Hinduism, the religion of nearly one billion people mostly of South Asian provenance or descent, is notoriously difficult to define or even to describe with accuracy and comprehensiveness. Like all complex and ancient religious traditions, it is problematic to speak about Hinduism as if it were one monolithic religion rather than merely a label for many different traditions. The conglomeration of religious traditions sheltered under this umbrella incorporates a bewildering array of texts, beliefs, practices, and sects—so disparate a collection that some modern scholars have questioned the legitimacy of artificially unifying them. According to these scholars, one cannot really speak about a single Hinduism but at best only a variety of Hinduisms.
The word Hinduism itself derives from one of the principal rivers of South Asia, the Indus, and was probably first used by the ancient Persians to designate the people and territory of the northwestern portion of the subcontinent. As a name for a religion (at first inclusive of what is now differentiated as Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism), it probably owes its origin to the Muslim invaders of the early part of the second millennium c.e., and as a discrete (but still enormously variegated) Indian religion, Hinduism was the term the British gave in the nineteenth century to all those in India who were neither Muslim nor Christian.
Diversity—historical, cultural, linguistic, doctrinal, and sectarian—is descriptive of all world religions also designated by a unitary label, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam. Hinduism may be an extreme example, but it is hardly unique in this regard. And as is true in other religions, in Hinduism conceptual unity can be identified within this diversity. Some scholars have identified a set of key concepts or beliefs they regard as distinctively Hindu, including the beliefs in karma and rebirth; the impermanent and fundamentally suffering nature of the world (samsara); and the possibility of liberation from suffering and rebirth and the attainment of a permanent state of bliss (moksha ). None of these beliefs, however, belongs exclusively to Hinduism. Buddhism, Jainism, and other "non-Hindu" Indian religions also hold these doctrines. Other observers content themselves with the notion that Hinduism is distinguished by religious methods and practices that may be categorized under three broad headings or paths: the way of action or ritual (karma marga ), the way of knowledge or wisdom (jnana marga ), and of devotion (bhakti marga ).
Still others argue that what is truly distinctive of Hinduism is its social structure—the caste system—and the religious ideology that underlies it, especially the notion of the superiority and spiritual purity of the Brahman castes. Indeed, some scholars use the term Brahmanism (or Brahminism ) as synonymous with Hinduism to emphasize the notion that the essence of this religion is its belief in caste hierarchy, with the Brahmans at the top. But although it is true that caste and Brahman privilege are ancient and enduring features of Indian society, it is not clear that a religion is defined by the social structure it promotes, nor is caste confined to "Hinduism"—there are Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and Parsi castes as well as Hindu ones.
Perhaps the most promising way to envision the underlying unity of Hinduism is to concentrate on the way Hindu traditions understand and use scriptural authority to legitimate a variegated set of beliefs and practices. Hinduism can thus be understood as a unified and continuous religious tradition in terms of the particular sources and strategies used to establish, legitimate, and maintain its religious authority. The most common way Hindus of various sorts do this is to appeal to the authority of the Veda, the most ancient and most universally acknowledged of Hinduism's sacred texts. Hinduism, then, might be envisaged as the label for those traditions that legitimate themselves through the authority of the Veda. Traditions that deny the sacrality and authority of the Veda and posit alternative sources of such authority (those traditions called Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and so on) are, for this reason, not Hindu. Although the subject matter of the Vedic texts is not always, or even usually, of importance to any given Hindu sect or tradition, the legitimating authority of the Veda has been one, and perhaps the only, mark of orthodoxy in the long history of this complex group of Indic traditions.
Hinduism has had an incalculable impact on Indian society. Indeed, some modern religious nationalists in India would argue that Indian and Hindu culture and history are synonymous, although this turns a blind eye to the enormous contribution of Muslims and others who are, under virtually any definition, not Hindus. Nevertheless, in virtually all areas of Indian society and culture, including social structure, art, music, architecture, literature, and government, Hinduism has left its imprint, such that India cannot really be understood without some understanding of its majority religion.
Most scholars trace the earliest origins of Hinduism to two different sources. The first of these is the Indus Valley civilization, which dates back to the third millennium b.c.e. and reaches its high point around 2000 b.c.e. The characteristics of this civilization remain somewhat elusive, since the inscriptions on the artifacts that have been recovered remain undeciphered. Nevertheless, on the basis of both large-scale and small-scale remains, scholars have postulated that certain features of later Hinduism may have their earliest foundations and expressions in the Indus Valley civilization. These features include the emphasis on ritual purity, the worship of a goddess figure connected to fertility, and the sacrality of certain animals and trees. The most famous of the depictions found on seals dug up at the various archeological sites is what has been called proto-Shiva. A horned figure, surrounded by animals and sitting in what appears to be a yogic position with an erect phallus, seems to indicate a possible connection to the later Hindu deity who is similarly conceptualized and symbolically represented.
The second root of Hinduism is the Aryans or Indo-Europeans who, it is thought, began to enter the Indic sub-continent from the northwest in several migratory waves beginning sometime in the second millennium b.c.e. The South Asian branch of the far-flung Indo-European peoples is associated with the Vedic period of Indian history. Named after the texts called the Vedas (or, collectively, the Veda), which are written in Sanskrit, this historical epoch is known to us almost entirely on the basis of those ancient texts. The Vedas depict a religion entirely oriented to the performance of and philosophical speculations concerning fire sacrifice. Sacrifices, or yajna s, were offered to the pantheon of deities located in one or another of the three worlds of sky, atmosphere, and earth; some of the gods of the later Hindu pantheon were already worshipped in the Vedic era. Sacrifices to the gods were performed with oblations of cakes made of grain but also with animals (goats, rams, bulls, stallions, and, at least theoretically, human males) and with the apparently intoxicating juices from the plant known as soma.
The basic assumption of the Vedic sacrifice was that if the gods were pleased through such offerings, the cosmos would be put into order and beneficial results would be procured by the sacrificer. These results included prosperity of all sorts, worldly success and fame, long life, and a place in heaven after death. As time went on, it seems as though the sacrifice took on power of its own, apart from the will and favor of the gods. If the ritual was performed correctly by the Brahman priests, who knew all the rules of the sacrifice, results would occur automatically.
Also over time, an increasing emphasis seems to have been put not only on the simple performance of the ritual but also on mystical knowledge of the hidden meanings of or connections between the sacrifice, the cosmos, and the individual. These speculations reached their apogee in the middle centuries of the first millennium b.c.e. as is recorded in the texts known as the Upanishads. Mystical knowledge or wisdom (jnana ) in these texts supersedes ritual action (karma) as the way to attain the highest goal, now conceived of not as a place in heaven but rather as the realization of one's true nature, expressed in the equation between one's true self (atman ) and the underlying cosmic unity (brahman ).
The Upanishads are also associated with a world-renunciatory movement of the middle centuries of the first millennium b.c.e. that also brought Buddhism and Jainism into being. For the renouncers, ascetics, and mystics of this period, the Vedic sacrifice was regarded as, at best, of lesser importance than practices associated with self-discipline, meditation, yoga, and renunciation of ritual and worldly pursuits. Action, or karma, especially when motivated by desire, was seen as problematic in that it was supposed to result in repeated, and potentially endless, rebirth. The world was seen as a place of suffering and imprisonment, and a new goal, release from this wheel of birth, death, and rebirth, was posited.
As a result both of challenges within the tradition (the world-renouncing strains that were manifest in the Upanishads) and without (the heterodox traditions of Buddhism, Jainism, and other new religions), Hinduism was reformulated. Texts dating to around 400 b.c.e. and those produced subsequently over the course of several centuries reflect characteristic and definitive shifts in the religion. Among these was a sense of orthodoxy, which can be seen both in the way the Vedas were now understood as revealed, or shruti, and in the religio-social importance given to caste and the hierarchically superior place of the Brahmans. Especially important was the concept of dharma, or religious duty, and the reinstatement of religious value to worldly life. From this time on, Hinduism has harbored within itself both an emphasis on doing one's duty in the world and the importance of renouncing the world.
By the early centuries of the first millennium c.e. can be seen the earliest manifestations of another development within the increasingly variegated mix of traditions collectively called Hinduism. This was the rise of a new form of theistic religion called the bhakti movement, which brought with it the rise to supreme importance of the major deities of the Hindu pantheon, especially Vishnu (in all his incarnations, including Krishna and Rama), Shiva, and the various forms of the Goddess. The first temples where such deities were worshipped date to this period, as do Sanskrit and Tamil texts that center on one or another of these principal divinities. From this time forth, in addition to the notion (dating to the Upanishads) that the divine is "without qualities" (nirguna ), one finds within Hinduism the conceptualization of God "with qualities" (saguna ) and the representation of the divine in the form of images.
Dating also to this period is another widespread and influential movement that would add yet another ingredient to Hinduism. This movement, itself varied in its beliefs and practices, has been called Tantrism. Originating perhaps in the peripheral areas of northwest and northeast India, Tantric ideas and practices probably date to the fifth century c.e. or before, although most of the texts in which the distinctive doctrines of this strain within Hinduism appear are several centuries later. With an emphasis on radical and unconventional methods (including, in some cases, ritual sex) for attaining liberation in the present lifetime, and with an array of deities—almost always including a goddess figure—often depicted in quite horrific forms, the Tantric movement was always esoteric and controversial. Nevertheless, by the medieval period and in subsequent centuries Tantrism influenced all forms of Hinduism. It has been noted that the pantheon of present-day Hinduism is largely made up of Tantric deities. Tantrism also left its imprint on the temples, iconography, and rituals of the more mainstream Hinduism.
The mainstream—by which is usually meant the elite, Sanskritic tradition of orthodox or Brahmanic Hinduism—was philosophically systematized beginning in the early centuries of the first millennium c.e. into six schools. Perhaps the most influential of these is Vedanta and its greatest teacher was Shankara (c. 800 c.e.). Based on a particular reading of the earliest Upanishads, the Vedanta philosophy in all its forms (and there are several) argues for some version of monism and regards the phenomenal world of experience as fundamentally illusory. The philosophical schools of Yoga and Samkhya, by way of contrast, envision a kind of dualism between matter and spirit and see the goal of the religious quest as the isolation of the pure spirit. Other and less influential of the philosophical schools emphasize analysis of Vedic ritual and ritual speech (Mimamsa), logic and methods of argumentation (Nyaya), and a theory of atomism (Vaisheshika).
The second millennium c.e. saw the further development of bhakti, or devotional, forms of Hinduism, especially among poet-saints, who composed often ecstatic songs and poems in the vernacular languages of India. These poet-saints sometimes included women and members of the lower castes, and in general the devotional movement became more and more the religion of the Hindu masses. As Muslim influence and eventually rule was established in north India, syncretistic devotional figures and groups emerged. The bhakti of a saint like Kabir (1440–1518), for example, was heavily influenced by Islamic monotheism, iconoclasm, and other concepts.
The European impact on Hinduism came primarily in the form of British imperialism and colonialism. Modern Hinduism, especially as it is conceptualized by the educated elite of India, was shaped by the interactions and dialectical relations between outside influences and rising nationalist aspirations. Nineteenth-century reformers such as Rammohan Roy, Dayananda Sarasvati, and Vivekananda created what has sometimes been called Neo-Hinduism in an effort to modernize and respond to the challenges of Western colonialism while retaining pride in the traditions of ancient Hinduism. The reforming impulse put into motion by these leaders and others has also sometimes been labeled the back-to-the-Vedas movement because of its emphasis on returning to the ancient past's purity to validate innovations such as rights for women, opposition to image worship, and caste reform.
In the twentieth century, two different and contrasting influences have exerted influence on the shape of Hinduism. On the one hand, Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948; the Mahatma, or Great Soul) put forward an inclusive, tolerant Hinduism that picked up one strand of the ancient past: the non-violence and self-control of the world-renouncers. On the other hand, the twentieth century also saw the rise of an often militant form of Hindu nationalism that emphasized an exclusivist Hinduism and valorized powerful Hindu kings of the past and divine ruler-warriors like the god Rama.
Sacred Texts and Sects
The Veda are earliest texts of Hinduism. Written in Sanskrit and for millennia preserved only orally, the oldest portion of the Veda—the Rig Veda, composed about 1200 b.c.e. or before—is also among the oldest known texts of the Indo-European world.
The Vedas are entirely centered on the performance of and speculations surrounding the ancient religion of the Aryans in India, the cult of fire sacrifice. Each of the four Vedas—the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva—consists of a Samhita (collection of hymns, verses, and chants), a Brahmana (in which the mythical origins, contexts, and meanings of the ritual are explained), an Aranyaka (a forest text, where the more esoteric and secret significances of the rites are detailed), and an Upanishad (comprised of mystical speculations and philosophical ruminations). The Samhitas of the four Vedas are correlated to the functions of the four main priests of the Vedic sacrifice and were composed and preserved by these priests for ritual use. Each of the four Vedas has several recensions due to the varying practices of different ritual schools; some of these recensions have survived—completely or in fragments—and many have not.
The Veda is traditionally thought to be unauthored (either by a god or humans); rather, it is believed to exist eternally in the form of sound. Ancient sages are said to have heard it (or part of it) and then recited it to others. The Veda was, and continues to be, memorized syllable by syllable and transmitted orally by means of an intricate method of recitation. Although ancient India had a writing system by the middle of the first millennium b.c.e., it was only in relatively recent times that the oral Veda was written down.
Hinduism traditionally accorded the Vedic texts the status of revelation, or shruti. All the other sacred texts of Hinduism, no matter the esteem in which they are held by their adherents, are technically classified not as revelation but only as traditional or remembered (smriti ). The smriti texts are admittedly authored by great teachers of the past.
The earliest of the traditional texts are collectively known as the Vedangas or limbs of the Veda. Composed mainly from about 700 b.c.e. to about 200 c.e., these works were technical treatises written in the shorthand, aphoristic form called the sutra. The Vedangas make up the six sciences necessary for the correct and exact performance of the Vedic rituals: vyakarana (the study of grammar, linguistics, and philology); nirukta (etymology); chanda (the explanation and practice of verse meters); shiksha (the study of faultless pronunciation); and jyotisha (the science of astronomy and astrology). The sixth limb of the Veda is the Kalpa Sutras, manuals in which the rules for performing the various types of Vedic sacrifice are given. The Shrauta Sutras lay out the rules for performing the most elaborate of these sacrifices, and the Grhya Sutras detail the protocol for executing the simpler rites of the domestic ceremonial performed by the householder himself. Also included are the Shulba Sutras, in which geometrical rules are laid out for the proper construction of the sacred space and altars of the Vedic ritual.
The last component of a Kalpa Sutra (and again, different versions of these texts were composed and preserved by a variety of ritual schools) is the Dharma Sutra (also known as the Dharma Shastra, or Teaching, or the Dharma Smriti). These encyclopedic texts extend the rules governing human activity, which were previously confined to the ritual sphere, to nearly every aspect of daily life, and especially concentrate on the specific obligations or duties (dharma ) one has as a member of a particular social class or caste at various stages of life.
The sutra form was also favored by the authors of several other important texts. The Mimamsa Sutras, attributed to Jaimini and dated at about 200 b.c.e., is the root text of the philosophical school of Mimamsa, or enquiry into the cosmic and moral significance of the Vedic sacrifice. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (c. 200–300 c.e.) are the first systematic presentation of the practice and theory of yoga, or psycho-physical discipline. And the Vedanta Sutras of the great teacher Shankara (c. early ninth century c.e.), which are actually commentaries on an earlier text, form the most important enunciation of the highly influential Hindu philosophical tradition known as Advaita Vedanta, which teaches an absolute monistic doctrine of the oneness of all being.
Among the most popular and best-known of the Hindu scriptures are the two great epics The Mahabharata and The Ramayana. Both of these enormous works (The Mahabharata is a collection of over 100,000 stanzas and The Ramayana is about one-fourth of that) were composed, in various recensions, over a period of almost a thousand years between approximately 400 b.c.e. and approximately 400 c.e. Both consist of a heterogeneous assortment of material—mythology, pseudo-historical lore, folktales, teachings concerning religious duty, the meaning of life, and salvation—but both also relate narratives that have come to be regarded as the backbone of the Indian cultural heritage.
The Mahabharata claims to be divinely inspired and all-encompassing. The text tells the story of a legendary battle for rule over India fought between two sides of the same family. After many twists and turns in the plot, the warring parties meet at the battlefield for the climactic battle. It is at this point in the story that perhaps the single most popular Hindu text and one of the world's greatest religious works is found. The Bhagavad Gita, or Song of the Lord, is a discussion of duty and faith conducted by one of the warriors, Arjuna, and his charioteer, Krishna—who is, the reader learns in the course of the text, God in human form.
The Ramayana, attributed to the seer Valmiki, is the story of Rama, the Prince of Ayodhya: his birth and childhood, his marriage to Sita, his unjust banishment and exile into the wilderness, Sita's abduction by the wicked Ravana, Rama's battle with and defeat of Ravana and his rescue of Sita, and Rama's triumphant return to Ayodhya as king. Whereas the characters in The Mahabharata tend to be flawed in various ways, Rama and Sita are widely regarded as ideals of obedience, loyalty, fidelity, strength, courage, and heroism. Both of the great Hindu epics were traditionally recited by bards at the courts of kings but were also often recited or dramatically enacted for the masses as religious performance and popular entertainment. Both have also been made into television serials and videotapes, thus metamorphosing into a somewhat different kind of sacred text.
Beginning in the early middle centuries of the Common Era, Sanskrit texts that codified the worldviews, doctrines, and practices of the various Hindu theistic sects were composed. Chief among these are the Puranas (Stories of antiquity). Centering on one or another of the principal deities of sectarian Hinduism—Vishnu, Shiva, or the Goddess—these texts are traditionally said to comprise five topics: the creation of the world, the dissolution of the world, the ages of the world, genealogies, and the history of dynasties. In actuality, however, the Puranas are as encyclopedic as the epics, replete with all sorts of myths, legends, didactic passages on religious duty and salvation, ritual instructions for temple and image worship, and tales about holy places and pilgrimage sites. Early-twenty-first-century scholarship has indicated that most, if not all, of the Puranas were composed under the auspices of one or another ruler of particular Hindu kingdoms by priests associated with the dominant sect of the region.
Other sectarian texts are known by different names. The 108 sacred texts of the Vaishnava sect known as the Pancaratras are designated Samhitas (collection of hymns, verses, and chants) or Agamas; certain sects worshipping the god Shiva have also produced texts called Agamas; and sects worshipping one or another form of the goddess have composed Tantras—sectarian treatises that are similar in content and purpose to the Puranas but tend to be more purely theological in their orientation and to specify ritual practices to be followed in the temple and at home.
Whereas all the literature discussed above is in Sanskrit, the sacred texts of what might be called popular Hinduism were composed in one or another of the vernacular languages of South Asia. Among the most important of these are the Tamil works of the poet-saints who served as figureheads for the devotional, and often ecstatic and emotional, movements that began in South India as early as the seventh century c.e. Led by the devotees of Vishnu known as the Alvars and the worshippers of Shiva called the Nayanmars, the devotional movement became popular and spread throughout India. The poems and songs of later Hindu saints of north India—Kabir, Caitanya (1485–1533), Surdas (1485–1563), Mirabai (sixteenth century), and others—also depict the longing for God and the bliss of union with the divine in simple yet moving terms.
While it is difficult to list doctrines that all Hindus and Hindu traditions would accept, there is a group of core beliefs that come close to being universally shared by all those called "Hindu."
Karma and Rebirth.
The original meaning of the word karma is "work," and the earliest application of the term in Vedic texts is "ritual action or labor"—that is, correctly and precisely executed activity that will have a salutary effect on the participants of the ritual and on the universe as a whole. Rituals beginning with the samskara s, rites of passage performed at critical junctures in the life of a youth, had as their purpose to repair the imperfections of birth. Ritual work thus also consisted of the construction of a religiously viable self, and while Vedic fire sacrifices tended to be eclipsed by other forms of religious practice in later Hinduism, the performance of the samskara s has continued to the present day and is done for much the same reason. Finally, already in the Vedic period, ritual work was also the means for creating a desirable afterlife for oneself. A divine, or heavenly, self is "born out of the sacrifice"—that is, it is the product of one's ritual résumé, of the work one has done throughout one's lifetime.
The notion that one's own ritual acts (for in Vedic times these were the only acts that really mattered) had consequences—in the future as well as the present—is one of the possible sources for a doctrine that was to have huge implications for the Hindu religious worldview: the notion that all actions produced fruit, good or bad, that determined the quality of one's life. This causal and moral law of karma first appears in the early Upanishads and also features as a prominent doctrine in the new religions that arose in India at this time, Buddhism and Jainism. From this time forward, the nature of one's actions—and the attitude with which actions were performed—was believed to have determinative consequences over one's future, both in this lifetime and in future rebirths.
This concept of a "law of karma"—whereby good acts result in good results, bad in bad—extends the Vedic notion of consequential action from the confines of the ritual to the whole of life. Just as in the Vedic period one's future life is the product of one's activity, here too one's rebirth is directly correlated to actions performed in this life. But the law of karma also presupposes a series of past lives; the deeds done in those lives determine the circumstances of one's present existence. And the theory assumes future lives, not just in heavens or hells but in this world or any of a potentially infinite number of world systems. Finally, it presupposes that one may be reborn in any of these locales as any number of entities, ranging from gods to inanimate objects; good karma obviously would entail a better rebirth, bad karma results in a worse existence.
Dharma and the Varnashrama Dharma system.
Another key concept of Hinduism, and one that is closely connected to those of karma and rebirth, is dharma, a multivalent term that includes within its semantic range religion or righteousness, but also duty. Doing one's dharma means not only remaining ethical but also assuming the duties that are proper to the class or caste one is born into (due to one's past karma), and to the stage of life one is presently in. Performing one's own duty (svadharma ), as it has been assigned to by birth and by the stage of life, has traditionally been an important Hindu ideal: "Your own duty done imperfectly is better than another man's done well. It is better to die in one's own duty; another man's duty is perilous" (Bhagavad Gita, 3.35).
The doctrine of svadharma, backed up by the concepts of karma and rebirth, underlies one of the most important and enduring institutions of Hindu India, the caste system. Inequalities in the present life are regarded as a result of differing past karma, and the inequalities of a projected future will reflect the rewards and punishments of actions done in the present: "Now people here whose behavior is pleasant can expect to enter a pleasant womb, like that of a woman of the Brahman [the priestly class], the Ksatriya [the warrior class], of the Vaisya [agriculturalist and trader] class. But people of foul behavior can expect to enter a foul womb, like that of a dog, a pig, or an outcaste woman" (Chandogya Upanishad, 5.10.7).
From the time of the Veda onward, the four basic classes of Hindu society—Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras (servants)—were assigned specific roles and functions and urged not to deviate from such in-born duties. The naturalness of this arrangement—or even its divine sanction—was asserted in part by integrating the origins of the social classes within stories about the cosmos's origins. The most famous of the texts in which the social classes are depicted as part of the original creation is Rig Veda 10.90, which tells of the universe originating from a primordial sacrifice of God, here called the Cosmic Man. From that sacrifice and dismemberment, the various elements of the cosmos came into being: the worlds, the sun and moon, the seasons, the various types of supernatural beings, the animals, and so forth. The social classes originated then, brought forth from the parts of the body of the creator god: "When they divided the Cosmic Man, into how many parts did they apportion him? What do they call his mouth, his two arms and thighs and feet? His mouth became the Brahmin; his arms were made into the Kshatriya; his thighs the Vaishya; and from his feet the Shudras were born" (Rig Veda, 10.90.11–12).
Such is the basic outline of the caste system: four principal classes, each with its own assigned occupation, hierarchically ranked (and correlated with the appropriate body part of the creator god). At the top is the class whose job concerns the religious sphere; the Brahman priest is, according to the texts (not coincidentally composed by members of this class), to be regarded as a kind of human god. The Kshatriyas are to be rulers and warriors and engage in the activities appropriate to their birth. As for the commoners, they are to pursue occupations concerned with wealth and prosperity, tending to livestock and trade. The servants' duties and occupations are straightforward: to humbly serve members of the higher classes and hope for a better rebirth. Finally, there are the occupations of those who live below this hierarchy, the so-called untouchables, who are below even the servants.
Dharma, or proper duty, is thus differentiated according to class and caste but also according to stage of life. The first stage in the ideal structure laid out in Hindu texts is that of a student. A young boy is given over to a teacher, or guru, with whom he lives and serves for a period of many years while studying the sacred Veda under the teacher's guidance. The lifestyle assigned to this stage of life is one of austerity, asceticism, and discipline. Among the other duties laid out for those in the student stage of life are chastity, study of the sacred texts, and obedience to the teacher.
The next stage of life, that of the householder, begins when the student leaves his teacher's home, marries, and takes up his proper profession. In the householder stage of life, he properly pursues not only dharma (used here in the specific sense of religious duties) but also the human ends of artha —private gain, understood as material prosperity, self-interest, political advantage, and in general getting ahead in the world—and kama or pleasure. The householder is charged with supporting not just his household but also other community members through alms and other gifts to those in other stages of life.
After having raised a family as a householder, a man may enter the third stage of life as what is called a forest-dweller. This stage is characterized by ascetic practices and gradual detachment from the world, including the renunciation of cultivated food (he should live on food that grows in the jungle) and of "all possessions":
After he has lived in the householder's stage of life in accordance with the rules in this way, a twice-born Vedic graduate should live in the forest, properly restrained and with his sensory powers conquered.… When a householder sees that he is wrinkled and gray, and (when he sees) the children of his children, then he should take himself to the wilderness. Renouncing all food cultivated in the village and all possessions, he should hand his wife over to his sons and go to the forest—or take her along.… He should eat vegetables that grow on land or in water, flowers, roots, and fruits, the products of pure trees, and the oils from fruits.… He should not eat anything grown from land tilled with a plough, even if someone has thrown it out, nor roots and fruits grown in a village, even if he is in distress [from hunger]. (Manu, 6.1–3, 13, 16)
The final stage of life is that of the world-renouncer, who continues and furthers the ascetic practices of the forest-dweller. In this stage, the wandering hermit should live entirely detached from the things of this world, alone and without companionship, perfectly content and in a state of equanimity. He should beg but once a day, and not be "addicted to food," hope for lots of alms, or be disappointed should he receive nothing:
He should always go all alone, with no companion, to achieve success; realizing that success is for the man who is alone, he neither deserts nor is deserted. The hermit should have no fire and no home, but should go to a village to get food, silent, indifferent, unwavering and deep in concentration. A skull-bowl, the roots of trees, poor clothing, no companionship, and equanimity to everything—this is the distinguishing mark of one who is freed. He should not welcome dying, nor should he welcome living, but wait for the right time as a servant waits for orders.… He should live here on earth seated in ecstatic contemplation of the soul, indifferent, without any carnal desires, with the soul as his only companion and happiness as his goal.… He should go begging once a day and not be eager to get a great quantity, for an ascetic who is addicted to food becomes attached to sensory objects, too.… He should not be sad when he does not get anything nor delighted when he gets something, but take only what will daily sustain his vital breath, transcending any attachment to material things. (Manu, 6.42-45; 49; 55; 57)
Samsara, liberation, and the ways to attain liberation.
Yet another central concept in Hinduism is the notion that perpetual birth, death, and rebirth occur not just at the level of human beings but of the universe as a whole. The Sanskrit name for this theory is samsara, a word that literally means to wander or pass through a series of states or conditions. Samsara describes the beginningless and endless cycle of cosmic or universal death and rebirth; all of phenomenal existence is transient, ever-changing, and cyclical. Correlative to this understanding of the world is belief in the fundamentally illusory nature of the world of appearances—a concept known in Hinduism as maya. It is because one is ignorant of reality's true nature that one perceives a world of differentiation and change; and it is through our own ignorance that we suffer and produce karma.
Samsara is contrasted to an unconditioned, eternal, and transcendent state that is equated with freedom or liberation from such ignorance, transience, suffering, and rebirth. All Hindu traditions posit an alternative to karma and rebirth and the wheel of samsara. This state of release, freedom, or liberation from karma and rebirth is called moksha. To obtain this liberation, most Hindu traditions believe that one must find a way to stop the workings of karma and the ignorant desire that motivates ordinary action. Among the various groups of world-renouncers that have arisen in the history of Hinduism, a kind of pessimism surrounds the value of worldly life. Release from the wheel of phenomenal existence among these groups often entails eliminating desire through ascetic practices and renouncing the world of ordinary activity:
On knowing him [the true self], one becomes an ascetic. Desiring him only as their home, mendicants wander forth. Verily, because they know this, the ancients desired not offspring, saying: "What shall we do with offspring, we whose is this Soul, this world?" They, verily, rising above the desire for sons and the desire for wealth and the desire for worlds, lived the life of a mendicant. For the desire for sons is the desire for wealth, and the desire for wealth is the desire for worlds; for both these are desires. (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, 4.4.22)
Another strategy for eliminating karma and its bonds to samsara was the development of the discipline called yoga. Yoga was intended to calm the mind and body, obtain equanimity and tranquility, by ceasing to act ("curbing his movements," as the text below states) and focusing the mind:
When he keeps his body straight, with the three sections erect, and draws the senses together with the mind into his heart, a wise man shall cross all the frightful rivers.… Compressing his breaths in here and curbing his movements, a man should exhale through one nostril when his breath is exhausted. A wise man should keep his mind vigilantly under control, just as he would that wagon yoked to unruly horses. (Svetesvatara Upanishad, 2.8–9)
Yet another method to final liberation within the traditions that comprise Hinduism is the development of wisdom, or jnana. The path of wisdom requires, first and foremost, that one understand properly the nature of the universe. In the monistic philosophy first encountered in the Upanishads and later forming one of the principal schools of Hindu philosophy, jnana means penetrating the illusory appearance of the world as differentiated, and attaining a mystical wisdom of the unitary true nature of the universe and all that is in it. Attaining such transformative wisdom is itself equated with moksha, or liberation—liberation from ignorance, and also liberation from karma.
