Comparative religion for all human: By TM Kamal Pasha

 Comparative Religion For all Human: 


By TM Kamal Pasha   

Hinduism is the predominant of the , and one of its indigenous religions. Hinduism includes , and among numerous other traditions. It also includes historical groups, for example the . Among other practices and philosophies, Hinduism includes a wide spectrum of laws and prescriptions of "daily morality" based on karma dharma and societal norms. Hinduism is a conglomeration of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid common set of beliefs.

Hinduism is formed of diverse traditions and has no single founder. Among its direct roots is theh istoric vedic religion of iron age india and, as such, Hinduism is often called the oldest religion or the "oldest living major religion" in the world.

One orthodox classification of hindu text is to divide into ("revealed") and ("remembered") texts. These texts discuss theology, philosophy, mythology,   rituals and among other topics. Major scriptures include the Vedas, Upanishads, Purāṇas, Mahābhārata, Rāmāyaṇa, Bhagavad Gītā and Āgamas.

Hinduism, with about one billion followers, is the world's third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam.


The word Hindu is derived (through ) from the word Sindhu, the historic local appellation for the in the northwestern part of the , which is first mentioned in the .

The word Hindu was borrowed into European languages from the term al-Hind, referring to the land of the people who live across the River Indus, itself from the Persian term Hindū, which refers to all Indians. By the 13th century, emerged as a popular alternative , meaning the "land of Hindus".

The term Hinduism also occurs sporadically in Sanskrit texts such as the later of Kashmir (Hinduka, c. 1450), some 16th-18th century texts, including and , usually to contrast Hindus with or . It was only towards the end of the 18th century that the European merchants and colonists referred collectively to the followers of as Hindus. The term Hinduism was introduced into the in the 19th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India.


The earliest evidence for in India date back to the late in the period (5500–2600 BCE). The beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era (1500–500 BCE) are called the "". The Vedic religion shows influence from . The oldest Veda is the , dated to 1700–1100 BCE. The Vedas center on worship of deities such as , and , and on the ritual. Fire-sacrifices, called were performed, and Vedic mantras chanted but no or are known.

The 9th and 8th centuries BCE witnessed the composition of the earliest Upanishads. Upanishads form the theoretical basis of classical Hinduism and are known as (conclusion of the ). The older Upanishads launched attacks of increasing intensity on the rituals. The diverse speculations of the Upanishads were synthesized into a theistic framework by the sacred Hindu scripture .

The major Sanskrit epics, and , 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 , their interactions with humans and their battles against .

Increasing urbanization of India in 7th and 6th centuries BCE led to the rise of new ascetic or shramana movements which challenged the orthodoxy of rituals. Mahavira (c. 549–477 BCE), proponent of , and (c. 563-483), founder of were the most prominent icons of this movement. Shramana gave rise to the concept of the cycle of birth and death, the concept of , and the concept of liberation. , and believed that the Buddhist canon had been influenced by Upanishads.

In early centuries CE several schools of were formally codified, including , , , , and . The period between 5th and 9th century CE was a brilliant era in the development of Indian philosophy as Hindu and Buddhist philosophies flourished side by side. Of these various schools of thought the non-dualistic emerged as the most influential and most dominant school of philosophy. , the atheistic materialist school, came to the fore in before the eighth century CE.

Sanskritic culture went into decline after the end of the . The early medieval helped establish a religious mainstream among the pre-literate tribal societies undergoing . The tenets of Brahmanic Hinduism and of the underwent a radical transformation at the hands of the Purana composers, resulting in the rise of a mainstream "Hinduism" that overshadowed all earlier traditions. In eighth century royal circles, the Buddha started to be replaced by Hindu gods in pujas. This also was the same period of time the Buddha was made into an avatar of Vishnu.

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 . During this period Buddhism declined rapidly and many Hindus were forcibly converted to . Numerous Muslim rulers or their army generals such as and destroyed Hindu temples and ; however some, such as , were more tolerant. Hinduism underwent profound changes, in large part due to the influence of the prominent teachers , , and . Followers of the moved away from the abstract concept of , which the philosopher consolidated a few centuries before, with emotional, passionate devotion towards the more accessible , especially Krishna and Rama.

as an academic discipline of studying Indian culture from a European perspective was established in the 19th century, led by scholars such as and . They brought , and literature and philosophy to Europe and the . At the same time, societies such as the and the attempted to reconcile and fuse 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 and . Prominent Hindu philosophers, including and (founder of ), 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 , , , and have also been instrumental in raising the profiles of Yoga and in the West.


