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What is Hinduism?

Updated on March 9, 2016
Om, a Hindu symbol largely used in rituals and functions.
Om, a Hindu symbol largely used in rituals and functions. | Source

Hinduism is a widespread religion in South and South East Asia. But What actually we mean by Hinduism? Is it a single religion or a confederation of many religions and faiths?

Hinduism is the major religion of the people of India and Nepal. A large number of Hindus are found also in Sri Lanka, some South East Countries, Kenya, Fiji, Mauritius, Suriname, Europe and North America. Most of the people and law takes Hinduism as a single religion, but in fact Hinduism is a confederation of many religions and faiths of ancient and medieval India. All the religions and faiths are amalgamated so deeply, that for the lay followers Hinduism has become a single religion. A positive result of this is that most of the Hindus love religious harmony.

The Word 'Hindu'

A surprising thing is that in any of ancient and early medieval religious scriptures of Hindus we do not find any reference to the word Hindu. Not in any of the 4 Veds, Upanishids, Shrutis & Smrutis, Ramayan, Mahabharat, Geeta, Purans. Actually the word Hindu was coined by the people of Western Asia who invaded India in the beginning of second millennium. They used this word for all the people living in India. Clearly, the word Hindu was not used in religious term. The word was just a synonymous of the word Native.

It was the later period of the Mogul rule, in which the word began to get a religious meaning. The word was well established in India during British rule. The first census of India, which was conducted in 1872, set the word for religious identity of Indian people who were not Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs or Parasis.....

Before getting this new identity, the Hindus were known mainly as Shaiv or Vaishnav.

Influence by other Religions

According to many scholars, the base of present day Hinduism is Shaivism. Shaivism is one of the most oldest religious traditions of India. Even today, the highest number of Hindus follow Shaivism. Shiv is the main God of the Shaivites. Another popular deity of Hindus is Ganesh, who is a son of Shiv.

Vaishnavism is another popular tradition in Hinduism. The followers of Vaishnavism worship the God Vishnu and his Avatars Ram and Krishna.

Although Shaivism and Vaishnavism were two separate faiths in ancient times, they started to merge in one another in early medieval period. Today, most of the Hindus have adopted both the traditions without any bias.

Present day Hinduism is greatly influenced by other religions like Vedic, Jainism and Buddhism. Most of the rituals in Hinduism came from Vedic Religion, Vegetarianism and Compassion came from Jainism.

Idol of Lord Shiva at Bangalore, South India.
Idol of Lord Shiva at Bangalore, South India.

Religious Tolerance of Hindus

Most of the Hindus are tolerant towards other religions. Indian community is basically caste based, not religion based. It is not necessary for a Hindu caste to stick up with any single religion. I would like to share my observations about this fact.

In Punjab, a northern state of India, Sikhism is the most popular religion. Most of the Hindus in this state visit Sikh Gurudwaras and pray their. They have a great faith in Sikh Gurus. Same thing is about Jainism. Although Jainism is a minority religion in Punjab, the Hindus treat it as their own religion. In fact, Punjabi Hindus have given many great Jain ascetics in modern era. In Punjab, a single caste may have followers of Sikhism, Hinduism, Arya Samaj and Jainism and in some cases, even Islam.

Punjab is a border state and the Punjabis have suffered a lot in during the partition of India, and the wars against Pakistan. Even then, Punjabi Hindus and others do not hate Muslims, Islam or Pakistan.

This tolerance is not limited to Hindus of Punjab, but we can see such examples all over India. There are hundreds of thousands villages in India, and most of the villages have Durgahs, the tombs of Muslim Fakirs. Such Dargahs are managed and looked up mostly by Hindus.

A common Hindu likes to attend religious discourse of Jain monks, Sikh Gurus and many Hindus occasionally attend prayers at Churches.

According to Hindu law, if a Hindu converts to Sikhism, Jainism or Buddhism, it is not considered as religious conversion.

This is the real identity of present day Hindus, which should be followed by others. But in last few decades, few intolerant Hindus are disturbing this tradition, which is a wrong sign.

A Hindu Temple at Atlanta, USA
A Hindu Temple at Atlanta, USA


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  • Au fait profile image

    C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

    Even though the edit your comment is showing it won't let me do it. Just wanted to add that I'm voting this article up and interesting and sharing.

  • Au fait profile image

    C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

    Interesting history, but what exactly do Hindus believe other than maintaining harmony? What is the basis of their religion? How is it the same or different from Islam or Christianity or any of the other religions?

    I like to know as much as possible about the different religions of the world. I believe if more people knew and understood more about each others differences in religion as well as other areas there would be fewer wars based on these things.

    Knowing and understanding does not have to mean accepting, agreeing, or converting/incorporating these things into one's own life. It simply means learning that these differences present no threat and that we all have more commonalities than differences.

    It is common for people to fear the unknown and therefore to attack it, so let information and education destroy the mystery of our religious and lifestyle differences in the name of peace.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

    It is quite an interesting religion. I found the history fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    What is Hinduism? Very interesting about this subject useful, educational, and leaning the facts of Hinduism is unique indeed.

  • MG Singh profile image

    MG Singh 4 years ago from Singapore

    Its a nice post,but Hinduism is a tribal religion in way with weird gods who are just imagination. That it has survived so long is the mystery.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Very helpful and interesting my friend. Thank you for this; with each article like this one the gap between races is bridged.

  • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

    Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 4 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

    Well written and good observation. Hindus always stood for communal harmony. In fact the spread of other religions in India is chiefly because of the tolerant attitude of Hindus. They visit the worship place of other faiths and never see other religious people as enemies. Unfortunately their tolerance are costing them so dearly now a days. India came under severe attack by a particular religious force or terrorists several times and still their threat is on the air. Yet Hindus love peace and do not attack the 'evil force'. Thank you for sharing a wonderful knowledge.