Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world. In the modern age there are approximately one billion practitioners. It originated in the Indus valley civilization, within the Indian subcontinent, or modern day Pakistan. The sources for Hindu tradition are very ancient, but the actual term Hinduism was created in modern times. The religion incorporates several traditions (Jainism, Buddhism, etc). From the Hindu perspective time is cyclical and that makes pinpointing the source of the religion even more difficult. There is no one central founding figures in Hinduism. The main texts of the religion are the Vedas, which come from 1200-200 BC. There are several deities, but they are all one god, in the sense that there is one supreme cosmic power.
In Hinduism, Brahman is the source of all power and is unmatched in the entire universe. Its eternal power composes everything in existence and so it encompasses all of the other deities in the religion. This makes labeling the religion as monotheistic or polytheistic problematic.
Three deities of the triumvirate are Shiva, Brahma (different than Brahman), and Vishnu- the destroyer, the creator, and the preserver. The members of the triumvirate are the ones who are responsible for this world- along with its beginning middle and end. Depending on which one of the three a person chooses as their primary god denotes the sect they belong to.
Shiva is generally represented with the third eye- a source of wisdom and energy, a cobra necklace, and a trident.
Brahma is represented with four heads. One of the explanations in mythology for this is that Shiva chopped off his fifth head, due to bad behavior. Perhaps this is why he might be the least worshiped deity in Hinduism. Compared with many thousands of temples in India, dedicated to most deities, Brahma has only two devoted to him.
Vishnu is represented with a conch, a shell and the source of the Om sound, considered the sound of creation. There is also a discus behind Vishnu’s head that represents the mind. The lotus flower again is also representative of Vishnu. Some believe that the Buddha or Siddhartha Gautama was an incarnation of Vishnu.
HISTORY & CONCEPTS:
KEY HISTORICAL TIME PERIODS:
- Before 2000 BCE: The Indus Valley Civilisation
- 1500–500 BCE: The Vedic Period
- 500 BCE–500 CE: The Epic, Puranic and Classical Age
- 500 CE–1500 CE: Medieval Period
- 1500–1757 CE: Pre-Modern Period
- 1757–1947 CE: British Period
- 1947 CE–the present: Independent India
Puja is a word used to refer to Hindu worship. It is composed of yantras or sacred diagrams, mantras or prayers, and murtis or images- generally of a deity. Puja often takes place inside of a person’s home where they might construct small altars, as well as in the formal temple setting. Offerings of food, water, fruit, etc. are often made to the deity of choice.
There are three categories of religious rites:
1) Nitya are the daily rituals practiced: making offerings, praying at the family altar, etc.
2) Naimittika rituals take place at a certain time of the year, much like thanksgiving.
3) Kamya rituals are optional but highly suggested, for example, pilgrimage.
DHARMA & KARMA:
Dharma is a word that is used by many Indian religions. It talked about a lot in the Vedas. In Hinduism it is a force or perhaps a law that keeps the world spinning and society running. It can also provide a sense of duty of place for the individual in society. It forms a general system of values in Hindu cultures.
Reincarnation, called samsara, is also a main component of Hinduism. It is guided by karma or the actions taken by a person throughout their lives. If a person’s actions are good and comply with dharma, then they will be reborn in a favorable position. If the contrary is true then they may be born into a poorer social class or as an animal. Karma can span between your lives in this system. You could be reaping rewards for a past life or paying off the debt caused by poor behavior that you could not remember if you tried.
The four classes outlined in the Vedas are:
1) Brahmins or Brahmans. The clergy.
2) Kshatriya. A warrior class.
3) Vashias. Commoners and merchants.
4) Shudras. Working class that generally serves the other three.
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