Updated date:

The World of Hinduism

Alex is a scholar of religions. He studies comparative religions, religious texts, world cultures, religions, and religious practices.

What Is A Hindu?

The term "Hindu", in today's world, typically means a person who identifies with one, or more, of the Indian philosophies and/or religions. When speaking about the religious beliefs of the Indian area, we could be more specific and use the term "Sanatana Dharma". However, it should be noted that many people who haven't researched the Hindu faiths will often be unfamiliar with this term. Regardless, we should focus on another point. The word "Hindu" has also been used historically in reference to the Indian race. Moreover, one should consider that the ancient Aryan race later developed into the Persian and Indian, or Hindu, races. Many consider the descendants of the Aryans to still be Aryans now. * Furthermore, keep in mind that the Chinese word for "India" is "Yindu", something akin to a cognate of the word "Hindu".


* It is fascinating to consider that those who would become the Persians thought of the devas as something akin to demons, and the ahuras as gods or angels. On the other hand, the ancestors of the Indians believed the devas to be deities, and the asuras to be, in the most general terms, enemies of the gods. There is some gray area, for sure - and, we should be careful when categorizing words from other cultures into our own Western understandings of cosmology.

What Is A Hindu? Continued

Hinduism, as a religion, is often grouped into a single category. But, that may not be entirely fair. The beliefs of the Hindus are often diverse, if not contradictory. The canon of accepted gods isn't always uniform, scriptures vary, and not everyone agrees on all of the same principles. India is a living fossil, because it mirrors what life was like in many ancient cultures; namely, religious cults to various gods, the acceptance of the gods of others, elaborate religious festivals, and so on. We will explore the different sects, or religions (depending on who is interpreting - there is a similar issue with differentiating certain dialects from languages), of Hinduism.



Henotheism Versus Polytheism

Max Müller popularized the term "Henotheism". It would appear that some of the ancient Hebrews were Henotheists. The Old Testament, or Tanakh, states "For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords" - Deuteronomy 10:17a (KJV). Some modern, as well as some ancient, Christians are/were Henotheists. "And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light; and there was light." - Abraham 4:3. Since the word "angel" and "god" (lesser god) can be interchangeable to the linguist, one must question if all Christians and Zoroastrians are not Henotheists. What is particularly noteworthy is that many Hindus could be classified as Henotheists, as opposed to Monotheists or Polytheists. What is Henotheism? It is the belief in a single almighty God, whilst not refusing to believe in other, generally "lesser", gods. Although many people would immediately call the Hindus "Polytheists", that isn't necessarily the best way to describe all Hindus. While some Hindus may fall into this category, others would tend towards Henotheism, Monotheism, or Pantheism.

For the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords

— Deuteronomy 10:17a (KJV)


A number of Hindus could be classified as Pantheists. Pantheism varies, but it typically means something like the belief that everything is, in some fashion, God. The followers of Meher Baba, also known as "Baba lovers", seem to fall into this religious division. For many Hindus, their various gods are reflections of a single almighty God. This kind of belief may not always completely fit the definition for Pantheism given above, as many Hindus may not consider a cat or a pig to be God, but it does follow close philosophically. Keep in mind that not all Hindus think the same, and that it is dangerous to generalize too much.


Names Of God

For many Hindus, reciting the names of God, or of a god or gods, is crucially important to their lives. This is done through various mantras, where a god, or gods, is meditated on. This is reminiscent of the Roman Catholic praying the rosary, or the Muslim (and, prayer beads are often used in both cases). One can also think of the Muslim reciting the names of Allah with the help of special beads, too (a devout Muslim once gave me such beads that he had taken with him from his country of origin).

Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita is a scripture that, although part of the Mahabharata, is often read by itself. It is a text about the conversation between a soldier, Arjuna, and the lord Krishna. Reading the book has forever changed my view of world religion. It is one of the most beautiful examples of ancient literature still in wide circulation today.


