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What is Hinduism ?

Hinduism is the third most popular religion in the world, and has about 900 million followers. People who follow this religion are known as Hindus. Around 80 percent of the population in India call themselves as Hindus. Hinduism is also called as the "Sanatana Dharma". In Sanskrit, the original language of India, 'Sanatana' means Everlasting and 'Dharma', means Religion.

Basics of Hinduism:

  • Hinduism is more than 3000 years old; its elements of faith are even older.

  • It has no single founder, teacher, or prophet.

  • It is not a single unified religion.

  • It had originated around the river Indus.

  • It Believes in a universal soul or God.

  • There are many deities like Krishna, Shiva, Rama and Durga.

  • Hindus believe in the existence of a cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation, which is based on the concept of karma

Hinduism and varied beliefs:

Hinduism does not believe in a single set of belief or way of worship. Indeed the word itself did not appear in English until 1829. Hinduism is the conglomeration of a variety of different religious groups, which come out of India.

History of Hinduism:

Hinduism was formed from the practices of those who lived near the Indus river, that is the modern day Pakistan. However Hinduism has been influenced by the traditions, stories and practices of people from other parts of India and beyond.

Hindu God or Gods:

Hinduism Believes in just One God. It gives us the opportunity to visualize the various forms of god. This belief is often mixed with polytheism. It is believed that the Hindus worship many gods, but in fact, many Hindus would claim to believe in one eternal god (Brahman), which is indefinable, whilst revering other deities. They recognize the other gods as different aspects of the Brahman.


Karma is central to Hindu faith. According to Hinduism the soul goes through a cycle of lives and the next incarnation depends on the previous life. Our actions in the previous life keeps us in this world, this bondage is known as "Karma". The bondage refers to the confinement to this "samsara" in the same way as the spokes are limited to the wheel. While good actions can cause us to be reborn to experience good results, bad actions can cause us to be reborn again and again to undergo suffering and pain.

Caste system under Hinduism:

The caste system which was described in the Vedas, has been abused much over the years, this was nothing but a representation of a society. The four castes are - the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas, and the Shudras. An efficient human society is based on its educational system that is the Brahmins, its defense and military system that is the Kshatriyas, its economical system that is the Vaishyas, and a strong workforce called the Shudras. This representation of the people in various Varna's was exploited by many in the Indian society, leading to the formation of many thousands of sub-castes, and also the so-called "upper" castes.

Founder Of Hinduism

Hinduism is the oldest religion of all world religions. For hundreds of years, it has been searched for some evidence about its founder, but no one could point a finger at a specific founder or its date of origin. Even the authors of its sacred texts are largely unknown. The system exists from time immemorial and there is no exact beginning of this religion. It has no particular fonder but has many Rishis, Saints, Gurus, and leaders who reformed and revived the existing culture and traditions. It has developed out of Brahmanism.

Ancient Hindu works talk about things that happened between periods of time more than the period well known to history scholars of current time. Even scientific excavations show the existence of ceremonious worship, at the early periods.

Many philosophers came up with new systems in the Hindu religion. Because of the wide spectrum of Hinduism, it accommodated a lot of new ideas and philosophies. Because of its innovative nature it is a healthy religion that does not get stagnant. People who followed the religion had the discretion to find their suitable path through the propagation of one or more philosophers that was a real diverse system.

In other words, there is no single founder of Hinduism and it existed from time unexplored, as a religion. Hinduism, is open to interpretation, and is a collection of a path to wisdom, which is based on reasoning more than a divine authority and does not have any specific founder.

The temples that have been found in the Indus valley civilization have no indication of a deity. But there were many 'gods' and 'goddesses' as symbols of nature. People of the Indus valley civilization worshipped forces of nature. Each village had its own unique statue to worship. The aspect of politics was also mixed with the religion models in ancient culture where the ruler was considered the 'son' of the mother-goddess.

Thus, Hinduism was subject to new philosophies that changed it over time. It consists of a wide range of beliefs, which are not interrelated sometimes. There is no known founder as such for Hinduism, no creed, or single source of authority. All the Hindu philosophies share just a thin connection with each other.