True knowledge is the knowledge of the true self's unity and identity (the atman ) with the cosmic One, the brahman. Both the real self (which is not the individual ego but one's changeless true nature) and the cosmic One are depicted as unborn, unchanging, and therefore not affected by karma: "Verily, he is the great, unborn Soul, who is this [person] consisting of knowledge among the senses. In the space within the heart lies the ruler of all, the lord of all, the king of all. He does not become greater by good action nor inferior by bad action" (Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, 4.4.22). Wisdom acts as a kind of fire that burns up the individual's accumulated past karma, and uproots desire, which is the very source of karma and the rebirths it provokes.
Another strand within the Hindu tradition also accepts the necessity for wisdom and self-discipline to attain the final goal but denies that action can simply be avoided or somehow arrested. The point is not to renounce society and duty but rather to attain a desireless state within the world of activity. Although upholding the doctrine of duty, or svadharma, The Bhagavad Gita also teaches that such actions should be performed without desire. Since desire is the root cause of karma, desireless action in accordance with one's dharma will have no karmic consequences. Such a person is said to be truly wise, like the world-renouncers, but unlike them does not abandon action but rather performs it in the right way.
Also in The Bhagavad Gita are found the earliest expressions in the Sanskrit texts of what would become an enormously influential movement in Hinduism, that of devotion to a personalized deity. The theistic strains within Hinduism emphasize a different method to liberation, that of bhakti, or devotion to and faith in God. In the Gita, desireless action is also represented as sacrificial action, with the karmic fruits of all acts being given up to God. It is, finally, devotion, or bhakti, to Krishna that the Gita teaches is the way to salvation:
Whatever you do—what you take, what you offer, what you give, what penances you perform—do as an offering to me, Arjuna! You will be freed from the bonds of action, from the fruit of fortune and misfortune; armed with the discipline of renunciation, your self liberated, you will join me. (Bhagavad Gita, 9.27–28)
The devotionalistic wings of Hinduism, with their array of deities, each one regarded by devotees as supreme, all assume that it is by God's grace that suffering can be overcome and salvation made possible. In some of its forms, the bhakti movement seems to have attracted many low caste followers and others who had been left out or diminished by caste-oriented Hinduism. The movement's emphasis on simple devotion, humility, and the power of God's grace to redeem even the sinner had obvious appeal, and the power attributed to bhakti to short-circuit the karmic process is often said to be enormous and unfathomable. The bhakti movement also reinterpreted a long-standing Hindu belief that desire was the product of ignorance and the root of karma, rebirth, and suffering. For in devotionalistic traditions, longing for God—often portrayed in erotic terms—and the pain of separation from the object of desire become the emotional means for ratcheting up one's devotion to fever pitch. At the same time, most devotionalistic cults eschewed the goal of merging with or achieving identity with the object of their devotion, for that would preclude the bliss of remaining distinct while basking in God's love.
The set of traditions collectively termed Tantrism likewise reworked desire from its conceptualization as the ultimate source of human suffering into a religious tool. Esoteric tantric groups gained notoriety for their radical and transgressive methods, often arguing that the best way to attain liberation from suffering and its causes was not to renounce but rather to confront them and, under ritual conditions, engage in practices that for the uninitiated would result in the most disastrous karmic ends. Through various meditative and ritual techniques, the tantric practitioner could practice what others prohibited and could eradicate desire by means of desire.
For some tantric groups, methods to liberation included antisocial ascetic practices such as eschewing clothing and ordinary hygiene, meditating in cemeteries, carrying human skulls as begging bowls, practices involving human corpses, and the worship of deities in gruesome, terrifying forms. For others, it has meant engaging in ritualized sex and exchange of bodily fluids, or rituals that call for the ingestion of otherwise prohibited substances. In all cases, the purpose of such antinomian behavior seems to have been in one way or another to transcend the world of dualities (including pure/impure, good/bad) and achieve the liberation from samsara all Hindu groups posit as the highest goal.
For most Hindus, however, final liberation seems to be out of reach in this life. The vast majority, past and present, simply try to live virtuously and obtain, as a result, a pleasant life here on earth and a better rebirth in the future. From Vedic times to the present, rituals such as sacrifice and the worship service known as puja (performed either in the temple or at home), whereby one ritually honors the deity in the form of an image, had pleasing the gods as their goal in the hopes that the gods would protect and aid the worshipper. Festivals, pilgrimages, and lifecycle rituals are also popular among ordinary Hindus, as they are among religious practitioners the world over. Although religious virtuosi may follow the various methods laid out to attain the highest ends of Hinduism, the vast majority of Hindus content themselves with more modest goals.
See also Buddhism ; Christianity ; Islam ; Jainism ; Judaism ; Religion .
Herman, A. L. A Brief Introduction to Hinduism: Religion, Philosophy, and Ways of Liberation. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1991.
Hopkins, Thomas J. The Hindu Religious Tradition. Encino, Calif.: Dickenson, 1971.
Kinsley, David R. Hinduism: A Cultural Perspective. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1993.
Klostermaier, Klaus K. A Survey of Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.
The Laws of Manu. Translated by Wendy Doniger, with Brian K. Smith. London, New York: Penguin Books, 1991.
"Hinduism." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 8, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hinduism-0
"Hinduism." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Retrieved March 08, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hinduism-0
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Hindus are found living in many parts of the world, but the vast majority of them (approximately 376.5 million) are concentrated in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. Of this population, approximately 366.5 million are in India and ten million in Pakistan. Hindus are also found in the Himalayan states of Nepal (the only contemporary Hindu state), Sikkim, and Bhutan; in Burma, Ceylon, Malaysia, and other countries of south east Asia; and in east and south Africa, the Carib bean islands, Guyana (British Guiana), Fiji, and the United Kingdom.
The doctrines of Hinduism, unlike those of Christianity and Islam, are not embodied in any one sacred book, nor does Hinduism have a single historical founder. There are not one but innumerable gods, and it is not essential to believe in the existence of God in order to be a Hindu. Hinduism is rich in contradictions, there being no particular beliefs or institutions that are common to all Hindus. Every belief considered basic to Hinduism has been rejected by one Hindu group or another.
A major problem in the study of Hinduism, as in that of any world religion, is to understand the interaction between the theological and popular levels. There is a vast body of sacred literature in Hinduism, including the Vedas, Brahmanas, Upan-isads, Vedāngas, Dharmaśāstras, Nibandhas, Purānas, Itihāsas, Darsanas, Āgamas, and Tantras. These texts contain elaborate and abstract philosophies and theologies, mythologies, manuals for the performance of sacrifices and other sacred rites in temples and homes, and codes of conduct for daily life. Generally speaking, until recently Indian and foreign scholars concentrated on the literature, while the description of actual institutions, rites, and beliefs was left to missionaries, travelers, and administrators. It is only in the last twenty years that bibliocentricism has been replaced by a more rounded view of Hinduism and the relation between the texts and actual behavior.
The social scientist’s concern for understanding any religion in its social context is likely to be satisfied more for the modern than for the earlier periods of history. Source materials are almost entirely lacking for the study of the history of popular Hinduism; even in the study of the history of literary Hinduism, data are not available for the reconstruction of the social context. For example, the date, provenance, and authorship of texts are not certain. And finally, the student of contemporary Hinduism is faced with the problem that the systematic reconstruction of Indian history, which began with the coming of the British, has brought to light material that has since become an active part of the Hindu religion. In the reinterpretation of Hinduism that has been occurring since the nineteenth century, the philosophical and literary levels have been emphasized, to the neglect of actual institutions, rites, and beliefs.
Hinduism, lacking a centralized church, is so inextricably entangled with Hindu society that it is very difficult to say where one ends and the other begins. This is particularly true of caste, which according to creation beliefs expressed in the Rg Veda has a divine origin. The four varnas, or caste orders, emerged from the limbs of primeval man, who is a victim in the divine sacrifice that produced the cosmos. The brāhmans emerged from his mouth, ksatriyas from his arms, the vaiśyas from his thighs, and the śūldras from his feet. (The untouchables are not mentioned in the hymn.) There are in reality not four but innumerable castes, called jātis, each of which claims to belong to one of the four varnas. When the Hindu sacred or legal texts discuss caste, it is mostly varna that they have in view and very rarely jāti.
Certain ideas regarding pollution and purity are cardinal in Hinduism, although there are differences among the various castes in the strictness with which rules deriving from these ideas are adhered to and the degree of elaboration found in behavior governed by them. Intercaste relations are generally defined by ideas of pollution. Normally, each caste is endogamous and complete commensality prevails only within it. Thus, there are many kinds of restrictions between castes— on the free acceptance of food and drink, on intermarriage and sex relations, on touching or going near a member of another caste, etc.—and they are expressed in terms of pollution. This means that failure to observe the rules makes the uppercaste person impure, and he has to perform a purificatory rite, simple or elaborate, according to the seriousness of the violation.
While caste is central, it does not entirely determine Hindu religious behavior. There are other aspects of the social structure that embody, religious behavior. The village community and the family also function as cult groups. There are deities—usually goddesses—in every village who, if suitably propitiated, keep out epidemics and drought and look after the villagers. There is an elaborate complex of rites de passage, including wedding rituals and funeral rites that may take several days to perform. Calendrical festivals and vratas, or ritual austerities carried out for specific periods to attain particular ends (e.g., birth of a son), consume a good part of people’s energies, time, and money.
It is important to demarcate those aspects of religious behavior that are affected by caste from those that are not. The relation between sect and caste, in particular, offers a fruitful area for research.
Hinduism does not have a body of clearly defined dogma, but some theological ideas may be considered basic. And while the many sects and schools have taken different standpoints on theological issues, the issues themselves are common to most. Since the time of the Upanisads, which laid the foundations of Hindu philosophical thinking, certain concepts recur again and again. A major issue has been the nature of Brahman (universal soul) and its relation with Ātman (the individual soul). One view is concerned only with this dichotomy, does not posit the existence of God, and considers Brahman as absolute and attributeless. (There was also the Chārv̄ka school, which was atheistic and hedonistic.) Most other views, however, recognize the existence of God and consider the issue of his relation with Brahman, on the one hand, and Ātman, on the other. The Ātman is considered to be indestructible and passes through an endless migration, or series of incarnations. The character of any incarnation, human, animal, or superhuman, is influenced by karma, the net balance of good and bad deeds in previous births. Goodness or badness is defined by reference to dharma. The reward for a saintly life is moksa, which releases the individual from the chain of births and deaths and brings him into contact with God.
The ideas of karma, dharma, and moksa are intimately related to the caste system. The Dharmasutra states that if a man does good deeds, he will be reborn in a high caste and well endowed, while if he does sinful acts, he will be reborn in a low caste or even as an animal. Dharma is thus identified with the duties of one’s caste, and birth in a particular caste becomes an index of the soul’s progress toward liberation.
The nature of moksa and how to achieve it are major issues in Hindu theology. The main ways of achieving moksa are through knowledge, deeds, and love and devotion toward God. Generally, the way of knowledge requires an individual to renounce the world, including caste and family, and lead the life of an ascetic. This way has been followed by only a few. It was the Bhagavad Gita that first emphasized the way of works and devotion and thus brought liberation within reach of the “man-in-the-world,” including women and the lower castes. The most popular form of devotion, however, is the worship of one’s chosen god according to tradition. In the last hundred years the Bhagavad Gita has been reinterpreted by Indian political leaders, including Gandhi and B. G. Tilak, to provide the basis for a life devoted to altruistic action.
Discussion of these issues by theologians has been in Sanskrit and in the context of ideas developed in logic, metaphysics, astronomy, grammar, literature, law, and other branches of traditional learning. The basic theological positions have, however, reached the common people through myths and stories narrated in local languages. How influential these ideas were and the nature of their relation to strictly local or sectional ideas and beliefs are still subjects for research (see, in this connection, Srinivas 1952, p. 227).
Sanskritic deities. Those deities whose attributes and modes of worship are described in mythological, liturgical, and other texts may be called Sanskritic. The Vedic pantheon reflects the syncretism that resulted from the conquest by nomadic Indo-European Aryans of the ancient urbanized civilizations of the Indus Valley and a continuing contact with the aboriginal tribal peoples of the subcontinent. Most of the deities, major and minor, are nature gods: Indra, the most prominent of all, is the sky god; Agni, the fire god; Varuna, the water god; Süryā, the sun god; and so on. Visnu, who later became a high god, began as only a minor figure, a mere aspect of the sun god. The Vedic god of thunder, Rudra, was at first associated with Siva, who eventually became the dominant partner. The chief Vedic gods were gradually transformed into the trinity of Brahma, the creator; Visnu, the protector; and Siva, the destroyer. Brahma does not appear in the Vedas but seems to have developed during the period of the Brāhmanas. His importance subsequently declined, and nowadays Visnu and Siva are the two most important gods.
Every major deity in Hinduism has many forms, and around each form there is a myth. Visnu has a number of incarnations, the chief of which are Rāma (man), Krishna (man), Narasimha (manlion), and Varaha (boar). The idea behind the many forms is that God periodically allows himself to be reborn on earth, to overcome evil and restore righteousness. In addition to incarnations, Visnu has one thousand names, according to the Mahābhārata, and many more according to other texts. Ramā and Krishna, originally incarnations of Visnu, became important gods in themselves, each with many forms and names. The idea of incarnation is not associated with Śiva, but he, too, has many names. In addition, each deity or each form of a deity has a wife, who is usually worshiped along with her husband.
Śakti, the personification of the female principle in the creation of the universe, occupies almost as important a place in the Hindu pantheon as Visnu and Śiva. In the Śakti cult a female deity is sometimes worshiped independently of association with a male deity, but when a male deity alone is worshiped, generally he is some form of Śiva rather than of Visnu. Further, Skanda and Ganeśa, the sons of Śiva, and Hanumant, the chief of the monkey army of Rāma, are also popular deities. The birds and animals on which the gods sit are called vahanas (“vehicles”) and are worshiped. The sun, moon, stars, fire, mountains, lakes, animals, snakes, trees, and plants continue to be objects of worship. Frequently river deities are anthropomorphized. For example, Ganga, or Ganges, is a form of the goddess Pārvatī, and many smaller rivers are be lieved to be manifestations of Ganga. The cobra cult in southern India is identified with Skanda. There are also deities symbolizing the synthesis of different deities, such as the three-headed Trimūrti and Dattatreya, representing the unity of Brahmā, Visnu and S̄iva. The union of S̄iva and Visnu is expressed in the composite god Harihara; Ardhanārīśvara represents an attempt to symbolize the unity of S̄iva and Pārvatī.
The henotheistic tendency is important in Hindu mythology and ritual: the deity who is being wor shiped is praised above all others. Pantheism prevails, but all deities, from Visnu or Śiva to the lowest village deity, are considered to be manifestations of the same god. These ideas have enabled Hinduism to absorb local cults and deities and even accept all other religions as true.
A Hindu temple embodies the henotheistic idea. There is, accordingly, one principal deity, from whom a temple derives its name and whose image occupies a prominent place in the temple, and there are also a few minor deities, represented by smaller images in different parts of the temple. Thus, in a Sivá temple Sivá would be the principal deity, and PārvatI, Ganesá, and the bull Nandi would be minor deities; whereas in a Sákti temple, Sákti would be the principal deity and Sivá would be one of the minor deities. Not all Hindu deities are associated with temples, however. Some of the Vedic deities, such as Varuna and Agni, are invoked mostly during sacrifices, while Brahmā and Sūrya seem to have had temples in the past but do not have them nowadays. Some deities (e.g., Ganeśa) have temples only in certain regions.
Like other religions, Hinduism has given birth to many sects in the course of its history, and it is not always easy to say whether a sect is within the Hindu fold or outside. Buddhism and Jainism had emerged as distinct sects by about the fifth century B.C., and both spread over wide areas, Buddhism, in particular, spreading over almost the entire country. But over the centuries their influence declined, and Buddhism had almost entirely disappeared from the country of its origin by about a.d. 1000. It is only in recent years that large numbers of Untouchables, in particular the Mahar of Maharashtra, became converted to Buddhism in protest against the indignities they were subjected to under the caste system. There is a sizable Jain population in India today, and Jains are very similar to Hindus. Not only are there castes among them, but some trading castes of Gujarat̄ have Jain and Hindu subdivisions, and marriage occurs across sect lines. Islam has presented a serious challenge to Hinduism. There are about 129.5 million Muslims (nearly 47 million in India and 82.5 million in Pakistan) in the subcontinent. While a small proportion of them came from the Middle East, the majority were converts from among the Hindus. They have a caste system in some ways similar to that of the Hindus, and the converts have retained many Hindu practices —so much so that in the case of some groups it is even now extremely difficult to say whether they are Hindu or Muslim. There are also sects (Kablrpanthi, Sikhism) and cults that combine both Hindu and Muslim traits. One of them, Sikhism, has claimed to be a distinct religion, but this does not mean that Sikhs do not have anything in common with Hindus. The Sikhs are divided into castes, with even an Untouchable division, and have veneration for Hindu holy places. Until recently, in many families in rural Punjab one son would become a Sikh while the others remained Hindu. Many Hindu castes became Sikhs in an effort to improve their status. The Pir̄na sect in Gujarat̄ and the recent Saibaba cult have both Hindu and Muslim followers. In its later phase the Bhakti movement was influenced by Sufism.
At the present time there are a very large number of sects, a few major and many minor. Each sect has a founder, a cult, a body of doctrine, and a social organization of its own.
In most sects one deity is considered to be supreme and is identified with the supreme Brah man. While Visnu, Sivá, and Śakti are the most important nuclei for the formation of sects, they are not, however, the only nuclei, sects having also arisen around Suryā, Ganesá, and Dattatreya. It is wrong to speak of a single, homogeneous sect associated with any of these deities. The many Vaisnavite sects, for example, are distinguished from each other, first, by the particular form of Visnu and his consort that they worship; and second, where the same form and consort are worshiped, by differences in the mode of worship and body of theological doctrine; and finally, by their internal organization. There are elaborate rules regarding the making of idols, and there is a systematized iconography. The Śrī-Vaisnavas worship Visnu and his consort Laksmī; the Madhvas worship Krishna but not R̄dhā; the Nim-barkas, Vallabhacharis, and Chaitanyaites worship both Krishna and Rādhā but differ in several other respects; and the Rāmanandis worship only Rāma and his associates. Comparable differences exist among Śivá and Śakti sects.
Each sect recognizes several minor deities, in cluding its chief deity’s spouse, but they rarely include the entire Hindu pantheon. In each sect the founder and the things associated with him are objects of special veneration. Each sect has an elaborate complex of rituals for temple and domestic worship and for life-cycle ceremonies. It has its own specially emphasized festivals and sacrifices and its own identifying word or sentence of great religious potency. A sect mark put on the forehead easily distinguishes a member of one sect from that of another.
The major sects are known for their distinctive philosophical standpoints, as for example, the pure monism of the Smartas, the qualified monism of the Sri-Vaisnavas, and the dualism of the Madhvas. Minor sects do not have elaborate philosophies, although they do have their own special ideas and beliefs. While the philosophical and ethical position of a sect is important in understanding its religious practices, other elements are influential.
Each sect has not only its own sacred literature, written by its founder and other leaders, but also a selective attitude toward the great texts of Hinduism.
Another major problem in the study of sects is understanding the nature of their relation to ascet icism. Sects composed entirely of ascetics repre sent a bizarre element in Hinduism. The members of these sects go about scantily clothed, smear their bodies with funeral ashes, wear long, matted hair, and perform a number of physical feats. They maintain monasteries (akhādas, literally “gymnasiums”), where they are reputed to carry on occult practices, and they also manage temples, which enable them to keep in touch with the masses and recruit members.
Sects composed entirely of householders and those consisting of both ascetics and householders are the most numerous and popular. The ascetics in the latter sects are grouped into different mon asteries, each having its own core of hereditary adherents and its corporate property in temples, land, etc. Many ascetics are found to be involved in intersectarian rivalry and politics. When a sect is composed only of householders, the patrilineal descendants of the founder preside over the sect.
There are many small sects, whose membership is confined to a single linguistic region or to a small area within a linguistic region, but the membership of the major sects cuts across language barriers. In the case of a major sect, it is necessary to distinguish between areas with a high concen tration of its members and areas with relatively few members. Thus, while the majority of the Madhvas are found in southern India, there are small groups of them in Gujarat̄, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar̄, and Bengal. While the majority of Valla bhacharis are found in Gujarat̄ and Rājasthān, there are small groups of them all over northern, western, and eastern India. Another noteworthy feature is that, while the majority of the members, temples, and monasteries of a sect may be found in one part of the country, it may have a temple or a monastery in each of the major pilgrim centers in the country. The founder of every major sect traveled about the country, first in search of knowledge, then to win dialectical battles, and finally, to give discourses and recruit followers. Frequently the founder and his followers came from different regions. There were centers of religious learning in different areas, and there was a convergence of schools of learning at each center; finally the centers were woven into networks. Some of these centers, such as Banāras, Vrindāban, and Śrīrangam, enjoyed high prestige, and a scholar’s victory in religious disputation may have taken place at the court of the king or at a religious fair.
Normally, membership in a sect, unlike that in a caste, is not hereditary but comes through initiation. And there is hardly any sect that is composed of only one jāti. Even the Lingāyat sect of the Kannada region, which is commonly regarded as a caste, is composed of a number of jātis, or endog-amous units. And even when a whole caste is included in a single sect, membership in the sect is not automatic but by initiation. Sometimes the members of a caste will be distributed among more than one sect, and some may not belong to any sect at all. Some castes in Gujarat̄ contain not only members of two or three Hindu sects but also Jains. Sometimes the members of a single family have different sectarian affiliations. The rise and fall of various sects over the centuries indicates that religious positions were not always determined by birth.
No sect recruits members from all castes. Untouchables are very rarely admitted into sects including the high castes; even a sect admitting “touchable” castes would cover only a certain span in the caste hierarchy. Generally speaking, Un touchables have produced their own sects. The older sects recruited brāhmans and higher non-brāhmans but not lower non-brāhmans, and there are sects founded by non-brāhmans that do not include brāhmans. Even though a sect includes members from more than one caste, caste distinctions are not entirely obliterated.
Nonsectarian Hinduism is found both in towns and villages; it is largely Sanskritic in towns and non-Sanskritic in villages.
Non-Sanskritic Hinduism is, however, an ideal type and has the following characteristics: the deities have non-Sanskritic names and oral myths attached to them; they are represented by unhewn stones or crude images; the modes of worship are local and do not follow any liturgy; offerings in clude meat and liquor, and the priests, or shamans, as well as the devotees, are generally drawn from the lower castes. All these conditions rarely occur simultaneously, and it is more common for the Sanskritic and non-Sanskritic elements to be mixed in varying proportions. Thus, a deity’s name may be a corrupt form of a Sanskritic name or a compound of a Sanskritic and a non-Sanskritic name. Usually village goddesses are regarded as manifestations of ParvatI, and village gods of Sivá. Such identification makes possible the acquisition of Sanskritic characteristics by non-Sanskritic deities, and it is not unknown for a deity with a single name to be worshiped according to non-Sanskritic modes in one village and Sanskritic modes in another. In one village the deity’s image may be housed in a fine temple, while in another it is embedded in the earth at the foot of a tree. Fre quently, there are institutionalized links between a village deity and the pilgrim center of the San skritic deity with which he is identified.
There are also temples to Sanskritic deities, where brāhmans are priests, the offerings vege tarian, and the mode of worship Sanskritic. But on certain occasions, such as the deity’s festival, the brahman withdraws and animals are sacrificially decapitated by a non-brahman. The brahman priest re-enters the temple only after purifying it. In temples where non-brāhmans are priests, brah mans may propitiate such a deity during an epi demic or other disaster. In exceptional situations a brahman might even make an offering of a fowl to a non-Sanskritic deity through a non-brahman friend.
It is important to note that the attitude of brāhmans and other high castes toward non-Sanskritic deities is not fixed and unalterable. There are different types of brāhmans, high as well as low, and learned as well as ignorant. (Among the Smarta brāhmans of Tamilnad, the priests, Kurukkals, are regarded as lower than other brāhmans. In Gujarat̄, the priestly Tapodhan brāhmans are rated very low indeed.) A learned brahman may have to oblige his powerful non-brahman patrons by manufacturing a myth in Sanskrit for one of their deities. Hindu mythology has grown in this manner (see the Appendix on “The Kaveri Myth” in Srinivas 1952, pp. 241-246).
A temple is sectarian only when it is part of a sectarian organization. In this sense a large ma jority of Hindu temples, including some of the biggest, are nonsectarian. Many of these are extremely wealthy, having vast land estates, large amounts of jewelry and precious metals, and also a considerable income from offerings by devotees. They employ many people and have an elaborate and complex body of ritual, calendrical festivals, special pūjās, etc. Although nonsectarian, these temples are subject to regional sectarian influ ences. For example, the modes of worship in non-sectarian temples of Krishna in Gujarat̄ are influ enced by the modes of worship prevalent in Krishna temples of the dominant Vallabhachari sect of the area.
In the majority of temples dedicated to San-skritic deities, the priests are brāhmans; only vege tarian and nonalcoholic offerings are made, and the rituals are conducted according to a liturgical text. Even in some Sivá temples, where priests are Lingayats (southern India) or Gosais (Gujarat̄), they perform liturgical rituals and make only vegetarian and nonalcoholic offerings. In many Sákti temples, particularly those influenced by the left-hand Sákti sects, the deity is worshiped according to the Tantric texts and offerings of meat and liquor are made. However, although Sanskritization has had a widespread effect, some temples continue to sacrifice animals and make liquor offerings on certain occasions. In Bengal, Bihar̄, and Assam blood sacrifice still remains a normal mode of worship.
Nonsectarian Hindus generally worship many deities, although there are some who are devotees of a single deity, sometimes a deity in a particular temple. It is common to see a devout Hindu going on a daily round of the principal temples in a village or in a ward of a city. They observe the festivals of Sivá, Visnu, and others, and they go on pilgrimages to great shrines all over the country.
Devout Hindus regarded their king as a repre sentative of God on earth. This belief was common to all, including brāhmans, who themselves claimed to be gods on earth. The social order, as repre sented by the caste system, was also believed to be divinely created. The rules of the social and moral order were subsumed under the ethicoreligious concept of dharma. In his role as the guardian of dharma, the king had to maintain the caste system. This meant that the idea of inequality expressed in the caste system had the king’s support and sanction. Different castes had different rights, duties, and privileges, and punishment had to take into account the caste of the offender and that of the victim. The disabilities traditionally imposed on untouchables also had the king’s sanction. His powers included the right to promote or demote individual castes, and he was the final court of appeal in any matter pertaining to caste. This power was so integral to kingship that it was exercised by the Mughal rulers and also by the British in their very early days in India.
It is important to remember that the king had this power, inasmuch as uncritical reliance on the sacred literature conveys the impression that the brāhmans were all-powerful and that kings only carried out their decisions. The privileges enjoyed by brāhmans and religious personages were in fact conferred on them by the king, and they could be withdrawn. As recently as 1892, in the princely state of Mysore, the government passed an order that all nominations to the headship of monasteries must have the prior approval of the maharaja, and failure to obtain this approval would involve the retraction of grants of land and money made by the state (Smith 1963, pp. 302-303). A swāmī, or head of a monastery, is revered, and the maharaja even performs the ritual of washing the feet of some swāmīs; but he also has the power to determine who becomes a swāmī.
The Hindu king had the same beliefs and values and took part in the same ceremonies as his peo ple, although the manner of his celebrating a festival or his devotion to a particular deity or temple often set the religious style of the kingdom. Temples favored by royalty (e.g., Tirupati, Tanjore, and Madurai) developed into great pilgrimage centers. They were generously endowed with land and jewelry; famous sculptors were invited to lavish their skill on them; and great musicians sang there on certain occasions. The conversion of a prince to a sect was an important event in its history, and a large number of people followed their king into the new faith. And while there is a tradition of tolerance in Hinduism, discrimination against the members of a rival sect was not unknown.
It is clear that no conceptual separation between the state and the church was possible in the Hindu system of ideas. Nor was the need for such a distinction very necessary. First, Hinduism did not possess a powerful, centralized church, with a sin gle pontiff and a hierarchy of officials, which would constitute a potential threat to kingly su premacy. Second, the castewise division of functions confined brāhmans to the religious realm, while the ksatriyas had the political realm to themselves. That a separation between the two did not always obtain should not surprise us. In fact, the development of sacrifice during the late Vedic period marked an increase in brahman power and arrogance, and Buddhism and Jainism both ap pealed to ksatriyas and vaiśyas, partly because of their rejection of brahman pretensions (Ghurye 1932, pp. 65, 69, 70, in 1950 edition). Speaking generally, it was not so much the throne that attracted brāhmans as the power behind it.
Hinduism has a tradition of tolerance, and Hindu rulers in general seem to have been hos pitable to different sects and religions. Hindu tolerance is, however, related to the caste system in several ways. First, each caste has its own style of life, and from childhood onward people accept diversity as a basis for relationship. Second, caste, along with village and extended kin groups, ensured conformity in practice, and a stable society could afford to give its members intellectual free dom. The other source of such freedom was the institution of the holy man, who ritually renounced the world—his relatives even performed funeral rites for him at his initiation into the order—and who could then preach as he wished. Max Weber has rightly said, “The freedom of thought in ancient India was so considerable as to find no parallel in the West before the most recent age” (quoted in Smith 1963, p. 62).
Hindu tolerance of other religions and its hospitality to new ideas provided a favorable soil for the eventual declaration of India as a secular state. There were, however, other tendencies, and certain nineteenth-century attempts (e.g., the Arya Samaj) to purge Hinduism of its many evils by advocating a return to the Vedas contained frankly revivalist elements. Moreover, Indian nationalism also expressed itself occasionally in the Hindu idiom, and this had the effect of alienating the Muslims. But during British rule there emerged a highly westernized Hindu elite, which, while rooted in the country and its traditions, was committed to independence, democracy, egalitarianism, and secularism. It is this elite that not only declared India a secular state but also attempted wholeheartedly to establish the principle of the equality of man.
