The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, the historic local appellation for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent, and is first mentioned in the Rig Veda. The beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era (1500–500 BCE) are called the "historical vedic religion". The vedic religion shows influence by Proto-Indo-European religion. Modern Hinduism grew out of the Vedas, the oldest of which is the Rigveda, dated to 1700–1100 BCE.
Hinduism is One of the oldest living religions in the world, Hinduism is unique among the world religions in that it had no single founder but grew over a period of 4,000 years in syncretism with the religious and cultural movements of the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism is composed of innumerable sects and has no well-defined ecclesiastical organization.
Upanishads refer to the practices of yoga and contain theistic elements that are fully developed in the Bhagwad-Gita.
Post-vedic Hinduism in all its forms accepts the doctrine of karma, according to which the individual reaps the results of his good and bad actions through a series of lifetimes (see transmigration of souls). Also universally accepted is the goal of moksha or mukti, liberation from suffering and from the compulsion to rebirth, which is attainable through elimination of passions and through knowledge of reality and finally union with God.
Hinduism is based on the Eternal Truth as it has been explicitly defined in the scriptures:
The Srutis come from the Vedas, of divine origin and unchangeable. They encapsulate the greatest truths. The Srutis, referred to as the Dharma Shashtras, are of human composition. They govern the daily conduct of people, including the actions of the individual, the community, and the nation, and may change over time.The epics are those stories or fables in which the philosophy of the Vedas is told. The most important epics are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Maharishi Valmiki, a contemporary of Rama, composes the Ramayana. Theee Puranas are the Hindu scriptures that convey the truths of the Vedas and the Dharmshastrasas in the form of tales. These stories form the basis of religious education for the common man.
The Agamas record the doctrine for the worship of different deities, including Shiva, Vishnu, and Shakti. The Darshanas encompass the six schools of Hindu philosophy; they guide scholars. Hindu Gods and Goddesses.
Hinduism has many gods and goddesses, some of whom were worshiped by early peoples who later came into contact with this faith. The aim of Hinduism is not the worship of any one of these deities, but rather the means with which the individual soul or Atman will become one with the Brahman, or the Universal Soul. Among the most commonly worshiped gods are:
Nirguna Brahman—The Universal Soul who transcends time and space and is formless. Saguna Brahman—The concept of Ichwara, the Great God, with a form upon which the individual mind may fixate during prayer and meditation. The Trinity—As personified by the three attributes of Ichwara, including their feminine dimensions: creation (Brahman), preservation (Vishnu), and destruction (Shiva).
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as Sanatana dharma (a Sanskrit phrase meaning "the eternal law", "the eternal law that sustains/upholds/surely preserves", amongst many other expressions. Generic "types" of Hinduism that attempt to accommodate a variety of complex views span folk and vedic Hinduism to bhakti tradition, as in Vaishnavism. Among other practices and philosophies, Hinduism includes a wide spectrum of laws and prescriptions of "daily morality" based on the notion of karma, dharma, and societal norms. Hinduism is a conglomeration of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid common set of beliefs.
Hinduism is formed of diverse traditions and has no single founder. Among its direct roots is the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India and, as such, Hinduism is often called the "oldest living religion" or the "oldest living major religion" in the world.
A large body of texts is classified as Hindu, divided into Sruti ("revealed") and Smriti ("remembered") texts. These texts discuss theology, philosophy and mythology, and provide information on the practice of dharma (religious living). Among these texts, the Vedas are the foremost in authority, importance and antiquity. Other major scriptures include the Upanishads, Puranas and the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. The Bhagwad Gita, a syncretistic treatise from the Mahabharata, is of special importance. It combines Vedanta, Yoga, and some Samkhya philosophy into its discussion of good conduct and life.
A definition of Hinduism, given by the first Vice President of India, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who was also a prominent theologian, states that Hinduism is not "just a faith", but in itself is related to the union of reason and intuition. Radhakrishnan explicitly states that Hinduism cannot be defined, but is only to be experienced. Similarly some academics suggest that Hinduism can be seen as a category with "fuzzy edges", rather than as a well-defined and rigid entity. Some forms of religious expression are central to Hinduism, while others are not as central but still remain within the category. Based on this, Ferro-Luzzi has developed a 'Prototype Theory approach' to the definition of Hinduism.
Problems with the single definition of what is actually meant by the term 'Hinduism' are often attributed to the fact that Hinduism does not have a single or common historical founder. Hinduism, or as some say 'Hinduisms,' does not have a single system of salvation and has different goals according to each sect or denomination. The forms of vedic religion are seen not as an alternative to
Hinduism, but as its earliest form, and there is little justification for the divisions found in much western scholarly writing between Vedism, Brahmanism, and Hinduism.
A definition of Hinduism is further complicated by the frequent use of the term "faith" as a synonym for "religion". Some academics and many practitioners refer to Hinduism using a native definition, as Sanatana Dharma, a Sanskrit phrase meaning "the eternal law", or the "eternal way".