Religion is the connection of man with the Divine and the ultimate goal of faith is the realization of Truth. Correspondingly, one of the religions is Hinduism, which took place over a long time and underwent several stages of development. The paper aims to provide a detailed description and characteristics of Hinduism, analyze the Islamic-Hindu conflict by identifying points of contact, and compare Hinduism with Christianity.
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Hinduism is the main religion of India and one of the world religions. It originated in the Indian subcontinent, with more than 80% of the populace practicing this religion in the Republic of India and Nepal, which occupies most of the subcontinent Hindu communities also exist in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, the USA, and Canada (Williams and Sayam 13). As a result, Hinduism is one of the foremost geographically concentrated world religions.
The synthesis of several ethnocultural components, which led to the rich culture of modern India, began three thousand years ago. The sacred books of Hinduism indicate four goals to which human life should be directed. They are athe– wealth and power, and kama – the pleasure and satisfaction of desires. However, they are inferior in importance to two other aims of life: dharma – correct behavior; and moksha – liberation from the cycle of endless rebirths (Knott 19). Central to Hinduism is the concept of dharma, understood as a set of commandments, reflecting the highest universal values, norms, and rules that a person must observe as a member of a particular social group (Knott 3). Thus, Hinduism gives the impression of a substantial amorphous complex of religious beliefs and cults.
Moreover, outside the ever-changing physical world, there is a single universal, unchanging, eternal spirit called Brahman. When the flesh dies, the soul or atman does not die but passes into another body, continuing a new life (Knott 36). The fate of the soul in each new life depends on its behavior in previous incarnations. Therefore, no sin is left without punishment, no virtue is without reward; if a person has not received a well-deserved punishment or reward in this life, he will receive them in one of the following.
For most Hindus, an essential element of religious beliefs is the host of gods. In Hinduism, there is the image of Trimurti – the cosmic spiritual principle, which has three hypostases: Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma (Knott 51). Shiva became the most revered deity, whose primary function is to use the energy accumulated by asceticism to destroy and recreate the world. The most common and revered symbol of Shiva’s unity and its female half is a very abstract sculptural depiction of the root cause of their energy power.
Another Hinduism area is Vishnuism, which highlights the image of the God Vishnu, recognized as the guardian of the world order. The main and most revered are Rama, the hero of the Indian epic, the righteous king, and the demon’s victor. Krishna is even more famous, complex in origin and symbolism, a guardian god. Krishnaism most vividly expressed the ideas of late Hinduism, the concepts of love for God, who did not need a traditional cult and denied caste’s role. The third member of the trinity of the highest deities of Hinduism is Brahma, perceived as the root cause of the world.
Besides, Hindu sacred texts are divided into two main categories: Shruti, or writings of divine revelation, and Smriti, traditional books of famous authors. The most important documents of the Shruti are the Vedas, written in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India, contains hymns addressed to the gods (Long and Dowling Long 159). They highlight the concepts that are still dominant in Hinduism: Brahman’s omnipresence, the unity of Brahman and Atman, karma and the transmigration of souls, and liberation from a series of births. Most of Smriti’s texts are either concise aphorisms intended for memorization or treatises on various topics. The most famous works of Smriti literature are the epic poems of Mahabharata and Ramayana (Long and Dowling Long 164). Consequently, in this part, the history of the origin of Hinduism, the main characteristics, gods, and cults of the believing people, sacred texts were utterly described.
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Overall, Knott’s work is vital in this paper because it has full information about religion, general characteristics, theories of origin, rites, and cults. In other words, this book is the basis of work. According to Knott, there are two main theories about the origin of Hinduism in the South Asian region (4). The first is the theory of Aryan migration, in which groups of peoples, the inhabitants of the Indus basin, called Aryans, emigrated to the subcontinent, and became the dominant culture. Hinduism comes from the Aryan religion, based on the Vedas, and contains elements of local traditions assimilated by the Aryans (Knott 4). The second theory suggests that Aryan culture descended from Indian customs. This theory claims that there was no migration or invasion of the Aryans, and Indian culture was purely Aryan or Vedic (Knott 4). One way or another, the religion of the ancient Aryans became a system-forming factor among the Hindu population.
