Many proper names are listed under this glossary with the link reference. These include names of places, people, festivals, organisations, and sacred texts.


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.
Ahalya – wife of the sage Gautama, and one of the “five virtuous women.”
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 ,Ranji – 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.
Anuman – deduction or inference; one of the means of acquiring knowledge.
Antyesthi – the last rite of passage, the funeral.
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.
Arjuna – the third son of King Pandu. He heard the Bhagavad-gita from Krishna.
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, King – monarch who patronised Buddhism; under his influence it spread throughout much of India.
Ashrama – a place where spirituality is cultivated; also, stage of life (of which there are four).
Ashvattama – son of Drona, martial teacher of the five Pandavas; he notoriously slaughtered their sleeping sons.
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-gita – the Song of God, spoken by Krishna to Arjuna.
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.
Bhakti – the path of loving devotional service (also Bhakti-Yoga).
Bhakti-Yoga – the path of loving devotional service; also called bhakti marg.
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.
Birbal – the witty minister of Emperor Akbar; many legends have developed around his exploits.
Blavatski, Helena – Russian lady who co-founded the Theosophical Society.
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.
Brahmanas – one of the four main divisions in the Vedas themselves.
Brahmana – a member of the highest varna; a priest, teacher or intellectual.
Brahmo Samaj – the reform movement started by Rama Mohan Roy.
Brighu Muni – one of the seven ancient sages (rishis).


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.
Chidambaram – a Shaivite pilgrimage town, the state of Tamil Nadu.


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 popular in the UK 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.
Dhritarashtra – blind brother of King Pandu; his bias towards his own sons fostered the Kurukshetra conflict.
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.
Duryodhana – the first son of Dhritarashtra. His avarice caused the Kurukshetra War.
Dussehra – the festival that celebrates the victory of Rama over the evil Ravana.
Dvaita (dualism) – the theology that the soul and God are different, specifically as taught by Madhva.
Dvaraka – a holy spot in Maharastra, on the West coast of India. Krishna lived there as a king.
Dvapara-yuga – the third age in every cycle of four ages (yugas). It ended some 5,000 years ago.
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.
Golakwar, M. S. – former leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sanga (RSS).
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.
Hare Krishna – a popular mantra chanted by members of ISKCON, therefore called the Hare Krishna Movement.
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.
Hedgewar, K. V. – founder of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sanga (RSS).
Hindu Mahasabha – the political party established in 1909 and forerunner of many nationalistic movements.
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.
Indira Bettiji – a contemporary women guru of the Pushti-marg sampradaya.
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.
Jayadratha – notorious warrior who tried to kidnap Draupadi. He was slain by Arjuna during the Kurukshetra war.
Jiva – “that which lives”; a term for the individual soul, also called the “atman” or “jivatman.””
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.
Kalasha – a waterpot, an auspicious symbol used in many rituals.
Kali – a fierce form of Devi.
Kalika Purana – an important Shakti text dedicated to the Goddess Kali.
Kali-yuga – the fourth age, the iron age or age of quarrel and hypocrisy.
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).
Karna – tragic anti-hero of the Mahabharata. At Kurukshetra he fought against his step-brothers, the Pandavas.
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.
Keshab Chandra Sena – reformer who spent some time with the Brahmo Samaj.
Kirtan – “glorification.” It usually refers to the chanting of mantra to musical accompaniment.
Kohl (or kajal) – mascara. Also called “anjana.”
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.
Krishna – a principal deity, usually considered an avatar of Vishnu. Many worship him as the Supreme.
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 wife of King Pandu and mother of the five Pandavas. One of the heroines of the Mahabharata.
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.
Madurai – an important temple in South India dedicated to Parvati.
Maha Shiva Ratri – the night festival celebrating Shiva’s marriage to Parvati.
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.””
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – leader of the Transcendental Meditation organisation established in the late 1960s.
Mahasabha – “great assembly”; the Hindu Mahasabha was established in 1909.
Maha-yuga – “great age”; a complete cycle of four ages lasting a total of 4,320,000 years.
Mahenjo Daro – one of two walled cities unearthed during archaeological excavations in the 1920s.
Mahesh – another name of Shiva.
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.
Mohan Malaviha – member of the Arya Samaj and co-founder of the Hindu Mahasabha.
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.
Nasik – pilgrimage town on the River Godavari; site of one of the smaller Kumbha Melas.
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.
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 (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,”
Puri – (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 (astanga) yoga – one of the four main yogas, the path of meditation and mystic power.
Raja – “king.” Often kings and holy men are addressed as “Maharaja” – “great king.”
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 – usually considered the seventh avatar of Vishnu (or sometimes of Krishna). Also called Ramachandra.
Rama Carita Manas – a popular version of the Ramayana written in Hindi by Tulsidas.
Rama Mohan Roy – the founder of the Arya Samaj, one of the most important reform movements.
Rama Nama Satya Hai – a mantra often chanted at funerals and meaning “the name of Rama is truth.”,
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.
Satyagraha – “grasping the truth”; a term coined by Gandhi whilst in South Africa.
Satya-yuga – the first of the four universal ages; also called Krita-Yuga.
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 Siddhanta – personalistic school of Shaivism, prevalent in South India.
Shaivite – a worshipper of Shiva.
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.
Shree Vallabha Nidhi – UK organisation following the path of Pushti Marg.
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.
Shri Vaishnavas – one of the four main Vaishnava sampradayas, headed by Shri (another name for Lakshmi).
Srikantha – 13th century Shaivite theologian.
Sripati – 14th century Shaivite theologian.
Sruti – “that which has been heard”; one of the two main sections of Vedic texts and considered of divine origin.
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.
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 UK.


Tagore, Devendranatha – prominent Bengali reformer and father of the poet and writer, Rabindranatha.
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 – a form of ritualistic Hinduism in which Shakti is worshipped, often together with Shiva OR a category of texts, usually connected to goddess worship.
Tara – wife of Vali; one of the five “virtuous women” of Hinduism.
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.


Udupi – sacred town in South India and headquarters of the Madhva sampradaya.
Ujjain – one of the four sites of the Kumbha Mela; it is on the River Shipra.
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.
Vallabha – founder of the Pushti Marg sampradaya, popular amongst many Gujaratis.
Vallabha – theologian who founded the Pushti Marg sampradaya and taught the doctrine of purified monism.
Vali – Varana (monkey) king and brother of Sugriva; killed by Rama for stealing Sugriva’s wife.
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.
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.
Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) – a movement aimed at bringing about worldwide co-operation between Hindus.
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 – a tributary 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.”
Yudhisthira – eldest of the five Pandava brothers and later emperor of greater India .