Hinduism and economic development. Weber (1921) thought that the Hindu belief in the trans migration of the soul and the related doctrines of karma and dharma, seen in the context of caste, produced an irrational, otherworldly social ethic that prevented the development of industrial capi talism. Weber’s thesis has gained wide popularity, and Hinduism is now believed to be one of the major obstacles in India’s economic development. This belief, however, rests on a partial view of Hinduism. Weber himself noted a few elements of a “rational” ethic in Hinduism—the existence of this-worldly asceticism and positive economic motivation among Jains, Lingāyats, and Madhvas, and an occupational ethic among merchants and arti sans. There are elements in Hinduism favorable to economic development (Singer et al. 1958; Lambert & Hoselitz 1963). The very ascetics whom Weber considered disseminators of irrational and otherworldly ideas among the masses are often the heads of large and wealthy monasteries and temples, the management of which calls for considerable administrative ability.
Hindu reform and modernization. Hinduism has, in the course of its long history, undergone many and radical changes, and several diverse forces have contributed to making Hinduism what it is today. The establishment of the Pax Britannica released many new forces, affecting Hinduism at every point. The disruption by the British of some of the social institutions of Hinduism, such as caste, untouchability, satī, human sacrifice, female infanticide, infant marriage, etc., made it clear to the orthodox that the state could use its power to alter their religious institutions. European missionaries who came to India for evangelical pur poses sharply criticized Hinduism, and Hindus were made to realize poignantly that some influential outsiders thought that everything was wrong with their religion. Reformist Hindus—many of whom had attended mission schools—could not help remembering missionary criticisms of their religion, and in creating institutions to bring about changes in their society, they naturally emulated the organizations and work of their critics. From a long-term point of view the most important element in the reinterpretation and reformulation of Hinduism was the emergence of a westernized Indian elite, which eventually took over power from the British and which used that power to introduce fundamental changes, such as the abolition of untouchability, the legalization of inter-caste marriage, widow marriage, and divorce, and the enforcement of monogamy. It is this elite that after a century and a half of Western influence declared India to be a secular state. Secularism does not mean that evil social institutions will be allowed to flourish, just as the principle of equality has not prevented the state from giving a variety of special privileges to Scheduled Castes and Tribes for a specific period of time, in order to enable them to catch up with the others.
One of the great reforming leaders of the new elite was Rājā Rām Mohan Roy, who founded a religious society, the Brāhma Samāj, in 1828. A daring religious thinker, scholar, and educator, Ram Mohan Roy was influenced by Vedānta and Islam before he studied Christianity; he was a monotheist and opposed to idolatry. He was an able and courageous controversialist and fought the or thodox pandits with arguments they could appreciate. For instance, in his efforts to purge Hinduism of the idolatrous accretions it had acquired over the centuries, he advocated a return to Vedic Hinduism: “Like Luther, who appealed to the Bible as an authority against medieval corruptions, he took his stand on the Vedas, the earliest Hindu scriptures, in which he found a form of pure Hinduism, of which the basis was a belief in one God, which was not vitiated by idolatry, and which gave no sanction to distinctions of caste or such practices as suttee” (O’Malley 1941, p. 67). (Dayananda Saraswati, who founded the Ārya Sāmaj, a religious brotherhood, in 1875, was only following Ram Mohan Roy in his efforts to introduce radical changes in Hinduism by championing a revival of Vedic Hinduism.) Ram Mohan Roy was aware that an appeal to the authority of the Vedas would carry weight with the orthodox pandits, and he set the style for a debate that went on for nearly a hundred years between reformists and diehards, both of whom quoted the scriptures in support of their views.
Ram Mohan Roy also discovered that a principle of reason lay at the basis of the classical Indian philosophy of Vedanta, as set forth in the Upanisads. “Ram Mohan Roy abandoned the traditionally accepted bases of Hindu religion and Brahminic authority in favor of reason. Hinduism could be justified in its essentials on the ground that it provided a reasoned explanation of reality. Everything from the West could be considered in the same light. There could be assimilation and not merely borrowing at random” (Spear 1961, p. 296). He thus laid the foundation for a reinterpretation of Hinduism freeing it not only from social institutions such as caste and untouchability but also from a welter of beliefs, ideas, myths, and ritual. He did not regard these as the “essence” of Hinduism. The essence was selected portions of the Vedanta, the Bhagavad Gita, and bhakti or devotional literature. Subsequent reformers, such as Vivekānanda, Saraswati, Aurobindo Ghose, Tilak, Gandhi, and Rādhākrishnan, carried on the work of reinterpretation. Over the years the reformers, the greatest of whom was Gandhi, built up a body of public opinion in favor of introducing drastic changes in Hinduism. It was this opinion which later enabled the state to take legislative action against certain Hindu practices that were repugnant to the modern outlook.
The second half of the nineteenth century saw the beginnings of the growth of nationalist sentiment among Hindus, and nascent patriotism drew upon Hindu sentiment and traditions. A concern for the people and the country inevitably meant activism, and the Bhagavad Gita provided a religious source for political activism and altruism. The karma marga, or “path of works,” received emphasis at the expense of the other two paths. Two contrary processes have been gaining strength in modern India. The first one is Sanskritization, a process by which the rites, customs, beliefs, and style of life of the higher castes, and in particular the brāhmans, are taken over by the lower groups, including the Untouchables and the tribal peoples. But while the lower groups in creasingly Sanskritize their style of life, the higher strata become increasingly westernized. Westernization, like Sanskritization, is a multilayered process, including the acceptance of Western technology, Western political, legal, and social institutions, and Western literature, philosophy, and science. The spread of Sanskritization and west ernization across the country and to different structural levels is beginning to produce nationwide uniformities in religion and culture. Everywhere village deities traditionally associated with epidemics of diseases such as plague, smallpox, and cholera seem to be losing ground, while the prestigious Sanskritic deities are becoming more popular. Blood sacrifices and offerings of liquor to deities are also becoming less popular. The horizon of the peasant is widening, and the richer peasants now visit pilgrimage centers several hundred miles away from their villages. Films, radio, textbooks, newspapers, journals, and paper back books are strengthening “regional” and “all-India” Hinduism, at the expense of strictly “local” forms. Life-cycle rituals are becoming abbreviated, while the purely social aspects of such rituals get elaborated; this seems to be particularly true of educated Hindus in towns. In fact, the forms Hinduism is taking among the educated urban Hindus is only beginning to be explored by social scientists (see, for example, Singer 1959). The search for a satisfying philosophy leads many members of this class to become devotees of one or another spiritual leader. Some of these leaders are traditional heads of monasteries, while others are modern figures. Hinduism has in the past depended upon caste, village, joint family, Hindu kings, monasteries, and centers of pilgrimage for its perpetuation. Radical changes have occurred in all of them. Moreover, there has been a growth in secularization, egalitarianism, and rationalism. But new organizations such as the Ramakrishna Mission, the various hermitages of religious leaders, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, and finally, departments of the central government such as the All-India Radio, and in some states departments supervising temple administration, are reinterpreting Hinduism in a modern direction.
M. N. Srinivas and A. M. Shah
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"Hinduism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 8, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/hinduism
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The word Hinduism is used to denote the religious beliefs, practices, and social views of people who form the religious majority (approximately 80%) of India. Approximately 90 percent of Hindus live in India, and almost 70 percent of Indians live in its villages. The earliest stages of religious life in India date as far back as between 3000 and 1500 b.c.e.as it was practiced in the Indus Valley civilization. The Aryans, a people who spoke an Indo-European language, invaded India around 1500 b.c.e., conquering and subduing the indigenous inhabitants, and assimilating some elements of the latter's religious worldview into their own. Subsequently, the Vedic religion of the Aryans gained prominence as they settled and spread throughout India. Since then, orthodox Hinduism has evolved for almost 3500 years and has undergone numerous changes in the face of challenges from within (Buddhism and Jainism) and without (Islam and Christianity). These extensive evolutionary developments have kept Hinduism from becoming a homogeneous religious system. Hinduism is complex, and the beliefs and practices of the various traditions within Hinduism are diverse to the extent that they may seem contradictory. However, there are some beliefs that are commonly held by almost all Hindus.
Basic Beliefs of Hindus
Hindus hold to a cyclical view of human life. All sentient beings (human beings and members of the animal world) have an atman (the true self, or loosely translated as soul), which reincarnates by undergoing a number of births and rebirths. This notion of reincarnation is called samsara. An atman can reincarnate as an animal or human being, and rebirth as a human being is considered superior to an animal form of life. The bodily form an atman assumes in the next life is determined by the totality of one's karma (deeds or actions) of the present life. If, as a human being, a person lives a life in which good deeds outnumber bad deeds, then the atman reincarnates into a human being with a purer spiritual nature, which enables the possibility of further superior rebirths. The opposite is true if one's bad deeds outnumber one's good deeds. The goal of all human beings is to attain moksha—liberation from the endless cycle of births and rebirths. When a person attains moksha, he or she is believed to enter into a state where one's atman becomes one with Brahman. Brahman is the impersonal term referring to the eternal, universal, infinite, spiritual reality, and essence that humanity personally refers to as God (Brahman is often confused with the priestly group in Hinduism called Brahmans. However, to distinguish between the two, the latter is spelled either as Brahmin or without a capital "b").
In Hinduism, there are three margas (paths) through which a person can attain moksha. The first path is jnana-marga. Jnana can be translated as awareness or insight. When a person becomes aware that he or she is simply a drop in the ocean of Brahman and begins to detach him or herself from worldly statuses and possessions, he or she can begin to move towards moksha through jnana-marga. The second path is karma-marga, which entails faithful participation in ritual sacrifices that are often dictated and presided over by a Brahmin (priest). The third path is bhakti-marga. Bhakti refers to a selfless devotion and commitment to a personal deity.
The two most commonly worshipped deities in Hinduism are Vishnu and Shiva. Vishnu is the deity who preserves life, and is also worshipped as Krishna or Rama, who are believed to be two of Vishnu's nine earthly incarnations (avataras). Vishnu will incarnate for the tenth time when our present age morally deteriorates into injustice and chaos. Unlike Vishnu, Shiva does not incarnate into human form. Shiva is worshipped based on the variety of attributes he manifests. Shiva shows benevolence towards devotees who appeal to him for assistance. Shiva is also feared as the deity who takes away human life and destroys the cosmos, and yet, he is also believed to be the one who recreates a new cosmos after destroying the previous one. As the god of death, Shiva is believed to frequent cremation grounds. Shiva is also the model of an ascetic since he is believed to be sitting in calm meditation in the Himalayan Mountains. Reverence and worship of the female counterparts of Vishnu and Shiva are equally significant. Lakshmi is the divine consort of Vishnu. Parvati is that of Shiva when she is imaged as a benevolent mother; in her fierce forms, Parvati is manifested as the goddesses Kali and Durga. Devotion to Durga and Kali is referred to as the Shakti tradition. Shakti (often translated as energy) is the active dimension of the passive ascetic Shiva. Apart from these main deities, almost each village in India has its own local grama-devatas (village deities). Nevertheless, when a Hindu is questioned about the complexity of multiple deities, the common response is, "there are many names, but God is One."
The oldest scriptures in Hinduism are the Vedas, but the three most popular Hindu scriptures are the two great epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and the Bhagavad-Gita, which is a philosophical section in the Mahabharata. The Puranas are a collection of stories of the Hindu gods and goddesses, and the lives of the great heroes and heroines of the Hindu faith.
The traditional caste system consists of a hierarchy of four castes (varnas): Brahmins (priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), Vaishyas (merchants and cultivators), and Shudras (servants). The non-Aryans who were incorporated into the Aryan society belonged to the Shudra caste. Those who were rejected on the grounds of ritual impurity were treated as and called Untouchables because members of the four castes did not associate with them. With the expansion and spread of the Hindu worldview throughout India, the division, hierarchy, and names of the traditional castes were not maintained, with the exception of the Brahmins, who claimed and were acknowledged as possessing a degree of ritual purity that retained their superiority above the other castes. The word dharma is central to Hindu belief. Hindus often refer to their religion as Hindu Dharma, basically stating that Hinduism is a way of life rather than a religion.
The key constructors and defenders of the caste system, the Brahmins, claimed that the presence of an organized caste system, with its elaborate rules and required caste duty (dharma), prevented society from degenerating into chaos. The Brahmins thus devised rules for each caste (varna) in accordance with the four stages (ashramas) in the life of a man (the Vedic society was patriarchal): celibate student, married householder, retired forest dweller, and the ascetic stage. This whole system was called varnashrama dharma— the duties of each caste in the four stages of a man's life. In the first stage, a boy receives his education by studying under a guru, and in the second stage he marries and has children. In the third stage, he retires with his wife to the forest after handing over the responsibility of the household to his oldest son. In the final stage he sends his wife home to their son and renounces all contact with the society by becoming an ascetic, and attempting to pursue moksha with greater intention. Among the four stages of the ashramas, most people only completed the first three. Retired couples usually stayed with their oldest son, and very rarely did a man become an ascetic in his old age. Basically, the concept of the four ashramas sought to synthesize the necessity of order in society and the spiritual liberation (moksha) of the individual.
With the advent and expansion of modern industries and Western education in the postindependent (after 1947) cities of India, the significance and demands of the caste system has weakened. In the major cities, a person's professional and economic status often determines his or her social standing. The secular constitution of India also outlaws untouchability and recognizes all Indian citizens as equal. Almost all urban Hindus intermingle professionally and socially, and many marry outside their caste. However, in rural areas and smaller towns, the stringent nature of the caste system and its requirements continue to define society and the lives of its members.
Hinduism and the Family
The Hindu view of caste, ashramas, and family are inseparable—every person is born into a family belonging to a particular caste, and passes through the four stages of life by practicing dharma appropriate to each stage of life.
Among the four ashramas, the second stage of the married householder is central because it births and sustains the three other ashramas. When a man marries, he pays the three debts he owes to the ancestors, the gods, and his teacher (guru). To the ancestors, a married man pays his debt by having children, especially a male child, to continue the family lineage. Since the surname of the average Hindu is usually the family name, when a son is born the family name continues. This is not the case with daughters, who marry into another family and take up the surname of their husbands. Continuing the family lineage and its name is crucial because the memories and integrity of the ancestors are kept alive through these. The name (specifically surname) of a family is often synonymous with integrity and respect. Maintaining family integrity is necessary because it reflects the extent to which family members are faithful to theirdharma. When a son marries a woman from a reputable family, earns a living through a just and honest vocation, and provides for his family, he honors the ancestors. Furthermore, because dharma is inclusive of religious traditions and practices relating to moksha, when a man imparts family dharma to his children, he enables their salvation and that of generations to come.
As a householder, a man pays back debts owed to the gods, the providers of prosperity and comfort, by offering appropriate sacrifices and prayers to them. Giving alms to the poor and religious mendicants, and occasionally feeding Brahmins and financially remunerating them for their services, are also deemed as acts symbolizing gratitude to the gods for material benefits enjoyed by a family. A man pays back debts owed to his guru by transmitting knowledge and wisdom received from the guru to his children. However, in the cities and towns of India, and in some villages, the average child rarely studies under a guru. In these contexts, a Western school system is the common mode of education. Furthermore, girls are equal recipients of education in cities and major towns. Urban Indian women who receive a Western form of education hold professional jobs just like their Western counterparts. Many of these women also contribute substantially to household income and have an equal voice in family decisions.
For Hindus, a family is larger than the nuclear family; family includes the extended family— maternal and paternal grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. In India, especially in towns and villages still untouched by a free-market economic structure and modern culture that dominates the cities, many people are born into a joint family system. A joint family basically comprises paternal parents, their sons, daughters-in-law, unmarried daughters, and grandchildren. Here, the oldest male is the head of the entire household. Respect for a family member is based on age because the older a person, the wiser he or she is about family dharma. The older men make the financial decisions, and the older women are often informally consulted. In instances where a joint family does not exist, older members as still consulted before important decisions are made, especially in relation to marriage. Among Hindus, the family is the ideal environment through which Hindu dharma is passed from one generation to another—a child begins learning about religious traditions, epic stories, ethics, norms, and values, especially by the example set by family members.
When a person marries in the context of a Hindu family, he or she may literally wed an individual, but on a broader level a person marries into a family. Because a family is the embodiment of dharma, a prospective bride is considered a candidate only when the traditions, practices, and economic status of her family match that of the prospective bridegroom's family. Most Hindu marriages are arranged—relatives and friends suggest the name and family of prospective brides or bridegrooms. Before a family considers a person as a candidate for their son or daughter, the family Brahmin is consulted to examine the horoscopes of the two individuals concerned, and to suggest whether there is a possible match. In a rural setting, after the approval of the family Brahmin, the decision regarding marriage is almost always made by the parents and the extended family of the people involved. In this context, very rarely are the prospective bride or groom's opinions considered. If this process does not result in a wedding, the family search for a bride and bridegroom continues until two families agree that their son and daughter would make a good couple. Among middle class families in Indian cities, depending on the level of conservatism, the man and woman may be allowed to meet alone on one or a number of occasions before a marriage decision is made. Since the 1990s, with the increase of the influence of Western culture, many young men and women in major Indian cities find a prospective bride or bridegroom through the process of a friendship or dating, and then inform their parents of their mutual attraction. However, in the final decision, the families of the man and woman are definitely involved. Unlike in the West, a man and a woman do not get engaged and then inform their families of the "good news."
Household Religious Practice
Almost every Hindu home has a shrine or altar that contains metal, wood, stone, or print images of the family deity and other gods and goddesses. After bathing in the morning, family members, especially married adults, devote time to a brief ritual and prayers (puja) in front of the altar before they begin their daily tasks. Prayers are performed at least twice a day, in the morning and at night. In most families, the mothers play a central role in maintaining the religious life of the family. Mothers pray for the well-being of their husbands and children, teach their children about the basic elements of the family faith, lead the family prayers and rituals on significant religious days, and undergo fasts on behalf of the family.
Major Hindu Family Rituals
There are four major samskaras, or life-cycle rites, that mark the prominent transitions of a Hindu's life. These are namakarana (naming of a child), upanayana (initiation thread ceremony for males of the first three castes), vivaha (wedding), and antyeshi samskara (funeral sacrament). A Brahmin is usually involved in conducting these rituals. Along with the nuclear and extended family, relatives and friends attend and participate in these rituals. The death rite has to be performed by the son (preferably the oldest), or the closest male extended family member or relative who is available. In the case of the wedding and funeral rites, the ceremonies can last for many days. The most expensive of these rituals is the wedding ceremony because most families like to celebrate it with pomp and show.
Hinduism Beyond India
There is not one single form of Hinduism practiced outside India. Hindus from all parts of India belonging to various castes have migrated overseas, taking with them the traditions and practices that they were brought up in at home. The social, political, and economic environment of the countries that Hindus have migrated to influence their faith and practices. However, the basic beliefs and practices of Hindus in and outside India do not differ.
Outside India, religious movements devoted to the teachings of a particular guru (religious teacher and usually the founder of the movement) have flourished. Gurus have been instrumental in nurturing the faith of Hindus, functioned as mediators of tradition, and offered advice on how the faith is to be practiced in foreign lands. Many of these gurus and their movements have often attracted followers from other ethnic backgrounds. This has altered the traditional definition of Hinduism as a religion whose members are strictly ethnic Indians. Many Hindus of other ethnic backgrounds founded religious movements that promote Hinduism and make it attractive to mostly non-Indian ethnic groups. These movements follow the basic teachings and practice of Hinduism, but do not contain elements of the faith that are influenced by the Hindu social world in India, such as the caste system. Common practices of these groups are the chanting of mantras, meditation, hatha yoga, and belief in reincarnation and vegetarianism. These movements have often successfully filled a spiritual vacuum and offer an alternative to Christian and Western ideas and practices.
Among Hindus outside India, the family continues to be the place where children are nurtured in Hindu dharma. In this context, women particularly are influential in the spiritual lives of children. For diaspora Hindus, a developed Hindu identity becomes a crucial issue for their children because they live among people of numerous faiths; therefore, efforts are made to inculcate the Hindu faith to their children more deliberately. Children often attend classes (similar to Christian Sunday school) on the Hindu faith at temples and religious centers, where the Hindu community gathers on Sundays and religious holidays. However, Hindu children outside India do not share the same experience as those in India who are surrounded by the Hindu social world, and where Hinduism is the largest religious group. Hindus outside India are always part of a religious minority, which alters some of the dynamics of the social beliefs and practices in which children are brought up. Thus, it is common for families to visit India during vacations to expose their children to Hinduism as family relatives living in India practice it. During such trips, families make pilgrimages to holy sites and make special vows and offerings to the deities.
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laju m. balani
scott w. taylor
"Hinduism." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 8, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hinduism
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Hinduism embraces a great diversity of beliefs and forms of worship, and it has therefore been called a “family of religions” rather than one religion. Hindus form the majority population of India (approximately 82% of India’s 1.25 billion people). About 45 million Hindus live outside of India, mostly in the neighboring countries of Nepal (where Hinduism is the state religion), Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. About 2.5 million Hindus live in North America, where they have established dozens of temples.
British authors in the early nineteenth century coined the term “Hinduism” by adding “-ism” to the word Hindu, which had been used by the Ancient Persians to identify the inhabitants of the land beyond the Indus River. Hindus themselves had called their tradition Vaidika dharma (the Vedic Dispensation) or Sanātana dharma (the Eternal Law). The Vedic civilization arose in northwestern India around 4000 BCE, and the Indus civilization (c. 2500–1900 BCE) may have been part of it. When the settlements had to be abandoned around 2000 BCE, due to a major climate change, most moved east into the Yamunā-Ganges Doab, which became the new home of Vedic civilization, with Mathurā (on the Yamunā) and Vārāņasī (on the Ganges) as main cultural centers.
Hinduism is closely tied to the land, and the Mātrī-bhūmī (Motherland) has a unique emotional appeal for Hindus. The physical features of the country are associated with Hindu gods and goddesses and with Hindu religious practices and eschatological expectations. The great rivers of India are not only important bodies of water; they are also sources of inspiration and ritual purification, as well as divinities to be worshipped. Many towns and cities along their banks are places where pilgrims congregate to obtain supernatural blessings. In addition, mountains such as the Himālayas, the Vindhyas, the Ghats, and the Nilgiri Hills are the abodes of gods. Hundreds of thousands of temples, small and large, embellish India’s landscape, visibly transforming the country into the Hindu Holy Land.
Hindu scriptures have come down through the ages in two major streams: the Vedas and the Āgamas. The Vedas are the literature of the religious professionals, to be memorized and recited only by Brahmins. They comprise the four Samhitās (collections of hymns) and a large number of Brāhmaṇas (ritual texts), Āraṇyakas (forest treatises), and Upaniṣads (mystical writings). The Āgamas are the sacred literature of the people at large. The Great Epics, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, are also important sources of Hindu religion.
Many Hindus consider the Bhagavadgîtā, a section of the Mahābhārata, an epitome of their religion. The Purāṇas, bible-like compendia of Hindu lore, are widely read by Hindus from all classes. Numerous texts are considered to be revealed scriptures by the followers of specific worship traditions. They contain creation narratives, moral teachings, worship rituals, genealogies of kings and patriarchs, myths of gods and goddesses, edifying stories, and eschatological lore. Based on these texts, poets and playwrights such as Kālidāsa and Bāna (fifth or sixth century CE) produced dramatic literature of a high order in Sanskrit. Poet-saints such as Tulasīdāsa and Kamban (sixteenth century CE) created popular vernacular versions of the classics that continue to be performed, while countless “Bollywood” films take their stories from these books.
The language of the most ancient literary documents of Hinduism, “Vedic” is an archaic form of Sanskrit, the “refined language,” standardized around 600 BCE by Pānini. Sanskrit was called Deva-vāni, or the “language of the gods.” It became the language of Hindu scholarship and classical poetry as well as Hindu religious literature. All modern North Indian vernaculars are largely derived from Sanskrit.
Domestic and public rituals were a prominent feature of early Vedic culture and were considered indispensable for the well-being of individuals and society. In their performance, hundreds of intricate and interrelated rules had to be observed. The construction of the altars demanded the solution of difficult arithmetic and geometric problems, and the timing of sacrifices was based on precise astronomical observations. The change of seasons was accompanied by rituals, as were the various life stages. Public offerings ensured the fertility of fields and domestic animals, while home rituals accompanied birth, adolescence, marriage, and death. In later centuries pūjā, the worship of great gods like Visnu and Śiva, became the predominant form of religion. But the performance of Vedic rituals continues to this very day. For example, Brahmins still recite Vedic hymns at upanayaṇa (initiation), vivāha (marriage), and antyṣṭi (last rites). Many Hindus participate in daily temple worship and partake of consecrated food (prasāda), and the major temple festivals are great public events for every village and town. Domestic rituals, such as offering food to the deity or waving lights before the image of the deity, are also still widespread in India.
Traditional Hindu society functioned on the assumption that humans are not born equal and that their birth in different varṇas (classes) defines their specific rights and duties. According to the Puruṣa Sūkta, the Vedic creation myth, Brahmins, born from the Great Being’s mouth, were the custodians of the Veda, the highest in rank. Kṣatriyas (or Kshatriyas), born from its chest, were rulers and warriors. Vaiśyas (Vaisyas), born from its belly—businesspeople, artisans, farmers and clerks—had to provide the necessities of life for society at large. Śūdras (Sudras), originating from its feet, were to serve the upper three varṇas. The three higher varṇas alone were entitled to receive the saṃskāras (sacraments) that made them dvi-jātis (twice-born). Ati-śūdras (Ati-sudras), the people below the Śūdras (also called Asprihyas or untouchables) were outside the pale of Hindu society proper. They were relegated to doing work that was considered ritually polluting, such as skinning carcasses, cleaning latrines, and disposing of the dead. They were not allowed to dwell in the village proper and were not entitled to using amenities reserved for caste people. Each of the four varṇas consists of hundreds of jātis (birth lines, or subcastes) that also observe ranking among themselves.
Duties also varied with respect to stages in life. A twice-born male was to spend the first twelve years after initiation with a reputable teacher (brahmacarya). He then had to marry and to procreate children. After the children had grown up he was to live as a forest-dweller in a life of simplicity and meditation. Finally he was to enter the stage of renunciation, and as a homeless pilgrim he was to visit holy places until death relieved him of the burden of his body. While this schema was never literally carried out on a large scale, it provided a value orientation that was widely respected.
Early in their history, Hindus developed principles of theory and practice of government (rajya-dharma). The Mahābhārata devotes long sections to this, and the Kautilîya Arthaśāstra, ascribed to the prime minister of Chandragupta Maurya (321–293 BCE), provides a detailed description of a well-ordered professional administration. One of the aims of the Hindu jāgaran (awakening) that began in the early twentieth century was to reestablish India as a Hindu nation. The Hindū Mahāsabhā, the first modern Hindu political party, was founded in 1909. It maintained that “Hindus have a right to live in peace as Hindus, to legislate, to rule themselves in accordance with Hindu genius and ideals and establish by all lawful and legal means a Hindu State, based on Hindu culture and tradition, so that Hindu ideology and way of life would have a homeland of its own” (Pattabhiram, p. 217). Vir Savarkar, one of its main ideologues, strove to unify Hindu-India under the banner of “Hindutva,” a cultural Hindu identity. In 1926, K. V. Hedgewar founded the Rāṣṭrīya Svayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in order to counteract Muslim influence in Indian politics. The RSS leader M. S. Golwalkar was instrumental in creating the Viśva Hindū Pariṣad in 1964, which aims at unifying all Hindus across the different denominations. It vigorously promotes and defends Hindu interests both within India and abroad.
In the sixth century BCE, movements arose in India that challenged the necessity of rituals (especially the animal sacrifices) and the mediating function of Brahmins. Among the breakaway factions that survived the centuries are Jainism and Buddhism. Jîna Mahāvîra, the last reformer of a more ancient religion, declared ahiṃsā (nonkilling) to be the highest moral principle. Gautama Buddha, the latest of a long series of “Enlightened” ones, taught that ethical perfection, rather than birth, made a person a Brahmin. For several centuries the traditions based on the teachings of these sages, Jainism and Buddhism, respectively, were the majority religions in India. Under the Imperial Guptas (320–540 CE), the Brahmins launched a major campaign to lure people back to Hindu rituals. They built temples and encouraged the composition of popular religious books. After the disintegration of the Gupta Empire, many smaller kingdoms arose in various parts of India. Hindu culture also reached out to Southeast Asia as far as the Philippines, and the languages and arts of Southeast Asia still show a strong Indian influence. From the twelfth century onward, most of India came under the rule of Muslim invaders, who destroyed many Hindu temples and built mosques on their sites. These actions are still the cause of much friction between Hindus and Muslims today.
Vedic religion was family based. Specific branches (śākhas) of the Veda were preserved in individual families, who held hereditary offices in public rituals. The home was also a center for religious practices, and the sacred hearth-fire was not allowed to die out. Families were responsible for the life-cycle rituals, and husband and wife together had to perform the domestic rituals. Young boys moved into the families of gurus to be taught. The role of the guru reached great prominence when specific worship communities developed under the leadership of charismatic personalities, who often claimed to be the embodiment of a deity. These ācāryas (Masters) shaped mainstream Hinduism and still exercise great influence on Hindus at large, regulating the lives of their followers and reinterpreting scriptures and traditional teachings.
Pluralism was a hallmark of Hindu religion from its very beginning. Many gods and goddesses are invoked in Vedic hymns, and Hindus continue to worship a great variety of deities in their temples. There is no common creed to which all Hindus subscribe, nor is there a single doctrine or practice that is followed by all Hindus, except perhaps the nominal acceptance of the Veda as a revealed scripture and the belief in karma and rebirth. It is natural for Hindus with an inquiring mind to analyze and investigate the teachings of their traditions, and professional philosophers with a Hindu background also deal with religious issues in a philosophically meaningful way. Hindu philosophical systems (darśanas) are not mere abstract constructs, they are also paths for the realization of the highest purpose of life (sādhanas). Among the qualifications required for beginning philosophical study is the earnest desire to find liberation from the sufferings of the cycle of rebirths (samsāra), caused by ignorance concerning the true nature of reality.
