Hinduismis a religion, or more clearly a way of life, where Hindus have to follow, regardless of class, caste, or sect, ideals such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings, purity, goodwill, mercy, patience, forbearance, self-restraint and generosity.
Hinduism has been called the “oldest religion in the world. Some practitioners and scholars refer it asSanātana Dharma, “the eternal law” or the “eternal way” beyond human origins. Scholars regard Hinduism as a synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with diverse roots and no definite founder. This “Hindu synthesis” started to develop between 500 BCE and 300 BCE, following the Vedic period (1500 BCE to 500 BCE).
Hinduism which is the world’s third most popular religion, with around 75 million followers, contains a broad range of philosophies and is linked by shared concepts, recognizable rituals, cosmology and shared pilgrimage and sacred sites. Hindu texts are classified into Shruti (“heard”) and Smriti (“remembered”). These texts discuss theology, philosophy, mythology, Vedic yajna yoga and agamic rituals and temple building among other topics.
Major scriptures include the Vedas and Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Agamas. Sources of authority and eternal truths in their texts play an important role but there is also a strong Hindu tradition of questioning this authority, to deepen the understanding ofthese truths and to further develop the tradition.
Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include the four Puruṣārthas, the proper goals or aims of human life. These are namely Dharma (ethics/duties), Artha (prosperity/work), Kama (desires/passionsand Moksha (liberation/freedom). Karma (action, intent and consequences), samsara (cycle of rebirth), and the various Yogas are the paths or practices to attain Moksha. Hindu practices include rituals such as puja (worship) and recitations, meditation, family-oriented rites of passage, annual festivals and occasional pilgrimages. Some Hindus leave their social world and material possessions, then engage in lifelong Sannyasa (monastic practices) to achieve Moksha. Hinduism prescribes the eternal duties, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings (ahimsa), patience, forbearance, self-restraint, and compassion among others.
The wordHinduis derived from the Indo-Aryan/Sanskrit wordSindhu, the Indo-Aryan name for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent , “The actual term ‘Hindu’ first occurs as a Persian geographical term for the people who lived beyond the river Indus. Hinduism includes a diversity of ideas on spirituality and traditions, but has no ecclesiastical order, no unquestionable religious authorities, no governing body, no prophet(s) nor any binding holy book..
Sanātana Dharma : Sanātana Dharmarefers to the “eternal” duties all Hindus have to follow, regardless of class, caste, or sect, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings, purity, goodwill, mercy, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, generosity, and asceticism. This is contrasted with svadharma, one's “own duty”, the duties to be followed by members of a specific caste and stage of life. Hinduism’s toleranceto variations in belief and its broad range of traditions make it difficult to define it as a religion according to traditional Western conceptions.
Diversity and unity : Hinduism does not have a “unified system of belief encoded in a declaration of faith or a creed”, but is rather an umbrella term characterized by plurality. Unlike other religions, the Hindu religion does not claim any one prophet, it does not worship any one God, it does not believe in any one philosophic concept, and does not follow any one act of religious rites or performances.
Sense of unity : Despite the differences, there is also a sense of unity. Most Hindu traditions revere a body of religious or sacred literature, the Vedas, although there are exceptions. These texts are a reminder of the ancient cultural heritage and point of pride for Hindus.
Beliefs: Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include (but are not restricted to) ethics/duties (Dharma), the continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth (Samsāra) action, intent and consequences (Karma), liberation from samsara or liberation in this life (Moksha) and the various paths or practices (Yogas).
Authority : Authority and eternal truths play an important role in Hinduism. Religious traditions and truth are believed to be contained in its sacred texts, which are accessed and taught by sages, gurus, saints or avatars. But there is also a strong tradition of questioning of the authority, internal debate and challenging of religious texts in Hinduism. The Hindus believe that this deepens the understanding of the eternal truths. Authority was mediated through an intellectual culture that tended to develop ideas collaboratively, and according to the shared logic of natural reason. Narratives in the Upanishads present characters questioning persons of authority.
