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Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as Sanātana Dharma (a Sanskrit phrase meaning "the eternal law", "the eternal law that sustains/upholds/surely preserves"), amongst many other expressions. Generic "types" of Hinduism that attempt to accommodate a variety of complex views span folk and Vedic Hinduism to bhakti tradition, as in Vaishnavism. Among other practices and philosophies, Hinduism includes a wide spectrum of laws and prescriptions of "daily morality" based on the notion of karma, dharma, and societal norms. Hinduism grants a great degree of freedom of belief and worship. Also, the concept of heresy is absent.
Hinduism is formed of diverse traditions and has no single founder. Among its direct roots is the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India and, as such, Hinduism is often called the "oldest living religion" or the "oldest living major religion" in the world.
Most Hindu traditions revere a body of religious or sacred literature, the Vedas, although there are exceptions. Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, atheism, agnosticism, gnosticism among others; and its concept of God is complex and depends upon each individual and the tradition and philosophy followed. It is sometimes referred to as henotheistic (i.e., involving devotion to a single god while accepting the existence of others), but any such term is an overgeneralization.
A large body of texts is classified as Hindu, divided into Śruti ("revealed") and Smriti ("remembered") texts. These texts discuss theology, philosophy and mythology, and provide information on the practice of dharma (religious living). Among these texts, the Vedas are the foremost in authority, importance and antiquity. Other major scriptures include the Upanishads, Purāṇas and the epics Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa. The Bhagavad Gītā, a syncretistic treatise from the Mahābhārata, is of special importance. It combines Vedanta, Yoga, and some Samkhya philosophy into its discussion of good conduct and life.
The Rig Veda, the oldest scripture and the mainstay of Hindu philosophy does not take a restrictive view on the fundamental question of God and the creation of universe. It rather lets the individual seek and discover answers in the quest of life.
There are four Vedas (called Ṛg-, Sāma-, Yajus- and Atharva-). The Rigveda is the first and most important Veda. Each Veda is divided into four parts: the primary one, the Veda proper, being the Saṃhitā, which contains sacred mantras. The other three parts form a three-tier ensemble of commentaries, usually in prose and are believed to be slightly later in age than the Saṃhitā. These are: the Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas, and the Upanishads. The first two parts were subsequently called the Karmakāṇḍa (ritualistic portion), while the last two form the Jñānakāṇḍa (knowledge portion). While the Vedas focus on rituals, the Upanishads focus on spiritual insight and philosophical teachings, and discuss Brahman and reincarnation.
Hinduism does not have a "unified system of belief encoded in declaration of faith or a creed", but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena originating and based on the Vedic traditions.
The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, the historic local appellation for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent and is first mentioned in the Rig Veda.
The word Hindu was first used by Arab invaders and then went further west by the Arabic term al-Hind referring to the land of the people who live across river Indus and the Persian term Hindū referring to all Indians. By the 13th century, Hindustān emerged as a popular alternative name of India, meaning the "land of Hindus".
The earliest evidence for prehistoric religion in India date back to the late Neolithic in the early Harappan period (5500–2600 BCE). The beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era (1500–500 BCE) are called the "historical Vedic religion". The Vedic religion shows influence by Proto-Indo-European religion. Modern Hinduism grew out of the Vedas, the oldest of which is the Rigveda, dated to 1700–1100 BCE. The Vedas center on worship of deities such as Indra, Varuna and Agni, and on the Soma ritual. Fire-sacrifices, called yajña were performed, and Vedic mantras chanted but no temples or idols are known.
The major Sanskrit epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, were compiled over a protracted period during the late centuries BCE and the early centuries CE. They contain mythological stories about the rulers and wars of ancient India, and are interspersed with religious and philosophical treatises. The later Puranas recount tales about devas and devis, their interactions with humans and their battles against rakshasa.
Three major movements underpinned the naissance of a new epoch of Hindu thought: the advent and spread of Upanishadic, Jaina, and Buddhist philosophico-religious thought throughout the broader Indian landmass. Mahavira (24th Tirthankara of Jainism) and Gautama Buddha (founder of Buddhism) taught that to achieve moksha or nirvana, one did not have to accept the authority of the Vedas or the caste system. Buddha went a step further and claimed that the existence of a Self/soul or God was unnecessary. Buddhism peaked during the reign of Asoka the Great of the Mauryan Empire, who unified the Indian subcontinent in the 3rd century BCE. After 200 CE several schools of thought were formally codified in Indian philosophy, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta. Charvaka, the founder of an atheistic materialist school, came to the fore in North India in the sixth century BCE.
About Dharma
The concept of a "power" that is held to lie behind nature and that keeps everything in balance became a natural forerunner to the idea of Dharma. The Upanishads saw dharma as the universal principle of law, order, harmony, all in all truth, that sprang first from Brahman. It acts as the regulatory moral principle of the Universe.
Karma and samsara
Karma translates literally as action, work, or deed, and can be described as the "moral law of cause and effect". According to the Upanishads an individual, known as the jiva-atma, develops sanskaras (impressions) from actions, whether physical or mental. The linga sharira, a body more subtle than the physical one but less subtle than the soul, retains impressions, carrying them over into the next life, establishing a unique trajectory for the individual. Thus, the concept of a universal, neutral, and never-failing karma intrinsically relates to reincarnation as well as to one's personality, characteristics, and family. Karma binds together the notions of free will and destiny.
This cycle of action, reaction, birth, death and rebirth is a continuum called samsara. The notion of reincarnation and karma is a strong premise in Hindu thought. The Bhagavad Gita states:
“As a person puts on new clothes and discards old and torn clothes, similarly an embodied soul enters new material bodies, leaving the old bodies.(B.G. 2:22)”
Samsara provides ephemeral pleasures, which lead people to desire rebirth so as to enjoy the pleasures of a perishable body. However, escaping the world of samsara through moksha is believed to ensure lasting happiness and peace. It is thought that after several reincarnations, an atman eventually seeks unity with the cosmic spirit (Brahman/Paramatman).
The ultimate goal of life, referred to as moksha, nirvana or samadhi, is understood in several different ways: as the realization of one's union with God; as the realization of one's eternal relationship with God; realization of the unity of all existence; perfect unselfishness and knowledge of the Self; as the attainment of perfect mental peace; and as detachment from worldly desires. Such realization liberates one from samsara and ends the cycle of rebirth. Due to belief in the indestructibility of the soul, death is deemed insignificant with respect to the cosmic self. Thence, a person who has no desire or ambition left and no responsibilities remaining in life or one affected by a terminal disease may embrace death by Prayopavesa.
Nepalese People. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comNepalese People. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comPrayer Wheels at Boudhanath Buddhist Temple. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comBoudhanath Buddhist Temple. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comBoudhanath Buddhist Temple. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comStudents painting Mandalas. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comStudents painting Mandalas. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comPashupatinath Temple. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comPashupatinath Temple. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comPashupatinath Temple. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comPashupatinath Temple. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comPashupatinath Temple. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comPashupatinath Temple. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comCremations on Bagmati River. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comCremations on Bagmati River. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comCremations on Bagmati River. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comCremations on Bagmati River. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comPashupatinath Temple. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comPashupatinath Temple. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.comNepalese People. Kathmandu. Nepal 2011© Nora de Angelli / www.noraphotos.com

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