The religious life of many Hindus is focused on devotion to God (perceived as Brahman, Shiva, Vishnu, or Shakti) or several gods. This devotion usually takes the form of rituals associated with sculptures and images of gods in home shrines.
More philosophically-minded Hindus ignore the gods altogether and seek Realization of the Self through intense meditation. Still others focus primarily on fulfilling the social and moral duties appropriate to their position in life.
These various approaches are regarded as equally valid, and in fact are formally recognized as three paths (margas) to liberation: bhaktimarga (the path of devotion), jnanamarga (the path of knowledge or philosophy), and karmamarga (the path of works and action).
Hindu religious practices center on the importance of fulfilling the duties associated both with one’s social position and one’s stage of life. With regard to the latter, traditional Hindus are expected to pass through four stages (ashramas) over the course of their life:
- brahmacharga, which takes place during the school years, is focused on acquiring knowledge and developing character;
- grastha, the middle years, is focused on worldly pursuits and pleasures such as marriage, family and career;
- vanaprastha, when one’s children reach adulthood, is a time of increased focus on spiritual things; and
- sanngasu, in the last years of life, one may abandon the world entirely for a life of contemplation.
All stages of life for the Hindu, however, involve religious rituals and practices. Some of the major Hindu practices are described in the articles below.