How has Hinduism grown throughout history
As the third largest world religion with around 850 million followers, Hinduism is a special religion. Because it forms a roof for different faiths within Hinduism. Most Hindus believe in not just one god, but different gods. In some directions of Hinduism there is even a main god and minor gods. All Hindus believe in the divine power of "Brahman", in rebirth and in salvation. They worship and protect the sacred cow and make a pilgrimage to the holy places every year to honor their gods.
Hinduism is the third largest world religion after Christianity and Islam. A "world religion" is a religion that has spread around the world. In addition to the three mentioned, these also include Buddhism and Judaism. Hinduism has its origins in India and is one of the oldest religions at all. About 900 million people in the world believe in this religion.
When exactly Hinduism arose is not yet clearly known because there is no "founder" such as Jesus in Christianity or Mohammed in Islam. What is certain is that about 4,500 years ago there was a people who lived along the Indus River. The Indus runs through Tibet, the Himalayas and Pakistan and is the longest river on the Indian subcontinent. The Muslims who immigrated to India in the 13th century later called the people "Hindus" because "Hindu" was the Iranian name for the Indus River. This is where the term "Hinduism" comes from.
Around 1750 BC the "Aryans" immigrated from the Urals region to what is now India. You must not imagine the Aryans as the National Socialists did. Historically, they were a nomadic people from Central Asia. Nomads are people who are not sedentary, but always travel around and only occasionally settle down. The religious views of both peoples mixed and this gave rise to the Hindu belief. The caste system in Hinduism is also said to have been introduced by the Aryans. They wanted to place themselves higher than the indigenous people, who were then assigned to the lowest caste.
Hindus are not unique to India
The followers of Hinduism are still called Hindus today. Most Hindus live in India, about 80 percent of the total population there. In some of India's neighboring countries, such as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the population consists for the most part of Hindus. In the USA and England, too, more and more people belong to this creed.
However, this is not because the Hindus do missionary work - that is, because they want to travel the world and convince other people of their faith. Immigration has made the Hindu religion more widespread in these countries. However, the Hindus believe that one cannot simply become a member of Hinduism - one only becomes a real Hindu by birth.
According to estimates, there are more than 90,000 Hindus living in Germany (around 0.1 percent of Germany's total population). Most of them are immigrants from Southeast Asia. But there are also Germans who profess Hinduism because they are convinced of what is behind this religion. In some German cities there are temples where the Hindus can "live" their religion.
Many gods, many scriptures
Hinduism is a special religion because it combines different beliefs. So it is not a uniform religion, just a framework that does not have certain rules and rituals that apply to everyone. For most Hindus, Hinduism is a worldview and way of life that influences daily life - for example when preparing food, at work or at school. They refer to their religion as "Sanatana Dharma", which means something like "Eternal Order" or "Eternal Religion".
Most Hindus do not believe in a single god, but in several deities. That is why Hinduism is often referred to as "polytheism", that is, the recognition and worship of several gods. But among the Hindus there are also some who regard only one God as the true one. The most important deity of the Hindu is "Brahma". Brahma is not a god as we imagine him to be, but a "divine force" that makes everything alive. She has no right shape, is neither male nor female, neither animal nor human, but simply everything. The main gods are "Vishnu" (god of goodness, who averts disaster in animal or human form), "Shiva" (god of opposites, who destroys the old so that new things can arise in the world) and "Krishna" (God with the flute that grew up with the shepherds). The Hindus hold innumerable festivals in honor of the individual gods and their birth. These are even national holidays.
Nor is there a binding holy book in Hinduism like the Bible in Christianity. There are many different scriptures that different Hindu groups use. However, the oldest, most important and holiest scriptures of Hinduism are the "Vedas". Translated, this means (sacred) knowledge. The Vedas are various ancient texts about gods, magical incantations and songs that have been spread for thousands of years. Each Veda consists of basic texts for chants, instructions for performing rituals, sayings and various pieces of advice.
Because of this diversity of gods and beliefs, some say that Hinduism is not a single religion at all. However, there are also features that can be found in all orientations of Hinduism. For example, all Hindus believe in the rebirth ("reincarnation") of every human being. They are convinced that there is life after death.
Accordingly, a person's soul is immortal and lives on in a new form. Hinduists speak of a cycle of birth, death and rebirth. This eternal cycle is called "samsara". According to Hindu beliefs, what one is born again as is related to whether one has done good or bad in one's life. So it is about the so-called "kharma", the totality of good and bad deeds in the life of a Hindu. It decides a person's fate.
It is said that those who do good become happy, those who do bad become unhappy. One can become one with God through good deeds. So according to the Hindu religion it is possible to leave the cycle. That is then called "salvation" or "moksha". This is the ultimate goal of a Hindu. Because of this, Hindus always try to lead a good life. They direct their lives according to a kind of code of conduct, the so-called "Dharma". That is, they must perform their duties to family and friends, help neighbors, be kind to others, and tell the truth. The "Ten Rules of Life" help you: keep yourself pure, be content, be friendly and patient, educate yourself, follow the gods, do not destroy or hurt, do not lie, do not steal, do not envy others, do not become uncontrolled and greedy be.
