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Hinduism came about over about five thousand years of development, although its name dates only from about 1200 CE, which is when invading Muslims sought to distinguish the faith of the people of India from their own.

"Hindu" is the Persian word for "Indian," although the religion is practiced throughout the Indian subcontinent, in parts of Southeast Asia, and by Indian expatriates in other parts of the world.

Hinduism represents a fusion of various older Indian traditions, including the Vedic religion of the Iron Age era, which was itself a blending of even older cultures, as well as the religions of the Indus Valley Civilization, the Dravidians of South India, and the beliefs of tribal religions and local traditions.

Hinduism has neither a founder or a prophet. There is no particular ecclesiastical structure or accepted creed to Hinduism. Similar to Confucianism, its emphasis is on a way of living rather than beliefs or philosophy. In many ways, Hinduism is more of a culture than a creed.

Not all Hindus are practicing Hindus, as those who are born Hindus are commonly considered Hindus regardless of their beliefs or practices. This goes back to the common ingredient of Hinduism being the Indian origin of its adherents.

Hinduism is closely interwoven with the traditions of India, its geography, history, and social system.

Triangular in shape, the Indian subcontinent is bounded on two sides by ocean, and to the north by the formidable Himalayan Mountain Range. The shape of the land represents a mother to the people of India, which gives reference to "Mother India."

Most of the land of India viewed as vibrant with life, with trees, rocks, and waterfalls providing a focus for the sacred, becoming shrines where worshippers go to find meaning in life. The mountains and forests are viewed as representing human endeavors, pointing to the struggle between divine and demonic powers.

While yogis go on pilgrimages to desolate areas of India, it is primarily the rivers that are seen as the source of life and spirituality. The River Ganges, in particular, is held as sacred. Varanasi, on the banks of the River Ganges, is the most sacred city in Hinduism.

Theologically, Hinduism embraces a wide variety of religious beliefs.

Most Hindus believe in God, in one form or another, but their beliefs may vary widely, and some do not believe in a deity. Hindu beliefs may include monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, pandeism, monism, and atheism.

The beliefs of many Hindus is henotheistic, meaning that they will demonstrate devotion to a single god while accepting the existence of others. Some Hindus worship Shiva, others worship Vishnu or his incarnations (avatars), most commonly Krishna or Rama, while others worship goddesses. Hindus may also revere one god, as well as several other gods as manifestations of that one god.

Hindus who live in one village or place will probably not share in the same focus of worship that unites the people of another place, although the inhabitants of both places may be Hindu.

In many ways, Hinduism is an umbrella term that covers a wide variety traditions and customs without demanding homogeneity.

One concept that is found throughout Hinduism is the idea of reincarnation or transmigration. While Christians tend to view salvation in terms of the decisions we make in this one life, Hindus consider their current life in terms of a flow of life through many existences. Linked to this is the concept of samsara, a Sanskrit word that refers to the belief in rebirth and a cycle of lives. Couple with this concept is that of karma, which indicates the consequences of actions within one life flowing into the next and influencing its character. Hindus hope, eventually, to be released from this chain or cycle by achieving moksha, which refers to freedom from samsara. Many schools of Hinduism regard moksha as a state of perfection.

Although Hinduism is without a central authority or doctrine, there are denominations. Major Hindu denominations include Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism, which differ primarily in the central deity that is worshipped. As compared to other major religions, the distinctions between Hindu denominations are indistinct, with many Hindus practicing more than one tradition.

Vaishnavism worships Vishnu, Shaivism focuses on Shiva, Shaktism is devoted to Shakti or Devi as cosmic mother, and Smartism is centered on simultaneous worship of all the major Hindu deities, such as Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Ganesha, Surya, Skanda, and others.

Hindu scriptures are in Sanskrit, and include the Shruti and the Smriti. The Bhagavad Gita includes a synthesis of the Hindu concepts of dharma, bhakti, and the yogic paths to moksha.



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