Hinduism – Concept, Origin, Beliefs, History, Teachings & Facts


Obscurity marks Hinduism origins


Hinduism beliefs make it the oldest faith on earth

Steeped in antiquity, deep in philosophy, there is no single founding member, or leader who developed Hinduism. There was no concept of ‘Hinduism’ in the strict sense when civilization emerged around the Indus Valley between 65000 BCE to 1000 AD. For beginners, who search for founding principles or basic tenets, it is an exercise in futility. It is true that obscurity or Hinduism origins are incomprehensible due to their open source of interpretation. But, there is no doubt that the faith holds fort (for believers) due to basic tenets, Hinduism beliefs and several antiquated scriptures that hold a light for souls who believe in living life as a Hindu. The journey continues, the evolvement progresses for the pilgrim on the path.

Notion of time measured in Yugas

It is time that every one knows that Hinduism is not a religion, but a way of life. There are many traditions, rituals, rites and systems that have established a strong umbrella for followers of this ancient faith. Just like one may never know how the universe emerged, from a particle or a black hole in the solar system, one may never grasp how Hinduism evolved into a structured faith through some basic tenets and scriptures, which hold the key to its myriad belief systems.

As we trace back to the history of the Indus Valley civilization, we find footprints or suggestions about the basic tenets that civilized people followed.  Tracing back, to the earliest yuga (age) in 2000 BCE, the periods were classified according to the ‘dharma’-for example the sat yug (golden age) when everyone followed a ‘system’ established by society of the period. Thus we have the subsequent periods of yugas like Dwapar, Treta, and now the ubiquitous Kali yug. Dharma refers to (law, truth and duty) of the humans living of that time. As time passed and subsequent yugas saw the rise of Adharma and vanishing qualities of goodness. Divine intervention gave way to material conquests and kingdoms came-conquered or got vanquished due to their power quotient.

While this is a widespread belief that Indus valley was the core of the ‘Hindu’ civilization there is another historical legend that attributes the bringing of basic tenets of Hinduism to the entry of the Aryans. Now, this is a complete myth and evolution of faith can be now attributed to the original settlers and not Aryans.

Hence in measure of time, there are three distinct periods of Hinduism origins:

  1. 6500-1000 AD (ancient)
  2. 1000-1800 AD (medieval)
  3. 1800-AD-till now (present time)

Main tenets constituting the faith of traditional Hinduism

As mentioned earlier, Hinduism holds a spectrum of beliefs and faiths, practices and rituals; it has pantheism, paganism, abstract thought process, metaphysical states and ideas. In short the faith is a cohesive element of the culture, heritage and traditions (commonly known as parampara). So on one hand there is bhakti (devotion), on the other hand there is dharma (right or wrong), and yet on another hand yoga (disciple). The basic tenets also encompass series of idol worship, karma, dharma and reincarnation. The sub tenets include truthfulness, friendship, compassion, self-control, fortitude, purity and also generosity (not to be mixed with charity). This is a part and parcel of every human life that a Hindu leads. These tenets have been sourced from the humungous scriptures that have been developed be the ancient wisdom of the souls who lived millions of years ago.  They have esoteric and spiritual meanings that are open for interpretation till today. Every man in society lives according to his dharma and karma.

Related Article : How Old Is Hinduism ?

Scriptures that hold Hinduism beliefs

All Hindu scriptures are the oldest records or texts in the world. Whether it is the Puranas, Upnishads, Vedas, or the epic poems called Ramayan and Mahabharat, each text teaches humans how to live. The Upnishads are considered the work of ‘wonder minds’ existing in the sat yug. The Manav Dharam (written in 500 BC) extols norms of life for men and women. It is a manual for domestic (living), social and religious or spiritual leanings. There are 6 darshanas or (schools of philosophy) propagated by the Vedas. Intellectual in nature they teach esoteric things. These are other major constituents of Hinduism origins that have shaped the faith. But the most famous is the Bhagvat Gita (celestial song) given by Lord Krishna. Even non-Hindus revere it till today.

