28 of May 2011
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is often referred to as Santana Dharma (a Sanskrit phrase meaning “the eternal law”) by its adherents. Generic “types” of Hinduism that attempt to accommodate a variety of complex views span folk and Vedic Hinduism to bhakti tradition, as in Vaishnavism. Hinduism also includes yogic traditions and a wide spectrum of “daily morality” based on the notion of karma and societal norms such as Hindu marriage customs. Hinduism is formed of diverse traditions and has no single founder. Among its roots is the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India, and as such Hinduism is often called the “oldest living religion”Full citation needed or the “oldest living major religion”. A large body of texts is classified as Hindu, divided into ?ruti (“revealed”) and Smriti (“remembered”) texts. These texts discuss theology, philosophy and mythology, and provide information on the practice of dharma (religious living). Among these texts, the Vedas are the foremost in authority, importance and antiquity. Other major scriptures include the Upanishads, Pur??as and the epics Mah?bh?rata and R?m?ya?a. The Bhagavad G?t?, a treatise from the Mah?bh?rata, spoken by Krishna, is of special importance. Etymology – Valmiki, a contemporary of Rama composes the Ramayana. The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, the historic local appellation for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. and is first mentioned in the Rig Veda. The word Hindu was first used by Arab invaders and then went further west by the Arabic term al-Hind referring to the land of the people who live across river Indus. and the Persian term Hind? referring to all Indians. By the 13th century, Hindust?n emerged as a popular alternative name of India, meaning the “land of Hindus”. Originally, Hindu was a secular term which was used to describe all inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent (or Hindustan) irrespective of their religious affiliation. It also occurs sporadically in Sanskrit texts such as the later Rajataranginis of Kashmir (Hinduka, c. 1450), some 16th-18th century Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava texts, including Chaitanya Charitamrita and Chaitanya Bhagavata, usually to contrast Hindus with Yavanas or Mlecchas. It was only towards the end of the 18th century that the European merchants and colonists referred collectively to the followers of Indian religions as Hindus. Eventually, it came to define a precisely religious identity that includes any person of Indian origin who neither practiced Abrahamic religions nor non-Vedic Indian religions, such as Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, or tribal (Adivasi) religions, thereby encompassing a wide range of religious beliefs and practices related to San?tana Dharma. The term Hinduism was introduced into the English language in the 19th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India.
The earliest evidence for prehistoric religion in India date back to the late Neolithic in the early Harappan period (5500–2600 BCE). The beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era (1500–500 BCE) are called the “historical Vedic religion”. Modern Hinduism grew out of the Vedas, the oldest of which is the Rigveda, dated to 1700–1100 BCE. The Vedas center on worship of deities such as Indra, Varuna and Agni, and on the Soma ritual. Fire-sacrifices, called yajña were performed, and Vedic mantras chanted but no temples or icons were built. The oldest Vedic traditions exhibit strong similarities to Zoroastrianism and other Indo-European religions. The major Sanskrit epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, 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 demons. Three major movements underpinned the naissance of a new epoch of Hindu thought: the advent and spread of Upanishadic, Jaina, and Buddhist philosophico-religious thought throughout the broader Indian landmass. Mahavira (24th Tirthankar of Jains) and Buddha (founder of Buddhism) taught that to achieve moksha or nirvana, one did not have to accept the authority of the Vedas or the caste system. Buddha went a step further and claimed that the existence of a Self/soul or God was unnecessary. Buddhism peaked during the reign of Asoka the Great of the Mauryan Empire, who unified the Indian subcontinent in the 3rd century BCE. After 200 CE several schools of thought were formally codified in Indian philosophy, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta. Charvaka, the founder of an atheistic materialist school, came to the fore in North India in the sixth century BCE. Between 400 BCE and 1000 CE Hinduism expanded at the expense of Buddhism. Sanskritic culture went into decline after the end of the Gupta period. The early medieval Puranas helped establish a religious mainstream among the pre-literate tribal societies undergoing acculturation. The tenets of Brahmanic Hinduism and of the Dharmashastras underwent a radical transformation at the hands of the Purana composers, resulting in the rise of a mainstream “Hinduism” that overshadowed all earlier traditions. Though Islam came to India 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 many Hindus converted to Islam. Numerous Muslim rulers such as Aurangzeb 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. 