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Hinduism is an Indian religion and dharma, or way of life. [note 1] [note 2] It is the world's third-largest religion with over 1.25 billion followers, or 15–16% of the global population, known as Hindus. [web 1] [web 2] The word Hindu is an exonym,   and while Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, [note 3] many practitioners refer to their religion as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal way" which refers to the idea that its origins lie beyond human history, as revealed in the Hindu texts.     [note 4] Another, though less fitting,  self-designation is Vaidika dharma,     the 'dharma related to the Vedas.' [web 3]
Hinduism includes a range of philosophies, and is linked by shared concepts, recognisable rituals, cosmology, pilgrimage to sacred sites and shared textual resources that discuss theology, philosophy, mythology, Vedic yajna, Yoga, agamic rituals, and temple building, among other topics.  Hinduism prescribes the eternal duties, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings ( ahimsā), patience, forbearance, self-restraint, virtue, and compassion, among others. [web 4]  Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include the four Puruṣārthas, the proper goals or aims of human life; namely, Dharma (ethics/duties), Artha (prosperity/work), Kama (desires/passions) and Moksha (liberation/freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth/salvation),   as well as karma (action, intent and consequences) and Saṃsāra (cycle of death and rebirth).  
Hindu practices include rituals such as pujā (worship) and recitations, japa, meditation ( dhyāna), family-oriented rites of passage, annual festivals, and occasional pilgrimages. Along with the practice of various Yogas, some Hindus leave their social world and material possessions and engage in lifelong Sannyasa (monasticism) in order to achieve Moksha. 
Hindu texts are classified into Śruti ("heard") and Smṛti ("remembered"), the major scriptures of which are the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Purānas, the Mahābhārata, the Rāmāyana, and the Āgamas.   There are six āstika schools of Hindu philosophy, who recognise the authority of the Vedas, namely Sānkhya, Yoga, Nyāya, Vaisheshika, Mimāmsā and Vedānta.   
While the Puranic chronology presents a geneaology of thousands of years, starting with the Vedic rishis, scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion [note 5] or synthesis  [note 6] of Brahmanical orthopraxy [note 7] with various Indian cultures,  [note 8] having diverse roots  [note 9] and no specific founder.  This Hindu synthesis emerged after the Vedic period, between ca. 500 –200  BCE and c. 300 CE,  in the period of the Second Urbanisation and the early classical period of Hinduism, when the Epics and the first Purānas were composed.   It flourished in the medieval period, with the decline of Buddhism in India. 
Currently, the four largest denominations of Hinduism are the Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism.  Sources of authority and eternal truths in the Hindu texts play an important role, but there is also a strong Hindu tradition of questioning authority in order to deepen the understanding of these truths and to further develop the tradition.  Hinduism is the most widely professed faith in India, Nepal and Mauritius. Significant numbers of Hindu communities are found in Southeast Asia including in Bali, Indonesia,  the Caribbean, North America, Europe, Oceania, Africa, and other regions.  
The use of the English term "Hinduism" to describe a collection of practices and beliefs is a fairly recent construction: it was first used by Raja Ram Mohun Roy in 1816–17.  The term "Hinduism" was coined in around 1830 by those Indians who opposed British colonialism, and who wanted to distinguish themselves from other religious groups.    Before the British began to categorise communities strictly by religion, Indians generally did not define themselves exclusively through their religious beliefs; instead identities were largely segmented on the basis of locality, language, varna, jāti, occupation and sect. 
The word "Hindu" is much older, and it is believed that it was used as the name for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent.   [note 10] According to Gavin Flood, "The actual term Hindu first occurs as a Persian geographical term for the people who lived beyond the river Indus (Sanskrit: Sindhu)",  more specifically in the 6th-century BCE inscription of Darius I (550–486 BCE).  The term Hindu in these ancient records is a geographical term and did not refer to a religion.  Among the earliest known records of 'Hindu' with connotations of religion may be in the 7th-century CE Chinese text Record of the Western Regions by Xuanzang,  and 14th-century Persian text Futuhu's-salatin by 'Abd al-Malik Isami. [note 11]
Thapar states that the word Hindu is found as heptahindu in Avesta – equivalent to Rigvedic sapta sindhu, while hndstn (pronounced Hindustan) is found in a Sasanian inscription from the 3rd century CE, both of which refer to parts of northwestern South Asia.  The Arabic term al-Hind referred to the people who live across the River Indus.  This Arabic term was itself taken from the pre-Islamic Persian term Hindū, which refers to all Indians. By the 13th century, Hindustan emerged as a popular alternative name of India, meaning the "land of Hindus".  [note 12]
The term Hindu was later used occasionally in some Sanskrit texts such as the later Rajataranginis of Kashmir (Hinduka, c. 1450) and some 16th- to 18th-century Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava texts including Chaitanya Charitamrita and Chaitanya Bhagavata. These texts used it to distinguish Hindus from Muslims who are called Yavanas (foreigners) or Mlecchas (barbarians), with the 16th-century Chaitanya Charitamrita text and the 17th-century Bhakta Mala text using the phrase "Hindu dharma".  It was only towards the end of the 18th century that European merchants and colonists began to refer to the followers of Indian religions collectively as Hindus.
The term Hinduism, then spelled Hindooism, was introduced into the English language in the 18th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India. 
Hinduism includes a diversity of ideas on spirituality and traditions, but has no ecclesiastical order, no unquestionable religious authorities, no governing body, no prophet(s) nor any binding holy book; Hindus can choose to be polytheistic, pantheistic, panentheistic, pandeistic, henotheistic, monotheistic, monistic, agnostic, atheistic or humanist.    According to Doniger, "ideas about all the major issues of faith and lifestyle - vegetarianism, nonviolence, belief in rebirth, even caste - are subjects of debate, not dogma." 
Because of the wide range of traditions and ideas covered by the term Hinduism, arriving at a comprehensive definition is difficult.  The religion "defies our desire to define and categorize it".  Hinduism has been variously defined as a religion, a religious tradition, a set of religious beliefs, and "a way of life".  [note 1] From a Western lexical standpoint, Hinduism like other faiths is appropriately referred to as a religion. In India, the term dharma is preferred, which is broader than the Western term religion.
The study of India and its cultures and religions, and the definition of "Hinduism", has been shaped by the interests of colonialism and by Western notions of religion.   Since the 1990s, those influences and its outcomes have been the topic of debate among scholars of Hinduism,  [note 13] and have also been taken over by critics of the Western view on India.  [note 14]
Hinduism as it is commonly known can be subdivided into a number of major currents. Of the historical division into six darsanas (philosophies), two schools, Vedanta and Yoga, are currently the most prominent.  Classified by primary deity or deities, four major Hinduism modern currents are Vaishnavism (Vishnu), Shaivism (Shiva), Shaktism (Devi) and Smartism (five deities treated as same).   Hinduism also accepts numerous divine beings, with many Hindus considering the deities to be aspects or manifestations of a single impersonal absolute or ultimate reality or God, while some Hindus maintain that a specific deity represents the supreme and various deities are lower manifestations of this supreme.  Other notable characteristics include a belief in the existence of ātman (soul, self), reincarnation of one's ātman, and karma as well as a belief in dharma (duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and right way of living).
McDaniel (2007) classifies Hinduism into six major kinds and numerous minor kinds, in order to understand the expression of emotions among the Hindus.  The major kinds, according to McDaniel are Folk Hinduism, based on local traditions and cults of local deities and is the oldest, non-literate system; Vedic Hinduism based on the earliest layers of the Vedas traceable to 2nd millennium BCE; Vedantic Hinduism based on the philosophy of the Upanishads, including Advaita Vedanta, emphasizing knowledge and wisdom; Yogic Hinduism, following the text of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali emphasizing introspective awareness; Dharmic Hinduism or "daily morality", which McDaniel states is stereotyped in some books as the "only form of Hindu religion with a belief in karma, cows and caste"; and Bhakti or devotional Hinduism, where intense emotions are elaborately incorporated in the pursuit of the spiritual. 
Michaels distinguishes three Hindu religions and four forms of Hindu religiosity.  The three Hindu religions are "Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism", "folk religions and tribal religions", and "founded religions".  The four forms of Hindu religiosity are the classical "karma-marga",  jnana-marga,  bhakti-marga,  and "heroism", which is rooted in militaristic traditions, such as Ramaism and parts of political Hinduism.  This is also called virya-marga.  According to Michaels, one out of nine Hindu belongs by birth to one or both of the Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism and Folk religion typology, whether practicing or non-practicing. He classifies most Hindus as belonging by choice to one of the "founded religions" such as Vaishnavism and Shaivism that are salvation-focussed and often de-emphasize Brahman priestly authority yet incorporate ritual grammar of Brahmanic-Sanskritic Hinduism.  He includes among "founded religions" Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism that are now distinct religions, syncretic movements such as Brahmo Samaj and the Theosophical Society, as well as various "Guru-isms" and new religious movements such as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and ISKCON. 
Inden states that the attempt to classify Hinduism by typology started in the imperial times, when proselytizing missionaries and colonial officials sought to understand and portray Hinduism from their interests.  Hinduism was construed as emanating not from a reason of spirit but fantasy and creative imagination, not conceptual but symbolical, not ethical but emotive, not rational or spiritual but of cognitive mysticism. This stereotype followed and fit, states Inden, with the imperial imperatives of the era, providing the moral justification for the colonial project.  From tribal Animism to Buddhism, everything was subsumed as part of Hinduism. The early reports set the tradition and scholarly premises for the typology of Hinduism, as well as the major assumptions and flawed presuppositions that have been at the foundation of Indology. Hinduism, according to Inden, has been neither what imperial religionists stereotyped it to be, nor is it appropriate to equate Hinduism to be merely monist pantheism and philosophical idealism of Advaita Vedanta. 
To its adherents, Hinduism is a traditional way of life.  Many practitioners refer to the "orthodox" form of Hinduism as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal law" or the "eternal way".   Hindus regard Hinduism to be thousands of years old. The Puranic chronology, the timeline of events in ancient Indian history as narrated in the Mahabaratha, the Ramayana, and the Puranas, envisions a chronology of events related to Hinduism starting well before 3000 BCE. The Sanskrit word dharma has a much broader meaning than religion and is not its equivalent. All aspects of a Hindu life, namely acquiring wealth (artha), fulfillment of desires (kama), and attaining liberation (moksha), are part of dharma, which encapsulates the "right way of living" and eternal harmonious principles in their fulfillment.  
According to the editors of the Encyclopædia Britannica, Sanātana Dharma historically referred to the "eternal" duties religiously ordained in Hinduism, duties such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings ( ahimsa), purity, goodwill, mercy, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, generosity, and asceticism. These duties applied regardless of a Hindu's class, caste, or sect, and they contrasted with svadharma, one's "own duty", in accordance with one's class or caste ( varna) and stage in life ( puruṣārtha). [web 4] In recent years, the term has been used by Hindu leaders, reformers, and nationalists to refer to Hinduism. Sanatana dharma has become a synonym for the "eternal" truth and teachings of Hinduism, that transcend history and are "unchanging, indivisible and ultimately nonsectarian". [web 4]
According to other scholars such as Kim Knott and Brian Hatcher, Sanātana Dharma refers to "timeless, eternal set of truths" and this is how Hindus view the origins of their religion. It is viewed as those eternal truths and tradition with origins beyond human history, truths divinely revealed ( Shruti) in the Vedas – the most ancient of the world's scriptures.   To many Hindus, the Western term "religion" to the extent it means "dogma and an institution traceable to a single founder" is inappropriate for their tradition, states Hatcher. Hinduism, to them, is a tradition that can be traced at least to the ancient Vedic era.   [note 15]
Some have referred to Hinduism as the Vaidika dharma.  The word 'Vaidika' in Sanskrit means 'derived from or conformable to the Veda' or 'relating to the Veda'. [web 3] Traditional scholars employed the terms Vaidika and Avaidika, those who accept the Vedas as a source of authoritative knowledge and those who do not, to differentiate various Indian schools from Jainism, Buddhism and Charvaka. According to Klaus Klostermaier, the term Vaidika dharma is the earliest self-designation of Hinduism.   According to Arvind Sharma, the historical evidence suggests that "the Hindus were referring to their religion by the term vaidika dharma or a variant thereof" by the 4th-century CE.  According to Brian K. Smith "[i]t is 'debatable at the very least' as to whether the term Vaidika Dharma cannot, with the proper concessions to historical, cultural and ideological specificity, be comparable to and translated as 'Hinduism' or 'Hindu religion'." 
According to Alexis Sanderson, the early Sanskrit texts differentiate between Vaidika, Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shakta, Saura, Buddhist and Jaina traditions. However, the late 1st-millennium CE Indic consensus had "indeed come to conceptualize a complex entity corresponding to Hinduism as opposed to Buddhism and Jainism excluding only certain forms of antinomian Shakta-Shaiva" from its fold.  Some in the Mimamsa school of Hindu philosophy considered the Agamas such as the Pancaratrika to be invalid because it did not conform to the Vedas. Some Kashmiri scholars rejected the esoteric tantric traditions to be a part of Vaidika dharma.   The Atimarga Shaivism ascetic tradition, datable to about 500 CE, challenged the Vaidika frame and insisted that their Agamas and practices were not only valid, they were superior than those of the Vaidikas.  However, adds Sanderson, this Shaiva ascetic tradition viewed themselves as being genuinely true to the Vedic tradition and "held unanimously that the Śruti and Smṛti of Brahmanism are universally and uniquely valid in their own sphere, [...] and that as such they [Vedas] are man's sole means of valid knowledge [...]". 
The term Vaidika dharma means a code of practice that is "based on the Vedas", but it is unclear what "based on the Vedas" really implies, states Julius Lipner.  The Vaidika dharma or "Vedic way of life", states Lipner, does not mean "Hinduism is necessarily religious" or that Hindus have a universally accepted "conventional or institutional meaning" for that term.  To many, it is as much a cultural term. Many Hindus do not have a copy of the Vedas nor have they ever seen or personally read parts of a Veda, like a Christian, might relate to the Bible or a Muslim might to the Quran. Yet, states Lipner, "this does not mean that their [Hindus] whole life's orientation cannot be traced to the Vedas or that it does not in some way derive from it". 
Though many religious Hindus implicitly acknowledge the authority of the Vedas, this acknowledgment is often "no more than a declaration that someone considers himself [or herself] a Hindu,"  [note 16] and "most Indians today pay lip service to the Veda and have no regard for the contents of the text."  Some Hindus challenge the authority of the Vedas, thereby implicitly acknowledging its importance to the history of Hinduism, states Lipner. 
Beginning in the 19th century, Indian modernists re-asserted Hinduism as a major asset of Indian civilisation,  meanwhile "purifying" Hinduism from its Tantric elements  and elevating the Vedic elements. Western stereotypes were reversed, emphasizing the universal aspects, and introducing modern approaches of social problems.  This approach had a great appeal, not only in India, but also in the west.  Major representatives of "Hindu modernism"  are Raja Rammohan Roy, Vivekananda, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Mahatma Gandhi. 