The scriptures are not only for intellectuals. They are also manuals for the warrior class. Thus showing that war is not evil but necessary for humanity. Waging war is not about spilling blood, winning kingdoms, or killing enemies. It is about upholding the dharma. It is the karma that determines fate on earth. While dharma serves the same soul when it has to pass the corridors of earthly life to another dimension.

Magic of scripture teachings

While the epics are more popular in the world, it is the Upanishads that hold the key to Hinduism origins. It is hard to believe that they were oral transmission that had later been written by well-developed minds. The concepts of life and death are aptly described. So one gets to learn about Brahman (Absolute Almighty), karma (action), moksha (liberation), samsara (reincarnation), and the atman (soul). A primer on the basic Hinduism beliefs also delve on the Vedas, self-realization (or also called God realization). It is done through practice of yoga and meditation. Although there are more than 200 texts, scholars have been able to identify only 13 of them till now! They were written between 800-400 BC. If you need a spiritual vision for the soul or a mere philosophical debate, it is possible only through physical and personal effort of the individual. There is no conversion or baptism. No need to ‘rote’ the scriptures by heart or head.

Leaf from the Brihadarankya Upnishad

“From the unreal lead me to the real!
From darkness lead me to light!
From death lead me to immortality!”

Who wrote the ancient scriptures  (shastras) that are venerated till today?

Surprisingly there is no one author, but several of them who have contributed to the vast literature! There were poets who got ‘flash of lightening to pen down their thoughts’ priestly class, students who learnt under gurus. Some of the most successful writers include Yajnavakya, Uddalak Aruni, Sanat Kumar, Shwetaketu, Shandilya, Pippalada and Aitareya. There are also writings of Manu Brihaspati, Narad and Ayasya in these texts.

These scriptures or sacred literature as they are called were mainly written in Sanskrit. While oral transmission was the main method of teaching, in later times, barks of trees and leaves were used to write. Children were taught in gurukuls. It is because of these sacred texts that the world knows about the Hindu origins in great details and respects the culture.

The Vedic period-Origins of Knowledge and Devas

The Hinduism beliefs or systems stemmed from the Vedas. Archeological surveys done have unearthed manuscripts pertaining to this period when knowledge dawned and concept of devas (gods) emerged. This was the time when sacrifices or yagnas (homa) made their debut in rituals. Vedic rituals continue till today. After sacrifices, came the yug to worship gods. This simply led to the next phase of Hinduism. Major deities became important and integral to society. These were devas (gods) and devis (goddesses). As Vedic way of life continued, new traditions and rituals became part of Hinduism beliefs. It gave rise to idol worship and power was given to the gods. But there was another school of thought, which considered Brahman the focal point. Between the two major deities became the core of Hinduism practices.

Main deities and why are they worshipped

As the journey to God realization continued, from 500 BC, the concept of Trimurti emerged-Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver) and Mahesh (destroyer). This was also the time when the Glorious Gupta Empire was fading from the historical records.  Different kingdoms now practiced their own dharma. This was the time when the great Jaganath Temple in Puri took its foundation. The religious and political powers made some deities stronger. For example the Cholas in the South of India dedicated the Shiva temple in Chidambaran (Tamil Nadu). Both, north and south of India had individual power centers. Parvati, consort of Shiva is considered the universal mother. She is also the mother of Ganesh who is worshipped till today before the start of any project. Under the auspices of this elephant headed God, till today people pray to remove obstacles and get victory in personal and professional life. Parvati is literally Shakti (power) of Shiva.

The Dashavatar concept

The concept of idol worship began as rich kings installed major temples in accordance to principles of Vastu. Other than this, the Hinduism beliefs in Avatars also grow strongly. The advent of the ten avatars is extremely popular. While nine avatars have incarnated on earth, the tenth one is yet to manifest. One of the core philosophies of Hinduism revolves around the Sustainer Lord Vishnu. While The Creator, Lord Brahma and Destroyer, Lord Shiva are also first amongst equals, the major focus lies on how Lord Vishnu sustains the dynamic creation of life in all forms on earth. The incarnation theory is unique in the sense that no other culture speaks of sustenance of creation in such a profound manner. While many Holy Scriptures speak of the destruction, natural calamities and God’s wrath, none speak in endearing terms about sustaining the might of the earth as a planet for the living where one can fulfill karmas and get liberated. Understanding the Dashavatar (literally meaning 10 incarnations) is a life long study. This is a mere concise or abridged version that can whet the appetite to learn more about Creation and sustenance of the Universe.