Hinduism as it is commonly known can be subdivided into a number of major currents. Of the historical division into six , only two schools, and , survive. The main divisions of Hinduism today are , , and . 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 and , as well as in personal duty, or .

McDaniel (2007) distinguishes six generic "types" of Hinduism, in an attempt to accommodate a variety of views on a rather complex subject:

  • , as based on local traditions and cults of local at a communal level and spanning back to prehistoric times or at least prior to written .
  • or "Vedic" Hinduism as practiced by traditionalist ().
  • Vedantic Hinduism, for example (), as based on the philosophical approach of the .
  • Hinduism, especially that based on the .
  • "Dharmic" Hinduism or "daily morality", based on , and upon societal norms such as (Hindu marriage customs). or devotionalist practices.

Hinduism does not have a "unified system of belief encoded in declaration of faith or a ", but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena originating and based on the .

The characteristic of comprehensive tolerance to differences in belief, and Hinduism's openness, makes it difficult to define as a religion according to traditional Western conceptions. To its adherents, Hinduism is the traditional way of life, and because of the wide range of traditions and ideas incorporated within or covered by it, arriving at a comprehensive definition of the term is problematic. While sometimes referred to as a religion, Hinduism is more often defined as a religious tradition. It is therefore described as both the oldest of the world's religions, and the most diverse. Most revere a body of religious or , the , although there are exceptions. Some Hindu religious traditions regard particular rituals as essential for salvation, but a variety of views on this co-exist. Some postulate a of creation, of sustenance, and of destruction of the universe, yet . Hinduism is sometimes characterized by the belief in reincarnation (), determined by the law of , and the idea that salvation is freedom from this cycle of repeated birth and death. However, other religions of the region, such as , and , also believe in karma, outside the scope of Hinduism. Hinduism is therefore viewed as the most complex of all of the living, historical world religions. Despite its complexity, Hinduism is not only one of the numerically largest faiths, but is also the oldest living major tradition on earth, with roots reaching back into prehistory.


A definition of Hinduism, given by the first Vice President of India, who was also a prominent theologian, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, states that Hinduism is not "just a faith", but in itself is related to the union of reason and . Radhakrishnan explicitly states that Hinduism cannot be defined, but is only to be experienced. Similarly some academics suggest that Hinduism can be seen as a category with "fuzzy edges", rather than as a well-defined and rigid entity. Some forms of religious expression are central to Hinduism, while others are not as central but still remain within the category. Based on this, Ferro-Luzzi has developed a 'Prototype Theory approach' to the definition of Hinduism.

Problems with the single definition of what is actually meant by the term 'Hinduism' are often attributed to the fact that Hinduism does not have a single or common historical founder. Hinduism, or as some say 'Hinduisms,' does not have a single system of salvation and has different goals according to each sect or denomination. The forms of are seen not as an alternative to Hinduism, but as its earliest form, and there is little justification for the divisions found in much western scholarly writing between , , and Hinduism. According to Supreme court of India "unlike other religions in the World, the Hindu religion does not claim any one Prophet, it does not worship any one God, it does not believe in any one philosophic concept, it does not follow any one act of religious rites or performances, in fact, it does not satisfy the traditional features of a religion or creed. It is a way of life and nothing more".

A definition of Hinduism is further complicated by the frequent use of the term "" as a synonym for "religion". Some academics and many practitioners refer to Hinduism using a native definition, as Sanātana Dharma, a phrase meaning "the eternal ", or the "eternal way".


Hinduism refers to a religious mainstream which evolved organically and spread over a large territory marked by significant ethnic and cultural diversity. This mainstream evolved both by innovation from within, and by assimilation of external traditions or cults into the Hindu fold. The result is an enormous variety of religious traditions, ranging from innumerable small, unsophisticated cults to major religious movements with millions of adherents spread over the entire subcontinent. The identification of Hinduism as an independent religion separate from Buddhism or Jainism consequently hinges on the affirmation of its adherents that it is such.

