The oldest religion in the world :
Hinduism, a religion that originated in India and is still practiced by
most of its inhabitants, as well as by those whose families have migrated
from India to other parts of the world (chiefly East Africa, South Africa,
Southeast Asia, the East Indies, and England). The word Hindu is derived
from the Sanskrit word sindhu (“river”-more specifically, the Indus); the
Persians in the 5th century BC called the Hindus by that name, identifying
them as the people of the land of the Indus. The Hindus define their community
as “those who believe in the Vedas”  or “those who follow the way
(dharma) of the four classes (varnas) and stages of life (ashramas).”

Hinduism is a major world religion, not merely by virtue of its many
followers (estimated at more than 700 million) but also because of its
profound influence on many other religions during its long, unbroken history,
which dates from about 1500 BC. The corresponding influence of these various
religions on Hinduism (it has an extraordinary tendency to absorb foreign
elements) has greatly contributed to the religion’s syncretism-the wide
variety of beliefs and practices that it encompasses. Moreover, the geographic,
rather than ideological, basis of the religion (the fact that it comprises
whatever all the people of India have believed and done) has given Hinduism
the character of a social and doctrinal system that extends to every aspect
of human life.


Temple of Devi Jogadanta in Khajuraho

The temple of Devi Jogadanta in Khajuraho,
India, exemplifies the symbolic character of Hindu temple architecture.
The symmetrical layout of the structure is a microcosm of the universe,
with its four quarters and celestial roof. Similarly, the towering spire
resembles a mountain and recalls the axis mundi, or cosmic pillar, which
in archaic religious thought represents the center of the universe. The
passage of the worshiper toward the image of the deity at the heart of
the building symbolizes a spiritual journey toward moksha, or release from
the cycle of death and rebirth

Fundamental Principles


The canon of Hinduism is basically
defined by what people do rather than what they think. Consequently, far
more uniformity of behavior than of belief is found among Hindus, although
very few practices or beliefs are shared by all. A few usages are observed
by almost all Hindus: reverence for Brahmans and cows; abstention from
meat (especially beef); and marriage within the caste (jati), in the hope
of producing male heirs. Most Hindus chant the gayatri hymn to the sun
at dawn, but little agreement exists as to what other prayers should be
chanted. Most Hindus worship Shiva, Vishnu, or the Goddess (Devi), but
they also worship hundreds of additional minor deities peculiar to a particular
village or even to a particular family. Although Hindus believe and do
many apparently contradictory things-contradictory not merely from one
Hindu to the next, but also within the daily religious life of a single
Hindu-each individual perceives an orderly pattern that gives form and
meaning to his or her own life. No doctrinal or ecclesiastical hierarchy
exists in Hinduism, but the intricate hierarchy of the social system (which
is inseparable from the religion) gives each person a sense of place within
the whole.



The ultimate canonical authority for all Hindus is the Vedas. The
oldest of the four Vedas is the Rig-Veda, which was composed in an ancient
form of the Sanskrit language in northwest India. This text, probably composed
between 1300 and 1000 BC and consisting of 1028 hymns to a pantheon of
gods, has been memorized syllable by syllable and preserved orally to the
present day. The Rig-Veda was supplemented by two other Vedas, the Yajur-Veda
(the textbook for sacrifice) and the Sama-Veda (the hymnal). A fourth book,
the Atharva-Veda (a collection of magic spells), was probably added about
900 BC. At this time, too, the Brahmanas-lengthy Sanskrit texts expounding
priestly ritual and the myths behind it-were composed. Beginning about
600 BC, the Upanishads were composed; these are mystical-philosophical
meditations on the meaning of existence and the nature of the universe.

The Vedas, including the Brahmanas and the Upanishads, are regarded
as revealed canon (shruti, “what has been heard [from the gods]”), and
no syllable can be changed. The actual content of this canon, however,
is unknown to most Hindus. The practical compendium of Hinduism is contained
in the Smriti, or “what is remembered,” which is also orally preserved.
No prohibition is made against improvising variations on, rewording, or
challenging the Smriti. The Smriti includes the two great Sanskrit epics,
the Mahabharata and the Ramayana; the many Sanskrit Puranas, including
18 great Puranas and several dozen more subordinate Puranas; and the many
Dharmashastras and Dharmasutras (textbooks on sacred law), of which the
one attributed to the sage Manu is the most frequently cited.