Raja Rammohan Roy is known as the father of the Hindu Renaissance.  He was a major influence on Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902), who, according to Flood, was "a figure of great importance in the development of a modern Hindu self-understanding and in formulating the West's view of Hinduism".  Central to his philosophy is the idea that the divine exists in all beings, that all human beings can achieve union with this "innate divinity",  and that seeing this divine as the essence of others will further love and social harmony.  According to Vivekananda, there is an essential unity to Hinduism, which underlies the diversity of its many forms.  According to Flood, Vivekananda's vision of Hinduism "is one generally accepted by most English-speaking middle-class Hindus today".  Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan sought to reconcile western rationalism with Hinduism, "presenting Hinduism as an essentially rationalistic and humanistic religious experience". 
This "Global Hinduism"  has a worldwide appeal, transcending national boundaries  and, according to Flood, "becoming a world religion alongside Christianity, Islam and Buddhism",  both for the Hindu diaspora communities and for westerners who are attracted to non-western cultures and religions.  It emphasizes universal spiritual values such as social justice, peace and "the spiritual transformation of humanity".  It has developed partly due to "re-enculturation",  or the Pizza effect,  in which elements of Hindu culture have been exported to the West, gaining popularity there, and as a consequence also gained greater popularity in India.  This globalization of Hindu culture brought "to the West teachings which have become an important cultural force in western societies, and which in turn have become an important cultural force in India, their place of origin". 
The definition of Hinduism in Indian Law is: "Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshipped is large".  
The term Hinduism was coined in Western ethnography in the 18th century,  [note 17] and refers to the fusion [note 5] or synthesis [note 6]  of various Indian cultures and traditions,  [note 8] with diverse roots  [note 9] and no founder.  This Hindu synthesis emerged after the Vedic period, between c. 500 –200  BCE and c. 300 CE,  in the period of the Second Urbanisation and the early classical period of Hinduism, when the Epics and the first Puranas were composed.   It flourished in the medieval period, with the decline of Buddhism in India.  Hinduism's tolerance to variations in belief and its broad range of traditions make it difficult to define as a religion according to traditional Western conceptions. 
Some academics suggest that Hinduism can be seen as a category with "fuzzy edges" rather than as a well-defined and rigid entity. Some forms of religious expression are central to Hinduism and others, while not as central, still remain within the category. Based on this idea Ferro-Luzzi has developed a 'Prototype Theory approach' to the definition of Hinduism. 
Diversity and unity
Hindu beliefs are vast and diverse, and thus Hinduism is often referred to as a family of religions rather than a single religion.  Within each religion in this family of religions, there are different theologies, practices, and sacred texts. This diversity has led to an array of descriptions for Hinduism. It has been described as henotheism,  monism,   polytheism, panentheism,  and monotheism.  Hinduism does not have a "unified system of belief encoded in a declaration of faith or a creed",  but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena of India.  According to the Supreme Court of India,
Unlike other religions in the World, the Hindu religion does not claim any one Prophet, it does not worship any one God, it does not believe in any one philosophic concept, it does not follow any one act of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not satisfy the traditional features of a religion or creed. It is a way of life and nothing more". 
Part of the problem with a single definition of the term Hinduism is the fact that Hinduism does not have a founder.  It is a synthesis of various traditions,  the "Brahmanical orthopraxy, the renouncer traditions and popular or local traditions". 
Sense of unity
Despite the differences, there is also a sense of unity.  Most Hindu traditions revere a body of religious or sacred literature, the Vedas,  although there are exceptions.  These texts are a reminder of the ancient cultural heritage and point of pride for Hindus,   with Louis Renou stating that "even in the most orthodox domains, the reverence to the Vedas has come to be a simple raising of the hat".  
Halbfass states that, although Shaivism and Vaishnavism may be regarded as "self-contained religious constellations",  there is a degree of interaction and reference between the "theoreticians and literary representatives"  of each tradition that indicates the presence of "a wider sense of identity, a sense of coherence in a shared context and of inclusion in a common framework and horizon". 
Brahmins played an essential role in the development of the post-Vedic Hindu synthesis, disseminating Vedic culture to local communities, and integrating local religiosity into the trans-regional Brahmanic culture.  In the post- Gupta period Vedanta developed in southern India, where orthodox Brahmanic culture and the Hindu culture were preserved,  building on ancient Vedic traditions while "accommoda[ting] the multiple demands of Hinduism." 
The notion of common denominators for several religions and traditions of India further developed from the 12th century CE.  Lorenzen traces the emergence of a "family resemblance", and what he calls as "beginnings of medieval and modern Hinduism" taking shape, at c. 300–600 CE, with the development of the early Puranas, and continuities with the earlier Vedic religion.  Lorenzen states that the establishment of a Hindu self-identity took place "through a process of mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim Other".  According to Lorenzen, this "presence of the Other"  is necessary to recognise the "loose family resemblance" among the various traditions and schools. 
According to the Indologist Alexis Sanderson, before Islam arrived in India, the "Sanskrit sources differentiated Vaidika, Vaiṣṇava, Śaiva, Śākta, Saura, Buddhist, and Jaina traditions, but they had no name that denotes the first five of these as a collective entity over and against Buddhism and Jainism". This absence of a formal name, states Sanderson, does not mean that the corresponding concept of Hinduism did not exist. By late 1st-millennium CE, the concept of a belief and tradition distinct from Buddhism and Jainism had emerged.  This complex tradition accepted in its identity almost all of what is currently Hinduism, except certain antinomian tantric movements.  Some conservative thinkers of those times questioned whether certain Shaiva, Vaishnava and Shakta texts or practices were consistent with the Vedas, or were invalid in their entirety. Moderates then, and most orthoprax scholars later, agreed that though there are some variations, the foundation of their beliefs, the ritual grammar, the spiritual premises, and the soteriologies were the same. "This sense of greater unity", states Sanderson, "came to be called Hinduism". 
According to Nicholson, already between the 12th and the 16th centuries "certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophical teachings of the Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as the 'six systems' (saddarsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy."  The tendency of "a blurring of philosophical distinctions" has also been noted by Burley.  Hacker called this "inclusivism"  and Michaels speaks of "the identificatory habit".  Lorenzen locates the origins of a distinct Hindu identity in the interaction between Muslims and Hindus,  and a process of "mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim other",  [note 18] which started well before 1800.  Michaels notes:
As a counteraction to Islamic supremacy and as part of the continuing process of regionalization, two religious innovations developed in the Hindu religions: the formation of sects and a historicization which preceded later nationalism ... [S]aints and sometimes militant sect leaders, such as the Marathi poet Tukaram (1609–1649) and Ramdas (1608–1681), articulated ideas in which they glorified Hinduism and the past. The Brahmins also produced increasingly historical texts, especially eulogies and chronicles of sacred sites (Mahatmyas), or developed a reflexive passion for collecting and compiling extensive collections of quotations on various subjects. 
Colonial period and neo-Vedanta
The notion and reports on "Hinduism" as a "single world religious tradition"  was also popularised by 19th-century proselytizing missionaries and European Indologists, roles sometimes served by the same person, who relied on texts preserved by Brahmins (priests) for their information of Indian religions, and animist observations that the missionary Orientalists presumed was Hinduism.    These reports influenced perceptions about Hinduism. Some scholars[ weasel words] state that the colonial polemical reports led to fabricated stereotypes where Hinduism was mere mystic paganism devoted to the service of devils, [note 19] while other scholars state that the colonial constructions influenced the belief that the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, Manusmriti and such texts were the essence of Hindu religiosity, and in the modern association of 'Hindu doctrine' with the schools of Vedanta (in particular Advaita Vedanta) as a paradigmatic example of Hinduism's mystical nature".  [note 20] Pennington, while concurring that the study of Hinduism as a world religion began in the colonial era, disagrees that Hinduism is a colonial European era invention.  He states that the shared theology, common ritual grammar and way of life of those who identify themselves as Hindus is traceable to ancient times.  [note 21]
The HIndutva-movement has extensively argued for the unity of Hinduism, dismissing the differences and regarding India as a Hindu-country since ancient times.
Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include (but are not restricted to) Dharma (ethics/duties), Samsāra (the continuing cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth), Karma (action, intent, and consequences), Moksha (liberation from samsara or liberation in this life), and the various Yogas (paths or practices). 
Purusharthas (objectives of human life)
Dharma (righteousness, ethics)
Dharma is considered the foremost goal of a human being in Hinduism.  The concept Dharma includes behaviors that are considered to be in accord with rta, the order that makes life and universe possible,  and includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and "right way of living".  Hindu Dharma includes the religious duties, moral rights and duties of each individual, as well as behaviors that enable social order, right conduct, and those that are virtuous.  Dharma, according to Van Buitenen,  is that which all existing beings must accept and respect to sustain harmony and order in the world. It is, states Van Buitenen, the pursuit and execution of one's nature and true calling, thus playing one's role in cosmic concert.  The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad states it as:
Nothing is higher than Dharma. The weak overcomes the stronger by Dharma, as over a king. Truly that Dharma is the Truth (Satya); Therefore, when a man speaks the Truth, they say, "He speaks the Dharma"; and if he speaks Dharma, they say, "He speaks the Truth!" For both are one.
In the Mahabharata, Krishna defines dharma as upholding both this-worldly and other-worldly affairs. (Mbh 12.110.11). The word Sanātana means eternal, perennial, or forever; thus, Sanātana Dharma signifies that it is the dharma that has neither beginning nor end. 
Artha (livelihood, wealth)
Artha is objective and virtuous pursuit of wealth for livelihood, obligations, and economic prosperity. It is inclusive of political life, diplomacy, and material well-being. The Artha concept includes all "means of life", activities and resources that enables one to be in a state one wants to be in, wealth, career and financial security.  The proper pursuit of artha is considered an important aim of human life in Hinduism.  
Kāma (sensual pleasure)
Kāma ( Sanskrit, Pali; Devanagari: काम) means desire, wish, passion, longing, pleasure of the senses, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love, with or without sexual connotations.   In Hinduism, Kama is considered an essential and healthy goal of human life when pursued without sacrificing Dharma, Artha and Moksha. 
Mokṣa (liberation, freedom from samsara)
Moksha ( Sanskrit: मोक्ष mokṣa) or mukti ( Sanskrit: मुक्ति) is the ultimate, most important goal in Hinduism. In one sense, Moksha is a concept associated with liberation from sorrow, suffering and saṃsāra (birth-rebirth cycle). A release from this eschatological cycle, in after life, particularly in theistic schools of Hinduism is called moksha.   In other schools of Hinduism, such as monistic, moksha is a goal achievable in current life, as a state of bliss through self-realization, of comprehending the nature of one's soul, of freedom and of "realizing the whole universe as the Self".  
Karma and samsara
Karma translates literally as action, work, or deed,  and also refers to a Vedic theory of "moral law of cause and effect".   The theory is a combination of (1) causality that may be ethical or non-ethical; (2) ethicization, that is good or bad actions have consequences; and (3) rebirth.  Karma theory is interpreted as explaining the present circumstances of an individual with reference to his or her actions in the past. These actions and their consequences may be in a person's current life, or, according to some schools of Hinduism, in past lives.   This cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth is called samsara. Liberation from samsara through moksha is believed to ensure lasting happiness and peace.   Hindu scriptures teach that the future is both a function of current human effort derived from free will and past human actions that set the circumstances. 
The ultimate goal of life, referred to as moksha, nirvana or samadhi, is understood in several different ways: as the realization of one's union with God; as the realization of one's eternal relationship with God; realization of the unity of all existence; perfect unselfishness and knowledge of the Self; as the attainment of perfect mental peace; and as detachment from worldly desires. Such realization liberates one from samsara, thereby ending the cycle of rebirth, sorrow and suffering.   Due to belief in the indestructibility of the soul,  death is deemed insignificant with respect to the cosmic self. 
The meaning of moksha differs among the various Hindu schools of thought. For example, Advaita Vedanta holds that after attaining moksha a person knows their "soul, self" and identifies it as one with Brahman and everyone in all respects.   The followers of Dvaita (dualistic) schools, in moksha state, identify individual "soul, self" as distinct from Brahman but infinitesimally close, and after attaining moksha expect to spend eternity in a loka (heaven). To theistic schools of Hinduism, moksha is liberation from samsara, while for other schools such as the monistic school, moksha is possible in current life and is a psychological concept. According to Deutsche, moksha is transcendental consciousness to the latter, the perfect state of being, of self-realization, of freedom and of "realizing the whole universe as the Self".   Moksha in these schools of Hinduism, suggests Klaus Klostermaier,  implies a setting free of hitherto fettered faculties, a removing of obstacles to an unrestricted life, permitting a person to be more truly a person in the full sense; the concept presumes an unused human potential of creativity, compassion and understanding which had been blocked and shut out. Moksha is more than liberation from life-rebirth cycle of suffering (samsara); Vedantic school separates this into two: jivanmukti (liberation in this life) and videhamukti (liberation after death).  
Concept of God
Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, pandeism, monism, and atheism among others;   [web 5] and its concept of God is complex and depends upon each individual and the tradition and philosophy followed. It is sometimes referred to as henotheistic (i.e., involving devotion to a single god while accepting the existence of others), but any such term is an overgeneralization. 
Who really knows?
Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen?
The Nasadiya Sukta (Creation Hymn) of the Rig Veda is one of the earliest texts  which "demonstrates a sense of metaphysical speculation" about what created the universe, the concept of god(s) and The One, and whether even The One knows how the universe came into being.   The Rig Veda praises various deities, none superior nor inferior, in a henotheistic manner.  The hymns repeatedly refer to One Truth and Reality. The "One Truth" of Vedic literature, in modern era scholarship, has been interpreted as monotheism, monism, as well as a deified Hidden Principles behind the great happenings and processes of nature. 
Hindus believe that all living creatures have a soul. This soul – the spirit or true "self" of every person, is called the ātman. The soul is believed to be eternal.  According to the monistic/pantheistic ( non-dualist) theologies of Hinduism (such as Advaita Vedanta school), this Atman is indistinct from Brahman, the supreme spirit.  The goal of life, according to the Advaita school, is to realise that one's soul is identical to supreme soul, that the supreme soul is present in everything and everyone, all life is interconnected and there is oneness in all life.    Dualistic schools (see Dvaita and Bhakti) understand Brahman as a Supreme Being separate from individual souls.  They worship the Supreme Being variously as Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti, depending upon the sect. God is called Ishvara, Bhagavan, Parameshwara, Deva or Devi, and these terms have different meanings in different schools of Hinduism.   
Hindu texts accept a polytheistic framework, but this is generally conceptualized as the divine essence or luminosity that gives vitality and animation to the inanimate natural substances.  There is a divine in everything, human beings, animals, trees and rivers. It is observable in offerings to rivers, trees, tools of one's work, animals and birds, rising sun, friends and guests, teachers and parents.    It is the divine in these that makes each sacred and worthy of reverence. This seeing divinity in everything, state Buttimer and Wallin, makes the Vedic foundations of Hinduism quite distinct from Animism.  The animistic premise sees multiplicity, power differences and competition between man and man, man and animal, as well as man and nature. The Vedic view does not see this competition, rather sees a unifying divinity that connects everyone and everything.   
