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Religion widely practiced in the Indian subcontinent

Top 10 Hinduism related articles

Hinduism (/ˈhin-dizəm/)[note 1] is an Indian religion and dharma, or way of life.[note 2][note 3] It is the world's third-largest religion, with over 1.25 billion followers, or 15–16% of the global population, known as Hindus.[web 1][web 2] The word Hindu is an exonym,[1][2] and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world after Jainism,[note 4] many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma (Sanskrit: सनातन धर्म, lit.''the Eternal way''), which refers to the idea that its origins lie beyond human history, as revealed in the Hindu texts.[3][4][5][6][note 5] Another, though less fitting,[7] self-designation is Vaidika dharma,[8][9][10][11] the 'dharma related to the Vedas.'[web 3]

Hinduism is a diverse system of thought marked by a range of philosophies and shared concepts, rituals, cosmological systems, pilgrimage sites and shared textual sources that discuss theology, metaphysics, mythology, Vedic yajna, yoga, agamic rituals, and temple building, among other topics.[12] Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include the four Puruṣārthas, the proper goals or aims of human life; namely, dharma (ethics/duties), artha (prosperity/work), kama (desires/passions) and moksha (liberation/freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth/salvation),[13][14] as well as karma (action, intent and consequences) and saṃsāra (cycle of death and rebirth).[15][16] Hinduism prescribes the eternal duties, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings (Ahiṃsā), patience, forbearance, self-restraint, virtue, and compassion, among others.[web 4][17]

Hindu practices include rituals such as puja (worship) and recitations, japa, meditation (dhyāna), family-oriented rites of passage, annual festivals, and occasional pilgrimages. Along with the practice of various yogas, some Hindus leave their social world and material possessions and engage in lifelong Sannyasa (monasticism) in order to achieve Moksha.[18]

Hindu texts are classified into Śruti ("heard") and Smṛti ("remembered"), the major scriptures of which are the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Purānas, the Mahābhārata, the Rāmāyana, and the Āgamas.[19][15] There are six āstika schools of Hindu philosophy, who recognise the authority of the Vedas, namely Sānkhya, Yoga, Nyāya, Vaisheshika, Mimāmsā and Vedānta.[20][21][22]

While the Puranic chronology presents a geneaology of thousands of years, starting with the Vedic rishis, scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion[note 6] or synthesis[23][note 7] of Brahmanical orthopraxy[note 8] with various Indian cultures,[24][25] having diverse roots[26][note 9] and no specific founder.[32] This Hindu synthesis emerged after the Vedic period, between ca. 500[33]–200[34] BCE and ca. 300 CE,[33] in the period of the Second Urbanisation and the early classical period of Hinduism, when the Epics and the first Purānas were composed.[33][34] It flourished in the medieval period, with the decline of Buddhism in India.[35]

Currently, the four largest denominations of Hinduism are Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism.[36] Sources of authority and eternal truths in the Hindu texts play an important role, but there is also a strong Hindu tradition of questioning authority in order to deepen the understanding of these truths and to further develop the tradition.[37] Hinduism is the most widely professed faith in India, Nepal and Mauritius. Significant numbers of Hindu communities are found in Southeast Asia including in Bali, Indonesia,[38] the Caribbean, North America, Europe, Oceania, Africa, and other regions.[39][40] Hinduism is the second fastest-growing religion in the world, after Islam with a growth of 17%.[41][42]

Hinduism Intro articles: 63


A Balinese Hindu family after puja at Bratan temple in Bali, Indonesia.

The word Hindū is derived from Indo-Aryan[43]/Sanskrit[44] root Sindhu.[44][45] The Proto-Iranian sound change *s > h occurred between 850 and 600 BCE, according to Asko Parpola.[46]

The use of the English term "Hinduism" to describe a collection of practices and beliefs is a fairly recent construction: it was first used by Raja Ram Mohun Roy in 1816–17.[47] The term "Hinduism" was coined in around 1830 by those Indians who opposed British colonialism, and who wanted to distinguish themselves from other religious groups.[47][48][49] Before the British began to categorise communities strictly by religion, Indians generally did not define themselves exclusively through their religious beliefs; instead identities were largely segmented on the basis of locality, language, varṇa, jāti, occupation and sect.[50]

The word "Hindu" is much older, and it is believed that it was used as the name for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent.[47][44][note 10] According to Gavin Flood, "The actual term Hindu first occurs as a Persian geographical term for the people who lived beyond the river Indus (Sanskrit: Sindhu)",[44] more specifically in the 6th-century BCE inscription of Darius I (550–486 BCE).[51] The term Hindu in these ancient records is a geographical term and did not refer to a religion.[44] Among the earliest known records of 'Hindu' with connotations of religion may be in the 7th-century CE Chinese text Record of the Western Regions by Xuanzang,[51] and 14th-century Persian text Futuhu's-salatin by 'Abd al-Malik Isami.[note 11]

Thapar states that the word Hindu is found as heptahindu in Avesta – equivalent to Rigvedic sapta sindhu, while hndstn (pronounced Hindustan) is found in a Sasanian inscription from the 3rd century CE, both of which refer to parts of northwestern South Asia.[52] The Arabic term al-Hind referred to the people who live across the River Indus.[53] This Arabic term was itself taken from the pre-Islamic Persian term Hindū, which refers to all Indians. By the 13th century, Hindustan emerged as a popular alternative name of India, meaning the "land of Hindus".[54][note 12]

