This article is about the Hindu religion

. Hinduism (हिन्दू धर्म; also known as Sanātana Dharma - सनातन धर्म, and Vaidika-Dharma - वैदिक धर्म) is a worldwide religious tradition that is based on the Vedas 

and is the direct descendent of the Vedic Indo-Iranian religion. It encompasses many religious traditions that widely vary in practice, as well as many diverse sects and philosophies. An array of deities are worshipped. Beliefs, codes and principles vary from region to region. It has proven impossible to trace the beginning of Vedic religion, although modern estimates of Hinduism's origin vary from 3102 BCE to 1300 BCE. It is also the third largest religion in the world with a following of approximately 1 billion people. Ninety-eight percent of Hindus can be found on the Indian subcontinent, chiefly in India. It is noteworthy however that the relatively small Himalayan kingdom of Nepal is the only nation in the world with Hinduism as its state religion. See Hindu for more about a Hindu and different communities of Hindus. 

Core Concepts 

The Eternal Way
"Sanātana Dharma" (सनातन धर्म, The Eternal Values ), Hinduism's traditional name, speaks to the idea that certain spiritual principles hold eternally true, transcending man-made constructs, representing a pure science of consciousness. This consciousness is not merely that of the body or mind and intellect, but of a transcendental state that exists within and beyond our existence, the unsullied Soul of all. Religion to the Hindu is the eternal search for the divine Brahman (ब्रह्मन्, pronounced as "brəhmən", nominative singular being ब्रह्म or "brəhmə"), the Supreme immanent and transcendent Reality or the Cosmic Spirit. Hinduism's aspiration is best expressed in the following mantra: :OM Asato mā sadgamaya, tamaso mā jyotirgamaya, mrityor māmritam gamaya :"OM Lead me from falsehood to truth, from darkness to light, from death to immortality." mantra 

Basic beliefs
What can be said to be common to all Hindus is the belief in Dharma (duties and obligations), Reincarnation (rebirth), Karma ("actions", leading to a cause and effect relationship), and Moksha (salvation) of every soul through a variety of paths, such as Bhakti (devotion), Karma (action) and Jnana (knowledge), and of course, belief in God (Ishvara). Reincarnation or the soul's transmigration through a cycle of birth and death, until it attains Moksha, is governed by Karma. The philosophy of Karma lays forth the results of free-willed actions, which leave their imprint on the soul or the self, called as ātman. These actions determine the course of life and the life cycle for the soul in its subsequent life. Virtuous actions take the soul closer to the divine supreme and lead to a birth with higher-consciousness. Evil actions hinder this recognition of the divine supreme and the soul takes lower forms of worldly life. All existence, per Hinduism, from vegetation to mankind, are subjects to the eternal Dharma, which is the natural law. Even Heaven (svarga) and Hell (naraka) are temporary. Liberation from this material existence and cycle of birth and death, to join, reach or develop a relationship with the "universal spirit" (depending on belief), is known as moksha, which is the ultimate goal of Hindus. The other principles include the guru/chela dynamic, the Divinity of Word of OM and the power of mantras (religious hymn), manifestations of the divine's spirit in all forms of existence (pantheism); that is an understanding that the essential spark of the (Atman/Brahman) is in every living being, the concept that all human beings are divine. 

Practice (Yoga Dharma)
Hinduism includes a variety of practices, primarily spiritual devotion (Bhakti Yoga), selfless service (Karma Yoga), knowledge and meditation (Jnana or Raja Yoga). These are described in the two principal texts of Hindu Yoga: The Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras. The Upanishads are also important as a philosophical foundation for these practices. The yogas provide a sort of alternate path (or faiths) that links together various Hindu beliefs and can also be used to categorize non-Hindu beliefs that are seen as paths to moksha, or nirvana. 

The four objectives Of Life
Another major aspect of Hindu dharma that is common to practically all Hindus is that of the purusharthas, the "four objectives of life". They are kama, artha, dharma and moksha. It is said that all humans seek kama (pleasure, physical or emotional) and artha (material wealth), but soon, with maturity, learn to govern these legitimate desires within the higher framework of dharma (righteousness). Of course, the only goal that is truly ultimate, whose attainment results in ultimate happiness, is moksha (salvation), also known as Mukti (spiritual liberation), Samadhi, Nirvana, or escape from Samsara (the cycle of birth and death).
The four stages of Life