Lord Vishnu, in his capacity to sustain takes different forms to keep the world order in check. He descends on the face of the earth from one cycle (yug) to another. Until now he has appeared 9 times in different yugs namely Satyug, Tretayug and Dwaparyug. He appeared four times in the Satyug or the Golden period. He again appeared three times in Tretayug and twice in Dwaparyug. The tenth incarnation is reserved for Kaliyug.

Evolution of each incarnation according to yugas

If one makes a scrutiny of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, He has taken form depending on the needs of society at that time. So for Him there is no lower or higher form. He can manifest at Will. His main function is to eradicate evil and keep morality in check. To make His Creation righteous, He takes charge. For example, if the higher caste Brahmins take to wrong path, He can appear as a low caste to re-establish faith and bring the higher caste to the right path. He believes that all forms of life are equal no matter how disparate their evolutionary status is.

The ten incarnations

The first avatar was Matsya. They were the first ever-living beings on earth were aquatic. The story goes that Hayagriva managed to steal holy books from Lord Brahma. He hid in the ocean bed. Vishnu incarnated as a fish to fight and bring back the vedas.

Kurma was the second incarnation of Vishnu. It is an amphibian and is advanced in evolution. During the Samudra manthan (ocean churning) Mountain Mandara was the pole. As the churning continued the mountain receded in the ocean. Vishnu took form of a tortoise and placed the mountain on His back for the smooth churning.

The third incarnation was Varaha (boar). For the first time mammals appeared on land. Hiranyaksha was blessed that no God, man or demon or beast can kill him. He took earth into the ocean. Vishnu was sent to help retrieve the earth. He remembered that a two-tusk boar did not come in the blessing. He plunged into the ocean and killed the demon.

Narasimha is the fourth time when the Lord appeared. Nar means man and Simha means lion. The evolution here refers to becoming a man from animal. It also introduces the faculty of thinking in the animal. When King Hiranyakashyap asked to be immortal he wanted a boon that no one could kill him in the day or night or be killed by man, demon or animal in earth or space. He also said no weapon should be made to destroy him. His son Pralad was a devotee of Vishnu. He prayed to stop the evil king from banning God worship. Vishnu took the form of Narsimha to claw the king’s body on his thighs.

Vamana was the next avatar that took form. It means ‘stout human’ or in other words Homo sapiens in earliest form. In Treta yug, Bali got powers to rule. The gods feared him. Vishnu was asked for assistance. He was born in a home of a poor Brahmin. He begged alms from Bali. Bali granted him anything he asked for. The ‘dwarf’ begged for land that would come under 3 steps. Bali said yes. But as the dwarf grew in size Bali realized that it was Lord Vishnu in disguise. His pride was hurt and he bowed in atonement. Bali was blessed and sent to the neither world.

Parshurama is the next incarnation on earth. Parshu means axe. He was the son of a sage called Jamadgni and his mother was Renuka. He had a violent temper and in this yug he came to destroy the warrior caste. He had slayed a king who harassed people. King Kartavirya also stole Jamadgni’s cow. Parshuram killed the king and the army.

Lord Ram was the son of King Dashrath who ruled Ayodhya. This is the first full-grown incarnation of Vishnu in Human form. But He spent most of His life in the forests. He waged a war against Ravaan who was the evil force at that time. Lord Ram is considered an epitome of morality in personal and professional life.

Lord Krishna is the next advent that mesmerized the people on earth. This is the advent that has the best human qualities and intelligence. He is smart, cunning and also benevolent. All He did was to be on the right side of the war (with the Pandavas) that made all the difference in that yug. As the most valued incarnation, Lord Krishna gave the Srimad Bhagvatam to humanity.

