Hinduism: Ten Unique Features

Hinduism is a unique religion, the oldest religion prevalent in the world, with its history reportedly dating back as far as 6500 BCE. Hinduism is followed by over one billion people worldwide, mainly in India. Hinduism is perhaps the most democratic religious belief and originated in India, a land of diverse ethnicity and culture.

All the concepts and beliefs in the Hindu religion, known as “Sanatan Dharma,” are closely associated with the word “Sanatan’; which means eternal. The majority of Sanatan Dharma, an ancient eternal system or its sequence or adherence to religion, has been passed on to generations by hearing and remembering ‘Shruti’ and ‘Smriti.‘ The Vedas were composed only after the creation of the Vedic society, after that we have found mention of the social and religious system in written form.

People following Hinduism are the most liberal ones, they do not ignore or reject other religious beliefs, instead accept them as they are and also believe that that particular religion may be suitable for those who are following it.

A person gets what he/she deserves based on previous karma, but he/she can rectify this karmic balance through good deeds in this life, leading to enlightenment.

There are no compulsory beliefs or rites of worship, no single founder or prophet, no organized church-like structure, and no single holy book in Hinduism. Some of these unique features of Hinduism are described here.

1. Reincarnation exists, and your karma will affect your life.

Hindus believe that the physical body dies, not the soul, as every soul is part of “Parmatma,” the Supreme Soul. People’s souls are reincarnated through the cycle of rebirth until the soul achieves salvation.

Paropakaraya Punyaya Papaya Parapeedanam (Meaning: one attains merit by serving others and commits sin by hurting them).

But you will be reincarnated as a human being in a prosperous, loving home or as an animal will depend on your karma in this life. If you do good karma (Punya) in this life, this will come back to you as rewards in your next life, but if you do bad karma (paap) in this life, you have to bear the consequences in your upcoming incarnations.

2. No Binding Requirements

There are no binding requirements for a Hindu. Not even a belief in God. Hindus are free to reject particular rituals and customs. A Hindu can be astika (pious) or nastika (impious). As a pious person, he can accept the sacredness of the Vedas, the existence of atman (the soul), and belief in God, or he can reject one or more of these credos and still be Hindu.

3. Demonstration of their Religion

Hindus are not required to demonstrate their faith by any visible sign, by subsuming their identity in any collectivity, or by a specific day, time, or frequency of worship. Like Sashi Tharoor mentioned in his best-selling book, ‘Why I Am a Hindu,’ “There is no Hindu Pope, no Hindu Vatican, no Hindu catechism, not even a Hindu Sunday.”

4. So Many Gods

A Catholic is a Catholic because he believes Jesus was the Son of God. A Muslim must believe that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Prophet. A Sikh honors the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib above all else. But there is no single god of this equivalent in Hinduism. Hindus worship gods in multiple forms.

The core belief of Hinduism is there exists only one supreme energy i.e. the Brahman. Rest all are just manifestations.

Vedic literature has pointed out that there are 33 types of gods in Hinduism. Each of them has different ranks and functions. Trinity of Gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh have a special rank in Hinduism; they have collectively created the world. It is said that each of these has special roles and responsibilities; Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver, and Shiva is the destroyer. These 33 gods are calculated as the eight Vasus, eleven Rudras (forms of Shiva), twelve Adityas, and Indra and Prajapati (Brahma).

Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh

Each god and demigod has a special rank, power, or jurisdiction. Hindus can pray to the god of their choices based on their needs. For example, one could worship Agni for getting power, Durgadevi for good fortune, Indra for good sex life or plenty of rain, or the Vasus for getting money.

5. No Single Holy Book

There is not one central authoritative book in Hinduism like Islam or Christianity. Hinduism believes that the eternal wisdom of the ages and of divinity cannot be confined to a single sacred book, so Hindus have a rich collection of scriptures, and each defines Hinduism in a different way.

