The Meaning of Culture
Each of the religions of the world has its own culture, with
many customs, traditions and refined qualities. The Hindu culture
is a culture of love, respect, honoring others and humbling one's
own ego so that the inner nature, which is naturally pure and
modest, will shine forth. Here we have described some of the
important faith and behaviors of Hindu community.
RESPECT AND REVERENCE
1. RESPECT FOR ELDERS: Respect for elders is a keystone of
Hindu culture. This genuine acknowledgment of seniority is
demonstrated through endearing customs, such as sitting to the
left of elders, bringing gifts on special occasions, not sitting
while they are standing, not speaking excessively, not yawning or
stretching, not putting one's opinions forward strongly, not
contradicting or arguing, seeking their advice and blessings,
giving them first choice in all matters, even serving their food
2. NAME PROTOCOL: Younger never uses the proper name of their
elders. In the Tamil tradition, a younger brother, for example,
refers to his brother as annan, or periannan (older brother), not
by name. The elder, however, may use the name of the younger.
Children are trained to refer to all adults as auntie or uncle.
Only people of the same age will address each other by first
name. A Hindu wife never speaks the name of her husband. When
referring to him she uses terms such as "my husband," "him" or,
for example, "Athan, Mama, etc.,".
3. TOUCHING FEET IN RESPECT: One touches the feet of holy men
and women in recognition of their great humility and inner
attainment. A dancer or a musician touches the feet of his or her
teacher before and after each lesson. Children prostrate and
touch the feet of their mother and father at festivals and at
special times, such as birthdays and before departing on a
4. Darshan (darshana): "Vision, sight." Seeing the Divine.
Beholding, with inner or outer vision, a temple image, Deity,
holy person or place, with the desire to inwardly contact and
receive the grace and blessings of the venerated being or
5. DAKSHINA: It is tradition to provide dakshina, a monetary
fee or gift to a priest given at the completion of any rite.
Dakshina is also given to gurus as a token of respect for their
Purity and its opposite, pollution, are vitally important in
Hindu culture. Purity is of three forms -- purity in mind, speech
and body, or thought, word and deed. Purity is the pristine and
natural state of the soul. Impurity, or pollution, is the
obscuring of this state by adulterating experience and beclouding
In daily life, the Hindu strives to protect this innate purity
by wise living, following the codes of dharma. This includes
harnessing the sexual energies, associating with other virtuous
Hindu devotees, never using harsh, angered or indecent language,
and keeping a clean and healthy physical body. Here are several
ways purity is preserved in Hindu culture.
1.PURITY AND FOOD: Purity is central to food and nutrition, as
the nature of one's nourishment deeply affects the entire
physical, mental and emotional nature. One cooking food for
others would never taste of the dish from a spoon and then put
the spoon back in the pot. If food is to be tasted while cooking,
a small portion is placed in the right hand. Similarly, one would
not touch the lips to a water vessel that is also used by others.
Nor would one offer something to another from which one has taken
a bite or a sip.
2. FLOWER OFFERINGS: One does not sniff flowers picked for
offering to the Deities; even the smell is for the Gods, not for
us. Flowers that fall to the ground should not be offered.
3. OFFERINGS: Offerings, such as an archana basket, flowers or
garlands, are carried with both hands on the right side of the
body, so as to not be breathed on. All items are washed in
preparation and, if carried more than a short distance, wrapped
4. THE LEFT HAND: In Hindu culture the left hand is considered
impure because it is used (with water) in the place of toilet
paper for personal hygiene after answering the call of nature.
Handing another person anything with the left hand may be
considered a subtle insult.
5. SHOES: Shoes are considered impure. The cultured Hindu
never wears shoes or sandals inside a temple or shrine, nor in
his home or the homes of other Hindus. Carrying shoes in the
hands from one part of the premises to another is also avoided.
An ultimate insult is to be struck with a shoe.
6. CAUTION WITH FOOTWEAR: It is very important to apologize
immediately if one touches someone with his or her shoe or
sandal. This is done by touching the right hand to where the foot
touched the other person and then touching one's right hand
lightly to his own left eye and then the right. This same remedy
applies to inadvertently hitting someone with the hand or foot or
bumping into him or her.
EXCHANGE OF PRANA
1. GIVING AND RECEIVING WITH BOTH HANDS: Giving and accepting
things from one to another, presenting offerings to the Deity,
etc., is most properly done with both hands. The reason for this
is that with the gift, prana is also given through both hands,
thus endowing more energy to the object. The recipient of the
gift receives it with both hands along with the prana from the
gracious giver. It is known that this exchange of energies is
vital for friendship, harmony and the total release of the gift
to the recipient. Hindus never accept gifts from strangers or
2. Hugging and Embracing: Hugging and embracing is found in
Hindu culture; but it is restricted to close relatives,
Guru/disciples and associates that too in a private place. In
Mahabharatha and Ramayana we find this very often. Hugging and
Embracing improves pranic energy and this practice is not allowed
3. NOT POINTING THE FINGER: Pointing with the forefinger of
the right hand or shaking the forefinger in emphasis while
talking is never done. This is because the right hand possesses a
powerful, aggressive pranic force, and an energy that moves the
forces of the world. Pointing the index finger channels that
force into a single stream. The harshness of this energy would be
severely felt in the nerve system of the recipient. More
properly, rather than pointing or shaking the index finger to
give direction or emphasize a verbal statement, the entire hand
is used as a pointer, with the palm up and the thumb held
alongside the forefinger.
