According to multiple scholars, Hinduism remains the World’s oldest religion, with origins dating back to over 4,00 years (History, n.d). The religion consists of over 900 million followers and is the third largest religious group after Islam and Christianity. The Hindu religious group primarily resides in India as they mostly prefer to live together due to religious, security, and social reasons. Hinduism is unique due to its lack of a single religion but a merger of several philosophies and traditions. The Hinduism religion worships several Goddesses and Gods. Three distinct Gods rule the world: Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva. Hinduism is anchored on several beliefs that help keep their faith high and united. Lord Vishnu (the preserver) accomplished his job of preserving the world after his self-incarnation through different forms during a crisis. According to Hinduism, each of the three Gods has consorts who act as goddesses too. Brahma’s consort is Sarasvati (goddess of learning), Shiva’s consort is worshipped as Durga or Kali (Parvati), while Vishnu’s consort is Goddess Lakshmi (goddess of prosperity and wealth) (Philosophy, 2001). Hindus refer to their Goddesses as ‘Ma’ to mean mother. Additionally, Hinduism follows a complicated system of worship and beliefs and holds a diverse sense of history. This essay aims at exploring the beliefs and History of Hinduism. Hinduism is anchored on several key pillars, such as the existence of God, the divinity of all human beings, religious harmony, and the unity of existence that has propelled its existence for centuries.
Beliefs of the Hindu Religion
The specific disciplines and principles of Hinduism vary according to the different sects, even though there exist commonalities that represent the cornerstone of the entire religion, reflected and expressed in historical Veddas writings. The varied Hinduism sects follow several beliefs:
The Existence of God
Hindus believe in the existence of one Absolute Divine. The Absolute OM is the singular force considered by Hindus as the divine connector of all facets together. This divine being, according to Hinduism, is the Lord of All Creation and acts as a supreme sound guiding every Hindu-believing human being. There exist several forms of the OM, such as Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. Most Hindus believe in the existence of one supreme God (The Brahman) (Das, 2005). All actions and guidelines surrounding Hinduism occur as a manifestation of Brahman, even though Brahman’s powers and qualities may sometimes be shared amongst a range of other gods under him. Several Hindu beliefs and schools of philosophy are subjected to Brahman’s relationship and concept in reference to individual souls and nature. According to Hinduism, all creatures, the Earth, and the universe were created as constituent gods that emanated from Brahman, Brahma. Even though human life differs by a greater magnitude from that of the gods, the birth and dissolution of the world are directly linked to Brahma’s life. Hindus believe that Brahma’s lifespan is over 300 trillion human calendars because a single day in Brahma’s life is estimated to be above 8 billion calendar years (Philosophy, 2001). Hindus believe that Brahma is the giver of life and could also take it at will without any explanation to the universe or human beings.
Hindus believe that Brahma created four different periods that make the notion of time cyclical in that they inhabit a universe that is continually flowing across those periods. As periods change, the human society diminishes or degrades spiritually, morally, and in other human qualities that lower their abilities, activity, and normalcy than before. The concept of God changes from one group to the next due to historical advancements and developments that made Hinduism a regional religion instead of the initial doctrinal one. Basically, the Hinduism god is one but also in many forms.
The Divinity of all Human Beings
Hinduism is anchored on the belief that human beings are divine beings, extraordinary from all other creatures present in the entire universe. Moral and ethical behavior is considered the most precious accomplishment by human beings within the Hindu culture. The human soul (jivatma) is regarded as a component of the divine soul (the Paramatma), even though the soul remains in a deluded or dormant condition ununderstandable to a normal human brain (Das, 2005). According to Hinduism, human beings have a sacred mission to awaken their inner souls and attain their correct nature. Human beings are considered unique creations due to their ability and capacity to decide and make rational decisions. Adfditionally, human beings display a sense of respect and recognition of the right to live independently of other people because they are unique creations of theSupreme being.
