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The Weekly 5: Documentaries about Hinduism

In our ‘The Weekly 5’ series we aim to present you with 5 ideas, products, or tools that you can utilize to enhance the quality of your life. We will look at a wide variety of topics with information that can assist you on the road towards fulfillment. This week, we look at 5 of our favorite Documentaries about Hinduism.


The Best Documentaries about Hinduism:

The religion of Hinduism is not only the oldest religion in the world but also the most complex. Across the mystical lands of India, there is a seemingly endless variety of worship rituals and spiritual practices that differentiate one another. When you couple the fact that there are approximately 33 million Hindu Gods with beliefs about gurus, the caste system, internal exploration, and renunciation, it is easy to why the religion can be so dizzying to understand.

The complexity of the religion, however, doesn’t mean that there isn’t wisdom to be found within it. By taking the time to learn about Hinduism through the following five documentaries, you unquestionably will take steps towards understanding the religion and uncovering the wisdom found within it. It was our aim to not only select captivating documentaries but also chose films that highlight different aspects of Hindu culture. With that being said, here is our list (in no particular order) of the five best documentaries about Hinduism:

1.) Awake: The Life of Yogananda:

In the religion of Hinduism, there is a great amount of reverence shown toward the individuals who lead others toward uncovering the deepest truths within themselves. All practicing Hindus believe that it is important to find a worthy spiritual teacher, or guru, to help them along their individual spiritual journeys. Throughout the history of Hinduism, there have been particular gurus that have gained the reputation as being truly transcendent religious figures and this 2014 award-winning documentary highlights one such man.

In ‘Awake: The Life of Yogananda,’ you can learn about the celebrated Hindu sage Paramahansa Yogananda, who was one of the first gurus to teach in the Western world. Yogananda brought the spiritual practice of Kriya Yoga to America in 1920 and soon thereafter captivated audiences of at least 6,000 people. Filmmakers Paola di Florio and Lisa Leeman do a great job of telling Yogananda’s life story in a riveting way and bringing his spiritual teachings to life by showing a variety of interview clips with Yogananda’s disciples, notable scientists, and easily recognizable celebrities.

2.) Varanasi, India: ‘Beyond’:

Due to the pluralistic nature of Hinduism, there are thousands of spiritually significant places in India that draw the attention of Hindus and tourists alike. Without question one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage sites is the city of Varanasi, which sits neatly along the banks of the Ganges River in northern India. Hindu scriptures tell us that Varanasi is the oldest city in the world and was founded by the destroyer god Shiva. It is also believed that one can wash away a lifetime of sins by bathing in the waters of the Ganges.

In Varanasi, India: Beyond, filmmaker Cale Glendening creatively offers viewers the opportunity to not only see the City of Life, but also learn about Hindu Sadhus, or wandering ascetics, who come to Varanasi on their quest for enlightenment. In the film, Glendening follows photographer Joey L. Set and his assistant as they work on a photography project titled Holy Men. If you are interested in watching this captivating documentary, you can find it for free on the video-sharing site Vimeo.

3.) Jai Bhim Comrade:

Deeply rooted within the Hindu religion is the idea that a caste system rightfully places citizens into a particular social class at birth. Hindus believe that the caste and family in which an individual is born directly relate to the karma they have accumulated in their past lifetimes. If an individual lives a life that is viewed favorably by the Gods, then they will be reborn into a higher social position upon their death. Unfortunately for those who are born into lower castes, there is practically no opportunity to improve their circumstances, obtain an education, or chase their dreams.

For the Dalits or the untouchables of India, this means that a lifetime of oppression and poverty is already determined at birth. In the documentary ‘Jai Bhim Comrade,‘ which took 14 years to make, director Anand Patwardhan examines the prejudice shown towards Dalits and tells the infamous story of the Ramabai killings. In 1997, after a statue of the famous Dalit activist B.R. Ambedkar was desecrated outside of Mumbai, police fired upon a group of protesting Dalits and killed ten individuals. Patwardhan’s film not only tells this story but also looks at the politics of India’s caste system and examines more current challenges Dalits face.

