Statistically, there are over 700 million Hindus, mainly in Bharat (India), and
Nepal. Hinduism is referred to as Sanatana Dharma, the eternal faith. Hinduism is not
strictly a religion. It is based on the practice of Dharma,the code of life. Since Hinduism
has no founder, anyone who practices Dharma can call himself a Hindu.
Vedanta, the basis of Hinduism, asserts that Brahman, the 'impersonal' God and the
universal soul, is the Absolute Truth. Brahman has multiple roles to play: the creator, the
maintainer, and the destroyer all in one. (This can be viewed as the origin of the trinity
Gods namely Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, respectively). Vedanta states that the individual
human soul(jiva-atman) originates and merges with the Brahman.
Indian tradition has the Religion existing before 6000B.C.E., and the Vedes being
written down in 3102B.C.E.This would have been during the original Indus Valley
civilization. Historians gegerally place the Vedes first being written down in 1580 after the
Aryan invasions.
The oldest of the Vedes, and perhaps the oldest scripture of all the worlds’
religions, is the Rig eda. It praises and implores the blessings of The Devas “the shinning
ones”, the controlling forces of the universe.
Vedic worship centered around the fire sacrifice. Ritual use of fire to offer
clearified butter and grains to the Devas is still central to contempory Hindu worship.
Over time elaborate fire rituals were created ans controlled by Brahmin priests. Chants,
verbal formulas and actions were used by the priests to invoke thebreath behind all
existence(later known as Brahman, the Absolute, the supreme reality). The verbal
formulas are called mantras.
The Vedic rellligion included a clear division of labor, which later became known
as castes.
The Upanishads evolved around 1000 to500 B.C.E. These writtings represented
the mystical insights of rishis who meditated in the forests, Reincarnation and karma
became concepts then.
After a peroid when Brahmanic ritual dominated Dharma, the Bhaki approach
came to prominence about 600C.E. It opened spiritual expression to both shudras (the
unclean caste) and women, and has been the initial way of the people since, or before, as
devotion to personal dieties is thought to predate Vedic religion.
Of all the dieties worshipped by the Hindus, there are three major groupings;
Vaishnavites who worship the devine as Vishnu, Saivites who worship the devine as Siva,
and Saktas who worship the female creative power.
A quote from Namaste, a Hindu web site: “One worships all the above dieties.
This is referred to as Puja. It is conducted to an idol made of gold, silver, bronze or even
clay. Those who can not even afford these worship the Gods in paintings/pictures.
Unfortunately, many people don't understand the significance of the puja, whether
conducted daily at home or at a temple. It is true that stones are worshipped, and the
elephant-God, Lord Ganesha, and the monkey-God, Hanuman are worshipped. But what
is the significance ? Since God is omnipresent, then He should be present in stones,
animals i.e everywhere. Isn't it beautiful that a person sees divinity in every aspect of
creation whether it is animate or inanimate ? Worshippers would commit a grave error by
seeing an essential distinction between the idol and the Supreme Lord, for they are one
and the same.
Before the puja, one bathes to signify the outer purification. Mantras and stotras
are recited for inner purification. Even a very simple puja employs flowers. What is the
inner significance ? Flowers smell. This is called vaasaana. Vaasaana is also an another
name for the imprints in the jiva, which constitute the flavor/smell of our personality,
habits etc. Flowers are picked up with the right hand and then, the fingers are pointed
downward so that the flowers fall at the feet of the idol. The five fingers signify the five
senses. The senses which are normally directed outward for pleasure and now pointed
downward showing that they are surrendered at His/Her Feet. Usually, the flower is
placed after uttering 'namaH.' While namaH means salutation, it is also a corrupt form of
'na mama' i.e not mine. Thus, when offering flowers, one says, 'I am offering to you my
senses, attributes, character but none of them are really mine. Everything is yours.' Thus,
even a simple puja has a great spiritual meaning which escapes a casual observer.”