CatholicNews ■ Sunday June 10, 2007

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through certain religious rites or sacraments. A rite at the birth of a baby is performed for its longevity, good health and good intellect. Marriage, considered cardinal among the sacraments, is sacred and a lifelong commitment which should never be broken through separation. Divorces are thus very rare among Hindus.

is celebrated from Jan 13-16. Harvest rice is cooked with milk and brown sugar, offered to the sun god, and then consumed. Thaipusam (which falls in January or February) is a day of

Hindu festivals are days where Hindus are expected to devote more time for prayer and spiritual practice. In Singapore the major festivals celebrated include Deepavali, the Tamil New Year, Pongal, Thaipusam and Timithi (Fire Walking Festival). Deepavali (which falls usually in October or November) is known as the Festival of Lights as it celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance. This is symbolized by the lighting of oil lamps in homes. The Tamil New Year usually falls on Apr 13 or 14 and on this day families pray in the temple and go on a strict vegetarian diet. Pongal or the Harvest Festival

thanksgiving to Lord Murugan (photo above), a son of Shiva, for fulfilling the prayers of devotees. It is a festival of faith, endurance and penance. Devotees fast and eat only vegetarian meals for up to 45 days before carrying the milk pot on their heads or the kavadi in procession. The kavadi is a garlanded wooden or metal arch carried by devotees who have their tongue pierced with skewers and their body pierced with spikes. Thimithi or the Fire Walking Festival honours Princess Draupadai, a goddess. Devotees walk over beds of burning coal to express their religious faith and fulfil promises made to the gods. ■

HINDUISM ACCEPTS THE concepts of sin and virtue, good and evil. Life in the world is seen as interconnected and interdependent. Hindus are instructed by scriptures to observe non-violence (Ahimsa) and respect for all life because God is believed to permeate all. In accordance with Ahimsa, most Hindus embrace vegetarianism. Those who do eat meat usually abstain from beef as the cow is considered a sacred animal in Hindu society. The universal virtues of honesty, charity, humility, kindness and compassion are upheld in Hinduism. Other Hindu principles: – Do not hurt or harm anyone whether in thought or action. – Follow truth in thought, deed and word. – Observe purity and cleanliness of body and mind. – Be contented; do not be greedy; and be cheerful. – Do not accept from others anything more than that which is absolutely necessary. – Regard all life as sacred, to be loved and revered. – Study the scriptures and say your prayers. – Surrender the fruits of action to God and the self to God. – Do not claim Hinduism is superior to other religions. – Respect all religions which believe in God. – One who criticizes the religion of others harms his own.

Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) advocated monotheism and denounced rituals which he deemed to be meaningless and giving rise to superstitions. He is most famous for his efforts to abolish the practice of sati, a Hindu funeral custom in which the widow sacrifices herself on her husbandʼs funeral pyre. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886) was a Hindu religious teacher who emphasized devotion to God, the oneness of existence, and the harmony of religions. He combined popular Hinduism (with its many images) with belief in a loving Almighty God who can be seen in many forms. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), was the chief
disciple of Paramahamsa and was responsible for promoting Hinduism in the West. He taught that the divine is in everything and promoted the Ramakrishna Mission, well known for its social work.