The most popular among the Aryan religions is Hinduism. ‘Hindu’ is actually a Persian word that stands for the inhabitants of the region beyond the Indus Valley. However, in common parlance, Hinduism is a blanket term for an assortment of religious beliefs, most of which are based on the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.
Hinduism is commonly perceived as a polytheistic religion. Indeed, most Hindus would attest to this, by professing belief in multiple Gods. While some Hindus believe in the existence of three gods, some believe in thousands of gods, and some others in thirty three crore i.e. 330 million Gods. However, learned Hindus, who are well versed in their scriptures, insist that a Hindu should believe in and worship only one God.
The common Hindu, therefore, considers everything as God. He considers the trees as God, the sun as God, the moon as God, the monkey as God, the snake as God and even human beings as manifestations of God! Islam, on the contrary, exhorts man to consider himself and his surroundings as examples of Divine Creation rather than as divinity itself. Muslims therefore believe that everything is God’s or everything belongs to God. The trees belong to God, the sun belongs to God, the moon belongs to God, the monkey belongs to God, the snake belongs to God, the human beings belong to God and everything in this universe belongs to God.
There are several sacred scriptures of the Hindus. Among these are the Vedas, Upanishads and the Puranas.
1. The word Veda is derived from vid which means to know, knowledge par excellence or sacred wisdom. There are four principal divisions of the Vedas (although according to their number, they amount to 1131 out of which about a dozen are available). According to Maha Bhashya of Patanjali, there are 21 branches of Rigveda, 9 types of Atharvaveda, 101 branches of Yajurveda and 1000 of Samveda).
1. The word 'Upanishad' is derived from Upa meaning near, Ni which means down and Shad means to sit. Therefore ‘Upanishad’ means sitting down near. Groups of pupils sit near the teacher to learn from him the secret doctrines.
4. Some Pundits consider the Upanishads to be more superior to the Vedas.
Next in order of Hindu scriptures are the Puranas which are the most widely read scriptures. It is believed that the Puranas contain the history of the creation of the universe, history of the early Aryan tribes, life stories of the divines and deities of the Hindus. It is also believed that the Puranas are revealed books like the Vedas, which were revealed simultaneously with the Vedas or sometime close to it.
The two epics of Hinduism are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
According to Ramanuja, the scholar of Ramayana, there are more than 300 different types of Ramayana: Tulsidas Ramayana, Kumbha Ramayana. Though the outline of Ramayana is same, the details and contents differ.
Unlike the Mahabharata, the Ramayana appears to be the work of one person – the sage Valmiki, who probably composed it in the 3rd century BC. Its best-known recension (by Tulsi Das, 1532-1623) consists of 24,000 rhymed couplets of 16-syllable lines organised into 7 books. The poem incorporates many ancient legends and draws on the sacred books of the Vedas. It describes the efforts of Kosala’s heir, Rama, to regain his throne and rescue his wife, Sita, from the demon King of Lanka.
The nucleus of the Mahabharata is the war of eighteen days fought between the Kauravas, the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra and Pandavas, the five sons of Pandu. The epic entails all the circumstances leading upto the war. Involved in this Kurukshetra battle were almost all the kings of India joining either of the two parties. The result of this war was the total annihilation of Kauravas and their party. Yudhishthira, the head of the Pandavas, became the sovereign monarch of Hastinapura. His victory is supposed to symbolise the victory of good over evil. But with the progress of years, new matters and episodes relating to the various aspects of human life, social, economic, political, moral and religious as also fragments of other heroic legends came to be added to the aforesaid nucleus and this phenomenon continued for centuries until it acquired the present shape. The Mahabharata represents a whole literature rather than one single and unified work, and contains many multifarious things.
Bhagavad Gita is a part of Mahabharata. It is the advice given by Krishna to Arjun on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. It contains the essence of the Vedas and is the most popular of all the Hindu Scriptures. It contains 18 chapters.