Origin of the word ‘Hindu’

The word ‘Hindu’ is not a Sanskrit word or nor mentioned in any of the ancient major texts of India. It is believed to be originated from the ancient Persians. The Persians who were shared some common culture with the people of Indian sub-continent used to call the Indus River as ‘Sindhu.’ Due to some linguistic problems, they could not pronounce the letter ‘S’ in their language and started mispronouncing it as ‘H’. Thus they started pronouncing the word Sindhu as Hindu. The ancient Greeks, American and the rest of the world followed the same word and started calling the Indus river valley people as Hindus and gradually the word stuck.

Origin of the word ‘Hindustan’

Even the word ‘Hindustan’ is not originated from the mouth of any Indian. The Muslim travelers and rulers who came to India during the medieval period called the Indian subcontinent as ‘Hindustan’ and its people as ‘Hindus.’ The British too followed the same words and later they used this name religiously to distinguish Hindus from Muslims and Christians.


Hindu Views On Death and Dying


Hindus believe in the concept of many reincarnations. The ultimate goal is to unite with the Supreme Being, Brahman. They also belief in Karma, and tend to be fatalistic. The general belief is that one's present status and condition is a result of existence in the previous birth and is, therefore, deserved, be it good or bad. Being good in his present life may help him have a better life next time, but this will not alter his present situation.

The ultimate goal

The ultimate aim of the Hindu faith is to achieve Moksha. In other words they long for liberation from the vicious cycle of incarnations. The most important event in the life of a Hindu is, his/her death. Moksha can be achieved by following the four different ways. They are karma yoga, the path of action, Bhakti yoga the path of devotion,Gnana yoga, the path of knowledge and Raja Yoga a way of special postures, methods of breathing.

Views of death by Bhagavat Gita

The Bhagavad-Gita also describes two paths along which souls travel after death. One is in the path of the sun (bright path), and the other is the path of the moon (dark path)The souls that travel along the path of the sun never return again, while those, which travel along the path of the moon, return again.

Hinduism believes that every person is on a vision quest. But, at the time of the great departure (death), Mahaprasthana, a vision comes, in the form of a tunnel of light at the end of which live beings of divine nature. Hinduism believes that death is a blissful, transition from one state to another.

All this concepts of death remind us that life on earth is temporary. All our possessions, ego, power, and learning will all end. Once this truth is discovered then one can turn their mind towards God. Which according to Hinduism is life's ultimate goal, the path of dharma will take us there. This is done, but in assurance, faith and gratitude for the opportunity to progress spiritually in this physical incarnation.

Hindu Traditions

Hindu religious traditions: The religious life of most of the Hindus is centered on the devotion to God. The interpretations of God may differ from person to person. Many rituals are developed which help the man realize the divinity from the midst of daily life.

The more philosophically oriented Hindus will ignore the idea of gods and seek realization through different forms of meditation. Other Hindus will perform their duties towards society while keeping the moral values and seek the divine. In fact, there are three possible paths (margas) to liberation and all the recognized as equally valid. The three paths are:

  • Karmamarga-the path of work and action

  • Jnanamarga -the path of knowledge

  • Bhaktimarga- the path of devotion

All the stages in the life of a traditional Hindu involve religious rituals and practices. Some of the major Hindu practices are here.

Puja (worship)

This is a religious ritual which most of the Hindus do. Puja can be considered as connecting one to the domain and actions of the divine. Puja can take different forms. The simplest of them is called darshan, gazing up on an image. This image symbolizes the individuals chosen form of God.

The devotee symbolically offers God certain items like food, water and flowers. Sometimes lighting a candle or incense and ringing a bell will be done in this occasion. Other practices include chanting the name of the God and reciting certain scriptures. The food which is offered is considered to be sanctified, which is called Prasad. Taking Prasada is supposed to be spiritually beneficial.

For Hindus, it is not compulsory to visit temples. Some people do the worshipping in their own homes.

According to Karma Yoga, the worship can also be done by performing every action as an offering to God. Doing work without seeking personal benefits out of it is considered to be considered higher than the formal worship.

