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:''This article is about the followers of Hinduism; for other meanings of the word, see Hindu (disambiguation). This article discusses the Hindu people as adherents of Hinduism. For more information on the people of India, visit the Demographics of India.''A Hindu is an adherent of Hinduism, the predominant religious, philosophical and cultural systems of Bharat (India) and Nepal.A popular name for India is Hindustan, or ''Land of the Hindus''. While almost all Indians were known as Hindus to the outside world till the 20th century, this usage has become increasingly controversial in view of the religious diversity of the India and the subcontinent. There are close to 950 million Hindus living in the Indian subcontinent, where Hinduism was born. The Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal is the world's only Hindu nation. Although India has the largest population, it is a secular republic. There are a large number of Hindu communities in South East Asia, North America, the West Indies, Western Europe, the Middle East, East Africa and South Africa, mostly descendants of people from India. Many distinguished and native communities of Hindus exist in South East Asia, especially the island of Bali, Indonesia, and in parts of the West Indies.

Origins of the word ''Hindu''

The origin of the word Hindu is still disagreed upon by historians and linguists. It is generally accepted as having originally been a Persian word for someone who lives around or beyond the river Indus, which is called Sindhu in Sanskrit, and meant any inhabitant of the Indian subcontinent, before the Partition of India. The term Hindu (Indu or Intu in China) is still used in some languages to denote an
Indian. The Greek term "India" was originally pronounced Hindia, in classical Greek, there was no character for "H". In Persian and Arabic, the term "Hind" denotes the Indian subcontinent.Until about 19th century, the term Hindu implied a culture and ethnicity and not a religion. When the British government started periodic census and established a legal system, need arose to define Hinduism as a clearly-defined religion, along the lines of Christianity or Islam. Some scholars like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, defined it as a religion based on the Vedas, using the analogy of Bible being the basis of Christianity and Koran being the Muslim scripture.That even an atheist may be called a good Hindu is an example of the fact that Hinduism is far beyond a simple religious system, but actually an extremely diverse and complicated river of evolving philosophies and ancient traditions.

Who is a Hindu?

Prior to the arrival of Muslims from Arabia and European colonists, there was no distinct definition of religion in India. Reform movements like the Samanas were not far from the Jain and Buddhist orders, and such groups provided the wheels of philosophical evolution and cultural change. While strict social ordering existed in the Brahmanical system, it was never necessary for anyone to worship a particular form of God, perform a particular set of rituals, speak a particular language, or read only one book. Without doing any of these, a person was a common native, citizen of the land, a Hindu. Vegetarianism arose as a reform movement, and was never imposed on all people, which would have divided them. The colonial British government introduced the census as is today, and for legal purposes set worded definitions and distinctions between populations living interwoven for thousands of years. This practice, once established, was exploited for political power by various communities, with distinct religions getting special privileges and recognitions as opposed to members of a sect, reform movement or of the larger mass of people. These bookish definitions fail to alter, however, centuries-old practices and relationships between communities, which though not free of divisive conflicts, are certainly not victims of any schisms. Many Hindus identify the Supreme Being as the Lord Vishnu and are known as Vaishnavas; many others believe the Supreme Being is the Lord Siva and are known as Saivites; while some believe in the female Principle Shakti as supreme, and are called Shaktists while in other branches of Vaishnavism and Shaivism, Shakti is God's Power personified. The fourth major group, the Smarta, call the Supreme One Brahman, which manifests into personal forms of God, such as Vishnu or Siva. However, no barrier or distinction or rivalry of any nature exists between any of these. Each naturally respects all gods, only choosing to see the Supreme in one particular form.Hinduism, especially its history and heritage are vital as a strong, defining element of Indian Nationalism, and the political identity and expression of India's Hindus.

Hallmarks of Hindu Society

Ethnic and Cultural Fabric

Hinduism has one of the most ethnically diverse body of adherents in the world. Hinduism, its religious doctrines, traditions and observances are very typical and inextricably linked to the culture and demographics of India. The ancient religion finds its roots amongst the Indo-Aryan peoples who migrated to the subcontinent from Central Asia in ancient times, and the peoples of the vast Indus Valley Civilization, the oldest known human civilization in the Indian subcontinent. Large tribes and communities of indigenous origins, and the Dravidian communities are also closely linked to the earliest synthesis and formation of Hindu civilization. Peoples of Mongoloid roots living in the states of north eastern India and Nepal were also a part of the earliest Hindu civilization. Immigration and settlement of peoples from Central Asia and peoples of Indo-Greek heritage have brought their own influence on Hindu society. For example, the staunchest defenders of Hindu India against Muslim invaders were the Rajputs of modern Rajasthan, who were immigrants from Central Asia. The Mehr community of Rajasthan and Gujarat is also proud of its Central Asian roots, but more fiercely proud of its Hindu traditions and faith. The scriptures and earliest practices are identified as of a particularly Indo-Aryan nature, but the roots of Hinduism in southern India, and amongst tribal and indigenous communities is just as ancient and fundamentally contributive to the foundations of the religious and philosophical system. Today, almost all Hindus belong to the ethnic communities living in the 28 states and 7 union territories of India, and the provinces of Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Ancient Hindu kingdoms arose and spread the religion and traditions across South East Asia, particularly Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam. A form of Hinduism particularly different from Indian roots and traditions is practised in Bali, Indonesia, where Hindus form 90% of the population. Indian migrants have taken Hinduism and Hindu culture to South Africa, Fiji, Mauritius and other countries in and around the Indian Ocean, and in the nations of the West Indies and the Caribbean. Many Europeans, Africans and Americans have adopted spiritual and religious exercises inspired by Hinduism in North America, Western Europe and Southern Africa. The ISKCON is a growing congregation of the devotees of Lord Krishna, mainly in the United States but spreading across the world, embracing people and working in countries completely unassociated with India.

