Holi Festival in Manthura, India

Hinduism has been called the oldest, living religion of the world. It is an Indian religion and dharma, or a way of life, that is widely practiced in the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia. Scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with diverse roots and no founder.

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, monotheistic, monistic, agnostic, atheistic or humanist. 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.

Because of the wide range of traditions and ideas covered by the term Hinduism, arriving at a comprehensive definition is difficult. The religion "defies our desire to define and categorize it". Hinduism has been variously defined as a religion, a religious tradition, a set of religious beliefs, and "a way of life".  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.

Hinduism has been described as a tradition having a "complex, organic, multileveled and sometimes internally inconsistent nature".  Hinduism does not have a "unified system of belief encoded in a declaration of faith or a creed", but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena of India. 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"

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

Theism, broadly defined as the belief in the existence of the Supreme Being or deities, 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.

Hinduism is the world's third largest religion. Hindus form the majority of the population in India, Nepal and Mauritius. Significant Hindu communities are also found in the Caribbean, Africa, North America, and other countries.

Estimated Followers: 1 billion
Of Global Population: 15%




Beliefs and Practices

Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include the four Puruṣārthas, which literally means an "object of human pursuit".  It is a key concept in Hinduism, and refers to the four proper goals or aims of a human life. The four puruṣārthas are:

1)  Moksha: liberation, spiritual values

2)  Dharma: righteousness, moral values

3)  Artha: prosperity, economic values

4)  Kama: pleasure, love, psychological values

All four Purusarthas are important, but in cases of conflict, Dharma is considered more important than Artha or Kama in Hindu philosophy. Moksha is considered the ultimate ideal of human life. At the same time, this is not a consensus among all Hindus, and many have different interpretations of the hierarchy, and even as to whether one should exist.

In whatever way a Hindu defines the goal of life, there are several methods (yogas) that sages have taught for reaching that goal. Yoga is a Hindu discipline which trains the body, mind and consciousness for health, tranquility and spiritual insight. This is done through a system of postures and exercises to practice control of the body and mind. oga is means, and the four major marga (paths) discussed in Hinduism are: Bhakti Yoga (the path of love and devotion), Karma Yoga (the path of right action), Rāja Yoga (the path of meditation), Jñāna Yoga (the path of wisdom). An individual may prefer one or some yogas over others, according to his or her inclination and understanding. Practice of one yoga does not exclude others.

Hinduism has many important practices like worship and cremation. There are a few different ways to worship in this religion. Being in a Hindu temple is not mandatory, but the option is there. It is also frequent for Hindus to worship by reading the Holy texts, using prayer beads, meditating, and performing yoga. Hindus believe that a body should not be buried, the body should be burnt. With this being said, cremation is a common practice.

Another important practice in Hinduism is the caste system (varnas). By this system, each group has specific rules of conduct that must be obeyed. A person’s caste is determined by birth and can only be changed by rebirth. One is born into a caste based on the acts that they had committed in their previous life. With good karma, it is hoped that one can change into a different caste after rebirth. The four varnas are:

  • Brahmins, the priests
  • Kshatriyas, the administrators and the military
  • Vaishyas, the shopkeepers, traders, and farmers
  • Sudras, the laborers and service workers

Below all of these there is another group which is known as the Untouchables. The Untouchables are seen to be below all of the other castes and do the dirtiest jobs.

Most Hindus observe religious rituals at home. The rituals vary greatly among regions, villages, and individuals. They are not mandatory in Hinduism. The nature and place of rituals is an individual's choice. Some devout Hindus perform daily rituals such as worshiping at dawn after bathing (usually at a family shrine, and typically includes lighting a lamp and offering foodstuffs before the images of deities), recitation from religious scripts, singing devotional hymns, yoga, meditation, chanting mantras and others.  A wedding is the most extensive personal ritual an adult Hindu undertakes in his or her life. A typical Hindu wedding is solemnized before Vedic fire ritual.





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