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Introduction To Hinduism
The World’s largest Hindu Temple “Akshardham” is located in New Jersey and costs $150
million. When this project is finished, according to a report in The Times of India, it will cost
over $150 million. The temple will enter the record books: for building the largest Hindu
temple in the world, in terms of acreage. At present, the biggest Hindu temple is the Sri
Rangaswami temple in Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, which covers 155.92 acres.
The religion of Hinduism developed and evolved over a long period of time in India, giving
rise to a variety of beliefs and practices and to other religions, including Buddhism. Hinduism
is one of the oldest religions of humanity, in the world. It was founded in 1500 BCE or earlier.
Hinduism has no one particular founder.
It is the 3rd largest religion in the world.
Instead, it evolved as the beliefs of several different groups of people combined.
About five thousand years ago, a group of people were living in an area called the Indus
Valley in what is now northwestern India and eastern Pakistan. Another wandering tribe, the
Aryans, invaded the Indus Valley. The religious beliefs of the two groups intermingled to form
the early components of Hinduism.
The early Hindus believed in one main god, Brahma (or Brahman), and many lesser gods,
who are often thought of as different faces of Brahma.
What Do Hindu’s Believe:
Brahman -the eternal being - created and preserves the world. Everything in the
world is an aspect of Brahman.
Atman - the soul – each person has one that is an aspect of Brahman. Can not ever
be destroyed.
Devas – manifestations of Brahman that are active in the world and who help to
maintain order.
Three of the most common Devas - Brahma, Vishnu, & Siva.
Reincarnation – being reborn into this world lifetime after lifetime (Samsara).
Karma – the sum effect of a person’s actions, good and bad, which helps shape future
Moksha - goal of human existence, escape from the cycle of reincarnation to join with
the Brahman.
Dharma – set of spiritual duties and obligations that must be fulfilled to achieve
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Introduction To Hinduism
Hindu society was divided into four castes, or classes, of people:
1) The highest class, the Brahmins (priests), were concerned with assisting people
with worship, called puja, and with remembering and passing on the sacred texts.
2) The second caste, the Kshatriyas, was made up of soldiers and nobles.
3) The next caste, made up of farmers, merchants, and craftspeople, was called the
4) The Shudras made up the fourth caste of servants and laborers. A fifth caste,
sometimes called the untouchables, consisted of people outside all the other castes,
who did the dirtiest jobs.
Basically, Hindus believed that people were born into a certain caste because of their karma from
their past life, and they remained a member of that caste their whole life, and did not associate with
members of other castes.
Today, the untouchables caste has been officially abolished, but it still exists unofficially in
some places, especially in rural areas. Some modem Hindus, especially urban ones, do not
adhere strictly to the caste system and may associate with people from other castes.
Some people today believe that the caste system is unfair because it does not allow anyone
to move between castes in this lifetime. Others believe that it is a good way to organize
society because everyone is a member of a group and is cared for by those of their own
In addition to the four castes, Hindus also believe that there are four stages of life that a
person should pass through. They are: a student, a householder, a forest hermit, and a
wandering holy man. Many people spend most of their adult lives as householders, but some
do continue on through the four stages.
Hindus believe that certain animals are sacred. The most important of these is the cow. The
cow is a source of milk and cheese, does work by pulling carts and plows, and her dung is
used as a source of fuel. Hindus are not allowed to kill a cow and most Hindus will not eat
beef. Many Hindus show respect for all animals by not eating meat of any kind.
Around the ninth century B.C.E., some of the Aryans and the original Indus Valley tribes
migrated to the Ganges River Valley, and yet another set of religious beliefs were
incorporated into Hinduism.
By this time, a complicated set of rituals and animal sacrifices had developed for worship,
and the Brahmins had become extremely powerful. Some people objected to the level of
power that the Brahmins had.
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Introduction To Hinduism
Gradually another group of religious leaders emerged. These were hermits, who lived a
simple life in the forest, owning very few possessions and spending their time in devotion and
meditation. Many people placed their trust in these forest hermits rather than in the priests.
The Hindu Sacred Texts:
A set of sayings and teachings, called the Vedas, were said to have been inspired by
Brahma and were passed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next.
Eventually, these were written down. They still play an important part in Hindu life today.
They contain hymns and chants to be used in worship and instructions for rituals and priestly
Between the seventh and fifth centuries B.C.E., another set of teachings, the Upanishads,
were composed by the forest hermits. The term 'Upanishad' literally means, "sitting down
near" or "sitting close to", and implies listening closely to the mystic doctrines of a guru or
a spiritual teacher, who has cognized the fundamental truths of the universe.
