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An Overview of the Hindu Religion

The world's oldest religion, Hindusim has more than one billion followers around the globe, making it the third largest religion. The earliest Hindu scriptures, the Reg Veda, dates back to the 7th century BCE, and some scholars think the start of Hinduism can be dated back to the 10th century BCE.

The word Hindu was first introduced millennium later by a foreigner referring to the people of northern India.

The seat of the Hindu faith is in India -- the country that gave birth to the various cultural, philosophical, and religious ideas and practices that make up Hindusim. The four central beliefs are:

As much as Hindusim is an amalgamation of these tenants, however, the faith is -- first and foremost -- a way of life that governs one's actions. Central practices in this "lifestyle" include truthfulness, celibacy, cleanliness, austerity, and penance.

While Hindus believe in one supreme "absolute" called Brahman, there are thousands of gods and goddesses which all represent aspects of Brahman. The most fundamental of these deities are Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Preserver) and Shiva (Destroyer).

The sacred texts of Hinduism, known as the Shastras, are divided into two types of scriptures: Smriti (those that were memorized) and Shruti (those that were heard). Although all of the Shastras were eventually written down, primarily in the Sanskrit language, it was orally passed down for generations before being codified. To be a Hindu, one must accept and live by the principles and philosophies outlined in the Shastras.

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