Education was always a high priority for Hindus: the early life of Brahmins was devoted to study, and continued private study (svādhayāya) was one of their lifelong obligations. In addition to the private, tutorial-like teaching from guru to disciple, imparted in the guru’s home, schools were attached to ashrams and temples from early on. The well-organized, ancient Indian universities, which were publicly as well as privately sponsored, taught not only the Veda, but also the “eighteen sciences,” later supplemented by the “sixty-four arts.” The basic curriculum included linguistics, arts and crafts, medicine, logic and spirituality. High ethical standards were expected both from students and teachers. The most famous of these universities were Takṣaśīlā in the Punjab, and Nālandā and Mithilā in Bihar.
Hindus believe in a balance of values, expressed in the four aims of life (puruṣārthas): the acquisition of wealth (artha), the enjoyment of life (kāma), the practice of morality (dharma), and the search for final emancipation (mokṣa).
The central ritual of Vedic culture was performed at astronomically fixed times on altars built with specifically produced bricks arranged in a prescribed geometric pattern. The altar was conceived as a symbol of the human body as well as of the universe: the 360 bricks of an altar represented the 360 days of the year and the 360 bones in the human body. The building of altars in different configurations, and their change in shape and volume, involved a sophisticated geometry. The Śulva-sūtras provided the rules for constructing a variety of shapes of altars and their permutations. Astronomical knowledge of a fairly high order was required to determine the right time for the performance of Vedic sacrifices. One of the auxiliary Vedic sciences, the Jyotiṣa, explains how to determine the positions of the sun and moon at solstices, and of the new and full moon in the circle of the twenty-seven nakṣatras. Geometry and other fields of Indian mathematics developed out of the requirements for the Vedic sacrifice. Algebra, in spite of its Arabic name, is an Indian invention, as are the concept of “zero,” the decimal system, and “Arabic” numerals.
The Atharvaveda contains invocations relating to bodily and mental diseases. Its auxiliary Āyurveda, (life-science) was mainly oriented toward preventing diseases and healing through herbal remedies. Good health was not only considered generally desirable, it was viewed as a precondition for reaching spiritual fulfillment. Medicine as a “charity” was widely recommended and supported by Hindu rulers. Two Indian medical handbooks, the Cāraka-saṃhitā and the Suśruta-saṃhitā, were the result of centuries of development and became famous in the ancient world far beyond India. Āyurveda was also applied to animals and plants, and there is an ancient handbook for professional gardeners and a text for cattle veterinarians. Other works deal with veterinary medicine relating to horses and elephants. Ancient India had both hospitals and animal clinics, and Gośālas, places in which elderly cattle are provided for, are still popular in some parts of India. Āyurveda was the source of much of ancient Greek and Roman, as well as mediaeval Arabic medical knowledge. In modern times, Ayurvedic pharmacology has become recognized by major Western pharmaceutical companies and researchers.
In connection with the building of temples, Hindus developed a great architectural tradition. No village or city was deemed inhabitable without a temple. Professional handbooks like the Manasāra and the Mayamata provide artistic and religious canons for the architects and sculptors.
Adhyātma-vidyā, the science relating to Brahman, the Supreme Reality, was considered the highest branch of science. It rested on personal experience, a coherent episte-mology, and the exegesis of revealed utterances. The ideas of the Upanishads were further developed into the systematic of Vedānta philosophy, mainly laid down in numerous commentaries on the Brahma-sútras ascribed to Bādarāyaṇa (second century BCE). Beginning with Śaākara (eighth century CE), through Rāmānuja (eleventh century) to Madhva (thirteenth century), the greatest minds of India have endeavored to cultivate the science of the eternal spirit.
For many centuries, membership in the Hindu community was restricted to those who were born from Hindu parents and who had undergone the various prescribed rituals that made a Hindu a full member of the Hindu community. But even in ancient times, many foreigners who came to India adopted Hindu thought and culture. With the establishment of British rule in India and the advent of Christian missionaries, the interest of Hindus in spreading their religion abroad was awakened. Swami Vivekananda’s much celebrated presentations at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, and his subsequent journey through the United States and England, resulted in the establishment of Vedanta Centers. Mahatma Gandhi, who led the Indian independence movement to success on the basis of the Hindu ideal of nonviolence, did much to gain worldwide respect for Hinduism. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the president of India from 1962 to 1967, became the voice of the twentieth-century Hindu intelligentsia, representing Hinduism as the most advanced form of universal spirituality. The numerous Hindu swamis and gurus who came to the West beginning in the 1960s familiarized thousands with sectarian Hinduism and attracted many Westerners to joining Hindu religious communities. In the twenty-first century, many Hindu authorities have given up their reservations and freely accept Western converts to Hinduism.
SEE ALSO Buddhism; Caste; Caste, Anthropology of; Jainism; Religion; Sikhism
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Klaus K. Klostermaier
"Hinduism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 8, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/hinduism-0
"Hinduism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved March 08, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/hinduism-0
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In India "death in the midst of life" is a literal, not figurative, notion. Along the Ganges River, for instance, bodies are regularly cremated, and the odor of burning flesh fills the air. And in the city of Calcutta, dead bodies become a problem to those responsible for keeping the streets clean. Thus, it is not surprising that in India's sacred texts and stories, how one lives one's life determines one's fate after death.
Hinduism As a Religion
The roots of Hinduism go back to the Indus civilization in the third millennium B.C.E., but it is only with the migratory waves of Indo-European Aryans in the late second millennium B.C.E. that researchers have access to Hindu ideas about death and afterlife. The religious rituals that were brought by the Aryan pastoral nomads mingled with the customs of the native peoples, the Dravidians, and the culture that developed between them has come to be known as classical Hinduism. The word Hindu comes from the Sanskrit name for the river Indus. Hindu was not originally a religious term but was used by Persians and Greeks in the first millennium B.C.E. as a name for the people east of the Indus River. Muslims later borrowed the term Hindu to designate the non-Muslim population of India, and the British (who governed India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) used it in much the same way. In its current usage, Hindu refers to those who follow the mainstream religious traditions of India and accept, at least nominally, the authority of the ancient priestly scriptures known as the Vedas.
Adherents of the Hindu path, or sanatana dharma (universal, eternal teaching), made up about 83 percent of India's population, or about 808 million people, as of 1997. While a vast majority of Hindus reside in India, over the last several hundred years varied expressions of Hinduism have migrated to such places as Sri Lanka and Indonesia, in part because of the political and economic domination by England from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century. Beginning with Vivekananda's (a disciple of Ramakrishna) attendance at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, held in conjunction with the World Fair, about 1.3 million Hindus have emigrated to North America over the past century.
While Hinduism is not a religion in the familiar Western sense—it has no specific founder, no clear time of origin, and no organizational structure—at the core of its cumulative tradition are the three margas, or paths to spiritual liberation, which include ritual action (Karma-marga ), the path of knowledge (Jnana-marga ), and the path of devotion (Bhakti-marga ). Each of these systems has its own justification, and each presents a distinctive view of death.
The Path of Ritual Action
Sacrificial celebration (yajna ) was a central feature of the evolving Aryan religious tradition. By around 1200 B.C.E.a collection of hymns used for these sacrifices was brought together in the earliest scripture, the Rig Veda, and by the first millennium B.C.E. its complex rituals had come under the control of a class of priests or Brahmins. It was one of their special responsibilities to perform rituals correctly and to maintain and transmit the knowledge required for their proper performance.
Two major principles emerged in this period: the concepts of ritual knowledge (veda ) and of ritual action (karma ). At the center of these ritual celebrations was Agni, the lord of fire. It was to Agni that an offering was made, and by Agni that it was consumed and transformed. In the Rig Veda, one reads, "At yajna the prayerful community worships Agni, / Priest of all joy, blessed with youth, / He, untiring envoy for the Gods at the hour of offering, / He is the Lord of all treasure" (7.10.5). The Brahmins taught that fire sacrifices, properly conceived and correctly performed, reciprocally embodied the fundamental structures of the universe. Ritual action thus had cosmic consequences. Indeed, proper ritual action could produce desired results at a personal level.
The final sacrificial fire ritual is performed after one dies. In the Vedic view, early Hindus believed that cremation returned the physical remains of the deceased back to nature as smoke and ashes. Properly performed, the karma of this ritual established the departed in the "World of the Fathers." To this early Vedic understanding was added the need for a special set of postcremation rituals to complete a transition to the ancestral world. Afterlife is thus not only a matter of individual effort but also depends on correct ritual performances.
The Path of Liberating Knowledge
After about 800 B.C.E., the viewpoints and values of the Vedic ritual tradition were challenged by another system that emerged from within the Vedic system and developed into the classic scripture of Hinduism, known as the Upanishads ("Sitting near the feet of the teacher"). Upanishadic thinkers distinguished what is permanent and unchanging from what is transient and impermanent. At the cosmic level, the unchanging reality is Brahman, the absolute that underlies the transient names and forms of phenomena. At the personal level, this same reality is called the atman, or true self, the essential, unalterable being that underlies each person in the midst of activity.
The goal of the Upanishadic teachers was to escape from the ceaseless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that was called samsara. Freedom from rebirth was made possible only by giving up one's attachments to desires. In turn, this was only possible if one realized that true self, atman, was not part of the transient phenomenal world. The idea of samsara, including reincarnation (also called transmigration), refers to successive life embodiments of an individual soul (jiva ). This life flux embodies a continual series of births, deaths, and rebirths. Reincarnation blends the natural evolution with a spiritual evolution toward awakening. For example, at the subhuman level, growth is automatic and progresses toward ever-increasing complexity from inorganic to organic to vegetative to human levels. At the human level, however, the soul has the opportunity to break out of this cycle of births, deaths, and rebirths.
To illustrate what happens at death from the Hindu standpoint, the outer or gross body (skin, bones, muscles, nervous system, and brain) is said to fall away. The subtle body sheath (composed of karmic tendencies, knowledge, breath, and mind) that coats the jiva, or psychic substratum, also begins to disappear. After death the jiva initially remains within or near the body before it completely departs from the body to eventually enter an otherworldly reality conditioned by one's susceptibility to earthly sensual cravings. When these cravings have ceased, the jiva enters a temporally blissful existence until, at a karmically determined time, it takes on a new physical body and is reborn.
Upanishadic teachers agreed that moksha, the final liberation from a cycle of painful rebirths, is the goal of life. This final union with Brahman— which takes place before death—is described as a state of sat (being), chit (consciousness), and ananda (pure joy). The early Hindu sages, therefore, sought a realization that liberated the mind from the fear of death. This realization, or moksha, can be described as a spiritual death, a dying before dying, which accentuates at least four consequences: liberation (moksha) from the endless cycle of birth and death and birth and death; activation of samadhi, or the void, which is also absolute fullness and compassion; freedom from the effects of the reincarnation cycle at death; and a return to full identification with atman.
One of the most dramatic examples of this view occurs in the Katha Upanishad (800–500 B.C.E.), which relates the visit of Nachiketas to the Land of Death, Yama's kingdom. In the story, a teaching dialogue occurs between an archetypal seeker and an immortal teacher. Nachiketas, the seeker, asks Yama, "What is the purpose of life, given the certainty of death?" Yama replies by affirming the way to freedom from attachments through realizing atman (the deathless Self): "Unborn is he, eternal, everlasting and primeval, / He is not slain when the body is slain. / Should the killer think 'I kill.' / Or the killed 'I have been killed,' / Both these have no [right] knowledge"(2.19). That is, for Yama, when the body dies, atman does not die. The secret of death, then, is realized not by preaching, not by sacrifice, but through meditation and grace. This realization of the supreme self hidden in the cave of the heart emancipates one from the vagaries of samsara.
The Path of Devotion
Both the Vedic rituals and the Upanishadic path of knowledge are products of the Vedic priesthood. The appeal of these paths was mostly confined to the elite social classes, and thus each path denied access to the majority of Hindus. In response to this limitation, by the second century B.C.E.a third path was emerging, one with both greater popular appeal and greater accessibility. This new path— devotional theism—was based not on Vedic rituals or Vedic knowledge, but on the worship of various popular deities. The way of devotion (bhakti ) is dramatically expounded in the Bhagavad Gita, or Song of the Lord (500–200 B.C.E.). Not a Vedic text, the Bhagavad Gita is a part of a long popular epic known as the Mahabharata that was accessible to the populace.
Devotional theism took root, expanded rapidly, and, by the early centuries of the common era, had become, in terms of numbers of followers, the dominant form of Hinduism. In this path, many gods and goddesses are worshipped (e.g., Vishnu, the protector, with his incarnations as Krishna and Rama; Shiva, the destroyer, the divine Yogi and cosmic Lord of dance; and Devi, the goddess in a variety of names and forms). Devotional theism, this third path within Hinduism, emphasized above all faith and grace. Release from rebirth was no longer viewed as a matter of knowledge alone but also could be received as a divine gift by faithful devotees. The sought-for afterlife, then, was not the sterile or abstract "World of the Fathers" but a life—or afterlife—of devotion to God.
The Bhagavad Gita presents a dialogue between Krishna, the divine teacher, and Arjuna, the warrior disciple. Unlike the Buddha (the awakened one), Krishna is the incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna, disguised as a charioteer, listens to Arjuna's despair at the prospect of fighting his kinsmen to retrieve land that is rightfully his. Then Krishna speaks: "All things born must die," and "out of death in truth comes life" (2:27). Echoing Yama's words to Nachiketas, Krishna goes on to say that death is an illusion. Like those of the Katha Upanishad, Krishna's teachings on death argue four basic attitudes: the death of one's physical body is inevitable and should not cause prolonged grief; the subtle dimension of the person (jiva) does not die at death, rather takes on a new body; the eternal self (atman) is birthless and deathless, and cannot be destroyed; and one who realizes the eternal self while yet alive will not be reborn but, at death, will merge with ultimate reality, or Brahman.
Whereas the practice of sacrifice in the Vedas referred to an external ritual that included fire, drink, chants, stories, and grain or animal offerings, Krishna teaches devotional sacrifice. Performing all actions without attachment to the results, the devotee sacrifices even attachments to the divine. However, Arjuna is left with a significant question: How does one realize atman? Krishna provides several clues. Beyond jnana yoga, the way of knowledge (intuitive, single-minded awareness of the eternal self), Krishna emphasizes karma yoga (self-sacrificing, detached activity) and bhakti yoga (self surrendering devotion to the divine). In fact, the highest secret of the Bhagavad Gita is most appropriately practiced at the time of death. Krishna teaches: "Let him [the dying person] utter [the sound] Om, Brahman in one syllable, / Keeping Me in mind; / Then when his time is come to leave aside the ody, / tread the highest Way" (8:13). And then Krishna promises that a person will be freed from the bonds of misfortune when "Armed with the discipline of renunciation, / Yourself liberated, you will join me . . . / Keep me in your mind and devotion, sacrifice / To me, bow to me, discipline yourself to me, / And you will reach me!" (9:28, 34). These verses express a constant refrain of devotional Hinduism—not only to be freed from karma-caused traces of rebirth, but also to achieve a permanent union with one's personal deity through a devotional relationship. While the Gita represents only one version of the path of devotion, its teachings are broadly typical with respect to both devotion and the afterlife.
All of the views of afterlife outlined above became part of the continuing Hindu religious tradition, and they and their related systems of liberation— the three margas—have provided the basic framework of Hinduism for the past 2,000 years. What Hinduism offers with regard to death and afterlife is thus not a final decision that must be made in one's present lifetime, but a process that leads through many cycles of death and rebirth until one is able to reach the goal of liberation.
Typically, as a Hindu approaches death, he or she is surrounded with religious rites and ceremonies that support the dying person. Before a Hindu dies, the eldest son and relatives put water taken, if possible, from the Ganges River into the dying person's mouth. At this time, family and friends sing devotional prayers and chant Vedic mantras (sacred sounds). More than the words, which are themselves comforting, the tone of the communal chanting soothes the dying person and comforts relatives in their time of stress and grief.
Hinduism requires cremation as soon as possible (unless the deceased is less than three years old, in which case he or she is buried). In New Delhi alone, it is estimated that 50,000 bodies are cremated annually. In response to the depletion of forests caused by wood-burning cremations, the Indian government has begun building electric crematoriums throughout India. Some traditional Hindus, however, have argued that ending wood-burning cremations could violate their religious rights.
Prior to cremation, the body is washed and anointed, the hair (and beard) is trimmed, and the corpse is given new or clean clothes. During the procession, relatives and mourners, who carry the body to the cremation ground, chant verses that invoke Yama's help. The body is then placed on a funeral pyre. The eldest son finally walks around the pyre three times, each time pouring sacred water on the deceased. He then sets fire to the wood with a torch that has been blessed. Throughout the sacred ritual, relatives and mourners chant Vedic mantras to quicken the soul's release.
See also: Buddhism; Chinese Beliefs; Islam; Reincarnation; Widow-Burning
Basham, A. L. The Wonder That Was India. New York: Grove Press, 1954.
Borman, William. "Upanishadic Eschatology: The Other Side of Death." In Arthur Berger, Paul Badham, Austin Kutscher, Joyce Berger, Michael Perry, and John Beloff eds., Death and Dying: Cross-Cultural and Multi-Disciplinary Views. Philadelphia: The Charles Press, 1989.
Easwaran, Eknath. Dialogue with Death. Petaluma, CA: Nilgiri Press, 1981.
Holck, F. H. "The Vedre Period." In Frederick H. Holck ed., Death and Eastern Thought. New York: Abington Press, 1974.
Hopkins, Thomas. "Hindu Views of Death and Afterlife." In Hiroshi Obayashi ed., Death and Afterlife: Perspectives of World Religions. New York: Praeger Press, 1992.
Knipe, David. "Sapindikarana : The Hindu Rate of Entry into Heaven." In Frank Reynolds and Earle Waugh eds., Religious Encounters with Death. University Park: Penn State University Press, 1977.
Koller, John. The Indian Way. New York: Macmillan, 1982. Kramer, Kenneth. "Hindu Attitudes toward Death." The Sacred Art of Dying: How World Religions Understand Death. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1988.
Long, J. Bruce. "Death as a Necessity and a Gift in Hindu Mythology." In Frank Reynolds and Earle Waugh eds., Religious Encounters with Death. University Park: Penn State University Press, 1977.
Pearson, Anne M. "Hinduism." In Christopher Jay Johnson and Marsha G. McGee eds., How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife, 2nd edition. Philadelphia: The Charles Press, 1998.
Prashad, Jamuna. "The Hindu Concept of Death." In Arthur Berger, Paul Badham, Austin Kutscher, Joyce Berger, Michael Perry, and John Beloff eds., Death and Dying: Cross-Cultural and Multi-Disciplinary Views. Philadelphia: The Charles Press, 1989.
Sundararajan, K. R. "The Orthodox Philosophical Systems." In Frederick H. Holck ed., Death and Eastern Thought. New York: Abington Press, 1974.
Zaehner, R. C. Hindu Scriptures. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1966.
KENNETH P. KRAMER
"Hinduism." Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 8, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hinduism
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Historically, Hinduism is seen as unfolding through successive stages, but this again is misleading, since many beliefs and practices from earlier stages persist through to the present, often little affected by subsequent developments. The roots are set down in the traditions of the original stone-age inhabitants of India; the Indus Valley civilization; the more developed Dravidian culture, related to the Indus Valley, and persisting especially among the Tamils; and the Āryan invasion leading to Vedic religion (the religions based on the Vedas).
The Vedas (eternal truth) are believed to be eternal (sanātana). They are made known through ṛṣis, who received them by a kind of intuition (dṛṣti). The revealed scriptures are known as śruti (revelation, that which has been perceived through hearing; for details see VEDA). Āgama (scripture) denotes all writings which at least some Hindus regard as revealed, which may therefore extend beyond the core corpus. Revered by most Hindus is Bhagavad-gītā, and the majority regard it as revealed. Gathering śruti material are many sūtras, but since they do not contain new material they are not usually cited as authorities in debate.
The second major source of authority is found in the texts of smṛti (‘that which has been remembered’, tradition) which are much more closely concerned with the details of everyday life; among these texts, Manusmṛti is held in particularly high esteem. Much of śruti and smṛti has been gathered into itihāsapurāṇa (ancient histories), of which the two great epics Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa probably have far greater direct influence on the population than the scriptures as such.
The Vedas gave rise to the elaborate ritual instructions and explanations of the texts known as Brāhmaṇas, and this ritual-based religion is often referred to as brahmanical religion. It gave rise also to reflections on the meanings and implications of the rituals, in the Āraṇyakas and the Upaniṣads. Based on the consummations of the Veda in Vedānta, the major forms of philosophical religion were elaborated (see ŚAṄKARA, RĀMĀNUJA, and MADHVA). But philosophical systems had already been established, some of them atheistic or materialist. There are traditionally six ways of orthodox (āstika) insight (darśana, for list); there is a continuing debate about those which should be considered nāstika (unorthodox: not just, from a Hindu point of view, the obvious aberrations of the Jains and Buddhists, but perhaps also e.g. Sāṃkhya).
But for the majority of Hindus, religious life is a matter, not so much of philosophy, as of ordering one's life according to the principles and practices which will lead to a better rebirth or even to mokṣa (release). This ‘ordering of life’ is to live it according to dharma, or, less usually, to live it according to particular vows or devotions (see SĀDHU; TANTRISM). Dharma has many meanings, but in this case it means roughly ‘appropriateness’: ‘Hinduism’ as sanātana dharma is the map of how to live appropriately. It is this ‘mapping’ of the ways to live appropriately which is expressed in the divisions of labour (varna), and even more specifically in the caste-system (jāti). In general, Hindus can aim legitimately for four goals (puruṣārtha): within the bracket of controlling dharma and of mokṣa, the aims of kāma and artha are wholeheartedly endorsed.
Although the Vedas do not reveal any lively expectation of a worthwhile life after death, the concentration on prāṇa (breath) in the period of the Brāhmaṇas and Āraṇyakas gave rise to the belief that there is an underlying self or soul (ātman) which persists through the process of living and dying, and which subsists through all the changing appearances of a body. By the time of the Upaniṣads, this had become a belief that Brahman, the unproduced Producer of all that is, pervades the fleeting appearances of this or any other universe as ātman, as the underlying guarantor of appearance, but not in any way identical with it. While ātman is entangled in desire for the world, it continues to be reborn (saṃsāra), at many different levels of appearance, in heavens and hells, as animals or as humans: the outcome, for better or for worse, is governed by a natural moral law of karma, as inexorable as that of gravity. To be born as a human is a rare opportunity to advance toward mokṣa, release from the round of rebirth.
The nature of that attainment is variously described. At the philosophical end, advaita envisages a reunion of undifferentiated reality.
Theism, however, dominates Indian religion. Each person (or often region or village) is likely to have a particular focus of devotion (iṣṭadevatā), but these will usually complement, not supplant the major deities. The sense of God as Lord (bhagavān) is usually expressed as Īśvara; but God may become manifest in many different forms, hence the (initially bewildering) proliferation of gods and goddesses from the Vedic period onward. The manifestation of these on earth (especially of Viṣṇu) are known as avatāra.
Amidst the myriad theistic devotions, three are of extensive importance: those to Śiva (Śaivism, regarded by some as the oldest continuing Indian religion), to Viṣṇu (Vaiṣṇava, numerically the largest, though divided into many subdivisions), and to Śakti (see also ŚĀKTISM), in whom, as Goddess and divine mother, are gathered all the functions that Viṣṇu has for the Vaiṣṇavites and that Śiva has for the Śaivites. But the breakdown of these into particular traditions is prolific in its diversity. The traditions of devotion and teaching are transmitted through gurus and protected in organized systems (saṃpradāya).
Worship of God is pūjā (worship). The evocation of the real presence of God is particularly important also in the focus of mantra/maṇḍala and yantra (sounds and diagrams); and in places or rivers closely associated with manifestations of God (see SACRED CITIES/SACRED RIVERS, SEVEN).
The three major paths (mārga) of progress toward mokṣa are karmamārga (the way of works, following dharma), jñānamārga (the way of knowledge or of philosophical truth), and bhaktimārga (the way of devotion to God). Bhagavad-gītā makes an attempt to reconcile all three. All three are united also by being called yoga.
At Independence (1947), India was designated a secular state with recognition of all religions: the eclectic genius of Indian religion (which does not mean that there cannot be sharp conflicts and divisions) makes this a natural outcome. However, the remarkable ability of Indians to put this into practice (e.g. with the possibility of a Muslim president; contrast the status of Islam in Pakistan) has already come under strain with a growing sense that Hindus should affirm their identity over against the separatist tendencies of Sikhs and (in some areas) Muslims—hence the emergence of specifically Hindu political movements and parties (see BHARATYA JANATA PARTY). The contrast between these two attitudes (of inclusive toleration and Hindu self-affirmation) were already apparent in the many 19th-cent. attempts to revive and restate Hinduism: see ROY, RĀM MOHAN; BRAHMO SAMĀJ; SEN, KESHUB CHANDRA; DAYĀNANDA SARASVATĪ; ĀRYA SAMĀJ.
For many, the purpose of Hinduism is summarized in the prayer of Bṛhādārānyaka Upaniṣad 1. 3. 27, ‘Lead me from the unreal to the real; lead me from darkness to light; lead me from death to immortality.’
"Hinduism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 8, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hinduism
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Hinduism (hin´dōōĬzəm), Western term for the religious beliefs and practices of the vast majority of the people of India. One of the oldest living religions in the world, Hinduism is unique among the world religions in that it had no single founder but grew over a period of 4,000 years in syncretism with the religious and cultural movements of the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism is composed of innumerable sects and has no well-defined ecclesiastical organization. Its two most general features are the caste system and acceptance of the Veda as the most sacred scriptures.
Hinduism is a synthesis of the religion brought into India by the Aryans (c.1500 BC) and indigenous religion. The first phase of Hinduism was early Brahmanism, the religion of the priests or Brahmans who performed the Vedic sacrifice, through the power of which proper relation with the gods and the cosmos is established. The Veda comprises the liturgy and interpretation of the sacrifice and culminates in the Upanishads, mystical and speculative works that state the doctrine of Brahman, the absolute reality that is the self of all things, and its identity with the individual soul, or atman (see Vedanta). Later Upanishads refer to the practices of yoga and contain theistic elements that are fully developed in the Bhagavad-Gita.
Post-Vedic Hinduism in all its forms accepts the doctrine of karma, according to which the individual reaps the results of his good and bad actions through a series of lifetimes (see transmigration of souls). Also universally accepted is the goal of moksha or mukti, liberation from suffering and from the compulsion to rebirth, which is attainable through elimination of passions and through knowledge of reality and finally union with God.
Responses to Buddhism and Jainism
In the middle of the first millennium BC, an ossified Brahmanism was challenged by heterodox, i.e., non-Vedic, systems, notably Buddhism and Jainism. The priestly elite responded by creating a synthesis that accepted yogic practices and their goals, recognized the gods and image worship of popular devotional movements, and adopted greater concern for the daily life of the people. There was an increase in writings, such as the Laws of Manu (see Manu), dealing with dharma, or duty, not only as applied to the sacrifice but to every aspect of life. Their basic principle is varna-ashrama-dharma, or dharma in accordance with varna (class or caste) and ashrama (stage of life). The four classes are the Brahmans, Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (farmers and merchants), and Shudras (laborers). The four stages of life are brahmacharya or celibate student life (originally for study of the Veda), grihastha or householdership, vanaprastha or forest hermitage, and sannyasa, complete renunciation of all ties with society and pursuit of spiritual liberation. (In practical terms these stages were not strictly adhered to. The two main alternatives have continued to be householdership and the ascetic life.) The entire system was conceived as ideally ensuring both the proper function of society as an integrated whole and the fulfillment of the individual's needs through his lifetime.
The post-Vedic Puranas deal with these themes. They also elaborate the myths of the popular gods. They describe the universe as undergoing an eternally repeated cycle of creation, preservation, and dissolution, represented by the trinity of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer as aspects of the Supreme.
Medieval and Modern Developments
In medieval times the esoteric ritual and yoga of Tantra and sects of fervent devotion (see bhakti) arose and flourished. The groundswell of devotion produced poet-saints all over India who wrote religious songs and composed versions of the epics in their vernaculars. This literature plays an essential part in present-day Hinduism, as do puja, or worship of enshrined deities, and pilgrimage to sacred places. The most popular deities include Vishnu and his incarnations Rama and Krishna, Shiva, the elephant-headed god Ganesha, and the Mother-Goddess or Devi, who appears as the terrible Kali or Durga but also as Sarasvati, the goddess of music and learning, and as Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. All the gods and goddesses, each of which has numerous aspects, are regarded as different forms of the one Supreme Being. Modern Hindu leaders such as Swami Vivekananda, Mohandas Gandhi, and Aurobindo Ghose, have given voice to a movement away from the traditional ideal of world-renunciation and asceticism and have asserted the necessity of uniting spiritual life with social concerns.
After independence in 1947 the impact of Hinduism on the political life of a country in which more than 80% of the people are adherents was moderated by the long-term rule of the Congress party (see Indian National Congress, which has striven to maintain a secular democracy. Tensions between Hindus and Muslims, however, have long been a fact of life in India, as evidenced in the creation of Pakistan, the conflict over Kashmir, and the subsequent wars between India and Pakistan. There have also been tensions with the Sikh minority, some of whom have sought independence for the Punjab, leading to violence in the 1980s (see Sikhism).
Since the late 1980s there has been increasing popular support for Hindu nationalist parties among the people of India. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which has long rejected the secular state and called for orthodox Hindu religious practice, is influential in the mainstream Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), one of India's most important political parties. The extremist Shiv Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad parties have been relentless in their attacks on Muslims. The 1992 destruction in Ayodhya of a Muslim shrine and anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai in 1993 were sparked by Hindu nationalists and are among the events that have heightened Hindu-Muslim tensions.
