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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 among numerous other traditions, and a wide spectrum of laws and prescriptions of "daily morality" based on karma, dharma, and societal norms. Hinduism is a categorisation of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid, common set of beliefs.
Hinduism 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" beyond human origins. 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[note 3] or synthesis[note 4] of various Indian cultures and traditions,[note 5] with diverse roots and no single founder. Among its roots are the Vedic religion of the late Vedic period and its emphasis on the status of Brahmans, but also the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the Sramana or renouncer traditions of north-east India, and "popular or local traditions". This "Hindu synthesis" emerged around the beginning of the Common Era,[note 9] and co-existed for several centuries with Buddhism, to finally gain the upper hand in most royal circles during the 8th century CE.[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.[note 12][note 13] It was aided by the settlement of Brahmins on land granted by local rulers, the incorporation and assimilation of popular non-Vedic gods,[note 14] 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".[note 15]
Since the 19th century, under the dominance of western colonialism and Indology, when the term "Hinduism" came into broad use, Hinduism has re-asserted itself as a coherent and independent tradition. The popular understanding of Hinduism has been dominated by "Hindu modernism",[note 16] in which mysticism[note 17] and the unity of Hinduism have been emphasised. Hindutva ideology and Hindu politics emerged in the 20th century as a political force and a source for national identity in India.[note 18]
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. Major scriptures include the Vedas, Upanishads (both Śruti), Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, Manusmriti, and Agamas (all smriti).
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 (now Pakistan).[note 19] According to Gavin Flood, "The actual term 'hindu' first occurs as a Persian geographical term for the people who lived beyond the river Indus (Sanskrit: Sindhu)". The term 'Hindu' then was a geographical term and did not refer to a religion.[note 20]
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. 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".[note 21]
The term Hinduism was later used occasionally in some Sanskrit texts such as the later Rajataranginis of Kashmir (Hinduka, c. 1450) and some 16th- to 18th-century Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava texts including Chaitanya Charitamrita and Chaitanya Bhagavata. It was usually used to contrast Hindus with Yavanas or Mlecchas. It was only towards the end of the 18th century that European merchants and colonists began to refer to the followers of Indian religions collectively as Hindus. The term Hinduism was introduced into the English language in the 19th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India.
The study of India and its cultures and religions, and the definition of "Hinduism", has been shaped by the interests of colonialism and by Western notions of religion. Since the 1990s, those influences and its outcomes have been the topic of debate among scholars of Hinduism[note 22] , and have also been taken over by critics of the Western view on India.[note 23]
Because of the wide range of traditions and ideas covered by the term, arriving at a comprehensive definition is difficult. Hinduism has been variously defined as a religion, a religious tradition, and a set of religious beliefs.
The notion of common denominators for several religions and traditions of India was already noted from the 12th century CE on. The notion of "Hinduism" as a "single world religious tradition" was popularised by 19th-century European Indologists who depended on the "brahmana castes" for their information of Indian religions. This led to a "tendency to emphasise Vedic and Brahmanical texts and beliefs as the "essence" of Hindu religiosity in general, and in the modern association of 'Hindu doctrine' with the various Brahmanical schools of the Vedanta (in particular Advaita Vedanta)."[note 26]
To its adherents, Hinduism is a traditional way of life. Many practitioners refer to Hinduism as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal law" or the "eternal way" (). It refers to the "eternal" duties all Hindus have to follow, regardless of class, caste, or sect, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings, purity, goodwill, mercy, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, generosity, and asceticism. This is contrasted with svadharma, one’s "own duty", the duties to be followed by members of a specific caste and stage of life.[web 1] According to Knott, this also
... refers to the idea that it's 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.
According to the Encyclopedia 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]
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." Central to his philosophy is the idea that the divine exists in all beings, that all human beings can achieve union with this "innate divinity", and that seeing this divine as the essence of others will further love and social harmony. According to Vivekananda, there is an essential unity to Hinduism, which underlies the diversity of its many forms. According to Flood, Vivekananda's vision of Hinduism "is one generally accepted by most English-speaking middle-class Hindus today."
