Hinduism is the main religion of India, having evolved over several thousand years.
It has no creed nor firm institutional structure, although the belief in reincarnation runs through almost every form of Hinduism.
Instead of revering one holy book like the Bible or the Koran, Hinduism relies on a variety of sacred scriptures. The oldest are the Vedas (1500-1200 BCE), with the Rig-Veda being prominent among them.
Later, the dharma sutras and dharma shastras appear (500 BCE – 500 CE). These ancient codes of conduct, numbering over 5,000 separate titles, were composed in Sanskrit. They spell out rules and regulations for a wide variety of situations. And they legitimized the caste system and the ideal Hindu stages of life (asrama). They were legally binding in India until contrary legislation appeared in 1955-56.
The Upanisads (1000-600 BCE) are an introspective set of scriptures dealing with the eternal self and its relation to temporal life.
Also important are the two epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. While the Bhagavad-Gita belongs within the Mahabharata, most scholars believe it is was added later to the epic, crystallizing various strands of existing Hindu belief.
The most important gods of the Trimurti (Skt. = three forms, sometimes loosely translated as “Trinity”) are Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Preserver) and Siva (Destroyer and Cosmic Dancer). But many other deities, called avatars, and their consorts are privately and publicly worshipped (e.g., Krishna-Radha, Hanuman, Ganesha, Kali).
In some strands of Hinduism the Buddha is believed to be a demonic avatar. This is probably because Buddha’s teaching challenged the Hindu priestly and caste traditions.
From the 1800’s, the Indian gurus Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekenanda, Sai Baba, Sri Aurobindo, Paramahansa Yogananda and Sri Rajneesh have been prominent. Meanwhile the Indian poet, dramatist and musician Rabindranath Tagore pioneered an innovative, internationally based ashram-style university at Santiniketan and Mohandas Gandhi, who championed the Bhagavad-Gita, has been internationally known as a key political and spiritual figure.
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