Hindu Religion

Other Spellings / Synonyms : Hindoo (archaic), Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Dharma) Brahmanism

History and Origin : Historically, Hindus can be referred to as the successors of Vedic Aryans and other tribes of India. Most of the Hindus today live in the Republic of India. Another popular name for India is Hindustan, meaning the land of Hindus. Hinduism is characterized by a diverse array of belief systems, practices and scriptures. It has its origin in ancient Vedic culture at least as far back as 2000 BC.

Hindi has no actual word for "religion" - Hinduism is not a compartmentalized belief system so much as it is a way of life. As a result, some argue that Hinduism isn't really a religion after all. It is, however, more like a religion than anything else, but it is important to keep in mind that it isn't a "religion" just like Christianity or Judaism are religions. It is because Hinduism has developed over the course of 3000 years that it is difficult to define, but scholars are able to distinguish several forms and stages. Among some of the categories are Vedic Hinduism, Brahmanic Hinduism, Philosophical Hinduism, Devotional Hinduism, and Reformed Hinduism.

Founder : The Hindu dharma is said to have no founder. The word 'Sanatana' implies that it always existed.

Time of Origin : Hindu dharma is said to be the world's oldest living dharma (religious philosophy and way of life). Historians believe Hindu dharma to be over 8500 years old.

Place of Origin : The root of Hindu dharma lie in the Indian subcontinent, in the Indus (Sindhu) valley which had 300 advanced settlements as early as 5000 BCE.

Population : Hinduism is said to be the third largest religion as it has more than one billion people across the world.

Regional Spread : The vast majority of Hindus, approx. 950 million, live in the Indian subcontinent, the birthplace of Hinduism. The Himalayan kingdom of Nepal is the world's only Hindu nation. Besides, large Hindu communities, mostly expatriates from India, live in South East Asia, North America, the West Indies, Western Europe, the Middle East, East Africa and South Africa. The Hindus of Bali, and in other parts of Indonesia are indigenous Indonesian Hindus.

Major Gods : The Hindus worship many gods as varicolored forms of the same prism of Truth. Among the most popular are Vishnu (and its incarnations as Krishna or Rama), Shiva, Devi (the Mother as many female deities, such as Parvati, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kali and Durga), Ganesha, Skanda and Hanuman. Worship of deities is done through the aid of pictures or icons (murti) which are said not to be God themselves but conduits for the devotee's consciousness.

Religious Texts : The Hindu Dharma primarily believes in the following texts:
  • Vedas: To all Hindus, the Vedas are the main source of religious social and religious practices in Hindu, and indeed Indian society.
  • Puranas: The Puranas are a wide collection of religious treatises, biographies and stories on the historical, mythological and religious characters in Hindu folklore, classic literature and sacred scriptures.
  • Mahabharata: The most popular Hindu scriptures are the Mahabharata, the holy war between good and evil.
  • Bhagavad Gita: The Bhagavad Gita contains Krishna's discourse to the warrior prince Arjuna. It is the guide book on life for the common Hindu.
  • Ramayana: This very important Hindu epic contains the story of Ram, the King of Ayodhya. To the Hindus, Rama is the image of Hinduism, the Perfect Man.
The Four Goals of Life : Common to practically all Hindus is the philosophy of purushartha, the "four goals of life". They are kama, artha, dharma and moksha. It is said that all humans seek kama (pleasure, physical or emotional) and artha (power, fame and wealth), but soon, with maturity, learn to govern these legitimate desires within a higher, pragmatic framework of dharma, or moral harmony in all. Of course, the only goal that is truly infinite, whose attainment results in absolute happiness, is moksha, or liberation from Samsara, the cycle of life, death, and existential duality.

Major Sects in Hinduism : Contemporary Hinduism is traditionally divided into four major divisions - Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and Smartism. These sects shares rituals, beliefs, traditions and gods with one another, but each sect has a different philosophy on how to achieve life's ultimate goal i.e. moksa or liberation) and on their views of the Gods.

Varna System : The traditional Hindu society divides itself into four varnas on the basis of division of labor:
  • Brahmins or the priestly class
  • Kshatriyas or the warriors
  • Vaishyas or the merchants/craftsmen class
  • Shudras or the workers
Sacred Symbols : Two of the most revered symbols in Hinduism are:
  • Aum - is the standard sign of Hinduism, and is prefixed and sometimes suffixed to all Hindu mantras and prayers.
  • The Swastika is an Arya, or noble symbol. It stands for stability within the power of Brahma or, alternatively, of Surya, the sun.
Food Habits : The Hindu religion encourages vegetarianism as it says belief that all animals have Atman or soul and thus should not be killed. Though a lot many Hindus in present times consume non-vegetarian food, most Hindus abstain from Beef, as cow is considered holy in Hinduism. Many Hindus refrain from non-vegetarian food on holy days.

Marriage Preference : Wedding ceremonies and rituals vary in Hinduism. Usually, the marriages are arranged by the parents. When a boy or girl becomes eligible for marriage, Hindu parents look for a prospective match for their children from their own community or caste. The ritual of matching the jathakam or janampatri (horoscope) of the prospective bride and groom with the help of a priest is also widely practiced by many Hindus.

Wedding Ceremonies : Hindu marriage ceremonies are very colorful and elaborate. A lot of colorful rituals take place both in the bride and the groom's house before and after the wedding. Saptapadi or the saat phere is an important ritual performed during the wedding in which the bride and the groom circumambulate a sacred fire, known as agni, seven times. Dowry forms an integral part of Hindu marriage. It may be noted that in 1961 the Indian government made dowry illegal.

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