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. At the same time, societies such as the Brahmo Samaj and the Theosophical Society attempted to reconcile and fuse Abrahamic and Dharmic philosophies, endeavouring to institute societal reform. This period saw the emergence of movements which, while highly innovative, were rooted in indigenous tradition. They were based on the personalities and teachings of individuals, as with Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi. Prominent Hindu philosophers, including Aurobindo and Prabhupada (founder of ISKCON), translated, reformulated and presented Hinduism’s foundational texts for contemporary audiences in new iterations, attracting followers and attention in India and abroad. Others such as Vivekananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, B.K.S. Iyengar and Swami Rama have also been instrumental in raising the profiles of Yoga and Vedanta in the West. Today modern movements, such as ISKCON and the Swaminarayan Faith, attract a large amount of followers across the world. Typology – Hinduism as we know it can be subdivided into a number of major currents. Of the historical division into six darshanas, only two schools, Vedanta and Yoga survive. The main divisions of Hinduism today are Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Smartism and Shaktism. Hinduism also recognizes 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 in personal duty, or dharma. McDaniel (2007) distinguishes six generic “types” of Hinduism, in an attempt to accommodate a variety of views on a rather complex subject: Folk Hinduism, as based on local traditions and cults of local deities at a communal level and spanning back to prehistoric times or at least prior to written Vedas. Vedic Hinduism as still being practiced by traditionalist brahmins (for example shrautins). Vedantic Hinduism, for example Advaita (Smartism), as based on the philosophical approach of the Upanishads. Yogic Hinduism, especially that based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. “Dharmic” Hinduism or “daily morality”, based on the notion of Karma, and upon societal norms such as Hindu marriage customs. Bhakti or devotionalism, especially as in Vaishnavism. Shiva (meaning “auspicious one”) is a major Hindu deity, and the Destroyer or transformer among the Trimurti, the Hindu Trinity of the primary aspects of the divine. In the Shaiva tradition of Hinduism, Shiva is seen as the Supreme God. In the Smarta tradition, he is regarded as one of the five primary flavours of God. Followers of Hinduism who focus their worship upon Shiva are called Shaivites or Shaivas (Sanskrit ?aiva). Shaivism, along with Vaisnava traditions that focus on Vishnu and ??kta traditions that focus on the goddess Shakti, is one of the most influential denominations in Hinduism.Shiva is usually worshipped in the abstract form of Shiva linga. In images, he is represented as a handsome young man immersed in deep meditation or dancing the Tandava upon Apasmara, the demon of ignorance in his manifestation of Nataraja, the lord of the dance. It is said that he looks like an eternal youth because of his authority over death, rebirth and immortality. He is also the father of Ganesha and Murugan.
Etymology and Other Names
The Sanskrit word Shiva (Devanagari: ???, ?iva) is an adjective meaning “auspicious, kind, gracious”. As a proper name it means “The Auspicious One”, used as a name for Rudra. In simple English transliteration it is written either as Shiva or Siva. The adjective ?iva, meaning “auspicious”, is used as an attributive epithet not particularly of Rudra, but of several other Vedic deities.The Sanskrit word ?aiva means “relating to the god Shiva”, and this term is the Sanskrit name both for one of the principal sects of Hinduism and for a member of that sect. It is used as an adjective to characterize certain beliefs and practices, such as Shaivism. Adi Sankara, in his interpretation of the name Shiva, the 27th and 600th name of Vishnu sahasranama, the thousand names of Vishnu interprets Shiva to have multiple meanings: “The Pure One”, or “the One who is not affected by three Gunas of Prakrti (Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas)” or “the One who purifies everyone by the very utterance of His name.” Swami Chinmayananda, in his translation of Vishnu sahasranama, further elaborates on that verse: Shiva means “the One who is eternally pure” or “the One who can never have any contamination of the imperfection of Rajas and Tamas”. Shiva’s role as the primary deity of Shaivism is reflected in his epithets Mah?deva (“Great God”; mah? = Great + deva = God), Mahe?hvara (“Great Lord”; mah? = Great + ??hvara = Lord), and Parame?hvara (“Supreme Lord”). There are at least eight different versions of the Shiva Sahasranama, devotional hymns (stotras) listing many names of Shiva. The version appearing in Book 13 (Anu??sanaparvan) of the Mahabharata is considered the kernel of this tradition. Shiva also has Dasha-Sahasranamas (10,000 names) that are found in the Mahanyasa. The Shri Rudram Chamakam, also known as the ?atarudriya, is