May You Be Blessed by the God of Your Heart
The Geography of Hinduism
The Essentials of the FaithHinduism constitutes an extremely intricate religion upon which a single definition cannot be composed. The premier feature of this religion is the vast diversification of beliefs and rituals among its adherents. Furthermore, Hinduism can be perceived as either polytheistic or monotheistic in nature. Although this religion substantially lacks organization, it has impressively maintained its existence throughout history.
Founded: Hinduism was created through the intermixing to two distinct cultures involving the Aryans and the Indus Valley civilization. At about 1500 BCE, the Aryan invaded India and imposed their religious themes on the Indian natives. Ultimately, the Aryan religion absorbed the rituals of the natives and was eventually transformed into Hinduism.
Adherents: Most Hindus are Indians or of Indian extraction. However, as Hinduism spread throughout southeast Asia and Indonesia, other ethnic groups adopted Hinduism and added their own ethnic characteristics.
Distribution: The distribution listed of Hindus is given as listed in Markham, pp. 356-357:
Major Teachings: Salvation is achieved through a spiritual oneness of the soul, atman, with the ultimate reality of the universe, Brahma. To achieve this goal, the soul must obtain moksha, or liberation from the samsara, the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Different sects of Hinduism teach differing paths to moksha. As a result of these basic teachings, comes Hindu beliefs in reincarnation, karma (material actions resulting from the consequences of previous actions), and the religious justification of the caste system.
Scriptures and Significant Writings: The earliest known texts of Hindu literature are referred to as the Vedas. They were written down between 1500 BCE and 1200 BCE and composed possibly much earlier by the Aryan inhabitants of India. The Vedas established the initial form of Hinduism, known as the Vedic religion, through a collection of four texts. In Chronological order, these texts are referred to as Sanhitas, Brahmans, Aranyahas, and Upanishads. Of the four texts of the Vedas, the Upanishads provided the founding principles of Hinduism.
Symbols: The most universally recognized symbol of Hinduism, known as the omkara, is the sanskrit symbol for "Aum" (or "Om") depicted on the button for this webpage on the Geography of Religion Website Menu. "Aum" is a mantra, a sound which is hummed or chanted to help induce a meditative state of mind. For many Hindus, "Aum" is the most holy sound uttered, and is the vibration of the universe.
Major Divisions: The two largest sects of Hinduism are the Shivaite and the Vaishnavite sects, based upon the recognition of Shiva and Vishnu as the ultimate manifestations of Brahma. Vaishnavas constitute approximately 70% of all Hindus. The Bhakti movement also figures prominently in Hinduism.
Major Holy Days: The Kumbha Mela festival is held four times a year, and the Dusserah farming festival in honor of Kali is held at the end of October. Also Ramanavani (Lord Rama's birthday), Rathayatra (pilgrimage of the Chariot at Jagannath), Jhulanayatra ("Swinging the Lord Krishna"), Rakshabandhana ("Tying on Lucky Threads"), Janamashtami (birthday of Lord Krishna), Navaratri (festival of "Nine Nights"), Lakshmi-puja (homage to the goddess Lakshmi), Diwali or Dipavali ("String of Lights"), Maha-Sivaratri (Great nigh of Lord Shiva), and Holi (the festival of fire, a spring festival dedicated to Krishna).
The Details about Hinduism
Hinduism constitutes and extremely intricate religion upon which a single definition can not be composed. The prime feature of this religion is the vast diversification of beliefs and rituals among its adherents. Furthermore, Hinduism can be perceived as either polytheistic or monotheistic in nature. Although this religion substantially lacks organization, it has impressively maintained its existence throughout history.
The diverse quality of Hinduism is most likely the result of the manner in which it was founded. Its origin was brought about by the intermixing of two distinct cultures involving the Aryans and the Indus Valley civilization. At about 1500 BCE the Aryans invaded India and imposed their religious themes on the Indian natives. Ultimately, the Aryan religion absorbed the rituals of the natives and was eventually transformed into Hinduism (Markham, p. 55).
Within the Upanishads are the founding principles of Hinduism. The theme of spiritual oneness between the one ultimate reality, known as Brahma, and the soul, or atman, is mandated. In accordance, everything in the world is an illusion, merely a part of Brahma, praised as Creator (Clarke, p. 132). Brahma is considered the creator of all entities of the world, including gods. The ultimate goal of all Hindus is to achieve pure reality through unification of the soul with Brahma. However, as mandated by the Upanishads, each soul must first achieve liberation, or moksha, from the cycle of life known as samsara. This prompts the Hindu theme of reincarnation. Upon death each person is reborn as an animal, human being, or heavenly body. The status of a person's next life is determined by the deeds committed in the previous life. This principle is referred to as karma (Brown, p. 208).
In general, strict divisions have traditionally been imposed by the Hindu community between all castes. Because a person is perceived to have been born into a caste, no transferability is permitted between members of different castes. Additionally, a non-Hindu can not enter a caste nor is marriage permitted outside of a caste (Brown, p. 209). The resulting segregation based on caste theology has remained persistent in India throughout history. Hindus of higher castes have traditionally feared pollution by lower caste members through such actions as spatial closeness, consuming foods cooked by lower castes, and drinking from the same water source (Clarke, p. 128).
Through political movements in the mid-1900's, caste barriers have been relaxed to some extent. The movement to remove discrimination against the lower castes was spearheaded by "Mahatma" M. K. Gandhi, who taught that the "removal of this blot and curse upon Hindusim" was essential to Indian independence (Gandhi, p. 8). This relaxation has been particularly noticed in urban areas. All Hindus are now eligible to obtain an education which has prompted equal employment opportunities. Social intermixing in urban areas between members of different castes has become more tolerated. Furthermore, discrimination based on caste status was politically declared illegal in 1950.
