What is Hinduism?

El hinduismo es considerada la religión más antigua del mundo y una de las más ricas en tradiciones y costumbres.

Hinduism, considered the oldest religion in the world, is distinguished not only by its enormous complexity and diversity, but also by its profound influence on Indian civilization and culture. Unlike many other religions, it does not focus on a single tradition, holy book or prophet. Instead, it is divided into a myriad of beliefs, practices and traditions that have evolved over thousands of years.

Hinduism is often described more as a way of life than a religion in the Western sense of the term. It does not have a specific founder nor did it originate at a particular point in time. In fact, its name, “Hinduism,” comes from the Indus (Sindhu) River, which flows in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent. The ancient Persians used to refer to the people living beyond this river as “Hindus”, and over time, the beliefs and practices of these people came to be called Hinduism.

History of Hinduism

Historia del hinduismo y sus tradiciones espirituales.

The history of Hinduism goes back thousands of years and is lost in the mists of time, so it is difficult to establish precise dates, but we can distinguish different periods, marked by a series of key events, which we will describe briefly:

Pre-medieval Period (3300 BC – 1500 BC)

The pre-Vedic period is the historical phase prior to the composition of the Vedas, which are the oldest religious and philosophical texts of the Hindu tradition. This period extends from approximately 1500 BC to 1200 BC, although these dates may vary according to sources.

Prior to the arrival of the Aryans in India, the region was already inhabited by various cultures and civilizations. The most prominent of these was the Indus Valley civilization, which flourished in areas that are now part of Pakistan and northwestern India. This civilization was noted for its advanced planned cities, such as Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, with impressive sanitation systems and complex urban organization.

In linguistic and cultural terms, the Indus Valley civilization had its own forms of writing and religion, of which relatively little is still known because its script has not yet been fully deciphered. Over time, this civilization began to decline for reasons still debated by historians, but possibly related to climatic changes, natural disasters or invasions.

With the decline of the Indus Valley, the subcontinent saw the arrival of the Aryans, a group of Indo-European nomads who began to settle in the region. The Aryans had no writing system in their early stages in India, but maintained a rich oral tradition. In time, they developed Sanskrit, a language that would become the basis for many modern Indian languages.

The clash and fusion between Aryan culture and the indigenous cultures of the subcontinent gave rise to what would later become known as the Vedic civilization. The Pre-Vedic period, therefore, represents a transitional phase, where ancient Indus Valley civilizations coexisted and eventually intermingled with the Aryan newcomers, laying the foundation for the rich spiritual culture that characterizes ancient India and its legacy, which prevails to this day.

Vedic Period (1500-500 BC)

This era is fundamental to understanding the development of Hindu culture, religion and philosophy, as it is the time when the Vedas, the fundamental texts of Hinduism, were composed.

The term “Veda” is often translated as “knowledge” and refers to a series of texts including hymns, rituals and mantras. These texts are divided into four main collections: Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda. Originally transmitted orally by priests and teachers to their disciples, these texts preserve a rich tradition of religious and philosophical thought.

During the Vedic period, society was organized into groups based on occupations and functions, which eventually evolved into the caste system. These initial groups included Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (merchants and farmers) and Shudras (laborers and serfs). The social structure was deeply rooted in Vedic religious beliefs and rituals.

As the Vedic period progressed, communities became more settled, moving from being nomadic or semi-nomadic to establishing more permanent settlements. Agriculture and trade expanded, and there was a gradual urbanization of the landscape.

Brahmanical Period (500-200 BC)

This period, also called post-Vedic, marks a significant transition in the religious, social and cultural history of India, in which the emphasis shifted from Vedic rituals and sacrifices to philosophical reflections and deeper theological discussions.

The period is called “Brahmanical” due to the composition and prevalence of the Brahmanas, which are texts explaining Vedic rituals and their significance. Along with them, other important texts of this period are the Aranyakas and Upanishads. While the Aranyakas, translated as “forest texts,” serve as a transition between rituals and philosophy, the Upanishads are mystical and philosophical discussions that explore the nature of the soul (Atman) and ultimate reality (Brahman).

Although rituals continued to be essential, a critique of their ritualistic and mechanical nature developed. An interest in meditation, asceticism and introspection emerged, seeking deeper inner knowledge. The Upanishads, in particular, represent this movement toward a deeper, more philosophical spirituality.

The caste system, initiated during the Vedic period, was further consolidated during the Brahmanical period. Castes became more rigid, and new subdivisions and rules about inter-caste interactions emerged. This structuring of society had profound repercussions on social norms and practices in India.

