Hinduism has been traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization and the Indo-Aryan culture when Indo-Europeans extended the name of the province of Sindh to the whole country lying across the Indus river. The inhabitants were called Hindus, and their religion called Hinduism.
The beginnings of Hinduism have been dated back to the time when this civilization flourished, approximately 2500 BCE. Hinduism does not owe its existence to any single historic event. Rather, it is a complex religion that has continually evolved over the course of many centuries.
The sacred literature of Hinduism consists of two distinct categories: sruti and smriti. Shruti, that which is heard or divinely revealed, is of divine origin and contains the scripture, accounts of creation, and prayers. Smriti, that which is remembered or handed down, is of human origin and contains poems that narrate the lives of the great warriors.
Hinduism, to its practitioners, is more than a highly organized religious and social system, it is a way of life. The central beliefs of Hinduism revolve around two key concepts: dharma, which is defined as “the path of righteousness,” or “the right way of living”; and moksha, which is salvation that can only be obtained by rising above all physical and social boundaries.
The underlying ideas behind moksha and dharma are karma and samasara. Hindus belief that karma is the moral law of cause and effect, in that every action has a moral consequence. Samsara refers to the cycle of births and deaths, or reincarnation, that every living organism is involved in.
The principle of Brahman, or “One that is All,” is central to the Hindu tradition. Hindus believe that the entire universe is one divine entity that is at one with the universe, while simultaneously transcending it. This deity takes the form of three different gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva.
Brahma is the supreme creator who continually creates new realities in this world. Vishnu or Krishna is the preserver of these new creations and he helps to maintain social and religious order. Finally, Siva is the destroyer. Together, these three figures constitute the Trimurti, or Hindu Trinity.
Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world, with approximately 1.05 billion followers. Nearly 80% of India’s population is Hindu. Nepal, with 89%, or 17 million people, also has a high concentration has of Hindus. In the United States, less than one percent of the population practice Hinduism.