Hinduism is the world's third largest religion with over five hundredmillion followers. It began in India. Presently over two-thirds of itsfollowers live in India. It is believed that Hinduism goes back overfour thousand years and is the oldest of all religions.
According to Hindu doctrine, the ideal life consists of four stages:
1. The period of descipline and education
2. The life of the householder and active worker
3. The retreat for the loosening of the bonds
4. The life of the hermit, preparing for death and union with God.In homes where Hinduism is practiced there is generally a room or corner of a room for worship called puja where there arepictures of a statue of a particular God.
Hinduism recognizes thousands of lessor Gods that all come under theumbrella of the one God Brahman. Hinduism also recognizes the devineavatars, God-realized beings living on Earth. Two Main Avatars
Rama - around 5000 BC
Rama lived over twenty thousand years ago.
The name 'Rama' looks like Ra the Egyptian God.
The richest temple and a very important vaishnavite temple
Hinduism - the beliefs, practices, and socioreligious institutions ofthe Hindus (originally, the inhabitants of the land of the IndusRiver). Introduced in about 1830 by British writers, the term properlydenotes the Indian civilization of approximately the last 2,000 years,which evolved from Vedism, the religion of theIndo-European peoples who settled in India in the last centuries of the2nd millennium BC.
Because it integrates a variety of elements, Hinduism constitutes acomplex but largely continuous whole and has religious, social,economic, literary, and artistic aspects. As a religion, Hinduism is acomposite of diverse doctrines, cults, and ways of life. General Nature and Characteristic Features
The spectrum that ranges from the level of popular Hindu belief to thatof elaborate ritual technique and philosophical speculation is verybroad and is attended by many stages of transition and varieties ofcoexistence. Magic rites, animal worship, and belief in demons areoften combined with the worship of more or less personal gods or withmysticism, asceticism, and abstract and profound theological systemsor esoteric doctrines. The worship of local deities does not excludethe belief in pan-Indian higher gods or even in a single high God. Suchlocal deities are also frequently looked upon as manifestations of ahigh God.
In principle, Hinduism incorporates all forms of belief and worshipwithout necessitating the selection or elimination of any. It isaxiomatic that no religious idea in India ever dies or issuperseded--it is merely combined with the new ideas that arise inresponse to it. Hindus are inclined to revere the divine in everymanifestation, whatever it may be, and are doctrinally tolerant,allowing others--including both Hindus and non-Hindus--whatever beliefssuit them best.
A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to bea Hindu, and because Hindus are disposed to think synthetically and toregard other forms of worship, strange gods, and divergent doctrines asinadequate rather than wrong orobjectionable, they tend to believe that the highest divine powerscomplement one another. Few religious ideas are considered to beirreconcilable. The core of religion does not depend on the existenceor nonexistence of God or on whether there is one god or many. Becausereligious truth is said to transcend all verbal definition, it is notconceived in dogmatic terms. Moreover, the tendency of Hindusto distinguish themselves from others on the basis of practice(orthopraxy) rather than doctrine (orthodoxy) further de-emphasizesdoctrinal differences.
Hinduism is both a civilization and a congregation of religions; it hasneither a beginning or founder, nor a central authority, hierarchy, ororganization. Every attempt at a specific definition of Hinduism hasproved unsatisfactory in one way or another, the more so because thefinest scholars of Hinduism, including Hindus themselves, haveemphasized different aspects of the whole. Common Characteristics of Hindu Belief
Nevertheless, it is possible to discern among the myriad forms of Hinduism severalcommon characteristics of belief and practice. Authority of the Veda and the Brahman Class
Perhaps the defining characteristic of Hindu belief is the recognition of the Veda,the most ancient body of religious literature, as an absolute authority revealingfundamental and unassailable truth. At the same time, however, its content haslong been practically unknown to most Hindus, and it is seldom drawn upon forliteral information or advice. Still, it is venerated from a distance by everytraditional Hindu, and those Indians who reject its authority (such as Buddhists andJains) are regarded as unfaithful to their tradition. The Veda is also regarded asthe basis of all the later Shastraic texts used in Hindu doctrine and practice. Partsof the Veda are still quoted in essential Hindu rituals, and it is the source of manyenduring patterns of Hindu thought.
