April 6, 2000
Dr. Colwell, Professor
Hinduism is the name given to one of the most ancient relioon practices in India. Vedanta is the true name of this religion. When british began to populate India this ancient religion evolved into what is known today as Hinduism. Hinduism constitutes an extremely intricate religion upon which a single definition cannot be composed. The premier feature of this religion is the huge difference of beliefs and rituals among its practitioners. Hinduism was created through the mixing of two distinct cultures involving the Aryans and the Indus Valley civilization. At about 1500 BC, the Aryan invaded India and imposed their religious themes on the Indian natives. Ultimately, the Aryan religion absorbed the rituals of the natives and was eventually transformed into Hinduism. Most Hindus are Indians or of Indian decent. However, as Hinduism spread throughout southeast Asia and Indonesia, other ethnic groups adopted Hinduism and added their own ethnic characteristics.
The major teachings of Hinduism state that salvation is achieved through a spiritual oneness of the soul, atman, with the ultimate reality of the universe, Brahma. To achieve this goal, the soul must obtain moksha, or liberation from the samsara, the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Different sects of Hinduism teach different paths to moksha. As a result of these basic teachings, come Hindu beliefs in reincarnation, karma (material actions resulting from the consequences of previous actions), and the religious justification of the caste system. As Hinduism evolved, later texts came into prominence such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The major text of the Vaishnavas is a portion of the Mahabharata known as the Bhagavad Gita.
The two largest sects of Hinduism are the Shivaite and the Vaishnavite sects, based upon the recognition of Shiva and Vishnu as the ultimate manifestations of Brahma. Vaishnavas constitute approximately 70% of all Hindus. The major holy days are The Kumbha Mela festival that is held four times a year, and the Dusserah farming festival in honor of Kali is held at the end of October. Also Ramanavani (Lord Rama's birthday), Rathayatra (pilgrimage of the Chariot at Jagannath), Jhulanayatra (Swinging the Lord Krishna), Rakshabandhana (Tying on Lucky Threads), Janamashtami (birthday of Lord Krishna), Navaratri (festival of Nine Nights), Lakshmi-puja (homage to the goddess Lakshmi), Diwali or Dipavali (String of Lights), Maha-Sivaratri (Great nigh of Lord Shiva), and Holi (the festival of fire, a spring festival dedicated to Krishna).
There are several principals of Hinduism. The theme of spiritual oneness between the one ultimate reality, known as Brahma, and the soul, or atman, is mandated. In accordance, everything in the world is an illusion, merely a part of Brahma, praised as Creator (Clarke, p. 132). Brahma is considered the creator of all entities of the world, including Gods. The ultimate goal of all Hindus is to achieve pure reality through unification of the soul with Brahma. However, as mandated, each soul must first achieve liberation, or moksha, from the cycle of life known as samsara. This prompts the Hindu theme of reincarnation. Upon death each person is reborn as an animal, human being, or heavenly body. The status of a person's next life is determined by the deeds committed in the previous life. This principle is referred to as karma.
The status of lives within the life cycle prompted the establishment of the caste system. This system exhibits significant social and economic implications on the Hindu population. It dictates choice of occupation, marriage partners, foods consumed, and other issues. Classes were originally based on an individual's natural qualities and functions evolved into rigid divisions over time. In modern times, the primary characterization of the caste system is based on occupations that are assessed by the amount of pollutants, such as blood and waste water involved in the job. This has prompted Hindus of higher status to refrain from eating animal meat and practice vegetarianism (Clarke, pp. 125-128).
In general, strict divisions have traditionally been imposed by the Hindu community between all castes. Because a person is perceived to have been born into a caste, no transferability is permitted between members of different castes. Additionally, a non-Hindu cannot enter a caste nor is marriage permitted outside of a caste