Within the many Hindu belief systems is Shaivism. The Shaivist faith centers around the idea that the deity Shiva is the almighty God. Shiva is sometimes referred to as "Mahadeva" (or, "Great Deity"). Shaivas may sometimes associate Shiva with his wife Parvati. Shiva, in the form of the Ardhanarishvara, is depicted as half male and half female. Hindus generally think of Shiva as a destroyer of sorts. Shiva is part of the Trimurti. The Trimurti is a god made of three gods (consider the concept, for many Christians, of the Trinity.) The Trimurti includes the creator Brahma, Vishnu the one who preserves, and the destroying god Shiva. Note that some people will group certain gods together, while others will separate them. For some, Shiva may not be Vishnu, and for others they are inseparable. Consider how some people consider the God of the Bible and Allah of the Quran to be one and the same, whilst some people insist that they are different gods. Thus, for many Shaivas - Kali and Parvati are the same, and some may go so far as to suggest that Shakti, Parvati, Kali, Shiva, and Rudra are one unified god. Shiva is one of the most popular gods in India, and was the focus of much of my meditations in my youth. A popular mantra to Shiva is "Aum Namah Shivaya", or something like "Aum (the sacred Word) I bow before the Destroyer".



Actually, it doesn’t matter—Krishna or Christ—the name is the same.

— Swami Srila Prabhupada




The Vaishnavas are very similar to the Shaivas, except instead of devotion to Shiva, they pay their greater respects to Vishnu. Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada's "Hare Krishna movement" (the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or "ISKCON") was focused on Vaishnava philosophy. Krishna, in Swami Srila Prabhupada's philosophy, is the greatest manifestation of the Godhead. Krishna is considered by many Hindus to be an avatar, or incarnation, of the god Vishnu - thus, we come back to the Vaishnava faith. For members of ISKCON, chanting the maha mantra (a very long mantra that is composed of the names "Hare", "Krishna", and "Rama") is incredibly important in this day and age. According to an article on Krishna.com, cited below, Swami Srila Prabhupada (the founder of one of the most, if not the most, significant Vaishnava movement[s] in the Western world) stated that "it doesn’t matter—Krishna or Christ—the name is the same." There is some debate online as to whether or not the terms "Christ" and "Krishna" share an etymological origin. Either way, we can see the importance that is placed by many worshippers of Vishnu on the lord Krishna.

Reference Article




Shaktism is a branch of Hinduism whereby Shakti is thought of as the foremost manifestation of the godhead. Shakti is female, a goddess. The idea of a goddess is not unique to Hinduism, but Shaktism is interesting - as the female is considered to be supreme. For some Hindus, Shakti is Kali and/or Parvati. Again, we should note the emphasis on sharing seemingly different deities as embodied parts of a single whole. Shakti is something thought of as a kind of heavenly mother. Now, we can consider the overlap between Shaivism and Shaktism. Remember that Shiva is sometimes associated with his consort; thus, the two sects could be considered variations of the same faith. However, there is a clear difference in the way the divine is worshipped.




This sect keeps Kumara as their focal point, a supreme being considered even greater, by followers, than the Trimurti. If this seems strange, then we should note something. For multitudes of the early Christians, Jesus and the god of the Old Testament were separate beings. The classification of various beings, and how powerful and/or worthy of worship they are, varies from adherent to adherent.


Smartism is a Hindu sect that gives more of an air of equality among the major gods. These people worship similarly Vishnu, Shiva, Shakti, Ganesha, and Surya. These are all commonly heard names among those who follow Hinduism closley. All five of these gods are popular in the Hindu world.

The truths taught by Jesus went far beyond blind belief, which waxes and wanes under the influence of the paradoxical pronouncements of priest and cynic.

— Paramahansa Yogananda, The Yoga of Jesus: Understanding the Hidden Teachings of the Gospels

Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF)

Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) is an institution that was synthesized by Paramahansa Yogananda. My own first experience with his teachings, as will likely also be true to many of my readers, was through the famous book, titled "Autobiography of a Yogi". Yogananda's movement is heavily linked to Hinduism and Christianity.