Also characteristic of Hinduism is the belief in the power of the Brahmans, apriestly class possessing spiritual supremacy by birth. As special manifestations ofreligious power and as bearers and teachers of the Veda, Brahmans areconsidered to represent the ideal of ritual purity and social prestige. Doctrine of Atman-brahman
Hindus believe in an uncreated, eternal, infinite, transcendent, and all-embracingprinciple, which, "comprising in itself being and non-being," is the sole reality, theultimate cause and foundation, source, and goal of all existence. This ultimatereality is called brahman. As the All, brahman causes the universe and all beings toemanate from itself, transforms itself into the universe, or assumes itsappearance. Brahman is in all things and is the Self (atman) of all living beings.Brahman is the creator, preserver, or transformer and reabsorber of everything.Although it is Being in itself, without attributes and qualities and hence impersonal,it may also be conceived of as a personal high God, usually as Vishnu (Visnu) orSiva. This fundamental belief in and the essentially religious search for ultimatereality--i.e., the One that is the All--have continued almost unaltered for more than30 centuries and have been the central focus of India's spiritual life. Ahimsa: non-injury
A further characteristic of Hinduism is the ideal of ahimsa. Ahimsa, "non-injury" orthe absence of the desire to harm, is regarded by Indian thinkers as one of thekeystones of their ethics. Historically, ahimsa is unrelated to vegetarianism; inancient India, killing people in war or in capital punishment and killing animals inVedic sacrifices were acceptable to many people who for other reasons refrainedfrom eating meat. However, the two movements, ahimsa and vegetarianism,reinforced one another through the common concept of the disinclination to killand eat animals, and together they contributed to the growing importance of theprotection and veneration of the cow, which gives food without having to be killed.Neither ahimsa nor vegetarianism ever found full acceptance. Even today, manyHindus eat beef, and nonviolence (as the ideal of ahimsa is often translated) hasnever been a notable characteristic of Hindu behaviour. Doctrines of Transmigration and Karma
Hindus generally accept the doctrine of transmigration and rebirth and thecomplementary belief in karma, or previous acts as the factor that determines thecondition into which a being, after a stay in heaven or hell, is reborn in one form oranother. The whole process of rebirths is called samsara. Any earthly process isviewed as cyclic, and all worldly existence is subject to the cycle. Samsara has nobeginning and, in most cases, no end; it is not a cycle of progress or a process ofpurification but a matter of perpetual attachment. Karma, acting like a clockworkthat, while running down, always winds itself up, binds the atmans (selves) ofbeings to the world and compels them to go through an endless series of birthsand deaths. This belief is indissolubly connected with the traditional Indian views ofsociety and earthly life, and any social interaction (particularly those involving sexor food) results in the mutual exchange of good and bad karma. It has given riseto the belief that any misfortune is the effect of karma, or one's own deeds, andto the conviction that the course of world history is conditioned by collectivekarma.
