polytheism, monotheism or pantheism (depending on one's point of view)
Major Beliefs -
Place of Worship -
Branches of Hinduism -
Festivals and Holidays -
Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion behind Christianity and
Islam. There are approximately 800 million Hindus worldwide. The
majority of Hindus live in India, in which 80% of the population is
Hindu. Hinduism consists of many different beliefs and practices and is
referred to by its adherents as Sanatana Dharma.
The most important beliefs of Hinduism are the
concept of God, samsara, reincarnation, karma, the sacred texts, and the
Belief in God
It is difficult to categorize Hinduism into a
single worldview category. Hindus believe in god, but it is important to
understand the complex nature of the Hindu god.
The following excerpt from the Ontario Consultants
on Religious Tolerance web site presents a good explanation of
Hinduism’s view of God.
"Categorizing the religion of Hinduism is somewhat confusing:
Hinduism has commonly been viewed in the west as a
polytheistic religion - one
which worships multiple deities: gods and goddesses. Although a
widespread belief, this is not particularly accurate.
Some have viewed it as a
monotheistic religion, because it recognizes only one
supreme God: the panentheistic principle of Brahman, that all
reality is a unity. The entire universe is seen as one divine entity who
is simultaneously at one with the universe and who transcends it as
Some view Hinduism as
Trinitarian because Brahman is simultaneously visualized
as a triad -- one God with three persons:
Brahma the Creator who is continuing to create new
Vishnu, (Krishna) the Preserver, who preserves
these new creations. Whenever dharma (eternal order,
righteousness, religion, law and duty) is threatened, Vishnu travels
from heaven to earth in one of ten incarnations.
Shiva, the Destroyer, is at times
compassionate, erotic and destructive.
Strictly speaking, most forms of Hinduism are
henotheistic; they recognize
a single deity, and recognize other gods and goddesses as facets, forms,
manifestations, or aspects of that supreme God."1
Samsara and Reincarnation
The continual cycle of birth, life, death, and
rebirth is called samsara. This cycle applies to people as well as all
living things. Another word for rebirth is reincarnation.
"Samsara is a belief in the transmigration, or
continual passing, of a soul from one body to another. It can be
described as follows. The soul of a person who dies does not pass into
heaven, or hell, or elsewhere. It is reborn into another body, which may
be of higher or lower order than one’s previous existence. Rebirth
follows rebirth in an endless chain. Thus, a person of low status may be
reborn as a priest, or a king, or an animal, or even a worm."2
Karma is the concept that the deeds performed in
this life determine the type of life that will be experienced in the
next life. Goods deeds result in a good next life, whereas bad deeds
result in a bad next life.
The goal of a Hindu is to escape samsara and
achieve moksha, which is release from this world. Moksha is an eternal
unity or oneness with Brahman.
There are many sacred Hindu texts, which have been
written over a long time span.
Vedas – The Vedas are the oldest Hindu texts,
although exact dates for their composition are difficult to determine. The Vedas are an entire set of literature, written in Sanskrit and
attributed to the Aryans, who settled in India thousands of years ago. They are considered to be divinely revealed. "The Veda contains
accounts of creation, information about ritual sacrifice, and prayers to
the gods. The Rig Veda, the earliest of the Vedic text, is a collection
of hymns to the gods."3
There are four collections within the Vedas:
- Rig Veda
- Sama Veda
- Yajur Veda
- Atharva Veda
Upanishads – The Upanishads, which were written
between 700 and 500 BCE, are also considered to be divinely
revealed. They consist primarily of dialogues between a teacher and his
pupil. The concepts of karma, samsara and moksha are first found in the
Hindu epics – There are two great Hindu epics – the
Mahabharata and the Ramayana. They are stories about great warriors and
were written between 500 and 100 BCE Krishna is the central figure
in the Mahabharata and Rama is the central figure in the Ramayana. The
Mahabharata includes the Bhagavad-gita, which is an epic story in which
"Krishna teaches the warrior Arjuna about the importance of doing one’s
duty and about how to achieve liberation from suffering and repeated
Brahmanas – The Brahmanas were written around 700
BCE and prescribe how fire sacrifices are to be conducted.
