The name "Hinduism" came late. The original name is Sanaat’ana Dharma, Eternal Truth. In this great religion we leave real freedom of choice in worship, in approaching that One Supreme Entity, that we call God.Hinduism is not strictly a religion. It is based on the practice of Dharma, the code of life. Since Hinduism has no founder, anyone who practices Dharma can call himself a Hindu. He can question the authority of any scripture, or even the existence of the Divine. Even atheism is accepted.
Hindu Scriptures are broadly classified into Shruti (meaning 'heard directly from the Gods'), Smriti (meaning 'what was written down and remembered') and nyaya (meaning 'logic') based on its origin not on the mode of transmission. Vedas constitute the shruti while the rest including Itihaasa-s (epics), PuraaNa-s (moral stories), and Agamas (emanated scriptures) are known as smriti while Vedanta-sutras (vedanta aphorisms) are classified as Nyaya. smriti and Nyaya always agrees with shruti.
The oldest and foremost among them are the Vedas. There are four vedas, namely Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva veda. Each veda consists of sections namely Samhita (containing the hymns) and Brahmana ( significance of the hymns), Aranyakas (interpretations), and Vedanta (upanishhads, which are metaphysical dialogs).
Upanishads are called Vedanta, because they expound on the spiritual essence of Vedas and they are found at the end of the vedas. However, one should note that Upanishads are texts, while Vedanta is a philosophy. While there are numerous upanishhads (1180 to be exact).
Vedanta, the basis of Hinduism, asserts that Brahman, the 'impersonal' God and the universal soul, is the Absolute Truth. Brahman has multiple roles to play: the creator, the maintainer, and the destroyer all in one. (This can be viewed as the origin of the trinity Gods namely Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, respectively). Vedanta states that the individual human soul(jiva-atman) originates and merges with the Brahman. Advaita (non-duality) implies that there is an identity of Brahman and Jivaatman while Dvaita (duality) differs from Advaita and maintains an ultimate diversity between Brahman and Jiva-atman. Visistadvaita (qualified non-duality) maintains a crucial differentiation as well as a fundamental identity.
The trinity gods are Lord Brahma , Vishnu and Shiva. There are epics (Itihaasa-s) and stories (Puranas) written which bring into light the human attributes of the Divine. Itihaasa-s comprises of the two epics: Ramayana and Mahabharata,which are the stories of two incarnations of Lord Vishnu, Rama and Krishna, respectively. The Bhagvad-gita is the epitome of hindu philosophy and is found in the Mahabharata. Due to its content, Bhagvad-gita is sometimes considered to be a Gito-Upanishhad.
The soul, in its intelligence, searches for its Self, slowly ascending the path that leads to enlightenment and liberation. It is an arduous, delightful journey though the cycles of birth, death and rebirth culminating in Self Realization, the direct and personal spiritual experience of God, of the Self, of Truth.Hindus believe that all women and men are on this path and that all will ultimately reach its summit or moksha.
Hinduism's three pillars are temple worship, scripture and the guru-disciple tradition. Hinduism strongly declares the validity of the three worlds of existence and the myriad Gods and devas residing within them. Festivals, pilgrimage, chanting of holy hymns and home worship are dynamic practices. Love, nonviolence, good conduct and the law of dharma define the Hindu path.
Hindus wear the sectarian marks, called tilaka, on their foreheads as sacred symbols, distinctive insignia of their heritiage.They prefer cremation of the body upon death, rather than burial, believing that the soul lives on and will inhabit a new body on Earth.
Hinduism's nearly one billion adherents have tens of thousands of sacred temples and shrines, mostly in India, but now located in every community of the global village where Hindus have settled. Its spiritual core is its holy men and women-millions of sadhus, yogis, swamis, vairagis, saints, and satgurus who have dedicated their lives to full-time service and devotion.