The term Hindu was later used occasionally in some Sanskrit texts such as the later Rajataranginis of Kashmir (Hinduka, c. 1450) and some 16th- to 18th-century Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava texts including Chaitanya Charitamrita and Chaitanya Bhagavata. These texts used it to distinguish Hindus from Muslims who are called Yavanas (foreigners) or Mlecchas (barbarians), with the 16th-century Chaitanya Charitamrita text and the 17th-century Bhakta Mala text using the phrase "Hindu dharma".[56] It was only towards the end of the 18th century that European merchants and colonists began to refer to the followers of Indian religions collectively as Hindus.

The term Hinduism, then spelled Hindooism, was introduced into the English language in the 18th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India.[57]

Hinduism Etymology articles: 24


Hinduism includes a diversity of ideas on spirituality and traditions, but has no ecclesiastical order, no unquestionable religious authorities, no governing body, no prophet(s) nor any binding holy book; Hindus can choose to be polytheistic, pantheistic, panentheistic, pandeistic, henotheistic, monotheistic, monistic, agnostic, atheistic or humanist.[58][59][60] According to Doniger, "ideas about all the major issues of faith and lifestyle – vegetarianism, nonviolence, belief in rebirth, even caste – are subjects of debate, not dogma."[50]

Because of the wide range of traditions and ideas covered by the term Hinduism, arriving at a comprehensive definition is difficult.[44] The religion "defies our desire to define and categorize it".[61] Hinduism has been variously defined as a religion, a religious tradition, a set of religious beliefs, and "a way of life".[62][note 2] From a Western lexical standpoint, Hinduism like other faiths is appropriately referred to as a religion. In India, the term dharma is preferred, which is broader than the Western term religion.

The study of India and its cultures and religions, and the definition of "Hinduism", has been shaped by the interests of colonialism and by Western notions of religion.[63][64] Since the 1990s, those influences and its outcomes have been the topic of debate among scholars of Hinduism,[63][note 13] and have also been taken over by critics of the Western view on India.[65][note 14]


Om, a stylized letter of Devanagari script, used as a religious symbol in Hinduism

Hinduism as it is commonly known can be subdivided into a number of major currents. Of the historical division into six darsanas (philosophies), two schools, Vedanta and Yoga, are currently the most prominent.[20] Classified by primary deity or deities, four major Hinduism modern currents are Vaishnavism (Vishnu), Shaivism (Shiva), Shaktism (Devi) and Smartism (five deities treated as same).[66][67] Hinduism also accepts numerous divine beings, with many Hindus considering the deities to be aspects or manifestations of a single impersonal absolute or ultimate reality or God, while some Hindus maintain that a specific deity represents the supreme and various deities are lower manifestations of this supreme.[68] Other notable characteristics include a belief in the existence of ātman (soul, self), reincarnation of one's ātman, and karma as well as a belief in dharma (duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and right way of living).

McDaniel (2007) classifies Hinduism into six major kinds and numerous minor kinds, in order to understand the expression of emotions among the Hindus.[69] The major kinds, according to McDaniel are Folk Hinduism, based on local traditions and cults of local deities and is the oldest, non-literate system; Vedic Hinduism based on the earliest layers of the Vedas traceable to 2nd millennium BCE; Vedantic Hinduism based on the philosophy of the Upanishads, including Advaita Vedanta, emphasizing knowledge and wisdom; Yogic Hinduism, following the text of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali emphasizing introspective awareness; Dharmic Hinduism or "daily morality", which McDaniel states is stereotyped in some books as the "only form of Hindu religion with a belief in karma, cows and caste"; and bhakti or devotional Hinduism, where intense emotions are elaborately incorporated in the pursuit of the spiritual.[69]

Michaels distinguishes three Hindu religions and four forms of Hindu religiosity.[70] The three Hindu religions are "Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism", "folk religions and tribal religions", and "founded religions".[71] The four forms of Hindu religiosity are the classical "karma-marga",[72] jnana-marga,[73] bhakti-marga,[73] and "heroism", which is rooted in militaristic traditions. These militaristic traditions include Ramaism (the worship of a hero of epic literature, Rama, believing him to be an incarnation of Vishnu)[74] and parts of political Hinduism.[72] "Heroism" is also called virya-marga.[73] According to Michaels, one out of nine Hindu belongs by birth to one or both of the Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism and Folk religion typology, whether practicing or non-practicing. He classifies most Hindus as belonging by choice to one of the "founded religions" such as Vaishnavism and Shaivism that are salvation-focussed and often de-emphasize Brahman priestly authority yet incorporate ritual grammar of Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism.[75] He includes among "founded religions" Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism that are now distinct religions, syncretic movements such as Brahmo Samaj and the Theosophical Society, as well as various "Guru-isms" and new religious movements such as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and ISKCON.[76]

