4.3 Hinduism

Hinduism is the predominant religion of India. Among other practices and philosophies, Hinduism includes a wide spectrum of laws and prescriptions of “daily morality” based on karma, dharma, and societal norms. Hinduism is a conglomeration of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid common set of beliefs.

Hinduism is formed of diverse traditions and has no single founder. Among its direct roots is the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India and, as such, Hinduism is often called the “oldest living religion” or the “oldest living major religion” in the world.

Hinduism, with about one billion followers (950 million estimated in India), is the world’s third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam. (2)


The word Hindu is derived (through Persian) from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, the historic local appellation for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent, which is first mentioned in the Rig Veda.

The word Hindu was borrowed by European languages from the Arabic term al-Hind, referring to the land of the people who live across the River Indus, itself from the Persian term Hindū, which refers to all Indians. By the 13th century, Hindustān emerged as a popular alternative name of India, meaning the “land of Hindus.”

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 was introduced into the English language in the 19 th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India. (2)


Hinduism developed over many centuries from a variety of sources: cultural practices, sacred texts, and philosophical movements, as well as local popular beliefs. The combination of these factors is what accounts for the varied and diverse nature of Hindu practices and beliefs. Hinduism developed from several sources.

Prehistoric and Neolithic culture, which left material evidence including abundant rock and cave paintings of bulls and cows, indicating an early interest in the sacred nature of these animals. (3)

Indus Valley Civilization

The Indus Valley civilization , located in what is now Pakistan and northwestern India, flourished between approximately 2500 and 1700 B.C.E., and persisted with some regional presence as late as 800 B.C.E. The civilization reached its high point in the cities of Harrapa and Mohenjo-Daro. Although the physical remains of these large urban complexes have not produced a great deal of explicit religious imagery, archaeologists have recovered some intriguing items, including an abundance of seals depicting bulls, among these a few exceptional examples illustrating figures seated in yogic positions; terracotta female figures that suggest fertility; and small anthropomorphic sculptures made of stone and bronze. Material evidence found at these sites also includes prototypes of stone linga (phallic emblems of the Hindu god Shiva).

According to recent theories, Indus Valley peoples migrated to the Gangetic region of India and blended with indigenous cultures, after the decline of civilization in the Indus Valley. A separate group of Indo-European speaking people migrated to the subcontinent from West Asia. These peoples brought with them ritual life including fire sacrifices presided over by priests, and a set of hymns and poems collectively known as the Vedas. (3)


The 9th and 8th centuries BCE witnessed the composition of the earliest Upanishads. Upanishads form the theoretical basis of classical Hinduism and are known as Vedanta (conclusion of the Veda). The older Upanishads launched attacks of increasing intensity on the rituals. The diverse monistic speculations of the Upanishads were synthesized into a theistic framework by the sacred Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita.

The major Sanskrit epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, were compiled over a protracted period during the late centuries BCE and the early centuries CE. They contain mythological stories about the rulers and wars of ancient India, and are interspersed with religious and philosophical treatises. The later Puranas recount tales about devas and devis, their interactions with humans, and their battles against rakshasa.

Increasing urbanization of India in 7 th and 6 th centuries BCE led to the rise of new ascetic or shramana movements, which challenged the orthodoxy of rituals. Mahavira (c. 549—477 BCE), proponent of Jainism, and Buddha (c. 563 — 483), founder of Buddhism were the most prominent icons of this movement. (2)


Persia held dominance in northern India until the conquest of Alexander the Great in 327 BCE. One year later, Alexander had defeated the Achaemenid Empire and firmly conquered the Indian subcontinent. Again, foreign influences were brought to bear on the region, giving rise to the Greco-Buddhist culture, which impacted all areas of culture in northern India from art to religion to dress. Statues and reliefs from this period depict Buddha, and other figures, as distinctly Hellenic in dress and pose (known as the Gandhara School of Art). Following Alexander’s departure from India, the Maurya Empire (322—185 BCE) rose under the reign of Chandragupta Maurya (322—298) until, by the end of the third century BCE, it ruled over almost all of northern India. (2)

Maurya Empire

The Maurya Empire proved short-lived, in large part due to poor financial administration. Following its collapse, the country splintered into many small kingdoms and empires (such as the Kushan Empire) in what has come to be called theMiddle Period . This era saw the increase of trade with Rome (which had begun c. 130 BCE) following Augustus Caesar’s conquest of Egypt in 30 BCE (Egypt had been India’s most constant partner in trade in the past). This was a time of individual and cultural development in the various kingdoms, which finally flourished in what is considered the Golden Age of India under the reign of the Gupta Empire (320-550 CE). The empire declined slowly under a succession of weak rulers until it collapsed around 550 CE. (2)

