meaning of name

Hinduism, from the Persian hindu (Sanskrit sindhu), literally “river.” Means “of the Indus Valley” or simply “Indian.” Hindus call their religion sanatama dharma,”eternal religion” or “eternal truth.”

date founded

Earliest forms date to 1500 BC or earlier

place founded





900 million

size rank

third largest in the world

main location

India, also United Kingdom and United States

major sects

Saivism, Vaisnavism, Saktism

sacred texts

Vedas, Upanishads, Sutras, Bhagavad Gita

original language


spiritual leader

guru or sage

place of worship

temple or home shrine


pantheism with polytheistic elements

ultimate reality


human nature

in bondage to ignorance and illusion, but able to escape

purpose of life

to attain liberation (moksa) from the cycle of reincarnation

how to live

order life according to the dharma


if karma unresolved, soul is born into a new body; if karma resolved, attain moksa (liberation)

major holidays

Mahashivarati (mid-February)

Holi (Spring)

Ramnavami (late March)

Dusserah (early November)

Diwali (mid-November)


Hinduism by the Numbers


three paths:


karmamarga – path of works and action

jnanamarga – path of knowledge or philosophy

bhaktimarga – path of devotion to God


three debts:


debt to God

debt to sages and saints

debt to ancestors


four stages of life:


brahmacharga – school years – grow and learn

grhastha – marriage, family and career

vanaprastha – turn attention to spiritual things

sanrgasu – abandon world to seek spiritual things


four purposes of life:


dharma – fulfill moral, social and religious duties

artha – attain financial and worldy success

kama – satisfy desires and drives in moderation

moksha – attain freedom from reincarnation


seven sacred cities:




Gaya (Bodhgaya)

Kasi (Varanasi, Benares)


Avantika (Ujjain)



ten commitments: 1. Ahimsa – do no harm

2. Satya – do not lie

3. Asteya – do not steal

4. Brahmacharya – do not overindulge

5. Aparigraha – do not be greedy

6. Saucha – be clean

7. Santosha – be content

8. Tapas – be self-disciplined

9. Svadhyaya – study

10. Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to Go


Hindu beliefs and practices:


Categorizing the religion of Hinduism is somewhat confusing:


Hinduism has commonly been viewed in the west as a polytheistic religion – one which worships multiple deities: gods and goddesses. Although a widespread belief, this is not particularly accurate.

Some have viewed it as a monotheistic religion, because it recognizes only one supreme God: the panentheistic principle of Brahman, that all reality is a unity. The entire universe is seen as one divine entity who is simultaneously at one with the universe and who transcends it as well.

Some view Hinduism as Trinitarian because Brahman is simultaneously visualized as a triad — one God with three persons:

Brahma the Creator who is continuing to create new realities

Vishnu, (Krishna) the Preserver, who preserves these new creations. Whenever dharma (eternal order, righteousness, religion, law and duty) is threatened, Vishnu travels from heaven to earth in one of ten incarnations.

Shiva, the Destroyer, is at times compassionate, erotic and destructive.

Strictly speaking, most forms of Hinduism are henotheistic; they recognize a single deity, and recognizes other gods and goddesses as facets, forms, manifestations, or aspects of that supreme God.


Most urban Hindus follow one of two major divisions within Hinduism:


Vaishnavaism: which generally regards Vishnu as the ultimate deity

Shivaism: which generally regards Shiva as the ultimate deity.


However, many rural Hindus worship their own village goddess or an earth goddess. She is believed to rule over fertility and disease — and thus over life and death. The priesthood is less important in rural Hinduism: non-Brahmins and non-priests often carry out ritual and prayer there.


Hindus believe in the repetitious Transmigration of the Soul. This is the transfer of one’s soul after death into another body. This produces a continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth through their many lifetimes. It is called samsara. Karma is the accumulated sum of ones good and bad deeds. Karma determines how you will live your next life. Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be reborn at a higher level. Eventually, one can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment. Bad deeds can cause a person to be reborn as a lower level, or even as an animal. The unequal distribution of wealth, prestige, suffering are thus seen as natural consequences for one’s previous acts, both in this life and in previous lives.

Hindus organize their lives around certain activities or “purusharthas.” These are called the “four aims of Hinduism,” or “the doctrine of the fourfold end of life.” They are:


The three goals of the “pravritti,” those who are in the world, are:

dharma: righteousness in their religious life. This is the most important of the three.

artha: success in their economic life; material prosperity.

kama: gratification of the senses; pleasure; sensual, sexual, and mental enjoyment.

The main goal for the “nivritti,” those who renounce the world. is:

moksa: Liberation from “samsara.” This is considered the supreme goal of mankind.


Meditation is often practiced, with Yoga being the most common. Other activities include daily devotions, public rituals, and puja, a ceremonial dinner for a God.


Hinduism has a deserved reputation of being highly tolerant of other religions. Hindus have a saying: “Ekam Sataha Vipraha Bahudha Vadanti,” which may be translated: “The truth is One, but different Sages call it by Different Names”


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