Sanatana Dharma: An Introduction

We, the Hindus, do not have a single book on religion like Bible, Quran or Guru Granth Sahib with finalised general guidance regarding lifestyle, rituals and religious activities. So we are confused. The Vedas are such books guiding us everything about the way of life. Our religion is known as Sanatana Dharma (Sanātana Dharma, सनातन धर्म) meaning thereby it’s eternal – permanent – timeless – never changing (Sanatana) ancient law-abiding religion (Dharma) – the righteous living.
Dharma (धर्म) is a natural law of duty and ethics telling everything about the way of life and social welfare.
So, Sanatana Dharma speaks about Hinduism and shows us Dharma (righteousness), Karma (action) and After-death life or re-birth (reincarnation).

It is the oldest religion, having details by Shruti (श्रुति) heard from Gods and told by the teacher to pupils and told by chanting, or by Smruti (स्मृति) memorised and remembered as it is.

We have four Vedas telling all this.

Veda means knowledge that is known.  
  1. Rigveda: First and oldest having 10600 mantras in 1020 shlokas in 10 manuals. It gives knowledge of everything related to life, including Gayatri Mantra and such prayers. 
  2. Yajurveda: Written in poetry and articles, it tells different formalities Karmakand (कर्मकाण्ड)
  3. Samaveda: Details about music and singing
  4. Atharvaveda: Medical knowledge of disease and treatment, duties of the king and people, and magic etc. 
We have Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas and other books also. Now let us know and understand the basics of Sanatana Dharma!

Four Ashramas

Our traditions have rationalised and clearly explained the way of life throughout different stages of life from infancy, childhood, youth, adulthood to old age. Assuming they considered average life to be a century, it was divided into four of twenty-five years each.

They assigned a distinct name and duties to each of these stages: 
  1. Brahmacharya: the stage of studentship 
  2. Grihasthya: the stage of house holdership 
  3. Vanaprastha: the stage of seclusion and the forest-dwelling 
  4. Sanyasa: the stage of total renunciation (i.e. asceticism) 
Let us look into the details, one by one:
  1. Brahmacharya (up to 25 years of age): The life of studentship begins with the Upanayana ceremony also known as the thread ceremony. This is called the “Second birth” because disciplined life of hard and simple habits begin. During this period, one has to rise early and bathe, eat moderately plain food, take plenty of exercise and be away from luxury and idleness. The student must strive for the virtues of industry, obedience, humility and serviceableness. Industriousness in the study gives them knowledge, obedience and humility. This lifts them quickly because all are willing to share what they have and serviceability builds up the nature that will serve humility. They are expected to remain celibate in mind and body, plus they must be chaste in thought and act. Living life like this teaches them all the lesions of life. 
  2. Garhasthya (25 to 50 years): This household stage is entered at marriage. The person takes duties and responsibilities of household life. A good husband, a good father, a good citizen and a good master is the noblest of men. The home is the school of unselfishness, compassion, tenderness, temperance, purity, helpfulness, prudence, industry, right Judgment and charity. Don’t escape but follow the household life – it is sacred. 
  3. Vanaprastha (50 to 75 years): When the signs of age appear and when the son can bear the full burden of his duties, it is time to surrender the leadership of home to son and to retire from active life and worldly labour. A quiet, somewhat scheduled life, given to study and self-sacrifice for the good of others make this third stage of life. 
  4. Sanyasa (75 to 100 years): Life has given all the experiences and the old age of technical life begins. Ascetic life characterised by severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence is added here with meditation and worship. 
Five Daily Sacrifices - Yagna (यज्ञ)

We have to do five sacrifices every day as follows:
  1. The sacrifice to Rishis or Vedas "Study and Teach": Study some sacred books daily and thus gradually acquire knowledge. All study is for carefulness and closeness of thought. Once you learn, pass on this knowledge by teaching. 
  2. The Sacrifice to Devas "Homa": Recognise all we owe to God, by offering for their services by homa (होम) – the offerings into the fire. We learn to be in harmony with nature and realize our relation with superphysical worlds and our interdependence. 
  3. The Sacrifice to Pitrus "Tapran": Tarpan is offering water to the older generations of our family and to our ancestors. This is recognition of the great debt we owe to the past and to our ancestors. 
  4. The Sacrifice to Men "Hospitality":  Feed someone poorer than oneself. We have a duty of serving and helping humanity by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless and comforting the sad. 
  5. The Sacrifice to Bhutas (Bhūta, भूत): Put some food on the ground before beginning the meal, put some food on the ground for vagrant men and animals. This is a practice of kindness and consideration towards them for their services to us. 
Thus, the sacrifices daily – Yagna – is because of Rishis, Pitrus, Devas, Bhutas and guests expect help from the householder and so we should give them.

