Hinduism is the dominant religion, or way of life, in South Asia, most notably India. It includes Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism among numerous other traditions, and a wide spectrum of laws and prescriptions of "daily morality" based on karma, dharma, and societal norms. Hinduism is a categorisation of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid, common set of beliefs. Hinduism, with about one billion followers is the world's third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam.
Hinduism has been called the "oldest religion" in the world, and some practitioners refer to it as SanÄtana Dharma, "the eternal law" or the "eternal way" beyond human origins. Western scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with diverse roots and no single founder. It prescribes the eternal duties, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings (ahimsa), patience, forbearance, self-restraint, compassion, among others.
Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include (but are not restricted to), the four Puruá¹£Ärthas, the proper goals or aims of human life, namely Dharma (ethics/duties), Artha, Kama and Moksha (liberation from samsara, the repeated cycle of rebirth); karma (action, intent and consequences); and the various Yogas (paths or practices to attain moksha). Hindu practices include daily rituals such as puja (worship) and recitations, meditation, family-oriented rites of passage, annual festivals, and occasional pilgrimages. Some leave their social world and material possessions, then engage in lifelong Sannyasa (ascetic practices) to achieve moksha.
Hindu texts are classified into Shruti ("heard") and Smriti ("remembered"). These texts discuss theology, philosophy, mythology, Vedic yajna and agamic rituals and temple building, among other topics. Major scriptures include the Vedas, Upanishads (both Åruti), Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, Manusmá¹ti, and Agamas (all smriti).
The word Hindu is derived (through Persian) from the Indo-Aryan/Sanskrit word Sindhu, the Indo-Aryan name for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent (modern day Pakistan and Northern India). According to Gavin Flood, "The actual term 'hindu' first occurs as a Persian geographical term for the people who lived beyond the river Indus (Sanskrit: Sindhu)". The term 'Hindu' then was a geographical term and did not refer to a religion.
The word Hindu was taken by European languages from the Arabic term al-Hind, which referred to the people who live across the River Indus. This Arabic term was itself taken from the Persian term HindÅ«, which refers to all Indians. By the 13th century, Hindustan emerged as a popular alternative name of India, meaning the "land of Hindus".
The term Hinduism was later used occasionally in some Sanskrit texts such as the later Rajataranginis of Kashmir (Hinduka, c. 1450) and some 16th- to 18th-century Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava texts including Chaitanya Charitamrita and Chaitanya Bhagavata. It was usually used to contrast Hindus with Yavanas or Mlecchas. It was only towards the end of the 18th century that European merchants and colonists began to refer to the followers of Indian religions collectively as Hindus. The term Hinduism was introduced into the English language in the 19th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India.
The study of India and its cultures and religions, and the definition of "Hinduism", has been shaped by the interests of colonialism and by Western notions of religion. Since the 1990s, those influences and its outcomes have been the topic of debate among scholars of Hinduism, and have also been taken over by critics of the Western view on India.
Because of the wide range of traditions and ideas covered by the term, arriving at a comprehensive definition is difficult. The religion "defies our desire to define and categorize it". Hinduism has been variously defined as a religion, a religious tradition, a set of religious beliefs, and "a way of life." From a Western lexical standpoint, Hinduism like other faiths is appropriately referred as a religion. In India the term dharma is preferred, which is broader than the western term "religion". Hindu traditionalists prefer to call it Sanatana Dharma (the eternal or ancient dharma).
The notion of common denominators for several religions and traditions of India was already noted from the 12th century CE on. The notion of "Hinduism" as a "single world religious tradition" was popularised by 19th-century European Indologists who depended on the "brahmana castes" for their information of Indian religions. This led to a "tendency to emphasise Vedic and Brahmanical texts and beliefs as the "essence" of Hindu religiosity in general, and in the modern association of 'Hindu doctrine' with the various Brahmanical schools of the Vedanta (in particular Advaita Vedanta)."
To its adherents, Hinduism is a traditional way of life. Many practitioners refer to Hinduism as SanÄtana Dharma, "the eternal law" or the "eternal way". It refers 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. According to Knott, this also
... refers to the idea that its origins lie beyond human history, and its truths have been divinely revealed (shruti) and passed down through the ages to the present day in the most ancient of the world's scriptures, the Veda. (Knott 1998, p.Â 5)
According to the EncyclopÃ¦dia Britannica;-
The term has also more recently been used by Hindu leaders, reformers, and nationalists to refer to Hinduism as a unified world religion. Sanatana dharma has thus become a synonym for the "eternal" truth and teachings of Hinduism, the latter conceived of as not only transcendent of history and unchanging but also as indivisible and ultimately nonsectarian.
The Sanskrit word dharma has a much more deeper meaning than religion and is not its equivalent. All aspects of a Hindu life, namely acquiring wealth (Artha), fulfillment of desires (kama), and attaining liberation (moksha) are part of dharma which encapsulates the "right way of living" and eternal harmonious principles in their fulfillment.
Growing Hindu identity
This sense of unity and ancientness has been developed over a longer period. According to Nicholson, already between the 12th and the 16th centuries "certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophical teachings of the Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as the "six systems" (saddarsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy." The tendency of "a blurring of philosophical distinctions" has also been noted by Burley. Hacker called this "inclusivism" and Michaels speaks of "the identificatory habit". Lorenzen locates the origins of a distinct Hindu identity in the interaction between Muslims and Hindus, and a process of "mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim other", which started well before 1800. Michaels notes:
As a counteraction to Islamic supremacy and as part of the continuing process of regionalization, two religious innovations developed in the Hindu religions: the formation of sects and a historicization which preceded later nationalism [...] [S]aints and sometimes militant sect leaders, such as the Marathi poet Tukaram (1609-1649) and Ramdas (1608-1681), articulated ideas in which they glorified Hinduism and the past. The Brahmins also produced increasingly historical texts, especially eulogies and chronicles of sacred sites (Mahatmyas), or developed a reflexive passion for collecting and compiling extensive collections of quotations on various subjects.
This inclusivism was further developed in the 19th and 20th centuries by Hindu reform movements and Neo-Vedanta, and has become characteristic of modern Hinduism.
Beginning in the 19th century, Indian modernists re-asserted Hinduism as a major asset of Indian civilisation. Western stereotypes were reversed, emphasizing the universal aspects, and introducing modern approaches of social problems. This approach had a great appeal, not only in India, but also in the west. Major representatives of "Hindu modernism" are Raja Rammohan Roy, Vivekananda, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Mahatma Gandhi.
