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Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion, according to many scholars, with roots
and customs dating back more than 4,000 years. Today, with about 900 million followers,
Hinduism is the third-largest religion behind Christianity and Islam. Roughly 95 percent
of the world’s Hindus live in India. Because the religion has no specific founder, it’s
difficult to trace its origins and history. Hinduism is unique in that it’s not a single
religion but a compilation of many traditions and philosophies.
a. In-depth Trace of Origins
The development of this religion was influenced when light -skinned nomadic
Aryan Indo-European tribes invaded Northern India BC from Russia and Central Asia
attacking the Harappan people who lived there in 1500. The word, Hinduism, comes from
the word, Indus, which is the name of an Indian River that existed about 5000 years ago.
Both groups adopted the beliefs of the other so they were similar in their religious
doctrines. The Aryans believed in multiple gods to worship and the Harappans believed
in the sanctity of fertility.
The Aryan group developed what is called the caste system, which ranked society
according to occupational class. That system is as follows: Brahmins are
priests; Kshatriyas are soldiers, king-warrior class; Vaishyas are merchants, farmers,
Sutras laborers and craftspeople; Harijahns are "untouchables" -- those thought to be
descended from the Harappan aboriginal people who are extremely poor and
discriminated against. The higher the person's caste, the more the person is blessed with
the benefits and luxuries of life. The system was outlawed in 1948, but it is still
important to the Hindu people and recognized as the proper way to cate gorize society.
b. History
Around 1500 B.C., the Indo-Aryan people migrated to the Indus Valley, and their
language and culture blended with that of the indigenous people living in the region.
There’s some debate over who influenced who more during this time. The period when
the Vedas were composed became known as the “Vedic Period” and lasted from about
1500 B.C. to 500 B.C. Rituals, such as sacrifices and chanting, were common in the
Vedic Period. The Epic, Puranic and Classic Periods took place between 500 B.C. and
500 A.D. Hindus began to emphasize the worship of deities, especially Vishnu, Shiva and
The Medieval Period of Hinduism lasted from about 500 to 1500 A.D. New texts
emerged, and poet saints recorded their spiritual sentiments during this time.
In the 7th century, Muslim Arabs began invading areas in India. During parts of
the Muslim Period, which lasted from about 1200 to 1757, Hindus were restricted from
worshipping their deities, and some temples were destroyed. Saints expressed their
devotion through poetry and songs. Between 1757 and 1848, the British controlled India.
At first, the new rulers allowed Hindus to practice their religion without interference. But
later, Christian missionaries sought to convert and westernize the people. Many reformers
emerged during the British Period. The well-known politician and peace activist,
Mahatma Gandhi, led a movement that pushed for India’s independence. The partition of
India occurred in 1947, and Gandhi was assassinated in 1948. British India was split into
what is now India and Pakistan, and Hinduism became the major religion of
India.Starting in the 1960s, many Hindus migrated to Nort h America and Britain,
spreading their faith and philosophies to the western world.

 Veda - means wisdom or knowledge, and contains hymns, prayers and ritual
texts composed during a period of a thousand years and is the oldest of the
scripture. Hindus believe that the Vedas transcend all time and don’t have a
beginning or an end.
Vedas are made up of: The Rig, The Samaveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaved
 Upanishads - collection of secret teachings including mystical ideas about
man and the universe. The word, Brahman, comes into focus within this
group, which is the basis of reality, and atman, which is the self or soul.

 Ramayana - one of two major tales of India. The work consists of 24,000
couplets based on the life of Rama, a righteous king who was an incarnation
of the God Vishnu.

 Mahabharata - second epic and is the story of the deeds of the Aryan clans.
It is composed of 100,000 verses written over a 800 year period. Contained
within this work is a classic called the Bhagavad Gita, or the "Song of the
Blessed Lord." It is one of the most sacred books of the Hindus and the
most read of all Indian works in the entire world. The story is centered on
man's duty, which, if carried out, will bring nothing but sor row. The
significance of this story is based on Hindu belief of bhatki, (devotion to a
particular god as a means of salvation). These two stories have become
ideals for the people of India in terms of moral and social behavior.

 Puranas - an important source for the understanding of Hinduism, and

include legends of gods, goddesses, demons, and ancestors describing
pilgrimages and rituals to demonstrate the importance of bhatki,
caste and dharma (basic principles of the cosmos or an ancient sage in
Hindu mythology worshipped as a god by some lower castes).