by Jayaram V
We can only make rationale conjectures regarding the ancient
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
The earliest archaeological evidence of Hinduism was found in
the excavations done at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, 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 people. The religion is definitely much more older than
the Indus Valley civilization.
The Vedic people were responsible for the introduction of many
practices and beliefs into Hinduism and giving it a distinct identity.
According to many historians of the old European school, the
Vedic people, were Aryans who migrated to the Indian subcontinent
from outside during the declining phase of the Indus valley civilization.
They came to India probably through central Asia and Iran and settled
in the area comprising present-day Afghanistan and Punjab..
However, many Indologists presently do not agree that there was
ever an Aryan Invasion. According to them both the Vedic civilization
and the Indus civilization were indigenous cultures and were probably
inter connected. It is even possible that some migration might have
happened in the reverse direction from India to Persia, Mediterranean,
central Asia and even beyond.
There are many cultural similarities between the ancient
people who lived in Persia and the those who lived in the northwestern
region of the Indian subcontinent, including similarities between
religious tradition practiced by the former prior to the emergence
of Zoroaster and the Vedic religion practiced by the latter. It
is believed that subsequently the two groups fell apart.
Some of the practices of the early tradition became an integral
part of Zoroastrianism, including the practice of fire worship and
fire sacrifices. At the same time differences developed. The God
of Zoroastrians, Ahura Mazda was considered a demon (Asura) by the
Vedic people, while the devas of the people became "powers of evil
powers (daeva) in the Zoroastrian cosmology.
The language of communication in Vedic society was Sanskrit which
is considered a sister language of Latin. Together both represent
two main branches of Indo-European languages. While both have an
independent history of their own, most likely they might have originated
from a common source.
Whatever may be the truth, the religious tradition practiced
by the Vedic people of ancient India became subsequently the basis
of modern Hinduism as it is known today. It is incorrect to believe
that Hinduism emerged from Vedic religion solely. A number of traditions
became an integral part of it, of which Vedic religion was a significant
Vedic society witnessed great kings, even philosopher kings,
who not only waged wars and expanded their domains but also practiced
the Vedic religion with great fervor and contributed greatly to
the emergence of Upanishadic thought.
In the later Vedic period, they extended their influence into
southern India, where Vedic religion took strong roots due to the
contribution of many seers, sages and Brahmana families who migrated
to the south and introduced their methods of worship there.
Due to their efforts, an unprecedented synthesis of cultures
and religious beliefs happened resulting in the religious unification
of the subcontinent and the induction of many gods and goddesses
into Hindu pantheon.
The Vedic people invoked many gods such as 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
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 within the Vedic tradition with
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
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 sxth century A.D., and the tenth 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 to the richness of Hindu devotional movement.
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 of this period was Shri Ramanujacharya
who preached devotion to Lord Vishnu as the best way to attain salvation.
Suggested Further Reading