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Indian Religion - Hinduism

Santoshi Mata
shruti [heard] scripture
1700 BC 1000 BC Rig Veda
1000 BC800 BClater Vedas
800 BC500 BCBrahmanas
800 BC700 BCUpanishads
smriti [written] scripture
600 BC200 BCSutras
500 BC AD 200Manu-smriti
300 BC AD 200Parisista
400 BC AD 400Maha Bharata
200 BCAD 200Ramayana
200 BCAD 1100Puranas
Outstanding Thinkers
18251884Dayananda Saraswati
18721950Aurobindo Ghose

Hindus believe that everything in the world is a power of God and that the many forms of God represent His various powers. Hindu scriptures describe that God represents the various aspects of His unlimited blissful personality through many forms. This is why Hindus worship God in many forms. Hindus believe that the hope of finding perfect happiness in the world is an illusion and that an individual experiences only temporary happiness in the world. According to Hindu scriptures, the perfect happiness that people are searching for lies only in God. So God realization is the ultimate goal in Hinduism.

Hinduism is said to be one of the oldest religions in the world, but it is not. The name Hinduism is relatively new, having been coined by British writers in the first decades of the 19th century. The present Hindu religion is very different from the old Aryan religion of Vedic times. The bloody sacrifices central to the Vedic age fell into disrepute through the teaching of Buddha. Of the world's great religions, Hinduism is the only polytheistic religion, which would make it seem to be a holdover from a much earlier time. Though it can trace antecedents into the dim mists of antiquity, Hinduism per se was surely born after Christianity and possibly not too long prior to the emergence of Islam. Indeed, the commentator Sankaracharya [AD 788-820], who laid the foundation of modern day Hinduism, flourished several centuries after the Prophet Mohammad [AD 570-632].

Hinduism is a blend of the beliefs of the people living in the Indus-Saraswati civilization thousands of years ago and the Aryan beliefs expressed in the Vedas. The beliefs of Hinduism are ultimately based on the teachings of ancient sacred texts such as the Vedas, but contemporary Hinduism emerged over the course of the first millenium of the Chritian Era. Hinduism grew out of Brahmanism, and represents a synthesis of Brahmanism and Buddhism, which emerged as a heterodox offshoot of Brahmanism, which had developed from the Vedism of the Aryans. With the exception of Buddhism, none of these other belief systems can be said to have a founder or a definite beginning or end.

Hinduism was Brahmanism, so to speak, run to seed and spread out into a confused tangle of divine personalities and incarnations. The one system was the rank and luxuriant outcome of the other. Hinduism is Brahmanism modified by the creeds and superstitions of Buddhists and Non-Aryan groups of all kinds, including Dravidians, Kolarians, and perhaps pre-Kolarian aborigines. It has even been modified by ideas imported from the religions of later conquering races, such as Islam and Christianity. Be it noted, however, that the employment of the term Hinduism is wholly arbitrary and confessedly unsatisfactory. Unhappily there is no other expression sufficiently comprehensive to embrace that all-receptive system, which, without any one common Founder, was the product of Brahmanism multiplied by contact with its own offspring Buddhism, and with various pre-existing cults.

Yet Hinduism is distinct from Brahmanism, and chiefly in this — that it takes little account of the primordial, impersonal Being Brahma (neuter), and wholly neglects its personal manifestation Brahma (masculine), substituting, in place of both Brahma (neuter) and Brahma (masculine), the two popular personal deities Siva and Vishnu, while it admits of numerous sects, each sect exalting its own god to the place of the Supreme. Hinduism has not superseded Brahmanism, nor are they mutually antagonistic. Brahmanism is pantheistic, whereas Hinduism is theistic; but in India forms of pantheism, theism, and polytheism are ever interwoven with each other.

The distinguishing feature of the period 300-650 AD was the revival of Brahmanic religion and literature, and the rise of Hinduism through the blending of Brahmanism with Buddhism. In the preceding centuries, Buddhism had gradually changed into a popular religion, and had almost monopolised the popular favor. Brahmanism now made a determined effort to recover lost ground, by imitating and adopting Buddhistic beliefs, rites and practices, such as faith in numerous male and female deities, worship of their images, pilgrimages to their shrines, and so forth. In this effort it fully succeeded, and the result was a thorough transformation of Brahmanism, and the upgrowth of that mixed civilization which is known as Hinduism. The revival of Brahmanism commenced with the rise of the Second Empire and the Gupta dynasty in 320 AD, when Gupta rasied himself to the position of Maharaja, or king, of Magadha, and it is, therefore, from this year that the so-called Gupta era dates. Samudra Gupta revived the famous horse-sacrifice and struck a gold medal to commemorate it. On their coins the Gupta emperors describe themselves as parama-bhagavata or foremost devotees of Vishnu, or Krishna.

Without doubt the most remarkable fact in the history of the interaction between Brahmanism and Buddhism was the resolution of Buddhist teaching into Saivism and Vaishnavism - worshippers of Siva or Vishnu. Vaishnavism, considering that God pervades everything, has recognised him specially in the heroes of the nation; it does not imply the renunciation of any gain, pleasure, or sin. Saivism, considering souls to be part of God, teaches followers to seek to realise that union by mortifying the flesh, and so subduing the body. Whether both these systems in their present form preceded Buddhism may be doubtful. At any rate they co-existed with it for a time, and became greatly amplified and modified by its absorption.

This interchangeableness between Buddhism, Saivism, and Vaishnavism derived from the fact that the Buddha had two distinct characters. In his first and earliest character he was the typical ascetic (Sramana), the great teacher of the power to be gained by self-suppression and by conquest of the passions. In his second, he was the great friend of the common people who advocated universal brotherhood, universal equality, and universal compassion for all forms of animal life.

In both these characters the personal god Siva and the incarnated Vishnu were his counterparts, and ultimately superseded him. Siva was the Buddha in his ascetical character. Vishnu was the Buddha in his character of a beneficent and unselfish lover and friend of the human race. And as Saivism and Vaishnavism superseded Buddhism, so they became the chief constituents of modern Hinduism. All shades and subdivisions of Hindu sectarianism may be included under one or other of these two heads. It artfully appropriated Buddhism, and gradually superseded that competing system by drawing its adherents within the pale of its own communion.

Among Hindus today, Vaishnavism is the predominant tradition with an estimated following of more than 600 million, or about 68 percent of the total Hindu population. Another almost 240 million, roughly 27 percent, adhere to Shaivism. The rest are followers of Shaktism and other Hindu traditions. Vaishnavism is also the third biggest religious tradition in the world today, after Roman Catholicism and Sunni Islam.

In the present day, when universal toleration is the rule, Saivas and Vaishnavas like to maintain their distinct characteristics, which they exhibit conspicuously to the eye by the sectarian mark on their foreheads, made with red, yellow, and white pigments; the mark of the Vaishnavas being two perpendicular strokes meeting below in a curve, which denote the footprint of Vishnu, while that of the Saivas consists of three horizontal lines, made with white or grey ashes (vibhuti). The Vaishnava mark is called Urdhva-pundra, the Saiva is called Tripundra.

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