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Om sign in the Devanagari script. The Om sign in Devanagari script (ॐ) is often perceived as a symbol of Hinduism.

The Hindu , also Sanatana dharma (Sanskrit सनातन धर्म sanātana dharma , for the eternal law ), is approximately one billion adherents and a proportion of about 15% of the world population after Christian (around 31%) and Islam (approximately 23 %) the third largest religious group , or a diverse religious complex, on earth. It has its origin in India . Followers of Hinduism, which is often perceived as polytheistic abroad and categorized as henotheistic in scientific circles, are called Hindus , whereby this hyperonym in its summary reflects more a European - colonialist perspective than does justice to the historical development or the lines of development of the different religions of India . In contrast to other religions, there is no founder of religion in Hinduism, rather the religious systems of India developed over a period of approx. 3500 years.

Hinduism therefore fundamentally unites different religions, some of which overlap with common traditions and influence one another, but show differences in holy scriptures, beliefs, the world of gods and rituals. Axel Michaels advocates the thesis that these different religions and communities mostly meet five criteria: (a) a spatial reference to South Asia, (b) similar social and marriage regulations (see caste system ), (c) dominant Vedic-brahmanic values, ( d) the worship of certain deities and (e) an identifying habitus.

The main spiritual currents within the Hindu religions are:


Hinduism by country

According to an estimate from 2010, there are around one billion Hindus worldwide, around 92% of whom live in India , where they form the largest religious group with around 80% of the population. This also applies to Nepal (81%), the Indonesian province of Bali (90%, Indonesia as a whole 1.8%) and Mauritius (49%). Countries with a comparatively significant proportion of Hindus are also Fiji (30%), Guyana (30%), Bhutan (25%), Suriname (22%), Trinidad and Tobago (18%), Sri Lanka (13%) and Bangladesh (9%) and Malaysia (7%). The roughly three million Hindus in Sri Lanka are almost exclusively Tamils . In Pakistan , after the partition of India in 1947, there was a population exchange in which almost all Hindus fled to India. The share in Pakistan is still 1.5%.

On the Indian subcontinent, Hinduism prevailed over Buddhism in the 1st millennium AD and became the predominant religion in India in the 12th century. Hinduism was promoted in Nepal since the 14th century and was the religion of the royal family until the end of the monarchy in 2008.

Outside the Indian subcontinent, Hinduism spread in several spurts. From the 1st to the 6th century it developed along the trade routes in Southeast Asia, particularly in Burma , Cambodia , Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula . During the time of British rule in India , numerous Indians came to other parts of the British colonial empire as workers or traders. The Hindu community in Great Britain goes back mainly to Indian immigration after 1945.

In the last few decades there has been an increased immigration of Indian guest workers to the Arab states on the Persian Gulf and the USA . In Qatar , Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates , the Hindu population is now over 10%. Many Indian traders evicted from Uganda in 1972 settled in Canada and the UK. Since 1873 so-called Hindustans came to Suriname as contract workers . After Suriname gained independence in 1975, numerous Surinamese Hindus moved to the Netherlands for fear of political discrimination .

The majority of the over 60,000 Hindus in Germany are refugees, especially Tamils, who were able to escape the civil war in Sri Lanka . Its cultural and religious center is the Sri Kamadchi Ampal Temple in the North Rhine-Westphalian city ​​of Hamm , which was established in 2002. It is the second largest Hindu temple in Europe after the Neasden Temple in London, which was built in the north Indian Nagara style .

To the subject

The Indus , from which the word "Hindu" is derived.

Hinduism is not a uniform religion . Indologists and religious scholars often use the term Hindu traditions or Hindu religions . The term “Hinduism” encompasses a complex of religious traditions and social phenomena, some of which have very different socio-economic , historical and geographical conditions.

The word "Hindu" comes from the Persian and referred to in the singular river Indus (which in Sanskrit in turn Sindhu 's). As a geographical name, this word already appears in the ancient Persian inscriptions of the Achaemenids . When the Greeks under Alexander the Great in 326 BC They called the river “Indos” and the inhabitants of the country called “Indoi”, from which the word Indian is derived.

With the advance of Muslims into the Sindh from 711/712 AD, the indigenous population was called Hindus and the country was called "Al Hind". This also had tax-technical reasons, as non-Muslims had to pay an additional tax, the poll tax . Thus, from the 8th century onwards, there were two tax categories in western India: Muslims and Hindus. This name, derived from the tax administration, was continued by all subsequent ruling dynasties, most recently by the English, who took over the structures of the Mughal administration . The Hindu identity is thus constructed especially through its relationship to the ruling Muslims as non-Muslims.

In the English colonial era , the artificial distinction arose between “Indian” in the secular and “Hindu” in the religious sense, in contrast to Muslims and Christians. Derived from this, "Hinduism" was created as a collective term for Indian religions. At first it was not noticed that there were several religions with very different ideas, since the followers of this religion lived together peacefully and naturally. The earliest evidence for the use of the term "Hindoo" comes from the year 1808, the British Colonel "Hindoo" Stewart used it in his pamphlet "Vindication of the Hindoos, by an bengal Officer". Modern Hindus prefer the term "Sanatana Dharma" to describe their religion.

Within Hinduism there are monotheistic , dualistic and polytheistic directions, deities appear as personal or impersonal beings. The Hindu religions have neither a common creed nor a central institution that has authority over all Hindus. Only individual directions go back to a particular founder. The characteristics of Indian philosophy and even the ideas of God are very different in the individual currents, and the views on life, death and redemption ( Moksha ) do not agree. The priesthood can belong to Brahmanism as well as lower castes, sometimes it also consists of untouchables . Religious teachers ( gurus ) are often of great importance for personal belief . Despite all the differences, Hindus of the various schools can largely celebrate and pray together. “Unity in diversity” is an often used phrase in Hinduism.

As a counter-movement to the secular state model , which Mahatma Gandhi saw as a solution to the religious conflicts, mainly between Muslims and Hindus, the development of Hindu nationalism showed signs of ideologizing the term, especially to differentiate it from Muslims. The ideological roots of this "politicized Hinduism" lie in the neo-Hindu movement of the Indian struggle for independence. This was associated with the term Hindutva , the Indian appropriation of the term "Hinduism". One of the leading ideologues is Vinayak Damodar Savarkar , a radical liberation fighter who was captured by the British in 1910. The aim of the Hindutva movement is the (re) creation of a single Hindu nation. Savarkar made use of a “constructed” common past of all Hindus.

Article 25 of the Indian Constitution , which is devoted to religious freedom and the rights of the state that restrict it, contains an additional provision to paragraph 2b that specifies that Hinduism also includes Jainism , Buddhism and Sikhism . The constitution thus fully follows Savarkar's demand that Hindutva bring together all religions and worldviews that have arisen on Indian soil and that regard India as their holy land. Originally, the main aim was to achieve the greatest possible majority of “Hindus” over Muslims in the struggle for independence and the future distribution of power. So far, only the Sikhs have successfully defended themselves against this “appropriation” as “Hindus” before the Constitutional Court.

Even at the second World Hindu Conference in 1979, organized by the Vishva Hindu Parishad , representatives of various Hindu groups, castes or religious tendencies could not agree on a common definition. After all, a six-point code was developed for all Hindus: Whoever says prayers ( suryapranama and prarthana ), reads the Bhagavad Gita , worships a personal wish deity ( Murti , literally “statue of gods, image”), uses the sacred syllable Om and the sacred Herb Tulsi ("Indian basil") grows, which can be called "Hindu". But this definition remains superficial and, because of the tulsi bush, also has a vishnuitic color.

Michaels (1998) sees Hinduism as a kind of collective term for religions, religious communities, socio-religious systems that fulfills five of the following criteria:

  • originated and spread in the South Asian region;
  • the social organization is characterized by parentage and marriage regulations ( caste system )
  • (originally) Vedic-Brahmanic values, rituals and myths dominate ;
  • the manifestations of Shiva , Vishnu , Devi , Rama , Krishna or Ganesha are worshiped as divine power or god; or at least not refused
  • an identificatory habitus that is related to the salvation of descent, which comes from the ancient Indian sacrificial system, but has largely detached itself from it.

History of Hinduism

Pre-Vedic religions (until approx. 1750 BC)

Mohenjo-Daro seal 420 (3rd millennium BC); Representation has already been identified as Proto- Shiva

Almost nothing is known about religious life in the early Stone Age settlements. A wide variety of spirits , mother gods and trees were probably worshiped. The religions were characterized by ancestral cult and animism .

The Bronze Age Indus culture (approx. 2500–1500 BC) developed along the Indus in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent . There were city facilities with up to 40,000 inhabitants, irrigation systems and right-angled streets. Houses and castles were built from fired, evenly shaped bricks.