Inden states that the attempt to classify Hinduism by typology started in the imperial times, when proselytizing missionaries and colonial officials sought to understand and portray Hinduism from their interests.[77] Hinduism was construed as emanating not from a reason of spirit but fantasy and creative imagination, not conceptual but symbolical, not ethical but emotive, not rational or spiritual but of cognitive mysticism. This stereotype followed and fit, states Inden, with the imperial imperatives of the era, providing the moral justification for the colonial project.[77] From tribal Animism to Buddhism, everything was subsumed as part of Hinduism. The early reports set the tradition and scholarly premises for the typology of Hinduism, as well as the major assumptions and flawed presuppositions that have been at the foundation of Indology. Hinduism, according to Inden, has been neither what imperial religionists stereotyped it to be, nor is it appropriate to equate Hinduism to be merely the monist pantheism and philosophical idealism of Advaita Vedanta.[77]

Hindu views

Sanātana Dharma

To its adherents, Hinduism is a traditional way of life.[78] Many practitioners refer to the "orthodox" form of Hinduism as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal law" or the "eternal way".[79][80] Hindus regard Hinduism to be thousands of years old. The Puranic chronology, the timeline of events in ancient Indian history as narrated in the Mahabaratha, the Ramayana, and the Puranas, envisions a chronology of events related to Hinduism starting well before 3000 BCE. The Sanskrit word dharma has a much broader meaning than religion and is not its equivalent. All aspects of a Hindu life, namely acquiring wealth (artha), fulfillment of desires (kama), and attaining liberation (moksha), are part of dharma, which encapsulates the "right way of living" and eternal harmonious principles in their fulfillment.[81][82]

According to the editors of the Encyclopædia Britannica, Sanātana Dharma historically referred to the "eternal" duties religiously ordained in Hinduism, duties such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings (ahiṃsā), purity, goodwill, mercy, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, generosity, and asceticism. These duties applied regardless of a Hindu's class, caste, or sect, and they contrasted with svadharma, one's "own duty", in accordance with one's class or caste (varṇa) and stage in life (puruṣārtha).[web 4] In recent years, the term has been used by Hindu leaders, reformers, and nationalists to refer to Hinduism. Sanatana dharma has become a synonym for the "eternal" truth and teachings of Hinduism, that transcend history and are "unchanging, indivisible and ultimately nonsectarian".[web 4]

According to other scholars such as Kim Knott and Brian Hatcher, Sanātana Dharma refers to "timeless, eternal set of truths" and this is how Hindus view the origins of their religion. It is viewed as those eternal truths and tradition with origins beyond human history, truths divinely revealed (Shruti) in the Vedas – the most ancient of the world's scriptures.[4][83] To many Hindus, the Western term "religion" to the extent it means "dogma and an institution traceable to a single founder" is inappropriate for their tradition, states Hatcher. Hinduism, to them, is a tradition that can be traced at least to the ancient Vedic era.[4][84][note 15]

Vaidika dharma

Some have referred to Hinduism as the Vaidika dharma.[8] The word 'Vaidika' in Sanskrit means 'derived from or conformable to the Veda' or 'relating to the Veda'.[web 3] Traditional scholars employed the terms Vaidika and Avaidika, those who accept the Vedas as a source of authoritative knowledge and those who do not, to differentiate various Indian schools from Jainism, Buddhism and Charvaka. According to Klaus Klostermaier, the term Vaidika dharma is the earliest self-designation of Hinduism.[9][10] According to Arvind Sharma, the historical evidence suggests that "the Hindus were referring to their religion by the term vaidika dharma or a variant thereof" by the 4th-century CE.[11] According to Brian K. Smith, "[i]t is 'debatable at the very least' as to whether the term Vaidika Dharma cannot, with the proper concessions to historical, cultural and ideological specificity, be comparable to and translated as 'Hinduism' or 'Hindu religion'."[7]

According to Alexis Sanderson, the early Sanskrit texts differentiate between Vaidika, Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shakta, Saura, Buddhist and Jaina traditions. However, the late 1st-millennium CE Indic consensus had "indeed come to conceptualize a complex entity corresponding to Hinduism as opposed to Buddhism and Jainism excluding only certain forms of antinomian Shakta-Shaiva" from its fold.[web 5] Some in the Mimamsa school of Hindu philosophy considered the Agamas such as the Pancaratrika to be invalid because it did not conform to the Vedas. Some Kashmiri scholars rejected the esoteric tantric traditions to be a part of Vaidika dharma.[web 5][web 6] The Atimarga Shaivism ascetic tradition, datable to about 500 CE, challenged the Vaidika frame and insisted that their Agamas and practices were not only valid, they were superior than those of the Vaidikas.[web 7] However, adds Sanderson, this Shaiva ascetic tradition viewed themselves as being genuinely true to the Vedic tradition and "held unanimously that the Śruti and Smṛti of Brahmanism are universally and uniquely valid in their own sphere, [...] and that as such they [Vedas] are man's sole means of valid knowledge [...]".[web 7]

