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Population Percentage Hindu Map
Hindu relief sculpture

The Hindu Trinity - Brahma, Siva, Vishnu - Hoysaleswara temple

Hinduism is considered to be the oldest “living” religion in the world, since it began at least four thousand years ago and people still follow it today.  What we call Hinduism is a huge collection of belief systems that have been influenced and changed over history.  Unlike most other major religions, Hinduism has no single founder like Jesus or Mohammad or a central leader like the Catholic (Christian) Pope—because of this, people worship in VERY different ways. Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world, with about 1.2 billion followers world-wide, most of whom live in India.  Hinduism provided the belief structure for all other South Asian religions that followed such as Buddhism and Sikhism. Just as Judaism provided the structure for Christianity and Islam.

Ancient writings teach the Hindu religion.  The Vedas (holy books) are a collection of the oldest Hindu holy books.  For hundreds of years, the Veda teachings were never written down—they were only spoken or sang.  Eventually, they were written down in ancient language called Sanskrit. The Upanishads are another collection of Hindu holy writings.  The Upanishads were written down maybe 500 to 1000 years after the first Vedas and contain most of the ideas about Hinduism and how to practice the religion. Upanishads are considered the "last chapters" of The Vedas. 

Photo of old Atharva Veda

By William Dwight Whitney - Atharva-Veda Saṁhitā second half

Om symbol

The Om or Aum Symbol represents the divine sound of the universe

Most Hindus believe in one supreme spirit or force called Brahman, which is the foundation for everything.  Hindus believe God is all things in the world—not just a spirit in the sky.  Brahman does not just exist; it IS existence.  Brahman can be worshiped in many forms, such as other “gods” such as Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesh or Krishna, so many people think Hindus worship many gods, but actually all other gods represent Brahman in different forms.  This is similar to Christianity.  Christians worship Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit.  They call this the Holy Trinity in Christianity—not three different gods, but three forms of the same God.  The Aum or Om symbol often represents Brahman or the Hindu belief system. It symbolizes the entire universe, but is also the symbol of a sound with three syllables A-U-M. The Om sound is believed to be the first sound of the universe.

Hindus believe all things in the world have a spark of Brahman within them--similar to the idea of a soul. This is called Atman. All things at the deepest level come from Brahman--we are all full of wisdom, love, joy, and peace, but it takes practice to understand this and unite your atman with Brahman. It takes training to purify your mind and body which will allow unity with Brahman. This training comes in many forms, but is referred to as Yoga, which means "union"--the union of the individual with this inner Brahman spirit or Atman. The modern exercise of Yoga comes from this Hindu tradition. There are many types of yoga, but mostly it involves physical poses or positions of the body, concentration and meditation of the mind, and controlled deep breathing. Nearly all South Asian religions practice some form of yoga.

Shiva in Yoga pose in Bangalore

65 ft statue of Shiva performing yoga in the lotus position

Reincarnation painting

Illustration of reincarnation in Hindu art
(Himalayan Academy Publications)

A major different from Abrahamic religions is the view of life and death. Most Hindus believe in reincarnation (rebirth of the soul)—the belief that when the body dies, the spirit is reincarnated (reborn) into a new form.  The soul may be reborn in many different forms such as another human or even an insect. Since the soul is constantly being reborn, there is no heaven or hell in Hinduism. 


What they are reborn as depends on their karma.  Karma is the belief that peoples actions, thoughts, and words determines what will happen to them in the future.  If something bad happens to someone it is sometimes thought to be the result of bad karma from previous bad actions, thoughts, or intentions. Some believe karma only affects future reincarnations, but others believe it affects all future events in your current life.


If a person follows the dharma, he or she can expect to be reincarnated into a higher form in their next life, or have good luck in the future. Dharma is a life path of truth, duty, religion and good behavior.  If a person lives the dharma they will have good karma and be reincarnated into a higher form. 

Another major part of Hinduism and life in South Asia is the Indian caste system.  The Indian caste system is an unfair way to organize society into classes or levels of people.  These castes were often based on the jobs the family performed. Everyone falls into one of 4 or 5 major castes.  Over time, major castes were divided into over 3,000 sub-castes.  People in different castes didn’t marry, work together, or even socialize.  Worse yet, people were permanently locked into their caste.  Castes were usually linked to a certain job.  The Brahmins were the highest caste; they were priests and scholars.  Kshatriyas were kings or warriors.  Vaishyas were merchants, trader, or farmers.  Shudras were peasants who worked the land.  Another group of people existed who were looked at as being so low, they were outside the caste system—the Dalits or “untouchables”.  Hindus believed if there karma was good, they would move up in caste when they were reincarnated.  Today, the caste system is illegal, but still followed in some places, especially rural areas.

Graphic of caste system in India

The Indian Caste System has 4 main castes and one group - Dalits - who exist outside of and beneath the system

Gajendra Moksha painting

The ultimate goal for Hindus is to end their reincarnation cycle and reach Moksha.  Moksha is a “one-ness” with God.  This is when your atman is completely pure and able to join and become one with Brahman--God. When Hindus are finally reborn as Brahmins, and if they live a life of perfection, they will finally end their birth, death, and rebirth cycle and become part of the spirit of Brahman (reaching Moksha).  Hindus work toward spiritual Moksha is by following the dharma and practicing yoga.  

Water is the most important resource on our planet regardless of religion.  However, to followers of Hinduism some water is sacred.  The river Ganges in northern India is Hinduism's most holy river.  Hindu's personify the Ganges River with the goddess Gaṅgā.  They believe that bathing in the Ganges helps to wash away sin and move toward Moksha.  When most Hindu's die, they cremate (burn) the body. Sometimes the ashes are put into the Ganges.

Caste System
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