India’s Independence

In 712 CE the Muslim general Muhammed bin Quasim conquered northern India, establishing himself in the region of modern-day Pakistan. The Muslim invasion saw an end to the indigenous empires of India and, from then on, independent city-states or communities under the control of a city would be the standard model of government. The Islamic Sultanates rose in the region of modern-day Pakistan and spread northwest. The disparate world views of the religions, which now contested each other for acceptance in the region and the diversity of languages spoken, made the unity and cultural advances, such as were seen in the time of the Guptas, difficult to reproduce. Consequently, the Islamic Mughal Empire easily conquered the region. India would then remain subject to various foreign influences and powers (among them the Portuguese, the French, and the British) until finally winning its independence in 1947 CE. (2)

The Hindu Theology of Samsara

Common to virtually all Hindus are certain beliefs, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Belief in many gods, which are seen as manifestations of a single unity. These deities are linked to universal and natural processes.
  • Preference for one deity while not excluding or disbelieving others.
  • Belief in the universal law of cause and effect (karma) and reincarnation.
  • Belief in the possibility of liberation and release (moksha) by which the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara) can be resolved. (3)

The concept of Samsara is reincarnation, the idea that after we die our soul will be reborn again in another body — perhaps in an animal, perhaps as a human, perhaps as a god, but always in a regular cycle of deaths and resurrections.

Another concept is Karma , which literally means “action,” the idea that all actions have consequences, good or bad. Karma determines the conditions of the next life, just like our life is conditioned by our previous karma. There is no judgement or forgiveness, simply an impersonal, natural and eternal law operating in the universe. Those who do good will be reborn in better conditions while those who are evil will be reborn in worse conditions.

Dharma means “right behavior” or “duty,” the idea that we all have a social obligation. Each member of a specific caste has a particular set of responsibilities, a dharma. For example, among the Kshatriyas (the warrior caste), it was considered a sin to die in bed; dying in the battlefield was the highest honor they could aim for. In other words, dharma encouraged people of different social groups to perform their duties as best as they could.

Moksha means “liberation” or release. The eternal cycle of deaths and resurrection can be seen as a pointless repetition with no ultimate goal attached to it. Seeking permanent peace or freedom from suffering seems impossible, for sooner or later we will be reborn in worse circumstances. Moksha is the liberation from this never-ending cycle of reincarnation, a way to escape this repetition. But what would it mean to escape from this cycle? What is it that awaits the soul that manages to be released from samsara? To answer this question we need to look into the concept of atman and Brahman.

The Upanishads tell us that the core of our own self is not the body, or the mind, but atman or “ Self ”. Atman is the core of all creatures, their innermost essence. It can only be perceived by direct experience through meditation. It is when we are at the deepest level of our existence.

Brahman is the one underlying substance of the universe, the unchanging “ Absolute Being ”, the intangible essence of the entire existence. It is the undying and unchanging seed that creates and sustains everything. It is beyond all description and intellectual understanding.

One of the great insights of the Upanishads is that atman and Brahman are made of the same substance. When a person achieves moksha or liberation, atman returns to Brahman, to the source, like a drop of water returning to the ocean. The Upanishads claim that it is an illusion that we are all separate: with this realization we can be freed from ego, from reincarnation and from the suffering we experience during our existence. Moksha, in a sense, means to be reabsorbed into Brahman, into the great World Soul. (4)

The following passage explains in metaphorical terms the idea that atman and Brahman are the same:

“As the same fire assumes different shapes When it consumes objects differing in shape, So does the one Self take the shape Of every creature in whom he is present.” (Katha Upanishad II.2.9 (4) )

How is moksha achieved?

There are many ways according to the Upanishads: Meditation, introspection, and also from the knowledge that behind all forms and veils the subjective and objective are One, that we are all part of the Whole. In general, the Upanishads agree on the idea that men are naturally ignorant about the ultimate identity between atman, the self within, and Brahman. One of the goals of meditation is to achieve this identification with Brahman, and abandon the ignorance that arises from the identification with the illusory or quasi-illusory nature of the common sense world. (4)



One accrues karma over the course of one’s life by fulfilling the duties associated with one’s caste, as well as through the various yogas. In whatever way a Hindu defines the goal of life; there are several methods of yoga that sages have taught for reaching that goal. Texts dedicated to Yoga include the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and, as their philosophical and historical basis, the Upanishads.

