"I am a Hindu because it is Hinduism which makes the world worth living. I am a Hindu hence I love not only human beings, but all living beings." -Mahatma Gandhi
Atman. Dharma. Varna. Purushartha. Brahman. Guru.
What do the previously mentioned words signify?
To understand the words at the outset, we must take a trip around the world to discover more about one of humanity's most practised religions: Hinduism.
Origins of the Hindu Faith
After considering the world's top two largest religions, Christianity and Islam, it is entirely logical to complete an examination and gain further knowledge about the world's third: Hinduism. With over 1 billion believers across the planet, individuals who practise Hinduism make up over 15-16% of the world's population.
One in every six inhabitants of planet earth claim to be Hindu.
Also, it is essential to state that the Hindu people can truthfully boast that they are followers of the world's most ancient religion with origins and customs dating back more than 4000 years.
The exact origins and history of Hinduism are quite challenging to trace back and explain since it does not have any specific founder. What makes Hinduism unique is the fact that it is not a single religion but rather a compilation of many traditions and philosophies.
Although no specific dates can be easily uncovered, many scholars believe that Hindu faith started approximately between 2300 and 1500 BC.
Academics assume that Hinduism beliefs and customs were founded in the Indus Valley or modern-day Pakistan. Nevertheless, many devout Hindus argue the origin since they believe that their traditions have always existed and cannot be traced back to a specific date. Therefore, this is the reason many identify Hinduism as the Sanātana Dharma or "the eternal tradition."
Since Hinduism is believed to have originated in Pakistan, it comes as no surprise that it is widely professed in nearby Asian countries such as India, Nepal, and Mauritius.
Therefore, why do historians believe that Hinduism originated in the Indus Valley?
Around the years of 1500 BC, the Indo-Aryan people immigrated to the Indus Valley and their language and custom mixed with the indigenous people living in the land now known as Pakistan.
An essential part of history occurred from 1500 to 500 BC, known as the "Vedic Period." During this crucial period, the Vedas, ancient Hindu texts, were written for the benefit of all.
It is essential to state that each period of Hinduism is marked by something different.
The Vedic Period can be recognised in history as a time of constant chanting and sacrifices. However, on the other hand, the more modern periods of Epic, Puranic, and Classic are marked by the influence of worshipping deities such as Vishnu, Shiva, and Devi.
There are many distinct denominations of Hinduism, yet the four most prevalent that are practised today include Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism.
By learning more about distinct religions such as Hinduism, people develop tolerance and compassion; qualities that are needed to promote unity in today's broken world.
Noteworthy Information about Hinduism and the Hindu People
When studying about a new religion, it is essential to keep an open mind and remember that even though their customs are different from our own, it does not mean that we should be ignorant.
Noteworthy information such as places of worship, holy books or ancient writings, prominent figures, and distinct symbols make the major religions practised today unique from one another. Therefore, these will be considered in the following subheadings.
Places of Worship
While Muslims have mosques and Christians have churches, where do Hindus worship their deities?
Since there are so many denominations of Hinduism, there are various sacred spaces or places of worship that are used frequently by those of the Hindu faith. The following are the most popular places of worship for Hindus:
- Temples: Hindu temples may vary in size and significance, but their purpose stays the same: a structure to bring human beings and gods together. The symbolism of Hindu temples that can be observed in various parts of Asia root from Vedic traditions and deploy many circles and squares. Each temple is dedicated to a specific god or deity and is viewed by the Hindu people as the god's residence on earth. Famous Hindu temples include the Brihadishvara Temple in India and Angor Wat in Cambodia. Temples can be visited by devout followers at any time; no arranged service is required.
- Shrines: instead of going to worship a god or deity at a public temple, a vast majority of Hindus have churches in their homes. A home shrine may be a statue or just a picture of a god or goddess. The sanctuary often includes the five senses so that the entire being may be worshipped.
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In comparison to other major religions, the usage of sacred books is quite different in Hinduism. How's that? Well, Christians, for example, use the Holy Bible as their primary text and Muslims predominantly use the Qur'an whereas Hindus have more than one ancient book.
Hindus holy writings are known as Vedas and were composed around 1500 BC; they are a collection of sacred verses and hymns written in Sanskrit and contains revelations received by ancient saints and sages.
Therefore, without further ado, the following are different types of holy writings such as Vedas used by those who practise the Hindu faith:
- The Rig Veda,
- The Samaveda,
- The Yajurveda,
- The Atharvaveda,
- The Upanishads,
- Bhagavad Gita,
Important Figures of Hinduism
Since Hinduism is a polytheistic religion with belief in more than one god, we could include a massive list of gods and influential figures in today's article; however, for lack of time we will consider some of the indispensable beings that we cannot forget to include such as the following:
- Sri Ramachandra: known by Hindus as the seventh avatar of Vishnu, Ramachandra's life is held as a perfect example of devotion to dharma. His experience and teachings can be found recorded in the Ramayana.
- Sri Krishna: known as the avatar of Vishnu, Krishna's life and example can be read in the outstanding Mahabharata; he is continuously used as a critical figure in Bhakti Yoga.
- Arjuna: one of the greatest warriors of his age, he is known as one of the students of Sri Krishna.
- Mahatma Gandhi: if you haven't heard of Gandhi, you've been living under a rock for the past few decades. Gandhi was an Indian nationalist and politician who fought for women's rights, social injustices and led non-violent protests against the British. Gandhi was a devout Hindu who accepted fundamental beliefs from all world religions.
Iconic Symbols of Hinduism
Similar to all major religions, Hinduism has many symbols that are quite iconic and unique. The following are the most popular and recognisable:
- The Om: the Om or Aum is the most universal and recognisable Hindu symbol, and its sound is continuously used in meditation. The word Om is the first expression uttered in any prayer and is believed to symbolise the entire universe and the ultimate reality.
- The Swastika: although negatively used by Nazi Germany in the Second World War, the swastika is a sign of good luck and good fortune. Its four angles symbolise the four directions of Vedas in the Hindu faith.
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Basic Beliefs of Hinduism
A religion becomes different and unique from the rest due to its core beliefs and fundamental doctrines. When followers stay true to the principles established, they benefit and are known as devout practitioners.
What are the basic beliefs of Hinduism?
Hindus stick close to what is right in their eyes and follow the subsequent beliefs that truthfully identify Hinduism:
- Belief in Samsara and Karma: the vast majority of Hindus have a firm reliance on the doctrines of samsara of karma. Samsara is the continuous cycle of life, death, and reincarnation. Karma is the universal law of cause and effect. Haven't you heard, Karma's a b*%@#!
- All Followers Should Achieve Dharma: describing what dharma is is no easy task, and there is no specific word in the English language that can be directly translated to help acquire understanding. Dharma can be described as right conduct, righteousness, moral law, and duty. A devout follower who seeks to do things the right way and achieves dharma is continually doing what is right to other people.
- Respect for Nature: since one fundamental principle of Hindusim is the idea that people’s actions and thoughts directly determine their current life and future lives, Hindus respect nature and view animals as sacred. Many individuals of the Hindu faith do not eat pork or beef and are vegetarians.
While the previously mentioned aspects are a few Hindu beliefs, other core doctrines such as meditation, moksha, and viewing Vedas as the ultimate authority are essential to all Hindu people.
Learning more about Hinduism is a brilliant idea to understand more about Hindu people before travelling to popular tourist destinations such as Bali, Indonesia, India, or Nepal; you definitely won't regret learning about other cultures and traditions!
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