The roots of Hinduism are found in the Vedic religion of the Indo-European settlers of northern India , but it started to form from the 5th century BC onwards, taking numerous new elements from different origins. Therefore, it is varied, because it includes many gods and different ways to express it.
What makes followers of such diverse paths say that they are all Hindus is that they follow dharma, understood as the correct order to behave according to who one is, the stage of life in which one is and what has been in past lives .
The four ages of the world
In Hinduism, in works like the Mahabharata , there is talk of four yugas or ages of the world.
The time in Hinduism is not linear, but circular, and one era succeeds the other. After an era like the current one, which is considered decadent, the golden age will return, which will mark the beginning of a new world and a return.
The current era is the one of greatest decay, the kaliyuga , because evil reigns, and adjusting to dharma is very difficult. The kaliyuga was preceded by decay of ages proportionately smaller to get how kritayuga , the golden age in which perfection reigned in the world, in a cycle of four yugas ( Mahayuga ). In that order, the first is krita yuga , a time of harmonious unity between dharma, God, rite and veda. Next comes the yuga bullshit , the division between dharma, rite and veda. The next moment is the dvapara yuga, when the rites lose their harmony, and there are four vedas, but few follow them. The final step is the kaliyuga, the complete decay of rites and dharma.
The concept of dharma in Hinduism
The concept of dharma is fundamental in Hinduism, but it is complicated to explain. Gavin Flood, in his book The Hinduism, offers some keys to understand what he refers to: “The closest equivalent to dharma in Portuguese would be religion , but including the meanings of truth, duty, ethics, law (…).
It is the power that sustains and bases the Society and the cosmos (…) that makes things what they are (…).
A striking feature of Hinduism is that what you do is more important than what you believe. To follow dharma is not, therefore, to accept a certain number of beliefs, but to fulfill certain specific duties and.
Taking this explanation into account, to be a Hindu would be to act according to the dharma, which covers all aspects, from the performance of solemn rites to the correct behavior in each moment with the obligations that this brings. Therefore, dharma is identified, in Hinduism (since Buddhism has other connotations), with obligations understood as transcendent and eternal, but which are expressed or manifested among human beings in concrete actions.
Hinduism’s religious beliefs vary according to multiple factors, among which conduct stands out.
The many lives of Hinduism
For Hinduism, conduct is very important. Everyone’s actions and their consequences are called karma , which goes beyond the limits of a single life. This is so because in Hinduism reincarnation is believed, and future rebirths are conditioned by the set of actions in the present life. After dying, you are reborn again, and this chain of births, deaths and rebirths is called samsara . If the karma of previous lives is not good, neither will reincarnation: the person who has been violent in one life will suffer violence in the next. The differences between human beings, the fact that there are people who suffer and are poor and others who have everything, can be explained by karma.
The main purpose of life for Hindus is to live according to the dharma. They believe that in this way they can even attain moksha , which is the liberation from samsara and karma. Therefore, for Hindus, life is a constant learning process.
The many paths of Hinduism
In Hinduism, there are many ways to understand religion and many ways to practice it, depending on the character of each one, their favorite gods and also the stage of life they are in. There are four main paths.
The first is the path of action ( karma ), which consists of fulfilling each act of life as an offering to the divinity, in a disinterested way as to the results that are obtained therefrom.
The second is the path of devotion ( bhakti ), which consists of worshiping the divinity by visiting the temples and making pilgrimages, attending festivities and daily worship, and also praying constantly. The Vaisnavas and, in particular, the devotees of Krishna usually follow this path.
The third is the path of wisdom ( jnhana ), by which it is intended to understand the ultimate reality of divinity through the study of sacred texts and intellectual analysis.
In the fourth way, that of yoga , liberation is sought through physical and breathing exercises and meditation. This path is usually followed especially by shaivas.
Cults in Hinduism
In India, the ways of celebrating services are very diverse, ranging from intimate ceremonies at home to festivities that bring together millions of people.
Hindu worship and festivities
In the houses of the Hindus there is an altar with images on which the service is held every day, praying, offering flowers, butter and other products, lighting lamps and burning incense.
The worship is more spectacular in the temples because people come from all over the place, the offerings are more numerous and the statues are bigger. It is believed that the deity can enter the statue to receive offerings from his faithful and to thank them in the form of blessings. They are treated as if they were the gods themselves who arrived as guests: they are welcomed, adorned, bathed, fed, perfumed and then adored, receiving requests before leaving.
In the great festivities, moreover, the statues are placed in large cars and processions are made that play an important role in the purifying baths in the great rivers, which are sacred in India. There are many great festivities in India, and they all usually last for several days.
Holi is one of the most important. It culminates with the full moon of March and looks like a Carnival party in which people throw colored powders and liquids, light fires and drink a lot.
Divali celebrates Krishna and Rama’s victories over demonic forces and is a feast of good luck. Oil lamps are lit, which are placed in paper boats in the Sacred Rivers.
Janmashtami’s feast celebrates the birth of Krishna. Houses are made with representations of Krishna as a child and a festive family meal is celebrated.
Pilgrimages in Hinduism
In Hinduism, pilgrimages are very important and aim to reach some sacred place, which is usually a river, especially the most sacred, the Ganges. There are Hindus who, abandoning everything they have, dedicate themselves to pilgrimage to death.
There are many pilgrimage itineraries that depend on each person’s favorite gods. There is, for example, a large influx of people on the pilgrimage to the four extremes of India, which can last for many years if done on foot and which usually ends in the Himalayan mountains.
There are also pilgrimages that visit the holy cities of the main gods and that pass through Ayodhya (city of Rama), Mathura (city of Krishna) and Benares, the holy city of Shiva on the banks of the Ganges. It is said that those who die on pilgrimage towards Benares get rid of the cycle of reincarnations.