Raja Rammohan Roy is known as the father of the Hindu Renaissance. He was a major influence on Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), who, according to Flood, was "a figure of great importance in the development of a modern Hindu self-understanding and in formulating the West's view of Hinduism." Central to his philosophy is the idea that the divine exists in all beings, that all human beings can achieve union with this "innate divinity", and that seeing this divine as the essence of others will further love and social harmony. According to Vivekananda, there is an essential unity to Hinduism, which underlies the diversity of its many forms. According to Flood, Vivekananda's vision of Hinduism "is one generally accepted by most English-speaking middle-class Hindus today."
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was "one of India's most erudite scholars to engage with western and Indian philosophy". He sought to reconcile western rationalism with Hinduism, "presenting Hinduism as an essentially rationalistic and humanistic religious experience." This "Global Hinduism" has a worldwide appeal, transcending national boundaries and, according to Flood, "becoming a world religion alongside Christianity, Islam and Buddhism", both for the Hindu diaspora communities and for westerners who are attracted to non-western cultures and religions. It emphasizes universal spiritual values such as social justice, peace and "the spiritual transformation of humanity." It has developed partly due to "re-enculturation", or the Pizza effect, in which elements of Hindu culture have been exported to the West, gaining popularity there, and as a consequence also gained greater popularity in India. This globalization of Hindu culture was initiated by Swami Vivekanandaand and his founding of the Ramakrishna Mission, an effort continued by other teachers, "bringing to the West teachings which have become an important cultural force in western societies, and which in turn have become an important cultural force in India, their place of origin."
Western scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions.
Hinduism's tolerance to variations in belief and its broad range of traditions make it difficult to define as a religion according to traditional Western conceptions.
Some academics suggest that Hinduism can be seen as a category with "fuzzy edges" rather than as a well-defined and rigid entity. Some forms of religious expression are central to Hinduism and others, while not as central, still remain within the category. Based on this idea Ferro-Luzzi has developed a 'Prototype Theory approach' to the definition of Hinduism.
Diversity and inclusivism
Hinduism has been described as a tradition having a "complex, organic, multileveled and sometimes internally inconsistent nature." Hinduism does not have a "unified system of belief encoded in a declaration of faith or a creed", but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena of India. According to the Supreme Court of India,
Unlike other religions in the World, 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, it does not follow any one act of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not satisfy the traditional features of a religion or creed. It is a way of life and nothing more".
Part of the problem with a single definition of the term "Hinduism" is the fact that Hinduism does not have a single historical founder. It is a synthesis of various traditions, the "Brahmanical orthopraxy, the renouncer traditions and popular or local traditions."
Some Hindu philosophies postulate a theistic ontology of creation, of sustenance, and of the destruction of the universe, yet some Hindus are atheists, they view Hinduism more as philosophy than religion.
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. Halbfass cites Renou, according to whom this reverence is a mere
"tipping of the hat", a traditional gesture of saluting an "idol" without any further commitment."
Halbfass does not agree with this characterization and states that, although Shaivism and Vaishaism may be regarded as "self-contained religious constellations", there is a degree of interaction and reference between the "theoreticians and literary representatives" of each tradition which indicates the presence of "a wider sense of identity, a sense of coherence in a shared context and of inclusion in a common framework and horizon".
Hinduism as it is commonly known can be subdivided into a number of major currents. Of the historical division into six darsanas, two prominent schools, Vedanta and Yoga. The main divisions of Hinduism today are Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism. Hinduism also recognises numerous divine beings subordinate to the Supreme Being or regards them as lower manifestations of it. Other notable characteristics include a belief in existence of Ätman (soul, self), reincarnation of one's Ätman, and karma as well as a belief in personal duty, or dharma.
McDaniel (2007) distinguishes six generic "types" of Hinduism, in an attempt to accommodate a variety of views on a rather complex subject:
- Folk Hinduism, based on local traditions and cults of local deities and extending back to prehistoric times, or at least prior to written Vedas.
- Shrauta or "Vedic" Hinduism as practised by traditionalist brahmins (Shrautins).
- Vedantic Hinduism, including Advaita Vedanta (Smartism), based on the philosophical approach of the Upanishads.
- Yogic Hinduism, especially the sect based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
- "Dharmic" Hinduism or "daily morality", based on Karma and upon societal norms such as VivÄha (Hindu marriage customs).
- Bhakti or devotionalist practices
Michaels distinguishes three Hindu religions and four forms of Hindu religiosity. The three Hindu religions are "Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism,", "folk religions and tribal religions," and "founded religions," such as Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Sikhism, but also new religious movements such as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation. The four forms of Hindu religiosity are the classical "karma-marga", jnana-marga, bhakti-marga, and "heroism," which is "rooted in militaristic traditions," such as Ramaism and parts of political Hinduism. This is also called virya-marga.
Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include (but are not restricted to), Dharma (ethics/duties), SamsÄra (the continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), Karma (action, intent and consequences), Moksha (liberation from samsara or liberation in this life), and the various Yogas (paths or practices).
Purusharthas (objectives of human life)
Classical Hindu thought accepts four proper goals or aims of human life: Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. These are known as the Puruá¹£Ärthas:
Dharma (righteousness, ethics)
Dharma is considered the foremost goal of a human being in Hinduism. The concept Dharma includes behaviors that are considered to be in accord with rta, the order that makes life and universe possible, and includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and ââright way of livingââ. Hindu dharma includes the religious duties, moral rights and duties of each individual, as well as behaviors that enable social order, right conduct, and those that are virtuous. Dharma, according to Van Buitenen, is that which all existing beings must accept and respect to sustain harmony and order in the world. It is, states Van Buitenen, the pursuit and execution of oneâs nature and true calling, thus playing oneâs role in cosmic concert. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad states it as:
Nothing is higher than Dharma. The weak overcomes the stronger by Dharma, as over a king. Truly that Dharma is the Truth (Satya); Therefore, when a man speaks the Truth, they say, "He speaks the Dharma"; and if he speaks Dharma, they say, "He speaks the Truth!" For both are one.
In the Mahabharata, Krishna defines dharma as upholding both this-worldly and other-worldly affairs. (Mbh 12.110.11). The word SanÄtana means 'eternal', 'perennial', or 'forever'; thus, 'SanÄtana Dharma' signifies that it is the dharma that has neither beginning nor end.
Artha (livelihood, wealth)
Artha is objective and virtuous pursuit of wealth for livelihood, obligations and economic prosperity. It is inclusive of political life, diplomacy and material well-being. The Artha concept includes all âmeans of lifeâ, activities and resources that enables one to be in a state one wants to be in, wealth, career and financial security. The proper pursuit of artha is considered an important aim of human life in Hinduism.
