Hinduism is known to be the world's oldest organized religion. It is also considered to be the basis of all other religions. Read on to learn more about Hinduism, its history, beliefs and symbols.
Hinduism, also known as Sanatana Dharma, is an indigenous religious tradition. The structure of Hinduism does not match the concept of a religion-it is more like an all-encompassing way of life rather than a series of strict religious norms posed on adherers. This belief system advocates total freedom of belief and practice of religion. It accommodates all positive values and hence, is a consortium of complex views accumulated through ages. This religion is not based on a set of dogmas preached by any saint or teacher-it is inherently practical and beautifully logical. However, holy books like Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas do exist to provide enlightenment to the observers (called Hindus). The four Vedas namely the Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda are the authentic texts of Hinduism comprising of hymns, incantations, rituals and the importance of practicing them in daily life. Other holy books include the epics which show us how 'Karma' (actions) . The concept of God in Hinduism is largely empathic with natural powers like Agni (fire), Vayu (wind), Varuna (Water) etc. The concept of 'Trimurti' or "Three-forms" (comprisind of the Gods Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva) is related to the three stages of life namely Sristi (Birth), Sthiti (Life) and Samhara (Death). Thus, Hinduism is a philosophical approach to life rather than a religious concept.
Hinduism is an accumulation of diverse traditions and has no specific person to point out as a founder. This religion was not started as a religion or a system; it started as a regulated way of life which, with the passage of time, transformed into the concept of religion. Inscription like Vedas, originally meant for the betterment of life of the common people, took up the form of holy books and now, Hinduism is a major religion in India. The teachings of Vedas, Upanishads and epics paved the way for the wholesome development of this religion and its teachings are so timeless and practical that it can sustain itself till the end of time.
A Brief History
- No specific point of origin can be sited for Hinduism. It was not founded with a religious perspective.
- The origin of Hinduism is rooted in the pre-historic era with its ancient scriptures dating back to more than four thousand years ago.
- The traces of Hinduism can be seen in Iron Age India, and hence it is recognized as "oldest living major religion".
- It essentially originated as a set of advices or regulations to help people lead a disciplined social life. This set of rules adhered to practical aspects like fulfillment of duties, importance of moral values and the importance of self-realisation through meditation.
- One can see that Hinduism is not confined to the teachings of a specific person or a single God—it follows polytheism i.e., the practice of worshipping innumerable gods, each one of them corresponding to either a philosophy, or a natural power or representation of certain moral value or quality.
- Hindus believes in Incarnations (Avatars) of God to restore Dharma (values) and guide people towards Moksha (salvation).
- Hinduism does not support apostasy, heresy and blasphemy and has a very different (and rather liberal!) structure as compared to other religions.
- While looking deeper into the concepts of Hinduism, you can find that there is no specific theological system or a single system of morality in Hinduism. The teachings of this religion are scattered, usually represented indirectly as a character in epics. For example, the life of Lord Rama teaches the ideal way of living life without compromising on ideologies and duties, while that of Hanuman teaches loyalty. Karna’s life stands for generosity and Arjun’s is based on Karma (action).
- There is no single holy text in Hinduism—the ideologies are instead embedded in stories and examples portrayed in various story forms like Ramayana, Mahabharata and Durga Saptshati etc.
- Hinduism advocates practicing philosophical ideologies. As a religion and a method of life, it cares not only for the physical health of the observers, but also for the mental health. Hence, Yoga and Meditation are two important aspects of Hinduism, both essential for a healthy soul, mind and body, thus leading towards the ultimate goal of self-realization. The ultimate goal of a Hindu is to attain Moksha which is a complete liberation from re-birth and dissolution of the soul in the Holy Spirit.
Hinduism never hesitated to accommodate changes. Hence it has undergone considerable changes. For example, Sati was a custom in Hinduism where the widowed wife voluntarily submitted herself to the funeral pyre of her husband. However, with changing time and ideologies, this practice was abolished for the greater good of the community.
As mentioned earlier, Hinduism is a way of life and hence, most of the rituals like worshiping the sun in the morning, reciting religious scripts, singing hymns, meditation and chanting mantras etc. are performed on a daily basis. Special rituals are also performed on various ceremonies like marriages, births and deaths. However, there is no uniform pattern of rituals among Hindus. The rituals, largely believed to vary according to castes, actually vary according to the belief of a community. However, Hindus generally believe in Kundali (or Birth-Horoscopes) which are based on the time of birth, this tradition is also becoming less widespread. Nowadays, people have started believing more in compatibility amongst individuals rather than compatibility of horoscopes. Hindu marriages still take place in front of the Holy fire and are accompanied by the chanting of Mantras.
According to 2011 census, India is the hub of Hindus with about 80% of the total Indian population following this religion. Hinduism is also a major religion in countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
There are several Holy centers for Hindus; most of them are in India. Cities like Haridwar, Varanasi and Vrindavan are important religious centers in Northern India while Southern India also boasts of several important shrines and cities. Puri, in Orissa, is famous for its Vaishnava Jagannath temple which hosts the famous Rath Yatra celebration. Katra, on the other hand, is home to the famous Vaishno Devi temple. Visiting the four holy places Puri, Rameswaram, Dwarka, and Badrinath (or alternatively the Himalayan towns of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri) is known as the Char Dham Yatra (Travel of the Four Abodes) which is considered to be the paramount pilgrimage for Hindus.
Tirumala-Tirupati, home to Lord Tirumala Venkateswara, is another important holy destination for Hindus and is also the richest temple-trust of India. Kailasam, home to Lord Shiva, is seated in Himalayas and, according to the political map, is currently in Tibet. Pushkar is another famous destination in the colourful state of Rajasthan and is known best for the Pushkar Mela (Pushkar Fair). This is said to be the only place in the world where a temple is dedicated to Lord Brahma, the Creator.
The famous Hindu festivals are Maha Shivaratri, Pongal, Holi, Vasant Panchami, Thaipusam, Ram Navami, Krishna Janmastami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Dussera, Durga Puja, Diwali, Guru Purnima and Raksha Bandhan.
Hinduism is a highly philosophical religion. Many of its concepts like Vedanta, Karma, Dharma, Bhakti, Moksha etc., have different levels of interpretation. They may appear simple when seen superficially but for an intellectual, these are ideologies that delve into various aspects of life and death.