What is Hinduism?


Written by Ibn Muhammad

What, in the first place, has Hinduism to say about God and His attributes, and what kind of worship does it teach mankind?

At the very threshold, we are met with the formidable difficulty that Hinduism is not one religion but many religions jumbled together under a single name. It is a hodge-podge or conglomeration of many mutually conflicting religions, and is not the child, so to say, of any one father. Those who practice it differ very much from one another in their faith and practice. Hinduism includes in it Vedism, Brahmanism, Sivaism, Vishnuism, Polytheism, Pantheism, Idolatory in is greatest forms, Tree-Worship, Serpent-Worship, Demon-Worship and so on.

It is not easy therefore to give a definition of Hinduism,  “Hinduism and its gods,” says Sir Alfred Lyall, “are a troubled sea, without shore or visible horizon, driven to and fro by the winds of boundless credulity and grotesque invention. A tangled jungle of disorderly superstitions, ghosts and demons, demi-gods and deified saints, household gods, tribe gods, local gods, universal gods, with their countless shrines and temples, and din of their disordent rites, deities who abhor a fly’s death, those who delight still in human victims, and those who would not either sacrifice or make offerings, such religious chaos”. [1]

The Authoritative Books not one but many

A further difficulty regarding Hinduism lies in the fact that all its professors have no common sacred Book or Books to depend upon for their doctrines. Some refer to Vedas as the basis of their faith. Others rest their faith on the Shrutis, a term which includes not only the four Vedas but their Brahmanas and Upanishads as well. The Mahabharata styles itself as the fifth Veda, containing the quintessense of all the rest. Other Hindus agains follow the teachings of the Puranas. The present day educated Hindus are mainly depending upon the Bhagavad Gita, a philosophical treatise, for their guidance in matters of faith. We shall therefore briefly inquire into the contents of all these books to see what they teach about God and the way in which man should worship Him.

The Religion of the Vedas

(a) Nature Worship

Vedism, or the Religion of the Vedas, teaches the worship of the deified forces or phenomenon of Nature, such as Fire, the Sun, Wnd and Rain. Here is the opening verse of the Rigveda, the oldest Veda, of which the others are mere repetitions and borrowing:

अग्निमीळे पुरोहितं यज्ञस्य देवं रत्वीजम |  होतारं रत्नधातमम ||

“I Laud Agni, the great high priest, god, minister of sacrifice, the herald, lavishest of wealth.” [Rigveda Mandal 1: Sookt 1: Mantra 1]

The whole of the Veda goes on in this strain throughout in the hymns collected for different purposes. The contrast between the opening  verse of the Rigveda which teaches Polytheism, and that of the Jewish Bible and of the Holy Qur’an which teach Monotheism, cannot fail to be noted even by the most superficial reader. Thus the Jewish Pentateuch begins,

בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ׃

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” [Genesis 1:1]

The Holy Qur’an strikes the key note of its whole teaching in a still more profound manner, unparalleled in other religions:

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِالْحَمْدُ للَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَـلَمِينَ – الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ – مَـلِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ

“In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful. All Praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgement.”[Surah Al-Fatiha 1:1-4]

Thus Vedism teaches the worship of the powers of Nature.

(b) Polytheism

That it teaches polytheism is also evident from the expression used in the same verse and in all the succeeding verses as well:

अग्निः पूर्वेभिर्र्षिभिरीड्यो नूतनैरुत | स देवानेह वक्षति ||

“He (Agni) shall bring hitherward the gods.” [Rigveda 1:1:2]

अग्ने यं यज्ञमध्वरं विश्वतः परिभूरसि | स इद्देवेषु गछति ||

“Verily goes to the gods.”[verse 4]

अग्निर्होता कविक्रतुः सत्यश्चित्रश्रवस्तमः | देवो देवेभिरा गमत ||

“May Agni, priest, the god, come hither with the gods.” [verse 5]

The number of gods in Hindu Pantheon is given as 33 in one place (Rigveda 1:34:11), which says,

आ नासत्या तरिभिर एकादशैर इह देवेभिर यातम मधुपेयम अश्विना | परायुस तारिष्टं नी रपांसि मर्क्षतं सेधतं दवेषो भवतं सचाभुवा ||

“Come, O Nasatyas, with the thrice-eleven Gods; come, O ye Asvins, to the drinking of the meath. Make long our days of life, and wipe out all our sins: ward off our enemies; be with us evermore.”

