The word “Hindu” originates from the Persian term for “Indian,” and Hinduism is the religion of the peoples of India. However, an exact definition is not simple. Hinduism is a vast subject and an elusive concept. It has neither founder nor creed. But it has some scriptures, the oldest of which, Rig-veda, is fundamental in understanding Hinduism in its entirety. The Hindus are about seven-hundred million. They are found especially in India, but also in other countries. In order to emancipate itself from the cycle of the reincarnations, Hinduism has approximately three instruments: Philosophy or knowledge, the practice of religion, and devotion.
Hinduism is a way of life. It is a path of laws to be followed on the inside of a society arranged by God. There are four great classes: the priests (bramins) , the nobles (kshatriya), the merchants or peasants (vyshya), and the manual laborers (shudra).
All classes are divided in various casts or subclasses, each one of which has its own duties.
For the educated Hindus, the minor gods have an importance similar to that of the saints and angels in Catholic Christianity. Popular Hinduism can be divided in three branches or sects: Vishnu, Shiva, and Shakti.
Shakti (bride of Shiva) is first of all the divine creative energy, and through it is explained the action of a main masculine deity in the world. Shakti is nothing else than the mythical hypostasis of the feminine principle, adapted by name to the different historical-religious contexts. In the cult of the god Shiva, Shakti assumes more frequently the names of Kali and Durga. It is through the veneration of the feminine component of the deity –because of its “creative force,” which is a reflection of the ancient cults of the mother goddess—that the dichotomy between the transcendence of the god and his earthly immanence is overcome. In fact, the masculine god Shiva acts in the world through his spouse Durga or Kali.
HOW TO SPEAK ABOUT MARY
For its followers, Shakti, the Great Mother, is the supreme deity. In the tame version, Shakti appears as a young and beautiful woman, who is benevolent towards her followers even though she can use her ire against sinners. In order to present Mary, we can start the dialogue with this goddess, Shakti. But one has to distinguish the difference between Mary and many gods of Hinduism.