History of Hinduism
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Hinduism (Sanskrit सिन्धु "Sindhu" (Indus river) + ism) is a term for a wide variety of related religious traditions native to India. Historically, it encompasses the development of religion in India since the Iron Age traditions, which in turn hark back to prehistoric religions such as that of the Bronze Age. Indus Valley Civilization, this period was later succeeded during 1,800 BCE by the Iron Age Historical Vedic religion.
Around 500 BCE a "second urbanisation" takes place. This period, between 800 BCE and 200 BCE, is "a turning point between the Vedic religion and Hindu religions", and a formative period for Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.
The Epic and Early Puranic period, from c. 200 BCE to 500 CE, saw the classical "Golden Age" of Hinduism, which coincides with the Gupta Empire. In this period the six branches of Hindu philosophy evolved, namely Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, and Vedanta. Monotheistic sects like Shaivism and Vaishnavism developed during this same period through the Bhakti movement.
The period from roughly 650 to 1100 CE forms the late Classical period or early Middle Ages, in which classical Pauranic Hinduism is established, and Adi Shankara's Advaita Vedanta, which incorporated Buddhist thought into Vedanta, marking a shift from realistic to idealistic thought.
Hinduism under the Islamic Rulers, from 1100 to c. 1750 CE, saw the increasing prominence of the Bhakti movement, which remains influential today. The colonial period saw the emergence of various Hindu reform movements partly inspired by western movements, such as Unitarianism and Theosophy. The Partition of India in 1947 was along religious lines, with the Republic of India emerging with a Hindu majority.
During the 20th century, due to the Indian diaspora, Hindu minorities have formed in all continents, with the largest communities in absolute numbers in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the Republic of India, Hindu nationalism has emerged as a strong political force since the 1980s, the Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party forming the Government of India from 1999 to 2004, and its first state government in southern India in 2006.
- 1 Periodisation
- 2 Prevedic religions
- 3 Vedic period (1750–500 BCE)
- 4 Second Urbanisation (500–200 BCE)
- 5 Epic and Early Puranic Period (200 BCE–500 CE)
- 6 Medieval and Late Puranic Period (500–1500 CE)
- 7 Modern Age (1500–present)
- 8 Contemporary Hinduism
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 Sources
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
|Outline of South Asian history
History of Indian subcontinent
James Mill (1773–1836), in his The History of British India (1817), distinguished three phases in the history of India, namely Hindu, Muslim and British civilisations. This periodisation has been criticised, for the misconceptions it has given rise to. Another periodisation is the division into "ancient, classical, mediaeval and modern periods". Smart and Michaels seem to follow Mill's periodisation,[note 1], while Flood and Muesse follow the "ancient, classical, mediaeval and modern periods" periodisation.
|Indus Valley Civilisation and Vedic period
(c. 3000–1000 BCE)
(until c. 1750 BCE)
(until c. 1750 BCE)
|Indus Valley Civilization
|Indus Valley Civilisation
(c. 2500 to 1500 BCE)
(c. 1750–500 BCE)
|Early Vedic Period
(c. 1750–1200 BCE)
(c. 1500–500 BCE)
|Middle Vedic Period
(from 1200 BCE)
(c. 1000 BCE – 100 CE)
|Late Vedic period
(from 850 BCE)
(c. 500–200 BCE)
(c. 500–200 BCE)
|Epic and Puranic period
(c. 500 BCE to 500 CE)
(c. 200 BCE – 1100 CE)
(c. 200 BCE – 300 CE)
|Epic and Puranic period
(200 BCE – 500 CE)
(c. 100 – 1000 CE)
|"Golden Age" (Gupta Empire)
(c. 320–650 CE)
(c. 650–1100 CE)
|Medieval and Late Puranic Period
|Medieval and Late Puranic Period
(c. 1000–1750 CE)
|Islamic rule and "Sects of Hinduism"
(c. 1100–1850 CE)
|Islamic rule and "Sects of Hinduism"
(c. 1100–1850 CE)
(c. 1500 CE to present)
(c. 1750 CE – present)
(from c. 1850)
(from c. 1850)
Different periods are designated as "classical Hinduism":
- Smart calls the period between 1000 BCE and 100 CE "pre-classical". It's the formative period for the Upanishads and Brahmanism[note 2], Jainism and Buddhism. For Smart, the "classical period" lasts from 100 to 1000 CE, and coincides with the flowering of "classical Hinduism" and the flowering and deterioration of Mahayana-buddhism in India.
- For Michaels, the period between 500 BCE and 200 BCE is a time of "Ascetic reformism", whereas the period between 200 BCE and 1100 CE is the time of "classical Hinduism", since there is "a turning point between the Vedic religion and Hindu religions".
- Muesse discerns a longer period of change, namely between 800 BCE and 200 BCE, which he calls the "Classical Period". According to Muesse, some of the fundamental concepts of Hinduism, namely karma, reincarnation and "personal enlightenment and transformation", which did not exist in the Vedic religion, developed in this time.
Indus Valley Civilisation (3300–1400 BCE)
Some Indus valley seals show swastikas, which are found in other religions worldwide, especially in Indian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The earliest evidence for elements of Hinduism are alleged to have been present before and during the early Harappan period. Phallic symbols interpreted as the much later Hindu Shiva lingam have been found in the Harappan remains.
Many Indus valley seals show animals. One seal shows a horned figure seated in a posture reminiscent of the Lotus position and surrounded by animals was named by early excavators Pashupati (lord of cattle), an epithet of the later Hindu gods Shiva and Rudra. Writing in 1997 Doris Srinivasan said that "Not too many recent studies continue to call the seal's figure a "Proto-Siva," rejecting thereby Marshall's package of proto-Siva features, including that of three heads. She interprets what John Marshall interpreted as facial as not human but more bovine, possibly a divine buffalo-man. According to Iravatham Mahadevan symbols 47 and 48 of his Indus script glossary The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables (1977), representing seated human-like figures, could describe Hindu deity Murugan.