Similarly it is mentioned in Rigveda 8:30:2,

इति सतुतासो असथा रिशादसो ये सथ तरयश्च तरिंशच्च | मनोर्देवा यज्ञियासः ||

“Thus be ye lauded, ye destroyers of the foe, ye Three-and-Thirty Deities, The Gods of man, the Holy Ones.”

In Rigeveda 10:52:6 the number is 3,339. It says,

तरीणि शता तरी सहस्राण्यग्निं तरिंशच्च देवा नवचासपर्यन | औक्षन घर्तैरस्त्र्णन बर्हिरस्मा आदिद्धोतारं नयसादयन्त ||

“The Deities three thousand, three hundred and thirty-nine, have served and honoured Agni, Strewn sacred grass, anointed him with butter, and seated him as Priest, the Gods’ Invoker.”

Later Hinduism has gone still further by saying that there are no less than 33 crores of them.

(c) Pantheism

Why not then say that everything is God, and God is everything? The Purusha Sukta (Rigveda 10:90) which every orthodox Brahmin is expected even now to recite daily in his prayers shows that Pantheism is also taught in the later portions of the Vedas:

पुरुष एवेदं सर्वं यद भूतं यच्च भव्यम | उताम्र्तत्वस्येशानो यदन्नेनातिरोहति ||

“This Purusha(i.e. Brahma or God) is all that yet has been and all that is to be.” [verse 2]

The caste system which has proved the curse of India is likewise taught in the same hymn:

बराह्मणो.अस्य मुखमासीद बाहू राजन्यः कर्तः | ऊरूतदस्य यद वैश्यः पद्भ्यां शूद्रो अजायत ||

“The Brahmana was his (Purusha’s) mouth. Of both his arms was the Kshatriya made. His thighs became the Vaishya. From his feet the Sudra produced.”[verse 12]

Religion of the Upanishads

The Upanishads reject the Karma, Kanda or Salvation by means of sacrifices and other rituals taught in the four Vedas and Brahmanas, and advocate the Gnana-Kanda or the theory of Salvation by knowledge. Hence they consist of speculations about the individual souls (atma) and the Supreme soul (Param-atma), and about the relationship subsisting between them, their aim being to get rid of man’s earthly existence by absorption of the individual soul into the World Soul through correct or true knowledge. They teach that the Universe or Nature (Prakriti) is unreal or Maaya, that is to say, it does not really exist but it only an illusion of the mind. What really exists in the Supreme Soul or Brahman, and the individual souls are all emanations from Him and identical with Him. Only they do not know it, as Brahman has invested Himself/Itself with the Maaya, and they also are under the influence of the same mystic power. The individual souls can be disillusioned only by means of Correct knowledge, and as soon as this consummation is reached, they know themselves to be Brahman, and get absorbed into Him. The famous formula referring to this theory is ‘Tat tvam asi’ तत् त्वम् असि meaning ‘That art thou’, whoever knows this ‘becomes the All’. Even the gods are not able to prevent him from becoming it. For he becomes their self. [Brihadaranyak Upanishad 1:4:6]

This theory is known as the Vedanta, the essence of the teaching of the Vedas, and has taken an immense hold on the minds of the people and lent a deeper colour to all subsequent literature. A Christian missionary asked a Brahmin, “Who and where is Brahman?” “He is talking to you,” was the prompt reply.

A Vedantist once began to dilate upon the truth of his belief in the presence of a king and vehemently maintained that the whole world was Mithya or unreal, imaginary: whereupon an elephant was ordered to be brought quite near to him and the man fled in terror. “Why do you run away for your life? The elephant is Mithya” said the king. But the Vedantist proved himself equal to the occasion and without a moment’s hesistation replied that the running away too was Mithya.

Such is the fool’s paradise in which most of the misguided Hindus live. The expression that is often heard on their lips, and which has unfortunately recently been made famous by Dr. Zakir Naik through his televised public talks:


meaning ‘One only without a second’

It does not mean that they believe in the ‘Only One True God’ but it is the Vedantic or Pantheistic formula which asserts that the only real existence of the World Soul and the identity of the individual souls within it, totally denying the existence of the phenomenal world.

Religion of the Puranas

The characteristic of popular Hinduism of today is the belief in Divine incarnations, idolatory and caste. Popular Hinduism believes in the doctrine of Trimurti or Hindu Trinity as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, in their characteristic of the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of the Universe.