The term Vaidika dharma means a code of practice that is "based on the Vedas", but it is unclear what "based on the Vedas" really implies, states Julius Lipner.[84] The Vaidika dharma or "Vedic way of life", states Lipner, does not mean "Hinduism is necessarily religious" or that Hindus have a universally accepted "conventional or institutional meaning" for that term.[84] To many, it is as much a cultural term. Many Hindus do not have a copy of the Vedas nor have they ever seen or personally read parts of a Veda, like a Christian, might relate to the Bible or a Muslim might to the Quran. Yet, states Lipner, "this does not mean that their [Hindus] whole life's orientation cannot be traced to the Vedas or that it does not in some way derive from it".[84]

Though many religious Hindus implicitly acknowledge the authority of the Vedas, this acknowledgment is often "no more than a declaration that someone considers himself [or herself] a Hindu,"[86][note 16] and "most Indians today pay lip service to the Veda and have no regard for the contents of the text."[87] Some Hindus challenge the authority of the Vedas, thereby implicitly acknowledging its importance to the history of Hinduism, states Lipner.[84]

Hindu modernism

Swami Vivekananda was a key figure in introducing Vedanta and Yoga in Europe and the United States,[88] raising interfaith awareness and making Hinduism a world religion.[89]

Beginning in the 19th century, Indian modernists re-asserted Hinduism as a major asset of Indian civilisation,[64] meanwhile "purifying" Hinduism from its Tantric elements[90] and elevating the Vedic elements. Western stereotypes were reversed, emphasizing the universal aspects, and introducing modern approaches of social problems.[64] This approach had a great appeal, not only in India, but also in the west.[64] Major representatives of "Hindu modernism"[91] are Raja Rammohan Roy, Vivekananda, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Mahatma Gandhi.[92] [Raja Rammohan Roy is known as the father of the Hindu Renaissance.[93] He was a major influence on Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902), who, according to Flood, was "a figure of great importance in the development of a modern Hindu self-understanding and in formulating the West's view of Hinduism".[94] Central to his philosophy is the idea that the divine exists in all beings, that all human beings can achieve union with this "innate divinity",[91] and that seeing this divine as the essence of others will further love and social harmony.[91] According to Vivekananda, there is an essential unity to Hinduism, which underlies the diversity of its many forms.[91] According to Flood, Vivekananda's vision of Hinduism "is one generally accepted by most English-speaking middle-class Hindus today".[95] Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan sought to reconcile western rationalism with Hinduism, "presenting Hinduism as an essentially rationalistic and humanistic religious experience".[96]

This "Global Hinduism"[97] has a worldwide appeal, transcending national boundaries[97] and, according to Flood, "becoming a world religion alongside Christianity, Islam and Buddhism",[97] both for the Hindu diaspora communities and for westerners who are attracted to non-western cultures and religions.[97] It emphasizes universal spiritual values such as social justice, peace and "the spiritual transformation of humanity".[97] It has developed partly due to "re-enculturation",[98] or the Pizza effect,[98] in which elements of Hindu culture have been exported to the West, gaining popularity there, and as a consequence also gained greater popularity in India.[98] This globalization of Hindu culture brought "to the West teachings which have become an important cultural force in western societies, and which in turn have become an important cultural force in India, their place of origin".[99]

Legal definitions

The definition of Hinduism in Indian Law is: "Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshipped is large".[100][101]

Scholarly views

The term Hinduism was coined in Western ethnography in the 18th century,[57][note 17] and refers to the fusion[note 6] or synthesis[note 7][23] of various Indian cultures and traditions,[24][25] with diverse roots[26][note 9] and no founder.[32] This Hindu synthesis emerged after the Vedic period, between c. 500[33]–200[34] BCE and c. 300 CE,[33] in the period of the Second Urbanisation and the early classical period of Hinduism, when the Epics and the first Puranas were composed.[33][34] It flourished in the medieval period, with the decline of Buddhism in India.[35] Hinduism's tolerance to variations in belief and its broad range of traditions make it difficult to define as a religion according to traditional Western conceptions.[102]

Some academics suggest that Hinduism can be seen as a category with "fuzzy edges" rather than as a well-defined and rigid entity. Some forms of religious expression are central to Hinduism and others, while not as central, still remain within the category. Based on this idea Gabriella Eichinger Ferro-Luzzi has developed a 'Prototype Theory approach' to the definition of Hinduism.[103]

Hinduism Definitions articles: 52

Diversity and unity


Ganesha is one of the best-known and most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon

Hindu beliefs are vast and diverse, and thus Hinduism is often referred to as a family of religions rather than a single religion.[web 9] Within each religion in this family of religions, there are different theologies, practices, and sacred texts.[web 10][104][105][106][web 11] Hinduism does not have a "unified system of belief encoded in a declaration of faith or a creed",[44] but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena of India.[107][108] According to the Supreme Court of India,

Unlike other religions in the World, the Hindu religion does not claim any one Prophet, it does not worship any one God, it does not believe in any one philosophic concept, it does not follow any one act of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not satisfy the traditional features of a religion or creed. It is a way of life and nothing more".[109]

Part of the problem with a single definition of the term Hinduism is the fact that Hinduism does not have a founder.[110] It is a synthesis of various traditions,[111] the "Brahmanical orthopraxy, the renouncer traditions and popular or local traditions".[112]

Theism is also difficult to use as a unifying doctrine for Hinduism, because while some Hindu philosophies postulate a theistic ontology of creation, other Hindus are or have been atheists.[113]