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was "one of India's most erudite scholars to engage with western and Indian philosophy". He sought to reconcile western rationalism with Hinduism, "presenting Hinduism as an essentially rationalistic and humanistic religious experience." According to Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan,
This view has been "highly relevant and important in forming contemporary Hindu identity." 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.[note 27]
This "Global Hinduism" has a worldwide appeal, transcending national boundaries and, according to Flood, "becoming a world religion alongside Christianity, Islam and Buddhism", both for the Hindu diaspora communities and for westerners who are attracted to non-western cultures and religions. It emphasizes universal spiritual values such as social justice, peace and "the spiritual transformation of humanity." It has developed partly due to "re-enculturation", or the Pizza effect, in which elements of Hindu culture have been exported to the West, gaining popularity there, and as a consequence also gained greater popularity in India. This globalization of Hindu culture 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."
Hinduism's tolerance to variations in belief and its broad range of traditions make it difficult to define as a religion according to traditional Western conceptions.
Some academics suggest that Hinduism can be seen as a category with "fuzzy edges" rather than as a well-defined and rigid entity. Some forms of religious expression are central to Hinduism and others, while not as central, still remain within the category. Based on this idea Ferro-Luzzi has developed a 'Prototype Theory approach' to the definition of Hinduism.
Hinduism has been described as a tradition having a "complex, organic, multileveled and sometimes internally inconsistent nature." Hinduism does not have a "unified system of belief encoded in a declaration of faith or a creed", but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena of India. According to the Supreme Court of India,
Unlike other religions in the World, the Hindu religion does not claim any one Prophet, it does not worship any one God, it does not believe in any one philosophic concept, it does not follow any one act of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not satisfy the traditional features of a religion or creed. It is a way of life and nothing more".
Part of the problem with a single definition of the term "Hinduism" is the fact that Hinduism does not have a single historical founder. It is a synthesis of various traditions, the "Brahmanical orthopraxy, the renouncer traditions and popular or local traditions."
Also, Hinduism does not have a single system of salvation, but consists of various religions and forms of religiosity. 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 28] Hinduism is therefore viewed as the most complex of all the living, historical world religions.
Hinduism is "a fusion of Aryan and Dravidian cultures"[note 5][note 3] [note 29][note 30] Among its roots are the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India, but also the Shramana or renouncer traditions of northeast India, and mesolithic and neolithic cultures of India, such as the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation, Dravidian traditions, and the local traditions and tribal religions.[note 31]
After the Vedic period, between 500-200 BCE and c. 300 CE, at the beginning of the "Epic and Puranic" c.q. "Preclassical" period, the "Hindu synthesis" emerged, which incorporated shramanic and Buddhist influences and the emerging bhakti tradition into the Brahmanical fold via the smriti literature. This synthesis emerged under the pressure of the success of Buddhism and Jainism. During the Gupta reign the first Puranas were written,[note 7] which were used to disseminate "mainstream religious ideology amongst pre-literate and tribal groups undergoing acculturation." The resulting Puranic Hinduism, differed markedly from the earlier Brahmanism of the Dharmasastras and the smritis.[note 8] Hinduism co-existed for several centuries with Buddhism, to finally gain the upperhand at al levels in the 8th century CE.[web 2][note 11]
From northern India this "Hindu synthesis", and its societal divisions, spread to southern India and parts of Southeast Asia.[note 12][note 13] It was aided by the settlement of Brahmins on land granted by local rulers, the incorporation and assimilation of popular non-Vedic gods,[note 14] 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".[note 15]
Despite the differences, there is also a sense of unity. Most Hindu traditions revere a body of religious or sacred literature, the Vedas, although there are exceptions. Halbfass cites Renou, according to whom this reverence is a mere
"tipping of the hat", a traditional gesture of saluting an "idol" without any further commitment."