In view of the large number of figurines found in the Indus valley, some scholars believe that the Harappan people worshipped a Mother goddess symbolizing fertility, a common practice among rural Hindus even today. However, this view has been disputed by S. Clark who sees it as an inadequate explanation of the function and construction of many of the figurines.
There are no religious buildings or evidence of elaborate burials. If there were temples, they have not been identified. However, House - 1 in HR-A area in Mohenjadaro's Lower Town has been identified as a possible temple.
Vedic period (1750–500 BCE)
The commonly proposed period of earlier Vedic age is dated back to 2nd millennium BCE. Vedism was the sacrificial religion of the early Indo-Aryans, speakers of early Old Indic dialects, ultimately deriving from the Proto-Indo-Iranian peoples of the Bronze Age.[note 3]
The Vedic period, named after the Vedic religion of the Indo-Aryans,[note 4] lasted from c. 1750 to 500 BCE.[note 5] The Indo-Aryans were a branch of the Indo-European language family, which originated in Kurgan culture of the Central Asian steppes.[note 6][note 7]
The Indo-Aryans were pastoralists who migrated into north-western India after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization,[note 8] The Indo-Aryans were a branch of the Indo-Iranians, which originated in the Andronovo culture in the Bactria-Margiana era, in present northern Afghanistan. The roots of this culture go back further to the Sintashta culture, with funeral sacrifices which show close parallels to the sacrificial funeral rites of the Rig Veda.
The Indo-Aryans split-off around 1800-1600 BCE from the Iranians, where-after they were defeated and split into two groups by the Iranians, who dominated the Central Eurasian steppe zone and "chased them to the extermities of Central Eurasia." One group were the Indo-Aryans who founded the Mitanni kingdom in northern Syria (ca.1500-1300 BCE). The other group were the Vedic people, who were pursued by the Iranians "across the Near East to the Levant (the lands of the eastern Mediterranean littoral), across Iran into India."
During the Early Vedic period (c. 1500 - 1100 BCE) Vedic tribes were pastoralists, wandering around in north-west India. After 1100 BCE, with the introduction of iron, the Vedic tribes moved into the western Ganges Plain, adapting an agrarical lifestyle. Rudimentary state-forms appeared, of which the Kuru-tribe and realm was the most influential. It was a tribal union, which developed into the first recorded state-level society in South Asia around 1000 BCE. It decisively changed the Vedic heritage of the early Vedic period, collecting the Vedic hymns into collections, and developing new rituals which gained their position in Indian civilization as the orthodox srauta rituals, which contributed to the so-called "classical synthesis" or "Hindu synthesis".
The Indo-Aryans brought with them their language and religion. The Vedic beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era were closely related to the hypothesised Proto-Indo-European religion, and the Indo-Iranian religion. According to Anthony, the Old Indic religion probably emerged among Indo-European immigrants in the contact zone between the Zeravshan River (present-day Uzbekistan) and (present-day) Iran. It was "a syncretic mixture of old Central Asian and new Indo-European elements", which borrowed "distinctive religious beliefs and practices" from the Bactria–Margiana Culture. At least 383 non-Indo-European words were borrowed from this culture, including the god Indra and the ritual drink Soma. According to Anthony,
Many of the qualities of Indo-Iranian god of might/victory, Verethraghna, were transferred to the adopted god Indra, who became the central deity of the developing Old Indic culture. Indra was the subject of 250 hymns, a quarter of the Rig Veda. He was associated more than any other deity with Soma, a stimulant drug (perhaps derived from Ephedra) probably borrowed from the BMAC religion. His rise to prominence was a peculiar trait of the Old Indic speakers.
Their religion was further developed when they migrated into the Ganges Plain after c. 1100 BCE and became settled farmers, further syncretising with the native culturs of northern India. The Vedic religion of the later Vedic period co-existed with local religions, such as the Yaksha cults,[web 1] and was itself the product of "a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations".[note 9]
Its liturgy is preserved in the three Vedic Samhitas: the Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda and the Yajur-Veda. The Vedic texts were the texts of the elite, and do not necessarily represent popular ideas or practices. Of these, the Rig-Veda is the oldest, a collection of hymns composed between ca. 1500-1200 BCE. The other two add ceremonial detail for the performance of the actual sacrifice. The Atharva-Veda may also contain compositions dating to before 1000 BCE. It contains material pertinent to domestic ritual and folk magic of the period.
These texts, as well as the voluminous commentary on orthopraxy collected in the Brahmanas compiled during the early 1st millennium BCE, were transmitted by oral tradition alone until the advent, in the 4th century AD, of the Pallava and Gupta period and by a combination of written and oral tradition since then.
The earliest text of the Vedas is the Rigveda, a collection of poetic hymns used in the sacrificial rites of Vedic priesthood. Many Rigvedic hymns concern the fire ritual (Agnihotra) and especially the offering of Soma to the gods (Somayajna). Soma is both an intoxicant and a god itself, as is the sacrificial fire, Agni. The royal horse sacrifice (Ashvamedha) is a central rite in the Yajurveda.
The gods in the Rig-Veda are mostly personified concepts, who fall into two categories: the devas – who were gods of nature – such as the weather deity Indra (who is also the King of the gods), Agni ("fire"), Usha ("dawn"), Surya ("sun") and Apas ("waters") on the one hand, and on the other hand the asuras – gods of moral concepts – such as Mitra ("contract"), Aryaman (guardian of guest, friendship and marriage), Bhaga ("share") or Varuna, the supreme Asura (or Aditya). While Rigvedic deva is variously applied to most gods, including many of the Asuras, the Devas are characterised as Younger Gods while Asuras are the Older Gods (pūrve devāḥ). In later Vedic texts, the Asuras become demons.
