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Hinduism is the dominant religion[note 1] of the Indian subcontinent, particularly of India and Nepal, which consists of many diverse traditions. It includes Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism[2] 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.[3]

Hinduism has been called the "oldest religion" in the world,[note 2] and many practitioners refer to Hinduism as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal law" or the "eternal way"[13][14][15] beyond human origins.[15] It prescribes the "eternal" duties all Hindus have to follow, regardless of class, caste, or sect, such as honesty, purity, and self-restraint.[web 1]

Western scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion[16][note 3] or synthesis[17][note 4][18] of various Indian cultures and traditions,[17][19][16][note 5] with diverse roots[20] and no single founder.[21] Among its roots are the Vedic religion[19] of the late Vedic period and its emphasis on the status of Brahmans,[22] but also the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation,[20][23][24][25] the Sramana[26] or renouncer traditions[19] of north-east India,[26] and "popular or local traditions".[19] This "Hindu synthesis" emerged around the beginning of the Common Era,[17][27][note 9] and co-existed for several centuries with Buddhism,[33] to finally gain the upper hand in most royal circles during the 8th century CE.[34][note 10][web 2][note 11]

From northern India this "Hindu synthesis", and its societal divisions, spread to southern India and parts of Southeast Asia.[35][note 12][36][note 13][37][note 14] It was aided by the settlement of Brahmins on land granted by local rulers,[38][39] the incorporation and assimilation of popular non-Vedic gods,[40][41][note 15] and the process of Sanskritisation, in which "people from many strata of society throughout the subcontinent tended to adapt their religious and social life to Brahmanic norms".[40][note 16][42]

Since the 19th century, under the dominance of western colonialism and Indology, when the term "Hinduism" came into broad use,[43] Hinduism has re-asserted itself as a coherent and independent tradition.[44] The popular understanding of Hinduism has been dominated by "Hindu modernism",[45][46][note 17] in which mysticism[46][note 18] and the unity of Hinduism[50] have been emphasised.[51][52][53][46] Hindutva ideology and Hindu politics emerged in the 20th century as a political force and a source for national identity in India.[note 19]

Hindu practices include daily rituals such as puja (worship) and recitations, annual festivals, and occasional pilgrimages. Select group of ascetics leave the common world and engage in lifelong ascetic practices to achieve moksha.

Hindu texts are classified into Śruti ("revealed") and Smriti ("remembered"). These texts discuss theology, philosophy, mythology, Vedic yajna and agamic rituals and temple building, among other topics.[55] Major scriptures include the Vedas, Upanishads (both Śruti), Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, Manusmriti, and Agamas (all smriti).[55]

Hinduism, with about one billion followers[web 3] is the world's third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam.


Valmiki, a contemporary of Rama, composes the Ramayana.

The word Hindu is derived (through Persian) from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, the historic local name for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent (modern day Pakistan).[56][note 20] 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)".[56] The term 'Hindu' then was a geographical term and did not refer to a religion.[note 21]

The word Hindu was taken by European languages from the Arabic term al-Hind, and refers to the land of the people who live across the River Indus.[59] This Arabic term was itself taken from the Persian term Hindū, which refers to all Indians. By the 13th century, Hindustan emerged as a popular alternative name of India, meaning the "land of Hindus".[60][note 22]

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.[62] 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 Triveni Sangam, or the intersection of Yamuna River, Ganges River and mythical Saraswati river.
Mangal Mahadev, 108-foot statue of Lord Shiva at Ganga Talao, Mauritius

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.[63][46] Since the 1990s, those influences and its outcomes have been the topic of debate among scholars of Hinduism[63][note 23] , and have also been taken over by critics of the Western view on India.[64][note 24]

Because of the wide range of traditions and ideas covered by the term, arriving at a comprehensive definition is difficult.[56] Hinduism has been variously defined as a religion, a religious tradition, and a set of religious beliefs.[65]

Colonial influences

The notion of common denominators for several religions and traditions of India was already noted from the 12th century CE on.[66][67] The notion of "Hinduism" as a "single world religious tradition"[50] was popularised by 19th-century European Indologists who depended on the "brahmana castes"[50] for their information of Indian religions.[50] 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)."[68][note 27]

Indigenous understanding

Sanātana Dharma

To its adherents, Hinduism is a traditional way of life.[77] Many practitioners refer to Hinduism as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal law" or the "eternal way" ().[13][14] 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.[web 1] 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.[15]

According to the Encyclopædia 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.[web 1]

Hindu modernism

Swami Vivekananda was a key figure in introducing Vedanta and Yoga in Europe and USA,[78] raising interfaith awareness and making Hinduism a world religion.[79]

Major representatives of "Hindu modernism"[45] are Vivekananda, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Mahatma Gandhi.[80]

According to Flood, "Swami Vivekanda (1863-1902) is a figure of great importance in the devlopment of a modern Hindu self-understanding and in formulating the West's view of Hinduism."[81] 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",[45] and that seeing this divine as the essence of others will further love and social harmony.[45] According to Vivekananda, there is an essential unity to Hinduism, which underlies the diversity of its many forms.[45] According to Flood, Vivekananda's vision of Hinduism "is one generally accepted by most English-speaking middle-class Hindus today."[82]

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was "one of India's most erudite scholars to engage with western and Indian philosophy".[83] He sought to reconcile western rationalism with Hinduism, "presenting Hinduism as an essentially rationalistic and humanistic religious experience."[84] According to Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan,

Hinduism is not just a faith. It is the union of reason and intuition that cannot be defined, but is only to be experienced.[85]

This view has been "highly relevant and important in forming contemporary Hindu identity."[84] The emphasis on experience as validation of a religious worldview is a modern development, which started in the 19th century, and was introduced to Indian thought by western Unitarian missionaries.[86][note 28]

This "Global Hinduism"[89] has a worldwide appeal, transcending national boundaries[89] and, according to Flood, "becoming a world religion alongside Christianity, Islam and Buddhism",[89] both for the Hindu diaspora communities and for westerners who are attracted to non-western cultures and religions.[89] It emphasizes universal spiritual values such as social justice, peace and "the spiritual transformation of humanity."[89] It has developed partly due to "re-enculturation",[90] or the Pizza effect,[90] 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.[90] This globalization of Hindu culture has been initiated by Swami Vivekanandaand and his founding of the Ramakrishna Mission, and has been followed 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."[91]

Western understanding

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.[92]

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.[93]

Diversity and inclusivism


Hinduism has been described as a tradition having a "complex, organic, multileveled and sometimes internally inconsistent nature."[94] Hinduism does not have a "unified system of belief encoded in a declaration of faith or a creed",[56] but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena of India.[95][96] 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".[97][98]

Part of the problem with a single definition of the term "Hinduism" is the fact that Hinduism does not have a single historical founder.[56][21] It is a synthesis of various traditions,[16][17] the "Brahmanical orthopraxy, the renouncer traditions and popular or local traditions."[19]

Also, Hinduism does not have a single system of salvation,[56] but consists of various religions and forms of religiosity.[99] Some Hindu religious traditions regard particular rituals as essential for salvation, but a variety of views on this co-exist. 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. Hinduism is sometimes characterised by a belief in reincarnation (samsara) determined by the law of karma and the idea that salvation is freedom from this cycle of repeated birth and death.[note 29] Hinduism is therefore viewed as the most complex of all the living, historical world religions.[100]

Roots of Hinduism

Western scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion[16][note 3] or synthesis[17][note 4][18] of various Indian cultures and traditions.[17][19][16][note 5] Among its roots are the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India,[110][19] itself already the product of "a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations",[111][note 33] but also the Shramana[113] or renouncer traditions[19] of northeast India,[113] and mesolithic[114] and neolithic[115] cultures of India, such as the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation,[20][23][24][25] Dravidian traditions,[116][23][103][36] and the local traditions[19] and tribal religions.[116][note 34]

After the Vedic period, between 500[17]-200[27] BCE and c. 300 CE,[17] at the beginning of the "Epic and Puranic" c.q. "Preclassical" period, the "Hindu synthesis" emerged,[17][27] which incorporated shramanic[27][28] and Buddhist influences[27][29] and the emerging bhakti tradition into the Brahmanical fold via the smriti literature.[30][27] This synthesis emerged under the pressure of the success of Buddhism and Jainism.[117] During the Gupta reign the first Puranas were written,[118][note 7] which were used to disseminate "mainstream religious ideology amongst pre-literate and tribal groups undergoing acculturation."[31] The resulting Puranic Hinduism, differed markedly from the earlier Brahmanism of the Dharmasastras and the smritis.[31][note 8] Hinduism co-existed for several centuries with Buddhism,[33] to finally gain the upperhand at al levels in the 8th century CE.[34][web 2][note 11]

From northern India this "Hindu synthesis", and its societal divisions, spread to southern India and parts of Southeast Asia.[35][note 12][36][note 13][37][note 14] It was aided by the settlement of Brahmins on land granted by local rulers,[38][39] the incorporation and assimilation of popular non-Vedic gods,[40][41][note 15] and the process of Sanskritization, in which "people from many strata of society throughout the subcontinent tended to adapt their religious and social life to Brahmanic norms".[40][note 16][42] This process of assimilation explains the wide diversity of local cultures in India "half shrouded in a taddered cloak of conceptual unity."[123]


Despite the differences, there is also a sense of unity.[124] Most Hindu traditions revere a body of religious or sacred literature, the Vedas,[125] although there are exceptions.[126] 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."[127]

Halbfass does not agree with this characterization[127] and states that, although Shaivism and Vaishaism may be regarded as "self-contained religious constellations",[124] there is a degree of interaction and reference between the "theoreticians and literary representatives"[124] 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".[124]

According to Nicholson, already between the 12th and the 16th centuries "certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophival teachings of the Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as the "six systems" (saddarsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy."[66] The tendency of "a blurring of philosophical distinctions" has also been noted by Burley.[128] Hacker called this "inclusivism"[125] and Michaels speaks of "the identificatory habit".[55] Lorenzen locates the origins of a distinct Hindu identity in the interaction between Muslims and Hindus,[129] and a process of "mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim other",[130] which started well before 1800.[131] 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 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 Brahmans also produced increasingly historicizing 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.[132]

This inclusivism[note 35] was further developed in the 19th and 20th centuries by Hindu reform movements and Neo-Vedanta,[86] and has become characteristic of modern Hinduism.[125]


The Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple in Delhi, according the Guinness World Records is the World's Largest Comprehensive Hindu Temple[web 5]

Hinduism as it is commonly known can be subdivided into a number of major currents. Of the historical division into six darsanas, only two schools, Vedanta and Yoga, survive. The main divisions of Hinduism today are Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism.[web 6] Hinduism also recognises numerous divine beings subordinate to the Supreme Being or regards them as lower manifestations of it.[133] Other notable characteristics include a belief in reincarnation and karma as well as a belief in personal duty, or dharma.

