Hinduism is of course a form of polytheism, rather like Mormonism. It involved a belief in multiple deities, and in the case of Hinduism, hundreds of lesser and greater gods of all sorts. If you go to the Encyclopedias and read up on the major ones like Shiva or Vishnu you get a pretty clear sense of the character of the religion, which divides people into castes, expects them to believe in karma and reincarnation, and even treats some human beings as untouchables by nature and condition— true outcasts. Hinduism is the dominant religion in India, and the Brahman caste of elite individuals mostly runs the country, despite the fact it is a democracy. So dominant is Hinduism, that it was even able to co-opt Buddhism in terms of popular influence by making Buddha a deity in a country that was at one time dominantly Buddhist. To some extent Hinduism is also a form of animism, or is at least compatible with animism as it believes not merely in sacred animals, and sacred rivers, it believes certain rivers, like the Ganges are gods, and the same with animals or perhaps better said, bulls, monkeys, rivers are manifestations of the various gods. Even Greco-Romans didn’t believe this. It is thus with mixed feelings, to say the least, that a Christian pays a visit to the Ganges and watches what happens there. We visited two sites along the Ganges, one famous in the West for the fact that the Beatles and other rock stars visited there in 1966 or so, the other famous for being the place where one can best wash away their sins in the Gun-ah (as Ganges is pronounced in India). Here are some pictures of what we saw. I must confess I found the whole scene depressing, spiritually problematic, but still a testimony to the inherently religious nature of human beings, to their awareness that they are sinners,and to the attempts to remedy the problem by their own actions or religious behavior, even at the cost of believing in false gods.
Here we have the beggars, and they think they are helping the donators earn brownie points to move up the ladder of life in the next life. Below you will see the flowers set loose in the river as an offering to a deity or several deities. Note the giant statue of Shiva in the middle of the river above.
Note as well the plastic bottles to collect holy water from the river, which people actually drink, thinking it divinizes them or perhaps heals them. There are literally millions of pilgrims at the Ganges camping out in the warmer months. Some however stay in hotels….