Evolution of India's Oldest Religion: Hinduism

Have you ever wondered why more than 1 Billion people practice Hinduism? Why is it the third-largest religion after Christianity and Islam?

Well, This complex religion has a unique history. But, many historians find it difficult to trace the origins and history of Hinduism. This religion is not actually a single religion but a blend of many philosophies and traditions.

Basic concepts of Hinduism include,
● Hinduism is referred to as a ‘way of life’.
● Forms of Hinduism are henotheistic, They believe in a single deity ‘Brahman’. Followers of Hinduism worship many
gods and goddesses because they believe there are many ways of reaching god.
● Followers believe in ‘aatman’ and everyone’s common goal is to achieve salvation which ends up the cycle of rebirth
● They do not eat beef or pork and they are mostly vegetarians.
● Hindus believe that they can get liberalization from the cycle of rebirth if they accumulate positive ‘Karma’

Origin of Hinduism
It is one of the most argued topics among historians. A lot of scholars suggested many theories but the reality could not be traced till today. Hinduism is actually based on the fusion of various beliefs.

Many scholars believe that Hinduism got its influence from the Indus Valley civilization(present-day Pakistan)around 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE. Eventually, When the Indo-Aryan people settled in the Indus Valley they composed Vedas.

Vedas contained hymns, rituals, and mantras and these texts became sacred this all happened around 1500 BCE to 500 BCE. This Vedic period was known for the emergence of the Vedas.

Though Hinduism has a lot of sacred texts like Upanishads, Ramayan, Puranas and a lot more but ‘Vedas’ are considered the most sacred of all. They were written in Sanskrit. It was believed that The Vedas did not have any beginning or end. There were mainly 4 ‘Vedas’,

1. The Rig Veda
2. The Samaveda
3. Yajurveda
4. Atharvaveda

The journey of Hinduism is not as smooth as you think because over time elements of Buddhism and other religions got incorporated into it.
Hindus began the worship of deities like Vishnu, Shiva, and Devi after the Epic, puranic, and Classic periods (500 B.C. and A.D. 500).
After it again went under various transformations during the rule of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka and the Gupta dynasty. (From the 3rd century BCE till the 6th century BCE). Hinduism even after this, continued to evolve over time.

So, it really doesn’t have any founder?

We’ve seen that Hinduism does not have any specific founder because, at the time of its evolution, it got influenced and blended with many cultures, traditions, religions, and periods.

However, a lot of saints, sages, philosophers, rulers, and priests of ancient India contributed to the development of this religion. Some of the personalities are as follows,

● Adi Shankaracharya(8th century CE)
● Ramanuja(11th-12th century CE)
● Swami Vivekananda, (19th century CE)
● Mahatma Gandhi(20th century CE)
● Swami Sivananda (20th century CE)
● A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (20th century CE)

How old is Hinduism?

It is believed that Hinduism is one of the oldest religions which dates back even more than thousands of years! Its elements can be found in the Indus Valley civilization which was in the Northwestern region of India(2600 BCE to 1900 BCE).

The rich array of symbols in Hinduism

Symbols of Hinduism have great significance for its followers it is so because each symbol has a deep spiritual meaning. The cultural significance of Hinduism has always been remarkable and each symbol represents a deep meaning.

● Om (ॐ)
It is one of the most sacred symbols it represents the sound of the universe. It is often used as a chanting mantra in meditation.

● Swastika (卐)
The word ‘swastika’ means good luck and prosperity. It actually represents the sun and the cycle of creation.

● Lotus (कमल)
It is often used in Hindu art and architecture and it represents purity, enlightenment, and spiritual growth.

● Shivalinga (शिवलिंग)
It represents the god of transformation ‘Shiva’.This symbol represents the infinite nature of ‘Shiva’.

● Tilak (तिलक)
It is usually worn by Hindu men and women and it represents the third eye of wisdom. It is believed to strengthen concentration and ultimate protection against bad luck.

Gods in Hinduism

Hindus believe that the supreme god is ‘Brahman’ and he is the ultimate reality. But they worship a lot of gods and goddesses because the followers believe that there are many ways of reaching god.

● Brahma
He is known as the ultimate reality and the creator of the entire universe.

● Vishnu
He protects and retains the entire universe.

● Shiva
He is a widely believed god among the followers. He is known for destroying the universe in order to create a new cycle of creation.

● Ganesh
He is known to create new beginnings and destroy all obstacles in the way. Followers worship him before starting any new work, buisness, or celebration.

● Krishna
The moral values given by him show how to live a better and more peaceful life. He had the main character in the Bhagwat Gita and is known as a god of compassion, tenderness, and love.

● Devi
It is worshipped in many forms (Durga, Kali, and Saraswati) and it represents feminine energy.

Worships in Hinduism

Followers of Hinduism consider worshiping as their most important habit it brings peace to mind but it is essential for spiritual connection that provides calmness of body mind and soul from small shrines to big temples there are many places where the followers go for their prayers,

1. Temples- Places of worship and community gatherings. They are usually dedicated to one or even more deities.

2. Shrines
Smaller versions of temples are found in the homes of followers called ‘Shrines’.

3. Mountains and caves
Many mountains and caves are believed to be sacred in Hinduism Followers undertake these mountains as pilgrimages to practice devotion.

4. Holy rivers and lakes
Many followers worship rivers and lakes because these rivers are considered to be sacred in Hinduism and followers bathe in these lakes and rivers for their purification.

5. Ashrams
It is just like a school where people can live and study under the guidance of a spiritual leader or ‘Guru’.
These ashrams also have meditation halls and they also teach other spiritual practices.

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