Hindu Terms



Brahma – an important god; supreme power in the universe

Vishnu – an important god; the preserver of life

Shiva – an important god; the destroyer of ignorance

hereditary – passed on by reason of birth

caste system – one of the hereditary social classes in Hinduism that restricts the occupations of their members and their associations with members of other castes

Brahmins -highest caste group (priests, scholars, etc.)

Untouchables – members of a large hereditary group in India that many believed would defile (make unclean) members of higher castes if social contact was permitted  (NOTE: Untouchables are not segregated from society as they previously were.)

dalit – Hindu word for “untouchables”; meaning oppressed

reincarnation – rebirth of a person’s soul during more than one life

Vedas – holy books

puja – Hindu worship



avatara (or avatar) – a divine descent or incarnation; Krishna and Ram are avataras of Vishnu

Bhagavad Gita– (often just Gita, which means song) – a section of the Mahabharata epic, often printed separately and esteemed as the greatest Hindu scripture

bhajan – a spiritual song, usually sung antiphonally (alternating between leader and group) and repetitiously

bhakta – a devotee; bhakti – devotion

bindi, tilak – the red dot worn by women on the forehead

dharma – duty; righteousness; order; that which sustains society; laws governing a person’s relationships and way of life in society to preserve proper order.

Dipavali or Diwali – The festival of lights, largest of the national religious holidays among Hindus, celebrated in the Fall.

guru – (sometimes called swami) – a teacher, in the highest spiritual sense often considered and treated as a god.

Hindi – official language of India (along with English), spoken primarily in the northern states.

karma – 1. in the general sense, good works; religious, moral and caste duties.  2. the principle that reward or punishment follows every deed.

mantra – a verse of Vedic scripture (but in popular use, a word or saying of mystic meaning that is considered to have great power)

om – mystic syllable without definition, often used at the beginning and end of a spiritual writing or meeting and in meditation

prasad – 1. grace  2. consecrated food that has been offered to a deity

sannyasi, sadhu – a holy man or woman.  Traditionally a sannyasi is the fourth and final stage of the life of a high caste Hindu man.  This is a stage for renunciation of everything earthly, including family ties, caste status and worship of idols–all in preparation for moving beyond this life into eternity.

Sanskrit- language of the Hindu scriptures, still spoken by some pandits (religious teachers)

Satsang – a spiritual meeting focused on truth and reality