Paths that one can follow to achieve the spiritual goal of life (moksha, Samadhi, or nirvana) include:

  • Bhakti Yoga (the path of love and devotion)
  • Karma Yoga (the path of right action)
  • Rāja Yoga (the path of meditation)
  • Jñāna Yoga (the path of wisdom)

An individual may prefer one or some yogas over others, according to his or her inclination and understanding. Some devotional schools teach that bhakti is the only practical path to achieve spiritual perfection for most people, based on their belief that the world is currently in the Kali Yuga (one of four epochs which are part of the Yuga cycle). Practice of one yoga does not exclude others. Many schools believe that the different yogas naturally blend into and aid other yogas. For example, the practice of jnana yoga, is thought to inevitably lead to pure love (the goal of bhakti yoga), and vice versa. Someone practicing deep meditation (such as in raja yoga) must embody the core principles of karma yoga, jnana yoga, and bhakti yoga, whether directly or indirectly. (2)

Caste System in Ancient India

Ancient India in the Vedic Period (c. 1500—1000 BCE) did not have social stratification based on socio-economic indicators; rather, citizens were classified according to their Varna or castes. ‘Varna’ defines the hereditary roots of a newborn; it indicates the color, type, order or class of people.

Four principal categories are defined:

  • Brahmins (priests, gurus, etc.)
  • Kshatriyas (warriors, kings, administrators, etc.)
  • Vaishyas (agriculturalists, traders, etc., also called Vysyas)
  • Shudras (laborers)

Figure 4.1

Caste system

Chart of the caste system in ancient India
Caste System by Saylor Foundation is licensed under CC-BY 3.0.

Each Varna propounds specific life principles to follow; newborns are required to follow the customs, rules, conduct, and beliefs fundamental to their respective Varnas. (5)

The lowest caste was the Dalits, the untouchables, who handled meat and waste, though there is some debate over whether this class existed in antiquity. At first, it seems this caste system was merely a reflection of one’s occupation but, in time, it became more rigidly interpreted to be determined by one’s birth and one was not allowed to change castes nor to marry into a caste other than one’s own. This understanding was a reflection of the belief in an eternal order to human life dictated by a supreme deity. (6)

Purpose of the Varna System

The caste system in ancient India had been executed and acknowledged during, and ever since, the Vedic period that thrived around 1500—1000 BCE. The segregation of people based on their Varna was intended to decongest the responsibilities of one’s life, preserve the purity of a caste, and establish eternal order.

The underlying reason for adhering to Varna duties is the belief in the attainment of moksha on being dutiful. Belief in the concept of Karma reinforces the belief in the Varna life principles. As per the Vedas, it is the ideal duty of a human to seek freedom from subsequent birth and death and rid oneself of the transmigration of the soul, and this is possible when one follows the duties and principles of one’s respective Varna. According to the Vedas, consistent encroachment on others’ life responsibilities engenders an unstable society. Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras form the fourfold nature of society, each assigned appropriate life duties and ideal disposition. Men of the first three hierarchical castes are called the twice-born; first, born of their parents, and second, of their guru after the sacred thread initiation they wear over their shoulders. The Varna system is seemingly embryonic in the Vedas, later elaborated and amended in the Upanishads and Dharma Shastras. (5)

Varna System: Brahmins

Brahmins were revered as an incarnation of knowledge itself, endowed with the precepts and sermons to be discharged to all Varnas of society. They were not just revered because of their Brahmin birth but also their renunciation of worldly life and cultivation of divine qualities, assumed to be always engrossed in the contemplation of Brahman, hence called Brahmins. Priests, gurus, rishis, teachers, and scholars constituted the Brahmin community. They would always live through the Brahmacharya (celibacy) vow ordained for them. Even married Brahmins were called Brahmachari (celibate) by virtue of having intercourse only for reproducing and remaining mentally detached from the act. However, anyone from other Varnas could also become a Brahmin after extensive acquisition of knowledge and cultivation of one’s intellect.