This period laid the foundation for the philosophical systems that would flourish in India in later centuries. In addition, this was a time of interaction and dialogue between diverse traditions, which set the stage for the emergence of movements such as Buddhism and Jainism.

Classical Period (200 B.C-600 A.D.)

This period is especially important because it laid the foundation for many of the Hindu beliefs and practices as we know them today.

The classical period of Hinduism is set during a time of socio-political change in the Indian subcontinent. After the end of the Indus Valley civilization and the subsequent Vedic era, India saw the rise of great empires such as the Maurya and the Gupta. These empires not only established political and territorial control, but also fostered an environment in which culture, arts and religions flourished.

While the Vedic era was dominated by the Vedas, sacred texts that guided ceremonies and rituals, the classical period saw the consolidation of texts such as the Upanishads, the Puranas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which includes the Bhagavad Gita. These texts provided a more detailed and philosophical view of dharma (religious duty), the nature of the soul (atman) and the concept of supreme reality (Brahman).

The Bhagavad Gita in particular, an epic of 700 verses, had an immense impact. In this work, Prince Arjuna is taught by the god Krishna about duty, action and devotion. This text has served as a spiritual guide for millions of Hindus over the centuries.

The classical period also witnessed the elevation and popularization of deities such as Vishnu, Shiva and Devi (Mother Goddess). Different sects centered on these major deities developed, each with their own beliefs, rituals and practices.

Vaishnavism, which worships Vishnu and his avatars, such as Krishna and Rama, emphasizes devotion and surrender to the god. On the other hand, Shaivism, centered on Shiva, is concerned with both ascetic practices and devotion. Shaktism, which venerates the Goddess in her various forms, celebrates feminine power and the creative energy of the universe.

During this period six classical schools of Hindu philosophy, known as the Darshanas (which we will define below), emerged. These schools, although varied in their approaches and conclusions, sought to understand the nature of being, reality and the path to liberation (moksha).

The caste system was solidified. Although this system already existed in the Vedic era, it became a more rigorous and defined structure during the classical period, influencing the socioeconomic organization of society.

In parallel, the arts flourished under royal patronage and religious influence. Temple architecture, sculpture and literature reflected the beliefs and practices of classical Hinduism, leaving a lasting legacy that can still be seen in contemporary India.

Medieval Period (600-1500 A.D.)

In the medieval period India underwent significant social, political and cultural changes that shaped and enriched the Hindu tradition.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of this period was the rise and spread of the bhakti movement. This devotional movement gave priority to personal relationships with the divine, often through song, dance and the recitation of divine names and forms.

Various saints and poets, such as Ramanuja, Kabir, Meera Bai and Ravidas, traveled and preached love and devotion to specific gods such as Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna or Rama. These saints not only conveyed religious messages, but also challenged rigid social structures, such as the caste system, and promoted the idea that all were equal before God.

During this period, there was also a resurgence in Hindu philosophy, particularly with regard to discussions about the nature of being and reality. Vedanta thinkers such as Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanuja and Madhva shaped Hinduism’s understanding of the monad, the individual soul and the world. These philosophical discussions deepened the notions of dharma (duty), moksha (liberation) and samsara (cycle of reincarnation).

Architecture also flourished at this time. Majestic temples were built throughout the Indian subcontinent, such as the Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur and the temples of Khajuraho. These were not only places of worship, but also centers of learning, art and culture.

The medieval period also saw the arrival of various foreign invaders and traders, from Muslims to Europeans. Interaction with these cultures often led to tensions, but also to fusion and adaptation. For example, Sufism, an Islamic mystical tradition, found similarities with Bhakti traditions and both movements influenced each other.

Hindu literature and art experienced a renaissance during the medieval period. The Ramayana and Mahabharata, ancient epics, were reinterpreted in local languages and adapted to specific cultural contexts. These local versions, such as Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas in Hindi, not only made these stories accessible to a wider audience, but also reflected the concerns and aspirations of the people of the time.

Classical dance and music also developed and systematized during this period. Classical dance forms such as Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Odissi took shape and became deeply integrated into Hindu devotion and spirituality.

The caste system became more rigid during this period, leading to inequalities and social tensions. However, many bhakti leaders and movements challenged these norms and advocated spiritual equality for all, regardless of caste or gender.

Early Modern and Colonial Period (1500-1947 AD)

The early modern period witnessed an India facing external challenges, primarily through the consolidation of European, particularly British, colonial power. With the growing influence of the West, new perspectives, cultural exchanges and religious tensions emerged.