Furthermore, the sacred texts, hymns, and prayers constitute an impressive collection of holy traditions called the Vedas. These documents were studied in tong and Dowling Long’s work about scriptures and explained in the introduction part. Panikkar’s book is also essential in comparing Christianity with Hinduism, determining the similarities and differences between them. This work will be used in the conclusion part as supporting evidence.
There were many cases of conflict on religious grounds in history, and this did not bypass Hinduism. The clash of Hinduism and Islam remains the most prominent spiritual catastrophe. The internal strength and integrity of Islam, combined with the military and political dominance of the conquerors and economic policies aimed at supporting Muslims, played a significant role in strengthening Islam in Hinduism. It was facilitated by the tolerance of Hinduism, and its amorphousness, and even a clear tendency to introspection with emphasized neglect concerning the socio-political sphere.
There was an essential factor that contributed to the rooting of Islam. It should be noted that in India, there was a rigid caste division. Every Hindu belongs from birth to a particular caste and cannot change his caste affiliation. He must take his wife from his rank; his occupation will also be traditional for this caste. Hinduism began to explain social differences with the ritual purity of an individual born in the corresponding caste. Violation of the rules ritually defiles a person and entails expulsion from the caste and deprivation of the state’s rights. The next time a person can be born in an extremely unfavorable form: in the lower rank, outside society in the group of non-caste “untouchables” or the guise of an animal (Knott 75). Archaic, tribal narrow-mindedness, the esotericism of the religious-philosophical system of Brahmanism became an obstacle to social development. Nevertheless, the Muslim preaching idea of the universal equality of people before Allah is why many of the lower, most powerless ranks of India readily accepted Islam.
In 1947, British India was divided into two parts: the predominantly Muslim regions were divided into a separate country, Pakistan. The border was drawn lively: a terrible massacre accompanied the mass resettlement of the faithful to Pakistan and the Indians and Sikhs in India. After the country’s division, two-thirds of Muslims ended up in Pakistan, a third in India, consciously preferring the lives of members of a religious minority in their native land. As a result of the influence of political, economic, socio-legal, and ideological-cultural factors, several clashes between Islam and Hinduism still occur.
In Hinduism, there is no founder or prophet, no definite church hierarchy, no established creeds of faith. The external resemblance between some manifestations of India’s religious life and similar phenomena in Christianity can be misleading. However, upon closer examination, it turns out that all these actions in India are aimed at goals that are entirely unlike Christian ones. According to Panikkar, “there is no Christian doctrine that one cannot find in Hinduism more or less. There is no general Hindu doctrine that cannot be interpreted in a Christian way” (32). Acts that are always manifested by Hindus and Christians at the highest levels of spiritual development deepen the gap between the Hindu religion and Christianity and make any compromise between these two religions impossible.
All the above considered, Hinduism, which has undergone significant changes over the centuries, has developed based on the beliefs of the primitive Aryans. A wide variety of features coexist peacefully in Hinduism, which is sometimes the complete opposite of each other. The Muslim-Hindu clash arose as a result of the division under British rule. It is also worth noting that Hinduism, to a greater extent, has nothing to do with Christianity. However, this study allowed me to learn more about religion that does not associate with the name of any founder and an organizational center, recognizes the presence of different levels of spiritual consciousness. It is quite interesting how Hinduism evolved from tribal beliefs into a world religion.
Knott, Kim. Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction. Vol. 5, Oxford University Press, 2016.
Long, Fiachra, and Siobhán Dowling Long, eds. Reading the Sacred Scriptures: From Oral Tradition to Written Documents and Their Reception. Routledge, 2017
Panikkar, Raimon. Hinduism and Christianity. Orbis Books, 2019.
Williams, Rina Verma, and Sayam Moktan. “Hinduism: India, Nepal, and Beyond.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. 2019.