Hinduism originated near the river Indus over 5,000 years ago, although elements of the faith are much older. The Hindu tradition has no founder and is best understood as a group of closely connected religious traditions rather than a single religion. It represents a complete way of life and is practised by over 900 million followers. Eighty per cent of the population of India is Hindu. Hindus believe in one God and worship that one God under many manifestations, deities or images. Examples of Hindu deities are Krishna, Shiva, Rama and Durga.
Hindus believe that existence is a cycle of birth, death and rebirth, governed by karma (a complex belief in cause and effect). Hindus believe that all prayers addressed to any form or manifestation will ultimately reach the one God. Hinduism does not prescribe particular dogmas; rather it asks individuals to worship God according to their own belief. It therefore allows a great deal of freedom in matters of faith and worship.
Most Hindu patients have a positive attitude towards healthcare staff and are willing to seek medical help and advice when sick. Many Hindu patients may be using Ayurvedic medicine and, as this may involve the use of herbal remedies, it is important to find out.
Hindus will usually wish to pray twice daily. Where possible they will burn incense and use holy books and prayer beads. Privacy would be appreciated for prayer times.
Most Hindus are vegetarian. The cow is viewed as a sacred animal so even meat-eating Hindus may not eat beef. Some Hindus will eat eggs, some will not, and some will also refuse onion or garlic; it is best to ask each individual. Dairy produce is acceptable so long as it is free of animal rennet, so for example the only cheese some Hindus will eat may be cottage cheese. It is important to remember that strict vegetarians will be unhappy about eating vegetarian items if they are served from the same plate or with the same utensils as meat.
Fasting is a regular feature of the Hindu religion but few Hindus insist on fasting in hospital. Fasting is commonly practised on new moon days and during festivals such as Shivaratri, Saraswati Puja and Durga Puja. Some fasts may only require abstinence from certain foods. At the end of each period of fasting, visitors may bring in prasad * that the patient can join in the celebration.
* Food that has been blessed
Hindus will require water for washing in the same room as the toilet itself. If there is no tap there, or if they have to use a bed-pan, they will be grateful to have a container of water provided. Hindu patients prefer to wash in free-flowing water, rather than sit in a bath. As Indian food is eaten using the fingers, hand washing before and after meals is customary.
A Hindu woman will much prefer a female doctor when being examined or treated. Hindu women should be accommodated in mixed wards only in emergencies. A Hindu woman may find it difficult to accept an X-ray gown because it is short.
Hindu women may wear bangles or a thread and you should not remove them without permission. Some Hindus wear a red spot on their foreheads or scalp, which again should not be removed or washed off without permission.
If a Hindu patient is dying in hospital, relatives may wish to bring money and clothes for him or her to touch before they are given to the needy. They will wish to keep a bedside vigil — if the visitors are not allowed to go to the bedside themselves they will be grateful if a nurse can do this for them while they wait. Some relatives will welcome an opportunity to sit with the dying patient and read from a holy book.
After death the body should always be left covered. Sacred objects should not be removed. Relatives will wish to wash the body and put on new clothes before taking it from the hospital. Traditionally the eldest son of the deceased should take a leading part in this, however young he may be. If a post mortem is unavoidable, Hindus will wish all organs to be returned to the body before cremation (or burial for children under five years old).
Relatives will want to make sure the mother has complete rest for 40 days after birth and they will be worried if she has to get up for a bath within the first few days. This attitude is based on the belief that a woman is at her weakest at this time and is very susceptible to chills, backache etc.
If there is a need to separate mother and baby for any reason this should be done tactfully as she may prefer to keep the baby with her at all times.
Some Hindus consider it crucial to record the time of birth (to the minute) so that a Hindu priest can cast the child's horoscope accurately.
There is no objection to family planning from the religious point of view. However, there may be strong social pressures on women to go on having babies, particularly if no son has yet been born, and you should involve her husband in any discussion of family planning.
Most Hindus have no objection to blood transfusions and may receive transplants or donate organs for transplant.