Halbfass does not agree with this characterization and states that, although Shaivism and Vaishaism may be regarded as "self-contained religious constellations", there is a degree of interaction and reference between the "theoreticians and literary representatives" of each tradition which indicates the presence of "a wider sense of identity, a sense of coherence in a shared context and of inclusion in a common framework and horizon".
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." The tendency of "a blurring of philosophical distinctions" has also been noted by Burley. Hacker called this "inclusivism" and Michaels speaks of "the identificatory habit". Lorenzen locates the origins of a distinct Hindu identity in the interaction between Muslims and Hindus, and a process of "mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim other", which started well before 1800. Michaels notes:
As a counteraction to Islamic supremacy and as part of the continuing process of regionalization, two religious innovations developed in the Hindu religions: the formation of sects and a historicization which preceded later nationalism [...] [S]aints and sometimes 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.
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. Other notable characteristics include a belief in reincarnation and karma as well as a belief in personal duty, or dharma.
McDaniel (2007) distinguishes six generic "types" of Hinduism, in an attempt to accommodate a variety of views on a rather complex subject:
Michaels distinguishes three Hindu religions and four forms of Hindu religiosity.
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). The three Hindu religions are:
The four forms of Hindu religiosity are:
|Timetable of Indian History|
|Timeline and |
|Westcoast||Northwestern India||Indo-Gangetic Plain||Central India||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)|
|Culture||Paleolithicum (untill c. 10,000 BCE)|
|Before 10,000 BCE||Bhimbetka rock shelters|
|Culture||Mesolithicum (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 BCE||Mehrgarh|
|BRONZE AGE (c. 3300-1100 BCE)||NEOLITHIC (c. 3000-1400 BCE)|
|3300-2600 BCE||Early Harappan|
|2600-1900 BCE||Indus Valley Civilization|
|Culture||Localisation Era/Late Harappan|
|1900-1500 BCE||Earliest known rice cultivation[a]|
|Culture||Localisation Era/Late Harappan||Megalithic|
(c. 1400-1100 BCE)
|1500-1300 BCE||Indo-Aryan migration|
|1300-1100 BCE||Wandering Vedic Aryans|
|IRON AGE (c. 1100-300 BCE)|
|Culture||Middle Vedic Period|
|Gandhara grave culture||Black and red ware culture|
|1100-800 BCE||Vedic settlements||Vedic settlements|
|Culture||Late Vedic Period|
|Gandhara grave culture||(Brahmin ideology)[b]|
|Culture||Late Vedic Period|
|Gandhara grave culture||(Brahmin ideology)[d]|
|6th century BCE||Gandhara||Kuru-Panchala||Kosala||Adivasi (tribes)|
|Culture||Persian-Greek influences||"Second Urbanisation"|
|Later Upanishads||Rise of Shramana movements|
Jainism - Buddhism - Ājīvika - Yoga
|5th century BCE||(Persian rule)||Shishunaga dynasty||Adivasi (tribes)|
|4th century BCE||(Greek conquests)|
|HISTORICAL AGE (after 300 BCE)|
|Culture||Spread of Buddhism||Pre-history||Sangam period|
(300 BCE – 200 CE)
|3rd century BCE||Maurya Empire||Early Cholas|
|Culture||Preclassical Hinduism[f] - "Hindu Synthesis"[g] (c. 200 BCE-300 CE)[h][i]|
Epics - Puranas - Ramayana - Mahabharata - Bhagavad Gita - Brahma Sutras - Smarta Tradition
|2nd century BCE||Indo-Greek Kingdom||Sunga Empire||Adivasi (tribes)||Early Cholas|
|1st century BCE||Yona||Maha-Meghavahana Dynasty|
