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Adi Shankara - Well-known theologian and founder of the advaita school. Also called Adi Shankaracharya.
Advaita - Non-dualism, the name of the theology equating the soul with God.
Advaitin - A follower of the advaita school of thought founded by Adi-Shankara.
Agamas - A generic name for sectarian literature, particularly the 28 Shaiva Agamas.
Aghori - A group of ascetics whose deliberate practice is to contravene social and moral norms.
Agni - The god of fire, particularly prominent in the Vedic period.
Ahimsa - Non-violence, a key Hindu principle.
Akhand Bharat - "undivided India": a term used in championing the re-unification of India.
Akka Mahadevi - Famous medieval woman saint from South India.
Allahabad - The Muslim name for the city of Prayaga, the site of the main Kumbha Mela.
Alvars - The South Indian Vaishnava poet-saints of the early medieval period. Twelve are considered principal.
Ambedkar - A reformer from the untouchable class who converted to Buddhism with many followers.
Anandamayi - Well-known female guru from Bengal (1896–1982).
Andal - The only woman amongst the twelve Alvars.
Angira - One of the seven great rishis (sages of old).
Anjali - Hands folded, to make an offering.
Antyesthi - The last rite of passage, the funeral.
Anuman - Deduction or inference; one of the means of acquiring knowledge.
appearance day - Birthday
Apsaras - The celestial dancing girls, well-known for their ability to divert renunciates from the path of spiritual life.
Aranyakas - "the forest treatises," one of the four sections of the Vedas.
Arotik - A ceremony involving devotional offerings to the Krishna Deities.
Artha - Economic development, one of the four aims of life.
Artha Shastra - Texts that discuss how to acquire wealth and power; considered related to the Dharma Shastras.
Arti - The most popular Hindu ceremony, in which a lamp and other articles are offered.
Arya Samaj - One of the main 19th century reform movements, still extant today.
Aryan - "noble": traditionally refers to any people, irrespective of race, who have a culture based on spiritual values.
Ashok - Monarch who patronised Buddhism; under his influence it spread throughout much of India.
Ashram - A dormitory or sleeping quarters for devotees; literally, place for religious exercise
Ashrama - A place where spirituality is cultivated; also, stage of life (of which there are four).
Astanga yoga - Raja (astanga) yoga – one of the four main yogas, the path of meditation and mystic power.
AstangaYoga - The eightfold path that culminated in meditation and samadhi (trance). One of the four paths.
Astika - "orthodox": refers to the six darshans. Non-orthodox schools are called nastika.
Asuras - The demons. Materially elevated but impious beings, constantly at loggerheads with the gods.
Atharva - The fourth of the four Vedas.
Atithi - Literally "without any time"; the unexpected guest.
Atman - Literally "self": it can mean body or mind, but ultimately refers to the soul.
Atri - One of seven great rishis (sages), each of whom have a gotra (dynasty) from which Hindus claim descent.
Avadhi - Popular language for vernacular texts, especially in the area of North India around Ayodhya.
Ayodhya - The capital city of Koshala, the kingdom of Rama.
Ayurveda - The indigenous science of Indian medicine; the texts which explain this science.
Badanarayana - A name for Vyasa, attributed with writing key texts such as the Mahabharata and Vedanta Sutras.
Badrinatha - A holy spot in the Himalayas. One of the four dhamas (especially holy places).
Baladeva - Key theologian for Bengali Vaishnavism; his commentary on the Vedanta Sutra is the Govinda Bhasya
Basava - Influential reformer within the Lingayat tradition of South Indian Shaivism.
Benares - Another name for Varanasi, perhaps the most famous of all Indian holy towns.
Bhagavad katha - The public recitation of the Bhagavat Purana, often over seven days.
Bhagavat Purana - One of the most popular Puranas, containing the famous stories of Krishna.
Bhajan - A hymn, from the root "bhaj," to worship with adoration.
bhakta - An uninitiated male devotee.
Bhakti - The path of loving devotional service (also Bhakti-Yoga).
Bhakti yoga - The yoga of devotion to Krishna.
Bhakti-Yoga - The path of loving devotional service; also called bhakti marg.
Bhaktin - An uninitiated female devotee.
Bhaktivedanta - Name of the founder of ISKCON. It means "bhakti is the conclusion of all knowledge."
Bhangra - An energetic dance style from the Punjab.
Bharadvaja - One of the seven great rishis (sages) of ancient times.
Bharata - The ancient name for India, called after the king of the same name.