John Marshall , the excavator of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa , was the first to try to explain the Indus religion and came to the conclusion that many manifestations of later Hinduism were already present in the Indus religion. He mentioned three important aspects:

  • Adoration of the " Great Mother Goddess ", as a forerunner of Proto- Shaktism . The goddess could have been a protoform of the Hindu Durga or Shakti .
  • Worship of a "big male God" ( Great times God ), as a precursor of proto- yoga . This presumed god was already referred to as Proto- Shiva by Mackay in 1928 , who approached the “Lord of the Animals”, the later Pashupati . (See Mohenjo-Daro Seal 420 )
  • The "Big Bad" ( Great Bath ) in Mohenjodaro ablutions have served, still play an exceptionally important role in Hinduism.

The interpretation of the image of the “Great Male God” is uncertain. The determination of representations of (possibly pregnant) women or female clay figures as mother goddesses remains speculative: "But we must assume that animism , demon worship , fertility cults , the worship of natural forces and mother goddesses certain religiosity, although the shares from later stages of the Hindu -Religions have been superimposed and are difficult to filter out. "

Some researchers believe that the religion of the Indus culture was polytheistic , similar to the religions of the Sumerians, Egyptians, and other ancient peoples . However, a unique selling point is the lack of monumental structures, comparable to the Egyptian pyramids or Sumerian ziggurats . They assume that such structures existed but were transformed or demolished over time.

Vedic religion

The Vedic religion emerged after the collapse of the Indus culture in northern India or in today's Pakistan. The structure of the Vedas . In addition to the Rigveda , the four Vedas also include Samaveda , Yajurveda and Atharvaveda . All Hindu religions accept the inviolability of these four Vedas, but individual beliefs often add other scriptures to them. They are considered holy revelation ( Shruti ), they demand a commitment from the believer in questions of religion, ethics and social coexistence. According to Hindu ideas, the texts have existed for ages and are of supernatural origin.

Name of the text Rigveda Samaveda Yajurveda Atharvaveda
Function with the victim The caller (hotṛ) calls on the gods The singer (udgātṛ) starts the songs The sacrificial priest (adhvaryu) mumbles the proverbs during his sacrifice The high priest (brahman) averts evil forces
etymology rik (ṛc) = stanza saman (sāman) = song jaju = saying atharvan = magic
Number of stanzas 10600 1800 2000 6000
content Hymns that invoke and praise the gods (e.g. Indra , Agni , Soma , Vischnu ) Texts for priestly chants; up to 75 identical to the Rigveda Sacrificial sayings and ritual instructions Magic texts, weather blessings, appeasement of evil demons, defense against enemies
Main theological thoughts Forces and elements of nature are considered gods. In the later period the question arises: Is there a final world reason hidden behind the multitude of gods? Formation and development of the caste system : 1. Brahmins (priests), 2. Kshatriya (warriors, nobility), 3. Vaishya (merchants, traders, free peasants), 4. Shudra (servants, slaves). Outside the caste order are the pariah . The unconditional primacy of the priestly caste developed with the training of sacrificial beings and rituals (around 1000 BC) - see under Samaveda - see under Samaveda
Vedanta Upanishads : reflections and thoughts of wise men and ascetics (e.g. Yajnavalkya ). Pessimistic mood. All existence is suffering. Two important basic ideas: 1. Identity of Atman and Brahman (monism) 2. Reincarnation and redemption - - -
Brahmanas Texts to explain and interpret the sacrificial ritual - - -
Aranjakas Reflections by the forest settlers on the sacrifice and the magic word - - -
Four big sentences Prajnanam brahma (Sanskrit: प्रज्ञानं ब्रह्म prajñānaṃ brahma "Consciousness (Prajnana) is Brahman" "Braham is knowledge") Aham brahma asmi (Sanskrit: अहं ब्रह्मास्मि aham brahmāsmi "I am Brahman"). Tat tvam asi (Sanskrit: तत् त्वम् असि, or तत्त्वमसि, "That is you" or "You are that") Ayam atma brahma (Sanskrit: अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म ayam ātmā brahma "This self is Brahman")

Early Vedic phase (1750–1200 BC)

The Rigveda in Sanskrit , manuscript from the 19th century
Disciple learning the Veda

From the middle of the 2nd millennium BC Various tribal groups of Indo-Iranian cattle nomads from Central Asia or the Middle East invaded northern Punjab . Although the immigration thesis has been questioned in part, the fact remains that “for linguistic and archaeological reasons it cannot be overlooked that from around 1750 BC onwards, From the northwest a new culture spread from the northwest, which is also called Vedic because of its texts , but it is not known exactly which cultural-historical changes are due to these 'intruders'. "The Vedic religion is one of the earliest sources of Hinduism The Vedas have little meaning in today's Hinduism with regard to their content, but they are considered synonymous with absolute and unassailable truths.

Aryan was a self-name used by the immigrants and comes from the Vedic árya , which means “venerable”. This probably meant less a racial border than a cultural and linguistic border ; A commitment to certain moral values ​​was expressed, such as contractual loyalty, hospitality , truthfulness and the order established by the gods. The further advance into the north-west of India and the transition from semi-nomadism to sedentarism took place in several stages.

The knowledge about this time is essentially based on books I to IX of the Rigveda and old Iranian sources , because the Aryas left surprisingly little for archeology. The texts were initially passed on orally. The fact that they have been handed down to such an extent and with such accuracy “is thanks to the fact that the Arya were tribes with a nomadic or semi-nomadic way of life, whose group identity was not based on the construction of permanent homes and permanent affiliation to a particular landscape owed, but to a cultural memory trained from childhood , in which the tribe preserved the legends of their heroes, the myths of their gods and also the priestly songs with which inspired priests had sacrificed the gods and won them as allies ”.

The polytheistic world view has a clear relationship with the gods of the ancient Iranians , Greeks and other Indo-European peoples. The father of the heavenly gods was heaven Dyaus Pita (cf. Zeus Pater and Jupiter ) and the mother god Aditi . The children referred to the Aryans as Aditas ("Sons of Aditi") or Devas ("Heavenly"). A central feature of the cult were food sacrifices, which were supposed to strengthen the gods so that they in turn protected the cosmic and moral order. The practice of sacrifice is still a cultural characteristic of India. This is where the verbal and ritual communication between man and deity has its origin. The sacrificial service took place in the open air or in simple, changing sacrificial huts. The preparation of the intoxicating drink Soma played an important role.

Heinrich von Stietencron suspects that around the 10th century BC Began to collect the various traditions. Initially three collections of Vedic knowledge ( Veda "knowledge"), the Rigveda , the Samaveda and the Yajurveda , formed the "threefold knowledge" ( trayi vidya ). Later the Atharvaveda was recognized as the fourth Veda .

Middle Vedic phase (1200–850 BC)

Brahmin while reciting

The Middle Vedic period is mainly recorded in Rigveda X, the mantras of Yajurveda and the older Brahmana texts. The Aryans can already be found in the upper Gangestal . There are first state formations with tribal chiefs and competing priests over the common people.

The victim was becoming increasingly important. While the gods were persuaded to help in early Vedic times through prayer or sacrifice, the priests now forced the gods to obey the laws to which sacrifice and the world order are subject. Through their sacrificial science, the priests acquired a power they had never known before. They called themselves Brahmins and declared themselves to be the personification of Brahman.

Late Vedic phase (850–500 BC)

Personal Brahma teaches gods and people

Centralized kingships were built up and the professional structure was consolidated as a social order in the Varna (caste) system.

As part of the Veda came Brahmanas added. These provide commentary, detailed instructions on the ritual, and theological justifications or speculative hints of each of the acts of sacrifice. The Aranyakas ("forest texts") follow the Brahmanas . These are ritual texts for the Orthodox Brahmins who had withdrawn into the forest. They paved the way for the Upanishads , confidential philosophical interpretations that were only intended for a narrow circle of students who “sit down so close” ( upa-ni-shad ) that no unwanted person hears it. The mythical - allegorical interpretation of the sacrifice is valued more highly in ascetic circles than the performance of the ritual. When the Veda is mentioned in India , the Upanishads are primarily meant, which are also known as the “end of the Veda” ( Vedanta ). This is a change that takes place in the history of religion in two new teachings: in the teaching of Brahman and Atman and in the doctrine of rebirth.

Brahma represents the principle of creation. It is the one from which everything has emerged: “Brahman is that which remains behind the spoken word, the invisible, inaudible, not palpable, but actually effective, which underlies all existence . ”In addition, Atman denotes the individual self, the indestructible, eternal essence of the mind. It is constantly existing and never separated from the cosmic force, the Brahman, and it does not change. The goal of life here is to recognize the unity of Atman and Brahman. The path of meditation , yoga and existential knowledge serves this purpose . In terms of religious history, a system change took place. In place of polytheism came monism . The disempowered gods were subordinated to Brahman as the ruling principle.

Another important topic of the Unpanishads is the doctrine of rebirth (Sanskrit: punarbhava = constant becoming) and the doctrine of the consequences of actions ( karma ). The Atman, the immortal soul, is reincarnated after the death of the body. According to the doctrine of karma, the quality of the future body and future experiences is pre-shaped by previous actions. As the most important achievement, the problem of theodicy (roughly “God's righteousness”) was thus solved. The injustice of the world does not come from an unjust God, but everyone caused his own fate.

