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Lecture 5: The origins of
Facts on Hinduism
The word “Hinduism” encompasses a wide range
of beliefs and practices
Hinduism is monotheistic and the oldest known
Hindus worship one ultimate being which they
refer to as “Brahman”; the one, ultimate reality
Hinduism is the worlds third largest religion
(13.26% of the world’s population)1
The word Hinduism comes from outsiders and as
such the word is used with much controversy
A famous Hindu: Gandhi
Mohandas K. Gandhi
o Lived 1869 to 1948
o Famous for his roles as a political and
spiritual leader
o Gandhi viewed Religion as primarily
concerned with Self-Realization and
knowledge of oneself
o Held strong philosophical beliefs against
o Saw truth and morality as the most
important things in reality.
Problems with “Hinduism”
In your pair discuss the following:
What does the word “American” mean to you?
If you were asked to describe what it is to be American what description could you
Is there one description that could accurately describe All Americans?
Can your description include Americans who do not currently live in the United
States or those who were not born there?
Can it represent all of the different religious practices used throughout the United
Hinduism as a way of life
Rather than treating Hinduism as a single religion with one strict set of beliefs
scholars consider Hinduism more like a way of life
Hindu practices range from extreme Asceticism to sensuality
Hindu practices also vary according to region, caste, economic status, gender, and
Hindu families and individuals also have their own preferences
Sanatana Dharma
Given the controversies of the term “Hinduism” scholars prefer to take a thematic
approach; Sanatana Dharma
Sanatana Dharma means “eternal religion”
Dharma includes the following:
o Duty
o Natural law
o Social welfare
o Ethics
o Health
o Transcendental Realization
Hindu Origin Theories
The earliest known era of Hinduism is known as the “Vedic Age” but there are
various theories on how to date and characterize this period
1. Aryan Invasion Theory
o Nomads called the ‘Aryans’ invaded the north-west Indian subcontinent
and conquered the people of the Indus valley.
o The Aryans developed the Vedic tradition; the foundation of Hinduism
2. Some scholars argue that the Indus valley people were the ancestors of those
who spoke the Dravidian languages of southern India and the Aryans forced
them to move south.
3. Hindu Nationalists
Claim that the Aryans were native to India
4. More recent research suggests that smaller micro-migrations over a long
period may be responsible for changes in the Indus valley.
The Indus Valley
Holy Texts of Sanatana Dharma
The Vedas
The Vedas represent an important foundation in Hinduism and teach us about
the early origins of Sanatana Dharma
The Vedas are sacred hymns which were initially preserved orally
The Vedas were heard by ancient Rishis (Sages) and as such have a divine origin
The Vedas include (Chronologically)
1. Samhitas
2. Brahmanas
3. Aranyakas
4. Upanishads
The Vedas
Brahamanas / Brahman / Brahmin
A portion of the Vedas
The all-pervading reality
A priestly caste / sages
Upanishad teachings
Rishis appear in the Upanishads and taught
some of the following:
1. Brahman can be known from within
Such knowledge is known as the self or
the soul (Atman)
2. The concept of a cycle of death and
rebirth (Samsara)
The Atman is continually reborn
according to the results of one’s
actions (Karma)
3. The Rishis sought Moksha; Liberation
from samsara
The Epics and Puranas
Appeared after 500 C.E.
The Epics and Puranas illustrate the
trend towards personal love for a deity
The two major epics are the Ramayana
and the Mahabharata
The epics illustrate the theory of Yugas
According to this theory the universe
passes through four ages
Our cosmos is currently in its worst
ages; Kali Yuga
Compiled sometime between 400 B.C.E. to 200 C.E.
Uses stories of Prince Rama and his wife Sita to depict various kinds of
relationships and duties
Composed sometime between 4000
B.C.E. and 400 C.E.
Includes a number of texts including
the Bhagavad-Gita
The Bhagavad-Gita relates a dialogue
between Krishna and Arjuna at the
beginning of a battle between two
sides of a family
The Puranas
Traditionally there are 18 Puranas
Composed sometime between 500-1500 C.E.
The Puranas detail the vast mythology of the Hindu Pantheon
A popular Purana is the Bhagvata Purana which tells the tale of Krishna as a
mischievous child
Group assignment
Your group must choose One of the following Hindu deities
1. Brahma
2. Vishnu
3. Shiva
4. Saraswati
5. Lakshmi
6. Durga/Parvati/Amba
7. Venkateshwara
8. Satyanarayana
9. Rama
10. Krishna
11. Kartikeya
12. Ganesh
13. Hanuman
14. Gauri
15. Gayatri