Hinduism grants absolute and complete . Hinduism conceives the whole world as a single family that deifies the one truth, and therefore it accepts all forms of beliefs and dismisses labels of distinct religions which would imply a division of identity. Hence, Hinduism is devoid of the concepts of , and .

Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include (but are not restricted to), (ethics/duties), (the continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), (action and subsequent reaction), (liberation from samsara), and the various (paths or practices).

Concept of God

Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning and among others; and its concept of God is complex and depends upon each individual and the tradition and philosophy followed. It is sometimes referred to as (i.e., involving devotion to a single god while accepting the existence of others), but any such term is an overgeneralization.

The , the oldest scripture and the mainstay of does not take a restrictive view on the fundamental question of and the creation of universe. It rather lets the individual seek and discover answers in the quest of life. (Creation Hymn) of the Rig Veda thus says:

Who really knows?
Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen?

Most Hindus believe that the spirit or soul — the true "self" of every person, called the — is eternal. According to the monistic/pantheistic theologies of Hinduism (such as school), this Atman is ultimately indistinct from , the supreme spirit. Hence, these schools are called . The goal of life, according to the Advaita school, is to realize that one's ātman is identical to Brahman, the supreme soul. The Upanishads state that whoever becomes fully aware of the ātman as the innermost core of one's own self realizes an identity with Brahman and thereby reaches moksha (liberation or freedom).

The schools of and states that itself proves the existence of God . Nyaya being the school of , makes the "logical" inference that the universe is an effect and it ought to have a creator.

schools (see and ) understand Brahman as a Supreme Being who possesses personality, and they worship him or her thus, as , , , or , depending upon the sect. The ātman is dependent on God, while moksha depends on love towards God and on God's grace. When God is viewed as the supreme personal being (rather than as the infinite principle), God is called ("The Lord"), ("The Auspicious One") or ("The Supreme Lord"). However interpretations of Ishvara vary, ranging from non-belief in Ishvara by followers of , to identifying Brahman and Ishvara as one, as in Advaita. In the majority of traditions of he is Vishnu, God, and the text of Vaishnava scriptures identify this Being as , sometimes referred to as . However, under , or is considered as the Supreme Being and in is considered Supreme.

The multitude of are viewed as of the . In discussing the , states that Hindus "worship the under three forms. The fundamental idea of the Hindu religion, that of metamorphoses, or transformations, is exemplified in the Avatars."

In Bhagavad Gita, for example, God is the sole repository of (attributes) also, as

His hands and feet are everywhere, He looks everywhere and all around, His eyes, ears and face point to all directions, and all the three worlds are surrounded by these.

doctrines dominate Hindu schools like and . The of argues that the existence of God () cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist. Samkhya argue that an unchanging God cannot be the source of an ever changing world. It says God was a necessary metaphysical assumption demanded by circumstances. Proponents of the school of , which is based on rituals and states that the evidence allegedly proving the existence of God was insufficient. They argue that there is no need to postulate a maker for the world, just as there is no need for an author to compose the or a God to validate the rituals. Mimamsa considers the Gods named in the have no existence apart from the that speak their names. To that regard, the power of the mantras is what is seen as the power of Gods.

Devas and avatars

The Hindu scriptures refer to celestial entities called (or in feminine form; devatā used synonymously for Deva in Hindi), "the shining ones", which may be translated into English as "gods" or "heavenly beings". The devas are an integral part of Hindu culture and are depicted in , and through , and mythological stories about them are related in the scriptures, particularly in and the . They are, however, often distinguished from , a supreme personal god, with many Hindus worshiping Ishvara in one of its particular manifestations (ostensibly separate deities) as their , or chosen ideal. The choice is a matter of individual preference, and of regional and family traditions.

Hindu epics and the Puranas relate several episodes of the descent of God to Earth in corporeal form to restore dharma to society and to guide humans to moksha. Such an incarnation is called an . The most prominent avatars are of and include (the protagonist in ) and (a central figure in the epic ).

