Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism Online

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Edited by: Knut A. Jacobsen (Editor-in-Chief), University of Bergen, and Helene Basu, University of Münster, Angelika Malinar, University of Zürich, Vasudha Narayanan, University of Florida (Associate Editors)

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Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism presents the latest research on all the main aspects of the Hindu traditions. Its 438 essays are original work written by the world’s foremost scholars on Hinduism. The encyclopedia presents a balanced and even-handed view of Hinduism, recognizing the divergent perspectives and methods in the academic study of a religion that has ancient historical roots with many flourishing traditions today. Including all essays from the heralded printed edition, Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism is now to be regularly updated with new articles and available in a fully searchable, dynamic digital format.

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Sacred Animals

(5,591 words)

Author(s): Axel Jacobsen, Knut
A sacred animal in Hinduism is a divine being in animal form or with animal features, or a living animal that is worshipped and religiously valued. Most of the animals that are worshipped are divinities in animal form or with animal features pictured in stone or other material or embodied in statues ( mūrtis), but in some cases the animals worshipped are living animals. However, the divine beings in animal form do not become completely separated from the living species they represent. The sacredness of the divinity in animal form spills over to th…
Date: 2020-05-18

Sacred Threads

(2,217 words)

Author(s): Zotter, Christof
Threads have great symbolic value in Hindu traditions not only as material objects used in ritual but also metaphorically as can be seen in the case of the terms guṇa and sūtra, which both literally mean thread or cord. While guṇa is the term used for the three basic material constituents and the material cause of creation ( prakṛti) in Sāṃkhya philosophy, sūtra designates the authoritative guidelines and manuals of the Śāstras (authoritative texts of the disciplines and sciences) and the short aphoristic rules that these texts consist of (see Sūtras). D…
Date: 2020-05-18

Sādhus, Saṃnyāsīs, and Yogīs

(11,842 words)

Author(s): Lamb, Ramdas
Of all the categories of religious practitioners in India, none has attracted the interest of outsiders more, and yet is understood by them less, than Hindu renunciants and ascetics. Today, they are typically referred to by a variety of names: svāmī, saṃnyāsī, mahātma, bābā, vairāgī, yogī, and so on, the most common being sādhu and saṃnyāsī. Yogī, although less used, traditionally refers to those renunciants whose lives and practices are fashioned to a large degree by the observation and performance of the various elements of yoga (see explanation below). Although the renuncia…
Date: 2020-05-18


(5,005 words)

Author(s): Hayes, Glen A.
The term “Sahajiyās” refers to a number of Hindu tantric lineages that emerged in northeastern India, especially in greater Bengal, following the time of the great Bengali Vaiṣṇava saint Kṛṣṇa Caitanya (c. 1486–1533 CE). These tantric lineages have typically been called Vaiṣṇava, since they appropriated many of the beliefs and practices developed by the Caitanya bhakti movement. The Caitanya movement focused on the manifestation of Viṣṇu as Kṛṣṇa (“Dark Lord”), the playful, cowherding deity whom Bengali Vaiṣṇavas upheld as the supreme …
Date: 2020-05-18

Śaiva Āgamas: The Four Pādas and Thirty-six Tattvas

(9,129 words)

Author(s): Ganesan, T.
The Four PadasThe four broad categories of subject matter that the āgamas are ideally supposed to contain are the following: 1.  vidyā (knowledge) or jñāna (doctrines); 2.  kriyā (rituals); 3.  yoga; and 4.  caryā (right conduct). Accordingly, each āgama is divided into four pādas (quarters): Vidyāpāda (or Jñānapāda), Kriyāpāda, Yogapāda, and Cāryapāda. Though there is some sort of unanimity among the Śaiva āgamas regarding the content of each pāda, we find slight variations (in the form of additions) in some āgamas. 1.  the Vidyāpāda (or Jñānapāda) expounds in detail the nature…
Date: 2020-05-18

Śaiva Siddhānta

(12,761 words)

Author(s): Ganesan, T.
Just as the Veda is considered to be the basis for all Hindu philosophical systems (called āstika) and is held to be a foundational scripture, there is also a special type of scripture ( viśeṣaśāstra) for Śaivism called Āgama held to have been revealed by Śiva. Both the Vedas and the Āgamas are considered to be authoritative by the Śaiva Siddhānta system.The Śaiva Āgamas as they are now available to us contain a detailed and thorough ritual scheme for achieving the highest spiritual end, liberation ( mokṣa). But they also teach religious rites for achieving worldly enjoyments ( bhoga), as …
Date: 2020-05-18