Ideally (though not feasible for most of today's lay Hindus), the human life is divided into four Ashramas ("phases" or "stages"). They are Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa. The first quarter of one's life, Brahmacharya ("meditation in Brahma") is spent in celibate, controlled, sober and pure contemplation under a Guru, building up the mind for the realization of truth. Grihastya is the householder's stage, alternatively known as samsara, in which one marries and satisfies kama and artha within a married life and professional career. Vanaprastha is gradual detachment from the material world, ostensibly giving over duties to one's children, spending more time in contemplation of the Divine, and making holy pilgrimages. Finally, in sanyasa, the individual goes into seclusion, often envisioned as the renunciation, to find the Divine through detachment from worldly life and peacefully shed the body for the next life. sanyasa]] 

Nature of God
The Vedas depict Brahman as the Ultimate Reality, the Absolute or Universal Soul (Param-atman), One without form, shape, gender, begining or the end (Nirguna, Nirankara). In Hinduism God is a form of Cosmic Energy or Universal Power to create, to preserve and to destroy. To make it easily understandable to primitive people more than five thousand years ago, a concept of the Trinity - god of creation (Brahma), god of preservation (Vishnu) and god of destruction (Shiva) - gods with various human forms and symbols was introduced. To humanize it further and to emphasize the importance of righteous way of life, there is a feminine aspect to the Trinity (Sarswati, Lakshmi and Parpati, respectively) and even their offsprings (Ganesha and Kartikeya). Hinduism because of its very concept, even incorporated some the religious beliefs, gods and goddesses of native peoples conquered by early Hindus. Some people misunderstand Hinduism as multigod religion but that is absolutely untrue. There also exists the lord of the universe, whom some call as Vishnu and some as Shiva, and other devas as different aspects of the potency of one Brahman. Brahman is the indescribable, inexhaustible, incorporeal, omniscient, omnipresent, original, first, eternal, both transcendent and immanent, absolute infinite existence, and the ultimate principle who is without a beginning, without an end , who is hidden in all and who is the cause, source, material and effect of all creation known, unknown and yet to happen in the entire universe. Brahman (not to be confused with the deity Brahmā) is seen as a panentheistic "universal spirit". The personality behind Brahman is known as Parabrahman (The superior Brahman). Unlike Abrahamic religions which believe in a strictly personal God, Hindus believe in a both the personal and impersonal concept of God, usually called as Ishvara (ईश्वर, lit., the Supreme Lord). Hindus maintain that Ishvara is One and only One, although He can be viewed as having many manifestations such as Vishnu or transformations such as Shiva while Vaishnavites and Shaivites view Vishnu or Shiva respectively to be the same as Ishvara. The terms Ishvara and devas must not be confused. Devas could be as numerous as 330 million. These Devas may variously be translated into English as gods, demi-gods, deities, spirits or angels. Ishvara could be viewed in any way, as a non-corporeal, infinite, spiritual being, or as anthropomorphic deities such as Shiva and Vishnu, for the sake of devotional worship. Note that Brahmā, Vishnu and Shiva are not regarded as ordinary devas but as Mahadevas. Brahman is viewed as without personal attributes (Nirguna Brahman) or with attributes (Saguna Brahman, equated with Ishvara) as God. In Advaita Vedanta, Ishvara is simply the manifested form of Brahman upon the human mind. Thus according to Smarta views, the divine can be with attributes, Saguna Brahman, and also be viewed with whatever attributes, (e.g., a female goddess) a devotee conceives. In Vaishnavism and Shaivism, Saguna Brahman such Vishnu or Shiva is viewed as male. Vaishnavites consider Vishnu to be the source of Brahman. The divine power (or energy) of God is personified as female or Shakti. However, the Divine and divine energy are indivisible, unitary, and the same. The analogy is that fire represents the divine and the actual heat Shakti. Though all the different paths of Moksha (salvation) are, to various extents, acknowledged by all denominations, the actual conception of Brahman and its nature is what differentiates them. It is important to note that the contemporary perception of Hinduism, influenced by Smarta traditions, depicts an inclusively monotheistic religion, which accordingly holds that the different deities are simply different manifestations of the One God. 

Each of the Hinduism's four major denominations share rituals, beliefs, traditions and personal deities with one another, but each sect has a different philosophy on how to achieve life's ultimate goal (moksha, salvation) and on their concept of God (Ishvara). However, each denomination respects all others, and conflict of any kind is rare. In fact, many Hindus will not claim to belong to any denomination at all. Contemporary Hinduism is now divided into four major divisions, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism. Just as Jews, Christians and Muslims differ on their view of God, Hindus believe in one God but differ in their views of God. The two primary form of differences are between the sects of Vaishnavism which conceives God as Vishnu, and Shaivism which conceives God as Shiva. Vaishnavas make up the majority of Hindus in India. Shaktism worships a female divine or goddess Devi or alternatively (where it is viewed as a sub sect of Shaivism) as the power of Shiva personified. Smartism, in contrast, believes in all religions being the same and leading to a pantheistic God. The Trimurti concept (also called the Hindu trinity) of Smartism denotes the three aspects of the divine as Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer. A number of reform movements have also given rise to sects like Swami Dayananda Saraswati's Arya Samaj which condemns iconolatry, veneration of multiple deities and focuses on the Vedas and the Vedic fire-sacrifices (yajña). 