With the growing Western presence and Western criticism of traditional Hindu practices, a reform movement emerged within Hinduism. These reforms sought to modernize the religion and address practices considered anachronistic or superstitious.

Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) is a prominent name in this context. Founder of the Brahmo Samaj, Roy advocated a rational, monotheistic interpretation of Hinduism, criticizing practices such as sati (the self-immolation of widows) and idolatry. His influence was crucial for the abolition of sati by the British government in 1829.

Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883) founded the Arya Samaj, a society that promoted a return to the Vedas and rejected later interpretations and ritualistic practices of Hinduism. He advocated the universality of the Vedic message and its relevance in the modern world.

In the face of reform movements, there were also efforts to revive and defend traditional Hinduism.

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886) is a prominent figure who saw divinity in all religions and defended the authenticity of different forms of spiritual practice within Hinduism. His disciple, Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), brought the message of Hinduism to the West, participating in the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893 and establishing the Ramakrishna Mission.

Interaction with other religions, particularly Islam, resulted in syncretic forms of spirituality. Saint-poets such as Kabir, Ravidas and Mirabai fused elements of Hindu and Islamic traditions in their teachings and poetry, proposing devotional paths that transcended sectarian divisions.

The relationship with the British colonial power was complex. On the one hand, the colonizers often viewed Hinduism as an inferior, superstitious and polytheistic religion. On the other hand, their policies and the introduction of Western education and the printing press allowed for a reevaluation and rearticulation of Hinduism from within.

The printing press, for example, allowed a wider dissemination of sacred and philosophical texts, and Western education introduced new forms of critical thinking and hermeneutics that some Hindu leaders adopted to reinterpret and defend their tradition.

In response to Western criticism and external perceptions, there was an effort to consolidate and define what it meant to be a Hindu. This sometimes led to a more rigid codification of beliefs and practices and the formulation of a more monolithic Hindu identity as opposed to Muslim, Christian or other identities. Reforms were not limited to the religious sphere. There was a general movement toward modernization and social reform. The caste system, the position of women, education and other aspects of Hindu society were the subject of debate and reform, influenced both by Western ideals and by renewed interpretations of sacred texts.

Post-Independence Period (1947-present)

The termination of British colonial rule in 1947 marked a turning point for the country and thus for Hinduism. This new phase of self-rule brought Hinduism face to face with contemporary challenges as the country struggled to find a balance between modernity and its rich ancestral traditions.

One of the first decisions taken by independent India was the adoption of secularism. The Constitution of India, adopted in 1950, established the country as a secular republic, meaning that the state would not favor or discriminate against any religion. This approach was intended to ensure that India’s diverse religious communities coexisted peacefully and were free to practice and promote their beliefs.

Even after independence, the drive for reform and revitalization continued. Organizations such as the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the VHP (Vishva Hindu Parishad) emerged as important entities promoting a particular interpretation of Hinduism, often linked to a Hindu nationalist identity.

Politics and religion began to intertwine in complex ways in India. Hinduism, being the majority religion, inevitably played a role in the political sphere. The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) emerged as a major party that is often associated with promoting a more unified Hindu identity.

The post-independence period also saw continued efforts to reform social practices. The struggle against caste discrimination, the promotion of gender equality in religious and social practices, and debates over issues such as the entry of women into certain temples became central themes.

Leaders such as Sri Ramana Maharshi, Jiddu Krishnamurti and Swami Sivananda offered teachings that, while rooted in Hinduism, transcended religious barriers and attracted followers from around the world.

With the Indian diaspora spreading around the world, especially from the second half of the 20th century, Hinduism also found a home in other parts of the world. Organizations such as the Self-Realization Fellowship, founded by Paramahansa Yogananda, and the Hare Krishna movement or ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), founded by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhu. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, played a vital role in bringing the teachings and practices of Hinduism to the West.

Fundamental Principles and Beliefs of Hinduism

Hinduism is sustained by certain essential pillars that shape its essence. Despite the vast variety of practices and beliefs, there are core principles that remain consistent and define what it means to be a Hindu.

Dharma: Moral Duty and the Right Path

The concept of Dharma is fundamental to Hindu philosophy. Although it has no direct translation, it can be understood as righteousness, morality or duty. It is the moral and ethical law that each individual must follow in his life according to his nature, occupation and stage of life. This duty changes according to the context; for example, the Dharma of a father is to care for and protect his family, while the Dharma of a student is to study.

