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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Introducing Hinduism to Non-Hindu Kids

Hinduism is a religion that originated in the Indian subcontinent. Purists refer to it more as Sanātana Dharma (the eternal path/law) than a religion, as it is believed to be a virtuous way of life.
It is the oldest practised religion in the world and has the third largest following after Christianity and Islam. It has over a billion practising followers, 90% of whom live in South Asia, particularly India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan (which is the only official Hindu state in the world). Having originated in the Indian subcontinent, it has spread selectively to other parts of the world owing to migration, as the ideas of conversion and evangelisation are absent in Hinduism. Other countries having high Hindu populations include Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, Fiji, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom and Canada. 

The term Hinduism is derived from the word ‘Hindu’, which is a Persian distortion of ‘Sindhu’, the ancient name for the River Indus running through northern India. To that end, it is less a religion than a codification of the evolving way of life and beliefs of the inhabitants of the region. A conglomerate of diverse beliefs and traditions, Hinduism has no single founder. 

The advent of the Aryans into north India assimilated certain beliefs of the late Neolithic and early Harappan period (5500–2600 BC) to their own religious beliefs. Modern Hinduism grew from the ancient texts called Vedas, and bore much similarity to other Indo-European religions like Zoroastrianism, incorporating strong elements of nature gods and their worship. Vedic Hinduism had spread all over the Indian subcontinent by the 4th century BC, assimilating elements of all local religious beliefs and practices. Over the next 10 centuries, it evolved further and also absorbed tenets of Buddhism and Jainism, which included the doctrine of non-violence and an emphasis on vegetarianism. Under the classical Golden Epoch of the Gupta period (4th to 6th century AD) more formalized Hindu thought and its systematization flourished. By then many classical works (shastras) of Hindu philosophy had been codified, the major epics—the Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata—received their present form and rules for idol worship, representations of the deities and for building structures and temples also developed. This assimilation lasted until the advent of political Islamic control in India in the 7th century. While there were a number of attempts to reconcile both Hindu and Muslim theology over the next 8 centuries, mainstream Hinduism became more orthodox and codified. The rise of the Bhakti (devotion) and Sufi movements at this time, preaching piety and love for God, brought about a point of communion between the two religions that left in its wake some of the most evocative devotional corpus in Indian history. Under the British Empire, Hinduism underwent a number of social reforms, and there were many revivalist and spiritual movements in the 19th century. 

Hinduism has no central doctrinal authority and most practicing Hindus do not claim to belong to any particular denomination. However, there are various denominations in Hinduism based primarily on the God worshipped as the Supreme One, as well as those that developed as a result of the reform and revivalist movements within Hinduism, though they are not antagonistic to each other. 

The religious texts of the Hindus span a very large corpus, most important of which are the four Vedas (called Ṛg-, Sāma- Yajus- and Atharva-) which focus on rituals, and the Upanishads and Puranas , which focus on spiritual insight, mythological accounts and philosophical teachings. Apart from this, there are a number of classical texts (shastras) of Hindu philosophy as well as the major epics—the Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata. 
Hindu shrine in Delhi, India, at sunrise looking out over the waters
Hinduism is the religion of the majority of people in India and Nepal. It also exists among significant populations outside of the sub-continent and has over 900 million adherents worldwide.
In some ways Hinduism is the oldest living religion in the world, or at least elements within it stretch back many thousands of years. Yet Hinduism resists easy definition partly because of the vast array of practices and beliefs found within it. It is also closely associated conceptually and historically with the other Indian religions Jainism,Buddhism and Sikhism.
Unlike most other religions, Hinduism has no single founder, no single scripture, and no commonly agreed set of teachings. Throughout its extensive history, there have been many key figures teaching different philosophies and writing numerous holy books. For these reasons, writers often refer to Hinduism as 'a way of life' or 'a family of religions' rather than a single religion.

Defining Hinduism

The term 'Hindu' was derived from the river or river complex of the northwest, the Sindhu. Sindhu is a Sanskrit word used by the inhabitants of the region, the Aryans in the second millennium BCE. Later migrants and invaders, the Persians in the sixth century BCE, the Greeks from the 4th century BCE, and the Muslims from the 8th century CE, used the name of this river in their own languages for the land and its people.
The term 'Hindu' itself probably does not go back before the 15th and 16th centuries when it was used by people to differentiate themselves from followers of other traditions, especially the Muslims (Yavannas), in Kashmir and Bengal. At that time the term may have simply indicated groups united by certain cultural practices such as cremation of the dead and styles of cuisine. The 'ism' was added to 'Hindu' only in the 19th century in the context of British colonialism and missionary activity.
The origins of the term 'hindu' are thus cultural, political and geographical. Now the term is widely accepted although any definition is subject to much debate. In some ways it is true to say that Hinduism is a religion of recent origin yet its roots and formation go back thousands of years.
Some claim that one is 'born a Hindu', but there are now many Hindus of non-Indian descent. Others claim that its core feature is belief in an impersonal Supreme, but important strands have long described and worshipped a personal God. Outsiders often criticise Hindus as being polytheistic, but many adherents claim to be monotheists.
Some Hindus define orthodoxy as compliance with the teachings of the Vedic texts (the four Vedas and their supplements). However, still others identify their tradition with 'Sanatana Dharma', the eternal order of conduct that transcends any specific body of sacred literature. Scholars sometimes draw attention to the caste system as a defining feature, but many Hindus view such practices as merely a social phenomenon or an aberration of their original teachings. Nor can we define Hinduism according to belief in concepts such as karma and samsara (reincarnation) because Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists (in a qualified form) accept this teaching too.
Although it is not easy to define Hinduism, we can say that it is rooted in India, most Hindus revere a body of texts as sacred scripture known as the Veda, and most Hindus draw on a common system of values known as dharma.
  • Hinduism originated around the Indus Valley near the River Indus in modern day Pakistan.
  • About 80% of the Indian population regard themselves as Hindu.
  • Most Hindus believe in a Supreme God, whose qualities and forms are represented by the multitude of deities which emanate from him.
  • Hindus believe that existence is a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, governed by Karma.
  • Hindus believe that the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives and its next incarnation is always dependent on how the previous life was lived.
  • The main Hindu texts are the Vedas and their supplements (books based on the Vedas). Veda is a Sanskrit word meaning 'knowledge'. These scriptures do not mention the word 'Hindu' but many scriptures discuss dharma, which can be rendered as 'code of conduct', 'law', or 'duty'
  • Hindus celebrate many holy days, but the Festival of Lights,Diwali is the best known.
  • The 2001 census recorded 559,000 Hindus in Britain, around 1% of the population.
  • However, the most important impact of Hinduism has been on the evolution of society. According to traditional Hindu belief, there are four stages of a human life (Āshramas), which are the stage as a student (spent in celibate, controlled, contemplation under a teacher), householder, retirement (gradual detachment from the material world) and finally asceticism to find Moksha. Society was classified into four classes, called Varnas – teachers and priests (Brahmins), warriors, nobles, and kings (Kshatriyas), farmers, merchants, and businessmen (Vaishyas) and the servants and labourers (Shudras). This classes slowly evolved to extremely rigid castes and sub-castes, setting in place an exceedingly oppressive hierarchy over the course of history. Most reform movements in the 19th and early 20th century addressed a number of these issues, and modern Hinduism is far more liberal, though the principles of caste and class still tend to become important in issues of marriage and social norms and politics. 
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