For more than 2,000 years, Hindu communities have flourished outside the subcontinent of India. Despite the prohibitions against traveling across the ocean found in many Hindu texts, Indians settled in Malaysia and Singapore probably before the first millennium CE. Trading communities seem to have been set up in Cambodia by the first century CE. In the nineteenth century, indentured workers arrived in Fiji and in the Caribbean. By the time indentured labor was abolished in 1919, there were more than 60,000 Indians in Fiji. Hindus, who had come to work on plantations, settled in Uganda and other African countries in the early twentieth century and eventually became successful business entrepreneurs. Many kinds of Hindu communities exist in the United States. Perhaps the most noticeable feature of Hindu communities that settled outside of India is the tremendous time, monies, and energy expended on the building of temples. Just as the Hindu tradition appropriated and utilized print and audiovisual technologies, the Internet revolution has also been used to help articulate traditions and create communities.
David N. Lorenzen
One way of thinking about Hindu religion and society is to distinguish between the traditional religious society led mostly by brahmans and the large number of popular movements that have been led mostly by members of other caste groups. In India, religious movements are associated not only with different social classes but also with different castes. The followers of those popular Hindu movements that are led by non-brahmans are usually open to members of all castes, including scheduled castes. The social ideologies of brahman-led and non-brahman Hindu movements differ most clearly over the religious status of varna asrama dharma, the ideology of the caste system itself. This article discusses a few important regional non-brahman movements whose social dynamics have been well studied and which embody fairly explicit elements of dissent against the religious and social ideology of brahmanical Hinduism. These non-brahman Hindu movements include those of the Naths or Kanaphata Yogis, the Virasaivas or Lingayats of the Karnataka region in South India, and panths associated with poet-saints Kabir and Ravidas.
T. N. Madan
Although Hinduism is associated with one region of the world—South Asia—it is a global religion in two senses of the term. It has provided a religious complement to the diaspora of Hindus around the world and thus contributed to pluralist cultures in such disparate places as contemporary Fiji and England. Moreover, throughout its history Hinduism has embodied the spirit of pluralism. At its most basic, Hinduism may be defined as the religion of Hindus—the way they affirm their inner faith and order their everyday life. India is, of course, where most of the Hindus of the world live and where they have the status of the dominant religious community. There they constitute 82 percent of India's more than one billion person population. This article examines the pluralistic character of Hinduism; the relationship between Hinduism, caste, sect, and the family; the revival and reinterpretation of Hinduism; and the flowering and communalism of Hinduism.
Joseph W. Elder
When one uses the term “Hinduism” for the religious culture of India that has influenced much of Asia, one thinks of the brahmanical tradition. Europeans labeled as Hindus those people on the Indian subcontinent who were not Buddhists, Jains, Jews, Christians, Muslims, or Zoroastrians. Europeans adopted the generic term, Hinduism, for all of these people's widely varying religious observances, beliefs, and practices. One common feature among all of these Hindus throughout much of the Indian subcontinent was their labeling of certain priests as brahmans. Key elements of traditional brahmanical society go back to the Rig-Veda, Hinduism's earliest revealed, authorless text considered true from the beginning of time. The post-sixth century BCE cryptic Sutras and versified Shastras provide instructions for human conduct and domestic rituals. Preeminent among the Shastras is one on correct behavior (dharma) attributed to Manu, believed to be a progenitor of the human race. Manu's Dharma Shastra refers to the four original categories of humans as the four varnas (ranks, colors) and distinguishes between the twice-born and once-born varnas.