The Rigveda has 10 Mandalas ('books'). There is significant variation in the language and style between the family books (RV books 2–7), book 8, the "Soma Mandala" (RV 9), and the more recent books 1 and 10. The older books share many aspects of common Indo-Iranian religion, and is an important source for the reconstruction of earlier common Indo-European traditions. Especially RV 8 has striking similarity to the Avesta, containing allusions to Afghan Flora and Fauna, e.g. to camels (úṣṭra- = Avestan uštra). Many of the central religious terms in Vedic Sanskrit have cognates in the religious vocabulary of other Indo-European languages (deva: Latin deus; hotar: Germanic god; asura: Germanic ansuz; yajna: Greek hagios; brahman: Norse Bragi or perhaps Latin flamen etc.). Especially notable is the fact, that in the Avesta Asura (Ahura) is known as good and Deva (Daeva) as evil entity, quite the opposite of the RigVeda.
Ethics in the Vedas are based on the concepts of Satya and Rta. Satya is the principle of integration rooted in the Absolute. Ṛta is the expression of Satya, which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it. Conformity with Ṛta would enable progress whereas its violation would lead to punishment. Panikkar remarks:
Ṛta is the ultimate foundation of everything; it is "the supreme", although this is not to be understood in a static sense. [...] It is the expression of the primordial dynamism that is inherent in everything...."
The term "dharma" was already used in Brahmanical thought, where it was conceived as an aspect of Rta. The term rta is also known from the Proto-Indo-Iranian religion, the religion of the Indo-Iranian peoples prior to the earliest Vedic (Indo-Aryan) and Zoroastrian (Iranian) scriptures. Asha[pronunciation?] (aša) is the Avestan language term corresponding to Vedic language ṛta.
The 9th and 8th centuries BCE witnessed the composition of the earliest Upanishads.:183 Upanishads form the theoretical basis of classical Hinduism and are known as Vedanta (conclusion of the Veda). The older Upanishads launched attacks of increasing intensity on the rituals. The diverse monistic speculations of the Upanishads were synthesised into a theistic framework by the sacred Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita.
In Iron Age India, during a period roughly spanning the 10th to 6th centuries BCE, the Mahajanapadas arise from the earlier petty kingdoms of the various Rigvedic tribes, and the failing remnants of the Late Harappan culture. In this period the mantra portions of the Vedas are largely completed, and a flowering industry of Vedic priesthood organised in numerous schools (shakha) develops exegetical literature, viz. the Brahmanas. These schools also edited the Vedic mantra portions into fixed recensions, that were to be preserved purely by oral tradition over the following two millennia.
Second Urbanisation (500–200 BCE)
Upanishads and shramana movements
This period of dominance of priestly Brahmanic Hinduism declines with the appearance of mystical traditions (the oldest Upanishads, BAU, ChU and JUB besides the Shatapatha Brahmana) attacking the rigid ritualism available only to the elite, in favour of spiritual insight through asceticism and meditation. The rise of Buddhism at this time, according to tradition originating with Gautama Buddha, a 6th-century BCE prince, renouncing his status for enlightenment, is exemplary of this tendency. Politically, the Mahajanapadas declined, in the west falling to the invasion of Darius the Great, and from the east absorbed into the Magadha Empire which as the Maurya Empire would encompass almost the whole subcontinent by the time of Ashoka.
Survival of Vedic ritual
Vedism as the religious tradition of Hinduism of a priestly elite was marginalised by other traditions such as Jainism and Buddhism in the later Iron Age, but in the Middle Ages would rise to renewed prestige with the Mimamsa school, which as well as all other astika traditions of Hinduism, considered them authorless (apaurusheyatva) and eternal. A last surviving elements of the Historical Vedic religion or Vedism is Śrauta tradition, following many major elements of Vedic religion and is prominent in Southern India, with communities in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, but also in some pockets of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and other states; the best known of these groups are the Nambudiri of Kerala, whose traditions were notably documented by Frits Staal.
The Mauryan period saw an early flowering of classical Sanskrit Sutra and Shastra literature and the scholarly exposition of the "circum-Vedic" fields of the Vedanga. However, during this time Buddhism was patronised by Ashoka, who ruled large parts of India, and Buddhism was also the mainstream religion until the Gupta empire period.
Since Vedic times, "people from many strata of society throughout the subcontinent tended to adapt their religious and social life to Brahmanic norms", a process sometimes called Sanskritization. It is reflected in the tendency to identify local deities with the gods of the Sanskrit texts.
Epic and Early Puranic Period (200 BCE–500 CE)
According to Hiltebeitel, a period of consolidation in the development of Hinduism took place between the time of the late Vedic Upanishad (c. 500 BCE) and the period of the rise of the Guptas (c. 320-467 CE), which he calls the "Hindus synthesis", "Brahmanic synthesis", or "orthodox synthesis". It develops in interaction with other religions and peoples:
The emerging self-definitions of Hinduism were forged in the context of continuous interaction with heterodox religions (Buddhists, Jains, Ajivikas) throughout this whole period, and with foreign people (Yavanas, or Greeks; Sakas, or Scythians; Pahlavas, or Parthians; and Kusanas, or Kushans) from the third phase on [between the Mauryan empire and the rise of the Guptas].
The Sangam literature (300 BCE – 300 CE) is a mostly secular body of classical literature in the Tamil language. Nonetheless there are some works, significantly Pattupathu and Paripaatal, wherein the personal devotion to god was written in form of devotional poems. Vishnu, Shiva and Murugan were mentioned gods. These works are therefore the earliest evidences of monotheistic Bhakti traditions, preceding the large bhakti movement, which was given great attention in later times.
The Hinduist smriti texts of the period between 200 BCE-100 CE proclaim the authority of the Vedas, and acceptance of the Vedas becomes a central criterium for defining Hinduism over and against the heterodoxies, which rejected the Vedas. Of the six Hindu darsanas, the Mimamsa and the Vedanta "are rooted primarily in the Vedic sruti tradition and are sometimes called smarta schools in the sense that they develop smarta orthodox current of thoughts that are based, like smriti, directly on sruti. According to Hiltebeitel, "the consolidation of Hinduism takes place under the sign of bhakti". It is the Bhagavadgita that seals this achievement. The result is an "universal achievement" that may be called smarta. It views Shiva and Vishnu as "complementary in their functions but ontologically identical".