The sacred cow and sacred places
Hindus believe that one can be reborn as a human, an animal, or even a stone. Many Hindus do not eat meat. They protect all living things, do not slaughter any animals and are for the most part strict vegetarians. The cow is especially revered and protected. Its Indian name "aghnya" means "the inviolable".
The cow is called the "mother" because it gives people everything they need to live, it is, so to speak, the "breadwinner". It gives milk to produce food such as cheese and yoghurt, is used as a draft animal and its excrement ("dung") is used for building houses, as heating material and also as a disinfectant. In India the cows even roam free on the streets. Because the god Krishna grew up in a shepherd's family and with cows for protection, the cow is also considered sacred.
An important part of the Hindu religion is pilgrimage. A pilgrimage, also known as a pilgrimage, is a traditional, religiously based journey to a specific place with important religious significance. Believers travel there to fulfill a sacred commandment or to worship gods. For this, some people often travel for weeks and cover many kilometers on foot. The Hindus have many places that they consider sacred. For example, they make a pilgrimage to the great river Ganges because they believe that they can "wash themselves clean" of their guilt in the water of this river. It is said that a Hindu was said to have been there at least once in a lifetime. Millions of people make pilgrimages every year not only to the Ganges, but also to Varanasi. This is the holiest city for Hindus. There one not only frees oneself from one's sins through ablutions, but it is also said that the sick and dying who wash there will leave the cycle of rebirth and be redeemed after their death.
The third eye
You have surely seen Indian women or men with a point in the middle of the forehead between the eyes. In various Hindu movements, a "tilaka" - a sign of blessing - is painted between the eyes of men and women. This point is also called "Ajna Chakra" - "Spiritual Eye" or "Third Eye" - and symbolizes enlightenment. That is where the main nerve center of the body is supposed to be. A red point on the forehead is also called "bindi" for Hindu women and was previously a symbol of a married woman.
Hindu weddings are a huge festival that lasts for several days and is celebrated with the whole family. That can also be more than 100 people. During the wedding ceremony, the bride's father formally hands his daughter over to the husband. Later the bride and groom have to walk around the sacred fire seven times. Traditionally, the women's bindi is dabbed on by the man during the wedding ceremony and is intended to protect the wedding couple and their home. Unmarried women often wear a black dot. Nowadays the bindi is also fashion jewelry and is already worn by young girls.
"I bow to the divine in you"
The Hindus greet each other with "Namaste", which means "to bow" and means: "I bow to the divine in you." In this gesture, the palms of the hands are pressed together near the heart and the head is bent slightly forward. The word "Namaste" is not used in India, only in some western countries. The two hands symbolize the positive and negative forces that are lifted by bringing them together and thus clarify balance. With this greeting, the Hindus express the greatest respect for one another.
You have probably heard the syllable "OM" before, it is pronounced "AUM", a very long word. This is the symbol of Hinduism. The letters symbolize the three life stages of birth, life and death. For the Hindus this is a sacred syllable, the basic sound of the world, so to speak. It means as much as anything. Hindus speak the sacred syllable many times every day. The OM sign is a so-called "mantra", a "saying" that is spoken or hummed over and over again. You should only concentrate on yourself, your own thoughts and this saying. Some people compare it to the Christian word "Amen" which is said at the end of a prayer.
The caste affects all of life
One of the characteristics of Hinduism is the caste system. This is a kind of division of society, i.e. a social structure. The Hindus believe that every person is born into a caste, that is, assigned to a certain class. There are four main castes from which other castes have evolved.
These four are the "Brahmins" (priests), the "Kshatriyas" (warriors, nobles and officials), the "Vaishyas" (rich farmers, artisans and traders - the working class) and the "Shudras" (poor farmers, servants, servants) and subordinates - the "common people"). In addition, there are the "parias" or "untouchables", the oppressed, who were forced to remove dead animals and carry out other "unclean activities". Hindus believe that depending on how many good or bad a person has done in his previous life, he was born into a particular caste.
The caste influences the whole life of a Hindu, for example the professional path, the standing in the society or the choice of the spouse. Contact with members of a lower caste was previously forbidden, as was marriage with such members. A change of caste is not possible. For a long time it was said that one becomes contaminated by food prepared by members of the lower caste.
Exclusion and oppression despite equal rights
Nowadays this caste order no longer exists, it has been officially abolished. Many people still act on it because they see it as right and believe in it. Mahatma Gandhi, who fought for India's independence, was against the caste system because he felt it was unjust and believed that the lower castes also had a right to a good life without poverty. Since the Hindus believe in rebirth, they are also convinced that they can be born into a higher caste in their next life. Many Hindus therefore do not fight for their rights at all, but submit to their fate.
According to Hindu belief, women and girls are among men and do not have the same rights. In Hinduism women are still considered "far away" from salvation and must first be reborn as men in order to get there. This disregard often leads to severe oppression of women. It is true that there are more and more women in countries like India who are studying and holding political offices. However, murders of women, abortions of girls and convictions of witches remain very common there. Another reason for the high abortion rate among female embryos is the fact that families have to pay a dowry when their daughters marry. Poor families can hardly afford them.
Click the back arrow to go to the article on Islam. In the fifth part about the world religions you will learn more about Buddhism.
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