4. SHAKING HANDS: The traditional way that Hindu men greet one
another is with the anjali mudra, then, with palms still held
together, extending their hands to one another, in a two-handed
handshake, in a deliberate transfer of prana. The hands of one
man, usually the less senior, are gently clasped between the
other's. Each looks smilingly into the other's face while bowing
slightly in humility. This handshake is not firm, but relaxed and
5. NOT THROWING THINGS: Throwing any object on another person
is considered extremely improper, even if the persons know each
other very well. Cultured Hindus consider this crude and even
mildly violent, even if done in efficiency or jest.
6. CARE IN SITTING: It is improper to sit with one's legs
outstretched toward a temple, shrine or altar, or even toward
another person. This is a grave insult. Crossing one leg over the
knee when sitting in a chair should be avoided, though crossing
at the ankles is permitted. One must always try to follow the
example of traditional elders. Worshiping, meditating or sitting
in the kneeling pose is not acceptable among Hindus.
7. DOORWAYS: Conversations are not held inside or through
doorways. This is considered inauspicious. Similarly, to exchange
or give or lend an object, one-steps inside the room first, or
the recipient steps out of the room so that both parties are in
the same room.
1.MODESTY: Interaction in public between men and women is much
more restrained in Hindu culture than in Western culture. In
Hindu culture, for the most part, men socialize with men, and
women with women. Men never touch women in public unless the lady
is very elderly or infirm.
2.DISPLAYING AFFECTION: Married Hindu couples do not hug, hold
hands or kiss in public. Even embracing at airports and train
stations is considered not wise. Men, however, frequently walk
hand in hand.
THE ROLE OF WOMEN
In traditional Hindu culture, women are held in the highest
regard -- far more respected, in truth, than in the West. But
this does not imply the kind of equality or participation in
public interactions that are common in the West. The qualities
traditionally most admired in a Hindu woman are modesty of
manner, shyness and self-effacement. Self-assertive or bold
tendencies are regarded with circumspection. Feminine refinements
are expressed and protected in many customs, including the
1. WOMANLY RESERVE: In mixed company especially in the
presence of strangers, a Hindu woman will keep modestly in the
background and not participate freely in conversation. This, of
course, does not apply to situations among family and close
2. WALKING BEHIND ONE'S HUSBAND: The wife walks a step or two
behind her husband, or if walking by his side, a step or two
back, always giving him the lead. In the West, the reverse of
this is often true.3. SERVING AT MEALS: At meals women follow the
custom of serving the men first before enjoying their own
4. CHAPERONING: It is customary for a woman to always be
accompanied when she leaves the home. Living alone, too, is
5. WOMEN IN PUBLIC: Generally it is improper for women to
speak with strangers on the street and especially to strike up a
casual conversation. Similarly, drinking alcohol or smoking in
public, no matter how innocent, are interpreted as a sign of
moral laxity and are not acceptable.
GUESTS IN THE HOME
1. HOME VISITS: Close friends can visit one another anytime
without being announced or making arrangements first. When they
drop in, at least a refreshing drink is always served.
2. HOSTING GUESTS: Children generally leave the room, with a
smile, when guests enter. The mother remains close by to serve as
needs arise. The father, if present, will speak with the guest.
If he is not present, the mother and a mature son will fulfill
this role; and if no son is present, the mother may act as
hostess, but only with the accompaniment of someone close to the
3. WIFE HOME ALONE: If the lady of the house is in home alone
and a male visitor comes to see her husband, it is not proper for
her to invite him in, nor for him to expect to enter. Rather, he
will leave a message and depart.
4. GIVING GIFTS: Gifts are always given when one visits a home
or stays overnight as a guest. The value of the gift varies
greatly, depending upon circumstances. It is proper to give a
separate gift for the wife and the husband. The wife is given the
All Hindus know that "Life is meant to be lived joyously!" All
is God, and God is everywhere and in all things. This
understanding and appreciation is exemplified in every aspect of
1. KINDLY WORDS AND COUNTENANCE: Hindus strive to keep a
pleasant expression on their face, a gentle smile and a kind word
for everyone they meet through the day. They know in their heart
of hearts that God is everywhere and that all in the universe is
perfect at every point in time. This knowledge gives them
strength and courage to face their daily karmas positively and
2. REFINED GESTURES: Hindus know that every movement of the
body, the face, hands, eyes, mouth, head, etc., has a meaning.
Youth are taught to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of
others in their body language.
3. EYES: Eyes are also a primary means of communicating, and
the meanings are fairly straightforward. They usually indicate
degrees of interest in what the speaker is saying. Smiling with
your eyes as well as your mouth conveys sincerity. There are
three levels of smiling (and infinite shades and degrees in
between). Having the eyes open only slightly indicates mild
interest. Eyes more open and a bigger smile indicates more
interest and enthusiasm. Having the eyes open wide with a big
smile or nod, possibly accompanied by some verbal expression,
indicates greater interest or great happiness.