A introduction of Encyclopedia of Hinduism :
The Origins of Hinduism :
Until the 19th century, Hinduism was considered the indigenous religion of the subcontinent of India and was practiced largely in India itself and in the places where Indians migrated in large numbers. In the 21st century, while still centered in India, Hinduism is practiced in most of the world’s countries and can thus rightly be considered a world religion.
Its creation, unlike that of some world religions founded by known historical leaders, reaches into prehistory; we do not know the individuals who first practiced the religion (or set of religions that have merged to constitute present-day Hinduism) nor know exactly when its earliest forms emerged. Hindu is a term from the ancient Persians. Encyclopedia of Hinduism
The Sindhu River in what is now Pakistan was called the “Hindu” by the Persians (the first textual mention occurred perhaps in the last centuries before the Common Era [C.E.]). The people who lived in proximity to the Sindhu therefore came to be called Hindus. In academic terms the Hindu tradition, or Hinduism, is usually referred to as Brahmanism in its earlier phase, before circa 300 B.C.E., and referred to as Hinduism after that. In common usage, the term Hinduism is used for the entire span of the tradition.
For at least two reasons the Hindu tradition contains the greatest diversity of any world tradition. First, Hinduism spans the longest stretch of time of the major world religions, with even the more conservative views setting it as well over 3,000 years old. Throughout this expanse of time, the Hindu tradition has been extremely conservative about abandoning elements that have been historically superseded. Instead, these elements have often been preserved and given new importance, resulting in historical layers of considerable diversity within the tradition. Second, Hinduism has organically absorbed hundreds of separate cultural traditions, expressed in as many as 300 languages. Encyclopedia of Hinduism
As a result, Hindu tradition is metaphorically like the Grand Canyon gorge, where the great river of time has sliced through the landscape, leaving visible successive historical layers. Some practices of Hinduism must have originated in Neolithic times (c. 4000 B.C.E.). The worship of certain plants and animals as sacred, for instance, could very likely have very great
antiquity. The worship of goddesses, too, a part of Hinduism today, may be a feature that originated in the Neolithic.Encyclopedia of Hinduism
The Sacred Texts of Hinduism:
The Vedas Considerable debate exists with regard to the relationship of the Indus Valley civilization and the later Vedic tradition that focused on fire worship. The scholarly consensus for many years held that the Aryans, people who migrated from the west through Iran, arrived in India no earlier than 1200 B.C.E., much too recently to have participated in the Indus Valley world. These people were, the view holds, associated with the transmission of the Vedas, India’s most sacred and revered texts.Encyclopedia of Hinduism
This consensus has been challenged, primarily from the Indian side, and continues to undergo scrutiny. The alternative view rejects the notion
that the people who gave India the Vedas were originally foreign to India and sees a continuity between India’s earliest civilization and the people
of the Vedas. The Rig Veda (c. 1500 B.C.E.), which everyone agrees is the most ancient extant Indian text, is the foundational text of Hinduism. It consists of about a thousand hymns. The great majority of the hymns are from five to 20 verses in length.Encyclopedia of Hinduism
The Rig Veda contains hymns of praise to a pantheon of divinities as well as a few cosmogonic hymns that tell of the creation of the universe. These stories are extremely important for the development of later Hinduism.
By far the greatest number of the thousand plus hymns of the Rig Veda are devoted to Indra, king of the gods, a deity connected with rain and storms who holds a thunderbolt, and Agni, the god of fire. Encyclopedia of Hinduism
The rest of the hymns are devoted to an array of gods, most prominently Mitra, Varuna, Savitri, Soma, and the Ashvins. Less frequently mentioned are the gods who became most important in the later Hindu pantheon, Vishnu and Rudra (one of whose epithets was shiva, the benign). A number of goddesses are mentioned, most frequently Ushas, goddess of the dawn, and Aditi, said to be the mother of the gods. The goddess of speech, Vach (Vak), however, may be most important, since speech is one of the most powerful sacred realities in Hindu tradition, although there are not many references to her.Encyclopedia of Hinduism