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Section – A: History of Acceptance and Assimilation in India
The Indian mind is broadly defined by the philosophy of acceptance and assimilation. This has been happening for many a millennium. Indian history often begins with the Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization.
Although this concentrates only on the North-Western part of the subcontinent, the exciting finds have often diverted students from learning the happenings in the rest of the subcontinent. The finds in the rest of the country which are relevant to the study of the growth of Hinduism shall also be seen in this essay.
Keeping with the tradition, we shall look at the Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization first. It was a complex civilization by which we mean that having mastered settled agriculture and then manufacturing, they were into a service-based economy with expertise in art, architecture and administration. The script found in the region is yet to be deciphered. However, the evidences presented by the unearthing of a large bath with bitumen sealed bottom, the statue of a bearded man clad in a decorative robe with the look of vested authority – indicating that he is either a ruler or a priest – and the remnants of what is believed to have been a temple with several icons in the vicinity1, show that temples could have been part of the civilization. The icons are clearly part of the religious tradition. How these are part of India still, we shall see now.
The icon of the figure seated in a yogic posture with a headgear adorned with horns, famously called Pashupati' or the Lord of Animals, is believed to have been proto-Siva. The headgear is believed to have transformed into the crescent later on. Some disagree, as seen in the referenced source above. However, the author desires to draw attention to the stark similarity between the figure and that of a popular present-day god Ayyappan. Ayyappan is also depicted riding a tiger, which is one of the prominent animals beside the yogi of Mohenjo-Daro. Therefore, the deity is still in vogue, whether or not the Pashupati figure represents proto-Shiva. The conclusion one draws is that the icon has survived until the modern day.
The second point to be noted is the yoga' posture. Nearly all historians agree that the posture is yogic. Several other figures depicted in a similar posture have been unearthed in the various sites belonging to the civilization. This is a pointer that the ritual was practised at the time. For this difficult concept of self-control to be learnt, propagated and preserved, there has to have been a rigorous mechanism of transmission. Yoga is still practised. It is always associated with the higher realms and spirituality. In that way, it is part of our traditions until this day.
Moortis or icons of gods and goddesses are an inherent part of the profoundly simple Hindu mind.
[Note: It has not been found necessary to do away with this form of worship by any of the great philosophers of Bharata. This is precisely because it is grounded in the psychology and working of the human mind. However, to a person steeped in Abrahamic religions, this appears strange although the fact still remains that even there, one finds the presence of some sort of symbol or another to meditate upon without expressly stating so. In this way, Hinduism is far more honest and makes clear the spiritual/inner path to the lay person].
The traditional use of the Sindur in the parting of the hair of married women has been proven to have been in use even during the Sarasvati-Sindhu era.
The fire altars of Kalibangan provide ample proof that rituals similar to the Vedic period originated well before they were textually documented in Sanskrit. These are practised even today.
Ritual ablutions are still a strong part of the Indian tradition. A bath everyday especially before offering prayers is a must. Temple tanks are found all over the subcontinent.
Nature worship is widely practised until today and is a vital part of temple architectural detail.
Now, moving over to the rest of the subcontinent, we shall see a few of the sites that have been lesser discussed than the Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization.
Very early religious systems have left behind archaeological evidences right from the Mesolithic period dating about 11,000 years ago. A site in Baghor2 in Madhya Pradesh with a circular shaped stone platform with a polished stone in the middle has, unto the present day, its equivalent arrangement and worship in the same region. The special stone is representative of a totem, a very early moorti (statue or icon held with reverence for the virtues it inherently represents).
The Bhimbetaka paintings (c. 7000 B.C.) of central Madhya Pradesh represent religion through depiction of Yakshas, tree gods, the Sun and magical sky-chariots. These are among the only paintings that are not interpreted as part of daily-life. Yet, these concepts represent highly evolved human minds. [Note that the techniques used to make these paintings continue to boggle man until the present day]. One cannot help observe the close similarity of these concepts with the much-later Yaksha of the Mahabharata, the trees that were relieved of their curse by Sri Krishna and the Pushpaka Vimana of the Ramayana respectively.
The presence of cow dung ash mounds in Kupgal, a Neolithic site in the Central Deccan region of Karnataka, has been interpreted to represent the importance of cattle, ash and cow dung. These associations have continued till date. Rock gongs' for music are thought to have been used for rituals. Music, percussion drums (esp. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu) and bells (in lieu of the gongs) and religion continue to be inter-related to this day.
A more important find in the South was that of the urban settlement of Adichanallur (c. 1800 B.C.) close to Thirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. This discovery shows that urbanisation as a concept existed even in parts far-flung from the Sarasvati-Sindhu valley though it is in the latter that it shows highest maturity. In both the Sarasvati-Sindhu sites and the Adichanallur sites, the town-planning shows segregated settlements based on occupation. This continued on as castes until recently when it became independent of profession but remains simply lineage based.
In Adichanallur the burial-urn site with some personal belongings along with the people buried represents of veneration for the dead and belief in after life. These are still part of Hindu traditions.
The use of cow dung to coat floors in the site at Adichanallur continues to this day.
Figurines of the Mother Goddess' have been found all over the subcontinent. Until today we worship the Mother.
The second part of this paper also convers the Aryan Invasion Theory which, I thought I would post as a separate section for clarity.
1, 3 Harappan Civilization, Prabhat Kumar Basant (Ancient India – A Source book for Civil Services Examination – Publications Division, March 1995)
2 Himanshu Prabha Ray, http://www.ochs.org.uk/publications/multimedia/documents/HinduTemple2_Origins_HPRay_1106.doc
More posts by this author:
- Hinduism through History (Part -2B)
- Hinduism through History
- HINDUISM THROUGH HISTORY – III
- Hinduism through History – Appendix
- Ravi ‘Karigar’ Joshi and his Alter Ego, BDB