WHEN DID HINDUISM BEGIN?
Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest religions, but it has no founder. It grew slowly out of the beliefs and practice of ancient tribes. These tribes, the Indo-Aryans, entered India around 3000 bc. Over many centuries, their religion ripened into Hinduism.
WHAT DO HINDUS BELIEVE?
Hindus believe every living thing has a soul. They say that after death, each soul gets born again into a different body. This is called reincarnation. People are rewarded for each good deed and punished for each bad one, Hindus say. The reward or payback may come in another lifetime, however. So, each person carries a load of rewards or punishments they are owed for past deeds. This is called karma.
Everything people do adds to their karma. Those who have been good are reborn into a higher form in the next life. Those who have been evil are reborn into a lower form. Over countless lifetimes, a soul can rise until it escapes the cycle of death and rebirth. It can finally rejoin Brahman, the Supreme Being.
Hinduism has no central book, like the Bible. Instead, it has many sacred texts. Together, these books are called the Vedas. They contain hymns and religious instruction. They also discuss how to live a good life and achieve union with Brahman. Hindus have great story poems, too, such as the Mahabharata. One small part of this very long poem is called the Bhagavad-Gita. It contains some of the core teachings of Hinduism.
WHO ARE THE HINDU GODS?
Only Brahman is real, the Hindus say. Everything else is a kind of dream. Brahman never dies or changes. Brahman may, however, appear to people in the form of various gods and goddesses. A few of these deities, however, are more important than others. These include Brahma (who creates), Vishnu (who preserves), and Shiva (who destroys). All of them are forms of Brahman, the Supreme Being.
HOW DO HINDUS WORSHIP?
Hinduism is not just a religion but a way of life as well. Hindus have rituals for every life activity. These rituals cover eating, sleeping, and working as well as love, marriage, and friendship.
This way of life unfolds within something called the caste system. A caste is a group of people with a certain status. Some castes are higher and some lower. Hindus believe in marrying only others of their own caste. Everyone is born into a caste. According to Hinduism, people cannot move to a different caste within their lifetime. They must wait until death. After that, they may be reborn into a higher (or lower) caste.
Hindus have built temples to honor their gods. But they do not need to go to a temple to worship. They can worship at home, in groups, or alone. Hindus believe everything created in the world is worthy of worship.