Origins of Hinduism
There is no specific date as to when Hinduism was formed. It was considered by the Europeans to have been in existence from around 1500-3000 B.C., parallel to the beginning of the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian civilizations and that the Aryan invasion catalyzed this. This theory was pushed by Nazi Germany. However, many now think that there was no Aryan invasion theory, & therefore Hinduism has always been out of and part of ancient India .
Hinduism is not even an accurate Sanskrit word. The word Hindu was a label given by Muslim invaders invading Ancient India. There is a river called the Indus River which was in Ancient India & is now in present day Pakistan . The Muslim invaders mispronounced the people living by the river & instead of calling them the Indus people, they instead called them the Hindus people.
Hinduism cannot be called an organized religion. Rather, it is a federation of loosely banded religions and cultures. Whereas the majority of other religions are based on a person or prophet, Hinduism has no main prophet or person that founded the religion. Many people of Hindu faith do not consider Buddhism, Sikhism, & Jainism to be separate from them.
Tenets of Hinduism
Four Goals of Life
Four Stages of Life
Based on the assumption that a man lives for 100 years.
Brahmacharya 1 to 25 years. Spent in celibate, sober and pure contemplation of life's secrets under a Guru, building up body and mind for the responsibilities of life. Brahmacharya is the phase where a human obtains knowledge of God and the world, while learning to keep strict control of his mind, senses and body.
Grihasthya 25 to 50 years. The householder's stage, alternatively known as samsara, in which one marries and satisfies karma and artha within a married life and professional career.
Vanaprastha - 50 to 75 years. The gradual detachment from the material world, ostensibly giving over duties to one's sons and daughters, spending more time in contemplation of the truth, and making holy pilgrimages.
Sanyasa 75 to 100 years. The individual goes off into seclusion, often envisioned as the forest, to find God through Yogic meditation and peacefully shed the body for the next life.
Four major denominations in Hinduism
Hinduism does not teach god as having one true form. It is believed that because god is the almighty, god is everywhere & everything; he/she has no one main identity. It is incorrect when it is taught that Hindus believe in more then one god. In actuality it is that Hindus believe in one almighty power that a human can't comprehend as "one true main form," hence the reason why there are many different versions of this one true form. To be Hindu you have the option of praying to some or all the different forms of the higher power, or to just pray to one almighty power.
Monists believing in different manifestations of the same God often confused with polytheism.
Smarthism Main tenet is the monist belief in the sameness of all the deities, and its conceptualization of the myriad deities of India as various manifestations of the one divine power. The Supreme Court of India defines Hinduism using the Smarthi school of thought, as it is the most secular.
Vaishnavism - the branch of Hinduism in which Vishnu or one of his avatars is worshipped as the supreme God and is a monotheistic faith. Followers of Vaishnavism are called Vaishnavites.
Saivism - branch of Hinduism that worships Siva as the Supreme God. Followers of Saivism are called Saivas or Saivites. Saivism is a monotheistic faith. It is parallel to Vaishnavism in its monotheistic belief; its supreme God is the only difference.
Shaktism - a denomination of Hinduism that worships Shakti, or Devi -- the Hindu name for the Great Mother -- in all of her forms whilst not rejecting the importance of masculine and neuter divinity. In pure Shaktism, the Great Goddess, or Devi, is worshiped as nothing less than the highest divinity, Supreme Brahman Itself, the "one without a second," with all other forms of Divinity, female or male, considered as merely her diverse manifestations.
The Four Vedas
Hindus believe that the Vedas existed since time immemorial as vibrations in space, some portions of which are believed to have been perceived by seers and transmitted accordingly via an oral tradition. The four books are:
1. Rig Veda oldest and longest. This long collection of short hymns is mostly devoted to the praise of the gods. However, it also contains fragmentary references to historical events, notably the struggle between the early Vedic people (known as Aryans, more precisely Indo-Aryans) and their enemies, the Dasa.
2. Yajur Veda - contains religious texts focusing on liturgy and ritual.
3. Sama Veda - consists chiefly of hymns to be chanted by the Udgatar priests at the performance of those important sacrifices in which the juice of the Soma plant, clarified and mixed with milk and other ingredients, was offered in libation to various deities.
4. Atharva-Veda the last Veda, contains hymns, especially dedicated to the Fire deity.
The four varnas (literally, 'colours') or castes once had equal standing in the society and were based upon the duties to society. These duties worked together towards the welfare of a society. Caste in the older days is similar to caste in todays world. There are those who are preachers, soldiers, skilled workers, & those who have low-income jobs. It was never meant as the negative view that people have today of caste.
Brahmins the priestly caste.
Kshatriyas a member of the military or reigning order
Vaishyas mercantile caste.
Shudras - traditional roles providing menial labor, which was not necessarily unclean.
Religious Symbols/ Customs
Om - Aum is the standard sign of Hinduism, and is prefixed and sometimes suffixed to all Hindu mantras and prayers. It contains an enormous and diverse amount of symbolism; Hindus consider its sound and vibration to be the divine representation of existence, encompassing all of manifold nature into the One eternal truth. Thus it represents the supreme energy or Brahman.
Ahimsa and Cow - Ahimsa means non-violence.' Hindus believe in a transcendent as well as an immanent God. Thus, in a bid to respect the higher forms of life, many Hindus are vegetarians, limiting their diet to vegetables and plants.
The cow is an important, sacred animal in Hinduism. This reverence probably stemmed from the value that was placed on the cow and bullock in an agricultural country, and evolved into obtaining a religious sentiment. Some Gods have cows or buffalos as their sacred animal consorts. Hindus abstain from eating beef and even try to avoid leather products.
Swastika - is an Arya, or noble symbol. It stands for satya, truth, and stability within the power of Brahma or, alternatively, of Surya, the sun. Its rotation in four directions has been used to represent many ideas, but primarily describes the four directions and their harmonious whole. It has been used in Hinduism since the early Vedic culture and is still widespread in the Indian subcontinent.
© Samyukta Mullangi 2005