Origins of Hinduism

Hinduism, just like Zoroastrianism is one of those religions considered to be among the oldest in the world. In fact, there are sources which state that both religions originated from the Aryans and were initially interconnected. Split among the two religions only came about after their adherents (Indo-Aryans) settled in different geographical locations.

What sets Hinduism apart from most of the other religions is the fact that it is not linked to any founder in particular. Hinduism basically, is a large system of beliefs, rituals, and concepts initiated centuries ago in ancient India. Hinduism has a significant following across the globe with the numbers more concentrated in India as well as other Asian countries like Nepal, Indonesia, Cambodia and so forth.

One interesting fact about this religion is that it was not always referred to as Hinduism; this is a title that came much later. Hindu, as some sources indicate was a term coined by the Persians for natives who lived past the river Indus, with the suffix ‘ism’ being attributed to be a product of the British colonialism. Prior to the term Hinduism, this outstanding religious faith was referred to as Sanatana Dharma which can loosely be translated as ‘Eternal Religion” or “Eternal Law.” Unlike most of the other religions that set faith as somehow distinct from other aspects of day to day life, Hinduism incorporates religion with virtually all the aspects of day to day living. It is safe to say therefore that Hinduism to its adherents is a way of life.

As pointed out earlier, Hinduism is a fusion of numerous beliefs and concepts but with characteristically common features, key among them being the worship of numerous deities or demigods if you like. The demigods or deities in Hinduism form the basis of the various denominations or sects within the Hindu faith. The Hindu deities are numerous, as such, and for the sake of easier understanding, this article will classify the deities into two categories; Pre Vedic period deities and Post Vedic period deities.

The Vedic period is the period during which the elementary sacred scriptures of Hinduism referred to as the Vedas were composed. The Vedas which basically is a collection of hymns and verses is estimated to have been composed around 1500 B.C. and is primarily written in Sanskrit. Contrary to scriptural texts like the Christian Holy Bible which is composed of many books under one title, the Vedas are made up of four distinct texts namely:

• The Rig Veda

• The Samaveda

• Yajurveda

• Atharvaveda

The writings in the Vedas are attributed to ancient sages, seers, and saints who received divine revelations of the hymns and verses. In turn, these wise men passed on the information in form of Holy Scriptures from one generation to another. Initially, this information was transmitted orally but by around 1780s in Calcutta, following intense persuasion, the custodians of the Vedas conceded to publicly divulge contents of the Rig Veda (the oldest of these sacred texts).

After the custodians in Calcutta made details of the Rig Veda public, other custodians of the Vedas followed suit and made public their versions. Surprisingly, and this is what astounded Scholars who took to the task of collecting various versions, is that the texts conveyed by various custodians were virtually the same. For instance, the texts conveyed in Tamil Nadu had striking similarities to the texts conveyed in Kashmir. The astounding accuracy by which these texts were conveyed is what actually stood out, considering they had been transmitted orally for centuries from one generation to another.

Other than the Vedas, it is important to note that there are other sacred texts linked to Hinduism namely; The Baghavad Gita, Ramayana, the Upanishads, 18 Puranas, and Mahabharata.

As highlighted earlier, there are pre and early Vedic deities and there are deities that were revealed post the Vedic period.

The following is a list of some of the prominent pre and early Vedic deities;
Indra~ The King of Devas

Agni~ The Fire God

Surya~ Also referred to as the Sun God, is the sustainer of life

Varuna~ The God of Oceans and Sky

The following is a list of some of the most prominent post Vedic deities;

Brahma~ Creator of the universe and all things therein

Vishnu~ Protector and preserver of the universe and all things therein

Shiva~ The God that destroys and recreates the universe

At this juncture, it is important to mention that the first three deities highlighted under the post vedic deities namely; Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva form the supreme triad otherwise known as Trimurti– a trinity of deities that form the basis of the Hindu pantheon since the post-Vedic period to this day.

Lakshmi~ Goddess of auspiciousness and wealth

Sarswati~ Goddess of knowledge and learning

Parvati~ Goddess of love, beauty, marriage, fertility, harmony, children, and devotion

Krishna~ God of love, tenderness, compassion and protection: He is the complete incarnation of the divine and a Supreme God in His own right

Ganesha~ Remover of Obstacles

Devi ~ the Goddess in charge of re-establishing Dharma

Durga~ the warrior Goddess who slays demons

Kali~ the Goddess of destruction

Kartikeya~ God of war

These are just but some of the prominent Hindu deities as the list depicted above is not exhaustive
Hinduism Influence

There are accounts that refer to Hinduism as a fellowship of religions by virtue that it serves as an umbrella to several denominations and sects while at the same time has influenced the birth of many sects. There are a number of denominations that distinctively stand apart from Hinduism that carry distinct practices of their own but which are a product of significant Hindu influence. Sunil Reddy, author of the book Guruji: Teachings of a Hindu Saint opines that the kind of influence that Hinduism has had on some of the new era religions, can be termed as soft influence. The author states that Religions like Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism voluntarily picked up various practices from Hinduism as opposed to the practices being forced on them.

Summary

Henotheistic is a more appropriate term to define Hinduism, which is another way to say that as much as Hindu adherents ascribe to several deities, the core belief is that these deities are a manifestation of one God, Brahman (the absolute spirit). That by ascribing to the numerous deities, the ultimate intention of the sacrifice or prayer is to reach the Supreme Being.

Other common features shared by virtually all the sects in Hinduism is the belief that the Supreme Being Brahman is the absolute spirit beyond human reach and understanding and that he created the entire universe and to whom all things return. Another common concept is that there are many paths to reach the supreme goal referred to as Moksha or liberation from the cycles of life and death known as Samsara.

Then there is the concept of Karma (action and reaction) which basically implies that every action we pursue, good or bad, will ultimately be repaid in kind whether in this life or the next. That there are forces of nature responsible for repaying the deeds we inflict upon others, good deeds and thoughts on others attract a similar response on those who commit them and so do bad deeds and thoughts. The basis of the Karmic concept is that God is present in all living beings thus harm, injury, or good done to another shall ultimately be repaid for in kind.

The Karmic concept goes hand in hand with the concept of re-incarnation which is also a common concept. It follows that no one can escape the consequences of their action and thoughts on other living beings. The deeds we commit stay with us and accumulate for as long as we live. At the point of death, as the soul departs from the physical body, the memories of the actions perpetrated by the individual on themselves and others remain with the soul to be repaid by the individual in their next lives. This concept explains why one child is born in a life of pain and misery whereas another is born in a life of privilege and luxury.

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