by Jayaram V
We can only make rationale conjectures regarding the ancient history of
India, as we have very little chronological or archaeological evidence about subject. When we deal with the origins of Hinduism we have to rely greatly upon the scriptures of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism and few inscriptions of real merit.
Unlike the Greeks and the Egyptians, the ancient Indian scholars as well as kings had very little sense of history and therefore they left no true historical accounts of their times. The problem is compounded further by followers of different schools of religious thought, who modified and improved the original texts of their teachers and predecessors, without leaving a trace of their own names. Hence this difficulty.
The earliest archaeological evidence of Hinduism was found in the excavations done at Harappa and Mohenjodaro, where, among many other items, were unearthed a number of seals showing the bull and a seated yogi and some icons representing the mother goddess, the phallus symbol and a seated yogi.
According to some historians it is possible to draw some parallels between these and the subsequent iconographic images of Saivism and Shaktism. But it is difficult to say whether the earliest form of Hinduism originated from the people of Indus Valley or whether some of their practices were incorporated into it subsequently by the Vedic Aryans. The religion is definitely much more older than the Indus Valley civilization.
The Vedic Aryans were responsible for the introduction of many practices and beliefs into Hinduism and giving it a distinct identity. According to some, they migrated to the subcontinent of India at least five thousand years ago, probably through central Asia comprising of present day Iran.
But there is another school of thought which believes that they did not come from outside but were the natives of the subcontinent, who might have spread later to other parts of the world, carrying with them the fond memories of their old life styles and culture.
However it is an undeniable fact that there were many similarities between the ancient people who lived in the land called Persia and the those who lived in the northern parts of the subcontinent. There were similarities between Zoroastrianism and the Vedic religion of the early Aryans. However subsequently the two groups fell apart and the God of Zoroastrians, Ahura became a demon (Asura) in the terminology of the Aryans, while the devas of the Aryans became "powers of evil " (daeva) to the Zoroastrians.
The Aryans' language of communication was Sanskrit which is closely connected to Latin and together they constitute the two fundamental branches of Indo-European languages. It is believed that both might have been derived from a single source.
Whatever be the truth, the Vedic Aryans practiced a form of religion which became the basis for Hinduism as it is known today. The Vedic Aryans were great warriors who occupied greater part of Northern India and brought it under their political and religious control.
During the subsequent Vedic period they also crossed over to southern India where they encountered powerful local tribes. What actually happened politically during such encounters we have little information.
But it was amply clear that there was an unprecedented synthesis of cultures and religious beliefs resulting in partial aryanization of south, amalgamation of thought and induction of many gods and goddesses into Hindu pantheon.
The Vedic Aryans invoked gods, especially Indra, Varuna, Agni, Vayu, Mitra, Aditya, Pushan, Asvins, Usha etc, performed yagnas and other rituals to supplicate them, invoke them, and seek their approval, guidance and help for their material comforts, personal gains, general welfare, appeasement of nature and victory over hostile tribes.
The religion subsequently faced a stiff competition from other religions like Buddhism and Jainism and underwent great transformation in line with the new thinking and the new religions. simultaneously a great reform movement was born with the Vedic religious fold through the rise of Shaivism and Bhagavatism. They emphasized the need for bhakti or devotion to God as the best way to attain salvation. Bhagavatism started with the teachings of the great teacher, Sri Krishna-Vasudeva of the satvata or Vrisni tribe, and became very popular during the later periods as Vaishnavism. Saivism with Shiva as the principal deity came into existence during the later Vedic period and became equally popular throughout India.
During the post Mauryan and Pre Gupta period, the religion witnessed the further popularity of Vaishnavism, Saivism. Tantrism or the worship of Shakti, also became widely prevalent during this period. While Vaisnavism was gaining ground in the north under the rule of the Guptas who were renowned devotees of Lord Vishnu and built many temples in his honor,
Saivism became a well established sect with the composition of the Agamas, and the works of Nayanmars from south, which is today available to us as Periya Puranam. The worship of Sun was also prevalent during this period.
Between the Sixth Century A.D., and Ten Century A.D., the subcontinent witnessed the birth of many great religious teachers, who provided new insights into the religion through their works and commentaries and added richness of thought and content to it.
Prominent among them was Shri Adishankaracharya, who not only provided the required inspiration for the revival of the religion through his teachings and tours, but also wrote commentaries on several Upanishads and also on the Gita. He traveled across the length and breadth of the country preaching the basic doctrines of the religion and spreading his message of monism far and wide.
Another great religious personality who needs mention during this period was Shri Ramanujacharya who preached devotion to Lord Vishnu as the best way to attain salvation.
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