The Hindu scriptures refer to celestial entities called Devas (or devī in feminine form; devatā used synonymously for Deva in Hindi), which may be translated into English as gods or heavenly beings. [note 22] The devas are an integral part of Hindu culture and are depicted in art, architecture and through icons, and stories about them are related in the scriptures, particularly in Indian epic poetry and the Puranas. They are, however, often distinguished from Ishvara, a personal god, with many Hindus worshipping Ishvara in one of its particular manifestations as their iṣṭa devatā, or chosen ideal.   The choice is a matter of individual preference,  and of regional and family traditions.  [note 23] The multitude of Devas are considered as manifestations of Brahman. [note 24]
The word avatar does not appear in the Vedic literature,  but appears in verb forms in post-Vedic literature, and as a noun particularly in the Puranic literature after the 6th century CE.  Theologically, the reincarnation idea is most often associated with the avatars of Hindu god Vishnu, though the idea has been applied to other deities.  Varying lists of avatars of Vishnu appear in Hindu scriptures, including the ten Dashavatara of the Garuda Purana and the twenty-two avatars in the Bhagavata Purana, though the latter adds that the incarnations of Vishnu are innumerable.  The avatars of Vishnu are important in Vaishnavism theology. In the goddess-based Shaktism tradition of Hinduism, avatars of the Devi are found and all goddesses are considered to be different aspects of the same metaphysical Brahman  and Shakti (energy).   While avatars of other deities such as Ganesha and Shiva are also mentioned in medieval Hindu texts, this is minor and occasional. 
Both theistic and atheistic ideas, for epistemological and metaphysical reasons, are profuse in different schools of Hinduism. The early Nyaya school of Hinduism, for example, was non-theist/atheist,  but later Nyaya school scholars argued that God exists and offered proofs using its theory of logic.   Other schools disagreed with Nyaya scholars. Samkhya,  Mimamsa  [note 25] and Carvaka schools of Hinduism, were non-theist/atheist, arguing that "God was an unnecessary metaphysical assumption".  [web 6]  Its Vaisheshika school started as another non-theistic tradition relying on naturalism and that all matter is eternal, but it later introduced the concept of a non-creator God.   The Yoga school of Hinduism accepted the concept of a "personal god" and left it to the Hindu to define his or her god.  Advaita Vedanta taught a monistic, abstract Self and Oneness in everything, with no room for gods or deity, a perspective that Mohanty calls, "spiritual, not religious".  Bhakti sub-schools of Vedanta taught a creator God that is distinct from each human being. 
According to Graham Schweig, Hinduism has the strongest presence of the divine feminine in world religion from ancient times to the present.  The goddess is viewed as the heart of the most esoteric Saiva traditions. 
Authority and eternal truths play an important role in Hinduism.  Religious traditions and truths are believed to be contained in its sacred texts, which are accessed and taught by sages, gurus, saints or avatars.  But there is also a strong tradition of the questioning of authority, internal debate and challenging of religious texts in Hinduism. The Hindus believe that this deepens the understanding of the eternal truths and further develops the tradition. Authority "was mediated through [...] an intellectual culture that tended to develop ideas collaboratively, and according to the shared logic of natural reason."  Narratives in the Upanishads present characters questioning persons of authority.  The Kena Upanishad repeatedly asks kena, 'by what' power something is the case.  The Katha Upanishad and Bhagavad Gita present narratives where the student criticizes the teacher's inferior answers.  In the Shiva Purana, Shiva questions Vishnu and Brahma.  Doubt plays a repeated role in the Mahabharata.  Jayadeva's Gita Govinda presents criticism via the character of Radha. 
Hinduism has no central doctrinal authority and many practising Hindus do not claim to belong to any particular denomination or tradition.  Four major denominations are, however, used in scholarly studies: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism.   These denominations differ primarily in the central deity worshipped, the traditions and the soteriological outlook.  The denominations of Hinduism, states Lipner, are unlike those found in major religions of the world, because Hindu denominations are fuzzy with individuals practicing more than one, and he suggests the term "Hindu polycentrism". 
Vaishnavism is the devotional religious tradition that worships Vishnu  and his avatars, particularly Krishna and Rama.  The adherents of this sect are generally non-ascetic, monastic, oriented towards community events and devotionalism practices inspired by "intimate loving, joyous, playful" Krishna and other Vishnu avatars.  These practices sometimes include community dancing, singing of Kirtans and Bhajans, with sound and music believed by some to have meditative and spiritual powers.  Temple worship and festivals are typically elaborate in Vaishnavism.  The Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana, along with Vishnu-oriented Puranas provide its theistic foundations.  Philosophically, their beliefs are rooted in the dualism sub-schools of Vedantic Hinduism.  
Shaivism is the tradition that focuses on Shiva. Shaivas are more attracted to ascetic individualism, and it has several sub-schools.  Their practices include Bhakti-style devotionalism, yet their beliefs lean towards nondual, monistic schools of Hinduism such as Advaita and Yoga.   Some Shaivas worship in temples, while others emphasize yoga, striving to be one with Shiva within.  Avatars are uncommon, and some Shaivas visualize god as half male, half female, as a fusion of the male and female principles ( Ardhanarishvara). Shaivism is related to Shaktism, wherein Shakti is seen as spouse of Shiva.  Community celebrations include festivals, and participation, with Vaishnavas, in pilgrimages such as the Kumbh Mela.  Shaivism has been more commonly practiced in the Himalayan north from Kashmir to Nepal, and in south India. 
Shaktism focuses on goddess worship of Shakti or Devi as cosmic mother,  and it is particularly common in northeastern and eastern states of India such as Assam and Bengal. Devi is depicted as in gentler forms like Parvati, the consort of Shiva; or, as fierce warrior goddesses like Kali and Durga. Followers of Shaktism recognize Shakti as the power that underlies the male principle. Shaktism is also associated with Tantra practices.  Community celebrations include festivals, some of which include processions and idol immersion into sea or other water bodies. 
Smartism centers its worship simultaneously on all the major Hindu deities: Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganesha, Surya and Skanda.  The Smarta tradition developed during the (early) Classical Period of Hinduism around the beginning of the Common Era, when Hinduism emerged from the interaction between Brahmanism and local traditions.   The Smarta tradition is aligned with Advaita Vedanta, and regards Adi Shankara as its founder or reformer, who considered worship of God-with-attributes ( Saguna Brahman) as a journey towards ultimately realizing God-without-attributes (nirguna Brahman, Atman, Self-knowledge).   The term Smartism is derived from Smriti texts of Hinduism, meaning those who remember the traditions in the texts.   This Hindu sect practices a philosophical Jnana yoga, scriptural studies, reflection, meditative path seeking an understanding of Self's oneness with God.  
There are no census data available on demographic history or trends for the traditions within Hinduism.  Estimates vary on the relative number of adherents in the different traditions of Hinduism. According to a 2010 estimate by Johnson and Grim, the Vaishnavism tradition is the largest group with about 641 million or 67.6% of Hindus, followed by Shaivism with 252 million or 26.6%, Shaktism with 30 million or 3.2% and other traditions including Neo-Hinduism and Reform Hinduism with 25 million or 2.6%.  In contrast, according to Jones and Ryan, Shaivism is the largest tradition of Hinduism. 
The ancient scriptures of Hinduism are in Sanskrit. These texts are classified into two: Shruti and Smriti. Shruti is apauruṣeyā, "not made of a man" but revealed to the rishis (seers), and regarded as having the highest authority, while the smriti are manmade and have secondary authority.  They are the two highest sources of dharma, the other two being Śiṣṭa Āchāra/Sadāchara (conduct of noble people) and finally Ātma tuṣṭi ("what is pleasing to oneself") [note 26]
Hindu scriptures were composed, memorized and transmitted verbally, across generations, for many centuries before they were written down.   Over many centuries, sages refined the teachings and expanded the Shruti and Smriti, as well as developed Shastras with epistemological and metaphysical theories of six classical schools of Hinduism.
Shruti (lit. that which is heard)  primarily refers to the Vedas, which form the earliest record of the Hindu scriptures, and are regarded as eternal truths revealed to the ancient sages ( rishis).  There are four Vedas – Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda. Each Veda has been subclassified into four major text types – the Samhitas (mantras and benedictions), the Aranyakas (text on rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices and symbolic-sacrifices), the Brahmanas (commentaries on rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices), and the Upanishads (text discussing meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge).    The first two parts of the Vedas were subsequently called the Karmakāṇḍa (ritualistic portion), while the last two form the Jñānakāṇḍa (knowledge portion, discussing spiritual insight and philosophical teachings).    
The Upanishads are the foundation of Hindu philosophical thought, and have profoundly influenced diverse traditions.   Of the Shrutis (Vedic corpus), they alone are widely influential among Hindus, considered scriptures par excellence of Hinduism, and their central ideas have continued to influence its thoughts and traditions.   Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan states that the Upanishads have played a dominating role ever since their appearance.  There are 108 Muktikā Upanishads in Hinduism, of which between 10 and 13 are variously counted by scholars as Principal Upanishads.   The most notable of the Smritis ("remembered") are the Hindu epics and the Puranas. The epics consist of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The Bhagavad Gita is an integral part of the Mahabharata and one of the most popular sacred texts of Hinduism.  It is sometimes called Gitopanishad, then placed in the Shruti ("heard") category, being Upanishadic in content.  The Puranas, which started to be composed from c. 300 CE onward,  contain extensive mythologies, and are central in the distribution of common themes of Hinduism through vivid narratives. The Yoga Sutras is a classical text for the Hindu Yoga tradition, which gained a renewed popularity in the 20th century.  Since the 19th-century Indian modernists have re-asserted the 'Aryan origins' of Hinduism, "purifying" Hinduism from its Tantric elements  and elevating the Vedic elements. Hindu modernists like Vivekananda see the Vedas as the laws of the spiritual world, which would still exist even if they were not revealed to the sages.   In Tantric tradition, the Agamas refer to authoritative scriptures or the teachings of Shiva to Shakti,  while Nigamas refers to the Vedas and the teachings of Shakti to Shiva.  In Agamic schools of Hinduism, the Vedic literature and the Agamas are equally authoritative.  
Most Hindus observe religious rituals at home.  The rituals vary greatly among regions, villages, and individuals. They are not mandatory in Hinduism. The nature and place of rituals is an individual's choice. Some devout Hindus perform daily rituals such as worshiping at dawn after bathing (usually at a family shrine, and typically includes lighting a lamp and offering foodstuffs before the images of deities), recitation from religious scripts, singing devotional hymns, yoga, meditation, chanting mantras and others. 
Vedic rituals of fire-oblation ( yajna) and chanting of Vedic hymns are observed on special occasions, such as a Hindu wedding.  Other major life-stage events, such as rituals after death, include the yajña and chanting of Vedic mantras. [web 7]
The words of the mantras are "themselves sacred,"  and "do not constitute linguistic utterances."  Instead, as Klostermaier notes, in their application in Vedic rituals they become magical sounds, "means to an end." [note 27] In the Brahmanical perspective, the sounds have their own meaning, mantras are considered as "primordial rhythms of creation", preceding the forms to which they refer.  By reciting them the cosmos is regenerated, "by enlivening and nourishing the forms of creation at their base. As long as the purity of the sounds is preserved, the recitation of the mantras will be efficacious, irrespective of whether their discursive meaning is understood by human beings."  [note 25]
Life-cycle rites of passage
Major life stage milestones are celebrated as sanskara (saṃskāra, rites of passage) in Hinduism.   The rites of passage are not mandatory, and vary in details by gender, community and regionally.  Gautama Dharmasutras composed in about the middle of 1st millennium BCE lists 48 sanskaras,  while Gryhasutra and other texts composed centuries later list between 12 and 16 sanskaras.   The list of sanskaras in Hinduism include both external rituals such as those marking a baby's birth and a baby's name giving ceremony, as well as inner rites of resolutions and ethics such as compassion towards all living beings and positive attitude.  The major traditional rites of passage in Hinduism include  Garbhadhana (pregnancy), Pumsavana (rite before the fetus begins moving and kicking in womb), Simantonnayana (parting of pregnant woman's hair, baby shower), Jatakarman (rite celebrating the new born baby), Namakarana (naming the child), Nishkramana (baby's first outing from home into the world), Annaprashana (baby's first feeding of solid food), Chudakarana (baby's first haircut, tonsure), Karnavedha (ear piercing), Vidyarambha (baby's start with knowledge), Upanayana (entry into a school rite),   Keshanta and Ritusuddhi (first shave for boys, menarche for girls), Samavartana (graduation ceremony), Vivaha (wedding), Vratas (fasting, spiritual studies) and Antyeshti (cremation for an adult, burial for a child).  In contemporary times, there is regional variation among Hindus as to which of these sanskaras are observed; in some cases, additional regional rites of passage such as Śrāddha (ritual of feeding people after cremation) are practiced.  [web 8]
Bhakti refers to devotion, participation in and the love of a personal god or a representational god by a devotee. [web 9]  Bhakti marga is considered in Hinduism as one of many possible paths of spirituality and alternative means to moksha.  The other paths, left to the choice of a Hindu, are Jnana marga (path of knowledge), Karma marga (path of works), Rāja marga (path of contemplation and meditation).  
Bhakti is practiced in a number of ways, ranging from reciting mantras, japas (incantations), to individual private prayers within one's home shrine,  or in a temple or near a river bank, sometimes in the presence of an idol or image of a deity.   Hindu temples and domestic altars, states Lynn Foulston, are important elements of worship in contemporary theistic Hinduism.  While many visit a temple on a special occasion, most offer a brief prayer on an everyday basis at the domestic altar.  This bhakti is expressed in a domestic shrine which typically is a dedicated part of the home and includes the images of deities or the gurus the Hindu chooses.  Among Vaishnavism sub-traditions such as Swaminarayan, the home shrines can be elaborate with either a room dedicated to it or a dedicated part of the kitchen. The devotee uses this space for daily prayers or meditation, either before breakfast or after day's work.  
Bhakti is sometimes private inside household shrines and sometimes practiced as a community. It may include Puja, Aarti,  musical Kirtan or singing Bhajan, where devotional verses and hymns are read or poems are sung by a group of devotees. [web 10]  While the choice of the deity is at the discretion of the Hindu, the most observed traditions of Hindu devotionalism include Vaishnavism (Vishnu), Shaivism (Shiva) and Shaktism (Shakti).  A Hindu may worship multiple deities, all as henotheistic manifestations of the same ultimate reality, cosmic spirit and absolute spiritual concept called Brahman in Hinduism.   [note 24] Bhakti marga, states Pechelis, is more than ritual devotionalism, it includes practices and spiritual activities aimed at refining one's state of mind, knowing god, participating in god, and internalizing god.   While Bhakti practices are popular and easily observable aspect of Hinduism, not all Hindus practice Bhakti, or believe in god-with-attributes (saguna Brahman).   Concurrent Hindu practices include a belief in god-without-attributes, and god within oneself.  
