The foundation of Hinduism possibly began
without one single founder.
By Promod Puri
In principal and virtually, religion is a code of conduct for a civil society. It all started from here.
With society’s progression, the code of conduct also evolved, resulting in its expansion, formalization, and application.
As civilization started taking root, the management of the society began.
A significant part of human evolution reveals and explains the origin of religion. Ancient religious orders were a set of regulations and principles for some acceptable and restrained behavior of an emerging civil society.
Later all aspects of human cultures, including presumptions and myths and overwhelming elements of nature, were covered in one order. In all these developments, social unity and coherence were the natural needs and dependencies of an advancing society.
An organized collection of beliefs, behaviors, and set of ideas started pouring in this social construction. The assemblage got sanctified with the addition of man’s most intuitive conception or imagination, the Supreme Being.
It is in this antiquity and perhaps with some divine or transcendental intervention that Hinduism emanated with no fixed date of its origin.
Precisely speaking at this very primal stage, Hinduism, as such, was not a designated title or an ism. Entwining of local customs, beliefs, and society’s basic norms together form the earliest identifiable Hindu traditions.
Archeologists say the Indus Valley Civilization, along the Indus River in the present-day north-west parts of Pakistan, started around 7000 BC. It reached its pinnacle of that period in 2000 BC with the emergence of a fully developed society.
The Hindu way of life was part of that societal evolution. It was here the foundation of Hinduism possibly began without one single founder.
No initiator and no original authorship have turned out to be a distinctive boon or godsend for the Hindu faith. It has not bound and devoted itself with a consecrated or an ordained originator.
Without that custodial entitlement, which could be a barrier in itself, Hinduism got a clear passage eternally or from the very beginning to be in a progressive and evolutionary mode.
The early history of Hinduism is a difficult and challenging task to determine the date of its origin.
However, more critical and symbolic in Hindu thought was to know the substance contained in its constitution than discerning a calendar to determine its birth date.
Hinduism has deemphasized the period of its creation or beginning.
Instead, it has taken a philosophical route which is cyclical rather linear. It does not traverse with a start point from where it could continue adding to its age.
Instead, Hinduism is a successive rotation of “Yugas” or age periods of the cyclical phenomenon.
Hinduism’s Yuga-time clock represents four cyclic eras. It dawns with Satya Yuga, followed by Treta, Dvapara, and Kali Yugas.
The cycle is eternal.
Within each of these epochs, individually running into thousands of years, there is, besides humankind, a universal involvement too.
As Hinduism believes in the theory of creation and destruction of the universe, this cosmogony repeats itself after the end of one full Yuga-calendar. And the phenomenon begins all over again with the Satya Yuga.
Satya, meaning truth, is believed to be the supreme Yuga by crowing itself the best. In declining order, the other three Yugas follow.
What motivates the decline of one Yuga to be replaced by another?
The belief is that it is a divine involvement to reinvigorate the universal order of righteousness back to the Satya Yuga.
It is the degree of loss of moral excellence that represents Treta, Dvapara, and Kali Yugas. The full glory of Satya Yuga comes back after the three Yugas have passed in that order. And the cycle repeats itself.
The cyclic inclusion of Yugas in Hinduism means that progress in a religious order does not mean only moving forward.
Moving back to its future in the realm of Satya-Yuga is also part of spiritual advancement. The return passage helps to achieve completeness and wholesomeness in the faith.
Whereas the Yuga periodization is more rooted in its manifestation and metaphysical features, the history of Hinduism has sequential growth stages as well.
The acknowledged story of development and spread of Hinduism has its base on sighted and archeological findings, traditions, and recognized scriptures. The latter is an extensive collection that deals in philosophies, sciences, and spirituality from a period of 2000 BC up to the present.
The consecutive known history of Hinduism is a chain collection of five phases.
INDUS VALLEY CIVILIZATION
The beginning of Hinduism is associated with the Indus Valley Civilization around 2000 BC. It demonstrated a period of social adjustment and establishing cultural preferences and identities.
