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The cultural and societal influences

Hinduism is an Eastern religion basically found in India and Nepal. (Williams, 1974) It is considered to be the third largest religion in the world after Christianity and Islam and ahead of Buddhism. A number of religions are common in India, including Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Hinduism, the oldest. Aspects of Indian culture are reflected in the Hindu religion, or perhaps aspects of the religion are reflected in the culture.

India has a strong caste system and in fact, Indian society is based on the complicated caste system. (Silverberg, 1969) This is a system of social class whereby the various members of Indian society are categorized and classed and is largely an aspect of Hinduism. The caste system is rather complicated and basically unique to India and to the Indian philosophy. Although Hinduism, like all religions is supposed to help people thrive and survive, the caste system of India actually holds people down.

Some aspect of this system can be found in every aspect of Indian life and cuts across regional and religious affiliations. (Zelliot, 2004) It has become an influence that undermines the Indian Society and holds people back just because of their social class. In the caste system, India consists of caste Hindus, out castes and non-Hindus such as Buddhist, Muslims and Christians. The Caste system forces a large part of Indian society to exist outside of society and gives them little opportunity to escape to a better way of life.

Although complicated, the Hindu castes include the Brahmins (priests), the Kshatriyas (warrior/fighting castes) and the Vaishyas (business/trading caste). These are the three main castes in India, but there is a fourth caste of Shudras who are largely kept out of Indian society. Shudras include artisans, food gatherers, hunters and those in agriculture, to names just a few in this class. Although Shudras live in close proximity with the other Hindus castes, Shudras are socially, physically, psychologically and literally kept out of the Indian/Hindu society.

The Hindu religion and the caste system are so old and so entrenched in Indian society that it is difficult to determine if the Caste system arose from Hinduism or if Hinduism arose from the caste system. The sacred texts of Hinduism are the Vedas. Although no one can be certain as to when the Vedas were written, the period during which they were composed is referred to as the Vedic period or the Vedic Age.

The Vedas are named after the Vedic culture, were probably written one or two centuries before Christ and may have been composed over a period extending from as far back as 6 centuries before Christ to as recently as the century before his birth. The Vedas and the Vedic culture are associated with the plain that stretches over most of northern and eastern India and extends into parts of Pakistan and nearly all of Bangladesh. Hinduism originated from this ancient Vedic region and its traditions.

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