See C. N. E. Eliot, Hinduism and Buddhism (3 vol., 1921; repr. 1968); A. B. Keith, The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads (1925, repr. 1971); S. Radhakrishnan, The Hindu View of Life (1927, repr. 1962); L. Renou, Religions of Ancient India (1953, repr. 1968) and Hinduism (1961); R. G. Zaehner, Hinduism (1962); A. T. Embree, ed., The Hindu Tradition (1966, repr. 1972); T. J. Hopkins, The Hindu Religious Tradition (1971); P. H. Ashby, Modern Trends in Hinduism (1974); A. L. Basham, The Origins and Development of Classical Hinduism (1989).
"Hinduism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 8, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hinduism-0
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HINDUISM. Hinduism is a religion, a philosophy, and a way of life. It guides people along paths that will ultimately lead to the individual soul (Atman) becoming one with the Universal Consciousness.
The religion recognizes that everyone is different and has a unique intellectual and spiritual outlook. Therefore, it allows people to develop and grow at their own pace by making different spiritual paths available to them. It allows various schools of thought under its broad principles. It also allows for freedom of worship so that individuals may be guided by their own spiritual experiences. This freedom of worship permits individuals to worship in any place, be it a church, mosque, or gurudwara. The tolerance shown by this religion to other faiths is unmatched. Hinduism has never been imposed on anyone, whether on a subjugated people through wars, or by offering spiritual or economic benefits to the poor.
The strength of Hinduism lies in its adaptability to the infinite diversity of human nature. It has a highly spiritual and abstract side suited to the philosopher, a practical and concrete side suited to the worldly individual, an aesthetic and ceremonial side suited to the person of poetic feeling and imagination, and a quiescent and contemplative side suited to the lover of peace and seclusion.
Hinduism is also unique in that it has adapted itself to include numerous ideals and precepts of other religions, such as those of Jainism and Buddhism. For instance, among many communities, offerings of rice and ghee (or clarified butter) took the place of animal sacrifice—a compromise with Vedic ritualism. Many of the early Aryans had been meat eaters, but under the influence of Buddhist and Jain ideas, numerous groups of Brahmins and non-Brahmins became vegetarian.
Another feature unique to Hinduism is its belief that liberation or deliverance (moksha ) can be achieved in this life itself: one does not have to wait for a heaven after death.
Hindu Beliefs as Reflected in Food
Rebirth or reincarnation. The Hindus believe that one must go through several births and rebirths before attaining liberation. The hardships of the current world are a result of the actions of a previous life that have to be atoned for in the present life.
Karma. The law of karma (or action) also supports the above theory. It suggests that every action has a similar or related reaction. Although it is not possible to change one's past life, it is possible for one to shape the future and to pave the way for a better life in rebirth through the actions of the present.
Dharma. Dharma refers to duties that have to be performed at different stages of one's life. These must be completed without a thought of possible rewards or benefits and should also be accomplished to the best of one's ability. They are responsible for the prevailing social order in the world. There are four stages of Dharma:
- Student or Brahmachari—This first phase involves living and studying with a guru.
- Householder or Grihastha—This next phase starts with marriage.
- Retirees or Vanaprastha—The third phase occurs when the duties of child rearing and work are over.
- Sanyasi—This is the final phase when all worldly desires are renounced and the individual spends all of his or her time in meditation.
Hinduism is based on the Eternal Truth as it has been explicitly defined in the scriptures:
- The Srutis come from the Vedas, of divine origin and unchangeable. They encapsulate the greatest truths.
- The Smritis, referred to as the Dharma Shashtras, are of human composition. They govern the daily conduct of people, including the actions of the individual, the community, and the nation, and may change over time.
- The epics are those stories or fables in which the philosophy of the Vedas is told. The most important epics are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
- The Puranas are the Hindu scriptures that convey the truths of the Vedas and the Dharma Shashtras in the form of tales. These stories form the basis of religious education for the common man.
- The Agamas record the doctrine for the worship of different deities, including Shiva, Vishnu, and Shakti.
- The Darshanas encompass the six schools of Hindu philosophy; they guide scholars.
Hindu Gods and Goddesses
Hinduism has many gods and goddesses, some of whom were worshipped by early peoples who later came into contact with this faith. The aim of Hinduism is not the worship of any one of these deities, but rather the means with which the individual soul or Atman will become one with the Brahman, or the Universal Soul. Among the most commonly worshipped gods are:
- Nirguna Brahman—The Universal Soul who transcends time and space and is formless.
- Saguna Brahman—The concept of Ichwara, the Great God, with a form upon which the individual mind may fixate during prayer and meditation.
- The Trinity—As personified by the three attributes of Ichwara, including their feminine dimensions: creation (Brahman), preservation (Vishnu), and destruction (Shiva).
There are essentially three paths to attain oneness with the Universal Consciousness:
- Bhakti yoga (the path of devotion)—The vast majority of people choose this path of single-minded devotion to a favorite god.
- Karma yoga (the path of action)—Those who choose this path believe in the dictum "work is worship." No job is too menial or too low for this devotée, as all work is a means of realizing God.
- Jnana yoga (the path of knowledge)—This is perhaps the most difficult of the three paths and therefore chosen by very few, usually scholars. Knowledge of the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita is essential.
See also Buddhism; Fasting and Abstinence: Hinduism and Buddhism; Festivals of Food; Hindu Festivals; India; Religion and Food; Weddings .
Khare, R. S., ed. The Eternal Food: Gastronomic Ideas and Experiences of Hindus and Buddhists. SUNY Series in Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.
Ross, Nancy Wilson. Hinduism, Buddhism, Zen: An Introduction to Their Meaning and Their Arts. London: Faber & Faber, 1968.
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Unlike the Western religions, Hinduism does not have an easily identifiable beginning. Although records of its early history are not available, Hinduism dates back at least three thousand years in the subcontinent of India. However, within Hinduism there is a great diversity of practice and belief so that it is difficult to identify a distinctive essence. Hinduism contains many traditions that share distinctive characteristics such that they are identifiable as members of the same cultural family. Some traditions share more of these characteristics, making them more strongly Hindu. Over the centuries one such characteristic has been the practice of caste distinctions. Another is seeing Hinduism as a religious way of life that in one way or another reaches back to scriptures, the oldest of which is the Veda.
The term Hindu derives from the Indus River in the northwest part of the Indian subcontinent. Flowing some three thousand kilometers from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea, the Indus served as a natural boundary for those attempting to enter India through the passes of the Hindu Kush. During the period 1500 to 1000 b.c.e., people known as the Aryans, who may have come through these mountain passes, began to dominant the Indus River area of northwest India. Their view of the world was described in the Veda, spoken and written in the Sanskrit language. In the oldest portion of the Vedas, called the Rg samhita, there are references to a river called the Sindhu, which may have been the Indus. By association, the word Sindhu seems also to have been used to refer to the people who lived in the Indus valley. The later term Hindu seems to have derived from Sindhu.
From the earliest historical times, military invasions and trade have flowed through the mountain passes of the northwest, such as the Khyber. Those who invaded India from the Mediterranean area (e.g., the Persian Darius I and Alexander of Macedon) used the term Hindu to refer to those who lived on or beyond the Sindhu River boundary. Over the centuries the term Hindu has increasingly been used to refer to those Indians who share some connection with the Veda as a basis for their way of life. Within the Vedic scriptures are found the overarching concepts of caste, karma, and rebirth that knit together the many diverse Hindu groups. Karma is the idea that each action or thought leaves behind a seed or memory trace that predisposes one to a similar action or thought in the future. These karmic traces, stored up in one's unconscious, as it were, originated not only in this life but also from previous lives, and cause one to be reborn in a future life. This cycle of birth, death, and rebirth is held to be beginningless (anandi ) and is seemingly endless. However, for those wishing to escape from this cycle of rebirth, the Hindu scriptures offer three general paths or disciplines (Yogas ) by which release may be realized: the paths of knowledge, work, and devotion. In orthodox or Brahmanical Hinduism, the source of these paths, and indeed of all knowledge, including science, is said to be the Vedic scriptures.
Cosmology and the concept of God
In the Hindu view, the whole of the universe is held to have existed beginninglessly as a series of cycles of creation going backward into time infinitely. Although the Hindu scripture is spoken anew at the start of each cycle of creation, what is spoken is identical with the scripture that had been spoken in all previous cycles. The very idea of an absolute point of beginning for either creation or the scripture is not present in Hindu thought. A close parallel to this Hindu notion of the eternal presence of scripture is found in the Western idea of the Logos, especially as expressed in the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (1:1). The rsis or seers, identified as speakers of particular Vedas, are understood to be channels through which the divine word passes to make itself available to humans at the start of each creation cycle. The same rsis are said to speak the same Vedas in each cycle of creation, and the very language in which the Vedas are spoken, Sanskrit, is itself held to be divine.
This view of the Vedas and Sanskrit as being divine had important implications for the traditional Hindu understanding of all forms of knowledge, including science. The rsi's initial mystical vision is of Brahman's consciousness, God's omniscient knowledge. This unitary vision is broken down and spoken as the words and sentences of the Veda so that through this revelation people will be enabled to realize release. In addition to this ultimate spiritual goal, the Veda, as the authoritative speaking of divine omniscience, contains in seed form the fundamental knowledge of all the disciplines—the arts, medicine, and science. This is why the Grammarian philosophers of India argue that correct word use (following Sanskrit rules) is essential for science for two reasons. First, it is essential because only when language is spoken and heard correctly will the seeds of scientific ideas inherent in the Veda be able to manifest themselves. Second, correct word use is essential in formulating and communicating scientific knowledge so that it does not become confused but is clearly conveyed.
Such thinking lies behind the traditional Hindu notion that all knowledge, including science, comes from and through the Vedas. It is just this kind of thinking that anchors the claim of the modern Hindu reformer Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902) that science and religion are complementary, cross-validating, and are both based on experience of the same Brahman. Just as science is based on the empirical experience of the outer world (whose essence is Brahman) so also religious knowledge arises from the direct experience of the Vedic word; at base both are experiences of the same ultimate reality.
See also Karma
coward, harold g. and raja, k. kunjunni. the philosophy of the grammarians. princeton, n.j.: princeton university press, 1990.
coward, harold. scripture in the world religions: a short introduction. oxford: oneworld, 2000.
klostermaier, klaus k. a survey of hinduism. albany: state university of new york press, 1994.
rambachan, anantanand. the limits of scripture: vivekananda's reinterpretation of the vedas. honolulu: university of hawaii press, 1994.
"Hinduism." Encyclopedia of Science and Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 8, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hinduism
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The distinctive features of Hindu religion (its vast complexity aside) are the caste system and the view of life referred to by the term samsara. Hindus think of their present life as merely one in a succession of lives, taking various forms, not all human and not all lived on this earth. This is linked to the concept of karma, which denotes a moral causation whereby what and where a person is today is largely a consequence of how he or she has conducted him- or herself in all of his or her past lives, especially in regard to dharma (or sacred law). Finally, the associated concept of moksha signifies emancipation from the bonds of present existence, to be attained through transcending avidya (ignorance) and maya (illusion). However, these basic ideas have not existed from the beginning of the tradition, and some scholars apply the term Hinduism only to the beliefs and practices which were established around the beginning of the Christian era.
The disparate nature of Hinduism is well illustrated in Hindu scripture, which includes the Vedas (knowledgeable texts written some two thousand years before the Christian era), a mixture of hymns to various Gods, philosophical texts, and prose dealing with rituals; and the enormously diverse smirti, which include the great Hindu epics, manuals and law-books, as well as popular stories and legends. Not surprisingly, no fewer than twelve schools are described as orthodox, including Sankhya dualism (which names no god), Sankara non-dualism (which embodies a qualified belief in god), and the theism of Ramanuja (which posits no belief in god). There are numerous well-established sectarian movements, such as the Jains and bhakti, who appeal for different reasons to different castes.
Sociological interest in Hindusim has mainly taken the form of studies of the caste system, as an extreme form of ascriptive stratification, and speculations about the likely consequences of Hindu beliefs for the development of rational capitalism of the Western type. The latter tradition was initiated by Max Weber's essays on the ‘Economic Ethics of the World Religions’ (1916–19, the relevant sections being translated as The Religion of India, 1958)
, which argue that Hinduism effectively blocked this form of economic development. The debate about Weber's interpretation continues today (see, for example, G. R. Madan , Western Sociologists on Indian Society, 1979
). The classic study of caste is Louis Dumont's Homo Hierarchicus (1970), although this makes the controversial claim that the Indian caste system cannot be analysed in terms of concepts applicable to other forms of social stratification, a claim that would seem to be undermined by anthropological and historical research demonstrating that social mobility processes of a kind familiar elsewhere (involving status usurpation resulting from status incongruities associated with shifts in the distribution of power) were also endemic in the traditional caste order.
The literatures on stratification and religion come together in the dispute about whether or not Weber's claim that a form of fatalism, arising out of the belief in the karma doctrine of compensation, was a major factor in stabilizing the caste system—despite its extreme inequalities of condition and social rigidity. This issue is pursued in David Lockwood 's essay on ‘Fatalism: Durkheim's Hidden Theory of Order’, in Anthony Giddens and and Gavin Mackenzie ( eds.) , Class and the Division of Labour (1983)
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See also 151. FAITH ; 183. GOD and GODS ; 349. RELIGION ; 392. THEOLOGY .
- Ayurvedism, Ayurveda
- the conventional Hindu system of medicine, founded chiefly on naturopathy and homeopathy. —Ayurvedic , adj.
- Brahmanism, Brahminism
- the doctrines and practices of Brahmans and orthodox Hindus, characterized by the caste system, a diverse pantheism, and primary devotion to Brahma, the creator-god of the Hindu trinity.
- the practices and doctrines of the Brahmos, members of a Hindu theistic society noted for its belief in social reform and monotheism.
- the worship of Krishna as the eighth incarnation of the god Vishnu, the preserver-god of the Hindu trinity.
- the worship of Rama, a hero of Hindu epic, as an incarnation of the god Vishnu. —Ramaite , n.
- Shaktism, Saktism
- 1. a Hindu sect worshipping Shakti as a mother goddess under such names as Kali and Durga through contemplation and humility; right-hand Shaktism.
- 2. a Hindu Tantric sect worshiping Shakti as the feminine principle of gen-eration through rites involving ritual eating and orgy; left-hand Shaktism. See also Tantrism . —Shakta, Shakti , n., adj.
- the doctrines of a reformed Hindu sect opposed to the caste system, supremacy of Brahrnan priests, magic, idolatry, and pilgrimages. —Sikh , n., adj.
- Sivaism, Shivaism, Saivism
- a cult made up of the worshipers of Siva, the destroyer-god of the Hindu trinity. —Sivaite , n.
- the Hindu practice or custom, now forbidden, of a widow’s self-immolation upon her husband’s funeral pyre. —suttee, sati , n.
- 1. the teachings of the Tantras, Sanskrit religious writings concerned with mysticism and magic rituals.
- 2. the beliefs and practices of Hindu adherents to the Tantras in place of the Vedas, especially magic rituals for healing, averting evil, and union with the female creative principle. —Tantrist , n. —Tantric , adj.
- thuggeeism, thuggee
- a semi-religious Hindu cult with a highly organized system of murder and robbery, suppressed in India in the 19th century. Also thuggery . —thug , n.
- the worship of Vishnu in any of his forms or incarnations. —Vaishnava, Vaishnavite , n.
- Vedaism, Vedism
- 1. the teachings of the Vedas, the four most sacred writings of Hinduism.
- 2. an adherence to these teachings; orthodox Hinduism. —Vedaic, Vedic , adj.
- the beliefs and practices of Vedanta, an orthodox Hindu philoso-phy emphasizing the teachings on contemplation found in the Vedas. —Vedantist , n. —Vedantic , adj.
- Yogism, Yoga
- 1. an orthodox Hindu philosophical system concerned with the liberation of the self from its noneternal elements or states.
- 2. any system of exercises and disciplines for achieving such liberation of self. —Yogi, Yogin , n.
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HINDUISM. Americans learned about Hinduism in the late eighteenth century from European scholars and from missionaries and traders returning from India. Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson incorporated Hindu themes in their transcendental philosophy in the 1830s and 1840s. The first Indian to successfully promote Hinduism in America was Swami Vivekananda, who represented Hinduism at the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition. He went on to establish Vedanta Societies in major American cities, teaching a variety of Hinduism that emphasizes social reform, religious tolerance, and the unity of self (atman) and Absolute (Brahman). Swami Paramahansa Yogananda's Self-Realization Fellowship, established in 1935 to teach kriya yoga, soon surpassed Vedanta in popularity. In the 1960s, transcendental meditation and the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, or Hare Krishna Society, gathered large numbers of followers among Americans seeking spiritual alternatives to mainstream religion, and the civil rights movement drew inspiration from Indian nationalist Mohandas K. Gandhi's interpretation of the Hindu tradition of ahimsa (nonviolence).
After the passage of less restrictive immigration laws in 1965, a large influx of Asian Indian immigrants brought a new plurality of Hindu practices to the United States. They contributed the first major, Indian-style Hindu temples, built to accommodate immigrant Hindus, to the American landscape. In 2000, there were approximately one million Hindus in the United States.
Jackson, Carl T. The Oriental Religions and American Thought: Nineteenth-Century Explorations. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981.
———. Vedanta for the West: The Ramakrishna Movement in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.
See alsoAsian Religions and Sects .
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Hinduism is a diverse family of devotional and ascetic cults and philosophical schools, all sharing a belief in reincarnation and involving the worship of one or more of a large pantheon of gods and goddesses, including Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu (incarnate as Rama and Krishna), Kali, Durga, Parvati, and Ganesh. Hindu society was traditionally based on a caste system.
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Hin·du·ism / ˈhindoōˌizəm/ • n. a major religious and cultural tradition of the Indian subcontinent, developed from Vedic religion. DERIVATIVES: Hin·du·ize / -ˌīz/ v.
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The word "Hindu" is derived from sindhu, the name that the Persians gave to the land watered by the Indus River. The inhabitants of this land were a pre-Aryan people, possibly related to the Dravidians of South India, who had developed a high civilization, akin to that of Mesopotamia, in the 3d millennium b.c., and of which the remains have been excavated at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa in the Punjab. Toward the middle of the 2d millennium b.c., this civilization was overwhelmed by Aryan invaders from the North, who spoke Sanskrit. The invaders brought with them a new religion, of which the sacred books, written in Sanskrit, were known as the Vedas. In the course of time, the religion of the Aryan newcomers blending with the cults of the pre-Aryan population spread all over India and developed into what is known as Hinduism. Nothing in the nature of Hinduism determines a strictly logical approach to the study of it, but the present article will survey its sacred writings, schools of thought, religious teachers, popular religion, relation to the caste system, major reformers, and relation to Christianity.
It is important to note that the "Aryan invasion theory" is now being questioned by scholars. Many scholars have suggested that there is no archaeological evidence that the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were destroyed by Aryan invaders. More significantly, archaeologists have discovered "Harappan sites" dating back to the same period in the Northwestern parts of India.
They include the vedas with their different parts known as the Brāhmaṇas, the Āraṇyakas, and the upanishads; dharmashāstras or collections of "remembered" traditions; and two major epics, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata with its subsequently added Bhagavad Gītā.
Vedic Scriptures. Hindus speak of their religion as the "eternal religion" (sanātana dharma ), asserting that the Vedas are the expression of eternal truth, made known to the "seers" (rishis ) of ancient times. Veda means literally knowledge or wisdom, and the Vedas are said to be śruti (literally, "that which has been heard") to signify that they came as revelation. The acceptance of this revelation is the test of Hindu "orthodoxy." All systems of philosophy based on the Vedas, however much they may differ in their interpretation, are considered to be orthodox (āstika ), while those that reject the authority of the Vedas, such as Buddhism and Jainism, are regarded as unorthodox (nāstika ).
Originally the Vedas came down by word of mouth, and it is impossible to say exactly when they took their present shape. The earliest collection of hymns, known as the Rig Veda, was probably completed by 900 b.c. Later a collection of verses (mantras ) from these hymns, arranged for chanting at the sacrifices, was added and known as the Sāma Veda. Another collection of prose formulas followed; it was used in the ritual of sacrifice and known as the Yajur Veda. Finally at a much later date a further compilation appeared, namely, the Atharva Veda, containing magic spells and incantations. To these original four books of the Vedas three additions were made between 900 and 500 b.c.: first the Brāhmaṇas, a kind of prose commentary explaining the symbolic significance of the rites; then the Araṇyakas (or "forestbooks"); and finally the Upanishads, in which a mystical commentary on the rites was developed into profound and original philosophical speculation. Each Veda eventually consisted of four parts: a hymn (mantra ), a brāhmaṇa, an āraṇyaka, and an Upanishad, and these together form the corpus of sacred doctrine or śruti.
The hymns of the Rig Veda were addressed to gods who represented different powers of nature, such as Sūrya, the sun-god; Agni, the fire-god; Indra, the god of thunder; and Uṣas, the goddess of the dawn. They reflect a stage of religion not unlike that of the early Greeks, and many of them have a poetic character, which is reminiscent of the poems of Homer. Moreover, behind the lesser gods there is to be discerned the figure of a creator-god, who was known at first as Dyaus-pita (the equivalent of the Greek Zeus and the Latin Jupiter), but later his place was taken by Varuna, whom some have connected with the Greek Uranos. Varuna was a sky-god, who was worshiped as the sovereign Lord and guardian of the cosmic order (zita ). Unlike that of the other gods his character was moral, and he officiated as the supreme judge who sees all and punishes the sinner. Although for a while his place was taken by Prajāpati, the "lord of creatures" and by Viṣvakarman, the "all-creator," the image of the creator-god gradually disappeared in the course of time and retained no hold over the Hindu mind. The tendency of Hindu thought, present already in the Rig Veda, was rather to see all the gods as different forms or manifestations of one divine being. In the later hynms of the Rig Veda there are signs even of speculation on the nature of God and the universe. In one hymn, the Puruṣa Sūkta, the universe is said to have been formed by the sacrifice of Puruṣa, the primeval or cosmic Person, and to have been produced from the different parts of his body.
The Brāhmaṇas. The center of the ancient Vedic religion was sacrifice. At public sacrifices animals were slaughtered and an intoxicating drink called soma was drunk, to obtain from the gods such favors as success in war, offspring, increase of cattle, and long life. Behind this lay a deeper conception than that of seeking favors. Every sacrifice was held to be a repetition of the primeval sacrifice by which the world was brought into being; the continuation of the world was believed to depend on the exactness of the performance of the ritual of sacrifice, a concept developed in that part of the Veda called the Brāhmaṇas. The sacrifice came to be conceived as having power in itself; even the gods were believed to be dependent on it. Thus the position of the priest, the Brahmin, who offered the sacrifice was of supreme importance. He alone knew the sacrificial words and actions, and he therefore was possessed of supreme power. As the sacrificing priest was known as the Brahmin, so the power that was held to be inherent in the sacrifice was known as the Brahman. The Brahman came to be regarded as the supreme power that sustains the universe. This idea, already present in the Brāhmaṇas, was developed in the Vedic writings called Āraṇyakas. and in the Upanishads, and became the most fertile concept of Hindu philosophy.
Āraṇyakas. Sacrifice lost its importance with Āraṇyakas, which mark a new stage in the growth of the Vedas and in Hindu religion. They were the work of the "forest-dwellers," ascetics who retired to the forest to meditate in silence on the mystery of the universe. For ritual sacrifice they substituted meditation and asceticism (tapas ), developing the idea that the power in the sacrifice, the Brahman, was found in the spiritual sacrifice of the inner man. A new conception of the meaning and purpose of life began to take form with the introduction of the doctrine of transmigration, according to which the souls of all living things, plants and animals and human beings, even the gods, are subject to a perpetual cycle of rebirth (sàmsāra ). The condition of a soul in the present life is rigorously conditioned by the actions of its past life (karma ); by its good deeds the soul ascends in the scale of being, and by its evil deeds it descends; in either case there is no finality. Even the gods must die and be reborn, and though the performance of good works, especially the ritual of sacrifice, could lead to heaven, even heaven is not permanent. Against this background of belief arose the idea of liberation (moksa ). Instead of the perpetuation of the round of rebirth by sacrifice, liberation from rebirth altogether, and deliverance not only from this world but also from the world of the gods with its promised blessings was sought. The goal to reach was the ultimate source of life, the Brahman.
The Upanishads. The word "upanishad" means literally to "sit near to," and was used to signify secret doctrine containing the key to life, handed on from master to disciple. The earliest Upanishads, written in prose, were composed not later than the 6th century b.c. They were followed by others, many of them in verse, until eventually a collection of 108 was made. Of these, the original and fundamental texts numbered only 11. They contain all those profound ideas that were to germinate in the Indian soul and to inspire Hindu religion and philosophy down to the present day.
The teaching of the Upanishads is of a mystical nature. Although in Greek philosophy there is a mystical strain, the Greek genius had a bent for speculative thought; its achievement marks the triumph of human reason. The genius of India on the other hand is for mystical experience. The seers of the Upanishads were seeking not a speculative knowledge of truth attained by reason, but a knowledge that transcends reason, giving an intimate experience of ultimate truth. Their question was, "What is that which, being known, everything is known?" The answer was in the knowledge of the Brahman. Thus from being conceived as the power in the sacrifice that upholds the world, the Brahman had come to be regarded as the supreme power in the universe, to be known by meditation and asceticism. This knowledge of the Brahman was sought in the Upanishads, a knowledge of the ultimate being that is beyond this world and the world of the gods, beyond sense and reason, and that confers liberation (moksa ) and bliss (ānanda ).
The path of this progression of thought is traceable in India's search for the ultimate reality or ground of the universe, first, in the elements of earth, air, fire, and water; then in space (ākāśa ), which embraces all matter. Then they turned to human nature, seeking its essence, the true Self (Ātman ) in breath (prāna ) or life or thought. Finally the discovery was made that the ultimate reality is beyond all these; it is "not this, not this" (neti, neti ). It is a mystery beyond human understanding, which can be known only by direct intuition. Then the supreme discovery of the Upanishads was made. The ultimate ground of reality in nature (Brahman ) is one with the ultimate ground of being in the soul (Ātman ). The Brahman is the Ā tman, or as it is said in one of the great sayings of the Upanishads, "Thou art That." When the ultimate reality is known, it is not by sense or reason but by the soul's direct intuition of itself. In this experience there is no more distinction of subject and object, no "duality."
The conception of the identity of the Brahman and the Ātman was essentially a mystical intuition, one that underlies all Hindu philosophy. The interpretation of it gave rise to many diverse schools of thought. The difficulty is that the Upanishads expressed profound intuitions that were not worked out logically; different systems could be derived from them. Their purpose was not to lead to systematic reasoning but to awaken the intuition of ultimate truth in the heart, and so to lead the hearer to final liberation. There appeared to be conflicting statements in the Upanishads: they declared that the Brahman is not only the source but also the substance of all being: "all this (world) is Brahman. " It was said that just as the spider comes out with its thread or as small sparks come from the fire, so the world comes forth from Brahman. Or again, as all clay pots are the same clay and differ only in their forms, so all things in the universe are Brahman and differ only in their names and forms (nāmarūpa ). Yet again it was said that the Brahman is not to be identified with anything in the universe; it is the "subtle essence" that is in all things but is distinct from them. It is like the soul in the body, the principle of being, life, and thought, yet apart from these.
What the seers of the Upanishads reached was an intuition of an absolute spiritual reality. The Brahman was the principle alike of being and of knowing. It was the plenitude of being, and when all the worlds came forth from it, it was not diminished. It was also the plenitude of knowing, not as that which is known but rather as that which knows. "Who," it was asked, "shall know the knower?" It could not be known by any method of human reason; it could be known only to him to whom it made itself known. As such it was the "controller," the "dweller-within," the inner Self (Ātman ). It was that which was "dearer than all," for the sake of which all other things were to be desired, the bestower of joy and immortality. Thus in the later Upanishads, especially the Svetāṣvatara (4.11; 6.7), the Brahman took a distinctly personal character. It was known as the Lord (īsā ), the great Person (puruṣa ), and was even given the name of Śiva (the gracious).
Because the Upanishads brought to an end the revelation (śruti ) of the Vedas, they are known as Vedānta (literally, the "end" of the Veda). Although they contain profound insights into the mystery of being, they do not propound a system of thought. They leave unresolved the question of the relation between the personal and the impersonal character in the Brahman and the relation between the world and the Brahman. These questions therefore became the subject of subsequent debate, giving rise to the differing schools of the Vedānta. But in the meantime Hindu religion was to undergo a profound transformation. In the period following the Upanishads—between 500 b.c. and a.d. 500—their religion was gradually modified by the influence of the local cults. At the same time "unorthodox" doctrines of buddhism and jainism became rivals of Hinduism, and it was only at the end of this period that Hinduism emerged as the religion of the greater part of India.
The Darmashāstras. The writings of this period were known as smrti (literally "that which is remembered") or "tradition" as distinguished from śruti or "revelation." Among them were the law-books (dharmaśāstras ), above all the laws of Manu, which laid down the basic principles on which Hindu society was to be governed. Society was divided into four castes, or more properly "classes" (varṇa, meaning literally "color"), from which the caste system later developed. The first three classes, the Brahmins (priests), kshatriyas (warriors), and vaishyas (merchants) were known as the "twice-born," because they alone could be initiated into the wisdom of the Vedas. The fourth class, the śūdras (workers), had no right to learning. Yet it was they who in the end were to transform the Hindu religion.
In the dharmaśāstras appeared also the division of an individual's life into four stages (āśramas ). In the first, the student (brahmachārin ) had to study the Vedas at the feet of a master and to observe chastity. The second stage was that of the householder (grhastha ), who was to marry and bring up a family. The third phase was that of the "forest-dweller" (vānaprastha ), which began when a man's hair began to turn grey. He was supposed to leave his home and his wife and go to live in the forest to meditate and do penance for the good of his soul. The last stage was that of the sannyāsi (literally "one who has renounced all"), when he was expected to break all attachments to the world and live as a wanderer begging his way. A great number neglected to put this ideal into practice, but all Hindu society recognized the ideal of complete detachment from the world for the sake of attaining liberation (moksa ). The doctrines of the Āranyakas and the Upanishads had thus been incorporated into the framework of Hindu life.