Śaiva Texts

(23,564 words)

Author(s): Sanderson, Alexis
Those engaged in the study of Śaivism have before them in manuscript collections in the Indian subcontinent and around the world a great abundance and variety of textual sources, providing a rich record of what Śaivas of various persuasions were instructed to do and think as adherents of their religion, beginning from the period between the Maurya and Gupta empires and then increasing to a flood from the 5th century CE onwards, when Śaivism emerges into view as the dominant faith of the Indian s…
Date: 2020-05-18


(3,067 words)

Author(s): Timalsina, Sthaneshwar
The term śakti stems from the Sanskrit root śak-, “to have power to effect,” with a suffix - ktin, indicating the feminine gender. In general, the term refers to power, strength, or energy. In the religious context, Śakti stands for the Goddess (Devī), or the powers of the deities. From vedic Agni worship to later tantric emanations (see Tantra), the meaning of śakti is consistent as the divine power, inseparable from the power holder. In subsequent development, Śakti is presented as the consort of Śiva, with her numerous manifestations. In puranic literature, śakti also appears as a …
Date: 2020-05-18


(2,104 words)

Author(s): Narayanan, Vasudha
Śālagrāma or sālagrāma refers to the Shaligram village in Nepal and to the smooth stones or ammonite fossils found in the Gaṇḍakī River near Shaligram. While generally believed to be a natural, complete, and full manifestation of Viṣṇu, and also perceived to be his aniconic form, śālagrāmas are sometimes associated with Śiva as well, and more recently also with Devī. Śālagrāmas are worshipped in temples and in homes, usually by Brahmans.A śālagrāma is an ammonite fossil said to be of the marine cephalopod genus, dating back to a geologic time when the Himalayas rose from water. The Śālagrām…
Date: 2020-05-18


(9,289 words)

Author(s): Jacobsen, Knut A.
Sāṃkhya is the name of a system of religious thought associated with a series of key concepts in the Hindu tradition, such as puruṣa, prakṛti, guṇa, sattva, rajas, tamas, buddhi, tattvas, pariṇāma, tanmātras, and kaivalya, and which traces its origin to the sage Kapila. Sāṃkhya terminology and ideas had a history of several hundred years, before the Sāṃkhya system of religious thought developed in the first centuries CE, and nonsystematic Sāṃkhya continued to develop in a number of textual traditions after the Sāṃkhya system was created. The Sanskrit word sāṃkhya relates t…
Date: 2020-05-18


(6,005 words)

Author(s): Malinar, Angelika
Hinduism not only comprises different ritual traditions and philosophical-theological doctrines but is also organized in different religious communities called sampradāya, or panth. Both words refer to an important organizational structure that has shaped Hinduism for centuries, if not from its very beginning. A sampradāya shows certain characteristic features such as having their religious tradition traced back to a first teacher or founder or being institutionalized in distinct religious institutions (temples, monasteries, etc.). Membership in a sampradāya offers Hin…
Date: 2020-05-18


(5,201 words)

Author(s): Lipner, Julius
Early Textual References The earliest occurrence of the term saṃsāra in the vedic scriptures is in the Kaṭhopaniṣad, generally assigned to the period of the 5th to the 4th centuries BCE. In the Kaṭhopaniṣad we find the following: But the person who lacks discernment, who is unfocused, always impure, does not attain that goal, and passes into saṃsāra ( saṃsāram adhigacchati). ( KaṭhU. 3.7) We must remember that we are in the midst of the parable of the chariot here ( KaṭhU. 3.3–9), which provides a more or less clear context for our understanding of the term. After m…
Date: 2020-05-18


(5,109 words)

Author(s): Michaels, Axel
Saṃskāra is the Sanskrit term mostly used for Brahmanical-Sanskritic life-cycle rituals that are mainly widespread between Hindu and other (Buddhist, Jaina) communities. They belong to a category of Sanskritic domestic rituals ( karman, kriyā) that generally includes vedic sacrifices ( homa, yajña, iṣṭi, bali) and mantras, but sometimes also forms of religious services ( pūjā, upacāra, sevā), oaths ( vrata), or pilgrimages ( tīrthayātrā). The Hindu tradition knows up to 40 saṃskāras, of which 16 have achieved an almost canonical status (see below) and of which …
Date: 2020-05-18