In the broader context, Dharma also refers to the cosmic order, the set of rules that keeps the universe in balance. Fulfilling one’s Dharma is fundamental to maintaining this order and advancing on the spiritual path.

Samsara: The Cycle of Birth, Death and Reincarnation

Life, in the Hindu conception, is not limited to a single existence. The individual soul, or Atman, goes through a continuous cycle of birth, death and rebirth known as Samsara. Each life is an opportunity for the soul to learn, evolve and approach the final release of the cycle. The circumstances of each life are influenced by the actions performed in previous lives.

Karma: The law of cause and effect

Karma is one of the most recognized ideas of Hinduism, often summarized as “what you sow, you shall reap“. It is the law of cause and effect that dictates that every action has consequences. If you act righteously and morally, you will experience positive results, either in this life or the next. Conversely, bad actions will lead to negative results.

This belief urges individuals to act righteously and to consider the implications of their actions. It is not a predetermined destiny, but a force that can be shaped by our decisions.

Moksha: Liberation from the cycle of samsara

The ultimate goal of human existence, according to Hindu philosophy, is to attain Moksha, or liberation. This liberation refers to the release of the soul from the continuous cycle of Samsara. Upon attaining Moksha, the soul experiences an eternity of peace, bliss and union with the divine, transcending the limitations of physical existence and the suffering associated with it.

Attaining Moksha is not simple. It requires a lifetime (or several lifetimes) of righteousness, meditation and devotion. Each tradition within Hinduism has its own interpretation and path to Moksha, whether through devotion (Bhakti), knowledge (Jnana) or selfless service (Karma Yoga).

Atman: The individual soul

Within every living being resides Atman, the individual soul or spirit. It is immutable, eternal and divine. Although the physical body undergoes changes, grows, ages and eventually dies, the Atman remains constant. It is a spark of the divine, an inseparable part of Brahman, the ultimate reality.

The Atman’s journey through different lives and forms is essentially a process of refinement, a series of lessons and experiences that ultimately lead to the realization of its true nature and union with Brahman.

Brahman: The universal soul

Beyond the gods and deities lies Brahman, the ultimate reality, the cosmic force that permeates everything in the universe. It is incomprehensible, immutable and eternal. All deities are manifestations of Brahman and all Atmans are part of it.

The goal of life essentially is the realization of the unity of the Atman with Brahman, to understand that there is no separation and that individuality is merely an illusion.

Hindu Gods and Goddesses

The enormous diversity of gods and goddesses in Hinduism is one of its most outstanding characteristics. These deities embody various aspects of the cosmos and human experience. Although there are thousands of deities, they are all considered manifestations of a supreme divine reality. Let us describe some of the most important deities:

Brahma: The Creator

Brahma es el dios hindú de la creación.

Brahma is the god of creation, often depicted with four faces looking in the four directions of the cosmos. Although he is one of the three main gods of the Trimurti, he is not as widely worshipped as the other two. His consort, Saraswati, is the goddess of knowledge and music.

Vishnu: The Preserver

Vishnú es representado con la serpiente Shesha.

Vishnu is one of the most revered gods in Hinduism. He is the protector of the universe and is believed to descend in various forms, known as “avatars”, to restore Dharma (order) when it is threatened. Among his best-known avatars are Rama, Krishna and Narasimha. Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity, is his consort.

Shiva: The Destroyer

Simbolismo de Shiva. Significado espiritual de sus símbolos.

Don’t let the title “Destroyer” confuse you. Shiva, in his destruction, allows for renewal and recreation. He is worshipped in various forms, including the Shivalinga. Shiva is also known as the god of yoga and meditation. Parvati, in her various manifestations as Durga and Kali, is his consort. Together, they have two sons: Ganesha and Kartikeya.

Durga: The Warrior Goddess

Durga es la diosa de la guerra y su montura es un león o tigre.

Durga is a manifestation of Parvati and is widely worshipped, especially during the Navaratri festival. She is depicted as a lion-mounted warrior, fighting the buffalo demon, Mahishasura. Durga symbolizes the victory of good over evil and protection against injustice.

Ganesha: The Remover of Obstacles

Ganesha suele ser representado con sus dos consortes.

With an elephant head and a human body, Ganesha is easily recognizable. He is the god of beginning and is invoked at the start of any new venture. He is also the god of wisdom and knowledge.

Krishna: The Divine Rogue

Krishna es el avatar más querido del señor Vishnú.

