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  • Hinduism portal

Hinduism is the dominant religion[1][2] of the Indian subcontinent, particularly of India and Nepal. It includes Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Smartism among numerous other traditions, and a wide spectrum of laws and prescriptions of "daily morality" based on karma, dharma, and societal norms. Hinduism is a categorisation of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid, common set of beliefs.[3]

Hinduism consists of many diverse traditions and has no single founder.[4] Among its direct roots is the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India.[5] As such, Hinduism is often called the "oldest religion"[6][7][8] or "oldest living religion" in the world.[1][9][10][11] Since Vedic times, a process of Sanskritization has been taking place, in which "people from many strata of society throughout the subcontinent tended to adapt their religious and social life to Brahmanic norms".[12]

Hindu texts are classified into Śruti ("revealed") and Smriti ("remembered"). These texts discuss theology, philosophy, mythology, Vedic yajna and agamic rituals and temple building, among other topics.[5] Major scriptures include the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Manusmriti, Bhagavad Gita and Agamas.[5]

Hinduism, with about one billion followers[13] is the world's third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam.


The word Hindu is derived (through Persian) from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, the historic local name for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent(Modern day Pakistan). The word Sindhu is first mentioned in the Rigveda.[14][15][16]

The word Hindu was taken by European languages from the Arabic term al-Hind, and refers to the land of the people who live across the River Indus.[17] This Arabic term was itself taken from the 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".[18]

The term Hinduism 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. It was usually used to contrast Hindus with Yavanas or Mlecchas.[19] 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 was introduced into the English language in the 19th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India.



Besides being one of the world's numerically largest faiths, Hinduism is also the oldest living major tradition on earth with roots reaching back into prehistory.[20] It is described as both the oldest of the world's religions and the most diverse.[1][21][22][23]

Hinduism has been variously defined as a religion, a religious tradition, and a set of religious beliefs.[2]

Hinduism does not have a "unified system of belief encoded in a declaration of faith or a creed",[24] but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena originating in, and based on, the Vedic traditions.[25][26][27][28]

Problems with a single definition of the term 'Hinduism' are often attributed to the fact that Hinduism does not have a single historical founder. Also, Hinduism, or as some say 'Hinduisms', does not have a single system of salvation; each sect or denomination has different goals. 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".[11][29]


Most Hindu traditions revere a body of religious or sacred literature, the Vedas, although there are exceptions. Some Hindu religious traditions regard particular rituals as essential for salvation, but a variety of views on this co-exist. Some Hindu philosophies postulate a theistic ontology of creation, of sustenance, and of the destruction of the universe, yet some Hindus are atheists. Hinduism is sometimes characterized by a belief in reincarnation (samsara) determined by the law of karma and the idea that salvation is freedom from this cycle of repeated birth and death. However, other religions of the region, such as Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, also believe in karma, outside the scope of Hinduism.[24] Hinduism is therefore viewed as the most complex of all the living, historical world religions.[30]

Indigenous understanding

A definition of Hinduism is further complicated by the frequent use of the term "faith" as a synonym for "religion".[24] Some academics[31] and many practitioners refer to Hinduism, using a native definition, as Sanātana Dharma, a Sanskrit phrase meaning "the eternal law" or the "eternal way".[32][33]

To its adherents, Hinduism is the traditional way of life.[34] Because of the wide range of traditions and ideas covered by the term, arriving at a comprehensive definition is difficult.[24]

A definition of Hinduism given by the first Vice President of India who was also a prominent theologian, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, states that Hinduism is not "just a faith" but in itself is related to the union of reason and intuition. Radhakrishnan explicitly states that Hinduism cannot be defined, but is only to be experienced.[35]

Western understanding

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.[36]

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 Ferro-Luzzi has developed a 'Prototype Theory approach' to the definition of Hinduism.[37]

Colonial influences

The study of India and its cultures and religions has been shaped by the interests of colonialism and by Western notions of religion.[38][39] Since the 1990s, those influences and its outcomes have been the topic of debate among scholars of Hinduism[38][note 1] , and have also been taken over by critics of the Western view on India.[40][note 2]

The notion of "Hinduism" as a "single world religious tradition"[41] was developed by 19th-century European Indologists who depended on the "brahmana castes"[41] for their information of Indian religions.[41] This led to a "tendency to emphasize Vedic and Brahmanical texts and beliefs as the "essence" of Hindu religiosity in general, and in the modern association of 'Hindu doctrine' with the various Brahmanical schools of the Vedanta (in particular Advaita Vedanta)."[42]

Sweetman identifies several areas in which "there is substantial, if not universal, agreement that colonialism influenced the study of Hinduism":[43]

  1. The establishment by European Orientalists of a textual basis for Hinduism, akin to the Protestant culture,[43] which was driven by a preference among the colonial powers for written authority rather than oral authority.[43]
  2. The influence of Brahmins on European conceptions of Hinduism.[43] Colonialism has been a significant factor in the reinforcement of the Brahmana castes and the "brahmanisation"[44] of Hindu society.[44] The Brahmana castes preserved the texts which were studied by Europeans and provided access to them. The authority of those texts was expanded by being the focus of study by Europeans.[43] Brahmins and Europeans scholars shared a perception of "a general decline from an originally pure religion".[43]
  3. The identification of Vedanta, and specifically Advaita Vedanta, as the "paradigmatic example of the mystical nature of the Hindu religion"[43][note 3] and the "central philosophy of the Hindus".[43] Several factors led to the favouring of Advaita Vedanta:[45]
    1. Fear of French influence, especially the impact of the French Revolution; the hope was that "the supposed quietist and conservative nature of Vedantic thought would prevent the development of revolutionary sentiment;[46]
    2. "The predominance of Idealism in nineteenth century European philosophy";[47]
    3. "The amenability of Vedantic thought to both Christian and Hindu critics of 'idolatry' in other forms of Hinduism".[47]
  4. The European conception of caste which dismissed former political configurations and insisted upon an "essentially religious character" of India.[48] During the colonial period, caste was defined as a religious system and was divorced from political powers.[47] This made it possible for the colonial rulers to portray India as a society characterised by spiritual harmony in contrast to the former Indian states which they criticized as "despotic and epiphenomenal",[47] with the colonial powers providing the necessary "benevolent, paternalistic rule by a more 'advanced' nation".[47]
  5. The construction of 'Hinduism' in the image of Christianity[49] as "a systematic, confessional, all-embracing religious entity".[49] Several forces played a role in this construction:
    1. The European scholarship which studied India,[49]
    2. The "acts of policy of the colonial state",[49]
    3. Anti-colonial Hindus[50] "looking toward the systematisation of disparate practices as a means of recovering a precolonial, national identity".[49][note 4]