The Guru-Disciple Tradition

By Hindu religious traditions, the spiritual aspirant takes studentship under a personal spiritual teacher called Guru. To disciple stays with the Guru and follow his instructions in order to attain the ultimate goal of spiritual life. Even though the Guru never asks any money for the guidance he had given, the student may give gifts (guru dakshina) as a token of appreciation.


Pilgrimage is not mandatory in Hinduism, as it is in some other religions. A large number of holy places (Tirtha Sthanas) exist in India. Varanasi (Banares), Kedarnath and Rameshwaram are some of the places which are considered to be holy.

Reforms in Hindu Religion

As the Hinduism does not have a founding father, many spiritual leaders and Gurus had played a major role in guiding Hinduism through the ages of history. Other than this, active Hindu communities all over the world had been contributing towards the regeneration of Hindu beliefs, which is collectively called contemporary Hindu movements.

Spiritual leaders

Some of the reforms seem to be individual philosophies based on their critical view points on Vedic Tradition, exploring different aspects of Hinduism. The notable names from the past are Adi Shankaracharya, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi, and Sri.Aurobindo, Swami Sivananda, Narayana Guru and Paramahansa Yogananda.

The recent years had witnessed the emergence of new spiritual Gurus like Satya Sai Baba, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, Swami Chinmayananda, and Sri Sri Ravishankar inspiring many people towards their spiritual understanding.

Organizational moves-Hare Krishna movement

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, founded by A.C. Bhaktivedanata Swami Prabhupada had a remarkable contribution to the reforms in the Hindu Society by starting the Hare Krishna movement. The society made the mantra well known outside India. The belief is that the higher conscious ultimately takes the form of pure love towards the God (Krishna).

The Hindu renaissance

Since 1970's, Hinduism is going through a period which Hindu community calls, "Hindu Renaissance". The rule of the British had bought a western influence in the Indian culture and had weakened the faith of the Hindus. But the popularity of Hinduism in West and the activity of certain influential leaders are reversing the trends.

Yoga and other meditation techniques had been widely accepted as the solutions for the stressful modern life. This made the modern Hindu to go back and re-discover the value of their tradition. The increasing popularity of Indian classical arts is also an evidence for this.

New organizations

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers' Union, also known as Sangh) is a Hindu nationalist organization in India. It was formed by Dr. Keshav Baliram Hegdevar in 1925. The aim of the organization was to unite the Hindus and make them work for the pride of the Hindu-Rashtra. There are many odds between RSS and other religious organizations. Three times the organization had been banned and the ban is lifted subsequently.

Outside India

There are several movements happening outside India, in favor of return to Hinduism. Indonesia, Java, Sumatra are some of them to be named.

As there exist a number of personal and collective contributions towards the Hindu reformations, and some of them are social while some of them are intellectual, it is a difficult task to put a definite boundary while discussing them

Hindu Holidays

The general perception is that Hindus have a holy day for every day of the year, but sometimes it may be an understatement. Hindu festivals are unlimited, as their exact number is not known. Some scholars of Hinduism have listed more than a thousand different Hindu festivals.

Many of the Hindu holidays are traditionally based on the cycle of nature. They are the signs of change of seasons, some celebrate the harvest.. Other festivals are dedicated to a particular god, like Shiva or Ganesh. Some other popular holidays signify events in the life of Rama or Krishna.

Hindu festivals "are known to purify, and divert evil influences. The festivals include a lot of rituals, like offering prayers, processions, music, dancing, eating, drinking, and feeding the poor.


This falls on the 13th or 14th day of the Hindu month of Phalgun (between February-March). The name of the festival actually means "The Night of Shiva". The ceremony actually takes place chiefly in the night. It is a festival celebrated in honor of Lord Shiva.


The Asuras were causing much havoc on earth and threatened the lives of many innocent people. One of them was Holika. She liked devouring small children. Sri Krishna killed her and saved the small children. To date, the effigy or figure of Holika is burnt in the fire, thus the great festival of Holi is celebrated with great pomp.

Raksha Bandhan:

Raksha Bandhan is also called as Avani Avittam in South India. This festival is celebrated on the full moon day of the Hindu month of Sravan (August-September). It is one of the important Hindu festivals. Hindus who wear a new holy thread offer their respects to the ancient Rishis by offering them water on this day.