Bharata Muni - Author of musical texts delineating nine rasas (tastes) upon which much music is based.
Bharata Natyam - The name of the most popular Southern Indian style of classical dance.
Bhava - Emotion. A word used in the classical performing arts and also in much bhakti theology.
Bhrigu - One of the seven great sages. According to some texts, he tested the trimurti to see who was the Supreme.
Bindi - Dot, usually of a red colour, traditionally worn by married women on the forehead; an auspicious sign for her marriage and family.
Birbal - The witty minister of Emperor Akbar; many legends have developed around his exploits.
Brahma - The creator (or, some say, secondary creator); one of the trimurti, three main deities in this world.
Brahma Sutra - Another name for the Vedanta Sutra.
Brahmachari - A celibate student. A member of the first stage of life (called the brahmachari ashrama).
Brahman - The Supreme or spirit; that which pervades and supports everything.
Brahmana - A member of the highest varna; a priest, teacher or intellectual.
Brahmanas - One of the four main divisions in the Vedas themselves.
Brahmo Samaj - The reform movement started by Rama Mohan Roy.
Brighu Muni - One of the seven ancient sages (rishis).
BTG - Back to Godhead (BTG): the monthly magazine written and edited by ISKCON devotees.
Chaddar - A cotton or woollen shawl worn by men and women.
Chaitanya - The founder of Bengali Vaishnavism; one of the medieval saints.
Chakra - The disk weapon usually associated with Vishnu, and one of his four symbols.
Chanakya - A brahmana, advisor to King Chandragupta, who wrote on statecraft and popular wisdom.
Chandra - The Moon; the presiding deity of the Moon. Also known as Soma.
Chappati - A round unleavened bread toasted on a skillet and then puffed over an open flame.
Charaka Samhitas - One of the texts explaining the science of Ayurveda.
Charanamrita - The water collected from the feet of the murti after bathing, and later sipped by worshippers.
Charvaka - Scholar who proposed that the purpose of life is to obtain ghee (i.e. good food by any means) and enjoy.
Daksha - One of the chief progenitors; father of Sati, Shiva's wife, who killed herself by self-invoked mystic fire.
Dalit - "the oppressed"; a title assumed by the class previously called "untouchables."
Damayanti - Wife of Nala and one of the famous women of Hinduism.
Danda - Staff, particularly as carried by the sannyasi.
Dandiya rasa - A Gujarati stick dance at Navaratri.
Darshan - Literally "seeing"; the act of taking audience of the deity or a holy person.
Dasa Kuta - A Vaishnava tradition centred around Pandapur in Maharastra.
Dasanam - "ten names"; the ten orders of sannyasa founded by Adi Shankara.
Dasharatha - The father of Rama.
Dayananda Sarasvati - Founder of the Arya Samaj.
Deva - God; sometimes translated demigod. God is often called Deva-deva, "gods of gods." Devi means "goddess."
Devanagari - "used in the cities of the demigods"; it refers to the Sanskrit script.
Devi - "goddess"; used to refer to any female deity, but most specifically Shakti, wife of Shiva.
Devi Bhagavat Purana - Perhaps the second most popular Purana; it includes the stories of Shakti.
Devi Purana - Another Purana dealing largely with the Goddess.
Dhanvantari - Incarnation of Vishnu who appeared out of the Milk Ocean and gave humankind the science of medicine.
Dharma - The religious duties that sustain humans and all living beings.
Dharma Shastra - The law-books of Hinduism dealing with morality and the judiciary.
Dhoti - A piece of cloth about four-metres long and worn by Hindu men to cover the loins and legs.
Diwali - The festival of lights (October/November). For most Hindus it heralds the New Year.
Doshas - The three bodily humours which constitute the conceptual basis of Ayurvedic medicine.
Draupadi - The common wife of all five Pandava princes, and heroine of the Mahabharata.
Durga - A warlike form of Devi, usually with many arms carrying weapons and riding on a lion.
Dussehra - The festival that celebrates the victory of Rama over the evil Ravana.
Dvaita - Dvaita (dualism) – the theology that the soul and God are different, specifically as taught by Madhva.
Dvapara-yuga - The third age in every cycle of four ages (yugas). It ended some 5,000 years ago.
Dvaraka - A holy spot in Maharastra, on the West coast of India. Krishna lived there as a king.
Dvija bandu - "friends of the twice-born"; those born in the three higher varnas but who fall from the standards.
Ganapati - A name of Ganesh, the elephant-headed son of Shiva.
