Hinduism is one of the world's most prolific religions, and one of the two primary religions of the Indian subcontinent, along with Islam. It is also known as Sanātana Dharma by Hindus. Hinduism originated as a melding of the Vedic religion of invaders from the north with the native religion centred on forest hermits in India. It is perhaps the world's oldest extant religion.
Hinduism does not fit into polytheism or monotheism but instead is experienced by its believers in different ways. Hindu beliefs range from those that believe in countless gods and goddesses that all are facets of one God. Others however believe in God as a universal consciousness. There are even atheist schools of thought within Hinduism.
Within Hinduism, there are three main gods who make up the overall godhead, and most of the countless gods are various incarnations of those three. The three are Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Hindus believe in reincarnation and karma - and its impact on from one "life" to another. This is partially responsible for a serious problem with Hinduism; the caste system, which treats some people as inferior because of wrong actions which they are believed to have made in "previous" lives. This is manifestly unfair as these "wrongdoings" obviously never happened. However, attempts are being made to abolish the system and it is nearly extinct in urban and suburban areas. Serious attempts are also being made to address this problem in rural India, where it is slowly being dismissed by the populace. Although some may regard the concept of karma as positive, if its result is the caste system then this positive aspect is a little hard to see. Nevertheless according to the idea of Karma, people are imagined to be rewarded or punished for what they have done right or wrong but this reward or punishment is finite. This is in juxtaposition with the Christian religion that only claims to save those that believe in their one god and damns everybody else, and whose punishment or reward is claimed to be infinite.
The dark side of Hinduism
Although many see Hinduism as a peaceful and egalitarian religion, some forms of it promote a rigid stratification of society in the form of the traditional Indian caste system, which contains five castes, in descending order of precedence:
- The Brahmins (priests);
- The Kshatriyas (king and warriors);
- The Vaishyas (merchants and businessmen);
- The Shudras/ Dalits (The Untouchables);
Technically, the Untouchables do not belong to a caste within the system, but are considered outside the system and ostracized by Hindu society. The caste system was cited by British colonialists, notably Winston Churchill, in their attempts to justify continued British presence on the Indian subcontinent; it is still currently being practiced in India despite being deprived of official legal status in 1947.
Connections to other Indo-European mythologies
In the most ancient of Hindu myths, one can see many parallels to other Indo-European belief systems. One of these is the celestial war between different kinds of gods. In Hinduism, this is seen in the war between the gods and demons. In Greek mythology, this can be seen in the war between the Olympian gods and Titan gods. In Norse mythology, this can be seen in both the war between the Aesir and Vanir, and between the gods and the giants.
Moreover, many have found explicit parallels between certain Hindu gods and some of the Indo-European ones. The most often cited is the parallel between Indra, god of thunder, and Thor, the Norse god of thunder. To many, this is yet more proof of the close connection, prehistorically, between Indians and Europeans.
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