Hinduism

Hinduism is the world’s third most prolific religion after Christianity and Islam. With a history spanning many thousands of years, it is the dominant religion in South Asia and has been very influential in Southeast Asia, sharing its origin with Buddhism and Jainism.

Hinduism has been spread to many countries by South Asian emigrants. While the faith has traditionally been less proselytic than many other religions, modern movements such as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas) have helped spark increased interest in Hinduism in Western countries since the 1960s.

Due to their superb architecture and cultural value, many Hindu temples have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Who really knows?
Who can here proclaim it?
Whence, whence this creation sprang?
Gods came later, after the creation of this universe.

Who then knows whence it has arisen?
Whether God’s will created it, or whether He was mute;
Only He who is its overseer in highest heaven knows,
He only knows, or perhaps He does not know.

—Rigveda, 10.129.6-7

Ahilya Ghat, Varanasi

Hinduism is an extremely diverse religious and spiritual tradition. It has no founder, governing body or single holy book, although the Vedas (Sanskrit: वेद Veda, lit. knowledge) are regarded by most Hindus to be the holiest and most authoritative religious texts. It is often referred to as not just a religion but a way of life. The beginnings of Hinduism are at least as old as the Vedas, the earliest of which are estimated to date from approximately 1700 BCE, with traces of the religion found in the earlier Indus Valley Civilisation, beginning from 3300 BCE. Many scholars now believe that the Vedic mythology of Hinduism originally evolved from proto-Indo-European mythology, thus sharing a common origin with many mythologies of pre-Christian Europe, such as the Greek, Roman, Celtic, Slavic and Germanic mythologies. The Vedas and other texts, including the Upanishads, Puranas, and the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics, are in the ancient and sacred language of Sanskrit.

Hinduism is a richly iconic religion, celebrating many Gods and Goddesses in the form of statues and paintings, and with music, dance and poetry. Hindus believe in a cycle of birth, death and rebirth, corresponding to the Hindu trinity of Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver and Shiva, the destroyer. Hindu Gods are believed to be able to come to the mortal world in the form of avatars – incarnations in human or animal form who can also shape-shift. The most famous examples are Rama and Krishna, two much-beloved avatars of Vishnu. The belief in avatars has also allowed Hindus to adopt elements of other religions, for example by accepting Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu. Many Hindu Gods have consorts, with Saraswati as the consort of Brahma, Lakshmi as the consort of Vishnu, and Parvati as the consort of Shiva. These consort Goddesses also can come down to Earth as avatars, frequently as the wives of their respective husbands’ avatars. Other deities that are venerated include Indra, the god of thunder and lightning, and king of the gods, Agni, the god of fire and Ganesha, the elephant-faced god and son of Shiva. There is also a Hindu belief in the Brahman — the divine oneness — and therefore, some Hindus believe that all the Gods and Goddesses are manifestations of an overall oneness, and are monotheists.

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