Gandharvas - Residents of the heavenly planets who are particularly expert in singing and music.
Ganesh - One of the two sons of Shiva. He has a rotund body and an elephant's head.
Ganesh Caturthi - The festival that celebrates Ganesh's birthday (on the fourth day of the waxing moon).
Ganga - The River Ganges, held by many to be the most sacred; name of the river goddess.
Garba - A form of circular dance from Gujarat and popular at Navaratri.
Garba griha - The inner sanctum of the temple.
Gaudiya Vaishnavas - The Bengali worshippers of Vishnu (specifically Radha and Krishna together).
Gautama - An ancient rishi (sage), often considered one of the principal sapta (seven) rishis.
Gaya - A pilgrimage place in Bihar, especially important for offering rites to the departed.
Gayatri - The mantra chanted thrice daily by brahmanas; a wife of Brahma.
Giddha - A Punjabi dance performed by women.
Godavari - One of the seven most holy rivers, in Central India.
Gopuram - Gateway to temples, especially in the South; they are often decorated with ornate figurines.
Gorakhnatha - Important historical figure amongst the Nathapatnis sect of Shaivas.
Gotra - Dynasty originating with one of the seven great rishis (sages of old).
Govardhana - The famous hill lifted by child Krishna.
Govinda - A name for Krishna meaning, "one who gives pleasure to the cows and the senses."
Grihasta - A person in the second stage of life; the householder.
Guna - Literally "rope." It refers to the three material qualities that pervade and control matter.
Guru - A spiritual teacher; a regular teacher may also be called guru.
Gurukula - The school of the guru. A traditional Hindu school.
Hanuman - The monkey-like deity; he is a devotee of Rama, but also worshiped in his own right.
Hanuman Jayanti - The birthday festival of Hanuman.
Harappa - One of two walled cities unearthed in the 1920s; evidence apparently supported the Aryan invasion theory.
Haridvara - An important pilgrimage site on the banks of the River Ganges.
Harijanas - "the people of God"; a term used by Gandhi to denote what some call the "fifth varna," the untouchables.
Havan - The sacred fire ceremony dating back to Vedic times, but still used in many ceremonies/rites of passage.
Hitopadesha - A text containing moral stories; considered part of the Dharma Shastra.
Holi - The spring festival in which participants throw coloured water and powders over each other.
Homa - Another name for havan
Hrishikesh - A pilgrimage spot on the River Ganges in the Himalayan foothills.
Indra - The deity in charge of rain; he was most prominent during the Vedic Period.
Indus - River now in Pakistan, from whose name the words Hindu and Hinduism are apparently derived.
Ishvara - Literally "controller." It refers to a deity, or the Supreme Deity.
Itihasa - "history." The Mahabharata and Ramayana constitute the two Itihasas.
Jaimini - The founder of the Mimamsa school (one of the six darshans).
Janaka - Legendary King of Mithila and father of Sita, Rama's consort.
Janmashtami - The birthday festival of Krishna, falling on the eigth day (asta) of the dark moon.
Japa - The practice of reciting mantras quietly or silently on prayer beads.
Jatakarma - A name for the rite of passage performed just after a child's birth.
Jati - Sub-castes, or occupational sub-groups, which form part of the caste system.
Jnana - Knowledge. Jnana-yoga is the path of wisdom, one of the four main spiritual processes.
Jnana-kanda - One of three broad sections of the Vedic literature. It deals with knowledge.
Kabir - The medieval bhakti saint who is revered by Hindu, Muslims, and Sikhs.
Kaivalya - Realisation of "oneness" with God and a spiritual identity beyond the subtle and gross bodies.
Kajal - Kohl (or kajal) – mascara. Also called "anjana."
Kalasha - A waterpot, an auspicious symbol used in many rituals.
Kali - A fierce form of Devi.
Kali-yuga - The fourth age, the iron age or age of quarrel and hypocrisy.
Kalika Purana - An important Shakti text dedicated to the Goddess Kali.
Kalki - The last of the ten Vishnu incarnations. He appears on horseback, wielding a sword, at the end of Kali-Yuga.
Kama - Lust and gratification of the senses.
Kanada - Founder of one of the six orthodox systems, namely Vaisheshika (atomic theory).
Kanchipuram - Important centre of Shri Vaishnavism in South India.
Kanyakumari - A holy site on the southern tip of India and connected with Goddess Parvati .
Kapila - The founder of Sanhkya, one of the six main philosophies and dealing with physics and metaphysics.