KÄma (sensual pleasure)
KÄma (Sanskrit, Pali; Devanagari: à¤à¤¾à¤®) means desire, wish, passion, longing, pleasure of the senses, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love, with or without sexual connotations. In Hinduism, Kama is considered an essential and healthy goal of human life when pursued without sacrificing Dharma, Artha and Moksha.
Moká¹£a (liberation, freedom from samsara)
Moksha (Sanskrit: à¤®à¥à¤à¥à¤· moká¹£a) or mukti (Sanskrit: à¤®à¥à¤à¥à¤¤à¤¿) is the ultimate, most important goal in Hinduism. In one sense, Moksha is a concept associated with liberation from sorrow, suffering and saá¹sÄra (birth-rebirth cycle). A release from this eschatological cycle, in after life, particularly in theistic schools of Hinduism is called moksha. In other schools of Hinduism, such as monistic, moksha is a goal achievable in current life, as a state of bliss through self-realization, of comprehending the nature of one's soul, of freedom and of "realizing the whole universe as the Self".
Karma and samsara
Karma translates literally as action, work, or deed, and also refers to a Vedic theory of "moral law of cause and effect". The theory is a combination of (1) causality that may be ethical or non-ethical; (2) ethicization, that is good or bad actions have consequences; and (3) rebirth. Karma theory is interpreted as explaining the present circumstances of an individual with reference to his or her actions in past. These actions may be those in a person's current life, or, in some schools of Hinduism, possibly actions in their past lives; furthermore, the consequences may result in current life, or a person's future lives. This cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth is called samsara. Libration from samsara through moksha is believed to ensure lasting happiness and peace. Hindu scriptures teach that the future is both a function of current human effort derived from free will and past human actions that set the circumstances.
The ultimate goal of life, referred to as moksha, nirvana or samadhi, is understood in several different ways: as the realization of one's union with God; as the realization of one's eternal relationship with God; realization of the unity of all existence; perfect unselfishness and knowledge of the Self; as the attainment of perfect mental peace; and as detachment from worldly desires. Such realization liberates one from samsara, thereby ending the cycle of rebirth, sorrow and suffering. Due to belief in the indestructibility of the soul, death is deemed insignificant with respect to the cosmic self.
The meaning of moksha differs among the various Hindu schools of thought. For example, Advaita Vedanta holds that after attaining moksha a person knows their "soul, self" and identifies it as one with Brahman and everyone in all respects. The followers of Dvaita (dualistic) schools, in moksha state, identify individual "soul, self" as distinct from Brahman but infinitesimally close, and after attaining moksha expect to spend eternity in a loka (heaven). To theistic schools of Hinduism, moksha is liberation from samsara, while for other schools such as the monistic school, moksha is possible in current life and is a psychological concept. According to Deutsche, moksha is transcendental consciousness to the latter, the perfect state of being, of self-realization, of freedom and of "realizing the whole universe as the Self". Moksha in these schools of Hinduism, suggests Klaus Klostermaier, implies a setting free of hitherto fettered faculties, a removing of obstacles to an unrestricted life, permitting a person to be more truly a person in the full sense; the concept presumes an unused human potential of creativity, compassion and understanding which had been blocked and shut out. Moksha is more than liberation from life-rebirth cycle of suffering (samsara); Vedantic school separates this into two: jivanmukti (liberation in this life) and videhamukti (liberation after death).
Concept of God
Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, pandeism, monism, and atheism among others; and its concept of God is complex and depends upon each individual and the tradition and philosophy followed. It is sometimes referred to as henotheistic (i.e., involving devotion to a single god while accepting the existence of others), but any such term is an overgeneralization.
The Nasadiya Sukta (Creation Hymn) of the Rig Veda is one of the earliest texts which "demonstrates a sense of metaphysical speculation" about what created the universe, the concept of god(s) and The One, and whether even The One knows how the universe came into being. The Raigveda praises various deities, none superior nor inferior, in a henotheistic manner. The hymns repeatedly refer to One Truth and Reality. The "One Truth" of Vedic literature, in modern era scholarship, has been interpreted as monotheism, monism, as well as a deified Hidden Principles behind the great happenings and processes of nature.
Hindus believe that all living creatures have a soul. This soul â" the spirit or true "self" of every person, is called the Ätman. The soul is believed to be eternal. According to the monistic/pantheistic (non-dualist) theologies of Hinduism (such as Advaita Vedanta school), this Atman is indistinct from Brahman, the supreme spirit. The goal of life, according to the Advaita school, is to realise that one's soul is identical to supreme soul, that the supreme soul is present in everything and everyone, all life is interconnected and there is oneness in all life. Dualistic schools (see Dvaita and Bhakti) understand Brahman as a Supreme Being separate from individual souls. They worship the Supreme Being variously as Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti, depending upon the sect. God is called Ishvara, Bhagavan, Parameshwara, Deva or Devi, and these terms have different meanings in different schools of Hinduism.
The Hindu scriptures refer to celestial entities called Devas (or devÄ« in feminine form; devatÄ used synonymously for Deva in Hindi), which may be translated into English as "gods" or "heavenly beings". The devas are an integral part of Hindu culture and are depicted in art, architecture and through icons, and mythological stories about them are related in the scriptures, particularly in Indian epic poetry and the Puranas. They are, however, often distinguished from Ishvara, a personal god, with many Hindus worshipping Ishvara in one of its particular manifestations as their iá¹£á¹a devatÄ, or chosen ideal. The choice is a matter of individual preference, and of regional and family traditions. The multitude of devas are considered as manifestations of Brahman.
While ancient Vedic literature including Upanishads make no mention of reincarnation of God, the Puranas and the Epics relate several episodes of the descent of God to Earth in corporeal form to restore dharma to society. Such an incarnation is called an avatar. The most prominent avatars are of Vishnu and include Rama (the protagonist of the Ramayana) and Krishna (a central figure in the epic Mahabharata).
Both theistic and atheistic ideas, for epistemological and metaphysical reasons, are profuse in different schools of Hinduism. The early Nyaya school of Hinduism, for example, was non-theist/atheist, but later Nyaya school scholars argued that God exists and offered proofs using its theory of logic. Other schools disagreed with Nyaya scholars. Samkhya, Mimamsa and Carvaka schools of Hinduism, were non-theist/atheist, arguing that "God was an unnecessary metaphysical assumption". Its Vaisheshika school started as another non-theistic tradition relying on naturalism and that all matter is eternal, but it later introduced the concept of a non-creator God. The Yoga school of Hinduism accepted the concept of a "personal god" and left it to the Hindu to define his or her god. Advaita Vedanta taught a monistic, abstract Self and Oneness in everything, with no room for gods or deity, a perspective that Mohanty calls, "spiritual, not religious". Bhakti sub-schools of Vedanta taught a creator God that is distinct from each human being.
