Hinduism is a diverse religion practiced primarily in India. There is variation in local
practices and the worship of particular deities. However, there are central tenets that unify
it as one religion. The core of Hinduism is the belief in Brahman, the underlying universal life
force that encompasses and embodies existence. According to Hindu scriptures, one's
ignorance of the true nature of the self (atman) as one with Brahman is what traps one in
the cycle of endless death and reincarnation (samsara). Thus, the highest goal of Hinduism
is liberation (moksha) from the karmic cycle of death and rebirth.
Hindus are very conscious of the paradoxes that make up the universe. Siva is
simultaneously the creator, maintainer, and destroyer of life. All phenomena is a constant
interplay between hot and cold, male and female, light and dark. Vedic medicine teaches
that keeping these opposing forces in balance is central to the maintenance of bodily,
social, and cosmic well-being.
However, Hinduism is much more than an esoteric practice. For the millions of people who
practice this religion, it is a way of life that encompasses family, society, politics, business,
art, and health behaviors. The sacred scriptures contain instructions on all these aspects of
life and have a strong influence on art and drama. While the practices of yoga are a
well-known aspect of Hinduism, family life is also considered a sacred duty.
Most households have a shrine to a particular deity. Women conduct a household puja, the
offering of fruit, raw rice, flowers, incense, and other items to the deity, on a regular basis.
Visitors may be invited to join the puja on occasion, making it a communal event. After the
food has been offered it is considered to have been spiritually consumed and blessed by
the deity's power. It is then redistributed and consumed by the participants as a way of
receiving the deity's blessings.
The belief that one's karma determines one's birth in the next life has supported the
structure of the caste system in India, made up of four varnas that determine one's
occupation: Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (nobles and warriors), Vaishyas (commoners)
and Sudras (servants). Though the former colonial government officially abolished the caste
system and implemented affirmative action policies to rectify imbalances in wealth and
education, there are still socioeconomic advantages to belonging to a higher caste. The
hierarchy of caste is a contested subject. While the concept of caste is supported in certain
scriptures, there is evidence in the Upanisads that Brahmanhood is attained by depth of
learning rather than birth. The tradition of bhakti (devotion) is sometimes an expression of
criticism against caste and other practices such as image worship. Bhakti is associated with
devotional poems composed across all social classes and emphasizes loving God over any
practice or doctrine.