Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest religions and the world’s third largest religion, with an estimated 1.2 billion adherents. Hinduism originated in the ancient Indian region of the Indus Valley, today referred to as the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism was originally known as Sanatana Dharma, a Sanskrit phrase meaning “the eternal law”, which implies that the principles of the faith were considered timeless truths that could be applied to any time period. Evidence suggests that Hinduism’s earliest origins date back to at least 5,000 years ago. It is a much debated question amongst historians, as there is no single point in time when Hinduism began.
Experts on ancient Indian cultures state that evidence of Hinduism can be seen in early archaeological sites such as the Indus Valley Civilization. Although there is no clear indication of this, historians suggest that the basis of Hinduism was laid in the Vedic Age; a period of Indian history which began in the 1700s BC and lasted until the 600s BCE. During this time, several Vedic texts were written and various religious practices emerged, such as sacrifices, hymns and principles of good living that laid down the foundations of Sanatana Dharma.
In the 500s BCE, Hinduism was further developed and went through a period of reform. This was during a time when the Hindu society was taking form; a society that would recognize a multitude of gods, ritualistic practices and the caste system. The reformulation of the Hindu religion was largely attributed to the “Great Trinity”: Vishnu, Shiva and Devi, although there were many other gods associated with Hinduism.
Although Hinduism is said to have emerged in the Indus Valley civilization, some researchers suggest that it also emerged in parts of Southeast Asia, including Cambodia and Thailand. This is due to the existence of several Hindu temples in these countries that have origins dating back to 500 BC.
The main source of guidance and philosophy that Hindus rely on is the Vedas, which are four Hindu holy texts. The Vedas contain instructional hymns, mantras, meditations and religious rites, amongst other things. These texts support the notion that Hinduism is one of the most tolerant religions on earth as it advocates for freedom of thought and religious practice.
Hinduism is also said to emphasize “karma”, which is the notion that all living beings are subject to the law of cause and effect. This means that people should follow a path of righteousness and logically obey the laws of nature. This is summarized in the phrase “what goes around comes around”. This idea of justice resonates with many people, upholding the notion that Hinduism is a faith for people of all ages and life circumstances.
The philosophy of Hinduism has been passed down for thousands of years and is still relevant today. Unlike other religions, Hinduism has no single founder, instead it has been reinterpreted, reformed and evolved over time by gurus (spiritual teachers) who bring a new understanding of it. This constant updating and refining of Hinduism makes it complex as Hinduism is ever-changing.
In modern times, yogis (spiritual practitioners) have pushed Hinduism further in an attempt to bridge science and spirituality, helping to provide insights on how to access the divine or spiritual level of consciousness. This new form of Hinduism has spread far and wide, spreading its philosophies which include the belief that all life is interconnected, which resonates deeply with many.
Hinduism is often compared to religions of other major monotheistic faiths such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but they differ in fundamental ways as well. Firstly, Hinduism doesn’t believe in one creator god, unlike the other three. Rather, Hinduism believes in many gods. This allows for a different type of spiritual experience in which individuals are free to choose and direct their worship towards various deities. Furthermore, another major difference is that Hinduism has never had a central governing body, unlike these other faiths.
Hinduism also differs in terms of its scriptures. While the other three religions are based on one set of scriptures, Hinduism is based on a vast assortment of scriptures that go back hundreds of years. Because of this, Hindus often have multiple interpretations of their scriptures. As such, Hindus often have different beliefs to one another and don’t all believe in the same god or worship the same way.
Hinduism further places more emphasis on spiritual experience than on text. Hindus believe that truth can only be found by looking inwards and through meditation, rather than through texts. This idea of gaining knowledge through inner experience is often argued amongst the different sects of Hinduism, but is widely accepted throughout the entire faith.
Lastly, Hinduism has its own unique symbolism and language which sets it apart from the other faiths. Its symbols are often based around animals and nature, such as the lotus flower which is believed to represent spiritual purity, while its language is known as Sanskrit, an ancient language that is still used today.
Hinduism is known for its rituals, which can range from elaborate temple ceremonies to simple daily rituals. Even the simplest rituals are important in Hinduism, and it is believed that each one can bring people closer to the gods. Common ritualistic practices include bowing and saluting images of gods and goddesses, making daily offerings to deities and praying for special ceremonies.
Generally, Hindu rituals involve offerings, prayers and meditations. Offerings can range from food and flower offerings to sharing items, like incense. Prayers and meditations normally involve mantras or chants from the Vedas, which are believed to bring spiritual blessings when repeated. Hindus may also recite stories from sacred texts or perform worship rituals such as bhajans (devotional songs) or kirtans (devotional chants). Rituals like these can be practiced on a daily basis or on important occasions.
The most important of all Hindu rituals is pilgrimage, as they are believed to bring people closer to the Divine. Pilgrimages consist of travelling to certain sacred sites such as temples, rivers and mountains. By visiting these sites, Hindus feel closer to their gods, as they offer prayers, offerings and meditations. Pilgrimages are an important part of the Hindu culture and they are believed to bring spiritual and material blessings.
Symbols play an important role in Hinduism as they help to express concepts and ideas through visual images. Symbols are represented in different forms, from simple shapes such as circles and squares, to more complex imagery like animals and plants. For example, Hindus commonly use the lotus flower to represent spiritual purity and the sun to represent knowledge.
Symbols can be found everywhere in Hinduism, from art and architecture to temple rituals and cult practices. Hindus believe that symbols can be used to bring people closer to their gods and to strengthen their faith. For example, the most common Hindu symbol is the OM symbol, which consists of a sacred sound and is used to remind Hindus of their divine nature and connect them to their gods.
Hindu symbols can also be found in other art forms such as music and dance. Hindus often use music and dance as a way to express their faith and devotion to their gods. Hindu symbols such as the lotus flower, the sun, and the OM symbol can be found in both traditional and modern music and dance forms.
Hindu symbols also have a spiritual significance, as they help to connect Hindus to the divine. By looking at symbols, Hindus are reminded of their gods and of the spiritual path they are on. Symbols also help to keep Hindus focused on their faith, as they help to keep their spiritual practices in the forefront of their mind.
Hindus celebrate a variety of festivals throughout the year. Some of these festivals involve fasting and religious practices like prayer, while others are more rooted in culture and involve feasting, music and dancing. Hindus believe that these festivals help to bring them closer to their gods, as they believe that their gods will reward them with blessings and guidance.
The most common festivals in Hinduism are the Diwali and the Holi. Diwali is a festival of lights, celebrated by Hindus all around the world. During this time, Hindus light lamps and offer prayers to their gods for health and prosperity. Holi is a festival of colors, celebrated in the springtime. During Holi, people play with colored powder and water and come together to celebrate the coming of spring.
In addition to these festivals, Hindus also celebrate festivals of their gods, such as Krishna Janmashtami for the god Krishna and Ganesh Chaturthi for Ganesha. During these festivals, Hindus worship the gods and offer prayers and food as tribute. These festivals of the gods are often celebrated around the same time each year, as Hindus believe that the gods will be pleased with their offerings and will grant them rewards.
Hindu festivals are a beautiful way to celebrate the culture and religion of Hinduism and to come together as a community. They bring people of every age and social standing together and help to remind them of their faith and their connection to the divine.