Ahimsa, vegetarianism and other food customs
Hindus advocate the practice of ahiá¹sÄ (non-violence) and respect for all life because divinity is believed to permeate all beings, including plants and non-human animals. The term ahiá¹sÄ appears in the Upanishads, the epic Mahabharata and ahiá¹sÄ is the first of the five Yamas (vows of self-restraint) in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. and the first principle for all member of Varnashrama Dharma (brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra) in Law of Manu (book 10, sutra 63Â : Ahimsa, satya, asteya, shaucam and indrayanigraha, almost similar to main principles of jainism).
In accordance with ahiá¹sÄ, many Hindus embrace vegetarianism to respect higher forms of life. Estimates of the number of lacto vegetarians in India (includes adherents of all religions) vary between 20% and 42%. The food habits vary with the community and region: for example, some castes having fewer vegetarians and coastal populations relying on seafood. Some avoid meat only on specific holy days. Observant Hindus who do eat meat almost always abstain from beef. The cow in Hindu society is traditionally identified as a caretaker and a maternal figure, and Hindu society honours the cow as a symbol of unselfish giving.
There are many Hindu groups that have continued to abide by a strict vegetarian diet in modern times. Some adhere to a diet that is devoid of meat, eggs, and seafood. Food affects body, mind and spirit in Hindu beliefs. Hindu texts such as ÅÄá¹á¸ilya Upanishad and SvÄtmÄrÄma recommend Mitahara (eating in moderation) as one of the Yamas (virtuous self restraints). The Bhagavad Gita links body and mind to food one consumes in verses 17.8 through 17.10.
Some Hindus from certain sects - generally Shakta, and Hindus in regions such as Bali and Nepal practise animal sacrifice. In contrast, most Hindus, including the majority of Vaishnava and Shaivite Hindus abhor it.
The ancient scriptures of Hinduism are in Sanskrit. These texts are classified into two: Shruti and Smriti. Hindu scriptures were composed, memorized and transmitted verbally, across generations, for many centuries before they were written down. Over many centuries, sages refined the teachings and expanded the Shruti and Smriti, as well as developed Shastras with epistemological and metaphysical theories of six classical schools of Hinduism.
Shruti (lit. that which is heard) primarily refers to the Vedas, which form the earliest record of the Hindu scriptures. While many Hindus revere the Vedas as eternal truths revealed to the ancient sages (rishis), others do not associate the creation of the Vedas with a god or person. They are thought of as the laws of the spiritual world, which would still exist even if they were not revealed to the sages. Hindus believe that because the spiritual truths of the Vedas are eternal, they continue to be expressed in new ways. There are four Vedas - Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda. Each Veda has been subclassified into four major text types â" the Samhitas (mantras and benedictions), the Aranyakas (text on rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices and symbolic-sacrifices), the Brahmanas (commentaries on rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices), and the Upanishads (text discussing meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge). The first two parts of the Vedas were subsequently called the KarmakÄá¹á¸a (ritualistic portion), while the last two form the JÃ±ÄnakÄá¹á¸a (knowledge portion, discussing spiritual insight and philosophical teachings).
The Upanishads are the foundation of Hindu philosophical thought and have profoundly influenced its diverse traditions. Of the shrutis (Vedic corpus), they alone are widely known, and the central ideas of the Upanishads are at the spiritual core of Hindus. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan states that the Upanishads have played a dominating role ever since their appearance. There are 108 MuktikÄ Upanishads in Hinduism, of which between 10 to 13 are variously counted by scholars as Principal Upanishads.
The most notable of the smritis ("memory") are the epics, which consist of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The Bhagavad Gita is an integral part of the Mahabharata and one of the most popular sacred texts of Hinduism. It is sometimes called Gitopanishad, then placed in the Shruti category, being Upanishadic in content. Puranas, which illustrate Hindu ideas through vivid narratives come under smritis. Other texts include Devi Mahatmya, the Tantras, the Yoga Sutras, Tirumantiram, Shiva Sutras and the Hindu Agamas.
Most Hindus observe religious rituals at home. The rituals vary greatly among regions, villages, and individuals. They are not mandatory in Hinduism. The nature and place of rituals is an individual's choice. Devout Hindus perform daily rituals such as worshiping at dawn after bathing (usually at a family shrine, and typically includes lighting a lamp and offering foodstuffs before the images of deities), recitation from religious scripts, singing devotional hymns, yoga, meditation, chanting mantras and others.
Vedic rituals of fire-oblation (yajna) and chanting of Vedic hymns are observed on special occasions, such as a Hindu wedding. Other major life-stage events, such as rituals after death, include the yajÃ±a and chanting of Vedic mantras.
Life-cycle rites of passage
Major life stage milestones are celebrated as sanskara (saá¹skÄra, rites of passage) in Hinduism. The rites of passage are not mandatory, and vary in details by gender, community and regionally. Gautama Dharmasutras composed in about the middle of 1st millennium BCE lists 48 sanskaras, while Gryhasutra and other texts composed centuries later list between 12 to 16 sanskaras. The list of sanskaras in Hinduism include both external rituals such as those marking a baby's birth and a baby's name giving ceremony, as well as inner rites of resolutions and ethics such as compassion towards all living beings and positive attitude. The major traditional rites of passage in Hinduism include Garbhadhana (pregnancy), Pumsavana (rite before the fetus begins moving and kicking in womb), Simantonnayana (parting of pregnant woman's hair, baby shower), Jatakarman (rite celebrating the new born baby), Namakarana (naming the child), Nishkramana (baby's first outing from home into the world), Annaprashana (baby's first feeding of solid food), Chudakarana (baby's first haircut, tonsure), Karnavedha (ear piercing), Vidyarambha (baby's start with knowledge), Upanayana (entry into a school rite), Keshanta and Ritusuddhi (first shave for boys, menarche for girls), Samavartana (graduation ceremony), Vivaha (wedding), Vratas (fasting, spiritual studies) and Antyeshti (cremation for an adult, burial for a child). In contemporary times, there is regional variation among Hindus as to which of these sanskaras are observed; in some cases, additional regional rites of passage such as ÅrÄddha (ritual of feeding people after cremation) are practiced.
