Hinduism is a religious tradition that is mainly practiced in south of Asia, though there are people of the Hindu religion in every part of the world. It is often referred to as Sanatana Dharma which means the “eternal law” by the people who practice this religion. The Hindu religion has its roots in the historic verdict religion that dates back to the Iron Age India. It is however referred to the oldest religion living.
The Hindu religion cannot be said to be a system of belief, it is a way of life for the Hindu which is referred to as Dharma. Dharma is the law that governs what should be done and what should not be done. It is comprised of its own philosophies, traditions, ethics beliefs, theology and rituals.
Hinduism is considered the world number three religion in the world that is after Christianity and Islam. Most of the Hindu practicing populations are found in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Some of them have spread all over the world. Most of the Hindu texts are classified into two; Sruti which means revealed and Smriti which means remembered. The texts in the revealed and the remembered are mainly written on philosophy, theology and mythology. They also give a guide to ways of religious living (Dharma). (Williams, 2010)
The word Hindu came from a local word Sindhu that was used to appall the Indus River in the north-west of the Asian continent. The word was used by Arab invaders which referred to the people who live across the river of Indus. The word Hindu was used to refer to all people that lived in the area regardless of their religion. Hindu as a word was initially a secular word used to describe the people who live in India.
In the 18th century, the European merchants referred to every person who lived in India and practiced the Indian religion as Hindus. Finally, it was used as a religious identity for all that practiced the Indian religion and did not exercise the Abrahamic law or the non-Vedic religion. Hinduism was later own in the 19th century introduced to the English language which was used to refer to cultural, religious and philosophical traditions practiced by the natives of India.
History of Hinduism
Prehistoric religion of the Hindus is evidenced back to the Neolithic of the Harappan times. The practices and the beliefs of that era were referred to historical Vedic religion, later on the Hinduism of the modern age grew out of the practices of Veda. The Vedas used to center their praise on Soma, Indra, Agni and the Varuna rituals. The Vedic mantras did not build any icons or temples though they performed fire sacrifices that were referred to as the Vijna. The oldest traditions of the Vedic had very noticeable characteristics to the Indo-European and the Zoroastrianism religions. (Flood, 1996)
Ramayana and the Mahabharata which are said to be the major Sanskrit epics were compiled during the late and early centuries. They contain stories that are mythological about the wars and the rulers of the ancient India. They also contain the philosophical and religious treaties.
The spread of the Jaina, Upanishad and Buddhist religious philosophical thoughts in the broader India were the major movements that underpinned the rise of the new epoch of the Hindu. The founder of Buddhism, Buddha and Mahavira of the Jains believed that for one to achieve a nirvana, they did not have to adhere to the authority of the caste or the Vedas system. Buddha adamantly concurred with the belief in the existence of a soul or God and asserted that it was unnecessary.
In the 3rd century during the Asoka the Great reign, Buddhism was at the peak, it was during this period that the Asoka tried to unify the subcontinent of India under the Mauryan Empire.
After the end of the Gupta period, the Sansktitic culture declined. It was at this time were the pre-literate tribal societies were undergoing the process of acculturation, therefore, an early medieval Puranas established a religious mainstream among this group that was undergoing acculturation. The likes of the Dharmashastras and the Brahmanic Hinduism went through a radical transformation that was done by the Puranas which led to an alternative Hinduism that later overshadowed the traditions that were practiced earlier.
During the 7th century, Islam came to India at the Sindh conquest and the time of Arab traders. However, during the Muslim Conquest of the subcontinent of India, Islam started to become one of the major religions. Majority of the Hindus converted to Islam and the practice of the Buddhi rapidly declined. Hindu temples were destroyed and non-Muslims were prosecuted though a few of the Hindu like the Akbar were a little bit tolerant.
In the 19th century, Ideology which is an academic discipline for the study of the culture of Indians introduced by the Europeans was established and was run by scholars like John Woodroffe and Max Muller. They gathered the Puranic, Vedic and the Tantranic philosophy and literature and took them to the United States and Europe. At the same time, societies like the Theosophical society and the Brahmo Samaj tried to resist the Dharmic and Abrahamic philosophies with the agenda of introducing reforms in the society. These led to the establishment of movements that were rooted in to the indigenous traditions and at the same time very innovative.
