Hindu Dharma, popularly called Hinduism, is the religion of over a billion Hindus, who mostly live in India, but have large populations in many other countries. Hindu Dharma is also known as Vaidika Dharma, meaning "religion of the Vedas," the ancient Hindu scriptures. The original name of Hindu Dharma is Sanatana Dharma, or "universal religion." (See Chapter 12).
Unlike other religions, Hindu Dharma did not originate from a single person, a single book, or at a single point in time. The founda-tions of this oldest surviving religion were laid by ancient rishis (sages), who taught their disciples the eternal principles of life they had discovered through their meditations The rishis did not claim authorship of these spiritual principles. Although some names are mentioned in scriptures, nobody knows exactly who these people were or when they lived. Thus Hindu Dharma is essentially a religion of principles rather than persons.
Hindu Dharma is analogous to a fruit tree, with its roots representing the Vedas and the Upanishads, the thick trunk symbolizing the spiritual experiences of numerous sages and saints, its branches representing various theological traditions, and the fruit itself, in different shapes and sizes, symbolizing various sects and subsects.
Although there is no hard and fast line between one period and the next, the evolution of Hindu Dharma may be divided into three periods: the ancient (6500 BCE-1000 AD), the medieval (1000-1800 AD), and the modern (1800 AD to present). The major evolutionary milestones during these periods are summarized in the following table:
Author : Shri Bansi Pandit