Such doctrines encourage the view that mundane life is not true existence andthat human endeavour should be directed toward a permanent interruption of themechanism of karma and transmigration--that is, toward final emancipation(moksha), toward escaping forever from the impermanence that is an inescapablefeature of mundane existence. In this view the only goal is the one permanent andeternal principle: the One, God, brahman, which is totally opposite to anyphenomenal existence. Anyone who has not fully realized that his being is identicalwith brahman is thus seen as deluded. The only possible solution consists in therealization that the kernel of human personality (atman) really is brahman and thatit is their attachment to worldly objects that prevents people from reachingsalvation and eternal peace. (Hindus sometimes use the largely Buddhist termnirvana to describe this state.) Concepts of Istadevata and Trimurti
Although those Hindus who particularly worship either Vishnu or Siva generallyconsider one or the other as their "favourite god" (istadevata) and as the Lord(Isana) and Brahman in its personal aspect, Vishnu is often regarded as a specialmanifestation of the preservative aspect of the Supreme and Siva as that of thedestructive function. Another deity, Brahma, the creator, remains in thebackground as a demiurge. These three great figures (Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva)constitute the so-called Hindu Trinity (Trimurti, "the One or Whole with ThreeForms"). This conception attempts to synthesize and harmonize the convictionthat the Supreme Power is singular with the plurality of gods in daily religiousworship. Although the concept of the Trimurti assigns a position of specialimportance to some great gods, it never has become a living element in thereligion of the people. Moreover, Brahma has had no major cult since ancienttimes, and many Hindus worship neither Siva nor Vishnu but one or more of theinnumerable other Hindu gods. Ashramas: the Four Stages of Life
In the West, the socalled life-negating aspects of Hinduism have often beenoveremphasized. The polarity of asceticism and sensuality, which assumed theform of a conflict between the aspiration to liberation and the heartfelt desire tohave descendants and continue earthly life, manifested itself in Hindu social life asthe tension between the different goals and stages of life.
The relative value of an active life and the performance of meritorious works (pravrtti) as opposed to therenunciation of all worldly interests and activity ( nivrtti) was a much-debatedissue. While one-sided religious and philosophical works, such as the Upanishads,placed emphasis on renunciation, the dharma texts argued that the householderwho maintains his sacred fire, procreates children, and performs his ritual dutieswell also earns religious merit.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, these dharma textselaborated the social doctrine of the four ashramas (stages of life). This conceptis an attempt at harmonizing the conflicting tendencies of Hinduism into onesystem. It held that a member of the three higher classes should first become achaste student (brahmachari); then become a married householder (grihastha),discharging his debts to his ancestors by begetting sons and to the gods bysacrificing; then retire (as a vanaprastha), with or without his wife, to the forest todevote himself to spiritual contemplation; and finally, but not mandatorily, becomea homeless wandering ascetic (sannyasin). The situation of the forest dweller wasalways a delicate compromise that remained problematic on the mythological leveland was often omitted or rejected in practical life.
Although the status of a householder was often extolled, and some authorities,regarding studentship as a mere preparation, went so far as to brand the otherstages as inferior, there were always people who became wandering asceticsimmediately after studentship. Theorists were inclined to reconcile the divergentviews and practices by allowing the ascetic way of life to those who are, owing tothe effects of restrained conduct in former lives, entirely free from worldly desire,even if they had not gone through the traditional prior stages. Three Margas: Paths to Salvation
Hindus disagree about the way (marga) to final emancipation (moksha). Threepaths to salvation (variously valued but nonexclusive) are presented in anextremely influential religious text, the Bhagavadgita ("Song of the Lord"; c. 200BC), according to which it is not acts themselves but the desire for their resultsthat produces karma and thus attachment. These three ways to salvation are (1)the karma-marga ("the path of duties"), the disinterested discharge of ritual andsocial obligations; (2) the jnana-marga ("the path of knowledge"), the use ofmeditative concentration preceded by a long and systematic ethical andcontemplative training, yoga, to gain a supra-intellectual insight into one's identitywith brahman; and (3) the bhakti-marga ("the path of devotion"), the devotion to apersonal God. These ways are regarded as suited to various types of people.
Although the search for moksha has never been the goal of more than a smallminority of Hindus, liberation was a religious ideal that affected all lives. Mokshadetermined not only the hierarchical values of Indian social institutions andreligious doctrines and practices but also the function of Indian philosophy, whichis to discuss what one must do to find true fulfillment and what one has to realize,by direct experience, in order to escape from samsara (bondage) and obtainspiritual freedom. While those who have not been reached by formal Indianphilosophy have only vague ideas about the doctrines of karma and moksha, insemipopular milieus these doctrines gave rise to much speculation.
For the ordinary Hindu, the main aim of worldly life lies in conforming to social andritual duties, to the traditional rules of conduct for one's caste, family, andprofession. Such requirements constitute an individual's dharma (law and duties),one's own part of the broader stability, law, order, and fundamental equilibrium inthe cosmos, nature, and society. Sanatana (traditional) dharma--a term used byHindus to denote their own religion--is a close approximation to "religiouspractices" in the West.