Brahmins were the foremost choice as tutors for the newborn because they represent the link between sublime knowledge of the gods and the four Varnas. This way, since the ancestral wisdom is sustained through guru-disciple practice, all citizens born in each Varna would remain rooted to the requirements of their lives. Normally, Brahmins were the personification of contentment and dispellers of ignorance, leading all seekers to the zenith of supreme knowledge, however, under exceptions; they lived as warriors, traders, or agriculturists in severe adversity. The ones bestowed with the titles of Brahma Rishi or Maha Rishi were requested to counsel kings and their kingdoms’ administration. All Brahmin men were allowed to marry women of the first three Varnas, whereas marrying a Shudra woman would, marginally, bereft the Brahmin of his priestly status. Nevertheless, a Shudra woman would not be rejected if the Brahmin consented.

Brahmin women, contrary to the popular belief of their subordination to their husbands, were, in fact, more revered for their chastity and treated with unequalled respect. As per Manu Smriti, a Brahmin woman must only marry a Brahmin and no other, but she remains free to choose the man. She, under rare circumstances, is allowed to marry a Kshatriya or a Vaishya, but marrying a Shudra man is restricted. The restrictions in inter-caste marriages are to avoid subsequent impurity of progeny born of the matches. A man of a particular caste marrying a woman of a higher caste is considered an imperfect match, culminating in ignoble offspring. (5)

Varna System: Kshatriyas

Kshatriyas constituted the warrior clan, the kings, rulers of territories, administrators, etc. It was paramount for a Kshatriya to learn weaponry, warfare, penance, austerity, administration, moral conduct, justice, and ruling. All Kshatriyas would be sent to a Brahmin’s ashram from an early age until they became wholly equipped with requisite knowledge. Besides austerities like the Brahmins, they would gain additional knowledge of administration. Their fundamental duty was to protect their territory, defend against attacks, deliver justice, govern virtuously, and extend peace and happiness to all their subjects, and they would take counsel in matters of territorial sovereignty and ethical dilemmas from their Brahmin gurus. They were allowed to marry a woman of all Varnas with mutual consent. Although a Kshatriya or a Brahmin woman would be the first choice, Shudra women were not barred from marrying a Kshatriya.

Kshatriya women, like their male counterparts, were equipped with masculine disciplines, fully acquainted with warfare, rights to discharge duties in the king’s absence, and versed in the affairs of the kingdom. Contrary to popular belief, a Kshatriya woman was equally capable of defending a kingdom in times of distress and imparting warfare skills to her descendants. The lineage of a Kshatriya king was kept pure to ensure continuity on the throne and claim sovereignty over territories. (5)

Varna System: Vaishyas

Vaishya is the third Varna represented by agriculturalists, traders, money lenders, and those involved in commerce. Vaishyas are also the twice-born and go to the Brahmins’ ashram to learn the rules of a virtuous life and to refrain from intentional or accidental misconduct. Cattle rearing was one of the most esteemed occupations of the Vaishyas, as the possession and quality of a kingdom’s cows, elephants, horses, and their upkeep affected the quality of life and the associated prosperity of the citizens.

Vaishyas would work in close coordination with the administrators of the kingdom to discuss, implement, and constantly upgrade the living standards by providing profitable economic prospects. Because their life conduct exposes them to objects of immediate gratification, their tendency to overlook the law and despise the weak is perceived as probable. Hence, the Kshatriya king would be most busy with resolving disputes originating of conflicts among Vaishyas.

Vaishya women, too, supported their husbands in business, cattle rearing, and agriculture, and shared the burden of work. They were equally free to choose a spouse of their choice from the four Varnas, albeit selecting a Shudra was earnestly resisted. Vaishya women enjoyed protection under the law, and remarriage was undoubtedly normal, just as in the other three Varnas. A Vaishya woman had equal rights over ancestral properties in case of the untimely death of her husband, and she would be equally liable for the upbringing of her children with support from her husband. (5)

Varna System: Shudras

The last Varna represents the backbone of a prosperous economy, in which they are revered for their dutiful conduct toward life duties set out for them. Scholarly views on Shudras are the most varied since there seemingly are more restrictions on their conduct. However, Atharva Veda allows Shudras to hear and learn the Vedas by heart, and the Mahabharata, supports the inclusion of Shudras in ashrams and their learning the Vedas . Becoming officiating priests in sacrifices organized by kings was, however, to a large extent restricted. Shudras are not the twice-born, hence they are not required to wear the sacred thread like the other Varnas. A Shudra man was only allowed to marry a Shudra woman, but a Shudra woman was allowed to marry from any of the four Varnas.