Vishnu Worship

The distinct feature of Vishnu worship is the incarnation of God. When wickedness in the world increases Vishnu is said to take upon himself the form of an animal or man in order to be able to protect the good and to punish the bad. The principle incarnations He is said to have so far assumed are those of (1) a fish, (2) a tortoise, (3) a Boar, (4) a man-lion (5) a Dwarf, (6) a Brahmin hero called Parasu Ram, (7) a Kshatriya Prince, the hero of Ramayana, (8) a shepherd Prince Krishna and (9) a Kshatriya heretic, Buddha.


Krishna declares:

“On an occasion of marriage, or of enjoying a woman, or when life is in danger, or when one’s entire property is about to be taken away, or for the sake of a Brahmin, falsehood may be uttered. These five kinds of falsehood have been declared to be sinless. On these occasions falsehood would become truth and truth would become falsehood.” [Mahabharata Book 8; Karna Parva; Section 69]

Cow Worship

It is natural for Indians to set a high value upon the cow on account of its utility, but the worship the Hindus pay to it is irrational and absurd to a degree. It is considered to be the most sacred of all animals. Every part of its body is considered to be inhabited by some deity or other. Even its excreta are considered to be most sacred. Its urine is looked upon as the best of all holy waters; a sin destroying liquid which sanctifies everything it touches, while nothing purifies like cow-dung. The ashes of its dung sprinkled over a sinner are able to convert him into a saint.

Veneration of Cow in Hindu Culture

Present day Hindu culture is pivoted solely on the cow. Its material and spiritual concepts are both engulfed in cow worship. Such an animal worship is known as zoolatry. This is a vestide of animistic cultures among whom the worship of monkeys, sheep, elephants, cows and even snakes was prevalent. Animal worship culminated in the taking of human beings for gods so that the silhouettes were stamped on the coins and painted on the flags, and upon their honour depended the glory and honour of their realms.

Among cultivators cow worship is not a strange thing. In many countries, notably, India, Iran and Egypt, it was prevalent. Among Hindus veneration of the cow is referred to in the Vedas as Puranas and in Hindu Jurisprudence and folklore. In the Vedas several verses refer to saluting and prostrating before the cow as the following sections illustrate:

“Prajapati and Parameshthin are the two horns, Indra is the head, Agni the forehead, Yama the joint of the neck. King Soma is the brain, Sky is the upper jaw, Earth is the lower jaw… All worlds and all the gods are as the cow from head to foot.” [Atharvaved Kaand 9: Sookt 7]

“You are being created and have been created for salutations and prostrations. Salutations and prostration to you, O image of God, to your hair, to your hooves.” [Atharva 10:10]

Curiously enough, the Vedic Rishis likened the chanting of their mantras (hymn) to the lowing of the cows:

अभि विप्रा अनूषत गावो वत्सं न मातरः | इन्द्रं सोमस्य पीतये ||

“As the cows moo in the presence of their calves so do Brahmins recite their mantras while drinking the soma juice in the presence of Indra devta.” [Rigveda 9:12:2]

In old Vedic timesthe pious people picked out the grain from the cow-dung, and then ate it. They also squeezed out its water and drank it (Mahabharata). Its urine was considered a source of redemption of sins and a means of cow-dung bathed with water extracted thus. Krishna Ji revered the bull by stroking its back before mounting it. In short, in Hindu religion the cow in venerated to an extent which gods and godesses and even God Himself does not merit.

Cow-Worship and the humiliation of Man

It is to be noted that the sacredness of the cow as compared with the scant regard for human life has come to this that Swami Dayanand Saraswati in accordance with the Vedas, opines that the blood of thousands or hundreds of thousands of humans, may be shed to please these animals; (See his translation of Yajurveda 33:14 and Rigveda 1:121:10)

In Vedic times, there lived an untouchable people in a village named Kikat, in todays Bihar. The used to rear cattle. Obviously to the Aryans this was a crime. So they invoked their god Indra to wage war against them and loot their cows.


“O Indra, what do the cows make for you among the Kikatas. They neither yield milk for your offerings, nor do they warm the vessel of libation. Bring to us these cows, bring to us also the wealth of Pramagand (their King). O Brave one, grant us the possessions of the people of low status.” [Rigveda 3:53:14]

On the basis of this clear prnouncement, non-Aryans and untouchables have no right to keep cows. Aryans and Brahmins whenever they wish can kill them and appropriate their possessions. Hindu culture thus becomes the culture of the progress, civilization and welfare of the Aryan people alone.