|1st century CE||Indo-Scythians||Kuninda Kingdom|
|2nd century||Pahlava||Varman dynasty|
|3rd century||Kushan Empire||Western Satraps||Kamarupa kingdom||Kalabhras dynasty|
|Culture||"Golden Age of Hinduism"(c. 320-650 CE)[j]|
Co-existence of Hinduism and Buddhism
|4th century||Gupta Empire||Kadamba Dynasty|
|6th century||Maitraka||Adivasi (tribes)|
|Culture||Late-Classical Hinduism (c. 650-1100 CE)[k]|
Advaita Vedanta - Tantra
Decline of Buddhism in India
|7th century||Maitraka||Indo-Sassanids||Vakataka dynasty, Harsha||Mlechchha dynasty||Adivasi (tribes)||Pallava|
|8th century||Kidarite Kingdom||Kalachuri|
|9th century||Indo-Hephthalites (Huna)||Gurjara-Pratihara||Chalukya|
|10th century||Pala dynasty||Rashtrakuta|
|Culture||Islamic rule and "Sects of Hinduism" (c. 1100-1850 CE)[l] - Medieval and Late Puranic Period (500–1500 CE)[m]|
|11th century||(Islamic conquests)|
Eastern Ganga dynasty
|Sena dynasty||Adivasi (tribes)||Chola Empire|
|12th century||Chola Empire|
|13th century||Delhi Sultanate|
|14th century||Delhi Sultanate||Vijayanagara Empire|
|15th century||Delhi Sultanate|
|16th century||Mughal Empire|
|17th century||Mughal Empire|
|Culture||British Colonisation - Company rule in India'|
|Culture||British Colonisation - British Raj'|
|Culture||British Raj - Independence struggle - Pakistan - India - Bangladesh'|
|21stSmall text century|
James Mill (1773-1836), in his The History of British India (1817), distinguished three phases in the history of India, namely Hindu, Muslim and British civilisations. This periodisation has been criticised, for the misconceptions it has given rise to. Another periodisation is the division into "ancient, classical, medieaval and modern periods". Smart and Michaels seem to follow Mill's periodisation,[note 34], while Flood and Muesse follow the "ancient, classical, medieaval and modern periods" periodisation.
Different periods are designated as "classical Hinduism":
|Indus Valley Civilisation and Vedic period|
(c. 3000-1000 BCE)
(until c. 1750 BCE)
(until c. 1750 BCE)
|Indus Valley Civilization|
|Indus Valley Civilisation|
(c. 2500 to 1500 BCE)
(c. 1750-500 BCE)
|Early Vedic Period|
(c. 1750-1200 BCE)
(c. 1500-500 BCE)
|Middle Vedic Period|
(from 1200 BCE)
(c. 1000 BCE - 100 CE)
|Late Vedic period|
(from 850 BCE)
(c. 500-200 BCE)
(c. 500-200 BCE)
|Epic and Puranic period|
(c. 500 BCE to 500 CE)
(c. 200 BCE-1100 CE)
(c. 200 BCE-300 CE)
|Epic and Puranic period|
(200 BCE–500 CE)
(c. 100 CE - 1000 CE)
|"Golden Age" (Gupta Empire)|
(c. 320-650 CE)
(c. 650-1100 CE)
|Medieval and Late Puranic Period|
|Medieval and Late Puranic Period|
(c. 1000-1750 CE)
|Islamic rule and "Sects of Hinduism"|
(c. 1100-1850 CE)
|Islamic rule and "Sects of Hinduism"|
(c. 1100-1850 CE)
(c. 1500 CE to present)
(c. 1750 CE - present)
(from c. 1850)
(from c. 1850)
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." 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.
The Vedic period, which lasted from c. 1750 to 500 BCE,[note 38] is named after the Vedic religion of Indo-Aryan[note 39] pastoralists, who migrated into north-western India after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization,[note 40] bringing with them their language and religion. Their religion was further developed when they migrated into the Ganges Plain after c. 1100 BCE and became pastoralists.
Although the Vedic beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era may have drawn upon elements from the hypothesised Proto-Indo-European religion, 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. 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.