McDaniel - six generic "types"

McDaniel (2007) distinguishes six generic "types" of Hinduism, in an attempt to accommodate a variety of views on a rather complex subject:[134]

Michaels - Hindu religions and Hindu religiosity

Michaels distinguishes three Hindu religions and four forms of Hindu religiosity.[99]

The division into three Hindu religions corresponds with the Indian division of ritual practice into Vedic (vaidika), village and folk religions (gramya), and sectarian (agama or tantra).[135] The three Hindu religions are:

  1. Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism: a polytheistic, ritualistic, priestly religion that centers on extended-family domestic and sacrificial rituals and appeals to a corpus of Vedic texts as an authority.[99] Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism takes a central place in most treatises on Hinduism because it fulfills many criteria for a definition of religion and because "in many regions of India it is the dominant religion into which the non-Brahman population groups strive to assimilate.[99][note 36]
  2. Folk religions and tribal religions: polytheistic, sometimes animistic, local religions with an extensive oral tradition. Often in tension with Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism.[136]
  3. Founded religions: salvation religions with monastic communities, usually ascetic, often anti-Brahmanic.[99] Three subgroups can be distinguished:
    1. Sectarian religions: for example Vaishnavism and Shaivism.[136]
    2. Syncretically founded religions: Hindu-Islamic (Sikhism), Hindu-Buddhist (Newar-Buddhism), Hindu-Christian mixed religions like Neohinduism.[136]
    3. Founded, proselytizing religions, "Guru-ism": groups like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation, Satya Sai Baba and the Satya Sai Federation, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and the ISKCON, Maharaj Ji and the Divine Light Mission, Osho.[136]

The four forms of Hindu religiosity are:

  1. Ritualism: Vedic-Brahmanistic domestic and sacrificial ritualism, but also some forms of Tantrism.[135] This is the classical karma-marga, the path of action.[137]
  2. Spiritualism: intellectual religiosity, aimed at individual liberation, often under guidance of a guru. It is characteristic of Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism, Shaiva Siddhanta, Neo-Vedanta, modern esoteric Guruism, and some sorts of Tantrism.[135] This is the classical jnana-marga.[137]
  3. Devotionalism: mystical worship of a God, as in bhakti and Krishnaism.[135] This is the classical bhakti-marga.[137]
  4. Heroism: a polytheistic form of religiosity rooted in militaristic traditions, such as Ramaism and parts of political Hindusim.[135] This is also called virya-marga.[137]


Timetable of Indian History
Timeline and

cultural period

WestcoastNorthwestern India

(Punjab-Sapta Sindhu)

Indo-Gangetic PlainCentral India

Deccan Plateau

Southern India
Western Gangetic Plain


Northern India

(Central Gangetic Plain)

Northeastern India


South Asian Stone Age (untill c. 3300 BCE)South Asian Stone Age (untill c. 1100 BCE)
CulturePaleolithicum (untill c. 10,000 BCE)
Before 10,000 BCEBhimbetka rock shelters

(30,000-15,000 BCE)

Sanghao Caves
CultureMesolithicum (c. 10,000-7,000 BCE)Mesolithicum (c. 10,000-3,000 BCE)
c. 10,000-7,000 BCE
Culture'Neolithicum (c. 7000-3300 BCE)Mesolithicum (c. 10,000-3000 BCE)
c. 7,000-3,300 BCEMehrgarh
BRONZE AGE (c. 3300-1100 BCE)NEOLITHIC (c. 3000-1400 BCE)
CultureEarly Harappan
3300-2600 BCEEarly Harappan
CultureIntegration Era
2600-1900 BCEIndus Valley Civilization
CultureLocalisation Era/Late Harappan

OCP/Cemetery H

1900-1500 BCEEarliest known rice cultivation[a]
CultureLocalisation Era/Late Harappan

OCP/Cemetery H

Early Vedic period

Gandhara grave culture


(c. 1400-1100 BCE)

1500-1300 BCEIndo-Aryan migration
1300-1100 BCEWandering Vedic Aryans
IRON AGE (c. 1100-300 BCE)
CultureMiddle Vedic Period
Gandhara grave cultureBlack and red ware culture
1100-800 BCEVedic settlements


Vedic settlements


CultureLate Vedic Period
Gandhara grave culture(Brahmin ideology)[b]

early Upanishads

Painted Grey Ware culture

(Kshatriya/Shramanic culture)[c]

Northern Black Polished Ware

800-600 BCEGandharaKuru-PancalaKosala-Videha
CultureLate Vedic Period


Gandhara grave culture(Brahmin ideology)[d]

early Upanishads

Painted Grey Ware culture

(Kshatriya/Shramanic culture)[e]

Northern Black Polished Ware

 6th century BCEGandharaKuru-PanchalaKosala



Adivasi (tribes)
CulturePersian-Greek influences"Second Urbanisation"
Later UpanishadsRise of Shramana movements
Jainism - Buddhism - Ājīvika - Yoga

Later Upanishads

 5th century BCE(Persian rule)Shishunaga dynastyAdivasi (tribes)
 4th century BCE(Greek conquests)

Nanda empire

CultureSpread of BuddhismPre-historySangam period
(300 BCE – 200 CE)
 3rd century BCEMaurya EmpireEarly Cholas

Early Pandyan Kingdom

Satavahana dynasty


CulturePreclassical Hinduism[f] - "Hindu Synthesis"[g] (c. 200 BCE-300 CE)[h][i]
Epics - Puranas - Ramayana - Mahabharata - Bhagavad Gita - Brahma Sutras - Smarta Tradition
Mahayana Buddhism
Sangam period

(300 BCE – 200 CE)

 2nd century BCEIndo-Greek KingdomSunga EmpireAdivasi (tribes)Early Cholas

Early Pandyan Kingdom

Satavahana dynasty


 1st century BCEYonaMaha-Meghavahana Dynasty
 1st century CEIndo-Scythians


Kuninda Kingdom
 2nd centuryPahlavaVarman dynasty
 3rd centuryKushan EmpireWestern SatrapsKamarupa kingdomKalabhras dynasty
Culture"Golden Age of Hinduism"(c. 320-650 CE)[j]
Co-existence of Hinduism and Buddhism
 4th centuryGupta EmpireKadamba Dynasty

Western Ganga Dynasty

 5th centuryVishnukundina
 6th centuryMaitrakaAdivasi (tribes)
CultureLate-Classical Hinduism (c. 650-1100 CE)[k]
Advaita Vedanta - Tantra
Decline of Buddhism in India
 7th centuryMaitrakaIndo-SassanidsVakataka dynasty, HarshaMlechchha dynastyAdivasi (tribes)Pallava
 8th centuryKidarite KingdomKalachuri
 9th centuryIndo-Hephthalites (Huna)Gurjara-PratiharaChalukya
10th centuryPala dynasty

Kamboja-Pala dynasty

CultureIslamic rule and "Sects of Hinduism" (c. 1100-1850 CE)[l] - Medieval and Late Puranic Period (500–1500 CE)[m]
11th century(Islamic conquests)
Kabul Shahi
(Islamic Empire)
Pala Empire
Paramara dynasty
Eastern Ganga dynasty
Sena dynastyAdivasi (tribes)Chola Empire

Yadava dynasty

Western Chalukyas

Eastern Chalukyas

Kakatiya dynasty

Hoysala Empire

12th centuryChola Empire
13th centuryDelhi Sultanate
14th centuryDelhi SultanateVijayanagara Empire
15th centuryDelhi Sultanate
16th centuryMughal Empire
17th centuryMughal Empire
CultureBritish Colonisation - Company rule in India'
18th century
CultureBritish Colonisation - British Raj'
19th century
CultureBritish Raj - Independence struggle - Pakistan - India - Bangladesh'
20th century
21stSmall text century


James Mill (1773-1836), in his The History of British India (1817),[138] distinguished three phases in the history of India, namely Hindu, Muslim and British civilisations.[138][139] This periodisation has been criticised, for the misconceptions it has given rise to.[140] Another periodisation is the division into "ancient, classical, medieaval and modern periods".[141] Smart[142] and Michaels[143] seem to follow Mill's periodisation,[note 37], while Flood[44] and Muesse[145][146] follow the "ancient, classical, medieaval and modern periods" periodisation.[147]

Different periods are designated as "classical Hinduism":

Indus Valley Civilisation and Vedic period
(c. 3000-1000 BCE)
Prevedic religions
(until c. 1750 BCE)[143]
Prevedic religions
(until c. 1750 BCE)[143]
Indus Valley Civilization
(3300–1400 BCE)
Indus Valley Civilisation
(c. 2500 to 1500 BCE)
Vedic religion
(c. 1750-500 BCE)
Early Vedic Period
(c. 1750-1200 BCE)
Vedic Period
(1600–800 BCE)
Vedic period
(c. 1500-500 BCE)
Middle Vedic Period
(from 1200 BCE)
Pre-classical period
(c. 1000 BCE - 100 CE)
Late Vedic period
(from 850 BCE)
Classical Period
(800–200 BCE)
Ascetic reformism
(c. 500-200 BCE)
Ascetic reformism
(c. 500-200 BCE)
Epic and Puranic period
(c. 500 BCE to 500 CE)
Classical Hinduism
(c. 200 BCE-1100 CE)[119]
Preclassical Hinduism
(c. 200 BCE-300 CE)[153]
Epic and Puranic period
(200 BCE–500 CE)
Classical period
(c. 100 CE - 1000 CE)
"Golden Age" (Gupta Empire)
(c. 320-650 CE)[154]
Late-Classical Hinduism
(c. 650-1100 CE)[155]
Medieval and Late Puranic Period
(500–1500 CE)
Medieval and Late Puranic Period
(500–1500 CE)
Hindu-Islamic civilisation
(c. 1000-1750 CE)
Islamic rule and "Sects of Hinduism"
(c. 1100-1850 CE)[156]
Islamic rule and "Sects of Hinduism"
(c. 1100-1850 CE)[156]
Modern Age
Modern period
(c. 1500 CE to present)
Modern period
(c. 1750 CE - present)
Modern Hinduism
(from c. 1850)[157]
Modern Hinduism
(from c. 1850)[157]

Prevedic religions (until c. 1750 BCE)

The first people to have settled in India, c. 40,000-60,000 years ago during Paleolithic times, were Australoids who may have been closely related to Aboriginal Australians.[web 7] They are probably almost extinct or largely covered by successive waves.[158]

After the Australoids, Caucasoids, including both Elamo-Dravidians (c. 4,000[159] to 6,000[160] BCE) and Indo-Aryans (c.2,000[161]-1,500 BCE[162]), and Mongoloids (Sino-Tibetans) immigrated into India. The Elamo-Dravidians[note 39] possibly from Elam, present-day Iran,[159][160][163][note 40] and the Tibeto-Burmans possibly from the Himalayan and north-eastern borders of the subcontinent.[164][note 41]

The earliest prehistoric religion in India that may have left its traces in Hinduism comes from mesolithic.[114][note 42] and neolithic[115][note 43] times. Several tribal religions still exist, predating the dominance of Hinduism, though "[w]e must not assume that there are many similarities between prehistoric and contemporary tribal communities."[web 8]

According to anthropologist Possehl, the Indus Valley Civilization (2,600-1,900BCE) "provides a logical, if somewhat arbitrary, starting point for some aspects of the later Hindu tradition."[165] The religion of this period included worship of a Great Male God, which some (most notably John Marshall) have compared to a proto-Shiva, and probably a Mother Goddess, that may prefigure Shakti. Other practices from the Indus religion that may have continued in the Vedic period include worship of water and fire. However these links of deities and practices of the Indus religion to later-day Hinduism are subject to both political contention and scholarly dispute.[166]

Vedic period (c. 1750-500 BCE)

Map of Vedic age.