4.) Gulabi Gang:

The untouchables of India aren’t the only demographic of citizens who face challenges within Indian societies. Similarly, Hindu women are faced with their own challenges and are regularly subjected to the harsh realities of oppression and abuse. Stemming from deeply held cultural and religious beliefs, the women of India traditionally haven’t had the opportunities to become educated or employed.

Fortunately, this reality has slowly been changing thanks to international pressure and the work of determined activist groups. In this award-winning 2012 documentary, director Nishtha Jain tells the story of ‘The Gulabi Gang,‘ a group of passionate women from Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh, leading the charge for social change.

5.) Short Cut to Nirvana:

The religion of Hinduism is not only known for being pluralistic for its innumerable amount of Gods but also for the countless number of holidays and festivals that honor these deities. It is assumed that there is a celebration, to honor at least one god, taking place somewhere in India every single day of the year. While Diwali and Holi are probably the most recognized festivals for non-Hindus, it is hard to fathom there being a more spiritually significant festival than the Kumbh Mela.

It is at this festival, which takes place once every three years at four rotating locations, that Hindu’s holy men gather together to discuss the wisdom of the religion and bathe in the holy waters of the Ganges. In the highly acclaimed 2004 documentary ‘Short Cut to Nirvana,’ you get the chance to experience the largest religious gathering in the world from the perspective of four outsiders. The film, which was directed by Nick Day and Maurizio Benazzo, focuses on the 2001 Kumbh Mela at Allahabad and shows the festival from the perspective of four visitors from the United States and Canada.

Additional Watch-Worthy Documentaries about Hinduism:

While these are five of our favorite documentaries about Hinduism, your exploration into the religion doesn’t have to stop here. There are a wide variety of other documentaries that examine the cultural aspects of India and the religion Hinduism. Here are three additional films that we think you may be interested in:

  • India’s Daughter: A highly acclaimed 2015 film that examines India’s culture in response to the 2012 rape and murder of a 23-year-old Indian woman on a private bus outside of New Delhi.
  • Children of Pyre: An award-winning film that looks at the lives of seven working children who cremate bodies at India’s largest crematorium.

Lastly, we wanted to point out that we are eagerly awaiting the release of another documentary about India that will be released later this year:

  • An Insignificant Man: The highly anticipated film about Arvind Kejriwal, a politician who created the Common Man’s political party in hopes of challenging India’s two traditionally powerful parties, will make its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival between September 8th-18th.

3 comments

Shivank Vikram Singh April 13, 2018 - 1:28 pm

How is documentary ” India’s Daughter ” related to cultural aspects of Hinduism. First try to atleast watch yourself what you are suggesting and then give us suggestions.

Potraying Indians in bad light is what I guess is your goal. This documentary generalises Indians in negative light just bcoz of one bad incident.

Atleast we Indians care enough for providing justice to her not like westerners where most of the cases go unnoticed.

Reply
A to Z Essays August 11, 2019 - 4:46 am

Good Collection

Reply
AMIT October 30, 2022 - 3:00 pm

No Bigger lie then this-that Caste system and sanatan dharma are interlinked! This has been the narrative cleverly crafted by the evangelists in consultation with British colonialists later on it was coopted by scholars, historians, administrators, bureaucrats and politicians. Such that before long this view acquired common currency. The world looked at India through the British lens and so this narrative took roots. Poor sanatani’s were left defending themselves against a heavily brainwashed world. The fundamental books of Sanatan Dharma are Puran’s, Upnishads, & Veds. Manusmriti, Ramayan, Mahabharat, & Gita are epics and certainly not the texts to understand sanatan dharma. I neither expect you to acknowledge this lapse nor expect you to climbdown from your high horse.

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