Hinduism is commonly thought to be the oldest religion in the history of human civilization. It is a religion that gets its guidance from the Vedas, Upanishads, Sutras, Epics, Granthas, and Prabhandhams. The third largest religion after Christianity and Islam Hinduism is also known as Sanatana Dharma that is "eternal religion" and Vaidika Dharma meaning "religion of the Vedas".
Hinduism does not have any one founder and is perhaps the only religious tradition that is so diverse in its theoretical premises and practical expressions that it is like a compilation of religions. Hinduism believes in idol worship, casteism, reincarnation, 'karma', 'dharma' and 'moksha'. Some moral ideals in Hinduism include non-violence, truthfulness, friendship, compassion, fortitude, self-control, purity and generosity.
According to historians, the origin of Hinduism dates back to 5000 or more years. The word "Hindu" is derived from the name of river Indus, which flows through northern India. In ancient times the river was called the 'Sindhu', but the Persians who migrated to India called the river 'Hindu', the land 'Hindustan' and its inhabitants 'Hindus'. Thus the religion followed by the Hindus came to be known as 'Hinduism'.
Two types of sacred writings constitute the Hindu scriptures:
There are four Vedas: 1) The Rig Veda -"Royal Knowledge" 2) The Sama Veda - "Knowledge of Chants" 3) The Yajur Veda - "Knowledge of Sacrificial Rituals" 4) The Atharva Veda - "Knowledge of Incarnations" and there are 108 extant Upanishads.
heard (Sruti) and memorized (Smriti). Sruti literature are of two parts: the Vedas and Upanishads.
Smriti Literature refers to 'memorized' or 'remembered' poetry and epics. They are more popular with Hindus, because they are easy to understand, explains universal truths through symbolism and mythology, and contain some of the most beautiful and exciting stories in the history of religion world literature. The three most important of Smriti literature are:
The Bhagavad Gita - The most well known of the Hindu scriptures, called the "Song of the Adorable One", written about the 2nd century BC and forms the sixth part of Mahabharata. It contains some of the most brilliant theological lessons about the nature of God and of life ever written.
The Mahabharata - The world's longest epic poem written about 9th century BC, and deals with the power struggle between the Pandava and the Kaurava families, with an intertwining of numerous episodes that make up life.
The Ramayana - The most popular of Hindu epics, composed by Valmiki around 4th or 2nd centuries BC with later additions up to about 300 CE. It depicts the story of the royal couple of Ayodha - Ram and Sita and a host of other characters and their exploits.
Hinduism is supposed to be 'apauruseya', i.e., of impersonal origin and so also are the Gods of Hinduism. They are eternal & though the deities appear to be different and independent, they are really facets of the same Brahman, the Supreme God.
From the Rig Veda, we come to know of the vedic gods eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, Indra & Prajapathi, being the Gods of earth, the heavens and the space. The main Hindu Gods as we accept today can be broadly classified as Saiva Gods (Siva, His consort, His sons, His other forms), Vaishnava Gods (Vishnu, His consort, His various avatharams) & Sakthi or Saktha (Forms of Goddess Sakthi).
The Vedic Gods:
Brahma - The God of Creation
Vishnu - The God of Maintenance
The various Avatars of Vishnu :
Siva - The God of Destruction
- Matsyavataram (Form of a fish)
- Kurmavataram (Form of a tortoise)
- Varahavataram (Form of a boar)
- Narasimhavataram (Form of a lion headed man)
- Vamanavataram (Form of a dwarf)
- Kalkiavataram (yet to come)
Saraswathi - Goddess of Wisdom - Consort of Lord Brahma
Lakshmi - Goddess of Wealth - Consort of Lord Vishnu
Parvathi - Goddess Sakthi - Consort of Lord Shiva
Ganesha - Son of Shiva and Parvathi
Also see the pilgrimages :Hindu Pilgrimages