Gupta and Pallava period
The Gupta period (4th to 6th centuries) saw a flowering of scholarship, the emergence of the classical schools of Hindu philosophy, and of classical Sanskrit literature in general on topics ranging from medicine, veterinary science, mathematics, to astrology and astronomy and astrophysics. The famous Aryabhata and Varahamihira belong to this age. The Gupta established a strong central government which also allowed a degree of local control. Gupta society was ordered in accordance with Hindu beliefs. This included a strict caste system, or class system. The peace and prosperity created under Gupta leadership enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors.
The Pallavas (4th to 9th centuries) were, alongside the Guptas of the North, patronisers of Sanskrit in the South of the Subcontinent. The pallava reign saw the first Sankrit inscriptions in a script called Grantha. Early Pallavas had different connexions to South-East Asian countries. The Pallavas used Dravidian architecture to build some very important Hindu temples and academies in Mamallapuram, Kanchipuram and other places; their rule saw the rise of great poets, who are as famous as Kalidasa.
Expansion in South-East Asia
From about the 1st century, India started to strongly influence Southeast Asian countries. Trade routes linked India with southern Burma, central and southern Siam, lower Cambodia and southern Vietnam and numerous urbanised coastal settlements were established there.
For more than a thousand years, Indian Hindu/Buddhist influence was therefore the major factor that brought a certain level of cultural unity to the various countries of the region. The Pali and Sanskrit languages and the Indian script, together with Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, Brahmanism and Hinduism, were transmitted from direct contact as well as through sacred texts and Indian literature, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata epics.
From the 5th to the 13th century, South-East Asia had very powerful Indian colonial empires and became extremely active in Buddhist architectural and artistic creation. The Sri Vijaya Empire to the south and the Khmer Empire to the north competed for influence.
Langkasuka (-langkha Sanskrit for "resplendent land" -sukkha of "bliss") was an ancient Hindu kingdom located in the Malay Peninsula. The kingdom, along with Old Kedah settlement, are probably the earliest territorial footholds founded on the Malay Peninsula. According to tradition, the founding of the kingdom happened in the 2nd century; Malay legends claim that Langkasuka was founded at Kedah, and later moved to Pattani.
From the 5th-15th centuries Sri Vijayan empire, a maritime empire centred on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, had adopted Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism under a line of rulers named the Sailendras. The Empire of Sri Vijaya declined due to conflicts with the Chola rulers of India. The Majapahit Empire succeeded the Singhasari empire. It was one of the last and greatest Hindu empires in Maritime Southeast Asia.
Funan was a pre-Angkor Cambodian kingdom, located around the Mekong delta, probably established by Mon-Khmer settlers speaking an Austroasiatic language. According to reports by two Chinese envoys, K'ang T'ai and Chu Ying, the state was established by an Indian Brahmin named Kaundinya, who in the 1st century CE was given instruction in a dream to take a magic bow from a temple and defeat a Khmer queen, Soma. Soma, the daughter of the king of the Nagas, married Kaundinya and their lineage became the royal dynasty of Funan. The myth had the advantage of providing the legitimacy of both an Indian Brahmin and the divinity of the cobras, who at that time were held in religious regard by the inhabitants of the region.
The kingdom of Champa (or Lin-yi in Chinese records) controlled what is now south and central Vietnam from approximately 192 through 1697. The dominant religion of the Cham people was Hinduism and the culture was heavily influenced by India.
Later, from the 9th to the 13th century, the Mahayana Buddhist and Hindu Khmer Empire dominated much of the South-East Asian peninsula. Under the Khmer, more than 900 temples were built in Cambodia and in neighboring Thailand. Angkor was at the centre of this development, with a temple complex and urban organisation able to support around one million urban dwellers. The largest temple complex of the world, Angkor Wat, stands here; built by the king Vishnuvardhan, a king of the dynasty that believed themselves to be incarnations of Vishnu.
Medieval and Late Puranic Period (500–1500 CE)
By the 8th century, the "Hindu golden age" of the past millennium was over. The formerly rich philosophic literature tended to be reduced to scholastic quarreling and infighting between innumerable sects, notably between emerging traditions of Vaishnavism and Shaivism. Adi Shankara in the 8th century managed to reconcile the antagonistic sects and to establish Hinduism as a single, if diverse, religious tradition. The compilation of the Puranas provided a mythical backdrop for this tradition, and served as a means of acculturation of the various pre-literate tribal societies to the new religious mainstream. Various reforms of the later Middle Ages, notably the Bhakti movement, besides new Yogic schools (Jnana yoga, Karma yoga, Hatha yoga, Bhakti yoga) gave Hinduism its classical form as described by the 18th- to 19th-century pioneers of Indology.
The Bhakti movement was a Hindu religious movement in which the main spiritual practice was the fostering of loving devotion to God, called bhakti. It was a movement generally devoted to worship of Shiva, Vishnu or Shakti.
The first documented bhakti movement was founded by Karaikkal-ammaiyar. She wrote poems in Tamil about her love for Shiva and probably lived around the 6th century CE. The twelve Alvars who were Vaishnavite devotees and the sixty-three Nayanars who were Shaivite devotees nurtured the incipient bhakti movement in Tamil Nadu. They constitute South India's 75 Apostles of Bhakti.
During the 12th century CE in Karnataka, the Bhakti movement took the form of the Virashaiva movement. It was inspired by Basavanna, a Hindu reformer who created the sect of Lingayats or Shiva bhaktas. During this time, a unique and native form of Kannada literature-poetry called Vachanas was born.
Shankara (8th century CE) is regarded as the greatest exponent of Advaita Vedanta. Shankara himself, and his grand-teacher Gaudapada, were influenced by Buddhism. Gaudapda took over the Buddhist doctrines that ultimate reality is pure consciousness (vijñapti-mātra) and "that the nature of the world is the four-cornered negation". Gaudapada "wove [both doctrines] into a philosophy of the Mandukya Upanishad, which was further developed by Shankara". Gaudapada also took over the Buddhist concept of "ajāta" from Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka philosophy. Shankara succeeded in reading Gaudapada's mayavada[note 10] into Badarayana's Brahma Sutras, "and give it a locus classicus", against the realistic strain of the Brahma Sutras.