The movements were mainly on the teachings of individuals and personalities like the Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna. These led to the translation, reformulation and presentation of the Hinduism’s foundational text by much known Hindu philosophers like the founder of the ISKCON, Prabhupada. This attracted followers and a lot of attention in Both India and Abroad. At the moment, the Swaminaravan faith has attracted a lot of followers all over the world.
The Hindu denomination
Hinduism lacks a unified system of ideas and beliefs. It comprised of many beliefs and traditions and its popular themes include the Dharma meaning duties and ethics, Samsara meaning rebirth, Karma meaning the right action and Moksha which means the liberation from cycle of the Samsara. Hindu as a religion, it is also believes in honesty, truth, non violence, cleanliness, prayers, perseverance and contentment. (Senker, 2009)
The denomination of the Hindu is classified into four main groups though it is a single monolithic religion and it is said to be an autonomous family of religions that share distinctive features. The groups are defined and homogeneous. There has been a fear of discussing the four groups for the reason that it would encourage stereotypes and prejudice
There is a criterion that was used to categorize the three main groups. They include; practices and process of worship, doctrine and focus of worship. The four main communities include Vaishnavisn, Shaktism, Shaivism and Smarta. All these are identified by the way they worship and each of it favors its own ways of deity.
For one to be able to distinguish the different forms of worship and the group of the denominations there is a certain criteria that is followed. In terms of the Doctrine difference, there are about six orthodox way of seeing things which the various subgroups fit in. they are clearly stipulated in the Hindu doctrine. One of the orthodox is the Vedanta which is mainly seen as the culmination and that represents the strands of Hinduism in the contemporary times. However, this does not mean that it has rejected the other five thoughts, but instead it has tries to assimilate with them. It is mostly associated with Advaita Vedanta.
The main processes and paths that are practiced in Hinduism are grouped in four paths that are termed as Yogas. These include the Karma yoga which is said to be the path for action, Jnana yoga which it the path for knowledge, Raja which is the path for mediation and Bhakti yoga which is the devotion path. Most of these denominations favor more or some of these processes.
The devotion path which is the Bhakti yoga is termed as more personalists and is mainly favoured by the Vaishnavas denomination. The impersonalist group which is the path of knowledge and therefore, referred to Jnana yoga is favored by Shaivas. Shakta is normally impersionalists and mainly focuses on material things favor the Karma yoga path. Smarta favor the Jnana yoga and are more impersonal which is more philosophical.
Devotion to God among the Hindus is perceived as Shiva, Brahman, Vishnu or Shakti which is the main focus of its religious life. Rituals are normally done in the name of devotion by worshiping sculptures and images that are put to represent gods in the Hindu home shrine.
Some of the Hindus who are mostly philosophers ignore the gods and instead seek self realization in the form of meditation, though others focus mainly on fulfilling the moral and social duties that are in the accordance with their position in the society/life.
Hindu religion is mainly focused on the significance of fulfilling duties that are associated with ones social place and the stage at which one has reached in life. They are therefore, expected to go through four stages in life: Brahmacharga which is mainly on acquiring knowledge and shaping ones character and it takes place during years one is in school; Gastha which is concerned with worldly pleasures like family, career and marriage and this happens in mid-life; Vanaprastha which focus on spirituality of children who have reached adulthood and the Sanngasu which happens in the last years of ones life and is mainly on the focus on contemplation life. (Micheals, 2004)
However, for the Hindu, all the life stages involve religious practices and rituals. The belief in one supreme referred to as Brahman but does not restrict on the worship on only one deity. They have millions of gods and goddesses which represent many dimensions of Brahman. Te common deities include the trinity of Brahma which means the creator, the trinity of Vishnu which means the preserver and the trinity of Shiva which means destroyer.
Brahman is regarded as the ultimate reality and is behind the whole universe and all the gods; they believe that Brahman is the self of all things that are living. The many gods that they worship is a manifestation of Brahman as it is referred to as remote/personal. Brahman is also referred to as Purasha.
Hindu beliefs and traditions
There is a great diversity in the Hindu beliefs. They belief is very many things concerning God, liberation and the universe. They are referred to as the most flexible and open minded religions in the world in terms of evaluating other religious beliefs. However, there are some fundamental Hindu beliefs that are common to all types of Hinduism and are regarded as the boundary to Hinduism. These fundamental beliefs include: Authority of Veda which contain the sacred texts that are considered to be very old in the Indian beliefs; existence of a soul that is said to migrate from one body to another when a person dies; and the Karma law which determines the destiny of a person when they are still alive and in the next live. Majority of the Hindus are staunch followers of the considered principal gods Shiva, Vishnu or Shakti which is considered the manifestation of single reality. There most ultimate goal is the release from the rebirth cycle.