Main article: Hindu denominations

Hinduism as it is commonly known can be subdivided into a number of major currents. Of the historical division into six darsanas, only two schools, Vedanta and Yoga, survive. The main divisions of Hinduism today are Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism.[52] Hinduism also recognizes numerous divine beings subordinate to the Supreme Being or regards them as lower manifestations of it.[53] Other notable characteristics include a belief in reincarnation and karma as well as a belief in personal duty, or dharma.

McDaniel - six generic "types"

McDaniel (2007) distinguishes six generic "types" of Hinduism, in an attempt to accommodate a variety of views on a rather complex subject:[54]

Michaels - Hindu religions and Hindu religiosity

Michaels distinguishes three Hindu religions and four forms of Hindu religiosity.[55]

The division into three Hindu religions corresponds with the Indian division of ritual practice into Vedic (vaidika), village and folk religions (gramya), and sectarian (agama or tantra).[56] The three Hindu religions are:

  1. Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism: a polytheistic, ritualistic, priestly religion that centers on extended-family domestic and sacrificial rituals and appeals to a corpus of Vedic texts as an authority.[55] Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism takes a central place in most treatises on Hinduism because it fulfills many criteria for a definition of religion and because "in many regions of India it is the dominant religion into which the non-Brahman population groups strive to assimilate.[55][note 5]
  2. Folk religions and tribal religions: polytheistic, sometimes animistic, local religions with an extensive oral tradition. Often in tension with Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism.[57]
  3. Founded religions: salvation religions with monastic communities, usually ascetic, often anti-Brahmanic.[55] Three subgroups can be distinguished:
    1. Sectarian religions: for example Vaishnavism and Shaivism.[57]
    2. Syncretically founded religions: Hindu-Islamic (Sikhism), Hindu-Buddhist (Newar-Buddhism), Hindu-Christian mixed religions like Neohinduism.[57]
    3. Founded, proselytizing religions, "Guru-ism": groups like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation, Satya Sai Baba and the Satya Sai Federation, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and the ISKCON, Maharaj Ji and the Divine Light Mission, Osho.[57]

The four forms of Hindu religiosity are:

  1. Ritualism: Vedic-Brahmanistic domestic and sacrificial ritualism, but also some forms of Tantrism.[56] This is the classical karma-marga, the path of action.[58]
  2. Spiritualism: intellectual religiosity, aimed at individual liberation, often under guidance of a guru. It is characteristic of Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism, Shaiva Siddhanta, Neo-Vedanta, moden esoteric Guruism, and some sorts of Tantrism.[56] This is the classical jnana-marga.[58]
  3. Devotionalism: mystical worship of a God, as in bhakti and Krishnaism.[56] This is the classical bhakti-marga.[58]
  4. Heroism: a polytheistic form of religiosity rooted in militaristic traditions, such as Ramaism and parts of political Hindusim.[56] This is also called virya-marga.[58]



Main article: History of Hinduism

Prevedic religions (until c. 1750 BCE)

The earliest evidence for prehistoric religion in India that may have left its traces in Hinduism comes from the Mature Harappan culture (2600-1900BCE). The religion of this period included worship of a Great Male God, which some (most notably John Marshall) have compared to a proto-Shiva, and probably a Mother Goddess, that may prefigure Shakti. Other practices from the Indus religion that may have continued in the Vedic period include worship of water and fire. However these links of deities and practices of the Indus religion to later-day Hinduism are subject to both political contention and scholarly dispute.[59]

Vedic religion (c. 1750-500 BCE)

Although the beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era (1500–500 BCE) may have drawn upon elements from the hypothesized Proto-Indo-European religion,[60][61] the foundation text for the traditions of this period are the Vedic Samhitas from which this period derives its name. The oldest of these Vedic texts is the Rigveda, thought to have been composed in the 1700-1100 BCE period.[62] The Vedas centre on the worship of deities such as Indra, Varuna and Agni, and on the Soma ritual. Fire-sacrifices, called yajña, are performed by chanting Vedic mantras but no temples or idols are known.[63][64]

Ethics in the Vedas are based on the concepts of Satya and Rta. Satya is the principle of integration rooted in the Absolute.[65] Ṛta is the expression of Satya, which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it.[66] Conformity with Ṛta would enable progress whereas its violation would lead to punishment. Panikkar remarks:

Ṛta is the ultimate foundation of everything; it is "the supreme", although this is not to be understood in a static sense. [...] It is the expression of the primordial dynamism that is inherent in everything...."[67]

The term "dharma" was already used in Brahmanical thought, where it was conceived as an aspect of Rta.[68] The term rta is also known from the Proto-Indo-Iranian religion, the religion of the Indo-Iranian peoples prior to the earliest Vedic (Indo-Aryan) and Zoroastrian (Iranian) scriptures. Asha[pronunciation?] (aša) is the Avestan language term corresponding to Vedic language ṛta.[69]

The 9th and 8th centuries BCE witnessed the composition of the earliest Upanishads.[70]:183 Upanishads form the theoretical basis of classical Hinduism and are known as Vedanta (conclusion of the Veda).[71] The older Upanishads launched attacks of increasing intensity on the rituals.[72] The diverse monistic speculations of the Upanishads were synthesized into a theistic framework by the sacred Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita.[73]

Ascetic reformism (c. 500-200 BCE)

