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With the origins of Hinduism and Buddhism in India, religion is considered to be extremely important.  Of the two religions, Hinduism is infinitely more popular, with an incredible 82 percent of the population practicing it.  Within this majority, there are significant differences in the belief systems and caste divisions.  Although there is division in some areas of Hinduism, there are many areas in common.   They will all go to the pilgrimage sites, coming from all over India and will- if they go to a Brahman priest for birth, marriage and/or death rituals- hear the same Sanskrit verses from hundreds of years ago.

In India, religion is a way of life. It is an integral part of the entire Indian tradition. For the majority of Indians, religion permeates every aspect of life, from common-place daily chores to education and politics. Secular India is home to Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and other innumerable religious traditions. Hinduism is the dominant faith, practiced by over 80% of the population.

Common practices have crept into most religious faiths in India and many of the festivals that mark each year with music, dance and feasting are shared by all communities. Each has its own pilgrimage sites, heroes, legends and even culinary specialties, mingling in a unique diversity that is the very pulse of society.

The underlying tenets of Hinduism cannot be easily defined. There is no unique philosophy that forms the basis of the faith of the majority of India's population. Hinduism is perhaps the only religious tradition that is so diversified in its theoretical premises and practical expressions as to be called a "museum of religions". This religion cannot be traced to a specific founder nor does it have a "holy book" as a basic scriptural guide. The Rig Veda, Upanishads and the Bhagwad Gita can all be described as the sacred text of the Hindus.

Unlike most other religions, Hinduism does not advocate the worship of one particular deity. One may worship Shiva or Vishnu or Rama or Krishna or some other gods and goddesses or one may believe in the 'Supreme Spirit' or the 'Indestructible Soul' within each individual and still be called a good Hindu. This gives an indication of the kind of contrasts this religion is marked by. At one end of the scale, it is an exploration of the 'Ultimate Reality'; at the other end there are cults that worship spirits, trees and animals.

There are festivals and ceremonies associated not only with gods and goddesses but also with the sun, moon, planets, rivers, oceans, trees and animals. Some of the popular Hindu festivals are Deepawali, Holi, Dussehra, Ganesh Chaturthi, Pongal, Janamasthmi and Shiva Ratri. These innumerable festive occasions lend Hinduism its amazing popular appeal and make the Indian tradition rich and colorful.




Although the term Hindu dates from the Mughul (Muslim) period in India of 1200 CE, and Hinduism from only the 19th-20th Centuries during English colonial rule, the religious traditions of Hinduism are over 5000 years old. There is no prophet or founder of the Hindu religion. The history of Hinduism is intimately entwined with the complex history of India (the word hindu comes from the Persian name for the river Indus). Hinduism incorporates an extraordinarily diverse range of beliefs and practices which aim to deliver salvation (moksha) to its devotees.

History and Spread
From around 3000 BCE, an Indus Valley civilisation worshipped a form of feminine divinity and an ascetic God named Siva. New traditions blended with these when pastoral nomads, called Aryans, migrated to north-west India sometime between 1000-2000 BCE. Part of the Aryan cultural repertory were sacred hymns known as the Rig Veda. Over time these were absorbed and expanded until the Vedas constituted an enormous corpus of oral knowledge which both appeased and celebrated the gods. The Aryans also had a system of cosmic and social order which placed priests, the brahmin (brahmana), at the top.

Between 1000 BCE and 100 BCE different strands of Indic civilisation deepened. Samsara (the circle of birth and death) became a fundamental and organising religious and social principle, as did the notion of karma, the actions performed by each person and their results. Between 800 and 400 BCE, philosophical texts known as the Upanishads were written, which stressed the importance of release from the bonds of ignorance and contained an all-inclusive, transcendent principal called Brahman.