Smārtas invariably follow Advaita (monist) philosophy, seeing multiple manifestations emanating from a single source called Brahman. It is seen as ultimate unity, with the personal gods (deities) being different manifestations of Brahman which can be called by different names. Smārtism is the only branch of Hinduism that adopts these ideas strictly. The Smārta perspective dominates the view of Hinduism in the West because of the influence of eminent Smārtins like Swami Vivekananda. 

A Vaishnavite considers Vishnu (विष्णु) as the supreme being, and considers other deities as subordinate (like demi-gods). Accordingly, many Vaishnavites, for example, believe that Vishnu ultimately grants moksha. Vaisnavites, consider worship of other gods as secondary due to Krishna's (who is a form of Vishnu) sayings in the Gita : Whatever deity or form a devotee worships, their wishes are granted by Me (Gita: 7:21-22) O Arjuna, even those devotees who worship other subordinate deities (e.g., Devas, for example) with faith, they also worship Me, [but] following non-injunction (Gita: 9:23). 

Vivekananda, the capital of Nepal. It is regarded by Hindus as one of the most sacred temples of Shiva.]] Similar to Vaishnavism, many Shaivites hold that Shiva (शिव) is the supreme being and all other deities sprung forth from him. They follow either monistic or dualistic philosophies. 

Shaktas worship Shakti (or Devi) in all of her forms, whilst not rejecting the importance of masculine and neuter divinity. The "History of the Shakta Religion" explains that The Shaktas conceive their Great Goddess as the personification of primordial energy and the source of all divine and cosmic evolution. She is identified with the Supreme Being, conceived as the Source and the Spring as well as the Controller of all the forces and potentialities of Nature. It is associated with Vedanta, Samkhya and Tantra philosophies, is ultimately monist, and has a rich tradition of Bhakti yoga associated with it. Shaivite views often consider Shaktism to be sub-denomination of Saivism, arguing that Devi is worshipped as female in order to attain union with Siva, who in Saivism is the male counterpart of Devi and in Shaktism, is viewed as the formless Absolute.
Hindu sacred texts 

The overwhelming majority of Hindu sacred texts are composed in the Sanskrit language. Indeed, much of the morphology and linguistic philosophy inherent in the learning of Sanskrit is sometimes claimed to be inextricably linked to study of the Vedas and relevant Hindu scriptures. The Bhagavad Gita, or Song Celestial, is one of three traditional epic books. The others are the Ramayana and the Maha Bharata. The Eighteen Puranas, or Ancients, are divided into three groups of six. The Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana and the Maha Bharata, the Puranas, and the Manu Smiriti. The Vedas are books that tell about rules that all Hindus have to follow. The Puranas' groups and their contents are: 1) the Brahma Puranas: Brahma Purana, Brahmanda Purana, Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Markandeya Purana, Bhavishya Purana, and the Vamana Purana; 2) the Vishnu Puranas: the Vishnu Purana, the Bhagavata Purana, the Naradeya Purana, the Garuda Purana, the Padma Purana, and the Varaha Purana; and 3) the Shiva Puranas: the Vayu Purana, the Lingu Purana, the Skanda Purana, the Agni Purana, the Matsya Purana, and the Karma Purana. 

