Obama the Hindu?

US Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama calls himself a Christian. He has long been a member of Rev Jeremiah Wright‘s church, and although he has now left this church he has been attending other churches. And only in the last few days he has been “making a full-throttle push for centrist evangelicals and Catholics”.

Obama has often been accused of being a Muslim. There is no truth in this allegation if you accept the definition of a person’s religion as their personally accepted set of beliefs, faith commitments and practices. But there is another definition of religion which is held to by Muslims (and, in effect, Jews) as well as by some in the West who call themselves Christians, which is that religion is passed on by inheritance from parents to children. According to these people, because Obama’s father was a Muslim (although non-practising), Obama himself counts as a Muslim. But even they can hardly claim this after he has publicly renounced Islam, although they might consider him an apostate.

But now comes a new claim that Obama is in effect a Hindu. The evidence for this seems to be that he carries about in his pocket “a tiny monkey god”, as well as “a tiny Madonna and child”. This is reported by Time Magazine, with photographic evidence. According to Visi Tilak of the Christian blog Casting Stones (which lists Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren among its contributors), this monkey god is “none other than the Hindu god Hanuman”, and indeed Visi reports that “over the last couple of days every Indian newspaper has carried this story and photograph, with “Hanuman” and “Obama” on practically every headline.” The BBC reports that a group of Indians are planning to present to Obama a “two-foot tall, 15kg gold-polished, brass idol” of Hanuman.

It might be suggested that by carrying both Christian and Hindu lucky charms Obama is trying to be both Hindu and Christian. But polytheistic Hinduism has long accepted that Christian images can be used alongside originally Hindu ones, and I think that carrying lucky charms is accepted. Orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, has always condemned any kind of devotion to idols of non-Christian divinities, and has not approved of lucky charms. So by carrying this Hindu idol in his pocket, as well as a Christian one, Obama is showing himself to be either a good Hindu or a very bad Christian.

Obama is already facing an uphill challenge in his drive to win Christians over to support him, because of his positions on abortion and gay “marriage”. He may be able to win them over if he holds to a consistent Christian position on other matters of public and private morality, and promises to turn America away from the cult of self which has been promoted during the Bush administration towards caring properly for the poor and needy in America and worldwide. But this whole drive is endangered if Obama becomes seen as an inconsistent and compromising Christian, and especially if he is seen as trusting in evil demon gods (Hanuman is considered an incarnation of Shiva the destroyer) rather than in the true God and Jesus Christ.

Neither the prophet Jeremiah nor the prophetic preacher Jeremiah Wright would let Obama get away with this. He needs to read what the prophet had to say about idols in Jeremiah 10:1-16, and then publicly repent and get rid of his idol – and reject the gift from India. This may not win him immediate friends in India, but in the long run they and religious people of any faith will respect him more if he is consistent in his professed faith. Anyway, the Hindu vote in America is tiny, so this move would make electoral sense for him. More importantly, it makes sense for his own destiny and for the destiny of the country which he hopes to lead. For what God said to Israel in the past can apply also to America now:

“If you, Israel, will return,
then return to me,”
declares the LORD.
“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight
and no longer go astray,
2 and if in a truthful, just and righteous way
you swear, ‘As surely as the LORD lives,’
then the nations will invoke blessings by him
and in him they will boast.”

Jeremiah 4:1-2 (TNIV)

For too long the name of America has been considered a curse throughout much of the world, not just in countries which it has invaded and otherwise bossed around but also in countries which have been reduced to poverty while America enriches itself. If Obama repents of his idolatry and trusts only in the true God, then not only is he in a good position to win the election but he will also have the opportunity to restore to his own country the blessing of God and respect among the nations.

39 thoughts on “Obama the Hindu?

  1. I can’t say I can find any of the inferences you seem to be drawing attractive or I hope relevant. Idolatry goes deeper than statues and religion whether inherited or not is often too easily idolatrous because of the implication – if you don’t think like me, you must be wrong. The idolatry of ‘my own interpretation’ is not gentle wisdom.

  2. Bob, I agree that idolatry goes deeper than trusting in literal idols as lucky charms. But it must at least start there, and this kind of outward idolatry is often a sign of something deeper.