Mannerism for Superiors, Equals and Inferiors

Sanatana Dharma defines all and guides about how to treat them differently.


God, sovereign, parents, teachers and the aged are our superiors. 
  1. Love to God shows itself as reverence, devotion, worship and submission to this will. 
  2. Loyalty to the head of the state and patriotism to love one’s own country are a must. 
  3. To the parents is due ever the most complete obedience. 
  4. The highest reverence is worth to two parents and teachers. and 
  5. He who habitually salutes and constantly pays reverence to the aged obtains an increase in length of life, knowledge, fame and strength. 

Brothers, sisters, husband and wife are equals. Well, husband and wife are one, not two. The home is not home; in truth, the wife is home! Where women are honoured, their Gods are pleased. For brothers, it is said, there is a heaven where my brothers are.


Interiors are those younger than ourselves, who are less educated, who are poorer and who are below in social rank. They should be treated with tenderness, compassion, gentlemanliness, kindness and without pride.

There are no riches in the three worlds like unto these – compassion, friendliness to all beings, charity, honour the worthy and give, but not ask. Let him speak the truth, let him speak the pleasing, let him not speak an unpleasing truth nor speak a pleasing falsehood.

Sixteen Sanskaras

Sanatana Dharma shows the way of life and has prescribed sixteen ceremonies or rites to be performed by its followers. These rites are known as Sanskaras (saṃskāra, संस्कार). The sole purpose is to help humans to conquer and purify them to bring the help of superiors and Gods. This improves their intelligence and purifies the atmosphere around them, making it easier for them to steady and concentrate their mind.

These rites have shown methods with material objects, gestures, postures, and sounds arranged carefully to bring about the desired result. For example, Mantras are a succession of sounds in a definite sequence and certain order. A 'rosary' (Tulsi mala, तुलसी माला) is used to worship Krishna but 'rudraksha' (rudrākṣa, रूद्राक्ष) is used to worship Mahadeva.

Of the sixteen Sanskaras, the first seven relate to early childhood. 'Vivaha' deals with marriage and the last one 'Anteyesti' with death-related rites. Here is the list with meanings:

  1. Garbhadhana (Garbhādhāna, गर्भाधान): Attaining the wealth of the womb
  2. Pusavana (Pusavaṇa, पुसवण)
  3. Simanta (or Simantakarana): Parting the hair upwards
  4. Jatkarma (Jātakarman, जातकर्मन्): Natal rites
  5. Naamkarann (नामकरण)
  6. Nishkramana (निष्क्रमण)
  7. Annaprashana (अन्नप्राशन): Feeding with the solid for the first time 
  8. Keshmundan (केशमुंडन): Tonsure to cut hair on the hand 
  9. Karnavedha (कर्णवेध): Piercing of the ears for the first time 
  10. Vidyarambh (Vidyāraṃbhaṃ, विद्यारम्भम्): Beginning the studies 
  11. Upanayana (उपनयन): Sacred thread and teaches him Gayatri Mantra, He is called Dvija – Twice born and student life begins 
  12. Vedarambh (वेदारंभ) 
  13. Keshanta (Keśānta, केशान्त)
  14. Samavartana (Samāvartana, समावर्तन): Formal return home after completion of studies 
  15. Vivaha: Marriage – making an entry into manhood and social life 
  16. Antyesti (Antyeṣṭi, अन्त्येष्टि): Death related rites
Re-birth (Reincarnation, पुनर्जन्म)

Re-birth is to repeat coming again and take birth. Reincarnation means taking flesh again, i.e. coming again into a physical body. Similarly, transmigration is passing from one place to another – passing into a new body.

So long as one desires objects on the earth, he has to come back, take a re-birth, to possess and enjoy those objects. Once he ceases to desire objects, he does not need re-birth and gets liberation – Moksha (mokṣa, मोक्ष) – to become a Mukta Jiva (मुक्त जीव, meaning free soul).

Re-birth is just like casting off worn-out garments and make new ones – here the dweller in the body casting off worn-out bodies to enter in the new body – a new and more beautiful body.

He who is happy within, who rejoices within and who is illuminated within gets “Nirvana” – Liberation – Moksha – Mukti.

Penance is a state of being devoid of desires and worldly ties. Keeping thoughts going astray and meditation works – give liberation of harmlessness!

Sacrifice (Yagna, यज्ञ)
He, who realises that all lives are interdependent, so his true function is to live for others, as God lives for others. Then his every action becomes a sacrifice (Yagna) to God. Thus the law of sacrifice becomes the law of liberation.
Now you know the basic guidelines to be followed as taught by Sanatana Dharma. If you follow them, the purpose of life is gained. In the era, when Hindutva – Hinduism and such talks are much discussed – it is time to understand the details and follow sincerely. Have I served the purpose?

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