The Vedas (वेद, literally, "Knowledge") are considered as Shruti by Hindus. They are said to have been revealed by the Brahman to the rishis while the latter were in deep meditation. While the overwhelming majority of Hindus may never read the Vedas, there prevails in them a reverence for this transcendental notion of "Eternal Knowledge". The four Vedas (the Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas) are various shakhas or branches of knowledge. Depending on the branch, different commentaries and instructions are associated with each Veda. The Vedas, apart from the hymn (mantra) or the Samhitā (संहिता) portion, also have three layers of commentaries integrally incorporated within them. These are the Brāhmaņas (ब्राह्मण, not to be confused with Brahman) containing prose commentaries on the rituals, the Āranyakas (आरण्यक) containing the mystical explanations of the mantras, and the Upanişhads (उपनिषद्) containing highly philosophical and metaphysical writings about the nature of, and the relationship between the soul (Atman) and the Brahman. Each Veda also has various law books and ritual manuals associated with like, like the Dharmashastras, Grihyasutras, etc but most people do not consider them as an integral part of the Shruti or Vedic literature. The Upanishads set Hindu philosophy apart with its embrace of transcendent and yet multiple immanent forces that is subjective to each man, seen by some as an identification of unity in diversity. Modern indology suggests that while early Hinduism is most reliant on the four Vedas, Classical Hinduism, from the Yoga and Vedanta to Tantra and Bhakti streams, was moulded around the Upanishads. The Vedas are full of mysticism and allegories. While many schools like Smartism and Advaitism encourage people to interpret the Vedas philosophically and metaphorically and not too literally, Vaishnavism stresses the literal meaning (mukhya vrtti) as primary and indirect meaning (gauna vrtti) as secondary: saksad upadesas tu srutih - "The instructions of the sruti-sastra should be accepted literally, without so-called fanciful or allegorical interpretations." (Jiva Gosvami, Krsna Sandarbha 29.26-27). The very sound of the Vedic mantras is considered as "purifying" by many Hindus, hence the rigour in learning pronunciation. The rigorous oral tradition of transmitting the Vedas has helped in its perfect preservation. Upanishads 

Bhagavad Gita
A core sacred text of Hinduism and its philosophy, the Bhagavad Gita (भगवद् गीता), often referred to as the Gita, is a summation of the Vedic, Yogic, Vedantic and Tantric philosophies. The Bhagavad Gita, meaning "The Song Divine", refers to itself as a 'Yoga Upanishad' and is sometimes called Gītopanişad. It expounds on Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga. It is an integral part of the epic Mahabharata. While technically it is considered as Smriti text, it has singularly achieved nearly the status of Shruti, or revealed knowledge. The Bhagavad-gita is described as the essence of the Vedas. This Gita is easy to follow and is also one of the most popular books in Hinduism. Unlike the Vedas, that are most esoteric and intricate, the Gita is read by many practicing Hindus. 

The other Hindu texts form the latter category, the most notable of which are the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, major epics considered sacred by all followers of Sanatana Dharma. Their stories are arguably familiar to the vast majority of Hindus. Other texts considered important by today's Hindus include the Shrimad Bhagavatam, described as the spotless epic detailing devotion to Vishnu as the highest goal, Devi Mahatmya, an ode to Devi, and the Yoga Sutras, a key meditative yoga text of Shri Patanjali. There are also a number of revered Hindu Tantras, the Manusmriti, the 18 Puranas which vividly describe later Hinduism's deities and mythology, and Sutras that command the respect of various Hindu sects of different persuasion, some including the Mahanirvana Tantra, Tirumantiram and Shiva Sutras. The Ramayana, Mahabharata and many Puranas are much more widely read by today's Hindus than the Vedas, and the temple and icon worship of modern Hinduism is attributable to them. Other important scriptures are the sectarian Hindu Agamas which are texts related to rituals and worship and is dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva and Devi. The Shrutis take precedence over Smriti in any matter of apparent mutual dispute. Vaishnavas regard the Puranas to be as authoritative as the Vedas. 

Origins and society 

Origins of Hinduism
Devi, Orissa is one of the most famous stone monument in the world. The temple is conceived as a massive 24-wheel chariot of the Sun God Surya.]] Hinduism is the world's oldest major religion in existence. From a Hindu perspective, the Sanatana Dharma propounds eternal and universal principles with no beginning or end. Hindu puranas and astronomical evidence within place Lord Krishna's birth at a date of 3100 BCE Krishna's incarnation was preceded by Lord Rama's, sometimes dated at over 5,000 BCE, or even millions of years ago according to the Ramayana. It is believed by many Hindus that their religious tradition was fully formed by the time of Lord Rama, believed to be the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Modern indology, on the other hand, suggests that Hinduism only developed sometime between 1500-1300 BCE based on the linguistic and literary dating of the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Hindu spiritual texts. This, however, is based on the Aryan invasion theory, which has increasingly been doubted due to archaeological findings suggesting that there was never such an invasion. The origin of collective Hindu thought cannot be ascribed to any single founder (though most of its later schools of philosophy and belief can be), or associated with a specific time or a single place of foundation. The Vedas, the earliest Hindu scriptures, are the compilation of spiritual laws and truths binding upon all of creation. It is believed that each Veda was revealed to enlightened sages, called rişhis, over a long period of time. The Vedas are said to have been transmitted to Lord Brahma by Lord Vishnu via meditative trance at the beginning of each creation. The term 'Hindu' itself is a corrupt form of the word 'Sindhu', which literally means 'dweller across the Indus Valley'. The religion is often named (more appropriately) as Sanatana Dharma in all of its books. Hinduism, along with Buddhism and Jainism, is regarded to be an Arya Dharma, meaning, a noble religion. 

