The term was Hinduism was coined in the 19th century by the British Raj officials. Hinduism never existed as a religion in the past. The British gave it a name and tried to organize it, but they failed in their attempt. For the British, Hinduism was a religion associated with pagan worship. They failed to understand the very essence of Hinduism.
Unlike other forms of religions like Christianity and Islam, Hinduism has no proper structure. There is no particular religious practice or text that determines it. It is fluid in nature and embraces various gods, scriptures, practices, and rituals.
There is an aspect of culture and geography associated with Hinduism. The origins of the religion can be traced back to the period between 2300 B.C. and 1500 B.C. of the Indus Valley Civilization. This makes Hinduism an extremely old and sacred religion.
Being a Hindu is not to be associated with religion in the first place. A Hindu is a generic term that was used to describe someone living alongside the Indus River during the Indus Valley civilization. A Hindu, therefore, is someone who does not have to necessarily to go the temple to worship God or read the scriptures regularly. He/she is free to follow the religion the way he/she wants.
The beauty of Hinduism lies in its pluralism where God is perceived to exist in diverse forms and manifestations. God is worshipped in the form of different deities like Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu. It is entirely left open to a devotee to perceive God the way he/she wants. This sort of freedom is not available in other religions.
There are no set of rules or practices that have to be compulsorily followed by a Hindu. For example, ringing the bell in the temple or breaking a coconut before God is not mandatory and is one’s individual choice.
A lot of the practices of Hinduism are based on culture, tradition, and geography of each State. For example, the Durga Pooja, is one of the main festivals celebrated in West Bengal where people prepare mouth local watering delicacies and indulge in dance and other activities. Even fish which is a staple food in Bengal is cooked and eaten during the Pooja days. This is not in the case of other states where only vegetarian meals are cooked and offered to God.
The Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita offer us explanations and teachings of God in the form of delightful stories. The essence behind Hinduism is leading a life based on Dharma. It means that one can achieve God when he controls his selfish desires and performs the right actions (Karma). This leads to his/her salvation and union with God.
Even though many Gods are worshipped, Hinduism is based on acceptance of Sanathan Dharam, i.e. one eternal truth. In Hinduism, no one is punished for thinking about God differently. As a religion, Hinduism is accommodative of teachings propagated by other spiritual gurus. For example, we have gurus like Sri Sai Baba and Osho whose teachings have been widely accepted and followed by a large number of Hindus. Hinduism also has no cases of religious prosecution of spiritual men as in other religions. For example, Jesus was persecuted by the Romans for preaching differently.
Hinduism has no preset boundaries and allows people the freedom to choose what to believe. Hinduism celebrates the existence of the omnipresent God and shows us various paths of reaching him. One of the ways of achieving him is through pure devotion in the form of Bhakti. Hinduism also teaches you to serve humanity in order to reach God. All these aspects of Hinduism make Hinduism not just a religion but a way of life!