An Overview of Hinduism
In this introduction to Hinduism there are sections on:
• Early History
• Sacred Texts
• Beliefs and Practices
• Sects and Denominations
Early History of Hinduism
Hinduism is derived from the Persian word for Indian. It 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 religious organization. Its roots are traceable to the
Indus valley civilization circa 4000 to 2200 BCE. Its development
was influenced by many invasions over thousands of years. One of the
major influences occurred when Indo-Europeans invaded Northern India
(circa 1500 to 500 BCE) from the steppes of Russia and Central Asia.
They brought with them their religion of Vedism. These beliefs became
mixed with the indigenous Indian native beliefs.
During the first few centuries CE, many sects were created, each dedicated
to a specific deity. Typical among these were the Goddesses Shakti
and Lakshmi, and the Gods Skanda and Surya. Hinduism grew to become
the world's third largest religion, claiming about 13% of the world's
population. They form the dominant religion in India, Malaysia and
Sri Lanka. Hindus totaled 157,015 in Canada's 1991 census.
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. Vedism survives in the Rigveda, a collection of
over a thousand hymns. Other texts include the Brahmanas, the Sutras,
and the Aranyakas.
Hindu Beliefs and Practices
• At the heart of Hinduism is the monotheistic principle of
Brahman, that all reality is a unity; the entire universe is one divine
entity. Deity is simultaneously visualized as a triad:
• Brahma the Creator who is continuing to create new realities
• Vishnu, the Preserver, who preservers 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.
• Shiva, the Destroyer, is at times compassionate, erotic and
Simultaneously, 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 Rigveda defined five social castes. Ones caste determined the
range of jobs or professions from which one could choose. Marriages
normally took place within the same caste. One normally was of the
same caste as one's parents. In decreasing status, the five castes
• Brahmins (the priests and academics)
• Kshatriyas (the military),
• Vaishyas (farmers and merchants)
• Sudras (peasants and servants).
• Harijan (the outcasts, commonly known as the untouchables)
Although the caste system was abolished by law in 1949, it remains
a significant force throughout India, particularly in the south. Humans
are perceived as being trapped in samsara, a meaningless cycle of
birth, life, death and rebirth. Karma is the accumulated sum of ones
good and bad deeds. Karma determines how you will live your next life.
Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be reborn at a higher
level. Eventually, one can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment.
Bad deeds can cause a person to be reborn as a lower level, or even
as an animal. The unequal distribution of wealth, prestige, suffering
are thus seen as natural consequences for ones previous acts, both
in this life and in previous lives.
Meditation is often practiced, with Yoga being the most common. Other
activities include daily devotions, public rituals, and puja a ceremonial
dinner for a God.
Hindu Sects and Denominations
About 80% of Hindus are Vaishnavites, who worship Lord Vishnu. Others
follow various reform movements or neo-Hindu sects.
Various sects of Hinduism have evolved into separate religious movements,
including Hare Krishna, Sikhism and Theosophy. Transcendental Meditation
was derived from a Hindu technique of meditation. The New Age movement
has taken many of its concepts from Hinduism.
With thanks to the Religious Tolerance Organisation of Ontario for
the Information on this page
Holy Days in Hinduism
1. Maha Shivarathri, is a festival dedicated to Shiva in mid-February
2. Holi, a spring festival, is held in early March. It is a carnival-like
celebration featuring bright colors, bonfires, and pilgrimages.
It is dedicated to Krishna or Kama, the God of Pleasure.
3. Ramnavami, the anniversary of the birth of Rama, is held in late
March. Rama was an incarnation of Vishnu.
4. Wesak, the birthday of the Buddha is celebrated in early April
by Buddhists in the Mahayana tradition.
5. Dusserah, a festival celebrating the triumph of good over evil
is in early November. It is derived from early Hindu stories of
struggles between a Goddess and a demon.
6. Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights is held in mid November.
It is mainly dedicated to Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. It is
the Hindu new year.
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