Hindu festivals ( Sanskrit: Utsava; literally: "to lift higher") are ceremonies that weave individual and social life to dharma.   Hinduism has many festivals throughout the year, where the dates are set by the lunisolar Hindu calendar, many coinciding with either the full moon (Holi) or the new moon (Diwali), often with seasonal changes.  Some festivals are found only regionally and they celebrate local traditions, while a few such as Holi and Diwali are pan-Hindu.   The festivals typically celebrate events from Hinduism, connoting spiritual themes and celebrating aspects of human relationships such as the Sister-Brother bond over the Raksha Bandhan (or Bhai Dooj) festival.   The same festival sometimes marks different stories depending on the Hindu denomination, and the celebrations incorporate regional themes, traditional agriculture, local arts, family get togethers, Puja rituals and feasts.  
Some major regional or pan-Hindu festivals include:
Many adherents undertake pilgrimages, which have historically been an important part of Hinduism and remain so today.  Pilgrimage sites are called Tirtha, Kshetra, Gopitha or Mahalaya.   The process or journey associated with Tirtha is called Tirtha-yatra.  According to the Hindu text Skanda Purana, Tirtha are of three kinds: Jangam Tirtha is to a place movable of a sadhu, a rishi, a guru; Sthawar Tirtha is to a place immovable, like Benaras, Haridwar, Mount Kailash, holy rivers; while Manas Tirtha is to a place of mind of truth, charity, patience, compassion, soft speech, soul.   Tīrtha-yatra is, states Knut A. Jacobsen, anything that has a salvific value to a Hindu, and includes pilgrimage sites such as mountains or forests or seashore or rivers or ponds, as well as virtues, actions, studies or state of mind.  
Pilgrimage sites of Hinduism are mentioned in the epic Mahabharata and the Puranas.   Most Puranas include large sections on Tirtha Mahatmya along with tourist guides,  which describe sacred sites and places to visit.    In these texts, Varanasi (Benares, Kashi), Rameshwaram, Kanchipuram, Dwarka, Puri, Haridwar, Sri Rangam, Vrindavan, Ayodhya, Tirupati, Mayapur, Nathdwara, twelve Jyotirlinga and Shakti Peetha have been mentioned as particularly holy sites, along with geographies where major rivers meet (sangam) or join the sea.   Kumbhamela is another major pilgrimage on the eve of the solar festival Makar Sankranti. This pilgrimage rotates at a gap of three years among four sites: Prayag Raj at the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, Haridwar near source of the Ganges, Ujjain on the Shipra river and Nasik on the bank of the Godavari river.  This is one of world's largest mass pilgrimage, with an estimated 40 to 100 million people attending the event.   [web 11] At this event, they say a prayer to the sun and bathe in the river,  a tradition attributed to Adi Shankara. 
Some pilgrimages are part of a Vrata (vow), which a Hindu may make for a number of reasons.   It may mark a special occasion, such as the birth of a baby, or as part of a rite of passage such as a baby's first haircut, or after healing from a sickness.   It may, states Eck, also be the result of prayers answered.  An alternative reason for Tirtha, for some Hindus, is to respect wishes or in memory of a beloved person after his or her death.  This may include dispersing their cremation ashes in a Tirtha region in a stream, river or sea to honor the wishes of the dead. The journey to a Tirtha, assert some Hindu texts, helps one overcome the sorrow of the loss.  [note 28]
Other reasons for a Tirtha in Hinduism is to rejuvenate or gain spiritual merit by traveling to famed temples or bathe in rivers such as the Ganges.    Tirtha has been one of the recommended means of addressing remorse and to perform penance, for unintentional errors and intentional sins, in the Hindu tradition.   The proper procedure for a pilgrimage is widely discussed in Hindu texts.  The most accepted view is that the greatest austerity comes from traveling on foot, or part of the journey is on foot, and that the use of a conveyance is only acceptable if the pilgrimage is otherwise impossible. 
Person and society
Hindu society has been categorised into four classes, called varnas. They are the Brahmins: Vedic teachers and priests; the Kshatriyas: warriors and kings; the Vaishyas: farmers and merchants; and the Shudras: servants and labourers.  The Bhagavad Gītā links the varna to an individual's duty (svadharma), inborn nature (svabhāva), and natural tendencies ( guṇa).  The Manusmṛiti categorises the different castes. [web 12] Some mobility and flexibility within the varnas challenge allegations of social discrimination in the caste system, as has been pointed out by several sociologists,   although some other scholars disagree.  Scholars debate whether the so-called caste system is part of Hinduism sanctioned by the scriptures or social custom.  [web 13] [note 29] And various contemporary scholars have argued that the caste system was constructed by the British colonial regime.  A renunciant man of knowledge is usually called Varnatita or "beyond all varnas" in Vedantic works. The bhiksu is advised to not bother about the caste of the family from which he begs his food. Scholars like Adi Sankara affirm that not only is Brahman beyond all varnas, the man who is identified with Him also transcends the distinctions and limitations of caste. 
In whatever way a Hindu defines the goal of life, there are several methods (yogas) that sages have taught for reaching that goal. Yoga is a Hindu discipline which trains the body, mind, and consciousness for health, tranquility, and spiritual insight. This is done through a system of postures and exercises to practise control of the body and mind.  Texts dedicated to Yoga include the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Bhagavad Gita and, as their philosophical and historical basis, the Upanishads. Yoga is means, and the four major marga (paths) discussed in Hinduism are: Bhakti Yoga (the path of love and devotion), Karma Yoga (the path of right action), Rāja Yoga (the path of meditation), Jñāna Yoga (the path of wisdom)  An individual may prefer one or some yogas over others, according to his or her inclination and understanding. Practice of one yoga does not exclude others.
Hinduism has a developed system of symbolism and iconography to represent the sacred in art, architecture, literature and worship. These symbols gain their meaning from the scriptures or cultural traditions. The syllable Om (which represents the Brahman and Atman) has grown to represent Hinduism itself, while other markings such as the Swastika sign represent auspiciousness,  and Tilaka (literally, seed) on forehead – considered to be the location of spiritual third eye,  marks ceremonious welcome, blessing or one's participation in a ritual or rite of passage.  Elaborate Tilaka with lines may also identify a devotee of a particular denomination. Flowers, birds, animals, instruments, symmetric mandala drawings, objects, idols are all part of symbolic iconography in Hinduism.  
Ahimsa, vegetarianism and other food customs
Hindus advocate the practice of ahiṃsā ( nonviolence) and respect for all life because divinity is believed to permeate all beings, including plants and non-human animals.  The term ahiṃsā appears in the Upanishads,  the epic Mahabharata  and ahiṃsā is the first of the five Yamas (vows of self-restraint) in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. 
In accordance with ahiṃsā, many Hindus embrace vegetarianism to respect higher forms of life. Estimates of strict lacto vegetarians in India (includes adherents of all religions) who never eat any meat, fish or eggs vary between 20% and 42%, while others are either less strict vegetarians or non-vegetarians.  Those who eat meat seek Jhatka (quick death) method of meat production, and dislike Halal (slow bled death) method, believing that quick death method reduces suffering to the animal.   The food habits vary with region, with Bengali Hindus and Hindus living in Himalayan regions, or river delta regions, regularly eating meat and fish.  Some avoid meat on specific festivals or occasions.  Observant Hindus who do eat meat almost always abstain from beef. The cow in Hindu society is traditionally identified as a caretaker and a maternal figure,  and Hindu society honours the cow as a symbol of unselfish giving.  There are many Hindu groups that have continued to abide by a strict vegetarian diet in modern times. Some adhere to a diet that is devoid of meat, eggs, and seafood.  Food affects body, mind and spirit in Hindu beliefs.   Hindu texts such as Śāṇḍilya Upanishad  and Svātmārāma   recommend Mitahara (eating in moderation) as one of the Yamas (virtuous self restraints). The Bhagavad Gita links body and mind to food one consumes in verses 17.8 through 17.10. 
Some Hindus such as those belonging to the Shaktism tradition,  and Hindus in regions such as Bali and Nepal   practise animal sacrifice.  The sacrificed animal is eaten as ritual food.  In contrast, the Vaishnava Hindus abhor and vigorously oppose animal sacrifice.   The principle of non-violence to animals has been so thoroughly adopted in Hinduism that animal sacrifice is uncommon  and historically reduced to a vestigial marginal practice. 
A Hindu temple is a house of god(s).  It is a space and structure designed to bring human beings and gods together, infused with symbolism to express the ideas and beliefs of Hinduism.  A temple incorporates all elements of Hindu cosmology, the highest spire or dome representing Mount Meru – reminder of the abode of Brahma and the center of spiritual universe,  the carvings and iconography symbolically presenting dharma, kama, artha, moksha and karma.   The layout, the motifs, the plan and the building process recite ancient rituals, geometric symbolisms, and reflect beliefs and values innate within various schools of Hinduism.  Hindu temples are spiritual destinations for many Hindus (not all), as well as landmarks for arts, annual festivals, rite of passage rituals, and community celebrations.  
Hindu temples come in many styles, diverse locations, deploy different construction methods and are adapted to different deities and regional beliefs.  Two major styles of Hindu temples include the Gopuram style found in south India, and Nagara style found in north India.   Other styles include cave, forest and mountain temples.  Yet, despite their differences, almost all Hindu temples share certain common architectural principles, core ideas, symbolism and themes.  Many temples feature one or more idols ( murtis). The idol and Grabhgriya in the Brahma-pada (the center of the temple), under the main spire, serves as a focal point (darsana, a sight) in a Hindu temple.  In larger temples, the central space typically is surrounded by an ambulatory for the devotee to walk around and ritually circumambulate the Purusa ( Brahman), the universal essence. 
Traditionally the life of a Hindu is divided into four Āśramas (phases or life stages; another meaning includes monastery).  The four ashramas are: Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired) and Sannyasa (renunciation).  Brahmacharya represents the bachelor student stage of life. Grihastha refers to the individual's married life, with the duties of maintaining a household, raising a family, educating one's children, and leading a family-centred and a dharmic social life.  Grihastha stage starts with Hindu wedding, and has been considered as the most important of all stages in sociological context, as Hindus in this stage not only pursued a virtuous life, they produced food and wealth that sustained people in other stages of life, as well as the offsprings that continued mankind.  Vanaprastha is the retirement stage, where a person hands over household responsibilities to the next generation, took an advisory role, and gradually withdrew from the world.   The Sannyasa stage marks renunciation and a state of disinterest and detachment from material life, generally without any meaningful property or home (ascetic state), and focused on Moksha, peace and simple spiritual life.   The Ashramas system has been one facet of the Dharma concept in Hinduism.  Combined with four proper goals of human life ( Purusartha), the Ashramas system traditionally aimed at providing a Hindu with fulfilling life and spiritual liberation.  While these stages are typically sequential, any person can enter Sannyasa (ascetic) stage and become an Ascetic at any time after the Brahmacharya stage.  Sannyasa is not religiously mandatory in Hinduism, and elderly people are free to live with their families. 
Some Hindus choose to live a monastic life (Sannyāsa) in pursuit of liberation (moksha) or another form of spiritual perfection.  Monastics commit themselves to a simple and celibate life, detached from material pursuits, of meditation and spiritual contemplation.  A Hindu monk is called a Sanyāsī, Sādhu, or Swāmi. A female renunciate is called a Sanyāsini. Renunciates receive high respect in Hindu society because of their simple ahimsa-driven lifestyle and dedication to spiritual liberation (moksha) – believed to be the ultimate goal of life in Hinduism.  Some monastics live in monasteries, while others wander from place to place, depending on donated food and charity for their needs. 
|Outline of South Asian history|
James Mill (1773–1836), in his The History of British India (1817),  distinguished three phases in the history of India, namely Hindu, Muslim and British civilisations.   This periodisation has been criticised for the misconceptions it has given rise to.  Another periodisation is the division into "ancient, classical, medieval and modern periods".  An elaborate periodisation may be as follows: 
- Prevedic religions (pre-history and Indus Valley Civilisation; until c. 1500 BCE);
- Vedic period (c. 1500 – c. 500 BCE);
- "Second Urbanisation" (c. 500 – c. 200 BCE);
- Classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE – c. 1100 CE); [note 30]
- Pre-classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE – c. 300 CE);
- "Golden Age" (Gupta Empire) (c. 320 – c. 650 CE);
- Late-Classical Hinduism – Puranic Hinduism (c. 650 – c. 1100 CE);
- Islam and sects of Hinduism (c. 1200 – c. 1700 CE);
- Modern Hinduism (from c. 1800).
Hinduism is a fusion  [note 5] or synthesis  [note 6] of various Indian cultures and traditions.  [note 8] Among the roots of Hinduism are the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India,  itself already the product of "a composite of the Indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations",  [note 31] but also the Sramana  or renouncer traditions  of northeast India,  and mesolithic  and neolithic  cultures of India, such as the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation,  Dravidian traditions,  and the local traditions  and tribal religions.  [note 32]
This "Hindu synthesis" emerged after the Vedic period, between 500 -200  BCE and c. 300 CE,  the beginning of the "Epic and Puranic" c.q. "Preclassical" period,   and incorporated śramaṇic   and Buddhist influences   and the emerging bhakti tradition into the Brahmanical fold via the Smriti literature.   From northern India this "Hindu synthesis", and its societal divisions, spread to southern India and parts of Southeast Asia, as the Brahmanical culture was adopted by courts and rulers.  Hinduism co-existed for several centuries with Buddhism,  to finally gain the upper hand at all levels in the 8th century.  [web 15] [note 33]
According to Eliot Deutsch, brahmins played an essential role in the development of this synthesis. They were bilingual and bicultural, speaking both their local language, and popular Sanskrit, which transcended regional differences in culture and language. They were able to "translate the mainstream of the large culture in terms of the village and the culture of the village in terms of the mainstream," thereby integrating the local culture into a larger whole.  While vaidikas and, to a lesser degree, smartas, remained faithful to the traditional Vedic lore, a new brahminism arose which composed litanies for the local and regional gods, and became the ministers of these local traditions. 
Prevedic religions (until c. 1500 BCE)
The earliest prehistoric religion in India that may have left its traces in Hinduism comes from mesolithic as observed in the sites such as the rock paintings of Bhimbetka rock shelters dating to a period of 30,000 BCE or older, [note 34] as well as neolithic times. [note 35] Some of the religious practices can be considered to have originated in 4000 BCE. Several tribal religions still exist, though their practices may not resemble those of prehistoric religions. [web 16]
According to anthropologist Possehl, the Indus Valley Civilization "provides a logical, if somewhat arbitrary, starting point for some aspects of the later Hindu tradition".  The religion of this period included worship of a Great male god, which is compared to a proto-Shiva, and probably a Mother Goddess, that may prefigure Shakti. However these links of deities and practices of the Indus religion to later-day Hinduism are subject to both political contention and scholarly dispute. 
