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Hinduism, also known by the name Sanatana-Dharma, is the dominant religion of the Indian subcontinent, which consists of many diverse traditions. It includes Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism among numerous other traditions, and a wide spectrum of laws and prescriptions of "daily morality" based on karma, dharma, and societal norms. Hinduism is a categorisation of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid, common set of beliefs.

Hinduism has been called the "oldest religion" in the world, and many practitioners refer to Hinduism as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal law" or the "eternal way" beyond human origins. It prescribes the "eternal" duties all Hindus have to follow, regardless of class, caste, or sect, such as honesty, purity, and self-restraint.

Western scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with diverse roots and no single founder. This "Hindu synthesis" emerged around the beginning of the Common Era, and co-existed for several centuries with Buddhism, to finally gain the upper hand in most royal circles during the 8th century CE. From northern India this "Hindu synthesis", and its societal divisions, spread to southern India and parts of Southeast Asia.

Since the 19th century, under the dominance of western colonialism and Indology, when the term "Hinduism" came into broad use, Hinduism has re-asserted itself as a coherent and independent tradition. The popular understanding of Hinduism has been dominated by "Hindu modernism", in which mysticism and the unity of Hinduism have been emphasised. During 20th century, Hindutva ideology, a part of the Hindu politics emerged as a political force and a source for national identity in India.

Hindu practices include daily rituals such as puja (worship) and recitations, annual festivals, and occasional pilgrimages. Select group of ascetics leave the common world and engage in lifelong ascetic practices to achieve moksha.

Hindu texts are classified into Śruti ("revealed") and Smriti ("remembered"). These texts discuss theology, philosophy, mythology, Vedic yajna and agamic rituals and temple building, among other topics. Major scriptures include the Vedas, Upanishads (both Śruti), Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas, Manusmṛti, and Agamas (all smriti).

Hinduism, with about one billion followers is the world's third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam.

Contents

Etymology

Main article: Hindustan
Valmiki, a contemporary of Rama, composes the Ramayana.

The word Hindu is derived (through Persian) from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, the historic local name for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent (modern day Pakistan and Northern India). According to Gavin Flood, "The actual term 'hindu' first occurs as a Persian geographical term for the people who lived beyond the river Indus (Sanskrit: Sindhu)". The term 'Hindu' then was a geographical term and did not refer to a religion.

The word Hindu was taken by European languages from the Arabic term al-Hind, which referred to the people who live across the River Indus. This Arabic term was itself taken from the Persian term Hindū, which refers to all Indians. By the 13th century, Hindustan emerged as a popular alternative name of India, meaning the "land of Hindus".

The term Hinduism was later used occasionally in some Sanskrit texts such as the later Rajataranginis of Kashmir (Hinduka, c. 1450) and some 16th- to 18th-century Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava texts including Chaitanya Charitamrita and Chaitanya Bhagavata. It was usually used to contrast Hindus with Yavanas or Mlecchas. It was only towards the end of the 18th century that European merchants and colonists began to refer to the followers of Indian religions collectively as Hindus. The term Hinduism was introduced into the English language in the 19th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India.

Definitions

The Triveni Sangam, or the intersection of Yamuna River, Ganges River and mythical Saraswati river.
Mangal Mahadev, 108-foot statue of Lord Shiva at Ganga Talao, Mauritius

The study of India and its cultures and religions, and the definition of "Hinduism", has been shaped by the interests of colonialism and by Western notions of religion. Since the 1990s, those influences and its outcomes have been the topic of debate among scholars of Hinduism , and have also been taken over by critics of the Western view on India.

Because of the wide range of traditions and ideas covered by the term, arriving at a comprehensive definition is difficult. Hinduism has been variously defined as a religion, a religious tradition, and a set of religious beliefs.

Colonial influences

See also: Orientalism

The notion of common denominators for several religions and traditions of India was already noted from the 12th century CE on. The notion of "Hinduism" as a "single world religious tradition" was popularised by 19th-century European Indologists who depended on the "brahmana castes" for their information of Indian religions. This led to a "tendency to emphasise Vedic and Brahmanical texts and beliefs as the "essence" of Hindu religiosity in general, and in the modern association of 'Hindu doctrine' with the various Brahmanical schools of the Vedanta (in particular Advaita Vedanta)."

Indigenous understanding

Sanātana Dharma

See also: Sanātanī

To its adherents, Hinduism is a traditional way of life. Many practitioners refer to Hinduism as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal law" or the "eternal way". It refers to the "eternal" duties all Hindus have to follow, regardless of class, caste, or sect, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings, purity, goodwill, mercy, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, generosity, and asceticism. This is contrasted with svadharma, one's "own duty", the duties to be followed by members of a specific caste and stage of life. According to Knott, this also

... refers to the idea that its origins lie beyond human history, and its truths have been divinely revealed (shruti) and passed down through the ages to the present day in the most ancient of the world's scriptures, the Veda.

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica;-

The term has also more recently been used by Hindu leaders, reformers, and nationalists to refer to Hinduism as a unified world religion. Sanatana dharma has thus become a synonym for the "eternal" truth and teachings of Hinduism, the latter conceived of as not only transcendent of history and unchanging but also as indivisible and ultimately nonsectarian.

Hindu modernism

Swami Vivekananda was a key figure in introducing Vedanta and Yoga in Europe and USA, raising interfaith awareness and making Hinduism a world religion.

Major representatives of "Hindu modernism" are Vivekananda, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Mahatma Gandhi.

According to Flood, "Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) is a figure of great importance in the development of a modern Hindu self-understanding and in formulating the West's view of Hinduism." Central to his philosophy is the idea that the divine exists in all beings, that all human beings can achieve union with this "innate divinity", and that seeing this divine as the essence of others will further love and social harmony. According to Vivekananda, there is an essential unity to Hinduism, which underlies the diversity of its many forms. According to Flood, Vivekananda's vision of Hinduism "is one generally accepted by most English-speaking middle-class Hindus today."

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was "one of India's most erudite scholars to engage with western and Indian philosophy". He sought to reconcile western rationalism with Hinduism, "presenting Hinduism as an essentially rationalistic and humanistic religious experience." According to Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan,

Hinduism is not just a faith. It is the union of reason and intuition that cannot be defined, but is only to be experienced.