The Laws of Manu – A text written by a sage between
200 BCE and 200 CE that prescribes right behavior. The Laws of
Manu have become the most accepted standard of behavior in Hindu
Puranas – The Puranas, which were written between
300 and 900 CE, contain stories about Hindu gods and goddesses.
Sutras – A series of texts written by Brahmins that
deal with moral teachings and ritual practices.
Hindu society is made up of four classes of people,
called castes or varnas. The four classes, from highest to lowest, are:
Brahmins – priests
Shatriyas – nobles and warriors
Vaishyas – merchants and farmers
Shudras – servants
Along with these castes are a number of sub-castes,
which are called jatis. The lowest sub-caste is the Untouchables, which
is now called Dalits. If a Brahmin, Shatriya, or Vaishya marries a
Shudra or a person of a different race, a child from that marriage is
considered an untouchable. Dalits are considered lower than domestic
animals. Karma does not apply to them, so there is no hope for changing
their caste or status.
Hinduism began in the Indus River Valley of India around 1500 BCE Its origin is not tied to a specific person or event.
The place for public worship is the
Many Hindus set up a shrine in their
home where family members worship.
Place of Worship
Branches of Hinduism
There are two primary branches of Hinduism:
Shivaism, where Shiva is worshipped as the supreme deity.
Vaishnavaism, where Vishnu is worshipped as the supreme deity.
There is no central leader or headquarters of
Hindu Festivals and Holidays
Divali – The festival of lights, which celebrates
the New Year. Divali takes place in October or November.
Ganesh Chaturthi – A monthly and annual festival
that celebrates the birth of
Ganesh, a god with the head of an elephant. Ganesh is considered the bringer of good luck and the remover of
Holi – A
celebration of the return of spring.
Avatar – The human form of a god. For example,
Krishna is an avatar of the god Vishnu.
Bindi – A dot on the forehead of Hindu women, which
serves as a symbol of respect toward the Hindu gods.
Dharma – Moral duty.
Ganges River – A large river in India that is
considered sacred. Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges washes
Krishna – The avatar of the god Vishnu.
Moksha – Release from the cycle of rebirth. The
highest goal to be attained in Hinduism.
Sacred Cow –
"In Hinduism, the cow
(Sanskrit: go) is revered
as the source of food and symbol of life and may never be killed. Hindus
do not worship the cow, however, and cows do not have especially charmed
lives in India. It is more accurate to say the cow is taboo in Hinduism,
rather than sacred…Verses of the Rigveda
refer to the cow as Devi (goddess), identified with Aditi (mother of the
gods) herself…By the early centuries AD, the
cow was designated as the appropriate gift to the Brahmans (high-caste
priests) and it was soon said that to kill a cow is equal to killing a
Brahman…The cow remains a protected animal in Hinduism today and Hindus
do not eat beef."5
Samsara – The cycle of rebirth.
Sanskrit – The language of the Aryans and the
language in which of the Vedas were written.
Also referred to as "widow-burning". Sati is a traditional Hindu
practice whereby a woman burns herself on the funeral pyre of her
1Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, http://www.religioustolerance.org/hinduism2.htm:, 2008.
2Wangu, Madha Bazaz. Hinduism - World Religions, 1996, Facts on File, New York, p. 38.
3Knott, Kim. Hinduism – A very short introduction. 1998, Oxford University Press, New York, p. 16.
4Ibid, p. 17.
5Anonymous. "The Cow in Hinduism." ReligionFacts. 8 February 2007. [from "Hinduism"] Accessed 1 January 2009,
<http://www.religionfacts.com/ hinduism/things/cow.htm >.