Krishna is perhaps one of the most beloved avatars of Vishnu. He is worshipped in many forms: the butter-stealing boy, the young flute player, and the counselor who guides Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. The stories of his love with Radha symbolize the individual soul’s longing for the divine.

Rama: The Ideal Prince

Rama es el séptimo avatar de Vishnú y una de sus encarnaciones más veneradas.

Another avatar of Vishnu, Rama is the protagonist of the epic Ramayana. He is considered the archetype of a just and virtuous king. His wife Sita, loyal brother Lakshmana and the devout Hanuman are central figures in Rama-related narratives.

Kali: The Fierce Goddess

Kali es la diosa de la transformación, la destrucción y el cambio.

Although Kali is often depicted in a fearsome manner, with a garland of heads and a protruding tongue, she is immensely loved by her devotees. She symbolizes the destruction of evil and ego, and is said to be a manifestation of cosmic energy.

Hanuman: The Loyal Devotee

Hanuman, el dios mono, uno de los principales dioses del panteón hindú.

Hanuman, the monkey god, is known for his unwavering devotion to Rama and Sita. He is revered for his strength, courage and loyalty. He is considered the perfect symbol of bhakti (devotion) and is a protector and guardian for his devotees.

Saraswati: The Goddess of Knowledge

Significado espiritual de la diosa de la sabiduría Saraswati.

Saraswati, with her musical instruments and sacred texts, represents the flow of knowledge and creativity. She is the patroness of the arts and sciences and is invoked by students for wisdom and clarity.

The 6 Darshanas or Philosophical Schools

Shankara fue uno de los grandes difusores del Advaita Vedanta.


The Nyaya school was founded by the sage Aksapada Gautama around the 2nd century B.C., with his key work,“Nyaya Sutras“, laying the foundation for his teachings. Although primarily a philosophical tradition, the Nyaya school has also contributed greatly to the development of science and logic in India.

The Nyaya postulates that there are four valid sources of knowledge (pramanas): perception (pratyaksha), inference (anumana), comparison (upamana) and testimony or word from a reliable source (sabda). These forms of knowledge enable the individual to discern truth from falsehood.

One of the most important debates within the Nyaya school is about the existence of God. Through logical arguments and sophisticated reasoning, Nyaya philosophers postulate the existence of an all-powerful and omniscient creator. Their argument, in simple terms, is that the world, being an effect, must have a cause, and that cause is God.

This school is also known for its detailed classification of the objects of the world into various categories, such as substance, quality, action, universality, particularity, inherence, etc. This detailed classification is intended to better understand the nature of reality.

Nyaya did not exist in isolation. He often interacted and debated with other Indian philosophical schools. For example, it had significant interactions with the Buddhist school, which, being agnostic, challenged many of Nyaya’s theistic claims. Through these debates, Nyaya refined and strengthened his arguments, and also incorporated ideas from other schools to develop a more complete view of reality.

In addition, over time, the Nyaya school merged closely with another school of Indian philosophy, the Vaisheshika. Both schools shared similarities in epistemology and ontology, but differed in some details. This merger led to the development of the Nyaya-Vaisheshika tradition, which continued to be a dominant force in Indian philosophy well into the modern era.

While the Nyaya is a fundamentally Indian school in its origin and development, its contributions to logic and epistemology are universal in scope. The school introduced concepts of inference, deduction and induction, and established rules for logical reasoning and debate. These principles have been comparable in many respects to the logical and philosophical traditions of the West.


Founded by the sage Kanada around the 6th century BC, the Vaisheshika school was noted for its focus on ontology, i.e., the study of being and existence. The fundamental teachings of this school are found in a text called“Vaisheshika Sutra” or“Kanada Sutra“.

The core of Vaisheshika philosophy is based on the idea that everything in the universe can be reduced and classified into a finite number of categories or “padarthas”. These categories are:

  • Dravya (substance): This is the material substance or substrate. The primary substances according to Vaisheshika are earth, water, air, fire, ether, time, space, soul and mind.
  • Guna (quality): Refers to inherent qualities that cannot exist by themselves, but exist in substances. Examples are color, taste, smell, etc.
  • Karma (activity): These are the activities or movements that are inherent in substances, such as the movement of air or the flow of water.
  • Samanya (universality): Represents the universality or generality of substances, i.e., that which makes it possible to classify various entities under the same category.
  • Vishesha (particularity): It is the unique particularity that differentiates one entity from another, even within the same general category.
  • Samavaya (inherence): It is the inherent relationship that allows certain qualities or activities to be associated with certain substances.
  • Abhava (non-existence or negation): Represents the absence or non-existence of something.

