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Basics of Hinduism

Hinduism is the oldest of the world's great religions. Originally practised mainly in India, emigrant Hindus have since brought this multi-faceted religion to almost all parts of the globe. Interest, curiosity and global thinking have led to many aspects that originated in Hinduism becoming established in the West, such as yoga, meditation, Ayurveda and certain fashion accessories like bindis. 

The origin is not known; there is neither an official founder nor a verifiable date of foundation. Traces of Hinduism, however, go back several thousand years. For Hindus, however, their faith is Sanatana-Dharma (सनातन धर्म), the eternal religion.



Hindu theology encompasses virtually all expressions of the various faiths: the worship of everything as divinity (pantheism), the belief in many gods (polytheism), the indivisible unity of all creation and all living beings (monism), and the belief in one God who rules over all (monotheism).


For the Hindus, time is cyclical, i.e. it has neither a beginning nor an end. Like the seasons, it is an eternal cycle of different ages (yugas). The soul is immortal and wanders through different life forms according to its actions (karma). The Hindus call this concept reincarnation or punarjanma, which means rebirth or samsāra (संसार), cycle of birth and death. Their goal is to become free from this cycle through conscious, spiritual action (moksha) in order to reach eternity (nirvāna) or a divine realm, depending on the faith.

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Just as in pre-Christian Europe, nature and the entire cosmos were understood as permeated by various deities, Hinduism knows an almost unlimited number of divine beings called devas. These are universal rulers who are responsible for all aspects of life: Fertility, health, wealth, power, death, etc. They also rule the elements such as earth, water, fire, air and space.

Among the most powerful are Shiva, who is responsible for the dissolution of the cosmos at the end of time, Brahma, the creator of the material world, and Vishnu as the sustainer of the universe. Very popular is the elephant-headed Ganesha, who is worshipped to remove obstacles in life. Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, receives homage from those who desire wealth and prosperity. Further Goddesses are Durga (Parvati), an incarnation of Devi, Mother of the universe, who is therefore responsible for the creating power, the preservation and destruction of the world. Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of wisdom, creativity and arts. Hanuman, the god with a monkey-like appearance is considered a symbol of devotion and faithfulness. Krishna is one of the most popular. His enchanting loveliness is sung about in many hymns and his philosophical dialogue in the Bhagavad-Gita is considered the most well-known scripture in Hinduism. Special mention should also be made of the avataras, appearances of individual deities on earth. Numerous texts describe the dasha avataras, the ten "incarnations" of Vishnu.

Hindu Literatur


The Hindu scriptures are almost as numerous as the deities. Among the oldest are the four basic texts, the Vedas, which are oriented towards ritual descriptions and poetry. In addition, there are over a hundred Upanishads (उपनिषद्), which contain philosophical dialogues. The numerous Puranas are also well known. They describe theology and philosophy in the form of stories. Very popular are the two epic works (poetic heroic stories) Ramayana and Mahabharata, which also includes the Bhagavad-Gita, a summary of the Indian doctrine of Divinity.

Hindu Society

An important aspect are the samskaras, religious ceremonies that begin before conception and are performed by family members until and even after demise. They are meant to purify a particular soul and accompany it with the blessings of the responsible deity. Another special aspect of Hinduism is the social division into different occupational groups (priests, kings/rulers, traders, workers, etc.). The social divisions (varnas), which used to work together harmoniously, became less meaningful over time and have lost importance in today's India.

Mönche bei einer Zeremonie


Striking in India are the numerous temples - from small shrines on a street corner or in a flat to imposing, huge works of art made of granite and marble. The most sacred are the consecrated statues of those deities, called Murti or Archa-Vigraha, which are located inside the temple. They are only worshipped after they have been "ensouled" with divine power and grace through a traditional initiation ceremony (Prana-Pratishta).


Visitors to India are always amazed at how many religious festivals are celebrated. They often last several days and vary greatly in their diversity and significance. The Diwali festival, which is celebrated all over India, is the most important and largest. It combines various aspects and is considered, among other things, the "festival of light", which celebrates the victory over darkness - the overcoming of evil. On this day, people visit friends and relatives and gift each other sweets. In some parts of India, Diwali also marks the beginning of a new year. Another very colourful and joyful festival is Holi, which is celebrated in spring. The appearances of great deities are also celebrated accordingly. The appearances of Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha, Durga and Saraswati are particularly popular. The corresponding festival dates are based on the lunar calendar and therefore vary from year to year.