This view has been "highly relevant and important in forming contemporary Hindu identity." The emphasis on experience as validation of a religious worldview is a modern development, which started in the 19th century, and was introduced to Indian thought by western Unitarian missionaries.

This "Global Hinduism" has a worldwide appeal, transcending national boundaries and, according to Flood, "becoming a world religion alongside Christianity, Islam and Buddhism", both for the Hindu diaspora communities and for westerners who are attracted to non-western cultures and religions. It emphasizes universal spiritual values such as social justice, peace and "the spiritual transformation of humanity." It has developed partly due to "re-enculturation", or the Pizza effect, in which elements of Hindu culture have been exported to the West, gaining popularity there, and as a consequence also gained greater popularity in India. This globalization of Hindu culture has been initiated by Swami Vivekanandaand and his founding of the Ramakrishna Mission, and has been followed by other teachers, "bringing to the West teachings which have become an important cultural force in western societies, and which in turn have become an important cultural force in India, their place of origin."

Western understanding

Hinduism's tolerance to variations in belief and its broad range of traditions make it difficult to define as a religion according to traditional Western conceptions.

Some academics suggest that Hinduism can be seen as a category with "fuzzy edges" rather than as a well-defined and rigid entity. Some forms of religious expression are central to Hinduism and others, while not as central, still remain within the category. Based on this idea Ferro-Luzzi has developed a 'Prototype Theory approach' to the definition of Hinduism.

Diversity and inclusivism

Diversity

Hinduism has been described as a tradition having a "complex, organic, multileveled and sometimes internally inconsistent nature." Hinduism does not have a "unified system of belief encoded in a declaration of faith or a creed", but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena of India. According to the Supreme Court of India,

Unlike other religions in the World, the Hindu religion does not claim any one Prophet, it does not worship any one God, it does not believe in any one philosophic concept, it does not follow any one act of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not satisfy the traditional features of a religion or creed. It is a way of life and nothing more".

Part of the problem with a single definition of the term "Hinduism" is the fact that Hinduism does not have a single historical founder. It is a synthesis of various traditions, the "Brahmanical orthopraxy, the renouncer traditions and popular or local traditions."

Also, Hinduism does not have a single system of salvation, but consists of various religions and forms of religiosity. Some Hindu religious traditions regard particular rituals as essential for salvation, but a variety of views on this co-exist. Some Hindu philosophies postulate a theistic ontology of creation, of sustenance, and of the destruction of the universe, yet some Hindus are atheists, they view Hinduism more as philosophy than religion. Hinduism is sometimes characterised by a belief in reincarnation (samsara) determined by the law of karma and the idea that salvation is freedom from this cycle of repeated birth and death. Hinduism is therefore viewed as the most complex of all the living, historical world religions.

Roots of Hinduism

Western scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions. Among its roots are the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India, itself already the product of "a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations", but also the Shramana or renouncer traditions of northeast India, and mesolithic and neolithic cultures of India, such as the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation,Dravidian traditions, and the local traditions and tribal religions.

After the Vedic period, between 500-200 BCE and c. 300 CE, at the beginning of the "Epic and Puranic" c.q. "Preclassical" period, the "Hindu synthesis" emerged, which incorporated shramanic and Buddhist influences and the emerging bhakti tradition into the Brahmanical fold via the smriti literature. This synthesis emerged under the pressure of the success of Buddhism and Jainism. During the Gupta reign the first Puranas were written, which were used to disseminate "mainstream religious ideology amongst pre-literate and tribal groups undergoing acculturation." The resulting Puranic Hinduism, differed markedly from the earlier Brahmanism of the Dharmasastras and the smritis. Hinduism co-existed for several centuries with Buddhism, to finally gain the upperhand at al levels in the 8th century CE.

From northern India this "Hindu synthesis", and its societal divisions, spread to southern India and parts of Southeast Asia. It was aided by the settlement of Brahmins on land granted by local rulers, the incorporation and assimilation of popular non-Vedic gods, and the process of Sanskritization, in which "people from many strata of society throughout the subcontinent tended to adapt their religious and social life to Brahmanic norms". This process of assimilation explains the wide diversity of local cultures in India "half shrouded in a taddered cloak of conceptual unity."

Inclusivism

Despite the differences, there is also a sense of unity. Most Hindu traditions revere a body of religious or sacred literature, the Vedas, although there are exceptions. Halbfass cites Renou, according to whom this reverence is a mere

"tipping of the hat", a traditional gesture of saluting an "idol" without any further commitment."

Halbfass does not agree with this characterization and states that, although Shaivism and Vaishaism may be regarded as "self-contained religious constellations", there is a degree of interaction and reference between the "theoreticians and literary representatives" of each tradition which indicates the presence of "a wider sense of identity, a sense of coherence in a shared context and of inclusion in a common framework and horizon".

According to Nicholson, already between the 12th and the 16th centuries "certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophical teachings of the Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as the "six systems" (saddarsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy." The tendency of "a blurring of philosophical distinctions" has also been noted by Burley. Hacker called this "inclusivism" and Michaels speaks of "the identificatory habit". Lorenzen locates the origins of a distinct Hindu identity in the interaction between Muslims and Hindus, and a process of "mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim other", which started well before 1800. Michaels notes:

As a counteraction to Islamic supremacy and as part of the continuing process of regionalization, two religious innovations developed in the Hindu religions: the formation of sects and a historicization which preceded later nationalism [...] [S]aints and sometimes and sometimes militant sect leaders, such as the Marathi poet Tukaram (1609-1649) and Ramdas (1608-1681), articulated ideas in which they glorified Hinduism and the past. The Brahmans also produced increasingly historical texts, especially eulogies and chronicles of sacred sites (Mahatmyas), or developed a reflexive passion for collecting and compiling extensive collections of quotations on various subjects.

This inclusivism was further developed in the 19th and 20th centuries by Hindu reform movements and Neo-Vedanta, and has become characteristic of modern Hinduism.