Hindus actually believe in one God, Brahman, who is the eternal origin, cause and foundation of all existence. The Gods of the Hindu faith represent different forms of Brahman. These Gods are sent to help people find the Universal God (Brahman).Most Hindus have a personal God or Goddess such as Shiva, Krishna or Lakshmi to whom they pray regularly. The three most important Hindu Gods (forms of Brahman) are Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswar. Other Hindu gods include Saraswathi - Goddess of Wisdom and wife of Lord Brahma. Saraswathi is the Hindu Goddess of knowledge, music and all the creative arts. Lakshmi - Goddess of Wealth is the wife of Lord Vishnu. Lakshmi is the Goddess of light, beauty, good fortune and wealth. Parvati is regarded as a representation ofShakti. Parvati is the wife of Lord Shiva and the Goddess of household and motherhood. Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati. The Hindu god has a human form but with thehead of an elephant.
The most ancient sacred texts of the Hindu religion are written in Sanskrit and called the Vedas. Hinduism does not just have one sacred book but several scriptures. The Vedas guide Hindus in their daily life. They also help to preserve the religious dimensions of family and society. Hindus have developed their system of worship and beliefs based on this scriptures.
The following works written in the Sanskrit language:
1.The Vedas Rg-Veda (Rigveda), Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda, Atharva-Veda (see further down ) 2. The Upanisads ― These consider the nature of the individual soul (Atman) and the universal soul (Brahman.) One of the Upanishads contains the earliest reference to the reincarnation of the soul in different bodies (transmigration) of the soul. 3. The Smrutis ― (‘tradition) are the Laws of Manu (250 BC)
4. Ramayana ― Contains the story of Rama and his devoted wife Sita. She is kidnapped by the demon king Ravana but is later freed by Rama with the help of the monkey god Hanuman. The poem is about how good will always triumphs over evil and Rama and Sita are held up asrole models for the perfect husband and wife. 5. Mahabharata ― An epic poem telling the story of a war between two branches of a family. The Bhagavad-Gita forms part of this and means “The Song of God.” 6. The Puranas ― A collection of ancient tales about the different incarnations and the lives of saints.
The Vedas are the oldest religious texts in Hinduism. The word Veda means knowledge. It is believed that the Vedas were orally revealed by Brahma to certain sages, who heard them and passed them down in an oral tradition. They were not written down, in fact this was prohibited. Because of this earliest oral tradition continuing even now when the Vedas are available in the written form, the Vedas are still known to be Sruti (that which is heard).
The Vedas are mainly comprised of hymns or mantras written in the Sanskrit language. They cover various subjects, from nature to everyday life and behaviour and form the basis of all other religious writings. Each Veda is divided into four sections. The Samhitas - The oldest portion and contains the mantras and hymns known as the Brahmanas (ritualistic teachings). They are written in prose and explain the hymns. The Aranyakas is the meditational section. The Upanishads consider the nature of the individual soul (Atman) and the universal soul (Brahman.) One of the Upanishads contains the earliest reference to the reincarnation of the soul in different bodies (transmigration) of the soul. The Vedas are the law. Most Hindu beliefs, concepts, and ceremonies are based on them. The three essentials of Hinduism are belief in God, in the Vedas as revelation and in the doctrine of Karma and transmigration. One point of difference between Hinduism and other religions is that in Hinduism we pass from truth to truth—from a lower truth to a higher truth—and never from error to truth. There is this difference between the love taught by Christianity and that taught by Hinduism. Christianity teaches us to love our neighbours as we should wish them to love us asks us, to love them as ourselves and to see ourselves in them.
Individuality in universality is the plan of creation. Each cell has its part in bringing about consciousness. Man is individual and at the same time universal. It is while realizing our individual nature that we realize our national and universal nature. By practice one can feel universal selfhood which is the essence of Hinduism.