Hinduism is an Indian religion and dharma, or a way of life, widely practised in the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, and some practitioners and scholars refer to it as Sanātana Dharma, “the eternal tradition”, or the “eternal way”, beyond human history.vScholars regard Hinduism as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with diverse roots and no founder. This “Hindu synthesis” started to develop between 500 BCE and 300 CE, following the Vedic period (1500 BCE to 500 BCE).
Although Hinduism contains a broad range of philosophies, it is linked by shared concepts, recognisable rituals, cosmology, shared textual resources, and pilgrimage to sacred sites. Hindu texts are classified into Śruti (“heard”) and Smṛti (“remembered”). These texts discuss theology, philosophy, mythology, Vedic yajna, Yoga, agamic rituals, and temple building, among other topics. Major scriptures include the Vedas and Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Agamas. Sources of authority and eternal truths in its texts play an important role, but there is also a strong Hindu tradition of questioning authority in order to deepen the understanding of these truths and to further develop the tradition.
Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include the four Purusarthas, the proper goals or aims of human life, namely Dharma (ethics/duties), Artha (prosperity/work), Kama (desires/passions) and Moksha (liberation/freedom/salvation), karma (action, intent and consequences), Saṃsāra (cycle of rebirth), and the various Yogas (paths or practices to attain moksha). Hindu practices include rituals such as puja (worship) and recitations, meditation, family-oriented rites of passage, annual festivals, and occasional pilgrimages. Some Hindus leave their social world and material possessions, then engage in lifelong Sannyasa (monastic practices) to achieve Moksha. Hinduism prescribes the eternal duties, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings (ahimsa), patience, forbearance, self-restraint, and compassion, among others. The four largest denominations of Hinduism are the Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism.
Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion; its followers, known as Hindus, constitute about 1.15 billion, or 15–16% of the global population. 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.
Hindu Dharma Defination
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. 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.
The study of India and its cultures and religions, and the definition of “Hinduism”, has been shaped by the interests of colonialism and by Western notions of religion. Since the 1990s, those influences and its outcomes have been the topic of debate among scholars of Hinduism, and have also been taken over by critics of the Western view on India.
Swami Vivekananda was a key figure in introducing Vedanta and Yoga in Europe and the United States,raising interfaith awareness and making Hinduism a world religion.
Beginning in the 19th century, Indian modernists re-asserted Hinduism as a major asset of Indian civilisation, meanwhile “purifying” Hinduism from its Tantric elements and elevating the Vedic elements. Western stereotypes were reversed, emphasizing the universal aspects, and introducing modern approaches of social problems. This approach had a great appeal, not only in India, but also in the west. Major representatives of “Hindu modernism” are Raja Rammohan Roy, Vivekananda, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Mahatma Gandhi.
Raja Rammohan Roy is known as the father of the Hindu Renaissance. He was a major influence on Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902), who, according to Flood, was “a figure of great importance in the development of a modern Hindu self-understanding and in formulating the West’s view of Hinduism”. Central to his philosophy is the idea that the divine exists in all beings, that all human beings can achieve union with this “innate divinity”, and that seeing this divine as the essence of others will further love and social harmony. According to Vivekananda, there is an essential unity to Hinduism, which underlies the diversity of its many forms. According to Flood, Vivekananda’s vision of Hinduism “is one generally accepted by most English-speaking middle-class Hindus today”. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan sought to reconcile western rationalism with Hinduism, “presenting Hinduism as an essentially rationalistic and humanistic religious experience”.
This “Global Hinduism” has a worldwide appeal, transcending national boundaries and, according to Flood, “becoming a world religion alongside Christianity, Islam and Buddhism”, both for the Hindu diaspora communities and for westerners who are attracted to non-western cultures and religions. It emphasizes universal spiritual values such as social justice, peace and “the spiritual transformation of humanity”. It has developed partly due to “re-enculturation”, or the Pizza effect, in which elements of Hindu culture have been exported to the West, gaining popularity there, and as a consequence also gained greater popularity in India. This globalization of Hindu culture brought “to the West teachings which have become an important cultural force in western societies, and which in turn have become an important cultural force in India, their place of origin”.
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,
Sense of unity
Despite the differences, there is also a sense of unity. Most Hindu traditions revere a body of religious or sacred literature, the Vedas, although there are exceptions. These texts are a reminder of the ancient cultural heritage and point of pride for Hindus, with Louis Renou stating that “even in the most orthodox domains, the reverence to the Vedas has come to be a simple raising of the hat”.
Halbfass states that, although Shaivism and Vaishaism may be regarded as “self-contained religious constellations”, there is a degree of interaction and reference between the “theoreticians and literary representatives” of each tradition which indicates the presence of “a wider sense of identity, a sense of coherence in a shared context and of inclusion in a common framework and horizon”.