Status of the Cow

The fact remains that Hindu culture is based on the cow. Actually it is cow-worship as may be inferred from the discussion so far. As the Noble Qur’an states,

“And their hearts absorbed (the worship of) the calf because of their disbelief.” [Surah Baqarah 2:93]

The cow is also called mother and this is a relic of the age of ignorance. In primitive times when the mother of a young child died, the child too would die of malnutrition after two or three days. The father did not know how to save the child’s life as a substitute for the mother’s milk was not known. By chance, some wise person thought of the idea of giving goat’s milk to the child. As the goat was easier to control and milk than the cow, goat’s milk was used to save the infant’s life. Later on the cow was tamed for this purpose. From then on the polytheists began to call the cow ‘mata’ i.e. mother. But other animals as well, such as goats, sheep, camels, supply milk as substitute for mother’s milk; yet they are never called ‘mother’. Strangely enough, in this age of science when so many baby-foods have been invented, none of these is called ‘mother’, yet wealthy and educated Hindus still apply this epithet to the cow alone.

The nation which cannot differentiate between a cow’s tail and a man’s head, lives in an extreme abyss of culture. The cow is at the utmost an animal, while even the most degraded man, being still a human being, is yet far superior to a cow.

Religion of the Gita

Since Mahabharata fails to serve as a handy and useful book of the essence of Hinduism, the present day educated Hindus are adopting the Bhagvat Gita as their guide.

Like all the other scriptures this famous poem too fails to teach True Religion to mankind. It is a highly Philosophic poem just as ill-suited to teach Religion as Berkley’s Principle of Human Knowledge or Milton’s Paradise Lost can be. The principle of its composition is Eclecticism and tries to combine Sankhya, Yoga, and Vedanta teaching into one whole to support the Vaishnava theory of Krishna’s deification.But is does promote ideas like Polytheism and Caste. Krishna claims to be the author of the caste system in India:

“The four Castes were created by me according to the appointment of qualities and works.” [Gita 4:13]

The Gita does not insist on the worship of the One and Only True God but promotes belief in polytheism:

“Those who worship gods go to the gods” [9:25]

“Worship the gods thereby; The gods shall yield thee grace.” [3:3]

That there are inconsistencies in the Bhagvad Gita is admitted today even by Hindu scholars. For example at Chapter 9, stanza 29 Krishna declares that ‘none is hateful to me, none dear.’ And yet the remarkable verses at the close of Chapter 12 contradict it, ‘Linked by no ties to earth, steadfast in Me, That man I love’. At Gita Chapter 5, stanza 15 it is said, that ‘the Lord receives the sin and merit of none.’ Yet at Chapter 5, stanza 29, and again at Chapter 9, stanza 24, Krishna calls himself ‘the Lord and enjoyer’ of all sacrifices and penances. How, it may well be asked, can the Supreme Being ‘enjoy’ that which he does not even ‘receive’?

The doctrine of transmigration is the basis from which the argument of Bhagvad Gita takes its start. Matter and spirit are without beginning (13:20). God (Krishna-Vishnu) is eternal, almighty, unborn, without beginning, the great Lord of the World (10:3). He is different not only from the fleeting world, but also from the changeless and indestructible energy of all beings. Vishnu is born from age to age (4:6-8). Krishna-Vishnu is wholly distinct from Brahma and Brahman is distinctly a lower deity than Krishna (11:15,37). In 12:1-7, the two classes, those who believe in a personal God Krishna-Vishnu, i.e. theists, and those who believe in Brahma ,i.e. pantheists are contrasted, and preference is given to former. In other words, final bliss is difficult of attainment for those who follow the Vedas and seek the heaven of Brahma. All external observances and duties prescribed by the Vedas are held to be mischievous and thrown overboard (7:20; 18:34,66). The Vedas and the works enjoined by them cannot win one the vision of the Divine (11:48,53). What a contempt is expressed for the Vedas in the following words: “Steady understanding does not belong to those, whose minds are drawn by that flowery talk (i.e. Vedas) which is full of ordinances of specific acts for the attainment of pleasures and power, and which promises birth as the fruit of acts- that flowery talk which those unwise ones utter, who are enamoure of Vedic words, who say there is nothing else, who are full of desires, an whose goal is heaven. The Vedas merely relate to the effects of the three qualities; do you, O Arjuna! rise above those effects of the three qualities.” (2:42-45). Thus the Vedas are being spoken of in very disparaging terms and the followers of Krishna were inimical to the Vedas.

This was in brief about Hinduism and in our future articles all the topics discussed here would be dealt with in detail separately.


[1] Asiatic Studies, Vol 1, pp 2, 3

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