A general introduction
Name of the religion:
This religion is called:
- Sanatana Dharma, "eternal religion,"
- Vaidika Dharma, "religion of the Vedas," and
- Hinduism -- the most commonly used name in North America.
Various origins for the word "Hinduism" have been
- It may be derived from an ancient inscription translated as:
"The country lying between the Himalayan mountain and
Bindu Sarovara is known as Hindusthan by combination of the first
letter 'hi' of 'Himalaya' and the last compound letter 'ndu' of
the word `Bindu.'" Bindu Sarovara is called the Cape
Comorin sea in modern times. 1
- It may be derived from the Persian word for Indian.
- It may be a Persian corruption of the word Sindhu (the river
- It was a name invented by the British administration in India
during colonial times.
Early history of Hinduism:
Beliefs about the early development of Hinduism are currently in a
state of flux:
- The classical theory of the origins of Hinduism traces the
religion's roots to
the Indus valley civilization circa 4000 to 2200 BCE. The development
of Hinduism was influenced by
many invasions over thousands of years. The major influences occurred when
light-skinned, nomadic "Aryan" Indo-European tribes invaded Northern India (circa 1500
BCE) from the steppes of Russia
and Central Asia. They brought with them their religion of Vedism. These beliefs
mingled with the more advanced, indigenous Indian native beliefs,
often called the "Indus valley culture.". This theory
was initially proposed by Christian scholars in the 19th century.
Their conclusions were biased by their pre-existing belief in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). The Book of Genesis, which they
interpreted literally, appears to place the creation of the earth at
circa 4,000 BCE, and the Noachian flood at circa
2,500 BCE. These dates put severe constraints on the date of the
"Aryan invasion," and the development of the four Veda and
Upanishad Hindu religious texts. A second
factor supporting this theory was their lack of appreciation of the
sophisticated nature of Vedic culture; they had discounted it as
primitive. 2 The classical theory is now being rejected by
increasing numbers of archaeologists and religious historians. The originators of
the theory were obviously biased by their prior beliefs about the age of the earth and the biblical story of
the flood of Noah.
- Emerging theory: The Aryan Invasion view of ancient
Indian history has been challenged in recent years by new conclusions
based on more recent findings in archaeology, cultural analysis, astronomical references, and
literary analysis. Archaeologists, including Jim Schaffer and David Frawley, have established
convincing arguments for this new interpretation. 3 Archaeological
digs have revealed that the Indus Valley culture lasted from about 3500 to 1800 BCE. It was not "destroyed
by outside invasion, but...[by] internal causes and, most likely,
floods." The "dark age" that
was believed to have followed the Aryan invasion may never have
happened. A series of cities in India have been studied by
archaeologists and shown to have a level of civilization between that
of the Indus culture and later more highly developed Indian culture, as visited by the
Greeks. Finally, Indus Valley excavations have uncovered many remains
of fire altars, animal bones, potsherds, shell jewelry and other
evidences of Vedic rituals. "In other words there is no racial
evidence of any such Indo-Aryan invasion of India but only of a
continuity of the same group of people who traditionally considered
themselves to be Aryans...The Indo-Aryan invasion as an academic
concept in 18th and 19th century Europe reflected the cultural milieu
of the period. Linguistic data were used to validate the concept that
in turn was used to interpret archeological and anthropological data." 2 "There was no invasion by anyone." 7
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.
Hindu sacred texts are perhaps the most ancient religious texts still
surviving today. Some appear to be millennia older than the Hebrew Scriptures
(Old Testament) which conservative Christians date to circa 1500 BCE and liberal scholars date to circa 900 BCE.
- The primary sacred texts of Hinduism are the Vedas:
the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The Vedas contain hymns,
incantations, and rituals from ancient India. 4 The Rig Veda (a.k.a. Rigveda) may be the oldest of the four. Estimates of its date of
composition in oral form range from 1500 BCE to 4000
BCE. The Yajur and Atharva Vedas refer to the vernal equinox having occurred
in the Pleiades constellation -- an event dating from about 2500 BCE.
The date when the Vedas were placed in written form is unknown. Various
dates from 600 to after 300 BCE have been suggested.
- The Upanishadas deal with Vedic philosophy and form the conclusions
of each of the Vedas. "They elaborate on how the soul (Atman) can be united with the
ultimate truth (Brahman) through contemplation and mediation, as well as
the doctrine of Karma-- the cumulative effects of a persons' actions." 4
Many of these sacred texts are available online. 4 One
web site has a search engine available. 5
Hindu beliefs and practices:
Categorizing the religion of Hinduism is somewhat confusing:
- Hinduism has commonly been viewed in the west as a polytheistic religion - one which worships multiple deities: gods and
goddesses. Although a widespread belief, this is not particularly accurate.
- Some have viewed it as a monotheistic religion, because it recognizes only one supreme God: the panentheistic principle of Brahman, that all
reality is a unity. The entire universe is seen as one divine entity who is simultaneously at one
with the universe and who transcends it as well.
- Some view Hinduism as Trinitarian because Brahman is simultaneously visualized as a
triad -- one God with three persons:
- Brahma the Creator who is continuing to create new realities
- Vishnu, (Krishna) the Preserver, who preserves 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 destructive.
- The earliest Hindu scriptures are henotheistic;
they recognize a multiple male and female deities, but
recognize one as supreme.
Most urban Hindus follow one of two major divisions within Hinduism:
- Vaishnavaism: which generally regards Vishnu as the ultimate deity
- Shivaism: which generally regards Shiva as the ultimate deity.
However, many rural Hindus worship their own village goddess or an earth
goddess. She is believed to rule over fertility and disease -- and thus over
life and death. The priesthood is less important in rural
Hinduism: non-Brahmins and non-priests often carry out ritual and prayer
Hindus believe in the
repetitious Transmigration of the Soul. This is the transfer
of one's soul after death into another body. This produces a continuing cycle of birth,
life, death and rebirth through their many lifetimes. It is called samsara. 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 one's previous acts, both in this life and in previous lives.
Hindus organize their lives around certain activities or "purusharthas."
These are called the "four aims of Hinduism," or "the
doctrine of the fourfold end of life." They are:
- The three goals of the "pravritti," those who are in the
- dharma: righteousness in their religious life. This is
the most important of the three.
- artha: success in their economic life; material prosperity.
- kama: gratification of the senses; pleasure; sensual, sexual, and
- The main goal for the "nivritti," those who renounce the
- moksa: Liberation from "samsara." This is considered the supreme
goal of mankind.
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.
Hinduism has a deserved reputation of being highly tolerant of other religions. Hindus
have a saying: "Ekam Sataha Vipraha Bahudha Vadanti," which may be
translated: "The truth is One, but different Sages call it by Different
- "Origin of 'Hindu'," at: http://www.hindunet.org/
- David Frawley, "The myth of the Aryan invasion of India,"
- David Frawley, "Gods, Sages and Kings," Morson Publ,
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- "Sacred Texts: Hinduism," at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/
- "Sacred Scripts" has a search engine at: http://www.sacredscripts.org
- "Ramayana," Manas: India and its neighbors, at: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/
- "Date of the Rigveda," Saksi, at: http://www.vedah.com/org/
- "Vedic Astronomical Lore," Hindu Books Universe, at: http://www.hindubooks.org/
Copyright © 1995 to 2011, by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2011-OCT-17
Author: B.A. Robinson