Typology

Main article: Hindu denominations
The Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple in Delhi, according the Guinness World Records is the World's Largest Comprehensive Hindu Temple

Hinduism as it is commonly known can be subdivided into a number of major currents. Of the historical division into six darsanas, only two schools, Vedanta and Yoga, survive. The main divisions of Hinduism today are Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism. Hinduism also recognises numerous divine beings subordinate to the Supreme Being or regards them as lower manifestations of it. Other notable characteristics include a belief in reincarnation and karma as well as a belief in personal duty, or dharma.

McDaniel - six generic "types"

McDaniel (2007) distinguishes six generic "types" of Hinduism, in an attempt to accommodate a variety of views on a rather complex subject:

Michaels - Hindu religions and Hindu religiosity

Michaels distinguishes three Hindu religions and four forms of Hindu religiosity.

The division into three Hindu religions corresponds with the Indian division of ritual practice into Vedic (vaidika), village and folk religions (gramya), and sectarian (agama or tantra). The three Hindu religions are:

  1. Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism: a polytheistic, ritualistic, priestly religion that centers on extended-family domestic and sacrificial rituals and appeals to a corpus of Vedic texts as an authority. Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism takes a central place in most treatises on Hinduism because it fulfills many criteria for a definition of religion and because "in many regions of India it is the dominant religion into which the non-Brahman population groups strive to assimilate.
  2. Folk religions and tribal religions: polytheistic, sometimes animistic, local religions with an extensive oral tradition. Often in tension with Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism.
  3. Founded religions: salvation religions with monastic communities, usually ascetic, often anti-Brahmanic. Three subgroups can be distinguished:
    1. Sectarian religions: for example Vaishnavism and Shaivism.
    2. Syncretically founded religions: Hindu-Islamic (Sikhism), Hindu-Buddhist (Newar-Buddhism), Hindu-Christian mixed religions like Neohinduism.
    3. Founded, proselytizing religions, "Guru-ism": groups like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation, Satya Sai Baba and the Satya Sai Federation, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and the ISKCON, Maharaj Ji and the Divine Light Mission, Osho.

The four forms of Hindu religiosity are:

  1. Ritualism: Vedic-Brahmanistic domestic and sacrificial ritualism, but also some forms of Tantrism. This is the classical karma-marga, the path of action.
  2. Spiritualism: intellectual religiosity, aimed at individual liberation, often under guidance of a guru. It is characteristic of Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism, Shaiva Siddhanta, Neo-Vedanta, modern esoteric Guruism, and some sorts of Tantrism. This is the classical jnana-marga.
  3. Devotionalism: mystical worship of a God, as in bhakti and Krishnaism. This is the classical bhakti-marga.
  4. Heroism: a polytheistic form of religiosity rooted in militaristic traditions, such as Ramaism and parts of political Hindusim. This is also called virya-marga.

History

Main article: History of Hinduism
Timetable of Indian History
Timeline and

cultural period

Westcoast Northwestern India

(Punjab-Sapta Sindhu)

Indo-Gangetic Plain Central India

Deccan Plateau

Southern India
Western Gangetic Plain

(Kurukshetra)

Northern India

(Central Gangetic Plain)

Northeastern India

(Bengal)

South Asian Stone Age (untill c. 3300 BCE) South Asian Stone Age (untill c. 1100 BCE)
Culture Paleolithicum (untill c. 10,000 BCE)
Before 10,000 BCE Bhimbetka rock shelters

(30,000-15,000 BCE)

Sanghao Caves
Culture Mesolithicum (c. 10,000-7,000 BCE) Mesolithicum (c. 10,000-3,000 BCE)
c. 10,000-7,000 BCE
Culture 'Neolithicum (c. 7000-3300 BCE) Mesolithicum (c. 10,000-3000 BCE)
c. 7,000-3,300 BCE Mehrgarh
BRONZE AGE (c. 3300-1100 BCE) NEOLITHIC (c. 3000-1400 BCE)
Culture Early Harappan
3300-2600 BCE Early Harappan
Culture Integration Era
2600-1900 BCE Indus Valley Civilization
Culture Localisation Era/Late Harappan

OCP/Cemetery H

1900-1500 BCE Earliest known rice cultivation
Culture Localisation Era/Late Harappan

OCP/Cemetery H

Early Vedic period

Gandhara grave culture

Megalithic

(c. 1400-1100 BCE)

1500-1300 BCE Indo-Aryan migration
1300-1100 BCE Wandering Vedic Aryans
IRON AGE (c. 1100-300 BCE)
Culture Middle Vedic Period
Gandhara grave culture Black and red ware culture
1100-800 BCE Vedic settlements

Gandhara

Vedic settlements

Kuru

Culture Late Vedic Period
Gandhara grave culture (Brahmin ideology)

early Upanishads

Painted Grey Ware culture

(Kshatriya/Shramanic culture)

Northern Black Polished Ware

800-600 BCE Gandhara Kuru-Pancala Kosala-Videha
Culture Late Vedic Period

Mahajanapada

Gandhara grave culture (Brahmin ideology)

early Upanishads

Painted Grey Ware culture

(Kshatriya/Shramanic culture)

Northern Black Polished Ware

 6th century BCE Gandhara Kuru-Panchala Kosala

Magadha

Anga

Adivasi (tribes)
Culture Persian-Greek influences "Second Urbanisation"
Later Upanishads Rise of Shramana movements
Jainism - Buddhism - Ājīvika - Yoga

Later Upanishads

 5th century BCE (Persian rule) Shishunaga dynasty Adivasi (tribes)
 4th century BCE (Greek conquests)

Nanda empire
Kalinga

HISTORICAL AGE (after 300 BCE)
Culture Spread of Buddhism Pre-history Sangam period
(300 BCE – 200 CE)
 3rd century BCE Maurya Empire Early Cholas

Early Pandyan Kingdom

Satavahana dynasty

Cheras

Culture Preclassical Hinduism - "Hindu Synthesis" (c. 200 BCE-300 CE)
Epics - Puranas - Ramayana - Mahabharata - Bhagavad Gita - Brahma Sutras - Smarta Tradition
Mahayana Buddhism
Sangam period

(continued)
(300 BCE – 200 CE)