Main article: Shramana

Increasing urbanisation of India in 7th and 6th centuries BCE led to the rise of new ascetic or shramana movements which challenged the orthodoxy of rituals.[74] Mahavira (c.549–477 BCE), proponent of Jainism, and Buddha (c. 563-483), founder of Buddhism, were the most prominent icons of this movement.[70]:184 According to Heinrich Zimmer, Jainism and Buddhism are part of the pre-Vedic heritage, which also includes Samkhya and Yoga:

[Jainism] does not derive from Brahman-Aryan sources, but reflects the cosmology and anthropology of a much older pre-Aryan upper class of northeastern India - being rooted in the same subsoil of archaic metaphysical speculation as Yoga, Sankhya, and Buddhism, the other non-Vedic Indian systems.[75][note 6]

The Shramana tradition in part created the concept of the cycle of birth and death, the concept of samsara, and the concept of liberation, which became characteristic for Hinduism.[77][note 7]

Pratt notes that Oldenberg (1854-1920), Neumann (1865-1915) and Radhakrishnan (1888-1975)believed that the Buddhist canon had been influenced by Upanishads, while la Vallee Poussin thinks the influence was nihil, and "Eliot and several others insist that on some points the Buddha was directly antithetical to the Upanishads". [78][note 8]

Classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE-1100 CE)

Pre-classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE-300 CE)

The major Sanskrit epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, were compiled over a protracted period during the late centuries BCE and the early centuries CE.[79] They contain mythological stories about the rulers and wars of ancient India, and are interspersed with religious and philosophical treatises. The later Puranas recount tales about devas and devis, their interactions with humans and their battles against rakshasa.

In early centuries CE several schools of Hindu philosophy were formally codified, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta.[80]

"Golden Age" (Gupta Empire) (c. 320-650 CE)

Main article: Gupta Empire

During this period, power was centralised, along with a growth of far distance trade, standardizarion of legal procedures, and general spread of literacy.[81] Mahayana Buddhism flourished, but the orthodox Brahmana culture began to be rejuvenated by the patronage of the Gupta Dynasty.[82] The position of the Brahmans was reinforced,[81] and the first Hindu temples emerged during the late Gupta age.[81]

This period saw the emergence of the Bhakti movement. The Bhakti Movement was a rapid growth of bhakti beginning in Tamil Nadu in Southern India with the Saiva Nayanars (4th-10th century CE)[83] and the Vaisnava Alvars (3rd-9th century CE) who spread bhakti poetry and devotion throughout India by the 12th-18th century CE.[84][83]

According to P.S. Sharma "the Gupta and Harsha periods form really, from the strictly intellectual standpoint, the most brilliant epocha in the development of Indian philosophy", as Hindu and Buddhist philosophies flourished side by side.[85] Charvaka, the atheistic materialist school, came to the fore in North India before the 8th century CE.[86]

Late-Classical Hinduism (c. 650-110 CE)

See also Late-Classical Age and Hinduism Middle Ages

After the end of the Gupta Empire and the collapse of the Harsha Empire, power became decentralised in India. Several larger kingdoms emerged, with "countless vasal states".[87][note 9] The kingdoms were ruled via a feudal system. Smaller kingdoms were dependent on the protection of the larger kingdoms. "The great king was remote, was exalted and deified",[88] as reflected in the Tantric Mandala, which could also depict the king as the centre of the mandala.[89]

The disintegration of central power also lead to regionalisation of religiosity, and religious rivalry.[90][note 10] Local cults and languages were enhanced, and the influence of "Brahmanic ritualistic Hinduism"[90] was diminished.[90] Rural and devotional movements arose, along with Shaivism, Vaisnavism, Bhakti and Tantra,[90] though "sectarian groupings were only at the beginning of their development".[90] Religious movements had to compete for recognition by the local lords.[90] Buddhism lost its position, and began to disappear in India.[90]

Sanskritic culture went into decline after the end of the Gupta period. The early medieval Puranas helped establish a religious mainstream among the pre-literate tribal societies undergoing acculturation. The tenets of Brahmanic Hinduism and of the Dharmashastras underwent a radical transformation at the hands of the Purana composers, resulting in the rise of a mainstream "Hinduism" that overshadowed all earlier traditions.[92] In 8th-century royal circles, the Buddha started to be replaced by Hindu gods in pujas.[93] This also was the same period of time the Buddha was made into an avatar of Vishnu.[94] The non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta, which was influenced by Buddhism[95][note 11], was reformulated by Shankara who systematised the works of preceding philosophers.[100] In modern times, due to the influence of western Orientalism and Perennialism on Indian Neo-Vedanta and Hindu nationalism,[39] Advaita Vedanta has acquired a broad acceptance in Indian culture and beyond as the paradigmatic example of Hindu spirituality.[39]

Islamic rule and Sects of Hinduism (c. 1100-1850 CE)

Though Islam came to India in the early 7th century with the advent of Arab traders and the conquest of Sindh, it started to become a major religion during the later Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent.[101] During this period Buddhism declined rapidly and large number of Hindus converted to Islam.[102][103][104] Numerous Muslim rulers or their army generals such as Aurangzeb and Malik Kafur destroyed Hindu temples[105][106][107] and persecuted non-Muslims; however some, such as Akbar, were more tolerant. Hinduism underwent profound changes, in large part due to the influence of the prominent teachers Ramanuja, Madhva, and Chaitanya.[101] Followers of the Bhakti movement moved away from the abstract concept of Brahman, which the philosopher Adi Shankara consolidated a few centuries before, with emotional, passionate devotion towards the more accessible Avatars, especially Krishna and Rama.[108] According to Nicholson, already between the twelfth and the sixteenth century, "certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophival teachings of the Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as the "six systems" (saddarsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy."[109][note 12]

Modern Hinduism (from c. 1850)

Indology as an academic discipline of studying Indian culture from a European perspective was established in the 19th century, led by scholars such as Max Müller and John Woodroffe. They brought Vedic, Puranic and Tantric literature and philosophy to Europe and the United States. At the same time, societies such as the Brahmo Samaj and the Theosophical Society attempted to reconcile and fuse Abrahamic and Dharmic philosophies, endeavouring to institute societal reform. This period saw the emergence of movements which, while highly innovative, were rooted in indigenous tradition. They were based on the personalities and teachings of individuals, as with Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi. Prominent Hindu philosophers, including Aurobindo and Prabhupada (founder of ISKCON), translated, reformulated and presented Hinduism's foundational texts for contemporary audiences in new iterations, attracting followers and attention in India and abroad. Others such as Vivekananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, Sri Chinmoy, B.K.S. Iyengar and Swami Rama have also been instrumental in raising the profiles of Yoga and Vedanta in the West.

