The word Hindu is derived from river Sindhu. All those living around this river were called Hindus, originally by the Persians. Accordingly the country where Hindus lived came to be known as Hindustan. The place where Hindus live, where Hindu culture and Hindu language like Sanskrit and its offshoots like Hindi are spoken and written.
Hinduism is the oldest religion of the entire world. When the ancient caves of Mohenjodaro were unearthed in 1920’s, the first evidence of existence of Hinduism was also unearthed. It showed, Hinduism existed about 2000 to 3000 BC ie, 4000 to 5000 years ago. These also clearly showed the mode of worship of Hindu deities by the Hindus of ancient times.
It is significant to note that unlike the other major religions of the world, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Hindu Dharma was not founded by one guru or prophet. Hinduism evolved and developed gradually over many thousand years. Similarly Hinduism has not one but many sacred books like Rigveda, Dharam Shastras, Ramayan and Mahabharat expounded and written at different during periods of history.
Ancient Hindus, as outlined in Rigveda, worshiped nature and great objects of nature like earth, sun and waters particularly the sacred rivers like Ganga and Yamuna and their joining together (Sangam) at Haridwar ie, abode of God. Millions of Hindus even in these days go to Haridwar to pray and take dip, reciting rhymes or simply Ram Ram.
Followers and philosophers of Upanishads (around 700 BC) named the Supreme spirit that created earth, sun, water and mountains as Brahma. Brahma was omnipresent but formless. Followers of ancient Hinduism could not worship a formless entity so they invented various gods in humans and animals which they started worshiping. There are three male deities of Hindus viz Brahma, the creator of the universe, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva who is both the destroyer and regenerator. These three deities are also called Trimurthi.
The female goddesses of Hindus are Saraswati, the goddess of learning and the arts and crafts, Laxmi, goddess of good fortune and wealth and Shakti also known as Parvati and is called mother goddess. It is Shakti who in her destructive mood is known as Durga or Kali (mostly worshiped in Bengal). The other deities that Hindus worship, and there are Temples or Mandirs in their names, are Ganesh and Hanuman. In South India, Kritkaya and Subramania are worshiped more than the north Indian deities.
All Hindus, just as followers of other religions like Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism believe that it is only the body that dies, the soul from the body is reincarnated in another being and it never dies.
Ramayan and Mahabharat are the most prominent epics, that are read, recited and worshiped in modern times by all Hindus. Ramayan, as the name suggests, deals with the life of Lord Ram, Mahabharat with the life of Lord Krishna. In Gita (Geet Govinda) philosophy of Hinduism is apparent in dialogues between Krishna and Arjun. Here is one of the most significant passage from this epic, which will ever inspire all humanity even today:
“The raft of Knowledge ferries the worst sinner to safety.” Bhagwat Gita
“Knowledge is wealth” Vedas
Devotion and Ahimsa are the two main tenets of Hindu philosophy. Devotion in Hinduism means worship of chosen deity, chanting its name like Ram Ram or Jai Jai Ram. Doing good deeds, after visiting and praying in the chosen temple, like giving food to the hungry and helping poor and needy. Devotion’s ultimate aim is merger of soul in deity.
The other important tenet of Hinduism is Ahimsa. Ahimsa means non-injury to others, human as well as animals, because all living creatures have soul. It is now known as non-violence. Mahatma Gandhi made it driving force for struggle for independence of India from British rulers in early 20th century. Non-violence made, British to quit India in 1947. This philosophy has become relevant in the world to end imperialism or to get equality for coloured with the whites. This philosophy of non-violence and its success facilitated for the first time a coloured American (Obama) becoming President of white dominated USA.
It is pertinent to state that during 20th Century, because of the British policy of Divide and Rule and encouragement to Muslim League to fight for a Muslim dominated country of their own when they quit India, a sect of Hindus like Rss transformed itself, to an extent, abandoning Ahimsa ie, non-violence. These Hindus emulated Bhagat Singh and Raj Guru and later Netaji Subhash Bose, who being a Hindu differed with the Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non violence and took arms as leader of INA to compel Britishers to quit India. But vast majority of Hindus, particularly because of Vajpayee, founder of BJP, still believe in Ahimsa.
Basic purpose of brief analysis of Hinduism and Hindu philosophy from ancient times to present day is to emphasize that Hinduism does not advocate violence against followers of any other religion. Hinduism and Hindus have been peaceful for thousands of years. For last 1000 years or so they have suffered silently but have not, as a religious philosophy, indulged in violence even in retaliation. They have largely followed the Hindu philosophy of devotion and ahimsa for their own and others well being for peace and harmony.