Gallery: Please visit the gallery to view images in full size. From the gallery, you will be able to add the images to the shopping cart and checkout. YouTube: I have a YouTube Channel (Hari PHL) where I post videos once a week. Please subscribe to my channel and share my videos. I appreciate your support. Thank you for visiting my site.
Hinduism does not have a founder because Hinduism is not a religion in the traditional sense of the word. There are many religions, religious sects, philosophies and spiritual concepts within Hinduism. In fact the word Hindu was not very commonly used in India at all, particularly in relation to a religion.
About two thousand years ago, the Greeks and the Persians referred to the area beyond the Sindhu river as Indus. It is a geographical and cultural reference (like the the words America or Americans). During this time there was strong interactions between Greece, Persia and India. Alexander the Great (generally considered to be one of the greatest commanders in the history of the world), was born in Pella, which is now part of Greece. He and his army defeated the Persians and traveled all the way to India. After capturing large parts of North India (326 BC), Alexander decided to return to Greece. The control of the captured Indian territory was given to his Greek generals.
For many centuries after, these parts of India (which also included modern day Pakistan and Afghanistan), were ruled by the “Indo-Greeks”. Many great Indian emperors of the time, including Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka were partly Greek. The word India has Greek origins. During their long presence in India, neither the Greeks, the Indo-Greeks or their Indian contemporaries mentioned a religion called Hinduism existing in India.
Who are the Hindus?
In the 15th and 16th centuries, the word Hindu referred to people in the Indian sub-continent who were not Turkic (Turkic empires held most parts of Northern India from 1206 to 1857 (Beginning of Delhi Sultanate to the end of the Mughal Empire). Eventually the British Empire replaced the Turkic rulers.
As far as the British were concerned a Hindu is someone who is not a Muslim or a Christian. Many of the “Hindu Sacred Texts” like the Vedas and Bhagawat Gita were translated into English by the British and presented to the Indian elite as the sacred texts of “Hinduism”. Many Hindus consider these texts as sacred texts today but they were unknown to most Indians until about 200 years ago.
Texts like the Vedas and Gita remain central to “Brahminical Hinduism” but has very little relevance to the vast majority of Hindus in India. There is even a debate about whether the Vedas (particularly the earlier Vedas like the Rig Veda) were written in the Indian context at all. Brahminical Hinduism has a lot of similarities with the religion of the Indo Europeans (particularly when it comes to the treatment of fire and horses). As the Indo Europeans migrated from Central Asia to the rest of the world, they also took their religious beliefs and culture along with them. The horse is not native to India, but plays a significant role in Indo European culture and religious beliefs.
Does Hinduism have a Common Thread?
The simple answer is no. Hinduism does not have any common thread. If you read about Hinduism online, you will hear things like “belief in the soul (Atman)”, “peoples actions and thoughts have an impact on current and future lives”, “Hindus revere the cow”, “Hindus focus on achieving Dharma”, “Hinduism is not a religion but a philosophy” etc. as some of the common threads. There are many people in India and in the West who try to simply Hinduism and are attempting to make Hinduism somewhat like modern day Christianity (very simple and easy to understand, orderly and hierarchical).
This need to clean up Hinduism, update and modernize it’s belief systems, create connections where none existed (like saying that Lord Murugan is the son of Shiva, Lord Ayyappan is the son of Shiva and Vishnu and Lord Venkateswara is a form of Vishnu) is not something new. This has been going on for a long time.
There are religious beliefs in Hinduism that are polar opposites of each other. There are religions in Hinduism that have fought wars with each other for hundreds of years (like Shaivism (worship of Lord Shiva) and Vaishnavism (worship of Lord Vishnu)). There are religions within Hinduism that are monotheistic and others that are polytheistic and there are sects in Hinduism that totally atheistic (groups that deny an existence of a supernatural being or achieving anything imaginary like the Dharma or the Moksha).
Whenever people talk about Hindus revering the cows and worshiping the cows, keep in mind that India is one of the largest consumers and exporters of beef in the world. Cow is holy to certain Hindus but not to the vast majority of Indians. Beef is an important part of the diet for the poor people of India.
Is Hinduism a Book Religion?
