Focusing on solely Hinduism, the fundamentalism of Hinduism has faced a series of changes and evolution, or considerable devolution, ever since the independence of India in 1947.
Hinduism is rooted back to over four thousand years, making it the oldest religion to exist. Yet, it is hard to trace its exact roots solely because it has so many roots, traditions and philosophies. The origin of Hinduism is said to be situated in the Indus Valley; near, now, Pakistan, and it has no founder but is actually a collection of beliefs. (Hornak, 2017) This led to the uprising of the Vedic Period, when the holy books called the Vedas were composed and rituals, chants and sacrifices became common. The Vedas were sacred writings comprised of verses and hymns in Sanskrit written by saints and sages; unlike other religions with a single holy book, Hinduism consisted of several works like Vedas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, and so on. The Epic, Puranic and Classic Periods took place when Hindus began to emphasize the worship of deities, especially Vishnu, Shiva and Devi. (Hornak, 2017)
Hinduism ideally was never preached in a way of gaining superiority or mass control; it was a very accepting and accommodating religion, much like a way of life. It embraced all religious traditions and ideas, and it was much like a large family rather than a single, strict religion. With acceptance towards several gods, the idea of revelation towards their holy beings was almost subjective towards the persons own beliefs. The only common field amongst Hindus in their religion was the idea of reincarnation, life and death. The ideas of dharma and karma were the base of Hinduism in the past; meaning that how you work and live dictates your dharma, and hence you must live life with high morality and ethical conduct, and that will in turn better your karma, thus the aim is that if good is done, good is received. This idea of lifestyle indicate that the main belief was that the present actions and intentions of a person determines the course of their lives and directly affects the future.
The perception of death in Hinduism starts with a key idea known as Atman, which means the universal self or soul in Sanskrit. Death is not seen as an end to life, but as a resting period for the soul before it reincarnates again; hence in Hinduism, unless salvation is found, the life is a cycle and it is immortal. The belief is that every living being has a soul or are part of a holy soul and this essence of a person is transmitted to a new life after death or seeks moksha, that is salvation, to receive freedom from existence and become a part of an ultimate soul. Every person is granted with an infinite number of rebirths which is known as samsara but the quality of life and its length is wholly determined by the persons dharma and karma. Moral dispositions were significant in determining the form of reincarnation as well, as bad morals would lead to forever dismay, but with good morality, moksha could be attained; hence it was mainly attained by saints. Another way to attain moksha was to ensure that the last words to leave the mouth of a person who has death approaching much be Om, a brahman holy word, as they lay on the death bed. The persons head must be shaved and must be put on the ground along with various holy ingredients, like holy water from the Ganges river. The body is wrapped in clean cloth and the family members circle the body and walk around it, clockwise in the place of death and anticlockwise in the pyre or firepit. Hindus have been known to burn the bodies of the deceased; it is said to be a form of purification of the soul from the corrupted body of the human and a sacrifice and offering towards Agni, the god of fire. The ashes are then collected in an urn, a black earther pot, and it is said that ultimate salvation is reached if they ashes are doused in the waters of the river Ganges. Cremation was commonly done in Hinduism as it assures that the soul or atman does not re-enter the body of the deceased. Children that die young are not cremated, but are buried as it is said that they die young due to previous bad karma, and hence must not be burnt and may die in the arms of the mother. Suicide was seen as a result of karmatic fruit and was seen as an escape from a corrupt being, hence stages of self-purification was the only other release from bad karma, women often did ritualistic suicides if their husbands died as warriors, in honour of them. Indian warriors were not afraid of death, but rather saw it as an offering to the gods and hence fought with valour. Suicide would wind up the soul in a nether region were redemption was almost impossible, as it was usually committed upon failure towards life. (Pallis, 2019)
The meaning of life in Hinduism is simple, and direct. It consists of four objectives or ideals to be met to live a wholesome life; dharma, artha, kama and moksha. (Sivakumar, 2014) These factors outline the ideal Hindu life, starting with dharma which is about the work ethic and morality of a person and how they choose to live their lives and their intentions, and if their work is immoral, they will not be able to repay their debt to god and all living beings. This is followed by artha which is striving towards prosperity and wealth without overseeing dharma. Kama means to obtain joy and fulfil happiness in life and finally moksha, as spoken about, is to get freedom from reincarnation.
The beauty of the Ganga Aarti in the Ganges, with priests and pandits devoting themselves to God and bearing sweets and gifts for the devotees. The aroma of religious food being cooked mixing with the smoke of the incense sticks, with the water reflecting the candles and lamps, and the holy chants echoing through the crowds; this is Hinduism as it should be. This nonviolent approach of Hinduism was formed and enforced by Mahatma Gandhi.
Hinduism used to be a simple way of life in the past, but over generations, it has been merged into several definitions that oppose the same ideals it based. Firstly, the caste system started to grow, where people were discriminated based on what caste they belonged to, as their caste was determined by their karma and dharma. This discriminatory system was attempted to be abolished by the independent India in the post-Gandhi period but is loosely followed through the country up to this date! A group of people who brought about Hindutva, mainly Savarkar, were responsible for the murder of Gandhi. Ever since, their ideals of Hindutva have been shaping Hinduism into the complete opposite of Gandhi’s ideals.
Although now, in present day India, the idea of God and religion is not as one, but two. The rise of Hindutva has almost broken-down Hinduism and its pursuits; allowing political leaders of the BJP to fuel their nationalism agenda by reforming the meaning of being a Hindu. Hindutva is the new form of Hindu nationalism, that is a political agenda to reform the secularism of the country into a propaganda towards the rise of a single, religious country. The current leader of the country aims to achieve its goal, of making a complete Hindu nation by undermining other religions and eradicating such opposing ideals. The political state of India is currently under attack by nationalists that seek to form other religious communities, mainly Muslims, as enemies. The ideals of peace, morality and ethicality has been wiped from the definition of Hinduism, and is now coined as Hindutva which is a regime solely based on gaining superiority and changing religion into an ideology. Secularists are seen as enemies and Muslims have been made the outgroups; the enforcement of Hindutva by a fascist leader is leading to the end of a democratic country. Hiding behinds Hinduism ideals, Hindutva has made religion a political sign rather than a way of life, and hence has almost neglected the meaning of God.