Vedic period (c. 1500 – c. 500 BCE)
Origins and development
|Indo-Aryan migration and Vedic period|
The Vedic period is the period when the Vedas were composed, the liturgical texts of the religion of some of the Indo-Aryans  [note 36] as codified at the Kuru Kingdom,  lasted from c. 1500 to 500 BCE.  [note 37] The Indo-Aryans were semi-nomadic pastoralists  who migrated into north-western India after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization.   
The Puranic chronology, the timeline of events in ancient Indian history as narrated in the Mahabaratha, the Ramayana, and the Puranas, envisions an older chronology for the Vedic culture. In this view, the Vedas were received thousands of years ago. The Kurukshetra War, the background-scene of the Baghavad Gita, which may relate historical events taking which took place ca. 1000 BCE at the heartland of Aryavarta,   is dated in this chronology at ca. 3100 BCE, while Gulshan (1940) dates the start of the reign of Manu Vaivasvata at 7350 BCE.  Some Indian writers and archaeologists have opposed the notion of a migration of Indo-Aryans into India and argued for an indigenous origin of the Indo-Aryans,    but though popular in India, these ideas have no support in academic mainstream scholarship. [note 38] The linguistic and religious data show clear links with Indo-European languages and religion,  while recent genetic research shows that people related to the Corded Ware culture arrived in India from the steppes via the Inner Asia Mountain Corridor in the second millennium BCE.    [web 17] [web 18] According to Singh, "The dominant view is that the Indo-Aryans came to the subcontinent as immigrants." 
During the early Vedic period (c. 1500 – c. 1100 BCE ) Vedic tribes were pastoralists, wandering around in north-west India.  After 1100 BCE the Vedic tribes moved into the western Ganges Plain, adapting an agrarian lifestyle.    Rudimentary state-forms appeared, of which the Kuru-Pañcāla union was the most influential.   It was a tribal union, which developed into the first recorded state-level society in South Asia around 1000 BCE.  This, according to Witzel, decisively changed their religious heritage of the early Vedic period, collecting their ritual hymns into the Vedic collections, and shifting ritual exchange within a tribe to social exchange within the larger Kuru realm through complicated Srauta rituals.  In this period, states Samuel, emerged the Brahmana and Aranyaka layers of Vedic texts, which merged into the earliest Upanishads.  These texts began to ask the meaning of a ritual, adding increasing levels of philosophical and metaphysical speculation,  or "Hindu synthesis". 
The Indo-Aryans brought with them their language  and religion.   The Vedic beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era were closely related to the hypothesised Proto-Indo-European religion,  and the Indo-Iranian religion.  [note 39]
The Vedic religion history is unclear and "heavily contested", states Samuel.  In the later Vedic period, it co-existed with local religions, such as the mother goddess worshipping Yaksha cults.  [web 19] The Vedic was itself likely the product of "a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations".  David Gordon White cites three other mainstream scholars who "have emphatically demonstrated" that Vedic religion is partially derived from the Indus Valley Civilizations.  [note 31] Their religion was further developed when they migrated into the Ganges Plain after c. 1100 BCE and became settled farmers,    further syncretising with the native cultures of northern India. 
The composition of the Vedic literature began in the 2nd millennium BCE.   The oldest of these Vedic texts is the Rigveda, composed between c. 1500 – 1200 BCE,    though a wider approximation of c. 1700 – 1100 BCE has also been given.  
Renouncers and Brahmanism
The evidence suggests that the Vedic religion evolved in "two superficially contradictory directions", state Jamison and Witzel, namely an ever more "elaborate, expensive, and specialized system of rituals",  which survives in the present-day srauta-ritual,  and "abstraction and internalization of the principles underlying ritual and cosmic speculation" within oneself,   akin to the Jain and Buddhist tradition.
The first half of the 1st millennium BCE was a period of great intellectual and social-cultural ferment in ancient India.   New ideas developed both in the Vedic tradition in the form of the Upanishads, and outside of the Vedic tradition through the Śramaṇa movements.    [note 40] For example, prior to the birth of the Buddha and the Mahavira, and related Sramana movements, the Brahmanical tradition had questioned the meaning and efficacy of Vedic rituals,  then internalized and variously reinterpreted the Vedic fire rituals as ethical concepts such as Truth, Rite, Tranquility or Restraint.  The 9th and 8th centuries BCE witnessed the composition of the earliest Upanishads with such ideas.  :183 Other ancient Principal Upanishads were composed in the centuries that followed, forming the foundation of classical Hinduism and the Vedanta (conclusion of the Veda) literature. 
Brahmanism, also called Brahminism, developed out of the Vedic religion, incorporating non-Vedic religious ideas, and expanding to a region stretching from the northwest Indian subcontinent to the Ganges valley.  Brahmanism included the Vedic corpus, but also post-Vedic texts such as the Dharmasutras and Dharmasastras, which gave prominence to the priestly (Brahmin) class of the society.  The emphasis on ritual and the dominant position of Brahmans developed as an ideology developed in the Kuru-Pancala realm, and expanded into a wider realm after the demish of the Kuru-Pancala realm.  It co-existed with local religions, such as the Yaksha cults.   
"Second Urbanisation" and decline of Brahmanism (c. 500 – c. 200 BCE)
Increasing urbanisation of India between 800 and 400 BCE, and possibly the spread of urban diseases, contributed to the rise of ascetic movements and of new ideas which challenged the orthodox Brahmanism.  These ideas led to Sramana movements, of which Mahavira (c. 549 – 477 BCE), proponent of Jainism, and Buddha (c. 563 – 483), founder of Buddhism, were the most prominent icons. :184 According to Bronkhorst, the sramana culture arose in greater Magadha, which was Indo-European, but not Vedic. In this culture, kashtriyas were placed higher than Brahmins, and it rejected Vedic authority and rituals.   Geoffrey Samuel, following Tom Hopkins, also argues that the Gangetic plain, which gave rise to Jainism and Buddhism, incorporated a culture which was different from the Brahmanical orthodoxy practiced in the Kuru-Pancala region. 
The ascetic tradition of Vedic period in part created the foundational theories of samsara and of moksha (liberation from samsara), which became characteristic for Hinduism, along with Buddhism and Jainism. [note 41] 
These ascetic concepts were adopted by schools of Hinduism as well as other major Indian religions, but key differences between their premises defined their further development. Hinduism, for example, developed its ideas with the premise that every human being has a soul (atman, self), while Buddhism developed with the premise that there is no soul or self.    The chronology of these religious concepts is unclear, and scholars contest which religion affected the other as well as the chronological sequence of the ancient texts.   Pratt notes that Oldenberg (1854–1920), Neumann (1865–1915) and Radhakrishnan (1888–1975) believed that the Buddhist canon had been influenced by Upanishads, while la Vallee Poussin thinks the influence was nihil, and "Eliot and several others insist that on some points such as the existence of soul or self the Buddha was directly antithetical to the Upanishads".  [note 42]
Decline of Brahmanism
The post-Vedic period of the Second Urbanisation saw a decline of Brahmanism.   At the end of the Vedic period, the meaning of the words of the Vedas had become obscure, and was perceived as "a fixed sequence of sounds"  [note 43] with a magical power, "means to an end." [note 44] Brahmanism faced a grave threat to its existence, due to the growth of cities, which treatened the income and patronage of the rural Brahmins; the rise of Buddhism; and political changes in northern India, with the Indian campaign of Alexander the Great (327-325 BCE), the rise of the Mauryan Empire (322-185 BCE), and the Saka invasions and rule of northwestern India (2nd c. BC - 4th c. CE).   In some later texts, Northwest-India (which earlier texts consider as part of Aryavarta) is even seen as "impure", probably due to invasions. The Karnaparva 43.5-8 states that those who live on the Sindhu and the five rivers of Punjab are impure and dharmabahya.
Classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE – c. 1100 CE)
From about 500 BCE through about 300 CE, the Vedic-Brahmanic synthesis or "Hindu synthesis" continued.  Classical Hindu and Sramanic (particularly Buddhist) ideas spread within Indian subcontinent, as well outside India such as in Central Asia,  and the parts of Southeast Asia (coasts of Indonesia and peninsular Thailand). [note 45] 
Pre-classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE – c. 300 CE)
The decline of Brahmanism was overcome by providing new services  and incorporating the non-Vedic Indo-Aryan relgious heritage of the eastern Ganges plain and local religious traditions, giving rise to contemporary Hinduism.  The "Hindu synthesis" or "Brahmanical synthesis"   incorporated Sramanic and Buddhist influences  [ which?] into the "Brahmanical fold" via the Smriti ("remembered") literature.   According to Embree, several other religious traditions had existed side by side with the Vedic religion. These indigenous religions "eventually found a place under the broad mantle of the Vedic religion".  The Smriti texts of the period between 200 BCE-100 CE affirmed the authority of the Vedas. The acceptance of the ideas in the Vedas and Upanishads became a central criterium for defining Hinduism, while the heterodox movements rejected those ideas. 
The major Sanskrit epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, which belong to the Smriti, were compiled over a protracted period during the late centuries BCE and the early centuries CE.  [web 20] These are legendary dialogues interspersed with philosophical treatises. The Bhagavad Gita was composed in this period and consolidated diverse philosophies and soteriological ideas. 
During this period, the foundational texts of several schools of Hindu philosophy were formally written down, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta.  The Smriti literature of Hinduism, particularly the Sutras, as well as other Hindu texts such as the Arthashastra and Sushruta Samhita were also written or expanded during this period.  
Many influential Yoga Upanishads, states Gavin Flood, were composed before the 3rd century CE.   Seven Sannyasa Upanishads of Hinduism were composed between the last centuries of the 1st millennium BCE and before the 3rd century CE.   All these texts describe Hindu renunciation and monastic values, and express strongly Advaita Vedanta tradition ideas. This, state Patrick Olivelle and other scholars, is likely because the monasteries of Advaita tradition of Hinduism had become well established in ancient times.    The first version of Natyasastra – a Hindu text on performance arts that integrates Vedic ideology – was also completed before the 2nd century CE.  
"Golden Age" (Gupta Empire) (c. 320 – c. 650 CE)
During the Gupta period, the first stone and cave Hindu temples dedicated to Hindu deities were built, some of which have survived into the modern era.  [note 46] Numerous monasteries and universities were also built during the Gupta dynasty era, which supported Vedic and non-Vedic studies, including the famed Nalanda.  
The first version of early Puranas, likely composed between 250 and 500 CE, show continuities with the Vedic religion, but also an expanded mythology of Vishnu, Shiva and Devi (goddess).  The Puranas were living texts that were revised over time,  and Lorenzen suggests these texts may reflect the beginnings of "medieval Hinduism". 
Late-Classical Hinduism – Puranic Hinduism (c. 650 – c. 1100 CE)
After the end of the Gupta Empire, power became decentralised in India. The disintegration of central power also led to regionalisation of religiosity, and religious rivalry.  Rural and devotional movements arose within Hinduism, along with Shaivism, Vaisnavism, Bhakti and Tantra,  that competed with each other, as well as with numerous sects of Buddhism and Jainism.   Buddhism declined, though many of its ideas, and even the Buddha himself, were absorbed into certain Brahmanical traditions. 
Srauta rituals declined in India and were replaced with Buddhist and Hindu initiatory rituals for royal courts.  Over time, some Buddhist practices were integrated into Hinduism, monumental Hindu temples were built in South Asia and Southeast Asia,  while Vajrayana Buddhism literature developed as a result of royal courts sponsoring both Buddhism and Saivism. </ref>
The first edition of many Puranas were composed in this period. Examples include Bhagavata Purana and Vishnu Purana with legends of Krishna,  while Padma Purana and Kurma Purana expressed reverence for Vishnu, Shiva and Shakti with equal enthusiasm;  all of them included topics such as Yoga practice and pilgrimage tour guides to Hindu holy sites.   Early colonial era orientalists proposed that the Puranas were religious texts of medieval Hinduism.  However, modern era scholars, such as Urs App, Ronald Inden and Ludo Rocher state that this is highly misleading because these texts were continuously revised, exist in numerous very different versions and are too inconsistent to be religious texts.   
Bhakti ideas centered around loving devotion to Vishnu and Shiva with songs and music, were pioneered in this period by the Alvars and Nayanars of South India.   Major Hinduism scholars of this period included Adi Shankara, Maṇḍana-Miśra, Padmapada and Sureśvara of the Advaita schools;  Śabara, Vatsyayana and Samkarasvamin of Nyaya-Vaisesika schools; Mathara and Yuktidipika (author unknown) of Samkhya- Yoga; Bhartrhari, Vasugupta and Abhinavagupta of Kashmir Shaivism, and Ramanuja of Vishishtadvaita school of Hinduism (Sri Vaishnavism).  [web 21] 
Islamic rule and Bhakti movement of Hinduism (c. 1200 – c. 1750 CE)
The Islamic rule period witnessed Hindu-Muslim confrontation and violence,   but "violence did not normally characterize the relations of Muslim and Hindu."   Enslavement of non-Muslims, especially Hindus in India, was part of the Muslim raids and conquests.   After the 14th century slavery become less common  and in 1562 "Akbar abolished the practice of enslaving the families of war captives."  Akbar recognized Hinduism, protected Hindu temples, and abolished Jizya (head taxes) against Hindus.   Occasionally, Muslim rulers of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire, before and after Akbar, from the 12th century to the 18th century, destroyed Hindu temples (eg. Kesavadeva Temple was destroyed at Mathura at Eidgah was built,   Bindumadhava temple was destroyed and Alamgir Mosque was built    [note 47]) and persecuted non-Muslims.
Though Islam came to the Indian subcontinent in the early 7th century with the advent of Arab traders, it started impacting Indian religions after the 10th century, and particularly after the 12th century with the establishment and then expansion of Islamic rule.   During this period Buddhism declined rapidly, and a distinct Indo-Islamic culture emerged.  Under Akbar an "intriguing blend of Perso-Islamic and Rajput-Hindu traditions became manifest."  Nevertheless, many orthodox ulamas ("learned Islamic jurists") opposed the rapprochement of Hinduism and Islam,  and the two merely co-existed,  although there was more accommodation at the peasantry level of Indian society. 
According to Hardy, the Muslim rulers were not concerned with the number of converts, since the stability and continuity of their regime did not depend on the number of Muslims.  In general, religious conversion was a gradual process, with some converts attracted to pious Muslim saints, while others converted to Islam to gain religious zijia tax relief on Hindus, land grant, marriage partners, social and economic advancement,  or freedom from slavery.  In border regions such as Punjab and eastern Bengal, the share of Muslims grew as large as 70% to 90% of the population, whereas in the heartland of Muslim rule, the upper Gangetic Plain, the Muslims constituted only 10 to 15% of the population. [note 48]
Between the 14th and 18th century, Hinduism was revived in certain provinces of India under two powerful states, viz. Vijayanagar and Maratha. In the 14th and 15th centuries Southern India saw the rise of the Hindu Vijayanagar Empire, which served as a barrier against invasion by the Muslim sultanates of the north, and it fostered the reconstruction of Hindu life and administration. [web 22] Vidyaranya, also known as Madhava, who was the 12th Jagadguru of the Śringeri Śarada Pītham from 1380–6,  and a minister in the Vijayanagara Empire,  helped establish Shankara as a rallying symbol of values, and helped spread historical and cultural influence of Shankara's Vedanta philosophies.   The Hindu Maratha Confederacy rose to power in the 18th century and ended up overthrowing Muslim power in India  
Another Hindu polity was the Eastern Ganga and Surya, which ruled much of present-day Odisha (historically known as Kalinga) from the 11th century till the mid-16th century CE. During the 13th and 14th centuries, when large parts of India were under the rule of Muslim powers, an independent Kalinga became a stronghold of Hindu religion, philosophy, art, and architecture. The Eastern Ganga rulers were great patrons of religion and the arts, and the temples they built are considered among the masterpieces of Hindu architecture.  
