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Shiva Nataraja (Lord of the Dance)

Shiva Nataraja (Lord of the Dance)
Late 10th Century
Artist Unknown

Hinduism encountered Buddhism in the sixth century B.C. As a result, the various philosophical schools of Hinduism developed, and their basic texts were composed. The authority of the Vedas was accepted and sociological doctrines were formulated in Smritis, "that which is remembered," the traditional law books. These books define the four goals of life:
Artha, the pursuit of wealth and worldly success
Karma, the pursuit of love
Dharma, the pursuit of law, human righteousness, duty, and cosmic order
Moksha, release from empty, material pleasures and from the pain of life in the everyday world, in order to unite with the Absolute.

The four stages of life were also defined in the Smritis. Each phase was to occupy one quarter of an ideal 100-year life span.
Brahmahcharya, the student
Grhastha, the householder
Vanaprastha, the hermit
Sanyasi, the renunciant (self-denial)

Buddhist heterodoxy encouraged the Hindus to compose lengthy epics. Most notable are the Puranas, which praise the powers and feats of the gods; the Ramayana, the adventures of Rama, the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu; and the Mahabharata, a poem celebrating the great war between the Kauravas and Pandavas, descendants of the god-king Bharata.

Over time, Hinduism expanded to include a number of different beliefs. By 1800 twenty-five percent of the population had converted to Islam, and Hindus who rejected Islam reinforced the elitist caste system. The religious division also engendered a revival of devotional literature including the Ramayana, which was translated into several regional dialects. A number of new texts were composed, notably the seventeenth-century Ramacharitamanasa––deeds of Rama––which became widely read. A few scholars, such as the fifteenth-century philosopher Kabir, attempted a fusion of Islam and Hinduism, thereby creating Sikhism, a religion that combined the Hindu view of the world along with an Islamic emphasis on scriptures.

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