Though linguists and historians haven't reached a consensus, the term Hindu is generally accepted to be derived from the name of the Sindhu (सिन्धु, i.e., the Indus) river, which is known as Hindu in Persian. The term was used for people that lived around or beyond the Sindhu. In this region, Mohan-jo-Daro civilization is documented to be around five thousand years old. As evidenced by its structure, this was a very advanced civilization. Hinduism probably existed long before that. In the Iranian linguistic branch, the 's' of the Indic branch (as represented by Sanskrit) is cognate with the 'h' sound of Iranian (as represented by Avestan and Old Persian). In the Rig Veda, the Indo-Aryans mention their expanse as sapta sindhu (the land of seven rivers). This became The term Hapta-Hindu in Avesta (Vendidad: Fargard 1.18). Hindu (In-du or In-tu in China) is still used in some languages to denote an Indian or India. The Greek term "India" was originally pronounced Hindia, as in classical Greek there was no character for "h". In modern Persian and Arabic, the term Hindustan denotes the Indian subcontinent, and Hind or Al-Hind is used to denote the Republic of India. The word Hindu (हिन्दु), possibly due to Iranian influence, in the sense of people of India, is used in some early-medieval Sanskrit texts like BhaviŞhya Purāņa, Kālikā Purāņa, Merutantra, Rāmakosha, Hemantakavikosha and Adbhutarūpakosha. India is also traditionally, but unofficially called Hindustan or Hind in Hindi, Persian, Arabic, etc. Note that the word Hindustan also has other meanings. Until about 19th century the term Hindu implied a culture and ethnicity and not a religion. When the British government started periodic censuses and established a legal system, the need arose to define Hinduism as a distinct religion, along the lines of Christianity or Islam. Some scholars, such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, defined it as a religion based on the Vedas, using the analogy of the Bible being the basis of Christianity and the Koran being the Muslim scripture. That even an atheist may be called a Hindu is an example of the fact that Hinduism is far more than a simple religious system; it is actually an extremely diverse and complicated river of evolving philosophies and ancient traditions. 

Vedic religion
Modern Hinduism grew out of the knowledge described in the Vedas. The earliest of these, the Rigveda centers on worship of the deities Indra and Agni, and on the Soma ritual. They would perform fire-sacrifices called yajña (यज्ञ) with the chanting of the Vedic mantras, but they built no temples, idols or icons. Probably animals were also sacrificed in larger yajñas, as claimed by Buddhist and Jain texts. The Ashvamedha was the most important sacrifice described in the Yajurveda, possibly performed for the last time by Samudragupta in the 4th century. The age and origins of the Vedas themselves are disputed, but it is clear that they were transmitted orally for several millennia. They show strong similarities to the language and religion of the Avesta, which are sometimes traced back to either the influence of the 3rd millennium BC Indus Valley Civilisation, or to a 2nd millennium BC Indo-Iranian migration (see Aryan invasion theory), or to a combination of these. 

Hindu nationalism
Main Articles: Hindu Nationalism, Hindutva, Hindu Rashtra In the 20th century, emerging Indian nationalism began to emphasize Hinduism, in opposition to the British Raj, but also in contrast to Islam, and after Independence in connection with the territorial disputes with Pakistan. Such nationalistic Hinduism is generally termed Hindutva ("Hinduness", paradoxically not a well-formed Sanskrit word, since "Hindu" is a Persian word), but the boundaries are fluid and the Indian Supreme Court ruled that "no precise meaning can be ascribed to the terms 'Hindu', 'Hindutva' and 'Hinduism'; and no meaning in the abstract can confine it to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage." Hindutva ideology was enunciated first by Savarkar in his seminal work 'Hindutva'. Hindutva ideology rose to importance in Indian politics in the 1980s and is chiefly associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh movement. It has come to symbolize the rising bi-polarization of Indian polity in the late 1990's and the first decade of the 21st century, evident in the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the same period. One of their short term aims is to rebuild a Rama temple at the site of the controversial Babri mosque in Ayodhya. Rama was said to have born on that site, over which probably the Mughal commander Mir Baki had built the Babri mosque after destroying the Vaishnavite temple commemorating the birthplace, in his alleged frenzy of iconoclasm. 

