Ancient History of Hinduism, Culture

The Origin of Hindu Culture:

Though the history of the Hindu culture and religion has always been attributed to the Indus Valley civilization, the Hindu religion is definitely much older than this civilization.

The history of Hinduism is extremely debated owing to some concrete reasons. The concept of Hinduism never existed before modern times, Hindu traditions and rituals were however being performed since time immemorial. Hindu religion is also known as Vedic religion and its relevance is eternal.

It is true that Hinduism has been formed after embracing many traditions. The concept and practice also varied and witnessed new horizons along with various political, social and economical developments resulting from the rising and fall of empires and kingdoms over centuries.

The Indus Valley Civilization (prior to 1500 BCE)

As per the archeological findings in the 1920s, Aryan Civilization ousted Indus Valley Civilization from Mohenjodaro and Harrapa during 1500 BCE. However, by this time the Indus Civilization was already extinct owing to the drying of the Sarasvati River, the main tributary of the River Indus.

Archeologists have also unearthed the fact that Aryans led quite a civilized life with proper town planning, refined drainage systems. Aryans also developed a form of writing; nevertheless, experts have still not been able to decode the script. Many experts have also claimed that religious customs like goddess worship and fertility rituals were also prevalent during those times. Excavations also show various depictions resembling Lord Shiva as Pashupati, Lord of the Beasts.

The Vedic Period (1500–500 BCE)

It is quite known that the Vedic religion as practiced by the Aryans was based on the Vedas. Various yajnas, sacrificial performances and merging with the ancestors in heaven were some of the focal points. Purva Mimamsa, Uttara Mimamsa (Vedanta) including the glimpse of Upanishads were the main doctrines followed by the Aryans during the Vedic Period. Eminent scholars have opined that though the doctrine of reincarnation was not logically developed amid 1500–500 BCE, natural forces were highly revered.

Legends like Lord Indra, God of Rain, defeating demon Vrita were followed in different versions by the people contemporary to those periods. A simple version of the Sanskrit language, along with varnashrama-dharma system could also be attributed to the Aryans. It is true that modern Hinduism is derived from the Vedic religion. Vedic warriors not only mastered the art of waging war but also practiced their religion with great interest. They also evolved Upanishadic thought.

Later Vedic Period

The rise of Shaivism and Bhagavatism led to a great reform within the Vedic tradition. Bhagavatism later became known as Vaishnavism. Simultaneously, other religions spurted in different parts of the country and transformation in Hindu religion came in line with fresh thinking. Both Shaivism and Bhagavatism religions flourished in their own manner during the later Vedic period. Sri Krishna-Vasudeva of the Satvata or Vrisni tribe was the pioneer of Bhagavatism, while Lord Shiva became the principal deity of Shaivism. Both these religions believe that it is only through Bhakti (devotion) salvation could be achieved.

Puranic, Epic and Classical Periods (500 BCE–500 CE)

From 500 BCE onward, the main focus was shifted from the Vedas to Puranas and various epics including the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Instead of Lord Indra, people started worshiping Lord Vishnu, Shiva and Devi. Vedantic philosophies and ritualistic pujas replaced Mimamsa darshan and yajnas respectively.

It was amid 500 BCE–500 CE, Lord Vishnu gained prominence as one of the major deities along with Lord Rudra who emerged as Shiva. Along with this, the fertility goddess and goddess of pre-Vedic ages were known as Devi. This era also witnessed the rise of the Mauryan Empire, established by King Chandra Gupta and it further flourished under the auspices of King Asoka. Buddhism and Jainism spread under King Asoka. It was under the second Gupta Empire (circa 319–490), Hinduism refurbished and the renaissance of Hindu art and culture saw a new light.

Later, the Vedic society spread across the Hindu subcontinent, subsequently making their way towards the south. As their roots got stronger, many gods were gradually invoked by the Vedic people and these include Aditya, Pushan, Agni, Vayu, Indra, Varuna, Mitra, Asvins, and Usha. To supplicate each god, different yagnas and rituals were conducted by them for personal gains, general welfare, material comforts, victory over hostile tribes and appeasement of nature.

Post Mauryan to Pre Gupta Period (185 BCE – 320 CE)

The religions of Vaishnavism, Shaivism, and Tantrism i.e. Shakti worship became widely prevalent during this period which specifically fell under the post-Mauryan to Pre Gupta period. During this period both Shaivism and Vaishnavism flourished.

Vaishnavism – It gained ground in northern India during the Gupta period. In fact, Guptas were the ardent devotees of Lord Vishnu and had also built many Lord Vishnu temples throughout the Indian subcontinent.

Shaivism – The composition of the famous Agamas and the popularity of the works of Nayanmars who belonged to southern India led to the growth of Shaivism here. To be more specific works of Nayanmars are today renowned as Periya Puranam.

Sun worship had already become popular during this time.

6th Century CE to 10th Century CE

The works and commentaries of many great religious teachers helped spread the Hindu religion across the Indian subcontinent. The richness and effulgence of the Hindu religion became known to all during this time. Shri Adi Shankaracharya is an ideal example of a spiritual guru, who roamed around the county to spread his teachings. He simultaneously wrote various commentaries based on Upanishads and Bhagavad-Gita. He spread the holy message of monism across the Indian subcontinent along with preaching the doctrine of Hind religion.

Another such example of a spiritual guru who taught the world the core method of attaining salvation was Shri Ramanujacharya. He chose Vaishnavism as part of the devotion to the Supreme Divine Reality – Lord Vishnu.