It is also known for its atomic theory. According to this theory, all matter is composed of indivisible atoms, which cannot be perceived by the senses but can combine in different forms to create complex objects.

Over the centuries, the Vaisheshika school interacted and intertwined with the Nyaya school, mentioned above. Because of their similarities in epistemological and ontological approach, these two schools eventually merged into a single philosophical tradition known as Nyaya-Vaisheshika. This merger was so complete that, in medieval times, it was difficult to distinguish between the two.

Vaisheshika, with its detailed system of categorization and early atomic theory, has provided fundamental tools for scientific reasoning and research. The idea that everything in the universe can be reduced and understood in terms of fundamental categories relates to many aspects of modern scientific and philosophical thought.


The Sāṃkhya, traditionally attributed to the sage Kapila, is a philosophical tradition dating roughly between the third and sixth centuries A.D. Its fundamental text, the “Sāṃkhya Kārikā” written by Īśvarakṛṣṇa, outlined the basic doctrines and principles of the system.

The most distinctive aspect of Sāṃkhya philosophy is its radical dualism. According to this system, reality is composed of two eternal and independent principles: Puruṣa (consciousness) and Prakṛti (matter or nature).

  • Puruṣa: It is pure, passive, unchanging consciousness. It has no attributes or qualities and is simply the silent witness to all that occurs in the universe. There are multiple Puruṣas, and each individual being has his own unchanging consciousness.
  • Prakṛti: It is the primordial material cause of all that exists. It is active and contains three gunas (qualities) that are in constant interaction: sattva (purity, harmony), rajas (activity, passion) and tamas (inertia, darkness). The interaction of these gunas gives rise to the manifestation of the universe.

Everything we experience, from mind to physical matter, is a manifestation of Prakṛti, including our emotions, thoughts and the phenomenal world. The goal of the Sāṃkhya is to realize the true nature of Puruṣa and to unravel its connection with Prakṛti in order to attain liberation or moksha.

The Sāṃkhya presents a detailed theory of cosmic evolution. From the Prakṛti, different manifestations arise in an orderly sequence. First intelligence (buddhi) emerges, followed by ego (ahamkara), and then mind (manas). From here, the five organs of perception, the five organs of action and the five basic elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether) manifest. These form the basis of all material creation.

This school has had a profound influence on other Indian philosophical and religious traditions, especially Yoga. In fact, Patañjali’s Yoga, expounded in the“Yoga Sutras,” draws heavily on the philosophical structure of the Sāṃkhya, adapting it to a practical path to attain liberation through mental and physical discipline.


While many people recognize Yoga primarily for its physical postures (asanas), at its core, it is a profound philosophical and spiritual tradition.

Although practices that we can identify as “yogic” have existed for millennia in India, the philosophical system of Yoga is traditionally attributed to Patañjali, a sage who lived around the second century B.C. His work, the “Yoga Sutras,” codifies the philosophy and practice of Yoga in a concise set of aphorisms.

The word “Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit “yuj“, meaning to unite or connect, and refers to the union of individual consciousness with cosmic consciousness, or the realization of the true nature of being.

Yoga shares many of its philosophical ideas with the Sāṃkhya, especially the distinction between Puruṣa (consciousness) and Prakṛti (material nature). But whereas the Sāṃkhya focuses on knowledge and discernment, Yoga is based on action and practice to achieve liberation.

Patañjali’s“Yoga Sutras” describe an eight-step path or “Ashtanga Yoga” to reach the state of “Samadhi,” an enlightened consciousness:

  • Yama (Moral Control): Includes ethical principles such as non-violence, truth and non-stealing.
  • Niyama (Personal Disciplines): Comprises practices of discipline, contentment and personal study.
  • Asana (Postures): Physical postures to strengthen and purify the body.
  • Pranayama (Breathing control): Breathing techniques to regulate vital energy.
  • Pratyahara (Withdrawal of the senses): Disconnection from external stimuli and internal concentration.
  • Dharana (Concentration): Fixation of the mind on a single point or idea.
  • Dhyana (Meditation): Sustained and focused contemplation.
  • Samadhi (Enlightenment): A state of transcendental consciousness in which duality is overcome.

Yoga has profoundly influenced other Indian religious and spiritual traditions within Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Moreover, in modern times, it has gained popularity throughout the world, adapting to diverse cultural contexts and individual needs.