Hindus are free to delve into the books of their choice to find their truth. Mahatma Gandhi rightly said that Hinduism is a relentless pursuit of Truth.

Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharat and Puranas

Though many westerners or followers of other religions may be aware only of popular Hindu Sacred books like Bhagavad Gita, Hindus have 4 Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda), 18 Mahapurans, 4 itihāsa (Ramayana, Mahabharata, Yogavasishtha, and Harivamsha), and Upanishads (vedanta) to read and follow (or not to follow).

These seven key Hindu scriptures are considered the source of sacred teachings and source of reading materials for Hindus. The seven key Hindu scriptures include Bhagavad Gita, Vedas, Upanishads (many upanishads are actually the parts of the Vedas itself and is also known as Vedanta), Brahmanas, Puranas, Smritis, and Aranyakas. These, in turn, contain a number of Hindu scriptures.

6. Hindus and Idols

Many people label Hindus as idol worshippers. This is not true. First of all, Hindus believe that the physical representation of gods and idols must go through the process of pran pratistha.

The images of God that Hindus use are symbols by which they express the invisible by visible or sensuous
representations. An image of Shiva or Vishnu reminds the devotee of Shiva or Vishnu and helps to concentrate on his Ideal and realize Him. So, one is worshipping Shiva or Vishnu through their images, not the images in themselves.

7. Hindus and Cows

The Vedas declare Easwara Sarva Bhutanam (God is present in all beings).

Hindus do not pray to cows but worship cows for their purity. Hindus believe that every creature has a sacred soul in it. Hindus feed animals with humanity too. In Vedas, a cow’s milk is considered as pure as Amrit (nectar). There are verses in Rig-Veda that ask us not to kill a cow for any reason, and that is mainly
because she gives milk.

8. Hindus Respect Women

Santan Hindu Vedic literature has shown exemplary reverence for Goddess. Goddess Kali has given the supreme powers which are above the Trimurti (the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva). Brahma is rarely worshipped, but his wife Saraswati is ubiquitous, widely honored, and portrayed. We have a specific day devoted each year to her exaltation, Saraswati Puja, whereas there is none to Brahma.

Hindus worship women (image source: Bharat Rashtra)

The freedom given to Draupadi and Sita to choose a life partner is an exemplary signal of the position and respect of women in Hindu society. There might be gender bias in some Hindu societies, but it is because of ignorance, not the religion they are following.

9. Gods are Married and have families

Vedic scriptures state that there’s only one God, Brahman (Purusha, Atman), who can manifest or incarnate into another divine as well as mortal forms. Hindus have many gods, including the big three (Trimurti); Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Some of the supreme gods also have many incarnations; for example, Lord Vishnu has ten incarnations (Dashavatar) as a mortal form to protect the Dharma. Other deities, such as Shiva, Parvati, etc., also have incarnated into human forms.

When incarnate in mortal forms, Hindu gods behave like normal human beings. They all are married and depicted with consorts, each of whom, like the gods or goddesses themselves, have multiple aspects and manifestations. 

Family of Lord Shiva and Parvati

10. Gods are susceptible to desire.

It is a striking feature of Hinduism that Hindu gods are susceptible to desire; they are depicted falling for apsaras (dancers of heaven) and seducing sages’ wives. Lord Shiva even fell for Vishnu in the transformed appearance of the ethereally beautiful Mohini.

Why Hindu

We, a group of youths born into Hindu families, were raised in the rich culture of Vedic Sanatan Dharma, embracing its cultures and traditions. Post-graduation, recognizing the immense value of our Sanatan Dharma for humanity, we initiated the "Why Hindu" project. With guidance from our elders, we aim to create awareness about Hindu Dharma, delve into Vedic scripture, explore Vedic mantras, and elucidate the significance of festivals. Through this endeavor, we strive to share the profound teachings of our heritage, fostering understanding and appreciation for the timeless principles of Sanatan Dharma.

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