Indonesian Hinduism

This manifestation of Hinduism is a bit different from many of the others, due to cultural isolation. Their almighty God is called "Acintya". The other deities are considered to be various forms of their great Deity. Although this sentiment is not rare among Hindus, we shouldn't ignore the unique qualities that distinguish this Hindu sect from other sects. Indonesian Hinduism can be classified as a kind of Monism.


The Ayyavazhi faith could be defined as a Henotheistic Hindu group. There are millions of followers of the religion. The Ayyavazhi sect has claim to numerous scriptures, that would likely not be accepted as valid by many members of alternative dharmic practices.

Sathya Sai Baba

Sathya Sai Baba

The Sathya Sai Baba Movement

This movement, with devotees in the millions, is an incredibly recognizable religious group. Many followers of Sathya Sai Baba consider him to be an avatar, or incarnation, of God. To many, he is Shiva in the flesh. When I was younger, I remember carrying the mindset of something like "if I could only touch his feet, or be in his presence". Some believe that Sathya Sai Baba is a reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, and that he will return as Prema Sai Baba. Sathya Sai Baba passed in 2011. Many people, even if they question his miracles and claims, have a deep respect for this guru.

Sai Baba of Shirdi

Sai Baba of Shirdi

Is Sikhism Hindu?

Generally speaking, Sikhism is a Monotheistic religion that is separated from Hinduism. On the other hand, one of the Sikh names of God is "Ram" (which could come from "Rama" - a manifestation of the god Vishnu in Hinduism). The key scripture of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib, contains writings by Hindus. So, it's complicated. Note that most Sikhs wouldn't consider themselves in any way Hindu, but that Hinduism does potentially have somewhat of a connection to the religion.



Are Sufis Hindus?

We should not think of Sufis as Hindus, although some Sufis may share spiritual teachers with some Hindus. Individuals like Sai Baba of Shirdi, and Meher Baba, are apparently revered by some Sufis, as well as some Hindus.



Followers Of A Guru

Many Hindus will chose a guru, or teacher, to follow. Often, the guru is considered to be God, or a deity, in human form. The guru will guide her/his disciples in a particular way of living. Notable gurus include Sathya Sai Baba, Avatar Meher Baba, Swami Srila Prabhupada, Haidakhan Babaji, and Paramahansa Yogananda (among many, many others).

I am no one's Guru, but I am the Guru of gurus.

— Babaji

Who Follows Sanatana Dharma?

Hinduism, for many, is less of a religion - and, more of a way of describing a great many religious beliefs. It is a way to simplify a great complexity consisting of many races, multitudes of women and men, varying teachings, and texts written in a number of different languages. Hinduism was part of my religious exploration, in my youth. What is the Hindu? To that I write, "Aum Tat Sat".



© 2021 Alexander James Guckenberger


Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 17, 2021:

Alexander, that is correct.

Alexander James Guckenberger (author) from Maryland, United States of America on September 17, 2021:

Miebakagh Fiberesima,

I tried to be objective. I think I wrote that there is a lack of agreement on this.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 17, 2021:

I found this your article to be informational and enlightening. I also noted that the story is a general threat on such a vast subject. But Heno-, Mono- Poli-, and Pan-(theist) aside, Christ and Kristna can't be the same as the Hare Krisna Movement opined. Centuries before the christian 'Christ' appear on the earthly scene, the word 'christ' was never taken up by a person.

Alexander James Guckenberger (author) from Maryland, United States of America on September 16, 2021:

Umesh Chandra Bhatt,

Thank you so much.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 16, 2021:

Very interesting and very exhaustive article, thanks for sharing.

Alexander James Guckenberger (author) from Maryland, United States of America on September 16, 2021:

MG Singh emge,

Thank you very much for the compliment. Aum Tat Sat.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on September 16, 2021:

It is a very interesting article and you have given a erudite view of Hinduism and its beliefs and sects. Thank you.

Related Articles