The highest caste is Brahman, and they are the priest caste of Hinduism. After them are the Kshatria, who are the warrior castes. After them are the Vaishya caste , who are business people. And after them are the Sudra, who are the common peasants and workers. Below these four castes there are casteless, the untouchables. The four castes were not allowed to have any physical contact with the untouchables. Each caste is divided into many sub-castes. The religious word for caste is Varna and for sub-caste Jat or Jati.
But sometimes in English the term caste is used in both cases. Religiously, people are born in a caste and it cannot be changed. Each caste has some compulsory duties, which its members must do. Each caste has professional limits which decides what profession each caste can follow. Each caste members can have social relations only with its caste members. Religiously this includes marraige and even eating only with caste members.
Please note that socially the caste system is different from the religious form of caste system. How did Hinduism originated is a difficult question. The accepted theory is that Hinduism was evolved after the historical meeting between the Aryans and Dravidians. Some claim that Hinduism is mainly an Aryan culture whereas the others claim that it is mainly a Dravidian culture.
Religiously the Vedas were given by Brahma. Before Hinduism there existed another religion in India called Brahmanism and its followers were called Brahmans.
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The Brahmans were the spiritual and moral guides of the Indian society. The members of this religion were a close sect and others could not join it. The Brahmans slowly started accepting others into their religion and so was created Hinduism which included in it the customs which aren't the part of the Vedas.
One of the reasons the Brahmans accepted others to their religion was the fear to loose their status as moral guides to priests of a new religion that started in India, namely Buddhism. The Brahmans even accepted Buddha as a Hindu God and part of his teachings and philosophy like non-violence into their religion.
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Introduction Hinduism , 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 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.
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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. 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. Texts 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 about and BC and consisting of hymns to a pantheon of gods, has been memorized syllable by syllable and preserved orally to the present day.
A fourth book, the Atharva-Veda a collection of magic spells , was probably added about BC. At this time, too, the Brahmanas—lengthy Sanskrit texts expounding priestly ritual and the myths behind it—were composed. Between the 8th century BC and the 5th century BC , the Upanishads were composed; these are mystical-philosophical meditations on the meaning of existence and the nature of the universe.
The actual content of this canon, however, is unknown to most Hindus. 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 , lines long constitutes a kind of encyclopedia or even a literature, and the Ramayana more than 50, 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 BC and AD 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. Philosophy 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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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.
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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.