The two epics are built around central narratives. The Mahabharata
tells of the war between the Pandava brothers, led by their cousin Krishna,
and their cousins the Kauravas. The Ramayana tells of the journey of Rama
to recover his wife Sita after she is stolen by the demon Ravana. But these
stories are embedded in a rich corpus of other tales and discourses on
philosophy, law, geography, political science, and astronomy, so that the
Mahabharata (about 200,000 lines long) constitutes a kind of encyclopedia
or even a literature, and the Ramayana (more than 50,000 lines long) is
comparable. Although it is therefore impossible to fix their dates, the
main bodies of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were probably composed
between 300 BC and AD 300. Both, however, continued to grow even after
they were translated into the vernacular languages of India (such as Tamil
and Hindi) in the succeeding centuries.

The Puranas were composed after the epics, and several of them develop
themes found in the epics (for instance, the Bhagavata-Purana describes
the childhood of Krishna, a topic not elaborated in the Mahabharata). The
Puranas also include subsidiary myths, hymns of praise, philosophies, iconography,
and rituals. Most of the Puranas are predominantly sectarian in nature;
the great Puranas (and some subordinate Puranas) are dedicated to the worship
of Shiva or Vishnu or the Goddess, and several subordinate Puranas are
devoted to Ganesha or Skanda or the sun. In addition, they all contain
a great deal of nonsectarian material, probably of earlier origin, such
as the “five marks,” or topics (panchalakshana), of the Puranas: the creation
of the universe, the destruction and re-creation of the universe, the dynasties
of the solar and lunar gods, the genealogy of the gods and holy sages,
and the ages of the founding fathers of humankind (the Manus).


Lord Shiv as Nataraj (Lord of the Dance)



This bronze sculpture, entitled Shiva
as Nataraja (Lord of the Dance) (about AD 1000), is one of a number of
sculptures of the Hindu god Shiva made during India’s Chola dynasty (10th
century to 13th century). The sculpture shows Shiva dancing within a circle
of fire. One of the god’s hands holds a flame, while the other beats on
a drum. His foot rests on the demon of ignorance



Incorporated in this rich literature
is a complex cosmology. Hindus believe that the universe is a great, enclosed
sphere, a cosmic egg, within which are numerous concentric heavens, hells,
oceans, and continents, with India at the center. They believe that time
is both degenerative-going from the golden age, or Krita Yuga, through
two intermediate periods of decreasing goodness, to the present age, or
Kali Yuga-and cyclic: At the end of each Kali Yuga, the universe is destroyed
by fire and flood, and a new golden age begins. Human life, too, is cyclic:
After death, the soul leaves the body and is reborn in the body of another
person, animal, vegetable, or mineral. This condition of endless entanglement
in activity and rebirth is called samsara. The precise quality of the new
birth is determined by the accumulated merit and demerit that result from
all the actions, or karma, that the soul has committed in its past life
or lives. All Hindus believe that karma accrues in this way; they also
believe, however, that it can be counteracted by expiations and rituals,
by “working out” through punishment or reward, and by achieving release
(moksha) from the entire process of samsara through the renunciation of
all worldly desires.

Hindus may thus be divided into two groups: those who seek the sacred
and profane rewards of this world (health, wealth, children, and a good
rebirth), and those who seek release from the world. The principles of
the first way of life were drawn from the Vedas and are represented today
in temple Hinduism and in the religion of Brahmans and the caste system.
The second way, which is prescribed in the Upanishads, is represented not
only in the cults of renunciation (sannyasa) but also in the ideological
ideals of most Hindus.

The worldly aspect of Hinduism originally had three Vedas, three
classes of society (varnas), three stages of life (ashramas), and three
“goals of a man” (purusharthas), the goals or needs of women being seldom
discussed in the ancient texts. To the first three Vedas was added the
Atharva-Veda. The first three classes (Brahman, or priestly; Kshatriya,
or warrior; and Vaisya, or general populace) were derived from the tripartite
division of ancient Indo-European society, traces of which can be detected
in certain social and religious institutions of ancient Greece and Rome.
To the three classes were added the Shudras, or servants, after the Indo-Aryans
settled into the Punjab and began to move down into the Ganges Valley.
The three original ashramas were the chaste student (brahmachari), the
householder (grihastha), and the forest-dweller (vanaprastha). They were
said to owe three debts: study of the Vedas (owed to the sages); a son
(to the ancestors); and sacrifice (to the gods). The three goals were artha
(material success), dharma (righteous social behavior), and kama (sensual
pleasures). Shortly after the composition of the first Upanishads, during
the rise of Buddhism (6th century BC), a fourth ashrama and a corresponding
fourth goal were added: the renouncer (sannyasi), whose goal is release
(moksha) from the other stages, goals, and debts.

