The term “Hinduism” includes numerous traditions, which are closely related and share common themes but do not constitute a unified set of beliefs or practices.
Hinduism is thought to have gotten its name from the Persian word hindu, meaning “river,” used by outsiders to describe the people of the Indus River Valley. Hindus themselves refer to their religion as sanatama dharma, “eternal religion,” and varnasramadharma, a word emphasizing the fulfillment of duties (dharma) appropriate to one’s class (varna) and stage of life (asrama).
Hinduism has no founder or date of origin. The authors and dates of most Hindu sacred texts are unknown. Scholars describe modern Hinduism as the product of religious development in India that spans nearly four thousand years, making it the oldest surviving world religion. Indeed, as seen above, Hindus regard their religion as eternal (sanatama).
Hinduism is not a homogeneous, organized system. Many Hindus are devoted followers of Shiva or Vishnu, whom they regard as the only true God, while others look inward to the divine Self (atman). But most recognize the existence of Brahman, the unifying principle and Supreme Reality behind all that is.