I’m going to talk about Hindu history, beliefs and culture. Hinduism is the oldest living religion in the world and the third largest. More than one billion Hindus live in 150different countries, mostly in India. The United States alone is home to over two million Hindus. Origins of Hinduism: To find the distant beginnings of Hinduism, we have to go back over 6,000 years to the Saraswati-Indus region of the Indian subcontinent.
This vast area extends from Sri Lanka in the south to the Himalayan mountains in the north, from the Arabian Sea in the west to the Bay of Bengal in the east. The Saraswati-Indus civilization developed here, eventually becoming the world’s largest and most advanced, surpassing even those of Egypt, Mesopotamia and China. The civilization is named after the area’s two great river systems, the Saraswati and the Indus.
It is called the Vedic culture after the earliest Hindu sacred text. It is also known as the Harappan culture, after the site of its first discovery in1920. This was an urban culture centered around many highly organized cities, some with populations of 8,000, which was rare in those days. The cities were connected by trade routes which extended west to Mesopotamia and East to central Asia. Five thousand years later archaeologists discovered pottery, seals, statues, beads, jewelry, tools, toys, miniature carts, and dice, all of which hint at what life was like at the source of the civilization that has evolved into modern-day India.
The flat, stone seals have writing on them and images of Deities, ceremonies, symbols, people, plants and animals. Even though writing was widespread among the people, we have not deciphered it yet. From these artifacts, we learn that certain religious and cultural practices were identical to those followed by Hindus today.
One seal shows a meditating figure that scholars link to Lord Shiva, while others show the lotus posture used today in hatha yoga. Other discoveries connect the far past with today, including swastikas, statues of the Mother Goddess, worship of the Shiva Lingam, fire altars that show the ceremonial practice of Vedic people, who were also known as Aryans, sacred baths, priests, sacred animals and symbolism in the performing arts.
You must be familiar with the traditional greeting namaste. Here’s a small clay statue portraying the same. And this statue shows a woman with red powder in the part of her hair. Married women even today observe the same custom. As the Sarasvati-Indus culture declined when the river dried up around 2000 bc, many people migrated to more fertile places, in eastern and central India, especially along the river Ganga and also beyond the subcontinent. Hindu Scriptures: The four Vedas, the central holy books of Hinduism, were composed in Sanskrit starting at least six thousand years ago.
The Rigveda, the earliest to the four, speaks repeatedly of the Saraswati, describing it as the most mighty of rivers, flowing from the Himalayan mountains to the sea. Thus, we know that a large part of this sacred text was composed well before 2000 bc, by which time the river had dried up.
Vedic hymns praise God, Gods and Goddesses and describe a powerful and spiritual people, their clans, kings and emperors, fights and battles. Their sophisticated economy included agriculture, industry, trade, commerce and cattle raising. Vedas call the country Sapta Sindhu, meaning the Land of Seven Rivers.
The words Hindu and India both come from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, which means “river.” These Vedic hymns describe a form of fire worship, yajna, performed around a specially built altar. Archaeologists have unearthed such altars in several Saraswati-Indus cities. Hindus still perform fire worship in this form.
Originally, these thousands of hymns were not written down but memorized. Even today there are priests who can chant from memory as many as 10,500 verses, which takes 50 hours. the There are dozens of other sacred texts that Hindus revere, including the Puranas and the writings of illumined sages. The epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are traditional histories of India and storehouses of Hindu heritage. The Ramayana is the story of Lord Rama, seventh incarnation or avatar of Lord Vishnu, and his divine wife, Sita.
The Mahabharata is the world’s longest epic. It is about a massive war in ancient India between cousins fighting for the throne of a great kingdom. A central episode called the Bhagavad Gita is a dialogue between commander Arjuna and Lord Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, on the day of the battle. The Mahabharata remains one of the most widespread scriptures in the world, with its dominant message of justice. Hindu sacred music, dance, drama and the arts draw heavily on these two literary epics.
The Hindu Society: By 600 bc, the social, religious and philosophical ideas and practices central to Hinduism today were fully evident, having emerged from the Indus-Saraswati culture, the Vedas, Dravidian culture and the tribal religions. A distinctive feature of society was the varna or class system. People were classified into groups with specific occupations.
Parents taught their skills to their children from a young age, providing a strong grounding in their profession or trade. These groups eventually became hereditary: priests warriors merchants and workers, including craftsman and farmers. However, this class system did not include the various forest tribes. It also did not include small communities considered untouchable because their occupations were unclean, such as the cremation ground chandalas, scavengers and leather workers.
This system give identity to the kinship groups and gave all citizens a sense of belonging, greater social order and stability. The socially cohesive contributions of caste continue to play a key role in economic, social and political life, most visibly in marriages and elections. Life in ancient times was hard work for both men and women. Women were responsible for running the household while men for looking after their craft, farm and family security.
In general, women participated equally in religious ceremonies, festivities and social relationships. Some of the foremost religious and political leaders in India’s history have been women. Some even composed Vedic Hymns. The period from 1000 bce through the Gupta period, ending in themid-6th century BC, was a time of great scientific and mathematical advancement.
Hindus developed the counting system we use today, including the mathematical concepts of zero and decimals. Indian astronomers knew that the Earth orbits the Sun, and they calculated the length of a year with amazing precision. Medicine was so advanced that doctors were performing complex surgeries not be equalled in Europe until the 18th century.
India was the foremost supplier of steel to the world. In 400 BC, its foundries created an iron pillar which even stands today and has never rust end. Modern science cannot equal this feat. For thousands of years India has been home to one quarter of the human family. It has been honored as a nation of wealth and wisdom and, of course, it is famous today as the world’s largest democracy.