Karma and samsara

Karma translates literally as action, work, or deed, and can be described as the "moral law of cause and effect". According to the Upanishads an individual, known as the jiva-atma, develops (impressions) from actions, whether physical or mental. The linga sharira, a body more subtle than the physical one but less subtle than the soul, retains impressions, carrying them over into the next life, establishing a unique trajectory for the individual. Thus, the concept of a universal, neutral, and never-failing karma intrinsically relates to as well as to one's personality, characteristics, and family. Karma binds together the notions of and .

This cycle of action, reaction, birth, death and rebirth is a continuum called . The notion of reincarnation and karma is a strong premise in Hindu thought. The states:

As a person puts on new clothes and discards old and torn clothes,
similarly an embodied soul enters new material bodies, leaving the old bodies.(B.G. 2:22)

Samsara provides ephemeral pleasures, which lead people to desire rebirth so as to enjoy the pleasures of a perishable body. However, escaping the world of samsara through moksha is believed to ensure lasting happiness and peace. It is thought that after several reincarnations, an atman eventually seeks unity with the cosmic spirit (Brahman/Paramatman).

The ultimate goal of life, referred to as moksha, or , is understood in several different ways: as the realization of one's union with God; as the realization of one's eternal relationship with God; realization of the unity of all existence; perfect unselfishness and knowledge of the Self; as the attainment of perfect mental peace; and as detachment from worldly desires. Such realization liberates one from samsara and ends the cycle of rebirth. Due to belief in the indestructibility of the soul, death is deemed insignificant with respect to the cosmic self. Thence, a person who has no desire or ambition left and no responsibilities remaining in life or one affected by a terminal disease may embrace death by .

The exact conceptualization of moksha differs among the various Hindu schools of thought. For example, Advaita Vedanta holds that after attaining moksha an atman no longer identifies itself with an individual but as identical with Brahman in all respects. The followers of (dualistic) schools identify themselves as part of Brahman, and after attaining moksha expect to spend eternity in a (heaven), in the company of their chosen form of Ishvara. Thus, it is said that the followers of dvaita wish to "taste sugar", while the followers of Advaita wish to "become sugar".

Objectives of human life
Classical Hindu thought accepts the following objectives of human life, that which is sought as human purpose, aim, or end, is known as the puruṣārthas:
Dharma (righteousness, ethikos)

The views dharma as the universal principle of law, order, harmony, all in all truth, that sprang first from . It acts as the regulatory moral principle of the Universe. It is sat (truth), a major tenet of Hinduism. This hearkens back to the conception of the that "Ekam Sat," (Truth Is One), of the idea that Brahman is "" (Truth-Consciousness-Bliss). Dharma is not just law, or harmony, it is pure Reality. In the 's own words:

Verily, that which is Dharma is truth, Therefore they say of a man who speaks truth, "He speaks the Dharma,"
or of a man who speaks the Dharma, "He speaks the Truth.", Verily, both these things are the same.
—(Brh. Upanishad, 1.4.14)

In the , defines dharma as upholding both this-worldly and other-worldly affairs. (Mbh 12.110.11). The word Sanātana means 'eternal', 'perennial', or 'forever'; thus, 'Sanātana Dharma' signifies that it is the dharma that has neither beginning nor end.

Artha (livelihood, wealth)

Artha is objective & virtuous pursuit of wealth for livelihood, obligations and economic prosperity. It is inclusive of political life, diplomacy and material well-being. The doctrine of Artha is called , amongst the most famous of which is Kautilya Arthashastra.

Kāma (sensual pleasure)

Kāma ( काम) means desire, wish, passion, longing, pleasure of the , the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love.

Mokṣa (liberation, freedom from samsara)

Moksha (: मोक्ष mokṣa) or mukti (: मुक्ति), literally "release" (both from a root muc "to let loose, let go"), is the last goal of life. It is liberation from and the concomitant involved in being subject to the cycle of repeated death and .

A statue of in yogic meditation.

