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But West African religion moves far beyond simple fetishism or idolatry and into something one might call animism or pantheism: everything, including objects, plants, rocks, weather phenomena, and even human speech , has an intrinsic life force. But there are also other forces at play, the belief in which is also consistent throughout traditional West Africa, like magic …. It is neither the smoke-and-mirrors illusory-style magic of the western stage, nor the wizardry of fantasy genres created by the western world, but something intrinsic, concrete, and potentially dangerous.

Magic, in this corner of the world, is wielded by witches who are deadly and dreaded, possessed as they are by extra-human, evil forces. Only a skilled healer can cure the disharmony and unrest caused by witchcraft: a witch doctor, who, contrary to popular belief, is not a witch himself but a respected member of society, aiding the bewitched and the surrounding community by creating medicines, amulets, charms, and talismans for protection.

These spiritual forces of life and magic are closely entwined with the spirit world, an underlying truth shared by traditional West African religion s. The spirit world, while invisible to humans, is very real, and present all around them, at all times. Ancestral spirits, natural spirits of the elements, and evil spirits are never very far away, always trying to influence the lives of the living.

But it is at night that they are the most active, have the most power, are the most feared. Seemingly innocuous terms are paraphrased after sunset in many societies. In Dogon country, it is forbidden to whistle or make any other noise at night for fear of attracting the attention of evil spirits. And all throughout West Africa, weavers abandon their looms after dusk, blacksmiths their forges, mancala players their boards, handing them back over to the spirit world from which all human innovation originated.

Ancestors are the closest link between the living and the dead, Heaven and Earth. People who have lived long, righteous lives may be admitted to the realm of ancestors in death. In times of trouble, people can make sacrifices to their ancestors in hopes of guidance.

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Failure to connect with the ancestors through prayer and sacrifices, or acting in ways that offend them, is believed to lead to catastrophe. Many groups, though not all, believe in a pantheon of divinities who can be called upon to intervene in the affairs of men and spirits. The Dogon have similar divinities in the nommo , androgynous anthropo-amphibian beings. Divinities vary quite a bit from one group to the next, but are identifiable in that each is a force of nature, often an embodiment of human endeavor, that controls the affairs of the cosmos.

Though there are no temples to these divinities, there are often shrines where sacrifices and prayers can be sent in times of trouble. There are many of these deities, since each represent a facet of human existence and knowledge and they are often thought to have taught mankind their knowledge. The Yoruba for example, deify Ogun, the god of warfare, hunting and modern technology, Orunmila, the god of wisdom, destiny, and agriculture, etc. The Mande people have Faro, the androgynous deity of water. The line between spirits and divinities is very blurry. Exceptional ancestors may become gods in death, such as Oduduwa, the first Yoruba king of Ile-Ife in Nigeria.

So how can you celebrate the sun as part of your own spirituality? It's not hard to do - after all, the sun is out there almost all the time! Try a few of these ideas and incorporate the sun into your rituals and celebrations. Use a bright yellow or orange candle to represent the sun on your altar, and hang solar symbols around your house.

Place sun catchers in your windows to bring the light indoors. Charge some water for ritual use by placing it outside on a bright sunny day. Finally, consider starting each day by offering a prayer to the rising sun, and end your day with another one as it sets. Share Flipboard Email. Patti Wigington is a pagan author, educator, and licensed clergy. Updated April 22, Continue Reading. Learn Religions uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience.

This period, beginning from around the time of Buddha died c. The famous Bhagavad Gita is part of the Mahabharata. The idea of dharma law, duty, truth which is central to Hinduism was expressed in a genre of texts known as Dharma Sutras and Shastras. The Dharma Sutras recognise three sources of dharma: revelation i. The Laws of Manu adds 'what is pleasing to oneself'.

During this period the vedic fire sacrifice became minimised with the development of devotional worship puja to images of deities in temples.

Magic, Medicine, and Objects

From this period we can recognise many elements in present day Hinduism, such as bhakti devotion and temple worship. This period saw the development of poetic literature. These texts were composed in Sanskrit, which became the most important element in a shared culture. From CE we have the rise of devotion bhakti to the major deities , particularly Vishnu, Shiva and Devi.