Kapila Muni - Founder of the school (darshan) of Sankhya.
Karma - Literally "action," but often used to imply "reaction," as in "the law of karma."
Karma kanda - One of the three broad divisions of Hindu scriptures. It deals with rituals for material elevation.
Karma-yoga - The yoga of selfless action. One of the four main yogas, also called the four margs (paths).
Kartikeya - A name of Murugan, one of the two sons of Shiva and Parvati.
Kashi - Another name for the city of Varanasi.
Kathak - A classical dance school of Northern India.
Kathakali - A form of dance-drama from South India that features elaborate costumes and face masks.
Kauravas - The descendants of King Kuru. It specifically refers to the cousins of the Pandavas and their allies.
Kaveri - One of the seven main holy rivers flowing through the sacred town of Shri Rangam in South India.
Kedarnatha - An important Shaiva shrine in the Himalayas.
Kirtan - "glorification." It usually refers to the chanting of mantra to musical accompaniment.
Konarak - Site on the east coast of India famous for its ancient temple dedicated to the Sun.
Koshala - The kingdom of Rama, of which Ayodhya is the capital.
Kshatriya - Literally "one who protects"; member of the second varna; a warrior-administrator.
Kumbha Mela - Mela means "fair"; kumbha means "pot."A huge gathering that takes place every three years.
Kunti - The Pandavas' mother. She was the sister of Vasudeva, Krsna's father. Her own father, Surasena, had given her as a baby to his close friend King Kuntibhoja, who had no children. She was named Prtha at birth, but became better known as Kunti after being raised by Kuntibhoja.
Kurta - A loose fitting collarless shirt worn by men. Usually made of cotton or silk.
Kuru - Dynasty in which the Pandavas appeared. The term is specifically used to refer to their wicked cousins.
Kurukshetra - The site of the great eighteen-day war described in the Mahabharata.
Kuvera - The deity who is considered "the treasurer of the demigods."
Lakshman - The brother of Rama who went with him to the forest. He is worshipped with Sita, Rama, and Hanuman.
Lakshmi - The goddess of fortune. She is the eternal consort of Vishnu.
Linga - A vertical stone column worshipped as a form of Shiva. It represents him as the supreme male principle.
Lingayats - A popular South Indian Shaiva tradition. Members wear a small linga around their necks.
Madhva - Vaishnava theologian who founded his own disciplic succession and taught a highly dualistic theology.
Maha Shiva Ratri - The night festival celebrating Shiva's marriage to Parvati.
Maha-yuga - "great age"; a complete cycle of four ages lasting a total of 4,320,000 years.
Mahabharata - Literally "the History of Greater India." One of the two Epics and the longest known poem.
Mahadeva - A name of lord Shiva, meaning "great god."
Mandir - Temple.
Mandodari - Celebrated wife of Ravana. She was loyal to her husband but urged him to return Sita to Rama.
Manjira - Small hand cymbals used in singing hymns and mantras.
Manu - A demigod considered the ruling deity of mankind. The Manu Smriti is attributed to him.
Manu Smriti - An important and ancient text, the "codebook for mankind"; the principal Dharma Shastra.
Mataji - "respected mother"; a form of address for any lady, but also an affectionate name for Devi.
Mathura - An ancient town and the birthplace of Krishna. It is one of the seven ancient cities of India.
Matsya - The first of the ten incarnations of Vishnu. He appeared during the great flood to save the Vedas.
Maya - "that which is not," or illusion. An important concept that describes the illusory nature of this world.
Mimamsa - Literally "enquiry". One of the six darshans, though Vedanta is also called the "later school of enquiry."
Mirabai - A famous woman saint whose poems and songs are still popular today.
Moghul - The Muslim dynasty that ruled much of India from 1526 until about 1857.
Moksha - Liberation, specifically from the bondage of repeated birth and death.
Mridanga - Literally "body of clay"; a two-headed drum, used in religious music more than in classical.
Mrigari - A vicious hunter who turned saint and demonstrated the principal of ahimsa, non-violence.
Mundan - The head-shaving ceremony, one of the main rites of passage for children.
Murari Babu - Popular saint famous for his public recitations on the Ramayana.
Murugan - A name for Kartikeya, particularly popular in South India.
Naga - The serpentine residents of the subterranean heavenly planets who are sometimes worshipped.
Namakarana - The name-giving ceremony performed shortly after birth.
