Religion founded in India, and based on the identity between the self and the universe.
1. A complex of beliefs and values and customs including worship of many gods especially the Trimurti composed of Brahma the Creator; Vishnu the preserver; and Shiva the destroyer; Also called: Hindooism.
2. The dominant religion of India; characterized by a caste system and belief in reincarnation; Also called: Hindooism.
Religion originating in N India about 4,000 years ago, which is superficially and in some of its forms polytheistic, but has a concept of the supreme spirit, Brahman, above the many divine manifestations. These include the triad of chief gods (the Trimurti): Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva (creator, preserver, and destroyer). Central to Hinduism are the beliefs in reincarnation and karma; the oldest scriptures are the Vedas. Temple worship is almost universally observed and there are many festivals. There are over 805 million Hindus worldwide. Women are not regarded as the equals of men but should be treated with kindness and respect. Muslim influence in N India led to the veiling of women and the restriction of their movements from about the end of the 12th century.
Hindu beliefs originated in the Indus Valley civilization about 4,500 years ago. Much of the tradition that is now associated with Hinduism stems from the ritual and religion of the Aryans who invaded N India about 3,000 years ago.
The Veda collection of hymns, compiled by the Aryans, was followed by the philosophical Upanishads, centering on the doctrine of Brahman, and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata (which includes the Bhagavad-Gita), all from before the Christian era.
Hindu belief and ritual can vary greatly even between villages. Some deities achieve widespread popularity such as Krishna, Hanuman, Lakshmi, and Durga; others, more localized and specialized, are referred to particularly in times of sickness or need. Some deities manifest themselves in different incarnations or avatars such as Rama or Krishna, both avatars of the god Vishnu.
Underlying this multifaceted worship is the creative strength of Brahman, the supreme being. Hindus believe that all living things are part of Brahman: they are sparks of atman or divine life that transmute from one body to another, sometimes descending into the form of a plant or an insect, sometimes the body of a human. This is all according to its karma or past actions which are the cause of its sufferings or joy as it rises and falls in samsara (the endless cycle of birth and death). Humans have the opportunity, through knowledge and devotion, to break the karmic chain and achieve final liberation, or moksha. The atman is then free to return to Brahman.
The creative force of the universe is recognized in the god Brahma. Once he has brought the cosmos into being, it is sustained by Vishnu and then annihilated by the god Siva, only to be created once more by Brahma. Vishnu and Siva are, respectively, the forces of light and darkness, preservation and destruction, with Brahma as the balancing force that enables the existence and interaction of life. The cosmos is seen as both real and an illusion (maya), since its reality is not lasting; the cosmos is itself personified as the goddess Maya.
Hinduism has a complex of rites and ceremonies performed within the framework of the jati, or caste system, under the supervision of the Brahman priests and teachers. In India, caste is traditionally derived from the four classes of early Hindu society: brahmans (priests), kshatriyas (nobles and warriors), vaisyas (traders and cultivators), and sudras (servants). A fifth class, the untouchables, regarded as polluting in its origins, remained (and still largely remains) on the edge of Hindu society. The Indian Constituent Assembly 1947 made discrimination against the Scheduled Castes or Depressed Classes illegal, but strong prejudice continues.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON), the Western organization of the Hare Krishna movement, was introduced to the West by Swami Prabhupada (1896–1977). Members are expected to lead ascetic lives. It is based on devotion to Krishna which includes study of the Bhagavad-Gita, temple and home ritual, and the chanting of the name Hare (savior) Krishna. Members are expected to avoid meat, eggs, alcohol, tea, coffee, drugs, and gambling. Sexual relationships should be only for procreation within the bonds of marriage.