The Vedic period, which lasted from c. 1750 to 500 BCE,[143][note 44] is named after the Vedic religion of Indo-Aryan[168][note 45] pastoralists,[170] who migrated into north-western India after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization,[169][171][172][note 46] possibly from the Central Asian steppes,[163][175][note 47][176][note 48] bringing with them their language[177] and religion.[162][178] Their religion was further developed when they migrated into the Ganges Plain after c. 1100 BCE and became pastoralists.[170][179][180]

Although the Vedic beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era may have drawn upon elements from the hypothesised Proto-Indo-European religion,[181][182] the foundation text for the Vedic traditions of this period are the Vedic Samhitas from which this period derives its name. The oldest of these Vedic texts is the Rigveda, thought to have been composed in the 1700-1100 BCE period.[183] The Vedas centre on the worship of deities such as Indra, Varuna and Agni, and on the Soma ritual. Fire-sacrifices, called yajña, are performed by chanting Vedic mantras.[184][185] The Vedic texts were codified when the Indo-Aryans started to settle the Ganges-plain, making the transition from a pastoralist to an agricultural society, and the need for a more stratified organisation of society arose. This new society had to include older habitants of the Ganges-plain, and subsumed them under the Aryan varnas, delegating political and religious authority to the Brahmins and Kshatriyas.[109]

During the Early Vedic period (c. 1500 - 1100 BCE[170]) Vedic tribes were pastoralists, wandering around in north-west India.[186] After 1100 BCE, with the introduction of iron, the Vedic tribes moved into the western Ganges Plain, adapting an agrarical lifestyle.[170][187][188] Rudimentary state-forms appeared, of which the Kuru-tribe and realm was the most influential.[170][189] It was a tribal union, which developed into the first recorded state-level society in South Asia around 1000 BCE.[170] 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,[170] which contributed to the so-called "classical synthesis"[109] or "Hindu synthesis".[17]

The 9th and 8th centuries BCE witnessed the composition of the earliest Upanishads.[190]:183 Upanishads form the theoretical basis of classical Hinduism and are known as Vedanta (conclusion of the Veda).[191] The older Upanishads launched attacks of increasing intensity on the rituals.[192] The diverse monistic speculations of the Upanishads were synthesised into a theistic framework by the sacred Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita.[193]

Ethics in the Vedas are based on the concepts of Satya and Rta. Satya is the principle of integration rooted in the Absolute.[194] Ṛta is the expression of Satya, which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it.[195] Conformity with Ṛta would enable progress whereas its violation would lead to punishment. Panikkar remarks:

Ṛta is the ultimate foundation of everything; it is "the supreme", although this is not to be understood in a static sense. [...] It is the expression of the primordial dynamism that is inherent in everything...."[196]

The term "dharma" was already used in Brahmanical thought, where it was conceived as an aspect of Rta.[197] The term rta is also known from the Proto-Indo-Iranian religion, the religion of the Indo-Iranian peoples prior to the earliest Vedic (Indo-Aryan) and Zoroastrian (Iranian) scriptures. Asha[pronunciation?] (aša) is the Avestan language term corresponding to Vedic language ṛta.[198]

The Vedic texts were the texts of the elite, and do not necessarily represent popular ideas or practices.[199] The Vedic religion of the later Vedic period co-existed with local religions, such as the Yaksha cults,[109][200][web 9] and was itself the product of "a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations".[111][note 33]

Ascetic reformism (c. 500-200 BCE)

Increasing urbanisation of India in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE led to the rise of new ascetic or shramana movements which challenged the orthodoxy of rituals.[201] Mahavira (c. 549–477 BCE), proponent of Jainism, and Buddha (c. 563-483), founder of Buddhism, were the most prominent icons of this movement.[190]:184 According to Heinrich Zimmer, Jainism and Buddhism are part of the pre-Vedic heritage, which also includes Samkhya and Yoga:

[Jainism] does not derive from Brahman-Aryan sources, but reflects the cosmology and anthropology of a much older pre-Aryan upper class of northeastern India - being rooted in the same subsoil of archaic metaphysical speculation as Yoga, Sankhya, and Buddhism, the other non-Vedic Indian systems.[202][note 49]

The Shramana tradition in part created the concept of the cycle of birth and death, the concept of samsara, and the concept of liberation, which became characteristic for Hinduism.[204][note 50]

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".[205][note 51]

Classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE-1100 CE)

Sacred Mount Kailash in Tibet is regarded as the spiritual abode of Lord Shiva.

Pre-classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE-300 CE)

Between 500[17]-200[27] BCE and c. 300 CE developed the "Hindu synthesis",[17][27] which incorporated shramanic and Buddhist influences[27][29] and the emerging bhakti tradition into the Brahmanical fold via the smriti literature.[30][27] This synthesis emerged under the pressure of the success of Buddhism and Jainism.[117]

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".[206] When Brahmanism was declining[note 52] and had to compete with Buddhism and Jainism,[note 53] the popular religions had the opportunity to assert themselves.[206] According to Embree,

[T]he Brahmanists themselves seem to have encouraged this development to some extent as a means of meeting the challenge of the more heterodox movements. At the same time, among the indigenous religions, a common allegiance to the authority of the Veda provided a thin, but nonetheless significant, thread of unity amid their variety of gods and religiou practices.[206]

According to Larson, the Brahmins responded with assimilation and consolidation. This is reflected in the smriti literature which took shape in this period.[207] The smriti texts of the period between 200 BCE-100 CE proclaim 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.[208] Most of the basic ideas and practices of classical Hinduism derive from the new smriti literature, which form the basic inspiration for most Hindus.[207][note 54]

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.[web 10] 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 "seals the achievement"[209] of the "consolidation of Hinduism",[209] integrating Brahmanic and shramanic ideas with theistic devotion.[209][210][211][web 11]

In early centuries CE several schools of Hindu philosophy were formally codified, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta.[212]

"Golden Age" (Gupta Empire) (c. 320-650 CE)

During this period, power was centralised, along with a growth of far distance trade, standardization of legal procedures, and general spread of literacy.[154] Mahayana Buddhism flourished, but orthodox Brahmana culture began to be rejuvenated by the patronage of the Gupta Dynasty,[213] who were Vaishnavas.[214] The position of the Brahmans was reinforced,[154] the first Hindu temples dedicated to the gods of the Hindu deities, emerged during the late Gupta age.[154][note 55] During the Gupta reign the first Puranas were written,[31][note 7] which were used to disseminate "mainstream religious ideology amongst pre-literate and tribal groups undergoing acculturation."[31] The Guptas patronised the newly emerging Puranic religion, seeking legitimacy for their dynasty.[214] The resulting Puranic Hinduism, differed markedly from the earlier Brahmanism of the Dharmasastras and the smritis.[31]

This period saw the emergence of the Bhakti movement. The Bhakti movement was a rapid growth of bhakti beginning in Tamil Nadu in Southern India with the Saiva Nayanars (4th to 10th centuries CE)[216] and the Vaisnava Alvars (3rd to 9th centuries CE) who spread bhakti poetry and devotion throughout India by the 12th to 18th centuries CE.[217][216]

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.[218] Charvaka, the atheistic materialist school, came to the fore in North India before the 8th century CE.[219]

Late-Classical Hinduism - Puranic Hinduism (c. 650-1100 CE)

See also Late-Classical Age and Hinduism Middle Ages.

After the end of the Gupta Empire and the collapse of the Harsha Empire, power became decentralised in India. Several larger kingdoms emerged, with "countless vasal states".[155][note 56] The kingdoms were ruled via a feudal system. Smaller kingdoms were dependent on the protection of the larger kingdoms. "The great king was remote, was exalted and deified",[220] as reflected in the Tantric Mandala, which could also depict the king as the centre of the mandala.[221]

The disintegration of central power also lead to regionalisation of religiosity, and religious rivalry.[222][note 57] Local cults and languages were enhanced, and the influence of "Brahmanic ritualistic Hinduism"[222] was diminished.[222] Rural and devotional movements arose, along with Shaivism, Vaisnavism, Bhakti and Tantra,[222] though "sectarian groupings were only at the beginning of their development".[222] Religious movements had to compete for recognition by the local lords.[222] Buddhism lost its position after the 8th century, and began to disappear in India.[222] This was reflected in the change of puja-ceremonies at the courts in the 8th century, where Hindu gods replaced the Buddha as the "supreme, imperial deity".[224][note 58]

The early mediaeval Puranas were composed to disseminate religious mainstream ideology among the pre-literate tribal societies undergoing acculturation.[31] With the breakdown of the Gupta empire, gifts of virgin waste-land were heaped on brahmanas,[39][225] to ensure provitable agrarical exploitation of land owned by the kings,[39] but also to provide status to the new ruling classes.[39] Brahmanas spread further over India, interacting with local clans with different religions and ideologies.[39] The Brahmanas used the Puranas to incorporate those clans into the agrarical society and its accompanying religion and ideology.[39] According to Flood, "[t]he Brahmans who followed the puranic religion became known as smarta, those whose worship was based on the smriti, or pauranika, those based on the Puranas."[226] Local chiefs and peasants were absorbed into the varna, which was used to keep "control over the new kshatriyas and shudras."[227] The Brahmanic group was enlarged by incorporating local subgroups, such as local priets.[39] This also lead to a stratification within the Brahmins, with some Brahmins having a lower status than other Brahmains.[39] The use of caste worked better with the new Puranic Hinduism than with the shramanic sects.[227] The Puranic texts provided extensive genealogies which gave status to the new kshatriyas.[227] Buddhist myths pictured government as a contract between an elected ruler and the people.[227] And the Buddhist chakkavatti[note 59] "was a distinct concept from the models of conquest held up to the kshatriyas and the Rajputs."[227]

The Brahmanism of the Dharmashastras and the smritis underwent a radical transformation at the hands of the Purana composers, resulting in the rise of Puranic Hinduism,[31] "which like a colossus striding across the religious firmanent soon came to overshadow all existing religions".[228] Puranic Hinduism was a "multiplex belief-system which grew and expanded as it absorbed and synthesised polaristic ideas and cultic traditions"[228] It was distinguished from its Vedic Smarta roots by its popular base, its theological and sectarioan pluralism, its Tantric veneer, and the central place of bhakti.[228][note 8]

Many local religions and traditions were assimilated into puranic Hinduism. Vishnu and Shiva emerged as the main deities, together with Sakti/Deva.[2] Vishnu subsumed the cults of Narayana, Jagannaths, Venkateswara "and many others".[2] Nath:

[S]ome incarnations of Vishnu such as Matsya, Kurma, Varaha and perhaps even Nrsimha helped to incorporate certain popular totem symbols and creation myths, specially those related to wild boar, which commonly permeate preliterate mythology, others such as Krsna and Balarama became instrumental in assimilating local cults and myths centering around two popular pastoral and agricultural gods.[229]

Rama and Krsnabecame the focus of a strong bhakti tradition, which found expression particularly in the Bhagavata Purana. The Krsna tradition subsumed numerous Naga, yaksa and hill and tree based cults.[230] Siva absorbed local cults by the suffixing of Isa or Isvara to the name of the local deity, for example Bhutesvara, Hatakesvara, Chandesvara.[2] In 8th-century royal circles, the Buddha started to be replaced by Hindu gods in pujas.[note 10] This also was the same period of time the Buddha was made into an avatar of Vishnu.[232]

The non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta, which was influenced by Buddhism[233][note 60] was reformulated by Shankara who systematised the works of preceding philosophers.[238] In modern times, due to the influence of western Orientalism and Perennialism on Indian Neo-Vedanta and Hindu nationalism,[46] Advaita Vedanta has acquired a broad acceptance in Indian culture and beyond as the paradigmatic example of Hindu spirituality.[46]

Islamic rule and Sects of Hinduism (c. 1100-1850 CE)

Though Islam came to India in the early 7th century with the advent of Arab traders and the conquest of Sindh, it started to become a major religion during the later Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent.[239] During this period Buddhism declined rapidly and large number of Hindus converted to Islam.[240][241][242] Numerous Muslim rulers or their army generals such as Aurangzeb and Malik Kafur destroyed Hindu temples[web 12][243][web 13][note 61] and persecuted non-Muslims; however some, such as Akbar, were more tolerant. Hinduism underwent profound changes, in large part due to the influence of the prominent teachers Ramanuja, Madhva, and Chaitanya.[239] Followers of the Bhakti movement moved away from the abstract concept of Brahman, which the philosopher Adi Shankara consolidated a few centuries before, with emotional, passionate devotion towards the more accessible Avatars, especially Krishna and Rama.[244] According to Nicholson, already between the 17th and the 16th century, "certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophival teachings of the Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as the "six systems" (saddarsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy."[245][note 62] Michaels notes that a historicization emerged which preceded later nationalism, articulating ideas which glorified Hinduism and the past.[132]

Modern Hinduism (from c. 1850)

Russian Krishnaites celebrating Ratha Yatra. In the late 20th century forms of Hinduism have grown indigenous roots in parts of Russia, significantly in Altay where Hinduism is now the religion of 2% of the population.

With the onset of the British Raj, the colonialisation 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.[43] 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 Müller and John Woodroffe. They brought Vedic, Puranic and Tantric literature and philosophy to Europe and the United States.[citation needed] Western orientalist searched for the "essence" of the Indian religions, discerning this in the Vedas,[246] and meanwhile creating the notion of "Hinduism" as a unified body of religious praxis[247] and the popular picture of 'mystical India'.[247][43] 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,[248] together with the ideas of Universalism and Perennialism, the idea that all religions share a common mystic ground.[249] This "Hindu modernism", with proponents like Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Radhakrishnan, became central in the popular understanding of Hinduism.[250][51][52][53][46]

Influential 20th-century Hindus were Ramana Maharshi, B.K.S. Iyengar, Paramahansa Yogananda, Prabhupada (founder of ISKCON), Sri Chinmoy and Swami Rama, 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.

