5. Hinduism


I. Origins: Merging of Harappan and AryanTraditions

A. Pre-Aryan India: Harappan Civilization (c. 2500-1500 B.C.E.)

- Developed in the Indus River valleys between the major cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro


1. Excavation of Harappa Cities

a) Focus on bathing and cleanliness > ritual purity

- Cities laid out in a square grid pattern

- Well-furnished with wells, a piped water supply, bathrooms and drains


b) Importance of religion and the priesthood

> imposing temple structures


c) Social division by occupation


2. Religious belief

a) polytheistic

- male deities with horns

- female figurines > mother goddess


b) focus on water, fertility and the veneration of sacred animals such as cows 


c) early representations of the Hindu god, Shiva > god of the harvest, of the cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth?


3. Aryan Migrations into India (from c.1750  B. C. E.)


B. Pre-India Aryans

1. Culture

- Semi-nomadic, pastoral, and warrior people

- organized by tribes and led by chieftains called rajas

- Expert breeders of livestock > domesticated the horse

- Invented the spoke wheel used on horse-drawn chariots in battle

- Made weapons and tools of  copper and bronze


2. Religion

- polytheistic

- animistic

- sacrifice the primary from of worship

- use of soma

- elaborate  rituals > Horse Sacrifice


II. Vedic Era (c.1500-600 B.C.E.)

A. The Vedas  - sacred texts comprised of four books:

1. Rig-Veda

2. Sama-Veda

3. Yajur-Veda

4. Atharva-Veda


B. The Vedic World View

1. Essence of Humanity > Atman (life-breath)


2. The Universe > comprised of three realms:

- earth

- atmosphere

- heaven


3. Basic Order of Things > Rita


4. The Ultimate Source of Things

- Purusha > sacrificed and his body parts used to create the natural world and humans

- Divine Sexuality > intercourse between the Sky  Father and Earth Mother produced the universe

- no explanation for the origin of the gods


5. Divas (gods)

- Indra > god of thunder, god of war, conqueror of Vrtra

- Varuna > god of the sky, preserves the order of the universe and forgives sinners

- Agni > god of fire and of the priests

- Vishnu and Shiva > not important gods at this time


C. Upanishads

- philosophical writings that comprise the fourth section of each book of the Vedas


1. Response to social and political changes

a) The Caste System – dominance maintained over pre-Aryan population           

1) expansion of the caste system:

The Aryan System of Varnas (all twice born):

- Brahmins

- Kshatriyas

- Vaishyas

-Shudra  > Added in India , only born once


2) The Varnas were subdivided into occupational groups:

- Harappan System of Jati

- comprised of a large extended family that shared an occupation

- self-governing

- membership determined by birth


b) Settling down of the tribes and emergence of kingdom


c) growing importance of the Brahmins


2. Core Concepts of the Upanishads    

a) Brahman (The Monism Premise)

- there is only one reality and that is Brahman, all else is an illusion

- living beings are souls (atman) that are part of the great ocean of souls that make up Brahman


b) Samsara (“to wander across")

- atman (one’s life force) does not die but moves on to a new body and time where it continues to live (transmigration of the soul, reincarnation)


c) Karma

- one's reincarnated state depends on karma > the impact of one’s actions and thought in this life and the next


d) Moksha

- salvation > freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth


e) Meditation rather than sacrifice is the means of achieving salvation


III. Classical Hinduism

A. Characterized by:

- focus on the epics, Puranas, codes of law and ethics

- three paths to moksha are validated: action, devotion and knowledge

- any one of any caste could achieve moksha

- rejection of the authority of the Veda


B. Changes influenced by:

1. Emergence of Jainism and Buddhism in the 6th century B.C.E.  

a) These belief systems

- rejected the system of sacrifices vs. the Brahmins

- rejected the Vedas

- rejected the caste system


b) Jainism sought salvation through extreme asceticism and respect for all life


c) Buddhism sought salvation through the middle way and right action


d) Aspects of both were later absorbed into Hinduism


2. Challenges to Brahmin Political Influence 

a) The Mauryan Empire (322-185 B. C. E )

- founded by a regional ruler, Chandragupta Maurya      


b) Ashoka (r. 268- 232 B.C.E.)