In the twentieth century, Hinduism also gained prominence as a political force and a source for national identity in India. With origins traced back to the establishment of the Hindu Mahasabha in the 1910s, the movement grew with the formulation and development of the Hindutva ideology in the following decades; the establishment of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925; and the entry, and later success, of RSS offshoots Jana Sangha and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in electoral politics in post-independence India.[115]


Hinduism is based on "the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times".[116][117] The scriptures were transmitted orally in verse form to aid memorisation, for many centuries before they were written down.[118] Over many centuries, sages refined the teachings and expanded the canon. In post-Vedic and current Hindu belief, most Hindu scriptures are not typically interpreted literally. More importance is attached to the ethics and metaphorical meanings derived from them.[119] Most sacred texts are in Sanskrit. The texts are classified into two classes: Shruti and Smriti.


The Rigveda is one of the oldest religious texts. This Rigveda manuscript is in Devanagari

Shruti (lit: that which is heard)[120] primarily refers to the Vedas, which form the earliest record of the Hindu scriptures. While many Hindus revere the Vedas as eternal truths revealed to ancient sages (Ṛṣis),[117] some devotees do not associate the creation of the Vedas with a god or person. They are thought of as the laws of the spiritual world, which would still exist even if they were not revealed to the sages.[116][121][122] Hindus believe that because the spiritual truths of the Vedas are eternal, they continue to be expressed in new ways.[123]

There are four Vedas (called Ṛg-, Sāma-, Yajus- and Atharva-). The Rigveda is the first and most important Veda.[124] Each Veda is divided into four parts: the primary one, the Veda proper, being the Saṃhitā, which contains sacred mantras. The other three parts form a three-tier ensemble of commentaries, usually in prose and are believed to be slightly later in age than the Saṃhitā. These are: the Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas, and the Upanishads. The first two parts were subsequently called the Karmakāṇḍa (ritualistic portion), while the last two form the Jñānakāṇḍa (knowledge portion).[125] While the Vedas focus on rituals, the Upanishads focus on spiritual insight and philosophical teachings, and discuss Brahman and reincarnation.[119][126][127]

A well known shloka from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is:

ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय । तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।।
मृत्योर्मामृतं गमय । ॐ शान्ति शान्ति शान्ति ।।
– बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद् 1.3.28.


om asato mā sadgamaya | tamaso mā jyotirgamaya ||
mṛtyor mā amṛtaṁ gamaya | om śānti śānti śānti ||
– bṛhadāraṇyaka upaniṣada 1.3.28


Lead Us From the Unreal To the Real |
Lead Us From Darkness To Light ||
Lead Us From Death To Immortality |
Om Let There Be Peace Peace Peace.||
– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28.


Hindu texts other than the Shrutis are collectively called the Smritis (memory). The most notable of the smritis are the epics, which consist of the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa. The Bhagavad Gītā is an integral part of the Mahabharata and one of the most popular sacred texts of Hinduism. It contains philosophical teachings from Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, told to the prince Arjuna on the eve of a great war. The Bhagavad Gītā, spoken by Krishna, is described as the essence of the Vedas.[128] However Gita, sometimes called Gitopanishad, is more often placed in the Shruti, category, being Upanishadic in content.[129] Purāṇas, which illustrate Hindu ideas through vivid narratives come under smritis. Other texts include Devī Mahātmya, the Tantras, the Yoga Sutras, Tirumantiram, Shiva Sutras and the Hindu Āgamas. A more controversial text, the Manusmriti, is a prescriptive lawbook which lays the societal codes of social stratification which later evolved into the Indian caste system.[130]

A well known verse from Bhagavad Gita describing a concept in Karma Yoga is explained as follows[131][132]

To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits;

let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction. (2.47)


The identification of Hinduism as an independent religion separate from Buddhism or Jainism consequently hinges on the affirmation of its adherents that it is such.[133]

Hinduism grants absolute and complete freedom of belief and worship.[134][135][136] Hinduism conceives the whole world as a single family that deifies the one truth, and therefore it accepts all forms of beliefs and dismisses labels of distinct religions which would imply a division of identity.[137] Hence, Hinduism is devoid of the concepts of apostasy, heresy and blasphemy.[138][139][140][141]

Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include (but are not restricted to), Dharma (ethics/duties), Samsāra (the continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), Karma (action and subsequent reaction), Moksha (liberation from samsara), and the various Yogas (paths or practices).[142]

Concept of God

Main article: God in Hinduism

Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, and atheism among others;[143][144][145][146] and 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.[147]

The Rig Veda, the oldest scripture and the mainstay of Hindu philosophy does not take a restrictive view on the fundamental question of God and the creation of universe. It rather lets the individual seek and discover answers in the quest of life. Nasadiya Sukta (Creation Hymn) of the Rig Veda thus says:[148][149]

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?