The first approaches to monotheistic thinking also established themselves as a contrast to monistic thinking . As there was an alternative to the shapeless ( arūpa ), attributeless ( nirguna ) and unknowable ( acintya ) Brahman in the form of a personal god with attributes ( saguna ). This intangible power was personified linguistically only by shifting the accent from the first syllable ( bráhman ) to the second ( brahmán ) and by the resulting change of gender. In terms of content, the desire for an omnipotent creator god who had to have a clearly identifiable consciousness and a defined external form was decisive. However, since the Veda did not transmit anything about a deity with the name Brahmā, this had to be identified with already existing deities that were documented by the Veda . For this purpose, a hitherto nameless god with the title “Lord of Creatures” ( Prajāpati ) offered himself , who was henceforth assigned to Brahmā. The newly created deity Brahmā experienced further legitimation through the association with the already known idea of ​​a golden and immortal embryo ( hiranyagarbha ), which ruled over life and death and was authorized to instruct other deities. Furthermore, this deity was considered to be the creator of earth and heaven. This personified creator deity is mentioned in the Rigveda under the names Prajāpati and Purusha , in later times under the names Bhagavān or Īshvara .

Ascetic reformism (500–200 BC)

Buddha as an ascetic . Sculpture of the 2nd / 3rd 19th century, British Museum

Since the 5th century BC BC, the time of urban development, city royalty and city nobility, various movements used the weakening of the Vedic sacrificial religion. It is true that the Brahmins continued to hold the monopoly on sacrifice as a way of salvation, but above all the economic and social change brought about by trade made more individualism possible . The so far smoldering criticism of the Brahmin sacrifice increased. Ascetic reform movements were looking for a way to escape the eternal cycle of births. Monastic forms of life were designed in which purity, needlessness, non-violence and meditation were practiced. Turning away from the world was considered a prerequisite for self-liberation.

Two of these monk movements were able to prevail in the long run: Jainism and Buddhism . Both were reform movements that started out from the warrior class in the eastern Gangestal (Bihar), where the princes were mostly of non-Aryan origin. Of the teachings of the Upanishads, the teachings of regeneration and karma were the only ones that were adopted. From India to Central Asia, Buddhism was at least the politically favored religion for a long time. Brahmanism and folk Hinduism, however, lived on.

After Alexander the Great had penetrated into the Indus Valley in 327, the many north Indian kingdoms had to recognize Greek or Scythian overlords. It formed syncretic cultures: "The Hindu religious ability to adapt and collecting foreign religious influences has probably evolved in this time and in contact with these diverse external cultures."

Classical Hinduism

Pre-Classical Hinduism (200 BC-300 AD)

Pre-Classical Hinduism begins with the collapse of the Maurya Empire and continues until the beginning of the Gupta Empire . In this phase of upheaval, many elements of the Vedic religion are lost. That the Hinduization of other religions could take place without military means can be seen as a world historical achievement of India.

Early Hinduism is not only based on acculturation or ascetic reform movements, but also on restoration . Possibly due to a loss of religious orientation, people returned to old traditions and began to compile the Brahmanic heritage. Religious independence could also be preserved through Sanskrit, which was revived in the courts.

Brahmin priests declared local deities to be manifestations of their respective high deities and thus included them in the Hindu pantheon. In addition, there was a decline of the Vedic gods and a rise of deities that are not or only barely mentioned in the Veda, especially Shiva and Vishnu , or their manifestations.

Flowering period (300–650)

Durga temple in Aihole with Shikhara structure

With the beginning of the Gupta rule, classical Hinduism came to a heyday, which only suffered a collapse with the collapse of the Harsha empire.

The Brahmins are increasingly gaining power and prosperity, while Shudras and women are being devalued . Child marriage becomes common, as well as widow burning and the ban on remarriage. The ban on slaughtering cattle prevailed. As an expression of the feudal system, the first Hindu temples emerged, for example the Durga temple in Aihole . These had pointed towers ( Shikhara ) as cultic centers, in which a high deity in the sanctuary and other deities were worshiped in the niches, doors or smaller ancillary buildings. As a result, pilgrimages began, because the monumental buildings attracted the people. In addition, the Hindu worship of gods ( puja ), which combines ancient Indian forms of hospitality for high-ranking guests with courtly ceremonies, arose during this time .

Late period (650–1100)

Shankara with disciples (painting by Raja Ravi Varma , 1904)

With the collapse of the Harsha Empire, a political situation arose that was similar to European feudalism . Smaller kingdoms that fought or were loosely linked relied on the protection of the larger kingdoms. The collapse of the great empires also led to regionalization and rivalry in religion. Local cults and regional languages ​​were upgraded, and Brahmin ritualistic Hinduism once again faced headwinds. There was a preference for local gods, who were declared to be the manifestations of Vishnu and Shiva. In addition, god heroes such as Parashurama and Krishna Vasudeva were declared to be manifestations of Vishnu. In this late period of classical Hinduism, typical Hindu directions such as Shivaism , Vishnuism , Bhakti and Tantrism ripened . In addition, there were rural, devotional movements and a few non- or anti-Brahmanic foundation religions .

The wandering basket Shankara (approx. 788–820) had a particular influence . He further developed the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta , a monistic system that reduced the world to a single principle and thus preached against Brahmanic ritualism and Buddhism. He founded various ascetic groups. The Shankaracharya orders that exist up to the present day go back to Shankara's four most important disciples.

Islamic expansion and sectarian Hinduism (1100-1850)

Especially in northern India there is a close connection between Sufism and Nirguna Bhakti
Samartha Ramdas (1608–1682) whose main concern was the spread of Hinduism in India

This era is under the influence of Islam and later Christianity . In contrast to inner-Indian religions, these monotheistic religions were less co-opted by the Hindu religions. Although there were numerous intermingling, the foreign religions remained foreign religions, presumably because they did not tolerate the caste system and, due to their political and economic superiority, were better able to assert their own religious structures.

Since the conquest of Sindh by Muslim armies in 711, there has been a presence of Islam on the Indian subcontinent. This stagnated territorial initially, but prospered under the dynasty of the Ghaznavids end of the 11th century to the Punjab and led under the influence of Ghurids and early Delhi Sultanate for supremacy over much of northern India. It is misleading to speak of an invasion of the Indian subcontinent in this context, as this term is a construct based on colonial British rule in the 19th century and the territorial world perception in the pre-colonial era was fundamentally different. For centuries there has been an established contact between the Indus valley and the Ganges plain with the regions of Afghanistan (an early center of Buddhism ) and Central Asia (cf. the Kushana dynasty ).

In addition, the one-sidedness of the prevailing (Muslim and Hindu) histories of the time must be taken into account, which were essentially committed to the interests of the various rulers and in which, as a rule, a deep and irreconcilable hostility between Muslims and Hindus is documented. For one thing, the rivalries did not run along religious lines alone; the various Hindu rulers of the time before the Islamic conquest were deeply enemies and covered themselves with wars, and the looting of Muslim armies in northern India was sometimes directed against Muslims regarded as heretical (e.g. Shiites ). On the other hand, the looting of Hindu temples by Muslim rulers should not be seen primarily as an act of religious oppression, but rather as a political measure aimed at destroying the central locations of the respective ruler's cult and thus the ideological foundation of royal Hindu power. This does not diminish the brutality and recklessness of the respective actions, but it avoids placing these events in the context of today's explicitly religious conflicts between Hindus and Muslims and thus distorting them.

In addition to the concrete political conflicts of the day, the Muslim presence in northern India (in the long term) had a significant influence on the regional cultures there in many areas (e.g. architecture, literature and the fine arts, state theory and administration, but also on religious matters Area). The influence of Sufism played an essential role in the formation of local religious identities in Punjab and other regions of northern and western India, not just among Muslims. Various mixed forms of religious practices developed, especially in the vicinity of the graves of Sufi saints. The amalgamation of religious worlds went so far that the census carried out by the British colonial government in 1911 for the Gujarat region shows the figure of around 200,000 Mohammedan Hindus (i.e. Muslim Hindus). In Punjab which also originated from the beginning of the 16th century Sikhism .

The rule of the Mughals in the 16th and 17th centuries deepened Islamic influence on Hindu societies in northern India. Although the various rulers followed the advice of their orthodox Islamic elites to varying degrees and sometimes used violence against Hindu temples, the presence of a large number of Hindu administrative officials and military leaders at the Mughal court as well as the sometimes massive dominance of Hindu overseas traders, especially in Gujarat, testify to a large extent peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Hindus in India during the period of Muslim rule on the subcontinent.

