Hinduism is one of the oldest religions of the world. It is definitely the oldest among the living religions. The European historians of early 20th Century grudgingly accepted the period around 2500 B.C. as the earliest available evidence of the origin of the Vedic religion, which is a precursor to Hinduism. But many present day scholars, especially from India, do not agree with this opinion and beleive it to be around 8000 B.C.
The antiquity of Hinduism can be better estimated from the astronomical evidence available in the Hindu Scriptures, the folk-traditions and anthropological studies peculiar to the Indian sub-continent, and some geographical and etymological references mentioned in the Vedic literature. These evidences suggest that Hinduism has a long and checkered history of at least 6000 years or more.
Whatever be the truth, the Rig Vedic Aryans did not start a new religion in the sub-continent when they occupied the Indus Valley. They were practicing a religion that was already centuries old. Many of the hymns and rituals of the Rigveda stand testimony to this fact. To the new inhabitants of the land of the five rivers, the Vedic hymns were products of a very ancient wisdom, received by them through oral tradition and through generations of scholars and seers starting from the time of the first man on earth.
Hinduism is as old as the primitive man!
If we accept this as a religious truth, for there seems to be no reason why we should not, then the Vedic religion, which is a precursor to the present day Hinduism, might probably have its antecedents in the prehistoric days, when the aboriginal men were slowly trying to understand the mysteries of their own existence and the mysteries of the world around them!
How does Hinduism differ from other religions?
Hinduism differs from other organized religions in the following aspects:
- It is not based upon a particular founder.
- It is not based upon a particular book.
- It is not controlled by a central institution or authority such as a church or an association.
- It is not averse to examine and assimilate fundamentally diverse thoughts and beliefs into its system.
- It accepts other religions as various paths to salvation and does not favor organized attempts to convert people.
- It has been evolving continuously, through internal reforms and as a reaction to the threats and challenges.
Hinduism is a way of life unlike religion
Hinduism, we are told, is not a religion at all, but a way of life. In a way this is quite true. According to the tenets of Hinduism, life and religion are inseparable. Religion is there every where, dominating and regulating every aspect of human life, infusing it with divine presence and making life more meaningful and purposeful to its followers.
Though there are some core beliefs common to virtually all Hindus, there really is no "Hindu orthodoxy"- no hard and fast dogma that all Hindus must believe. It's actually a family of gradually developing beliefs and practices.
There are no specifically laid out rules constricting a person's eating/drinking habits, or clothing style or something like that. In fact, it is on a much higher platform, where such petty things are inconsiderate. It deals with the spiritual aspects of trying to understand God and to approach Him through many varied means (principal of which is love). As a natural fallout, it also shows how to lead a meaningful life full of bliss, peace and love.
An examination of the historical process
Throughout its entire history, Hinduism was never static. It evolved continuously from stage to stage and went on transforming itself continuously. This was due to the self less and extraordinary contribution by many scholars, seers, sages, institutions, kings and emperors, over a vast period of time.
By correcting, moulding, modifying, and integrating various aspects of the religion to suit the social, political, material, intellectual and spiritual requirements of the times, these great souls kept the religious lamp shining and vibrating. These great sages and saints provided knowledge and guidance to the multitude of beings, while barbarism and savagery still ruled many parts of the world.
Hinduism is like an ocean
It was they who gave the religion the depth and complexity for which it is known today, making it, as far as possible, acceptable to a great majority of the Indian people. Because of them Hinduism became more or less like an ocean that would absorb every thing that flowed into it from all directions.
Like an ocean it remained stable and firmly entrenched in its place and went on absorbing new knowledge and religious insights from all directions, without losing in the process, its moorings and its original character. It did not compromise on its basic ideals, nor suffered unduly from the process of assimilation and adaptation.
Why Hinduism is incomprehensible to outsiders
This flexible approach helped it to survive against the onslaught of new religious movements and invasion of foreign ideas. But in the process it also amassed a great body of inner contradictions , which today stand out prominently, making it incomprehensible to many outsiders.
It is sincerely hoped that this site will help resolve some of those incomprehensibilities!