Nataraj, the dancing form of Lord Shiva, is a symbolic synthesis of the most important aspects of Hinduism

Hinduism is the oldest of all religions practised in the today's world. It is generally believed to have originated around 2000 BC to 1500 BC; though archaeological evidence in the form of religious artifacts (the discovery of a seal known as the proto-Shiva at the site Mohenjo-daro, dated to 2,700 BC) may point to an earlier era. Hinduism has a vast corpus of religious texts and no one text is considered to represent Hinduism solely. The earliest works are collected under the generic title of "The Vedas" meaning: The Knowledge. The four Vedas: The Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda are sacred texts containing hymns, incantations, and rituals from ancient India. The two great epics, The Ramayana by Valmiki and The Mahabharata by Ved Vyasa are also considered sacred texts of Hinduism. A Portion of the Mahabharata, the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, is one of the most revered texts in modern India. It contains the preachings of Lord Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. It describes How to ascent an ordinary man to divinity and enjoy absolute Bliss.

Hinduism may be considered more a way of life, rather than a religion. Hindu ritual practice is the method used for proclaiming that one is a Hindu and theological studies, though important, remain secondary in relation to the rituals. It is an amalgamation of different theories, beliefs and philosophies. There are two popular beliefs Dvaita and Advaita; the principles of Duality and Non-Duality respectively. The Duality principle states that God and mortals are two different beings. The Non-Duality principle professes that all life forms are inter-connected with the Supreme Being - the concept of Parmatma. Duality principle states that Paramathma and inner self (soul) of all living things are one and the same.Even 'Charvaks' who challenged even the existence of God, are considered part of Hinduism. None of the ancient text mentions the word Hindu, the only term used by them is 'Dharma' or the guidelines for a human being in that particular role. One may consider it to be the most open and democratic form of system where ideologies can move in-out or get modified any time. The text forming the basis of Hinduism are written by many and in different periods. None of them alone can define this religion in totality. All of them deal with one or few aspects of it. Because of this flexibility and fluidity this religion could withstand the trial of times.

According to Hindu Philosophy reaching God or attaining Moksha is an individual act. The semitic religions may stress the need to follow a particular individual or prophet who acts as a vassal of God's will and the acceptance of an authoritative religious text; for example the Bible or the Koran. Hinduism teaches that there is no particular way or book to reach God or Heaven. The Hindu philosophy "Sarvadeva Namaskara Kesavamprathi Gattchathi" means that you can worship in any way or form you choose, for all are true paths that lead to God. The Guru in Hinduism is a person who instructs others in religious matters and worship. Hindus consider Gurus to be guides who show the path to God.

The Rishis, ancient sages who performed religious rituals and services for the well-being of society, are believed to be the earliest receivers of the Vedas. Hindu texts derived from revelation are called Sruti. The Vedas is believed to be the absolute truths discovered by the Rishis and transmitted from gurus to disciples and passed on to each successive generation. Hindus believe that Sruti establishes that there is purpose in creation and there is some other reality beyond the visible physical world. Hindus consider that the self (aham) is an illusion and that by reading the Holy Scriptures or receiving instruction, a person will realize that there is a purpose to their birth and their present "state of being" in the world. Hindus believe that a person's "state of being" is the result of good or bad deeds in an earlier birth and that when a person dies, it is only the body that perishes. The soul (atman) will regain entry into the world through a cyclic rebirth that may manifest itself in any form of living matter.

Sruti is a Sanskrti word which means 'what is heard' and Smrti means 'what is remembered'. Later on when people started using Tada Patra (in Sanskrit, Tada is the name of a tree and Patra means leaf, hence leaf of the tree Tada, which was quite big in size and suitable for writing and recording texts on; some manuscripts written on the leaf of the Tada tree can still be found in Indian Museums) these Srutis and Smrtis were recorded in a literary form. Hinduism has a wide ranging body of work that are called Tikas and these works present a critical analysis and interpretation of the Vedas, Srutis and Smrtis texts. Tika in Sanskrit roughly translates as commentary or criticism.

The Bride and Bridegroom making an offering during a Hindu marriage ceremony

One of the Smrtis, the Manu Smrti, is the oldest source of law still in use in India. Many Hindu religious texts of ancient origin are still used as a reference point for decisions about the social and judicial life of contemporary Indians . The current Hindu Marriage Act section 5 and other related sections, which is about the solemnization of Hindu Marriages, is a modern interpretation of the ancient vedic Hindu Law. Other sections of the Hindu Marriage Act dealing with Divorce are secular and have no relation to Vedic law. In Hindusim, marriage is a religious sacrament in which the bride severs her knots with the gotra of her father's family and joins the gotra of her husband's family and this sacrament cannot be reversed. Though Hinduism forms the basis of the laws and customs of India, the secular approach of Indian politics has ensured that modern ideas can still be adopted.

The other main religions in India share a common past with Hinduism. The Sikh Religion reveres some of the Hindu scriptures and Saints and there have been many exchanges of religious ideas between Hinduism and the other two ancient religions of India: Buddhism and Jainism. Hinduism has much in common with the ancient religions of Greece and Rome, in that its adherents are discouraged from orthodox dogma as long as piety and worship of the Gods is proven by the act of partaking in rituals. For Hindus, the Vedas scriptures describe the concepts of ideal conduct and the correct way of living one's life. The Holy Book of Hindus - Srimad Bhagwad Gita - preaches a way of life. The way which one must follow to attain Moksha; to free oneself of the wordly constraints and to remove oneself from the cycle of rebirth.

Three early deities form the core of Hindu worship - Bhagwan Brahma (the Creator), Bhagwan Vishnu (the Preserver) and Bhagwan Mahesh (or Shiv, the Destroyer). Bhagwan is Sanskrit for God or Lord.

Hinduism has undergone many changes during the twentieth century. It has responded to the creation of a secular democratic modern India by adopting new ideas and practices and still continues to play a major role in the lives of its adherents.