Hindu practices generally involve seeking awareness of God and sometimes also seeking blessings from Devas. Therefore, Hinduism has developed numerous practices meant to help one think of divinity in the midst of everyday life.
Mantras are invocations, praise and prayers that through their meaning, sound, and chanting style help a devotee focus the mind on holy thoughts or express devotion to God/the deities. Many devotees perform morning ablutions at the bank of a sacred river while chanting the Gayatri Mantra or Mahamrityunjaya mantras. The epic Mahabharata extols Japa (ritualistic chanting) as the greatest duty in the Kali Yuga (current age, 3102 BCE- present). Many adopt Japa as their primary spiritual practice.
Devotional songs (Bhajans)
A bhajan is any type of devotional song. It has no fixed form: it may be as simple as a mantra or kirtan or as sophisticated as the dhrupad or kriti with music based on classical ragas and talas.
Hindu festivals (Sanskrit: Utsava; literally: "to lift higher") are considered as symbolic rituals that beautifully weave individual and social life to dharma. Hinduism has many festivals throughout the year. The Hindu calendar usually prescribe their dates.
The festivals typically celebrate events from Hindu mythology, often coinciding with seasonal changes. There are festivals which are primarily celebrated by specific sects or in certain regions of the Indian subcontinent.
Some widely observed Hindu festivals include:
Pilgrimage is not mandatory in Hinduism, though many adherents undertake them. While there are different yet similar pilgrimage routes in different parts of India, all are respected equally well, according to the universality of Hinduism. The following pilgrimage sites are most famous amongst Hindu devotees:
- Old Holy cities as per Puranic Texts: Varanasi formerly known as Kashi, Allahabad formerly known as Prayag, Haridwar-Rishikesh, Mathura-Vrindavan, and Ayodhya.
- Char Dham (Famous Four Pilgrimage sites): The four holy sites Puri, Rameswaram, Dwarka, and Badrinath (or alternatively the Himalayan towns of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri) compose the Char Dham (four abodes) pilgrimage circuit.
- Kumbh Mela: The Kumbh Mela (the "pitcher festival") is one of the holiest of Hindu pilgrimages that is held every 12 years; the location is rotated among Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain.
- Major Temple cities: Puri, which hosts a major Vaishnava Jagannath temple and Rath Yatra celebration; Katra, home to the Vaishno Devi temple; Three comparatively recent temples of fame and huge pilgrimage are Shirdi, home to Sai Baba of Shirdi, Tirumala - Tirupati, home to the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple; and Sabarimala, where Swami Ayyappan is worshipped.
- Shakti Peethas: Another important set of pilgrimages are the Shakti Peethas, where the Mother Goddess is worshipped, the two principal ones being Kalighat and Kamakhya.
Person and society
Hindu society has been categorised into four classes, called varnas. They are the Brahmins: Vedic teachers and priests; the Kshatriyas: warriors, nobles, and kings; the Vaishyas: farmers, merchants, and businessmen; and the Shudras: servants and labourers.
The Bhagavad GÄ«tÄ links the varna to an individual's duty (svadharma), inborn nature (svabhÄva), and natural tendencies (guá¹a). The Manusmá¹iti categorises the different castes.
Some mobility and flexibility within the varnas challenge allegations of social discrimination in the caste system, as has been pointed out by several sociologists, although some other scholars disagree. Scholars debate whether the so-called caste system is part of Hinduism sanctioned by the scriptures or social custom. And various contemporary scholars have argued that the caste system was constructed by the British colonial regime.
A renunciant man of knowledge is usually called Varnatita or "beyond all varnas" in Vedantic works. The bhiksu is advised to not bother about the caste of the family from which he begs his food. Scholars like Adi Sankara affirm that not only is Brahman beyond all varnas, the man who is identified with Him also transcends the distinctions and limitations of caste.
In whatever way a Hindu defines the goal of life, there are several methods (yogas) that sages have taught for reaching that goal. Yoga is a Hindu discipline which trains the body, mind and consciousness for health, tranquility and spiritual insight. This is done through a system of postures and exercises to practise control of the body and mind. Texts dedicated to Yoga include the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Bhagavad Gita and, as their philosophical and historical basis, the Upanishads. Yoga is means, and the four major marga (paths) discussed in Hinduism are: Bhakti Yoga (the path of love and devotion), Karma Yoga (the path of right action), RÄja Yoga (the path of meditation), JÃ±Äna Yoga (the path of wisdom) An individual may prefer one or some yogas over others, according to his or her inclination and understanding. Practice of one yoga does not exclude others.
Hinduism has a developed system of symbolism and iconography to represent the sacred in art, architecture, literature and worship. These symbols gain their meaning from the scriptures, mythology, or cultural traditions. The syllable om (which represents the Para Brahman) and the swastika sign (which symbolises auspiciousness) have grown to represent Hinduism itself, while other markings such as tilaka identify a follower of the faith. Hinduism associates many symbols, which include the lotus (padma), chakra and veena, with particular deities.
Hinduism has no central doctrinal authority and many practising Hindus do not claim to belong to any particular denomination. However four major denominations are recognised: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism. The denominations differ primarily in the god worshipped as the Supreme One and in the traditions that accompany worship of that deity.
Vaishnavism is the sect that worships Vishnu and his avatars. It is a devotional sect, and followers worship many deities, including the avatars Rama and Krishna. The adherents of this sect are generally non-ascetic, monastic and devoted to meditative practice and ecstatic chanting. Vaishnavas are mainly dualistic. They are deeply devotional. Their religion is rich in saints, temples and scriptures.
Shaivism venerates Shiva as the Supreme Being. Shaivas are more attracted to asceticism than adherents of other Hindu sects, and may be found wandering India with ashen faces performing self-purification rituals. They worship in the temple and practice yoga, striving to be one with Shiva within.
Cults of goddess worship are ancient in India. The branch of Hinduism that worships the goddess, known as Devi, is called Shaktism. Followers of Shaktism recognize Shakti as the power that underlies the male principle. Devi is depicted as in gentler forms like Parvati, the consort of Shiva and Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu or as fierce warrior goddesses like Kali and Durga. Shaktism is closely related with Tantric Hinduism, which teaches rituals and practices for purification of the mind and body. Shaktas use chants, magic, holy diagrams, yoga and rituals to call forth cosmic forces.