    I don’t understand your last sentence. I hope you are not suggesting that I make an idol of my own interpretation. I usually make it clear on this blog that my own interpretations are tentative, or put them in the form of questions as in this case.

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  4. Peter,

    I have to take exception with your interpretation of Senator Obama’s actions. If we assume that he is, in fact, carrying a statue of Hanuman, we still do not know why he is carrying it. Idolatry is in the mind, not the object: if he is carrying it because it reminds him of his mother, or it was given to him by a dear friend, surely there is no idolatry in that; even if the object itself was crafted in order to be an idol.

    Furthermore, I am a bit disturbed by this association between an object and the charge of idolatry. It appears that you may have a superstitious belief about the power and moral weight of wood carved into the shape of monkey-men. Let me compare and contrast to make my point. Certainly, we would both agree that the following is superstition: if Smith thinks that by chanting certain words in a certain order, he can gain magical powers. If he chants those words in that order, he may in fact be violating the Law and may be attempting to perform some kind of magic. He may even perform some kind of magic. But the question is not which sounds he made but the state of mind with which he made them. If I, who does not believe that these sounds give me powers, make the same sounds, I am not a magician.

    To use another example, I do not become a Muslim simply by saying “There is no god but God and Muhammad is His prophet.” I become a Muslim by saying them with sincerity.

    If you think that words and objects per se have some kind of power, then I think you may have made an idol out of idolatry itself and turned superstition into a superstition.


  5. One reason I like your blog is the anti-spam word – always easy to see and type. Thanks

    Now about how your post reads: “If Obama repents of his idolatry and trusts only in the true God”. This sentence does not sound tentative to me. It presupposes that the subject has something to repent of.

    As to tentative – I would want for you assurance rather than tentativeness – but not with a bludgeon. Even in my assurance, my conversation in covenant is often quizzical – at least in provate, or if in public, in imitation of the questions and challenges of the Psalmist.

    I remember with gratitude your patience with me on the b-hebrew list when I first began to read. To form my blessing for you is this: may you be yourself at peace in this turbulent and self-justifying time.

  6. Well, Justin, it was Time magazine which said that this image is “Amongst the things that Barack Obama carries for good luck”. If there is really nothing “for good luck” about it but it is indeed just a memento, then I will withdraw the idolatry charge, although I still think he is unwise to carry an item which is in some way associated with an evil spiritual being. Such things are usually made by people who pronounce incantations over them not just as words but with sincerity.

    Bob, I presuppose only what Obama has apparently publicly stated, that he carries about with him a good luck charm which is in fact a Hindu idol. With the slight qualification I make in my response to Justin, that is objectively (at least according to every biblical standard) a sin and so objectively something which must be repented of. This is not just my interpretation. But thanks for your blessing. I do indeed seek peace for myself and for others as long as it is not at the expense of lies and sin.

  7. News flash: somebody on the internet thinks Obama is a Buddhist.

    Zoroastrianism, head up.. you’re on deck! (Cue the them from “2001: A Space Oddysey”)

  8. Peter,

    Your point about sources is well-taken: neither you nor I have an inside track into Senator Obama’s mental life, so neither of us can speak for what he has in mind for carrying around a miniature representation of Hanuman.

    Now, the question for me would be whether or not this is in any way worse than wearing a cross or icon of a saint for “good luck.”

    Certainly it is the case that there are Christians who have a superstitious attachment to articles like this; maybe we want to call them idolators or blasphemers, but it is more likely that we would say they are engaged in some low-level divination. Maybe those are really the same thing. I suppose that is a distinction which has yet to be decided.

    As for Hanuman being an “evil spiritual being” that remains to be seen. If one takes the legend of Hanuman as being literally or poetically true, it is as good and proper to have an icon of him just as much as St. Jude, isn’t it? The story of Hanuman is one of fidelity to God and a reward of everlasting life; a kind of simian Abraham. If one does not accept the story of Hanuman being true, then I would suppose he is purely fictional and has no real power over anything – he cannot be an evil spiritual being. I don’t see how one can understand the story of Ram and Hanuman and get from it that they are evil spiritual beings, unless one is a pretty steadfast pacifist.

