The term Hinduism refers to the civilization of the Hindus (originally,
the inhabitants of the land of the Indus River).Introduced in about 1830 by
British writers, it properly denotes the Indian civilization of approximately
the last 2,000 years, which evolved from Vedism the religion of the Indo-
European peoples who settled in India in the last centuries of the 2nd
millennium BC.
The spectrum that ranges from the level of popular Hindu belief to that
of elaborate ritual technique and philosophical speculation is very broad and is
attended by many stages of transition and varieties of coexistence. Magic rites,
animal worship, and belief in demons are often combined with the worship of more
or less personal gods or with mysticism, asceticism, and abstract and profound
theological systems or esoteric doctrines. The worship of local deities does not
exclude the belief in pan-Indian higher gods or even in a single high God. Such
local deities are also frequently looked down upon as manifestations of a high
In principle, Hinduism incorporates all forms of belief and worship
without necessitating the selection or elimination of any. It is axiomatic that
no religious idea in India ever dies or is superseded-it is merely combined with
the new ideas that arise in response to it. Hindus are inclined to revere the
divine in every manifestation, whatever it may be, and are doctrinally tolerant,
allowing others - including both Hindus and non-Hindus - whatever beliefs suit
them best. A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a
Hindu, and because Hindus are disposed to think synthetically and to regard
other forms of worship, strange gods, and divergent doctrines as inadequate
rather than wrong or objectionable, they tend to believe that the highest divine
powers are complement one another. Few religious ideas are considered to be
irreconcilable. The core of religion does not depend on the existence or
nonexistence of God or on whether there is one god or many. Because religious
truth is said to transcend all verbal definition, it is not conceived in
dogmatic terms. Moreover, the tendency of Hindus to distinguish themselves from
others on the basis of practice rather than doctrine further de-emphasizes
doctrinal differences.
Hinduism is both a civilization and a congregation of religions; it has
neither a beginning or founder, nor a central authority, hierarchy, or
organization. Hindus believe in an uncreated, eternal, infinite, transcendent,
and all-embracing principle, which, "comprising in itself being and non-being,"
is the sole reality, the ultimate cause and foundation, source, and goal of all
existence. This ultimate reality is called Brahman. As the All, Brahman causes
the universe and all beings to emanate from itself, transforms itself into the
universe, or assumes it's appearance. Brahman is in all things and is the Self
(atman) of all living beings. Brahman is the creator, preserver, or transformer
and reabsorber of everything. Although it is Being in itself, without attributes
and qualities and hence impersonal, it may also be conceived of as a personal
high God, usually as Vishnu (Visnu) or Siva. This fundamental belief in and the
essentially religious search for ultimate reality - that is, the One is the All
- have continued almost unaltered for more than 30 centuries and has been the
central focus of India's spiritual life.
In some perceptions, Hinduism has been called 'atheistic'. In other
perceptions, and this is perhaps the more common one, it is labeled
'polytheistic'. The term 'polytheism' acknowledges the presence of a God-figure
in a religious system, but in the plural. Thus it is said that Hindus worship
many such beings we call God. But obviously this implies a very profound
difference in the understanding of what such a 'God' could be. It is often said
that Hindus worship three gods and they are in fact called the 'Hindu Trinity'.
The gods involved are: Brahma, Visnu and Siva. The first is supposed to create
the world (at the beginning of each cosmic cycle), the second to maintain it in
being, and Siva, at the end of a cosmic cycle, to destroy it again. But then a
further idea is added which is ignored by the proponents of the theory of a
Hindu Trinity. What is added invariably implies that, over and above these three
figures lies a single reality. This 'one above the three' controls the
activities of the creation etc. Brahma and the others, who carry out these
functions, are merely manifestations of that highest being, or they relate to it
in some other, equally secondary, form. This concept of a single, all powerful,
eternal, personal and loving God, is the concept of "Bhagavan".
But who is this Hindu Bhagavan? At least to us the outside observers he
is not one, but many. Siva, Visnu, Krsna, Rama, Karttikeya and