Hindus believe in the usual perfectionism of human beings as dictated by their thoughts and desires to act right. Hinduism considers tolerance in the differences arising due to nationality and race towards the goodness of humankind. Hindus disregard the shared beliefs of several other religions that several individuals are evil while others are pure in heart. In contrast, every soul is divine and inherently good. According to Veylanswami, “Scriptures tell us that each soul is emanated from God, as a spark from a fire, beginning a spiritual journey which eventually leads back to God. All human beings are on this journey, whether they realize it or not” (Veylanswami, 2012). Hinduism bases its teachings and beliefs on the divinity and purity of humankind and that God created all human beings as reasonable creatures. Hinduism focuses on understanding the reasons behind a particular behavior by an individual as opposed to other religions that sometimes segregate human beings in accordance with their behavior.
Knowledge of the 3Gs
Hinduism bases its tenets on all believers’ complete knowledge and understanding of the three Gs. The 3Gs resemble the Ganges (one of the few rivers in India where cleansing of sins is conducted), the Gayatri (a poem/intonement and also a sacred revealed mantra in the Rig Veda in a similarly specified meter), and the Gita (the Bhagavad-Gita sacred script (Das, 2005). Even though the knowledge of the 3Gs is sometimes unnecessary due to complications with geographical location and sect preferences, most Hindus consider true believers to have perfect knowledge and understanding of the three concepts.
Hinduism considers religious harmony the most fundamental law of nature in that humans are expected to maintain harmony with the universal and fellow creatures. Religious harmony in Hindu-majority regions and nations such as India indicates the existence of love and affection between the diverse regions and individuals. The Indian constitution, for instance, encourages religious harmony whereby Hindus are expected to treat others with harmony, consideration, and care for peaceful coexistence and to appease the gods. According to Hinduism, religious harmony is a fundamental trait that directs Hindus towards accepting and respecting other religions and faiths. Hindu religious teachings encourage followers to respect other religions because God is one only that different groups refer to him by several different names. The majority of Hindus reside in India, a country with over 1 billion inhabitants comprised of over 150 million Muslims, several Christians, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs. They are taught to live in harmony and respect each other (Operandi, 2006). Even though India has experienced inter-religious conflicts in the past, Hindu teachings disapprove of religious disharmony to a large degree.
Unity of Existence
Hinduism anchors its beliefs on the unity of existence whereby followers aim and seek to be at-oneness and in perfect relationships with God, as opposed to living as separate individuals. Hindus believe that oneness with God ranks among the most crucial requirements and aspects of a religious follower rather than being on good terms with fellow humans. The central tenet of Hinduism is that all human existence is dictated by harmony, togetherness, and openness. The Hindu Divine Being is believed to be omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and embodied within each Hindu (Singh, 2001). Oneness with the Divine Being for Hindus starts with oneness with oneself and others before a human being can attain the promised true purpose of life. Oneness with God may be achieved through engaging in the right spirits of sacrifice, knowledge of his works, worship, or a combination of the three (Singh, 2001). The understanding of the three tenets of approaching Godenables Hindus to live in harmony with different other religious groups all over the world without conflicts or demeaning their worship modes. Several Hindu teachings claim that true secularism understands others and God as opposed to the total exclusion of religion from an individual’s life.
Basic Hindu Concepts
Hinduism is structured towards a long history of beliefs and fundamental concepts that define coexistence and progress. For instance, Hinduism embraces several religious affiliations and ideas. Essentially, Hinduism is commonly referred to as a “family of religions” or a “way of life,” as opposed to an organized, single religion. Additionally, Hinduism is henotheistic in that they worship Brahman, a single deity, but recognize several other goddesses and gods. Hindus believe that there exist several ways to reach their God (History, n.d). Furthermore, Hindus also believe in the samsara doctrines, which denote a continuous cycle of death, reincarnation, and life. Hindus also believe in karma which is the general law of effect and cause in that their Divine Being has a way of rewarding and punishing individuals accordingly and in equal measures.
Hinduism is also anchored on the crucial thought of “atman,” which denotes the historical belief in the existence of the soul. Human beings seek to achieve salvation (moksha) and are reborn to become a component of the absolute human soul. Hindus believe that the fundamental principle of religion is the notion that people’s thoughts and actions directly predict their future and current lives History, n.d). Hindus tussle to achieve dharma, a specific living manner that promotes morality and good conduct. Among the most referred to beliefs by Hindus is the reverence for all living creatures and the general consideration of the cow as a sacred animal or worship object. Due to the deep connection with animals, most Hindus do not eat pork, beef, and several vegetables, even though food is a crucial component of their religious culture (History, n.d). Hinduism is based on worshiping several objects, animals, and a Divine Being that unites followers and creates peaceful coexistence amongst other races, religions, and nationalities.