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.[251] Hindu religiosity plays an important role in the nationalist movement.[252][note 63]

Temple (Devasthana)

Amarnath Temple, attraction to pilgrimages as before as 300 BCE.

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 Sanskrit scriptures called agamas, which deal with individual deities. There are substantial differences in architecture, customs, rituals and traditions in temples in different parts of India.[256]

Hindus can engage in puja (worship or veneration),[257] 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,[258] 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.[259] The image is often considered a manifestation of God, since God is immanent. The Padma Purana states that the mūrti is not to be thought of as mere stone or wood but as a manifest form of the Divinity.[260] While there are Hindus who, do not believe in worshiping God through icons, most notably those of Ārya Samāj.


The sacred Tulsi plant in front of the house.


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.[261] The epic Mahabharata extols Japa (ritualistic chanting) as the greatest duty in the Kali Yuga (current age, 3102 BCE- present).[262] Many adopt Japa as their primary spiritual practice.[262] Yoga is a Hindu discipline which trains the consciousness for tranquility, health and spiritual insight. This is done through a system of postures and exercises to practise control of the body and mind.[263]

Hymns (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.[264] It is normally lyrical, expressing love for the Divine. The name, a cognate of bhakti, meaning religious devotion, suggests its importance to the bhakti movement that spread from the south of India throughout the entire subcontinent in the Moghul era.

Anecdotes and episodes from scriptures, the teachings of saints and descriptions of gods have all been the subject of bhajans. The Dhrupad style, Sufi qawwali[265] and the kirtan or song in the Haridasi tradition are related to bhajan. Nanak, Kabir, Meera, Narottama Dasa, Surdas and Tulsidas are notable composers. Traditions of bhajan such as Nirguni, Gorakhanathi, Vallabhapanthi, Ashtachhap, Madhura-bhakti and the traditional South Indian form Sampradya Bhajan each have their own repertoire and methods of singing.

According to Gaṅgā Rām Garg,

Hindu music is as old as the Sanskrit literature itself. And as a written science, the Hindu system of music is the oldest in the world.[266]


Offerings to Agni during Vivah-homa in a Hindu wedding

The vast majority of Hindus engage in religious rituals on a daily basis.[267][web 14] Most Hindus observe religious rituals at home.[268] but this varies greatly among regions, villages, and individuals. 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, meditation, chanting mantras, reciting scriptures etc.[268] A notable feature in religious ritual is the division between purity and pollution. Religious acts presuppose some degree of impurity or defilement for the practitioner, which must be overcome or neutralised before or during ritual procedures. Purification, usually with water, is thus a typical feature of most religious action.[268] Other characteristics include a belief in the efficacy of sacrifice and concept of merit, gained through the performance of charity or good works, that will accumulate over time and reduce sufferings in the next world.[268] Vedic rites of fire-oblation (yajna) are now only occasional practices, although they are highly revered in theory. In Hindu wedding and burial ceremonies, however, the yajña and chanting of Vedic mantras are still the norm.[web 15] The rituals, upacharas, change with time. For instance, in the past few hundred years some rituals, such as sacred dance and music offerings in the standard Sodasa Upacharas set prescribed by the Agama Shastra, were replaced by the offerings of rice and sweets.

Occasions like birth, marriage, and death involve what are often elaborate sets of religious customs. In Hinduism, life-cycle rituals include Annaprashan (a baby's first intake of solid food), Upanayanam ("sacred thread ceremony" undergone by upper-caste children at their initiation into formal education) and Śrāddha (ritual of treating people to a meal in return for prayers to 'God' to give peace to the soul of the deceased).[web 16][web 17] For most people in India, the betrothal of the young couple and the exact date and time of the wedding are matters decided by the parents in consultation with astrologers.[web 16] On death, cremation is considered obligatory for all except sanyasis, hijra, and children under five.[269] Cremation is typically performed by wrapping the corpse in cloth and burning it on a pyre.


Pilgrimage to Kedarnath

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.

While there are different yet similar pilgrimage routes in different parts of India, all are respected equally well, according to the universality of Hinduism.

Pilgrimage is not mandatory in Hinduism, though many adherents undertake them.[270]


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.


The festival of lights- Diwali, is celebrated by Hindus all over the world.

Hindu festivals (Sanskrit: Utsava; literally: "to lift higher") are considered as symbolic rituals that beautifully weave individual and social life to dharma.[271] 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:


Temple carving at Hoysaleswara temple representing the Trimurti: Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu.

The identification of Hinduism as an independent religion separate from Buddhism or Jainism consequently hinges on the affirmation of its adherents that it is such.[272]

Hinduism grants absolute and complete freedom of belief and worship.[273][274][275] Hinduism conceives the whole world as a single family that deifies the one truth, and therefore it accepts all forms of beliefs and dismisses labels of distinct religions which would imply a division of identity.[276] Hence, Hinduism is devoid of the concepts of apostasy, heresy and blasphemy.[277][278][279][web 18]

Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include (but are not restricted to), Dharma (ethics/duties), Samsāra (the continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), Karma (action and subsequent reaction), Moksha (liberation from samsara), and the various Yogas (paths or practices).[280]

Concept of God

Krishna displays his Vishvarupa (Universal Form) to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, and atheism among others;[281][282][web 19][283] 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.[284]

The Nasadiya Sukta (Creation Hymn) of the Rig Veda is one of the earliest texts[285] which "demonstrates a sense of metaphysical speculation".[285][web 20] It says:[286][web 20]

Who really knows?
Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen?

The same hymn also speaks of "The One":

Then there was neither death nor immortality
nor was there then the torch of night and day.
The One breathed windlessly and self-sustaining.
There was that One then, and there was no other.[note 64]

At first there was only darkness wrapped in darkness.
All this was only unillumined water.
That One which came to be, enclosed in nothing,
arose at last, born of the power of heat.[note 65][web 21]

Most Hindus believe that the spirit or soul — the true "self" of every person, called the ātman — is eternal.[287] According to the monistic/pantheistic theologies of Hinduism (such as Advaita Vedanta school), this Atman is ultimately indistinct from Brahman, the supreme spirit. Hence, these schools are called non-dualist.[288] The goal of life, according to the Advaita school, is to realise that one's ātman is identical to Brahman, the supreme soul.[289] The Upanishads state that whoever becomes fully aware of the ātman as the innermost core of one's own self realises an identity with Brahman and thereby reaches moksha (liberation or freedom).[287][290]

The schools of Vedanta and Nyaya states that karma itself proves the existence of God.[291][292] Nyaya being the school of logic, makes the "logical" inference that the universe is an effect and it ought to have a creator.[293]

Dualistic schools (see Dvaita and Bhakti) understand Brahman as a Supreme Being who possesses personality, and they worship him or her thus, as Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti, depending upon the sect. The ātman is dependent on God, while moksha depends on love towards God and on God's grace.[294] When God is viewed as the supreme personal being (rather than as the infinite principle), God is called Ishvara ("The Lord"),[257] Bhagavan ("The Auspicious One"[257]) or Parameshwara ("The Supreme Lord"[257]).[288] However interpretations of Ishvara vary, ranging from non-belief in Ishvara by followers of Mimamsakas, to identifying Brahman and Ishvara as one, as in Advaita.[288] In the majority of traditions of Vaishnavism he is Vishnu, God, and the text of Vaishnava scriptures identify this Being as Krishna, sometimes referred to as svayam bhagavan. However, under Shaktism, Devi or Adi parashakti is considered as the Supreme Being and in Shaivism Shiva is considered Supreme.

The multitude of devas are viewed as avatars of the Brahman.[295][296][note 66][298] In discussing the Trimurti, Sir William Jones states that Hindus "worship the Supreme Being under three forms — Vishnu, Siva, Brahma...The fundamental idea of the Hindu religion, that of metamorphoses, or transformations, is exemplified in the Avatars.[299]

In Bhagavad Gita, for example, God is the sole repository of Gunas (attributes) also as:[300]

His hands and feet are everywhere, He looks everywhere and all around,

His eyes, ears and face point to all directions, and all the three worlds are surrounded by these.

Atheistic doctrines dominate Hindu schools like Samkhya and Mimamsa.[301] The Samkhyapravachana Sutra of Samkhya argues that the existence of God (Ishvara) cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist.[web 22] Samkhya argue that an unchanging God cannot be the source of an ever changing world. It says God was a necessary metaphysical assumption demanded by circumstances.[302] Proponents of the school of Mimamsa, which is based on rituals and orthopraxy states that the evidence allegedly proving the existence of God was insufficient. They argue that there is no need to postulate a maker for the world, just as there is no need for an author to compose the Vedas or a God to validate the rituals.[303] Mimamsa considers the Gods named in the Vedas have no existence apart from the mantras that speak their names. To that regard, the power of the mantras is what is seen as the power of Gods.[304]

Devas and avatars

Detail of the Phra Prang, the central tower of the Wat Arun ("Temple of Dawn") in Bangkok, Thailand - showing Indra on his three-headed elephant Erawan (Airavata)
Krishna, the eighth incarnation (avatar) of Vishnu or Svayam bhagavan, worshiped across a number of traditions

The Hindu scriptures refer to celestial entities called Devas (or devī in feminine form; devatā used synonymously for Deva in Hindi), "the shining ones", which may be translated into English as "gods" or "heavenly beings".[note 67] 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 supreme personal god, with many Hindus worshiping Ishvara in one of its particular manifestations (ostensibly separate deities) as their iṣṭa devatā, or chosen ideal.[305][306] The choice is a matter of individual preference,[307] and of regional and family traditions.[307]

Hindu epics and the Puranas relate several episodes of the descent of God to Earth in corporeal form to restore dharma to society and to guide humans to moksha. Such an incarnation is called an Avatar. The most prominent avatars are of Vishnu and include Rama (the protagonist in Ramayana) and Krishna (a central figure in the epic Mahabharata).

Karma and samsara

Karma translates literally as action, work, or deed,[308] and can be described as the "moral law of cause and effect".[309] According to the Upanishads an individual, known as the jiva-atma, develops sanskaras (impressions) from actions, whether physical or mental. The linga sharira, a body more subtle than the physical one but less subtle than the soul, retains impressions, carrying them over into the next life, establishing a unique trajectory for the individual.[310] Thus, the concept of a universal, neutral, and never-failing karma intrinsically relates to reincarnation as well as to one's personality, characteristics, and family. Karma binds together the notions of free will and destiny.

This cycle of action, reaction, birth, death and rebirth is a continuum called samsara. The notion of reincarnation and karma is a strong premise in Hindu thought. The Bhagavad Gita states:

As a person puts on new clothes and discards old and torn clothes,

similarly an embodied soul enters new material bodies, leaving the old bodies. (B.G. 2:22)[311]

Samsara provides ephemeral pleasures, which lead people to desire rebirth so as to enjoy the pleasures of a perishable body. However, escaping the world of samsara through moksha is believed to ensure lasting happiness and peace.[312][313] It is thought that after several reincarnations, an atman eventually seeks unity with the cosmic spirit (Brahman/Paramatman).

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 and ends the cycle of rebirth.[314][315] Due to belief in the indestructibility of the soul,[316] death is deemed insignificant with respect to the cosmic self.[317] Thence, a person who has no desire or ambition left and no responsibilities remaining in life or one affected by a terminal disease may embrace death by Prayopavesa.[web 23]

The exact conceptualization of moksha differs among the various Hindu schools of thought. For example, Advaita Vedanta holds that after attaining moksha an atman no longer identifies itself with an individual but as identical with Brahman in all respects. The followers of Dvaita (dualistic) schools identify themselves as part of Brahman, and after attaining moksha expect to spend eternity in a loka (heaven),[318] in the company of their chosen form of Ishvara. Thus, it is said that the followers of dvaita wish to "taste sugar", while the followers of Advaita wish to "become sugar".[319]

Objectives of human life

From the Ramayana

Classical Hindu thought accepts the following objectives of human life, that which is sought as human purpose, aim, or end, is known as the purusarthas:[320][321]

Dharma (righteousness, ethics)

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad views dharma as the universal principle of law, order, harmony, all in all truth, that sprang first from Brahman. It acts as the regulatory moral principle of the Universe. It is sat (truth), a major tenet of Hinduism. This hearkens back to the conception of the Rigveda that "Ekam Sat," (Truth Is One), of the idea that Brahman is "Sacchidananda" (Truth-Consciousness-Bliss). Dharma is not just law, or harmony, it is pure Reality. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad's own words:

Verily, that which is Dharma is truth, Therefore they say of a man who speaks truth, "He speaks the Dharma,"
or of a man who speaks the Dharma, "He speaks the Truth.", Verily, both these things are the same.