The Upanishads form the core of Indian philosophy. They are an amazing collection of
writings from original oral transmissions, which have been aptly described by Shri
Aurobindoas "the supreme work of the Indian mind". It is here that we find all the fundamental
teachings that are central to Hinduism - the concepts of:
'karma' (action), 'samsara' (reincarnation),
'moksha' (nirvana), the 'atman' (soul),
and the 'Brahman' (Absolute Almighty).
They also set forth the prime Vedic doctrines of self-realization, yoga and meditation.
These took the form of dialogues between a student and a teacher, and highlighted some of
the main Hindu beliefs. These were also handed down by word of mouth, eventually written
down, and are an important part of Hindu literature today.
Another set of teachings, the Puranas, also developed around this time. These contain
knowledge revealed by Brahman.
The oldest, most authoritative text is The Vedas (“truth”). It written in four parts. First
received in the form of oral histories. It contains the sacred hymns of praise.
2.) Upanishads (400 B.C.E.) – Focus on the meditation and the religious instruction with
a guru. It is a philosophical reflections on the Vedas.)
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Introduction To Hinduism
The Great Indian Epics (composed by sages). Tell stories that reflect on what it
means to live according to Vedic teachings.
• Ramayana
• Mahabharata (includes Bhagavad-Gita).
• The Bhagavad Gītā (400 BCE) – Is perhaps the most famous, and definitely
the most widely-read text of ancient India.
The two great epic poems, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, are probably the longest
poems in the world. The Mahabharata has over ninety thousand verses and tells about a
civil war between two families. It contains a section called the Bhagavad Gita, which tells
popular stories about the god Krishna. The Ramayana tells of the exploits of the god Rama.
The eighteen Puranas are stories about the gods and goddesses, famous heroes, the
beginning and end of the world, and the history of humankind. All of these varied writings are
included in the Hindu sacred texts.
These religious texts that are part of the Vedas, contain narratives about the history of the
Universe from creation to destruction and the genealogies of kings, heroes, sages, and
demigods. These were popular stories of the lives of the gods and goddesses. They were
easy to understand, and captured the imaginations of the people.
Hinduism History:
Hindu beliefs eventually spread throughout the entire subcontinent of what is now India and
also to other parts of Asia and, later, to other parts of the world.
In the eighth century, C.E., Muslims migrated to India and, after five hundred years of conflict,
took over the country. Although Hinduism still existed, it was no longer the only religion
practiced in India. The British set up colonies in India in the eighteenth century, further
diluting the Hindu culture.
A man named Rammohan Roy (1772-1833) was a key figure in restoring some of the ancient
Hindu culture. Another man, Mohandas Karamch and Gandhi (1869-1949), used a Hindu
principle of non-violent resistance to eventually free. India from British rule in 1947. He was
more commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma is a title of honor meaning the great
soul. He was one of the great spiritual and political leaders of the twentieth century, and
people of all faiths consider him to have been an exemplary force for peace.
There are various stories about how the name Hindu came about. It was probably first used
by Persians who found it difficult to pronounce the word sidhu, an early name of the Indus
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Introduction To Hinduism
Valley. Hindus usually think of themselves as followers of a sacred law, or dharma (sacred
path of righteous), rather than as Hindus.
Hindu Beliefs:
There is not a set creed or system of beliefs which one must adhere to in order to be a Hindu.
Most people of Hindu ancestry consider themselves to be Hindu and follow Hindu practices
and rituals to some extent.
Hindus do not actively attempt to convert non-Hindus to their religion, but some people,
especially in the United States, have chosen to study Hinduism and have even become
Hindu teachers, or gurus.
Even though it is not required, most Hindus do share a common set of beliefs. Hindus believe
that when people die, they come back to earth again in a process called reincarnation. A
person's good or bad behavior, called karma, during their lifetime influences their status in
their next life. As a reward for good behavior, they might be reborn into a higher caste. As a
punishment for bad behavior, they could be reborn as an animal.
This cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is called samsara. This cycle finally ends when a person
achieves moksha, the final stage of purity attained by repeated good deeds.
What are the religious practices of Hinduism?
1.) Vary greatly because worship can take place anywhere - usually at a temple or in the
2.) Spiritual leaders are called gurus or sages.
3.) Yoga -integrated physical and mental exercises. They teach people to focus their
minds and bodies which will aid their meditation in order to attain moksha.
4.) Pilgrimage to Ganges (thought it flows through two (2), Devas so its water is holy.
Bathing in it will purify them and remove bad karma.
5.) Ultimate goal of life – to release Atman and reunite with the divine, becoming as
one with Brahman (Moksha).
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