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It is the world's oldest major extant (i.e still practiced) religion,
whose earliest origins can be traced to the ancient Vedic civilization.
A conglomerate of diverse beliefs and traditions, Hinduism has no
single founder. It is the world's third largest religion following
Hindu populations inc lude Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia,
Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, Fiji, Suriname, Guyana and Trinidad and
Hinduism contains a vast body of scriptures. Divided as\u015arut i (revealed)
andSmriti (remembered) and developed over millennia, these
scriptures expound ontheo logy,phi losophy andmythology, and
provide spiritual insights and guidance on the practice ofdharma
(religious living). In the orthodox view, among such texts, the Ve das
and the Upanish ads are the foremost in authority, importance and
antiquity. Other major scriptures include the Ta ntr a s, the sectarian
Hinduism is an extremely diverse religion. Although some tenets of the
faith are accepted by most Hindus, scholars have found it difficult to
identify any doctrines with universal acceptance among all
denominations. Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs includeDharma
(ethics/duties),Sams\u0101ra (The continuing cycle of birth, life, death and
rebirth),Ka r ma (action and subsequent reaction),Moksha (liberation
fromsamsara), and the various Yo gas (paths or practices).
Most Hindus believe that the spirit or soul\u2014the true "self" of every
person, called the \u0101t man\u2014is eternal. According to the
monistic/pantheistic theologies of Hinduism (such as Advaita Vedanta
school), this Atman is ultimately indistinct fromBrahman, the supreme
spirit. Brahman is described as "The One Without a Second;" hence
these schools are called "non-dualist." The goal of life according to
the Advaita school is to realize that one's \u0101tman is identical to
Brahman, the supreme soul. The Upanish ads state that whoever
becomes fully aware of the \u0101tman as the innermost core of one's own
self, realises their identity with Brahman and thereby reaches Moksha
(liberation or freedom)
Otherdualistic schools (seeDvaita and B hakti) understand Brahman as
a Supreme Being who possesses personality and worship Him or Her
thus, asVi shnu,Brahma,Shiva orShakti depending on the sect. The
\u0101tman is dependent on God while Moksha depends on love towards
God and on God's grace. When God is viewed as the supreme
The Hindu scriptures refer to celestial entities, calledDevas (ordev\u012b in
feminine form;devat\u0101 used synonymously for Deva in Hindi), "the
shining ones", which may be translated into English as "gods" or
"heavenly beings". The devas are an integral part of Hindu culture
and are depicted inart,architecture and throughicons, and
mythological stories about them are related in the scriptures,
particularly in the Indian epic poetry and Pura nas. They are however
often distinguished fromIshvara, a supreme personal God, with many
Hindus worshiping Ishvara in a particular form as their i \u1e63\u1e6da devat\u0101 , or
chosen ideal; the choice being based upon their individual
preference, and regional and family traditions.
Hindu epics and the Puranas relate several episodes of the descent of
God to Earth in corporeal form, in order to restoredharma in society
and guide humans tomoksha (liberation from the cycle of rebirth).
Such an incarnation is called anavatar. The most prominent avatars
are of Vishnu, and includeRa m a (protagonist inRa ma yana) and
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