The mostly shared Hindu beliefs are the acknowledgement of the Veda as the religious authority. Those who snub the authority of the Veda are considered as unfaithful to the traditions. The words of the Veda text are mostly quoted in the Hindu practices and doctrines and rituals and are mainly referred to as the source of many patterns of the Hindu thoughts. The other common characteristic of the Hindu religion is the authority of the Brahmans that is considered a class of priest that has supremacy in spirituality by the virtue of birth. They represent rituals of social prestige and purity and are ranked as the highest caste in the society. They are summoned to carry out vital religious duties/tasks and also to teach and interpret scriptures. The also officiate weddings, ceremonial occasions and funerals.
The other traditions that characterize the Hindus are their rites and rituals. They include the sacrifices they make on a daily basis, the ceremonies that are carried out commonly known as the Yajnas, the rituals that are done at every stage of ones life. They are widely respected and considered as a good shaper of character, they also form some parts of the Brahmanical traditions.
Spiritual practices are also considered as some of the most valued traditions. They include the practices such as the Yoga, meditation, celibacy, fasting and the study of scriptures. These practices are mainly for achieving purity of the innerself through transformation and purification of the body which makes one feel that they have received self realization and the union with the universal self.
Devotional singing, temple worship, making offerings, sacrifices and prayers are referred to as devotional practices. Some of these practices are non Vedic and are only practiced by the Hindu community. There are some of folk religion and animism that are tribal and rural that was assimilated to the Hindu religion. Some of them comprise of the worshipping of trees, local heroes, snake stones, forest deities, invocation of ancestral and local spirits and the offering of animal sacrifices. Some of this assimilation of the traditional practices to the Hindu religion are said to be the reason why the Hindu religion is considered to be weak.
Also in the Hindu traditions are the sectarian movements which are referred to as individual religions. They have been practiced for a very long time and have become part of Hinduism owing to various reasons like Saivism, Vaishnavism and Tantrism.
There are traces of foreign influence that are noticeable in the Hindu traditions because of the contact in trade and foreign invasion, like the Persian, Greek and the Egyptian. The religion underwent a vigorous reform after the confrontation and the contact of Hindu with the Islam and Christianity.
The caste system in the Hindu practice is considered as one of the distinctive but has some similar characteristic with the ideal society of philosophers according to Plato. They are a division of the society that are identified by their family lineage and occupation and are chosen on the merit of hereditary occupation. Brahmanis are the class of priests and are the only ones who are supposed to carry out rites and rituals. They are considered as the middlemen to the Hindu gods and the people, it is required of them that they become honest, religious and pursue knowledge and preserve the traditions.
The Kshatriyas belong to the warrior class who are required to protect people, present gifts to the Brahmis, study Vedas and offer sacrifices and are also supposed to abstain from sensual pleasures. Their authority was supreme and not supposed to be questioned unless they neglected their duty of protecting the people.
Vaishyas are the merchants and are supposed to take care of cattle, trade, offer sacrifices and cultivate land. They were not denied from taking part in some of the Vedic rituals though they were not allowed to marry women of the higher castes.
The labor class of the Hindus was referred to as the Shudras and their duty was to only serve the other castes and was exempted from observing the Vedic rituals. They were not also allowed to take a meal with members of the higher caste.
The lowest caste is the Chandalas and is also referred to the impure. They were prohibited from loitering in a village or a city during the day. They were discriminated due to their unacceptable religious practices. When one meets with them, they considered it a bad omen and they had to be cleansed. They were pushed to the unsecure places in the society and no one cared for them in any way. They were also not liked because they were hunters and worked mainly at the graveyards.
The Hindu religion is one of the diverse and most interesting religions in the world. It is the only religions where they worship a lot of gods but with the same common believe. Everything has a god that represents it and there sacrifices differ. It is also very controversial due to the fact that its population is divided and that some are not suppose to mix with others. Unlike Christianity were all are considered equal and go to the church of their choice.
Things like the caste systems do not fit in the modern times but they are still strongly practiced by the Hindu. They are against today’s words like democracy, stereotypes, discrimination and human rights. They are contradicting to the fact that Hinduism advocate for tolerance and love for one another. It diminishes the credibility of the religion by not upholding what they believe in on life as sacred.