—(Brh. Upanishad, 1.4.14) (2)

In the Mahabharata, Krishna defines dharma as upholding both this-worldly and other-worldly affairs. (Mbh 12.110.11). The word Sanātana means 'eternal', 'perennial', or 'forever'; thus, 'Sanātana Dharma' signifies that it is the dharma that has neither beginning nor end.[322]

Artha (livelihood, wealth)

Artha is objective & virtuous pursuit of wealth for livelihood, obligations and economic prosperity. It is inclusive of political life, diplomacy and material well-being. The doctrine of Artha is called Arthashastra, amongst the most famous of which is Kautilya Arthashastra.[323][324][325]

Kāma (sensual pleasure)

Kāma (Sanskrit, Pali; Devanagari: काम) means desire, wish, passion, longing, pleasure of the senses, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love.[326][web 24] However, this is only acceptable within marriage.

Mokṣa (liberation, freedom from samsara)

Moksha (Sanskrit: मोक्ष mokṣa) or mukti (Sanskrit: मुक्ति), literally "release" (both from a root muc "to let loose, let go"), is the last goal of life. It is liberation from samsara and the concomitant suffering involved in being subject to the cycle of repeated death and reincarnation.[327]


A statue of Shiva in yogic meditation.

In whatever way a Hindu defines the goal of life, there are several methods (yogas) that sages have taught for reaching that goal. Texts dedicated to Yoga include the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and, as their philosophical and historical basis, the Upanishads. Paths that one can follow to achieve the spiritual goal of life (moksha, samadhi or nirvana) include:

An individual may prefer one or some yogas over others, according to his or her inclination and understanding. Some devotional schools teach that bhakti is the only practical path to achieve spiritual perfection for most people, based on their belief that the world is currently in the Kali Yuga (one of four epochs which are part of the Yuga cycle).[329] Practice of one yoga does not exclude others. Many schools believe that the different yogas naturally blend into and aid other yogas. For example, the practice of jnana yoga, is thought to inevitably lead to pure love (the goal of bhakti yoga), and vice versa.[330] Someone practicing deep meditation (such as in raja yoga) must embody the core principles of karma yoga, jnana yoga and bhakti yoga, whether directly or indirectly.[328][331]


Hinduism is based on "the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times".[332][333] The scriptures were transmitted orally in verse form to aid memorisation, for many centuries before they were written down.[334] Over many centuries, sages refined the teachings and expanded the canon. In post-Vedic and current Hindu belief, most Hindu scriptures are not typically interpreted literally. More importance is attached to the ethics and metaphorical meanings derived from them.[335] Most sacred texts are in Sanskrit. The texts are classified into two classes: Shruti and Smriti.


The Rigveda is one of the oldest religious texts. This Rigveda manuscript is in Devanagari

Shruti (lit: that which is heard)[336] 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 and heard by the ancient sages (Ṛṣis),[333][337] some devotees 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.[332][338][339] Hindus believe that because the spiritual truths of the Vedas are eternal, they continue to be expressed in new ways.[340]

There are four Vedas (called Ṛg-, Sāma-, Yajus- and Atharva-). The Rigveda is the first and most important Veda.[341] Each Veda is divided into four parts: the primary one, the Veda proper, being the Saṃhitā, which contains sacred mantras. The other three parts form a three-tier ensemble of commentaries, usually in prose and are believed to be slightly later in age than the Saṃhitā. These are: the Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas, and the Upanishads. The first two parts were subsequently called the Karmakāṇḍa (ritualistic portion), while the last two form the Jñānakāṇḍa (knowledge portion).[web 25] While the Vedas focus on rituals, the Upanishads focus on spiritual insight and philosophical teachings, and discuss Brahman and reincarnation.[335][342][343]

A well known shloka from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is:

Lead Us From the Unreal To the Real

Lead Us From Darkness To Light
Lead Us From Death To Immortality
Om Let There Be Peace Peace Peace.[344][note 68]


Bhagavad Gita, a 19th-century manuscript

Hindu texts other than the Shrutis are collectively called the Smritis (memory). The most notable of the smritis are the epics, which consist of the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa. The Bhagavad Gītā is an integral part of the Mahabharata and one of the most popular sacred texts of Hinduism. It contains philosophical teachings from Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, told to the prince Arjuna on the eve of a great war. The Bhagavad Gītā, spoken by Krishna, is described as the essence of the Vedas.[345] However Gita, sometimes called Gitopanishad, is more often placed in the Shruti, category, being Upanishadic in content.[346] Purāṇas, which illustrate Hindu ideas through vivid narratives come under smritis. Other texts include Devī Mahātmya, the Tantras, the Yoga Sutras, Tirumantiram, Shiva Sutras and the Hindu Āgamas. The Manusmriti, is a prescriptive lawbook which lays the societal codes of social stratification which would later help the society to create Indian caste system.[347]

A well known verse from Bhagavad Gita describing a concept in Karma Yoga is explained as follows[348][349]

To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits;

let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction. (2.47)



Padmanabhaswamy Temple, the richest temple in the world[web 26]

Hinduism has no central doctrinal authority and many practising Hindus do not claim to belong to any particular denomination.[350] However four major denominations are recognised: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism.[web 27] The denominations differ primarily in the god worshipped as the Supreme One and in the traditions that accompany worship of that god.

Vaishnavas worship Vishnu as the supreme God; Shaivites worship Shiva as the supreme; Shaktas worship Shakti (power) personified through a female divinity or Mother Goddess, Devi; while Smartas believe in the essential oneness of five (panchadeva) or six (Shanmata[note 69] deities as personifications of the Supreme.

Vaishnavism is the sect within Hinduism that worships Vishnu, the preserver god of the Hindu Trimurti ('three images', the Trinity), and his ten incarnations. It is a devotional sect, and followers worship many deities, including Ram and Krishna, both thought to be incarnations of Vishnu. The adherents of this sect are generally non-ascetic, monastic and devoted to meditative practice and ecstatic chanting.[351][352][353] Vaishnavites are mainly dualistic. They are deeply devotional. Their religion is rich in saints, temples and scriptures.[354]

Saivism is the Hindu sect that worships the god Shiva. Shiva is sometimes depicted as the fierce god Bhairava. Saivists are more attracted to asceticism than adherents of other Hindu sects, and may be found wandering India with ashen faces performing self-purification rituals.[351][352][353] They worship in the temple and practice yoga, striving to be one with Siva within.[354]

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, and Devi is often depicted as Parvati the consort of Shiva or as Lakshmi the consort of Vishnu. She is also depicted in other guises, such as the fierce Kali or Durga. Shaktism is closely related with Tantric Hinduism, which teaches rituals and practices for purification of the mind and body.[351][352][353] The Mother Goddess has many forms. Some are gentle, some are fierce. Shaktas use chants, real magic, holy diagrams, yoga and rituals to call forth cosmic forces.[354]

Smartism, a relatively modern Hindu tradition (compared to the three older traditions ), invites the worship of more than one god including Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganesha (the elephant god) and Surya (the sun god) among other gods and goddesses. It is not as overtly sectarian as either Vashnavism or Saivism and is based on the recognition that Brahman (God) is the highest principle in the universe and pervades all of existence.[351][352][353] Generally Smartas worship the Supreme in one of six forms: Ganesha, Siva, Sakti, Vishnu, Surya and Skanda. Because they accept all the major Hindu Gods, they are known as liberal or nonsectarian. They follow a philosophical, meditative path, emphasizing man's oneness with God through understanding.[354]

The Western conception of what Hinduism is has been defined by the Smarta view;[citation needed] many Hindus, who may not understand or follow Advaita philosophy, in contemporary Hinduism, invariably follow the Shanmata belief worshiping many forms of God.[citation needed] One commentator, noting the influence of the Smarta tradition, remarked that although many Hindus may not strictly identify themselves as Smartas but, by adhering to Advaita Vedanta as a foundation for non-sectarianism, are indirect followers.[web 29]

Other denominations like Ganapatya (the cult of Ganesha) and Saura (Sun worship) are not as widespread.

There are movements that are not easily placed in any of the above categories, such as Swami Dayananda Saraswati's Arya Samaj, which rejects image worship and veneration of multiple deities. It focuses on the Vedas and the Vedic fire sacrifices (yajña).

The Tantric traditions have various sects, as Banerji observes:

Tantras are ... also divided as āstika or Vedic and nāstika or non-Vedic. In accordance with the predominance of the deity the āstika works are again divided as Śākta (Shakta), Śaiva (Shaiva), Saura, Gāṇapatya and Vaiṣṇava (Vaishnava).[355]


Hindu society has been categorised into four classes, called varnas.They are,

Goddess Adi Shakthi at the Parashakthi Temple in Pontiac, USA

The Bhagavad Gītā links the varna to an individual's duty (svadharma), inborn nature (svabhāva), and natural tendencies (guṇa).[356] Gita's conception of varna allowed Aurobindo to derive his doctrine that "functions of a man ought to be determined by his natural turn, gift and capacities."[357][358] The Manusmṛiti categorises the different castes.[web 30]

Some mobility and flexibility within the varnas challenge allegations of social discrimination in the caste system, as has been pointed out by several sociologists,[359][360] although some other scholars disagree.[361] Scholars debate whether the so-called caste system is part of Hinduism sanctioned by the scriptures or social custom.[362][web 31][note 70] And various contemporary scholars have argued that the caste system was constructed by the British colonial regime.[363] The religious teacher Sri Ramakrishna (1836–1886) explained that

Lovers of God do not belong to any caste . . . . A brahmin without this love is no longer a brahmin. And a pariah with the love of God is no longer a pariah. Through bhakti (devotion to God) an untouchable becomes pure and elevated.[364]

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.[365]


A Balmiki Ashram

Traditionally the life of a Hindu is divided into four Āshramas (phases or stages; unrelated meanings include monastery). The first part of one's life, Brahmacharya, the stage as a student, is spent in celibate, controlled, sober and pure contemplation under the guidance of a Guru, building up the mind for spiritual knowledge. Grihastha is the householder's stage, in which one marries and satisfies kāma and artha in one's married and professional life respectively (see the goals of life). The moral obligations of a Hindu householder include supporting one's parents, children, guests and holy figures. Vānaprastha, the retirement stage, is gradual detachment from the material world. This may involve giving over duties to one's children, spending more time in religious practices and embarking on holy pilgrimages. Finally, in Sannyāsa, the stage of asceticism, one renounces all worldly attachments to secludedly find the Divine through detachment from worldly life and peacefully shed the body for Moksha.[366]


A sadhu in Madurai, India.

