Trichy

Travel Route: Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram – Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur – Srirangam Temple in Trichy

What’s distinct about Hinduism in Tamil Nadu?

Tamil Nadu State is known for its significant number of Hindu temples, more than any other state in India.  Tamil people’s devotion to their religious beliefs is fervent.  Thus, it is a common belief that the birthplace of Hinduism was Tamil Nadu.

Hinduism is more than a religion – it is a culture, a way of life, and a code of behavior.  This view is reflected in a term Indians use to describe the Hindu religion: Sanatana Dharma, which means eternal faith, or the everlasting way things are.  The caste system is the most potent manifestation of this philosophy.

Hindu practices of worship and rituals reveal the profound importance of religious imagery.  While in most other religious traditions, images are believed to represent holy personages or are altogether forbidden, in Hindu practice, painted and sculpted images are believed to genuinely embody the divine.

In Hinduism, there are many Gods.  Believers develop a preference for one deity while not excluding or disbelieving in others.  All Gods are seen as a manifestation of a single unity – the Brahman.  The main three Gods are Brahma – the creator, Vishnu – the protector, and Shiva – the destroyer (of evil).  And then there are plenty of other deities.  If I were a Hindu and had a choice, I would follow Vishnu; something about the protector’s power is appealing to me.

What is the Caste system?

I would have revolted if I were born into a specific caste, other than the Brahmin, the top caste at the hierarchy.  In a society that emphasizes Dharma, the law of the universe, the mobility options to improve one’s life are constrained and limited to the caste or the many sub-guilds one is born into. These norms were established to maintain a particular order and system.  And they were reinforced in the religious scripts such as the Bhagavad-Gita, when Krishna says to the tormented Arjuna, who ponders the devastating consequences of the battle he is about the embark upon: “Now if you do not execute this battle, then having given up your personal dharma and reputation, you shall incur sin.” Meaning, you, as a warrior, as a military leader, have a duty, and it stands above all other considerations. It is no surprise that many throughout the centuries converted to other religions: Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, and Christianity.  

What is Moksha?

Hindus believe in Karma, the universal law of cause and effect.  They also believe in Moksha, the possibility of liberation and release, by which the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara) can be resolved.  Moksha is the ultimate spiritual goal of Hinduism.

What is the difference between Moksha and Nirvana?

Both Hinduism and Buddhism focus on liberation from the endless cycle of samsara – the endless cycle of birth and death, and the suffering that comes with that cycle.  Yet they are slightly different. I’ll try to explain: Moksha means “release” in the sense of “letting go.”  Moksha is the letting go of the repeated birth and death of the physical body – reincarnation.  Because Hindu teaching includes the notion of a soul, or “atman,” when someone attains Moksha, their soul merges with Brahman – the source of all existence.  In Buddhism, liberation from samsara is called Nirvana.  This term means “extinction” or “blowing out,” like extinguishing a burning flame.  In Buddhist teaching, humans are bound to samsara through the flames of anger, ignorance, and desire.  So, in Buddhism, when one attains Nirvana, one extinguishes anger, ignorance, and desire. 

The difference between Moksha and Nirvana is subtle and delicate.  In Buddhism, humans escape life and death by extinguishing anger, ignorance, and desire, even though the physical body may still be alive (death is not a prerequisite for Nirvana).  This is why Buddhists talk of rebirth rather than reincarnation.  A Buddhist who has attained Nirvana is unchained from anger (which focuses on the past), ignorance (which focuses on the present), and desire (which focuses on the future).  Nirvana is the extinction of time, and since life and death are bound by time, Nirvana is the freedom from life and death.

What is India’s city vibe?

Driving through any city, you’ll see bustling disorder and chaos everywhere.  You’ll see people on motorcycles, tuk-tuks, and cars.  You’ll see city streets where the infrastructure is clearly not up to par – they’re inadequate in size, they’re too narrow.  The saris, the buildings, the shops all in lots of different contrasting colors.  High energy and buzz.