Hinduism has affected society in numerous ways, but perhaps the most significant is the emergence of the caste system in India. Almost all traditions, beliefs and practices that make up Hinduism predate recorded history and even the word "Hinduism" itself. It is often referred to as the oldest religion in the world.
Although there is no single founder or central doctrine of Hinduism, there are certain core Hindu beliefs that have permeated the Indian society. They include belief in reincarnation, the concept of karma, respect for all forms of life and tolerance and respect of other religions.
The biggest societal effect Hinduism has had, however, relates to the caste system. Traditional belief holds that a person's life cycle has four stages, which are called Ashramas. A person begins life as a student, then is a keeper of a household, then retires and, finally, begins the stage of asceticism. Asceticism is an extremely modest lifestyle, devoid of all indulgences.
This concept of Ashramas at some point evolved into four different classes of people: teachers and religious leaders, nobility and warriors, farmers and businesspeople and, lastly, servants. These eventually became strict castes, or societal classes, which determined a person's place in life at birth. Many of the issues India faced in the 1800s through the early 1900s were related to these class struggles.