Hinduism is the world's third largest religion. It is an Indian religion and dharma, or way of life,[note 1] widely practised in the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia. Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world,[note 2] and some practitioners and scholars refer to it as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal tradition", or the "eternal way", beyond human history.[4][5] Scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion[note 3] or synthesis[6][note 4] of various Indian cultures and traditions,[7][note 5] with diverse roots[8][note 6] and no founder.[9] This "Hindu synthesis" started to develop between 500 BCE and 300 CE,[10] after the end of the Vedic period (1500 to 500 BCE),[10][11] and flourished in the medieval period, with the decline of Buddhism in India.[12]

Although Hinduism contains a broad range of philosophies, it is linked by shared concepts, recognisable rituals, cosmology, shared textual resources, and pilgrimage to sacred sites. Hindu texts are classified into Śruti ("heard") and Smṛti ("remembered"). These texts discuss theology, philosophy, mythology, Vedic yajna, Yoga, agamic rituals, and temple building, among other topics.[13] Major scriptures include the Vedas and the Upanishads, the Puranas, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Āgamas.[14][15] Sources of authority and eternal truths in its texts play an important role, but there is also a strong Hindu tradition of questioning authority in order to deepen the understanding of these truths and to further develop the tradition.[16]

Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include the four Puruṣārthas, the proper goals or aims of human life, namely Dharma (ethics/duties), Artha (prosperity/work), Kama (desires/passions) and Moksha (liberation/freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth/salvation);[17][18] karma (action, intent and consequences), Saṃsāra (cycle of death and rebirth), and the various Yogas (paths or practices to attain moksha).[15][19] Hindu practices include rituals such as puja (worship) and recitations, japa, meditation, family-oriented rites of passage, annual festivals, and occasional pilgrimages. Some Hindus leave their social world and material possessions, then engage in lifelong Sannyasa (monastic practices) to achieve Moksha.[20] Hinduism prescribes the eternal duties, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings (ahimsa), patience, forbearance, self-restraint, and compassion, among others.[web 1][21] The four largest denominations of Hinduism are the Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism.[22]

Hinduism is the world's third largest religion; its followers, known as Hindus, constitute about 1.15 billion, or 15–16% of the global population.[web 2][23] Hinduism is the most widely professed faith in India, Nepal and Mauritius. It is also the predominant religion in Bali, Indonesia.[24] Significant numbers of Hindu communities are also found in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, North America, Europe, Oceania, Africa, and other countries.[25][26]


The word Hindū is derived from Indo-Aryan[27]/Sanskrit[28] root Sindhu.[28][29] The Proto-Iranian sound change *s > h occurred between 850–600 BCE, according to Asko Parpola.[citation needed]

The use of the English term "Hinduism" to describe a collection of practices and beliefs is a recent construction: it was first used by Raja Ram Mohun Roy in 1816-17.[30] The term "Hinduism" was coined in opposition to other religions. Before the British began to categorise communities strictly by religion, Indians generally did not define themselves exclusively through their religious beliefs; identities were segmented on the basis of locality, language, caste, occupation and sect.[31][page needed]

The word "Hindu" is much older, and it is believed that it was used as the name for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent (modern day Pakistan and Northern India).[30][28][note 7] According to Gavin Flood, "The actual term Hindu first occurs as a Persian geographical term for the people who lived beyond the river Indus (Sanskrit: Sindhu)",[28] more specifically in the 6th-century BCE inscription of Darius I (550–486 BCE).[32] The term Hindu in these ancient records is a geographical term and did not refer to a religion.[28] Among the earliest known records of 'Hindu' with connotations of religion may be in the 7th-century CE Chinese text Record of the Western Regions by Xuanzang,[32] and 14th-century Persian text Futuhu's-salatin by 'Abd al-Malik Isami.[note 8]

Thapar states that the word Hindu is found as heptahindu in Avesta – equivalent to Rigvedic sapta sindhu, while hndstn (pronounced Hindustan) is found in a Sasanian inscription from the 3rd century CE, both of which refer to parts of northwestern South Asia.[39] The Arabic term al-Hind referred to the people who live across the River Indus.[40] This Arabic term was itself taken from the pre-Islamic Persian term Hindū, which refers to all Indians. By the 13th century, Hindustan emerged as a popular alternative name of India, meaning the "land of Hindus".[41][note 9]

The term Hindu was later used occasionally in some Sanskrit texts such as the later Rajataranginis of Kashmir (Hinduka, c. 1450) and some 16th- to 18th-century Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava texts including Chaitanya Charitamrita and Chaitanya Bhagavata. These texts used it to distinguish Hindus from Muslims who are called Yavanas (foreigners) or Mlecchas (barbarians), with the 16th-century Chaitanya Charitamrita text and the 17th-century Bhakta Mala text using the phrase "Hindu dharma".[42] It was only towards the end of the 18th century that European merchants and colonists began to refer to the followers of Indian religions collectively as Hindus.

The term Hinduism, then spelled Hindooism, was introduced into the English language in the 18th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India.[43]