Finally, Hindus value several sacred religious writings as opposed to a single holy piece, as evident with other religions such as Christianity and Islam. The Vedas, Hindu primary sacred writings, were drafted around 1500 B.C. and is a collection of hymns and verses written by Sanskrit containing religious revelations received by ancient sages and saints. The Vedas include Atharvaveda, Yajurveda, The Samaveda, and the Rig Veda (History, n.d). Hindus believe that all Vedas transcend forever and do not have an end or a beginning.
Origins of Hinduism
Most researchers and scholars believe that Hinduism began between 1500 BC and 2300 BC around the Indus Valley, close to modern-day Pakistan (Mark, 2020). On the contrary, most Hindu communities argue that Hinduism is a timeless religion that has existed forever. Unlike many other religions in the world, Hinduism lacks a single founder because it is a combination of various beliefs. After the migration of the Indo-Aryan community to the Indus Valley around 1500 B.C. before merging with the culture and language of the region’s indigenous inhabitants (Mark, 2020). During the “Vedic Period,” Vedas were composed and several rituals, chanting, and sacrifices were commonly performed to occur as the initial Hinduism tenets. Additionally, Hinduism was later characterized by the emphasis on to worship of several dieties such as Devi, Shiva, and Vishnu between the 500 B.C. and 500 A.D during the Puranic, Epic, and Classic periods (History, n.d). The concepts of dharma would later be introduced in texts as several other faiths and religions, such as Jainism and Buddhism, rapidly spread.
Hinduism vs. Buddhism
Historically, Buddhism and Hinduism possess several similarities derived from the origin periods. Research shows that Buddhism arose from several Hinduism sects, and all anchor their faith on karma, reincarnation, and devotion as pathways toward enlightenment and salvation (History, n.d). Buddhists reject Hinduism rituals and the caste system. The Hindu faith differs from Buddhism in the involvement of priesthood and gods.
Medieval and Modern Hindu History
The Hinduism Medieval Period lasted over 1000 years up to 1500 A.D., as evident in historical records by poet-saints and other crucial Hindu leaders (History, n.d). Over the 17th century, several Muslim invaders invaded certain areas in India inhabited by Hindus. The Muslim rulers restricted Hindus from participating in their standard worship patterns before destroying their temples. Hinduism faced competition from Muslim invaders over the medieval period as plunderers and freebooters became a controlling force all over Asia, setting strict rules enforced by great empires. Over the medieval period, Hinduism was stretched and limited as temples were destroyed, new religions instituted, and other harsh methods were employed to uplift Islam and convert Hindus to Islam. Despite all the suffering by Hindus over the Medieval period, Hindu followers clung to their religion and rooted to their roots in a mode that ensured Hindu progress.
Medieval Hinduism developments set the foundations for modern-day Hindu religion, mainly the devotional; and theistic elements. Contemporary Hinduism borrows from the poems of Southern poet-saints who recorded spiritual and spontaneous outpourings, particularly the sixty-three Shaivite Nayanars (8th-10th centuries) and the twelve Vaishnava Alvars (6th-9th centuries) (The Heart, n.d). Several preceding Hindu thinkers and scholars consolidated these writings through theological developments transmitted through disciplic processes that passed Hindu norms, beliefs, and teachings to contemporary Hindus. Modern-day Hindu beliefs have evolved at a slower rate concerning medieval traditions due to solid adherence to norms and other successive teachings and cultures. Similarly, medieval period Hindu leaders traveled widely preaching the gospel and norms to other Hindus to fight external influence and brainwashing from Islam, Buddhists, and Jainism. Historically, Hindu history has been preserved by staunch leaders who devoted their lives to serving humanity and their supreme being.
