History of Hinduism
Hinduism is the third-largest religion in the world, with over 1 billion followers as of 2012. It is also the oldest religion which is still practiced widely. It is uncertain exactly when it was founded, but it may have been as long ago as 2500 BC.
Hinduism is a mixture of many different beliefs and religions in the Indian region, and has no set founder. Generally, Hinduism is a polytheistic religion, or a religion which worships many gods. However, there are some sects, like Shaivism, which worship only one god-Shiva-who is also worshiped by the polytheistic sects as one of many gods. Because of differences like this, and the religion's old and wide-spreading roots, Hinduism can be confusing to outsiders.
One of the early versions of Hinduism is the Vedic tradition. Even this was a mixture of different traditions, including various tribal religions, the beliefs of the Indus Valley Civilization, and religions of various cultures around India. Hinduism began to solidify around 500-300 BC. It was influenced by the other two religions in the region, Jainism and Buddhism. Around this time, the Puranas were written and spread throughout India. These were sacred documents which worked to standardize Hindu faith.
The Classical Hindu period lasted from 200 BC to 1200 AD, and was marked by the spread of sacred texts and increased efforts to standardize the religion. This was because Indian leaders, called Brahmins, were worried that Buddhism and Jainism would become the dominant religions. One of the most important sacred texts is the Bhagavad Gita (this means Song of the Lord), a story about a prince who fights a war and speaks with gods.
The Classical period also sees the Golden Age of Hinduism, from 320-650 AD. This was a successful time for the religion, which was helped by rising literacy in India, and saw a lot of great philosophical achievements and literary works. It was also great politically, as the Gupta Empire, which ruled large parts of India at the time, centralized and grew rich.
In the Middle Ages, Islam came to impact Hinduism. At first, it was through merchants which were coming into the region, but ultimately by conquest. Muslim Sultans arose in India and began to systemically persecute Hindus, either killing them or enslaving them. In this period, Hinduism grew more and more unified. The powerful Muslim Mughal Empire came to rule India in the 1500s, but was replaced within a few hundred years by the last Hindu empire in India-the Maratha Empire-in 1760.
In the 1800s, Great Britain took interest in India, and by 1857 the whole continent was subjugated the British crown and turned into a colony. Hinduism experienced a revival in this period. Inspired by various European ideas like nationalism, Hinduism went through a few new religious movements and serious reforms which changed many practices. However, many, such as the caste system-in which people are born into certain 'castes' or social classes, and unable to advance out of them-remained in effect.
Eventually, these movements and consolidations in Hinduism would help India gain its independence from Britain in 1947.
Hinduism did not really reach Europe and America until the 1800s and 1900s. Several Western occultist groups drew from Hindu tradition during this time. The New Age craze which spread between the 1960s and 1980s in Europe and America drew heavily from Hinduism. The practice of Yoga also has roots in the tradition.
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