Hindu is the oldest religion and is currently the third most popular religion in the world. It has no singular founder but has transformed gradually from various Indian cultures and traditions that have been present since the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization. The first era of Hindu development lasted until about 1750 BCE as the ancient Vedic religion merged with the Indo-Aryan migrations. Between 800 BCE and 200 BCE, the beginnings of Hindu, Jainism, and Buddhism were founded. Between 200 BCE and 500 AD, the Hindu philosophies of Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, and Vedanta were developed. Monotheism also emerged during this time.
Between 1250 and 1750, Islam heavily influenced Hindu and increased the Bhakti movement. Hindu reform movements were also inspired by Western groups. Several nations declared Hindu as a national or state religion. In the modern era, Hindu significantly impacts politics in nations like India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
Hindu spans across many different systems of thought. Hindu can be composed merely of philosophies for some, while for others it includes rituals, cosmological systems, pilgrimage, holy texts, metaphysics, mythology, temples, and the worship of many gods. There are a few tenants of Hindu that are true for most practitioners, including the pursuit of four goals of human life: dharma (ethics/duties), artha (prosperity/work), kama (desires/passions), and moksha (liberation from the cycle of life and death).
There are also eternal duties that Hindus must follow, including refraining from injuring any living creature, patience, honesty, self-restraint, virtue, and compassion.
Dharma is the greatest goal of a Hindu practitioner. It commends people for according in accordance with the order of life and the universe, including duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues, and lifestyle choices. It is believed that dharma is needed to sustain harmony in the universe.
Artha is the virtuous pursuit of wealth and economic prosperity. It is meant to sustain the means of life that one desires and includes the material and social world to acquire financial security.
Kama is the desire, passion, and aesthetics of life in a nonsexual sense. It is essential to Hindus in their lives so long as it is pursued while maintaining the other three goals.
Moksha is the most difficult goal to obtain. Hindus believe in reincarnation, and moksha is liberation from the cycle of rebirth, which is viewed as a cycle of sorrow. Different version of Hindu practice view the attainment of moksha in different ways. Some believe that an individual comes to know their essence, and some believe in an afterlife. Some believe that it is attainable while still living and it causes a transcendental consciousness, such as living in a perfect state of being, self-realization, freedom, and realization of the universe.
Hindus also believe in the concept of karma. This was originally a part of the ancient Vedic religion where it was a theory of the “moral law of cause and effect.” Its ideas include that actions are either ethical or nonethical and that both have appropriate consequences that affect one’s cycle of rebirth or retribution. The greater one’s karma from good deeds, the closer an individual is to liberation from the cycle of rebirth. One’s karma also determines their physical state or social class in their next life.
The caste system is present within the Hindu religion where people are classified into four groups: the Brahmins (teachers and priests), Kshatriyas (warriors and kings), Vaishyas (farmers and merchants), and Shudras (servants and laborers). It is debated whether this is included in Hindu scriptures or whether it is a societal phenomenon of social stratification. Some have suggested that the caste system was created by the British colonial powers in India.
Regarding deities, Hindus differ significantly. Different holy texts present ideas of a Creator but then also describe many other deities. Some present these gods as all being equal, while others describe the religion as being monotheistic. They believe that each creature has a true self called an Atman that is eternal. Several pantheistic version of Hindu believe that the Brahman is the supreme spirit and that the goal of life is to realize that one’s self is identical to the Brahman’s. Dualistic version believe Brahman is separate from individual Atman. Many people will worship the supreme being as Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti.
Most of the time, Hindu is a polytheistic religion due to their belief that there is divinity in almost every object in the natural world. Because of this, everything is sacred and deserves reverence rather than being divine as an individual entity. There are many devas that are heavenly beings, and sometimes these are viewed as manifestations of Brahman.
There are many different rituals that Hindus practice. One of the most important are a traditional Hindu wedding that is held before the Vedic fire ritual. Other rituals are conducted mostly at home and aren’t mandatory. Some worship every day and offer items to their gods at a family shrine, along with reciting religious texts, singing hymns, performing yoga, meditation, and chanting mantras.
Major life milestone are celebrated as rites of passage in Hinduism. This may include a baby’s birth, the name giving ceremony, pregnancy, baby shower, the baby’s first outing from the home, the baby’s first time eating solid food, the baby’s first haircut, start with knowledge, entry to school, first time shaving, first time menstruation, graduating, weddings, spiritual studies, and death. Usually during these rituals, hymns are sung and mantas are chanted. After death, Hindus are cremated as is common in most Eastern religions.
There is a daily worship ritual where a flame is offered to a god along with a hymn. Other forms of worship include poems, devotionals, or hymns being read or sung by a group of individuals. Hindus sometimes worship multiple gods at once.
There are many Hindu festivals. They are meant to emphasize dharma and are set throughout the lunisolar calendar to correspond with the full moon or new moon along with seasons changing. Holi and Diwali are the largest celebrations and are held throughout the world. Many festivals include regional themes, agriculture, arts, family gatherings, rituals, and feasts.
Hindus have dozens of holy texts that span across thousands of years. The major scriptures of Hindu are the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, and the Agamas. There are six schools of astika Hindu philosophy that recognize the authority of the Vedas. Many of these scriptures were memorized verbally, spoken across generations, and written after centuries in Sanskrit.
The Vedas are the earliest records of Hindu scripture and are eternal truths that were given to ancient sages. There are four Vedas that include mantras, benedictions, rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices, commentaries, and philosophy. The Upanishads created Hindu philosophy and include epics that were written which have influenced traditions across time. The Puranas include mythology that was created after 300 A.D.
There are several large denominations of Hindu, including Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism. Many of these rely on different texts to develop their traditions, and since Hindus emphasize questioning authority to deepen their understanding of religion, this has resulted in diverse practice.
Hindus will create temples to their gods that are meant to bring humans and gods together. Many will include a spire or dome that represent the abode of Brahma and the center of the spiritual universe. Many will also include engravings and icons meant to represent the four goals of Hinduism. Most have more than one idol that might be under the center of the temple.
Hindu monks are also common to pursue moksha or spiritual perfection. All monks live a simple and celibate life and refuse to pursue materialism, but rather engage in meditation and spiritual contemplation. Many monks are regarded highly in Hindu culture. Some live in a monastery, while others may wander and receive charity.