    That is not to say that worship of Hanuman is appropriate for a Christian or anyone else, but as long as we look up to moral exemplars – including those of other traditions – and as long as we keep on our persons some kind of reminder of those figures’ virtues, it doesn’t seem out of line to have a statue of Hanuman.


  9. Justin, my suggestion that this idol is “in some way associated with an evil spiritual being” is nothing to do with the legend of Hanuman, which I don’t know. The association is because there are “people who pronounce incantations over them not just as words but with sincerity”, incantations associated with evil spiritual powers. So, while I don’t approve of Christians carrying any kind of good luck charm, carrying objects which have been (at least for the sake of argument) dedicated as images of demon gods is especially spiritually dangerous. That is, they are not a real danger to Christians who are adequately protected, but they are a serious danger to those who put any kind of trust in the idol.

  10. Peter, I agree with you on the idolatry (not sure about the hinduism, though it’s possible he’s really just a New Ager , who mixes all that in together).

    While idolatry is a matter of the heart it is often evidenced physically whether through tiny little objects like fat little fat Buddha (like in many Asian homes) or monkey statues or by a person spending Sunday morning washing his or her car, or even my me getting upset at my 17 month old daughter when she reaches up and takes a book of the shelf and tears a page in it.

  11. Peter,

    Educate yourself before you spread propagandistic lies. It takes 30 seconds to Wiki Hanuman and determine for yourself whether Hindu “incantations [are] associated with evil spiritual powers” and if a blessed idol of Hanuman constitutes “dedicated images of demon gods.” Since you are too intellectually lazy, I will educate you, and request that you delete the offending portions of your blog and comments. Unless, of course, this is the sort of slanderous character assassination Christianity stands for.

    Hindus believe in cyclical time, with each “epoch” marked by creation, life, and destruction. During each of these three phases, one of the Trimurtis (three aspects of God, or our own holy trinity, if you will) governs existence: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Protector, and Shiva the Destroyer. Shiva is not “evil” in Hindu mythology, he is merely the deity that governs destruction – praying to Shiva is even said to stave off death, according to mythology at least. Shiva is not a demon, nor an evil spirit. Shiva is merely one aspect of God (Brahman). Another misrepresentation in your blog; Hinduism isn’t a polytheistic faith – it is monotheistic in much the same way Christianity is monotheistic, despite a “Holy Trinity”.

    Back to Hanuman – it is intersting how, after being corrected by Justin who correctly notes Hanuman’s role in Hindu mythology, you not only ignore the morale of Hanuman’s tale, but continue spreading your narrow minded, judgmental bloviation.

    In the Ramayana, a demon king kidnaps a princess, and the Prince (Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu the Savior) must rescue his wife. Rama meets Hanuman, is moved by Rama’s plight, and Hanuman then aids Rama in vanquishing the demon king and is rewarded for his service to God by being elevated to the status of a minor deity (somewhat akin to angels in Christianity).

    Hanuman is popular among the Hindu pantheon because his tale speaks to the same values and morals that all positive religions aspire to. If you want to brand Obama a poor Christian, so be it. But please do not spread ignorant lies about Hinduism or minor Hindu deities being “demon gods” or “evil spirits”. It is untrue, and only weakens whatever truth their is to your ultimate argument regarding how well Obama adheres to Christian traditions.

    Thanks for reading.

  12. RR, I accept that my understanding of Hinduism is not the same as yours. However, it is not me who called Hanuman a “god”. The Wikipedia article you pointed me to calls him “one of the most popular Gods in Hinduism”. Unless you are either denying the divinity of Hanuman or claiming that he is the only God, then your Hinduism is formally polytheistic. I accept that you can make the same point about Trinitarian Christianity.

    As for my use of the word “demon”, this word in itself does not necessarily imply evil. The Greek word was used of spiritual beings of a lesser rank than the great gods whether evil or not, similar to your “minor deity”. Perhaps I could have used “angel” instead, on the Christian understanding that angels are not necessarily good.

    My use of “evil” is based on a Judeo-Christian understanding according to which any spiritual beings who are not subject to the one true God, who in Christian thought do not accept Jesus Christ as Lord, are considered evil. This is the point which I wish to remind Obama of as he claims to be Christian.

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  14. Hanuman ( The Monkey God )is really very Powerfull.
    Wish something (Reasonable) n Chant “Jay Hanuman Ki Jay” 108 times you will feel the difference. Any One can believe in any god.

