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1. Major religious and soc. system of India.* Hinduism as a religion began with Vedic* religion and developed through Brahmanism* and philosophic Hinduism into its modern forms. It survived the influences of Buddhism* and Jainism.* In its conglomeration of beliefs and cults, including some of non-Aryans, there is much compromise. It has been able to absorb, but not necessarily assimilate, almost every system of religious and philos. thought except Christianity. Its levels vary from metaphysical speculation to degraded nature worship.

2. Popular manifestations of Hinduism include gross and subtle pantheism,* worship of celestial bodies, trees, rocks, rivers (e.g., the Ganges), the sea, and animals (esp. the cow). Phallicism* and prostitution in temples is being eliminated, modified, or given abstract significance.

3. Hinduism includes the basically pantheistic concept that individual souls begin in the universal soul, have many forms and incarnations, and finally rejoin the universal soul. Its ideas of creation, God, and man are self-contradictory. Constant themes include karma,* caste (see Brahmanism, 3), transmigration* of souls, and essential monism.* According to the doctrine of karma a present life is determined by a previous life. Transmigration of souls continues the soul's purification till all sins are expiated and the soul joins the Absolute or Infinite, like a drop of water falling into the sea. Besides the 4 traditional castes there are many subcastes. Pariahs (untouchables; mems. of the lowest subcastes) were given the name harijans (“children of God”; from Skt. harijana, “person belonging to Vishnu”; from Hari, “Vishnu,” and jana, “person”) by M. K. Gandhi.* Gen. speaking, marriage is permitted only within caste or subcaste; severe restrictions apply to eating and drinking across caste lines. New castes and subcastes arise along with new occupations; occupations are usually hereditary. The Caste Disabilities Removal Act of 1850 and later legislation tried to remove caste disabilities from the laws of marriage and inheritance.

4. The Hindu Trimurti, or triad, consisting of the gods Brahma, Vishnu, and S(h)iva, reflects Brahman, the neuter, impersonal, supreme, philosophic Absolute (see also Brahmanism, 3). The term Brahmanism is derived from Brahman, not from Brahma. Brahma (see also Brahmanism, 2) has no large following. Vishnu and Siva early became prominent; Hinduism divides roughly into their followers: Vishnuites and Sivaites. Vishnu, a Vedic celestial god (probably sun-god), regarded as Preserver, is not worshiped in his own person, but in his avatars, i. e., incarnations in animal, human, or superhuman forms. Siva, also a Vedic god (see also Brahmanism, 2) is regarded as Destroyer; the phallic aspect of his worship, apparently of non-Aryan origin, has found expression in indulgence or asceticism.

5. The ritualism and emphasis on knowledge of Brahmanism proper (see Brahmanism, 3) gave way to the bhakti (personal faith and devotion) of the followers of Vishnu and Siva, esp. in S India. Excessive devotion to a deity included “marriage to the god” by females, who became prostitutes. Vishnu was worshiped in one or more avatars, e.g., Krishna; Siva's emblem was the lingam (phallic symbol), often combined in temple architecture with the yoni (symbol of female genitals), in a stylized form repeated in rows of stone sculptures venerated with prayers and offerings.

6. Important sources for Hindu hist. are the great epic poems Mahabharata (“Great Bharata” story) and Ramayana (“the Career of Rama,” an alleged incarnation of Vishnu). The Mahabharata may have begun to take form ca. the 4th c. BC; it was developed and enlarged till ca. 400 AD. It consists of ca. 100,000 stanzas, partly narrative, partly didactic, which tell of the struggle bet. the 2 branches of the house of Bhrata, legendary monarch of India. One of the heroes is Krishna, an alleged incarnation of Vishnu. The Bhagavad* Gita (“Song of the Lord [or of the Blessed One]”), a popular book of devotion in the form of dialog bet. the warrior Arjuna and Krishna, is part of the Mahabharata. The Ramayana, which also originated several cents. BC but in its present form is later than the Mahabharata, treats of one of Vishnu's avatars. Significant developments leading away from traditional Hinduism occurred with the rise of the Sikhs* in the 16th c. Increasing influence of Christianity and W civilization led to reform movements directed against polytheism and the abuses of the old religion. A theistic soc., the Brahma (or Brahmo) Samaj (or Sabha) (Bengali “Soc. of Brahman”), founded 1828 by a Brahmin, Ram* Mohan Roy, in cooperation with W. Adam,* was much influenced by Islam and Christianity; it returned to the monotheism of the Upanishads. Ram Mohan Roy was followed 1841 by Debendra Nath Tagore (1817–1905), father of the poet Rabindra Nath Tagore (1861–1941). Under Debendra's leadership the movement became more Hindu. Religious dispute led to a split 1865–66, when the Bharatvarshiya Brahma Samaj (Brahman Soc. of India; called Naba Bidhan, or Nava Vidhana, “New Dispenation,” January 1881) with emphasis on soc. reform, was formed by Keshab Chandra Sen (1838–84). Thereafter Debendra's organization was known as Adi Brahma Samaj (Original Brahman Soc.). Further fragmentation followed, with unsuccessful attempts at Hindu-Christian syncretism; decline of influence resulted. The Arya Samaj (Aryan Soc.) was founded 1875 by Mul Sankar (Dayananda Sarasvati*; 1824–83) to reform Indian religion. It regards the Vedas as divine revelation and is hostile to Christianity.

7. Gadadhar Chatterji (Ramakrishna* Paramahamsa; 1834–86), mystic, devotee of the goddess Kali, emphasized soc. service. Some of his followers, esp. Swami Vivekananda* (Narendranath Datta: ca. 1862–1902), devoted themselves to the spread of his teaching through the Ramakrishna mission (see also Vedanta Society). Gandhi, though more of a pol. than religious leader, effected reforms in matters with ancient religious sanction. Aurobindo Ghose (Yoga* philos.; 1872–1950) tried to combine Vedanta ideas with evolution theories in his ashram (religious community) est. 1910 in Pondicherry, India; his movement spread to other countries. GVS AJB

See also Ancestor Worship; Sacred Literature; Shastras; Theosophy.

G. G. Atkins and C. S. Braden, Procession of the Gods, rev. ed. (New York, 1936); R. C. Dutt, The Civilization of India (London, 1900); J. A. Dubois, Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies, 3d ed. (Oxford, Eng., 1906), ed. and tr. H. K. Beauchamp; J. N. Farquhar, A Primer of Hinduism, 2d ed. (London, 1914); H. Ringgren and A. V. Ström, Religions of Mankind Today and Yesterday, ed. J. C. G. Greig, tr. N. L. Jensen (Philadelphia, 1967).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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