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INTRODUCTION TO HINDUISM:


The most popular among the Aryan religions is Hinduism.
‘Hindu’ is actually a Persian word that stands for the inhabitants
of the region beyond the Indus Valley. However, in common
parlance, Hinduism is a blanket term for an assortment of religious
beliefs, most of which are based on the Vedas, the Upanishads
and the Bhagavad Gita.




INTRODUCTION TO HINDU SCRIPTURES.
There are several sacred scriptures of the Hindus.
 Among these are the Vedas, Upanishads and the Puranas.


1.  VEDAS:


1. The word Veda is derived from vid which means to know, knowledge
par excellence or sacred wisdom. There are four principal divisions of the Vedas
  (although according to their number, they amount to 1131 out of which
about a dozen are available). According to Maha Bhashya of Patanjali,
there are 21 branches of Rigveda, 9 types of Atharvaveda, 101 branches
of Yajurveda and 1000 of Samveda).


2. The Rigveda, the Yajurveda and the Samveda are considered to be more
ancient books and are known as Trai Viddya or the ‘Triple Sciences’. The Rigveda
is the oldest and has been compiled in three long and different periods of time.
The 4th Veda is the Atharvaveda, which is of a later date.


3. There is no unanimous opinion regarding the date of compilation or revelation
of the four Vedas. According to Swami Dayanand, founder of the Arya Samaj,
the Vedas were revealed 1310 million years ago. According to other scholars,
they are not more than 4000 years old.


4. Similarly, there are differing opinions regarding the places where these books
were compiled and the Rishis to whom these Scriptures were given. Inspite of these
differences, the Vedas are considered to be the most authentic of the Hindu
Scriptures and the real foundations of the Hindu Dharma.


2.  UPANISHADS:
1.  The word 'Upanishad' is derived from Upa meaning near, Ni which means
down and Shad means to sit. Therefore ‘Upanishad’ means sitting down near.
Groups of pupils sit near the teacher to learn from him the secret doctrines.


According to Samkara, ‘Upanishad’ is derived from the root word Sad which
means ‘to loosen’, ‘to reach’ or ‘to destroy’, with Upa and ni as prefix;
therefore ‘Upanishad’ means Brahma-Knowledge by which ignorance is
loosened or destroyed.


2.  The number of Upanishads exceeds 200 though the Indian tradition
puts it at 108. There are 10 principal Upanishads. However, some consider
them to be more than 10, while others 18.


3.  The Vedanta meant originally the Upanishads, though the word is
now used for the system of philosophy based on the Upanishad.
Literally, Vedanta means the end of the Veda, Vedasua-antah, and the
conclusion as well as the goal of Vedas. The Upanishads are the
concluding portion of the Vedas and chronologically they come at the end
of the Vedic period.
 4.  Some Pundits consider the Upanishads to be more superior to the Vedas.


3.  PURANAS:


Next in order of authenticity are the Puranas which are the most widely
read scriptures. It is believed that the Puranas contain the history of the
creation of the universe, history of the early Aryan tribes, life stories of the
divines and deities of the Hindus. It is also believed that the Puranas
are revealed books like the Vedas, which were revealed simultaneously
with the Vedas or sometime close to it.


Maharishi Vyasa has divided the Puranas into 18 voluminous parts.
He also arranged the Vedas under various heads.


Chief among the Puranas is a book known as Bhavishya Purana.
It is called so because it is believed to give an account of future events.
The Hindus consider it to be the word of God. Maharishi yasa is considered
to be just the compiler of the book.


4.  ITIHAAS:


The two epics of Hinduism are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.


A. Ramayana:


According to Ramanuja, the great scholar of Ramayana, there are more
than 300 different types of Ramayana: Tulsidas Ramayana,
Kumbha Ramayana. Though the outline of Ramayana is same, the details
and contents differ.


Valmiki’s Ramayana:


Unlike the Mahabharata, the Ramayana appears to be the work of
one person – the sage Valmiki, who probably composed it in the 3rd century BC.
Its best-known recension (by Tulsi Das, 1532-1623) consists of 24,000 rhymed
couplets of 16-syllable lines organised into 7 books. The poem incorporates
many ancient legends and draws on the sacred books of the Vedas.
It describes the efforts of Kosala’s heir, Rama, to regain his throne and rescue
his wife, Sita, from the demon King of Lanka.


Valmiki's Ramayana is a Hindu epic tradition whose earliest literary version
is a Sanskrit poem attributed to the sage Valmiki. Its principal characters are
said to present ideal models of personal, familial, and social behavior and
hence are considered to exemplify Dharma, the principle of moral order.


B. Mahabharata:


The nucleus of the Mahabharata is the war of eighteen days fought between
 the Kauravas, the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra and Pandavas, the five sons
 of Pandu. The epic entails all the circumstances leading upto the war. Involved
in this Kurukshetra battle were almost all the kings of India joining either of
the two parties. The result of this war was the total annihilation of Kauravas and
their party. Yudhishthira, the head of the Pandavas, became the sovereign
monarch of Hastinapura. His victory is supposed to symbolise the victory of
good over evil. But with the progress of years, new matters and episodes
relating to the various aspects of human life, social, economic, political, moral
and religious as also fragments of other heroic legends came to be added to the
aforesaid nucleus and this phenomenon continued for centuries until it acquired
the present shape. The Mahabharata represents a whole literature rather than
one single and unified work, and contains many multifarious things.


C. Bhagavad Gita:


Bhagavad Gita is a part of Mahabharata. It is the advice given by Krishna to Arjun
on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. It contains the essence of the Vedas and is the
most popular of all the Hindu Scriptures. It contains 18 chapters.


The Bhagavad Gita is one of the most widely read and revered of the works sacred
to the Hindus. It is their chief devotional book, and has been for centuries the
principal source of religious inspiration for many thousands of Hindus.


The Gita is a dramatic poem, which forms a small part of the larger epic,
the Mahabharata. It is included in the sixth book (Bhismaparvan) of the Mahabaharata
and documents one tiny event in a huge epic tale.


The Bhagavad Gita tells a story of a moral crisis faced by Arjuna, which is solved
through the interaction between Arjuna, a Pandava warrior hesitating before battle,
and Krishna, his charioteer and teacher. The Bhagavad Gita relates a brief incident
in the main story of a rivalry and eventually a war between two branches of a royal family.
In that brief incident - a pause on the battlefield just as the battle is about to begin -
Krishna, one chief on one side (also believed to be the Lord incarnate), is presented
as responding to the doubts of Arjuna. The poem is the dialogue through which
Arjuna’s doubts were resolved by Krishna’s teachings.

About Liaqat Qazi

Student of BA in Islamic Studies at the Islamic Online University. Can be reached at @LiaqatQazi
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