During the Early Vedic period (c. 1500 - 1100 BCE) Vedic tribes were pastoralists, wandering around in north-west India. After 1100 BCE, with the introduction of iron, the Vedic tribes moved into the western Ganges Plain, adapting an agrarical lifestyle. Rudimentary state-forms appeared, of which the Kuru-tribe and realm was the most influential. It was a tribal union, which developed into the first recorded state-level society in South Asia around 1000 BCE. It decisively changed the Vedic heritage of the early Vedic period, collecting the Vedic hymns into collections, and developing new rituals which gained their position in Indian civilization as the orthodox srauta rituals, which contributed to the so-called "classical synthesis" or "Hindu synthesis".
The 9th and 8th centuries BCE witnessed the composition of the earliest Upanishads.:183 Upanishads form the theoretical basis of classical Hinduism and are known as Vedanta (conclusion of the Veda). The older Upanishads launched attacks of increasing intensity on the rituals. The diverse monistic speculations of the Upanishads were synthesised into a theistic framework by the sacred Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita.
Ethics in the Vedas are based on the concepts of Satya and Rta. Satya is the principle of integration rooted in the Absolute. Ṛta is the expression of Satya, which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it. 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...."
The term "dharma" was already used in Brahmanical thought, where it was conceived as an aspect of Rta. 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.
The Vedic texts were the texts of the elite, and do not necessarily represent popular ideas or practices. The Vedic religion of the later Vedic period co-existed with local religions, such as the Yaksha cults.[web 7]
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. Mahavira (c. 549–477 BCE), proponent of Jainism, and Buddha (c. 563-483), founder of Buddhism, were the most prominent icons of this movement.: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.[note 41]
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".[note 43]
Between 500-200 BCE and c. 300 CE developed the "Hindu synthesis", which incorporated shramanic and Buddhist influences and the emerging bhakti tradition into the Brahmanical fold via the smriti literature. This synthesis emerged under the pressure of the success of Buddhism and Jainism.
According to Embree, several other religious traditions had existed side by side with the Vedic religion. These indigenous religions "eventually found a place under the broad mantle of the Vedic religion". When Brahmanism was declining[note 44] and had to compete with Buddhism and Jainism,[note 45] the popular religions had the opportunity to assert themselves. 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.
According to Larson, the Brahmins responded with assimilation and consolidation. This is reflected in the smriti literature which took shape in this period. 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. Most of the basic ideas and practices of classical Hinduism derive from the new smriti literature, which form the basic inspiration for most Hindus.[note 46]
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 8] 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" of the "consolidation of Hinduism", integrating Brahmanic and shramanic ideas with theistic devotion.[web 9]
During this period, power was centralised, along with a growth of far distance trade, standardization of legal procedures, and general spread of literacy. Mahayana Buddhism flourished, but orthodox Brahmana culture began to be rejuvenated by the patronage of the Gupta Dynasty, who were Vaishnavas. The position of the Brahmans was reinforced, the first Hindu temples dedicated to the gods of the Hindu deities, emerged during the late Gupta age.[note 47] During the Gupta reign the first Puranas were written,[note 7] which were used to disseminate "mainstream religious ideology amongst pre-literate and tribal groups undergoing acculturation." The Guptas patronised the newly emerging Puranic religion, seeking legitimacy for their dynasty. The resulting Puranic Hinduism, differed markedly from the earlier Brahmanism of the Dharmasastras and the smritis.
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) and the Vaisnava Alvars (3rd to 9th centuries CE) who spread bhakti poetry and devotion throughout India by the 12th to 18th centuries CE.
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. Charvaka, the atheistic materialist school, came to the fore in North India before the 8th century CE.
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".[note 48] 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", as reflected in the Tantric Mandala, which could also depict the king as the centre of the mandala.