Sense of unity

Despite the differences, there is also a sense of unity.[114] Most Hindu traditions revere a body of religious or sacred literature, the Vedas,[115] although there are exceptions.[116] These texts are a reminder of the ancient cultural heritage and point of pride for Hindus,[117][118] with Louis Renou stating that "even in the most orthodox domains, the reverence to the Vedas has come to be a simple raising of the hat".[117][119]

Halbfass states that, although Shaivism and Vaishnavism may be regarded as "self-contained religious constellations",[114] there is a degree of interaction and reference between the "theoreticians and literary representatives"[114] of each tradition that indicates the presence of "a wider sense of identity, a sense of coherence in a shared context and of inclusion in a common framework and horizon".[114]

Classical Hinduism

Brahmins played an essential role in the development of the post-Vedic Hindu synthesis, disseminating Vedic culture to local communities, and integrating local religiosity into the trans-regional Brahmanic culture.[120] In the post-Gupta period Vedanta developed in southern India, where orthodox Brahmanic culture and the Hindu culture were preserved,[121] building on ancient Vedic traditions while "accommoda[ting] the multiple demands of Hinduism."[122]

Medieval developments

The notion of common denominators for several religions and traditions of India further developed from the 12th century CE.[123] Lorenzen traces the emergence of a "family resemblance", and what he calls as "beginnings of medieval and modern Hinduism" taking shape, at c. 300–600 CE, with the development of the early Puranas, and continuities with the earlier Vedic religion.[124] Lorenzen states that the establishment of a Hindu self-identity took place "through a process of mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim Other".[125] According to Lorenzen, this "presence of the Other"[125] is necessary to recognise the "loose family resemblance" among the various traditions and schools.[126]

According to the Indologist Alexis Sanderson, before Islam arrived in India, the "Sanskrit sources differentiated Vaidika, Vaiṣṇava, Śaiva, Śākta, Saura, Buddhist, and Jaina traditions, but they had no name that denotes the first five of these as a collective entity over and against Buddhism and Jainism". This absence of a formal name, states Sanderson, does not mean that the corresponding concept of Hinduism did not exist. By late 1st-millennium CE, the concept of a belief and tradition distinct from Buddhism and Jainism had emerged.[web 5] This complex tradition accepted in its identity almost all of what is currently Hinduism, except certain antinomian tantric movements.[web 5] Some conservative thinkers of those times questioned whether certain Shaiva, Vaishnava and Shakta texts or practices were consistent with the Vedas, or were invalid in their entirety. Moderates then, and most orthoprax scholars later, agreed that though there are some variations, the foundation of their beliefs, the ritual grammar, the spiritual premises, and the soteriologies were the same. "This sense of greater unity", states Sanderson, "came to be called Hinduism".[web 5]

According to Nicholson, already between the 12th and the 16th centuries "certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophical teachings of the Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as the 'six systems' (saddarsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy."[127] The tendency of "a blurring of philosophical distinctions" has also been noted by Burley.[128] Hacker called this "inclusivism"[115] and Michaels speaks of "the identificatory habit".[12] Lorenzen locates the origins of a distinct Hindu identity in the interaction between Muslims and Hindus,[129] and a process of "mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim other",[130][51] which started well before 1800.[131] Michaels notes:

As a counteraction to Islamic supremacy and as part of the continuing process of regionalization, two religious innovations developed in the Hindu religions: the formation of sects and a historicization which preceded later nationalism ... [S]aints and sometimes militant sect leaders, such as the Marathi poet Tukaram (1609–1649) and Ramdas (1608–1681), articulated ideas in which they glorified Hinduism and the past. The Brahmins also produced increasingly historical texts, especially eulogies and chronicles of sacred sites (Mahatmyas), or developed a reflexive passion for collecting and compiling extensive collections of quotations on various subjects.[132]

Colonial period and neo-Vedanta

This inclusivism[133] was further developed in the 19th and 20th centuries by Hindu reform movements and Neo-Vedanta,[134] and has become characteristic of modern Hinduism.[115]

The notion and reports on "Hinduism" as a "single world religious tradition"[135] was also popularised by 19th-century proselytizing missionaries and European Indologists, roles sometimes served by the same person, who relied on texts preserved by Brahmins (priests) for their information of Indian religions, and animist observations that the missionary Orientalists presumed was Hinduism.[135][77][136] These reports influenced perceptions about Hinduism. Scholars such as Pennington state that the colonial polemical reports led to fabricated stereotypes where Hinduism was mere mystic paganism devoted to the service of devils,[note 18] while other scholars state that the colonial constructions influenced the belief that the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, Manusmriti and such texts were the essence of Hindu religiosity, and in the modern association of 'Hindu doctrine' with the schools of Vedanta (in particular Advaita Vedanta) as a paradigmatic example of Hinduism's mystical nature".[138][note 19] Pennington, while concurring that the study of Hinduism as a world religion began in the colonial era, disagrees that Hinduism is a colonial European era invention.[145] He states that the shared theology, common ritual grammar and way of life of those who identify themselves as Hindus is traceable to ancient times.[145][note 20]

