“Hinduism: Oldest of the world’s major religions. It evolved from the Vedic religion of ancient India. Though the various Hindu sects rely on their own set of scriptures, they all revere the ancient Vedas, which were brought to India by Aryan invaders after 1200 B.C. The philosophical Vedic texts called the Upanishads explored the search for knowledge that would allow mankind to escape the cycle of reincarnation. Fundamental to Hinduism is the belief in a cosmic principle of ultimate reality called Brahman, and its identity with the individual soul, or Atman. All creatures go through a cycle of rebirth, or samsara, which can only be broken by spiritual self-realization, after which liberation, or moksha, is attained. The principle of karma determines a being’s status within the cycle of rebirth, The greatest Hindu deities are Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The numerous other Hindu gods are mostly viewed as incarnations or epiphanies of the main deities, though some are survivors of the pre-Aryan era. The major source ofs of classical mythology are the Mahabharata (which included the Bhagavad Gita, the most important religious text of Hinduism), the Ramayana and the Puranas. The hierarchical social structure of the caste system is important to Hinduism; it is supported by the principle of dharma. The major branches of Hinduism are Vaishnavism and Shaivism, each of which includes many different sects. In the 20th century, Hinduism has blended with Indian nationalism to become a potent political force.”
Excerpted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.