  15. Jay, he may be powerful, but he is not as powerful as God the Father who created the heavens and the earth and his Son Jesus Christ who died and was raised from the dead.

  16. We can not Judge the Power of God. God “Maruti” (“Hanuman”) is Chiranjeevi ( Who does not have death)
    “Manojavam Maruta thulya vegam
    Jithendriyam budhimatam varishtam
    Vathatmajam vanarayoodha mukhyam
    sreerama dootham saranam prapadhye”
    He is son of “Vayu” (The Vayu God) and incarnation of Lord Siva (The Super God) and follower of Lord Vishnu (The creator of the World). He flew from India to Srilanka.
    He is also reading this blog (because where ever his name comes he will be there)..

  17. Jay, I understand that you believe this, presumably because you are a Hindu. I am a Christian and I do not believe this. And I don’t want my blog to become a place for propagating other religions. So please let’s stop this discussion, or move it to a blog of your own.

  18. Thanks Kirk..

    Stop propagating false views on other religion and other gods. There are different Gods and religions are there in the world. We can not say only christianity or Hinduism is good. Try to understand all religion. There are 33 billions + 2 Gods. Any one can believe in any god..

    Thank you…

  19. Jay, let me be explicit. This is MY blog and I call the shots here. I will not permit you to continue to contradict my Christian faith here. I say that there is only one God and that the Christian faith is the only true religion. I know you do not agree. But I will not permit you to contradict my faith again on this blog. That means that I will delete and report as spam any further comments along these lines.

  20. I’m pretty sure Jeremiah Wright is a universalist, so I’m not sure he’d have any problems with idols.

    Abortion and other political issues certainly do create problems for Obama with evangelicals, but the main issue they’ll feel wary about him religiously is his actual religious views. He isn’t an evangelical, and he admits that. His views are pretty much boilerplate mainline religious liberalism. The only difference between the theology of the church he went to for 20 years and the theology of a typical United Church of Christ minister is that Jeremiah Wright doesn’t count the white church among his Christian brothers and sisters because of his radical black liberation theology. Other than that, you’ll get the same old contentless liberal theology that most evangelicals count as nonsense. Obama sat through sermons like that for 20 years and had no problem with Wright until some of his racially-loaded comments came out. So I have little doubt that his own theology is at least as liberal as that of the Archbishop of Canterbury and probably moreso.

  21. Jeremy, you may well be right about Obama’s personal position. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with him and avoid challenging him towards a more adequate Christianity.

  22. The principles of religion, namely austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfullness may be followed by the follower of any faith. There is no need to turn from Mohommedean to Christian or some other faith and thus become a renegade and not follow the principles of religion. The Bhagavatam religion urges following the principles of religion. The principles of religion are not the dogmas or regulative principles of religion. Such principles may be different in terms of the time and place concerned. One has to see whether the aims of religion have been acheived. Sticking to the dogmas and formulas without attaining the real principles is not good.

    If one advocates the Hindu religion, Muslim religion, Christian religion there will be conflicts. History shows that the followers of religious systems without a clear conception of God have fought with one another. There are many istances of this in human history, but systems of religion that do not concentrate upon the service to the Supreme are temporary and cannot last for long because they are full of envy. There are many activities directed against such religious systems, and therefore one must give up the idea of “my believ” and “hour belief”. Everyone should believe in one God and surrender unto him. That is Bhagavata-dhama.

    Bhagavata-dhama is not a concocted sectarian belief, for it entails research to find how everything is connected with God/ Krishna.

    All modern-day visionaries and spiritual warriors to rise to the challenge of turning a misdirected materialistic civilization into a spiritual, loving, human family who recognizes unity in diversity.

    We are all divine beings on this planet, but unfortunately we have amnesia. We spend all of our time in our own little selfish worries, ignoring the suffering of others and our own divine connection with God, Krishna. At this time on Earth there is no greater urgency to respond to this call for spiritual awareness. We must Unite. We must set aside all labels and sectarian ideas and simply come together, hand-in-hand, chanting the holy names of the Universal God. It doesn’t matter what language it is, as long as it is of the language of the heart. God/ Krishna Consciousness is a special benediction for humanity at large because simply by the process of singing, dancing, and feasting to the holy name of God, one attains the supreme happiness that we are meant to experience in the human form of life.

