Chapter 1: What is Hindu
Hindu Dharma, popularly called Hinduism, is the religion of over
a billion Hindus, who mostly live in India, but have large populations in many
other countries. Hindu Dharma is also known as Vaidika Dharma, meaning
"religion of the Vedas," the ancient Hindu scriptures. The original name of
Hindu Dharma is Sanătana Dharma, or "universal religion." (See Chapter
Unlike other religions, Hindu Dharma did not originate from a
single person, a single book, or at a single point in time. The foundations of
this oldest surviving religion were laid by ancient rishis (sages), who
taught their disciples the eternal principles of life they had discovered
through their meditations The rishis did not claim authorship of these
spiritual principles. Although some names are mentioned in scriptures, nobody
knows exactly who these people were or when they lived. Thus Hindu Dharma is
essentially a religion of principles rather than persons.
Hindu Dharma is analogous to a fruit tree, with its roots
representing the Vedas and the Upanishads, the thick trunk symbolizing the
spiritual experiences of numerous sages and saints, its branches representing
various theological traditions, and the fruit itself, in different shapes and
sizes, symbolizing various sects and subsects.
Although there is no hard and fast line between one period and
the next, the evolution of Hindu Dharma may be divided into three periods: the
ancient (6500 BCE-1000 AD), the medieval (1000-1800 AD), and the modern (1800 AD
to present). The major evolutionary milestones during these periods are
summarized in the following table:
- 6500 (minus denotes BCE)
||Composition of the early Rig Vedic hymns
(according to David Frawley, a Vedic scholar from the US). Current
archeological evidence shows that Shiva worship existed in the Indus
Valley Civilization in approximately 6000 BCE.1 |
||Beginning of the Indus Valley Civilization of
Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, that climaxed in 3700 BCE and ended in 1500 BCE
due to natural causes. |
||Period of Lord Răma and sage
||The Mahăbhărata war took place in 3138 BCE and
the Bhagavad Gîtă was recorded during this war.2 The Văyu
Purăna (a Hindu scripture) states that Lord Krishna entered into
mahăsamădhi (yogi's conscious exit from the body) 36 years after
the war and Kaliyuga began on his mahăsamădhi. |
||Period of Sage Vishvămitra, in whose reign a
majority of the Vedic hymns were composed. The Yajur and Atharva Vedas
were composed around 2400 BCE. |
Bhărata, an ancient king and sage (the
44th in the Purănic list of kings and sages) was born. The
original name of India is Bhărat, after the name of this ancient
||End of narration of the Vedic
|The Bhagavad Gîtă was compiled between BCE
500-200. Nyăya, Sănkhya, and Brahma Sűtras were recorded, which later gave
birth to six popular schools of Hindu philosophy. Buddhism and Jainism
also developed during this period. |
|Final versions of Purănas, Tantras, and other
sectarian literature were developed. |
|Development of six popular schools of religious
thought, establishment of Shankara's Advaita Vedănta, and decline of
Buddhism are the main landmarks of this period. |
|This period saw the rise of devotional
movements led by Rămănuja, Ramănanda, Tukarăm, Guru Nănak, Surdăs,
Chaitanya, Mirăbai, Tulsî Dăs, and many other saints.|
Modern Hindu Renaissance (1800 AD -
During the domination of India by foreign rule, many social and
religious vices appeared in Hindu society in India. There were many leaders of
the modern Hindu renaissance including the following saints, scholars, social
and religious reformers, who brought the society back into the tradition of
- Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833), a social and religious reformer,
and founder of the Brahmo Samăj.
- Swami Dayănanda (1824-1883), a saint, Vedic scholar, social
and religious reformer, and founder of the Ărya Samăj.
- Mrs. Annie Besant (1847-1933), an Englishwoman, translated
and popularized the Bhagavad Gîtă, and established the Hindu College in
Banăras, now known as the Banăras Hindu University.
- Sri Rămakrishna (1836-1886), a famous sage of modern times,
infused the true spirit of Hindu Dharma into his followers, who came from all
walks of life to seek his spiritual help.
- Swami Vivekănanda (1863-1902), the beloved disciple of Sri
Rămakrishna, elucidated Hindu Dharma in and outside of India, and introduced
the Vedănta philosophy to the West (see Chapter 19).
- Sri Ăurobindo Ghose (1872-1950), eloquently interpreted the
basic concepts of Hindu Dharma, and expounded yoga philosophy for the
transformation of human consciousness.
- Rabindranăth Tagore (1861-1941), one of the greatest mystical
poets of the world, expounded the Upanishadic philosophy through his songs in
Gitănjali and in many of his other works.
- Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), extended non-violence, a Hindu
cardinal virtue, to social, national, and international affairs.
- Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), another famous sage of modern
times, expounded the teachings of Advaita Vedănta to his disciples, who came
from all parts of the world to seek his help.
- Dr. Sarvepăllî Rădhăkrishnan (1888-1975), a philosopher,
statesman, and the second President of India, interpreted the classical Hindu
philosophy in the context of the modern world through his numerous scholarly
works, such as Hindu View of Life.