Some Hindus choose to live a monastic life (Sannyāsa) 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.[367] A Hindu monk is called a sanyāsī, sādhu, or swāmi. A female renunciate is called a sanyāsini. 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.[368] It is considered a highly meritorious act for a householder to provide sādhus with food or other necessaries. Sādhus 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.[367]

Ahimsa, vegetarianism and other food customs

There are a number of animal sacrifices mentioned in the Vedas such as mantras for the sacrifice of a Goat in the Rig,[369] the Horse sacrifice (Ashwamedha) and the Human sacrifice (Purushamedha) in the Yajur,[370] whilst in the Jyotistoma sacrifice three animal-sacrifices are performed, namely, Agnisomiya, Savaniya and Anubandhya.[371][372] The Yajurveda is considered the Veda of sacrifices and rituals,[373][374] and consists of a number of animal sacrifices, such as mantras and procedures for the sacrifices of a white goat to Vayu,[375] a calf to Sarasvati, a speckled Ox to Savitr, a Bull to Indra, a castrated Ox to Varuna and so on.[376][377]

A reaction against these sacrifices came from the Charvakas, who documented their criticism in the Barhaspatya sutras in the 3rd century BCE as follows:

If a beast slain in Jyotistoma rite will itself go to heaven, why then does not the sacrificer forthwith offer his own father?[378]

The Buddha forbade drinking and Buddhist kings such as Ashoka influenced society by banning animal sacrifices.[370] During the rule of the Buddhist king, Ashoka Maurya, an edict was passed and inscribed in a rock proclaiming:

This is the edict of the beloved of the Gods, Raja Piyadasi. The putting to death of animals is to be entirely discontinued.[370]

From here on, social reaction with regard to the sacrificial (brahmanas) texts can be traced.[370] Panini says there are two kinds of brahmanas, the old brahmanas and the new brahmanas.[370] In the old brahmanas, such as the Aitareya Brahmana of the Rig, sacrifices were really offered, but in later brahmanas such as the Shatapatha Brahmana animals were let loose after being tied to sacrificial posts.[370] This was a reaction to the rise of the Shramanic religion, such as Buddhism and Jainism; which resulted in Ahimsa put into practice amongst practitioners of the Brahmanas.

Hindus advocate the practice of ahiṃsā (non-violence) and respect for all life because divinity is believed to permeate all beings, including plants and non-human animals.[379] The term ahiṃsā appears in the Upanishads,[380] the epic Mahabharata[381] and Ahiṃsā is the first of the five Yamas (vows of self-restraint) in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.[382] and the first principle for all member of Varnashrama Dharma (brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra) in Law of Manu (book 10, sutra 63 : Ahimsa, satya, asteya, shaucam and indrayanigraha, almost similar to main principles of jainism).[web 33][web 34]

A goshala or cow shelter at Guntur

In accordance with ahiṃsā, 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%.[383] The food habits vary with the community and region: for example, some castes having fewer vegetarians and coastal populations relying on seafood.[384][web 35] 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,[385] and Hindu society honours the cow as a symbol of unselfish giving.[386] Cow-slaughter is legally banned in almost all states of India.[web 36]

There are many Hindu groups that have continued to abide by a strict vegetarian diet in modern times. One example is the movement known as ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), whose followers "not only abstain from meat, fish, and fowl, but also avoid certain vegetables that are thought to have negative properties, such as onion, garlic and mushroom."[387][web 37] A second example is the Swaminarayan Movement. The followers of this Hindu group also staunchly adhere to a diet that is devoid of meat, eggs, and seafood.[388]

Rajasthani thali.

Thus, another reason that dietary purity is so eminent within Hinduism is because of "the idea that food reflects the general qualities of nature: purity, energy, [and] inertia." It follows that a healthy diet should be one that promotes purity within an individual.[387]

Based on this reasoning, Hindus should avoid or minimise the intake of foods that do not promote purity. These foods include onion and garlic, which are regarded as rajasic (a state which is characterised by "tension and overbearing demeanor") foods, and meat, which is regarded as tamasic (a state which is characterised by "anger, greed, and jealousy").[389]

Some Hindus from certain sects - generally Shakta,[390] certain Shudra and Kshatriya castes[391][392] and certain Eastern Indian[393] and East Asian regions;[394] practise animal sacrifice (bali),[395] although most Hindus, including the majority of Vaishnava and Shaivite Hindus abhor it.[web 38]


Spread of Hindu practices

Hindu practices such as yoga, ayurvedic health, divination (astrology, palmistry, numerology), tantric sexuality through Neotantra and kama sutra have reached 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 West—which generally advocate vegetarianism—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."[396]

It is estimated that around 30 million Americans and 5 million Europeans regularly practice some form of Hatha Yoga.[397] In Australia, the number of practitioners is about 300,000.[web 39] In New Zealand the number is also around 300,000.[web 40]


Hinduism - Percentage by country

Part of a series on
Hinduism by country


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).[web 41] Other significant populations are found in Nepal (23 million), Bangladesh (15 million) and the Indonesian island of Bali (3.3 million).

Countries with the greatest proportion of Hindus from Hinduism by country (as of 2008):

  1.    Nepal 81.3%[web 42]
  2.  India 80.5%
  3.  Mauritius 49%-54%[398][399]
  4.  Guyana 28%[web 43]
  5.  Fiji 27.9%[web 44]
  6.  Bhutan 25%[web 45]
  7.  Trinidad and Tobago 22.5%
  8.  Suriname 20%[web 46]
  9.  Sri Lanka 12.6%[web 47]
  10.  Bangladesh 9.6%[web 48]
  11.  Qatar 7.2%
  12.  Réunion 6.7%
  13.  Malaysia 6.3%[web 49]
  14.  Bahrain 6.25%
  15.  Kuwait 6%
  16.  Singapore 5.1%[web 50]
  17.  United Arab Emirates 5%
  18.  Oman 3%
  19.  Belize 2.3%
  20.  Seychelles 2.1%[web 51]

Demographically, Hinduism is the world's third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam.

See also

Related systems and religions


  1. ^ Hinduism is variously defined as a "religion", "set of religious beliefs and practices", "religious tradition" etc. For a discussion on the topic, see: "Establishing the boundaries" in Gavin Flood 2008 (2003), pp. 1-17.[1]
  2. ^ See:
    • "Oldest religion":
      • Fowler: "probably the oldest religion in the world"[4]
      • Gellman & Hartman: "Hinduism, the world's oldest religion"[5]
      • Stevens: "Hinduism, the oldest religion in the world",[6]
    • The "oldest living religion"[7]
    • The "oldest living major religion" in the world.[8][9]
      • Laderman: "world's oldest living civilisation and religion"[10]
      • Turner: "It is also recognized as the oldest major religion in the world"[11]
    Smart, on the other hand, calls it also one of the youngest religions: "Hinduism could be seen to be much more recent, though with various ancient roots: in a sense it was formed in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century."[12] See also:
  3. ^ a b c Lockard: "The encounters that resulted from Aryan migration brought together several very different peoples and cultures, reconfiguring Indian society. Over many centuries a fusion of Aryan and Dravidian occurred, a complex process that historians have labeled the Indo-Aryan synthesis."[16] Lockard: "Hinduism can be seen historically as a synthesis of Aryan beliefs with Harappan and other Dravidian traditions that developed over many centuries."[23]
  4. ^ a b c Hiltebeitel: "A period of consolidation, sometimes identified as one of "Hindu synthesis," Brahmanic synthesis," or "orthodox synthesis," takes place between the time of the late Vedic Upanishads (c. 500 BCE) and the period of Gupta imperial ascendency" (c. 320-467 CE)."[17]
  5. ^ a b See also:
  6. ^ Between 500[17]-200[27] BCE and c. 300 CE,[17] at the beginning of the "Epic and Puranic" c.q. "Preclassical" period.
  7. ^ a b c The date of the production of the written texts does not define the date of origin of the Puranas;[32] they may have existed in some oral form before being written down.[32]
  8. ^ a b c Michaels: "The legacy of the Vedic religion in Hinduism is generally overestimated. The influence of the mythology is indeed great, but the religious terminology changed considerably: all the key terms of Hinduism either do not exist in Vedic or have a completely different meaning. The religion of the Veda does not know the ethicised migration of the soul with retribution for acts (karma), the cyclical destruction of the world, or the idea of salvation during one's lifetime (jivanmukti; moksa; nirvana); the idea of the world as illusion (maya) must have gone against the grain of ancient India, and an omnipotent creator god emerges only in the late hymns of the rgveda. Nor did the Vedic religion know a caste system, the burning of widows, the ban on remarriage, images of gods and temples, Puja worship, Yoga, pilgrimages, vegetarianism, the holiness of cows, the doctrine of stages of life (asrama), or knew them only at their inception. Thus, it is justified to see a turning point between the Vedic religion and Hindu religions."[119] See also Halbfass (1991) p.1-2.[120]
  9. ^ After the Vedic period, around the beginning of the Common Era,[note 6] the "Hindu synthesis" emerged,[17][27] which incorporated shramanic[27][28] and Buddhist influences[27][29] and the emerging bhakti tradition into the Brahmanical fold.[30]

    During the Gupta reign the first Puranas were written,[31][note 7] which were used to disseminate "mainstream religious ideology amongst pre-literate and tribal groups undergoing acculturation."[31] The resulting Puranic Hinduism differed markedly from the earlier Brahmanism of the Dharmasastras and the smritis.[31][note 8]
  10. ^ a b Inden: "before the eighth century, the Buddha was accorded the position of universal deity and ceremonies by which a king attained to imperial status were elaborate donative ceremonies entailing gifts to Buddhist monks and the installation of a symbolic Buddha in a stupa....This pattern changed in the eighth century. The Buddha was replaced as the supreme, imperial deity by one of the Hindu gods (except under the Palas of eastern India, the Buddha's homeland)...Previously the Buddha had been accorded imperial-style worship (puja). Now as one of the Hindu gods replaced the Buddha at the imperial centre and pinnacle of the cosmo-political system, the image or symbol of the Hindu god comes to be housed in a monumental temple and given increasingly elaborate imperial-style puja worship."[231]
  11. ^ a b University of Oslo: "During the period following Asoka, until the end of the 7th century AD, the great gift ceremonies honoring the Buddha remained the central cult of Indian imperial kingdoms".[web 2]
  12. ^ a b Geoffrey Samuel, p.76: "Certainly, there is substantial textual evidence for the outward expansion of Vedic-Brahmanical culture."[121]

    Geoffrey Samuel, p.77: "[T]he Buddhist sutras describe what was in later periods a standard mechanism for the expansion of Vedic-Brahmanical culture: the settlement of Brahmins on land granted by local rulers."[38] See also Nath 2001.[39]

    Geoffrey Samuel, p.199: "By the first and second centuries CE, the Dravidian-speaking regions of the south were also increasingly being incorporated into the general North and Central Indian cultural pattern, as were parts at least of Southeast Asia. The Pallava kingdom in South India was largely Brahmanical in orientation although it included a substantial Jain and Buddhist population, while Indic states were also beginning to develop in Southeast Asia."[122]

  13. ^ a b Gerald Larson: "Also, the spread of the culture of North India to the South was accomplished in many instances by the spread of Buddhist and Jain institutions (monasteries, lay communities, and so forth). The Pallavas of Kanci appear to have been one of the main vehicles for the spread of specifically Indo-Brahmanical or Hindu institutions in the South, a process that was largely completed after the Gupta Age. As Basham has noted, "the contact of Aryan and Dravidian produced a vigorous cultural synthesis, which in turn had an immense influence on Indian civilization as a whole.""[36]
  14. ^ a b Gavin Flood: "The process of Sanskritization only began to significantly influence the south after the first two centuries CE and Tamil deities and forms of worship became adapted to northern Sanskrit forms."[37]
  15. ^ a b Wendy Doniger: "If Sanskritization has been the main means of connecting the various local traditions throughout the subcontinent, the converse process, which has no convenient label, has been one of the means whereby Hinduism has changed and developed over the centuries. Many features of Hindu mythology and several popular gods—such as Ganesha, an elephant-headed god, and Hanuman, the monkey god—were incorporated into Hinduism and assimilated into the appropriate Vedic gods by this means. Similarly, the worship of many goddesses who are now regarded as the consorts of the great male Hindu gods, as well as the worship of individual unmarried goddesses, may have arisen from the worship of non-Vedic local goddesses. Thus, the history of Hinduism can be interpreted as the interplay between orthoprax custom and the practices of wider ranges of people and, complementarily, as the survival of features of local traditions that gained strength steadily until they were adapted by the Brahmans."[40]

    Vijay Nath: "Visnu and Siva, on the other hand, as integral components of the Triad while continuing to be a subject of theological speculation, however, in their subesequent "avataras" began to absorb countless local cults and deities within their folds. The latter were either taken to represent the multiple facets of the same god or else were supposed to denote different forms and appellations by which the god came to be known and worshipped. Thus whereas Visnu came to subsume the cults of Narayana, Jagannatha, Venkateswara and many others, Siva became identified with countless local cults by the sheer suffixing of Isa or Isvarato the name of the local deity, e.g., Bhutesvara, Hatakesvara, Chandesvara."[2]