 2nd century BCE Indo-Greek Kingdom Sunga Empire Adivasi (tribes) Early Cholas

Early Pandyan Kingdom

Satavahana dynasty

Cheras

 1st century BCE Yona Maha-Meghavahana Dynasty
 1st century CE Indo-Scythians

Indo-Parthians

Kuninda Kingdom
 2nd century Pahlava Varman dynasty
 3rd century Kushan Empire Western Satraps Kamarupa kingdom Kalabhras dynasty
Culture "Golden Age of Hinduism"(c. 320-650 CE)
Puranas
Co-existence of Hinduism and Buddhism
 4th century Gupta Empire Kadamba Dynasty

Western Ganga Dynasty

 5th century Vishnukundina
 6th century Maitraka Adivasi (tribes)
Culture Late-Classical Hinduism (c. 650-1100 CE)
Advaita Vedanta - Tantra
Decline of Buddhism in India
 7th century Maitraka Indo-Sassanids Vakataka dynasty, Harsha Mlechchha dynasty Adivasi (tribes) Pallava
 8th century Kidarite Kingdom Kalachuri
 9th century Indo-Hephthalites (Huna) Gurjara-Pratihara Chalukya
10th century Pala dynasty

Kamboja-Pala dynasty

Rashtrakuta
Culture Islamic rule and "Sects of Hinduism" (c. 1100-1850 CE) - Medieval and Late Puranic Period (500–1500 CE)
11th century (Islamic conquests)
Kabul Shahi
(Islamic Empire)
Pala Empire
Paramara dynasty
Solanki
Eastern Ganga dynasty
Sena dynasty Adivasi (tribes) Chola Empire

Yadava dynasty

Western Chalukyas

Eastern Chalukyas

Kakatiya dynasty

Hoysala Empire

12th century Chola Empire
13th century Delhi Sultanate
14th century Delhi Sultanate Vijayanagara Empire
15th century Delhi Sultanate
16th century Mughal Empire
17th century Mughal Empire
Culture British Colonisation - Company rule in India'
18th century
Culture British Colonisation - British Raj'
19th century
Culture British Raj - Independence struggle - Pakistan - India - Bangladesh'
20th century
21stSmall text century

Periodisation

James Mill (1773-1836), in his The History of British India (1817), distinguished three phases in the history of India, namely Hindu, Muslim and British civilisations. This periodisation has been criticised, for the misconceptions it has given rise to. Another periodisation is the division into "ancient, classical, medieaval and modern periods". Smart and Michaels seem to follow Mill's periodisation,, while Flood and Muesse follow the "ancient, classical, medieaval and modern periods" periodisation.

Different periods are designated as "classical Hinduism":

  • Smart calls the period between 1000 BCE and 100 CE "pre-classical". It's the formative period for the Upanishads and Brahmanism, Jainism and Buddhism. For Smart, the "classical period" lasts from 100 to 1000 CE, and coincides with the flowering of "classical Hinduism" and the flowering and deterioration of Mahayana-buddhism in India.
  • For Michaels, the period between 500 BCE and 200 BCE is a time of "Ascetic reformism", whereas the period between 200 BCE and 1100 CE is the time of "classical Hinduism", since there is "a turning point between the Vedic religion and Hindu religions".
  • Muesse discerns a longer period of change, namely between 800 BCE and 200 BCE, which he calls the "Classical Period". According to Muesse, some of the fundamental concepts of Hinduism, namely karma, reincarnation and "personal enlightenment and transformation", which did not exist in the Vedic religion, developed in this time.
Smart Michaels
(overall)
Michaels
(detailed)
Muesse Flood
Indus Valley Civilisation and Vedic period
(c. 3000-1000 BCE)
Prevedic religions
(until c. 1750 BCE)
Prevedic religions
(until c. 1750 BCE)
Indus Valley Civilization
(3300–1400 BCE)
Indus Valley Civilisation
(c. 2500 to 1500 BCE)
Vedic religion
(c. 1750-500 BCE)
Early Vedic Period
(c. 1750-1200 BCE)
Vedic Period
(1600–800 BCE)
Vedic period
(c. 1500-500 BCE)
Middle Vedic Period
(from 1200 BCE)
Pre-classical period
(c. 1000 BCE - 100 CE)
Late Vedic period
(from 850 BCE)
Classical Period
(800–200 BCE)
Ascetic reformism
(c. 500-200 BCE)
Ascetic reformism
(c. 500-200 BCE)
Epic and Puranic period
(c. 500 BCE to 500 CE)
Classical Hinduism
(c. 200 BCE-1100 CE)
Preclassical Hinduism
(c. 200 BCE-300 CE)
Epic and Puranic period
(200 BCE–500 CE)
Classical period
(c. 100 CE - 1000 CE)
"Golden Age" (Gupta Empire)
(c. 320-650 CE)
Late-Classical Hinduism
(c. 650-1100 CE)
Medieval and Late Puranic Period
(500–1500 CE)
Medieval and Late Puranic Period
(500–1500 CE)
Hindu-Islamic civilisation
(c. 1000-1750 CE)
Islamic rule and "Sects of Hinduism"
(c. 1100-1850 CE)
Islamic rule and "Sects of Hinduism"
(c. 1100-1850 CE)
Modern Age
(1500–present)
Modern period
(c. 1500 CE to present)
Modern period
(c. 1750 CE - present)
Modern Hinduism
(from c. 1850)
Modern Hinduism
(from c. 1850)

Prevedic religions (until c. 1750 BCE)

Anatomically modern humans are thought to have arrived in South India about 73,000 - 55,000 years back, during Paleolithic times. These people were Australoids who may have been closely related to Aboriginal Australians. They are probably almost extinct or largely covered by successive waves.

After the Australoids, Caucasoids, including both Elamo-Dravidians (c. 4,000 to 6,000 BCE) and Indo-Aryans (c.2,000-1,500 BCE), and Mongoloids (Sino-Tibetans) immigrated into India. The Elamo-Dravidians possibly from Elam, present-day Iran, and the Tibeto-Burmans possibly from the Himalayan and north-eastern borders of the subcontinent.

The earliest prehistoric religion in India that may have left its traces in Hinduism comes from mesolithic. and neolithic times. Several tribal religions still exist, predating the dominance of Hinduism, though "[w]e must not assume that there are many similarities between prehistoric and contemporary tribal communities."

