Emergence of Hinduism:
Hinduism is one of the oldest religions of the world. The classical
theory of the origins of Hinduism traces the religion's roots
to the Indus valley civilization circa 4000 to 2200 BC. The
development of Hinduism was influenced by many invasions over
thousands of years. The major influences occurred when light-skinned,
nomadic "Aryan" Indo-European tribes invaded Northern
India (circa 1500 BCE) from the steppes of Russia and Central
Asia. They brought with them their religion of Vedism. These
beliefs mingled with the more advanced, indigenous Indian native
beliefs, often called the "Indus valley culture.".
This theory was initially proposed by Christian academics some
200 years ago. Their conclusions were biased by their pre-existing
belief in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). The Book of
Genesis, which they interpreted literally, appears to place
the creation of the earth at circa 4,000 BC, and the Noahic
flood at circa 2,500 BC. These dates put severe constraints
on the date of the "Aryan invasion," and the development
of the four Veda and Upanishad Hindu religious texts. A second
factor supporting this theory was their lack of appreciation
of the sophisticated nature of Vedic culture; they had discounted
it as primitive.
Hinduism differs from Christianity and other Western religions
in that it does not have a single founder, a specific theological
system, a single system of morality, or a central religious
organization. It consists of "thousands of different religious
groups that have evolved in India since 1500 BC."
and the world:
Hinduism has grown to become the world's third largest religion,
after Christianity and Islam. It claims about 762 million
followers - 13% of the world's population. It is the dominant
religion in India, Nepal, and among the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
There are about 1.1 million Hindus in the U.S., and about
157,015 in Canada.
religions have traditionally been among the world's most religiously
tolerant. Hinduism remains arguably the most tolerant of polytheistic
religions. However, during the past few years, a Hindu nationalistic
political party has controlled the government of India. The
linkage of religion, the federal government and nationalism
has led to a degeneration in the level of religious tolerance
in that country. The escalation of anti-Christian violence
is one manifestation of this linkage.
beliefs and practices:
At the heart of Hinduism is the panentheistic principle of Brahman,
that all reality is a unity. The entire universe is one divine
entity who is simultaneously at one with the universe and who
transcends it as well. Deity is simultaneously visualized as
Brahma the Creator who is continuing to create new
Vishnu, (Krishna) the Preserver, who preserves these
new creations. Whenever Dharma (eternal order, righteousness,
religion, law and duty) is threatened, Vishnu travels from
heaven to earth in one of ten incarnations.
Siva, the Destroyer, is at times compassionate, erotic
Hindus follow one of two major divisions within Hinduism:
Vaishnavaism: which generally regards Vishnu as the
Shivaism: which generally regards Shiva as the ultimate
many hundreds of Hindu Gods and Goddesses are worshipped as
various aspects of that unity. Depending upon ones view, Hinduism
can be looked upon as a monotheistic, trinitarian, or polytheistic
The main goal for the "nivritti," those who renounce
the world. is: moksa: Liberation from "samsara,"
the This is considered the supreme end of mankind.
is often practiced, with Yoga being the most common. Other
activities include daily devotions, public rituals, and puja
a ceremonial dinner for a God.
has a deserved reputation of being highly tolerant of other
religions. Hindus have a saying: "Ekam Sataha Vipraha
Bahudha Vadanti," which may be translated: "The
truth is One, but different Sages call it by Different Names"
The most important of all Hindu texts is the Bhagavad
Gita which is a poem describing a conversation between
a warrior Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna. It is an ancient
text that has become central to Hinduism and other belief
systems. Vedism survives in the Rigveda, (a.k.a. Rig
Veda) a collection of over a thousand hymns. Other
texts include the Brahmanas, the Sutras, and the Aranyakas.