The first recognized sects of Hinduism emerged during the time period known as the Bhakti Movement, beginning in the fifth century and lasting through the Middle Ages. This era is most characterized by the strong influence of Islamic virtues within the Hindu communities of India. Due to this influence, liberal movements evolved. One dominant movement involved the praising of only one particular god, known as a personal god, and identifying him as having the same status as Brahma. (Clarke, pp. 135-138).
Based on the movement of identifying one personal god as being equal to Brahma, two major sects emerged, often referred to as "the Great Sects". These sects are recognized as the Vaishnavas and the Shivaites. As their names convey, these sects are based on the gods, Vishnu and Shiva, respectively. The prominence of these two gods was prompted by the composition of two epics known as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Vishnu is considered to be a generous and kind god who supplied man with a resourceful world on which to live. He is often referred to as the "Preserver" who travels to earth as an incarnation when society and religion are threatened. Shiva is referred to as the "god of destroying storm" and imposes punishment on those of evil intent. The Vaishnavas identify Vishnu as being equivalent to Brahma. They comprise about 70% of the population. Shivaites identify Shiva as being equivalent to Brahma (Faquhar, pp. 151-160). Both sects have incorporated new principles into traditional Hindu worship.
In general, these sects were particularly popular among the lower castes. During the Bhakti Movement, numerous lower caste members converted to Islam to improve their religious position. However, the Hindu sects often provided another option to lower caste members in improving their religious status without completely abandoning the Hindu religion (Clarke, p. 138). Traditionally, those Hindus retaining the original Vedic religion have mostly been those of the higher castes, primarily the Brahmins (Faquhar, p. 360).
Many of the teachings foundational to the modern observance of Vaishnavism began approximately 500 years ago when Lord Caitanya taught that the form of the godhead to be worshipped in this, the Kali Yuga (era), is the person of Krishna, the supreme manifestation of Vishnu. His followers today now recognize Lord Caitanya as the avatar of Krishna for our age--the representative of God with the specific message for our time. As a result of the often austere regulations required of Vaishnavas, the practice is seen as a purification and a restoration of the true Vedic religion, providing the path necessary to survive the destruction of this present age. For Vaishnavas, the path to moksha is to be found in devotion, especially devotion to Krishna. Scattered in many sects today, Vaishnavas are found throughout India. As a result of the dedicated missionary efforts of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, as well as a handful of other swamis, Vaishnavism has now spread throughout the West. Srila Prabhupada founded the largest Vaishnava organization, ISKCON or the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (most popularly known as the "Hare Krishnas"). ISKCON is sometimes seen as heretical by other Hindus (and they sometimes reject the label "Hindu").
The Geography of Hinduism
The countries with the highest concentration of Hindu population include India, Nepal, Malaysia, and Guyana. With the exception of a few regions, most of the countries throughout the world have concentrations of less than 100 Hindus per 100,000 persons. Some areas that have moderate concentrations of Hindus (between 100 and 30,000 Hindus per 100,000) include Canada, Great Britain, Suriname, Pakistan, Indonesia, Australia, and a string of countries from South Africa to Kenya in Africa. The distribution of Hindus throughout the world has been extremely selective and dispersed.
Pilgrimage has traditionally been an important aspect of Hinduism. Within India, there are seemingly an infinite number of places designated as sacred sites. These sacred places are commonly located where physical features converge such as the convergence of land and water. In accordance, sites of pilgrimage destination are frequently located on river banks, coastal areas, piedmont areas at near mountains, and even where two or more rivers converge. Furthermore, places in India are deemed sacred sites based on historical events including those portrayed in the numerous Hindu epics. Highly regarded sites include the Ganges River and the sacred cities of Varanasi and Hardwar. Varanasi is where Shiva was believed to have manifested himself. There are particular times throughout the year that Hindus embark on pilgrimages to these sites of India. These include the Hindu festivals celebrated throughout the year such as the Kumbha Mela festival held four times a year and the Dusserah farming festival. Another interesting feature of Hindu pilgrimages is that the caste of a pilgrim is temporarily disregarded for the duration of the voyage. At locations such as the sacred waters of the Ganges River, all Hindus, even of lower castes, temporarily receive complete purification (Clarke, p. 140).
The spirituality and effectiveness of a pilgrimage are assessed by several factors. The ultimate criteria entails the distance traveled and the method of transportation. Longer distances and traveling on foot substantially optimize the spiritual fulfillment of the pilgrimage. Other factors of assessment include the holiness of the site and the purpose of the pilgrimage Clarke, p. 141).
Today, an all Indian pilgrimage is frequently conducted by Hindu adherents. The route of this journey, established by a train route, consistently follows the pattern of sacred sites recognized by the major sects of Vishnu and Shiva around India. The all India pilgrimage takes about ten weeks to complete depending on the amount of time spent at each place Clarke, p. 140-141).
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, His Divine Grace, The Bhagavad-gita As It Is. New York: Collier MacMillan Publishers, 1972. Written by the founder of ISKCON (see links below).
Gandhi, M. K., Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place.
Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan Publishing House, 1994. Gandhiji's works
are available through the Navajivan Trust in Ahmedabad-380 014, India. Many
of Gandhiji's major works are available by special order through major
booksellers in the US and the UK.
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Eerdmans' Handbook to the World's
Religions. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982.
Version 1.02 dated 08.25.99
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Eerdmans' Handbook to the World's Religions. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982.
Version 1.02 dated 08.25.99