Shankara is the founder of the Dashanami Sampradaya of Hindu monasticism and Shanmata tradition of worship. Shankara is also regarded as the greatest teacher and reformer of the Smartha Tradition. According to Hunduism-guide.com:
Not all Brahmins specialized in this Smriti tradition. Some were influenced by Buddhism, Jainism or Charvaka tradition and philosophy. This did not mean that all these people rejected the authority of Vedas, but only that their tradition of worship and philosophy was based not on smriti texts. In time, Shankaracharya brought all the Vedic communities together. He tried to remove the non-smriti aspects that had crept into the Hindu communities. He also endeavoured to unite them by arguing that any of the different Hindu gods could be worshipped, according to the prescriptions given in the smriti texts. He established that worship of various deities are compatible with Vedas and is not contradictory, since all are different manifestations of one nirguna Brahman. Shankaracharya was instrumental in reviving interest in the smritis.[web 6]
The transformation of Brahmanism into Pauranic Hinduism in post-Gupta India was due to a process of acculturation. The Puranas helped establish a religious mainstream among the pre-literate tribal societies undergoing acculturation. The tenets of Brahmanism and of the Dharmashastras underwent a radical transformation at the hands of the Purana composers, resulting in the rise of a mainstream "Hinduism" that overshadowed all earlier traditions.
Hindu influence in Persia and Mesopotamia
Hindu and also Buddhist religious and secular learning had first reached Persia in an organised manner in the 6th century, when the Sassanid Emperor Khosrau I (531–579) deputed Borzuya the physician as his envoy, to invite Indian and Chinese scholars to the Academy of Gundishapur. Burzoe had translated the Sanskrit Panchatantra. His Pahlavi version was translated into Arabic by Ibn al-Moqaffa under the title of Kalila and Dimna or The Fables of Bidpai.
Under the Abbasid caliphate, Baghdad had replaced Gundishapur as the most important centre of learning in the then vast Islamic Empire, wherein the traditions as well as scholars of the latter flourished. Hindu scholars were invited to the conferences on sciences and mathematics held in Baghdad.
Muslim rulers began to extend their rule across Hindu-Buddhist populated lands in the 8th century CE and the Abrahamic religion of Islam began to spread across the Indian-subcontinent over several centuries. Most converts were from Hinduism or Buddhism, the two dominant local religions. While all traditions of popular Hinduism continued – including the worship of popular reincarnations of the primordial Shakti – Bhakti tradition attained new prominence; Bhakti poetry of lasting greatness was composed in northern India under the rule of Muslim emperors. The humble mystic saint Kabir, who established his own order, composed devotional verses in the Bhakti spirit, but in common-man's Hindi dialect and transcendenting Hindu-Muslim theocratic divide. Tulsidas, Mira Bai and Surdas composed immortal Hindu devotional poetry in Hindi-dialects in the Mughal period – it is reminiscent of the earlier Kannada and Tamil Bhakti poetry of South India.
According to Nicholson, already between the 12th and 16th century,
... certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophival teachings of the Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as the "six systems" (saddarsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy.
The tendency of "a blurring of philosophical distinctions" has also been noted by Burley. Lorenzen locates the origins of a distinct Hindu identity in the interaction between Muslims and Hindus, and a process of "mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim other", which started well before 1800. Both the Indian and the European thinkers who developed the term "Hinduism" in the 19th century were influenced by these philosophers.
Modern Age (1500–present)
Early Modern period
The fall of Vijayanagar Empire to Muslim rulers had marked the end of Hindu imperial assertions in the Deccan. But, taking advantage of an over-stretched Mughal Empire, Hinduism once again rose to political prestige, under the Maratha Empire, from 1674 to 1818.
After the conquest of Persia by the Mongol Empire, a regional Turko-Persio-Mongol dynasty formed. Just as eastern Mongol dynasties inter-married with locals and adopted the local religion of Buddhism and the Chinese culture, this group adopted the local religion of Islam and the Persian culture; their descendants ruled in India as Mughals.
The official State religion of the Mughal Empire was Islam, with the preference to the jurisprudence of the Hanafi Madhab (Mazhab). Hinduism remained under strain during Babur and Humanyun's reigns. Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan ruler of North India was comparatively non-repressive. Hinduism came to fore during the three-year rule of Hindu king 'Hemu' during 1553-56 when he had defeated Akbar at Agra and Delhi and had taken up the reign from Delhi as a Hindu 'Vikramaditya' king after his 'Rajyabhishake' or coronation at 'Purana Quila' in Delhi. However, during Mughal history, at times, subjects had freedom to practise any religion of their choice, though Non-Muslim able-bodied adult males with income were obliged to pay the Jizya (poll-tax to be spent by the State only on protection of non-Muslims), which signified their status as Dhimmis (responsibility of the State, in regard to safety of life and property).
Akbar, the Mughal emperor Humayun's son and heir from his Sindhi queen Hameeda Banu Begum, had a broad vision of Indian and Islamic traditions. One of Emperor Akbar's most unusual ideas regarding religion was Din-i-Ilahi (Faith of God), which was an eclectic mix of Islam, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Jainism and Christianity. It was proclaimed the state religion until his death. These actions however met with stiff opposition from the Muslim clergy, especially the Sufi Shaykh Alf Sani Ahmad Sirhindi. Akbar's abolition of poll-tax on non-Muslims, acceptance of ideas from other religious philosophies, toleration of public worship by all religions and his interest in other faiths showed an attitude of considerable religious tolerance, which, in the minds of his orthodox Muslim opponents, were tantamount to apostasy.
Akbar's son, Jahangir, half Rajput, was also a religious moderate, his mother being Hindu. The influence of his two Hindu queens (the Maharani Maanbai and Maharani Jagat) kept religious moderation as a centre-piece of state policy which was extended under his son, Emperor Shah Jahan, who was by blood 75% Rajput and less than 25% Moghul.
