom. Years ago, child marriages were common although now they have been expunged from the religion. Generally, the minimum age for marriage is the age set by the country in which the Hindus live.

There are three main types of sacraments or religious rites:

Nitya: these are performed daily and consist in offerings to the gods usually made at the home shrine.
Naimittika: these are rituals performed at certain times of years, like at the harvest festival, etc.
Kamya: these are options sacraments such as going on a pilgrimage.

"Baptism"

So far as I've been able to find, there isn't such a thing as baptism. But there are other "baby oriented" rites. Such rites start before birth, generally soon after the wedding. They involve prayers called "Garbhadana" intended to ask favour from the gods to fulfill the parents procreative responsibilities. Then, around the third month of pregancy, "Punsavana" is done to ask protection on the growing baby. Finally, around the 7th month, "Simantonnyana" takes place. It's like a baby shower. Of course, it's not a secular one like in the western world, but one rich in prayer and meaning.

After birth, the ceremony of "Jatakarma" is performed. The parents put a ...

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