The sacred literature of Hinduism can be divided up into two distinct categories:
, that which is heard or divinely revealed, consist of the
, the most ancient of the scriptures, the
, and the
refer to the manifestation of the divine in the world, and more specifically, the
truths revealed by the dieties to the early sages or
. There are four collections which comprise the
Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda
contain accounts of creation, information on ritual sacrifices, and prayers to the
are considered to be the most important of the remaining three scriptures of
literature. It is believed that these texts were secret scriptures taught by a sage
to a disciple.
The other type of Hindu literature,
, that which is remembered or handed down. These texts are also considered to be
based upon revealed truths, however, theyare of human composition as opposed to that of
the divine. The Epics, the
comprise the bulk of the
literature. The earliest of theseepics are the
, which includes the
, and the
. These sacred texts are lenghty poems which narrate episodes in the lives of the
great warriors. Krishna appeared in the first, and Rama had a central role in the
second of these great epics. The
contain a number of important texts concerning subjects such as dharma, yoga and
Vedanta. The most important of these texts was the
or Laws of Manu, which dealt with Hindu law and conduct.The
are mythological texts which often told the stories of the gods and goddesses.
The Indus Valley Civilization thrived in Northwest India from the middle of the third
milleniumB.C. to the middle of the second millenium B.C. The civilization was a well
developed culture centered aroundtwo major cities, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa.
The Vedic Period (2000 B.C. - 400 B.C.)
The Vedic literature of this period shows four consecutive stages in which they were
The age of the
was followed by the age of the
, philosophical and mystical texts dealing with the quest for
, the knowledge of the self. It was during this period that the foundations of
Hinduism were solidly laid. Gods and sacrifices receded into the background and the
quest to realize ultimate reality became essential. The Upanishads contain one main
theme, the unity of the individual soul or
and the one impersonaland absolute univeral spirit or
The Epic and Classical Periods (400 B.C. - 600 A.D.)
Throughout the epic period (400 B.C.-400 A.D.), the Indo-Aryans increasingly settled
into towns and cities, and ceased to be a nomadic people. They mainly settled in the
Gangetic Plains of North India, and they infused their religion with the religion of the
indigenous people they had come to dominate.
, the 'Song of the Lord', is the most popular of the Hindu Scriptures. The
is famous because it touches on the main concerns of the Hindu orthodoxy. In
addition, important new doctrines, namely
(devotion to God) and
(incarnation of God), were introduced in this text.
The Medieval Period (600 - 1800 A.D.)
The medieval period in Hinduism is primarily characterized by the rise of devotional
movements, the systematization of Hindu philosophy into six schools, and the rise of
Tantrism. With the rise and spread of devotional (
) movements, came the rise of temples as important religious centers in Hinduism. The
mythology of the dietiesworshipped at these temples became systematized in a genre of
works called the
, or 'Stories of old'.
The second major development in this period was the production of the six schools of
("the School of Individual Characteristics"),
("Enquiry" or "Thought"), and finally,
("the End of the Vedas"). These philosophies,ranging from non-theism to monotheism
to dualism, emphasized differing means of obtaining the same supreme goal, to achieve
union or closeness with the ultimate being.
The third major development, the
, are sectarian scriptures of the Saktas, who worship
, the supreme being personified as a goddess. The
, 'Rules or Rituals', claimed to introduce methods which could lead directly to
liberation without traditional ritual practices. They insteadoffered a variety of
rituals that employ mantras, mandalas, and yogic techniques. Through their complex
rituals and theologies, the
, together with the
, had a significant influence on popular religion throughout the medieval period.
The Modern Period (1800 - Present)The modern period of Hinduism was, and continues to be, heavily influenced by its increasing contact with Western cultures. From the middle of the ninteenth century to the middleof the twentieth century, England provided a substantial background for the major developments of this period through its political and economic domination. With the arrival of Western powers in the eighteenth century, Westerners and Hindus alike began to express criticism towards the Hindu traditions. Hinduism, however, experienced a revival in the nineteenth century as a result of twomovements driven to maintain the core essentials of Hinduism while doing away with unwanted and criticized excess.
Ram Mohan Roy (1774 - 1833) founded the first of these movements, Brahmo Samaj, a
school of rational theism purely based on the
. In contrast, SwamiDayananda(1824 - 1883), founder of Arya Samaj, found the essence
of Hinduism in the
. Furthermore, he denounced idol worship as well as the discriminatory caste system.