During the period 200 BCE – 1100 CE, the great epics of the Mahabharata which contain the Bhagavad-Gita were written alongside other important texts addressing society and ethics. Hindu society developed a temple culture and against the pre-occupations and high ritualism of the brahmin class, a pantheon of agrarian Gods were given names, roles and faces. This period saw Brahma as a great being responsible for the emanation of the universe while Vishnu took the role of preserver of human fate. Siva became the god of revitalisation and destruction and Sakti, the principle of female, dynamic energy manifested in different many forms like Lakshmi, Durga, Sarasvati, Devi, Parvati and Ganga.

From the 12th to 19th Centuries CE, multiple Hinduisms were inflected by the arrival of first, Islam, and then British colonial rule. In a turbulent time, revivalist and reformist movements within Hinduism appeared and Hindus themselves travelled more and travelled further than at any time in the past.

Key Movements

There are five broad traditions of Hindu practice.

Devotional Hinduism comprises 98 % of the Hindu population and focuses on the worship of particular deities: Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Rama, Krishna etc.

Reformed Hinduism consisting of those who follow Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj movement. For reformed Hindus, the written Vedas are considered the most sacred object, and worship of deities is rejected in favour of veneration of the five elements (Earth Water, Fire, Sun and Wind)

Followers of individual gurus and neo-Hindu churches including (among many others) the Divine Life Society, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna), Sai Baba, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, Holy Mother, Divine Mother, etc

Followers of various systems of yoga, designed to aid self-realisation

Marginal Hindu movements

Organisational Structure
High-caste Brahmins perform priestly functions of temple ritual, but equally important are the followings of individual gurus and the tradition of wandering, ascetic, holy men. The diversity and variety of Hindu practice, however, makes both generalisations (and a general ecclesiastical structure) impossible.

Key Beliefs

Hindu belief is enormously diverse: some Hindus are vegetarian, others eat meat; some Hindus believe in many gods, some in one God, some in none at all.

Common to the majority of Hindus is the search for salvation (moksha) – release from the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara)

Brahman is the term for the divine and absolute reality.

Brahman may be worshipped in many different guises (pantheistic), and also as only one of many Gods (polytheistic)

One way Hindus classify themselves is according to which expression of Brahman they worship:

Those who worship Vishnu (the preserver) and Vishnu’s important incarnations Rama, Krishna and Narasimha;

Those who worship Shiva (the destroyer)

Those who worship Shakti – ‘the Great Mother’ – also called Parvati, Mahalakshmi, Durga or Kali.

There is no division of the sacred from daily life in Hindu theology. Adherents can choose from three paths to salvation (moksha):

Jnana-marga, the way of knowledge – usually through yoga and meditation and the stripping away of illusion from reality;

Karma-marga, the way of action – usually through meeting obligations and performing one’s allotted ‘task-in-life’;

Bhakti-marga, the way of devotion – usually through allegiance and worship of particular gods.

Hindus believe in re-incarnation, or the transmigration, of souls. The concept of salvation is thus conceived within a framework of many existences. This can be contrasted with Christian belief which conceives of salvation in terms of only one (this) life.

Key Festivals

Local festivals and temple festivities take place throughout the year according to region.

Holi: This celebratory and popular festival is held in Spring and dedicated to Krishna.

Divali: The festival of lights when presents are given is celebrated between late October and mid-November and small lamps are lit inside and outside houses, to bring good luck.



There are four Vedas, the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The Vedas are the primary texts of Hinduism. They also had a vast influence on Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. The Rig Veda, the oldest of the four Vedas, was composed about 1500 B.C., and codified about 600 B.C. It is unknown when it was finally comitted to writing, but this probably was at some point after 300 B.C.
The Vedas contain hymns, incantations, and rituals from ancient India. Along with the Book of the Dead, the Enuma Elish, the I Ching, and the Avesta, they are among the most ancient religious texts still in existence. Besides their spiritual value, they also give a unique view of everyday life in India four thousand years ago. The Vedas are also the most ancient extensive texts in an Indo-European language, and as such are invaluable in the study of comparative linguistics.

