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Today, Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world, with roughly 95% of the Hindu population living in India. Its origins are often disputed, as there is no one founding story of the religion. Its origins date back to a period between 2300 B.C. and 1500 B.C. Instead, it is believed that Hinduism evolved from the many traditions and beliefs native to India. Often, Hinduism is not thought of as a single, organized religion. Instead, many view it as a “family of religions.”

As with many religions, Hinduism’s main dogmas can be found within its sacred texts. The primary texts of Hinduism are the Vedas, which were a collection of four books written around 1500 B.C. The Vedas are composed of verses and hymns written in Sanskrit. The Vedas include The Rig Veda, The Samaveda, the Yajurveda, and the Atharvaveda. The Upanishads were written later, which contain commentary on the collection of Vedas. The Ramayana and The Mahabharata are two epics associated with Hinduism that serve as ideal models for the moral and social behavior of Hindus.

From an outsider’s perspective, Hinduism is often categorized as polytheistic. Their religion honors several gods and goddesses. However, many will say that Hinduism is instead henotheistic. This means that Hindus worship a single deity, Brahman, but that they also recognize other gods and goddesses. The central Hindu trinity consists of Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. Some Hindus believe that all the deities are the same god but just in different forms- similar to how Christians view the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit as separate manifestations of the same god.

One pillar of the Hindu belief is the importance of “atman,” or the soul. This belief states that every living thing has a soul, and they’re all part of a system that composes the supreme soul. The system for organizing souls is what we know as the caste system. The caste system depends on the ideas of karma and dharma in order to rebirth, referred to by Hindus as samsara, souls into different beings. This system is focused on the Hindu belief that people’s actions serve to determine the state of their current and future lives. Dharma is the code of living based off strong morality. Hindus believe in the goal of achieving “moksha,” or salvation. Moksha ends the cycle of reincarnation, in order for one’s soul to be rejoined with the absolute soul. For centuries, one’s position in the caste system determined everything about their life: what they did as a living, their position in Hinduism, and even who they were allowed to socialize with. However today, discrimination based on the caste system is banned, and many of the traditions involving the caste system are disregarded.

Hinduism is not only a religion but often thought of as well as a way of life or a philosophy. Hinduism shapes a Hindu’s diet. Hindus don’t eat beef or pork, as cows are considered sacred. This results that many Hindus are vegetarians. The Hindu caste system ran India’s social life for hundreds of years. Hinduism is thought of as the oldest surviving religion in the world and holds parallels to other popular religions in India, such as Jainism and Buddhism. The effects of Hinduism are evident in many parts of Indian life, thus showing how important it is to learn about such a major world religion.