Each of these two ways of being Hindu developed its own complementary
metaphysical and social systems. The caste system and its supporting philosophy
of svadharma (“one’s own dharma”) developed within the worldly way. Svadharma
comprises the beliefs that each person is born to perform a specific job,
marry a specific person, eat certain food, and beget children to do likewise
and that it is better to fulfill one’s own dharma than that of anyone else
(even if one’s own is low or reprehensible, such as that of the Harijan
caste, the Untouchables, whose mere presence was once considered polluting
to other castes). The primary goal of the worldly Hindu is to produce and
raise a son who will make offerings to the ancestors (the shraddha ceremony).
The second, renunciatory way of Hinduism, on the other hand, is based on
the Upanishadic philosophy of the unity of the individual soul, or atman,
with Brahman, the universal world soul, or godhead. The full realization
of this is believed to be sufficient to release the worshiper from rebirth;
in this view, nothing could be more detrimental to salvation than the birth
of a child. Many of the goals and ideals of renunciatory Hinduism have
been incorporated into worldly Hinduism, particularly the eternal dharma
(sanatana dharma), an absolute and general ethical code that purports to
transcend and embrace all subsidiary, relative, specific dharmas. The most
important tenet of sanatana dharma for all Hindus is ahimsa, the absence
of a desire to injure, which is used to justify vegetarianism (although
it does not preclude physical violence toward animals or humans, or blood
sacrifices in temples).

In addition to sanatana dharma, numerous attempts have been made
to reconcile the two Hinduisms. The Bhagavad-Gita describes three paths
to religious realization. To the path of works, or karma (here designating
sacrificial and ritual acts), and the path of knowledge, or jnana (the
Upanishadic meditation on the godhead), was added a mediating third path,
the passionate devotion to God, or bhakti, a religious ideal that came
to combine and transcend the other two paths. Bhakti in a general form
can be traced in the epics and even in some of the Upanishads, but its
fullest statement appears only after the Bhagavad-Gita. It gained momentum
from the vernacular poems and songs to local deities, particularly those
of the Alvars, Nayanars, and Virashaivas of southern India and the Bengali
worshipers of Krishna

In this way Hindus have been able to reconcile their Vedantic monism
with their Vedic polytheism: All the individual Hindu gods (who are said
to be saguna, “with attributes”) are subsumed under the godhead (nirguna,
“without attributes”), from which they all emanate. Therefore, most Hindus
are devoted (through bhakti) to gods whom they worship in rituals (through
karma) and whom they understand (through jnana) as aspects of ultimate
reality, the material reflection of which is all an illusion (maya) wrought
by God in a spirit of play (lila).


Although all Hindus acknowledge the existence and importance of a
number of gods and demigods, most individual worshipers are primarily devoted
to a single god or goddess, of whom Shiva, Vishnu, and the Goddess are
the most popular.

Shiva embodies the apparently contradictory aspects of a god of
ascetics and a god of the phallus. He is the deity of renouncers, particularly
of the many Shaiva sects that imitate him: Kapalikas, who carry skulls
to reenact the myth in which Shiva beheaded his father, the incestuous
Brahma, and was condemned to carry the skull until he found release in
Benares; Pashupatas, worshipers of Shiva Pashupati, “Lord of Beasts”; and
Aghoris, “to whom nothing is horrible,” yogis who eat ordure or flesh in
order to demonstrate their complete indifference to pleasure or pain. Shiva
is also the deity whose phallus (linga) is the central shrine of all Shaiva
temples and the personal shrine of all Shaiva householders; his priapism
is said to have resulted in his castration and the subsequent worship of
his severed member. In addition, Shiva is said to have appeared on earth
in various human, animal, and vegetable forms, establishing his many local