Smartism, a relatively modern Hindu tradition (compared to the three older traditions) accepts all the major Hindu deities, however prefers to worship Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganesha (the elephant-headed god), Surya (the sun god) or Skanda (the war god) as the Supreme God. It is thus considered liberal or nonsectarian and is based on the recognition that Brahman is the highest principle in the universe and pervades all of existence. They follow a philosophical, meditative path, emphasizing man's oneness with God through understanding.
Other denominations like Ganapatya (dedicated to Ganesha) and Saura (Surya's worship) are not as widespread. Other movements like Dayananda Saraswati's Arya Samaj, which rejects image worship and veneration of multiple deities; exist. The Tantric sects may be classified as Vaishnava, Shaivism, Shakta, Ganapatya, Saura etc.
The worship place is commonly known as Temple. Usually regarded as Devasthana (God's place) or Mandir by the followers, construction of temple and mode of worship is governed by several agama scriptures, which deal with individual deities. There are substantial differences in architecture, customs, rituals and traditions in temples in different parts of India.
Hindus can engage in puja (worship or veneration), either at home or at a temple. At home, Hindus often create a shrine with icons dedicated to their chosen form(s) of God. Temples are usually dedicated to a primary deity along with associated subordinate deities though some commemorate multiple deities. Visiting temples is not obligatory, and many visit temples only during religious festivals. Hindus perform their worship through icons (murtis). The icon serves as a tangible link between the worshiper and God. The image is often considered a manifestation of God, since God is immanent. The Padma Purana states that the murti is not to be thought of as mere stone or wood but as a manifest form of the Divinity. While there are Hindus who, do not believe in worshipping God through icons, most notably those of Arya Samaj.
Traditionally the life of a Hindu is divided into four Äshramas (phases or life stages; unrelated meanings include monastery). The four asramas are: Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired) and Sannyasa (renunciation).
Brahmacharya represents the bachelor student stage of life. Grihastha refers to the individual's married life, with the duties of maintaining a household, raising a family, educating one's children, and leading a family-centred and a dharmic social life. Grihastha stage starts with Hindu wedding, and has been considered as the most important of all stages in sociological context, as Hindus in this stage not only pursued a virtuous life, they produced food and wealth that sustained people in other stages of life, as well as the offsprings that continued mankind. Vanaprastha is the retirement stage, where a person hands over household responsibilities to the next generation, took an advisory role, and gradually withdrew from the world. The Sannyasa stage marks renunciation and a state of disinterest and detachment from material life, generally without any meaningful property or home (Ascetic), and focussed on Moksha, peace and simple spiritual life.
The Ashramas system has been one facet of the Dharma concept in Hinduism. Combined with four proper goals of human life (Purusartha), the Ashramas system traditionally aimed at providing a Hindu with fulfilling life and spiritual liberation. While these stages are typically sequential, any person can enter Sannyasa (ascetic) stage and become an Ascetic at any time after the Brahmacharya stage. Sannyasa is not religiously mandatory in Hinduism, and elderly people are free to live with their families.
Some Hindus choose to live a monastic life (SannyÄsa) in pursuit of liberation or another form of spiritual perfection. Monastics commit themselves to a life of simplicity, celibacy, detachment from worldly pursuits, and the contemplation of God. A Hindu monk is called a sanyÄsÄ«, sÄdhu, or swÄmi. A female renunciate is called a sanyÄsini. Renunciates receive high respect in Hindu society because their outward renunciation of selfishness and worldliness serves as an inspiration to householders who strive for mental renunciation. Some monastics live in monasteries, while others wander from place to place, trusting in God alone to provide for their needs. It is considered a highly meritorious act for a householder to provide sÄdhus with food or other necessaries. SÄdhus strive to treat all with respect and compassion, whether a person may be poor or rich, good or wicked, and to be indifferent to praise, blame, pleasure, and pain.
James Mill (1773â"1836), in his The History of British India (1817), distinguished three phases in the history of India, namely Hindu, Muslim and British civilisations. This periodisation has been criticised, for the misconceptions it has given rise to. Another periodisation is the division into "ancient, classical, mediaeval and modern periods". An elaborate periodisation may be as follows:
- Prevedic religions (pre-history and Indus Valley Civilisation)(until c. 1750 BCE);
- Vedic period (c. 1750-500 BCE);
- "Second Urbanisation" (c. 500-200 BCE);
- Classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE-1100 CE);
- Pre-classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE-300 CE);
- "Golden Age" (Gupta Empire) (c. 320-650 CE);
- Late-Classical Hinduism - Puranic Hinduism (c. 650-1100 CE);
- Islam and Sects of Hinduism (c. 1200-1700 CE);
- Modern Hinduism (from c.1800).
Among the roots of Hinduism are the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India, itself already the product of "a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations", but also the Sramana or renouncer traditions of northeast India, and mesolithic and neolithic cultures of India, such as the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation, Dravidian traditions, and the local traditions and tribal religions.
Prevedic religions (until c. 1750 BCE)
The earliest prehistoric religion in India that may have left its traces in Hinduism comes from mesolithic as observed in the sites such as the rock paintings of Bhimbetka rock shelters dating to a period of 30,000 BCE or older, as well as neolithic times. Some of the religious practices can be considered to have originated in 4,000 BCE. Several tribal religions still exist, though their practices may not resemble those of prehistoric religions.
According to anthropologist Possehl, the Indus Valley Civilization "provides a logical, if somewhat arbitrary, starting point for some aspects of the later Hindu tradition". The religion of this period included worship of a Great male god, which is compared to a proto-Shiva, and probably a Mother Goddess, that may prefigure Shakti. However these links of deities and practices of the Indus religion to later-day Hinduism are subject to both political contention and scholarly dispute.
Vedic period (c. 1750-500 BCE)
The Vedic period, named after the Vedic religion of the Indo-Aryans, lasted from c. 1750 to 500 BCE. The Indo-Aryans were pastoralists who migrated into north-western India after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization,
During the early Vedic period (c. 1500 - 1100 BCE) Vedic tribes were pastoralists, wandering around in north-west India. After 1100 BCE the Vedic tribes moved into the western Ganges Plain, adapting an agrarical lifestyle. Rudimentary state-forms appeared, of which the Kuru-tribe and realm was the most influential. It was a tribal union, which developed into the first recorded state-level society in South Asia around 1000 BCE. It decisively changed the Vedic heritage of the early Vedic period, collecting the Vedic hymns into collections, and developing new rituals which gained their position in Indian civilization as the orthodox srauta rituals, which contributed to the so-called "classical synthesis" or "Hindu synthesis".