Four ends of life. The same principle governed the four "ends" of life as they were formulated at this time. The first was pleasure (kāma ) and the second wealth (artha ), both frankly recognized as natural goods and meriting elaborate treatises; the third end was dharma, translated as "law," the basic principle of order in human society. Every man was held to have his proper place with its rights and duties determined largely by his position in the framework of the four classes. The happiness both of the individual and of society was held to depend on the observance of dharma, and the whole of human society was held to be subject to divine law; human activity, economic, social, political, and religious, was given a divine sanction. It was this above everything that stamped a religious character on Hindu society. The fourth end of life was moksa, or liberation from this world. However important the place of worldly pleasure or wealth or worldly duty, the supreme end of life was liberation from this world and enjoyment of the supreme bliss of Brahman. The ideal of the Upanishads thus influenced the whole of Hindu life.
Epics. Of the same period as the dharmaśāstras and reflecting the same order of society were the two great Hindu epics (Itihāsas ), the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata. The original poems were composed probably soon after 500 b.c., but both received numerous interpolations in the course of time and were not completed until the 4th century a.d. They hold a place in literature not unlike that of the Iliad and the Odyssey.
The Rāmāyaṇa. Written traditionally by the sage Vālmāki, the Rāmāyaṇa is the story of the prince Rāma, who was exiled in the forest with his wife Sītā; she was kidnaped by the demon king, Rāvaṇa. After many adventures, Rāma killed Rāvanṇa, rescued Sītā, and returned to reign in his kingdom. It is probable that Rāma was a historical person, who lived in the 7th or 8th century b.c. In the original story he was represented as a brave and noble king and Sītā, as a devoted wife. The whole story was impressed with the idea of dharma as the ruling principle of life and with moral idealism. In the later versions of the epic, Rāma was conceived as a divine being, an incarnation of the god Viṣṇu, and with this change the story was translated in later times into all the languages of India; the divine hero became the object of a universal cult. To this day Rāma remains one of the names of God to the devout Hindu, and his name was the last word uttered by Mahātmā Gāndhi.
The Mahābhārata. This epic, composed traditionally by Vyasa, is the story of a great battle between the Pāndavas and Kauravas, two families descended from Bharata, one of the ancient kings of North India. In the course of time the epic grew to vast proportions, through the addition of myths and legends, moral stories, fables, and long didactic discourses. In its present form it is said to be the longest poem in the world, consisting of 100,000 stanzas (ślokas ), the whole being more than three times as long as the Bible. In this form it was a kind of encyclopedia of early Hinduism, reflecting the profound changes of the period. The ancient gods of the Vedas had faded into insignificance and two gods, Viṣṇu and Śiva, who had been obscure in ancient times, became the principal objects of worship. Not only the object but also the manner of worship had changed. Instead of the ancient Vedic sacrifices of slaughtered animals, offerings of fruit and flowers were made to the images of the temple gods, possibly because of the influences of Buddhism and Jainism. From this time, too, the ideal of never taking life (ahiṁsā ) became a ruling principle of Hinduism. But the most notable change was that the worship of the gods began to take a more personal form.
The Bhagavad Gītā. In the later Upanishads, the Brahman conceived in a personal form had been worshiped under the name of Śiva. Now in the Bhagavad Gītā ("the Song of the Lord"), which was added to the Mahābhārata perhaps around the 2d century b.c., this devotion to a personal God was raised to a high level. The Supreme Being, the Brahman, was represented as Bhagavān, the Lord, to be worshiped not by sacrifices but by personal love and devotion (bhakti ). He was conceived under the name of Viṣṇu, who became incarnate, or more exactly "descended" in the form of an avatāra, to deliver the world from unrighteousness (adharma ) and restore righteousness (dharma ). In the original story of the Mahābhārata, Krishna like Rāma was an epic hero, but by the time the Gītā was added he, like Rāma, had come to be regarded as an incarnation of Viṣṇu. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gītā, was represented as the Supreme Being (parabrahma ) governing the universe; he was beyond all human conception, and at the same time the Supreme Self (parātman ) dwelling in the heart of every man and manifesting himself by his grace (prasāda ) to those who devoted themselves to him. Thus the Brahman of the Upanishads was transformed into a supreme personal god. Yet just as in the Upanishads there was no clear distinction made between the creator and the creature, so in the Gītā, Krishna was never clearly distinguished from nature and the souls in which he dwelt. This was the problem that was to occupy different schools of the Vedānta in their interpretation of both the Upanishads and the Gītā.
The Bhagavad Gītā became the most popular of all the sacred writings of Hinduism not only for its beautiful conception of a personal god, but also for its ethical teaching. The great lesson of the Gītā was that the knowledge of the Brahman, which had been the goal of the Upanishads, was to be reached not merely by the ascetic who renounced the world but also by the householder living in the world. It was to be attained by action (karma ) no less than by meditation. Every action in accord with dharma, that is with a man's state in life, could become a means of salvation, if it was done with "detachment" and its "fruit" was renounced. Every action could become a true sacrifice, if it was offered to God in a spirit of devotion (bhakti ) and thus became a means of union with God. Thus the Gītā marked a further stage on the path of ascent to the Brahman; the goal was to be attained not merely by sacrifice (yajña ) as in the Vedas, or by knowledge (jñāna ) as in the Upanishads, but by love (bhakti ). It was the conception of love (bhakti ) that was to work so wonderful a transformation in Hindu religion and to lead to its greatest achievements.
SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT
The metaphysical doctrine of the Bhagavad Gītā was based on the Sāṅkhya, which was one of the schools (darśanas ) of philosophy that arose during the period when the Mahābhārata and the dharmaśāstras were being composed. Darśana means literally "point of view," and the six darśanas were not systems of philosophy so much as different points of view within orthodox Hindu doctrine.
Nyāya. The first school, Nyāya (analysis), was a system of logical realism which, although it was similar to that of Aristotle, was quite independent of it. Nyāya maintained the existence of an external world independent of the mind and sought to establish this view by logical reasoning. It never gained popularity, but the study of logic came to be regarded as a discipline for the study of philosophy and by a characteristically Indian turn of thought as a means of salvation, the end of all philosophy.
VaiśeŚika. The second school, Vaiśeṣika (individual characteristics), was a system of philosophy based on atomism; it taught that the universe consists of five elements—earth, air, fire, water, and space (ākāśa )—each of which is composed of a number of atoms. The influence of these theories was slight, their principal interest being the remarkable fact that they had a place in Hindu thought.
Sāṅkhya. More characteristic and more influential was the Sāṅkhya (the "school of the Count"), the basis of the doctrine of the Bhagavad Gītā, tracing its origin probably to the time of the Upanishads. It was a metaphysical doctrine that the universe was derived from two principles called Purusha and Prakrti. Purusha, which may be translated Spirit, was the principle of Being, corresponding in some ways with Aristotle's "form" or essence. Prakrti was the principle of Becoming, corresponding to Aristotle's "matter" or, more generally, "substance." From these two principles all the elements in human nature and the natural world were derived. What was peculiar to the Sāṅkhya was the doctrine that all activity came not from Purusha but from Prakrti. The universe evolved from Prakrti, while Purusha remained above all action in a state of pure consciousness. In man Purusha became identified with Prakrti through ignorance, although in itself eternal and unchanging. The ultimate state of man as pure spirit was considered to transcend this world altogether.
Yoga. Sāṅkhya formed the basis of the fourth school of philosophy known as yoga. Yoga was a system of practical philosophy, whose purpose was to teach the way to separate Purusha from Prakrti and so to attain liberation (moksa ). In a sense, it may be said that this was the goal of all the different schools, since the ultimate end of all life and thought was to attain liberation, but Yoga was distinguished by concern with practical method. The word "Yoga," akin to the English "yoke," meant a discipline or method of union. The principles of Yoga were known to the writers of the Upanishads and were probably older, but the classical school of Yoga originated in the Yoga sūtras or sayings of Patañjali, around a.d. 500. It was a system of physical and spiritual discipline by which the mind was set free from all bodily and mental states dependent upon matter (Prakrti ) and realized its nature as a pure spirit (Purusha ). One respect in which the Yoga philosophy differed from the Sānṅkhya was that it recognized the existence of a god (Iśvara) who was conceived as a pure spirit, who was able to assist souls on the path of liberation. Yoga was to have an incalculable influence on all Hindu life and thought and to develop many different schools that continue even to the present day.
Pūrva Mīmāṁsā, Uttara Mīmāṁsā. The other two schools of philosophy, called Mīmāṁsā, were concerned exclusively with the interpretation of the Vedas. The first, called Pūrva Mīmāṁsā, was based on the Brāhmanās and dealt with the laws of sacrifice and the duties of religion (dharma ). It endeavored by rational argument to establish the validity of the Vedas as an eternal revelation, which was valid in itself and was the supreme authority in matters of religion. The second school, Uttara Mīmāṁsā, was what became generally known as the Vedānta; for the term Vedānta, "end of the Vedas," applied originally to the Upanishads themselves, was later to be used for philosophical systems based on them. Uttara Mīmāṁsā was concerned with the interpretation of the Vedas not as a way of action (karma ) but of knowledge (jñāna ), and was based on the Upanishads. The basic text was the Brahma-sūtras of Bādarāyaṇa, written early in the Christian Era. It consisted of short aphorisms, summarizing the doctrine of the Upanishads on the subject of the Brahman. This together with the Upanishads themselves and the Bhagavad Gītā formed the "triple foundation" of the Vedānta, and the principal works of the doctors of the Vedānta consisted in commentaries on these texts.
In the interpretation of the Upanishads, religious teachers (usually Brahmins) formed systems of thought that represented stages of the development of Hinduism within the orthodox framework of the Vedānta.
Śaṇkara. Śaḥkara (b. Kaladi, Malabar, Kerala, 8th century a.d.) was the great master of the Vedānta. In his time Buddhism, Jainism, and other "unorthodox" systems of philosophy were flourishing, but through him Hindu "orthodoxy" was firmly established as the religion of the greater part of India. Śaṅkara himself was a disciple of Gaudapāda, whose commentary on the Māndūkya Upanishad bears clear traces of Buddhist influence. Thus one of the reasons for the triumph of Hinduism over Buddhism may well have been its ability to incorporate the basic insights of Buddhist philosophy into its own system. Śaṅkara himself regarded the Vedas as a revelation of absolute truth and the sole source of that supreme knowledge, which brings liberation. However, in his interpretation of the Vedas he introduced a distinction between the different kinds of knowledge to be found in them. He regarded the knowledge of ritual action (karma ) found in the Pūrva Mīmāṁsā to be of no value for liberation, any more than knowledge in the Vedas, which was derived from ordinary human experience. The supreme knowledge (parāvidyā ) to be found in the Vedas was contained rather in certain "great sayings" (mahāvākya ), which revealed the true nature of the Brahman. In comparison with this knowledge, all other knowledge was to be classed as ignorance (avidyā ).
The doctrine which Śaṅkara upheld was called Advaita (nonduality) because it affirmed that the Brahman was one, "without a second." Its nature was pure Being (sat ), pure knowledge (chit ), and pure bliss (ānanda ), and this one absolute Being was identical with the Self, the Ātman. The true knowledge of the Brahman could not be attained by any method of reasoning, but only by a direct intuition (anubhava ), in which the soul knew itself in its identity with the Brahman. It followed that all distinctions of being, as they appeared to the rational mind, based on the evidence of the senses were an illusion (māyā ). They were like the figures of a dream or like the forms conjured up by a magician. It was, to use his famous illustration, as when a rope was mistaken for a snake: the form of the snake was "superimposed" on that of the rope; when the "superimposition" was removed, it was seen that there was nothing but a rope. So it was that all the different forms of being were superimposed on the pure being of the Brahman. True knowledge was simply the knowledge of the Brahman. All the revelation of the Vedas and all the reasoning based upon it had no other purpose than to lead the soul to this supreme knowledge, which was also supreme bliss. Such a state of perfect knowledge and bliss was liberation (moksa ). It was a liberation from the illusion (māyā ) of this world and an experience of real being in pure consciousness.
Thus the doctrine of Śaṅkara, like that of the Upanishads, was based on a mystical experience, but it was distinguished by the rigorous logic by which he refuted every argument that could be used against it; his teaching succeeded in unifying the whole body of Hindu doctrine in the light of this central intuition. Śaṅkara did not deny the validity of reason and sense experience in their own spheres; on the contrary, he firmly upheld against the Buddhists a realistic view of nature. Nor did he ever suggest that the soul (jīva ), which was a relative being, was divine. But he maintained that from the point of view of the absolute, all such knowledge and all such distinctions were illusory. Thus he used reason with a rigorous logic as far as it would go, but he maintained the possibility of a knowledge transcending reason, revealed in the Vedas and apprehended by mystical intuition.
There were many who opposed Śaṅkara's view, even though he had succeeded in giving a coherent form to Hindu doctrine. The debate turned especially on the relation of the personal god, as revealed in the Bhagavad Gītā, to the Brahman. According to Śaṅkara, the idea of a personal god with attributes or qualities (saguna ), though it could be helpful to the believer on the way to truth, was itself a product of ignorance (avidyā ). It belonged to the sphere of māyā and had to be transcended, if the soul was to reach the supreme knowledge of the Brahman without attributes (nirguna ).
Rāmānuja. In this matter Śaṅkara was opposed by Rāmānuja, a Tamil Brahmin (b. near Madras, 11th century a.d.; d. at the famous temple of Sri Rangam near Tricinopoli, 1137). His doctrine was known as Viśiṣṭāvaita or "qualified" Advaita to distinguish it from the pure Advaita of Śaṅkara. Rāmānuja was a Vedantin who, like Śaṅkara, claimed to interpret the true meaning of the Vedas and on the authority of the same texts of the Brahma-sūtras and the Bhagavad Gītā. But his doctrine was influenced also by another current of religious thought in which the Supreme Being was worshiped under the name of Viṣṇu Nārāyaṇa or Vāsudeva, later identified with Krishna as Bhagavān or Lord. The followers of Rāmānuja's sect were known as Bhāgavatas, and their doctrine developed in a school known as Pāñcarātra, one of the sources of Rāmānuja's theology. The Bhagavad Gītā itself was an early expression of the doctrine, but it was in the Tamil country (Madras State) in the period between a.d. 500 and 1000 that the great flowering of devotion to a personal god took shape in the hymns of the Ālvārs, the poet-saints of South India.
Inspired by this school, Rāmānuja contended that the Supreme Being, the Brahman, had essentially a personal character and a personal relationship to his worshipers. In opposition to Śaṅkara, he maintained that the way of knowledge (jñāna-mārga ) was inferior to the way of devotion (bhakti-mārga ) and that in the highest state of bliss the individual soul was united with God but never wholly identified with Him. Further, while Śaṅkara had taught that the knowledge of the Brahman depended on the soul itself, which had only to realize its essential identity with the Brahman, Rāmānuja contended that the soul was assisted in its ascent to God by divine grace (prasāda ).
Rāmānuja asserted the personal nature of the Brahman and the real distinction between God and nature (Prakṛti ) and souls (Ātman ). He maintained that the nature of the Brahman is "qualified." It is not the absolutely simple being that Śaṅkara had conceived, but a being with many different attributes. Rāmānuja supported this view by maintaining that as a substance and its attributes are essentially one yet different, so the Brahman was essentially one but had different attributes. Nature and souls he considered to be "modes" of the divine being, which stood to them in the relation of the soul to the body. Thus nature and souls were essentially divine and had lost the knowledge of their true nature due to ignorance. The work of divine grace was to restore them to the knowledge of their true nature and to unite them with God in the love of total self-surrender (prapatti ). In this state, souls were one with the divine being but did not lose their individual self-consciousness.
Madhva. A third school of Vedānta, known as dvaita (duality), arose in opposition to both Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja. Its founder was Madhva (b. South Canara, Kerala, 12th century a.d.). Against all forms of Advaita he maintained the real diversity of being. "Diverse are all the things of the world and they possess diverse attributes." Above all he conceived of God as Viṣṇu-Nārāyaṇa, a personal being, possessed of an infinite number of qualities, a being absolutely transcendent, the supreme cause of all things and eternally distinct from them. God alone has being in Himself; all other beings are dependent on Him. Whether the world depends on God for its existence does not seem to be clear, for Madhva held that nature or matter (Prakṛti ) is eternal like God; but in all other respects he maintained that nature and souls depend entirely on God. The beatitude of the soul when it attains liberation consists precisely in realizing its entire dependence on God for its being, its knowledge, and its activity. Further, the liberation of the soul depends on the grace of God, first by His revealing Himself in the Vedas and then by His giving it a teacher (guru ) to instruct it in the knowledge of the Vedas; finally in giving it an interior light. There were several features in the doctrine of Madhva and in the stories told about him, suggesting that he might have been influenced by Christian doctrine. This is not certain, however.
Niṃbārka. A new doctrine, called dvaitādvaita, which held that the Brahman is both different and not different (bhedābheda ) from the world, was introduced by Niṁbārka (13th century?). His illustration was that of a clay pot, which is both different and not different from the clay of which it is made; again, that of the waves of the sea, which are both different and not different from the sea. In other words, Brahman and the world are essentially the same, differing only accidentally.
Vallabha. A fifth innovator in the interpretation of the Vedānta, Vallabha (1473–1531), went further than Niṃbārka and declared that Brahman and the world are identical and not different in anything. He called his doctrine suddhādvaita or pure nonduality, but he stood at the opposite pole to Śaṅkara. Whereas Śaṅkara, to maintain the absolute "nonduality" of the Brahman, had maintained that the world was émāyā and had no real being, Vallabha held that the world is no less real than the Brahman and is simply a manifestation of the Brahman. The Brahman is being, knowledge, and bliss. In the world he reveals his being but hides his knowledge and bliss. In souls he reveals his being and knowledge and hides his bliss. Only in his own form, identified with that of Krishna, does he reveal his perfect being, knowledge and bliss.
One of the most remarkable elements in the doctrine of Vallabha was his conception of divine grace. With the growth of devotion (bhakti ) to a personal god the idea of divine grace (anugraha ) had steadily developed. The idea had its origin in the Upanishads in a famous text where it is said that "Self" (Ātman ) cannot be attained by the Vedas, or by intelligence or by much learning; by him it is attained whom it chooses" (Katha Up. 1.2.23). Although it was characteristic of Śaṅkara to translate this passage differently, since he rejected the doctrine of grace, it was eagerly accepted by those who worshiped a personal god. By Rāmānuja the worship of God was conceived of rather as the devotion of a servant to his Lord, and divine grace was conceived of as an act of condescension. But with the growth of popular devotion in later times, devotion came to be conceived more and more in terms of love (prema ). The attitude of the devotee was that of total surrender (prapatti ) in love. With this grew the idea that love itself is a gift of God. There were two schools of thought on the subject, the schools of "Monkey-Logic" and "Cat-Logic," which were developed respectively by Vadakalai ("Northern") and Tentakalai ("Southern") Vaisnavism in the Tamil regions of South India. According to the first school, the soul has to cooperate with divine grace, as the young monkey clings to its mother; but according to the other, grace is wholly an act of God as a cat carries its young.
Vallabha described divine grace as pushṭi, a state in which the soul feels itself to be absolutely helpless and abandons itself entirely to God. God is to be loved for His own sake, and the soul itself and the world for the sake of God. The union with God, which is sought, is one in which the soul participates in the very being and knowledge and bliss of God and loves with God's own love. Yet the soul is held to be essentially divine; it does not receive a new nature from God, but it discovers the reality of its own nature.
While this great doctrinal synthesis was being built on the Vedānta, Hindu religion had undergone a profound transformation. The Vedic tradition continued to be preserved by the Brahmins, but popular religion introduced new elements into it. It is to be noticed that all the great doctors of the Vedānta came from South India, and to them is due also the fusion of the Vedic tradition with the popular religion. Popular religion found expression in a new literature, and in the worship of numerous deities.
Legends and manuals. Popular religion was represented in legends, especially those of the Purāṇas; and in manuals of doctrine and ritual, known as Ā gamas, which were concerned especially with the cult of Viṣṇu, Śiva, and Śakti.
Purāṇas were the most important books of the new literature. These were collections of the myths and stories of the gods of popular devotion, confined not to the upper classes alone, but spread among people of all castes. The most notable of the Purāṇas were the Viśṇu and Bhāgavata Purāṇas, telling the story of the avatāras or incarnations of Viṣṇu. An indication of the importance of this story was its inclusion by the later teachers of the Vedānta, such as Madhva, Niṃbārka, and Vallabha, with the Upanishads, the Brahma-sūtras, and the Bhagavad Gītā as one of the bases of their philosophy.
The Āgamas were manuals not only of doctrine but especially of ritual regulating the worship of the different sects. Although the Brahman was universally recognized as one, eternal, absolute being, whose nature is Being, knowledge, and bliss (saccidānanda ), nevertheless Brahman was thought to be manifested in three forms (trimūrti ), Brahmā (in the masculine as distinguished from the neuter Brahman ), Viṣṇu, and Śiva.
Brahmā. Brahmā was the form of the creator, Viṣṇu the form of the preserver, and Śiva that of the destroyer of the universe. In practice however, scarcely any worship was given to Brahmā; Viṣṇu and Śiva each came to be regarded as the supreme God, who is at once creator, preserver, and destroyer of the world. The followers of Viṣṇu were known as Vaisnavaites, and those of Śiva, as Shaivites. Each sect had its own Ā gamas, on which were based its doctrine and worship.
Viṣṇu. He was a solar deity of little importance in the Vedas, who came to be identified with Vāsudeva, and also with Nārāyanṇa, a cosmic deity of uncertain origin. As such, he was represented as sleeping in the primeval ocean on the thousand-headed serpent (SesŚa), while Brahmā, the world-creator was born of a lotus coming from his navel. This was an interesting reversal of the role of Brahmā, who was originally conceived as the supreme creator, not subject to Visṣṇu.
Visṣṇu, by his "descent" in different forms to save the world, had become incarnate. The first six incarnations, in the forms of a fish, a tortoise, a boar, a man-lion, a dwarf, and the hero Paraśurāma, were purely mythological and had little religious importance. But the incarnation of Visṣṇu as Rāma and Krishna, the heroes of the Rāmāyan and the Mahābhārata, had a profound influence on Hindu religion.
Rāma. The cult of Rāma was comparatively late in developing. From the early Middle Ages, Rāma was represented in literature as an incarnation of Visṣṇu, but it was not until the 11th century that a cult seems to have developed. From this time, Rāma began to be represented not merely as an incarnation of Visṣṇu but as himself the supreme god. His cult was carried from South to North India in the 14th century by Ramananda, a disciple of Rāmānuja. It inspired some of the greatest religious poetry of India. One of his disciples was Kabīr (1440–1518), whose poems were later translated by Rabīndranāth Tagore. There is evidence in his work of Muslim influence on Hinduism, a more exalted conception of the transcendence of God, and a greater universality. But the poet who more than anyone else was responsible for the spread of devotion to Rāma was Tulsī Das (1532–1623), whose version of the Rāmāyaṇa, written in Hindi, is regarded as one of the great masterpieces of religious literature. The cult of Rāma was organized in the 17th century by Rāmdās (1608–81), who established many temples and monasteries (maṭhs ), besides writing poetry. A contemporary of Rāmdās, Tukārām (1608–49), contributed some of the most moving poems to this cult. On the whole, the cult of Rāma was remarkable for its moral purity, in which it often compares favorably with that of Krishna.
Krishna. The cult of Krishna, although it began with the Bhagavad Gītā, reached its culmination in the Bhāgavata Purānṇa (10th century a.d.), one of the most popular works of Hindu piety, placed by later writers on a level with the Vedas. It tells the story of Krishna's infancy, which was full of miraculous incidents and many charming stories that endeared him to the people as the child-god. But of even greater importance was the story of Krishna as a young cowherd (gopā ), who won the love of all the milkmaids (gopīs ). Drawing wives from their husbands, he danced with them to the music of his flute in the moonlight. The story was intended to have a mystical significance and as such it was interpreted by all the great poets and philosophers of the cult. It represented the love of God, which draws men to forsake home and family and to surrender themselves to the joy of loving God. The extreme emotionalism of this cult often led to abuse. In later times Krishna, like Rāma, came to be regarded not so much as an incarnation of Visṣṇu, as the very per-ṣu was represented with his consort, the goddess Laksmī, so Krishna was worshiped with his consort Rādhā, the favorite among the gopīs, and the model of total surrender to the love of God. The conception was found in Niṁbārka and in Vallabha, but it reached its highest expression in the doctrine of Caitanya (1485–1553), a contemporary of Vallabha from Bengal, where the cult has continued to the present day in the emotional form which he gave to it, accompanied by singing and dancing.
Other Incarnations of Viṣṇu. These were ten in number and of a different nature from incarnations as Rāma and Krishna. The first was his incarnation in the form of the Buddha. This was added late in the Middle Ages in the spirit of "comprehension" so typical of Hinduism. It marks the fact that Buddhism had ceased to be a rival of Hinduism in India, and its great founder could now be safely introduced into the Hindu pantheon, but the cult son of God. Just as Vis of the Buddha never attained popularity. The last incarnation is to be that of Kalki, the avatāra of the end of time, when Visṣṇu will appear riding on a white horse with a flaming sword in his hand to destroy the wicked and restore the age of gold.
Śiva. The other great god of Hinduism was Śiva, often known as Maheśvara, the "great god." While Visṣṇu was a god of the ocean and the sky of wholly beneficent aspect, Śiva was originally a non-Vedic god later identified with Rudra, the Vedic god of mountain and storm. Śiva had his dark side in which he was represented as the "destroyer" of the world, wearing a garland of skulls and haunting the burning grounds of corpses; but he was also an ascetic (mahāyogi ), living in solitude on Mt. Kailasa, holding the world in being by the power of his asceticism (tapas ). He was represented with the "third eye," the sign of supreme wisdom, with matted locks, his body smeared with ashes—like his devotees today—and with snakes, of which he was Lord, encircling his neck and arms. But while in one aspect he was the Yogi, wrapped in meditation, in another he was lord of the Dance (nātarāja ), who held the world in being in the cosmic dance and would finally bring it to an end.
This strange and rather fierce deity, with his ambivalent nature and marks of many different origins, captured the imagination of India and was gradually transformed into a god of supreme beauty with dominant characteristics of grace and love. As the dance of Krishna with the gopīs became a symbol of divine love, so the linga of Śiva, a cylindrical pillar with a rounded top, seen in countless temples all over India, became a symbol of the pure godhead "without form" and the creative source of life. In South India in the Tamil country the cult of Śiva developed its most beautiful features. While, in the Middle Ages between the 5th and 10th century, the Alvārs Viṣṇu in their poetry, a school of Shaivite poets arose called the Nāyāṇars; of these the most fawere celebrating Visṣikka Vāchakar, one of the greatest religious poets of all time. He celebrated Śiva as a god of pure love, who yet punishes the sinner to teach him to mend his ways. Thus the worship of Śiva developed a pure moral character; the god was seen as the Lord of all, full of compassion and mercy, bestowing his grace on the sinner and drawing him by his love.
The cult also developed its own distinctive theology called the Shaiva Siddhānta. Though it recognized the authority of the Vedas, it had its own distinctive scriptures that took the form of Āgamas. Śiva was represented as the supreme God, who was being, knowledge, and bliss, as in the Vedānta. But the Shaiva Siddhānta introduced another principle, the Śakti or power of Śiva, by which he brought the world into being. By this means, the pure transcendence of Śiva as lord (pati ) was preserved, and matter (paśa ) and the soul (pāśu ) were held to be really distinct from him. The soul was liberated from the bonds of matter by the grace of Śiva and in its final state enjoyed not absorption but self-realization in the perfect bliss of Śiva. There were other forms of Śivism, notably Kāshmīra Śivism, said to have been introduced into Kashmir in the 9th century a.d., and Vīra Śivism, introduced by Basava into Kannada (Mysore State) in the 12th century a.d. Basava's followers were called Liṅgāyats, from their custom of wearing the liṅga on their person. But neither of these cults had a distinctive doctrine.
The Śakti of Śiva. In the course of time, the Śakti of Śiva, conceived as a feminine principle, became the object of a separate cult originating probably in the worship of the Mother Goddess, according to the evidence furnished by the prehistoric culture of Harappā and Mohenjo-Daro. It was not until the Middle Ages that it appeared in orthodox Hinduism. From the 4th century onward, the mother goddess made an appearance as consort of the great gods. Thus Brahmā was represented with his consort Sarasvatī, the goddess of wisdom; Viṣṇu, the goddess of wealth; and Śiva with Pārvatī, daughter of the Himalaya Mountain. The consort of Śiva was also known as Durgā or kĀlĪ, and in this form she received worship in a special cult as Śakti. The peculiarity of the Śakti doctrine was that Śiva, who was pure being and pure consciousness, was regarded as wholly transcendent and inactive; all the activity of the world came from the power of his Śakti. Thus, Śakti was the moving principle of the universe, the source of all life and energy. She was the womb of nature, the Mother of all creation. Ultimately indeed, she was regarded as one with the supreme principle of Being, the source of the life not only of nature but also of the gods.
As Mother Nature, Śakti had two aspects, one fierce and terrible, representing the destructive aspect of nature, the other gentle and loving, the source of joy and liberation. The doctrine and worship of the Śakti cult was based on scriptures known as the Tantras (see tantrism). Through these writings, the tradition of the old fertility cults entered Hinduism. Since some of these rites involved orgiastic practices, the breaking of all taboos, the reputation of the cult suffered as a whole. But essentially the cult was based on the recognition of the divine power inherent in matter and the processes of nature, on the sacramental value of the body and its powers to lead the soul on the path of liberation. Its most characteristic doctrine was that of Kundalinī Yoga. According to this doctrine Śakti, the divine energy, lies coiled up like a serpent at the base of the spine in the form of Kundalinī. The purpose of this Yoga is to lead the Śakti through the different centers of consciousness (chakras ) in the body, from the Śakti unites base of the spine to the top of the head, until Śiva or pure consciousness and attains to the perfect bliss of liberation.