Hinduism is more than a highly organized religious and social system, it is a way of
life. Hinduism is also called
, the eternal tradition orreligion. The central beliefs of Hinduism revolve around
two key concepts, dharma and moksha. Dharma emphasizes the social and physical world
in its demand upon human destiny to uphold and preserve the physical world and
society as a whole. On the other hand, moksha refers to the ultimate release from
the world, or salvation, that can only be obtained by transcending all physical
and social limitations.
Although it is agreed that obtaining
is the ultimate goal of any practicing Hindu, there is much disagreement on the ways
) which should be taken to obtain release from the cycles of life and death.There are
three paths to salvation that have been presented in
, based on the desired results. The first path,
, the path of duties, allows discharge from social and ritual obligations. Those who
chose to take
, "the path of knowledge", as their path to salvation strive to realize the unity
between the external Brahman and internal
as being one and the same.
The principle of
, or ultimate reality or One that is All, is fundamentally central to the Hindu
tradition. Hindus believe that the entire universe is one divine entity who is at one
with the universe, while simultaneouslytranscending it. This deity takes the form of
three different gods,
is the supreme creator who continually creates new realities in this world.
is the preserver of these new creations and he helps to maintain
or social and religious order. Finally,
is the destroyer. Taken together, these three figures constitute the
or Hindu Trinity. Hinduism can be categorized into four primary denominations,
Shivaism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism,
. However, the majority of Hindus either follow
, which regards Vishnu as the ultimate deity, or
, which regards Shiva as the ultimate deity.
In the past 150 years, Hinduism has increasingly become integrated into American
society. In the first 100 years of Hinduism in the United States, followers of the
Hindu tradition wereprimarily involved in organizations promoting self-help practices
such as yoga and meditation. Recently, during the last 30 years, organizations have
developed that encourage a more formalritual worship by means of Hindu temples. Whereas
followers of self-help in the initial period of Hinduism in America were Americans, the
path of rital worship is primarily followed by Hindu Indians in America.
The path of self help is understood as working towards spiritual liberation through an
intense relationship between the guru and the disciple. The earliest American encounter
with Hindu ideals can be dated back to times of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David
Thoreaus. Both authors viewed the Bhagavad Gita as a significant Asian contributor to
philosophical issues, namely the nature of self-discipline.Some 40 years later, Swami
Vivekananda introduced the nature of Hindu ideals in a public forum of the 1893 World's
Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Vivekananda affirmed the spiritual quest of Emerson
and Thoreau by emphasizing the Advaita Vedanta philosophy. One year later, Vivekananda
founded the Vedanta society in New York. This group was the first Hindu organization
primarily designed to attract American adherents. Vivekananda's mission of spreading the
tenets of Hindu philosophy worldwide was furthered by the efforts Raja Ram Mohan Roy.
Together they brought about a corss-cultural synthesis of Indo-American
The Immigration Act of 1965 resulted in a large influx of immigrants from Asia due to the lifting of the national origins quota system. Hindu Indian immigrants began building templeswith a focus on the ritual worship of images during the 1970s. The Hindu temples built during the 1970s can be classifies as ISKCON (the International Society for Krishna Consciousness) temples and Hindu immigrant temples.The ISKCON temples served a devotional community comprised of both Euro-Americans and Indian- Americans. In contrast, Hindu immigrants, with their diversified ways of worship, used their temples as a means for bringing the culturalcommunity together.
This site offers an extensive description of Hindu Dharma and scriptures as well as an overview of the Gods and Goddessses of Hinduism. In addition, this site offers general resources useful in researching the basics of hinduism.
Hinduism Home Page from About.com
This site contains information about all aspects of Hinduism, ranging from Astrology to Festivals to Vegetarianism. This site also provides some helpful links to a hindu glossary, a year 2000 Hindu almanac, and links to Sikhism and Jainism pages as well.
This site provides a thorough review of the history, beliefs, customs and sacred texts which are central to Hinduism. In addition, this site contains a link to the "world's best websites on Hinduism" and their ratings.
Considered one of the best educational resources on the internet for Hinduism, this site offers an in depth review of the central principles and practices of Hindus. This site also contains links to information on meditation, women in Hinduism and the sacred texts of the Hindu tradition.
This is an informative site that offers extensive details on the history, beliefs and practices of Hindus in the section titled, "How to become a Hindu." This page alsoThose interested can also access Hinduism Today from this site, an on-line magazine "articulating Indian spirituality."
Religion: Hindu Links
This site is a starting point for links to very specific aspects of Hinduism such as Karma Yoga, Hindu Deities, and Symbolism. This site is part of the Educational Resources Site.
For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
University of Virginia
Spring Term, 2000
Last modified: 11/29/01