As a counter-reaction to the Islamic supremacy and also in continuation of the previous regionalizations, two innovations emerged in the Hindu religions: the sects and the historicization as a forerunner of later nationalism . The sects were followers with charismatic leaders or poet saints without an organized follower (for example Tulsidas and Chaitanya ). They wrote devotional works. In addition, sect leaders like Tukaram and Samartha Ramdas preached ideas that glorified Hinduism and the past. Perhaps the devotional internalization of religiosity represents a reaction to external pressures. The Brahmins, too, increasingly wrote historicizing texts or developed a retrospective passion for collecting by compiling extensive collections of ingredients on many topics.

The decline of the Mughal Empire coincided with the arrival of the East India Company , which confronted Hinduism with Christian and Western ideas.

Modern Hinduism (from 1850)

Mahatma Gandhi , political and spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement

In the 19th century, various religious and social reform movements emerged in India, which emerged from India's encounter with Europe and industrialization and are mostly called "Neohinduism".

The British initially pursued the strategy of staying out of religious issues. Conflicts over religious issues did not arise until London called for action to be taken against abuses such as widow burning and child marriage, which led to feelings of inferiority in India against the British colonial power. The Indian uprising of 1857 was sparked by a religious question: The uprising was generally triggered by the introduction of the Enfield rifle , whose paper cartridges, according to a rumor widespread among the British-Indian armed forces, were treated with a mixture of beef tallow and lard. Since the cartridges had to be bitten open before use, their use was a violation of their religious duties for devout Hindus and Muslims.

Following the example of the Christian mission, Swami Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 with the aim of spreading the teaching of Vedanta , which he regarded as the consummation of religions, all over the world. His teacher Ramakrishna took the view that all religions in the world proclaim the same truth, that the diversity of religions is only sham ( Maya ). Vivekananda's speech to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, in which he first introduced Hinduism as a universal religion , was the first occasion on which Hinduism presented itself outside of India.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi visits the USA in 1979

In Indian intellectual circles, ethical reform movements were formed which condemned the caste system and the tradition of widow burning and sought a democratization of the Hindu religions without the priestly dominance of the Brahmins. In the course of this development, Hindus began to see themselves as a unit. From the beginning, Neohinduism was associated with the aspirations for independence. Examples of this are the neo-Hindu reform movements of Brahmo Samaj (founded 1828), Ramakrishna (1836–1886), Sri Aurobindo (1872–1950), the Theosophical Society (founded 1875) and Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948). In contrast, representatives of the Arya Samaj (founded in 1875) emphasized a “Vedic” Hinduism that was purified from Western and Islamic influences.

The phase of Christian-Hindu encounters was replaced by Hindu tendencies with the independence of India (August 15, 1947). According to Axel Michaels, it is not yet clear "which label this phase will bear." The independence movement of India under Mahatma Gandhi with its non-violent resistance based on his basic attitude Satyagraha contributed to a greater interest in Hindu traditions in the western world. In addition, a west-oriented, missionary Hinduism emerged, which Michaels calls "guruism". The most famous representatives include Jiddu Krishnamurti , Maharishi Mahesh Yogi , Sathya Sai Baba and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh .

Possible classifications of Hinduism

Division into three Hindu religions according to ritual practice

The division of Hinduism into three Hindu religions is a categorization made in India itself. It corresponds to the subdivisions of ritual practices into Vedic (vaidika), village folk religious (gramya) and sectarian (agama or tantra). Hindu religions are not mixed up and the Indians do not see these demarcations as exclusions.

Brahmin Sanskrit Hinduism

Brahmin priest

This is a polytheistic , very strongly ritualistic , Brahmanic priestly religion with reference to the Vedas as authority. It is found in almost all of South Asia. The focus is on large family house and sacrificial rituals. This religion is at the forefront of most of the treatises on Hinduism. It fulfills many of the usual criteria that are placed on a religion: canonical texts (Veda), sacred language (Sanskrit), visible affiliation ( Holy Cord ) and unified priesthood (Brahmins). It is the dominant religion in many regions of India that non-Brahmin peoples seek to imitate.

The revered high gods are especially Shiva , Vishnu , Devi , Rama , Krishna and Ganesha or manifestations thereof. There are many similarities among the devotees in domestic rituals (birth, initiation, marriage, death), pilgrimage, feast days, vows, nutrition and the sacred cow . Most Hindus, including the Brahmins, practice at least one other religion from among the popular religions.

Hindu folk religions

Manasa , a people and snake goddess who is especially worshiped in Bengal

Hindu folk or tribal religions are polytheistic, partly animistic religions with local, communal and cross-caste festivals and forms of worship as well as oral traditions or texts in the vernacular. These religions have their own priests and mostly only locally worshiped deities, including deified heroes and spirits that humans can be possessed by. The forms of worship are often considered impure in Brahmin Sanskrit Hinduism . This can create tensions between folk religion and Brahmin Hinduism. However, popular Hinduism often mixes forms of Brahmin Sanskrit Hinduism with folk religious elements.

Founded religions

Founder religions are characterized by religious founders who are said to have actively or passively initiated the formation of a new religion. In Hinduism, there are often ascetic, anti-Rahman and missionary religions of salvation with monastic communities and basic texts by the donors. Originally, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism were also such donor religions. These strayed so far from the authority of the Veda and the Brahmin priests that they could establish themselves as religions of their own.

Hindu Guru (Bijoy Krishna Goswami)

Some schools are called “sect religions”. In Hinduism, however, the word “ sect ” does not refer to a split off or excluded community. There is no heresy in the foreground. Rather, it means an organized tradition, mostly founded by a founder, with ascetic practice, in which the allegiance is the focus. (See also Hindu orders ) The cult religions include, for example:

Another direction within the founded religions are " syncretic founder religions". Different religious ideas or philosophies mix together to form a new system or worldview. These include the following mixed religions:

"Missionary donor religions" (also "Guruism") are widespread in the West, founded by charismatic persons (Gurus) religious groups with predominantly English, esoteric writings of the Gurus. These include Sathya Sai Baba , AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada ( ISCKON ), Prem Rawat , Rajneesh Chandra Mohan ( Neo-Sannyas ).

Big and small tradition

The division into large and small traditions goes back to two scholars: In 1952, the sociologist MN Srinivas made a distinction between "Sanscritic Hinduism" or "All-India and Peninsular Hinduism" and regional and village Hinduism. The ethnologist Robert Redfield separated two years later between "Great" and "Little Tradition". Great (or high) tradition means Sanskrit, Brahmanic Hinduism, which is spread all over South Asia, while minor traditions are the popular religions and sects.

However, this subdivision is sometimes made according to very different criteria: according to caste (high-caste and low-caste Hinduism), language (Sanskrit and popular languages), regional distribution (town and village or supra-regionality and regionality) or religion (high religion and popular religion or high gods and local gods) . According to Axel Michaels, however, only Brahmanic Sansrit Hinduism can claim the predicate “Great Tradition” if one wants to tie in with common ideas of a high culture (uniform texts, priesthood, high gods).

Main directions


Vishnu with his ten avatars

The Vishnu takes Vishnu as the supreme Supreme Being to, subordinate to all other gods or from which they have emerged. Several religious currents of different origins have united in Vishnuism. The three main currents are:

  • the cult of the Vedic god Vishnu: Here four god concepts of the tradition of Yayurveda were united: Vishnu, Narayana , Vedic Purusha and Purusha of Samkhya .
  • the hero cult of Vasudeva Krishna: This was added in the 4th or 3rd century and came from the epic tradition. The Bhagavad Gita is the most influential testimony of this early theology.
  • the hero cult of the royal hero Rama from the epic Ramayana: This was the last to be added in the 2nd century AD. Rama was now seen as the incarnation of Vishnu.

Rama and Krishna are just the most famous manifestations of Vishnu. In order to protect the Dharma in the sense of a just cosmological and human order, it always incarnates on earth when the world order (Dharma) threatens to fluctuate. These incarnations are called avatars (see The 10 Avataras ). Since the 20th century it has therefore not been unusual for followers of Vishnu to venerate Jesus Christ , because in the Bible, especially in the Book of Revelation (chapter 19), Christ is mentioned as the eschatological judge who appears on earth, to judge the world .

According to their self-image, some Vishnuitic currents are monotheistic, since they worship Vishnu, the “one without a second”, or rather his incarnations, the avatars. However, each of the great branches of the Vishnuits (devotees of Vishnu, Krishnas, and Ramas) developed distinctly different theologies. There is no top teaching authority. In principle, freedom of thought and religious experience triumphs over all dogmatics.

Vedic components

Vishnu- Narayana

In fact, Vishnu is already the name of a god in the Veda , albeit a subordinate one. In the Rigveda , Vishnu appears primarily as a god with cosmic meaning. Originally he was probably a god of the sun, light and warmth, who set time in motion, penetrated the universe and measured space. He was one of the Adityas , the sons of the goddess Aditi , some of whom were also considered his wife.