However, according to archeological findings, the most visible features of the era seem to be economical and civic developments to establish some basic living needs, standards, and amenities.
In the later stages of expansion, pieces of evidence of image formations, scripted inscriptions, and ritual introduction have emerged as well. Discovered tokens and archeological seals suggest the deification and worship of plants and animals as the first signs of the Hindu faith.
The name Hindu identifies with the “Indu” or Indus River, along with the people who were inhabiting the Indus Valley.
The Indus Valley Civilization was followed by the Vedic Period from 1500 to 500 BC. This phase in the Hindu past is marked by theological advancement with the formal introduction of God.
Vedas were composed either thru revelations or written by sage and enlightened people of the time. Hymns in praise of God, rituals, and prayers constituted the early Vedic literature.
All elements of nature like rain, wind, fire, etc. got sanctified as gods. The sacrifice of animals, along with offerings of food items like milk and fruits to please the deities were dominating features in Vedic religiosity.
Thru all these practices, the Hindu religion not only took its roots but expansion as well.
The people identified themselves as Aryans. It is not clear whether they migrated from other lands or if they were natives, but they did establish the Vedic Culture of elaborate religious traditions.
In this expanse, Sanskrit emerged as the primary language of communication.
EPIC AND PURANIC PERIOD
The chain of Hindu traditions and theological enrichment continued with the dawn of Epic, Puranic, and Classical period from 500 BCE to 500 CE.
Traditional narratives of Ramayan and Mahabharat, including the latter’s discourse and sermon segment Geeta, were added to Hindu epics in this phase.
Hinduism started taking philosophical and varied route also. Several independent schools in Hindu thought and practices developed. These included Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, and Vedanta.
Manu’s imposing and controversial “laws” were incorporated. These edicts created a social order of caste distinctions in Hindu society.
Puranas in story formation, referred to as “Katha,” eulogized various deities. Hindu invocation of worship to idols and images of gods and goddesses in a temple setting was endowed.
The concept of ‘Trimurti’ or three aspects of divine constitution and their nature originated during this period. Along with that, the creation and destruction theory of the universe emerged as portrayed by the Trimurti.
In its essence, Hinduism, during this phase of development, manifested itself into a distinct and perceptible stature.
The period from 500 CE to 1500 CE can be called the Medieval Period.
Here one significant development in Hinduism was the adaptation of the diversity factor representing the regional worshipping practices. This aspect involved the introduction of more deities and sects in the domain of the Hindu faith.
Adoration of gods and goddesses was now an established tradition. And with the rise of devotional rituals of worshiping idols, sprawling temples marked the Hindu landscape from north to south and from West to the Far East regions of the subcontinent.
Hindu literature also diversified itself from Sanskrit to regional languages. The old texts got new theologies and interpretations.
For the first time, Hinduism started to organize itself in a simple bureaucratic or management setup.
Part of this development was the significant role played by the 8th-century preacher, Adi Shankara. He was an advocate of Vedanta philosophy in Hinduism. He is also considered the first ardent promoter of the Hindu religion.
He established four ‘mathas’ or monasteries covering the east, West, south, and north regions of India to promote Hinduism in coordinated administration.
The monastery heads got the title of Shankaracharya. And the “guru-parampara” or tradition of allegiance and reverence to guru began with disciplinal succession.
The Modern Period in Hinduism started around 1500 CE up to the present time. And that includes long chapters of Muslim and British regimes on the Indian subcontinent.
The earliest part of this period saw further developments of the faith through the channel of Bhakti, meaning devotion, where poetry, songs, and music became a popular means of worship.
Bhakti Marg was an individualistic path for theistic devotion irrespective of gender and caste affiliations. The religiosity of Hinduism was more shared among women and members of the lower caste.
The development saw new practices and rituals like group singing and chanting of hymns and establishing ‘langar’ or free kitchen where a community eats like one family.