Namaskara - "I pay my obeisance unto you" – a term of greeting usually accompanied with folded palms.
Namaste - An alternative for "namaskara."
Namdev - Poet-saint appearing in the Das Kuta Vaishnava tradition.
Narada - Famous rishi (sage) who acts as the messenger of the devas (gods). He wrote several important texts.
Narayana - A name of Vishnu, particularly his form in the spiritual realm.
Narmada - One of the seven sacred rivers, flowing in central India.
Nasik - Pilgrimage town on the River Godavari; site of one of the smaller Kumbha Melas.
Nastika - "unorthodox"; generally refers to schools which reject the Vedic canon, such as Buddhism and Jainism.
Nataraja - "the king of dancers"; a name for Lord Shiva, especially as he dances to destroy the material cosmos.
Nathapatnis - Prominent sect of Shaiva ascetics.
Nathdwar - Town in Gujarat focused on the worship of Krishna; an important centre for the Pushti Marg tradition.
Nathji - A form of Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill. The main deity now resides in the town of Nathdwar, Gujarat.
Natya Shastra - Text on dance and the performing arts written by the sage Bharata Muni.
Nava-rasa - The nine "moods" of music as codified and explained by Bharata Muni. Rasa means "taste" or "flavour."
Navaratri - Literally "nine-nights." The festival in honour of Devi usually celebrated in the evenings with dance.
Nayanars - Shaivite poet-saints of Southern India who flourished in South India between about 700 and 1000 CE.
Nimbarka - A theologian and founder of one of the four Vaishnava sampradayas (disciplic successions).
Niti Shastra - Books of popular wisdom; they include the Hitopadesh, the Panchatantra and the Chanakya Shloka.
Nitya - Eternal; the five "nitya karmas" refer to the five duties that cannot be given up.
Nrisimhadeva - The half-man/half-lion incarnation of Vishnu who saved his devotee, Prahlada.
Nyaya - Logic, and one of the six orthodox schools of thought (darshans).
Om - Om (Aum) – the most important mantra for Hindus, often considered to represent the Supreme.
Padma - Lotus, an important symbol. it is often used metaphorically to describe beauty e.g. lotus eyes, or lotus feet.
Panchama - "the fifth varna," the untouchable class. Panch means five.
Panchatantra - A anthology of fables featuring mainly animals as heroes and villains.
Pandapur - Most important centre for the Das Kuta Vaishnava sampradaya in Maharastra.
Pandu - Emperor of Greater India, husband of Kunti and father of Arjuna and his four brothers.
Papa - Sin, or activities that degrade.
Paramatman - The Superself, or Supersoul. God situated within the heart.
Parashara - Great sage, the father of Vyasa (Badarayana). He wrote many of the core texts on astrology.
Parashurama - The sixth incarnation of Vishnu.With his axe he destroyed the irreligious members of the royalty.
Parvati - The wife of Shiva, and daughter of the Himalayas. A benign form of Devi.
Patanjali - Author of the yoga sutras and founder of the corresponding darshan (school of thought).
Pradakshina - Circumambulation, an important feature of worship.
Pradhana - The unmanifest stage of matter (prakriti).
Prajapati - "progenitor"; the higher beings who were responsible for populating the world.
Prakriti - Material energy in its manifest state.
Pramukhi Swami - Current spiritual head of the Swami Narayana Mission.
Pranam - Obeisance, usually offered by placing together the palms and bowing the head.
Prasad - Literally "mercy." It refers to any item sanctified by offering to God, most often sanctified food.
Pratyaksa - Direct perception; one means of obtaining knowledge.
Pravachan - A talk or lecture on spiritual subjects; for some, an important act of worship.
Prayag - Site of the Maha (great) Kumbha Mela every twelve years.
Prema - Love, specifically of God; an important term within the bhakti traditions.
Puja - Ritualistic worship, most often of the installed murti.
Punya - Pious activities; actions that elevate the soul.
Purana - Literally "very old." The texts containing the many popular religious stories, sometimes called myths.
Puri - (1) a flat bread fried in oil or ghee, (2) a holy town in Orissa on the East Coast of India.
Purohit - A priest who performs ritualistic ceremonies; often a brahminical surname also.
Purusha - Person, specifically male. Sometimes used to refer to the soul and sometimes God.
Purusha Shukta - Prayer about creation found in the Rig Veda.
Purva Mimamsa - "the earlier school of enquiry," often called simply Mimamsa (one of the six darshans).
Pushti marg - "the path of nourishment"; the process followed by the mainly Gujarati followers of Vallabha.
