Where did the religious caste come from?
The difficulties start with the origins: When did Hinduism arise? Nobody can say for sure. A founding event or a founder such as Christ, Abraham, Mohammed or Buddha are missing. What is certain is that sometime around 4,000 years ago in the Indus Valley - in the area of today's India and Pakistan - a civilization flourished whose religion was a forerunner of today's Hinduism. People worshiped animals, plants, a kind of mother goddess and other, often multi-headed deities.
The Aryans brought the warlike gods with them
This colorful pantheon of gods mixed around 1800 BC with the beliefs of a Central Asian nomad people who had invaded northern India: the Aryans. The horsemen brought warlike male gods with them, whose stories are told in the four Vedas. These ancient texts shape Hinduism to this day; they are the oldest but not the only religious scriptures of the Hindus.
Jains, Sikhs and Christian missionaries
Many other influences have shaped Hinduism since then. The Indian natives' belief in nature mixed with that of the Aryan invaders. Buddhism and Jainism, which also originated in India, left their mark. Likewise the Muslims, who conquered large parts of India in the 16th and 17th centuries. In response to this, the religion of the Sikhs came into being. And finally the British came with Christian missionaries in tow. It was also the British who first introduced the concept of Hinduism as a denomination of religion around 1830. Previously, Hindu was a collective term for followers of Indian, non-Muslim faiths. The word originally comes from the Persians, who used it to refer to the people who lived on the Indus River.
One, several or thousands of gods
It is controversial to view Hinduism, which consists of such diverse currents, as a single religion. Many Hindus see their religion more as a worldview. Among them there are those who believe in a pantheon of innumerable gods. Others worship one supreme god among many or believe that all gods are manifestations of a single deity. Still others deny the existence of gods but believe in the divine in every living being.
After all, three main directions of Hinduism can be identified: Shaivism, Vishnuism and Shaktism. The first two currents focus on Shiva or Vishnu as the supreme god. Followers of Shaktism worship Shakti, the female elemental force of the universe, which manifests itself in one or more female deities. Shaktism is closely interwoven with Tantrism.
When Hindus Pray to Christ
However different the beliefs in Hinduism are, each of them is tolerated, none is considered heretical. And what's more: even gods and saints of completely different religions sometimes find their way into the pantheon. Buddha, for example, is seen as the reincarnation of the god Vishnu. It is also not uncommon for Hindus to worship Christ or make pilgrimages to a Muslim shrine. Although there are extremists among Hindus, religious wars never started from Hindus.
Despite all the differences, Hinduism is not arbitrary. There are certainly features that make it appear as a unified religion. The great importance of the rites and rituals, for example, which completely determine the everyday life of the Hindus. Belief in teachers (gurus) and ascetics (sadhus). And the idea of the cycle of rebirths of karma8 and redemption (moksha). Finally, the caste system is the most important social expression of Hinduism.
Without missionary zeal
An estimated 900 million people today are followers of this mysterious, possibly oldest world religion. The Hindus never developed missionary zeal and so most of them still live in India. They also make up the majority of the population in Nepal and Bali. There are larger minorities in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Great Britain, among others. It is estimated that there are more than 90,000 Hindus living in Germany. Most of them are immigrants from South Asia. But there are also Germans who are drawn to mysticism and philosophy - and perhaps also to the fact that Hinduism is fundamentally different.
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