a devotional hymn to Shiva hailing him by many names. Vishnu (Sanskrit Visnu) is the Supreme God in the Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism. Smarta followers of Adi Shankara, among others, venerate Vishnu as one of the five primary forms of God. The Vishnu Sahasranama declares Vishnu as Paramatma (supreme soul) and Parameshwara (supreme God). It describes Vishnu as the All-Pervading essence of all beings, the master of—and beyond—the past, present and future, one who supports, sustains and governs the Universe and originates and develops all elements within. Vishnu governs the aspect of preservation and sustenance of the universe, so he is called ‘Preserver of the universe’. In the Puranas, Vishnu is described as having the divine colour of water filled clouds, four-armed, holding a lotus, mace, conch (shankha) and chakra (wheel). Vishnu is also described in the Bhagavad Gita as having a ‘Universal Form’ (Vishvarupa) which is beyond the ordinary limits of human perception or imagination.The Puranabharti also describes each of these Dasavatara of Vishnu. Among these ten principal Avatara described, nine have occurred in the past and one will take place in the future, at the end of Kali Yuga. In the commentary of creator Brahma in Vishnu Sahasranamam, he refers to Vishnu as “Sahasrakoti Yuga Dharine”, which means that these incarnations take place in all Yugas in cosmic scales, the avatars and their stories show that god is indeed unimaginable, unthinkable and unbelievable. The Bhagavad Gita mentions their purpose as being to rejuvenate Dharma and vanquish negative forces, the forces of evil that threaten Dharma, as also to display His divine nature in front of the conditioned/fallen souls. In almost all Hindu denominations, Vishnu is either worshipped directly or in the form of his ten avatara, most famous of whom are Rama and Krishna.The Trimurti (English: ‘three forms’; Sanskrit: trim?rti) is a concept in Hinduism “in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified by the forms of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer or preserver, and Shiva the destroyer or transformer.” These three deities have been called “the Hindu triad” or the “Great Trinity”. Of the three members of the Trimurti, the Bhagavata Purana, which espouses the Vaishnavite viewpoint, explains that the greatest benefit can be had from Vishnu.
The name Visnu is Rigvedic, denoting a minor deity personifying light and the Sun, often invoked as a companion of Indra, in four instances (especially in RV 6.69) in a dvandva compound, Indravisnsnu. The name has no certain etymology; it is unattested in Iranian (but Iranian Rašnu is perhaps an indication that the name existed in Indo-Iranian and was replaced in Iranian). The most common interpretation is as vi-snu- from vi- “apart, across” and the zero grade of s?nu “summit, ridge, mountain-top”, as in “he who steps across / spreads out the mountains”, c.f. RV 1.62.5c (of Indra): vi bh?my? aprathaya indra s?nu (“Thou Indra, hast spread out the earth’s high ridges”); but connection to the verbal root vi? “to be active, work, perform” has also been suggested. The traditional explanation of the name Visnu involves the root vi?, meaning “to settle” (cognate with Latin vicus, English -wich “village”), or also (in the Rigveda) “to enter into, to pervade”, glossing the name as “the All-Pervading One”.citation needed An early commentator on the Vedas, Yaska, in his Nirukta, defines Vishnu as vishnu vishateh “one who enters everywhere”, and yad vishito bhavati taddjwojopwjepq, “that which is free from fetters and bondages is Vishnu.” Vishnu itself is the second name in the Vishnu Sahasranama, the thousand names of Vishnu. Adi Sankara in his commentary on the sahasranama states derivation from vi?, with a meaning “presence everywhere” (“As he pervades everything, vevesti, he is called Visnu”,). Adi Sankara states (regarding Vishnu Purana, 3.1.45): “The Power of the Supreme Being has entered within the universe. The root vi? means ‘enter into.’” Swami Chinmayananda, in his translation of Vishnu sahasranama further elaborates on that verse: “The root Vis means to enter. The entire world of things and beings is pervaded by Him and the Upanishad emphatically insists in its mantra ‘whatever that is there is the world of change.’ Hence, it means that He is not limited by space, time or substance. Chinmayananda states that which pervades everything is Vishnu.” Characteristics – The number of auspicious qualities of Vishnu as the supreme God are countless, with the following six qualities being the most important: Jñ?na (Omniscience), defined as the power to know about all beings simultaneously – Aishvarya (Sovereignty), derived from the word Ishvara, which consists in unchallenged rule over all – Shakti (Energy), or power, which is the capacity to make the impossible possible – Bala (Strength), which is the capacity to support everything by will and without any fatigue – V?rya (Vigor), which indicates the power to retain immateriality as the supreme being in spite of being the material cause of mutable creations – Tejas (Splendor), which expresses His self-sufficiency and the capacity to overpower everything by His spiritual effulgence.