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Introduction

Hinduism is an Indian religion and dharma, or way of life, widely practised in the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia. Hinduism has been called the oldest religion in the world, and some practitioners and scholars refer to it as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal tradition", or the "eternal way", beyond human history. Scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with diverse roots and no founder. This "Hindu synthesis" started to develop between 500 BCE and 300 CE, after the end of the Vedic period (1500 to 500 BCE), and flourished in the medieval period, with the decline of Buddhism in India.

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. Major scriptures include the Vedas and Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, and the Āgamas. 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.

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Vishnu.jpg
Vaishnavism is one of the principal traditions of Hinduism, and is identified by its primary worship of Vishnu (and his associated avatars) as the Supreme God. It is principally monotheistic in its philosophy, whilst also incorporating elements which could be described as being panentheistic. Its beliefs and practices, (known as Bhakti Yoga, or Bhakti) are based largely on Vedic, the Bhagavad Gita, Isha Upanishad and Puranic texts. The followers of Vaishnavism are referred to as 'Vaishnavas', which is the Vriddhi form of Vishnu in Sanskrit. The principal belief of Vaishnavism is the belief of Vishnu or Narayana as the one Supreme God.

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Swami Vivekananda, September, 1893, Chicago
Swami Vivekananda (Bengali: স্বামী বিবেকানন্দ, Hindi: स्वामी विवेकानन्द) (whose pre-monastic name was Narendranath Dutta (Bengali: নরেন্দ্রনাথ দত্ত, Hindi: नरेन्द्रनाथ दत्त; January 12, 1863 – July 4, 1902) is considered one of the most famous and influential spiritual leaders of the Hindu religion. He was the chief disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and was the founder of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. He is considered by many as an icon for his fearless courage, his positive exhortations to the youth, his broad outlook to social problems, and countless lectures and discourses on Vedanta philosophy.

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The Hindu religion is the only one of the world's great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond, to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang. And there are much longer time scales still.

Carl Sagan (1934-1996) famous astrophysicist.

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