As a self-proclaimed atheist, I’m not particularly comfortable writing anything that can be perceived in favor of any religion, but for once I feel the need to make an exception.
Hinduism is the oldest surviving religion in the world, and despite multiple invasions and centuries of foreign occupation, Hinduism survives and is thriving. But unlike Islam and Christianity, which expanded worldwide in less than 2 millennia, Hinduism remains very limited in range. And the very reason that it didn’t spread, is the reason why it can survive longer.
The thing is, Hinduism isn’t an organized religion. Hinduism has no authorities. No one can decree anything to the entire Hindu population. Unlike Christianity or Islam, with their monotheistic ways, Hinduism is way more relaxed, with millions of gods (and room for more), all of whom give different, maybe even conflicting, teachings and rituals.
There are thousands of sects, with different beliefs and rituals, who mostly lived in harmony. The Shaivites and Vaishnavites were never at loggerheads like the Shias and Sunnis, or, Protestants and Catholics. Hinduism has behaved like water, it has moulded into whatever form was suitable, according to whatever situations it faced, so much, that it’s more like an amalgamation of various religions than a single religion.
What we are seeing nowadays, are attempts to, we can say, ‘organize’ Hinduism, under the guise of saving it. And that, instead of anything else, can be a threat to it. For organized religion is bound to fall. Christianity already seems to be in its death throes. And while Islam is currently gaining followers, there are clear signs that it is edging to failure pushed on by militancy in the poorer regions and unwillingness of the rich to abide by the restrictions of religion. Israel – and the Jewish community at large – have abandoned Orthodoxy and have largely become secular. Being a Jew is now more of a cultural identity than religious.
The plus point of Hinduism is that it has a lot of breathing space, allowing you to interpret and remould the rules according to your own convenience. Take Navratri/Durga Puja as an example. What is a period of vegetarianism or even fasting for Hindus in the rest of the nation, is a period of extensive meat-eating and revelry in Bengal.
Yet, no one will ever cast doubt on their calling themselves Hindu. There are Hindus who will eat pork and beef (as long as it’s a buffalo, of course), and there are Hindus who won’t even touch beef but will gladly eat mutton. Then there are those who are vegetarian, and some, even go to the extent of not even eating onion and garlic; and while we are at this, Kashmiri Pandits deserve a special mention: while onion and garlic are a strict no-no, meat is completely acceptable.
Remove that breathing space; try to bind it too tightly and Hinduism will go the same path as all other religions will very soon.