There are about one billion Hindus around the world. Just over seventy per cent of India's population belongs to this religion. In addition, there are some countries in which a considerable proportion of the inhabitants are Hindus: Nepal, Bali (Indonesia), Mauritius, the Fiji Islands, Sri Lanka (Tamils). Not only Hindus who emigrated to all continents, but also a small number of Westerners practise aspects of Hinduism.


Like all religions, Hinduism is a doctrine of faith that rises above material, earthly life. It gives people self-responsibility, but also guides them through rituals, sacred scriptures, priests and religious festivals to understand all living beings, nature and the cosmos as a natural unity born from Divinity. In Hinduism, it is important to recognise this harmony and to integrate it into everyday life. Religion - being connected with the Divine - can thus be experienced by a Hindu always and everywhere.

Hari Om Tat Sat -  ओम् तत् सत्

Original text: Guido von Arx, Zurich -

Revision: Satish Joshi/ Krishna Premarupa Dasa/Acharya Vidyabhaskar

Further Knowledge

The development of Hinduism


As Sanātana Dharma (the eternal Dharma, the eternal universal law), Hinduism has no beginning as known to the various religious currents of the world religions. Wisdom (Veda) is understood as the breath of the Absolute (Parabrahman, Paramātmā).

The oldest archaeological evidence of a way of life in harmony with nature and references to ascetic aspects can be found in about the 4th millennium BC (in the Indus Valley civilisation).

The oldest Vedic texts --- Ṛgveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda, Atharvaveda --- attest to a living spirituality in harmony with Satya as Ṛta and Dharma, the truth as world-encompassing, world-sustaining law (see Ṛgveda 10.85.1).


The way of life derived from these texts is called Dharma, Hindu Dharma or Sanātana Dharma.

Historians agree that Hinduism as an overall tradition with many sub-forms was lived as a continuous practice tradition from the Vedic period to the early Middle Ages (9th century) on the Indian subcontinent (as well as partly in Burma, Thailand and Indonesia).

From the 9th century onwards, renewal movements emerged that were based primarily on the Upaniṣads of the Vedas and the Bhakti traditions and deeply shaped the image of today's Hinduism.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, further renewal movements emerged, which opened Hinduism to the rest of the world and made it accessible.

Hindu literature

The volume of Hindu literature is massive: it consists of the Vedic canon (each of the four Vedas consists of a Saṁhitā, several Āraṇyakas, Brāhmaṇas and Upaniṣads), the Itihāsas (Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata, in which the world-famous Bhagavadgītā is also found), the 18 Mahāpurāṇas (like the Śrīmadbhāgavata-mahāpurāṇa, Skanda-purāṇa etc. ), the Smṛtiśāstras, Sūtras, Āgamas, innumerable minor works (Prakaraṇas), commentaries (Bhāṣyas), sub-commentaries (Ṭīkās) and explanations (Ṭippaṇīs) on these works.


Traditionally, six different views (Darśanas) are considered valid interpretations of Vedic wisdom:


Sāṁkhya, Yoga, Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Pūrva-mīmāṁsā (the earlier interpretation) and Uttara-mīmāṁsā (the later interpretation, Vedānta).

Most forms of Hinduism today refer to Yoga and Vedānta in their many interpretations and traditions.


The Bhagavadgītā conveys the view that the divine is attainable through various yogas: Jñānayoga (yoga of knowledge), Bhaktiyoga (yoga of devotion), Rājayoga (the royal yoga of meditation), Karmayoga (yoga of work or duty).


At the heart of Hinduism is the view that all living beings are subject to karma as the law of cause and effect; further, that karma not only operates during one life, but drives the cycle or wheel of Saṁsāra over countless lives. Only through the dissolution and liberation from all karmas is salvation (mokṣa, nirvāṇa) possible.

Mahavir Swami / Jainism ?
Siddhartha Gautama Buddha ?

Texts: Acharya Vidyabhaskar 

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