Religious orthodoxy would only play an important role during the reign of Shah Jahan's son and successor, Aurangzeb, a devout Sunni Muslim. Aurangzeb was comparatively less tolerant of other faiths than his predecessors had been, and his reign saw an increase in the number and importance of Islamic institutions and scholars. He led many military campaigns against the remaining non-Muslim powers of the Indian subcontinent – the Sikh states of the Punjab, the last independent Hindu Rajputs and the Maratha rebels – as also against the Shia Muslim kingdoms of the Deccan. He also virtually stamped out, from his empire, open proselytisation of Hindus and Muslims by foreign Christian Missionaries, who remained successfully active, however, in the adjoining regions: the present day Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa.
The Hindu Marathas long had lived in the Desh region around Satara, in the western portion of the Deccan plateau, where the plateau meets the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats mountains. They had resisted incursions into the region by the Muslim Mughal rulers of northern India. Under their ambitious leader Shivaji, the Maratha freed themselves from the Muslim sultans of Bijapur to the southeast and, becoming much more aggressive, began to frequently raid Mughal territory, eventually sacking the wealthy Mughal port of Surat in 1664. After substantial territorial gains, Shivaji was proclaimed 'Chhatrapati' (Emperor) in 1674; the Marathas had spread and conquered much of central India by Chatrapati Shivaji's Maharaj death in 1680. Subsequently, under the able leadership of Brahmin prime ministers (Peshwas), who often led as generals also, Maratha Empire reached its zenith. Pune, the seat of Peshwas, flowered as a centre of Hindu learning and traditions. In 1761, the empire broke into smaller Maratha kingdoms that survived till they were eventually subdued by the British East India Company.
Portuguese missionaries had reached the Malabar Coast in the late 15th century, made contact with the St Thomas Christians in Kerala and sought to introduce the Latin Rite among them. Since the priests for St Thomas Christians were served by the Eastern Christian Churches, they were following Eastern Christian practices at that time. Throughout this period, foreign missionaries also made many new converts to Christianity. This led to the formation of the Latin Catholics in Kerala.
The Goa Inquisition was the office of the Christian Inquisition acting in the Indian city of Goa and the rest of the Portuguese empire in Asia. St. Francis Xavier, in a 1545 letter to John III, requested for an Inquisition to be installed in Goa. It was installed eight years after the death of Francis Xavier in 1552. Established in 1560 and operating until 1774, this highly controversial institution was aimed primarily at Hindus and wayward new converts.
In the century from 1760 to 1860, India was once more divided into numerous petty and unstable kingdoms - most of them being subjects of the British Empire: the "lesser Mughals" following Bahadur Shah I; the Kingdom of Mysore; Hyderabad State;Maratha states;Rajput states,Polygar states,North-Eatern states,Himalayan states....and so on as well as the territories held by the British East India Company. From 1799 to 1849 the only major stable and independent empire in India was the non Hindu Sikh Empire although it had a secular character with a large number of Hindu and Muslim subjects living in peace. The Sikh Empire, unlike the other lesser Indian kingdoms and states was not under the paramountcy of the British Raj. The entire subcontinent fell under British rule (partly indirectly, via Princely states) following the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
Modern Hinduism (after c. 1850 CE)
During the 19th century, Hinduism developed a large number of new religious movements, partly inspired by the European Romanticism, nationalism, scientific racism and esotericism (Theosophy) popular at the time (while conversely and contemporaneously, India had a similar effect on European culture with Orientalism, "Hindoo style" architecture, reception of Buddhism in the West and similar).
These reform movements are summarised under Hindu revivalism and continue into the present.
- Sahajanand Swami establishes the Swaminarayan Sampraday sect around 1800.
- Brahmo Samaj is a social and religious movement founded in Kolkata in 1828 by Raja Ram Mohan Roy. He was one of the first Indians to visit Europe and was influenced by western thought. He died in Bristol, England. The Brahmo Samaj movement thereafter resulted in the Brahmo religion in 1850 founded by Debendranath Tagore — better known as the father of Rabindranath Tagore.
- Sri Ramakrishna and his pupil Swami Vivekananda led a reform in Hinduism in late 19th century. Their ideals and sayings have inspired numerous Indians as well as non-Indians, Hindus as well as non-Hindus. Among the prominent figures whose ideals were very much influenced by them were Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi, Subhas Bose, Satyendranath Bose, Megh Nad Saha, and Sister Nivedita.
- Arya Samaj ("Society of Nobles") is a Hindu reform movement in India that was founded by Swami Dayananda in 1875. He was a sannyasin (renouncer) who believed in the infallible authority of the Vedas. Dayananda advocated the doctrine of karma and reincarnation, and emphasised the ideals of brahmacharya (chastity) and sanyasa (renunciation). Dayananda claimed to be rejecting all non-Vedic beliefs altogether. Hence the Arya Samaj unequivocally condemned idolatry, animal sacrifices, ancestor worship, pilgrimages, priestcraft, offerings made in temples, the caste system, untouchability and child marriages, on the grounds that all these lacked Vedic sanction. It aimed to be a universal church based on the authority of the Vedas. Dayananda stated that he wanted 'to make the whole world Aryan', i.e. he wanted to develop missionary Hinduism based on the universality of the Vedas. To this end, the Arya Samaj started Shuddhi movement in early 20th century to bring back to Hinduism people converted to Islam and Christianity, set up schools and missionary organisations, and extended its activities outside India. It now has branches around the world and has a disproportional number of adherents among people of Indian ancestry in Suriname and the Netherlands, in comparison with India.
Reception in the West
An important development during the British colonial period was the influence Hindu traditions began to form on Western thought and new religious movements. An early champion of Indian-inspired thought in the West was Arthur Schopenhauer who in the 1850s advocated ethics based on an "Aryan-Vedic theme of spiritual self-conquest", as opposed to the ignorant drive toward earthly utopianism of the superficially this-worldly "Jewish" spirit. Helena Blavatsky moved to India in 1879, and her Theosophical Society, founded in New York in 1875, evolved into a peculiar mixture of Western occultism and Hindu mysticism over the last years of her life.
