Introduction Hinduism is a religion that originated in India and is still
practiced by most of the Natives as well as the people who have migrated from
India to other parts of the world. Statistically there are over seven hundred
million Hindus, mainly in Bharat, India and Nepal. Eighty five percent of the
population in India is Hindu. The word Hindu comes from an ancient Sanskrit term
meaning “dwellers by the Indus River,” referring to the location of India’s
earliest know civilization, the Pakistan. There is not much organization and
hierarchy is nonexistent. The religion suggests commitment to or respect for an
ideal way of life know as Dharma. Hinduism absorbs foreign ideas and beliefs
making it have a wide variety of beliefs and practices. This has given it a
character of social and doctrinal system that extends to every aspect of life.

The Hindus own definition of their community is “those who believe in Vedas.”
History/Origin The practices and beliefs of Hinduism cannot be understood
without knowing the background. Hinduism is the worlds oldest religion, it
dates back more than 3,000 years. Hinduism is unique in the fact that it has no
founder. Its origins are lost in a very distant past. In 1500 BC the Indo-Aryan
tribes invaded India and took over the Mahenjo-daro. From the combination of
these two tribes came the worship of goddesses. The Hindus started practices
such as bathing in temple tanks and the postures of yoga. Soon gods of war
started being created and worshipped. Sakas then began invading the Hindus and
made a large impact on the religion. The sacred temples started to be built and
the sacred laws were codified and myths and legends were preserved in the
Puranas. Soon great devotional movements began and ways of religion practice
evolved and are still used today. In the medieval times the Hindus evolved into
having philosophers, plays and music with their religion. A man named Chaitanya
came into power and claimed to have a god reincarnated inside of him. In the
19th century, movements to reconcile traditional Hinduism with the social
reforms and political ideas of the day took place. Many people where sent out
to Europe and Asia preaching and spreading the religion. Throughout all these
periods of time, the religion mutated and changed to fit with the times and as
it did it just kept gathering more and more followers.

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Hinduism Today Today there are numerous self proclaimed teachers who have
migrated to Europe and the United States, where they have inspired large
followings. In India Hinduism thrives despite all the reforms and shortcuts
made in the practicing due to the gradual modernization and urbanization of
Hindu life. Hinduism continues to serve vital function by giving passionate
meaning to the Hindus of today.

Beliefs and Practices
Caste System The ideal way of life is referred to as the “duties of one’s class
and station”. In the phrase the word class is changed to CASTE. The ancient
texts tell of four great classes, or castes: the Brahmins, or priests; the
Ksatriyas, or warriors and rulers; the Vaisayas, or merchants and farmers; and
the Sudras, or peasants and laborers. A fifth class, Panchamas, or untouchables,
are people whose jobs make them touch unclean or unholy objects. In the new
society the system is harder to work with but in the past the caste was very
strict and kept different people in different classes very distinctly.

Stages of Life
The sacred texts also outline four ideal stages, or stations of life, each with
its own duty. The first stage is studentship (brahmacarya). This stage lasts
from initiation into the religion at 5 years of age to marriage at 13 years of
age. The second stage, householdership (grihasthya) is during marriage, raising
a family, and taking part in the society. The third stage, forest dwelling
(vanaprasthya), is after the kids have grown and gone. The fourth and final
stage is renunciation (samnyasa). It is when one gives up attachment to all
worldly things and seeks spiritual liberation. Besides the duties from the
class and station, there are also general duties (sanatanadharma). These
include honesty, courage, service, faith, self-control, purity, and nonviolence.

The classes and stations only apply to male Hindus.

Purpose of Life The purpose of life is to respect the ideal way of life. There
are also two other lesser purposes which are, enjoyment of desires and artha, or
material prosperity.

Karma and Rebirth A popular belief in Hinduism is Transmigration of souls, or
samsara. Samsara is the passage of a soul from body to body as determined by
the force of one’s actions, or karma. The strict karma theory specifies that a
person’s type of birth, length of life, and life experiences are determined by
one’s previous acts. Yoga is a ritual used to assure rebirth.

Philosophy Hinduism has six philosophical systems. The systems called Nyaya,
Vaisheshika, Samkhya, and Yoga emphasize the understanding of basic principles
of metaphysics and epistemology. Nyaya in addition includes an analysis of logic.

The systems called Mimamsa identify the performance of ritual. The many Vedanta
systems emphasize understanding of the relationship between the self and
ultimate reality.

Hindu Deities (gods) The Hindus believe the universe is populated with many gods.

These gods behave much as humans do and are related much like humans are. This
view is very similar to the ancient Greek theories. The supreme gods Brahma,
Vishnu, and Shiva are often viewed with the relations they have with female
deities. The females are called Shakti. The gods are ranked by how closely
they are related to the supreme gods. All the gods have duties but the supreme
gods control the destiny. Each god has its own part of the year when it is
worshipped and own style that it gets worshipped in.

Worship Typical Hindu daily worship includes a stop at several shrines, a visit
to the temple, and home worship. A Hindu may be devoted to several gods but
there can only be one shrine in the family house and it must be devoted to just
one god. To worship another god they must go to the nearby temple. Because
everything is sacred in a Hindu’s eyes, almost anything may be considered worthy
of worship, such as rivers, cowpens, etc. During worship everything must be
purified through fire, water, and drawing symbolic diagrams. Depending on a
Hindu’s class and station, the requirements for worship change. But they must
offer food, flowers, and incense to the deity, as well as say the appropriate
recitations of sacred words or text.

Festivals Certain festival days are celebrated throughout the Hindu society on a
fixed day according to the Hindu lunisolar calendar. One festival is Dipavali,
the “Festival of Lights” occurring in October and November. On this day lamps
are placed around the house to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. Holi,
a spring festival in February and March, is a day of fun making, involving
temporary suspension of a persons class or caste and social distinctions.

Practical jokes are the purpose of the day. In fall, is a ten-day period set
aside to honor the Mother Goddess, a day of processions and celebrations.

Sacred Texts The ultimate series of books is the Vedas. The Vedas are the rules
which the Hindu people follow. The oldest of the four Vedas is the Rig-Veda,
which is made from an ancient form. This text was composed between 1300 and 1000
BC and contains 1028 hymns dedicated to many different gods. Other Vedas books
are the Yajur-Veda (the text book for sacrifice), the Sama-Veda (a hymnal), and
the Atharva-Veda (a collection of magic spells). The Atharva-Veda was probably
added around 900 BC. The rituals for worship were also written down so that
they would always be done correctly and never forgotten.