Hinduism through History

Abstract

This paper aims at bringing out, through archaeological evidences and references, the history of the evolution of Hinduism. It attempts to present the features of the religion that have withstood time and continue to be the living thread between antiquity and the present day.

This paper is divided into three parts. The first part would be presenting

the evidences that are available show that the religion is indigenous to the Indian sub-continent and how gradual and natural assimilation of many ideas and ideals have happened here over time.

The second part would show evidences of continuity between the pre- and post- Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization and that the Aryan Invasion Theory is not valid on any account. This part would also show with literary evidence that there is no racial reference to the terms ‘Aryan' and ‘Dravidian'.

The third part would be dealing with the beginning and growth of the concept of temples, the architectural science and details involved in temple architecture, temple and icon worship and their significance. This part would also show the troubled history of Hindu temples and the necessity to preserve the shrines from any future attacks or desecration.

 

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Part – 1

Based on no founder to begin the religion with, reaching to the roots of the origins of Hinduism has always remained a historian's enigma. As now well-known and understood, the word ‘Hindu' in itself did not imply any belief system but merely the inhabitants along the Sindhu river and beyond – over all of the sub-continent. Comprising of loosely held together broad-based syncretised thought paradigms emanated from seers and rishis who are the detached guides of humanity, this religion has never failed to enchant and awe, thereby feeding and nourishing the thinking mind. The most persuasive attraction is that Hinduism has unbounded freedom that is so lacking in founder-grounded religions, extending complete independence to the individual mind.

Among the prominent religions of the world, this is the only one that continues to believe in and follow deity worship making it distinct and somewhat strange (despite it being transparently honest, as will be seen) in the eyes of the others.

In an attempt to map the history of this religion, that originated in this part of the world and has grown to achieve great heights in studying and demystifying the human mind and in presenting the overall picture of the Universe, as perceived by man and beyond, I am presenting philosophical reasoning with archaeological and referential evidences for the origin and growth of this religion.

Human Migrations and Settlements in India

Since very ancient times, humans have lived in almost all regions of the subcontinent. Caves and settlements have yielded tools, art work and other artefacts that belonged to the various evolutionary stages of man. The oldest discovered yet is in Andhra Pradesh. As seen, this settlement's evolution is in tandem with the African Middle Stone Ages traditions pointing to the fact that modern humans migrated out of Africa into India earlier than they did to Europe.

These migratory routes came to be used during waves of influx by groups to reach the subcontinent all through history. They continued to be absorbed over the millennia into the population of the subcontinent both socially and genetically giving rise to what is now the syncretised ethnic composition characteristic of the South Asian subcontinent. Favourable living and geographic conditions caused the population to grow and flourish on the subcontinent.

It is possibly these favourable conditions including, among other things, a vast network of rivers flooding extensive plains, ample natural wealth and regular seasonal rains even in the leeward side of the Southern hills – due to the presence of the magnificent Himalayas far in the North – that the human mind assumed a certain tranquillity and came to accept life as it was and built up the transcendental philosophy supporting and cherishing it. This is the Indian mind.

The remarkable geography of the subcontinent – that both protects and nurtures – has been held in awe since very ancient times, drawing the whole area within the fold of this awe. This is one of the greatest unifying factors causing the ‘syncretic effect' as a seamless and natural consequence across the whole geographic area.

The Indian mind, mentioned above, also led to a very effective ‘way of life' – using the clichéd phrase for want of a better alternative – which is how Hinduism is often described. By this, administrative practices were guided to uphold even the slightest righteousness touching the daily life of every man. This was attractive for even more in-migrations. It is such migrations at much later phases of history – that are yet to become part of the vast melting pot phenomenon – that has resulted in more distinct regional features along the land borders of the subcontinent, including the North-West, North, North-East and East of the subcontinent. Along the coastal areas, ports have genetically visible effects of relationships arising out of trade.

Origin of a Philosophy of Life

Physical assimilation naturally led to an assimilation of ideas and philosophies. These great experiential truths were gradually melded and interpreted to allow leeway for all forms of beliefs and for allowing unique individuality to reign over them.

Hinduism is often categorised as a religion. However, it was not until the compartmentalised definition to ‘religion' belonging to a sphere outside the ‘secular' or the ‘mundane' by the Islamic conquerors and the West, that Hinduism began being considered so. Therefore, it is far from being correct from that point of view.

The philosophies that India propounded brought together all forms of knowledge in a great attempt at defining the whole to which we belong. That Whole which goes by various names as The Universe which is the underlying foundation of Creation, the Supreme Almighty etc., etc…

It is believed that all thoughts of a Supreme Being began with fear of the unknown. Even so, it is obvious that in India, this fear was overcome by knowledge and knowledge has been held Supreme from times immemorial.

Therein sprung the great ideal of dharma that placed the individual in the realm of the all-encompassing whole. This dharma defined the Philosophy of Life.

The Temple as a Concretised Representation of this Philosophy

Any form of art is a representation of an idea in a concrete form. So it is with temples.

Excepting the material of construction, all over the subcontinent we see that there are certain ideas that are commonly captured in temple building and worship, some of the most prominent ones of which are enumerated here:

  1. A high tower (Vimanam in the South / Shikhara in the North) that is symbolic of a transcendent power that is far above human strength and is responsible for Creation.

  1. The bringing together of the elements: the real yet incredibly mysterious coincidence that has caused life with the sensory powers. The temple stands on the Earth and is surrounded by Air and filled with Ether (Light or the subtle element) while the Water tank and the lamp (Fire) represent the other two elements. Every temple must have these. When there is no water tank, water is placed in a purified vessel.

  1. The sanctum sanctorum is at the innermost part of the structure, representing the core of the heart as the abode of the Supreme Power.

Beyond these there are innumerable practices such as observing hygiene and cleanliness, medicinal values of the ablutions and ointments, purificatory effects of certain smokes and the tranquillizing result of particular smells and sounds. All these bring about a harmony of the human mind with the Universe of which it is a part, but from which it tends to sensorially distinguish itself causing disturbances. In short, the temple is a reflection of the human mind attempting to integrate itself with the Universe. This sums up the foundational philosophy of temple building upon which the distinguished architecture stands as the structure.

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