- disturbed by his ruthless conquest of Kalinga, he embraced Buddhi

- Brahmin loss of influence


c) the fall of the Mauryan Empire will be followed by a revival of Hinduism and a return of Brahmin influence


C. Bhagavad Gita > part of the epic poem, the Mahabharata  (composed 200 B.C.E. - 200 C.E.)

- Arjuna is reluctant to go to war and his charioteer, Krishna (Vishnu in disguise), reminds him of his duty and reveals three spiritual paths:

1. Karma-Yoga > the way of activity (dharma)


2. Bhakti-Yoga > the way of devotion, love for God in a personal form


3. Jňaňa-Yoga > the way of knowledge 


D. The Way of Devotion

- focus on the Hindu Trinity (Trimurti) that represents the functions of Brahman and reflects a cyclical concept of sacred time 

- Brahma created the world and initially peace, abundance, and morality prevailed 

- despite the intervention of Vishnu, the world decays, famine, wars and immorality sets in 

- Shiva destroys the world; the souls are suspended and after a period of rest, the world begin again


1. Brahma > creator of the world

- receives little attention, no cult, no devotees

- his wife is Sarasvati, goddess of knowledge,  speech, poetry, wisdom   


2. Vishnu > the preserver, a god of love, benevolence and forgiveness 

a) noted for his love of play; he plays with humans and enjoys tricks and pranks, but he also cares about humans and has appeared on earth a number of times in nine different forms (avatars):

- Krishna

- Siddhartha Gautama, Buddha

- Matsya > the fish who saved Manu from the flood

- the tenth avatar of Vishnu will be Kalkin who will bring time to an end, punish the wicked and reward the good


b) Worship

- his devotees (Vaishnavites) recognize Vishnu as the ultimate reality and emphasize his love and grace

- they are noted for their deep love of the God whom they praise in song and poems


c) Lakshmi > Vishnu’s wife

- goddess of fertility, wealth and victory; mediator between humans and Vishnu

- noted for her complete devotion to Vishnu despite his many infidelities

- Ramayana > an epic that celebrates the love between Rama (Vishnu) and Sita (Lakshmi) who is kidnapped by Rawana, king of the demons, and rescued by her husband


d) Hanuman, The Monkey King

- assisted Lord Rama in defeating the Rawana demonstrating his deep love for the couple


3. Shiva > the destroyer and creator

a) as an Ascetic and Lord of Dance he symbolizes mastery of absolute inner tranquility as well as universal energy         

- Lingam > Phallic Pillar; expression of Shiva, the absolute cosmic Being; sheer life force

- Yoni > Female Organ; expression of Shakti, the absolute power of the phenomenal universe, creative and destructive

- Represents the unity of the Divine and biological realms


b) Paravati > Shiva’s wife

- a fertility goddess who represents the loving and perfect wife and mother

> her role is to interrupt Shiva’s meditation so that he can use his power to help the world


c) Ganesha > elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati

- associated with wisdom and good fortune


d) Kali (or Durga) > a consort of Shiva and almost more  terrible than Shiva 


E. The Way of Action – Law of Manu (compiled c. 200 C.E.) > contains social and ethical  standards

1. Defined the duty (dharma) of each Varna 


2. Defined the stages of life for a man:

- student > chaste, studies with a guru

-  householder > married, provider for his family

- hermit > pursue nonattachment  to things of this world

- wandering beggar


3. Women

- Women were to remain at home under the authority of the male head of household

- Marriages were arranged and sizeable dowries and bride prices paid (practice of child marriages)

- Women could not own property and were no longer educated (dependent)

- Women’s purpose was to bear children for their husband


4. Cattle are considered scared animals to be to be protected and not killed


F. Way of Knowledge

- philosophical systems (darshan)for those with the inclination and ability to study the sacred writings


1. Vedanta System (founded 1st century B.C.E.)

a) initially monistic accepting Brahman as the only reality, but rejected dogma and rituals focusing on spiritual practices


b) Advaita Vedanta

- founded by Shankara in the 9th century C. E. 

- he taught that only Brahman exists and all is superimposed on Brahman due to our ignorance (maya)

- however, he encouraged devotion to Hindu gods as aspects of the One (Brahman)      


c) Qualified Dualism

- Ramanuja in the 11th century taught that the human soul and divine soul were one, but somehow separate (similar to the interdependence of the human body and soul for existence) 

- he advocated the worship of the gods as a means of realizing the soul’s relationship with Brahman (rather than their oneness) as a means to achieve moksha


d) Dualism

- Madhva in the 12th century argued for dualism > that atman and Brahman are completely separate so  people can properly worship the separate nature of god


2. The Yoga System (Yoga Sutra) founded in 2nd century B.C. E.

- accepts the premise of dualism and teaches one should strive to “yoke” the individual soul to god (atman to Brahman)