In Yajurveda (Taittiriya Samhita 2.1.3) and more fully in Shatapatha Brahmana one learns that Vishnu is a dwarf. The dwarf is the sacrificial fire that arises as a tiny glow and then flares up to a mighty size. Thus Vishnu becomes a gigantic giant, whose feet represent the sacrificial fire and whose head (or eye) the sun. The smoke and the offerings that it carries with it follow the world axis up to the sky, which the victim supports. The interpretation of Vishnu as a personified sacrifice, whose cosmogonic power separates heaven and earth and creates space for life, means the sacrifice in the entirety of its ritual references.

Modern interpretation of Purusha by Igor Kufayev , 1995

Vishnu is equated with Purusha , who in the famous hymn Rigveda 10.90 is the primordial individual from which the world and the Varnas (box) arise. At the beginning of the cosmogonic process, the sacrifice (Vishnu) sacrifices itself as a human sacrifice, the highest form of sacrifice. He sacrifices himself (as Purusha = "man") in himself (as the sacrifice). Purusha is described as having a thousand heads and a thousand feet.

Vishnu is also equated with the cosmic god Narayana . This is usually shown with four arms and the attributes wheel ( chakra ), snail horn ( shankha ), lotus ( padma ) and club ( gada ). In a particularly well-known representation of Narayana rests here surnamed Anantashayi when people multiform God between two ages of the world on a snake bed in the cosmic ocean, the ocean of milk . The four-headed Brahma is enthroned on the lotus blossom that emerges from his navel, and he brings forth a new creation on his behalf. Vishnu-Narayana is clearly a deity from the priestly milieu, who acts as a victim and is a material cause as a victim.

Vasudeva Krishna

Four 19th century manuscripts of the Bhagavad Gita

At least since the end of the 5th century BC. Vasudeva Krishna was worshiped in northern India . He is known from the epic Mahabharata as the deified hero from the tribe of the Yadavas. In the older parts of the epic he is the friend and charioteer of the hero Arjuna , in more recent parts he is a human manifestation of the supreme deity. Already in the 2nd century BC He is identified with Vishnu. Various traditional traditions were brought together in the Bhagavad Gita (3rd / 2nd century BC), which was inserted into the epic Mahabharata and soon became so important that it was placed on a par with the Upanishads.

Krishna gives Arjuna a philosophical instruction on the mythological battlefield of Kurukshetra .

In the battle of Kurukshetra , Krishna stands by Arjuna as a friend and protector as well as a spiritual guide . Before this battle begins, he reveals himself to Arjuna as the highest. As the prince and charioteer of Arjuna, Krishna goes with him into battle. Arjuna hesitates to fight as there are many relatives on the other side. Krishna teaches him about his duty, Dharma , to fight Kshatriya as a warrior and about the immortality of the soul Atman . According to this text, the person Krishna is the highest God, who also alone fulfills the wishes which are directed to the gods.

The Harivamsha is an addendum to the epic containing Krishna's historical family tree and life story. The theme is deepened in the Vishnupurana and finds its final form in the Bhagvata Purana (c. 10th century). In the Bhagvat Gita the Krishna was still an overpowering doctrinal figure who reveals himself to the Arjuna as a doctrinal figure. But the sight is so overwhelming that Arjuna begs her to return to the familiar human, albeit four-armed form as a friendly God (Gita 11.9–51). In Harivamsha there is already a changed relationship between God and man. The youthful Krishna awakens love and radiates happiness.

The Krishna cult always retained a certain independence from the cult of the great temple of Vishnu. Special features are song and dance, the telling of myths and legends and the domestic ritual. Although the worshipers of Krishna continue to refer to themselves as Vishnuits, the old monotheistic worship of Krishna has largely moved away from the Vishnu religions. In northern India in particular, the worship of Krishna has become the dominant religion.


Scene from the Ramayana (18th century)

Alongside the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, ascribed to the poet Valmiki, is the second Indian national epic . It should have reached its well-known form in the 2nd century AD, when the legend was supplemented by the first and last book. Only in these two books is Rama understood as a divine being, as the incarnation of Vishnu, whereas the other books portray Rama as a human hero.

The Ramayana tells the story of Prince Rama from the kingdom of Kosala, who was banished from the court of his father Dasharatha to the solitude of the forest and later defeated Ravana , the prince of demons in Lanka . Rama became the ideal of royalty, with guiding principles such as loyalty, justice, invincibility and an example for the subjects. That he was not only able to draw the bow of Shiva, but also easily broke it, showed him as the incarnation of Vishnu in a rivalry between two religions that was just emerging as the superior.


Modern representation of Madhva

Madhva , a Brahmin from Udupi , founded the Dvaita school in the 13th century, another Vishnuit denomination with a dualistic interpretation of Vedanta . Vishnu is endowed with the highest perfections of which man cannot adequately imagine. The lineage of Madhva Gurus, of which he was the first, has continued for 700 years.

Ramanuja and Sri Vishnuism

Cult statue of Ramanuja

Since 6./7. In the 19th century, so-called bhakti movements emerged, which particularly emphasized the emotional turn to a personal God and thus particularly took a stand against the power of temples and priests. The goal of salvation is to come to the deity, to feel its closeness, to look at it and to praise it.

One of the great Vishnuit Bhakti movements are the Shri-Vaishnavas. Ramanuja (c. 1050–1137) founded this theology as a synthesis of four sources: the Vedanta of the Upanishads and Brahmasutras, the teachings of the Bhagwad Gita, the combined traditions of the Vaikhanasas and Pancaratra and the Bhakti religiosity of the Alvar. The name Shri-Vishnuism comes from the fact that the goddess Shri , the wife of Vishnu, plays a central role in salvation: “That is, Shri-Laksmi, who is considered the essence of God's grace, is the mediator between sinful man and God, she it is that eradicates his sins and leads him into the presence of the Lord. "

Ramanuja also uses the term Brahman for the deity . Brahman has both a personal and an impersonal aspect, the personal being the essential one. Insofar as Brahman is a person, the term Vishnu is also used for it (among other things). Ramanuja emphatically opposes the claim of the radical monists that Brahman has no attributes. He only wants to exclude bad qualities and ascribes an abundance of good qualities to the deity. The doctrine is referred to as the “unity of the different”: “God (the personal Brahman) is present in the world and all its animate parts, like the soul in the body, directing and knowing. His presence is active, but also knowing and loving. He is a friend in our heart who is bigger than us. "

Ramanuja rejected the doctrine of karma in principle. Rather, the fruits of our deeds depend on whether or not they please the Supreme Being. The Lord determines which actions are beneficial and which are not. This is revealed in conscience, the voice of God, and in the scriptures that teach the Dharma. As an inner controller (antaryamin), he is present in them to give or reject approval (anumati).


Rudra and the origins of Shaivism

Representation of Rudra from a 19th century textbook

The forerunner of Shiva was probably Rudra , who was known in the Veda as a dangerous god who brought disease and death. The destructive deity is euphemically called Shiva, "the kind" or Shankara, "the benevolent" with a soothing intention . Other names are Hare, "the one who laps away", and Pashupati, "Lord of the Animals".

His cult had its origins outside the Aryan class, in a population group that had been displaced to the edge of the Aryan settlements in the forests and mountain slopes of the north. These tribes, called Kirata, were feared as robbers. Rudra is also referred to in Yayurveda (16: 20-21) as the lord of thieves and robbers.

According to the popular belief that the bringer of evil can also cease his dreaded activity and avert the evil, he can also be an extremely helpful, peaceful and blessing God. Its healing herbs can save people and animals. The phallus , the most important symbol for the cult of Shiva, also shows this ambivalence in that its reproductive power also ensures the continuation of life.

Only with the development of the city (7th – 5th centuries BC) did the non-Aryan population also gain greater weight in the religious sphere. The Brahmanic Shiva theology arose after that of Vishnu also in the priestly circles of Yajurveda and took over important aspects from it: “This concerns the entire theoretical structure derived from the Upanishads, the equation of Shiva with Brahman and Purusha, the inclusion of Samkhya and Yoga as well as the worship of God through the compilation and praise of his names, deeds and perfections. ”These priestly circles obviously needed a new clientele after the princes and merchants had turned to the monastic orders and large parts of northern India had come under foreign rule. Along with this, two important texts were subsequently added to the tradition of Yajurveda with the listing of the hundred names of Rudras and the Shivaitic Shvetashvatara Upanishad.

The pashupatas

The first Shivaite group to appear in literature were the Pashupatas . These are also named after their most important teacher, Lakulisha, who lived near the mouth of the Narmada River in what is now Gujarat at the end of the 2nd century. According to Alain Daniélou, Lakulisha was an Ajivika who restored pre-Aryan cults of the Indus culture.

The name Pashupata (“follower of the Lord of souls”) owes these early Shivaites “to their dualistic juxtaposition of the individual, eternal soul ( pashu , actually the domestic animal or sacrificial animal) with the Lord ( pati ), who alone is capable of To loosen the fetters that bind people to matter like the sacrificial animal to the sacrificial stake ”.