This traditional dharma applies theoretically to all Hindus,but it is superseded by the more particular dharmas that are appropriate to eachof the four major varnas, or classes of society: Brahmans (priests), Ksatriyas(warrior kings), Vaisyas (the common people), and Sudras (servants). These fourrather abstract categories are further superseded by the more practicallyapplicable dharmas appropriate to each of the thousands of particular castes(jatis). Thus, religion for Hindus is mainly a tradition and a heritage, a way of lifeand a mode of thought. In practice, it is the right application of methods forsecuring both welfare in this life and a good condition in the hereafter. The History of Hinduism
The history of Hinduism began in India about 1500 BC. Although its literature canbe traced only to before 1000 BC, evidence of Hinduism's earlier antecedents isderived from archaeology, comparative philology, and comparative religion. Sources of Hinduism
The earliest literary source for the history of Hinduism is the Rigveda (Rgveda),the hymns of which were chiefly composed during the last two or three centuriesof the 2nd millennium BC. The religious life reflected in this text is not that ofHinduism but of an earlier sacrificial religious system, generally known asBrahmanism or Vedism, which developed in India among Aryan invaders. Thisbranch of a related group of nomadic and seminomadic tribal peoples originallyinhabiting the steppe country of southern Russia and Central Asia brought withthem the horse and chariot and the Sanskrit language. Other branches of thesepeoples penetrated into Europe, bringing with them Indo-European languages thatdeveloped into the chief language groups now spoken there.
Before they entered the Indian subcontinent (c. 1500 BC), the Aryans were inclose contact with the ancestors of the Iranians, as evidenced by similaritiesbetween Sanskrit and the earliest surviving Iranian languages. Thus, the religion ofthe Rigveda contains elements from three evolutionary strata: an early elementcommon to most of the Indo-European tribes; a later element held in common withthe early Iranians; and an element acquired in the Indian subcontinent itself, afterthe main Aryan migrations. Hinduism arose from the continued accretion of furtherelements derived from the original non-Aryan inhabitants, from outside sources,and from the geniuses of individual reformers at all periods.
Hinduism has a few direct survivals from its Indo-European heritage. Some of therituals of the Hindu wedding ceremony, notably the circumambulation of the sacredfire and the cult of the domestic fire itself, have their roots in the remoteIndo-European past. The same is probably true of the custom of cremation andsome aspects of the ancestor cult. The Rigveda contains many otherIndo-European elements, such as the worship of male sky gods with sacrifices andthe existence of the old sky god Dyaus, whose name is cognate with those of theclassical Zeus of Greece and Jupiter of Rome ("Father Jove"). The Vedic heaven,the "world of the fathers," resembled the Germanic Valhalla and seems also to bean Indo-European inheritance. Indo-Iranian Sources
The Indo-Iranian element in later Hinduism is chiefly found in the initiatory ceremony(upanayana) performed by boys of the three upper classes, a rite both in Hinduismand in Zoroastrianism that involves the tying of a sacred cord. The Vedic godVaruna, now an unimportant sea god, appears in the Rigveda as sharing manyfeatures of the Zoroastrian Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord"); the hallucinogenic sacreddrink soma corresponds to the sacred haoma of Zoroastrianism. (SeeZoroastrianism.) Indigenous Sources
Even in the earlier parts of the Rigveda the religion had already acquired numerousspecifically Indian features. Some of the chief gods, for example, have no clearIndo-European or Indo-Iranian counterparts. Although some of the new featuresmay have evolved entirely within the Aryan framework, it is generally presumedthat many of them stem from the influence of the indigenous inhabitants. The VedicAryans may never have been in direct contact with the civilization of the IndusValley in its prime, but the religion of the valley's culture undoubtedly influencedthem. Non-Indo-European sources
The Dravidian Hypothesis
Features of Hinduism that cannot be traced to the Rigveda are sometimesascribed to the influence of the original inhabitants, who are often vaguely andincorrectly referred to as "Dravidians." The ruling classes of the Harappa culture(c. 2500-1700 BC), or the Indus civilization, may have spoken a Dravidian language,but as long as their script remains undeciphered this cannot be proved. Moreover,the presence of Dravidian speakers throughout the whole subcontinent at anytime in history is not attested.
