A Hindu (Devanagari: हिन्दू) is an adherent of the philosophies and scriptures of Hinduism, a set of religious, philosophical and cultural systems that originated in the Indian subcontinent. There are approximately 920 million Hindus of the world population, making Hinduism the third largest religion in the world after Christianity and Islam; of these, about 890 million live in India, and 30 million in the Hindu diaspora. Other countries with large Hindu populations include Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma), Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Guyana, Nepal, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Kenya, Mauritius, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, The Netherlands, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
When and how the word 'Hindu" was coined is not precisely established. It is absent in early sacred literature of Indian origin. It was used for the people inhabiting the lands of river Sindhu. Regular usage of the word is encountered in the accounts of foreign invaders of the medieval period, to describe collectively the followers of Indian religions.
One of the accepted views is that “ism” was added to “Hindu” around 1830 to denote the culture and religion of the high-caste Brahmans in contrast to other religions. The term was soon appropriated by Indians themselves as they tried to establish a national identity opposed to colonialism.
Due to the wide diversity in the beliefs, practices and traditions encompassed by Hinduism, there is no universally accepted definition on who a Hindu is, or even agreement on whether Hinduism represents a religious, cultural or socio-political entity. In 1995, Chief Justice P. B. Gajendragadkar was quoted in an Indian Supreme Court ruling:
"When we think of the Hindu religion, unlike other religions in the world, the Hindu religion does not claim any one prophet; it does not worship any one god; it does not subscribe to any one dogma; it does not believe in any one philosophic concept; it does not follow any one set of religious rites or performances; in fact, it does not appear to satisfy the narrow traditional features of any religion of creed. It may broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more."
Thus some scholars argue that the Hinduism is not a religion per se but rather a reification of a diverse set of traditions and practices by scholars who constituted a unified system and arbitrarily labeled it Hinduism. The usage may also have been necessitated by the desire to distinguish between "Hindus" and followers of other religions during the periodic census undertaken by the colonial British government in India. Other scholars, while seeing Hinduism as a 19th century construct, view Hinduism as a response to British colonialism by Indian nationalists who forged a unified tradition centered on oral and written Sanskrit texts adopted as scriptures.
A commonly held view, though, is that while Hinduism contains both "uniting and dispersing tendencies", it has a common central thread of philosophical concepts (including dharma, moksha and samsara), practices (puja, bhakti etc) and cultural traditions. These common elements originating (or being codified within) the Vedic, Upanishad and Puranic scriptures and epics. Thus a Hindu could :
In 1995, while considering the question "who are Hindus and what are the broad features of Hindu religion", the Supreme Court of India highlighted Bal Gangadhar Tilak's formulation of Hinduism's defining features:
Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and the realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of Hindu religion.
Some thinkers have attempted to distinguish between the concept of Hinduism as a religion, and a Hindu as a member of a nationalist or socio-political class. Veer Savarkar in his influential pamphlet Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? considered geographical unity, common culture and common race to be the defining qualities of Hindus; thus a Hindu was a person who saw India "as his Fatherland as well as his Holy land, that is, the cradle land of his religion". This conceptualization of Hinduism, has led to establishment of Hindutva as the dominant force in Hindu nationalism over the last century.
Hinduism, its religious doctrines, traditions and observances are very typical and inextricably linked to the culture and demographics of India. Hinduism has one of the most ethnically diverse bodies of adherents in the world. For some, it is hard to classify Hinduism as a religion because the framework, symbols, leaders and books of reference that make up a typical religion are not uniquely identified in the case of Hinduism. Most commonly it can be seen as a "way of life" which gives rise to many civilized forms of religions.
Large tribes and communities indigenous to India are closely linked to the synthesis and formation of Hindu civilization. Peoples of East Asian roots living in the states of north eastern India and Nepal were also a part of the earliest Hindu civilization. Immigration and settlement of peoples from Central Asia and peoples of Indo-Greek heritage have brought their own influence on Hindu society.
The Indus Valley Civilization is often taken to represent the historical continuum of Hinduism. The roots of Hinduism in southern India, and amongst tribal and indigenous communities is just as ancient and fundamentally contributive to the foundations of the religious and philosophical system.
Ancient Hindu kingdoms arose and spread the religion and traditions across South East Asia, particularly Thailand, Nepal, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and what is now central Vietnam. A form of Hinduism particularly different from Indian roots and traditions is practiced in Bali, Indonesia, where Hindus form 90% of the population. Indian migrants have taken Hinduism and Hindu culture to South Africa, Fiji, Mauritius and other countries in and around the Indian Ocean, and in the nations of the West Indies and the Caribbean.
Many modern discourses, essays and analysis of Hindu religion and society, as well as retellings of its greatest epics, are published in the English language.
These are various rituals necessary within a life of Hindu. These Sanskras are applied during different phases of life. Some of those are:
1] Jatkarma (worshipping those instruments which are used for living based on profession eg. when a child was 5 day old.)
2] Namkaran (Name ceremony)
3] Annaprashan(Start of Eating)
4] Kesharpan (First time hair cut at around age of 1)
5] Upnayan (thread ceremony –only applicable to three varnas among four but can also be applicable to last Varna in some exceptional cases)
6] Vidyarambh(start of education)
10] Antim Sanskar(last rites before cremation of corpse)
In a ceremony administered by a priest, a coir string, known as Janoy or Poonal, is hung from around a young boy's left shoulder to his right waist line for Brahmins and from right shoulders to left waistline by Kshatriyas. The ceremony varies from region to community, and includes reading from the Vedas and special Mantras and Slokas.