The disintegration of central power also lead to regionalisation of religiosity, and religious rivalry.[note 49] Local cults and languages were enhanced, and the influence of "Brahmanic ritualistic Hinduism" was diminished. Rural and devotional movements arose, along with Shaivism, Vaisnavism, Bhakti and Tantra, though "sectarian groupings were only at the beginning of their development". Religious movements had to compete for recognition by the local lords. Buddhism lost its position after the 8th century, and began to disappear in India. 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".[note 50]
The early mediaeval Puranas were composed to disseminate religious mainstream ideology among the pre-literate tribal societies undergoing acculturation. With the breakdown of the Gupta empire, gifts of virgin waste-land were heaped on brahmanas, to ensure provitable agrarical exploitation of land owned by the kings, but also to provide status to the new ruling classes. Brahmanas spread further over India, interacting with local clans with different religions and ideologies. The Brahmanas used the Puranas to incorporate those clans into the agrarical society and its accompanying religion and ideology. 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." Local chiefs and peasants were absorbed into the varna, which was used to keep "control over the new kshatriyas and shudras." The Brahmanic group was enlarged by incorporating local subgroups, such as local priets. This also lead to a stratification within the Brahmins, with some Brahmins having a lower status than other Brahmains. The use of caste worked better with the new Puranic Hinduism than with the shramanic sects. The Puranic texts provided extensive genealogies which gave status to the new kshatriyas. Buddhist myths pictured government as a contract between an elected ruler and the people. And the Buddhist chakkavatti[note 51] "was a distinct concept from the models of conquest held up to the kshatriyas and the Rajputs."
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, "which like a colossus striding across the religious firmanent soon came to overshadow all existing religions". Puranic Hinduism was a "multiplex belief-system which grew and expanded as it absorbed and synthesised polaristic ideas and cultic traditions" 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.[note 8]
Many local religions and traditions were assimilated into puranic Hinduism. Vishnu and Shiva emerged as the main deities, together with Sakti/Deva. Vishnu subsumed the cults of Narayana, Jagannaths, Venkateswara "and many others". 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.
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. Siva absorbed local cults by the suffixing of Isa or Isvara to the name of the local deity, for example Bhutesvara, Hatakesvara, Chandesvara. 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.
The non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta, which was influenced by Buddhism[note 52] was reformulated by Shankara who systematised the works of preceding philosophers. In modern times, due to the influence of western Orientalism and Perennialism on Indian Neo-Vedanta and Hindu nationalism, Advaita Vedanta has acquired a broad acceptance in Indian culture and beyond as the paradigmatic example of Hindu spirituality.
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. During this period Buddhism declined rapidly and large number of Hindus converted to Islam. Numerous Muslim rulers or their army generals such as Aurangzeb and Malik Kafur destroyed Hindu temples[web 10][web 11] 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. 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. 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."[note 53] Michaels notes that a historicization emerged which preceded later nationalism, articulating ideas which glorified Hinduism and the past.
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. 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. Western orientalist searched for the "essence" of the Indian religions, discerning this in the Vedas, and meanwhile creating the notion of "Hinduism" as a unified body of religious praxis and the popular picture of 'mystical India'. This idea of a Vedic essence was taken over by Hindu reform movements as the Brahmo Samaj, which was supported for a while by the Unitarian Church, together with the ideas of Universalism and Perennialism, the idea that all religions share a common mystic ground. This "Hindu modernism", with proponents like Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Radhakrishnan, became central in the popular understanding of Hinduism.
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. Hindu religiosity plays an important role in the nationalist movement.[note 54]
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.
Hindus can engage in puja (worship or veneration), either at home or at a temple. At home, Hindus often create a shrine with icons dedicated to their chosen form(s) of God. Temples are usually dedicated to a primary deity along with associated subordinate deities though some commemorate multiple deities. Visiting temples is not obligatory, and many visit temples only during religious festivals. Hindus perform their worship through icons (murtis). The icon serves as a tangible link between the worshiper and God. The image is often considered a manifestation of God, since God is immanent. The Padma Purana states that the mūrti is not to be thought of as mere stone or wood but as a manifest form of the Divinity. While there are Hindus who, do not believe in worshiping God through icons, most notably those of Ārya Samāj.