- through meditation in order to achieve a state of trance or superconscious to become one with Brahman


IV. Muslim Influences in India

A. Spread of Islam into India from the 8th century

- Delhi Sultanate established in the 13th century

- Mughal Empire established by Babur in 1526 and under his successors Mughal authority extended to almost all of India


B. Differences in Hindu and Muslim Belief Systems

- polytheism vs. monotheism

- use of images of the gods vs. prohibition against images of Allah

- sacredness of cows vs. practice of  sacrificing cattle and other animals

- caste system vs. belief in equality before Allah


C. Akbar (1556-1605)

- developed a new religion, Divine Faith, which combined elements of several religious belief systems in an attempt to establish a unifying state religion, but failed


D. Impact of Islam on Hinduism

- no impact on Hindu belief system, but adoption of many aspects of Muslim culture such as art, architecture, sciences and dress


E. Mughal Legacy > Muslim - Hindu Conflict

1. Aurangzeb (1658-1707) seized the throne from his father, Shah Jahan

- sought to restore the Empire by combining a rigid system of administration with religious conformity

- adopted a policy of intolerance toward non-Muslims

- forbade the building of Hindu temples

-  imposed a tax on non-Muslims

- forced conversions

- excluded of non-Muslims from court

> led to a revival in Hinduism


2. Sikhism > 16th century attempt to reconcile Hinduism and Islam, failed but remains an important religion


3. Political and religious differences between Hindus and Muslims contribute to one of the major problems India faces today

- Division of India

- conflict over Kashmir


V. Modern Hinduism

A. Impact of Europeans and Christianity

1. Arrival of Europeans

- 1510 > Portuguese conquered Goa

- 1616 > English East India Company established a trading base at Surat and later Madras and Calcutta

- end of 18th century > most of the India was controlled by the East India Company

- 1856 > India declared a colony of England


2. Missionaries > Protestant missionaries became active in 19th century 

- William Carey (1761-1834)

> Baptist missionary who was also concerned about improving living and educational standards

> introduced modern printing, opposed sati and child marriages (outlawed in 1829), helped found Serampore College and served as professor of Oriental languages


B. Religious Reformers

1. Ram Mohan Roy (1774-1833) “Father of Modern India” 

- a student of many religious traditions,  he embraced monotheism and appreciated many of the teachings of Christianity but did not believe Jesus was God

- believed years of Muslim rule had led to the decline of Hinduism into polytheism and idolatry

- founded the Brahmo Samaj (Society of God) >  a universal religious society combining a monotheistic form of Hinduism with the best  that Roy found in other traditions         

- he looked to the British to help bring reform to India and especially worked toward the outlawing of sati and advocated women’s equality


2. The Ramakrishna Movement

a) Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886)

- a former priest of Kali and follower of non-dualistic Vedanta

- believed behind all religions there is a single reality, God, and the duty of humankind is to develop their inherent moral and spiritual potential


b) Vivekanada  (1862-1902)

 - a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna

 - he believed that India could benefit from Western science and the West could benefit from Indian spirituality

 - he came to Chicago in 1893 to speak at the World’s Parliament of Religions becoming the first known Hindu missionary in the modern world

 - he traveled in the U. S. and England where his message was well received

 - established a monastic order and a charitable organization opening educational and  medical institutions for all Indians


3. Self-Realization Fellowship

- Paramahansa Ananda (1893-1952) came to the U. S. and in 1920 founded the Self-Realization Fellowship which teaches Vedanta philosophy inspired by Hindu religious texts and Christian gospels


4. Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

- as a child deeply influenced by Hinduism and later exposed to Jainism, Islam and Zoroastrianism

- as a law student in England was influenced by Christianity and especially the Sermon on the Mount as well the writings of Henry David Thoreau

- these contributed to his religious idealism, practice of civil disobedience and ahimsa (non-injury of life)

- he opposed the caste system, especially its impact on the Untouchables and advocated greater equality for women

- he used religion as a means to unite the Indians in South Africa vs. British racial discrimination (1892-1915) and in India’s struggle for independence as moral force and means to resist British rule


C. Hinduism Today

1. Need to deal with issues of modernity,  urbanism and birth control  


2. Conflict between Hindus and Muslims need to be resolved


Ashgar Ali Engineer – Islamic Scholar and activist in promoting communal harmony

“I believe religion is an instrument and not a goal and like any instrument it can both be used and misused.”

“I believe in the essential unity of all religions.”

“Every major religion … emphasizes certain values which complement rather than contradict each other.”


3. Status as a minority outside South Asia


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