 The Rig-Veda translated by Ralph Griffith [1896] This is a complete English translation of the Rig Veda.
 Rig-Veda (Sanskrit) This is the complete Rig Veda in Sanskrit, in Unicode Devanagari script and standard romanization.

 The Sama-Veda translated by Ralph Griffith [1895] 282,861 bytes.
The Sama Veda is a collection of hymns used by the priests during the Soma sacrifice. Many of these duplicate in part or in whole hymns from the Rig Veda. This is a complete translation.

 The Yajur Veda (Taittiriya Sanhita) translated by Arthur Berriedale Keith [1914]
This is a complete translation of the Black Yajur Veda. The Yajur Veda is a detailed manual of the Vedic sacrificial rites.
 The Texts of the White Yajurveda translated by Ralph T.H. Griffith [1899]
A complete translation of the White Yajur Veda.

The Atharva Veda also contains material from the Rig Veda, but of interest are the numerous incantations and metaphysical texts, which this anthology (part of the Sacred Books of the East series) collects and categorizes. The Atharva Veda was written down much later than the rest of the Vedas, about 200 B.C.; it may have been composed about 1000 B.C.
 The Hymns of the Atharvaveda translated by Ralph T.H. Griffith [1895-6] This is the unabridged Atharva Veda translation by Ralph Griffith.

 The Atharva-Veda translated by Maurice Bloomfield [1897]
(Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 42)
This is the Sacred Books of the East translation of the Atharva-veda. Note that this does not have translations of all hymns.

 A Vedic Reader for Students by A.A. Macdonell [1917] (excerpts) 121,143 bytes
This text serves as an introduction to the dramatis personae of the Rig Veda.


To Visvakarman [The "All-Maker"]
[1] The seer, our father, sacrificing all these worlds,
Sat on the high priest's throne:
Pursuing wealth by [offering] prayer, he made away
With what came first, entering into the latter things.

[2] What was the primal matter (adhisthana)? What the beginning?
How and what manner of thing was that from which
The Maker of All, see-er of all, brought forth
The earth, and by his might the heavens unfolded?

[3] His eyes on every side, on every side his face,
On every side his arms, his feet on every side --
With arms and wings he together forges
Heaven and earth, begetting them, God, the One!

[4] What was the wood? What was the tree
From which heaven and earth were fashioned forth?
Ask, ask, ye wise in heart, on what did he rely
That he should [thus] support [these] worlds?

[5] Teach us thy highest dwelling places (dhama), thy lowest too;
[Teach us] these, thy midmost, Maker of All:
Teach thy friends at the oblation, O thou, self-strong;
Offer sacrifice thyself to make thy body grow!

[6] Maker of All, grown strong by the oblation,
Offer heaven and earth in sacrifice thyself!
Let others hither and thither, distracted, stray
But for us let there be a bounteous patron here.

[7] Let us today invoke the Lord of Speech,
Maker of All, inspirer of the mind,
To help us at the [time of] sacrifice.
Let him take pleasure in all our invocations,
Bring us all blessing, working good to help us!


To Visvakarman
[1] The father of the eye - for wise of mind is he -
Begat these twain [heaven and earth] like sacrificial ghee,
And they bowed to him [in worship].
Not till the ancient bounds were firmly fixed
Were heaven and earth extended.

[2] Maker of All, exceeding wise, exceeding strong,
Creator, Ordainer, highest Exemplar (samdrs):
Their sacrifices [or wishes] exult in nourishment
There where, they say, the One is - beyond the Seven Seers.

[3] He is our father, he begat us,
[He] the Ordainer: dwellings (dhama) knows,
All worlds [he knows]: the gods he named,
[Himself] One only: other beings go to question him.

[4] As [now our] singers [give] of their abundance,
So did the ancient seerstogether offer him wealth:
After the sunless and the sunlit spaces
Had been set down, together they made these beings.