Buddha is considered as the next Avatar that came on earth to transform the mind of humanity. He did away with idol worship and unnecessary rituals. He allows people to adopt a Middle path to reach salvation or liberation. Buddha means ‘The Enlightened One’.

Kalki Avatar is the last in line that has to manifest. It means ‘destroyer of the darkness’. The scriptures mention the advent in very explicit terms. He will descend on earth once again in Kaliyug when bad times roll in.

Myth busters of Hinduism beliefs

There are several stories related to the incarnations and various gods and goddesses. Since, there are several legends connected to the Gods and how to worship the, there are several myths that are floating around. A few of them have been floating for the last hundreds of years! But let us seek to establish the right faith and bust some myths that no longer are valid.

  1. Word ‘Hindusim’

Unfortunately, the popular word ‘Hinduism’ does not exist in the Indian literature or dictionary! Different people, who have entered India as invaders or merchants, have introduced it to suit their mentality. When the Persians & Mughals invaded the country they were unable to pronounce ‘Sindhu’ hence they called it ‘Hindu’. Thus people from this land became Hindustanis. No sacred scripture mentions this word anywhere.

  1. A religion-No way! It is a culture, yes

Unlike Christianity and Islam, Hinduism does not have any founder. People following this faith need not adhere to any one set idea, idol or philosophy. It has more cultural connotation rather than of creed or historical association.

  1. Is material and spiritual?

For centuries many scholars have debated about the Hinduism beliefs and its origins. The sacred texts speak of everything from domestic life to training for war, scientific studies, and lessons to becoming spiritual. It encompasses life and death equally in its pursuit of teachings to humanity and mankind in general.

  1. Aryans bought Hinduism to India

This is yet another myth that is broken. No race can claim that this faith belongs to it. It is more of a metafaith of cross section of people. The word ‘Aryan’ suited the German Nazis and European scholars. But the truth is that Indus Valley Civilization and Harappans followed it.

  1. Hinduism is older than 5000 BC

Perhaps one can believe this, as more evidence comes in front of us. It is old as circa 10000. The Vedas were composed in 6500 BC. The proof lies in David Frawley’s book Gods, Sages and Kings. Even Subhash Kak, a computer engineer decoded the portion of Rig Veda which mentions the star Ashwini in the sky in a particular constellation. The entire thing was technical and astronomy was well known in those days.

  1. Does worship of multiplicity of deities make Hindus polyesthetic?

There are atheists, anti, theistic and even agnostics. But the numbers of believers overtake all these types! One cannot mistake wood for an actual tree, in the same manner, Hinduism Beliefs rest on ‘Let Truth Prevail’-

As written in the Rigveda:

Ekam sath, Vipraah bahudhaa vadanti.

People continue to worship gods and have enshrined them for centuries. Now, the temples have become the main institutions of the faith.

Rise of temples for worship

Homage to Gods is paid in beautiful temples that exist for centuries. They remain a mute testimony of faith of several kings and rich people who made temples in the names of various gods and goddesses. Till today people worship in well known temples. The tradition of making temples for kuldevtas still exist in some communities in India. Temples across the rest of the world also affirm the faith of the people. For instance, currently, the Vrindavan Chandrodaya temple is the tallest in the world. It is 210 meters in height (equivalent of 70 floors) spread over 62 acres. The temple is being made by ISKCON. Its construction began in November 2014 in Vrindavan. The temple is slated to be one of the legendary wonders of the world like Taj Mahal, Agra, Coliseum of Rome, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Giza Pyramids of Egypt.

There are other world famous temples of Pashupatinath, in Katmandu in Nepal. The faith in temples made pilgrimage to them very integral in the lives of the Hindus. Even today the Char Dham yatra is considered important once in a lifetime.