Most Hindus believe that the spirit or soul — the true "self" of every person, called the ātman — is eternal.[150] According to the monistic/pantheistic theologies of Hinduism (such as Advaita Vedanta school), this Atman is ultimately indistinct from Brahman, the supreme spirit. Hence, these schools are called non-dualist.[151] The goal of life, according to the Advaita school, is to realize that one's ātman is identical to Brahman, the supreme soul.[152] The Upanishads state that whoever becomes fully aware of the ātman as the innermost core of one's own self realizes an identity with Brahman and thereby reaches moksha (liberation or freedom).[150][153]

The schools of Vedanta and Nyaya states that karma itself proves the existence of God.[154][155] Nyaya being the school of logic, makes the "logical" inference that the universe is an effect and it ought to have a creator.[156]

Dualistic schools (see Dvaita and Bhakti) understand Brahman as a Supreme Being who possesses personality, and they worship him or her thus, as Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti, depending upon the sect. The ātman is dependent on God, while moksha depends on love towards God and on God's grace.[157] When God is viewed as the supreme personal being (rather than as the infinite principle), God is called Ishvara ("The Lord"),[158] Bhagavan ("The Auspicious One"[158]) or Parameshwara ("The Supreme Lord"[158]).[151] However interpretations of Ishvara vary, ranging from non-belief in Ishvara by followers of Mimamsakas, to identifying Brahman and Ishvara as one, as in Advaita.[151] In the majority of traditions of Vaishnavism he is Vishnu, God, and the text of Vaishnava scriptures identify this Being as Krishna, sometimes referred to as svayam bhagavan. However, under Shaktism, Devi or Adi parashakti is considered as the Supreme Being and in Shaivism Shiva is considered Supreme.

The multitude of devas are viewed as avatars of the Brahman.[159][160][161][162] In discussing the Trimurti, Sir William Jones states that Hindus "worship the Supreme Being under three forms — Vishnu, Siva, Brahma...The fundamental idea of the Hindu religion, that of metamorphoses, or transformations, is exemplified in the Avatars.[163]

In Bhagavad Gita, for example, God is the sole repository of Gunas (attributes) also as:[164]

His hands and feet are everywhere, He looks everywhere and all around,

His eyes, ears and face point to all directions, and all the three worlds are surrounded by these.

Atheistic doctrines dominate Hindu schools like Samkhya and Mimamsa.[165] The Samkhyapravachana Sutra of Samkhya argues that the existence of God (Ishvara) cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist.[166] Samkhya argue that an unchanging God cannot be the source of an ever changing world. It says God was a necessary metaphysical assumption demanded by circumstances.[167] Proponents of the school of Mimamsa, which is based on rituals and orthopraxy states that the evidence allegedly proving the existence of God was insufficient. They argue that there is no need to postulate a maker for the world, just as there is no need for an author to compose the Vedas or a God to validate the rituals.[168] Mimamsa considers the Gods named in the Vedas have no existence apart from the mantras that speak their names. To that regard, the power of the mantras is what is seen as the power of Gods.[169]

Devas and avatars

Main articles: Deva (Hinduism) and Avatar

The Hindu scriptures refer to celestial entities called Devas (or devī in feminine form; devatā used synonymously for Deva in Hindi), "the shining ones", which may be translated into English as "gods" or "heavenly beings".[note 13] The devas are an integral part of Hindu culture and are depicted in art, architecture and through icons, and mythological stories about them are related in the scriptures, particularly in Indian epic poetry and the Puranas. They are, however, often distinguished from Ishvara, a supreme personal god, with many Hindus worshiping Ishvara in one of its particular manifestations (ostensibly separate deities) as their iṣṭa devatā, or chosen ideal.[170][171] The choice is a matter of individual preference,[172] and of regional and family traditions.[172]

Hindu epics and the Puranas relate several episodes of the descent of God to Earth in corporeal form to restore dharma to society and to guide humans to moksha. Such an incarnation is called an Avatar. The most prominent avatars are of Vishnu and include Rama (the protagonist in Ramayana) and Krishna (a central figure in the epic Mahabharata).

Karma and samsara

Main article: Karma in Hinduism

Karma translates literally as action, work, or deed,[173] and can be described as the "moral law of cause and effect".[174] According to the Upanishads an individual, known as the jiva-atma, develops sanskaras (impressions) from actions, whether physical or mental. The linga sharira, a body more subtle than the physical one but less subtle than the soul, retains impressions, carrying them over into the next life, establishing a unique trajectory for the individual.[175] Thus, the concept of a universal, neutral, and never-failing karma intrinsically relates to reincarnation as well as to one's personality, characteristics, and family. Karma binds together the notions of free will and destiny.

This cycle of action, reaction, birth, death and rebirth is a continuum called samsara. The notion of reincarnation and karma is a strong premise in Hindu thought. The Bhagavad Gita states:

As a person puts on new clothes and discards old and torn clothes,

similarly an embodied soul enters new material bodies, leaving the old bodies. (B.G. 2:22)[176]

Samsara provides ephemeral pleasures, which lead people to desire rebirth so as to enjoy the pleasures of a perishable body. However, escaping the world of samsara through moksha is believed to ensure lasting happiness and peace.[177][178] It is thought that after several reincarnations, an atman eventually seeks unity with the cosmic spirit (Brahman/Paramatman).

The ultimate goal of life, referred to as moksha, nirvana or samadhi, is understood in several different ways: as the realization of one's union with God; as the realization of one's eternal relationship with God; realization of the unity of all existence; perfect unselfishness and knowledge of the Self; as the attainment of perfect mental peace; and as detachment from worldly desires. Such realization liberates one from samsara and ends the cycle of rebirth.[179][180] Due to belief in the indestructibility of the soul,[181] death is deemed insignificant with respect to the cosmic self.[182] Thence, a person who has no desire or ambition left and no responsibilities remaining in life or one affected by a terminal disease may embrace death by Prayopavesa.[183]

The exact conceptualization of moksha differs among the various Hindu schools of thought. For example, Advaita Vedanta holds that after attaining moksha an atman no longer identifies itself with an individual but as identical with Brahman in all respects. The followers of Dvaita (dualistic) schools identify themselves as part of Brahman, and after attaining moksha expect to spend eternity in a loka (heaven),[184] in the company of their chosen form of Ishvara. Thus, it is said that the followers of dvaita wish to "taste sugar", while the followers of Advaita wish to "become sugar".[185]

Objectives of human life

Main article: Purusharthas

Classical Hindu thought accepts the following objectives of human life, that which is sought as human purpose, aim, or end, is known as the purusarthas:[186][187]

Dharma (righteousness, ethics)

Main article: Ethics of Hinduism

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad views dharma as the universal principle of law, order, harmony, all in all truth, that sprang first from Brahman. It acts as the regulatory moral principle of the Universe. It is sat (truth), a major tenet of Hinduism. This hearkens back to the conception of the Rigveda that "Ekam Sat," (Truth Is One), of the idea that Brahman is "Sacchidananda" (Truth-Consciousness-Bliss). Dharma is not just law, or harmony, it is pure Reality. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad's own words:

Verily, that which is Dharma is truth, Therefore they say of a man who speaks truth, "He speaks the Dharma,"
or of a man who speaks the Dharma, "He speaks the Truth.", Verily, both these things are the same.
—(Brh. Upanishad, 1.4.14) (2)

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.[188]

Artha (livelihood, wealth)

Artha is objective & virtuous pursuit of wealth for livelihood, obligations and economic prosperity. It is inclusive of political life, diplomacy and material well-being. The doctrine of Artha is called Arthashastra, amongst the most famous of which is Kautilya Arthashastra.[189][190][191]

Kāma (sensual pleasure)

Kāma (Sanskrit, Pali; Devanagari: काम) means desire, wish, passion, longing, pleasure of the senses, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love.[192][193] However, this is only acceptable within marriage.

Mokṣa (liberation, freedom from samsara)

Moksha (Sanskrit: मोक्ष mokṣa) or mukti (Sanskrit: मुक्ति), literally "release" (both from a root muc "to let loose, let go"), is the last goal of life. It is liberation from samsara and the concomitant suffering involved in being subject to the cycle of repeated death and reincarnation.[194]


Main article: Yoga

In whatever way a Hindu defines the goal of life, there are several methods (yogas) that sages have taught for reaching that goal. Texts dedicated to Yoga include the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and, as their philosophical and historical basis, the Upanishads. Paths that one can follow to achieve the spiritual goal of life (moksha, samadhi or nirvana) include:

An individual may prefer one or some yogas over others, according to his or her inclination and understanding. Some devotional schools teach that bhakti is the only practical path to achieve spiritual perfection for most people, based on their belief that the world is currently in the Kali Yuga (one of four epochs which are part of the Yuga cycle).[196] Practice of one yoga does not exclude others. Many schools believe that the different yogas naturally blend into and aid other yogas. For example, the practice of jnana yoga, is thought to inevitably lead to pure love (the goal of bhakti yoga), and vice versa.[197] Someone practicing deep meditation (such as in raja yoga) must embody the core principles of karma yoga, jnana yoga and bhakti yoga, whether directly or indirectly.[195][198]



Hindu practices generally involve seeking awareness of God and sometimes also seeking blessings from Devas. Therefore, Hinduism has developed numerous practices meant to help one think of divinity in the midst of everyday life. Hindus can engage in puja (worship or veneration),[158] either at home or at a temple. At home, Hindus often create a shrine with icons dedicated to their chosen form(s) of God. Temples are usually dedicated to a primary deity along with associated subordinate deities though some commemorate multiple deities. Visiting temples is not obligatory,[199] and many visit temples only during religious festivals. Hindus perform their worship through icons (murtis). The icon serves as a tangible link between the worshiper and God.[200] The image is often considered a manifestation of God, since God is immanent. The Padma Purana states that the mūrti is not to be thought of as mere stone or wood but as a manifest form of the Divinity.[201] A few Hindu sects, such as the Ārya Samāj, do not believe in worshiping God through icons.

Mantras are invocations, praise and prayers that through their meaning, sound, and chanting style help a devotee focus the mind on holy thoughts or express devotion to God/the deities. Many devotees perform morning ablutions at the bank of a sacred river while chanting the Gayatri Mantra or Mahamrityunjaya mantras.[202] The epic Mahabharata extols Japa (ritualistic chanting) as the greatest duty in the Kali Yuga (what Hindus believe to be the current age).[203] Many adopt Japa as their primary spiritual practice.[203] Yoga is a Hindu discipline which trains the consciousness for tranquility, health and spiritual insight. This is done through a system of postures and exercises to practise control of the body and mind.[204]



Hinduism has a developed system of symbolism and iconography to represent the sacred in art, architecture, literature and worship. These symbols gain their meaning from the scriptures, mythology, or cultural traditions. The syllable om (which represents the Para Brahman) and the swastika sign (which symbolises auspiciousness) have grown to represent Hinduism itself, while other markings such as tilaka identify a follower of the faith. Hinduism associates many symbols, which include the lotus (padma), chakra and veena, with particular deities.


The vast majority of Hindus engage in religious rituals on a daily basis.[205][206] Most Hindus observe religious rituals at home.[207] but this varies greatly among regions, villages, and individuals. 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, meditation, chanting mantras, reciting scriptures etc.[207] A notable feature in religious ritual is the division between purity and pollution. Religious acts presuppose some degree of impurity or defilement for the practitioner, which must be overcome or neutralised before or during ritual procedures. Purification, usually with water, is thus a typical feature of most religious action.[207] Other characteristics include a belief in the efficacy of sacrifice and concept of merit, gained through the performance of charity or good works, that will accumulate over time and reduce sufferings in the next world.[207] Vedic rites of fire-oblation (yajna) are now only occasional practices, although they are highly revered in theory. In Hindu wedding and burial ceremonies, however, the yajña and chanting of Vedic mantras are still the norm.[208] The rituals, upacharas, change with time. For instance, in the past few hundred years some rituals, such as sacred dance and music offerings in the standard Sodasa Upacharas set prescribed by the Agama Shastra, were replaced by the offerings of rice and sweets.

Occasions like birth, marriage, and death involve what are often elaborate sets of religious customs. In Hinduism, life-cycle rituals include Annaprashan (a baby's first intake of solid food), Upanayanam ("sacred thread ceremony" undergone by upper-caste children at their initiation into formal education) and Śrāddha (ritual of treating people to a meal in return for prayers to 'God' to give peace to the soul of the deceased).[209][210] For most people in India, the betrothal of the young couple and the exact date and time of the wedding are matters decided by the parents in consultation with astrologers.[209] On death, cremation is considered obligatory for all except sanyasis, hijra, and children under five.[211] Cremation is typically performed by wrapping the corpse in cloth and burning it on a pyre.