iconoclasm by the instructions of Bhagwan Swaminarayan.]] Swaminarayan Hindu temples inherited rich and ancient rituals and customs, and have occupied a special place in Hindu society. They are usually dedicated to a primary deity, called the presiding deity, and other subordinate deities associated with the main deity. However, some mandirs are dedicated to multiple deities. Most major temples are constructed as per the agama shastras and many are sites of pilgrimage. For many Hindus, the four Shankaracharyas (the abbots of the monasteries of Badrinath, Puri, Sringeri and Dwarka, four of the holiest pilgrimage centers) are viewed as the four highest Patriarchs of the Hindudom. Temples are a place for darshan (vision of the divine), puja, meditation, and religious congregation among other religious activities. Puja or worship, frequently uses the aid of a murti (statue in which divine presence is invoked) in conjunction with the singing or chanting of meditational prayer in the form of mantras. Devotional songs called bhajans (written primarily from the 14th-17th centuries), kirtan (devotional songs), and arti are sometimes sung in conjunction with performance of puja. This rather organic system of devotion attempts to aid the individual in connecting with God through symbolic communion. This form of icon and temple worship, puja, is integral to the Bhakti cult. Most Hindu homes also have a section devoted for daily worship of the deities with religious icons and meditation. 

Current geographic distribution
Bhakti.]] Bhakti.]] Of the total Hindu population of the world, about 94% (890 million) live in India (i.e. Bharat). Nepal, some Indonesian islands, Bhutan, Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji, Guyana, Singapore, and Suriname have significant density of Hindu populations. In Nepal and Bali the major religion is Hinduism and is still reflected in the traditional culture and architecture. Prior to the arrival of Islam, areas of the region now known as Afghanistan and Pakistan were also predominantly Hindu or Buddhist. Apart from these countries Bangladesh (14.4 million), Sri Lanka (3 million), Pakistan (2.5 million), Malaysia (1.5 million), United States (1.5 million), South Africa (1.1 million) and the Middle East (1 million) also have sizable Hindu populations. 

Hindu philosophy: the six Vedic schools of thought
The six Āstika or orthodox (accepting the authority of the Vedas) schools of Hindu philosophy are Nyāya, Vaisheshika, Sāmkhya, Yoga, Pūrva Mīmāmsā (also called just 'Mīmāmsā'), and Uttara Mīmāmsā (also called 'Vedanta'). The non-Vedic schools are called Nāstika, or heterodox, and refer to Buddhism, Jainism and Lokayata. The schools that continue to enrich Hinduism today are Purva Mimamsa, Yoga, and Vedanta. See Hindu philosophy for a discussion of the historical significance of Samkhya, Nyaya, and Vaisheshika.
Pūrva Mīmāmsā

The main objective of Pūrva ("earlier") Mīmāmsā school (also simply called Mīmāmsā) was to firmly establish the authority of the Vedas. Consequently, this school's most valuable contribution to Hinduism was its formulation of the rules of interpretation of Vedas. Its adherents believed that true knowledge is self-evidently proven, and tried to find out the basis of the Vedic ritualism through reasoning. This school of thought led to later development of advaita philosophy which is key to the Sanatana/Hindu Dharma and was especially championed by philosophers like Adi Sankara and Swami Vivekananda. 

Swami Vivekananda Yoga means union and is generally interpreted as union with the Divine, or integration of body, mind, and spirit. Its goals are moksha or samadhi. It, like the Upanishads, seeks liberation through the disunion of the spirit (Purusha) and the nature (Prakriti), through meditational, physical and spiritual practices, along with a firm belief in God (Ishvara). Upanishads, sage Patanjali's Yoga Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita are indispensable literature in the study of Yoga and elaborate on Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Gyana Yoga. Of these, the Yoga Sutra is essentially a compilation and systematization of meditational Yoga philosophy. 

Uttara Mimāmsā: Vedānta and its three main schools
The Uttara ("later") Mimāmsā school, also called as Vedanta, is perhaps one of the cornerstone movements of Hinduism and certainly was responsible for a new wave of philosophical and meditative enquiry, renewal and revival of Hinduism, and established strong philosophical foundation. Primarily associated with the Upanishads and their commentaries by Bādarāyaņa — the Vedanta Sutras, Vedānta thought, according to the pre-Shankaran Buddhist sources (Aryadeva, Kamalashila, Bhavya) monotheistic, later split into three principal groups, initiated by the thinking and writing of Adi Sankara. Most Hindu thought today in some way relates to changes affected by Vedantic thought, which focused on unity of the whole God. The great debate between followers the major Hindu philosophical school, Advaita and the schools such as those of Ramanuja and Madhva, focused on the true nature of Brahman, on whether Brahman was essentially monistic, qualified non-dualistic or dualistic in nature. 

