Hindus may pray to 333 million gods, but there’s more to the faith than that

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Hinduism originated in India almost 5000 years ago. Unlike other faiths, it does not have one holy text, such as the Koran or Bible. There is not one single prophet or god either. And unlike Muslims, Christians and Jews, Hindus do not have a weekly day of worship.

The word “Hindu” was not coined to denote a religion. It was used generically to identify people living in the Indus River region, much of it in modern-day Pakistan.

Persians added the sound “h” as per their own language, and the community came to be known as Hindus. The Greeks later dropped the “h” and added “ia” – thus India came into existence.

It may be one of the world’s oldest religions, but Hinduism is not always well understood.Credit: iStock

Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest religions, and researchers have traced its history to a compilation of scriptures known as the four Vedas.

My faith has more than 1 billion followers in over 150 countries. Yet there are several misconceptions about it.

Undue significance is given to certain aspects, including casteism, idol worship and the idea that Hindus pray to 333 million gods rather than just one.

Hinduism is based on four pillars. Each pillar has a name translated from Sanskrit, the classical language of Hiduism’s scriptures.

The first is brahman – the universal creator. The creator is formless, genderless and can be referred to as She, He or It.

The second pillar is atman, or soul. The soul enters the body to achieve its purpose and then discards it when choosing to enter another body, which we know as reincarnation.

The third pillar is karma, meaning human action or deed. This word has become well known in Western culture and illustrates the scientific principle that every action has an equal reaction.

Karma has to follow dharma, an ethical code of conduct. Hinduism is guided by sanatana dharma, which translates as eternal tradition. There are several duties that need to be upheld as part of this, including truthfulness, compassion and cleanliness.

The final pillar is oneness with brahman, known as moksha. Life is transient and cyclic until we attain moksha and immerse into the brahman.

Yes, we have many gods and goddesses. But our beliefs evolved to make religion more user-friendly and increase focus by introducing imagery and physical form.

Hindu philosopher Swami Vivekananda encapsulated Hinduism as acceptance of all faiths, not just tolerance.

“We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true,” he said. “I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.”

Religions and faiths have bigoted communities and are used for geopolitical point-scoring. It is the bane of the world today.

After thousands of years, Hinduism has existed and thrived by sheer adherence to basic tenets of acceptance.

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