The sojourn of Vivekananda to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 had a lasting effect. Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission, a Hindu missionary organisation still active today.
In the early 20th century, Western occultists influenced by Hinduism include Maximiani Portaz – an advocate of "Aryan Paganism" – who styled herself Savitri Devi and Jakob Wilhelm Hauer, founder of the German Faith Movement. It was in this period, and until the 1920s, that the swastika became a ubiquitous symbol of good luck in the West before its association with the Nazi Party became dominant in the 1930s.
Hinduism-inspired elements in Theosophy were also inherited by the spin-off movements of Ariosophy and Anthroposophy and ultimately contributed to the renewed New Age boom of the 1960s to 1980s, the term New Age itself deriving from Blavatsky's 1888 The Secret Doctrine.
As of 2007, of an estimated 944 million Hindus, 98.5% live in South Asia. Of the remaining 1.5% or 14 million, 6 million live in Southeast Asia (mostly Indonesia), 2 million in Europe, 1.8 million in North America, 1.2 million in Southern Africa.
Modern Hinduism is the reflection of continuity and progressive changes that occurred in various traditions and institutions of Hinduism during the 19th and 20th centuries. Its main divisions are into Vaishnavism (largely influenced by Bhakti), Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism (Advaita Vedanta).
Besides these traditional denominations, movements of Hindu revivalism look to founders such as Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda (Arya Samaj), Rabindranath Tagore, Ramana Maharshi, Aurobindo, Shriram Sharma Acharya, Swami Sivananda, Swami Rama Tirtha, Narayana Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, Swami Chinmayananda, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, Pandurang Shastri Athavale (Swadhyay Movement) and others.
The Hindutva movement advocating Hindu nationalism originated in the 1920s and has remained a strong political force in India. The major party of the religious right, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), since its foundation in 1980 has won several elections, and after a defeat in 2004 remained the leading force of opposition against the coalition government of the Congress Party. The last national general election, held in early 2014, saw a dramatic victory of BJP; it gained an absolute majority and formed the government, under the Prime Ministership of Narendra Modi, a prominent BJP leader and till then the Chief Minister of Gujarat state.
The resurgence of Hinduism in Indonesia is occurring in all parts of the country. In the early seventies, the Toraja people of Sulawesi were the first to be identified under the umbrella of 'Hinduism', followed by the Karo Batak of Sumatra in 1977 and the Ngaju Dayak of Kalimantan in 1980.
The growth of Hinduism has been driven also by the famous Javanese prophesies of Sabdapalon and Jayabaya. Many recent converts to Hinduism had been members of the families of Sukarno's PNI, and now support Megawati Sukarnoputri. This return to the 'religion of Majapahit' (Hinduism) is a matter of nationalist pride.
The new Hindu communities in Java tend to be concentrated around recently built temples (pura) or around archaeological temple sites (candi) which are being reclaimed as places of Hindu worship. An important new Hindu temple in eastern Java is Pura Mandaragiri Sumeru Agung, located on the slope of Mt. Semeru, Java's highest mountain. Mass conversions have also occurred in the region around Pura Agung Blambangan, another new temple, built on a site with minor archaeological remnants attributed to the kingdom of Blambangan, the last Hindu polity on Java, and Pura Loka Moksa Jayabaya (in the village of Menang near Kediri).
Neo-Hindu movements in the west
In modern times Smarta-views have been highly influential in both the Indian[web 7] and western[web 8] understanding of Hinduism via Neo-Vedanta. Vivekananda was an advocate of Smarta-views,[web 8] and Radhakrishnan was himself a Smarta-Brahman. According to iskcon.org,
Many Hindus may not strictly identify themselves as Smartas but, by adhering to Advaita Vedanta as a foundation for non-sectarianism, are indirect followers.[web 7]
Influential in spreading Hinduism to a western audience were Swami Vivekananda, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Hare Krishna movement), Sri Aurobindo, Meher Baba, Osho, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Transcendental Meditation), Jiddu Krishnamurti, Sathya Sai Baba, Mother Meera, among others.
- Michaels mentions Flood 1996 as a source for "Prevedic Religions".
- Smart distinguishes "Brahmanism" from the Vedic religion, connecting "Brahmanism" with the Upanishads.
- The separation of the early Indo-Aryans from the Proto-Indo-Iranian stage is dated to roughly 1800 BCE in scholarship. See Mallory 1989 
- Michaels: "They called themselves arya ("Aryans," literally "the hospitable," from the Vedic arya, "homey, the hospitable") but even in the Rgveda, arya denotes a cultural and linguistic boundary and not only a racial one."
- There is no exact dating possible for the beginning of the Vedic period. Witzel mentions a range between 1900 and 1400 BCE. Flood mentions 1500 BCE.
- Allchin: "There has also been a fairly general agreement that the Proto-Indoaryan speakers at one time lived on the steppes of Central Asia and that at a certain time they moved southwards through Bactria and Afghanistan, and perhaps the Caucasus, into Iran and India-Pakistan (Burrow 1973; Harmatta 1992)."
- Kulke: "During the last decades intensive archaeological research in Russia and the Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union as well as in Pakistan and northern India has considerably enlarged our knowledge about the potential ancestors of the Indo-Aryans and their relationship with cultures in west, central and south Asia. Previous excavations in southern Russia and Central Asia could not confirm that the Eurasian steppes had once been the original home of the speakers of Indo-European language."
- The Aryan migration theory has been challenged by some researchers, due to a lack of archaeological evidence and signs of cultural continuity, hypothesizing instead a slow process of acculturation or transformation. Nevertheless, linguistic and archaeological data clearly show a cultural change after 1750 BCE, with the linguistic and religious data clearly showing links with Indo-European languages and religion. According to Singh, "The dominant view is that the Indo-Aryans came to the subcontinent as immigrants."