The Muslim Period (1200–1757 CE)
Beginning in the 7th century, Arab-Muslims commenced their invasion of India, whereby Turks enforced Muslim power and ruled in Delhi (12-06-1526) before the Mogul takeover (1526) (The Heart, n.d). Hinduism faced several extinction threats from periodic invasions and Muslim rule from lethal and more powerful armies but persevered in the end through devotion and togetherness as enshrined in Hindu traditions. Several Hindu leaders were murdered, blackmailed, or maimed to drop their faith and adopt Islam in a period that saw Hindu popularity growing all over India. Leaders arose from the Hindu community to condemn external pressure and torture, calling for unity, perseverance, and the importance of oneness with God. The bhakti saints gained prominence over this period by expressing devotional messages through poems, songs, music, and theological egalitarianism. Generally, Hinduism persevered through the Muslim invasion.
The British Period (1757–1948)
British supremacy engulfed India after Robert Clive’s war victory in 1757 at the Battle of Plassey to establish British rule that was anchored on Christianity and Westernization (The Heart, n.d). The initial British government adopted a friendly rule in India before the arrival of missionaries who embarked on a conversion mission that forced Christianity on the native Hindus. Britain was later forced to adopt a more lenient rule that guaranteed Hindus the freedom and rights to worship without victimization in return for collaboration. In contrast, the 19th and 20th-century revolts under British rule prompted an understanding between the colonial masters and the natives in a span of activities that allowed Hinduism spread to the West (The Heart, n.d). Hinduism gained much global attention and popularity during the British rule of India and has since been recognized as a global religious movement.
Independent India and Modern Hinduism (1948 onwards)
With the 1947 partition of India and the resultant human bloodshed and massacre, India returned to a more nationalistic reinforced tendency as a “Hindu country” (The Heart, n.d). Furthermore, the Westernization of Hinduism and the resultant migrations out of India meant that Hinduism would no longer be “the religion of India” but rather a global religion with a considerably higher following to tackle issues on a reinforced platform. With constant interaction with members of other religions, Hindus worldwide can trace their roots and carefully examine their heritage and culture. Hinduism is now recognized among the world’s great religions and undergoes massive transformations, as evident in Hindu religious celebrations and holidays such as Diwali (History, n.d). Hinduism has evolved and is now inculcated in the histories and culture of many formerly Islamic, Christian, and Buddhist communities.
Hinduism began under conflicted circumstances and has grown over harsh times and periods to become a contemporary global religion. Hindus follow a strict mode of beliefs intertwined with their rich and long history aimed at worshipping their God and finding familiar situations with fellow human beings. Hindus worship animals, especially cows, and desist from beef and pork intake. One of the most preferred beliefs by Hindus is the desire to find oneness with the Supreme creator with the hopes of reincarnation. Hinduism lies under a great historical background that overcame the harsh rule of Muslim invaders such as the Turks and the Mongol empire. The British rule over India propelled the Hindu religion towards Westernization and global recognition to the largely followed movement it is today. Hinduism is anchored on beliefs that desist from segregating people according to their flaws and misdoings but focus on understanding the underlying situations behind such misbehavior. Finally, Hinduism is a culmination of several groups that follow several readings as opposed to a single book, as is the case with Christianity or Islam.
Das, S. (2005, July 3). The 5 principles and 10 disciplines of Hinduism. Learn Religions.https://www.learnreligions.com/principles-and-disciplines-of-hinduism-1770057
History. (n.d). Hinduism. https://www.history.com/topics/religion/hinduism
Mark, J. J. (2020, June 8). Hinduism. World History Encyclopedia. https://www.worldhistory.org/hinduism/
Operandi, M. (2006). Inter-religious harmony and religions for peace and transformation. Irénées.https://www.irenees.net/bdf_fiche-analyse-513_en.html
Philosophy of Religion. (2001). Religions of the World. Hinduism.https://www.qcc.cuny.edu/socialsciences/ppecorino/phil_of_religion_text/chapter_2_religions/hinduism.htm
Singh, P. (2001, November 25). Hinduism could promote unity. Tampa Bay Times.https://www.tampabay.com/archive/2001/11/25/hinduism-could-promote-unity/
The Heart of Hinduism. (n.d). Medieval and Modern History. https://iskconeducationalservices.org/HoH/tradition/historical-perspective/medieval-and-modern-history/
Veylanswami, S. B. (2012, February 12). Sinner or divinity? Hinduism Today.https://www.hinduismtoday.com/magazine/october-november-december-2012/2012-10-publisher-s-desk-sinner-or-divinity/