    In Hinduism, Hanuman is not a monkey but a Vaanara, a special class of semi-magical, semi humanoid beings with sorcerous powers but having developed a civilization and culture which were, if truth be told, at a higher state of social advancement than the human societies of the time. The Vaanaras are usually larger than humans, with simian features and tails but they are not monkeys. Monkeys represent Hanuman, and are accorded far more tolerance than their nuisance value warrants, but they are not worshipped or considered divine. and Lord Rama’s eternal servant in the Ramayana. He had no care for life or death! He was a perfect master of his senses and wonderfully wise. You have now to build your life on this great ideal of personal service. Through that, all the other ideals will gradually manifest in life.

    Hanuman is the embodiment of the four yogas. His will, emotions, intellect and actions were perfectly refined and grounded in spirituality. Hanuman, an ancient ideal, is therefore highly relevant to modern man.

    Festivals like Hanuman Jayanthi are designed to remind people about the purpose of human life. Devotees who participate in such festivals should learn valuable lessons from it. Absorb as much of the teachings as you can during your stay. Do not forget what has been taught. After ruminating over what you have heard, try to put into practice what has been taught. Always contemplating on God, make your lives meaningful

    So I request everyone, especially the youth of the day, to come forward and become spiritual revolutionaries who will conquer humanity’s sufferings with the weapon of pure love. Thanks for reading.

    Giriraj Gopal Das excerpt from his Age Of Kali Collective.



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  24. You need a thorough understanding of Hinduism. Hinduism is not a religion as many like you think. It is a way of life. It is not about idols and Gods rather it is an understanding of “Dharma”. You can be an atheist or a Christian or a Muslim and still be a Hindu and vice versa. I can’t believe that even in this age you make an humanized form of one aspect (what you call monkey God) as the focus and argue your theory. Hinduism is all about respecting every aspect of nature by personifying them. Grow up !! See the light not the darkness. Do not be a frog in the well. Don’t be afraid of the world. It is no not bad after all.

  25. Sai, if you want an answer to that question please ask in a more polite and less aggressive manner. But it should be clear from this blog who I consider to be a Christian, which by the way would include president-elect Obama.

  26. it is really foolish to call hanuman or shiva as evil gods… hanuman represents the god who is a great devotee of lord rama and he also represents strength..
    shiva is destroyer in the sense,he destroys the cycle of time and lord crahma again creates the world.
    before the birth of christianity,hinduism said that there is only one supreme god.the UPANISHADS which are a source of hindu philosophy says that the supreme god is only one.. hinduism is a monotheistic aswell as polytheistic religion.. there is no god who is eveil… all the gods are genourous.. hinduism is not just worshipping idols..hinduism means rig veda,yajur veda,sama veda,atharva veda,108 upanishads,18 puranas,2 ithihasas,yoga,meditation etc etc etc… the people who donot know anything about hinduism listen to the stereotypes and will create a wrong notion abt the religion… science proved that there is rebirth and it is long ago said in upanishads regarding rebirth… hinduism shows many paths of salvation like doing good action,bhakti or devotion or gnana the knowledge.. unlike many other religions ,even if a person doesnt believe in god and if he does good karma or action he gets salvation…
    friends rather than stereotyping hinduism, develop a positive thinking in you. for more about hinduism visit the site http://www.stephen-knapp.com

  27. It is indeed very difficult for a person other than a christian to understand what exactly idol worship is. Jesus was very diplomatic in dealing with idolatry. If one verse of the Bible is considered to be correct then all the verses should also be considered as true. It is true that God condemned Idol worship but the context is very important. Exodus 20:4 says “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” Well Hanuman with his 10 hands and 5 heads doesn’t resemble any of the creatures mentioned above. Well there is lot to be known by Christians and Muslims who condemn Idol worship. Without knowing what other people’s concept is, and confining themselves to Bible or Khoran is itself a kind of idol worship. Worshiping of Book and words.

  28. For a person who claims to be a student or expert of theology I find your bases for understanding faiths other than your own surprisingly shallow.