Linguistics of Hinduism

Although the Vedas, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana have been written in the ancient language of Sanskrit. Hinduism has several important religious and philosophical works written in other ancient languages like Tamil, Pali, Prakrit, and modern languages like Hindi, Punjabi, Malayalam, Telegu, Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali. The approximately 950 million Hindus who live in the Indian subcontinent are the people who speak the 18 official languages of India, Tamil in Sri Lanka, Gurkhali in Nepal, some 5-10 more unofficial languages and over 1,000 dialects. Most of modern discourses, essays and analysis of Hindu religion and society, and re-telling of its greatest epics, are published in the English language. Millions of Hindus are known to be well-versed with that language.

Dietary Habits and Doctrines

Hindus are often stereotyped as a vegetarian people. In fact, Hindus have only one specific rule - against the consumption of beef. Even in this case there are exceptions.Most Hindus in northern India eat all meats save beef. Buffalo Milk and milk products are extremely important to those living in India. Hindus living on the coasts of western and eastern India eat fish and shellfish. The cuisine of Hindus is enriched by regional and ethnic differentiations, and there is almost no universal rule. Pork is accepted in South India, while Malayalee Hindus eat beef. Hindus in the north east of India and some distinguished communities have been known to eat these meats as a part of the staple diet. Many Hindu communities have different ideological doctrines that inspire very specific dietary allowances and prohibitions. Vegetarianism has gained immense popular strength since medieval times, arising from the principle of ahimsa, or total non-violence to all forms of life. Inspired by a stricter, regimental adherence to vegetarianism in Jainism and Buddhism, Hindus across the country, but especially in the Indian state of Gujarat and many states in South India are puritanical in their adherence.

Ceremonies, Observances and Pilgrimage

Young male members of the Brahmin and Kshatriya caste may perform a coming of age ceremony, the Upanayana commonly known as ''Janoy'', or the thread ceremony. The Janoy is many strings rolled together to resemble an umblical cord to symbolise the New birth as a student and from this day on he belongs to the Guru, who takes the place of mother and father. The Upanayana is akin to being ''born again''. This ceremony was performed before the boy went up to the Guru's ashram (school). In a ceremony administered by a priest, a young boy shaves his hair off (or just some portions, as deemed appropriate) and a Janoy is Hung from around his shoulder to his waist line. The ceremony varies from region to community, and includes reading from the Vedas and special ''mantras'' and ''slokhas''. The boy also swears to obey his Guru and also takes oaths to confirm that he will not take intoxicants, speak the Truth, serve the Guru,and to stay celibate.Rites of initiation exist for the other castes, but differ from region to region. Many North Indian Hindu women fast on ''Karvachauth'', or the day before the full moon, and on other auspicious months to pray for the long life, safe being and prosperity of their husbands.Many religious Hindus make piligrimages to the holy Tirthas, especially Lord Siva's lingam in Amarnath and Anantnag, the holy cities of Haridwar, Kashi, Allahabad, Mathura and Ayodhya.The Kumbha Mela, or the gathering of between 10 to 20 million Hindus upon the banks of the holy rivers, as periodically ordained in different parts of India by Hinduism's priestly leadership. The most famous is the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh. It is considered the largest gathering of human beings in the world.Hundreds of millions of people annually visit the rivers and temples near them, and wash and bathe themselves to purify their sins, make sacrifices and win pivous credits.

Religion for the Common Hindu

To all Hindus, the Vedas are not the source of religious guidance. The Vedas and the Upanishads live on in the Hindu ethos as the inspiration of the ancient traditions, social practices and religious institutions of Hindu peoples. They were the basis of most commonly accepted social and religious practices in Hindu, and indeed Indian society.The Puranas are a wide collection of religious treatises, biographies and stories on the historical, mythological and religious characters in Hindu folklore, classic literature and sacred scriptures. There are often the source of popular Hindu folk tales and religious lessons.Yoga is an important connection to a Hindu to his religious and historical heritage. The art of spiritual and physical exercises are a distinguished native tradition pursued by millions of Hindus worldwide.Indian Vedic astrology is important to the conduct of any of life's important events such as marriage, applying for a post or admission, buying a house or starting a new business. To millions of Hindus, the kundali is an invaluable possession that charts the course of life for a man or a woman from the time of his birth, all ascertained by Vedic mathematics and astrology.The most popular Hindu scriptures are the Mahabharata, the holy war between good and evil. Lord Krishna's discourse to the warrior prince Arjuna, the Bhagavad Gita is the guide book on life for the common Hindu. It is the source of divine guidance and inspiration, where the reader learns to interpret Krishna's teachings in the personal and worldly contexts of life. Most Hindus consider this book as the main source of religious teaching.To hundreds of millions of Hindus, Lord Rama is more than just an incarnation of the Supreme, or simply a just king. He is the still living, thriving soul and identity of real Hinduism. Rama is the image of Hinduism, the Perfect Man, its conscience and undying hope of deliverance.The doctrines of moksha by the discharge of personal, social and religious duty has developed into a strong characteristic of fatalism, or acceptance of vagaries in life as the will of God, and not seeking to apply oneself to change institutions. Many untouchable Hindus have been criticized for not aggressively combating this evil against them, and the factors influencing the submissiveness of society to brahmin authority, epidemics, natural disasters and authoritarian government through the history of India has been attributed to fatalistic thinking.