In whatever way a Hindu defines the goal of life, there are several methods (yogas) that sages have taught for reaching that goal. Texts dedicated to Yoga include the Bhagavad Gita, the , the , and, as their philosophical and historical basis, the Upanishads. Paths that one can follow to achieve the spiritual goal of life (moksha, samadhi or ) include:

  • (the path of love and devotion)
  • (the path of right action)
  • (the path of meditation)
  • (the path of wisdom)

An individual may prefer one or some yogas over others, according to his or her inclination and understanding. Some devotional schools teach that bhakti is the only practical path to achieve spiritual perfection for most people, based on their belief that the world is currently in the (one of four epochs which are part of the cycle). Practice of one yoga does not exclude others. Many schools believe that the different yogas naturally blend into and aid other yogas. For example, the practice of jnana yoga, is thought to inevitably lead to pure love (the goal of bhakti yoga), and vice versa. Someone practicing deep meditation (such as in raja yoga) must embody the core principles of karma yoga, jnana yoga and bhakti yoga, whether directly or indirectly.


Hindu practices generally involve seeking awareness of God and sometimes also seeking blessings from Devas. Therefore, Hinduism has developed numerous practices meant to help one think of divinity in the midst of everyday life. Hindus can engage in pūjā (worship or veneration), either at home or at a temple. At home, Hindus often create a shrine with icons dedicated to their chosen form(s) of God. Temples are usually dedicated to a primary deity along with associated subordinate deities though some commemorate multiple deities. Visiting temples is not obligatory, and many visit temples only during religious festivals. Hindus perform their worship through icons (). The icon serves as a tangible link between the worshiper and God. The image is often considered a manifestation of God, since God is immanent. The states that the mūrti is not to be thought of as mere stone or wood but as a manifest form of the Divinity. A few Hindu sects, such as the , do not believe in worshiping God through icons.

Hinduism has a developed system of symbolism and iconography to represent the sacred in art, architecture, literature and worship. These symbols gain their meaning from the scriptures, mythology, or cultural traditions. The syllable (which represents the Parabrahman) and the sign (which symbolizes auspiciousness) have grown to represent Hinduism itself, while other markings such as identify a follower of the faith. Hinduism associates many symbols, which include the lotus, and , with particular deities.

are invocations, praise and prayers that through their meaning, sound, and chanting style help a devotee focus the mind on holy thoughts or express devotion to God/the deities. Many devotees perform morning ablutions at the bank of a sacred river while chanting the or mantras. The epic extols (ritualistic chanting) as the greatest duty in the (what Hindus believe to be the current age). Many adopt Japa as their primary spiritual practice. is a Hindu discipline which trains the consciousness for tranquility, health and spiritual insight. This is done through a system of postures and exercises to practise control of the body and mind.

Offerings to during in a

The vast majority of Hindus engage in religious rituals on a daily basis. Most Hindus observe religious rituals at home. but observation of rituals greatly vary among regions, villages, and individuals. Devout Hindus perform daily chores such as worshiping at dawn after bathing (usually at a family shrine, and typically includes lighting a lamp and offering foodstuffs before the images of deities), recitation from religious scripts, singing , , chanting mantras, reciting scriptures etc. A notable feature in religious ritual is the division between purity and pollution. Religious acts presuppose some degree of impurity or defilement for the practitioner, which must be overcome or neutralised before or during ritual procedures. Purification, usually with water, is thus a typical feature of most religious action. Other characteristics include a belief in the efficacy of sacrifice and concept of merit, gained through the performance of charity or good works, that will accumulate over time and reduce sufferings in the next world. Vedic rites of fire-oblation () are now only occasional practices, although they are highly revered in theory. In Hindu wedding and burial ceremonies, however, the yajña and chanting of Vedic are still the norm. The rituals, upacharas, change with time. For instance, in the past few hundred years some rituals, such as sacred and music offerings in the standard Sodasa Upacharas set prescribed by the Agama Shastra, were replaced by the offerings of rice and sweets.

Occasions like birth, marriage, and death involve what are often elaborate sets of religious customs. In Hinduism, life-cycle rituals include (a baby's first intake of solid food), ("sacred thread ceremony" undergone by upper-caste children at their initiation into formal education) and (ritual of treating people to a meal in return for prayers to 'God' to give peace to the soul of the deceased). For most people in India, the betrothal of the young couple and the exact date and time of the wedding are matters decided by the parents in consultation with astrologers. On death, is considered obligatory for all except , , and children under five. Cremation is typically performed by wrapping the corpse in cloth and burning it on a .