Shudras would serve the Brahmins in their ashrams, Kshatriyas in their palaces and princely camps, and Vaishyas in their commercial activities. Although they are the feet of the primordial being, educated citizens of higher Varnas would always regard them as a crucial segment of society, for an orderly society would be easily compromised if the feet were weak. Shudras, on the other hand, obeyed the orders of their masters, because their knowledge of attaining moksha by embracing their prescribed duties encouraged them to remain loyal. Shudra women, too, worked as attendants and close companions of the queen and would go with her after marriage to other kingdoms. Many Shudras were also allowed to be agriculturalists, traders, and enter occupations held by Vaishyas. These detours of life duties would, however, be under special circumstances, on perceiving deteriorating economic situations. The Shudras’ selflessness makes them worthy of unprecedented regard and respect. (5)

Gradual Withdrawal from the Ancient Varna Duties

Despite the life order being arranged for all kinds of people, by the end of the Vedic period, many began to deflect and disobey their primary duties. As a large Varna populace became difficult to handle, the emergence of Jainism propounded the ideology of one single human Varna and nothing besides. Many followed the original Varna rules, but many others, disapproving opposing beliefs, formed modified sub-Varnas within the primary four Varnas. This process, occurring between 700 CE and 1500 CE, continues to this day, as India is now home to a repository of the primary four Varnas and hundreds of sub-Varnas, making the original four Varnas merely ‘umbrella terms’ and perpetually ambiguous.

The subsequent rise of Islam, Christianity, and other religions also left their mark on the original Varna system in India. Converted generations reformed their notion of Hinduism in ways that were compatible with the conditions of those times. The rise of Buddhism, too, left its significant footprint on the Varna system’s legitimate continuance in renewed conditions of life. Thus, soulful adherence to Varna duties from the peak of Vedic period eventually diminished to subjective makeshift adherence, owing partly to the discomfort in practicing Varna duties and partly to external influence. (5)

Sacred Text: The Vedas

The Vedas are a collection of hymns and other religious texts composed in India between about 1500 and 1000 BCE. It includes elements such as liturgical material, as well as mythological accounts, poems, prayers, and formulas considered to be sacred by the Vedic religion. (7)

The origin of the Vedas can be traced back as far as 1500 BCE, when a large group of nomads called the Aryans, coming from central Asia, crossed the Hindu Kush Mountains, migrating into the Indian subcontinent. We do not know much about the authors of these texts: In Vedic tradition the focus tends to be on the ideas rather than on the authors , which may allow one to look at the message without being influenced by the messenger.

Vedic literature is religious in nature and as such tends to reflect the worldview, spiritual preoccupations, and social attitudes of the Brahmans or priestly class of ancient India. The Vedas were first composed sometime around 1500—1000 BCE in the north-western region of the Indian subcontinent– present day Pakistan and northwest India — and they were transmitted orally over many generations before eventually being committed to writing. Like the Homeric epics, parts of the Vedas were composed in different periods. The oldest of these texts is the Rig–Veda, but it is not possible to establish precise dates for its composition. It is believed that the entire collection was completed by the end of the second millennium BCE.

In general, the Vedas have a strong priestly bias, as the priestly class had the monopoly in the edition and transmission of these texts.

The Rig-Veda is the largest and most important text of the Vedic collection; it includes 1028 hymns and it is divided into ten books called mandalas . It is a difficult text, written in a very obscure style and filled with metaphors and allusions that are hard to understand for the modern reader. The Sama-Veda has verses that are almost entirely from the Rig-Veda, but are arranged in a different way since they are to be chanted. The Yajur-Veda is divided into the White and Black Yajur-Veda and contains explanatory commentaries on how to perform religious rituals and sacrifices. The Atharva-Vedacontains charms and magical incantations and has a more folkloristic style.

The Vedas present a multitude of gods, most of them related to natural forces such as storms, fire, and wind. As part of its mythology, Vedic texts contain multiple creation stories, most of them inconsistent with each other. Sometimes the Vedas refer to a particular god as the greatest god of all, and later another god will be regarded as the greatest god of all.

Some elements of the religion practiced by the natives of India before Vedic times still persist in the Vedas. The Pre-Vedic religion, the oldest known religion of India, which was found in India before the Aryan migrations, was apparently an animistic and totemic worship of many spirits dwelling in stones, animals, trees, rivers, mountains, and stars. Some of these spirits were good, others were evil, and great magic skill was the only way to control them. Traces of this old religion are still present in the Vedas. In the Atharva-Veda, for example, there are spells to obtain children, to avoid abortion, to prolong life, to ward off evil, to woo sleep, and to harm or destroy enemies. (7)

Sacred Text: The Upanishads

The Upanishads are a collection of texts of religious and philosophical nature, written in India probably between c. 800 BCE and c. 500 BCE, during a time when Indian society started to question the traditional Vedic religious order. Some people during this time decided to engage in the pursuit of spiritual progress, living as ascetic hermits, rejecting ordinary material concerns, and giving up family life. Some of their speculations and philosophy were compiled into the Upanishads. There is an attempt in these texts to shift the focus of religious life from external rites and sacrifices to internal spiritual quests in the search for answers.

