Gujarati Hindus are divided into a large number of religious sects. There are two broad categories: those who worship one or a combination of some of the great Vedic deities or of the Puranic accretions to the orthodox pantheon; and those who deny the regular deities and prohibit idol worship. The former are the Shaivites, Shaktas or Devi Bhaktas, Vaishnavites, and the followers of minor deities. The latter belong to the Arya Samaj, Kabir Panthi, and other such fairly modern sects. These sects are not mutually exclusive.
Religious Beliefs. A Gujarati Hindu attaches the greatest importance to bathing. He or she observes fasts once a week and every eleventh day in a fortnight. A Gujarati Hindu believes in Heaven, Hell, and the transmigration of the soul. One hopes to better one's position in this and the life to come by one's devotion to God, by dan (charity), and by daya (mercy toward fellow human beings and cows, etc.). Gujarati Jains, though few in number, occupy an important place in Gujarati society and the economy. Jainism rejects the authority of the Vedas and the spiritual supremacy of the Brahmans. The highest goal of Jainism is nirvana or moksha, the setting free of the individual from the sanskara, the cycle of birth and death. The Jains are divided into two sects, Digambaris and Svetambaris. The cow is worshiped and considered sacred by Hindus. Besides worshiping various idols, an average Hindu worships animals, trees, fire, etc. and believes in bhuts (possessing spirits). Belief in omens is also common. Hindus believe that the result of every undertaking is foreshadowed by certain signs and hints.
Religious Practitioners. The life-cycle ceremonies are performed by Brahmans. Wandering holy men, however, are revered irrespective of their caste, religion, or origin. Gujaratis also patronize men who have a reputation for being able to rid the individual of bhuts.
Ceremonies. Ceremonies are performed at birth, Marriage, and death when relatives are invited for feasts. Among the important festivals are: Diwali, the festival of lamps; Hindu new year's day, which is the next day after Diwali; Utran or Sankrant, a festival of the harvest; and Navratra, a festival of the "nine nights" involving a folk dance called Garba.
Arts. Ras and Garba are important folk dances performed by both males and females. Melas , fairs either at pilgrimage places or on the bank of a river during certain festivals, attract a large crowd where people dance, sing, and watch bullfights or cockfights. Bhavai is a popular folk drama, generally performed in open spaces in villages and towns. Wood and stone sculptures decorating temples, palaces, and private buildings are well known. Paintings called sathia and rangoli, done by using powdered chalk, are made by women at the threshold of their houses for festivals and other ceremonies. The calico printing of Gujarat is famous. Tattooing is common among certain castes in Saurashtra and north Gujarat.
Medicine. Traditionally, disease was believed to be caused by an imbalance of elements in the body, as well as by several supernatural causes such as the displeasure of a god or goddess or spirit possession. Although home remedies and concoctions of local herbs are still used, modern medicine has been increasingly accepted and used.
Death and Afterlife. Normally a corpse is not kept more than twelve hours. It is taken in a procession mainly of males to the cremation ground. There the body is laid upon the pyre with its head to the north. The chief mourner lights the pyre. The period of mourning varies from a fortnight to a year according to the age of the deceased and the closeness of the relationship. A caste dinner is given on the twelfth and thirteenth days afterward as a part of the death rites. Certain religious rituals are performed and Brahmans are given gifts according to what the mourners can afford.