Pure monism: Advaita Vedanta
Advaita literally means "not two"; thus this is what we refer to as a monistic (or non-dualistic) philosophy, which emphasizes oneness of all Divine. Its proponent was Sankara (788?-820?). Sankara expounded his theories largely based on previous teachings of the Upanishads and his own guru Govinda Bhagavadpada. By the analysis of Vedas, he proposed the relative nature of the Universe and established the non-dual nature of Brahman in which Atman (the individual soul) and Brahman (the Ultimate Reality) are identified to be identical. To Advaitists (nondualists) Ultimate Reality is best expressed as Nirguna Brahman, or God without form, or God without physical attributes; indeed, some might go so far as to say it is not 'God' but something beyond - the Godhead. However, even that definition can be limiting. Nirguna Brahman can never be described as that as It transcends all definitions. All personal forms of God (Ishvara) such as Vishnu or Shiva are different aspects of Nirguna Brahman in physical form, or God with attributes, Saguna Brahman. In fact, when man tries to know the Supreme Spirit (Brahman) through his mind, Brahman becomes the Supreme Lord (Ishvara), under the effect of an illusioanry power of Brahman called Māyā. True knowledge of the Brahman (Jñāna) is the only way to liberation. God's energy may also be personified as Devi, the Divine Mother. For Vaishnvaites who follow Ramanuja's philosophy, Devi is Lakshmi, who is the Mother of all and who pleads with Vishnu for mankind for salvation. For Shaivites, Devi is Parvati. For Shaktas, who worship Devi, Devi is the physical form of God. See Advaita Vedanta for more. 

Qualified monism: Vishistadvaita Bhakti
Ramanuja (1040 - 1137) was the foremost proponent of the concept of Sriman Nārāyaņa as the supreme Brahman. He taught that Ultimate Reality had three aspects: Ishvara (Vishnu), chit (soul) and achit (matter). Vishnu is the only independent reality, while souls and matter are dependent on God Vishnu for their existence. Because of this qualification of Ultimate reality, Rāmānuja's system is known as qualified non-dualism. Karma along with Bhakti for is the true path for liberation. 

Dualism: Dvaita Bhakti
Like Ramanuja, Madhva (1238 - 1317) identified God with Vishnu, but his view of reality was purely dualistic in that he understood a fundamental differentiation between the ultimate Godhead and the individual soul, and the system is therefore called Dvaita (dualistic) Vedanta. Bhakti is the only way for liberation.
Alternative cultures of worship

The Bhakti schools
Bhakti and Parvati. He is widely worshipped as Vignesh, the remover of obstacles.]] The Bhakti (Devotional) school takes its name from the Hindu term that signifies a blissful, selfless and overwhelming devotion of God as the beloved Father, Mother, Child, or whatever relationship finds appeal in the devotee's heart. The philosophy of Bhakti seeks to relate to the personal form of God. Seen as a form of Yoga, or union, it seeks to interlink the self with God, since consciousness of the body and limited mind as self is seen to be a limiting factor in spiritual realization. Essentially, it is God who effects all change, who is the source of all works, who acts through the devotee as love and light. 'Sins' and evil-doings of the devotee are said to fall away of their own accord, the devotee shriven, limitedness even transcended, through the devotion of God. The Bhakti movements rejuvenated Hinduism through their intense expression of devotion and their responsiveness to the emotional and philosophical needs of India. Altogether, bhakti resulted in a mass of devotional literature, music and art that has enriched the world and given India renewed spiritual impetus, one eschewing elaborate rituals. 

This is one of the least understood areas of Hinduism. A tantra literally means an act. A mantra is a hymn or sacred words associated with a deity. A mantra is associated with an Yantra ,which is a mystical digram. All acts of worship which include Mantras,Yantras are called Tantras. Tantras can be divided into two paths - The right hand path( also known as samayachara or Dakshinachara) and the Left hand path (Vamachara). Extolled as a short-cut to self-realization and spiritual enlightenment by some, left-hand tantric rites are often rejected as dangerous by most orthodox Hindus. :For the benefit of men of the Kali age, men bereft of energy and dependent for existence on the food they eat, the Kaula doctrine, O auspicious one! is given, said Shiva on the Kaula school of Tantrism. The word "tantra" also means "treatise" or "continuum", and is applied to a variety of mystical, occult, medical and scientific works as well as to those which we would now regard as "tantric". Most tantras were written in the middle ages and sprang from Hindu cosmology and Yoga.
Important symbolism and themes in Hinduism

Yoga (made out of ash, referred to as vibhuti) and on his chest a rudraksha (eye of Rudra) and mala (rosary), both symbols of Lord Shiva.]] 