Etymologically, the name Upanishad is composed of the terms upa (near) and shad (to sit), meaning something like “sitting down near .” The name is inspired by the action of sitting at the feet of an illuminated teacher to engage in a session of spiritual instructions, as aspirants still do in India today.

The books, then, contain the thoughts and insights of important spiritual Indian figures. Although we speak of them together as a body of texts, the Upanishads are not parts of a whole, like chapters in a book. Each is complete in itself. Therefore, they represent not a consistent philosophy or worldview, but rather the experiences, opinions, and lessons of many different men and women. (4)

Sacred Text: Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Indian text that became an important work of Hindu tradition in terms of both literature and philosophy. The earliest translations of this work from Sanskrit into English occurred around 1795 CE by Sir Charles Wilkins. The name Bhagavad Gita means “ the song of the Lord ”. It is composed as a poem and it contains many key topics related to the Indian intellectual and spiritual tradition. Although it is normally edited as an independent text, the Bhagavad Gita became a section of a massive Indian epic named “The Mahabharata,” the longest Indian epic. There is a part in the middle of this long text, consisting of 18 brief chapters and about 700 verses: this is the section known as the Bhagavad Gita. It is also referred to as the Gita , for short.

Around the time when the Gita was written, asceticism was seen in India as the ideal spiritual life. Ascetics from different sects along with Jains and Buddhists all agreed that leaving everything behind (family, possessions, occupations, etc.) was the best way to live in a meaningful way.

The Bhagavad Gita revolves around the following questions:

  • How can someone live a life spiritually meaningful without withdrawing from society?
  • What can someone who does not want to give up family and social obligations do to live the right way?
  • The Gita challenges the general consensus that only ascetics and monks can live a perfect spiritual life through renunciation and emphasizes the value of an active spiritual life.

The Plot of the Gita

The plot of the Gita is based on two sets of cousins competing for the throne: The Pandavas and the Kauravas .

Diplomacy has failed, so these two clans’ armies meet on a battlefield in order to settle the conflict and decide which side will gain the throne. This is a major battle and it takes place in Kurukshetra, “the field of the Kurus,” in the modern state of Haryana in India.

Arjuna , the great archer and leader of the Pandavas, is a member of the Kshatriyas caste (the warrior rulers caste). He looks out towards his opponents and recognizes friends, relatives, former teachers, and finally realizes that controlling the kingdom is not worth the blood of all his loved ones. Emotionally overwhelmed, Arjuna drops down, casts aside his bow and arrows, and decides to quit. He prefers to withdraw from battle; he prefers inaction instead of being responsible for the death of the people he loves.

His chariot driver is the god Vishnu, who has taken the form of Krishna. Krishna sees Arjuna quitting and begins to persuade Arjuna that he should stick to his duty as a warrior and engage the enemy.

The Bhagavad Gita is presented as a conversation between Arjuna and Krishna, a man and a god, a seeker and a knower.(8)


“Hinduism” by Dr. Kathryn Weinland is adapted from “Hinduism” in World Religions by Lumen Learning as published by Florida State College at Jacksonville, licensed CC BY except where otherwise noted.Licensing and attribution information updated by Kathy Essmiller, 3.16.23. Please contact kathy.essmiller@okstate.edu with corrections or suggestions.

(2) — Hinduism by Wikipedia for Schools is licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0 .

(3) — Roots of Hinduism by Lumen Learning is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 .

(4) — Upanishads by Cristian Violatti published in Ancient History Encyclopedia is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 .

(5) — Caste System in Ancient India by Nikul Joshi published in Ancient History Encyclopedia is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0.

(6) — Ancient India by Joshua Mark published in Ancient History Encyclopedia is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 .

(7) — The Vedas by Cristian Violatti published in Ancient History Encyclopedia is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 .

(8) — Bhagavad Gita by Cristian Violatti published in Ancient History Encyclopedia is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 .


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4.3 Hinduism Copyright © 2023 by Kathryn Weinland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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