Hinduism


About 80 percent of India's population regard themselves as Hindus and 30 million more Hindus live outside of India. There are a total of 900 million Hindus worldwide, making Hinduism the third largest religion (after Christianity and Islam).

The term "Hinduism" includes numerous traditions, which are closely related and share common themes but do not constitute a unified set of beliefs or practices.

Hinduism is thought to have gotten its name from the Persian word hindu, meaning "river," used by outsiders to describe the people of the Indus River Valley. Hindus themselves refer to their religion as sanatama dharma, "eternal religion," and varnasramadharma, a word emphasizing the fulfillment of duties (dharma) appropriate to one's class (varna) and stage of life (asrama).

Hinduism has no founder or date of origin. The authors and dates of most Hindu sacred texts are unknown. Scholars describe modern Hinduism as the product of religious development in India that spans nearly four thousand years, making it the oldest surviving world religion. Indeed, as seen above, Hindus regard their religion as eternal (sanatama).

Hinduism is not a homogeneous, organized system. Many Hindus are devoted followers of Shiva or Vishnu, whom they regard as the only true God, while others look inward to the divine Self (atman). But most recognize the existence of Brahman, the unifying principle and Supreme Reality behind all that is.

Most Hindus respect the authority of the Vedas (a collection of ancient sacred texts) and the Brahmans (the priestly class), but some reject one of both of these authorities. Hindu religious life might take the form of devotion to God or gods, the duties of family life, or concentrated meditation. Given all this diversity, it is important to take care when generalizing about "Hinduism" or "Hindu beliefs."

The first sacred writings of Hinduism, which date to about 1200 BC, were primarily concerned with the ritual sacrifices associated with numerous gods who represented forces of nature. A more philosophical focus began to develop around 700 BC, with the Upanishads and development of the Vedanta philosophy. Around 500 BC, several new belief systems sprouted from Hinduism, most significantly Buddhism and Jainism.

In the 20th century, Hinduism began to gain popularity in the West. Its different worldview and its tolerance for diversity in belief made it an attractive alternative to traditional Western religion. Although there are relatively few western converts to Hinduism, Hindu thought has influenced the West indirectly by way of religious movements like Hare Krishna and New Age, and even more so through the incorporation of Indian beliefs and practices (such as the chakra system and yoga) in books and seminars on health and spirituality.

Sources
  1. "Hinduism." Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions.
  2. "Hinduism." Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service. 2004.
  3. Huston Smith, The World's Religions.
  4. Linda Johnsen, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism, pp. 222-24.

  • Hindu Beliefshttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/beliefs

    What do Hindus believe? Hinduism embraces a diversity of beliefs, a fact that can be initially confusing to Westerners accustomed to creeds, confessions, and carefully-worded belief statements...

  • Suicide and Euthanasia in Hinduismhttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/ethics/euthanasia

    What does Hinduism teach about euthanasia? Hindu views of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide vary, but they are all rooted in concerns about karma, reincarnation, and ahimsa (non-violence)...

  • Fast Facts on Hinduismhttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/facts

    An Overview of Hinduism Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world. Unlike Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, it has no known founder...

  • Glossary of Hinduismhttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/glossary

    Below is a glossary of Hindu terms and words associated with Hinduism. All non-English words are Sanskrit unless otherwise indicated.agamaScripture...

  • Hindu Godshttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/beliefs/gods

    Who are the gods and goddesses in Hinduism? The gods of modern Hinduism are many, and include the chief gods Shiva, Vishnu and the Goddess Shakti as well as a myriad of local community gods...

  • History of Hinduismhttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/history

    What is the story of the Hindu faith? The history of Hinduism is unique among the world religions in that it has no founder or date of origin...

  • Hindu Holidayshttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/holidays

    What are the holidays and festivals in Hinduism? It has been said that Hindus have a holiday for every day of the year, but even that may be an understatement! Exactly how many Hindu festivals are celebrated is not known, but one scholar of Hinduism has listed more than a thousand different Hindu festivals...

  • Homosexuality and Hinduismhttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/ethics/homosexuality

    Currently, the issue of homosexuality in Hinduism is controversial, especially amongst Hindus in countries where homosexuality is generally accepted...

  • Sacred Objects and Ritual Itemshttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/objects

    What is Sacred in Hinduism? This section explores the history, meaning and use of a variety of Hindu sacred objects, ritual items and other "things" that are found in Hindu art, ritual and daily life...

  • Hindu Rituals and Practiceshttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/practices

    What are the rituals and practices of Hinduism? The religious life of many Hindus is focused on devotion to God (perceived as Brahman, Shiva, Vishnu, or Shakti) or several gods...

  • Hindu Sacred Textshttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/texts

    What is Hinduism's Scripture? The sacred texts of Hinduism fall into one of two categories: sruti ("heard") or smruti ("remembered"). Sruti scriptures are considered divinely inspired and fully authoritative for belief and practice, while smruti are recognized as the products of the minds of the great sages...

  • Hindu Sects, Schools and Denominationshttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/branches

    What are the sects and denominations in Hinduism? Modern Hinduism is divided into four major devotional sects: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism...

  • Hinduism Storehttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/shop

    Welcome to the ReligionFacts Hindu Store. In these pages you'll find a wide variety of Hinduism-related products, including Hindu statues, Hindu art, Hindu-inspired home decor, Hindu puja (ritual) items, and yoga supplies...

  • Hindu Symbolshttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/symbols

    What are the Symbols of Hinduism? Name: Aum Also spelled "Om," in Hindu thought this image represents a sacred sound. Go here for a full article on Aum in Hinduism...

  • Timeline of Hinduismhttp://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/timeline

    A Chronology of the Hindu religion The Hindu belief system is unlike other world religions in that it doesn't have a known founder and its establishment is difficult to date...