Guide to Hinduism

Origins of Hinduism

Hinduism is the third most popular religion in the world with over 900 million followers, but its origins are not completely clear. Traces of the religion stretch as far back as 3000 BC. There is no known single founder, teacher or prophet, and it is not one unified religion. Instead, it seems to have come to be formed of various components and beliefs, and what is known is that it was formed in India, where now 80% of the population are Hindus.


Contrary to popular belief, Hindus only worship one God – Brahman. What can be confusing though is that there are different ways of approaching the idea of Brahman. There are three “gods” who represent different expressions of Brahman. Firstly, there is Braham, the creator of the universe, Vishnu, who preserves the universe, and Shiva who destroys the universe.

There are various methods of worship though, and Hindus are usually divided into three groups:

  • Those who worship Vishnu and his important incarnations Rama, Krishna and Narasimha.
  • Those who worship Shiva
  • Those who worship the “Mother Goddess” Shakti, also called Parvati, Mahalakshmi, Durga or Kali.

Hindus also believe in the idea of reincarnation, according to karma, similar to the beliefs of Buddhism.


Hindu worship is primarily an individual act rather than a communal one, as it involves making personal offerings to the deity. Worshippers repeat the names of their favourite gods and goddesses, and repeat mantras. Water, fruit, flowers and incense are offered to god. Hindus either worship at home, where they have a shrine, or at a temple, where priests read prayers and mantras.

Vedas are the most ancient and important holy texts for Hindus and are believed to have been received by scholars directly from God. The Vedas are made up of four parts:

  • The Samhitas are the most ancient part of the Vedas, consisting of hymns of praise to God.
  • The Brahmanas are rituals and prayers to guide the priests in their duties.
  • The Aranyakas concern worship and meditation.
  • The Upanishads consist of the mystical and philosophical teachings of Hinduism.

Religious Holidays and Festivals

Hindu festivals are generally connected to the changes of the seasons and movement of the sun and moon.


Diwali or Deepvali is the most widely celebrated Hindu festival and celebrates the New Year, taking place between October and November. Also called the Festival of lights, Diwali extends over five days, and in the UK especially, is a time for spring cleaning, wearing new clothes and decorating buildings with lights.

For a full list of Hindu holidays visit the BBC’s religion and ethics pages

Celebrity Followers!

Britney Spears – OK, maybe not quite a Hindu, but Britney has visited a temple in Malibu, California with son Sean Preston for spiritual guidance and support. Her visit included an offering of prayers, food and drink to deities and discussion with priest Samundrala Krishna Ma Charyulu.

M Night Shyamalan – Director of twist-in-the-tale films The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village, was born Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan in Pennsylvania after his parents emigrated to the United States.