Hinduism underwent profound changes, aided in part by teachers such as Ramanuja, Madhva, and Chaitanya.  Tantra disappeared in northern India, partly due to Muslim rule,  while the Bhakti movement grew, with followers engaging in emotional, passionate and community-oriented devotional worship, participating in saguna or nirguna Brahman ideologies.    According to Nicholson, already between the 12th and the 16th century, "certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophical teachings of the Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as the 'six systems' (saddarsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy."  [note 49] Michaels notes that a historicization emerged which preceded later nationalism, articulating ideas which glorified Hinduism and the past. 
Modern Hinduism (from circa 1800)
Hindu revivalism and traditionalism
With the onset of the British Raj, the colonization of India by the British, there also started a Hindu Renaissance in the 19th century, which profoundly changed the understanding of Hinduism in both India and the west.  Indology as an academic discipline of studying Indian culture from a European perspective was established in the 19th century, led by scholars such as Max Müller and John Woodroffe. They brought Vedic, Puranic and Tantric literature and philosophy to Europe and the United States. Western orientalist searched for the "essence" of the Indian religions, discerning this in the Vedas,  and meanwhile creating the notion of "Hinduism" as a unified body of religious praxis  and the popular picture of 'mystical India'.   This idea of a Vedic essence was taken over by Hindu reform movements as the Brahmo Samaj, which was supported for a while by the Unitarian Church,  together with the ideas of Universalism and Perennialism, the idea that all religions share a common mystic ground.  This "Hindu modernism", with proponents like Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Radhakrishnan, became central in the popular understanding of Hinduism.     
Yet, while Hindu modernists attracted attention from westerners, there were also developments in traditional Hinduism, such as the establishment of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya in 1801.   As of 2020, BAPS, a charismatic offshoot established in 1907, is one of the fastest growing Hindu organisations, both in India and worldwide.  
Popularity in the west
Influential 20th-century Hindus were Ramana Maharshi, B.K.S. Iyengar, Paramahansa Yogananda, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Srila Prabhupada (founder of ISKCON), Sri Chinmoy, Swami Rama and others who translated, reformulated and presented Hinduism's foundational texts for contemporary audiences in new iterations, raising the profiles of Yoga and Vedanta in the West and attracting followers and attention in India and abroad.
Hinduism is attracting Western adherents through the affiliated practice of yoga. Yoga centers in the West—which generally advocate vegetarianism—attract young, well-educated Westerners who are drawn by yoga's benefits for the physical and emotional health; there they are introduced to the Hindu philosophical system taught by most yoga teachers, known as Vedanta. 
It is estimated that around 30 million Americans and 5 million Europeans regularly practice some form of Hatha Yoga.  In Australia, the number of practitioners is about 300,000. [web 23] In New Zealand the number is also around 300,000. [web 24]
In the 20th century, Hinduism also gained prominence as a political force and a source for national identity in India. With origins traced back to the establishment of the Hindu Mahasabha in the 1910s, the movement grew with the formulation and development of the Hindutva ideology in the following decades; the establishment of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925; and the entry, and later success, of RSS offshoots Jana Sangha and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in electoral politics in post-independence India.  Hindu religiosity plays an important role in the nationalist movement.  [note 50] [note 51]
|Hinduism by country|
Hinduism is a major religion in India. Hinduism was followed by around 79.8% of the country's population of 1.21 billion (2011 census) (960 million adherents). [web 25] Other significant populations are found in Nepal (23 million), Bangladesh (15 million) and the Indonesian island of Bali (3.9 million).  The majority of the Vietnamese Cham people also follow Hinduism, with the largest proportion in Ninh Thuận Province. 
Countries with the greatest proportion of Hindus:
- Nepal 81.3% [web 26]
- India 79.8% [web 27]
- Mauritius 48.5% [web 28]
- Guyana 28.4% [web 29]
- Fiji 27.9% [web 30]
- Bhutan 22.6% [web 31]
- Suriname 22.3% [web 32]
- Trinidad and Tobago 18.2% [web 33]
- Qatar 13.8%
- Sri Lanka 12.6% [web 34]
- Bahrain 9.8%
- Bangladesh 8.5% [web 35]
- Réunion 6.7%
- United Arab Emirates 6.6%
- Malaysia 6.3% [web 36]
- Kuwait 6%
- Oman 5.5%
- Singapore 5% [web 37]
- New Zealand 2.62% [web 38]
- Seychelles 2.4% [web 39]
|Tradition||Followers||% of the Hindu population||% of the world population||Follower dynamics||World dynamics|
In the modern era, religious conversion from and to Hinduism has been a controversial subject. Some state the concept of missionary conversion, either way, is anathema to the precepts of Hinduism. 
Religious conversion to Hinduism has a long history outside India. Merchants and traders of India, particularly from the Indian peninsula, carried their religious ideas, which led to religious conversions to Hinduism in southeast Asia.    Within India, archeological and textual evidence such as the 2nd-century BCE Heliodorus pillar suggest that Greeks and other foreigners converted to Hinduism.   The debate on proselytization and religious conversion between Christianity, Islam and Hinduism is more recent, and started in the 19th century.   [note 52]
Religious leaders of some Hindu reform movements such as the Arya Samaj launched Shuddhi movement to proselytize and reconvert Muslims and Christians back to Hinduism,   while those such as the Brahmo Samaj suggested Hinduism to be a non-missionary religion.  All these sects of Hinduism have welcomed new members to their group, while other leaders of Hinduism's diverse schools have stated that given the intensive proselytization activities from missionary Islam and Christianity, this "there is no such thing as proselytism in Hinduism" view must be re-examined.   
- Anti-Hindu sentiment
- Atheism in Hinduism
- Balinese Hinduism
- Gautama Buddha in Hinduism
- Hindu calendar
- Hindu deities
- Hindu denominations
- Hindu eschatology
- Hindu mythology
- Hindu reform movements
- Hinduism by country
- Hinduism in Arab states
- Hinduism in Southeast Asia
- List of Hindu Empires and Dynasties
- List of Hindu temples
- List of converts to Hinduism
- Lists of Hindus
- Outline of Hinduism
- Persecution of Hindus
- Puranic chronology
- Tulsi in Hinduism
Related systems and religions
- Adivasi religion
- Ayyavazhi and Hinduism
- Buddhism and Hinduism
- Christianity and Hinduism
- Dravidian folk religion
- Eastern philosophy
- Folk Hinduism
- Gurung shamanism
- Hindu philosophy
- Hinduism and Judaism
- Hinduism and Sikhism
- Hinduism and Theosophy
- Indian religions
- Jainism and Buddhism
- Jainism and Hinduism
- Jainism and Sikhism
- Proto-Indo-European religion
- Proto-Indo-Iranian religion
- Relationship between religion and science
- Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia
- Tribal religions in India
- Hinduism is variously defined as a "religion", "set of religious beliefs and practices", "religious tradition", "a way of life" ( Sharma 2003, pp. 12–13) etc. For a discussion on the topic, see: "Establishing the boundaries" in Flood 2008, pp. 1–17
- There is
no single-word translation for dharma in Western languages. See:
- Ludo Rocher (2003), The Dharmasastra, Chapter 4, in Gavin Flood (Editor), The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, ISBN 978-0-631-21535-6.
- Alban G. Widgery, "The Principles of Hindu Ethics", International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 40, No. 2 (Jan. 1930), pp. 232–245.
- Fowler 1997, p. 1: "probably the oldest religion in the world."
- Klostermaier 2007, p. 1 harvnb error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFKlostermaier2007 ( help): The "oldest living major religion" in the world.
- Kurien 2006: "There are almost a billion Hindus living on Earth. They practice the world's oldest religion..."
- Bakker 1997: "it [Hinduism] is the oldest religion".
- Noble 1998: "Hinduism, the world's oldest surviving religion, continues to provide the framework for daily life in much of South Asia."
Animism has also been called "the oldest religion." Sponsel 2012: "Animism is by far the oldest religion in the world. Its antiquity seems to go back at least as far as the period of the Neanderthals some 60,000 to 80,000 years ago.
Australian linguist, R. M. W. Dixon discovered that Aboriginal myths regarding the origin of the Crater Lakes might be dated as accurate back to 10,000 years ago.( Dixon 1996)
- Knott 1998, p. 5: "Many describe Hinduism as sanatana dharma, the eternal tradition or religion. This refers to the idea that its origins lie beyond human history."
Lockard 2007, p. 50 harvnb error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFLockard2007 (
help): "The encounters that resulted from Aryan migration brought together several very different peoples and cultures, reconfiguring Indian society. Over many centuries a fusion of
Dravidian occurred, a complex process that historians have labeled the Indo-Aryan synthesis."
Lockard 2007, p. 52 harvnb error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFLockard2007 ( help): "Hinduism can be seen historically as a synthesis of Aryan beliefs with Harappan and other Dravidian traditions that developed over many centuries."
- Hiltebeitel 2007, p. 12 harvnb error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFHiltebeitel2007 ( help): "A period of consolidation, sometimes identified as one of 'Hindu synthesis', 'Brahmanic synthesis', or 'orthodox synthesis', takes place between the time of the late Vedic Upanishads (c. 500 BCE) and the period of Gupta imperial ascendency (c. 320–467 CE)."
- Samuel 2008, p. 194: "The Brahmanical pattern"
- Flood 1996, p. 16 harvnb error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFFlood1996 ( help): "The tradition of brahmanical orthopraxy has played the role of 'master narrative'"
- Hiltebeitel 2007, p. 12 harvnb error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFHiltebeitel2007 ( help): "Brahmanical synthesis"
- See also:
- J.H. Hutton (1931), in Ghurye, Govind Sadashiv (1980). The Scheduled Tribes of India. Transaction Publishers. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-1-4128-3885-6. Ghurye: He [Hutton] considers modern Hinduism to be the result of an amalgam between pre-Aryan Indian beliefs of Mediterranean inspiration and the religion of the Rigveda. "The Tribal religions present, as it were, surplus material not yet built into the temple of Hinduism".( Ghurye 1980, p. 4) harv error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFGhurye1980 ( help)
- Zimmer, Heinrich (1951). Philosophies of India. Princeton University Press. pp. 218–219.
- Tyler (1973), India: An Anthropological Perspective, Goodyear Publishing Company, p.68; as quoted by Sjoberg 1990, p. 43 harvnb error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFSjoberg1990 ( help), calls Hinduism a "synthesis" in which the Dravidian elements prevail: "The Hindu synthesis was less the dialectical reduction of orthodoxy and heterodoxy than the resurgence of the ancient, aboriginal Indus civilization. In this process the rude, barbaric Aryan tribes were gradually civilised and eventually merged with the autochthonous Dravidians. Although elements of their domestic cult and ritualism were jealously preserved by Brahman priests, the body of their culture survived only in fragmentary tales and allegories embedded in vast, syncretistic compendia. On the whole, the Aryan contribution to Indian culture is insignificant. The essential pattern of Indian culture was already established in the third millennium B.C., and ... the form of Indian civilization perdured and eventually reasserted itself. ( Sjoberg 1990, p. 43) harv error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFSjoberg1990 ( help)
- Sjoberg, Andree F. (1990). "The Dravidian Contribution to the Development Of Indian Civilization: A Call For A Reassesment". Comparative Civilizations Review. 23: 40–74.
- Flood, Gavin D. (1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press. p. 16.: "Contemporary Hinduism cannot be traced to a common origin [...] The many traditions which feed into contemporary Hinduism can be subsumed under three broad headings: the tradition of Brahmanical orthopraxy, the renouncer traditions and popular or local traditions. The tradition of Brahmanical orthopraxy has played the role of 'master narrative', transmitting a body of knowledge and behaviour through time, and defining the conditions of orthopraxy, such as adherence to varnasramadharma.
- Nath, Vijay (2001). "From 'Brahmanism' to 'Hinduism': Negotiating the Myth of the Great Tradition". Social Scientist. 29 (3/4): 19–50. doi: 10.2307/3518337. JSTOR 3518337.
- Werner, Karel (1998). Yoga And Indian Philosophy (1977, Reprinted in 1998). Motilal Banarsidass Publ. ISBN 978-81-208-1609-1.
- Werner, karel (2005). A Popular Dictionary of Hinduism. Routledge. pp. 8–9. ISBN 978-1-135-79753-9.
- Lockard, Craig A. (2007). Societies, Networks, and Transitions. Volume I: to 1500. Cengage Learning. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-618-38612-3.
- Hiltebeitel, Alf (2007). "Hinduism" (Digital printing). In Joseph Kitagawa (ed.). The Religious Traditions of Asia: Religion, History, and Culture. Routledge. ISBN 9781136875908.
- Hopfe, Lewis M.; Woodward, Mark R. (2008). Religions of the World. Pearson Education. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-13-606177-9.: "The religion that the Aryans brought with them mingled with the religion of the native people, and the culture that developed between them became classical Hinduism."
- Samuel, Geoffrey (2010). The Origins of Yoga and Tantra. Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century. Cambridge University Press.
- Among its roots are the Vedic religion of the late Vedic period ( Flood 1996, p. 16 harvnb error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFFlood1996 ( help)) and its emphasis on the status of Brahmans ( Samuel 2008, pp. 48–53), but also the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation ( Narayanan 2009, p. 11; Lockard 2007, p. 52 harvnb error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFLockard2007 ( help); Hiltebeitel 2007, p. 3 harvnb error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFHiltebeitel2007 ( help); Jones & Ryan 2006, p. xviii harvnb error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFJonesRyan2006 ( help)) the Sramana or renouncer traditions of north-east India ( Flood 1996, p. 16 harvnb error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFFlood1996 ( help); Gomez 2013, p. 42), with possible roots in a non-Vedic Indo-Aryan culture ( Bronkhorst 2007), and "popular or local traditions" ( Flood 1996, p. 16 harvnb error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFFlood1996 ( help)).
- The Indo-Aryan word Sindhu means "river", "ocean".  It is frequently being used in the Rigveda. The Sindhu-area is part of Āryāvarta, "the land of the Aryans".