Modern India

The Hindutva movement has extensively argued for the unity of Hinduism, dismissing the differences and regarding India as a Hindu-country since ancient times.[152] And there are assumptions of political dominence of Hindu nationalism in India, also known as 'Neo-Hindutva'.[153][154] There have also been increase in pre-dominance of Hindutva in Nepal, similar to that of India.[155]

Hinduism Diversity and unity articles: 15


Temple wall panel relief sculpture at the Hoysaleswara temple in Halebidu, representing the Trimurti: Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu

Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include (but are not restricted to) Dharma (ethics/duties), saṃsāra (the continuing cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth), Karma (action, intent, and consequences), Moksha (liberation from saṃsāra or liberation in this life), and the various yogas (paths or practices).[16]

Purusharthas (objectives of human life)

Classical Hindu thought accepts four proper goals or aims of human life, known as Puruṣārthas: dharma, artha, kama and moksha.[13][14]

Dharma (righteousness, ethics)

Dharma is considered the foremost goal of a human being in Hinduism.[156] The concept of dharma includes behaviors that are considered to be in accord with rta, the order that makes life and universe possible,[157] and includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and "right way of living".[158] Hindu dharma includes the religious duties, moral rights and duties of each individual, as well as behaviors that enable social order, right conduct, and those that are virtuous.[158] Dharma, according to Van Buitenen,[159] is that which all existing beings must accept and respect to sustain harmony and order in the world. It is, states Van Buitenen, the pursuit and execution of one's nature and true calling, thus playing one's role in cosmic concert.[159] The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad states it as:

Nothing is higher than Dharma. The weak overcomes the stronger by Dharma, as over a king. Truly that Dharma is the Truth (Satya); Therefore, when a man speaks the Truth, they say, "He speaks the Dharma"; and if he speaks Dharma, they say, "He speaks the Truth!" For both are one.

In the Mahabharata, Krishna defines dharma as upholding both this-worldly and other-worldly affairs. (Mbh 12.110.11). The word Sanātana means eternal, perennial, or forever; thus, Sanātana Dharma signifies that it is the dharma that has neither beginning nor end.[162]

Artha (livelihood, wealth)

Artha is objective and virtuous pursuit of wealth for livelihood, obligations, and economic prosperity. It is inclusive of political life, diplomacy, and material well-being. The artha concept includes all "means of life", activities and resources that enables one to be in a state one wants to be in, wealth, career and financial security.[163] The proper pursuit of artha is considered an important aim of human life in Hinduism.[164][165]

Kāma (sensual pleasure)

Kāma (Sanskrit, Pali: काम) means desire, wish, passion, longing, pleasure of the senses, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love, with or without sexual connotations.[166][167] In Hinduism, kama is considered an essential and healthy goal of human life when pursued without sacrificing dharma, artha and moksha.[168]

Mokṣa (liberation, freedom from saṃsāra)

Moksha (Sanskrit: मोक्ष mokṣa) or mukti (Sanskrit: मुक्ति) is the ultimate, most important goal in Hinduism. In one sense, moksha is a concept associated with liberation from sorrow, suffering and saṃsāra (birth-rebirth cycle). A release from this eschatological cycle, in after life, particularly in theistic schools of Hinduism is called moksha.[169][159][170][171] Due to belief in the indestructibility of the soul,[172] death is deemed insignificant with respect to the cosmic self.[173]

The meaning of moksha differs among the various Hindu schools of thought. For example, Advaita Vedanta holds that after attaining moksha a person knows their "soul, self" and identifies it as one with Brahman and everyone in all respects.[174][175] The followers of Dvaita (dualistic) schools, in moksha state, identify individual "soul, self" as distinct from Brahman but infinitesimally close, and after attaining moksha expect to spend eternity in a loka (heaven). To theistic schools of Hinduism, moksha is liberation from saṃsāra, while for other schools such as the monistic school, moksha is possible in current life and is a psychological concept.[176][174][177][175] According to Deutsch, moksha is transcendental consciousness to the latter, the perfect state of being, of self-realization, of freedom and of "realizing the whole universe as the Self".[176][174][177] Moksha in these schools of Hinduism, suggests Klaus Klostermaier,[175] implies a setting free of hitherto fettered faculties, a removing of obstacles to an unrestricted life, permitting a person to be more truly a person in the full sense; the concept presumes an unused human potential of creativity, compassion and understanding which had been blocked and shut out. Moksha is more than liberation from life-rebirth cycle of suffering (saṃsāra); Vedantic school separates this into two: jivanmukti (liberation in this life) and videhamukti (liberation after death).[175][178][179]

Karma and saṃsāra

Karma translates literally as action, work, or deed,[180] and also refers to a Vedic theory of "moral law of cause and effect".[181][182] The theory is a combination of (1) causality that may be ethical or non-ethical; (2) ethicization, that is good or bad actions have consequences; and (3) rebirth.[183] Karma theory is interpreted as explaining the present circumstances of an individual with reference to his or her actions in the past. These actions and their consequences may be in a person's current life, or, according to some schools of Hinduism, in past lives.[183][184] This cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth is called saṃsāra. Liberation from saṃsāra through moksha is believed to ensure lasting happiness and peace.[185][186] Hindu scriptures teach that the future is both a function of current human effort derived from free will and past human actions that set the circumstances.[187]

Concept of God

Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with a wide variety of beliefs;[58][188][web 12] its concept of God is complex and depends upon each individual and the tradition and philosophy followed. It is sometimes referred to as henotheistic (i.e., involving devotion to a single god while accepting the existence of others), but any such term is an overgeneralization.[189][190]

Who really knows?
Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen?