According to anthropologist Possehl, the Indus Valley Civilization (2,600-1,900BCE) "provides a logical, if somewhat arbitrary, starting point for some aspects of the later Hindu tradition". The religion of this period included worship of a Great Male God, which some (most notably John Marshall) have compared to a proto-Shiva, and probably a Mother Goddess, that may prefigure Shakti. Other practices from the Indus religion that may have continued in the Vedic period include worship of water and fire. However these links of deities and practices of the Indus religion to later-day Hinduism are subject to both political contention and scholarly dispute.

Vedic period (c. 1750-500 BCE)

Main article: Vedic period

Origins

The Vedic period, named after the Vedic religion of the Indo-Aryans, lasted from c. 1750 to 500 BCE. The Indo-Aryans were a branch of the Indo-European language family, which originated in Kurgan culture of the Central Asian steppes.

The Indo-Aryans were pastoralists who migrated into north-western India after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization, The Indo-Aryans were a branch of the Indo-Iranians, which originated in the Andronovo culture in the Bactria-Margiana era, in present northern Afganistan. The roots of the Andronovo culture go back further to the Sintashta culture, with funeral sacrifices which show close parallels to the sacrificial funeral rites of the Rig Veda.

The Indo-Aryans split-off around 1800-1600 BCE from the Iranians, where-after they were defeated and split into two groups by the Iranians, who dominated the Central Eurasian steppe zone and "chased them to the extermities of Central Eurasia." One group were the Indo-Aryans who founded the Mitanni kingdom in northern Syria (ca.1500-1300 BCE). The other group were the Vedic people, who were pursued by the Iranians "across the Near East to the Levant (the lands of the eastern Mediterranean littoral), across Iran into India."

During the Early Vedic period (c. 1500 - 1100 BCE) Vedic tribes were pastoralists, wandering around in north-west India. After 1100 BCE, with the introduction of iron, the Vedic tribes moved into the western Ganges Plain, adapting an agrarical lifestyle. Rudimentary state-forms appeared, of which the Kuru-tribe and realm was the most influential. It was a tribal union, which developed into the first recorded state-level society in South Asia around 1000 BCE. It decisively changed the Vedic heritage of the early Vedic period, collecting the Vedic hymns into collections, and developing new rituals which gained their position in Indian civilization as the orthodox srauta rituals, which contributed to the so-called "classical synthesis" or "Hindu synthesis".

Vedic religion

The Indo-Aryans brought with them their language and religion. The Vedic beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era were closely related to the hypothesised Proto-Indo-European religion, and the Indo-Iranian religion. According to Anthony, the Old Indic religion probably emerged among Indo-European immigrants in the contact zone between the Zeravshan River (present-day Uzbekistan) and (present-day) Iran. It was "a syncretic mixture of old Central Asian and new Indo-European elements", which borrowed "distinctive religious beliefs and practices" from the Bactria–Margiana Culture. At least 383 non-Indo-European words were borrowed from this culture, including the god Indra and the ritual drink Soma.

The Vedic religion of the later Vedic period co-existed with local religions, such as the Yaksha cults, and was itself the product of "a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations". David Gordon White cites three other mainstream scholars who "have emphatically demonstrated" that Vedic religion is partially derived from the Indus Valley Civilizations. Their religion was further developed when they migrated into the Ganges Plain after c. 1100 BCE and became settled farmers, further syncretising with the native culturs of northern India.

Texts

The Vedic Samhitas are the textual artefacts from which this period derives its name. The Vedic texts were the texts of the elite, and do not necessarily represent popular ideas or practices. The oldest of these Vedic texts is the Rigveda, composed between c.1500-1200 BCE, though a wider approximation of c.1700-1100 BCE has also been given. The Vedic texts were codified when the Indo-Aryans started to settle the Ganges-plain, making the transition from a pastoralist to an agricultural society, and the need for a more stratified organisation of society arose. This new society had to include older habitants of the Ganges-plain, and subsumed them under the Aryan varnas, delegating political and religious authority to the Brahmins and Kshatriyas. The Vedas centre on the worship of deities such as Indra, Varuna and Agni, and on the Soma ritual. Fire-sacrifices, called yajña, are performed by chanting Vedic mantras.

The 9th and 8th centuries BCE witnessed the composition of the earliest Upanishads.:183 Upanishads form the theoretical basis of classical Hinduism and are known as Vedanta (conclusion of the Veda). The older Upanishads launched attacks of increasing intensity on the rituals. The diverse monistic speculations of the Upanishads were synthesised into a theistic framework by the sacred Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita.

Universal order

Ethics in the Vedas are based on the concepts of Satya and Rta. Satya is the principle of integration rooted in the Absolute. Ṛta is the expression of Satya, which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it. Conformity with Ṛta would enable progress whereas its violation would lead to punishment. Panikkar remarks:

Ṛta is the ultimate foundation of everything; it is "the supreme", although this is not to be understood in a static sense. [...] It is the expression of the primordial dynamism that is inherent in everything...."

The term "dharma" was already used in Brahmanical thought, where it was conceived as an aspect of Rta. The term rta is also known from the Proto-Indo-Iranian religion, the religion of the Indo-Iranian peoples prior to the earliest Vedic (Indo-Aryan) and Zoroastrian (Iranian) scriptures. Asha[pronunciation?] (aša) is the Avestan language term corresponding to Vedic language ṛta.

"Second Urbanisation" (c. 500-200 BCE)

Main article: Shramana

Increasing urbanisation of India in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE led to the rise of new ascetic or shramana movements which challenged the orthodoxy of rituals. Mahavira (c. 549–477 BCE), proponent of Jainism, and Buddha (c. 563-483), founder of Buddhism, were the most prominent icons of this movement.:184 According to Heinrich Zimmer, Jainism and Buddhism are part of the pre-Vedic heritage, which also includes Samkhya and Yoga:

[Jainism] does not derive from Brahman-Aryan sources, but reflects the cosmology and anthropology of a much older pre-Aryan upper class of northeastern India - being rooted in the same subsoil of archaic metaphysical speculation as Yoga, Sankhya, and Buddhism, the other non-Vedic Indian systems.

The Shramana tradition in part created the concept of the cycle of birth and death, the concept of samsara, and the concept of liberation, which became characteristic for Hinduism.