The Mīmāṃsā, often referred to as Purva Mīmāṃsā to distinguish it from Vedanta (also called Uttara Mīmāṃsā), focuses on the early sections of the Vedas, which are primarily ritualistic in nature. Jaimini, an ancient sage, is traditionally regarded as the founder of this school, and his main work, the“Mīmāṃsā Sutra,” lays the doctrinal foundations of the system.

Unlike other darshanas that explore deep metaphysical questions about reality, being and consciousness, this school is primarily concerned with dharma, i.e., religious and moral duty. Its main concern is how to act correctly according to the Vedic scriptures.

  • Primacy of rituals: For the Mīmāṃsā, the rituals prescribed in the Vedas have intrinsic value. The correct performance of these rituals is seen as a means to auspicious results, both in this life and in the hereafter.
  • Authority of the Vedas: The Mīmāṃsā hold that the Vedas are eternal, beginningless and authentic. They were not created by any divine being and are infallible in their wisdom. Correct interpretation of the Vedas, therefore, is essential.
  • Hermeneutical approach: Since correct interpretation is crucial, the Mīmāṃsā have developed a detailed set of hermeneutical rules for analyzing the Vedic text. These rules help resolve ambiguities and contradictions within the texts.
  • Rejection of personal deity: Although based on sacred texts that often invoke gods, the Mīmāṃsā has a unique perspective on divinity. It does not see gods as beings who grant favors in response to rituals. Instead, rituals, when performed correctly, have an automatic effect, independent of divine intervention.

Although the Mīmāṃsā may appear to be a philosophical system limited to Vedic exegesis, it has made significant contributions to the general philosophy of Hindu thought. Its detailed textual analyses have informed interpretations of other Hindu texts, and its focus on dharma has influenced ethical and moral discussions within Hinduism.


Vedanta literally translates as “the end of the Vedas” (Veda: knowledge, anta: end). It is one of the most influential and spiritual philosophical systems in India. While the Mīmāṃsā focuses on the early parts of the Vedas, Vedanta, also known as Uttara Mīmāṃsā, concentrates on the final teachings of these texts, particularly the Upanishads. It is a philosophy that seeks to transcend ritualism and explore the ultimate nature of reality, being and consciousness.

The roots of Vedanta are found in the Upanishads, ancient texts that detail the reflections and meditations of sages on the ultimate reality, Brahman, and the nature of the individual self, Atman. These texts take the form of dialogue, with disciples asking questions and teachers providing answers, often in the form of parables or meditations.

Adi Shankaracharya, an 8th century AD philosopher, is often seen as the consolidator of Advaita or non-dualistic Vedanta. He articulated that Brahman, the ultimate reality, and Atman, the individual soul, are essentially one and identical.

Vedanta has diversified over the years into several sub-schools, but some of the central ideas are:

  • Brahman: The ultimate, infinite, unchanging, eternal reality. Brahman is both immanent and transcendent. It is the cause and substratum of all that exists.
  • Atman: The soul or individual being. In the Advaita school, Atman is identical with Brahman. Other schools, such as Dvaita (dualism), maintain a distinction between the two.
  • Maya: It is the illusory power through which Brahman manifests as the phenomenal world. It is the cause of ignorance and misperception of duality in the world.
  • Moksha: Liberation from the cycle of birth and death (samsara). It is achieved through right knowledge and realization of the true nature of the self.
  • The Three Paths: Bhakti (devotion), Jnana (knowledge) and Karma (action) are the main routes to spiritual realization in Vedanta.

This school has exerted a profound influence not only on Hindu thought, but also on spiritual movements throughout the world. Figures such as Swami Vivekananda brought the teachings of Vedanta to the West, where they found a connection with those seeking a non-dogmatic spirituality.

Sacred Books of Hinduism

Sacred scriptures have guided the spiritual, moral and social lives of millions of people for millennia in India. In Hinduism, these scriptures are mainly classified into Shruti (what is heard) and Smriti (what is remembered). Let us explore these categories and the scriptures they contain.

Vedas (Shruti)

The Vedas are the basis of Hindu religious literature. They are believed to be eternal and were revealed to ancient sages during meditation. There are four main Vedas:

  • Rigveda: The oldest of the Vedas, composed mainly of hymns dedicated to various deities.
  • Samaveda: Focuses on chants and melodies used during rituals.
  • Yajurveda: Contains the formulas used by priests during rituals.
  • Atharvaveda: A collection of spells, incantations and household rituals.