- David Gordo White: "[T]he religion of the Vedas was already a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations."
- Richard Gombrich: "It is important to bear in mind that the Indo-Aryans did not enter an unhabitated land. For nearly two millennia they and their culture gradually penetrated India, moving east and south from their original seat in the Punjab. They mixed with people who spoke Munda or Dravidian languages, who have left no traces of their culture beyond some archaeological remains; we know as little about them as we would about the Indo-Aryans if they had left no texts. In fact we cannot even be sure whether some of the aerchaeological finds belong to Indo-Aryans, autochthonous populations, or a mixture. It is to be assumed - though this is not fashionable in Indian historiography - that the clash of cultures between Indo-Aryans and autochtones was responsible for many of the changes in Indo-Aryan society. We can also assume that many - perhaps most - of the indigenous population came to be assimilated into Indo-Aryan culture.
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|Timetable of South Asia/Indian Sub-continent|
(West Punjab-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)
|Indo-Gangetic Plain||Central India
|Western Gangetic Plain
(Central Gangetic Plain)
|South Asian Stone Age (until c. 3300 BCE)||South Asian Stone Age (until c. 1100 BCE)|
|Culture||Paleolithicum (until c. 10,000 BCE)|
|Before 10,000 BCE||Bhimbetka rock shelters
|Culture||Mesolithicum (c. 10,000-7,000 BCE)||Mesolithicum (c. 10,000-3,000 BCE)|
|c. 10,000-7,000 BCE|
|Culture||Neolithicum (c. 7000-3300 BCE)||Mesolithicum (c. 10,000-3000 BCE)|
|c. 7,000-3,300 BCE||Mehrgarh|
|BRONZE AGE (c. 3300-1100 BCE)||NEOLITHIC (c. 3000-1400 BCE)|
|3300-2600 BCE||Early Harappan|
|2600-1900 BCE||Indus Valley Civilization||Indus Valley Civilization||Indus Valley Civilization|
|Culture||Localisation Era/Late Harappan
|1900-1500 BCE||Earliest known rice cultivation[a]|
|Culture||Localisation Era/Late Harappan
Early Vedic period
Gandhara grave culture
(c. 1400-1100 BCE)
|1500-1300 BCE||Indo-Aryan migration|
|1300-1100 BCE||Wandering Vedic Aryans|
|IRON AGE (c. 1100-300 BCE)|
|Culture||Middle Vedic Period|
|Gandhara grave culture||Black and red ware culture|
|1100-800 BCE||Vedic settlements
|Culture||Late Vedic Period|
|Gandhara grave culture||(Brahmin ideology)[b]
Painted Grey Ware culture
Northern Black Polished Ware
|Culture||Late Vedic Period
|Gandhara grave culture||(Brahmin ideology)[d]
Painted Grey Ware culture
Northern Black Polished Ware
|6th century BCE||Gandhara||Kuru-Panchala||Kosala
|Culture||Persian-Greek influences||"Second Urbanisation"|
|Later Upanishads||Rise of Shramana movements
Jainism - Buddhism - Ājīvika - Yoga
|5th century BCE||(Persian rule)||Shishunaga dynasty||Adivasi (tribes)|
|4th century BCE||(Greek conquests)|
|HISTORICAL AGE (after 300 BCE)|
|Culture||Spread of Buddhism||Pre-history||Sangam period
(300 BCE – 200 CE)
|3rd century BCE||Maurya Empire||Early Cholas
Early Pandyan Kingdom
|Culture||Preclassical Hinduism[f] - "Hindu Synthesis"[g] (c. 200 BCE-300 CE)[h][i]
Epics - Puranas - Ramayana - Mahabharata - Bhagavad Gita - Brahma Sutras - Smarta Tradition
(300 BCE – 200 CE)
|2nd century BCE||Indo-Greek Kingdom||Sunga Empire||Adivasi (tribes)||Early Cholas
Early Pandyan Kingdom
|1st century BCE||Yona||Maha-Meghavahana Dynasty|
|1st century CE||Indo-Scythians
|2nd century||Pahlava||Varman dynasty|
|3rd century||Kushan Empire||Western Satraps||Kamarupa kingdom||Kalabhras dynasty|
|Culture||"Golden Age of Hinduism"(c. 320-650 CE)[j]
Co-existence of Hinduism and Buddhism
|4th century||Gupta Empire||Kadamba Dynasty
Western Ganga Dynasty
|6th century||Maitraka||Adivasi (tribes)|
|Culture||Late-Classical Hinduism (c. 650-1100 CE)[k]
Advaita Vedanta - Tantra
Decline of Buddhism in India
|7th century||Maitraka||Indo-Sassanids||Vakataka dynasty, Harsha||Mlechchha dynasty||Adivasi (tribes)||Pallava|
|8th century||Kidarite Kingdom||Kalachuri|
|9th century||Indo-Hephthalites (Huna)||Gurjara-Pratihara||Chalukya|
|10th century||Pala dynasty
|Culture||Islamic rule and "Sects of Hinduism" (c. 1100-1850 CE)[l] - Medieval and Late Puranic Period (500–1500 CE)[m]|
|11th century||Western Chalukyas||(Islamic conquests)
Eastern Ganga dynasty
|Sena dynasty||Adivasi (tribes)||Chola Empire
|12th century||Western Chalukyas||Rajputs||Paramara dynasty
Eastern Ganga dynasty
|13th century||Delhi Sultanate||Chola Empire|
|14th century||Delhi Sultanate||Vijayanagara Empire|
|15th century||Delhi Sultanate|
|16th century||Mughal Empire|
|17th century||Mughal Empire||Maratha Empire|
|Culture||Maratha Empire and British Colonisation - Company rule in India'|
|18th century||Maratha Empire||Maratha Empire||British||Maratha Empire/British|
|Culture||British Colonisation - British Raj|
|19th century||Sikh Empire|
|Culture||British Raj - Independence struggle - Pakistan - India - Bangladesh'|