Pratt notes that Oldenberg (1854-1920), Neumann (1865-1915) and Radhakrishnan (1888-1975) believed that the Buddhist canon had been influenced by Upanishads, while la Vallee Poussin thinks the influence was nihil, and "Eliot and several others insist that on some points the Buddha was directly antithetical to the Upanishads".

Classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE-1100 CE)

Sacred Mount Kailash in Tibet is regarded as the spiritual abode of Lord Shiva.

Pre-classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE-300 CE)

Between 500-200 BCE and c. 300 CE developed the "Hindu synthesis", which incorporated shramanic and Buddhist influences and the emerging bhakti tradition into the Brahmanical fold via the smriti literature. This synthesis emerged under the pressure of the success of Buddhism and Jainism.

According to Embree, several other religious traditions had existed side by side with the Vedic religion. These indigenous religions "eventually found a place under the broad mantle of the Vedic religion". When Brahmanism was declining and had to compete with Buddhism and Jainism, the popular religions had the opportunity to assert themselves. According to Embree,

[T]he Brahmanists themselves seem to have encouraged this development to some extent as a means of meeting the challenge of the more heterodox movements. At the same time, among the indigenous religions, a common allegiance to the authority of the Veda provided a thin, but nonetheless significant, thread of unity amid their variety of gods and religiou practices.

According to Larson, the Brahmins responded with assimilation and consolidation. This is reflected in the smriti literature which took shape in this period. The smriti texts of the period between 200 BCE-100 CE proclaim the authority of the Vedas, and acceptance of the Vedas became a central criterium for defining Hinduism over and against the heterodoxies, which rejected the Vedas. Most of the basic ideas and practices of classical Hinduism derive from the new smriti literature, which form the basic inspiration for most Hindus.

The major Sanskrit epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, which belong to the smriti, were compiled over a protracted period during the late centuries BCE and the early centuries CE. They contain mythological stories about the rulers and wars of ancient India, and are interspersed with religious and philosophical treatises. The later Puranas recount tales about devas and devis, their interactions with humans and their battles against rakshasa. The Bhagavad Gita "seals the achievement" of the "consolidation of Hinduism", integrating Brahmanic and shramanic ideas with theistic devotion.

In early centuries CE several schools of Hindu philosophy were formally codified, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta.

"Golden Age" (Gupta Empire) (c. 320-650 CE)

Main article: Gupta Empire

During this period, power was centralised, along with a growth of far distance trade, standardization of legal procedures, and general spread of literacy. Mahayana Buddhism flourished, but orthodox Brahmana culture began to be rejuvenated by the patronage of the Gupta Dynasty, who were Vaishnavas. The position of the Brahmans was reinforced, the first Hindu temples dedicated to the gods of the Hindu deities, emerged during the late Gupta age. During the Gupta reign the first Puranas were written, which were used to disseminate "mainstream religious ideology amongst pre-literate and tribal groups undergoing acculturation." The Guptas patronised the newly emerging Puranic religion, seeking legitimacy for their dynasty. The resulting Puranic Hinduism, differed markedly from the earlier Brahmanism of the Dharmasastras and the smritis.

This period saw the emergence of the Bhakti movement. The Bhakti movement was a rapid growth of bhakti beginning in Tamil Nadu in Southern India with the Saiva Nayanars (4th to 10th centuries CE) and the Vaisnava Alvars (3rd to 9th centuries CE) who spread bhakti poetry and devotion throughout India by the 12th to 18th centuries CE.

According to P.S. Sharma "the Gupta and Harsha periods form really, from the strictly intellectual standpoint, the most brilliant epocha in the development of Indian philosophy", as Hindu and Buddhist philosophies flourished side by side.Charvaka, the atheistic materialist school, came to the fore in North India before the 8th century CE.

Late-Classical Hinduism - Puranic Hinduism (c. 650-1100 CE)

See also Late-Classical Age and Hinduism Middle Ages.

After the end of the Gupta Empire and the collapse of the Harsha Empire, power became decentralised in India. Several larger kingdoms emerged, with "countless vasal states". The kingdoms were ruled via a feudal system. Smaller kingdoms were dependent on the protection of the larger kingdoms. "The great king was remote, was exalted and deified", as reflected in the Tantric Mandala, which could also depict the king as the centre of the mandala.

The disintegration of central power also lead to regionalisation of religiosity, and religious rivalry. Local cults and languages were enhanced, and the influence of "Brahmanic ritualistic Hinduism" was diminished. Rural and devotional movements arose, along with Shaivism, Vaisnavism, Bhakti and Tantra, though "sectarian groupings were only at the beginning of their development". Religious movements had to compete for recognition by the local lords. Buddhism lost its position after the 8th century, and began to disappear in India. This was reflected in the change of puja-ceremonies at the courts in the 8th century, where Hindu gods replaced the Buddha as the "supreme, imperial deity".

The early mediaeval Puranas were composed to disseminate religious mainstream ideology among the pre-literate tribal societies undergoing acculturation. With the breakdown of the Gupta empire, gifts of virgin waste-land were heaped on brahmanas, to ensure provitable agrarical exploitation of land owned by the kings, but also to provide status to the new ruling classes. Brahmanas spread further over India, interacting with local clans with different religions and ideologies. The Brahmanas used the Puranas to incorporate those clans into the agrarical society and its accompanying religion and ideology. According to Flood, "[t]he Brahmans who followed the puranic religion became known as smarta, those whose worship was based on the smriti, or pauranika, those based on the Puranas." Local chiefs and peasants were absorbed into the varna, which was used to keep "control over the new kshatriyas and shudras." The Brahmanic group was enlarged by incorporating local subgroups, such as local priets. This also lead to a stratification within the Brahmins, with some Brahmins having a lower status than other Brahmains. The use of caste worked better with the new Puranic Hinduism than with the shramanic sects. The Puranic texts provided extensive genealogies which gave status to the new kshatriyas. Buddhist myths pictured government as a contract between an elected ruler and the people. And the Buddhist chakkavatti "was a distinct concept from the models of conquest held up to the kshatriyas and the Rajputs."