Each Veda consists of four parts: the Samhitas (hymns), the Brahmanas (rituals and ceremonies), the Aranyakas (meditations) and the Upanishads (spiritual and mystical philosophy).


Although part of the Vedas, the Upanishads deserve special mention. They focus on the nature of the soul (Atman) and its relationship to the supreme reality (Brahman). These texts are fundamental to the Vedanta philosophy of Hinduism and have profoundly influenced Indian spiritual and philosophical thought.


While the Shruti are considered divinely revealed, the Smriti are human scriptures that explain and elaborate on the teachings contained in the Shruti. Some of the more notable Smriti are:


One of the world’s greatest epics, the Mahabharata narrates the story of the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Within the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad Gita, where Prince Arjuna receives spiritual teachings from Krishna. It is one of the most important scriptures and is a guide to duty, action and devotion.


This epic narrates the life of Prince Rama, his wife Sita and his devotee Hanuman. The Ramayana is a moral and spiritual guide and has influenced Hindu culture and morality over the millennia.


They are a vast category of texts that narrate the stories of gods, goddesses and ancient heroes. There are 18 main Puranas, the best known being the Vishnu Purana, the Shiva Purana and the Devi Bhagavata Purana. These texts help contextualize and personify the philosophical and spiritual teachings, making them accessible to the general population.

Dharma Shastras

These are legal texts that provide guidelines on ethical and moral behavior. The best known is the Manusmriti or Laws of Manu. Although these texts have had significant influence in the past, their relevance in contemporary practice is limited and often the subject of debate.

Agamas and Tantras

These are ritual and doctrinal manuals that focus on the worship of specific gods and goddesses, such as Shiva, Vishnu and Devi. They are especially important in certain traditions and practices of Hinduism, such as Shaktism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism.


Short texts that formulate rules or aphorisms in specific areas of knowledge. For example, the Brahmasutras deal with Vedanta philosophy, while Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras focus on the practice and philosophy of yoga.

Spiritual Practices

The enormous wealth of Indian traditions makes it difficult for us to summarize them all in one article, so we will briefly describe the most common spiritual practices found in different schools of thought and doctrines, which are rooted in the daily lives of millions of people:


It is one of the most common practices in Hinduism and can be described as a ritual of worship. It is performed in temples as well as in homes. During a puja, devotion is offered to a deity through chanting, prayers, and the presentation of offerings such as flowers, food (prasad) and incense. Images or idols of the deity are often bathed, dressed, and adorned.

Meditation and Yoga

Meditation has been an integral part of Hinduism since its inception. It often seeks to achieve a state of calm and self-awareness. Yoga, which literally means“union,” is a discipline that seeks union of the individual with the divine. Although yoga in the West is mainly associated with physical postures (asanas), in traditional Hinduism it also includes ethical practices, meditation and devotion.


These are sacred phrases, words or sounds that are recited as part of meditation or worship. They are believed to have spiritual powers and help connect with the divine.“Om” is one of the best known mantras and is considered the primordial sound of the universe.


In the various Hindu traditions, a large number of festivals are celebrated throughout the year. Some of the most prominent include Diwali (the festival of lights), Holi (festival of colors), Navaratri (dedicated to the goddess Durga) and Raksha Bandhan (celebrating the relationship between brothers and sisters). These festivals often involve singing, dancing, specific rituals and, of course, food.

Rituals of passage of life

These mark significant stages in a person’s life, from birth to death. Some of the most common rituals include Namkaran (naming ceremony), Upanayana (initiation rite for boys in some communities, marking their entry into student life), and marriage rituals which are elaborate events with multiple rites and ceremonies.


There are many sacred places in India and other parts of the world that are important to Hindus. Visiting these places is considered meritorious. Some of the most famous pilgrimage destinations include Varanasi, Rishikesh, Puri and the series of temples in the Himalayan mountains.


It is a common practice and can be part of daily devotion, specific festivals or special periods of the year. Fasting can range from abstaining from certain foods to completely abstaining from food and water.


Means“in the company of truth“. It is a gathering of devout people where chanting, scripture discussion and meditation take place. These gatherings are considered a way of nurturing spiritual life in community.

Death rituals

When a Hindu dies, there are a number of rituals that are performed to ensure that the soul finds peace and is well prepared for its next reincarnation. These include cremation rituals, mourning rituals and annual ceremonies honoring ancestors.


Although not a “ritual” in the traditional sense, the practice of nonviolence, or ahimsa, is fundamental to Hinduism. This is reflected in practices such as vegetarianism and in the attitude toward all living beings.

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