Interpreting the Past

Ancient India Unit: Creating a Mandala of Hindu Beliefs

Assignments to hand in: Basics Hindu Beliefs Chart | Brainstorming Ideas for a Mandala of Hindu Beliefs | A Mandala of Hindu Beliefs

Essential Questions, shared learning target & introduction:

Essential Question 2: Why do people live the way they do?

What will I be able to do?: You will be able to describe aspects of Hinduism and create a mandala that is representative of Hindu beliefs.
What idea, topic, or subject is important for you to learn and understand so that I can do this?: You will learn about the main tenets/core beliefs of Hinduism.
What I will do to show that you know this?: You will show what you know by completing a graphic organizer explaining Hindu beliefs and creating a mandala that represents these core beliefs.


Hinduism is an ancient religion whose origins predate recorded history. It has no single human founder, and it has developed over thousands of years. Its most sacred scriptures are the Vedas, which means "knowledge" in Sanskrit, the ritual language of Hinduism. The Vedas began as an oral tradition, and modern scholars have speculated that they date back as far as 6500 B.C.E. Historians believe that the Vedas were written down around 1000 B.C.E. or earlier. Other elements of Hinduism - such as sacred symbols and the worship of certain Gods - can also be traced back to the seventh century B.C.E.

Hindus praying

The word Hindu was first used by the ancient Persians to describe the practices and beliefs of people who lived east of the river Sindhu, or the Indus River. Hindus call their religion "Sanatana Dharma" (the eternal religion) or "Vedic Dharma" (the religion of knowledge).

Over the millennia Hinduism has continued to evolve, and in modern times it incorporates a wide variety of religious beliefs and practices. Hinduism has historically been tolerant of other religions, believing that all religions can be legitimate paths to God. As of 1997, there were nearly one billion Hindus in the world, more than 900 million of them living in India.

Step 1: Learning about Basic Hindu Beliefs - Complete the Basic Hindu Beliefs Chart by looking at the pictures below and reading the corresponding text. For printing - Description of Hindu Beliefs Handout.

BrahmanThis is a symbolic representation of the individual soul (atman) separating from the Supreme God (Brahman), which is depicted as the cosmos.

Brahman is the name for Hinduism's one Supreme God or Spirit. Brahman creates, maintains, destroys, and recreates the universe in a never-ending cycle. Everything in the world, including each human soul, or atman, is a part of Brahman. Just like a single drop of water in a great ocean, the atman is both separate from and one with Brahman (God). A Hindu's spiritual goal is to unite his or her soul with Brahman.






Multiple Gods
Multiple Gods - Hinduism

In this picture are four Hindu Gods and Goddesses. From the upper left, moving clockwise, we see the Goddess Sri Vishwaroopa, shown here as containing all the Gods within herself; the God Brahman, the creator; the Goddess Durga, the wife of the God Shiva; and the God Vishnu, the preserver.

Hindus worship many Gods and Goddesses, but they believe the Gods are all aspects of the one Supreme God, Brahman. Hindus believe that the multiple Gods represent the countless different qualities and powers of Brahman. Some Hindu Gods have human-like personalities, and others represent such things as success, good luck, and war. Each Hindu person or family may be especially devoted to a particular God or Goddess. Three of the most important Gods are Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma (not to be confused with Brahman).



Dharma - Hinduism
This picture shows people performing the duties of their varna, or class, thereby honoring the Hindu God Vishnu in the center. From upper left, moving clockwise, these classes include the brahmins (religious scholars), the kshtryiyas (lawmakers and warriors), the shudras (laborers), and the vaishyas (merchants).

Dharma means "to hold or support." Part of dharma relates to sacred (holy) duty or moral responsibility. It is the system of rules and values Hindus follow in their everyday life. Another way to think of dharma is as "the right thing to do" in any situation. Hindus believe in a uneversal dharma that includes values all Hindus accept and pratice, such as nonviolence. However, Hindus also believe they have an individual dharma that they should follow. People's dharmas are determined by different things, such as personality, age, sex, and inherited social class, or varna. Hinduism teaches that when people follow their dharma, they contribute to the harmony and balance of society and the universe.


This picture shows the different levels of existence into which people can be reborn, depending on their past actions, or karma.

Hindus believe that karma is the sum of good and bad actions a human soul, or atman, carries with it from life to life. They believe that when people die, the soul leaves the body and is reborn into another body. Hinduism teaches that people's good and bad actions in one life influence their destiny in future lives. In Hinduism, karma determines whether a soul is reborn as a human or an animal, into a rich family or a poor one, and some of the things a person will experience in each lifetime. For example, Hindus believe that a person who steals in this life may be robbed in a future life, or that someone who harms animals may be reborn as an animal.



SamsaraThis picture shows a human's progress through life stages, ending with death and then rebirth in a different body.

In Hinduism, samsara is the continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. The process of rebirth is sometimes referred to as reincarnation. The goal of a Hindu's life is to be released from samsara and united with the Supreme God, Brahman. Hindus call this release moksha and it is achieved after a person's soul has lived through many lifetimes. Hindus achieve moksha by following the path of dharma, balancing their karma (both good and bad actions), worshipping the Gods faithfully, and having a direct and personal experience of God by following certain spiritual practices.







Step 2: Designing and Creating a Mandala (DOK 3) - Design your Mandala using the handout: A Mandal of Hindu Beliefs. Once you've completed the rough draft on the handout provided, transfer your work onto a larger piece of poster paper to create a final draft (be creative and artistic).

Help with designing symbols by examing examples we use today:

Example 1: The Peace Sign
The Peace Symbol

This symbol was originally designed in 1958 for the British nuclear disarmament movement by Gerald Holtom. He used the flag semaphore signs for 'N' (standing for Nuclear in his symbol) and 'D' (standing for Disarmament in his symbol) that the navy used in the past to communicate with other ships. Look at the diagram below and see how the symbols/signs were blended together to create the peace symbol above.
Peace sign explained diagram

Read the description of a Mandala below. (Your mandala should show the relationships among the beliefs. For example, the symbol for karma could be placed next to and before the symbol for samsara, indicating that people's actions in one life affect the kind of life into which they are reborn.)

Explanation of a Mandala: Mandala means "circle" in Sanscrit. Mandalas are circular diagrams that originated with hinduism and are used in both Hinduism and Buddhism to increase spiritual awareness. Hindu mandalas usually consist of a range from simple to very complex. Mandalas symbolize the cyclical nature of the universe, and people often use mandalas to focus themselves during meditation.

Actual Mandala: The Mandala of Vishnu
Mandala of Vishnu

Step 3: Comprehension/Analysis Questions on the Mandala

Answer the following questions using the text, your notes, and mandala. Reference this information in your answers.

1. Using information from the text explain how each of the Hindu beliefs is related to one another. 

Select either #2 or #3 to answer:

2. Describe what you think would happen if someone did not fulfill their dharma.

3. What is your interpretation of how someone can achieve nirvana, provide a detailed example (support your rationale)?

Step 4: Conclusion: Watch Buddhist monks work for six days (time lapse video) to create a sand mandala.

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(CNN Video)