With the collapse of the Gupta empire, regional kingdoms developed which patronised different religions.

For example, the Cholas in the South supported Shaivism. This period saw the development of the great regional temples such as Jagganatha in Puri in Orissa, the Shiva temple in Cidambaram in Tamilnadu, and the Shiva temple in Tanjavur, also in Tamilnadu.

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All of these temples had a major deity installed there and were centres of religious and political power. During this time not only religious literature in Sanskrit developed but also in vernacular languages, particularly Tamil.

Religious Festivals

Here poet-saints recorded their devotional sentiments. Most notable are the twelve Vaishnava Alvars 6th—9th centuries , including one famous female poet-saint called Andal, and the sixty-three Shaiva Nayanars 8th—10th centuries. Subsequent key thinkers and teachers acharyas or gurus consolidated these teachings. They formulated new theologies, perpetuated by their own disciplic successions sampradaya.

Shankara — travelled widely, defeating scholars of the unorthodox movements, Buddhism and Jainism, which around the turn of the millennium had established prominent seats of learning throughout India. He re-established the authority of the Vedic canon, propagated advaita monism and laid foundations for the further development of the tradition known as the Vedanta. The Vaishnava philosophers Ramanuja c. Ramanuja qualified Shankara's impersonal philosophy, and Madhva more strongly propounded the existence of a personal God.

Shaivism similarly developed during this period with important philosophers such as Abhinavagupta c. The Tantras became revered as a revelation that fulfilled or superseded the Veda. Some of these texts advocated ritually polluting practices such as offering alcohol, meat and ritualised sex to ferocious deities but most of these texts are simply concerned with daily and occasional rituals, temple building, cosmology and so on.

Alongside the development of Hindu traditions, most widespread in the South, was the rise of Islam in the North as a religious and political force in India. The new religion of Islam reached Indian shores around the 8th century, via traders plying the Arabian Sea and the Muslim armies which conquered the northwest provinces.

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Akbar — was a liberal emperor and allowed Hindus to practice freely. However, his great grandson, Aurangzeb — , destroyed many temples and restricted Hindu practice. During this period we have further developments in devotional religion bhakti. The Sant tradition in the North, mainly in Maharashtra and the Panjab, expressed devotion in poetry to both a god without qualities nirguna and to a god with qualities saguna such as parental love of his devotees.

The Sant tradition combines elements of bhakti, meditation or yoga, and Islamic mysticism. Even today the poetry of the princess Mirabai, and other saints such as Tukaram, Surdas and Dadu are popular. At first, the British did not interfere with the religion and culture of the Indian people, allowing Hindus to practice their religion unimpeded. Later, however, missionaries arrived preaching Christianity. Shortly after, the first scholars stepped ashore, and though initially sympathetic, were often motivated by a desire to westernise the local population. Chairs of Indology were established in Oxford and other universities in Europe.

The nineteenth century saw the development of the 'Hindu Renaissance' with reformers such as Ram Mohan Roy — presenting Hinduism as a rational, ethical religion and founding the Brahmo Samaj to promote these ideas.

Spiritual Import of Religious Festivals by Swami Krishnananda

Another reformer, Dayananda Sarasvati —83 , advocated a return to vedic religion which emphasised an eternal, omnipotent and impersonal God. He wanted to return to the 'eternal law' or sanatana dharma of Hinduism before the Puranas and Epics through his society, the Arya Samaj.

Both of these reformers wished to rid Hinduism of what they regarded as superstition. These groups were instrumental in sowing the seeds of Indian nationalism and Hindu missionary movements that later journeyed to the West. Another important figure was Paramahamsa Ramakrishna , who declared the unity of all religions. His disciple Vivekananda — developed his ideas and linked them to a political vision of a united India.

These ideas were developed by Gandhi — , who was instrumental in establishing an independent India.


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Gandhi, holy man and politician, is probably the best known Indian of the twentieth century. He helped negotiate independence, but was bitterly disappointed by the partition of his country.