Following pilgrimage sites are most famous amongst Hindu devotees:

Char Dham (Famous Four Pilgrimage sites): The four holy sites Puri, Rameswaram, Dwarka, and Badrinath (or alternatively the Himalayan towns of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri) compose the Char Dham (four abodes) pilgrimage circuit.

Kumbh Mela: The Kumbh Mela (the "pitcher festival") is one of the holiest of Hindu pilgrimages that is held every 12 years; the location is rotated among Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain.

Old Holy cities as per Puranic Texts: Varanasi formerly known as Kashi, Allahabad formerly known as Prayag, Haridwar-Rishikesh, Mathura-Vrindavan, and Ayodhya.

Major Temple cities: Puri, which hosts a major Vaishnava Jagannath temple and Rath Yatra celebration; Katra, home to the Vaishno Devi temple; Three comparatively recent temples of fame and huge pilgrimage are Shirdi, home to Sai Baba of Shirdi, Tirumala - Tirupati, home to the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple; and Sabarimala,where Swami Ayyappan is worshipped.

Shakti Peethas: Another important set of pilgrimages are the Shakti Peethas, where the Mother Goddess is worshipped, the two principal ones being Kalighat and Kamakhya.

While there are different yet similar pilgrimage routes in different parts of India, all are respected equally well, according to the universality of Hinduism.

Pilgrimage is not mandatory in Hinduism, though many adherents undertake them.[212]


Main article: Hindu festivals

Hindu festivals (Sanskrit: Utsava; literally: "to lift higher") are considered as symbolic rituals that beautifully weave individual and social life to dharma.[213] Hinduism has many festivals throughout the year. The Hindu calendar usually prescribe their dates.

The festivals typically celebrate events from Hindu mythology, often coinciding with seasonal changes. There are festivals which are primarily celebrated by specific sects or in certain regions of the Indian subcontinent.

Some widely observed Hindu festivals include:


Hinduism is a major religion in India and, according to a 2001 census, Hinduism was followed by around 80.5% of the country's population of 1.21 billion (2012 estimate) (960 million adherents).[214] Other significant populations are found in Nepal (23 million), Bangladesh (15 million) and the Indonesian island of Bali (3.3 million).

Countries with the greatest proportion of Hindus from Hinduism by country (as of 2008):

  1.    Nepal 81.3%[215]
  2.  India 80.5%
  3.  Mauritius 54%[216]
  4.  Guyana 28%[217]
  5.  Fiji 27.9%[218]
  6.  Bhutan 25%[219]
  7.  Trinidad and Tobago 22.5%
  8.  Suriname 20%[220]
  9.  Sri Lanka 12.6%[221]
  10.  Bangladesh 9.6%[222]
  11.  Qatar 7.2%
  12.  Réunion 6.7%
  13.  Malaysia 6.3%[223]
  14.  Bahrain 6.25%
  15.  Kuwait 6%
  16.  Singapore 5.1%[224]
  17.  United Arab Emirates 5%
  18.  Oman 3%
  19.  Belize 2.3%
  20.  Seychelles 2.1%[225]

Demographically, Hinduism is the world's third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam.



Main article: Hindu denominations

Hinduism has no central doctrinal authority and many practising Hindus do not claim to belong to any particular denomination.[227] However, academics categorize contemporary Hinduism into four major denominations: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism. The denominations differ primarily in the god worshipped as the Supreme One and in the traditions that accompany worship of that god.

Vaishnavas worship Vishnu as the supreme God; Shaivites worship Shiva as the supreme; Shaktas worship Shakti (power) personified through a female divinity or Mother Goddess, Devi; while Smartas believe in the essential oneness of five (panchadeva) or six (Shanmata, as Tamil Hindus add Skanda)[228] deities as personifications of the Supreme.

The Western conception of what Hinduism is has been defined by the Smarta view; many Hindus, who may not understand or follow Advaita philosophy, in contemporary Hinduism, invariably follow the Shanmata belief worshiping many forms of God. One commentator, noting the influence of the Smarta tradition, remarked that although many Hindus may not strictly identify themselves as Smartas but, by adhering to Advaita Vedanta as a foundation for non-sectarianism, are indirect followers.[229]

Other denominations like Ganapatya (the cult of Ganesha) and Saura (Sun worship) are not as widespread.

There are movements that are not easily placed in any of the above categories, such as Swami Dayananda Saraswati's Arya Samaj, which rejects image worship and veneration of multiple deities. It focuses on the Vedas and the Vedic fire sacrifices (yajña).

The Tantric traditions have various sects, as Banerji observes:

Tantras are ... also divided as āstika or Vedic and nāstika or non-Vedic. In accordance with the predominance of the deity the āstika works are again divided as Śākta (Shakta), Śaiva (Shaiva), Saura, Gāṇapatya and Vaiṣṇava (Vaishnava).[230]


Main article: Varna (Hinduism)

Hindu society has been categorized into four classes, called varnas.They are,

  • the Brahmins: Vedic teachers and priests;
  • the Kshatriyas: warriors, nobles, and kings;
  • the Vaishyas: farmers, merchants, and businessmen; and
  • the Shudras: servants and labourers.

The Bhagavad Gītā links the varna to an individual's duty (svadharma), inborn nature (svabhāva), and natural tendencies (guṇa).[231] Gita's conception of varna allowed Aurobindo to derive his doctrine that "functions of a man ought to be determined by his natural turn, gift and capacities."[232][233] The Manusmṛiti categorizes the different castes.[234]

Some mobility and flexibility within the varnas challenge allegations of social discrimination in the caste system, as has been pointed out by several sociologists,[235][236] although some other scholars disagree.[237] Hindus and scholars debate whether the so-called caste system is an integral part of Hinduism sanctioned by the scriptures or an outdated social custom.[238][239][240] The religious teacher Sri Ramakrishna (1836–1886) taught that

Lovers of God do not belong to any caste . . . . A brahmin without this love is no longer a brahmin. And a pariah with the love of God is no longer a pariah. Through bhakti (devotion to God) an untouchable becomes pure and elevated.[241]