 To his worshipers, Vishnu is all-pervasive and supreme; he
is the god from whose navel a lotus sprang, giving birth to the creator
(Brahma). Vishnu created the universe by separating heaven and earth, and
he rescued it on a number of subsequent occasions. He is also worshiped
in the form of a number of “descents”-avatars, or, roughly, incarnations.
Several of these are animals that recur in iconography: the fish, the tortoise,
and the boar. Others are the dwarf (Vamana, who became a giant in order
to trick the demon Bali out of the entire universe); the man-lion (Narasimha,
who disemboweled the demon Hiranyakashipu); the Buddha (who became incarnate
in order to teach a false doctrine to the pious demons); Rama-with-an-Axe
(Parashurama, who beheaded his unchaste mother and destroyed the entire
class of Kshatriyas to avenge his father); and Kalki (the rider on the
white horse, who will come to destroy the universe at the end of the age
of Kali). Most popular by far are Rama (hero of the Ramayana) and Krishna
(hero of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata-Purana), both of whom are said
to be avatars of Vishnu, although they were originally human heroes.

Along with these two great male gods, several goddesses are the object
of primary devotion. They are sometimes said to be various aspects of the
Goddess, Devi. In some myths Devi is the prime mover, who commands the
male gods to do the work of creation and destruction. As Durga, the Unapproachable,
she kills the buffalo demon Mahisha in a great battle; as Kali, the Black,
she dances in a mad frenzy on the corpses of those she has slain and eaten,
adorned with the still-dripping skulls and severed hands of her victims.
The Goddess is also worshiped by the Shaktas, devotees of Shakti, the female
power. This sect arose in the medieval period along with the Tantrists,
whose esoteric ceremonies involved a black mass in which such forbidden
substances as meat, fish, and wine were eaten and forbidden sexual acts
were performed ritually. In many Tantric cults the Goddess is identified
as Krishna’s consort Radha.

More peaceful manifestations of the Goddess are seen in wives of
the great gods: Lakshmi, the meek, docile wife of Vishnu and a fertility
goddess in her own right; and Parvati, the wife of Shiva and the daughter
of the Himalayas. The great river goddess Ganga (the Ganges), also worshiped
alone, is said to be a wife of Shiva; a goddess of music and literature,
Sarasvati, associated with the Saraswati River, is the wife of Brahma.
Many of the local goddesses of India-Manasha, the goddess of snakes, in
Bengal, and Minakshi in Madurai-are married to Hindu gods, while others,
such as Shitala, goddess of smallpox, are worshiped alone. These unmarried
goddesses are feared for their untamed powers and angry, unpredictable

Many minor gods are assimilated into the central pantheon by being
identified with the great gods or with their children and friends. Hanuman,
the monkey god, appears in the Ramayana as the cunning assistant of Rama
in the siege of Lanka. Skanda, the general of the army of the gods, is
the son of Shiva and Parvati, as is Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of
scribes and merchants, the remover of obstacles, and the object of worship
at the beginning of any important enterprise.

Worship and Ritual

The great and lesser Hindu gods are worshiped in a number of concentric
circles of public and private devotion. Because of the social basis of
Hinduism, the most fundamental ceremonies for every Hindu are those that
involve the rites of passage (samskaras). These begin with birth and the
first time the child eats solid food (rice). Later rites include the first
haircutting (for a young boy) and the purification after the first menstruation
(for a girl); marriage; and the blessings upon a pregnancy, to produce
a male child and to ensure a successful delivery and the child’s survival
of the first six dangerous days after birth (the concern of Shashti, goddess
of Six). Last are the funeral ceremonies (cremation and, if possible, the
sprinkling of ashes in a holy river such as the Ganges) and the yearly
offerings to dead ancestors. The most notable of the latter is the pinda,
a ball of rice and sesame seeds given by the eldest male child so that
the ghost of his father may pass from limbo into rebirth. In daily ritual,
a Hindu (generally the wife, who is thought to have more power to intercede
with the gods) makes offerings (puja) of fruit or flowers before a small
shrine in the house. She also makes offerings to local snakes or trees
or obscure spirits (benevolent and malevolent) dwelling in her own garden
or at crossroads or other magical places in the village.