The Mediterranean racial type, to which mostmodern higher-caste Dravidian speakers belong, is widespread throughout India;but it cannot be proved that all people of this type originally spoke Dravidianlanguages or that all followed the same culture. Equally or more widely spread inSouth and Southeast Asia is the Proto-Australoid racial type, the purest membersof which in India are the tribal peoples of the centre and the south, many of whomspeak languages of the Austric family. Thus, although many aspects of Hinduismare traceable to non-Aryan influence, not all of these aspects are borrowed from"Dravidians." In the 20th century the term Dravidian generally refers to a family oflanguages and not to an ethnic group. Other Sources
The Central Asian nomads who entered India in the two centuries before and afterthe beginning of the Christian Era might have influenced the growth of devotionalHinduism out of Vedic religion. The classical Western world directly affected Hindureligious art, and several features of Hinduism can be traced to Zoroastrianism.The influence of later Chinese Taoism on Tantric Hinduism (an esoteric system ofrituals for spiritual power) has been suggested, though not proved. In morerecent centuries, the influence of Islam and Christianity on Hinduism can be seen. The Process of "Sanskritization"
The development of Hinduism can be interpreted as a constant interactionbetween the religion of the upper social groups, represented by the Brahmans(priests and teachers), and the religion of other groups. From the time of theAryan invasion (c. 1500 BC) the indigenous inhabitants of the subcontinent havetended to adapt their religious and social life to Brahmanic norms. This hasdeveloped from the desire of lower-class groups to rise on the social ladder byadopting the ways and beliefs of the higher castes.
This process, sometimescalled "Sanskritization," began in Vedic times when non-Aryan chieftains acceptedthe ministrations of Brahmans and thus achieved social status for themselves andtheir subjects. It was probably the principal method by which Hinduism spreadthrough the subcontinent and into Southeast Asia. Sanskritization still continues inthe form of the conversion of tribal groups, and it is reflected by the persistenttendency of low-caste Hindus to try to raise their status by adopting high-castecustoms, such as wearing the sacred cord and becoming vegetarians.
If Sanskritization has been the main means of spreading Hinduism throughout thesubcontinent, its converse process, which has no convenient label, has been oneof the means whereby Hinduism has changed and developed over the centuries.The Aryan conquerors lived side by side with the indigenous inhabitants of thesubcontinent, and many features of Hinduism, as distinct from Vedic religion, mayhave been adapted from the religions of the non-Aryan peoples of India.
Thephallic emblem of the god Siva arose from a combination of the phallic aspects ofthe Vedic god Indra and a non-Vedic icon of early popular fertility cults. Manyfeatures of Hindu mythology and several of the lesser gods--such as Ganesa, anelephant-headed god, and Hanuman, the monkey god--were incorporated intoHinduism and assimilated into the appropriate Vedic gods by this means. Similarly,the worship of many goddesses who are now regarded as the consorts of thegreat male Hindu gods, as well as the worship of the one great goddess herself,may have originally incorporated the worship of non-Aryan local goddesses.Unorthodox circles on the fringes of Brahmanic culture (probably in southern India)were one of the important sources of the system of ecstatic devotional religionknown as bhakti.
Thus, the history of Hinduism can be interpreted as the imposition of orthodoxcustom upon wider and wider ranges of people and, complementarily, as thesurvival of features of non-Aryan religions that gained strength steadily until theywere adapted by the Brahmans. The Prehistoric Period (3rd and 2nd millennia BC)
Indigenous Prehistoric Religion
The prehistoric culture of the Indus Valley arose in the latter centuries of the 3rdmillennium BC from the metal-using village cultures of the region. There isconsiderable evidence of the religious life of the Indus people, but until theirwriting is deciphered its interpretation is speculative. Enough evidence exists,however, to show that several features of later Hinduism had prehistoric origins.