Puranic mythology shows Shiva as the annihilator of demons , as a yogi who practices asceticism for thousands of years in the Himalayas and as a destroyer who initiates the great world fire at the end of a world period. There is a third eye on his forehead. When Shiva opens these eyes, a fiery embers shoots out of them, which instantly consumes everything that it encounters.

In contrast to the world-affirming Vishnu, Shiva is an ascetic and world-negating redeemer god. A more humane view of God developed in South India under the influence of the Bhakti movement. So he appears here as the inventor of music and dance and as a teacher of people.

Shiva received a considerable increase in power when the god of war Skanda- Karttikeya was taken into his family as a son and with him other gods of war such as Vaishakha and Kumara were identified. Parvati, who was equated with Durga, Kali and all bloodthirsty local goddesses of the folk cults, was added as the wife. The goddess was even included as part of Shiva, so that Shiva presented himself in androgynous form, as "Lord who is half woman". Next came the elephant-headed god Ganesha as a son in Shiva's family and finally Shiva integrated the sun god in the form of Martanda Bhairava. As a result, the god was able to attract many followers and gave the rulers an important potential.

Kashmiri Shaivism

Kashmiri Shaivism is a monistic doctrine in which the religious texts ( agamas ) are viewed as a direct expression of the supreme god Shiva . It originated in Kashmir during the 8th or 9th century AD and made great strides, both philosophically and theologically, by the end of the 12th century.

As a transcendent monism, he adopted a trinity of spiritual principles: Shiva, Shakti and soul (anu). This form of Shaivism is also called the Trika school ( triad ). The soul, which originally resembles Shiva, is darkened by its adherent material filth (mala). The process of liberation from this state of pollution leads to the recognition (pratyabhijna) of the ultimately complete unity of the soul with Shiva.

Shaiva Siddhanta

This tradition was originally practiced throughout India, but the Muslim subjugation of the north pushed it to the south, where it merged with the Tamil Saiva movement and found expression in the Bhakti poetry of the Nayanmar . The focus is not on a theoretical but rather on an emotionally shaped dualistic Shaivism. He emphasizes the difference between god and soul. Only this guarantees the highest happiness that can be experienced in the bhakti relationship: "So there is next to Shiva a multitude of immortal souls who remain in a redeemed state in the view of God."

Natha yogis

Navnath, saint of the Natha yogis

Natha Yoga is a yoga teaching that goes back to Gorakhnath . Natha yogis are ascetic Shivaites and the goal of this yoga discipline is to achieve the highest reality, the identity with Shiva. The movement of the Natha yogis started in Bengal and later spread to the south and west. Natha yogis practice hatha yoga and try to purify the body through yoga and training of willpower and ultimately to become immortal. Alchemy was also common among the Natha yogis. In this school "perfect" (siddhas) and great teachers are considered deities.


The Virashaivas, which emerged from the 12th century onwards, broke away from Brahmanic ritualism and rejected any form of box. There is also equal rights for men and women. Under the rulers of Mysore, Virashaivism became the state religion from 1350 to 1610. The Virashaivas carry a capsule with a Shiva Linga with them, which is why they are also called Lingayats.

Shankara and the monistic teaching of the Upanishads are formative, but this is related to Shiva as the highest being (Shiva as Brahman himself). Monism means that Shiva represents the only being, also in relation to creation and souls. Shiva Brahman is endowed with the attributes Sat, Chid, Ananda, Being, Consciousness, Bliss.

The Virashaivas practice Shiva-Bhakti and Yoga, and gurus are particularly important, as are ahimsa , vegetarianism and forms of abstinence. It is believed that a fairer and more devout way of life leads to unity with Shiva in death. The mantra 'Om Namah Shivai' is of particular importance.


Devi Mahatmya on palm leaves, Bihar or Nepal, 11th century

The Shaktism is a form of Hinduism, which refers to the female gods or goddess. This so-called Shakti, the primordial force of the universe thought of as feminine, has in this form of religion an outstanding meaning in salvation events and in the world process, in which the male deity acts only through its energy, which is Shakti.

Shaktism began to establish itself as an independent religion from the 6th or 7th century. The oldest text that shows this development is the Devi Mahatmya , a song of praise for the goddess, which places her as the most powerful acting principle above all gods.

In terms of religious history, Shaktism derives from Shivaism. His theology hardly deviates from that of Shaivism, only the valuation of the highest principle is reversed: Not Shiva, but Shakti is seen as the highest principle. This is justified from Shivaism itself: There Shiva is a pure spirit, which is passive, while his Shakti is its active principle. So Shaktas see Shiva as incapable of acting without his Shakti and these therefore as the creative aspect of the divine.

The theology of Shakta is basically monistic and shaped by Vedanta, since Devi is viewed as the manifestation of Brahman. However, in contrast to the Vedanta, the Maya is seen as a conscious force in which the various aspects of the goddess appear and she is also worshiped as a personal deity.

A distinction is made between two main forms of Shaktism: The Shri -Kula (family of the goddess Shri) are mainly represented in southern India, while the Kali-Kula (family of the goddess Kali ) are widespread in northern and eastern India. The Kali-Kula rejects the Brahmin tradition. The Indian folk religion , in which the worship of female deities already predominates, has contributed greatly to the spread of Shaktism .

Beliefs and Doctrine

Hinduism has no common founder. Each denomination has its own holy scriptures that are binding only for it: B. Vishnuiten the Bhagavatapurana , Shaktian followers the Devi Mahatmya , a puranic work for the worship of the goddess. The Vedas are generally regarded as sacred by many Hindus.

Contrary to the first impression, Hinduism is not a polytheistic religion. Many Western religious scholars and Indologists refer to it, although the term is controversial, as henotheism , since all gods - depending on their individual religious orientation - can be expressions of the one highest personal God or the impersonal world soul ( Brahman ).

Pilgrims taking a bath in the Ganges in Varanasi

Although Hinduism is made up of different currents, there are similarities that exist in most directions that appear as a set of guiding ideas and principles. Hindu teachings regard the cosmos as an ordered whole that is ruled by the Dharma , the world law, which represents the natural and moral order. Dharma means right, duty, order and refers to the fact that every being has to behave in a way that corresponds to his place in the world. Cycles of the world's becoming and passing ( kalpa ) form another important foundation of Hindu traditions. In these cycles there is no beginning of creation and no final annihilation of the universe and existence. Other common concepts are karma , atman and moksha . Central practices are Bhakti and Pujas . Samskaras are Hindu sacraments, which ritually shape the transitions between the individual phases of the life cycle. There are about 40 of these, and the three most important are initiation, wedding rites and funeral rites.

Centers of Hindu religiosity are next to the own house the temples. One of the largest temple complexes and pilgrimage centers is Tirumala Tirupati in southern India. In northern India, the holy city of Varanasi on the Ganges continues to attract huge numbers of pilgrims.

Image of God

The various Hindu traditions and philosophies represent different images of God, but the main directions are Shaivism , Vishnuism and Shaktism , the worship of God in the female form. There is also the Indian folk religion . Brahma , Shiva and Vishnu are also represented as a trinity ( Trimurti ). The worship of Shiva and Vishnu, each in a myriad of different forms and names, is widespread. Brahma, on the other hand, is only present in mythology; in veneration he no longer plays a role; his place is taken by his Shakti , the goddess Sarasvati . But there are also countless other manifestations, e.g. B. the elephant-headed Ganesha , who is considered the son of Shiva and Parvati, as well as Hanuman , the servant of Rama , who in turn is an avatar of Vishnu. There are also a large number of female deities who either appear autonomously as "Great Goddess" ( Mahadevi ) like Durga or are considered consorts or female side of the male gods, e.g. B. Sarasvati and Lakshmi . Most believers assume that worshiping any God is equivalent to worshiping the Supreme Divine, since all appearances are of One. Others, on the other hand, worship the Supreme in only one form, such as many of Krishna's followers , and consider the other gods to be devas subordinate to him . The worship of the divine in images and statues is widespread, but many Hindus, like the Lingayats, strictly reject worship in this form. In addition to the main gods, there are countless other deities, many of which are only worshiped locally.

Hindu theology

Hinduism's image of God knows both gods and ideas comparable to the monotheistic concept of God. From the Indo-European inherited basic features there are connections that also concern the term " God ". Some currents of Hinduism believe in a supreme god named Ishvara (literally "the supreme lord"). There are also beings subordinate to him who are called devas . They can be regarded as gods, demigods, angels, heavenly beings or spirits and stand between the Ishvara and humans.

One of the most important terms in Hinduism is the Brahman - the highest cosmic spirit. Brahman is the indescribable, inexhaustible, omniscient, omnipotent, non-physical, omnipresent, original, first, eternal and absolute power. It is contained in all things without a beginning, without an end and the cause, the source and the material of all known creation, rationally incomprehensible and yet immanent in the entire universe. The Upanishads describe it as the One and Indivisible Eternal Universal Self that is present in and in which all are present. This impersonal conception of God is supplemented or replaced by the view of a personal God, as is done in the Bhagavadgita . Here the personal God, the Ishvara or highest Purusha , is placed above the world of appearances and the “immobile” Brahman.