Many villages, and all sizable towns, have temples where priests
perform ceremonies throughout the day: sunrise prayers and noises to awaken
the god within the holy of holies (the garbagriha, or “womb-house”); bathing,
clothing, and fanning the god; feeding the god and distributing the remains
of the food (prasada) to worshipers. The temple is also a cultural center
where songs are sung, holy texts read aloud (in Sanskrit and vernaculars),
and sunset rituals performed; devout laity may be present at most of these
ceremonies. In many temples, particularly those sacred to goddesses (such
as the Kalighat temple to Kali, in Calcutta), goats are sacrificed on special
occasions. The sacrifice is often carried out by a special low-caste priest
outside the bounds of the temple itself. Thousands of simple local temples
exist; each may be nothing more than a small stone box enclosing a formless
effigy swathed in cloth, or a slightly more imposing edifice with a small
tank in which to bathe. In addition, India has many temples of great size
as well as complex temple cities, some hewn out of caves (such as Elephanta
and Ellora), some formed of great monolithic slabs (such as those at Mahabalipuram),
and some built of imported and elaborately carved stone slabs (such as
the temples at Khajuraho, Bhubaneshwar, Madurai, and Kanjeevaram). On special
days, usually once a year, the image of the god is taken from its central
shrine and paraded around the temple complex on a magnificently carved
wooden chariot (ratha).

Many holy places or shrines (tirthas, literally “fords”), such as
Rishikesh in the Himalayas or Benares on the Ganges, are the objects of
pilgrimages from all over India; others are essentially local shrines.
Certain shrines are most frequently visited at special yearly festivals.
For example, Prayaga, where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers join at Allahabad,
is always sacred, but it is crowded with pilgrims during the Kumbha Mela
festival each January and overwhelmed by the millions who come to the special
ceremony held every 12 years. In Bengal, the goddess Durga’s visit to her
family and return to her husband Shiva are celebrated every year at Durgapuja,
when images of the goddess are created out of papier-mâché,
worshiped for ten days, and then cast into the Ganges in a dramatic midnight
ceremony ringing with drums and glowing with candles. Some festivals are
celebrated throughout India: Dìvalì, the festival of lights
in early winter; and Holi, the spring carnival, when members of all castes
mingle and let down their hair, sprinkling one another with cascades of
red powder and liquid, symbolic of the blood that was probably used in
past centuries.


The basic beliefs and practices of Hinduism cannot be understood
outside their historical context. Although the early texts and events are
impossible to date with precision, the general chronological development
is clear.


Vedic Civilization


About 2000 BC, a highly developed civilization flourished in the
Indus Valley, around the sites of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. By about 1500
BC, when the Indo-Aryan tribes invaded India, this civilization was in
a serious decline. It is therefore impossible to know, on present evidence,
whether or not the two civilizations had any significant contact. Many
elements of Hinduism that were not present in Vedic civilization (such
as worship of the phallus and of goddesses, bathing in temple tanks, and
the postures of yoga) may have been derived from the Indus civilization,

By about 1500 BC, the Indo-Aryans had settled in the Punjab, bringing
with them their predominantly male Indo-European pantheon of gods and a
simple warrior ethic that was vigorous and worldly, yet also profoundly
religious. Gods of the Vedic pantheon survive in later Hinduism, but no
longer as objects of worship: Indra, king of the gods and god of the storm
and of fertility; Agni, god of fire; and Soma, god of the sacred, intoxicating
Soma plant and the drink made from it. By 900 BC the use of iron allowed
the Indo-Aryans to move down into the lush Ganges Valley, where they developed
a far more elaborate civilization and social system. By the 6th century
BC, Buddhism had begun to make its mark on India and what was to be more
than a millennium of fruitful interaction with Hinduism.

Classical Hindu Civilization

From about 200 BC to AD 500 India was invaded by many northern powers,
of which the Sakas (Scythians) and Kushanas had the greatest impact. This
was a time of great flux, growth, syncretism, and definition for Hinduism
and is the period in which the epics, the Dharmashastras, and the Dharmasutras
took final form. Under the Gupta Empire (320-550?), when most of northern
India was under a single power, classical Hinduism found its most consistent
expression: the sacred laws were codified, the great temples began to be
built, and myths and rituals were preserved in the Puranas.


Rise of Devotional Movements


In the post-Gupta period, a less rigid
and more eclectic form of Hinduism emerged, with more dissident sects and
vernacular movements. At this time, too, the great devotional movements
arose. Many of the sects that emerged during the period from 800 to 1800
are still active in India today.

