Dharma - Hinduism - Indian Religion
Quatr.us answers questions

What is Dharma?

Dharma is a Sanskrit word originally meaning order or solidity or normality. It comes from an earlier Indo-European word meaning firm, solid, like wood or a tree. Hindus later on used it to mean something like "law" or "duty" - it's the laws of nature that keep order in the universe, like Greek "nomos". But, like Greek "nomos", dharma is also the laws of the gods and of people, that tell us how to behave, upright like a tree.

People sometimes think of dharma as being related to the Chinese idea of the Tao - the Way, that is the right way. The more you live in accordance with your dharma, the quicker you stop being reborn and get to nirvana.

In Hindu thought, people had different dharma depending on who they were. People were supposed to know their place and behave according to whether they were boys or girls, their caste and their stage in life - children had different dharma from their parents, for example. So the idea of dharma was one of the main ways of convincing people to put up with the oppression of women and the oppression of the caste system and slavery. But it was also a way for people to feel that they knew who they were and what they should do - for people to feel centered in the world.

The Bhagavad Gita is a section of the Indian epic The Mahabharata where the god Krishna explains dharma to the prince Arjuna. Arjuna doesn't want to fight and kill people in a battle, but Krishna tells him that it is his dharma, and finally Arjuna agrees to fight.

More about the Bhagavad Gita
More about Hinduism
Learn by Doing - a project on Hinduism

Bibliography and further reading about Hinduism:

Shiva
Vishnu
Krishna
Buddhism
More about Indian Religion
More about India
Quatr.us home


Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

Help support Quatr.us!

Quatr.us (formerly "History for Kids") is entirely supported by your generous donations and by our sponsors. Most donors give about $10. Can you give $10 today to keep this site running? Or give $50 to sponsor a page?

Happy New Year! Welcome back! Get ready for Martin Luther King day with these articles about medieval Africa, slavery, the Civil War, emancipation, the civil rights movement, and Martin Luther King Jr. himself. More about King here...