Worship. In addition to the great gods of Hinduism, there were innumerable lesser deities; indeed it is said in the Purāṇas that there are 333 million deities in the Hindu pantheon. These include local gods and goddesses, spirits and demigods of all kinds. India never lost the primitive sense of the "sacred," of a divine mystery present in the world of nature. Hills and mountains, rivers and streams, plants and animals, have a sacred character and may be worshiped as manifestations of the divine being. Persons of all kinds, parents and teachers, husband and wife, above all the guru, the spiritual teacher, may be worshiped as God, because they are invested with divine authority. This gives a special character to the worship of the gods. It would not be correct to describe it simply as polytheism, in spite of the multitude of gods, since each god or goddess is regarded as but a "form" or manifestation of the one Universal Being. The danger of polytheism, even among the simple people in the villages, is less evident than the sense of the divine as one infinite power extending everywhere.
Temples. From the time of the Middle Ages when the Vedic sacrifice (yajña ) lost its importance, worship (pūjā ) has been offered to the gods in temples. The temple itself is a mark of the later popular religion. Worship is offered by the placing of fruit and flowers before an image of the god set in a shrine (mūlasthānam ) around which the temple is built. The Hindu temple is not a place of congregational worship; it is essentially the shrine of a deity, and offerings are made by the priest (pūjarī ) for individuals or small family groups. The great Hindu temples have a multitude of such shrines, where different gods are worshiped, but the temple centers on the principal shrine. This is usually dark and low, representing the hidden dwelling place of the divine mystery at the heart of the universe, of which the temple is an image.
An image that is worshiped is consecrated by a special ceremony, and after its consecration it is believed that the god is really present in it. It is treated as a living being, awakened from sleep in the morning, washed and dressed and arrayed with garlands of flowers; lamps are waved before it, and it is given food to eat, the "essence" being taken by the god and the material part being given to the worshipers or distributed to the poor. This worship of idols is one of the principal elements in Hindu religion; yet it would be a mistake to regard it simply as idolatry. Generally speaking, such worship is rather the expression of a profound sacramental sense. It is not the idol as such that is worshiped, but the god who is believed to dwell in the idol, and above any particular god, Divine Being itself, which thus manifests itself to its worshipers. The true nature of this worship is expressed in a remarkable text of the 13th century: "God when present in the inanimate idol becomes in all respects subject to his devotee. Though omniscient, he seems to be without knowledge; though alive and conscious he appears to be inanimate; though independent, he appears to be entirely dependent on others; though omnipotent, he seems to be powerless; though perfect, he appears needy; the protector of the universe, helpless he is the Lord, but he hides his Lordship; the invisible makes himself an object for our senses to perceive, the inapprehensible brings himself within our easy reach." Nothing could express more clearly the sacramental character of Hindu popular worship, when it is properly understood.
Although the temple is in a sense the center of religious worship and the temples are crowded with worshipers on the great festivals and visited by pilgrims from all over India, yet the home remains, as in Vedic times, the place where most of the sacred rites are performed. An orthodox Brahmin house has a room set apart for the daily prayers, which are offered at sunrise, and almost every religious home has a small shrine in a corner of a room set apart for prayer. Every stage of life, moreover, is accompanied by sacramental rites (saṃskāras ) from birth, or rather before birth, to death. There are three rites prescribed during the pregnancy of the mother and three after birth. Not all these are observed in modern times, but a special importance continues to be attached to the ceremony of the thread (upanayana ), by which the Brahmin boy is initiated as a full member of his community and becomes one of the "twice-born." This is accompanied by the recital of the gāyatrī, a verse of the Rig Veda, considered to be supremely sacred and used on many occasions. A Hindu marriage is performed in the home and is invested with a solemn character. According to tradition, marriage is indissoluble and a widow is never permitted to marry again. However, divorce was introduced by the State. Marriages were arranged by the family and normally took place in childhood until recently, when it was forbidden by law.
According to Vedic tradition, the dead are cremated, but burial is common among many of the lower castes. There are elaborate funeral rites, renewed up to 30 days after the death, and offerings of rice are made to the souls of the dead at regular intervals.
HINDUISM AND THE CASTE SYSTEM
Though abolished by law, caste remains in force to a large extent, especially in regard to marriage. It is quite distinct from the four "classes" (varṇa ) of ancient India, and appears merely to have been grafted on to them, having been derived from the tribal customs.
Crafts and Castes. Caste was determined partly by religious and social customs and partly by craft or trade. It was by means of the caste system that the innumerable tribal and racial groups of ancient India with their different religions and social customs were integrated into Hinduism, while preserving their own traditions. At the same time, the different craftsmen, whose work was the glory of ancient India and was always stamped with a religions character, formed themselves into guilds, which gradually formed distinct castes. In the course of time, the number of castes grew to be more than 2,000, and the restrictions on intercourse between castes grew more and more rigid. At the same time certain tribal groups and certain trades came to be regarded as base and unclean and were held to be "untouchable," so that they could not approach within a certain distance of a person of a higher caste. The caste system has undoubtedly been responsible for many injustices in Hindu life, especially as it was held to be based on karma, so that a man's position in society was determined by the actions of his former life. On the other hand, the caste system enabled each group to retain its own individuality and distinctive traditions, gave each person a clearly defined status in society, and provided a kind of social security for widows and orphans, the aged, and the poor, who would otherwise have had no one to care for them.
Persistence of the caste system. The caste system retains a strong hold over Hindu society, especially in the villages, but it has begun to break down as a result of contact with modern habits of life in the towns. The State abolished "untouchability" by law, and efforts were made to secure equality of status for all classes. A transformation in Hindu society is evident in the suppression of such customs as the immolation of widows on the funeral pyre of their husbands (satī ) and temple prostitution. Child marriage is illegal and divorce is permitted. But these are changes in the social structure. Hinduism, far from having lost its hold over the people, has rather undergone a reformation and emerged stronger than before.
REFORM IN HINDUISM
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Hinduism was purified in a variety of ways by the influence of learned or saintly Hindus.
Sen, Sarasvati. The first movement of reform in Hinduism began with the foundation of a school of rational theism on the basis of the Upanishads, the Brāhma Samāj, by Rām Mohan Roy (1772–1833), a Brahmin from Bengal. It was an attempt to free Hinduism from polytheism and image worship and to construct a pure monotheism in the light of Christian and Muslim doctrine. Though the Brāhma Samāj had some influence for a time and the work was continued by Debendra Nāth Tagore (1817–1905), the father of the poet, who gave it a more Indian character, it became divided under its next leader, Keshab Chandra Sen (1838–84), on the question of the relation between the Christian and Hindu elements within it. This led to another movement of reform by Dayānand Sarasvatī (1824–83), who founded the Ārya Samāj, another attempt to abolish polytheism, image worship, and caste practices. Based on what its founder believed to be the pure religion of the Vedas, it was opposed alike to Christianity and to Islam. It continues to form a militant group within Hinduism, but its influence is not extensive.
Parahaṁsa. The greatest portent in modern Hinduism was Rāmakrishna Parahaṁsa (1834–86). He was a poor and almost unlettered Brahmin, who spent most of his life as a devotee of the Mother Goddess at the Dakshineswar temple outside Calcutta. He summed up in himself all that was best in Hinduism. A devotee of the Mother Goddess, who practiced all the tantric rites of her cult, he was at the same time a Vedantin, who worshiped God "without form" no less than "with form." He was an ascetic, who realized the ideal of Hindu sannyāsi, and a mystic, who manifested the Hindu ideal of a "holy man" who had "realized" God. His mind was open to other religions, and for some time he deliberately meditated as a Christian and a Muslim in order to enter into the spirit of each religion. Finally he was led to the belief that "all religions are one." His influence was extended by his disciple Vivekānanda (1862–1902), who founded the Rāmakrishna Mission, introducing a new element of social service into Hinduism and giving it a missionary character that extended its influence to Europe and America.
Gāndhi. While these movements of reform affected only a cultured minority, it was Mahātmā Gāndhi (1869–1948) more than anyone who was responsible for bringing the reform to the masses of the people. Through him untouchability was abolished and many caste barriers were removed. He introduced the ideal of nonviolence (ahiṁsa ) as the basic principle of social and political life, and by this India was able eventually to obtain her independence. Gāndhi was deeply influenced by the teaching and example of Christ, as well as by the writings of Tolstoi, but he remained a devout Hindu at heart, accepting all Hinduism's basic principles. Through him Hindu religion acquired a new moral character, which affected the whole mass of the people.
Ghose. The doctrine of the Vedānta received further development at the hands of Aurobindo Ghose (1872–1950), who in 1910 founded an ashram, or hermitage, at Pondicherry, where he lived for 40 years. He had read modern Western philosophy, and in his great work, The Life Divine, he sought to reconcile an evolutionary view of the universe with the traditional doctrine of the Vedānta. According to his theory, both being and becoming are essential aspects of the one Brahman; the world of becoming, of time and evolution, is a manifestation of the eternal Brahman. There is a movement of descent from the divine being into the world, and a corresponding movement of ascent by which the world returns to the divine being, by becoming conscious in man of its identity with the divine nature.
Maharishi. Perhaps the most authentic expression of the doctrine of the Vedānta in modern times is to be found in Ramana Maharishi (1879–1950) of South India, who left his home at the age of 17 to live in a cave as a sannyāsī on the holy hill of Arunṇācala at Tiruvaṇṇāmalai, near Madras. Without any training in the Vedānta he reached the state of absolute "identity" with the Brahman, which had always been the goal of the Hindu religious quest. He taught the doctrine of pure "nonduality" (Advaita ) as it was held by Śaṅkara, but with him it was not so much a theory as an experience; he showed in his life the example of perfect detachment and at the same time sympathy and understanding, which is the Hindu's mark of the "holy man." Thus in different ways Hinduism showed itself capable of new life, satisfying the religious, moral, and social ideals of the majority of its adherents.
HINDUISM AND CHRISTIANITY
Hinduism was called by the theologian P. Johanns, SJ, "the most searching quest in the natural order for the Divine that the world has known." In common with Christianity, it has its own idea of Trinity and Incarnation, of sin and salvation, of revelation and inspiration, of sacrifice and sacrament, of law and morality, of the ascetic and mystical ife, of grace and love, and of man's ultimate goal of union with God. It is impossible not to admire the profundity of its conception of God as saccidānanda, being, knowledge, and bliss and the degree of intimacy with God to which it declares that the soul is called.
Lack of a clear concept of creation. According to Johanns, this is its principal weakness. As a result of it, Hinduism has never been able to define a relation between God, the soul, and the world. To preserve the divine simplicity and transcendence, it must say with Śaṅkara that the world is māyā, that is, without ultimate reality; or with Rāmānuja and his school, it must say that the world itself is divine. Nor has it ever been able to clarify the true nature of personality in God. It is true that in the dualist system of Madhva and in the Shaiva Siddhānta, a real distinction between God, the soul, and the world is established, but there is no creation, properly speaking, and matter and souls are conceived as eternal like God.
Soul's union with God. Another limitation is that, the soul being never clearly distinguished from God, union with God is always conceived in terms of identity. Thus grace in Hindu doctrine is not a pure gift of God by which the soul is raised to a participation in the divine being, but a divine assistance by which it is enabled to know its true and eternal being as one with God. Hinduism's rootedness in mythology, moreover, can easily result in an unworthy conception of the divine nature and a practical polytheism. The caste system, also, with its concept of untouchability, child marriage, and polygamy, the cult of images, which may easily lead to idolatry, and such customs as ritual prostitution and the burning of widows (satī ), have in practice often led to degradation. Modern Hinduism, however, has reacted against such abuses. Its profound philosophy has succeeded in effectually purifying the tangle of mythology and in constructing a noble ethical ideal in the face of corrupt practices.
See Also: indian philosophy.
Bibliography: Translations. w. t. de bary et al., comps., Sources of Indian Tradition (Records of Civilization 56; New York 1958). s. radhakrishnan and c. a. moore, A Source Book in Indian Philosophy (Princeton 1957). s. radhakrishnan, ed. and tr., The Principal Upanishads (New York 1953). General. a. l. basham, The Wonder That Was India: A Survey of the Culture of the Indian Sub-Continent before the Coming of the Muslims (London 1954) ch. 7. t. m. p. mahadevan, Outlines of Hinduism (Bombay 1956). s. radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, 2 v. (2d ed. rev. London 1941); ed., History of Philosophy, Eastern and Western, 2v. (London 1952–53) v. 1 Indian Thought. s. dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, 5 v. (Cambridge, Eng. 1932–55). h. losch, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 1957–65) 3:340–349. w. crooke and j. hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (Edinburgh 1908–27) 6:686–715. j. finegan, The Archeology of World Religions (Princeton 1952) 123–181. c. sharma, A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy (London 1960). k. k. klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism, 2d ed (Albany, NY 1994). Catholic. c. regamey, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 5:368–372. g. dandoy, An Essay on the Unreality of the World in the Advaita (Calcutta 1919), tr. l. m. gauthier (Paris 1932), excellent survey by Catholic scholars with bibliog. p. johanns, A Synopsis of "To Christ through the Vedanta" (Light of the East series 4, 7, 9, 19; Ranchi 1942–44); La Pensée religieuse de l'Inde, tr. l. m. gauthier (Namur 1952). m. quÉguiner, Catholicisme 5 (1960) 1463–82. p. masson-oursel, "Les Religions de l'Inde," Histoire des religions, eds. m. brillant and r. aigrain (Paris 1953—) 2:85–163. a. krÄmer, Christus und Christentum im Denken des modernen Hinduismus (Bonn 1958). On the relations between Hinduism and Christianity, see the systematic bibliog. in e. benz and m. nambara, Das Christentum und die nicht-christlichen Hochreligionen (Beihefte der Zeitschrift für Religions-und Geistesgeschichte 5; Leiden 1960) 33–46.
k. r. sundararajan]
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HINDUISM . Hinduism is the religion followed by about 70 percent of the roughly seven hundred million people of India. Elsewhere, with the exception of the Indonesian island of Bali, Hindus represent only minority populations. The geographical boundaries of today's India are not, however, adequate to contour a full account of this religion. Over different periods in the last four or five millennia, Hinduism and its antecedents have predominated in the adjacent areas of Pakistan and Bangladesh and have been influential in such other regions as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia. But in these areas Hindu influences have been superseded or overshadowed by the influences of other religions, principally Buddhism and Islam. This account will treat only of Hinduism as it has taken shape historically in the "greater India" of the Indian subcontinent.
Indus Valley Religion
There are good reasons to suspect that a largely unknown quantity, the religion of the peoples of the Indus Valley, is an important source for determining the roots of Hinduism.
The Indus Valley civilization arose from Neolithic and Chalcolithic village foundations at about the middle of the third millennium bce as a late contemporary of Egyptian and Mesopotamian riverine civilizations. It engaged in trade with both, though mostly with Mesopotamia. Reaching its apogee around 2000 bce, it then suffered a long period of intermittent and multifactored decline culminating in its eclipse around 1600 bce, apparently before the coming of the Aryan peoples and their introduction of the Vedic religious current. At its peak, the Indus Valley civilization extended over most of present-day Pakistan, into India as far eastward as near Delhi, and southward as far as the estuaries of the Narmada River. It was apparently dominated by the two cities of Mohenjo-Daro, on the Indus River in Sind, and Harappa, about 350 miles to the northwest on a former course of the Ravi River, one of the tributaries to the Indus. Despite their distance from each other, the two cities show remarkable uniformity in material and design, and it has been supposed that they formed a pair of religious and administrative centers.
The determination of the nature of Indus Valley religion and of its residual impact upon Hinduism are, however, most problematic. Although archaeological sites have yielded many suggestive material remains, the interpretation of such finds is conjectural and has been thwarted especially by the continued resistance of the Indus Valley script, found on numerous steatite seals, to convincing decipherment. Until it is deciphered, little can be said with assurance. The content of the inscriptions may prove to be minimal, but if the language (most likely Dravidian) can be identified, much can be resolved.
At both Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, the cities were dominated on the western side by an artificially elevated mound that housed a citadel-type complex of buildings. Though no temples or shrines can be identified, the complex probably served both sacred and administrative functions. A "great bath" within the Mohenjo-Daro citadel, plus elaborate bathing and drainage facilities in residences throughout the cities, suggests a strong concern for personal cleanliness, cultic bathing, and ritual purity such as resurface in later Hinduism. Indeed, the "great bath," a bitumen-lined tank with steps leading into and out of it from either end, suggests not only the temple tanks of later Hinduism but the notion of "crossing" associated with them through their Sanskrit name, tīrtha ("crossing place, ford").
A granary attached to the citadel may also have involved high officials in ceremonial supervision of harvests and other agricultural rituals. Terracotta female figurines with pedestal waists, found especially at village sites, reveal at least a popular cultic interest in fertility. They are probably linked with worship of a goddess under various aspects, for while some portray the figure in benign nurturing poses, others present pinched and grim features that have been likened to grinning skulls: These are likely foreshadowings of the Hindu Goddess in her benign and destructive aspects.
But most controversial are the depictions on the seals, whose inscriptions remain undeciphered. Most prominently figured are powerful male animals. They are often shown in cultic scenes, as before a sort of "sacred manger," or being led by a priestly ministrant before a figure (probably a deity and possibly a goddess) in a peepul tree, one of the most venerated trees in Hinduism. Male animals also frequently figure in combination with human males in composite animal-human forms. With female figures seemingly linked to the Goddess and males associated with animal power, it has been suggested that the two represent complementary aspects of a fertility cult with attendant sacrificial scenarios such as are found in the animal sacrifice to the Goddess in post-Vedic Hinduism. In such sacrifices the Goddess requires male offerings, and the animal represents the human male sacrificer. Most interesting and controveṛṣial in this connection is a figure in a yogic posture who is depicted on three seals and a faience sealing. Though features differ in the four portrayals, the most fully defined one shows him seated on a dais with an erect phallus. He has buffalo horns that enclose a treelike miter headdress, possibly a caricatured buffalo face, wears bangles and necklaces or torques, and is surrounded by four wild animals. Some of these associations (yoga, ithyphallicism, lordship of animals) have suggested an identification with the later Hindu god Śiva. Other traits (the buffalo-man composite form, association with wild animals, possible intimations of sacrifice) have suggested a foreshadowing of the buffalo demon Mashṣāsura, mythic antagonist and sacrificial victim of the later Hindu goddess Durgā. Possibly the image crystallizes traits that are later associated with both of these figures.
The notion that features of Indus Valley religion form a stream with later non-Aryan religious currents that percolate into Hinduism has somewhat dismissively been called the substratum theory by opponents who argue in favor of treating the development of Hinduism as derivable from within its own sacred literature. Though this "substratum" cannot be known except in the ways that it has been structured within Hinduism (and no doubt also within Jainism and Buddhism), it is clear that a two-way process was initiated as early as the Vedic period and has continued to the present.
The early sacred literature of Hinduism has the retrospective title of Veda ("knowledge") and is also known as śruti ("that which is heard"). Altogether it is a prodigious body of literature, originally oral in character (thus "heard"), that evolved into its present form over nine or ten centuries between about 1400 and 400 bce. In all, four types of texts fall under the Veda-śruti heading: Saṃhitās, Brāhamaṇas, Ᾱraṇyakas, and Upaniṣads. At the fount of all later elaborations are the four Saṃhitās ("collections"): the Ṛgveda Saṃhitā (Veda of Chants, the oldest), the Sāmaveda and Yajurveda Saṃhitā s (Vedas of Melodies and Sacrificial Formulas, together known as the "liturgical" Saṃhitās), and the Atharvaveda Saṃhitā (the youngest, named after the sage Atharvan). These constitute the four Vedas, with some early sources referring to the "three Vedas" exclusive of the last. The material of the four was probably complete by 1000 bce, with younger parts of the older works overlapping older parts of the younger ones chronologically. The Saṃhitās, or portions of them, were preserved by different priestly schools or "branches" (śākhā s) through elaborate means of memorization. Many of these schools died out and their branches became lost, but others survived to preserve material for literary compilation and redaction. The subsequent works in the categories of Brāhamaṇa, Ᾱraṇyaka, and Upaniṣad are all linked with one or another of the Vedic schools, and thus with a particular Vedic Saṃhitā, so that they represent the further literary output of the Vedic schools and also the interests of the four types of priests who came to be associated differentially with the ritual uses of the four Saṃhitās. It is from the Ṛgveda that Vedic religion in its earliest sense must be reconstructed.
Although the urban civilization of the Indus Valley had run its course by the time of the arrival of the Aryans in about 1500 bce, the newcomers met heirs of this civilization in settled agricultural communities. The contrast between cultures was striking to the Aryans, who described the indigenous population as having darker skin, defending themselves from forts, having no gods or religious rituals but nonetheless worshiping the phallus. As small stone phallic objects have been found at Indus Valley sites, this is probably an accurate description of a cult continued from pre-Vedic Indus Valley religion that prefigures the later veneration of the liṅga (phallus) in the worship of Śiva. In contrast to this predominantly agricultural population, the invading Aryans were a mobile, warlike people, unattached to cities or specific locations, entering Northwest India in tribal waves probably over a period of several centuries. Moreover, their society inherited an organizing principle from its Indo-European past that was to have great impact on later Indian civilization in the formation of the caste system. The ideal arrangement, which myths and ritual formulas propounded and society was to reflect, called for three social "functions": the priests, the warriors, and the agriculturalist-stockbreeders. Early Vedic hymns already speak of three such interacting social groups, plus a fourth—the indigenous population of dāsa, or dasyu (literally, "slaves," first mythologized as demon foes of the Aryans and their gods). By the time of the late Ṛgveda, these peoples were recognized as a fourth "class" or "caste" in the total society and were known as śūdra s.
Most crucial to the inspiration of the early Vedic religion, however, was the interaction between the first two groups: the priesthood, organized around sacerdotal schools maintained through family and clan lines, and a warrior component, originally led by chieftains of the mobile tribal communities but from the beginning concerned with an ideal of kingship that soon took on more local forms. Whereas the priests served as repositories of sacred lore, poetry, ritual technique, and mystical speculation, the warriors served as patrons of the rites and ceremonies of the priests and as sponsors of their poetry. These two groups, ideally complementary but often having rival interests, crystallized by late Vedic and Brahmanic times into distinct "classes": the brāhamaṇa s (priests) and the kṣatriya s (warriors).
Although the Ṛgveda alludes to numerous details of ritual that soon came to be systematized in the religion of the Brāhamaṇas, it brings ritual into relief only secondarily. The primary focus of the 1,028 hymns of the Ṛgveda is on praising the gods and the cosmic order (ṛta ), which they protect. But insofar as the hymns invoke the gods to attend the sacrifice, there is abundant interest in two deities of essentially ritual character: Agni and Soma. Agni (Fire) is more specifically the god of the sacrificial fire who receives offerings to the gods and conveys them heavenward through the smoke. And Soma is the divinized plant of "nondeath" (amṛta ), or immortality, whose juices are ritually extracted in the soma sacrifice, a central feature of many Vedic and Brahmanic rituals. These two gods, significantly close to humankind, are mediators between humans and other gods. But they are especially praised for their capacity to inspire in the poets the special "vision" (dhī) that stimulates the composition of the Vedic hymns. Agni, who as a god of fire and light is present in the three Vedic worlds (as fire on earth, lightning in the atmosphere, and the sun in heaven), bestows vision through "illumination" into the analogical connections and equivalences that compose the ṛta (which is itself said to have a luminous nature). Soma, the extracted and purified juice of the "plant of immortality," possibly the hallucinogenic fly agaric mushroom, yields a "purified" vision that is described as "enthused" or "intoxicated," tremulous or vibrant, again stimulating the inspiration for poetry. The Vedic poet (kavi, ṛṣi, or vipra ) was thus a "seeer," or seer, who translated his vision into speech, thus producing the sacred mantra s, or verse-prayers, that comprise the Vedic hymns. Vedic utterance, itself hypostatized as the goddess Vāc (Speech), is thus the crystallization of this vision.
Vedic religion is decidedly polytheistic, there being far more than the so-called thirty-three gods, the number to which they are sometimes reduced. Though the point is controveṛṣial, for the sake of simplification one can say that at the core or "axis" of the pantheon there are certain deities with clear Indo-European or at least Indo-Iranian backgrounds: the liturgical gods Agni and Soma (cf. the Avestan deity Haoma) and the deities who oversee the three "functions" on the cosmic scale: the cosmic sovereign gods Varuṇa and Mitra, the warrior god Indra, and the Aśvins, twin horsemen concerned with pastoralism, among other things. Intersecting this structure is an opposition of Indo-Iranian background between deva s and asura s. In the Ṛgveda both terms may refer to ranks among the gods, with asura being higher and more primal. But asura also has the Vedic meaning of "demon," which it retains in later Hinduism, so that the devaasura opposition also takes on dualistic overtones. Varuṇa is the asura par excellence, whereas Indra is the leader of the deva s. These two deities are thus sometimes in opposition and sometimes in complementary roles: Varuṇa being the remote overseer of the cosmic order (ṛta ) and punisher of individual human sins that violate it; Indra being the dynamic creator and upholder of that order, leader of the perennial fight against the collective demonic forces, both human and divine, that oppose it. It is particularly his conquest of the asura Vṛtra ("encloser")—whose name suggests ambiguous etymological connections with Varuṇa—that creates order or being (sat, analogous to ṛta ) out of chaos or nonbeing (asat ) and opens cosmic and earthly space for "freedom of movement" (varivas ) by gods and humans. Considerable attention is also devoted to three solar deities whose freedom of movement, thus secured, is a manifestation of the ṛta, a prominent analogy for which is the solar wheel: Sūrya and Savitṛ (the Sun under different aspects) and Uṣas (charming goddess of the dawn). Other highly significant deities are Yama, god of the dead, and Vāyu, god of wind and breath. It is often pointed out that the gods who become most important in later Hinduism—Viṣṇu, Śiva (Vedic Rudra), and the Goddess—are statistically rather insignificant in the Veda, for few hymns are devoted to them. But the content rather than the quantity of the references hints at their significance. Viṣṇu's centrality and cosmological ultimacy, Rudra's destructive power and outsiderhood, and the this-worldly dynamic aspects of several goddesses are traits that assume great proportions in later characterizations of these deities.
Although it is thus possible to outline certain structural and historical features that go into the makeup of the Vedic pantheon, it is important to recognize that these are obscured by certain features of the hymns that arise from the type of religious "vision" that inspired them, and that provide the basis for speculative and philosophical trends that emerge in the late Veda and continue into the early Brahmanic tradition. The hymns glorify the god they address in terms generally applicable to other gods (brilliance, power, beneficence, wisdom) and often endow him or her with mythical traits and actions particular to other gods (supporting heaven, preparing the sun's path, slaying Vṛtra, and so on). Thus, while homologies and "connections" between the gods are envisioned, essential distinctions between them are implicitly denied. Speculation on what is essential—not only as concerns the gods, but the ritual and the mantra s that invoke them—is thus initiated in the poetic process of the early hymns and gains in urgency and refinement in late portions of the Ṛgveda and the subsequent "Vedic" speculative-philosophical literature that culminates in the Upaniṣads. Most important of these speculations historically were those concerning the cosmogonic sacrifices of Puruṣa in Ṛgveda 10.90 (the Puruṣasūkta, accounting for, among other things, the origin of the four castes) and of Prajāpati in the Brāhamaṇas. Each must be discussed further. In addition, speculations on brahman as the power inherent in holy speech and on the ātman ("self") as the irreducible element of personal experience are both traceable to Vedic writings (the latter to the Atharvaveda only). This article shall observe the convergence of all these lines of speculation in the Upaniṣads and classical Hinduism.
Religion of the BrĀhamaṆas
The elaboration of Vedic religion into the sacrificial religion of the Brāhamaṇas is largely a result of systematization. The first indication of this trend is the compilation of the liturgical Saṃhitās and the development of the distinctive priestly schools and interests that produced these compendiums. Thus, while the Ṛgveda became the province of the hotṛ priest, the pourer of oblations and invoker of gods through the mantra s (the term hotṛ, "pourer," figures often in the Ṛgveda and has Indo-Iranian origins), the newer collections developed around the concerns of specialist priests barely alluded to in the Ṛgveda and serving originally in subordinate ritual roles. The Sāmaveda was a collection of verses taken mostly from the Ṛgveda, set to various melodies (sāman s) for use mainly in the soma sacrifice, and sung primarily by the udgātṛ priest, who thus came to surpass the hotṛ as a specialist in the sound and articulation of the mantras. And the Yajurveda was a collection of yaju s, selected sacrificial mantra s, again mostly from the Ṛgveda, plus certain complete sentences, to be murmured by the adhvaryu priest, who concerned himself not so much with their sound as with their appropriateness in the ritual, in which he became effectively the master of ceremonies, responsible for carrying out all the basic manual operations, even replacing the hotṛ priest as pourer of oblations. A fourth group of priests, the brāhamaṇa s, then claimed affiliation with the Atharvaveda and assumed the responsibility for overseeing the entire ritual performance of the other priests and counteracting any of their mistakes (they were supposed to know the other three Vedas as well as their own) by silent recitation of mantra s from the Atharvaveda. As specialization increased, each priest of these four main classes took on three main assistants.
The Brāhamaṇas—expositions of brahman, the sacred power inherent in mantra and more specifically now in the ritual—are the outgrowth of the concerns of these distinctive priestly schools and the first articulation of their religion. Each class of priests developed its own Brāhamaṇas, the most important and comprehensive being the Śatapatha Brāhamaṇa of one of the Yajurveda schools. The ritual system was also further refined in additional manuals: the Śrautasūtras, concerned with "solemn" rites, first described in the Brāhamaṇas and thus called śrauta because of their provenance in these śruti texts, and the Gṛhyasūtras, concerned with domestic rites (from gṛha, "home"), justified by "tradition" (smṛti ) but still having much of Vedic origins. The Śrautasūtras were compiled over the period, roughly, from the Brāhamaṇas to the Upaniṣads, and the Gṛhyasūtras were probably compiled during Upaniṣadic times.