Most of the bhakti movements are said to have been founded by saints-the
gurus by whom the tradition has been handed down in unbroken lineage, from
guru to disciple (chela). This lineage, in addition to a written canon,
is the basis for the authority of the bhakti sect. Other traditions are
based on the teachings of such philosophers as Shankara and Ramanuja. Shankara
was the exponent of pure monism, or nondualism (Advaita Vedanta), and of
the doctrine that all that appears to be real is merely illusion. Ramanuja
espoused the philosophy of qualified nondualism (Vishishta-Advaita), an
attempt to reconcile belief in a godhead without attributes (nirguna) with
devotion to a god with attributes (saguna), and to solve the paradox of
loving a god with whom one is identical.

The philosophies of Shankara and Ramanuja were developed in the context
of the six great classical philosophies (darshanas) of India: the Karma
Mimamsa (“action investigation”); the Vedanta (“end of the Vedas”), in
which tradition the work of Shankara and Ramanuja should be placed; the
Sankhya system, which describes the opposition between an inert male spiritual
principle (purusha) and an active female principle of matter or nature
(prakriti), subdivided into the three qualities (gunas) of goodness (sattva),
passion (rajas), and darkness (tamas); the Yoga system; and the highly
metaphysical systems of Vaisheshika (a kind of atomic realism) and Nyaya
(logic, but of an extremely theistic nature).


Medieval Hinduism


Parallel with these complex Sanskrit philosophical investigations,
vernacular songs were composed, transmitted orally, and preserved locally
throughout India. They were composed during the 7th, 8th, and 9th centuries
in Tamil and Kannada by the Alvars, Nayanars, and Virashaivas and during
the 15th century by the Rajasthani poet Mira Bai, in the Braj dialect.
In the 16th century in Bengal, Chaitanya founded a sect of erotic mysticism,
celebrating the union of Krishna and Radha in a Tantric theology heavily
influenced by Tantric Buddhism. Chaitanya believed that both Krishna and
Radha were incarnate within him, and he believed that the village of Vrindaban,
where Krishna grew up, had become manifest once again in Bengal. The school
of the Gosvamins, who were disciples of Chaitanya, developed an elegant
theology of aesthetic participation in the ritual enactment of Krishna’s

These ritual dramas also developed around the village of Vrindaban
itself during the 16th century, and they were celebrated by Hindi poets.
The first great Hindi mystic poet was Kabir, who was said to be the child
of a Muslim and was strongly influenced by Islam, particularly by Sufism.
His poems challenge the canonical dogmas of both Hinduism and Islam, praising
Rama and promising salvation by the chanting of the holy name of Rama.
He was followed by Tulsi Das, who wrote a beloved Hindi version of the
Ramayana. A contemporary of Tulsi Das was Surdas, whose poems on Krishna’s
life in Vrindaban formed the basis of the ras lilas, local dramatizations
of myths of the childhood of Krishna, which still play an important part
in the worship of Krishna in northern India.


19th and 20th Centuries


In the 19th century, important reforms
took place under the auspices of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, and the sects
of the Arya Samaj and the Brahmo Samaj. These movements attempted to reconcile
traditional Hinduism with the social reforms and political ideals of the
day. So, too, the nationalist leaders Sri Aurobindo Ghose and Mohandas
Gandhi attempted to draw from Hinduism those elements that would best serve
their political and social aims. Gandhi, for example, used his own brand
of ahimsa, transformed into passive resistance, to obtain reforms for the
Untouchables and to remove the British from India. Similarly, Bhimrau Ramji
Ambedkar revived the myth of the Brahmans who fell from their caste and
the tradition that Buddhism and Hinduism were once one, in order to enable
Untouchables to gain self-respect by “reconverting” to Buddhism.

In more recent times, numerous self-proclaimed Indian religious
teachers have migrated to Europe and the United States, where they have
inspired large followings. Some, such as the Hare Krishna sect founded
by Bhaktivedanta, claim to base themselves on classical Hindu practices.
In India, Hinduism thrives despite numerous reforms and shortcuts necessitated
by the gradual modernization and urbanization of Indian life. The myths
endure in the Hindi cinema, and the rituals survive not only in the temples
but also in the rites of passage. Thus, Hinduism, which sustained India
through centuries of foreign occupation and internal disruption, continues
to serve a vital function by giving passionate meaning and supportive form
to the lives of Hindus today.

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