- There are several views on the earliest mention of 'Hindu' in the context of religion:
- Flood 1996, p. 6 harvnb error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFFlood1996 ( help) states: "In Arabic texts, Al-Hind is a term used for the people of modern-day India and 'Hindu', or 'Hindoo', was used towards the end of the eighteenth century by the British to refer to the people of 'Hindustan', the people of northwest India. Eventually 'Hindu' became virtually equivalent to an 'Indian' who was not a Muslim, Sikh, Jain, or Christian, thereby encompassing a range of religious beliefs and practices. The '-ism' was added to Hindu in around 1830 to denote the culture and religion of the high-caste Brahmans in contrast to other religions, and the term was soon appropriated by Indians themselves in the context of building a national identity opposed to colonialism, though the term 'Hindu' was used in Sanskrit and Bengali hagiographic texts in contrast to 'Yavana' or Muslim as early as the sixteenth century."
- Sharma 2002 and other scholars state that the 7th-century Chinese scholar Xuanzang, whose 17-year travel to India and interactions with its people and religions were recorded and preserved in the Chinese language, uses the transliterated term In-tu whose "connotation overflows in the religious".( Sharma 2002) Xuanzang describes Hindu Deva-temples of the early 7th century CE, worship of Sun deity and Shiva, his debates with scholars of Samkhya and Vaisheshika schools of Hindu philosophies, monks and monasteries of Hindus, Jains and Buddhists (both Mahayana and Theravada), and the study of the Vedas along with Buddhist texts at Nalanda.( Gosch 2007, pp. 88–99) harv error: no target: CITEREFGosch2007 ( help)( Sharma 2011, pp. 5–12) harv error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFSharma2011 ( help)( Smith, Van De Mieroop & Glahn 2012, pp. 321–324)
- Sharma 2002 also mentions the use of the word Hindu in Islamic texts such those relating to 8th-century Arab invasion of Sindh by Muhammad ibn Qasim, Al Biruni's 11th-century text Tarikh Al-Hind, and those of the Delhi Sultanate period, where the term Hindu retains the ambiguities of including all non-Islamic people such as Buddhists and of being "a region or a religion".
- David Lorenzen (2006) states, citing Richard Eaton: "one of the earliest occurrences of the word 'Hindu' in Islamic literature appears in 'Abd al-Malik Isami's Persian work, Futuhu's-salatin, composed in the Deccan in 1350. In this text, 'Isami uses the word 'hindi' to mean Indian in the ethno-geographical sense and the word 'hindu' to mean 'Hindu' in the sense of a follower of the Hindu religion".( Lorenzen 2006, p. 33)
- Lorenzen 2006, pp. 32–33 also mentions other non-Persian texts such as Prithvíráj Ráso by ~12th century Canda Baradai, and epigraphical inscription evidence from Andhra Pradesh kingdoms who battled military expansion of Muslim dynasties in the 14th century, where the word 'Hindu' partly implies a religious identity in contrast to 'Turks' or Islamic religious identity. Lorenzen 2006, p. 15 states that one of the earliest uses of word 'Hindu' in religious context, in a European language (Spanish), was the publication in 1649 by Sebastiao Manrique.
- In ancient literature the name Bharata or Bharata Vrasa was being used.( Garg 1992, p. 3)
- Sweetman mentions:
- Wilhelm Halbfass (1988), India and Europe
- IXth European Conference on Modern Asian Studies in Heidelberg (1989), Hinduism Reconsidered
- Ronald Inden, Imagining India
- Carol Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer, Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament
- Vasudha Dalmia and Heinrich von Stietencron, Representing Hinduism
- S.N. Balagangadhara, The Heathen in his Blindness...
- Thomas Trautmann, Aryans and British India
- Richard King (1989), Orientalism and religion
- See Rajiv Malhotra and Being Different for a critic who gained widespread attention outside the academia, Invading the Sacred, and Hindu studies.
- The term sanatana dharma and its Vedic roots had another context in the colonial era, particularly the early 19th-century through movements such as the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj. These movements, particularly active in British and French colonies outside India, such as in Africa and the Caribbean, interpreted Hinduism to be a monotheistic religion and attempted to demonstrate that it to be similar to Christianity and Islam. Their views were opposed by other Hindus such as the Sanatan Dharma Sabha of 1895. 
- Lipner quotes Brockington (1981), The sacred tread, p.5.
- Hinduism is derived from Perian hindu- and the -ism suffix. It is first recorded in 1786, in the generic sense of "polytheism of India". Harper, Douglas. "Hinduism". Online Etymology Dictionary.
- See also Arvind Sharma (2002), On Hindu, Hindustān, Hinduism and Hindutva. Numen Vol. 49, Fasc. 1 (2002), pp. 1–36.
- Pennington  describes the circumstances in which early impressions of Hinduism were reported by colonial era missionaries: "Missionary reports from India also reflected the experience of foreigners in a land whose native inhabitants and British rulers often resented their presence. Their accounts of Hinduism were forged in physically, politically and spiritually hostile surroundings [impoverished, famine prone Bengal – now West Bengal and Bangladesh]. Plagued with anxieties and fears about their own health, regularly reminded of colleagues who had lost their lives or reason, uncertain of their own social location, and preaching to crowds whose reactions ranged from indifference to amusement to hostility, missionaries found expression for their darker misgivings in their production of what is surely part of their speckled legacy: a fabricated Hinduism crazed by blood-lust and devoted to the service of devils."
- Sweetman identifies several areas in which "there is substantial, if not universal, an agreement that colonialism influenced the study of Hinduism, even if the degree of this influence is debated":
- The wish of European Orientalists "to establish a textual basis for Hinduism", akin to the Protestant culture,  which was also driven by preference among the colonial powers for "written authority" rather than "oral authority". 
- The influence of Brahmins on European conceptions of Hinduism. 
- [T]he identification of Vedanta, more specifically
Advaita Vedanta, as 'the paradigmatic example of the mystical nature of the Hindu religion'.
 Several factors led to the favouring of Vedanta as the "central philosophy of the Hindus":
- According to Niranjan Dhar's theory that Vedanta was favored because British feared French influence, especially the impact of the French Revolution; and Ronald Inden's theory that Advaita Vedanta was portrayed as 'illusionist pantheism' reinforcing the colonial stereotypical construction of Hinduism as indifferent to ethics and life-negating. 
- "The amenability of Vedantic thought to both Christian and Hindu critics of 'idolatry' in other forms of Hinduism". 
- The colonial constructions of caste as being part of Hinduism.  According to Nicholas Dirks' theory that, "Caste was refigured as a religious system, organising society in a context where politics and religion had never before been distinct domains of social action. [subnote 2]
- "[T]he construction of Hinduism in the image of Christianity" 
- Anti-colonial Hindus  "looking toward the systematisation of disparate practices as a means of recovering a pre-colonial, national identity".  [subnote 3]
- Many scholars have presented pre-colonial common denominators and asserted the importance of ancient Hindu textual sources in medieval and pre-colonial times:
- Klaus Witz  states that Hindu Bhakti movement ideas in the medieval era grew on the foundation of Upanishadic knowledge and Vedanta philosophies.
- John Henderson  states that "Hindus, both in medieval and in modern times, have been particularly drawn to those canonical texts and philosophical schools such as the Bhagavad Gita and Vedanta, which seem to synthesize or reconcile most successfully diverse philosophical teachings and sectarian points of view. Thus, this widely recognized attribute of Indian culture may be traced to the exegetical orientation of medieval Hindu commentarial traditions, especially Vedanta.
- Patrick Olivelle  and others    state that the central ideas of the Upanishads in the Vedic corpus are at the spiritual core of Hindus.
- For translation of deva in singular noun form as "a deity, god", and in plural form as "the gods" or "the heavenly or shining ones", see: Monier-Williams 2001, p. 492. For translation of devatā as "godhead, divinity", see: Monier-Williams 2001, p. 495.
- Among some regional Hindus, such as Rajputs, these are called Kuldevis or Kuldevata. 
- Hark, Lisa; Hark, Lisa; DeLisser, Horace (7 September 2011). Achieving Cultural Competency. John Wiley & Sons.
Three gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, and other deities are considered manifestations of and are worshipped as incarnations of Brahman.
- Toropov & Buckles 2011: The members of various Hindu sects worship a dizzying number of specific deities and follow innumerable rituals in honor of specific gods. Because this is Hinduism, however, its practitioners see the profusion of forms and practices as expressions of the same unchanging reality. The panoply of deities is understood by believers as symbols for a single transcendent reality.
- Espín, Orlando O.; Nickoloff, James B. (2007). An Introductory Dictionary of Theology and Religious Studies. Liturgical Press.
The devas are powerful spiritual beings, somewhat like angels in the West, who have certain functions in the cosmos and live immensely long lives. Certain devas, such as Ganesha, are regularly worshiped by the Hindu faithful. Note that, while Hindus believe in many devas, many are monotheistic to the extent that they will recognise only one Supreme Being, a God or Goddess who is the source and ruler of the devas.
- Hark, Lisa; Hark, Lisa; DeLisser, Horace (7 September 2011). Achieving Cultural Competency. John Wiley & Sons.
- Coward 2008, p. 114: "For the Mimamsa the ultimate reality is nothing other than the eternal words of the Vedas. They did not accept the existence of a single supreme creator god, who might have composed the Veda. According to the Mimamsa, gods named in the Vedas have no existence apart from the mantras that speak their names. The power of the gods, then, is nothing other than the power of the mantras that name them."
- According to
Bhavishya Purana, Brahmaparva, Adhyaya 7, there are four
sources of dharma:
Smṛti (Dharmaśāstras, Puranas),
Śiṣṭa Āchāra/Sadāchara (conduct of noble people) and finally
Ātma tuṣṭi (self satisfaction). From the sloka:
- वेदः स्मृतिः सदाचारः स्वस्य च प्रियमात्मनः । एतच्चतुर्विधं प्राहुः साक्षाद्धर्मस्य लक्षणम् ॥ 
- vedaḥ smṛtiḥ sadācāraḥ svasya ca priyamātmanah
etaccaturvidham prāhuḥ sākshāddharmasya lakshaṇam
- – Bhavishya Purāṇa, Brahmaparva, Adhyāya 7
- Klostermaier: "Brahman, derived from the root bŗh = to grow, to become great, was originally identical with the Vedic word, that makes people prosper: words were the pricipan means to approach the gods who dwelled in a different sphere. It was not a big step from this notion of "reified speech-act" to that "of the speech-act being looked at implicitly and explicitly as a means to an end." Klostermaier 2007, p. 55 harvnb error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFKlostermaier2007 ( help) quotes Madhav M. Deshpande (1990), Changing Conceptions of the Veda: From Speech-Acts to Magical Sounds, p.4.
- The cremation ashes are called phool (flowers). These are collected from the pyre in a rite-of-passage called asthi sanchayana, then dispersed during asthi visarjana. This signifies redemption of the dead in waters considered to be sacred and a closure for the living. Tirtha locations offer these services.  
- Venkataraman and Deshpande: "Caste-based discrimination does exist in many parts of India today.... Caste-based discrimination fundamentally contradicts the essential teaching of Hindu sacred texts that divinity is inherent in all beings." [web 14]
- Different periods are designated as "classical Hinduism":
- Smart calls the period between 1000 BCE and 100 CE "pre-classical". It is the formative period for the Upanishads and Brahmanism [subnote 4] Jainism and Buddhism. For Smart, the "classical period" lasts from 100 to 1000 CE, and coincides with the flowering of "classical Hinduism" and the flowering and deterioration of Mahayana-buddhism in India. 
- For Michaels, the period between 500 BCE and 200 BCE is a time of "Ascetic reformism",  whereas the period between 200 BCE and 1100 CE is the time of "classical Hinduism", since there is "a turning point between the Vedic religion and Hindu religions". 
- Muesse discerns a longer period of change, namely between 800 BCE and 200 BCE, which he calls the "Classical Period". According to Muesse, some of the fundamental concepts of Hinduism, namely karma, reincarnation and "personal enlightenment and transformation", which did not exist in the Vedic religion, developed in this time. 
- David Gordon White: "[T]he religion of the Vedas was already a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations." 
- Richard Gombrich: "It is important to bear in mind that the Indo-Aryans did not enter an inhabited land. For nearly two millennia they and their culture gradually penetrated India, moving east and south from their original seat in Punjab. They mixed with people who spoke Munda or Dravidian languages, who have left no traces of their culture beyond some archaeological remains; we know as little about them as we would about the Indo-Aryans if they had left no texts. [...] We can also assume that many – perhaps most – of the indigenous population came to be assimilated into Indo-Aryan culture. 
- Tiwari mentions the Austric and Mongoloid people.  See also Peopling of India for the variety of Indian people.
- University of Oslo: "During the period following Ashoka, until the end of the 7th century AD, the great gift ceremonies honoring the Buddha remained the central cult of Indian imperial kingdoms". [web 15]
- Doniger 2010, p. 66: "Much of what we now call Hinduism may have had roots in cultures that thrived in South Asia long before the creation of textual evidence that we can decipher with any confidence. Remarkable cave paintings have been preserved from Mesolithic sites dating from c. 30,000 BCE in Bhimbetka, near present-day Bhopal, in the Vindhya Mountains in the province of Madhya Pradesh."
- Jones & Ryan 2006, p. xvii harvnb error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFJonesRyan2006 ( help): "Some practices of Hinduism must have originated in Neolithic times (c. 4000 BCE). The worship of certain plants and animals as sacred, for instance, could very likely have very great antiquity. The worship of goddesses, too, a part of Hinduism today, may be a feature that originated in the Neolithic."
- Michaels: "They called themselves arya ("Aryans", literally 'the hospitable', from the Vedic arya, 'homey, the hospitable') but even in the Rgveda, arya denotes a cultural and linguistic boundary and not only a racial one." 
- There is no exact dating possible for the beginning of the Vedic period. Witzel mentions a range between 1900 and 1400 BCE.  Flood mentions 1500 BCE. 
- The Aryan migration theory has been challenged by some researchers,    due to a lack of archaeological evidence and signs of cultural continuity,  hypothesizing instead a slow process of acculturation  or transformation.  Nevertheless, linguistic and archaeological data clearly show a cultural change after 1500 BCE. 
- According to Anthony, the Old Indic religion probably emerged among Indo-European immigrants in the contact zone between the Zeravshan River (present-day Uzbekistan) and (present-day) Iran.  It was "a syncretic mixture of old Central Asian and new Indo-European elements",  which borrowed "distinctive religious beliefs and practices"  from the Bactria–Margiana Culture.  At least 383 non-Indo-European words were borrowed from this culture, including the god Indra and the ritual drink Soma.  The oldest inscriptions in Old Indic, the language of the Rig Veda, are found not in northwestern India and Pakistan, but in northern Syria, the location of the Mitanni kingdom.  [...] The Old Indic term r'ta, meaning "cosmic order and truth", the central concept of the Rig Veda, was also employed in the mitanni kingdom.  And Old Indic gods, including Indra, were also known in the Mitanni kingdom.   
- While some scholars suggest that Buddhism may have developed as a social reform to the Vedic religion, other scholars such as Gombrich suggest that Buddha "should not be seen as a social reformer", because his concern was "to reform individuals, help them to leave society forever, not to reform the world... he never preached against social inequality". 