According to the Advaita Vedanta , the innermost core of man is identical to Brahman . This inner core of being is also called the Atman . In principle, this identity can be experienced or recognized by everyone.

Advaita Vedanta ( nonduality ) is the teaching of Shankara (788-820 AD), which aims at this knowledge of unity and describes the appearances of the world as Maya . According to the teaching of the Vishishtadvaita ( qualified monism ) of Ramanuja, on the other hand, God is everything that exists, but there is a qualitative difference between the individual soul and the highest God. At the other end of the spectrum is the purely dualistic philosophy of Dvaita Vedanta des Madhvas, which strictly distinguishes between soul and God (see Indian philosophy ).

The theology of Hinduism is not separate from philosophy, and so the Saddarshana ( Darshana Sanskrit , n., दर्शन , darśana , for contemplation, observation, meeting, philosophy; see von drish ), the six classical systems of Indian philosophy, appear too as theological concepts. These are:

The scriptures

Scriptures come in a great variety in Hinduism. Hindu scriptures were written in both Sanskrit and all other Indian languages. In addition to written certificates, there are also oral texts. Among other things, these scriptures and texts have a ritual function, contain religious ideas and concepts, and many of them are considered sacred. The term scriptures is not Hindu and comes from Western terminology.

The scriptures and oral texts that are considered sacred are not uniform but are defined by the fact that religious groups consider these different texts to be sacred. The form of the texts as well as the content and use differ in the various groups.

There are different classifications of scriptures in Hinduism. This means that the classification of the scriptures under certain categories is not uniform. In addition, many scriptures cannot be dated. Many writings have not yet been edited and translations are often not available.

Rebirth and redemption

Some believers assume that life and death are a repetitive cycle ( samsara ) and believe in reincarnation . In contrast to the prevailing cliché in the West, the belief in rebirth is not a main component of Hinduism and is only represented in a few currents. There is no such concept in ancient Hinduism and the early South Indian religions. It is believed that the idea of ​​rebirth came about later in northern India.

According to Hindu beliefs, gods, people and animals wander through in a cycle marked by an eternal return, samsara , the world ages, yuga . During life, good or bad karma is accumulated depending on behavior . According to Hindu ideas, this law of cause and effect of actions influences future reincarnations and redemption ( moksha ), the emergence of the atman (the indwelling Brahman). It can only be compared with the soul to a limited extent, since the soul is something individual (i.e. different for everyone) and the Atman is always the same in “cosmic consciousness” (Brahman). Personal enlightenment is the end point of the development of the mind, and depending on the realization of the seeker, this can be achieved through the three classic methods, among other ways: Bhakti Yoga , loving worship of God, Karma Yoga , the way of action, as well Jnana Yoga , the path of knowledge. Often one counts as the fourth way Raja Yoga , the "royal way".

Origins and background

In the early layers of the Vedic scriptures there was a notion that there was a place of reward or punishment after death. That was not only decided by one's personal lifestyle, but was also heavily dependent on the priestly ceremonies and sacrificial rites. It was not until around 800 BC. In the Upanishads written down in the 4th century BC , the doctrine of reincarnation and karma was developed, which is subject to the Atman ( Sanskrit , n., आत्मन्, ātman ), the immortal core of man. One of the oldest evidence of this is the Brihadāranyaka Upanishad . Jiva (Sanskrit: जीव jīva adj. And m. Living, living; a living being; life; the life principle; the breath of life) denotes the individual soul, individual soul. Jiva is atman who identifies with the upadhis (the limiting sheaths).

In the writing of the Taittiriya Upanishad (about before 550 BC) ( Sanskrit : तैत्तिरियोपनिष्हद् taittirīyopaniṣhad f .), It is one of the oldest Upanishads and is assigned to the black Yajurveda , three sections are listed, which in turn are divided into sub-sections ( Anuvakas ) are. They are the first Upanishad to go into the doctrine of the five shells, koshas . The name of the Vedic script probably refers to the teacher Tittiri . According to the Vedic view, the human being consists not of one, but of three bodies, Shariras ( Sanskrit : शरीर śarīra n. Integral part of the body, skeleton, skeleton; body, body). These in turn comprise the five shells, koshas. In the Vedanta scriptures one speaks of the three bodies. According to the Vedanta ( Sanskrit , m., वेदान्त, vedānta ) it means literally translated: "End of the Veda " d. H. the early Indian text tradition understood as revelation ( Veda knowledge). The term was first used in the Mundaka Upanishad 3,2,6 and the Bhagavad-Gita , verse 15,15 for the Upanishads at the end of the Vedic literature.

  • Sthula Sharira ( Sanskrit : स्थूलशरीर sthūla-śarīra n. Literally gross ( sthula ) body ( Sharira )), the physical body:
  • Sukshma Sharira ( Sanskrit : सूक्ष्मशरीर sūkṣma-śarīra n. Literally subtle ( Sukshma ) body ( Sharira )) the astral body
  • Karana Sharira ( Sanskrit : कारणशरीर kāraṇa-śarīra n. Literally body ( Sharira ) of causes ( Karana )), the causal body

The cycle of migration was explained by means of the doctrine of the various body covers, koshas ( Sanskrit : कोश kośa m. Or Sanskrit कोष koṣa barrel, bucket; box, vessel, box, chest; car body; scabbard; container, lock, housing; pantry, Treasury; treasure), usually five, found. Because the idea of ​​a self wandering from one fully formed body to another was implausible. The idea was developed that the Ātman, the self, is surrounded by different sheaths or that it itself consists of different layers. In the case of the transmigration of souls, only the outer shells or layers would accordingly be stripped off, while the deeper self remains as such. Man has five koshas, ​​(also Panchakosha), which envelop the self, atman, and through which the self works and experiences. The five koshas are:

  • Annamaya Kosha ( Sanskrit : अन्नमयकोश annamayakośa m. Literally the Maya shell (Kosha) consisting of food, Anna (Sanskrit: अन्न anna n. Food, food, food, grain, rice )) coarsest of the five koshas that surround the highest self, simplifies the physical body;
  • Pranamaya Kosha ( Sanskrit : प्राणमयकोश prāṇamayakośa m. Literally the Maya shell consisting of energy, prana ). In Pranamaya Kosha there are also the chakras (energy centers) and nadis (energy channels ), which simplifies the breathing or life energy of the body;
  • Manomaya Kosha ( Sanskrit : मनोमयकोश manomayakośa m. Literally the Maya shell consisting of spirit, Manas (Sanskrit: मनस् manas n. ) The inner sense, the inner organ, organ of thought, spirit , sense , understanding , will, thought, thought), the Mental body;
  • Vijnanamaya Kosha ( Sanskrit : विज्ञानमयकोश vijñānamayakośa m. ) Literally the Maya shell consisting of knowledge ( Vijnana ), simplifies the body of wisdom;
  • Anandamaya Kosha ( Sanskrit : ā ānandamayakośa m. ) Literally the Maya shell consisting of bliss ( Ananda ); the shell of bliss, the shell of bliss, simplifies the body of bliss.

According to the doctrine of reincarnation, life does not end with death, but the soul enters a new level of being. The immortal soul core (Atman) resting in the innermost being of the human being can reincarnate after the death of the body in a newly appearing being - a human being, an animal or even a god (Deva).

In what kind of being the individual is reborn depends on the deeds in previous existences, from which his karma results. Karma is linked to the idea of ​​a moral world order, the Dharma , whereby all actions according to the principle of cause and effect are the prerequisites for future rebirth. Every being exists because of its potential for action accumulated in earlier forms of existence, which brings about the overall result of every existence. Consequently, death is not the end of life, but only the transition to a new form of existence. The eternal and unchangeable essence of the human being, established by the Atman, is preserved. As long as we believe in being a separate and active individual, we are caught in the cycle of rebirths, which is called samsara . As soon as we transcend or let go of identification with our tool, i.e. the body with all its functions, including thinking and feeling, we are released from this cycle and recognize who we really are.

In Advaita-Vedanta , the most important representative was Shankara (approx. 788-820 AD), the essential characteristic is the essential identity of Atman (the individual soul) and Brahman (the world soul), hence the name Advaita-Vedanta , ' Vedanta of non-duality '. By overcoming avidya (ignorance) and maya (illusion), man can recognize this truth, liberate the self from not-self and achieve moksha (salvation, liberation from the cycle) from the cycle of samsara . The Hindus perceive the necessity of repeated birth as a calamity; one looked for means and ways of liberation (moksha) from the unwholesome cycle.

Vegetarian food and the sacred cow

Possibly as a reaction to vegetarianism in Buddhism and to the increased importance of ahimsa , the non-violence, the Hindu scriptures increasingly called for the renunciation of meat. In Vedic times the living conditions were completely different. In some writings there are indications that meat, even beef, was eaten, but that it was always meat from sacrificial animals.