Radha - The chief of the gopi girlfriends of Krishna. Vaishnavas often consider her part of the Godhead.
Raga - A particular musical scale used in classical music, which is usually played impromptu.
Raja - "king." Often kings and holy men are addressed as "Maharaja" – "great king."
Raja yoga - Raja (astanga) yoga – one of the four main yogas, the path of meditation and mystic power.
Raja-guna - The second of the three material qualities; the quality of passion or ambition, exemplified by royalty.
Rajas - An abbreviated form of raja-guna (see above).
Rajneesh - Late guru who attracted many Western disciples; also known as Osho.
Rajputs - A name for the warriors (kshatriyas) from Rajastan.
Raksha Bandana - One of the main festivals when sisters tie a rakhi, bracelet, on the wrist of their brothers.
Rakshasa - A race of man-eaters known for their ability to change form.
Rama Carita Manas - A popular version of the Ramayana written in Hindi by Tulsidas.
Rama rajya - "the reign of Rama," adopted by many Hindu reformers as a symbol of the social ideal.
Ramakrishna - A famous spiritual teacher from Bengal.
Ramanuja - One of the most important Vaishnava theologians, and founder of Shri Vaishnavism.
Ramayana - "the journey of Rama"; the shorter of the two Hindu Epics.
Rameshbai Oza - Popular speaker who offers public recitations, mainly from the Bhagavat Purana.
Rameshvaram - An important pilgrimage site in South India.
Rangoli - A pattern made by Hindu ladies and girls, mainly in South India.
Rantideva - A legendary king famous for his hospitality.
Rasa - Literally "juice"; refers to the relationships defined in the performing arts and later in ontological theology.
Rasa-lila - The dance that Krishna performs with his girlfriends, the gopis (cowherd girls).
Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sanga - An influential cultural organisation with nationalistic tendencies.
Ratha-yatra - A chariot (ratha) festival originally from Puri but now popular in many cities world-wide.
Ravana - A king of the Rakshasas. He lived on Shri Lanka, kidnapped Sita and was killed by Rama.
Rig Veda - The foremost and possibly earliest of the four Vedas.
Rishi - Sage; specifically the seven great sages of ancient times.
Rudra - An angry form of Shiva, particularly prevalent during the Vedic period.
Sabji - A preparation made from vegetables, usually spiced.
Sadhana - Spiritual discipline, such as chanting mantras, observing vows, etc.
Sadharana Dharma - General moral duties for all members of Hindu society.
Sadhu - A pious or saintly person. Often used to refer to sannyasis.
Sahajanand Swami - Founder of the Swami Narayana Mission, considered by many followers an incarnation of God.
Sama Veda - One of the four Vedas; it explains the melodies to be used in ritual sacrifice.
Samadhi - The final stage of yoga, when the mind is perfectly focused on one point.
Samhita - One of the four sections of the Vedas.
Sampradaya - A disciplic succession, a line of gurus and disciples for disseminating spiritual knowledge.
Samsara - The perpetual cycle of birth and death. The process of suffering in this way.
Samskara - "mental impression"; it refers to the various rites of passage.
Sanatana-dharma - The eternal religion, the eternal function of the soul; often preferred to the term "Hinduism."
Sanatanist - Those who believe in sanatana-dharma; used often today to denote eclectic worship instead of sectarian.
Sankhya - One of the six darshans; it analyses matter in detail and also identifies the atman beyond matter.
Sarasvati - Goddess of learning and the arts; also a sacred river, now dried up; some say it still runs underground.
Saree - The most popular traditional dress for Hindu women.
Sati - One incarnation of Shiva's wife, Parvati. After her, the act of a wife's entering the funeral pyre of her husband.
Sattva-guna - The highest of the three material qualities, characterised by goodness.
Satya-yuga - The first of the four universal ages; also called Krita-Yuga.
Satyagraha - "grasping the truth"; a term coined by Gandhi whilst in South Africa.
Savitri - A young lady immortalised for her devotion towards her husband.
Seva - Service, a key Hindu principle/value; the soul's sanatana-dharma, fully expressed through bhakti.
Shabda - "sound"; shabda brahman means "spiritual sound," often considered the best means of obtaining knowledge.
Shaiva - Shaiva/Shaivite – a worshipper of Shiva.
Shaiva Siddhanta - Personalistic school of Shaivism, prevalent in South India.
Shakta - A follower of Shakti, the goddess.
