According to some scholars, Hinduism is the most ancient known religion of the world, one that reportedly dates back to more than 4,000 years.
In the 21st century, Hinduism has an estimated number of 900 million followers all over the world and is regarded as the third most-followed religion after Islam and Christianity. Hinduism has about 1.08 billion followers worldwide and most of them reside in India alone. After India, Nepal houses 21 million followers Bangladesh and Pakistan, 13 and 4 million respectively. Hinduism is unique in its own self as it is an amalgamation of many different philosophies and traditions and there is no one particular founder. Thus making it a difficult task for scholars to trace back its history and origin.
As far as the recent history of the faith is concerned, Hinduism has seen its share of ups and down. During the period of Muslim invasion and rule over the subcontinent from 1200 to 1757, Hindus were restricted from practicing their faith and some temples were also destroyed. When the British came in 1757, Hindus were free to practice their religion for some time but soon after, Christian Missionaries began their malicious mission of forcefully converting local Hindus to Christianity. This lead to the rise of many reformers in the subcontinent, the most prominent of whom was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who fearlessly fought for the freedom of the Hindu community and the independence of India. In 1947, the subcontinent was split into what now is known as Pakistan and India, making Hinduism the main religion of India.
In later years of the 20th century, Hindus from India migrated to the United States and the UK in search of employment opportunities and this was further facilitated by affordable airfares. Today, almost 2,290,000 Hindus populate the United States and about 835,400 call the United Kingdom their home. These numbers are a result of all work-related migrations over the last few decades.
Hinduism is also sometimes referred to as a “way of life” rather than as religion. This is because it embraces numerous religious ideas. Most followers of the faith have one single deity that they worship, which is known as “Brahman” and at the same time believe in other gods and goddesses. They also have a strong belief in Karma and the doctrines of samsara which refers to the continuous cycle of life and death along with reincarnation. Most Hindus don’t eat pork or beef and many are vegetarians because of their reverence of all living creature. The cow is a sacred animal for them and any disrespect for it is completely intolerable.
The basic symbols of Hinduism include the Om and Swastika. The swastika, which was initially believed to represent good luck, later got associated with evil because of the German Nazi’s using it as their symbol in 1920. Hindus do not have any one Holy book rather they follow multiple different sacred writings. The Vedas, the primary texts they believe in, are thought to be composed sometime near 1500 B.C. and are written in Sanskrit and are said to contain revelations that were received by saints and sages of ancient times. The Vedas had four components: The Rig Veda, the Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda. Other important texts in Hinduism are the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, 18 Puranas, Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Hinduism is further divided into many sects. Some of which are:
- The Shaiva (those who follow of Shiva)
- The Vaishnava (followers of Vishnu)
- Shakta (those who believe in Devi)
- Smarta (believers of Brahman and all other major deities)
Till this date, Hindus celebrate multiple holidays, festivals and sacred days. The most well-known of which are Diwali (also known as the festival of light), Holi (celebrated in Spring), Navaratari (an occasion celebrating harvest and fertility), Raksha Bandhan (celebrating the bond between a brother and a sister) and Janmashtami (a celebration of Krishna’s birthday).