Hinduism is the European name for the Sanatama Dharma, ‘the Eternal Law’. The name hindu comes from the Sanskrit word ‘sindhu’, meaning ‘river’. In time the land beyond the river became known as the Hind, and the people who lived there known as Hindus.
Despite having a complex religious system, there is no acknowledged human founder. It was suggested by Victorian England that the principle beliefs that form the Hindu religion were brought to India by an invasion of Arayan peoples, from the plains of Iran. There was already an established religion there, primarily based on the worship of Divine Fire, and the original form of Hinduism was suggested to have actually shared a common theological ancestor with Zoroastrianism – though both sets of people continued to develop their ideas in isolation. However, in more recent times, the original Aryan Invasion Theory, has been heavily criticised by modern Indian scholars.
Hinduism is best regarded not a single dogmatised set of principles, as much as a cacophony of diverse interpretations of reality, heavily based on a unique pantheism-polytheism. Divine identities remain very much a local phenomena, and even the main Hindu deities sourced from the Rig Veda can have differing attributes according to different areas. On top of that every tribal geography included its own local divinities into the Hindu pantheon, resulting in an extraordinary range of divine figures and images, many of which may share similar features.
However, despite the remarkable range of differences, and the superficial lack of homogeniety in Hindu worship, there remains an established and highly regarded core of beliefs and principles enshrined in the main Hindu texts.
There is a wealth of literature in Hinduism, predominantly centered around the Vedas, or “Divine Knowledge”. These are a series of four very ancient works, filled with chants and hymns of various description.
From the Vedas were disilled the philosophies inherent in the the twelve major Upanishads, which are an exploration of a range of meta-physical themes. These are actually still technically part of the Vedas, but remain as distinct works developed by a number of different scribes and at a noticeably later date. They are in essence theological summaries of the Vedas themselves, with each major Upanishad relating to a specific Veda. There are a number of other minor Upanishads, and these are perhaps numbered to as many as three hundred, but teir importance tends to be primarily related to specific divinities and even geographical areas.
The Bhagavad Gita is actually a section in the epic poem of the Mahabarata, and is the most popular Hindu text. Composed somewhere bwtween 200 BC and 200 AD by a plethora of notable scribes, it represents the culmination of Hindu thought in a short series of chapters relating between a conversation between Krishna and Arjun. It is regarded as the last major addition to the Hindu canon.
Hinduism is an exploration of reality itself, and seeks to recognise a relationship between the nature of Divnity and the nature of the soul. Ultimately that which is Divine is gender-neutral, Hinduism acknowledging at its heart that its plethora of anthropomorphised figures are nothing more than metaphors for an altogether more mysterious reality. It is the nature of the Hindu not simply to recognise this, but to ascertain what the Ultimate Truth of this mystery is, through meditation and contemplation.