Shakti - A generic term to refer to the female deity, especially the consort of Shiva.
Shariraka Bhasya - Commentary on the Vedanta Sutras by Shankara.
Shastra - Scripture; used particularly of some texts e.g. the dharma-shastras.
Shibi - Legendary king renowned for his self-sacrifice and ideal leadership.
Shilpa Shastra - One of the four Upavedas, dealing with architecture.
Shiva - One of the trimurti, three principal deities. He is in charge of tama-guna. Some consider him the Supreme.
Shravana Kumar - A legendary boy celebrated for his devotion to his elderly parents.
Shri Vaishnavas - One of the four main Vaishnava sampradayas, headed by Shri (another name for Lakshmi).
Shuddhadvaita - "qualified non-dualism," the philosophy expounded by Ramanuja and his sampradaya.
Shudra - The fourth varna; a member of that varna, an artisan or labourer.
Siddhi - "perfection"; refers specifically to the eight mystic powers, such as the ability to become very light.
Siksha - Formal initiation taken from a guru (spiritual teacher).
Sindhu - An important river now in Pakistan and called the Indus. Some believe that Hinduism had its roots here.
Sita - The wife of Rama and heroine of the Ramayana.
Skanda - One of the two sons of Shiva and Parvati; also called Murugan, Kartikeya, and Subrahmaniam.
Smartas - One of the four main denominations; they worship five deities.
Smriti - "that which is remembered"; the second category within the Hindu texts.
Soma - A name for the Moon. Also, a celestial beverage used in Vedic sacrifice.
Somnath - Important place of pilgrimage for Shaivas, in Gujarat.
Sri Bhasya - Commentary on the Vedanta Sutras by Ramanuja.
Sri Lanka - The island reputed in the Ramayana to have been the kingdom of the tyrant Ravana.
Sri Rangam - Centre for one of the two main branches of the Shri (Vaishnava) Sampradaya.
Sri Sampradaya - The preceptoral succession in which Ramanuja appeared and headed by Lakshmi.
Sruti - "that which has been heard"; one of the two main sections of Vedic texts and considered of divine origin.
Surdas - A blind musician famous for his songs, mainly in praise of Krishna.
Surya - The Sun, worshipped by the Smarta traditions and also by the chanting of the Gayatri-mantra.
Sushruta Samhita - Text yielding much information on Ayurvedic medicine.
Sutra - Literally "thread"; an aphorism that can be unpacked almost unlimitedly to yield profound truths.
Svastika - A popular Hindu symbol which was unfortunately adopted by the Nazis.
Svetashvatara Upanishad - One of the Upanishads, considered canonical for many Shaivites.
Swami - "controller" – a title used for sannyasis, who must control their senses. Goswami is an alternative.
Swami Narayana Mission - A Vaishnava sampradaya, very popular amongst Gujarati Hindus in the India.
Tamah-guna - The lowest of the three material qualities, typified by ignorance, darkness, and inertia.
Tamas - A shortened version of tamah-guna (see above).
Tansen - Famous musician; one of the "nine jewels" of the court of Emperor Akbar.
Tantra - (1) A form of ritualistic Hinduism in which Shakti is worshipped, often together with Shiva. (2) A category of texts, usually connected to goddess worship.
Tilak - A clay mark applied to the forehead and denoting the particular affiliation of the worshipper.
Tirtha - Literally "ford." A holy place, where one can cross over to the other side i.e. attain liberation.
Tirthayatra - Pilgrimage
Tirupati - A holy place in Andhra Pradesh. The temple of Venkata is perhaps the wealthiest in the world.
Tithi - The lunar day, a thirtieth part of the lunar month, by which festival dates are calculated.
Treta-yuga - The second cosmic age in the cycle of four.
Trimurti - The three main deities, Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the sustainer), and Mahesh, or Shiva (the destroyer).
Trishul - A trident, the emblem associated with Siva and carried by many sannyasis devoted to him.
Tukarama - A bhakti saint of Maharastra in Western India.
Tulsi - A plant sacred to Vaishnavas, and from which their beads are usually made.
Tulsidas - A bhakti saint famous for his rendering of the Ramayana.
Upamana - Analogy; in nyaya it is considered one of the four means of attaining knowledge.
Upanayana - "coming near," referring to the sacred thread initiation ceremony
Upanishad - One of the four sections of the Vedas.They are highly philosophical and identified with Vedanta
Upasana - A generic word for worship
Upasana kanda - "the worship section"; one of the three broad categories of scriptural content.