The Indo-Aryans brought with them their language and religion. The Vedic beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era were closely related to the hypothesised Proto-Indo-European religion, and the Indo-Iranian religion.
The Vedic religion of the later Vedic period co-existed with local religions, such as the Yaksha cults, and was itself the product of "a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations". David Gordon White cites three other mainstream scholars who "have emphatically demonstrated" that Vedic religion is partially derived from the Indus Valley Civilizations. Their religion was further developed when they migrated into the Ganges Plain after c. 1100 BCE and became settled farmers, further syncretising with the native cultures of northern India.
This is the period when the Vedas and early Upanishads were composed. The oldest of these Vedic texts is the Rigveda, composed between c.1500-1200 BCE, though a wider approximation of c.1700-1100 BCE has also been given. The 9th and 8th centuries BCE witnessed the composition of the earliest Upanishads. Upanishads form the theoretical basis of classical Hinduism and constitute the Vedanta (conclusion of the Veda) literature.
"Second Urbanisation" (c. 500-200 BCE)
Increasing urbanisation of India in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE led to the rise of ascetic circles and of new ideas which challenged the orthodoxy of rituals. These ideas led to Sramana movements, of which Mahavira (c. 549â"477 BCE), proponent of Jainism, and Buddha (c. 563-483), founder of Buddhism, were the most prominent icons.
The ascetic tradition of Vedic period in part created the concept of samsara and suffering, and the concept of liberation, which became characteristic for Hinduism, along with Buddhism and Jainism.
These ascetic concepts were adopted by schools of Hinduism as well as other major Indian religions, but key differences between their premises defined their further development. Hinduism, for example, developed its ideas with the premise that every human being has a soul (atman, self), while Buddhism developed with the premise that there is no soul or self.
The chronology of these religious concepts is unclear, and scholars contest which religion affected the other as well as the chronological sequence of the ancient texts. Pratt notes that Oldenberg (1854-1920), Neumann (1865-1915) and Radhakrishnan (1888-1975) believed that the Buddhist canon had been influenced by Upanishads, while la Vallee Poussin thinks the influence was nihil, and "Eliot and several others insist that on some points the Buddha was directly antithetical to the Upanishads".
Classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE-1100 CE)
After the Vedic period, between 500-200 BCE and c. 300 CE, the Vedic-Brahmanic culture spread to southern India and parts of Southeast Asia.
- Pre-classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE-300 CE)
The "Hindu synthesis" or "Brahmanical synthesis" incorporated Sramanic and Buddhist influences and the emerging bhakti tradition into the "Brahmanical fold" via the smriti literature. This synthesis emerged under the pressure of the success of Buddhism and Jainism.
According to Embree, several other religious traditions had existed side by side with the Vedic religion. These indigenous religions "eventually found a place under the broad mantle of the Vedic religion". The smriti texts of the period between 200 BCE-100 CE proclaimed the authority of the Vedas, and acceptance of the Vedas became a central criterium for defining Hinduism over and against the heterodoxies, which rejected the Vedas and relied on their own Sutras (texts).
The major Sanskrit epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, which belong to the smriti, were compiled over a protracted period during the late centuries BCE and the early centuries CE. They contain mythological stories about the rulers and wars of ancient India, and are interspersed with religious and philosophical treatises. The later Puranas recount tales about devas and devis, their interactions with humans and their battles against rakshasa. The Bhagavad Gita was composed in this period and consolidated diverse ideas.
In early centuries CE several schools of Hindu philosophy were formally written down, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta.
- "Golden Age" (Gupta Empire) (c. 320-650 CE)
During the Gupta period, the first Hindu temples dedicated to the gods of the Hindu deities, emerged. During the Gupta reign the first Puranas were written. According to P.S. Sharma, "the Gupta and Harsha periods form really, from the strictly intellectual standpoint, the most brilliant epocha in the development of Indian philosophy", as Hindu and Buddhist philosophies flourished side by side.
- Late-Classical Hinduism - Puranic Hinduism (c. 650-1100 CE)
After the end of the Gupta Empire, power became decentralised in India. The disintegration of central power also lead to regionalisation of religiosity, and religious rivalry. Rural and devotional movements arose within Hinduism, along with Shaivism, Vaisnavism, Bhakti and Tantra, that competed with each other, as well as with numerous sects of Buddhism and Jainism. During this period, the non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta was reformulated by Adi Shankara who systematised the works of preceding philosophers.
Islam and sects of Hinduism (c. 1200-1700 CE)
Though Islam came to Indian subcontinent in the early 7th century with the advent of Arab traders, it started impacting Indian religions after the 10th century, and particularly after the 12th century with the establishment and then expansion of Islamic rule. Will Durant calls the Muslim conquest of India "probably the bloodiest story in history". During this period, Buddhism declined rapidly while Hinduism faced military-led and Sultanates-sponsored religious violence. There was a widespread practice of raids, seizure and enslavement of families of Hindus, who were then sold in Sultanate cities or exported to Central Asia. Some texts suggest a number of Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam. Starting with 13th century, for a period of some 500 years, very few texts, from the numerous written by Muslim court historians, mention any "voluntary conversions of Hindus to Islam", suggesting its insignificance and perhaps rarity of such conversions. Typically enslaved Hindus converted to Islam to gain their freedom. There were occasional exceptions to religious violence against Hinduism. Akbar, for example, recognized Hinduism, banned enslavement of the families of Hindu war captives, protected Hindu temples, and abolished discriminatory Jizya (head taxes) against Hindus. However, many Muslim rulers of Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire, before and after Akbar, from 12th century to 18th century, destroyed Hindu temples and persecuted non-Muslims.
Hinduism underwent profound changes, aided in part by teachers such as Ramanuja, Madhva, and Chaitanya. Followers of the Bhakti movement moved away from the abstract concept of Brahman, which Adi Shankara consolidated a few centuries before, with emotional, passionate devotion towards the more accessible avatars, especially Krishna and Rama. According to Nicholson, already between the 12th and the 16th century, "certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophical teachings of the Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as the "six systems" (saddarsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy." Michaels notes that a historicization emerged which preceded later nationalism, articulating ideas which glorified Hinduism and the past.