Telugu New Year's Day:

This festival is celebrated on the first day of the month of Chaitra (March-April).This is a happy day and is celebrated with great enthusiasm. This is New Year's Day for the people of Andhra Pradesh and also the Telugu people all over the world.


This festival is celebrated twice in a year, once it is celebrated in the month of Chaitra and then again in Aswayuja. It lasts for nine days in honour of the nine forms of goddess Durga. During Navaratri devotees of her observe a fast. Brahmins are given food and prayers are offered as it is believed that this provides protection of health and property.

Ganesh Chaturthi:

Ganesh Chaturthi is most popular of all Hindu festivals. It is the birthday of Lord Ganesha. It is the most sacred day for Lord Ganesha. It falls on the 4th day of fortnight called Bhadrapada (August-September). It is observed throughout India , as well as by devoted Hindus in all parts of the world.

Krishna Janmashtami:

It is the birthday of Lord Krishna, who is the eighth Divine Incarnation. This festival comes on the 8th day of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada (August-September). It is believed that Lord Krishna was born at midnight. Many people go on a twenty-four hour fast on this day, which is broken at midnight.


Lord Rama, is an Incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Lord Rama is considered to have measureless power, and is of the nature of pure Consciousness and bliss. He s the divine consort of Sita , Master for Sri Hanuman, and the Lord of the three worlds. He took birth on this day in order to establish righteousness, and destroy the wicked to protect His devotees.

Other Hindu Symbols

Hinduism in its core believes that there is one God and can be seen in different forms. He is Formless and is beyond the limitations of human perception. People needed some symbols so that they could worship god. But this theory doesn't contradict the basis that God is beyond forms.

These symbols are easy to comprehend for the minds of human beings, but at the same time they are just symbols than objects themselves, which means that they symbolically indicate the God, Which is beyond the exploration of knowledge. In a way these Hindu symbols are abstract representation of the God. These are quite closer to the ideal as they form a bridge between the Formless one and the mind that expects a form.


This symbol is comprised of three syllables put into one. In Sanskrit the vowel "o" is constitutionally a diphthong compound of a + u; hence OM is representatively written as AUM. The symbol of AUM is formed by three curves (curves 1, 2, and 3), one semicircle (curve 4), and a dot.

The large lower curve forms the waking state (jagrat), in this state the consciousness of a human is turned towards the gate of sense. The larger size of the curve signifies that this is the mos common \state of the human consciousness.

The upper curve represents the state of deep slumber (sushupti) in other words, the unconscious state. This is a state where the human has no desire of anything nor does he have a dream.

The middle curve implies the dream state (swapna). In this state the consciousness of a person is turned inwards, and the person who dreams holds an exciting view of the world.

These are the three states of an individual's consciousness, and since Indian mystic thought believes the entire manifested reality to spring from this consciousness, these three curves represent the entire physical phenomenon.


Usually, most westerners know the swastika symbol as a Nazi symbol. For many centuries swastika has been an auspicious symbol in India and continues to be in common use.

The swastika is considered very holy, and is regularly used to decorate Hindu homes. It is also used in temples and on religious scriptures The swastika is also a symbol of sun god Surya, a representation of all four directions and a symbol of Brahma, the creator. Lord Ganesha is also closely associated with the symbol of swastika.


The lotus flower even though has its roots in the muddy waters, blooms above the water without becoming dirty by the mire below. It is a natural symbol for the person seeking release or moksha, (a person who lives without worldly attachments). The lotus also represents "chakras" or centers of consciousness in the body. According Hindu mythology, the lotus represents creation as the Creator (Brahma) came from a lotus.


One of the most common symbols in Hinduism is the bindi, which is a colored dot placed on the forehead. It is usually a red dot made with vermilion (kumkum). Traditionally, it is worn on the forehead of Hindu women and sometimes-even men - it symbolizes the female energy and is believed to protect from evil. These days, it has become a decorative accessory and is worn not just by Hindus but also by people from other religions as well. It is also no longer in a single color or shape, and they are all self-adhersive.