The Origins of hindusim:

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The Origins of hindusim

Looking at a map of India (Figure 3.1, p. 76) you can see that this subcontinent, shaped like a diamond, is isolated. Two sides face the sea, while the north is bounded by the steep Himalaya Mountains . There are few mountain passes, and the only easy land entry is via the narrow corridor in the northwest, in the vicinity of the Indus River , where Pakistan now lies. It is the relative isola tion of India that has helped create a culture that is rare and fascinating. India ’s climate, except in the mountain regions, is generally warm for most of the year, a l lowing people to live outdoors much of the time. Indeed, some people may even claim that the climate has helped promote religious values that, at least for some, minimize the importance of material goods such as clothing, housing, and wealth. Although hot and dry in many parts, India has many rivers and streams. Most important is the Ganges, which flows out of the Himalayas and is enlarged by tributaries as it moves east toward the Bay of Bengal . By the time the Ganges has reached the town of Benares (also known as Varanasi and Kashi), the river is eno r mous; in fact, after the summer monsoons, the river becomes so wide that often one cannot see to the other side. Because the water of the Ganges is regular and dependable, it has enabled civilization to flourish across much of northern India . It has also given Indian culture a sense of security, protection, and even care, which has led to the popular name for the river, Ganga Ma (“Mother Ganges”). The religious life of India is something like the river Ganges . It has flowed along for tho u sands of years, swirling from its own power but also from th e power of new streams that have added to its force. Hinduism, the major religion of India , has been an important part of this flowing energy. Many influences—early i n digenous religion and influences from later immigrants—have added to its inherent momentu m. It has no one identifiable founder, no strong organiz a tional structure to defend it and spread its influence, nor any creed to define and stabilize its b e liefs; and in a way that seems to defy reason, Hinduism unites the worship of many gods with a beli ef in a single divine reality. In fact, the name Hinduism can be misleading. Hinduism is not a single, unified religion; it is more like a family of beliefs. But the limitations of Hinduism may also be its strengths. It is like a palace that began as a two -room co t tage. Over the centuries, wings have Copyright | McGraw-Hill Higher Education | Experiencing the World’s Religions | Edition 6 | | Printed from been built on to it, and now it has countless rooms, stairs, corridors, statues, fountains, and ga r dens. There is something here to please and astonish—and dismay—almost everyone. In fact, its beliefs are so ri ch and profound that Hinduism has greatly influenced the larger world, and its infl u ence contin-ues to grow. In this chapter we will explore the various elements of this religion’s foundation and the stages in which add i tions were made to the sprawling hous e of Hinduism. Copyright | McGraw-Hill Higher Education | Experiencing the World’s Religions



The Earliest stage of Indian religion:


In the early twentieth century, engineers who were building a railroad dis-covered the ruins of an ancient culture in the Indus River valley. Today, most of the Indus River lies in Pakista n , but it traditionally formed the natural border of northwes t ern India —in fact, the words India and Hindu derive from Indus. The culture that archeolog i cal workers uncovered there flourished. before 2000 bce and is named the Harappa culture, after one of i ts ancient cities (Timeline 3.1). Archeologists were amazed by the type of civilization they found. The cities contained regular streets and solid brick houses. Pots and coins were discovered, as well as evidence that running water was used for toilets and baths. As one hi s torian remarks, “no other ancient civilization until that of the Romans had so efficient a system of drains” 1 —a genuine sign of technical deve l opment. This complex culture ha d also invented a writing system, which scholars are still wor k ing to decipher.



The Religion Of the vedic period:


The ancient scriptures of India are called the Vedas. They give a great deal of informat ion about gods and wo r ship during what is often called the Vedic period, generally thought to cover about 2000 to 500 bce. The origin of the Vedas and of the religion they describe, however, is unce r tain. In the late eighteenth century, Western scholars re cognized that Sanskrit—the ancient language of India and the language of the Vedas—was related to Greek and Latin. They also rea l ized that many of the gods mentioned in the Vedas were the same gods who had been worshiped in Greece and Rome ; they discovered , as well, that gods of similar names were mentioned in Ir a nian sacred literature. Later scholars theorized that a single people, who called themselves Ar y ans, moved from present-day southern Russia about 2000 bce in two directions—westward into Europe and east-ward into Iran and India . Entering new lands, these people were thought to have carried their language and religion with them. Scholars initially believed that in India the outsi d ers imposed their social order quickly and violently on the older cultur e. According to this theory, called the “Aryan invasion theory,” the Vedas were believed to be the religious writings of this inva d ing people.



The vedas:

The Vedas, which ori ginally were preserved only in oral form but eventually were written down, are the earliest sacred books of Hinduism. The name means “knowledge” or “sacred lore,” and related words in English are vision and wisdom. Although scholars date the earliest versi ons of the Vedas to about 1500 bce, Hindus consider them to be far more ancient. They say that the Vedas were r e vealed to rishis (holy men of the distant past), who did not create the Vedas but heard them and transmitted them to later generations.


The Upanishads and the axis age:


Around 500 bce, Indian civilization experienced such widespread and important changes that the period is known as the Axis Age, meaning that everything turned in a new direction at this time. Interestingly, great ch anges were taking place in other religions and cultures as well: it was the time of the Buddha, Conf u cius, major Hebrew prophets, and early Greek philosophers. Copyright | McGraw-Hill Higher Education | Experiencing the World’s Religions | Edition 6 | | Printed from


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