HinduismIntroduction Hinduism is a religion that originated in India and is stillpracticed by most of the Natives as well as the people who have migrated fromIndia to other parts of the world. Statistically there are over seven hundredmillion Hindus, mainly in Bharat, India and Nepal. Eighty five percent of thepopulation in India is Hindu. The word Hindu comes from an ancient Sanskrit termmeaning “dwellers by the Indus River,” referring to the location of India’searliest know civilization, the Pakistan. There is not much organization andhierarchy is nonexistent.
The religion suggests commitment to or respect for anideal way of life know as Dharma. Hinduism absorbs foreign ideas and beliefsmaking it have a wide variety of beliefs and practices. This has given it acharacter of social and doctrinal system that extends to every aspect of life.
The Hindus own definition of their community is “those who believe in Vedas.”History/Origin The practices and beliefs of Hinduism cannot be understoodwithout knowing the background.
Hinduism is the worlds oldest religion, itdates back more than 3,000 years. Hinduism is unique in the fact that it has nofounder. Its origins are lost in a very distant past. In 1500 BC the Indo-Aryantribes invaded India and took over the Mahenjo-daro. From the combination ofthese two tribes came the worship of goddesses. The Hindus started practicessuch as bathing in temple tanks and the postures of yoga. Soon gods of warstarted being created and worshipped. Sakas then began invading the Hindus andmade a large impact on the religion. The sacred temples started to be built andthe sacred laws were codified and myths and legends were preserved in thePuranas. Soon great devotional movements began and ways of religion practiceevolved and are still used today. In the medieval times the Hindus evolved intohaving philosophers, plays and music with their religion. A man named Chaitanyacame into power and claimed to have a god reincarnated inside of him. In the19th century, movements to reconcile traditional Hinduism with the socialreforms and political ideas of the day took place. Many people where sent outto Europe and Asia preaching and spreading the religion. Throughout all theseperiods of time, the religion mutated and changed to fit with the times and asit did it just kept gathering more and more followers.
Hinduism Today Today there are numerous self proclaimed teachers who havemigrated to Europe and the United States, where they have inspired largefollowings. In India Hinduism thrives despite all the reforms and shortcutsmade in the practicing due to the gradual modernization and urbanization ofHindu life. Hinduism continues to serve vital function by giving passionatemeaning to the Hindus of today.
Beliefs and PracticesCaste System The ideal way of life is referred to as the “duties of one’s classand station”. In the phrase the word class is changed to CASTE. The ancienttexts tell of four great classes, or castes: the Brahmins, or priests; theKsatriyas, or warriors and rulers; the Vaisayas, or merchants and farmers; andthe Sudras, or peasants and laborers. A fifth class, Panchamas, or untouchables,are people whose jobs make them touch unclean or unholy objects. In the newsociety the system is harder to work with but in the past the caste was verystrict and kept different people in different classes very distinctly.
Stages of LifeThe sacred texts also outline four ideal stages, or stations of life, each withits own duty. The first stage is studentship (brahmacarya). This stage lastsfrom initiation into the religion at 5 years of age to marriage at 13 years ofage. The second stage, householdership (grihasthya) is during marriage, raisinga family, and taking part in the society. The third stage, forest dwelling(vanaprasthya), is after the kids have grown and gone. The fourth and finalstage is renunciation (samnyasa). It is when one gives up attachment to allworldly things and seeks spiritual liberation. Besides the duties from theclass and station, there are also general duties (sanatanadharma). Theseinclude honesty, courage, service, faith, self-control, purity, and nonviolence.
The classes and stations only apply to male Hindus.
Purpose of Life The purpose of life is to respect the ideal way of life. Thereare also two other lesser purposes which are, enjoyment of desires and artha, ormaterial prosperity.
Karma and Rebirth A popular belief in Hinduism is Transmigration of souls, orsamsara. Samsara is the passage of a soul from body to body as determined bythe force of one’s actions, or karma. The strict karma theory specifies that aperson’s type of birth, length of life, and life experiences are determined byone’s previous acts. Yoga is a ritual used to assure rebirth.
Philosophy Hinduism has six philosophical systems. The systems called Nyaya,Vaisheshika, Samkhya, and Yoga emphasize the understanding of basic principlesof metaphysics and epistemology. Nyaya in addition includes an analysis of logic.
The systems called Mimamsa identify the performance of ritual. The many Vedantasystems emphasize understanding of the relationship between the self andultimate reality.
Hindu Deities (gods) The Hindus believe the universe is populated with many gods.
These gods behave much as humans do and are related much like humans are. Thisview is very similar to the ancient Greek theories. The supreme gods Brahma,Vishnu, and Shiva are often viewed with the relations they have with femaledeities. The females are called Shakti. The gods are ranked by how closelythey are related to the supreme gods. All the gods have duties but the supremegods control the destiny. Each god has its own part of the year when it isworshipped and own style that it gets worshipped in.
Worship Typical Hindu daily worship includes a stop at several shrines, a visitto the temple, and home worship. A Hindu may be devoted to several gods butthere can only be one shrine in the family house and it must be devoted to justone god. To worship another god they must go to the nearby temple. Becauseeverything is sacred in a Hindu’s eyes, almost anything may be considered worthyof worship, such as rivers, cowpens, etc. During worship everything must bepurified through fire, water, and drawing symbolic diagrams. Depending on aHindu’s class and station, the requirements for worship change. But they mustoffer food, flowers, and incense to the deity, as well as say the appropriaterecitations of sacred words or text.
Festivals Certain festival days are celebrated throughout the Hindu society on afixed day according to the Hindu lunisolar calendar. One festival is Dipavali,the “Festival of Lights” occurring in October and November. On this day lampsare placed around the house to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. Holi,a spring festival in February and March, is a day of fun making, involvingtemporary suspension of a persons class or caste and social distinctions.
Practical jokes are the purpose of the day. In fall, is a ten-day period setaside to honor the Mother Goddess, a day of processions and celebrations.
Sacred Texts The ultimate series of books is the Vedas. The Vedas are the ruleswhich the Hindu people follow. The oldest of the four Vedas is the Rig-Veda,which is made from an ancient form. This text was composed between 1300 and 1000BC and contains 1028 hymns dedicated to many different gods. Other Vedas booksare the Yajur-Veda (the text book for sacrifice), the Sama-Veda (a hymnal), andthe Atharva-Veda (a collection of magic spells). The Atharva-Veda was probablyadded around 900 BC. The rituals for worship were also written down so thatthey would always be done correctly and never forgotten.
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