Hindu practices generally involve seeking awareness of God and sometimes also seeking blessings from Devas. Therefore, Hinduism has developed numerous practices meant to help one think of divinity in the midst of everyday life.
Mantras are invocations, praise and prayers that through their meaning, sound, and chanting style help a devotee focus the mind on holy thoughts or express devotion to God/the deities. Many devotees perform morning ablutions at the bank of a sacred river while chanting the Gayatri Mantra or Mahamrityunjaya mantras. The epic Mahabharata extols Japa (ritualistic chanting) as the greatest duty in the Kali Yuga (current age, 3102 BCE- present). Many adopt Japa as their primary spiritual practice. 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.
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. 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 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.
The vast majority of Hindus engage in religious rituals on a daily basis.[web 12] Most Hindus observe religious rituals at home. 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. 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. 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. 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 13] 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 14][web 15] 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 14] On death, cremation is considered obligatory for all except sanyasis, hijra, and children under five. Cremation is typically performed by wrapping the corpse in cloth and burning it on a pyre.
Following pilgrimage sites are most famous amongst Hindu devotees:
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.
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.
While there are different yet similar pilgrimage routes in different parts of India, all are respected equally well, according to the universality of Hinduism.
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.
Hindu festivals (Sanskrit: Utsava; literally: "to lift higher") are considered as symbolic rituals that beautifully weave individual and social life to dharma. Hinduism has many festivals throughout the year. The Hindu calendar usually prescribe their dates.
The festivals typically celebrate events from Hindu mythology, often coinciding with seasonal changes. There are festivals which are primarily celebrated by specific sects or in certain regions of the Indian subcontinent.
Some widely observed Hindu festivals include:
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.
Hinduism grants absolute and complete freedom of belief and worship. 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. Hence, Hinduism is devoid of the concepts of apostasy, heresy and blasphemy.[web 16]
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).
Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, and atheism among others;[web 17] 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.
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 55]
Most Hindus believe that the spirit or soul — the true "self" of every person, called the ātman — is eternal. 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. The goal of life, according to the Advaita school, is to realise that one's ātman is identical to Brahman, the supreme soul. 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).
The schools of Vedanta and Nyaya states that karma itself proves the existence of God. Nyaya being the school of logic, makes the "logical" inference that the universe is an effect and it ought to have a creator.
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. When God is viewed as the supreme personal being (rather than as the infinite principle), God is called Ishvara ("The Lord"), Bhagavan ("The Auspicious One") or Parameshwara ("The Supreme Lord"). 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. 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.[note 57] 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.
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. The Samkhyapravachana Sutra of Samkhya argues that the existence of God (Ishvara) cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist.[web 20] 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. 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. 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.
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 58] 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. The choice is a matter of individual preference, and of regional and family traditions.
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 translates literally as action, work, or deed, and can be described as the "moral law of cause and effect". 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. 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.
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)
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. 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. Due to belief in the indestructibility of the soul, death is deemed insignificant with respect to the cosmic self. 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 21]
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), 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".
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.
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.
Kāma (Sanskrit, Pali; Devanagari: काम) means desire, wish, passion, longing, pleasure of the senses, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love.[web 22] However, this is only acceptable within marriage.
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.
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). 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. 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.
Hinduism is based on "the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times". The scriptures were transmitted orally in verse form to aid memorisation, for many centuries before they were written down. 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. Most sacred texts are in Sanskrit. The texts are classified into two classes: Shruti and Smriti.
Shruti (lit: that which is heard) primarily refers to the Vedas, which form the earliest record of the Hindu scriptures. While many Hindus revere the Vedas as eternal truths revealed to and heard by the ancient sages (Ṛṣis), 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. Hindus believe that because the spiritual truths of the Vedas are eternal, they continue to be expressed in new ways.
