Hinduism’s roots are thought to be in the ancient Indus Valley civilization that existed between 2500 and about 1500 BCE ; figurines from the time resemble Hindu deities. A later significant culture, that of the Aryans, had an influential impact on the development of Hinduism, particularly its scriptures, the Vedas, which were written in Sanskrit.

Hindu philosophy sees the universe as having no beginning or end and sees all creation as part of a cycle of life and death. The concept of nondualism was expounded by Shankara, one of the great Hindu philosophers: it is a belief in the non-dualistic nature of one’s true self (atman) and the ultimate, the divine or Brahman. The atman and Brahman are among the main concepts explored in Hindu scriptures, which include the Upanishads and epics such as the Bhagavad Gita.

A wide range of beliefs in gods is possible within Hinduism: Hindus may be monotheistic, worshipping Brahman in many forms; polytheistic, often focusing on the gods Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, Surya, and Ganesha; or even monistic or atheistic. Along with a core belief in reincarnation, the concept of karma plays a key role in the believer’s efforts to end the cycle of samsara and achieve liberation (moksha). Three spiritual paths and four recognized goals create a structure for the believer’s ethical life.

Hinduism is characterized by regular worship at shrines and temples, called puja. Festivals are organized on a lunar calendar and include honoring the birthday of the god Krishna and a festival of lights, as well as other, local celebrations.

Traditional Hindu society is marked by a hierarchical caste system into which a person is born and within which he or she marries and lives his or her entire life. Marriage is a foundational institution within the caste system and typically enforces women’s role as subordinate to men’s.

In the modern world Hinduism has been significantly influenced by India’s independence, gained in 1947. Hindu nationalism is a major part of life and politics in India today. The Hindu diaspora has also brought Western ideas into India and increased interest in mystical and other spiritual traditions. In addition, more Hindu women are questioning traditional gender roles and working against caste restrictions.

Wright, Beth. Introduction to World Religions: Study Guide. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005. Print.
“Shiva Linga” (cropped) by Natesh Ramasamy licensed under CC BY 2.0.