Upavedas - Four texts, supplementary to the Vedas and explaining traditional arts and sciences.
Utsava - Festival or celebration; one of the five nitya-karmas (essential duties).
Uttara Mimamsa - "the later school of enquiry"; another name for Vedanta.
Vaidika Dharma - Alternative to the term "Hinduism"; it denotes the followers of the Vedas and their supplements.
Vaikunthaloka - "the place of no anxiety"; a name for the abode of Vishnu; the Kingdom of God.
Vaisheshika - One of the six darshans, atomic theory as propounded by Kanada.
Vaishnavas - The worshippers of Vishnu; generally accepted as the biggest of the four main denominations.
Vaishno Devi - Sacred cave dedicated to the three goddesses, Lakshmi, Kali, and Sarasvati.
Vaishya - A member of the third varna, the farming and mercantile community.
Vali - Varana (monkey) king and brother of Sugriva; killed by Rama for stealing Sugriva's wife.
Vallabha - (1) Founder of the Pushti Marg sampradaya, popular amongst many Gujaratis. (2) Theologian who founded the Pushti Marg sampradaya and taught the doctrine of purified monism.
Valmiki - The criminal-turned-sage who wrote the original Ramayana.
Vamana - The fifth of the ten incarnations of Vishnu. He appeared as a brahmana dwarf to trick King Bali.
Vanaprashta - The third order of life, or a member of that ashrama, the forest dweller.
Varanasi - Perhaps the most famous holy town, on the Ganges. It is also called Kashi and Benares.
Varna - The largest social unit, originally as part of a meritocracy but now usually based on birth.
Varnashrama Dharma - Social system with different duties allocated to four classes and four stages in life.
Varuna - God of the waters, akin to Neptune. More prominent during the Vedic period.
Vasista - One of the seven great rishis; he had an ongoing dispute with Vishvamitra.
Vastu - The science of sacred space, equivalent to the Chinese Feng-Shui.
Vayu - The deity in charge of air and the wind. His offspring, such as Hanuman, tend to be physically very strong.
Veda - Literally "knowledge"; specifically one of the four shruti texts that form the basis of sacred Hindu literature.
Vedangas - Texts supplementary to the four Vedas.
Vedanta - The conclusion of the Vedas; one of the six darshans, often considered the most respectable.
Vedanta Sutra - Important aphorisms containing the essence of Hindu theology.
Vedic - Connected to, or derived from, the Vedas. Specifically, the period when the four Vedas were compiled.
VHP - Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) – a movement aimed at bringing about worldwide co-operation between Hindus.
Vidura - Saintly brother of Pandu and Dhritarastra, and well-wisher of the five Pandavas.
Vikrama - A famous king after whom some Hindus date the years (i.e. according to the "Vikrama era").
Vishishtadvaita - The doctrine of "qualified non-dualism" propounded by Ramanuja.
Vishnu - One of the trimurti; the sustainer. Often identified with the Supreme Deity.
Vishnuswami - Forerunner of Vallabha and founder of one of the four Vaishnava sampradayas.
Vishvamitra - Although born in a kshatriya family, he became a powerful brahmana.
Vishvanatha - A name of Shiva; the most important temple in Varanasi.
Vithobha - Another name for Vitthala (see below).
Vitthala - A famous form of Vishnu in the Maharastriyan town of Pandharpur.
Vivaha - The wedding ceremony, one of the important rites of passage.
Vivekananda - Disciple of Ramakrishna who widely popularised Advaita Vedanta and propounded a neo-Hinduism.
Vraj - The region around Mathura and Vrindavana, especially sacred to the worshippers of Krishna.
Vrata - Vow; women especially take vows, often related to fasting. Vows are also taken at initiation.
Vrindavana - An important holy town close to Mathura and the place of Krishna's childhood and youth.
Vyasa - Also called Badarayana; an important sage credited with writing many important texts.
Yajna - Ritual sacrifice, prevalent during the Vedic age but still performed today especially through the havan.
Yajnavalkya - Sage and author of some important texts which form part of the Dharma Shastra.
Yajur Veda - One of the four Vedas.
Yama - The deity in charge of death and the awarding of punishment to the sinful. Also called Dharma-raja.
Yamuna - Atributary of the Ganga, it flows through Vrindavana and is especially sacred to Krishna worshippers.
Yoga - Union, most specifically with the Supreme; any practice aimed at such realisation.
Yogi - One who performs yoga.The feminine is sometimes "yogini."