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Hinduism
Information on Hinduism
Lord Krishna. Hinduism is commonly thought to be the oldest religion in the history of human civilization. It is a religion that gets its guidance from the Vedas, Upanishads, Sutras, Epics, Granthas, and Prabhandhams. The third largest religion after Christianity and Islam Hinduism is also known as Sanatana Dharma that is "eternal religion" and Vaidika Dharma meaning "religion of the Vedas".

Hinduism does not have any one founder and is perhaps the only religious tradition that is so diverse in its theoretical premises and practical expressions that it is like a compilation of religions. Hinduism believes in idol worship, casteism, reincarnation, 'karma', 'dharma' and 'moksha'. Some moral ideals in Hinduism include non-violence, truthfulness, friendship, compassion, fortitude, self-control, purity and generosity.

According to historians, the origin of Hinduism dates back to 5000 or more years. The word "Hindu" is derived from the name of river Indus, which flows through northern India. In ancient times the river was called the 'Sindhu', but the Persians who migrated to India called the river 'Hindu', the land 'Hindustan' and its inhabitants 'Hindus'. Thus the religion followed by the Hindus came to be known as 'Hinduism'.

Two types of sacred writings constitute the Hindu scriptures:
heard (Sruti) and memorized (Smriti). Sruti literature are of two parts: the Vedas and Upanishads.

There are four Vedas: 1) The Rig Veda -"Royal Knowledge" 2) The Sama Veda - "Knowledge of Chants" 3) The Yajur Veda - "Knowledge of Sacrificial Rituals" 4) The Atharva Veda - "Knowledge of Incarnations" and there are 108 extant Upanishads.

Smriti Literature refers to 'memorized' or 'remembered' poetry and epics. They are more popular with Hindus, because they are easy to understand, explains universal truths through symbolism and mythology, and contain some of the most beautiful and exciting stories in the history of religion world literature. The three most important of Smriti literature are:

The Bhagavad Gita - The most well known of the Hindu scriptures, called the "Song of the Adorable One", written about the 2nd century BC and forms the sixth part of Mahabharata. Arjuna krishna Chariot It contains some of the most brilliant theological lessons about the nature of God and of life ever written.

The Mahabharata - The world's longest epic poem written about 9th century BC, and deals with the power struggle between the Pandava and the Kaurava families, with an intertwining of numerous episodes that make up life.

The Ramayana - The most popular of Hindu epics, composed by Valmiki around 4th or 2nd centuries BC with later additions up to about 300 CE. It depicts the story of the royal couple of Ayodha - Ram and Sita and a host of other characters and their exploits.

Hinduism is supposed to be 'apauruseya', i.e., of impersonal origin and so also are the Gods of Hinduism. They are eternal & though the deities appear to be different and independent, they are really facets of the same Brahman, the Supreme God.

From the Rig Veda, we come to know of the vedic gods eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, Indra & Prajapathi, being the Gods of earth, the heavens and the space. The main Hindu Gods as we accept today can be broadly classified as Saiva Gods (Siva, His consort, His sons, His other forms), Vaishnava Gods (Vishnu, His consort, His various avatharams) & Sakthi or Saktha (Forms of Goddess Sakthi).

The Vedic Gods:
Brahma - The God of Creation
Vishnu - The God of Maintenance
The various Avatars of Vishnu :
» Dasavataram
» Matsyavataram (Form of a fish)
» Kurmavataram (Form of a tortoise)
» Varahavataram (Form of a boar)
» Narasimhavataram (Form of a lion headed man)
Lord Shiva. » Vamanavataram (Form of a dwarf)
» Parasuramavataram
» Ramavataram
» Balaramavataram
» Krishnavataram
» Kalkiavataram (yet to come)
Siva - The God of Destruction
Saraswathi - Goddess of Wisdom - Consort of Lord Brahma
Lakshmi - Goddess of Wealth - Consort of Lord Vishnu
Parvathi - Goddess Sakthi - Consort of Lord Shiva
Ganesha - Son of Shiva and Parvathi

Hindu Pilgrimages :
In the North India,some of the holiest places to visit are Varanasi,Prayag (Allahabad),where the Kumbh Mela is held,and Mathura,the birthplace of Lord Krishna. In the East India lies Puri in Orissa that famous for the Jagannath Temple and its Rath Yatra. Rameshwaram and Kanyakumari lie in the South and Dwaraka the kingdom of Lord Krishna in the west. Also places like Tirupati,Vaishnodevi,Shirdi,Shabrimala,Tanjore and Madurai towns are famous for their temples and shrines and very much on a must-visit list.

Sikhism is one of the most ancient religions of India and the believers of this religion are called Sikhs that means disciples. The founder of Sikhism was Guru Nanak. Sikhism stands for casteless society and preaches that all people stand equal. Guru Nanak was born into a hindu family. Later he said that there is only one God and criticised Hindu and Muslim religious sectarianism.

The Holy Book Of Sikhism is Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Gobind Singh declared before his departure to the heavenly abode that this Holy Granth would be the spiritual guide for Sikhs.

