That is a really difficult question to answer so let’s begin by confusing you, ‘Hinduism’ itself isn’t even called Hinduism. It is really called Sanatana Dharma (eternal truth/law). (Throughout this site the terms Hinduism and Sanatana dharma are used interchangeably to mean the same thing).
Early travellers through India misnamed the locals Hindus after the Indus civilisation. Even this was incorrect as the river was called the Sindhu.
Sanatana Dharma is world’s oldest living religious path scientists and historians date it at approximately 8500 years old though Hindu sacred books say it has always existed. It can also be said that it is the most diverse of religions. Not that it is a religion; it’s more like a collection of religions.
Hinduism is the world’s biggest religious tradition not based on the bible, with roughly 1 billion followers (2 million in the U.S. in 2001). One in 6 people on earth are Hindu with 800 million in India alone (or 80%)
The world’s largest gathering of people is the Kumbha –Mela, a Hindu religious gathering that attracted tens of millions of people in India in 2001. This also made it the largest religious gathering ever.
The richest temple in the world is Sri Venkateshwara temple in Tirumala Tirupati, Southern India. It earns approximately $2 million per month though most of this is used up feeding the 60,000 to 150,000 visitors and providing accommodations.
It is tolerant and peace loving, accepting all the world’s religions as bona fide ways to worship God. Generally speaking Hindus are born Hindu and not made so. Opinion varies on whether others can convert to Hinduism. There is nothing in the Vedas or other scriptures to prevent non- Indians from declaring themselves Hindu, indeed there is a vratyastoma ceremony (“vow pronouncement”), dating back to the Tandya Brahmana of the Rig Veda which was originally used for the reconversion of Indian people who wanted to reconvert from other faiths and is has been used for the conversion of non-Indian people of other faiths to Sanatana Dharma.
There are four main denominations within Sanatana Dharma.
Vaisnavas-Followers of Lord Vishnu and his various avatars
Saivas-Followers of Lord Shiva
Shaktas-Followers of the Goddess
Smartas-followers of all major forms of Hindu god equally
Though there are these denominations there is nothing stop devotees following any of the forms of god and being non-denominational.
The Hindu Connection
The Vedas (Hindu Holy books) mention a race of people called Aryans. They were known to have spoken a mix of European languages, worshipped gods similar to Norse. They use the Swastika in their religious practices (This was the original reversed form, which stood for happiness and good luck not Hitler’s evil perversion). Satellite photography and recent archaeological find place their settlements as being located in the ancient Saraswati river valley between N.W. India and Pakistan. The Vedas dated these cities as at 2700 BCE. It is becoming more apparent that Europeans may well have evolved from these ancient settlers.
The influence of Hindu Philosophy, religion, sciences were evident throughout the ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Roman empires. This was due to trade and migration. Appolonius, a Greek Physician, spent a month being educated by an Indian yogi during his extensive travels through India. He later wrote four books about his experiences and included Hindu Yantras (sacred diagrams) into his medical practices.
During a battle with the Carthaginians, an oracle advised the Romans to seek the aid of the Greek Goddess Magna Mater. They brought a statue of the Goddess to Rome where it protected them until their conversion to Christianity. It is believed, due to their amazing similarities, that Magna Mater was really the Hindu Goddess Durga.
The Vedic God of the sky ‘Dyaus Pitar‘ is very similar to the Roman sky God Jupiter and is pronounced ‘Dyu-Pitar’.
The Vedic God Indra is a thunder god, which wields a lightning bolt much like the Norse god Thor.
One of the collective names for the version of god is Asura the Norse name is Aesir.
Norse and Vedic (Hindu religious teachings) legend both speak of a giant tree that hold up the universe
American writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau both read Hindu scriptures with Emerson eventually founding the Transcendentalist movement in the U.S.
Feng shui is derived from the Hindu science of Vastu (Vaastu)
Hinduism has its own version of the great flood story only their one predates the biblical (Sumerian) version. In the Matsya Purana is the story of the first man Manu, (incidentally this is the origin of the words man and manners) who helps a talking fish, which is an avatar of Lord Vishnu, called. Matsya. In return for Manu’s help Matsya warns Manu of a great flood, which will cover the Earth. Manu builds a boat as instructed and with the seeds of all the earths animals and his family rides out the storm until Matsya tows Manu’s boat to a high mountain. The water eventually recedes and Manu goes on to populate the Earth.
Was Jesus in India?
For sometime Theology students have been researching whether Jesus visited India during his ‘missing years’. During the 1800’s Nicolas Notovitch, whilst being cared for in a Ladach monastery, heard passages of Tibetan manuscripts, which mentioned a young mans visit to Kashmir. The man was called Issa (Jesus was also called Esau, Isha and Yeshu). Issa ran away from home at the age of 13 and travelled the Silk road to India. There he spent Twelve years learning Hindu and Buddhist texts before returning to Palestine In 1922 an Indian Monk brought a translation of these manuscripts back to Calcutta. However before westerners could see the originals the Chinese army destroyed the Tibetan temple and the manuscripts were lost.
Final resting places of Christ in India Include Srinagar, Kashmir and Taxila on the Afghan border.
In an early Christian text called “Acts of Thomas”, Jesus is reported to have visited his disciple Thomas, in India (where he had been sent to teach)
Coming next –
Concepts of Hinduism
Niyamas and Yamas (Do’s and Don’ts)
Avatars of God
Communicating with God