Why Hindus go on pilgrimages

Those who have visited the temples in many places where it is even difficult to reach and considered privileged. The pilgrims endure the hardship to reach the temples as part of their belief in the faith. There are several temples that are dotted across the landscape of India that merit a mention. It is also very hard for pilgrims to reach there and take ‘darshan’. Visit to such places enhances the spiritual journey. In and around such temples saints and sages live. They also impart knowledge on the temple and their importance as mentioned in the scriptures.  Along with the temples some holy rivers like Ganga also are mentioned. These are also a part of Hinduism origins that have existed for centuries.

The pilgrimage is as sacred as the journey of evolving in life for any Hindu. It is an important phase to connect to the cosmos and universe. This is one way to connect to the divinity of God. The ‘darshan’ of God is like a revelation. Before that the hardships reflect on the pilgrim’s sincerity to reach God. And through such journeys one gets to know the purpose of life. The pilgrim understands the cycle of life and death and rebirth.

Who is a Hindu and in Vedic times how they were defined as Hindus?

  • Define a Hindu in simple terms from time of Hindu origins
  • Define a Hindu today
  • How to be an ideal Hindu
  • 7 legally accepted features of Hinduism

From the times of Hinduism origins one can trace the definition of which a correct Hindu is.  Today, by law there are nearly features that define a Hindu. In Vedic times the definition was through birth. But in Kaliyug the law prevails. In that sense the 7 parameters to being a Hindu today are:

  1. Hindus need to accept the Vedas as the highest authority and sole foundation of the faith.
  2. Need to have the spirit of tolerance. Need to also accept the prevailing truth of the opponent.
  3. Acceptance of the Hinduism beliefs according to the creation of Universe and dissolution of cycles. Acceptance of Avatars and the 6 systems of Hindu philosophy.
  4. Many means of salvation for a human soul.
  5. Must accept that as many there are idol worshippers there are also non-idolatry systems.
  6. Acceptance of rebirth and pre-existence of the soul.
  7. No Hindu philosophy is tied down to any sect, cult, concept or religion.

PS: These are the seven parameters laid down by the supreme court of India in a landmark case of 1995 called Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Vs State of West Bengal.

Today a person being born in a Hindu family is considered lawfully a Hindu. If your parents are Hindus you are also a Hindu. If you are born in a particular caste you are a Hindu. If you believe in reincarnation then also you are a Hindu. If your nationality is Indian and live in a Hindu family you will be a Hindu.

The Vedas describe Hindus as those people who accept the authority of the Vedic scriptures, live in accordance to the principles of Dharma and the divine laws of God listed in the scriptures. If you also accept Bagvat Gita and its teachings you will be considered a follower of Hindu faith.

How concept of Hinduism beliefs have changed with times

Over a period of time, as society developed, Hinduism beliefs have morphed. But the basic tenets, which began from beginning of time, have remained. Today’s Hindu still believes in the Hinduism origins, but has cast aside the orthodox and dogmas associated with it. One of the greatest changes has occurred in the caste system. Some traditions and practices have been challenged and thrown aside. While every caste has its own dharma-karma to propound the other outside factors like untouchability, widow been cast away are more or else consigned to the pages of history.

Today’s Hindus believe in:

  1. Trimurthi of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh
  2. Caste System with more flexibility
  3. The law of karma prevails
  4. Transmigration of souls or reincarnation
  5. Nirvana

Reinforcing concept of heaven, hell and reincarnation

There is no escape from good or bad actions. It is reiterated time and again. And now there are more acceptances worldwide. With consciousness rising, it is known that people around the world are accepting what Hinduism knew 10,000 years ago. Other religions have responded to Hinduism beliefs with their interpretation. But this does not change the core of the way of live for the original Hindu people.

When it comes to understanding the birth and death cycle, the Moksh is important. It releases one from the fretters of constant births and reincarnations on earth. So, what occurs after life? Is there a heaven and hell? Yes, both lie deep within the soul. The soul passes through both till it learns all the lessons. Once it overcomes the sufferings and need to be reborn as man or woman, there is enlightenment and liberation. This is the final step to God realization. To get to this point, the Hindu goes to temples, leads life according to the dharma, does his karma and goes on pilgrimages. The journey is complete.