The Nasadiya Sukta (Creation Hymn) of the Rig Veda is one of the earliest texts[194] which "demonstrates a sense of metaphysical speculation" about what created the universe, the concept of god(s) and The One, and whether even The One knows how the universe came into being.[195][196] The Rig Veda praises various deities, none superior nor inferior, in a henotheistic manner.[197] The hymns repeatedly refer to One Truth and Reality. The "One Truth" of Vedic literature, in modern era scholarship, has been interpreted as monotheism, monism, as well as a deified Hidden Principles behind the great happenings and processes of nature.[198]

Hindus believe that all living creatures have a soul. This soul – the spirit or true "self" of every person, is called the ātman. The soul is believed to be eternal.[199] According to the monistic/pantheistic (non-dualist) theologies of Hinduism (such as Advaita Vedanta school), this Atman is indistinct from Brahman, the supreme spirit.[200] The goal of life, according to the Advaita school, is to realise that one's soul is identical to supreme soul, that the supreme soul is present in everything and everyone, all life is interconnected and there is oneness in all life.[201][202][203] Dualistic schools (Dvaita and Bhakti) understand Brahman as a Supreme Being separate from individual souls.[204] They worship the Supreme Being variously as Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti, depending upon the sect. God is called Ishvara, Bhagavan, Parameshwara, Deva or Devi, and these terms have different meanings in different schools of Hinduism.[205][206][207]

Hindu texts accept a polytheistic framework, but this is generally conceptualized as the divine essence or luminosity that gives vitality and animation to the inanimate natural substances.[208] There is a divine in everything, human beings, animals, trees and rivers. It is observable in offerings to rivers, trees, tools of one's work, animals and birds, rising sun, friends and guests, teachers and parents.[208][209][210] It is the divine in these that makes each sacred and worthy of reverence. This seeing divinity in everything, state Buttimer and Wallin, makes the Vedic foundations of Hinduism quite distinct from Animism.[208] The animistic premise sees multiplicity, power differences and competition between man and man, man and animal, as well as man and nature. The Vedic view does not see this competition, rather sees a unifying divinity that connects everyone and everything.[208][211][212]

The Hindu scriptures name celestial entities called Devas (or Devī in feminine form), which may be translated into English as gods or heavenly beings.[note 21] The devas are an integral part of Hindu culture and are depicted in art, architecture and through icons, and stories about them are related in the scriptures, particularly in Indian epic poetry and the Puranas. They are, however, often distinguished from Ishvara, a personal god, with many Hindus worshipping Ishvara in one of its particular manifestations as their iṣṭa devatā, or chosen ideal.[213][214] The choice is a matter of individual preference,[215] and of regional and family traditions.[215][note 22] The multitude of Devas are considered as manifestations of Brahman.[217]

The word avatar does not appear in the Vedic literature,[218] but appears in verb forms in post-Vedic literature, and as a noun particularly in the Puranic literature after the 6th century CE.[219] Theologically, the reincarnation idea is most often associated with the avatars of Hindu god Vishnu, though the idea has been applied to other deities.[220] Varying lists of avatars of Vishnu appear in Hindu scriptures, including the ten Dashavatara of the Garuda Purana and the twenty-two avatars in the Bhagavata Purana, though the latter adds that the incarnations of Vishnu are innumerable.[221] The avatars of Vishnu are important in Vaishnavism theology. In the goddess-based Shaktism tradition, avatars of the Devi are found and all goddesses are considered to be different aspects of the same metaphysical Brahman[222] and Shakti (energy).[223][224] While avatars of other deities such as Ganesha and Shiva are also mentioned in medieval Hindu texts, this is minor and occasional.[225]

Both theistic and atheistic ideas, for epistemological and metaphysical reasons, are profuse in different schools of Hinduism. The early Nyaya school of Hinduism, for example, was non-theist/atheist,[226] but later Nyaya school scholars argued that God exists and offered proofs using its theory of logic.[227][228] Other schools disagreed with Nyaya scholars. Samkhya,[229] Mimamsa[230] and Carvaka schools of Hinduism, were non-theist/atheist, arguing that "God was an unnecessary metaphysical assumption".[web 13][231][232] Its Vaisheshika school started as another non-theistic tradition relying on naturalism and that all matter is eternal, but it later introduced the concept of a non-creator God.[233][234][235] The Yoga school of Hinduism accepted the concept of a "personal god" and left it to the Hindu to define his or her god.[236] Advaita Vedanta taught a monistic, abstract Self and Oneness in everything, with no room for gods or deity, a perspective that Mohanty calls, "spiritual, not religious".[237] Bhakti sub-schools of Vedanta taught a creator God that is distinct from each human being.[204]

According to Graham Schweig, Hinduism has the strongest presence of the divine feminine in world religion from ancient times to the present.[238] The goddess is viewed as the heart of the most esoteric Saiva traditions.[239]