Young females (prepubescent until married) do not have similar ritual passage as young males. However, some young Hindu females, especially those from southern India, may follow annual Monsoon Austerity Ritual of Purification by not eating cooked food for one or two weeks, depending on age of child. This is known as "Goryo" or "Goriyo".
Generally speaking, Hindus are free to join an order or inner circle, and once they have joined it they may submit to its rites and way of living. But this type of joining is voluntary and has the possibility of leaving the order at any time without serious objection from fellow followers as long as one says and does things without associating them with the order which he or she has left. It is a social form of co-option of life style. It is said in Sanskrit that, "dharmo hi hato hanti, dharmo rakshati rakshitah", which translates to "Dharma, when destroyed, destroys; dharma protects when [it is]protected", meaning the path of righteousness will protect one as long as one upholds and follows it. The initiation (diksha), a sort of purification or consecration involving a transformation of the aspirant's personality, is regarded as a complement to, or even a substitute for, the previous initiation ceremony rite of consecration that preceded the Vedic sacrifice in ancient India; in later and modern Hinduism, the initiation of a layman by his guru (spiritual guide) into a religious sect. In the soma sacrifices of the Vedic period, the lay sacrificer, after bathing, kept a day-long (in some cases up to a yearlong) silent vigil inside a special hut in front of a fire.
Some Hindus will give offerings to their gods by placing rice or flowers in a bowl above the stove every morning before they eat, and behind this bowl may be a picture of one of their gods. Along with giving offerings they might also pray to the god they gave an offering to.
The Kumbha Mela (the Great Fair) is a gathering of between 10 to 20 million Hindus upon the banks of the holy rivers at Allahabad (Prayag), as periodically ordained in different parts of India by Hinduism's priestly leadership. The most famous is at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh which is known as "Sangam". It is regarded as the Arulmigu Mathusoothana perumal sevva sangam OM NAMO NARAYANA, The presiding deity, Lord Madhusudhana, in majestic splendour, with a serene countenance and four arms, is nearly five feet in height. Lord Vishnu appears in the form of Madhusudhana with four hands. While, two hands hold the disc and conch, the other right hand is held aloft in abaya hastha position and the left rests on the left thigh. He is seen with Goddesses Lakshmidevi and Bhoomadevi.
The practice of cremation is not universal among Hindus. Hindus of various regions and castes may bury their dead as well, as per their families tradition.
To many Hindus, the Vedas, a large corpus of texts that originated in Ancient India, are the main source of religious social and religious practices in Hindu society. By tradition, the distinction between "believer" and "unbeliever" (Nastika) was simply whether the person, in principle, accepted the authority of the Vedas. Such acceptance was in many cases a matter of common terminology and wildly different belief systems coexist (including atheistic, polytheistic, monotheistic, among others) within the community of "believers." Consequently, for the common Hindu, the connection to the Vedas is mostly through certain chants that are performed at various ceremonies, and not through an emotional/spiritual connection to the content of the Vedas.
The Puranas are a wide collection of religious treatises, biographies and stories on the historical, mythological and religious characters in Hindu folklore, classic literature and sacred scriptures. They are often the source of popular Hindu folk tales and religious lessons and thus play a much bigger role in the emotional/spiritual dimension of the common Hindu's life.
Yoga is an important connection for a Hindu to his religious and historical heritage. The art of spiritual and physical exercises are a distinguished native tradition pursued by millions of Hindus worldwide.
Indian Vedic astrology is important to the conduct of any of life's important events such as marriage, applying for a post or admission, buying a house or starting a new business. To millions of Hindus the kundali is an invaluable possession that charts the course of life for a man or a woman from the time of his birth, all ascertained by Vedic mathematics and astrology.
Perhaps the most popular Hindu scripture is the Mahabharata, depicting a civil war within a family that takes on dimensions of the struggle between dharma and adharma. Krishna's discourse to the warrior prince Arjuna, known as the Bhagavad Gita and contained in the Mahabharata, is the guide book on life for the common Hindu. For many Hindus the Bhagavad Gita is considered a source of divine guidance and inspiration. Devotional readers apply Krishna's teachings to the personal and worldly contexts of their life. It is often considered as the main source of religious teaching for Hindu practitioners.
Similarly, the Ramayana, depicting the life of the prince and king Rama, also plays a big role through its many different versions. To hundreds of millions of Hindus, Rama is more than just an incarnation of the Supreme, or simply a just king of Ayodhya. He is the still living, thriving soul and identity of real Hinduism. Rama is the image of Hinduism, the Perfect Man, its conscience and undying hope of deliverance.
The doctrines of moksha by the diligent discharge of personal, social and religious duty is the cornerstone of Hindu society. By following one's duty (Swa-Dharma) one gains merit and, when the process is completed, union with the Godhead and cessation of the cycle of birth and death. Dereliction of duty will result in all sorts of misfortunes, including birth into a lower level in the social hierarchy. This is a strong motivation to stick to the right path of human nature. Commonly this swa-dharma or varna is misunderstood as caste, the class identity in Hindu society. Varna is determined by a soul's karma, while Jat or caste is determined by birth and not necessarily in a person's nature. So it is important for a person to follow their true nature and seek to do their duty in life.