Following pilgrimage sites are most famous amongst Hindu devotees:

Char Dham (Famous Four Pilgrimage sites): The four holy sites are Puri, Rameswaram, Dwarka, and Badrinath  and (or alternatively the towns of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri) compose the (four abodes) pilgrimage circuit.

Kumbh Mela: The (the "pitcher festival") is one of the holiest of Hindu pilgrimages that is held every 12 years; the location is rotated among , , , and .

Old Holy cities as per Puranic Texts: formerly known as Kashi, formerly known as Prayag,Haridwar-Rishikesh, Mathura-Vrindavan, and Ayodhya.

Major Temple cities: , which hosts a major temple and celebration Vaishnava Jagannath; home to the temple; Three comparatively recent temples of fame and huge pilgrimage are shirdi home to Sai Baba of Shirdi, Tirumala - Tirupati, home to the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple; and ,where is worshipped.

Shakti Peethas: Another important set of pilgrimages are the , where is worshipped, the two principal ones being and .

While there are different yet similar pilgrimage routes in different parts of India, all are respected equally well, according to the universality of Hinduism.

is not mandatory in Hinduism, though many adherents undertake them.


Hindu festivals (: Utsava; literally: "to lift higher") are considered as symbolic rituals that beautifully weave individual and social life to . Hinduism has many festivals throughout the year. The usually prescribe their dates.

The festivals typically celebrate events from Hindu mythology, often coinciding with seasonal changes. There are festivals which are primarily celebrated by specific sects or in certain regions of the .

Some widely observed Hindu festivals are :


Hinduism is based on "the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times". The scriptures were transmitted orally in verse form to aid memorization, for many centuries before they were written down. Over many centuries, sages refined the teachings and expanded the canon. In post-Vedic and current Hindu belief, most Hindu scriptures are not typically interpreted literally. More importance is attached to the ethics and metaphorical meanings derived from them. Most sacred texts are in . The texts are classified into two classes: Shruti and Smriti.


Shruti (lit: that which is heard) primarily refers to the Vedas, which form the earliest record of the Hindu scriptures. While many Hindus revere the as eternal truths revealed to ancient sages (), some devotees do not associate the creation of the Vedas with a god or person. They are thought of as the laws of the spiritual world, which would still exist even if they were not revealed to the sages. Hindus believe that because the spiritual truths of the Vedas are eternal, they continue to be expressed in new ways.

There are four Vedas (called Ṛg-, Sāma-, Yajus- and Atharva-). The is the first and most important Veda. Each Veda is divided into four parts: the primary one, the Veda proper, being the , which contains sacred mantras. The other three parts form a three-tier ensemble of commentaries, usually in prose and are believed to be slightly later in age than the Saṃhitā. These are: the , , and the . The first two parts were subsequently called the Karmakāṇḍa (ritualistic portion), while the last two form the Jñānakāṇḍa (knowledge portion). While the Vedas focus on rituals, the Upanishads focus on spiritual insight and philosophical teachings, and discuss and .

A well known shloka from is:

ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय । तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।।
मृत्योर्मामृतं गमय । ॐ शान्ति शान्ति शान्ति ।।
– बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद् 1.3.28.
– bṛhadāraṇyaka upaniṣada 1.3.28




Hindu texts other than the Shrutis are collectively called the Smritis (memory). The most notable of the smritis are the , which consist of the and the . The is an integral part of the Mahabharata and one of the most popular sacred texts of Hinduism. It contains philosophical teachings from Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, told to the prince on the eve of a great war. The Bhagavad Gītā, spoken by , is described as the essence of the Vedas. However Gita, sometimes called Gitopanishad, is more often placed in the , category, being Upanishadic in content. , which illustrate Hindu ideas through vivid narratives come under smritis. Other texts include , the , the , , and the . A more controversial text, the , is a prescriptive lawbook which lays the societal codes of social stratification which later evolved into the .

