Let’s trace the roots of origins of Hinduism – one of the world’s oldest religions.

Searching for the origins of Hinduism is a bit like explaining a thick forest: there are so many paths and trails that it is difficult to decide which ones matter. perhaps that is because Hinduism is itself something of a forest — a disorderly, unregulated, tangled growth. Judaism, Christianity and Islam look so neat in comparison: one god, one founder, one book. Hinduism has not just many gods, founders and books, but as many as you like; in fact you are free to keep adding to them.

You may, if you wish, start worshiping a new god(how about a god of exams, say, Pariksheshwara?) or write a new Upanishad, though you may have to wait for few centuries for it to be accepted as such.

Defining Hinduism, in the first place, is a challenge, and we have as many definitions as we have scholars. In ‘The Harappan Legacy‘ archaeologists have agreed to see int he Indus Civilization (2600-1900 BCE) some of the roots of Hinduism: tree worship, figures in yogic postures (and the well-known ‘Priest-king’ in contemplation), symbols like the swastika the linga and the trishula, three faces gods, fire altars, scared proportions and much more.

It bears repetition that John Marshall, who directed excavations at Mohenjo-daro, asserted in 1931, “taken as a whole, {the Harappan} religion is so characteristically Indian as hardly to be distinguished from still living Hinduism.’

Another Indian Temple in South India
Another Indian Temple in South India

The Early Texts

We must turn to the early texts for its conceptual framework, starting with the Vedas, especially the oldest of the four , the Rig-Veda. While its date remains unsettles, its 1028 hymns, which have been faithfully memorized and orally transmitted by generation of students and teachers to the present day, are invocations to gods and goddesses, such as Indra, Agni, Mitra or Saraswati.

Certain fundamental concepts do emerge clearly from the Rig-Veda, especially its insistence on a single Divine essence taking many names and forms: “The Existent is One, but sages express It variously: they say Indra, Varuna, Mitra, Agni..”. These powers, ultimately, are mere aspects of ‘The One'(tad ekdum), or ‘that truth’(tat satyam).

Absent from the Vedas, however, are notions like dharma, karma and rebirth, which is what makes the Vedic religion rather different from the Hinduism we know: Hinduism reverses the Vedas and claims them as its source, but in practice has little use for them, beyond including some of their mantras in rituals and ceremonies.

Sculptures of Indian Gods
Sculptures of Indian Gods

A few centuries after the Vedas were composed, the concepts of dharma and rebirth emerged in the Upanishads, texts which also gave expression to the central spiritual principles of Hinduism in a philosophical language: they taught that all is the divine(“you are that”, tat tvam asi) and that the microcosm (the cosmos) are essentially correlated, implying that everything correlated, implying that everything in the universe is symbolic.

Our body, for instance, is made of the same five elements — earth, water, fire, wind, ether —- as the universe, and while its head corresponds to the higher worlds, its feet symbolize the earth.

Shiva God
Shiva God

And there are at least five beings in us: the material, the emotional, the mental, the spiritual and the highest self. Shiva has a major role in Origins of Hinduism.

These are no more mere abstractions since they are the foundations of Ayurveda and orient the actual treatment of this ancient Indian system of medicine. They also gave rise to many systems of yoga, which ultimately aim at union without spiritual or divine essence.

People use holy fire for praying
Origins of Hinduism: People use holy fire for praying

Popular Hinduism

Like all religions, Hinduism operated at other levels, those of popular literature, art, worship and ritual. Popular literature was taken care of by vast collection of heroic or mythological stories(often conveyed by many encyclopedic texts known as the Purana’s), legends, parables and ballads.

The best-known examples are of course India’s two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which travelled to every nook and corner of the subcontinent through countless retelling, translations, and adaptations. The two epics fulfilled several functions: they gave everyone — king or subject, husband or wife, guru or student — role models to be followed. They provided readily accessible teaching on the intricacies of dharma. And they contributed greatly to the land’s cultural unification.

Sources for origins of Hinduism Information

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