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Hinduism is an ancient religion with no founder or known date of origin. The term "Hinduism" simply derives from the word "India" and refers to a wide variety of religious traditions and philosophies that have developed in India over thousands of years. Most Hindus worship one or more deities, believe in reincarnation, value the practice of meditation, and observe festive holidays like Diwali and Holi.(cite)
Hindu religious practices center on the importance of fulfilling the duties associated both with one's social position and one's stage of life. With regard to the latter, traditional Hindus are expected to pass through four stages (ashramas) over the course of their life:
- brahmacharga, which takes place during the school years, is focused on acquiring knowledge and developing character;
- grastha, the middle years, is focused on worldly pursuits and pleasures such as marriage, family and career;
- vanaprastha, when one's children reach adulthood, is a time of increased focus on spiritual things; and
- sanngasu, in the last years of life, one may abandon the world entirely for a life of contemplation.(cite)
Purpose of life
Bhagwad Gita states that "death is certain for the one who is born, and birth is certain for the one who dies" (2:27)
The purpose of life in Hinduism is thus to minimize bad karma in order to enjoy better fortune in this life and achieve a better rebirth in the next. The ultimate spiritual goal is to achieve release (moksha) from the cycle of samsara altogether. It may take hundreds or thousands of rebirths to get rid of all of one's accumulated karma and achieve moksha. The person who has become liberated (attained moksha) creates no more new karma during the present lifetime and is not reborn after death.(cite)
"Having realized Atman, which is soundless, intangible, formless, undecaying and likewise tasteless, eternal and odorless; having realized That which is without beginning and end, beyond the Great and unchanging-one is freed from the jaws of death." Katha Upanishad Part 1, chap 3, verse 15
Although today's Hinduism differs significantly from earlier forms of Indian religion, Hinduism's roots date back as far as 2000 BC, making it one of the oldest surviving religions. Because of its great age, the early history of Hinduism is unclear. The most ancient writings have yet to be deciphered, so for the earliest periods scholars must rely on educated guesses based on archaeology and the study of contemporary texts.
In 1921, archaeologists uncovered evidence of an ancient civilization along the Indus River, which today runs through northwest India into Pakistan. The so-called Indus Valley civilization (also known as the "Harappan civilization" for one of its chief cities) is thought to have originated as early as 7000 BC and to have reached is height between 2300 to 2000 BC, at which point it encompassed over 750,000 square miles and traded with Mesopotamia.(cite)
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