Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest religions in existence (Srinivasan 66). It ranks as
the third largest religion. Today there are about fifty million Hindus worldwide, majority of them
living in India (Wangu 6). In order to understand the followers of the religion, you must first
realize that Hinduism is more of a way of life than a religion (Srinivasan 66). Hinduism holds
together diversity and not only for its own spiritual tradition, but for the entire subcontinent of
India (Berry 3). All traditions within India are somehow associated with Hinduism. “The
diversity which marks Hinduism begins with the notion of deity” (Boraks 14). “There is a strange
kind of unity in the vast multiplicity of the Hindu pantheon” (14). “One never really is certain
whether the Hindu religion is polytheistic or dualistic or even monotheistic: there are indications
that are all of these and none of these” (14)!
The Hindus define sacredness as Brahman (Boraks 14). To Hindus, Brahman is external,
is changeless, has no equal, and is infinite (14). Brahman expresses itself through creation,
brought itself existence by Brahma, the creator (14). Brahma is the “sacred one” and is credited
with creation, but Brahma creates and then abandons his creation to lesser gods (14).
Hinduism was not founded by one individual, and it was not always the complex religion it
is today (Wangu 14). “Indians call it Sanatana Dharma - the faith with no beginning and no end”
(Srinivasan 66). “It developed gradually, as a merging of beliefs and practices of two main groups
- the people of the Indus Valley in India and the Aryans of Persia” (Wangu 14).
Like other religions, the Hindu religion has its own sacred literature. Hindu literature is
not considered sacred because it has a Sacred Author, like in some western religions, but because
they have sacred subject matter (Boraks 15).
“There are two main categories of Hindu Scripture - shruti, ‘that which is heard’ and
smriti, ‘tradition’ or ‘that which is to be remembered’” (Wangu 9). The Vedas and the
Upanishads are shruti texts (9). “These sacred writings are considered to be inspired by God and
to have been revealed to human kind by ancient sages called rishis” (9).
Each of the shruti texts provides a foundation for Hinduism. “The four Vedas are the
oldest of the texts and are primary scriptures of Hinduism” (9). No one knows when these
hymns were composed, although at the latest they should be dated between 1200 and 900 BC
(Berry 18). “One of the four Vedas contains hymns, chants and praises to gods” (Wangu 9).
“Another Vedas serves as a guidebook for rituals and priestly behavior” (9). “A third offers
information on magic and charms that can be used as blessings or curses, and the fourth gives
musical notes to be chanted while performing rituals” (9).
The latest of the shruti texts are the Upanishads (Wangu 9). The Upanishads were written
around 700 - 500 BC (9)....