Modern Hinduism (from c.1800)
With the onset of the British Raj, the colonization of India by the British, there also started a Hindu renaissance in the 19th century, which profoundly changed the understanding of Hinduism in both India and the west. Indology as an academic discipline of studying Indian culture from a European perspective was established in the 19th century, led by scholars such as Max MÃ¼ller and John Woodroffe. They brought Vedic, Puranic and Tantric literature and philosophy to Europe and the United States. Western orientalist searched for the "essence" of the Indian religions, discerning this in the Vedas, and meanwhile creating the notion of "Hinduism" as a unified body of religious praxis and the popular picture of 'mystical India'. This idea of a Vedic essence was taken over by Hindu reform movements as the Brahmo Samaj, which was supported for a while by the Unitarian Church, together with the ideas of Universalism and Perennialism, the idea that all religions share a common mystic ground. This "Hindu modernism", with proponents like Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Radhakrishnan, became central in the popular understanding of Hinduism.
Popularity in the west
Influential 20th-century Hindus were Ramana Maharshi, B.K.S. Iyengar, Paramahansa Yogananda, Prabhupada (founder of ISKCON), Sri Chinmoy, Swami Rama and others who translated, reformulated and presented Hinduism's foundational texts for contemporary audiences in new iterations, raising the profiles of Yoga and Vedanta in the West and attracting followers and attention in India and abroad.
Hindu practices such as Yoga, Ayurvedic health, divination (astrology, palmistry, numerology), Tantric sexuality through Neotantra and the Kama Sutra have spread beyond Hindu communities and have been accepted by several non-Hindus:
"Hinduism is attracting Western adherents through the affiliated practice of yoga. Yoga centers in the Westâ"which generally advocate vegetarianismâ"attract young, well-educated Westerners who are drawn by yoga's benefits for the physical and emotional health; there they are introduced to the Hindu philosophical system taught by most yoga teachers, known as Vedanta."
It is estimated that around 30 million Americans and 5 million Europeans regularly practice some form of Hatha Yoga. In Australia, the number of practitioners is about 300,000. In New Zealand the number is also around 300,000.
In the 20th century, Hinduism also gained prominence as a political force and a source for national identity in India. With origins traced back to the establishment of the Hindu Mahasabha in the 1910s, the movement grew with the formulation and development of the Hindutva ideology in the following decades; the establishment of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925; and the entry, and later success, of RSS offshoots Jana Sangha and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in electoral politics in post-independence India. Hindu religiosity plays an important role in the nationalist movement.
Hinduism is a major religion in India. Hinduism was followed by around 80.5% of the country's population of 1.21 billion (2012 estimate) (960 million adherents). Other significant populations are found in Nepal (23 million), Bangladesh (15 million) and the Indonesian island of Bali (3.9 million). The majority of the Vietnamese Cham people also follow Hinduism.
Countries with the greatest proportion of Hindus from Hinduism by country (as of 2008):
- Â Â Â Nepal 81.3%
- Â India 80.5%
- Â Mauritius 48.5%
- Â Guyana 28%
- Â Fiji 27.9%
- Â Bhutan 25%
- Â Trinidad and Tobago 22.5%
- Â Suriname 20%
- Â Sri Lanka 12.6%
- Â Bangladesh 9.6%
- Â Qatar 7.2%
- Â RÃ©union 6.7%
- Â Malaysia 6.3%
- Â Bahrain 6.25%
- Â Kuwait 6%
- Â Singapore 5.1%
- Â United Arab Emirates 5%
- Â Oman 3%
- Â Belize 2.3%
- Â Seychelles 2.1%
Demographically, Hinduism is the world's third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam.
In the modern era, religious conversion from and to Hinduism has been a controversial subject. Some state the concept of missionary conversion, either way, is anathema to the precepts of Hinduism.
Religious conversion to Hinduism has a long history outside India. Merchants and traders of India, particularly from the Indian peninsula, carried their religious ideas, which led to religious conversions to Hinduism in southeast Asia. Within India, archeological and textual evidence such as the 2nd century BCE Heliodorus pillar suggest that Greeks and other foreigners converted to Hinduism. The debate on proselytization and religious conversion between Christianity, Islam and Hinduism is more recent, and started in the 19th century.
Religious leaders of some Hindu reform movements such as the Arya Samaj launched Shuddhi movement to proselytize and reconvert Muslims and Christians back to Hinduism, while those such as the Brahmo Samaj suggested Hinduism to be a non-missionary religion. All these sects of Hinduism have welcomed new members to their group, while other leaders of Hinduism's diverse schools have stated that given the intensive proselytization activities from missionary Islam and Christianity, this "there is no such thing as proselytism in Hinduism" view must be re-examined.
In recent decades, mainstream Hinduism schools have attempted to systematize ways to accept religious converts, with an increase in inter-religious mixed marriages. The appropriateness of conversion from major religions to Hinduism, and vice versa, has been and remains an actively debated topic in India, and in Indonesia.
- Related systems and religions
- Doniger, Wendy (1999), Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions, Merriam-Webster, ISBNÂ 9780877790440Â
- Flood, Gavin D. (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University PressÂ
- Flood, Gavin (Ed) (2003), Blackwell companion to Hinduism, Blackwell Publishing, ISBNÂ 0-631-21535-2Â
- Jones, Constance; Ryan, James D. (2007), Encyclopedia of Hinduism, New York City: Infobase Publishing, ISBNÂ 0-8160-5458-4Â
- Klostermaier, Klaus (1994), A Survey of Hinduism (3rd (2007) ed.), State University of New York Press, ISBNÂ 0-7914-7082-2Â
- Lipner, Julius (1998), Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, Routledge, ISBNÂ 0-415-05181-9, retrieved 12 July 2007Â
- Michaels, Axel (2004), Hinduism: Past and Present (5th ed.), Princeton University Press, ISBNÂ 0-691-08953-1Â
- Morgan, Kenneth W., ed. (1987), The Religion of the Hindus (New ed.), Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, ISBNÂ 81-208-0387-6Â
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- Werner, Karel (1994), "Hinduism", in Hinnells, John (Ed.), A Popular Dictionary of Hinduism, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, ISBNÂ 0-7007-0279-2Â
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- The Encyclopedia of Hinduism(International Edition) ( 11 Volumes) - PublisherÂ : Mandala Publishing, LanguageÂ : English
- Hinduism at DMOZ
- Resources for Scholars and Students
- EncyclopÃ¦dia Britannica, Hinduism
- All About Hinduism by Swami Sivananda (pdf)
- Heart of Hinduism: An overview of Hindu traditions
- Information on Hinduism or Santana dharma
- Ethical Democracy Journal - Notes on Hinduism
- Religious Tolerance page on Hinduism
- Paper on Hinduism by Swami Vivekananda - Presented at World Parliament of Religion in 1893 (Text + Audio Version)
- Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies Lectures and seminars in MP3 audio format by the OCHS as reference material for scholars and students.