The Brahmanism of the Dharmashastras and the smritis underwent a radical transformation at the hands of the Purana composers, resulting in the rise of Puranic Hinduism, "which like a colossus striding across the religious firmanent soon came to overshadow all existing religions". Puranic Hinduism was a "multiplex belief-system which grew and expanded as it absorbed and synthesised polaristic ideas and cultic traditions" It was distinguished from its Vedic Smarta roots by its popular base, its theological and sectarioan pluralism, its Tantric veneer, and the central place of bhakti.

Many local religions and traditions were assimilated into puranic Hinduism. Vishnu and Shiva emerged as the main deities, together with Sakti/Deva. Vishnu subsumed the cults of Narayana, Jagannaths, Venkateswara "and many others". Nath:

[S]ome incarnations of Vishnu such as Matsya, Kurma, Varaha and perhaps even Nrsimha helped to incorporate certain popular totem symbols and creation myths, specially those related to wild boar, which commonly permeate preliterate mythology, others such as Krsna and Balarama became instrumental in assimilating local cults and myths centering around two popular pastoral and agricultural gods.

Rama and Krsnabecame the focus of a strong bhakti tradition, which found expression particularly in the Bhagavata Purana. The Krsna tradition subsumed numerous Naga, yaksa and hill and tree based cults. Siva absorbed local cults by the suffixing of Isa or Isvara to the name of the local deity, for example Bhutesvara, Hatakesvara, Chandesvara. In 8th-century royal circles, the Buddha started to be replaced by Hindu gods in pujas. This also was the same period of time the Buddha was made into an avatar of Vishnu.

The non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta, which was influenced by Buddhism was reformulated by Shankara who systematised the works of preceding philosophers. In modern times, due to the influence of western Orientalism and Perennialism on Indian Neo-Vedanta and Hindu nationalism, Advaita Vedanta has acquired a broad acceptance in Indian culture and beyond as the paradigmatic example of Hindu spirituality.

Islamic rule and Sects of Hinduism (c. 1100-1850 CE)

Main article: Islam in India

Though Islam came to Indian subcontinent in the early 7th century with the advent of Arab traders and the conquest of Sindh, it started to become a major religion during the later Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent. During this period Buddhism declined rapidly and large number of Hindus converted to Islam. Numerous Muslim rulers or their army generals such as Aurangzeb and Malik Kafur destroyed Hindu temples and persecuted non-Muslims; however some, such as Akbar, were more tolerant. Hinduism underwent profound changes, in large part due to the influence of the prominent teachers Ramanuja, Madhva, and Chaitanya. Followers of the Bhakti movement moved away from the abstract concept of Brahman, which the philosopher Adi Shankara consolidated a few centuries before, with emotional, passionate devotion towards the more accessible Avatars, especially Krishna and Rama. According to Nicholson, already between the 17th and the 16th century, "certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophival teachings of the Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as the "six systems" (saddarsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy." Michaels notes that a historicization emerged which preceded later nationalism, articulating ideas which glorified Hinduism and the past.

Modern Hinduism (from c. 1850)

Russian Krishnaites celebrating Ratha Yatra. In the late 20th century forms of Hinduism have grown indigenous roots in parts of Russia, significantly in Altay where Hinduism is now the religion of 2% of the population.

With the onset of the British Raj, the colonization of India by the British, there also started a Hindu renaissance in the 19th century, which profoundly changed the understanding of Hinduism in both India and the west.Indology as an academic discipline of studying Indian culture from a European perspective was established in the 19th century, led by scholars such as Max Müller and John Woodroffe. They brought Vedic, Puranic and Tantric literature and philosophy to Europe and the United States.[citation needed] Western orientalist searched for the "essence" of the Indian religions, discerning this in the Vedas, and meanwhile creating the notion of "Hinduism" as a unified body of religious praxis and the popular picture of 'mystical India'. This idea of a Vedic essence was taken over by Hindu reform movements as the Brahmo Samaj, which was supported for a while by the Unitarian Church, together with the ideas of Universalism and Perennialism, the idea that all religions share a common mystic ground. This "Hindu modernism", with proponents like Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Radhakrishnan, became central in the popular understanding of Hinduism.

Influential 20th-century Hindus were Ramana Maharshi, B.K.S. Iyengar, Paramahansa Yogananda, Prabhupada (founder of ISKCON), Sri Chinmoy, Swami Rama and others who translated, reformulated and presented Hinduism's foundational texts for contemporary audiences in new iterations, raising the profiles of Yoga and Vedanta in the West and attracting followers and attention in India and abroad.

In the 20th century, Hinduism also gained prominence as a political force and a source for national identity in India. With origins traced back to the establishment of the Hindu Mahasabha in the 1910s, the movement grew with the formulation and development of the Hindutva ideology in the following decades; the establishment of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925; and the entry, and later success, of RSS offshoots Jana Sangha and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in electoral politics in post-independence India. Hindu religiosity plays an important role in the nationalist movement.

Temple (Devasthana)

Main article: Hindu temple
Koneswaram Temple a 6th-century BCE Tamil Saivate temple in Tirukonamalai, Sri Lanka
Amarnath Temple, attraction to pilgrimages as before as 300 BCE.

The worship place is commonly known as Temple. Usually regarded as Devasthana (God's place) or Mandir by the followers, construction of temple and mode of worship is governed by several Sanskrit scriptures called agamas, which deal with individual deities. There are substantial differences in architecture, customs, rituals and traditions in temples in different parts of India.

Hindus can engage in puja (worship or veneration), either at home or at a temple. At home, Hindus often create a shrine with icons dedicated to their chosen form(s) of God. Temples are usually dedicated to a primary deity along with associated subordinate deities though some commemorate multiple deities. Visiting temples is not obligatory, and many visit temples only during religious festivals. Hindus perform their worship through icons (murtis). The icon serves as a tangible link between the worshiper and God. The image is often considered a manifestation of God, since God is immanent. The Padma Purana states that the mūrti is not to be thought of as mere stone or wood but as a manifest form of the Divinity. While there are Hindus who, do not believe in worshiping God through icons, most notably those of Ārya Samāj.

Practices

See also: Initiation
The sacred Tulsi plant in front of the house.

Worship

Hindu practices generally involve seeking awareness of God and sometimes also seeking blessings from Devas. Therefore, Hinduism has developed numerous practices meant to help one think of divinity in the midst of everyday life.