General vegetarianism is neither a requirement nor a dogma for Hindus, but the vegetarian way of life is viewed as the ethically higher one, since meat is a product of killing and not sattvic (pure). Vegetarians can be found in all strata of the population; Brahmins in particular are expected to do without. In principle, however, almost all Hindus reject the consumption of beef. According to the 2004 census, around 25% of the Indian population are vegetarians. There are, however, great variations between the individual states; around 69% of the population in Gujarat and 60% in Rajasthan have a vegetarian diet, compared to only 21% in Tamil Nadu .

There are many references to the cow ( Go ) in Indian mythology . Krishna is said to be a Govinda (cowherd) on the one hand and a Gopala (protector of cows) on the other . His companion Radha is a gopi (shepherd girl), Shiva's mount is the bull Nandi .

Seals from past Indian cultures ( Indus culture ) suggest that cows were of particular importance more than four thousand years ago. However, the most important roots for worship are the Vedas, in which the image of the holy cow appears again and again as a divine being. Even so, cattle were freely sacrificed and eaten in India during the Neolithic period. Why and when this changed is unclear. The cultural anthropologist Marvin Harris attributes the fact to changed economic framework conditions: With the rise of the state and a greater population density, it was no longer possible to raise enough cattle to be used both as a source of meat for food and as draft animals. Perhaps that was one of the reasons that the killing of cows as a sacrificial animal was an absolute taboo for Hindus and their meat was no longer eaten. Interestingly, it was precisely the Brahmins, who used to be responsible for the ritual slaughter of cattle, who later became most strongly committed to protecting cattle.

Ethics and Sociology of Hinduism

Caste system

Representatives of the Kshatriya caste, which consists of merchants; European representation

Hinduism is often associated with the caste order . Accordingly, ritual purity plays an important role in the social hierarchy . The principle of the caste order is that living beings are strictly separated from one another from birth according to tasks, rights, duties and abilities.

According to the ethnologist Louis Dumont , belonging to Hinduism results from being born in a caste society. However, there is no consensus on the nature, size and appearance of the castes. According to David Mandelbaum, the term has been used for so many social systems that it is almost better to do without it entirely. Axel Michaels is also critical of the use of the term “caste”, as it is not of Indian origin. Declan Quigley points out that caste hierarchies are regionally and locally constructed very differently and are often contested. Furthermore, numerous Bhakti traditions offer the realization of religious goals regardless of caste and gender. In the numerous ethnographic works, the European colonial officials developed a “ collecting mania ”, “with which people were archived almost like butterflies”.

The classic stand order is divided into four "main boxes", so-called Varnas (literally "colors"), each of which is associated with a color:

  1. Brahmins : color white; top caste; Priests and scholars
  2. Kshatriyas : color red; the warrior caste; Warriors, aristocrats, landowners
  3. Vaishyas : color yellow; Traders, businessmen, craftsmen
  4. Shudras : color black; Servants, servants, day laborers

The hierarchy is structured by the value of ritual “purity”. In this way it differs, for example, from the medieval class society , which depicted the economic and political balance of power. The four-part Varna system received its mythical - metaphorical formulation in the Purusa hymn of the Rigveda (Rv 10.90). This describes how the Varnas are assigned as body parts to the cosmic primitive man:

“His mouth was the Brahmin (the priest); the warriors became his arms, the farmers and ranchers became his thighs, the servants and day laborers arose from his feet. "

- Purusa hymn of the Rigveda (Rv 10.90.12)
Group of “untouchables” in Bangalore , early 20th century

Below the four main boxes are the Dalits , also known as the “untouchables”, which results in a certain degree of discrimination and marginalization . These carry out "unclean" activities so that the caste society can maintain its values ​​of purity. It is they who usually dispose of or remove faeces , rubbish, remains of deceased animals and corpses. There are various positions in research on the degree of discrimination.

Although the Indian constitution bans the practices of “untouchability”, this has not eliminated discrimination, which can be seen, for example, in exclusion from village communities or discriminatory dress codes.

The Varnas are divided into hundreds of Jatis . The term is derived from the term jan for "to be born". This indicates the main meaning of Jati: "birth group", also in the sense of extended family or clan. Jatis are thus the social and familial dimension of the caste system and to a certain extent are reminiscent of the medieval class structure in Europe. They are sometimes - but not always - connected to a job. Many authors use Jati in the sense of "subcaste" and mean a category like caste, but in an ethnically , linguistically, regionally and religiously limited sense.

woman's role

The role of women in Hinduism has undergone a continuous development over the centuries and millennia and must always be seen in connection with the respective living conditions as well as the various Hindu cultures. On the one hand, some lawmakers forbade women to read the Vedas, but some hymns of Rig Veda were written by women, and in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad we find a dialogue between the learned daughter of Vachaknu Gargi and Yajnavalkya. From this time the custom of Swayamvara has been passed down, literally "self-choice": women at the royal court were not simply married, but chose the groom themselves from among the candidates in question. A central ritual, the Upanayana (initiation rite for boys), has from the earliest times been reserved for male members of the upper castes. It is this cultic act that makes a person a Dvijati , a “twice-born”. After natural birth, the Upanayana represents cultural birth.

Sita , Rama's wife from the great epic Ramayana, plays an important role in the Hindu image of women . For many, the image of the wife ready to make sacrifices is still the model of the ideal woman. Sita has thus become an important topic in Indian feminism and in modern Indian literature. From a modern point of view, women in Hindu traditions have too few rights.

One of the main tasks of women in Hinduism is motherhood. Every stage of pregnancy through to birth is accompanied by sacramental rites for the protection and physical and spiritual well-being of mother and child. In the past, women should have as many sons as possible, as these could guarantee the safety and survival of the entire family. Although Hindus do not generally value their daughters less, they are too often considered a burden in some families, as they have to bring their dowries with them at their wedding and the family can also become impoverished by paying dowry for too many daughters. This problem leads to a high rate of abortion in female fetuses . Many modern Hindus, especially in the cities, are gradually becoming friends with the idea that a daughter can also look after her parents in old age.


Usually in the traditional family the father is the head. He makes all the important decisions, for example about money matters, marriage, etc. - at least that's how it should look outwardly. Traditionally, the mother-son bond is the closest in the Indian family system. Usually the son lives with his wife in the parents' house, if the spatial conditions permit.

With the daughters, however, it is usually clear from the outset that they will leave the house to move into the husband's family. This is not easy for the young wife. She is the one in the family with the fewest rights, her status often only improves when she has children (preferably a son). Older women, i.e. H. Mothers-in-law often have a very solid status and are endowed with sufficient authority. A social role that is traditionally not very respected in Hinduism is that of the unmarried woman. Single women usually do not live alone in India, but continue to live in their parents' household.

The relationship between spouses is primarily characterized by pragmatism. As before, the family often chooses a husband or wife who is a good match in terms of education and status (arranged marriage). Love comes later, they say in India. It's like a pot of water that you put on the stove and that only starts to boil later. However, love marriages are becoming more common over time.

The ideal is a four-stage life model (ashrama system), which provides for starting a family after the school years and only after the children have grown up to withdraw and to devote themselves intensively to religious studies and their own salvation.

Holy places

Sacred Places of Hinduism

The seven holy places are Ayodhya , the birthplace of the god Rama, Dvaraka , capital of Krishna, Haridwar , a spring plateau of the Ganges, Kanchipuram with the great temple of Shiva, Mathura , the birthplace of the god Krishna, as well as Ujjain and Varanasi . Kumbh Mela also takes place in Ujjain and Haridwar .

The Kailasanatha Temple in Kanchipuram is considered a classic temple of South India (around 700 AD )

See also


Overview literature
Texts of Modern Hinduism
  • Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi : Young India: Essays from the years 1919 to 1922. Ed. By Madeleine & Romain Rolland . Rotapfel-Verlag, Zurich 1924.
  • Ram Mohan Roy : The Brahmin Magazine or the Missionary and the Brahmin. A Defense of the Hindu Religion Against Attacks by Christian Missionaries (1821). German in: Angelika Malinar: Hinduismus Reader. Study religions. Pp. 98-101. (Translated from English by Malinar) from: Ram Mohan Roy: The English works of Raja Rammohun Roy. Part I. Edited by K. Nag, D. Murman, Calcutta 1945, pp. 137-138.
  • Swami Vivekananda : Vedanta. The ocean of wisdom. An introduction to the spiritual teachings and the basics of the practice of spiritual yoga in the Indian Vedanta tradition. Basel 1989.

Web links

Commons : Hinduism  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Portal: Hinduism  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the topic of Hinduism
Wiktionary: Hinduism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

References and comments

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  98. Examples of such works are EAH Blunt: The Caste System of Northern India with Special Reference to the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. London 1931; William Crooke: Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh. 4 volumes. Calcutta 1896; Herbert Risley: The Tribes and Castes of Bengal. Calcutta 1891.
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  105. Seven Holy Places