A well known from describing a concept in is explained as follows

To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits;

let not the fruits of action be thy motive;

neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction. (2.47)
Order of precedence of authority

The order of precedence regarding authority of Vedic Scriptures is as follows,

  • Śruti, literally "hearing, listening", are the comprising the central canon of Hinduism and is one of the three main sources of and therefore is also influential within .
  • Smṛti, literally "that which is remembered (or recollected)", refers to a specific body of Hindu , and is a codified component of Hindu . Post Vedic scriptures such as , and traditions of the rules on dharma such as Manu Smriti and Yaagnyavalkya Smriti. Smrti also denotes tradition in the sense that it portrays the traditions of the rules on dharma, especially those of lawful virtuous persons.)
  • Purāṇa, literally "of ancient times", are post-vedic scriptures notably consisting of narratives of the history of the universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology, philosophy, and geography.
  • Śiṣṭāchāra, literally "that which is followed by good (in recent times)".
  • Atmatuṣṭi, literally "that which satisfies oneself (or self validation)", according to which one has to decide whether or not to do with bona fide. Initially this was not considered in the order of precedence but and considered it as last one.

That means, if anyone of them contradicts the preceding one then it disqualified as an authority. There is a well known Indian saying that Smṛti follows Śruti. So it was considered that in order to establish any theistic philosophical theory (Astika Siddhanta) one ought not contradict Śruti (Vedas).

Adi Sankara has chosen three standards and named as Prasthānatrayī, literally, three points of departure (three standards). Later these were referred to as the three canonical texts of reference of by other schools.

They are:

  1. The , known as Upadesha prasthāna (injunctive texts), (part of Śruti)
  2. The , known as Sādhana prasthāna (practical text), (part of Smṛti)
  3. The , known as Nyāya prasthāna or Yukti prasthana (part of darśana of )

The Upanishads consist of twelve or thirteen texts, with many minor texts. The is part of the .The (also known as the Vedānta Sūtras), systematise the doctrines taught in the Upanishads and the Gītā.


Hinduism is a major religion in India and, according to a 2001 census, Hinduism was followed by around 80.5% of the country's population of 1.21 billion (2012 estimate) (960 million adherents). Other are found in (23 million), (15 million) and the island of (3.3 million).



Hinduism has no central doctrinal authority and many practising Hindus do not claim to belong to any particular denomination. However, academics categorize contemporary Hinduism into four major denominations: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism. The denominations differ primarily in the god worshipped as the Supreme One and in the traditions that accompany worship of that god.

worship as the supreme God; worship as the supreme; worship (power) personified through a female divinity or Mother Goddess, Devi; while believe in the essential oneness of five () or six ( as Hindus add ) deities as personifications of the Supreme.

The Western conception of what Hinduism is has been defined by the Smarta view; many Hindus, who may not understand or follow philosophy, in contemporary Hinduism, invariably follow the Shanmata belief worshiping many forms of God. One commentator, noting the influence of the Smarta tradition, remarked that although many Hindus may not strictly identify themselves as Smartas but, by adhering to as a foundation for non-sectarianism, are indirect followers.


Other denominations like (the cult of ) and ( worship) are not so widespread.

There are movements that are not easily placed in any of the above categories, such as Swami 's , which rejects image worship and veneration of multiple deities. It focuses on the Vedas and the Vedic fire sacrifices.

The have various sects, as Banerji observes:

Tantras are ... also divided as or Vedic and or non-Vedic. In accordance with the predominance of the deity the āstika works are again divided as Śākta (Shakta), Śaiva (Shaiva), Saura, Gāṇapatya and Vaiṣṇava (Vaishnava).

Traditionally the life of a Hindu is divided into four Āshramas (phases or stages; unrelated meanings include monastery). The first part of one's life, , the stage as a student, is spent in celibate, controlled, sober and pure contemplation under the guidance of a , building up the mind for spiritual knowledge. is the householder's stage, in which one marries and satisfies and artha in one's married and professional life respectively (see the ). The moral obligations of a Hindu householder include supporting one's parents, children, guests and holy figures. , the retirement stage, is gradual detachment from the material world. This may involve giving over duties to one's children, spending more time in religious practices and embarking on holy pilgrimages. Finally, in , the stage of , one renounces all worldly attachments to secludedly find the Divine through detachment from worldly life and peacefully shed the body for .


