What is Hinduism?
Hinduism is the oldest and the third largest religion. Hinduism can be viewed as “a way of life.” Hinduism and its religious principles and traditions are linked to the Asian Indian culture. Today, there are almost 750 billion Hindu’s across the world and Nepal is the only country in the world that calls itself as a Hindu Nation.
Jesus Christ founded Christianity and Prophet Mohammad founded the Islam, however there is no single founder of Hinduism. Also, while Christianity has the Holy Bible, and Islam has the Holy Koran, Hinduism does not have a single religious scripture. Hinduism is based on a set of scholarly views mentioned in hundreds of scriptures such as the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas, and the Shastras.
Also, there is no single definition of the word Hindu. The word Hindu is a Persian word that originated from the people who were living on the banks of the Indus River. This river was called the Sindhu River and that is how the name Hindu emerged.
The basic principles of Hinduism are:
- Dharma – the right way of living an individual’s life
- Karma – the idea that present actions influence an individual’s future
- Samsara or Reincarnation – The cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth
How did Hinduism Begin?
The exact period during which Hinduism came into existence is unknown. Although, Hinduism is considered to be a one of the major religions of the world today, it actually is a collective faith of people from various civilizations and cultures.
You can compare Hinduism to an Ocean, which does not exist by itself, but is formed by hundreds of rivers and streams flowing into it. Similarly, Hinduism kept on evolving as people from various countries, cultures and civilizations combined their individual faiths to form one single meta-faith.
It is believed that Hinduism originated around 6500 BC. This is because there is concrete evidence that the Hindu scriptures called Vedas were written during this time. However, there are a few other evidences that suggest that Hinduism existed almost 10,000 years ago.
Hindu Sacred Texts
The Hindus refer to numerous sacred texts for various religious and cultural purposes. The Vedas and many other ancient scriptures are like reference books of Hinduism. The vedas are “un-authored” that means that no one actually wrote it. The knowledge from the vedas comes from what was heard by sages known as rishis. Let’s take a look at some of the major religious scriptures that are considered important in Hinduism.
There are four forms of Vedas:
1. The Rig Veda: The Rig Veda is a collection of hymns and sacred verses that are used to appease various Gods like the Indra, who is considered as the King of Gods. The Rigveda also worships the various elements of Nature – i.e. The Fire – Agni, The Wind – Vayu, The Earth – Prithvi, the Sun –Surya and so on.
2. The Yajur Veda: Yajur means the sacrificial formula and veda means knowledge. So Yajurveda contains all the techniques of sacrifices that are needed to appease the Gods. These formulas are in form of liturgies (mantras) which have to be recited while making sacrifices to the Gods.
3. The Sama Veda: Sama means a melody. Hence, Sama Veda is a collection of melodies. They do not have a separate identity but the melodies of Samaveda merely support the teachings of the Rigveda.
4. The Atharva Veda: Atharvaveda is a collection of spells and chants that are written in a relatively simple language. However it is the next important Veda after the Rigveda.
Apart from the Vedas there are many other scriptures of religious and cultural importance such as:
The Upanishads: There are over 200 Upanishads written by different scholars. The word literally means “sitting near” and is basically like a tutorial of Hinduism.
The Puranas: The word “Purana” means ancient and they are called that because they may have been written even before the Vedas.The Puranas usually are tales of various deities.
The Shastras: Shastra is the word for Science in the Sanskrit language. There are various types of Shastras and they are like the subjects we study in science today. For example – Rasayana Shastra (Chemistry), Artha Shastra (Economics), Vastu Shastra (Architecture), Neeti Shastra (political science)
Dharma shastra: This is a set of laws for giving justice. It deals with punishment for various crimes and with the general code of conduct as laid down for Hindus.
The Upa Veda and the Ved Angas: Their names literally mean that Upa Veda is like a smaller or sub-version of the Vedas and The Ved Anga means parts or limbs of the Vedas. In short, they are smaller versions of the Vedas.
The Ayurveda: The Ayurveda is a traditional Hindu system of treating diseases and health disorders with herbs and other natural resources. Ayurveda is a upa veda , that means it is a subsidiary of a main veda – i.e. the Atharva Veda.
Sushruta Sanhita: This is a part of Ayurveda and is basically the science of performing surgery on humans. It was founded by a sage by the name of Sushruta, hence the name.
The Bhagavad Geeta: The Bhagavad Geeta is said to have beennarrated by Lord Krishna, considered be one of the reincarnations of a Hindu God called Vishnu. It basically tells us about how to lead a meaningful life, the duties to be performed in your lifetime as a human being and the ways to attain Moksha – i.e. eternal liberty from the cycle of rebirth.
The Ramayana: Is a poetic version of an epic based on the life of a Hindu King by the name of Rama. He was considered as a human reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. It teaches us to follow the path of righteous virtues in life and was written by a sage by the name Valmiki.
The Mahabharata: is also an epic based on the narration of war and the life of the Pandavas and Kauravas, who were a group step brothers. The Pandavas symbolize the good and the Kauravas stand for evil things. Both Ramayana and Mahabharata talk about the victory of good forces over the evil forces.
The scriptures above provide a good example of how Hinduism is a “way of life” because many of the scriptures are not necessarily religious in nature; instead they cover religion, art, various types of sciences and culture. Apart from the above ancient scriptures there are thousands of other references and beliefs which have been combined together for over 10,000 years and that is what we call as Hinduism, today!