In most of the village cultures, small terra-cotta figurines of women, found in largequantities, have been interpreted as icons of a fertility deity whose cult waswidespread in the Mediterranean area and in western Asia from Neolithic timesonward. This hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that the goddess wasapparently associated with the bull--a feature also found in the ancient religionsfarther west. Religion in the Indus Valley Civilization
The Harappa culture (often called the Indus Valley civilization), located in modernPakistan, has produced much evidence of the cult of the goddess and the bull.Figurines of both occur, with the goddess being more common than the bull. Thebull, however, appears more frequently on the many steatite seals. A horneddeity, possibly with three faces, occurs on a few seals, and on one seal he issurrounded by animals. A few male figurines in hieratic (sacerdotal) poses and oneapparently in a dancing posture may represent deities.
No building has beendiscovered at any Harappan site that can be positively identified as a temple, butthe Great Bath at Mohenjo-daro was almost certainly used for ritual purposes, aswere the ghats (bathing steps on riverbanks) attached to later Hindu temples.The presence of bathrooms in most of the houses and the remarkable system ofcovered drains indicate a strong concern for cleanliness that may have beenrelated to concepts of ritual purity as well as to ideas of hygiene.
Many seals show religious and legendary themes that cannot be interpreted withcertainty. There is clear evidence, however, of the worship of sacred trees or ofthe divinities believed to reside in them. The bull is often depicted standing beforea sort of altar, and the horned god has been interpreted, perhapsoverconfidently, as a prototype of the Hindu god Siva. Small conical objectsappear to be phallic emblems that are also connected with Siva in later Hinduism,although they may have been pieces used in board games.
Other interpretationsof the remains of the Harappa culture are more speculative and, if accepted,would indicate that many features of later Hinduism were already in existence4,000 years ago. The fact that Harappans buried their dead with grave deposits, apractice not followed by the later Hindus, suggests that they had some belief in anafterlife. Survival of Archaic Religious Practices
Some elements of the religious life of current and past folk religions--notablysacred animals, sacred trees, especially the pipal (Ficus religiosa), and the use ofsmall figurines for cult purposes--are found in all parts of India and may have beenborrowed from pre-Aryan civilizations. On the other hand, these figures are alsocommonly encountered outside of India, and therefore they may have originatedindependently in Hinduism as well. The Vedic Period (2nd millennium-7th century BC)
The Aryans of the early Vedic period left few material remains, but they left a veryimportant literary record called the Rigveda. Its 1,028 hymns are distributedthroughout 10 books, of which the first and the last are the most recent. A hymnusually consists of three sections: it begins with an exhortation that is followed inthe main part by praise of the deity, prayers, and imploration, with frequentreferences to the deity's mythology, and finishes with a specific request.
The Rigveda ("Wisdom of the Verses") is not a unitary work, and its compositionmay have taken several centuries. In its form at the time of its final edition itreflects a well-developed religious system. The date commonly given for the finalrecension of the Rigveda is 1000 BC. During the next two or three centuries theRigveda was supplemented by three other Vedas and, still later, by Vedic textscalled the Brahmanas and the Upanishads Challenges to Brahmanism (7th-2nd century BC)
The century from about 550 BC onward was a period of great change in thereligious life of India. This century saw the rise of breakaway sects of asceticswho denied the authority of the Vedas and of the Brahmans and who followedfounders claiming to have discovered the secret of obtaining release fromtransmigration.
By far the most important of these were Siddhartha Gautama,called the Buddha, and Vardhamana, called Mahavira ("Great Hero"), the greatteacher of Jainism (see also Buddha; Jainism). There were many other heterodoxteachers who organized bands of ascetic followers, and each group followed aspecific code of conduct. They gained considerable support from ruling familiesand merchants. The latter were growing in wealth and influence, and many of themwere searching for alternative forms of religious activity that would give them amore significant role than did orthodox Brahmanism or that would be lessexpensive to support.