What is Hinduism? There is a misconception about it being worship of many gods - 40,000 can be identified, most being local expressions. Yet a god in Hinduism is a symbolic representation of a force in the universe, a point of devotion which identifies the reality behind the symbol. Take the highest god, Brahma, usually with four heads, meaning the cardinal points of the compass. Four arms mean importance above the human. Each hand holds a symbolic object, representing a trait - intelligence, beauty or subtle forces that created the world. Gods are depicted dancing, showing vibrancy, and some animal-form appears, tying the god to nature. Ganesh shows these traits in action. His father, Shiva, beheaded him, then changed his mind, giving him the head of an elephant. Hence, back to life, he symbolises the error of Shiva, his existence being of teacher to the gods. His influence then reaches down to humans, who invoke him before an undertaking because he is wise and lucky and can remove obstacles. We can therefore see Hindu gods as a process rather than deity, an expression of an allegorical story outing an aspect of humanity. Neither dogmatic nor evangelical, Hinduism is similarly a process that brings together humanity, nature and the supernatural into a system that guides, protects and enables the world and everything in it to co-exist. The person interacts with a reality wider than himself and bigger than society; he forms a pact with universal forces expressed through ritual, sometimes in household shrines, often in temples. At the top of the Hindu pantheon is the Trimurti - the triad of chief gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma is the creator-god. Once created, the world becomes one of choice between preservation and destruction. Vishnu is the preserver, Shiva the destroyer, but working together, they bring the world into balance, for only by them working in harmony can Brahma create. Two other important gods Shakti and Kali. Shakti is the female god, an expression of the nature goddess, and represents the energy by which the creator brings the universe into being, thus sustaining life and the world. Tantrism expresses her through eroticism. The practice includes Kundalini, a serpent life energy which blocks spiritual development. Through erotic devotion Kundalini is awakened. The Kamasutra, meaning ‘thread of love’ is a guide to the practice. As to Kali, she is wife of Shiva, sometimes identified as Shakti. Goddess of Death, she has a girdle of serpents, red eyes, fangs, earrings of corpses, a necklace of skulls and she is black with a coverage of blood. Sometimes gods are incarnated on Earth. These are avatars such as Krishna and Rama, incarnations of Vishnu. They appear in allegorical stories which tell of their actions as heroes assisted by other-worldly forces, usually imparting great moral messages. Various schools have arisen in Hinduism, such as the Vedanta school, formed by the sage Shankara who became a wandering ascetic, opening many monasteries. Other sages include the lst century AD Vatsyayana, accredited with writing the Kamsutra. The following explanation of Hinduism is not exact, but an amalgamation of the main ideas through the schools. For instance, many views exist of how the universe came intro being. At the mystical end, we have the mantra, Om (a mantra is a word repeatedly intoned to aid meditation). But Om has deeper significance, expressing the totality of the Trimurti, the sound of the totality of the universe. Before the universe there was only the sound of 0m, the resonance of everything. Hence, 0m is the process of creation, and as a mantra repeats the creation in the individual. Alternatively, intellectual ideas include Prakriti, the inert substance of the universe upon which form is impressed. Interacting with Prakriti is the life-giving consciousness, or Purusha. Every person and thing is a spark of Purusha, intersecting to allow the universe to be. The idea has echoes in Aristotelianism, and a similar idea exists in quantum physics, reality being electrical vibration from which particles form matter.