Hindu Beliefs, Practices and Saints The religion of this land, Hinduism, has always been open minded and tolerant with the belief that, “Truth is One, paths are many.” Thus Hindus respect all other religions. Hinduism is the only major religion that worships God in both male and female form, as well as with and without any attributes.
The original Sanskrit name for Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma, meaning “eternal religion.” Most Hindus believe in a Supreme God, many Gods and Goddesses, spiritual worlds, the divinity of the soul, dharma, karma, reincarnation, God Realization and liberation from rebirth. The Supreme God is known by various names depending on region and denomination: Brahman, Bhagavan, Siva, Shakti, Vishnu and more.
He-She is all-powerful, all-knowing, all loving, immanent, (that is, present in all things)and transcendent, (beyond them as well). God exists within each person as atman, the divine soul. God Realization describes the experience of the divine with in oneself. This profound encounter with God is regarded as the ultimate goal of life. Hindus teach that every human being can know God personally. Hindus also worship other divinities.
Each divinity has distinct powers and areas of responsibility. For example, Lord Ganesha is the Remover of Obstacles, Saraswati is the Goddess of knowledge and Hanuman is the God of service and devotion. Each Hindu freely choose the Deities he or she wishes to worship. Dharma is a cardinal concept in Hinduism. It includes righteousness, truth, Sacred Law, ethics, duty, justice, religion and the laws of nature. Dharma means, “that which upholds.” The dharmic principal of ahimsa, or non-violence, is important to this day.
Mahatma Gandhi led India’s independence in 1947 using nonviolent means such as peaceful protests, boycotts, strikes and speeches that aroused the nation to throw off British rule. He once said, “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” In the1950s, Martin Luther King Jr. understood the power of Gandhi’s methods and went to India to meet his followers. He later applied those methods to fight for and win civil rights for America’s Black minority.
In the same way, Cesar Chavez won rights for the farmworkers of California. Gandhi also inspired Nelson Mandela in his fight for freedom and racial equality in South Africa. Today everyone knows about the Hindu concept of karma, the law of cause and effect. It means that anything a person does, whether good or bad, will eventually return to him in this or a future life. A popular way of expressing this is, “What goes around comes around. “Reincarnation is the central Indian belief that the soul, atman, is reborn in the new body time and time again, to grow and mature through all the experiences human life has to offer.
Eventually every soul achieves salvation by realizing its Oneness with God and is no longer reborn. Hindus do not believe in a Satan or an eternal hell. Worship is central to a Hindu’s life. So, every Hindu home has a place of worship. It may be as simple as a shelf with pictures of Deities, or entire room dedicated to the family’s daily worship. A worship ceremony called puja, performed elaborately or very simply every day in the temple or in the home shrine invokes the Divine Beings for blessings and happiness.
The puja ceremony includes sacred chanting, bathing the image of the Deity, offering food, flowers, incense and other sacred substances and the waving lights. Hindus practice yogic discipline everyday, called sadhana. Sitting on the floor, often in a yoga posture, they chant, sing devotional hymns repeat the name of God while counting on beads or simply meditate in stillness and silence. The temple is revered as the home of God.
There are millions of temples in India, many quite ancient. The most important of these mystically designed structures cover hundreds of acres and receive thousands of pilgrims each day. Every Hindu is expected to pilgrimage to temples in holy places far and wide. These pilgrimages unify the religion as tens of millions of people travel throughout the subcontinent and interact. Hinduism has a rich history of sages and saints, both men and women, from all castes. Some other great saints wrote detailed explanations of the Upanishads and related scriptures, such as Adi Shankara in the eighth century BC, Ramanuja in the 11th and Vallabhacharya in the 15th.
Others, including Sambandar, Mirabai and Tukaram, expressed their experience of God through devotional songs. Recent saints include Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Anandamayi Ma, Swaminarayan and Shirdi Sai Baba. Millions of swamis and other saintly souls make up the spiritual leadership within Hinduism. Swamis have renounced the world and taken up spiritual life full-time. Special among these are the gurus, enlightened men and women who serve as religious teachers.
Some gurus have millions of followers, others are humble hermits. Hinduism has no central organization and no single dogma. No one person or institution is in charge. Instead, there are thousands of independent guru lineages, spiritual traditions, monastic orders and religious institutions. Hindu Festivals Hindus love festivals and enthusiastically celebrate many holy days each year. The biggest is called Diwali or deepavali, the festival of lights.
This five-day event, held around the new Moon in October or November, celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness. Thousands of small lamps including traditional clay oil lamps are placed everywhere, and fireworks signal hope for mankind. It is a national holiday in India and in many countries with large Hindu populations. Barack Obama was the first US president to celebrate Diwali in the White House.
“I want to wish you alla Happy Diwali and a Saal Mubarak.” Om Asato Maa Sad Gamaya Om, Keep me not in the Un reality, but Lead me towards the Reality Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya Keep me not in the darkness, but lead me towards the Light Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam GamayaKeep me not in the fear of death, but lead me toward the Immortality Shanti, Shanti, Shanti Peace, Peace, Peace One special festival, the kumbh mela, takes place every three years at four sacred river sites. The 2013 Kumbha Mela was held at Prayagraj, which is modern-day Allahabad in northern India. During the six weeks, 130 million people pilgrimaged there from all across India and the world.
On one day alone, 30 million pilgrims were present. It was the largest human gathering ever held on Earth. Hinduism has persisted for thousands of years because the dharma, faith and culture have instilled in each Hindu a unique and strong sense of identity, family and spiritual purpose.
It endures because it is a dynamic religion which gives complete freedom of practice, accepts that there are many ways to worship God and provides festivals, temples, pilgrimages, gurus and scriptures to illumine the path, thereby celebrating life itself. We hope that this documentary has increased your understanding of Hinduism and its history.