Hinduism developed in the Indus River valley between 4,000 and 1,500 B.C. It is generally considered the oldest organised religion in the world. With about 950 million practitioners, it is the third-largest religion after Christianity and Islam. According to the website Religious Tolerance, as of 2010 about 1.5 million Hindus lived in the United States. Westerners sometimes find Hindu beliefs about God confusing.
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Hinduism and God
Hinduism is sometimes described as a polytheistic faith with 330 million gods. However, the number 330 million is a symbol for the doctrine that God lives in all living things. Hindus are sometimes considered monotheistic because they recognise one supreme deity or unifying force, called Brahman. Many sects of Hinduism are also considered henotheistic because they worship one god while recognising the existence of others. However, most Hindus are not concerned with labels. As the sacred text the "Rig Veda" says, "The truth is one, but different sages call it by different names."
Many Hindus consider the deities Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu a trinity, or one god with three aspects. Brahma is the creator of the universe. He constantly creates new realities. Vishnu is the preserver who protects the realities Brahma creates. Whenever dharma, which roughly means righteousness or duty, is in danger, Vishnu descends from the heavens in a human form, or avatar. Shiva, the destroyer, is always present at the end of time. He destroys old realities, making room for the new ones.
Krishna is one of the most popular avatars of Vishnu. He is worshipped across India and appears in many mythic stories such as the epic "The Mahabharata." "The Mahabharata" tells the story of how a great war arose between the branches of the royal family of the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Krishna befriends the Pandavas and becomes one of their counsellors. In the famous section called the "The Bhagavad-gita" or Lord's Song, the Pandava Prince Arjuna throws down his weapons and refuses to fight because he doesn't want to kill his own family. Krishna persuades him to return to the battle by teaching him about the various forms of yoga, such as karma yoga, which stresses selfless action, and bhakti yoga, which teaches devotion to a particular god such as Vishnu.
Gods and Godesses
Many Hindus consider the gods and goddesses aspects of one god. Elephant-headed Ganesha, for example, is worshipped as the aspect of God that removes obstacles and helps with success in human undertakings. Hanuman, the monkey king, is seen as the ideal devotee to God. He is humble, hopeful, truthful and loyal. He is worshipped as the aspect of God that gives knowledge, strength, sincerity and devotion. The goddess Durga is worshipped as the aspect of God that protects humanity from misery by destroying selfishness, prejudice, hatred and egotism. The goddess Laskshmi is wife of Vishnu and the aspect of God that brings material and spiritual prosperity. The goddess Saraswati is the wife of Brahma and represents knowledge.
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- "The Ramayana and the Mahabharata"; Romesh C. Dutt; 2001
- "The Bhagavad Gita"; Barbara Stoler Miller; 2004
- "Krishna -- A Source Book"; Edwin F. Bryant; 2007
- Religious Tolerance: Hinduism: The world's third largest religion
- Religious Tolerance: Hinduism / A general introduction
- Religion Facts: Is Hinduism Polytheistic?
- Kashmiri Overseas Association: Hindu Deities
- Kashmiri Overseas Association: Lord Ganesha
- Kashmiri Overseas Association: Hanuman
- Kashmiri Overseas Association: Goddess Durga
- Kashmiri Overseas Association: Goddess Lakshmi
- Kashmiri Overseas Association: Goddess Sarawati
- "The Columbia Encyclopedia"; Krishna, 2008
- "The Columbia Encyclopedia"; Bhagavad-gita; 2008