Hinduism is the world's third most popular religion with around 900 million followers.
About 80% of the population of India regard themselves as Hindus. However, Hinduism is only the fourth most popular religion in Britain with around 400,000 followers.
People who follow this faith are known as Hindus.
Outside India and Nepal many Hindus live in Bali. Before Buddhism, Hinduism is known to have been practiced in Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia etc. Nepal is a Hindu country.
Hinduism is over 3000 years old, although elements of the faith are considered to have been revealed 25,000 years ago.
Hinduism has no founder and is best understood as a group of closely connected religious traditions rather than a single religion. Although not a unified religion, its core practices have remained surprisingly consistent across the land for thousands of years.
Practitioners prefer to call Hinduism Sanatana Dharma or eternal faith.
Hindus believe in one universal spirit or God, called Brahman, and worship that one God under many manifestations or images. Hindus believe that all prayers addressed to any form or manifestation will ultimately reach the one God.
Hindus believe that existence is a karmic cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, governed by one's conscious action.
Hindus consider that religion is a sanctified and disciplined path one should follow to reach a higher level of consciousness or goal i.e. to become a better person.
Hindus recognise one God, Brahman, the eternal origin who is the cause and foundation of all existence. The gods of the Hindu faith represent different expressions of Brahman.
Different Hindu communities may have their own divinities whom they worship, but these are simply different ways of approaching the Ultimate.
Hindus recognise three principal gods:
- Brahma - who creates the universe.
- Vishnu - who preserves the universe.
- Shiva - who destroys the universe.
Brahma is the Creator. However, Brahma is not worshipped in the same way as other gods because it is believed that his work (that of creation) has been done.
There are two kinds of scripture in Hinduism. The holiest texts, called the Vedas, and the great epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. The Bhagavad Gita, which is part of the Mahabharata, is a very popular text in the West.
Vedic texts are sometimes called shruti, which means hearing and for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years, the texts were passed on orally.
Worship and general religious activity are commonly centred around the home. However, Hindu temples or Mandirs, which have a priest, educated in the scriptures, do have public worship twice daily and Sunday has become a day for communal worship and activity.
Hindus festivals are largely linked with the movements of the sun and moon, and with seasonal changes, but they also incorporate the myths of the Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, especially Krishna's activities as a child.
For more information on the Hindu Holy Days and Festivals check out the BBC Hinduism pages.
Despite the fact that some Hindu reformers aim to outlaw it, the caste system is a prominent feature in Indian society.
The caste system is a system that ranks people and families in society according to their occupation e.g. if they are a doctor, or a factory worker etc.
The caste system came about from the belief that hierarchy was part of the natural order, and helped to emphasise the importance of ritual purity and impurity.
The influence of charity and hospitality is very strong in Hinduism. Every pious Hindu is expected to keep some food aside for an unexpected guest and no one should ever be turned away hungry.
The respect for life surfaces again in ahimsa (non-injury), one of the highest principles that encourages many Hindus to be vegetarian.
The sacraments performed at a wedding are called 'Vivah Sanskar'. This sanskar marks the start of the second and the most important stage of life called the 'Grihistha Ashrama' which is all about setting up a brand new family unit.
Wedding rituals performed at each ceremony are different depending on the region. But all in all it can take up to several hours to complete.