The domestic rites take place at a single offering fire and usually involve offerings of only grain or ghee (clarified butter). Along with the maintenance of the household fire and the performance of the so-called Five Great Sacrifices—to brahman (in the form of Vedic recitation), to ancestors, to gods, to other "beings," and to humans (hospitality rites)—the most prominent gṛhya ceremonies are the sacraments or life-cycle rites (saṃskāra s). Of these, the most important are the rites of conception and birth of a male child; the Upanayana, or "introduction," of boys to a brāhamaṇa preceptor or guru for initiation; marriage; and death by cremation (Antyeṣṭi, "final offering"). The Upanayana, involving the investiture of boys of the upper three social classes (varṇa s) with a sacred thread, conferred on them the status of "twice-born" (dvija, a term first used in the Atharvaveda ), and their "second birth" permitted them to hear the Veda and thereby participate in the śrauta rites that, according to the emerging Brahmanic orthodoxy, would make it possible to obtain immortality.
The śrauta rites are more elaborate and are representative of the sacrificial system in its full complexity, involving ceremonies that lasted up to two years and enlisted as many as seventeen priests. Through the continued performance of daily, bimonthly, and seasonal śrauta rites one gains the year, which is itself identified with the sacrificial life-death-regeneration round and its divine personification, Prajāpati. In surpassing the year by the Agnicayana, the "piling of the fire altar," one gains immortality and needs no more nourishment in the otherworld (see Śatapatha Brāhamaṇa 10.1.5.4).
Śrauta rites required a sacrificial terrain near the home of the sacrificer (yajamāna ), with three sacred fires (representing, among other things, the three worlds) and an upraised altar, or vedī. Nonanimal sacrifices of the first varieties mentioned involved offerings of milk and vegetable substances or even of mantra s. Animal sacrifices (paśubandhu )—which required a more elaborate sacrificial area with a supplemental altar and a sacrificial stake (yūpā )—entailed primarily the sacrifice of a goat. Five male animals—man, horse, bull, ram, and goat—are declared suitable for sacrifice. It is likely, however, that human sacrifice existed only on the "ideal" plane, where it was personified in the cosmic sacrifices of Puruṣa and Prajāpati. The animal (paśu ) was to be immolated by strangulation, and its omentum, rich in fat, offered into the fire. Soma sacrifices, which would normally incorporate animal sacrifices within them plus a vast number of other subrites, involved the pressing and offering of soma. The most basic of these was the annual Agniṣṭoma, "in praise of Agni," a four-day rite culminating in morning, afternoon, and evening soma pressings on the final day and including two goat sacrifices. Three of the most ambitious soma sacrifices were royal rites: the Aśvamedha, the horse sacrifice; the Rājasūya, royal consecration; and the Vājapeya, a soma sacrifice of the "drink of strength." But the most complex of all was the aforementioned Agnicayana.
A thread that runs through most śrauta rituals, however, is that they must begin with the "faith" or "confidence" (śrāddha) of the sacrificer in the efficacy of the rite and the capacity of the officiating priests to perform it correctly. This prepares the sacrificer for the consecration (dīkṣā) in which, through acts of asceticism (tapas), he takes on the aspect of an embryo to be reborn through the rite. As dīkṣita (one undergoing the dīkṣā), he makes an offering of himself (his ātman ). This then prepares him to make the sacrificial offering proper (the yajña, "sacrifice") as a means to redeem or ransom this self by the substance (animal or otherwise) offered. Then, reveṛṣing the concentration of power that he has amassed in the dīkṣā, he disperses wealth in the form of dakṣinā s (honoraria) to the priests. Finally, the rite is disassembled (the ritual analogue to the repeated death of Prajāpati before his reconstitution in another rite), and the sacrificer and his wife bathe to disengage themselves from the sacrifice and reenter the profane world.
In the elaboration of such ceremonies and the speculative explanation of them in the Brāhamaṇas, the earlier Vedic religion seems to have been much altered. In the religion of the Brāhamaṇas, the priests, as "those who know thus" (evamvid s), view themselves as more powerful than the gods. Meanwhile, the gods and the demons (asura s) are reduced to representing in their endless conflicts the recurrent interplay between agonistic forces in the sacrifice. It is their father, Prajāpati, who crystallizes the concerns of Brahmanic thought by representing the sacrifice in all its aspects and processes. Most notable of these is the notion of the assembly or fabrication of an immortal self (ātman ) through ritual action (karman ), a self constructed for the sacrificer by which he identifies with the immortal essence of Prajāpati as the sacrifice personified. And by the same token, the recurrent death (punarmṛtyu, "redeath") of Prajāpati's transitory nature (the elements of the sacrifice that are assembled and disassembled) figures in the Brāhamaṇas as the object to be avoided for the sacrificer by the correct ritual performance. This Brahmanic concept of Prajāpati's redeath, along with speculation on the ancestral gṛhya rites (śrāddha s) focused on feeding deceased relatives to sustain them in the afterlife, must have been factors in the thinking that gave rise to the Upaniṣadic concept of reincarnation (punarjanman, "rebirth"). The emphasis on the morbid and transitory aspects of Prajāpati and the sacrifice, and the insistence that asceticism within the sacrifice is the main means to overcome them, are most vigorously propounded in connection with the Agnicayana.
In the Brāhamaṇas' recasting of the primal once- and for-all sacrifice of Puruṣa into the recurrent life-death-regeneration mythology of Prajāpati, a different theology was introduced. Though sometimes Puruṣa was identified with Prajāpati, the latter, bound to the round of creation and destruction, became the prototype for the classical god Brahmā, personification of the Absolute (brahman ) as it is oriented toward the world. The concept of a transcendent Puruṣa, however, was not forgotten in the Brāhamaṇas. Śatapatha Brāhamaṇa 13.6 mentions Puruṣa-Nārāyaṇa, a being who seeks to surpass all others through sacrifice and thereby become the universe. In classical Hinduism, Nārāyaṇa and Puruṣa are both names for Viṣṇu as the supreme divinity. This Brāhamaṇa passage neither authorizes nor disallows an identification with Viṣṇu, but other Brāhamaṇa passages leave no doubt that sacrificial formulations have given Viṣṇu and Rudra-Śiva a new status. Whereas the Brāhamaṇas repeatedly assert that "Viṣṇu is the sacrifice"—principally in terms of the organization of sacrificial space that is brought about through Viṣṇu's three steps through the cosmos, and his promotion of the order and prosperity that thus accrue—they portray Rudra as the essential outsider to this sacrificial order, the one who neutralizes the impure forces that threaten it from outside as well as the violence that is inherent within. Biardeau (1976) has been able to show that the later elevation of Viṣṇu and Śiva through yoga and bhakti is rooted in oppositional complementarities first formulated in the context of the Brahmanic sacrifice.
Several trends contributed to the emergence of the Upaniṣadic outlook. Earlier speculations on the irreducible essence of the cosmos, the sacrifice, and individual experience have been mentioned. Pre-Upaniṣadic texts also refer to various forms of asceticism as performed by types of people who in one way or another rejected or inverted conventional social norms: the Vedic muni, vrātya, and brahmacārin, to each of whom is ascribed ecstatic capacities, and, at the very heart of the Brahmanic sacrifice, the dīkṣita (the sacrificer who performs tapas while undergoing the dīkṣā, or consecration). These speculative and ascetic trends all make contributions to a class of texts generally regarded as intermediary between the Brāhamaṇas and Upaniṣads: the Ᾱraṇyakas, or "Forest Books." The Ᾱraṇyakas do not differ markedly from the works that precede and succeed them (the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad is both an Ᾱraṇyaka and an Upaniṣad), but their transitional character is marked by a shift in the sacrificial setting from domestic surroundings to the forest and a focus not so much on the details of ritual as on its interiorization and universalization. Sacrifice, for instance, is likened to the alternation that takes place between breathing and speaking. Thus correspondences are established between aspects of sacrifice and the life continuum of the meditator.
An upaniṣad is literally a mystical—often "secret"—"connection," interpreted as the teaching of mystical homologies. Or, in a more conventional etymology, it is the "sitting down" of a disciple "near to" (upa, "near"; ni, "down"; sad, "sit") his spiritual master, or guru. Each Upaniṣad reflects the Vedic orientation of its priestly school. There are also regional orientations, for Upaniṣadic geography registers the further eastern settlement of the Vedic tradition into areas of the Ganges Basin. But the Upaniṣads do share certain fundamental points of outlook that are more basic than their differences. Vedic polytheism is demythologized, for all gods are reducible to one. Brahmanic ritualism is reassessed and its understanding of ritual action (karman ) thoroughly reinterpreted. Karman can no longer be regarded as a positive means to the constitution of a permanent self. Rather, it is ultimately negative: "the world that is won by work (karman )" and "the world that is won by merit (puṇya )" only perish (Chāndogya Upaniṣad 8.1.6). The "law of karma" (karman ) or "law of causality" represents a strict and universal cause-effect continuum that affects any action that is motivated by desire (kāma ), whether it be desire for good or for ill. Thus even meritorious actions that lead to the Vedic heaven "perish," leaving a momentum that carries the individual to additional births or reincarnations. The result is perpetual bondage to the universal flow-continuum of all karman, or saṃśara (from saṃ, "together" and sṛ, "flow"), a term that the Upaniṣads introduce into the Vedic tradition but that is shared with Jainism and Buddhism. As with these religions, the Upaniṣads and Hinduism henceforth conceive their soteriological goal as liberation from this cycle of saṃśara: that is, mokṣa or mukti ("release").
Mokṣa cannot be achieved by action alone, because action only leads to further action. Thus, though ritual action is not generally rejected and is often still encouraged in the Upaniṣads, it can only be subordinated to pursuit of the higher mokṣa ideal. Rather, the new emphasis is on knowledge (vidyā, jñāna ) and the overcoming of ignorance (avidyā ). The knowledge sought, however, is not that of ritual technique or even of ritual-based homologies, but a graspable, revelatory, and experiential knowledge of the self as one with ultimate reality. In the early Upaniṣads this experience is formulated as the realization of the ultimate "connection," the oneness of ātman-brahman, a connection knowable only in the context of communication from guru to disciple. (Herein can be seen the basis of the parable context and vivid, immediate imagery of many Upaniṣadic teachings.) The experience thus achieved is variously described as one of unified consciousness, fearlessness, bliss, and tranquillity.
Beyond these common themes, however, and despite the fact that Upaniṣadic thought is resistant to systematization, certain different strains can be identified. Of the thirteen Upaniṣads usually counted as śruti, the earliest (c. 700–500 bce) are those in prose, headed by the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and the Chāndogya. Generally, it may be said that these Upaniṣads introduce the formulations that later Hinduism will develop into the saṃnyāsa ideal of renunciation (not yet defined in the Upaniṣads as a fourth stage of life) and the knowledge-path outlook of nondualistic (advaita ) Vedānta. Even within these early Upaniṣads, two approaches to realization can be distinguished. One refers to an all-excluding Absolute; the self that is identified with brahman, characterized as neti neti ("not this, not this"), is reached through a paring away of the psychomental continuum and its links with karman. Such an approach dominates the Bṛhadā-raṇyaka Upaniṣad. Avidyā here results from regarding the name and form of things as real and forming attachment to them. The other approach involves an all-comprehensive Absolute, brahman-ātman, which penetrates the world so that all forms are modifications of the one; ignorance results from the failure to experience this immediacy. In the Chāndogya Upaniṣad this second approach is epitomized in the persistent formula "Tat tvam asi" ("That thou art").
The later Vedic Upaniṣads (c. 600–400 bce) register the first impact of theistic devotional formulations, and of early Sāṃkhya and Yoga. Most important of these historically are two "yogic" Upaniṣads, the Śvetāśvatara and the Kaṭha, the first focused on Rudra-Śiva and the second on Viṣṇu. Each incorporates into its terminology for the absolute deity the earlier term puruṣa. As Biardeau has shown in L'hindouisme (1981), they thus draw on an alternate term for the Absolute from that made current in the brahman-ātman equation. The Puruṣa of Ṛgveda 10.90 (the Puruṣasūkta ) is sacrificed to create the ordered and integrated sociocosmic world of Vedic man. But only one quarter of this Puruṣa is "all beings"; three quarters are "the immortal in heaven" (RV 10.90.3). This transcendent aspect of Puruṣa, and also a certain "personal" dimension, are traits that were retained in the characterization of Puruṣa-Nārāyaṇa in the Śatapatha Brāhamaṇa and reinforced in the yogic characterizations of Rudra-Śiva and Viṣṇu in the previously mentioned Upaniṣads. The Upaniṣadic texts do not restrict the usage of the term Puruṣa to mean "soul," as classical Sāṃkhya later does; rather, it is used to refer to both the soul and the supreme divinity. The relation between the soul and the Absolute is thus doubly defined: on the one hand as ātman-brahman, on the other as puruṣa -Puruṣa. In the latter case, the Kaṭha Upaniṣad describes a spiritual itinerary of the soul's ascent through yogic states to the supreme Puruṣa, Viṣṇu. This synthesis of yoga and bhakti will be carried forward into the devotional formulations of the epics and the Purāṇas. But one must note that the two vocabularies are used concurrently and interrelatedly in the Upaniṣads, as they will be in the later bhakti formulations.
The Consolidation of Classical Hinduism
A period of consolidation, sometimes identified as one of "Hindu synthesis," "Brahmanic synthesis," or "orthodox synthesis," takes place between the time of the late Vedic Upaniṣads (c. 500 bce) and the period of Gupta imperial ascendancy (c. 320–467 ce). Discussion of this consolidation, however, is initially complicated by a lack of historiographical categories adequate to the task of integrating the diverse textual, inscriptional, and archaeological data of this long formative period. The attempt to cover as much of this span as possible with the name "epic period," because it coincides with the dates that are usually assigned to the formation and completion of the Hindu epics (particularly the Mahābhārata ), is misleading, because so much of what transpires can hardly be labeled "epic." On the other hand, attempts to define the period in terms of heterogeneous forces operating upon Hinduism from within (assimilation of local deities and cults, geographical spread) and without (heterodox and foreign challenges) either have failed to register or have misrepresented the implications of the apparent fact that the epics were "works in progress" during the whole period. The view one takes of the epics is, in fact, crucial for the interpretation of Hinduism during this period. Here, assuming that the epics already incorporated a bhakti cosmology and theology from an early point in this formative period, this article shall try to place them in relation to other works and formulations that contributed to the consolidation of classical Hinduism.
The overall history can be broken down into four periods characterized by an oscillation from disunity (rival regional kingdoms and tribal confederacies on the Ganges Plain) to unity (Mauryan ascendancy, c. 324–184 bce, including the imperial patronage of Buddhism by Aśoka) to disunity (rival foreign kingdoms in Northwest India and regional kingdoms elsewhere) back to unity (Gupta ascendancy, c. 320–467 ce). The emerging self-definitions of Hinduism were forged in the context of continued interaction with heterodox religions (Buddhists, Jains, Ᾱjīvikas) throughout this whole period, and with foreign peoples (Yavanas, or Greeks; Śakas, or Scythians; Pahlavas, or Parthians; and Kūṣāṇas, or Kushans) from the third phase on. In this climate the ideal of centralized Hindu rule attained no practical realization until the rise of the Guptas. That this ideal preceded its realization is evident in the rituals of royal paramountcy (Aśvamedha and Rājasūya) that were set out in the Brāhamaṇas and the Śrautasūtras, and actually performed by post-Mauryan regional Hindu kings.
When one looks to the component facets of the overall consolidation, these four periods must be kept in mind, but with the proviso that datings continue to be problematic: not only datings of texts, but especially of religious movements and processes reflected in them, and in surviving inscriptions. Most scholars ordinarily assume that when a process is referred to in a text or other document, it has gone on for some time.
Śruti and smṛti
Fundamental to the self-definition of Hinduism during this period of its consolidation is the distinction it makes between two classes of its literature: śruti and smṛti. Śruti is "what is heard," and refers to the whole corpus of Vedic literature (also called Veda) from the four Vedas to the Upaniṣads. Smṛti, "what is remembered" or "tradition," includes all that falls outside this literature. Exactly when this distinction was made is not certain, but it is noteworthy that the six Vedāṅgas or "limbs of the Veda" (writings on phonetics, metrics, grammar, etymology, astronomy, and ritual) are smṛti texts that were composed at least in part during the latter half of the Vedic or śruti period. The ritual texts (Kalpasūtras) are subdivided into three categories: Śrautasūtras, Gṛhyasūtras, and Dharmasūtras. Whereas the first two (discussed above under Brahmanic ritual) pertain to concerns developed in the Vedic period, the Dharmasūtras focus on issues of law (dharma ) that become characteristic of the period now under discussion. Dates given for the composition of these texts run from 600 to 300 bce for the earliest (Gautama Dharmasūtra ) to 400 ce for the more recent works. Both Gṛhyasūtras and Dharmasūtras were sometimes called Smārtasūtras (i.e., sūtra s based on smṛti ), so it seems that their authors regarded them as representative of the prolongation of Vedic orthodoxy (and orthopraxy) that the smṛti category was designed to achieve. As the term smṛti was extended in its use, however, it also came to cover numerous other texts composed in the post-Upaniṣadic period.
This śruti/smṛti distinction thus marks off the earlier literature as a unique corpus that, once the distinction was made, was retrospectively sanctified. By the time of the Manāva Dharmaśāstra, or Laws of Manu (c. 200 bce–100 ce; see Manu 1.23), and probably before this, śruti had come to be regarded as "eternal." Its components were thus not works of history. The Vedic ṛṣi s had "heard" truths that are eternal, and not only in content—the words of the Vedas are stated to have eternal connection with their meanings—but also in form. The works thus bear no stamp of the ṛṣi s' individuality. Such thinking crystallized in the further doctrine that the Vedas (i.e., śruti ) are apauruṣeya, not of personal authorship (literally, "not by a puruṣa "). They thus have no human imperfection. Further, it was argued that they are even beyond the authorship of a divine "person" (Puruṣa ). Though myths of the period assert that the Vedas spring from Brahmā at the beginning of each creation (as the three Vedas spring from Puruṣa in the Puruṣasūkta ), the deity is not their author. Merely reborn with him, they are a self-revelation of the impersonal brahman. In contrast to śruti, smṛti texts were seen as historical or "traditional," passed on by "memory" (smṛti ), and as works of individual authors (pauruṣeya ), even though mythical authors—both human and divine—often had to be invented for them.
Smṛti texts of this period thus proclaim the authority of the Veda in many ways, and nonrejection of the Veda comes to be one of the most important touchstones for defining Hinduism over and against the heterodoxies, which rejected the Veda. In fact, it is quite likely that the doctrines of the eternality and impersonality of the Veda were in part designed to assert the superiority of the Veda over the "authored" and "historical" works of the heterodoxies, whose teachings would thus be on a par with smṛti rather than śruti. But it is also likely that the apauruṣeya doctrine is designed to relativize the "personal" god of bhakti. In any case, these doctrines served to place a considerable ideological distance between śruti and smṛti, and to allow smṛti authors great latitude in interpreting śruti and extending Hindu teachings into new areas. Smṛti thus supposedly functioned to clarify the obscurities of the Veda. But the claim that smṛti texts need only not contradict the Veda left their authors great freedom in pursuing new formulations.
Varṇāśramadharma ("caste and life-stage law")
The most representative corpus of smṛti literature, and the most closely tied to the continued unfolding orthodox interests of the Vedic priestly schools, is that concerned with dharma ("law" or "duty"). As a literary corpus, it consists of two kinds of texts: the Dharmasūtras (600/300 bce–400 ce), already mentioned in connection with the śruti/smṛti distinction, and the Dharmaśāstras. The most important and earliest of the latter are the Mānava Dharmaśāstra, or Laws of Manu (c. 200 bce–100 ce), and the Yājñavalkya Smṛti (c. 100–300 ce). But other Dharmaśāstras were composed late into the first millennium, to be followed by important commentaries on all such texts. The main focus of these two classes of texts is fundamentally identical: the articulation of norms for all forms of social interaction, thus including but going far beyond the earlier Sūtras' concern for ritual. Four differences, however, are noteworthy: (1) Whereas the Dharmasūtras are in prose, the Dharmaśāstras are in the same poetic meter as the epics, Manu in particular having much material in common with the Mahābhārata. (2) Whereas the Sūtras are still linked with the Vedic schools, the Śāstras are not, showing that study and teaching of dharma had come to be an independent discipline of its own. (3) The Śāstra legislation is more extended and comprehensive. (4) The Śāstras are more integrated into a mythic and cosmological vision akin to that in bhakti texts, but usually ignoring bhakti as such, with references to duties appropriate to different yuga s (ages), and the identification of north central India as the "middle region" (madhyadeśa ) where the dharma is (and is to be kept) the purest.
The theory of varṇāśramadharma, the law of castes and life stages, was worked out in these texts as a model for the whole of Hindu society. There is little doubt that it was stimulated by the alternate lay/monastic social models of the heterodoxies, and no doubt that it was spurred on by the incuṛṣions of barbarian peoples—frequently named in these texts as mleccha s (those who "jabber")—into the Northwest. The model involves the working out of the correlations between two ideals: first, that society conform to four hierarchical castes, and second, that a person should pass through four life stages (āśrama s): student (brahmacārin ), householder (gṛhasthin ), forest dweller (vānaprasthin ), and renunciant (saṃnyāsin ). The first ideal is rooted in the Puruṣasūkta. The second presupposes the śruti corpus, because the four life stages are correlated with the four classes of śruti texts. Thus the student learns one of the Vedas, the householder performs domestic and optimally also śrauta rituals of the Brāhamaṇas, the forest dweller follows the teachings of the Ᾱraṇyakas, and the saṃnyāsin follows a path of renunciation toward the Upaniṣadic goal of mokṣa. But although all the life stages are either mentioned (as are the first two) or implied in the śruti corpus, the theory that they should govern the ideal course of individual life is new to the Dharmasūtras. Together, the varṇa and āśrama ideals take on tremendous complexity, because a person's duties vary according to caste and stage of life, not to mention other factors like sex, family, region, and the quality of the times. Also, whereas a person's development through one life ideally is regulated by the āśrama ideal, the passage through many reincarnations would involve birth into different castes, the caste of one's birth being the result of previous karman. A further implication is that the life stages can be properly pursued only by male members of the three twice-born varṇa s, as they alone can undergo the Upanayana ritual that begins the student stage and allows the performance of the rites pertinent to succeeding stages.
Each of these formulations has peṛṣisted more on the ideal plane than the real. In the case of the four āśrama s, most people never went beyond the householder stage, which the Sūtras and Śāstras actually exalt as the most important of the four, because it is the support of the other three and, in more general terms, the mainstay of the society. The forest-dweller stage may soon have become more legendary than real: In epic stories it was projected onto the Vedic ṛṣi s. The main tension, however, that peṛṣists in orthodox Hinduism is that between the householder and the renunciant, the challenge being for anyone to integrate into one lifetime these two ideals, which the heterodoxies set out for separate lay and monastic communities.
As to the four varṇa s, the ideal represents society as working to the reciprocal advantage of all the castes, each one having duties necessary to the proper functioning of the whole and the perpetuation of the hierarchical principle that defines the whole. Thus Brāhamaṇa s are at the top, distinguished by three duties that they share with no other caste: teaching the Veda, assisting in sacrifice, and accepting gifts. They are said to have no king but Soma, god of the sacrifice. In actual fact the traditional śrauta sacrifice counted for less and less in the brāhamaṇa householder life, and increasing attention was given to the maintenance of brāhamaṇa purity for the purpose of domestic and eventually temple rituals that, in effect, universalized sacrifice as the brāhamaṇa 's dharma, but a sacrifice that required only the minimum of impure violence. This quest for purity was reinforced by brāhamaṇa s' adoption into their householder life of aspects of the saṃnyāsa ideal of renunciation. This was focused especially on increasing espousal of the doctrine of ahiṃsā (nonviolence, or, more literally, "not desiring to kill") and was applied practically to vegetarianism, which becomes during this period the brāhamaṇa norm. Brāhamaṇa s thus retain higher rank than kṣatriya s, even though the latter wield temporal power (kṣatra ) and have the specific and potentially impure duties of bearing weapons and protecting and punishing with the royal staff (daṇḍa ). The subordination of king to brāhamaṇa involves a subordination of power to hierarchy that is duplicated in contemporary rural and regional terms in the practice of ranking brāhamaṇa s above locally dominant castes whose power lies in their landed wealth and numbers. Vaiśya s have the duties of stock breeding, agriculture, and commerce (including money lending). Certain duties then distinguished the three twice-born castes as a group from the śūdra s. All three upper varṇa s thus study the Veda, perform sacrifices, and make gifts, whereas śūdra s are permitted only lesser sacrifices (pākayajña s) and simplified domestic rituals that do not require Vedic recitation.
Actual conditions, however, were (and still are) much more complex. The four-varṇa model provided the authors of the dharma texts with Vedic "categories" within which to assign a basically unlimited variety of heterogeneous social entities including indigenous tribes, barbarian invaders, artisan communities and guilds (śreṇi s), and specialists in various services. Susceptible to further refinement in ranking and regional nomenclature, all such groups were called jāti s, a term meaning "birth" and in functional terms the proper word to be translated "caste." Thus, although they are frequently called subcastes, the jāti s are the castes proper that the law books classified into the "categories" of varṇa.
To account for this proliferation of jāti s, the authors asserted that they arose from cross-breeding of the varṇa s. Two possibilities were thus presented: anuloma ("with the grain") unions, in which the husband's varṇa was the same as his wife's or higher (in anthropological terms, hypergamous, in which women are "married up"), and pratiloma ("against the grain") unions, in which the wife's varṇa would be higher than the husband's (hypogamous, in which women are "married down"). Endogamous marriage (marriage within one's own varṇa ) set the highest standard and was according to some authorities the only true marriage. But of the other two, whereas anuloma marriages were permitted, pratiloma unions brought disgrace. Thus the jāti s supposedly born from anuloma unions were less disgraced than those born from pratiloma unions. Significantly, two of the most problematic jāti s were said to have been born from the most debased pratiloma connections: the Yavanas (Greeks) from śūdra males and kṣatriya females (similar origins were ascribed to other "barbarians") and the caṇḍāla s (lowest of the low, mentioned already in the Upaniṣads, and early Buddhist literature, as a "fifth caste" of untouchables) from the polluting contact of śūdra males and brāhamaṇa females. It should be noted that a major implication of the prohibition of pratiloma marriage is the limitation for brāhamaṇa women to marriages with only brāhamaṇa men. This established at the highest rank an association of caste purity with caste endogamy (and the purity of a caste's women) and thus initiated an endogamous standard that was adopted by all castes—not just varṇa s but jāti s—by the end of the first millennium.
This accounting of the emergence of jāti s was integrated with further explanations of how society had departed from its ideal. One is that "mixing of caste"—the great abomination of the dharma texts and also of the Bhagavad-gītā —increases with the decline of dharma from yuga to yuga, and is especially pernicious in this Kali age. Another is the doctrine of āpad dharma, "duties for times of distress" such as permit inversion of caste roles when life is threatened. A third doctrine developed in the Dharmaśāstras identifies certain duties (kalivarjya s) as once allowed but now prohibited in the kaliyuga because people are no longer capable of performing them purely. Through all this, however, the ideal peṛṣists as one that embraces a whole society despite variations over time and space.
The four puruṣārthas (goals of humankind)
The theory that the integrated life involves the pursuit of four goals (artha s) is first presented in the Dharmaśāstras and the epics, in the latter cases through repeated narrative illustrations. The development of distinctive technical interpretations of each artha, or facets thereof, can also be followed during the period in separate manuals: the Arthaśāstra, a manual on statecraft attributed to Candragupta Maurya's minister Kauṭilya but probably dating from several centuries later, on artha (in the sense now of "material pursuits"); the Kāmasūtras, most notably that of Vātsyāyana (c. 400 ce), on kāma ("love, desire"); the already discussed Dharmasūtras and Dharmaśāstras on dharma; and the Sūtras of the "philosophical schools" (darśana s) insofar as they are concerned with the fourth goal, mokṣa. Early sources often refer to the first three goals as the trivarga, the "three categories," but this need not imply that the fourth goal is added later. The Dharmaśāstra and epic texts that mention the trivarga are focused on the concerns of the householder—and, in the epics, particularly of the royal householder—these being the context for the pursuit of the trivarga. The fourth goal, mokṣa, is to be pursued throughout life—indeed, throughout all lives—but is especially the goal of those who have entered the fourth life stage of the saṃnyāsin. The trivarga-mokṣa opposition thus replicates the householder-renunciant opposition. But the overall purpose of the puruṣārtha formulation is integrative and complementary to the varṇāśramadharma theory. From the angle of the householder, it is dharma that integrates the trivarga as a basis for mokṣa. But from the angle of the saṃnyāsin, it is kāma that lies at the root of the trivarga, representing attachment in all forms, even to dharma. Paths to liberation will thus focus on detachment from desire, or its transformation into love of God.
Philosophical "viewpoints" (darśanas) and paths to salvation
As an expression of Hinduism's increasing concern to systematize its teachings, the fourth goal of life (mokṣa ) was made the subject of efforts to develop distinctly Hindu philosophical "viewpoints" (darśana s, from the root dṛś, "see") on the nature of reality and to recommend paths to its apprehension and the release from bondage to karman. Six Hindu darśana s were defined, and during the period in question each produced fundamental texts—in most cases sūtra s—that served as the bases for later commentaries.
In terms of mainstream developments within Hinduism, only two schools have ongoing continuity into the present: the Mīmāṃsā and the Vedānta. And of these, only the latter has unfolded in important ways in the postsynthesis period. Nonetheless, all six have made important contributions to later Hinduism. It must thus suffice to discuss them all briefly at this point in terms of their basic features and major impact, and reserve fuller discussion of the Vedānta alone for the period of its later unfolding.
Of the six schools, two—Mīmā