Mantras are invocations, praise and prayers that through their meaning, sound, and chanting style help a devotee focus the mind on holy thoughts or express devotion to God/the deities. Many devotees perform morning ablutions at the bank of a sacred river while chanting the Gayatri Mantra or Mahamrityunjaya mantras. The epic Mahabharata extols Japa (ritualistic chanting) as the greatest duty in the Kali Yuga (current age, 3102 BCE- present). Many adopt Japa as their primary spiritual practice.Yoga is a Hindu discipline which trains the consciousness for tranquility, health and spiritual insight. This is done through a system of postures and exercises to practise control of the body and mind.

Hymns (Bhajans)

Main article: Bhajan

A Bhajan is any type of devotional song. It has no fixed form: it may be as simple as a mantra or kirtan or as sophisticated as the dhrupad or kriti with music based on classical ragas and talas. It is normally lyrical, expressing love for the Divine. The name, a cognate of bhakti, meaning religious devotion, suggests its importance to the bhakti movement that spread from the south of India throughout the entire subcontinent in the Moghul era.

Anecdotes and episodes from scriptures, the teachings of saints and descriptions of gods have all been the subject of bhajans. The Dhrupad style, Sufi qawwali and the kirtan or song in the Haridasi tradition are related to bhajan. Nanak, Kabir, Meera, Narottama Dasa, Surdas and Tulsidas are notable composers. Traditions of bhajan such as Nirguni, Gorakhanathi, Vallabhapanthi, Ashtachhap, Madhura-bhakti and the traditional South Indian form Sampradya Bhajan each have their own repertoire and methods of singing.

According to Gaṅgā Rām Garg ;-

Hindu music is as old as the Sanskrit literature itself. And as a written science, the Hindu system of music is the oldest in the world.

Rituals

Offerings to Agni during Vivah-homa in a Hindu wedding

The vast majority of Hindus engage in religious rituals on a daily basis. Most Hindus observe religious rituals at home. but this varies greatly among regions, villages, and individuals. Devout Hindus perform daily rituals such as worshiping at dawn after bathing (usually at a family shrine, and typically includes lighting a lamp and offering foodstuffs before the images of deities), recitation from religious scripts, singing devotional hymns, meditation, chanting mantras, reciting scriptures etc. A notable feature in religious ritual is the division between purity and pollution. Religious acts presuppose some degree of impurity or defilement for the practitioner, which must be overcome or neutralised before or during ritual procedures. Purification, usually with water, is thus a typical feature of most religious action. Other characteristics include a belief in the efficacy of sacrifice and concept of merit, gained through the performance of charity or good works, that will accumulate over time and reduce sufferings in the next world. Vedic rites of fire-oblation (yajna) are now only occasional practices, although they are highly revered in theory. In Hindu wedding and burial ceremonies, however, the yajña and chanting of Vedic mantras are still the norm. The rituals, upacharas, change with time. For instance, in the past few hundred years some rituals, such as sacred dance and music offerings in the standard Sodasa Upacharas set prescribed by the Agama Shastra, were replaced by the offerings of rice and sweets.

Occasions like birth, marriage, and death involve what are often elaborate sets of religious customs. In Hinduism, life-cycle rituals include Annaprashan (a baby's first intake of solid food), Upanayanam ("sacred thread ceremony" undergone by upper-caste children at their initiation into formal education) and Śrāddha (ritual of treating people to a meal in return for prayers to 'God' to give peace to the soul of the deceased). For most people in India, the betrothal of the young couple and the exact date and time of the wedding are matters decided by the parents in consultation with astrologers. On death, cremation is considered obligatory for all except sanyasis, hijra, and children under five. Cremation is typically performed by wrapping the corpse in cloth and burning it on a pyre.

Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage to Kedarnath

Following pilgrimage sites are most famous amongst Hindu devotees:

Old Holy cities as per Puranic Texts: Varanasi formerly known as Kashi, Allahabad formerly known as Prayag, Haridwar-Rishikesh, Mathura-Vrindavan, and Ayodhya.

Char Dham (Famous Four Pilgrimage sites): The four holy sites Puri, Rameswaram, Dwarka, and Badrinath (or alternatively the Himalayan towns of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri) compose the Char Dham (four abodes) pilgrimage circuit.

Kumbh Mela: The Kumbh Mela (the "pitcher festival") is one of the holiest of Hindu pilgrimages that is held every 12 years; the location is rotated among Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain.

Major Temple cities: Puri, which hosts a major Vaishnava Jagannath temple and Rath Yatra celebration; Katra, home to the Vaishno Devi temple; Three comparatively recent temples of fame and huge pilgrimage are Shirdi, home to Sai Baba of Shirdi, Tirumala - Tirupati, home to the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple; and Sabarimala, where Swami Ayyappan is worshipped.

Shakti Peethas: Another important set of pilgrimages are the Shakti Peethas, where the Mother Goddess is worshipped, the two principal ones being Kalighat and Kamakhya.

While there are different yet similar pilgrimage routes in different parts of India, all are respected equally well, according to the universality of Hinduism.

Pilgrimage is not mandatory in Hinduism, though many adherents undertake them.

Symbolism

Hinduism has a developed system of symbolism and iconography to represent the sacred in art, architecture, literature and worship. These symbols gain their meaning from the scriptures, mythology, or cultural traditions. The syllable om (which represents the Para Brahman) and the swastika sign (which symbolises auspiciousness) have grown to represent Hinduism itself, while other markings such as tilaka identify a follower of the faith. Hinduism associates many symbols, which include the lotus (padma), chakra and veena, with particular deities.

Festivals

Main article: Hindu festivals
The festival of lights- Diwali, is celebrated by Hindus all over the world.

Hindu festivals (Sanskrit: Utsava; literally: "to lift higher") are considered as symbolic rituals that beautifully weave individual and social life to dharma. Hinduism has many festivals throughout the year. The Hindu calendar usually prescribe their dates.

The festivals typically celebrate events from Hindu mythology, often coinciding with seasonal changes. There are festivals which are primarily celebrated by specific sects or in certain regions of the Indian subcontinent.

Some widely observed Hindu festivals include:

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