Hinduism is the oldest and one of the most complex of all religious systems. It is difficult to provide adequate history of Hinduism because it has no specific founder or theology. The development of this religion was influenced when light-skinned nomadic Aryan Indo-European tribes invaded Northern India BC from Russia and Central Asia attacking the Harappan people who lived there in 1500. The word, Hinduism, comes from the word, Indus, which is the name of an Indian River that existed about 5000 years ago.
Both groups adopted the beliefs of the other so they were similar in their religious doctrines. The Aryans believed in multiple gods to worship and the Harappans believed in the sanctity of fertility.
The Aryan group developed what is called the caste system, which ranked society according to occupational class. That system is as follows: Brahmins are priests; Kshatriyas are soldiers, king-warrior class; Vaishyas are merchants, farmers, Sutras laborers and craftspeople; Harijahns are “untouchables” — those thought to be descended from the Harappan aboriginal people who are extremely poor and discriminated against. The higher the person’s caste, the more the person is blessed with the benefits and luxuries of life. The system was outlawed in 1948, but it is still important to the Hindu people and recognized as the proper way to categorize society.
The Hindu religion has branched out and now encompasses a wide variety of religious beliefs and organizations. Portions of the Hindu beliefs have found their way into other countries, and are the foundation of other religions such as Transcendental Meditation and Buddhism.
As we continue on in learning the history of Hinduism, it would be interesting to note some of the Hindu scriptures.
- The oldest form of Hindu scriptures, Veda,means wisdom or knowledge, and contains hymns, prayers and ritual texts composed during a period of a thousand years.
- The Upanishads are a collection of secret teachings including mystical ideas about man and the universe. The word, Brahman, comes into focus within this group, which is the basis of reality, and atman, which is the self or soul.
- Next is the Ramayana, which is one of two major tales of India. The work consists of 24,000 couplets based on the life of Rama, a righteous king who was an incarnation of the God Vishnu.
- The Mahabharata is the second epic and is the story of the deeds of the Aryan clans. It is composed of 100,000 verses written over a 800 year period. Contained within this work is a classic called the Bhagavad Gita, or the “Song of the Blessed Lord.” It is one of the most sacred books of the Hindus and the most read of all Indian works in the entire world. The story is centered on man’s duty, which, if carried out, will bring nothing but sorrow. The significance of this story is based on Hindu belief of bhatki, (devotion to a particular god as a means of salvation). These two stories have become ideals for the people of India in terms of moral and social behavior.
The Puranas are an important source for the understanding of Hinduism, and include legends of gods, goddesses, demons, and ancestors describing pilgrimages and rituals to demonstrate the importance of bhatki, caste and dharma (basic principles of the cosmos or an ancient sage in Hindu mythology worshipped as a god by some lower castes)