A renunciant man of knowledge is usually called Varnatita or "beyond all varnas" in Vedantic works. The bhiksu is advised to not bother about the caste of the family from which he begs his food. Scholars like Adi Sankara affirm that not only is Brahman beyond all varnas, the man who is identified with Him also transcends the distinctions and limitations of caste.[242]


Main article: Ashrama

Traditionally the life of a Hindu is divided into four Āshramas (phases or stages; unrelated meanings include monastery). The first part of one's life, Brahmacharya, the stage as a student, is spent in celibate, controlled, sober and pure contemplation under the guidance of a Guru, building up the mind for spiritual knowledge. Grihastha is the householder's stage, in which one marries and satisfies kāma and artha in one's married and professional life respectively (see the goals of life). The moral obligations of a Hindu householder include supporting one's parents, children, guests and holy figures. Vānaprastha, the retirement stage, is gradual detachment from the material world. This may involve giving over duties to one's children, spending more time in religious practices and embarking on holy pilgrimages. Finally, in Sannyāsa, the stage of asceticism, one renounces all worldly attachments to secludedly find the Divine through detachment from worldly life and peacefully shed the body for Moksha.[243]


Main article: Sannyasa

Some Hindus choose to live a monastic life (Sannyāsa) in pursuit of liberation or another form of spiritual perfection. Monastics commit themselves to a life of simplicity, celibacy, detachment from worldly pursuits, and the contemplation of God.[244] A Hindu monk is called a sanyāsī, sādhu, or swāmi. A female renunciate is called a sanyāsini. Renunciates receive high respect in Hindu society because their outward renunciation of selfishness and worldliness serves as an inspiration to householders who strive for mental renunciation. Some monastics live in monasteries, while others wander from place to place, trusting in God alone to provide for their needs.[245] It is considered a highly meritorious act for a householder to provide sādhus with food or other necessaries. Sādhus strive to treat all with respect and compassion, whether a person may be poor or rich, good or wicked, and to be indifferent to praise, blame, pleasure, and pain.[244]

Ahimsa, vegetarianism and other food customs

Hindus advocate the practice of ahiṃsā (non-violence) and respect for all life because divinity is believed to permeate all beings, including plants and non-human animals.[246] The term ahiṃsā appears in the Upanishads,[247] the epic Mahabharata[248] and Ahiṃsā is the first of the five Yamas (vows of self-restraint) in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.[249] and the first principle for all member of Varnashrama Dharma (brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra) in Law of Manu (book 10, sutra 63 : Ahimsa, satya, asteya, shaucam and indrayanigraha, almost similar to main principles of jainism).[250][251]

In accordance with ahiṃsā, many Hindus embrace vegetarianism to respect higher forms of life. Estimates of the number of lacto vegetarians in India (includes adherents of all religions) vary between 20% and 42%.[252] The food habits vary with the community and region: for example, some castes having fewer vegetarians and coastal populations relying on seafood.[253][254] Some avoid meat only on specific holy days. Observant Hindus who do eat meat almost always abstain from beef. The cow in Hindu society is traditionally identified as a caretaker and a maternal figure,[255] and Hindu society honours the cow as a symbol of unselfish giving.[256] Cow-slaughter is legally banned in almost all states of India.[257]

There are many Hindu groups that have continued to abide by a strict vegetarian diet in modern times. One example is the movement known as ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), whose followers “not only abstain from meat, fish, and fowl, but also avoid certain vegetables that are thought to have negative properties, such as onion, garlic[258] and mushroom.”[259] A second example is the Swaminarayan Movement. The followers of this Hindu group also staunchly adhere to a diet that is devoid of meat, eggs, and seafood.[260]

Vegetarianism is propagated by the Yajur Veda and it is recommended for a satvic (purifying) lifestyle.[261] Thus, another reason that dietary purity is so eminent within Hinduism is because of “the idea that food reflects the general qualities of nature: purity, energy, [and] inertia.” It follows that a healthy diet should be one that promotes purity within an individual.[258]

Based on this reasoning, Hindus should avoid or minimize the intake of foods that do not promote purity. These foods include onion and garlic, which are regarded as rajasic (a state which is characterized by “tension and overbearing demeanor”) foods, and meat, which is regarded as tamasic (a state which is characterized by “anger, greed, and jealousy”).[262]

Some Hindus from certain sects - generally Shakta,[263] certain Shudra and Kshatriya castes[264][265] and certain Eastern Indian[266] and East Asian regions;[267] practise animal sacrifice (bali),[268] although most Hindus, including the majority of Vaishnava and Shaivite Hindus abhor it.[269]


Spread of Hindu practices

Hindu practices such as yoga, ayurvedic health, divination (astrology, palmistry, numerology), tantric sexuality through Neotantra and kama sutra have reached beyond Hindu communities and have been accepted by several non-Hindus.

It is estimated that around 30 million Americans and 5 million Europeans regularly practice some form of Hatha Yoga.[270] In Australia, the number of practitioners is about 300,000.[271] In New Zealand the number is also around 300,000.[272]

See also

Related systems and religions


  1. IXth European Conference on Modern Asian Studies in Heidelberg (1989), Hinduism Reconsidered
  2. Ronald Inden, Imagining India
  3. Carol Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer, Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament
  4. Vasudha Dalmia and Heinrich von Stietencron, Representing Hinduism
  5. S.N. Balagangadhara, The Heathen in his Blindness...
  6. Thomas Trautmann, Aryans and British India
  7. Richard King (1989), Orientalism and religion



Further reading

  • Richards, Glyn, ed. (1985). A Sourcebook of Modern Hinduism. London: Curzon Press. x, 212 p. ISBN 0-7007-0173-7

External links

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  • Resources for Scholars and Students
  • All About Hinduism by Swami Sivananda (pdf)
  • Heart of Hinduism: An overview of Hindu traditions
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  • Ethical Democracy Journal - Notes on Hinduism
  • Religious Tolerance page on Hinduism
  • Paper on Hinduism by Swami Vivekananda - Presented at World Parliament of Religion in 1893 (Text + Audio Version)
  • Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies Lectures and seminars in MP3 audio format by the OCHS as reference material for scholars and students.


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