Tilaka (symbol on forehead or between eyebrows)
The tilaka (or tilak) is a mark worn on the forehead and other parts of the body for spiritual reasons. It is believed to symbolize the need to cultivate supramental consciousness, which is achieved by opening the mystic "third eye." It is most commonly seen as a dot (or Bindu) worn by women, especially married women, and carries connotations of marriage and auspiciousness. Hindus stress meditation to acquire knowledge beyond the mind and body, a trait that is often associated with the ascetic god Shiva. Men, too, will bear on their foreheads the equivalent Ţīkā (tilaka) mark, usually on religious occasions, its shape often representing particular devotion to a certain main deity: a 'U' shape stands for Vishnu, a group of three horizontal lines for Shiva. It is not uncommon for some to meld both in an amalgam marker signifying Hari-Hara (Vishnu-Shiva indissoluble). 

Ahimsa (non-violence), vegetarian diet and the cow
, Sacred cow, Vegetarianism Ahimsa is a concept which advocates non-violence and a respect for all life — human, as well as animal. The term ahimsa first appears in the Upanishads and in Raja Yoga, it is the first of the five yamas, or eternal vows/restraints of yoga. A large section of Hindus embrace vegetarianism in a bid to respect higher forms of life. While vegetarianism is not a dogma or requirement, it is recommended as a sattwic (purifying) lifestyle. About 30% of today's Hindu population, especially in orthodox communities in South India, in certain northerly states like Gujarat, where there is significant Jain influence, and in many Brahmin and Marwari enclaves around the subcontinent, is vegetarian - primarily lacto-vegetarian. Some avoid even onion and garlic, as they are regarded as rajasic. Those Hindus who do eat meat predominantly abstain from beef, some even avoid the usage of leather products. This is possibly because the largely pastoral Vedic people and subsequent generations relied so heavily on the cow for dairy products, tilling of fields and fuel for fertilizer that its status as a 'caretaker' led to identifying it as an almost maternal figure (so the term gau mata). While most Hindus do not worship the cow, it still holds an honored place in Hindu society. It is said that Krishna is both Govinda (herder of cows) and Gopala (protector of cows), and Shiva's attendant is Nandi, the bull. With the stress on vegetarianism (usually followed even by meat-eating Hindus on religious days) and the sacred nature of the cow (Sacred cow), it is no wonder that most Hindu holy cities have a ban on selling beef. 

Hindu symbolism
Among the most revered symbols in Hinduism, two are quintessentially a part of its culture and representative of its general ethos: Sacred cow] Sacred cow)]] Aum (ॐ) is the sacred symbol of Hinduism, and is prefixed and sometimes suffixed to all Hindu mantras and prayers. Its contains a deep symbolic message; which is considered as divine primordial vibration of the Universe which represents all existence, encompassing all of nature into the One Ultimate Reality. Swastika (卐) is an Arya, or noble and auspicious symbol. It stands for satya, truth, and stability within the power of Brahma or, alternatively, of Surya, the sun. Its rotation in four directions has been used to represent many ideas, but primarily describes the four directions, the four Vedas and their harmonious whole. It has been used in ancient cultures around the world and predominantly in Hinduism since the early Vedic culture and is still widespread in the Indian subcontinent. Many other cultures still hold it to be auspicious, especially in India, in spite of the recent association with Nazism which used a modified version of this symbol. 

Murtis (icons)
Nazism, is often said to be the supreme statement of Hindu art]] Whether believing in the One source as formless (nirguna brahman, without attributes) or as a personal God (saguna Brahman, with attributes), Hindus understand that the one truth may be seen as different to different people. The philosophy of Bhakti seeks contact with the personal source of Brahman, which explains the proliferation of so many Gods and Goddesses in India, often reflecting the singular inclinations of small regions or groups of people. Worship of God is often represented symbolically through the aid of icons (mūrti) which are conduits for the devotee's consciousness, markers for the human mind that signify the ineffable and illimitable nature of the power and grandeur of God. They are symbols of the greater principle and according to the understanding of the worshipper, the concept or entity is sometimes presumed to be present in them (in monotheistic doctrines) and sometimes not (in monistic doctrines). In a Hindu Temple, the divine spirit/energy is commonly invoked into the Murtis at the time of their consecration. Veneration of such Mūrtis is done everyday in a temple. Most practicing Hindus also maintain a Puja room like a temple in their homes for worship and meditation. The icons could be two-dimensional paintings or three-dimensional statues. Some of deities worshipped are Vishnu (as Krishna or Rama), Swaminarayan, Shiva, Devi (the Mother as many female deities, such as Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kali and Durga), Ganesha, Agni, Skanda and Hanuman. Also, the Puranas list twenty-five avatara of Vishnu : Caturasana, Narad, Varaha, Matsya, Yajna, Nara-Narayana, Kapila, Dattatreya, Hayasirsa, Hamsa,

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