Hinduism: Overview | 1

OVERVIEW

Hinduism is the religion of almost a billion people:

While most of them are in India, there are almost 2 million in the United States and substantial numbers in Great Britain, Canada, the Caribbean, Australia, and East Africa.

Marked by diverse beliefs, practices, and organizational structures as well as multiple chains of authority, Hinduism is one of the largest and oldest religious traditions in the world. The tradition has been transmitted through performing arts, texts, visual art, and architecture.

Hindus may think of the Supreme Being as beyond thought and word; as a supreme power that is immanent in the universe and that also transcends it; as male, female, or simultaneously male and female; as beyond gender; as one, as many; as a local colourful deity; and as abiding in the human soul or even as identical with it.

Hinduism can be spoken of both as one umbrella category or as several traditions, and the larger Hindu culture encompasses not just beliefs and texts but also practices that include healing, performing arts, astrology, geomancy, and architecture.

The Hindu tradition does not have a particular year or even century of birth:

It is generally believed that the Hindu tradition originated in the civilization that existed in India about 5 000 years ago and possibly in the culture of the Indo-European people. Whether these two cultures were the same or distinct is a matter of scholarly debate.

While Hinduism has been largely associated with India over the last 3000 years, it has spread to many parts of the world through maritime contacts, traders, businessmen, educators, bonded workers, and learned priests.

The names “Hindu” and “India” are derived from “Sindhu,” the original name of the river Indus:

It was a word that most Hindus did not use for themselves in the past, and in India it had more geographical than religious overtones, at least until the 13th – 14th centuries C.E.

The word “Hinduism” came to be used increasingly by the British in the 18th century, when they began to extend their colonial rule over India.

There were numerous concepts and practices that connected the many “Hindu” groups and communities, but Western scholarship has questioned whether the concept of “Hinduism” as a unified tradition existed in the pre-colonial era.

Despite their regional, sectarian, and linguistic differences, many Hindus point to concepts of caste, texts, and theologies—as well as practices such as pilgrimage and the celebration of festivals—to support the idea that there were diverse but related pre-colonial traditions.