Authority and eternal truths play an important role in Hinduism.[240] Religious traditions and truths are believed to be contained in its sacred texts, which are accessed and taught by sages, gurus, saints or avatars.[240] But there is also a strong tradition of the questioning of authority, internal debate and challenging of religious texts in Hinduism. The Hindus believe that this deepens the understanding of the eternal truths and further develops the tradition. Authority "was mediated through [...] an intellectual culture that tended to develop ideas collaboratively, and according to the shared logic of natural reason."[240] Narratives in the Upanishads present characters questioning persons of authority.[240] The Kena Upanishad repeatedly asks kena, 'by what' power something is the case.[240] The Katha Upanishad and Bhagavad Gita present narratives where the student criticizes the teacher's inferior answers.[240] In the Shiva Purana, Shiva questions Vishnu and Brahma.[240] Doubt plays a repeated role in the Mahabharata.[240] Jayadeva's Gita Govinda presents criticism via the character of Radha.[240]

Hinduism Beliefs articles: 52

Main traditions

A Ganesha-centric Panchayatana ("five deities", from the Smarta tradition): Ganesha (centre) with Shiva (top left), Parvati (top right), Vishnu (bottom left) and Surya (bottom right). All these deities also have separate sects dedicated to them.

Hinduism has no central doctrinal authority and many practising Hindus do not claim to belong to any particular denomination or tradition.[241] Four major denominations are, however, used in scholarly studies: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism.[242][243] These denominations differ primarily in the central deity worshipped, the traditions and the soteriological outlook.[244] The denominations of Hinduism, states Lipner, are unlike those found in major religions of the world, because Hindu denominations are fuzzy with individuals practicing more than one, and he suggests the term "Hindu polycentrism".[245]

Vaishnavism is the devotional religious tradition that worships Vishnu[note 23] and his avatars, particularly Krishna and Rama.[247] The adherents of this sect are generally non-ascetic, monastic, oriented towards community events and devotionalism practices inspired by "intimate loving, joyous, playful" Krishna and other Vishnu avatars.[244] These practices sometimes include community dancing, singing of Kirtans and Bhajans, with sound and music believed by some to have meditative and spiritual powers.[248] Temple worship and festivals are typically elaborate in Vaishnavism.[249] The Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana, along with Vishnu-oriented Puranas provide its theistic foundations.[250] Philosophically, their beliefs are rooted in the dualism sub-schools of Vedantic Hinduism.[251][252]

Shaivism is the tradition that focuses on Shiva. Shaivas are more attracted to ascetic individualism, and it has several sub-schools.[244] Their practices include bhakti-style devotionalism, yet their beliefs lean towards nondual, monistic schools of Hinduism such as Advaita and Raja Yoga.[242][248] Some Shaivas worship in temples, while others emphasize yoga, striving to be one with Shiva within.[253] Avatars are uncommon, and some Shaivas visualize god as half male, half female, as a fusion of the male and female principles (Ardhanarishvara). Shaivism is related to Shaktism, wherein Shakti is seen as spouse of Shiva.[242] Community celebrations include festivals, and participation, with Vaishnavas, in pilgrimages such as the Kumbh Mela.[254] Shaivism has been more commonly practiced in the Himalayan north from Kashmir to Nepal, and in south India.[255]

Shaktism focuses on goddess worship of Shakti or Devi as cosmic mother,[244] and it is particularly common in northeastern and eastern states of India such as Assam and Bengal. Devi is depicted as in gentler forms like Parvati, the consort of Shiva; or, as fierce warrior goddesses like Kali and Durga. Followers of Shaktism recognize Shakti as the power that underlies the male principle. Shaktism is also associated with Tantra practices.[256] Community celebrations include festivals, some of which include processions and idol immersion into sea or other water bodies.[257]

Smartism centers its worship simultaneously on all the major Hindu deities: Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganesha, Surya and Skanda.[258] The Smarta tradition developed during the (early) Classical Period of Hinduism around the beginning of the Common Era, when Hinduism emerged from the interaction between Brahmanism and local traditions.[259][260] The Smarta tradition is aligned with Advaita Vedanta, and regards Adi Shankara as its founder or reformer, who considered worship of God-with-attributes (Saguna Brahman) as a journey towards ultimately realizing God-without-attributes (nirguna Brahman, Atman, Self-knowledge).[261][262] The term Smartism is derived from Smriti texts of Hinduism, meaning those who remember the traditions in the texts.[242][263] This Hindu sect practices a philosophical Jnana yoga, scriptural studies, reflection, meditative path seeking an understanding of Self's oneness with God.[242][264]

There are no census data available on demographic history or trends for the traditions within Hinduism.[265] Estimates vary on the relative number of adherents in the different traditions of Hinduism. According to a 2010 estimate by Johnson and Grim, the Vaishnavism tradition is the largest group with about 641 million or 67.6% of Hindus, followed by Shaivism with 252 million or 26.6%, Shaktism with 30 million or 3.2% and other traditions including Neo-Hinduism and Reform Hinduism with 25 million or 2.6%.[266] In contrast, according to Jones and Ryan, Shaivism is the largest tradition of Hinduism.[267]

Hinduism Main traditions articles: 15