What is Hinduism?

Hinduism is an Indian religion and dharma, or way of life, widely practised in the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia. Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, and some practitioners and scholars refer to it as Sanātana Dharma, “the eternal tradition”, or the “eternal way”, beyond human history. Scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with diverse roots and no founder. This “Hindu synthesis” started to develop between 500 BCE and 300 CE, after the end of the Vedic period (1500 BCE to 500 BCE), and flourished in the medieval period, with the decline of Buddhism in India.

 

Although Hinduism contains a broad range of philosophies, it is linked by shared concepts, recognisable rituals, cosmology, shared textual resources, and pilgrimage to sacred sites. Hindu texts are classified into Śruti (“heard”) and Smṛti (“remembered”). These texts discuss Hindu theology, Hindu philosophy, Hindu mythology, Vedic yajna, Yoga, agamic rituals, and temple building, among other topics. Major scriptures include the Vedas and Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Āgamas. Sources of authority and eternal truths in its texts play an important role, but there is also a strong Hindu tradition of questioning authority in order to deepen the understanding of these truths and to further develop the tradition.

 

Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include the four Puruṣārthas, the proper goals or aims of human life, namely Dharma (ethics/duties), Artha (prosperity/work), Kama (desires/passions) and Moksha (liberation/freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth/salvation); karma (action, intent and consequences), Saṃsāra (cycle of death and rebirth), and the various Yogas (paths or practices to attain moksha). Hindu practices include rituals such as puja (worship) and recitations, japa, meditation, family-oriented rites of passage, annual festivals, and occasional pilgrimages. Some Hindus leave their social world and material possessions, then engage in lifelong Sannyasa (monastic practices) to achieve Moksha. Hinduism prescribes the eternal duties, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings (ahimsa), patience, forbearance, self-restraint, and compassion, among others. The four largest denominations of Hinduism are the Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism.

Kesi Ghat in vrindavan in the Yamuna River.

Yatra

Yatra Yatra (Yātrā, यात्रा, ‘journey’, ‘procession’), in Hinduism and other Indian religions, generally means a pilgrimage to holy places such as confluences of sacred rivers, places associated with Hindu epics such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana, and other sacred pilgrimage sites. Tīrtha-yātrā refers to a pilgrimage to a holy site and is generally undertaken in...

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Tirtha in Hinduism

Tirtha in Hinduism Tirtha (तीर्थ, Tīrtha) is a Sanskrit word that means “crossing place, ford”, and refers to any place, text or person that is holy. It particularly refers to pilgrimage sites and holy places in Hinduism as well as Jainism. The process or journey associated with Tirtha is called Tirtha-yatra, while alternate terms such as Kshetra, Gopitha and...

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Aarti

Aarti Aarti also spelled arti, arati, arathi, aarati, aarthi, aarthy, arthy (आरती ārtī) is a Hindu religious ritual of worship, a part of puja, in which light (usually from a flame) is offered to one or more deities. Aarati(s) also refers to the songs sung in praise of the deity, when the light is being offered. Origin Aarati is derived from the...

Left: 19th century roundel of four-headed Brahma as a red-complexioned aged man, holding manuscript (Vedas), a ladle and a lotus; Right: 6th century Brahma in Badami cave temples holding a writing equipment, ladle, and mala.

Sanātanī

Sanātanī Sanātanī (सनातनी) is a term used to describe Hindu movements that includes the ideas from the Vedas and the Upanishads while also incorporating the teachings of sacred hindu texts such as Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita which itself is often being described as a concise guide to Hindu philosophy and a practical, self-contained guide to life. Sanatana Dharma denotes duties...

the Varna system

Varna in Hinduism

Varna in Hinduism Varṇa (वर्ण, varṇa), a Sanskrit word with several meanings including type, order, colour or class, was used to refer to social classes in Hindu texts like the Manusmriti. These and other Hindu texts classified the society in principle into four varnas:  Brahmins: priests, scholars and teachers. Kshatriyas: rulers,...

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Artha

Artha Artha (अर्थ) is one of the four aims of human life in Indian philosophy. The word artha literally translates as “meaning, sense, goal, purpose or essence” depending on the context. Artha is also a broader concept in the scriptures of Hinduism. As a concept, it has multiple meanings, all of...

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Purusartha

Purusartha Puruṣārtha (Purusartha or पुरुषार्थ) literally means an “object of human pursuit”. It is a key concept in Hinduism, and refers to the four proper goals or aims of a human life. The four puruṣārthas are Dharma (righteousness, moral values), Artha (prosperity, economic values), Kama (pleasure, love, psychological values) and Moksha (liberation, spiritual values). All four Purusarthas are important, but in cases...

Roti with Baigan (Brinjal) subji and curd

Mitahara

Mitahara Mitahara (मिताहार, Mitāhāra) literally means the habit of moderate food. Mitahara is also a concept in Indian philosophy, particularly Yoga, that integrates awareness about food, drink, balanced diet and consumption habits and its effect on one’s body and mind. It is one of the ten yamas in ancient Indian texts. Definition...

