Originally the word Hindu did not have a religious connotation, but merely denoted the people in a geographical area- the river Indus. Later the word assumed a religious connotation, to some extent under Mughal rule but more firmly under British rule.
Hinduism is the World’s third largest religion having approximately 16% of the global population or 1.25 billion people followers.
Main features associated with Hinduism
- Hinduism derives its basic ideas and tradition from the Vedas, considered as Sruti, ‘that which is heard or revealed’. Ex: Rigveda consists of collection of prayers to gods like Agni, Vayu, Varuna, Indra, Mitra, Soma, Ushas etc. Samaveda is a collection of certain verses of the Rigveda for melodic rendering. Yajurveda contains sacrificial formulae to be pronounced by priests. Atharvaveda consists of magical incantations and medicines.
- The rite of homa (havan) was basic to Hinduism in the initial stages. However, the religion assimilated the practices and ways of other cults and earlier inhabitants. Thus the ‘puja’ form of workshop to an image or symbol of divinity was incorporated. This power of assimilation is one of the major reasons for the survival of Hinduism.
- The fundamental goal for a Hindu is to achieve Until the attainment of Moksha, human beings are subject to rebirth.
- Law of Karma is another important aspect associated with the religion. Karma is a concept of Hinduism which explains through a system where beneficial effects are derived from past beneficial actions and harmful effects from past harmful actions, creating a system of actions and reactions throughout a soul’s reincarnated lives forming a cycle of rebirth.
- Another aspect associated with Hinduism is- the concept of four stages of life (celibate student, a householder, a hermit and as ascetic)
- The Hindu view of life does not preclude worldly pleasure and artha (prosperity)
- Hinduism believes leading life in a righteous (Dharma) manner to realize the fundamental goal of Moksha.
- Upanishads are the philosophical-religious texts of Hinduism (also known as Sanatan Dharma meaning “Eternal Order” or “Eternal Path”) which develop and explain the fundamental tenets of the religion.
- Emergence of Jainism and Buddhism led to stimulating and refreshing inspiration to the minds of Vedic Hindu thinkers who now left the beaten track and ventured on new paths of speculation and reasoning. The result of this was the emergence of six new systems of Hindu philosophy. Four of these- Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya and Vaisheshika, were not influenced by the Vedas, while the Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa was based on the teachings of the Upanishads.
- Apart from the above scriptures of Hinduism, perhaps the most noted philosophy throughout the world is- Bhagvad Gita.
- Bhagvad Gita is a supplement to Upanishads. Bhagvad Gita has tried to make a synthesis of three ways of attaining salvation- the way of knowledge through speculation and ascetic discipline, the way of faith and devotion, and the way of action.
- However, the mainstay of popular Hinduism is the later Vedic literature- the Puranas.
- The Puranas, along with the Smritis, were composed to elucidate the principles of Vedanta and in form of stories for easy understanding of common folks and also to inculcate to ethical values.
- Modern Hinduism or what we regard today as Hinduism, maybe dated from the days of Shankara (8th CE). He expounded the theory of Advaita or monism.
- In 12th century AD came Ramanuja with his Visishtadvaita or qualified monism. He laid emphasis on Bhakthi marga rather than deliverance through Vedic rites.
- Madhva in the thirteenth century propounded Dvaita or dualism philosophy.
- The revival movement started by these reformers received further impetus during the Bhakthi movement.
- This movement emphasized on the single souled devotion of the worshipper to a personal god. This movement led to the evolution of different religious sects like Vaishnavism (Alvars who composed Prabhandams), Shaivism (Nayanars who composed Tevarams), and Shaktism.
- The influence of Islam led to the revival of anti-caste and monotheistic ideas which had crept into Hinduism.
- The famous Bhakthi reformers during this time are: Ramananda of Allahabad, Vallabhacharya of Varanasi, Namadeva of Maharashtra, Mirabai of Rajasthan etc
- Further social evils like female infanticide, Sati, child marriage which had crept into Hinduism was systematically fought by early nationalists like Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayanand Saraswati etc
- These early nationalists highlighted the core essential aspects of Hinduism such as Vedas and Upanishads to counter the social evils that had crept into the religion. The social reform movements complimented the freedom movement throughout 19th and 20th century across all parts of the country.
- Post-independence many relevant provisions were included in the constitution to combat the social evils associated with Hinduism (Casteism, untouchability etc)
In the present times, Hinduism much like other religions faces existential crisis such as radicalization, emphasis on obsolete practices and rituals etc. However, this crisis could be tackled successfully if emphasis given to the core aspect of Hinduism which prophesizes on universal love and brotherhood.