During all these five phases, from its rudimental beginning to sophisticated practices along with development and enrichment in theological and philosophical contributions, Hinduism also accumulated elements of immoral social behaviors, fake systems, and absurd conventions.
These evils and nefarious practices bruised, corrupted, and somewhat dirtied the religion.
Increasing religionism with rituals, superstitions, sacrificial performing of animals and even of humans, and racist admission of caste distinctions were taking the faith away from its realistic, liberal, and ethical principles as laid down in the ancient scriptures of Upnishads or Vedanta philosophies.
It is in this phase of Hinduism that a correction started taking place. Call it a reform movement or Renaissance in Hinduism, rational, and ethical values got reintroduced and promoted.
Back to basics had been the argument of this period. And that includes revisiting the original Upnishads’ concepts of truthfulness, non-violence, self-discipline, compassion, charity, and virtuousness.
Non-violence occupied a guiding concept in the Hindu way of life.
Vegetarianism became popular. It bestowed an identity mark of being a Hindu. The doctrine of non-violence became an effective political weapon to achieve Independence of India from British rule.
During this reform movement, blind and fanatic veneration to Hindu deities got disparaged. Instead, as instructed in the Upnishads, there was an emphasis on knowledge of self or Atma. And the latter’s relationship with Brahma or the Supreme-Atma.
Prominent names in the Hindu Renaissance, who thru their ameliorable efforts of righting the wrongs in the faith are:
Raja Ram Mohan Rai (1772-1833), Swami Dayanand Sarasvati (1824-1883), Paramahansa Ramakrishna (1836-1886), Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), Dr. B.R.Ambedkar (1891-1956) and Acharya Rajneesh aka Osho (1931-1990).
While the clean up in Hinduism was going on, gleams of the faith also started reflecting abroad. The word ‘Indology’ got introduced. It is a faculty dealing with education and interpretation of subjects that mostly include the Hindu religion, its history, customs and traditions, scriptures, and literature.
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) is credited to be the first or one of the early exponents of the Hindu spirituality to the West.
Overall, the long and momentous journey of Hinduism from its roots in the Indus Valley Civilization to the present is the story of its evolution, its enrichment, and development, while safeguarding itself from those practices which are fallacious, irrational, and unethical.
Since Hinduism does not advance linearly, each development in its history, rather than replacing the previous ones, constituted and designed its own space in its sprawling complex.
From the original set of beliefs and rituals, customs, and traditions synthesizing with some essential obligations and responsibilities toward society, Hinduism established itself a phenomenon of moral, social order.
Moreover, in its organic diffusion, Hinduism enriched its faculties with intellectual, philosophical, and mystical ideations.
Along with eternal edicts and messages of honesty and sincerity, mercy and non-violence, purity and self-restraint and everything else toward righteous living, Hinduism distinguishes itself in exploring more in the studies of nature of existence, our relationship with the rest of the universe, and beyond the physical form in the field of spirituality.
The history of Hinduism is a tradition of creative development of thought to institute various schools of philosophies, teachings, movements, and sects; to practices in yoga, meditation, and music; and establishing ethics, customs, rituals, and traditions.
7 Comments Add yours
That is why it is called sanatan dharma. What is your take on Sikhism? Is it part of Hinduism?
A journey through the time of timeless wisdom! Great deal of research must have been put in this, by you. Though you have taken a linear approach like the modern scholars, the portrayal of the distant past and it’s evolution seems to be from a different perspective, mostly from an unbiased honesty. When meant linear, what I mean is Vedic era being 1500bc and stuff which is debated strongly. But leaving the time machine details apart, rest is a crisp! Thanks for a great article. Refreshing.
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Thank you for liking the essay. Yes, it was quite a challenge to write the history in a very concise presentation while covering all the evolutionary developments from time antiquity along with my brief reasoning on how religions could have originated.
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Well written article
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No other religion is as open minded and secular as Hinduism. Sure Hindu Muslim riots are truth but honestly we all have the same blood flowing in our veins. Common man loves peace. So beautifully written.
Thanks dear Rejoy for liking this article.
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