  16. ^ a b Wendy Doniger: "The process, sometimes called "Sanskritization," began in Vedic times and was probably the principal method by which the Hinduism of the Sanskrit texts spread through the subcontinent and into Southeast Asia. Sanskritization still continues in the form of the conversion of tribal groups, and it is reflected in the persistence of the tendency among some Hindus to identify rural and local deities with the gods of the Sanskrit texts."[40]
  17. ^ Also called "Hindu modernism"[45] and neo-Hinduism.[46] The term "neo" has been critisized by Halbfass for being "simplistic"[47] and having a "polemical undertone".[48]
  18. ^ As reflected in the emphasis on personal "religious experience" as the validation of religious truths.[49]
  19. ^ Neo-Vedanta also contributed to Hindutva ideology, Hindu politics and communalism. Yet, Rinehart emphasises that it is "clear that there isn't a neat line of causation that leads from the philosophies of Rammohan Roy, Vivekananda and Radhakrishnan to the agenda of [...] militant Hindus."[54]
  20. ^ The word Sindhu is first mentioned in the Rigveda.[57][web 4][58][relevant? ]
  21. ^ Gavin Flood adds: "In Arabic texts, Al-Hind is a term used for the people of modern-day India and 'Hindu', or 'Hindoo', was used towards the end of the eighteenth century by the British to refer to the people of 'Hindustan', the people of northwest India. Eventually 'Hindu' became virtually equivalent to an 'Indian' who was not a Muslim, Sikh, Jain or Christian, thereby encompassing a range of religious beliefs and practices. The '-ism' was added to Hindu in around 1830 to denote the culture and religion of the high-caste Brahmans in contrast to other religions, and the term was soon appropriated by Indians themselves in the context of building a national identity opposed to colonialism, though the term 'Hindu' was used in Sanskrit and Bengali hagiographic texts in contrast to 'Yavana' or Muslim as early as the sixteenth century".[56]
  22. ^ In ancient lietrature the name Bharata or Bharata VRasa was being used.[61]
  23. ^ Sweetman mentions:
  24. ^ See Rajiv Malhotra and Being Different for a critic who gained widespread attention outside the academia, Invading the Sacred, and Hindu studies.
  25. ^ Sweetman cites Richard King (1999) p.128.[46]
  26. ^ Sweetman cites Viswanathan (2003), Colonialism and the Construction of Hinduism, p.26
  27. ^ Sweetman identifies several areas in which "there is substantial, if not universal, agreement that colonialism influenced the study of Hinduism":[69]
    1. The establishment by European Orientalists of a textual basis for Hinduism, akin to the Protestant culture,[69] which was driven by a preference among the colonial powers for written authority rather than oral authority.[69]
    2. The influence of Brahmins on European conceptions of Hinduism.[69] Colonialism has been a significant factor in the reinforcement of the Brahmana castes and the "brahmanisation"[70] of Hindu society.[70] The Brahmana castes preserved the texts which were studied by Europeans and provided access to them. The authority of those texts was expanded by being the focus of study by Europeans.[69] Brahmins and Europeans scholars shared a perception of "a general decline from an originally pure religion".[69]
    3. The identification of Vedanta, and specifically Advaita Vedanta, as the "paradigmatic example of the mystical nature of the Hindu religion"[69][note 25] and the "central philosophy of the Hindus".[69] Several factors led to the favouring of Advaita Vedanta:[71]
      1. Fear of French influence, especially the impact of the French Revolution; the hope was that "the supposed quietist and conservative nature of Vedantic thought would prevent the development of revolutionary sentiment;[72]
      2. "The predominance of Idealism in nineteenth century European philosophy";[73]
      3. "The amenability of Vedantic thought to both Christian and Hindu critics of 'idolatry' in other forms of Hinduism".[73]
    4. The European conception of caste which dismissed former political configurations and insisted upon an "essentially religious character" of India.[74] During the colonial period, caste was defined as a religious system and was divorced from political powers.[73] This made it possible for the colonial rulers to portray India as a society characterised by spiritual harmony in contrast to the former Indian states which they criticised as "despotic and epiphenomenal",[73] with the colonial powers providing the necessary "benevolent, paternalistic rule by a more 'advanced' nation".[73]
    5. The construction of 'Hinduism' in the image of Christianity[75] as "a systematic, confessional, all-embracing religious entity".[75] Several forces played a role in this construction:
      1. The European scholarship which studied India,[75]
      2. The "acts of policy of the colonial state",[75]
      3. Anti-colonial Hindus[76] "looking toward the systematisation of disparate practices as a means of recovering a precolonial, national identity".[75][note 26]
  28. ^ It can be traced back to William James, who used a term called "religious experience" in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience.[87] The origins of the use of this term can be dated further back.[88] Wayne Proudfoot traces the roots of the notion of "religious experience" to the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), who argued that religion is based on a feeling of the infinite. The notion of "religious experience" was used by Schleiermacher and Albert Ritschl to defend religion against the growing scientific and secular citique, and defend the view that human (moral and religious) experience justifies religious beliefs.[88]
  29. ^ Other religions of the region, such as Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, also believe in karma, outside the scope of Hinduism.[56]
  30. ^ Ghurye: He [Hutton] considers modern Hinduism to be the result of an amalgam between pre-Aryan Indian beliefs of mediterranean inspiration and the religion of the Rigveda. "The Tribal religions present, as it were, surplus material not yet buit into the temple of Hinduism".[102]
  31. ^ Tyler, in India: An Anthropological Perspective(1973), page 68, as quoted by Sjoberg, calls Hinduism a "synthesis" in which the Dravidian elements prevail: "The Hindu synthesis was less the dialectical reduction of orthodoxy and heterodoxy than the resurgence of the ancient, aboriginal Indus civilization. In this process the rude, barbaric Aryan tribes were gradually civilised and eventually merged with the autochthonous Dravidians. Although elements of their domestic cult and ritualism were jealously preserved by Brahman priests, the body of their culture survived only in fragmentary tales and allegories embedded in vast, syncretistic compendia. On the whole, the Aryan contribution to Indian culture is insignificant. The essential pattern of Indian culture was already established in the third millennium B.C., and ... the form of Indian civilization perdured and eventually reasserted itself.[104]
  32. ^ Hopfe & Woodward: "The religion that the Aryans brought with them mingled with the religion of the native people, and the culture that developed between them became classical Hinduism."[108]
  33. ^ a b See:
    • David Gordo White: "[T]he religion of the Vedas was already a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations."[111]
    • Richard Gombrich: "It is important to bear in mind that the Indo-Aryans did not enter an unhabitated land. For nearly two millennia they and their culture gradually penetrated India, moving east and south from their original seat in the Punjab. They mixed with people who spoke Munda or Dravidian languages, who have left no traces of their culture beyond some archaeological remains; we know as little about them as we would about the Indo-Aryans if they had left no texts. In fact we cannot even be sure whether some of the aerchaeological finds belong to Indo-Aryans, autochthonous populations, or a mixture.

      It is to be assumed - though this is not fashionable in Indian historiography - that the clash of cultures between Indo-Aryans and autochtones was responsible for many of the changes in Indo-Aryan society. We can also assume that many - perhaps most - of the indigenous population came to be assimilated into Indo-Aryan culture.[112]

