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      The term 'Hinduism' literally means 'belief of the people of India'-about 85% of Indian people currently identify as Hindus. The term used by Hindus themselves is "sanatana dharma," the eternal religion. Hinduism includes a very wide range of variations and does not have a central religious authority that dictates a uniform standard. There are two major strands that are considered compatible for many people. First, there are polytheistic and animistic beliefs related to many gods representing the cosmic forces of creation-preservation-destruction (i.e. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, along with their female consorts) and nature. Second, there are forms of Vedantic Hinduism that view all these gods as manifestations or representations of an ultimate nondual Reality. One of the most famous statements of this view is "tat tvam asi", meaning "that art thou." This phrase means that 'atman' (the true self or soul) is one with Brahman (the true nature of all reality). In actual practice, the form of Hinduism people follow are strongly shaped by customs and preferences of their own region, language, and family.
      Hinduism developed around 2500-1000 BCE as influences from the indigenous Indus Valley civilization mixed with those of incoming Aryans. The original scriptures are the Vedas, which recorded long oral traditions of poetry and philosophical insights in Sanskrit writing. Around 600-200 BCE, profound writings intended to deepen the wisdom of the Vedas (Upanishads) and great epics with religious import (e.g. the Bhagavad Gita, the teachings of the incarnate god Krishna during a time of battle) formed the basis of Vedantic Hinduism.
       In Vedantic Hinduism, the goal of life is to realize the true nature of self as one with ultimate reality, thus disentangling from inordinate attachments to the ego and body, and achieving "moksha" or liberation from entrapment in the round of death and rebirth. This represents the ideal of complete well-being. However, practical well-being also entails living faithfully and harmoniously with others according to one's dharma (or calling and station in life). Ideally, People who are not world renouncing spiritual adepts seek to fulfill their family and social responsibilities for the mutual betterment of all (sarvodaya). Spiritual adepts contribute to the well-being of society through their teachings and blessings. In general, people may utilize traditional healing of the Ayurvedic system (including herbalism and physical therapies to balance the vital energies) along with meditation, various yogas (physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines), social support systems, and worship of various deities in order to maintain health and social welfare. One type of yoga is 'karma yoga', the spiritual discipline of social action. In karma yoga, people perform social service out of compassion without egoistic attachment to the results.
         The photos in this section are from Hindu American communities. Two subfolders depict 'puja' performed by Hindu communities in the general area of Kansas City. Puja are worship ceremonies, performed in households or community settings, dedicated to particular deities. Worship (bhakti) demonstrates respect for the deity and the virtues associated with him or her. This aids in the people's own spiritual growth and may be used also to seek blessings for health and well-being.
         One puja represented is for Durga. Durga is a demon slaying goddess who is queen of the cosmos. Durga's many hands hold many weapons demonstrating her ability to quell demons. Durga is wife of Shiva, to whom the other puja is dedicated. Shiva is one of the most prominent gods in Hinduism. Shiva is the destroyer of enemies and is intimate with death. He is also viewed as a god of procreation. Shiva is often represented by a lingam sculpture, representing procreation and spiritual energy. Shiva and Durga, had a child, named Ganesha, who is depicted with an elephant's head. He can be seen in the Durga puja photos.