The Framework of Sanatana Dharma
Hinduism, often called Sanatana Dharma by its followers ( meaning eternal dharma or eternal order , sometimes called eternal religion ), is indefinitely one of the more complex faiths the world has to offer. From an outsider’s point of view, the entire religion and lifestyle seems to be impossible to understand, given how everything intersects and somehow pertains to something else within the faith. However, if one begins from the bottom up, it is easier to unravel the mystery and thus lessens confusion.
Four words you must be very familiar with in Hinduism are Dharma, Samsara, Moksha , and Brahman. Samsara is what is commonly referred to as reincarnation, the near endless cycle of rebirth and death. Moksha is release from Samsara, it is being severed from the ever-circling wheel and being brought into a state of relinquishment and bliss. Achieving Moksha is done partially through fulfilling one’s Dharma, or holy duty. Your Dharma is essentially your life’s purpose, your single highest goal.
Brahman is bit more difficult to explain. Hinduism is widely thought of as polytheistic by much of the general population, but this simply is not the case. Despite there being numerous deities, called devas for males and devis for females, they are all the same being at their core. This makes Hinduism quite obviously monotheistic at its core. “But wait! How can they all be the same?”, you ask. All the Devas and Devis are seen as pieces or aspects of Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. Think of it like a tree. Brahman is the roots, the main deities are the trunk, and the branches are offshoots of well-known gods.
Brahman has differing names based on sect, most notably being called Devi or Adi Parashakti in the Shaktism sect. But we’ll talk more about sects and specific terminology later. Brahman is often considered formless, projecting its aspects through all the world’s gods. Although, there are numerous devotees all across the globe who see one specific Deva/Devi as the highest incarnation of Brahman, or rather, the truest reflection of Brahman there is. Brahman, when thought of as formless, is also without gender. It is neither male nor female, as it projects itself as both.
Now, back to Moksha. Moksha cannot be attained solely by fulfillment of Dharma. To truly be able to attain it, one must obtain knowledge of their Self, the Atman or Inner Soul. Knowledge of the Self is discussed heavily in the Bhagavad-Gita, an excerpt from the Mahabharata narrating a heavy exchange of knowledge between Sri Krishna and Arjuna. Self-knowledge is most easily obtained through copious amounts of devotion, meditation, and study.
Devotion, beyond being needed to receive knowledge of the Atman, is incredibly important to certain Devas and Devis. Mahakali specifically, She does not grant prayers or aid to those who do not have full and complete devotion. Through devotion, one can increase their chances of being liberated from Samsara, as worship helps one draw closer to their gods, and in turn, Brahman.