Guru Gobind Singh made Khalsa (Sikh common wealth), a full-fledged nation and taught them to perform the noble duty of defending their motherland. Guru Gobind Singh, the last among the Gurus (1666-1708), initiated the Baptism Ceremony.

Tenth Guru - Guru Gobind Singh By the time of tenth Guru - Guru Gobind Singh, the Sikhs had to defend themselves from Muslim persecution and Guru Gobind Singh organized his followers into a military order called Khalsa which literally means "pure". Sikh men and women were initiated into the Khalsa by sharing a drink of sweetened water called "Amrit" a symbol of loyalty to God. After initiation, they are given the name Singh (Lion).

In this religion, it is obligatory for all Sikh men to always have five K's. Kesh, Kirpan, Kada, Kachcha and Kanghi (long hair, small sword, iron bangle, drawer, and a comb).

Sikh Pilgrimages :
Sikh pilgrimage sites in India include the Golden Temple founded by Guru Ram Das,the fourth Sikh Guru. This is the most sacred shrine of the Sikhs and is in the town of Amritsar. Another important pilgrimage site is Anandpur Sahib,where Guru Gobind Singh,the tenth Guru,created the 'Khalsa' or the pure ones by baptising them.

The "Jains" are the followers of the Jina that literally means "Conqueror." Jina according to the Jains has conquered love and hate, pleasure and pain, attachment and aversion, and has thereby freed `his' soul from the karmas obscuring knowledge, perception, truth, and ability.

Jainism is a religion without a belief in God. They believe that neither perception, nor inference can prove the existence of God. The concept of Jainism is so extreme that they have a cotton muslin mask against their mouths to prevent any germs or insects (living beings) from entering the mouth. Generally they have their evening meal before sunset - again for the same reason.

Jainism is one of the three Indian philosophies, the others being Charvaka and Buddhism, which do not accept the authority of Vedas. The most important Jain teacher Theerthankara was Mahaveera.

Jains believe in the three jewels of Jainism Right Faith, of Right Knowledge and Right Conduct. The way to deliverance according to Jainism is, through the Three Jewels. Lord Mahavir. Through the practice of the Three Jewels, a person can succeed in overcoming the forces of all passions, and karmas and attain liberation. Once free, the soul attains the four-fold perfection of infinite knowledge, infinite faith, infinite power and infinite bliss.

Right Conduct involves the practice of five virtues : Ahimsa or non-violence, Truth speaking, Non-stealing, Chastity, Non-attachments to worldly things.

Jain Pilgrimages :
Jain temples in India are an attraction to all the devotees following Jainism religion. One of the most important Jain pilgrimage sites located in the Karnataka state is the monolithic statue of Bahubali at Sravanabelagola. Also the Mount Abu in Rajasthan where the Dilwara Temple is situated is one of the finest examples of Jain art and architecture.

Christian Pilgrimages :
Christianity has had long and glorious relations with India. History states that St. Thomas sailed to India from Eastern Asia in AD 52 and spent 12 years in India,the last eight of his life in Mylapore in Madras (now Chennai). Also with the advent of Europeans in India from the 15th century onwards led to the mass influx of Christians and subsequent development of Christian worship places. Some of the churches of colonial India are comparable to the best in the world and are as much a part of the heritage of India as its ancient temples. These churches fascinate the visitors with their charm and associated history.

Buddhism religion in India was developed in the late 500 B.C.'s and was founded by Siddhartha Gautama. Buddha was born as Siddharta Gautama in Lumbini and lived in India. Buddhism was against certain features of Hinduism like the worship of many deites and supernatural powers, castism, and the power of the Hindu priest class.

Buddha taught the way to gain Nirvana - "a state of perfect peace and happiness". The people have to free themselves from wordly things to achieve 'Nirvana'. The preachings of Buddha made many followers of his. Buddhism had spread in to central Asia. Buddhism swept through much of China from 300's to 500s, challenging the native Chinese religions of Confucianism and Taoism, Buddhism spread to Korea and Japan.

Lord Buddha. There are two orders in Buddhism - Hinayana and Mahayana. Mahayana communities are more active in welfare and education and are centered in Japan and China. Mahayana Buddhists live in Japan, Korea, Mangolia, Nepal, Tibet, and scattered parts of India and Russia. Hinayana communities have a more strict daily life and members spend much time in meditation. Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Srilanka, and Thailand are mostly affected by Hinayana Buddhism.

Four Noble Truths proclaimed by Buddha.
» Life is sorrow
» Cause for sorrow is craving.
» Removing the cause of craving will end sorrow.

Buddhist Pilgrimages :
Buddhist pilgrimage sites found in Bihar,Uttar Pradesh,Ladakh,and other parts of India are important destinations for millions of people in South East Asia and other parts of the world. Bodh gaya pilgrimage in India is reckoned as the most important Buddhist pilgrimage centre. Also the magnificent Mahabodhi temple in Bodh gaya is an architectural amalgamation of many centuries,cultures and heritages. Vaishali is of special significance to the Buddhists. It is here that Buddha delivered his last sermon and announced his impending Nirvana.