(6,529 words)

Author(s): Forsthoefel, Thomas
The great systematizer of Advaita Vedānta, Śaṅkara (c. 8th cent. CE) looms large in the history of Indian philosophy and in the religious imagination of Hindus. Viewed at once as a brilliant thinker and great reformer, Śaṅkara’s work and genius have rightly been compared to those of classic philosophers in the West, including Plato, Thomas Aquinas, Spinoza, and Martin Heidegger. While most of the texts traditionally ascribed to Śaṅkara – as many as four hundred, according to S. Mayeda – are considered spurious, his commentary on the Brahmasūtra, considered the yardstick by which a…
Date: 2020-05-18

Śaṅkaradeva and Mādhavadeva

(5,024 words)

Author(s): Urban, Hugh
Mahāpuruṣa Śrīmanta Śaṅkaradeva (1449-1569) and his disciple Śrī Śrī Mādhavadeva (1489-1596) are the two most important saints and spiritual reformers from the region of Assam, northeast India. Roughly contemporary with other devotional saints such as Caitanya Mahāprabhu in Bengal, Kabīr in North India, and Gurū Nānak in the Punjab, Śaṅkaradeva and his followers sparked a huge popular revival of devotional worship ( bhakti) that became the dominant form of Hinduism in the northeast states. With their tremendous theological, philosophical, and poetic output…
Date: 2020-05-18

Sanskrit Texts and Language

(11,587 words)

Author(s): Keßler-Persaud, Anne
Sanskrit belongs to the Indo-European language family. Within this it forms, together with the closely related Iranian languages, the Indo-Iranian subfamily. Commonly three major forms of Sanskrit are distinguished, namely Vedic, classical Sanskrit, and epic Sanskrit. Vedic is the language of the Indic tribes who entered the South Asian subcontinent probably during the early to mid-2nd millennium BCE, migrating from the Iranian Plateau northwest of present-day Pakistan into the Punjab in eastern…
Date: 2020-05-18

Santoṣi Mā

(3,250 words)

Author(s): Lutgendorf, Philip
The Hindu goddess Santoṣī Mā (also commonly written, in Devanagari script and in Indian English, Santoṣī Māṃ and Santoshi Ma/Maa) is widely venerated today, especially by women. Large numbers of women observe a vrat or fasting ritual on Fridays in her honor, and her shrines may be found in both urban and rural areas, often incorporated within temples to other deities. Although her worship seems to have originated in northwest India, probably through 20th-century modifications of an older cult of a local goddess, she is now r…
Date: 2020-05-18


(10,399 words)

Author(s): Callewaerts, Winand
Sants are not saints (derived from Lat. sanctus, holy). Derived from the Sanskrit sat (truth, real being), its root meaning is “one who knows the truth” or “one who has experienced the ultimate reality,” that is, a person who has achieved a state of spiritual enlightenment or mystical self-realization (see liberation). The term has two specific connotations: 1.  a member of the Vārkarī sect in Maharashtra and 2.  devotees in the North Indian bhakti tradition of mainly the 15th to 17th centuries who had particular characteristics in common, especially a belief in a su…
Date: 2020-05-18

Sarada Devi

(6,607 words)

Author(s): Long, Jeffery D.
Sarada Devi, more widely known as the holy mother Sarada Devi, was born on Dec 22, 1853, and died on Jul 21, 1920, having spent much of her life in the village of her birth, Jayrambati. She was the wife and spiritual companion of the Bengali saint and spiritual leader Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. She became a spiritual leader in her own right after the passing of her husband in 1886, likely having more followers in the course of her lifetime than her husband had during his.As the holy mother, Sarada Devi remains a deeply revered, much beloved figure in the religious community es…
Date: 2020-05-18


(5,689 words)

Author(s): Söhnen-Thieme, Renate
The word “ sárasvatī” is the feminine of an adjective meaning “characterized by ponds/lakes ( sarases),” the feminine being understood to agree with “river.” It has a cognate hara(h)uvati in Old Persian, or harahvaitī in Avestan, designating a country in Iran (Arachosia), presumably named after a river of the same name, in the same way that “Hindu” (India), the easternmost Old Persian province, was named after the river Sindhu, which formed the frontier between Iran and India at that time (Thieme, 1970). The river’s name would…
Date: 2020-05-18
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