Illustrative Hindu meals

Diet in Hinduism

Diet in Hinduism Diet in Hinduism varies with its diverse traditions. The ancient and medieval Hindu texts recommend ahimsa (non-violence) against all life forms including animals because they believe that it minimizes animal deaths. Many Hindus follow a vegetarian or lacto-vegetarian diet that are in sync with nature, compassionate, respectful of other life forms....

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Sattvic Diet

Sattvic Diet Sattvic diet is a diet based on foods in ayurvedic and yogic literature that contain the quality (guna) sattva. In this system of dietary classification, foods that decrease the energy of the body are considered tamasic, while those that increase the energy of the body are considered rajasic. A sattvic diet is meant to include foods...

Konark Sun Temple panoramic view

Hindu Temple

Hindu Temple A Hindu temple is a symbolic house, seat and body of divinity. It is a structure designed to bring human beings and gods together, using symbolism to express the ideas and beliefs of Hinduism. The symbolism and structure of a Hindu temple are rooted in Vedic traditions, deploying circles and...

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Hindu Festivals

Hindu Festivals There are a great number of Hindu religious festivals held throughout the world. The festivals typically celebrate events from Hindu mythology, often coinciding with seasonal changes. There are many festivals which are primarily celebrated by specific sects or in certain regions of the Indian subcontinent. The festive season is widely celebrated. These events...

A fancy Indian wedding taking place in Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, India

Hindu Wedding

Hindu Wedding A Hindu wedding is Vivaha (विवाह) and the wedding ceremony is called Vivaah Sanskar in North India and Kalyanam (generally) in Tamil Nadu. The wedding ceremonies are very colourful, and celebrations may extend for several days. The bride’s and groom’s home—entrance, doors, wall, floor, roof—are sometimes decorated with colors, balloons, and other decorations. The rituals and...

Grihasta Ashrama

Ashrama in Hinduism

Ashrama in Hinduism Ashrama in Hinduism is one of four age-based life stages discussed in Indian texts of the ancient and medieval eras. The four ashramas are: Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired) and Sannyasa (renunciate). The Ashrama system is one facet of the Dharma concept in Hinduism. It is also a component of the ethical theories in Indian philosophy, where it is...

Hindus at Har Ki Pauri, Haridwar near river Ganges in Uttarakhand state of India.

Hindus

Hindus Hindus are persons who regard themselves as culturally, ethnically, or religiously adhering to aspects of Hinduism. Historically, the term has also been used as a geographical, cultural, and later religious identifier for people living in the Indian subcontinent. The historical meaning of the term Hindu has evolved with time. Starting with the Persian...

A Hindu monk walking during sunrise in a mango garden in Dinajpur, Bangladesh

Sannyasa

Sannyasa Sannyasa (saṃnyāsa) is the life stage of renunciation within the Hindu philosophy of four age-based life stages known as ashramas, with the first three being Brahmacharya (bachelor student), Grihastha (householder) and Vanaprastha (forest dweller, retired). Sannyasa is traditionally conceptualized for men or women in late years of their life, but young brahmacharis have had...

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Hindu Reform Movements

Hindu Reform Movements Several contemporary groups, collectively termed Hindu reform movements or Hindu revivalism, strive to introduce regeneration and reform to Hinduism, both in a religious or spiritual and in a societal sense. The movements started appearing during the Bengali Renaissance. The religious aspect mostly emphasizes Vedanta tradition and mystical interpretations of Hinduism (“Neo-Vedanta“), and the societal...

Shaktism is a Goddess-centric tradition of Hinduism. From left: Parvati/Durga, Kali and Lakshmi

Hindu Denominations

Hindu Denominations Hindu denominations are traditions within Hinduism centered on one or more gods or goddesses, such as Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu, and Brahma. Sometimes the term is used for sampradayas led by a particular guru with a particular philosophy. Hinduism has no central doctrinal authority and many practising Hindus do not claim to belong to any...

Amarnath temple

Hindu Pilgrimage Sites in India

Hindu Pilgrimage Sites in India In Hindu religion and spirituality, the pilgrimage has great significance. Members of the faith participate in the following types of pilgrimage. The pilgrimage to each sacred site has its own religious significance. Holy Place: Tirupathi Himalayan Char Dham – Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri. Varanasi/Kashi, Prayagraj, Haridwar-Rishikesh, Mathura-Vrindavan, Somnath,...

Shingon Buddhist priests practice homa ritual, which sometimes includes beating drums and blowing horagai (lower, conch).

Homa (ritual)

Homa (ritual) Homa is Sanskrit for a ritual, wherein an oblation or any religious offering is made into fire. A homa is sometimes called a “sacrifice ritual” because the fire destroys the offering, but a homa is more accurately a “votive ritual“. The fire is the agent, and the offerings include those that...

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