- Flood 2008, pp. 273–274: "The second half of the first millennium BCE was the period that created many of the ideological and institutional elements that characterise later Indian religions. The renouncer tradition played a central role during this formative period of Indian religious history [...] Some of the fundamental values and beliefs that we generally associate with Indian religions in general and Hinduism in particular were in part the creation of the renouncer tradition. These include the two pillars of Indian theologies: samsara – the belief that life in this world is one of suffering and subject to repeated deaths and births (rebirth); moksa/nirvana – the goal of human existence."
- [a] According to Richard King, Radhakrishnan was a representative of
 which had a specific understanding of Indian religions: "The inclusivist appropriation of other traditions, so characteristic of neo-Vedanta ideology, appears on three basic levels. First, it is apparent in the suggestion that the (Advaita) Vedanta philosophy of Sankara (c. eighth century CE) constitutes the central philosophy of Hinduism. Second, in an Indian context, neo-Vedanta philosophy subsumes Buddhist philosophies in terms of its own Vedantic ideology. The Buddha becomes a member of the Vedanta tradition, merely attempting to reform it from within. Finally, at a global level, neo-Vedanta colonises the religious traditions of the world by arguing for the centrality of a non-dualistic position as the philosophia perennis underlying all cultural differences.";
[b] see Anatta for further discussion on "no-self" doctrine of Buddhism and its disagreements with the Upanishads. 
- Klostermaier 2007, p. 55 harvnb error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFKlostermaier2007 ( help): "Kautas, a teacher mentioned in the Nirukta by Yāska (ca. 500 BCE), a work devoted to etymology of Vedic words that were no longer understood by ordinary people, held that the word of the Veda was no longer perceived as meaningful "normal" speech but as a fixed sequence of sounds, whose meaning was obscure beyond recovery."
- Klostermaier: "Brahman, derived from the root bŗh = to grow, to become great, was originally identical with the Vedic word, that makes people prosper: words were the pricipan means to approach the gods who dwelled in a different sphere. It was not a big step from this notion of "reified speech-act" to that "of the speech-act being looked at implicitly and explicitly as a means to an end." Klostermaier 2007, p. 55 harvnb error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFKlostermaier2007 ( help) quotes Madhav M. Deshpande (1990), Changing Conceptions of the Veda: From Speech-Acts to Magical Sounds, p.4.
- Samuel 2008, pp. 193–228, 339–353, specifically pp. 76–79 and 194–199
- Axel Michaels mentions the Durga temple in Aihole and the Visnu Temple in Deogarh.  George Michell notes that earlier temples were built of timber, brick and plaster, while the first stone temples appeared during the period of Gupta rule. 
- See also "Aurangzeb, as he was according to Mughal Records"; more links at the bottom of that page. For Muslim historian's record on major Hindu temple destruction campaigns, from 1193 to 1729 AD, see Richard Eaton (2000), Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States, Journal of Islamic Studies, Vol. 11, Issue 3, pages 283–319
- According to
Eaton (1993, Chapter 5), "in the subcontinent as a whole there is an inverse relationship between the degree of Muslim political penetration and the degree of Islamization." These numbers rule out the possibility of "conversion of the sword". It was the areas which had been least exposed to the Brahmanical fold which showed the largest numbers of Muslims.
Forced conversion did happen, though. According to Malik (2008, p. 186) forced conversion of tribes occurred between the 10th and the 14th century, and "[f]orced conversions occurred on an even larger scale at the end of the eighteenth century in the context of increased communal conflicts as well as during the Mappila Rebellion (1921/1922)", and according to Esposito (2003, p. 303) the orthodox Sufi Islam group Suhrawardiyya "supported the forced conversion of Hindus and Buddhists".
- Burley (2007, p. 34): notes the tendency of "a blurring of philosophical distinctions". Lorenzen (2006, pp. 24–33) locates the origins of a distinct Hindu identity in the interaction between Muslims and Hindus, and a process of "mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim other" (p. 27), which started well before 1800 (pp. 26–27). Nicholson (2010, p. 2) harvtxt error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFNicholson2010 ( help) states that both the Indian and the European thinkers who developed the term Hinduism in the 19th century were influenced by these philosophers.
- This conjunction of nationalism and religion is not unique to India. The complexities of Asian nationalism are to be seen and understood in the context of colonialism, modernization and nation-building. See, for example, Anagarika Dharmapala, for the role of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lankese struggle for independence,  and D.T. Suzuki, who conjuncted Zen to Japanese nationalism and militarism, in defense against both western hegemony and the pressure on Japanese Zen during the Meiji Restoration to conform to Shinbutsu Bunri.  
- Neo-Vedanta also contributed to Hindutva ideology, Hindu politics and communalism. Yet, Rinehart emphasises that it is "clear that there isn't a neat line of causation that leads from the philosophies of Rammohan Roy, Vivekananda and Radhakrishnan to the agenda of [...] militant Hindus." 
- The controversy started as an intense polemic battle between Christian missionaries and Muslim organizations in the first half of the 19th century, where missionaries such as Karl Gottlieb Pfander tried to convert Muslims and Hindus, by criticizing Qur'an and Hindu scriptures.     Muslim leaders responded by publishing in Muslim-owned newspapers of Bengal, and through rural campaign, polemics against Christians and Hindus, and by launching "purification and reform movements" within Islam.   Hindu leaders joined the proselytization debate, criticized Christianity and Islam, and asserted Hinduism to be a universal, secular religion.  
- Sweetman cites Richard King (1999) p. 128.( King 1999)
- Sweetman cites Dirks (2001), Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India, Princeton University Press, p. xxvii
- Sweetman cites Viswanathan (2003), Colonialism and the Construction of Hinduism, p. 26
- Smart distinguishes "Brahmanism" from the Vedic religion, connecting "Brahmanism" with the Upanishads. 
- Siemens & Roodt 2009, p. 546.
- Leaf 2014, p. 36.
- Knott 1998, pp. 3, 5.
- Hatcher 2015, pp. 4–5, 69–71, 150–152.
- Bowker 2000.
- Harvey 2001, p. xiii.
- Smith 1998.
- Sharma & Sharma 2004, p. 1–2.
- Klostermaier 2014, p. 2.
- Klostermaier 2007b, p. 7.
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The Upanishads form the foundations of Hindu philosophical thought and the central theme of the Upanishads is the identity of Atman and Brahman, or the inner self and the cosmic self;
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Even though theoretically the whole of vedic corpus is accepted as revealed truth [shruti], in reality it is the Upanishads that have continued to influence the life and thought of the various religious traditions that we have come to call Hindu. Upanishads are the scriptures par excellence of Hinduism
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Raksha Bandhan (also called Rakhi), when girls and women tie a rakhi (a symbolic thread) on their brothers' wrists and pray for their prosperity, happiness and goodwill. The brothers, in turn, give their sisters a token gift and promise protection.
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"Growth and Concentration in India". Policy, Technical, and Environmental Determinants and Implications of the Scaling-Up of Livestock Production in Four Fast-Growing Developing Countries: A Synthesis.
An analysis of consumption data originating from National Sample Survey (NSS) shows that 42 percent of households are vegetarian, in that they never eat fish, meat or eggs. The remaining 58 percent of households are less strict vegetarians or non-vegetarians.Goldammer, Ted. "Consumer Purchasing Behavior" (PDF). Passage to India. USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 June 2009. and Landes, Maurice R. (February 2004). "The Elephant Is Jogging: New Pressures for Agricultural Reform in India". Amber Waves. Archived from the original on 28 December 2006.. Results indicate that Indians who eat meat do so infrequently with less than 30% consuming non-vegetarian foods regularly, although the reasons may be economical.
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Infobase Publishing. p. 357.
The Kalasha are a unique people living in just three valleys near Chitral, Pakistan, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan. Unlike their neighbors in the Hindu Kush Mountains on both the Afghani and Pakistani sides of the border, the Kalasha have not converted to Islam. During the mid-20th century a few Kalasha villages in Pakistan were forcibly converted to this dominant religion, but the people fought the conversion and once official pressure was removed the vast majority continued to practice their own religion. Their religion is a form of Hinduism that recognizes many gods and spirits ... given their Indo-Aryan language, ... the religion of the Kalasha is much more closely aligned to the Hinduism of their Indian neighbors that to the religion of Alexander the Great and his armies.
- Samuel 2008, p. 113.
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- Nakamura, Hajime (1983). A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 102–104, 264–269, 294–295. ISBN 978-81-208-0651-1.; Quote: "But the Upanishadic ultimate meaning of the Vedas, was, from the viewpoint of the Vedic canon in general, clearly a new idea.."; p. 95: The [oldest] Upanishads, in particular, were part of the Vedic corpus [...] When these various new ideas were brought together and edited, they were added on to the already existing Vedic..."; p. 294: "When early Jainism came into existence, various ideas mentioned in the extant older Upanishads were current, ...".
- Witz, Klaus G. (1998). The Supreme Wisdom of the Upaniṣads: An Introduction. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 23, 1–2. ISBN 978-81-208-1573-5.;Quote: "In the Aranyakas therefore, thought and inner spiritual awareness started to separate subtler, deeper aspects from the context of ritual performance and myth with which they had been united up to then. This process was then carried further and brought to completion in the Upanishads. [...] The knowledge and attainment of the Highest Goal had been there from the Vedic times. But in the Upanishads inner awareness, aided by major intellectual breakthroughs, arrived at a language in which Highest Goal could be dealt with directly, independent of ritual and sacred lore".
- Wulf, Christoph (2016). Exploring Alterity in a Globalized World. Routledge. pp. 125–126. ISBN 978-1-317-33113-1.; Quote: "[...] the simultaneous emergence of a Vedic and a non-Vedic asceticism. [...] Thus, the challenge for old Vedic views consisted of a new theology, written down in the early Upanishads like the Brhadaranyaka and the Mundaka Upanishad. The new set of ideas contained the ..."
- Queen, Christopher S.; King, Sallie B. (1996). Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia. State University of New York Press. pp. 17–18. ISBN 978-0-7914-2844-3.
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- Neusner, Jacob (2009). World Religions in America: An Introduction. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 978-0-664-23320-4.
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Collins, Steven (1994). Reynolds, Frank; Tracy, David (eds.). Religion and Practical Reason. State Univ of New York Press. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-7914-2217-5.
Central to Buddhist soteriology is the doctrine of not-self (Pali: anattā, Sanskrit: anātman, the opposed doctrine of ātman is central to Brahmanical thought). Put very briefly, this is the [Buddhist] doctrine that human beings have no soul, no self, no unchanging essence.;
Shankara's Introduction. Translated by Roer, Edward. pp. 2–4.
Javanaud, Katie (2013). "Is The Buddhist 'No-Self' Doctrine Compatible With Pursuing Nirvana?". Philosophy Now.
- Plott, John C.; et al. (2000). Global History of Philosophy: The Axial Age. 1. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 63.
The Buddhist schools reject any Ātman concept. As we have already observed, this is the basic and ineradicable distinction between Hinduism and Buddhism.
- For the impact of "soul exists" concept in later Hinduism, see
Shankara's Introduction. Translated by Roer, Edward. pp. 3–4.
[...] Lokayatikas and Bauddhas who assert that the soul does not exist. There are four sects among the followers of Buddha: 1. Madhyamicas who maintain all is void; 2. Yogacharas, who assert except sensation and intelligence all else is void; 3. Sautranticas, who affirm the actual existence of external objects no less than of internal sensations; 4. Vaibhashikas, who agree with later (Sautranticas) except that they contend for immediate apprehension of exterior objects through images or forms represented to the intellect.
- King, Richard (1995). Ācārya, Gauḍapāda – Early Advaita Vedānta and Buddhism: the Mahāyāna context of the Gauḍapādīya-kārikā. SUNY Press. pp. 51–58. ISBN 978-0-7914-2513-8.
- Phillips, Stephen (2009). Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth: A Brief History and Philosophy. Columbia University Press. Chapter 1. ISBN 978-0-231-14485-8.
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Isaeva, Natalia (1995). From Early Vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism: Gaudapada, Bhartrhari, and Abhinavagupta. State University of New York Press. pp. 137, 163, 171–178. ISBN 978-1-4384-0761-6.;
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- Wink 1991, p. 14–16, 61–62, 172–174(p. 62) Their [slaves who were Sindians and Indians] number can only be guessed but was not large and definitely was dwarfed by the export of slaves from India during the Ghaznavid and Ghurid raids in northern India in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries." "From the Kanauj campaign of 1018 until the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate by Aybak in 1206 a vast stream of perhaps more than several hundred thousands of Indian slaves reached Ghazna, and hence were traced to other parts of the Islamic world. In the thirteenth century, Delhi developed into a considerable slave market. [...] Timur's capture of Delhi in 1398-9 provided the last massive haul of Hindu slaves by an invader, and after the fourteenth century slavery in India generally declined in scale."
- Eaton 2006, pp. 11–12.
- Wink 1991, p. 62.
- Eaton 2006, p. 11: "In 1562 Akbar abolished the practice of enslaving the families of war captives; his son Jahangir banned sending of slaves from Bengal as tribute in lieu of cash, which had been the custom since the 14th century. These measures notwithstanding, the Mughals actively participated in the slave trade with Central Asia, deporting rebels and subjects who had defaulted on revenue payments, following precedents inherited from Delhi Sultanate".
- Grapperhaus 2009, p. 118.
- Truschke, Audrey (1 February 2018). Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth. Penguin Random House India Private Limited. pp. 95–96. ISBN 978-0-14-343967-7.
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Avari 2013, p. 115: citing a 2000 study, writes "Aurangzeb was perhaps no more culpable than most of the sultans before him; they desecrated the temples associated with Hindu power, not all temples. It is worth noting that, in contrast to the traditional claim of hundreds of Hindu temples having been destroyed by Aurangzeb, a recent study suggests a modest figure of just fifteen destructions."
In contrast to Avari, the historian Abraham Eraly estimates Aurangzeb era destruction to be significantly higher; "in 1670, all temples around Ujjain were destroyed"; and later, "300 temples were destroyed in and around Chitor, Udaipur and Jaipur" among other Hindu temples destroyed elsewhere in campaigns through 1705. 
The persecution during the Islamic period targeted non-Hindus as well. Avari writes, "Aurangzeb's religious policy caused friction between him and the ninth Sikh guru, Tegh Bahadur. In both Punjab and Kashmir, the Sikh leader was roused to action by Aurangzeb's excessively zealous Islamic policies. Seized and taken to Delhi, he was called upon by Aurangzeb to embrace Islam and, on refusal, was tortured for five days and then beheaded in November 1675. Two of the ten Sikh gurus thus died as martyrs at the hands of the Mughals. (Avari (2013), page 155)
- Basham 1999.
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- Larson 1995, p. 109.
- Larson 1995, p. 111.
- Larson 1995, p. 112.
- Hardy 1977.
- Malik 2008, p. 183–187.
- Avari 2013, pp. 66–70: "Many Hindu slaves converted to Islam and gained their liberty."