[5] Beyond the heavens, beyond this earth,
Beyond the gods, beyond the Asuras,
What was the first embryo the waters bore
To which all the gods bore witness?

[6] He [Visvakarman] was the first embryo the waters bore
In whom all gods together came,
The One implanted in the Unorn's navel
In which all the worlds abode.

[7] You will not find him who [all] these begat:
Some other things has stepped between you.
Blinded by fog and [ritual] mutterings
Wander the hymn-reciters, robbers of life!


The Sacrifice of Primal Man
[1] A thousand heads had [primal] Man,
A thousand eyes, a thousand feet:
Encompassing the earth on every side,
He exceeded it by ten fingers' [breadth].

[2] [That] Man is this whole universe, -
What was and what is yet to be,
The Lord of immortality
Which he outgrows by [eating] food.

[3] This is the measure of his greatness,
But greater yet is [primal] Man:
All beings form a quarter of him,
Three-quarters are the immortal in heaven.

[4] With three-quarters Man rose up on high,
A quarter of him came to be again [down] here:
From this he spread in all directions,
Into all that eats and does not eat.

[5] From him was Viraj born,
From Viraj Man again:
Once born, - behind, before,
He reached beyond the earth.

[6] When with Man as their oblation
The gods performed their sacrifice,
Spring was the melted butter,
Summer the fuel, and the autumn the oblation.

[7] Him they besprinkled on the sacrificial strew, -
[Primeval] Man, born in the beginning:
With him [their victim], gods, Sadhyas, seers
Performed the sacrifice.

[8] From this sacrifice completely offered
The clotted ghee was gathered up:
From this he fashioned beasts and birds,
Creatures of the woods and creatures of the village.

[9] From this sacrifice completely offered
Were born the Rig- and Sama-Vedas;
From this were born the metres,
From this was the Yajur-Veda born.

[10] From this were horses born, all creatures
That have teeth in either jaw;
From this were cattle born,
From this sprang goats and sheep.

[11] When they divided [primal] Man,
Into how many parts did they divide him?
What was his mouth? What his arms?
What are his thighs called? What his feet?

[12] The Brahman was his moth,
The arms were made the Prince,
His thighs the common people,
And from his feet the serf was born.

[13] From his mind the moon was born,
And from his eye the sun,
And from his mouth Indra and the fire,
From his breath the wind was born.

[14] From his navel arose the atmosphere,
From his head the sky evolved,
From his feet the eath, and from his ear
The cardinal points of the compass:
So did they fashion forth these worlds.

[15] Seven were his enclosing sticks
Thrice seven were made his fuel sticks,
When the gods, performing sacrifice,
Bound Man, [their sacrificial] beast.

[16] With the sacrifice the gods
Made sacrifice to sacrifice:
These were the first religious rites (Dharma),
To the firmament these powers went up
Where dwelt the ancient Sadhya gods.


Hymn I. Agni.
1 I Laud Agni, the chosen Priest, God, minister of sacrifice,
The hotar, lavishest of wealth.
2 Worthy is Agni to be praised by living as by ancient seers.
He shall bring. hitherward the Gods.
3 Through Agni man obtaineth wealth, yea, plenty waxing day by day,
Most rich in heroes, glorious.
4 Agni, the perfect sacrifice which thou encompassest about
Verily goeth to the Gods.
5 May Agni, sapient-minded Priest, truthful, most gloriously great,
The God, come hither with the Gods.
6 Whatever blessing, Agni, thou wilt grant unto thy worshipper,
That, Angiras, is indeed thy truth.
7 To thee, dispeller of the night, O Agni, day by day with prayer
Bringing thee reverence, we come
8 Ruler of sacrifices, guard of Law eternal, radiant One,
Increasing in thine own abode.
9 Be to us easy of approach, even as a father to his son:
Agni, be with us for our weal.


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