In modern day Hinduism, there are many texts that are considered as holy (I use the word holy loosely). Examples are the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita. All these texts are North Indian in origin (in the case of the Veda’s, some of them might not be written in the Indian context at all as stated before). These sacred texts and have very little practical relevance to the rest of India.
These texts for the most part were written in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is an Indo European language. Although Sanskrit is considered as a classical language of India by the Indian constitution, it was rarely spoken in India. The small groups of people who did speak Sanskrit, used Sanskrit as a second language. Most of the speakers of Sanskrit in India were the Brahmins (Brahmins make up less than 5% of the Indian population today). Although their numbers are small, the religion of the Brahmins dominates Hinduism today.
It is sad fact that very few Indians, particular those from the north, can name a single text or document that is not written in Sanskrit or is not written in the North Indian context. There are beautiful scriptures and documents written in Tamil (one of the oldest continually spoken languages in the world) and Pali (ancient language of the Buddhists) that nobody knows about. There are classic philosophical debates between the Jains and Buddhists that have been captured in some of these texts that are fascinating to read.
Paintings of Lakshmi (by Raja Ravi Varma) and Gayatri. They are both female versions of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu is typically shown with 4 hands. The last painting is Lord Murugan by Raja Ravi Varma. Lord Murugan is rarely portrayed with multiple heads.
Within Hinduism there are book religions. The best example is Vaishnavism (those who follow Lord Vishnu). Today Vaishnavism is considered a Hindu denomination, but for long periods of time it was an independent religion (even today many Vaishnavites are okay with other Hindu denominations, but continue to follow strict Vaishnavite traditions). The most revered book in Vaishnavism is Bhagavata Purana. Vaishnavism is also a monotheistic religion (some Vaishnavites worship other gods but these other gods are considered as “avatars” of Lord Vishnu). Many Vaishnavites only marry other Vaishnavites.
Is Hinduism Monotheistic or Polytheistic?
A few decades ago most Hindus would say that Hinduism is polytheistic. There are thousands and thousands of gods in Hinduism and there are many different religions within Hinduism. But the belief that Hinduism is somewhat monotheistic is gaining appeal. Many people now feel that although there are many gods in Hinduism, worship of these gods is essentially worship of the Brahma. Among other things, Brahma is the creator god of Brahmanical Hinduism.
This idea is not new. In the 18th century there were many “Hindu Reform Movements”. Some examples are the “Brahmo Samaj”, the “Arya Samaj” and the “Ramakrishna Mission”. Their goal was to streamline Hinduism, make it more logical, remove ritual practices, idol worship etc. and take Hinduism back to it’s Vedic roots (This exposes their bias. Hinduism has thousands of roots. Vedic roots just happens to be one of them). The need for reform was to compete against other religions, particularly Christianity, which at that time was the religion of the vaunted British Empire. These reformers also felt that if Hinduism was not reformed, many Hindus would convert to Christianity.
Regarding the Brahma, it is interesting to note that for such an important figure, he has very few followers in India. There are only one or two major temples in India dedicated to the Brahma. Brahma is a very interesting figure. I plan to write an article in the future about Brahma.
Many of these reform movements were focused on making Hinduism monotheistic. The spiritual side of things was emphasized more and not the practical side of life. The educated Indians back then and now and the Westerners who like Hinduism, tend to like the spiritual side of Hinduism. This is largely thanks to these reform movements of the 18th century. Swami Vivekananda who was the follower of of Ramakrishna Paramahansa (the founder of the Ramakrishna Mission reform movement), visited the United States twice. First in 1893 to attend a adjunct gathering of the Chicago World Fair. He visited many major American cities including Chicago, Boston and New York. He did not visit Philadelphia.
He is generally considered as someone who introduced Hinduism (his version of it!!) to the West (particularly the United States). His Veda inspired spiritual look at India and Hinduism is still how most in the West view Hinduism and India in general.
But is that an accurate portrayal of Hinduism or India? India always has been a practical and pragmatic nation. Over the past 2500 years alone, the Greeks, Persians, Indo-Greeks, the Muslims from the Middle East, the Turkic people from Central Asia, the nomadic Mongols, the British and the Portuguese have ruled parts of India for significant periods of time. And yet the civilization stands and continues to flourish. It is a testament to a group of people who are very good at dealing with reality.
Are you familiar with Hinduism?