There are four Vedas (called Ṛg-, Sāma-, Yajus- and Atharva-). The Rigveda is the first and most important Veda. 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 23] While the Vedas focus on rituals, the Upanishads focus on spiritual insight and philosophical teachings, and discuss Brahman and reincarnation.
A well known shloka from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is:
Lead Us From the Unreal To the Real
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. However Gita, sometimes called Gitopanishad, is more often placed in the Shruti, category, being Upanishadic in content. 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.
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)
Hinduism has no central doctrinal authority and many practising Hindus do not claim to belong to any particular denomination. However four major denominations are recognised: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism.[web 25] 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 60] deities as personifications of the Supreme.
The Western conception of what Hinduism is has been defined by the Smarta view; many Hindus, who may not understand or follow Advaita philosophy, in contemporary Hinduism, invariably follow the Shanmata belief worshiping many forms of God. 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 27]
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).
Hindu society has been categorised into four classes, called varnas.They are,
The Bhagavad Gītā links the varna to an individual's duty (svadharma), inborn nature (svabhāva), and natural tendencies (guṇa). 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." The Manusmṛiti categorises the different castes.[web 28]
Some mobility and flexibility within the varnas challenge allegations of social discrimination in the caste system, as has been pointed out by several sociologists, although some other scholars disagree. Scholars debate whether the so-called caste system is part of Hinduism sanctioned by the scriptures or social custom.[web 29][note 61] And various contemporary scholars have argued that the caste system was constructed by the British colonial regime. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
There are a number of animal sacrifices mentioned in the Vedas such as mantras for the sacrifice of a Goat in the Rig, the Horse sacrifice (Ashwamedha) and the Human sacrifice (Purushamedha) in the Yajur, whilst in the Jyotistoma sacrifice three animal-sacrifices are performed, namely, Agnisomiya, Savaniya and Anubandhya. The Yajurveda is considered the Veda of sacrifices and rituals, and consists of a number of animal sacrifices, such as mantras and procedures for the sacrifices of a white goat to Vayu, a calf to Sarasvati, a speckled Ox to Savitr, a Bull to Indra, a castrated Ox to Varuna and so on.
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"
The Buddha forbade drinking and Buddhist kings such as Ashoka influenced society by banning animal sacrifices. 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."
From here on, social reaction with regard to the sacrificial (brahmanas) texts can be traced. Panini says there are two kinds of brahmanas, the old brahmanas and the new brahmanas. 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. 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. The term ahiṃsā appears in the Upanishads, the epic Mahabharata and Ahiṃsā is the first of the five Yamas (vows of self-restraint) in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. and the first principle for all member of Varnashrama Dharma (brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra) in Law of Manu (book 10, sutra 63 : Ahimsa, satya, asteya, shaucam and indrayanigraha, almost similar to main principles of jainism).[web 31][web 32]
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%. The food habits vary with the community and region: for example, some castes having fewer vegetarians and coastal populations relying on seafood.[web 33] Some avoid meat only on specific holy days. Observant Hindus who do eat meat almost always abstain from beef. The cow in Hindu society is traditionally identified as a caretaker and a maternal figure, and Hindu society honours the cow as a symbol of unselfish giving. Cow-slaughter is legally banned in almost all states of India.[web 34]
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.”[web 35] 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.
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.
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”).
Some Hindus from certain sects - generally Shakta, certain Shudra and Kshatriya castes and certain Eastern Indian and East Asian regions; practise animal sacrifice (bali), although most Hindus, including the majority of Vaishnava and Shaivite Hindus abhor it.[web 36]
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."
It is estimated that around 30 million Americans and 5 million Europeans regularly practice some form of Hatha Yoga. In Australia, the number of practitioners is about 300,000.[web 37] In New Zealand the number is also around 300,000.[web 38]
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 39] 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[update]):
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." See also Nath 2001.
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."
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."
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