  34. ^ Tiwari mentions the Austric and and Mongoloid people.[116] See also Peopling of India for the variety of Indian people.
  35. ^ Hackel, in Nicholson 2010[125]
  36. ^ See also Sanskritization, Indo-Aryanization and Vedantification.
  37. ^ Michaels mentions Flood 1996[44] as a source for "Prevedic Religions".[144]
  38. ^ Smart distinguishes "Brahmanism" from the Vedic religion, connecting "Brahmanism" with the Upanishads.[148]
  39. ^ Called such, so as to distinguish them from the modern Dravidian populations of India, which are of predominantly Australoid racial stock
  40. ^
    • Thani Nayagam: "... together with the evidence of archaeology would seem to suggest that the original Dravidian-speakers entered India from Iran in the fourth millennium BC ...".[159]
    • Kumar: "The analysis of two Y chromosome variants, Hgr9 and Hgr3 provides interesting data (Quintan-Murci et al., 2001). Microsatellite variation of Hgr9 among Iranians, Pakistanis and Indians indicate an expansion of populations to around 9000 YBP in Iran and then to 6,000 YBP in India. This migration originated in what was historically termed Elam in south-west Iran to the Indus valley, and may have been associated with the spread of Dravidian languages from south-west Iran (Quintan-Murci et al., 2001)."[160]
    • Mukherjee et al: "More recently, about 15,000-10,000 years before present (ybp), when agriculture developed in the Fertile Crescent region that extends from Israel through northern Syria to western Iran, there was another eastward wave of human migration (Cavalli-Sforza et al., 1994; Renfrew 1987), a part of which also appears to have entered India. This wave has been postulated to have brought the Dravidian languages into India (Renfrew 1987). Subsequently, the Indo-European (Aryan) language family was introduced into India about 4,000 ybp ...".[163]
  41. ^ Cordaux et al: "Our coalescence analysis suggests that the expansion of Tibeto-Burman speakers to northeast India most likely took place within the past 4,200 years."[164]
  42. ^ Doniger: "Much of what we now call Hinduism may have had roots in cultures that thrived in South Asia long before the creation of textual evidence that we can decipher with any confidence. Remarkable cave paintings have been preserved from Mesolithic sites dating from c. 30,000 BCE in Bhimbetka, near present-day Bhopal, in the Vindhya Mountains in the province of Madhya Pradesh."[114]
  43. ^ Jones & Ryan: "Some practices of Hinduism must have originated in Neolithic times (c. 4,000 BCE). The worship of certain plants and animals as sacred, for instance, could very likely have very great antiquity. The worship of goddesses, too, a part of Hinduism today, may be a feature that originated in the Neolithic."[115]
  44. ^ There is noe xeact dating possible for the beginning of the Vedic period. Witzel mentions a range between 1900 and 1400 BCE.[167] Flood mentions 1500 BCE.[141]
  45. ^ Michaels: "They called themselves arya ("Aryans," literally "the hospitable," from the Vedic arya, "homey, the hospitable") but even in the Rgveda, arya denotes a cultural and linguistic boundary and not only a racial one."[169]
  46. ^ The Aryan migration theory has been challenged by some researchers,[169][173] due to a lack of archaeological evidence and signs of cultural continuity,[169] hypothesizing instead a slow process of acculturation[169] or transformation.[171] Nevertheless, linguistic and archaeological data clearly show a cultural change after 1750 BCE,[169] with the linguistic and religious data clearly showing links with Indo-European languages and religion.[174] According to Singh, "The dominant view is that the Indo-Aryams came to the subcontinent as immigrants."[173]
  47. ^ Allchin: "There has also been a fairly general agreement that the Proto-Indoaryan speakers at one time lived on the steppes of Central Asia and that at a certain time they moved southwards through Bactria and Afghanistan, and perhaps the Caucasus, into Iran and India-Pakistan (Burrow 1973; Harmatta 1992)."[175]
  48. ^ Kulke: "During the last decades intensive archaeological research in Russia and the Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union as well as in Pakistan and northern India has considerably enlarged our knowledge about the potential ancestors of the Indo-Aryans and their relationship with cultures in west, central and south Asia. Previous excavations in southern Russia and Central Asia could not confirm that the Eurasian steppes had once been the original home of the speakers of Indo-European language."[176]
  49. ^ Zimmer's point of view is supported by other scholars, such as Niniam Smart, in Doctrine and argument in Indian Philosophy, 1964, p.27-32 & p.76,[203] and S.K. Belvakar & R.D. Ranade in History of Indian philosophy, 1974 (1927), p.81 & p.303-409.[203]
  50. ^ Flood: "The second half of the first millennium BCE was the period that created many of the ideological and institutional elements that characterise later Indian religions. The renouncer tradition played a central role during this formative period of Indian religious history [...] Some of the fundamental values and beliefs that we generally associate with Indian religions in general and Hinduism in particular were in part the creation of the renouncer tradition. These include the two pillars of Indian theologies: samsara - the belief that life in this world is one of suffering and subject to repeated deaths and births (rebirth); moksa/nirvana - the goal of human existence."[204]
  51. ^ Richard King notes that Radhakrishnan was a representative of Neo-Vedanta,[46] which had a specific understanding of Indian religions: "The inclusivist appropriation of other traditions, so characteristic of neo-Vedanta ideology, appears on three basic levels. First, it is apparent in the suggestion that the (Advaita) Vedanta philosophy of Sankara (c. eighth century CE) constitutes the central philosophy of Hinduism. Second, in an Indian context, neo-Vedanta philosophy subsumes Buddhist philosophies in terms of its own Vedantic ideology. The Buddha becomes a member of the Vedanta tradition, merely attempting to reform it from within. Finally, at a global level, neo-Vedanta colonises the religious traditions of the world by arguing for the centrality of a non-dualistic position as the philosophia perennis underlying all cultural differences."[46]
  52. ^ Michaels: "At the time of upheaval [500-200 BCE], many elements of the Vedic religion were lost".[119]
  53. ^ Hiltebeitel: "The emerging self-definitions of Hinduism were forged in the context of continuous interaction with heterodox religions (Buddhists, Jains, Ajivikas) throughout this whole period, and with foreign people (Yavanas, or Greeks; Sakas, or Scythians; Pahlavas, or Parthians; and Kusanas, or Kushans) from the third phase on [between the Mauryan empire and the rise of the Guptas].[30]
  54. ^ Larson: "[I]n contrast to the sruti, which "Hindus for the most part pay little more than lip service to."[207]
  55. ^ Axel Michaels mentions the Durga temple in Aihole and the Visnu Temple in Deogarh.[154] George Michell notes that earlier temples were build of timber, brick and plaster, while the first stone temples appeared during the period of Gupta rule.[215]
  56. ^ *In the east the Pala Empire[155] (770–1125 CE[155]),
  57. ^ This resembles the development of Chinese Chán during the An Lu-shan rebellion and the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (907–960/979), during which power became decentralised end new Chán-schools emerged.[223]
  58. ^ "Before the eighth century, the Buddha was accorded the position of universal deity and ceremonies by which a king attained to imperial status were elaborate donative ceremonies entailing gifts to Buddhist monks and the installation of a symbolic Buddha in a stupa [...] This pattern changed in the eighth century. The Buddha was replaced as the supreme, imperial deity by one of the Hindu gods (except under the Palas of eastern India, the Buddha's homeland) [...] Previously the Buddha had been accorded imperial-style worship (puja). Now as one of the Hindu gods replaced the Buddha at the imperial centre and pinnacle of the cosmo-political system, the image or symbol of the Hindu god comes to be housed in a monumental temple and given increasingly elaborate imperial-style puja worship."[224]
  59. ^ The king who ruled not by conquest but by setting in motion the wheel of law.[214]
  60. ^ Gaudapada, the teacher of Shankara's teacher Govinda Bhagavatpada, took over the Buddhist doctrines that ultimate reality is pure consciousness (vijñapti-mātra)[234] and "that the nature of the world is the four-cornered negation".[234] Gaudapada "wove [both doctrines] into a philosophy of the Mandukaya Upanisad, which was further developed by Shankara".[233] Gaudapada also took over the Buddhist concept of "ajāta" from Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka philosophy,[235][236] which uses the term "anutpāda".[237]
  61. ^ See also "Aurangzeb, as he was according to Mughal Records"; more links at the bottom of that page
  62. ^ The tendency of "a blurring of philosophical distinctions" has also been noted by Burley.[128] Lorenzen locates the origins of a distinct Hindu identity in the interaction between Muslims and Hindus,[129] and a proces of "mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim other",[130] which started well before 1800.[131] Both the Indian and the European thinkers who developed the term "Hinduism" in the 19th century were influenced by these philosophers.[66]
  63. ^ This conjunction of nationalism and religion is not unique to India. The complexities of Asian nationalism are to be seen and understood in the context of colonialism, modernization and nation-building. See, for example, Anagarika Dharmapala, for the role of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lankese struggle for independence,[253] and D.T. Suzuki, who conjuncted Zen to Japanese nationalism and militarism, in defense against both western hegemony and the pressure on Japanese Zen during the Meiji Restoration to conform to Shinbutsu Bunri.[254][255]
  64. ^ न मृत्युरासीदमृतं न तर्हि न रात्र्या।आन्ह।आसीत् प्रकॆत: ।
    आनीदवातं स्वधया तदॆकं तस्माद्धान्यन्नपर: किंचनास ॥२॥
  65. ^ तम।आअसीत्तमसा गूह्ळमग्रॆ प्रकॆतं सलिलं सर्वमा।इदम् ।
    तुच्छॆनाभ्वपिहितं यदासीत्तपसस्तन्महिना जायतैकम् ॥३॥
  66. ^ Toropov and Buckles: The members of various Hindu sects worship a dizzying number of specific deities and follow innumerable rituals in honor of specific gods. Because this is Hinduism, however, its practitioners see the profusion of forms and practices as expressions of the same unchanging reality. The panoply of deities are understood by believers as symbols for a single transcendent reality.[297]
  67. ^ For translation of deva in singular noun form as "a deity, god", and in plural form as "the gods" or "the heavenly or shining ones", see: Monier-Williams 2001, p. 492. In fact, there are different ranks among the devas. The highest are the immortal Mahadevas, such as Shiva, Vishnu, etc. The second-rank devas, such as Ganesha, are described as their offspring: they are "born", and their "lifespan" is quite limited. In ISKCON the word is translated as "demigods", although it can also denote such heavenly denizens as gandharvas. See: "Vedic cosmology". Vedic Knowledge Online. VEDA - Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Retrieved 2007-06-25. . For translation of devatā as "godhead, divinity", see: Monier-Williams 2001, p. 495.
  68. ^ ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय । तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय
    मृत्योर्मामृतं गमय
  69. ^ Tamil Hindus add Skanda)[web 28]
  70. ^ Venkataraman and Deshpande: "Caste-based discrimination does exist in many parts of India today.... Caste-based discrimination fundamentally contradicts the essential teaching of Hindu sacred texts that divinity is inherent in all beings."[web 32]


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  2. ^ a b c d e Nath 2001, p. 31.
  3. ^ Georgis, Faris (2010). Alone in Unity: Torments of an Iraqi God-Seeker in North America. Dorrance Publishing. p. 62. ISBN 1-4349-0951-4. 
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  15. ^ a b c Knott 1998, p. 5.
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  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Hiltebeitel 2007, p. 12.
  18. ^ a b Samuel 2010, p. 193.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Flood 1996, p. 16.
  20. ^ a b c Narayanan 2009, p. 11.
  21. ^ a b Osborne 2005, p. 9.
  22. ^ Samuel 2010, p. 48-53.
  23. ^ a b c d Lockard 2007, p. 52.
  24. ^ a b Hiltebeitel 2007, p. 3.
  25. ^ a b Jones 2006, p. xviii.
  26. ^ a b Gomez 2013, p. 42.
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  35. ^ a b Samuel 2010, p. 193-228, 339-353, specifically p.76-79 and p.199.
  36. ^ a b c d Larson 1995, p. 81.
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  38. ^ a b c Samuel 2010, p. 77.
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  45. ^ a b c d e f Flood 1996, p. 258.
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  47. ^ Halbfass 2007, p. 307.
  48. ^ Halbfass 1995, p. 9,21(n33).
  49. ^ Rambachan 1944.
  50. ^ a b c d King 1999, p. 171.
  51. ^ a b Muesse 2011, p. 3-4.
  52. ^ a b Doniger 2010, p. 18.
  53. ^ a b Jouhki 2006, p. 10-11.
  54. ^ Rinehart 2004, p. 198.
  55. ^ a b c d e Michaels 2004.
  56. ^ a b c d e f g h Flood 1996, p. 6.
  57. ^ "India", Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, 2100a.d. Oxford University Press.
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  59. ^ Thapar, R. 1993. Interpreting Early India. Delhi: Oxford University Press. p. 77
  60. ^ Thompson Platts, John, A dictionary of Urdu, classical Hindī, and English, W.H. Allen & Co., Oxford University 1884 
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  64. ^ Nussbaum 2009.
  65. ^ Hinduism is variously defined as a "religion", "set of religious beliefs and practices", "religious tradition" etc. For a discussion on the topic, see: "Establishing the boundaries" in Gavin Flood (2003), pp. 1-17.
  66. ^ a b c Nicholson 2010, p. 2.
  67. ^ Lorenzen 2006, p. 1-36.
  68. ^ King 1999, p. 169.
  69. ^ a b c d e f g h Sweetman 2004, p. 13.
  70. ^ a b Sweetamn 2004, p. 13.
  71. ^ Sweetman 2013, p. 13-14.
  72. ^ Sweetman 2004, p. 13-14.
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  78. ^ Feuerstein 200, p. 600.
  79. ^ Clarke 2006, p. 209.
  80. ^ Flood 1996, p. 256-261.
  81. ^ Flood 1996, p. 257.
  82. ^ Flood 1996, p. 259.
  83. ^ Flood 1996, p. 248.
  84. ^ a b Flood 1996, p. 249.
  85. ^ Bhagavad Gita, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
  86. ^ a b King 2001.
  87. ^ Hori 1999, p. 47.
  88. ^ a b Sharf 2000.
  89. ^ a b c d e Flood 1996, p. 265.
  90. ^ a b c Flood 1996, p. 267.
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  293. ^ Neville, Robert (2001), Religious truth, p. 47, ISBN 978-0-7914-4778-9 
  294. ^ Werner 1994, p. 7
  295. ^ Lisa Hark, Lisa Hark, PH.D., R.D., Horace DeLisser, MD (7 September 2011). Achieving Cultural Competency. John Wiley & Sons. "Three gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, and other deities are considered manifestations of and are worshipped as incarnations of Brahman." 
  296. ^ John McCannon (1 January 2006). World History Examination. Barron's Educational Series. "In addition to the Brahman, Hinduism recognises literally hundreds of gods and goddesses. Thus, Hinduism is a polytheistic religion. However, Hindus consider all deities to be avatars, or incarnations of the Brahman." 
  297. ^ Toropov 2011.
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  299. ^ The Popular Encyclopædia. Blackie & Son. 1841. p. 61. 
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  303. ^ Neville, Robert (2001), Religious truth, p. 51, ISBN 978-0-7914-4778-9, "Mimamsa theorists (theistic and atheistic) decided that the evidence allegedly proving the existence of God was insufficient. They also thought there was no need to postulate a maker for the world, just as there was no need for an author to compose the Veda or an independent God to validate the Vedic rituals." 
  304. ^ Coward, Harold (February 2008), The perfectibility of human nature in eastern and western thought, p. 114, ISBN 978-0-7914-7336-8, "For the Mimamsa the ultimate reality is nothing other than the eternal words of the Vedas. They did not accept the existence of a single supreme creator god, who might have composed the Veda. According to the Mimamsa, gods named in the Vedas have no existence apart from the mantras that speak their names. The power of the gods, then, is nothing other than the power of the mantras that name them." 
  305. ^ Werner 1994, p. 80
  306. ^ Renou 1961, p. 55
  307. ^ a b Harman 2004, pp. 104–106
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  309. ^ Smith 1991, p. 64
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  311. ^ Bhagavad Gita 2.22
  312. ^ See Bhagavad Gita XVI.8-20
  313. ^ See Vivekananda, Swami (2005), Jnana Yoga, Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 1-4254-8288-0  301-02 (8th Printing 1993)
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  317. ^ Hindu spirituality - Volume 25 of Documenta missionalia, Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, 1999, p. 1, ISBN 978-88-7652-818-7 
  318. ^ The Christian concepts of Heaven and Hell do not translate directly into Hinduism. Spiritual realms such as Vaikunta (the abode of Vishnu) or loka are the closest analogues to an eternal Kingdom of God.
  319. ^ Nikhilananda 1992
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  330. ^ "One who knows that the position reached by means of analytical study can also be attained by devotional service, and who therefore sees analytical study and devotional service to be on the same level, sees things as they are." (Bhaktivedanta 1997, ch. 5.5)
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  341. ^ Rigveda is not only the oldest among the vedas, but is one of the earliest Indo-European texts.
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Further reading

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