    Simply appending labels like “idol worship” demonstrates how weak and rather impotent your sense of understanding matters of faith and religion are. When “everything is Him” where is the question of making the “idol Him”. Obviously you either dont understand the basics of the Hindu faith OR worse you intentionally distort the religion’s teaching while wearing the collar of expertise. If its the former — drop me a mail if you are seriously interested in a ‘2-email’ exchange.

    If its the latter – There is enough rancor in our world and we dont need any more smoke screens than ones already there – doing so is only an act of desperation!

    Regards, RK Sharma

  29. And one more qn for you – in your books is a “good Christian” one who is ignorant of other faiths or worse insults the beliefs and practices of others?

  30. RK, I don’t claim to be an expert in anything, and am happy to learn from you more about Hinduism. But as a Christian I don’t agree that “everything is Him” and so cannot accept that any material object is truly divine or worthy of worship. This is of course a fundamental point of contradiction between Hinduism and Christianity, one of which I would expect a “good Hindu” not to be ignorant. I took the word “idol” from a report from the BBC, usually considered to be impartial, so if you don’t accept this as a description of what Obama was reportedly carrying about please take this up with them.

  31. Obama is neither a Hindu, Muslim or a Christian.

    He is a very spiritual man who sees all religions are different ways to realize, ONE AND ONLY GOD or TRUTH. Obama is a person who firmly believes in the Hindu scriptural teachings such as

    “Ekam Sat Viprah Bahudha Vadanti”
    Truth or GOD is one; sages call it by various names”;

    “Aano bhadrah kritawo yantu vishwataha”
    ‘Let noble thoughts come to us from every side ‘

    “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam:”
    “The entire creation is one family.”;

    Brought up in Indonesia during his childhood, where Hindus and Christians live in amity with Muslims, Obama’s fascination for all religions is understandable.

    Hinduism is NOT an organized religion like Islam or Christianity but a CULTURE and as such every one will be influenced by it.

  32. Mr.Kirk, please try to know the plain truth that is Jesus is not a God but God’s messenger. Then who is the God. God is Parameshwara or the supreme one. Even Jesus learned vedas, Buddhist scripts and worshiped Lord Shiva and propogated the essence of Sanatana Dharma to the West. He stayed in Himalayas for more than 14 years and learned all yogas and attained siddhis. So please try to know the truth before you discuss. And moreover, where was Christianity before Jesus, where was Islam before Prophet Muhammed and so on. One which has a begining will have an end. Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) was not founded by any one nor it has a beginnning.

  33. Mr peter ,i went through all of your remarks and your wording is really very decent but it will be in correct to opine about Hindu Religion with incomplete information or knowledge. Even ,Sanskrit scholar of now a days are unable to comprehend and interpret Vedas or Upanishads. Vedas don’t advocate any religion ,it contains only the knowledge ,it is being believed that Vedas are utterance of creator of our own universe Lord Brahma. So ,it will be my request to go through the Veda and tell me one of such saying which contradicts the present discovery of science.
    For your better understanding ,I would like to draw your attention on recent scientific development of GOD particle. As it is being claimed by scientist that the atom gained mass through God particle and they are in search of that .in Vedas ,it was clearly defined that Lord Shiva is in each atom and in everything and in everywhere Shiva is there ,So Shiva (the atom) without such invisible God Particle (Shakti) was in a floating state (because of that we say Shiva in a dancing State/ Natrajan ) and a invisible powers comes and touches the atom and thus the atom gained the mass and united together to form star ,planets or sub planets.
    Because of that from time immemorial in Vedas ,it is being written that Shiva and Shakti are one and same i.e., Shiva is incomplete without Shakti.
    Regarding idol worship ,please try to understand that human brain and sense is unable to meditate original and widespread form of God. We believe that god is omnipresent and formless. Considering the restricted capacity of human brain, idol worship can improve the concentration and devotion towards God. So ,you should not interpret that original form of god is same as idol.
    As earlier one of the participant told that Hindu is not a religion but Hindu means way of life. it outlines basic and correct way to lead human life. Regarding Hinduism ,it is oldest and ever acceptable religion. one important aspect is that unlike other religion there is no one founder. Vedas and Upanisads are written by saints but never claimed

    Regarding one god /36 crore demy God or Goddesses ,I will put forth my opinion latter

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