Some Hindus choose to live a life (Sannyāsa) in pursuit of or another form of spiritual perfection. Monastics commit themselves to a life of simplicity, , detachment from worldly pursuits, and the contemplation of God. A Hindu monk is called a sanyāsī, , or . A female renunciate is called a sanyāsini. Renunciates receive high respect in Hindu society because their outward renunciation of selfishness and worldliness serves as an inspiration to householders who strive for mental renunciation. Some monastics live in monasteries, while others wander from place to place, trusting in God alone to provide for their needs. It is considered a highly meritorious act for a householder to provide sādhus with food or other necessaries. Sādhus strive to treat all with respect and compassion, whether a person may be poor or rich, good or wicked, and to be indifferent to praise, blame, pleasure, and pain.


Hindu society has traditionally been categorized into four classes, called Varnas (Sanskrit: "colour, form, appearance"):

  • the : teachers and priests;
  • the : warriors, nobles, and kings;
  • the : farmers, merchants, and businessmen; and
  • the : servants and labourers.

Hindus and scholars debate whether the so-called is an integral part of Hinduism sanctioned by the scriptures or an outdated social custom. Among the scriptures, the Varna system is mentioned sparingly and descriptively (i.e., not ); apart from a single mention in the late Rigvedic , the rigid division into varnas appears to be post-Vedic, appearing in classical texts from the . The () states that the four varṇa divisions are created by God, and the categorizes the different castes. However, at the same time, the Gītā says that one's varṇa is to be understood from one's personal qualities and one's work, not one's birth. Some mobility and flexibility within the varnas challenge allegations of social discrimination in the caste system, as has been pointed out by several sociologists, although some other scholars disagree.

Many social reformers, including and , criticized caste discrimination. The religious teacher (1836–1886) taught that

Lovers of God do not belong to any caste . . . . A brahmin without this love is no longer a brahmin. And a pariah with the love of God is no longer a pariah. Through (devotion to God) an untouchable becomes pure and elevated.
Ahimsa, vegetarianism and other food customs

Hindus advocate the practice of ahiṃsā (non-violence) and respect for all life because divinity is believed to permeate all beings, including plants and non-human animals. The term ahiṃsā appears in the , the epic Mahabharata and Ahiṃsā is the first of the five Yamas (vows of self-restraint) in . and the first principle for all member of (brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra) in (book 10, sutra 63 : Ahimsa, satya, asteya, shaucam and indrayanigraha, almost similar to ).


In accordance with ahiṃsā, many Hindus embrace to respect higher forms of life. Estimates of the number of in India (includes adherents of all religions) vary between 20% and 42%. The food habits vary with the community and region, for example some castes having fewer vegetarians and coastal populations relying on seafood. Some avoid meat only on specific holy days. Observant Hindus who do eat meat almost always abstain from . The cow in Hindu society is traditionally identified as a caretaker and a maternal figure, and Hindu society honours the cow as a symbol of unselfish giving. Cow-slaughter is legally banned in almost all states of India.

There are many Hindu groups that have continued to abide by a strict vegetarian diet in modern times. One example is the movement known as (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), whose followers “not only abstain from meat, fish, and fowl, but also avoid certain vegetables that are thought to have negative properties, such as onion and garlic.” A second example is the Movement. The followers of this Hindu group also staunchly adhere to a diet that is devoid of meat, eggs, and seafood.


Vegetarianism is propagated by the and it is recommended for a (purifying) lifestyle. Thus, another reason that dietary purity is so eminent within Hinduism is because “the idea that food reflects the general qualities of nature: purity, energy, inertia” It follows, then, that a healthy diet should be one that promotes purity within an individual.

Based on this reasoning, Hindus should avoid or minimize the intake of foods that do not promote purity. These foods include onion and garlic, which are regarded as rajasic (a state which is characterized by “tension and overbearing demeanor”) foods, and meat, which is regarded as tamasic (a state which is characterized by “anger, greed, and jealousy”).

Some Hindus from certain sects - generally Shakta, certain Shudra and Kshatriya castes and certain Eastern Indian and East Asian regions; practise (bali). Although most Hindus, including the majority of Vaishnava and Shaivite Hindus abhor it.

Comparative Religion