4 Roots of Hinduism in the
Ancient Cultures of India
Hinduism has been compared to a growing banyan tree; spreading its roots on the earth and sprouting up in many directions. In Hindu faith, there are no set parameters, no fixed rules, and no rigid schedules. Hinduism is a vastly liberal religion. In fact, it openly and fervently encourages and tolerates differences of opinion, use of discretion, and interpretation based on one’s own circumstances and perceptions. At the same time, there are some strong ethical principles and rituals that characterize this religion. The great Vedas and Upanishads affirm these principles in an organized compilation. Belief in the authority of these ancient scriptures is one of the chief prerequisites of Hinduism.
Although Hinduism recognizes the Vedic teachings as its basic principles, the roots of this religion go back a long way. The excavations of the Sindhu-Saraswati civilization (more commonly known as Harappan or Indus civilization) show evidence of the carvings of Shiva in his proto form as Pasupati, the lord of all animal kingdoms, and also in the yoga asana, or yoga positions. There are also carvings of exuberant feminine deities, which would later be known as various forms of the Mother Goddess, Shakti. The naked figurines, in meditative poses of the lotus position and standing kayotsarga (relaxation with self-awareness), are very similar to those later adopted by the Buddha and the Tirthankars (humans who achieve enlightenment) of the Jain religion. These carvings are said to point toward the concepts of God as prevalent in that period. Evidence suggests that the Saraswati and Sindhu (also known as the Indus) rivers originated at the end of the great Ice Age, about ten thousand years ago. It is believed that the colossal civilization along this verdant belt was more widely spread than the civilizations of Egypt or Greece. The Saraswati River ran parallel to the Sindhu River, about two hundred miles east of it. The huge mass of land between the two great rivers developed as the Sindhu-Saraswati civilization. Names of these two rivers are mentioned repeatedly—perhaps more frequently than other rivers—in the most ancient Hindu scripture, the Rig Veda. More than fifteen hundred cities developed on the banks of these two great rivers. Sindhu-Saraswati civilization is called the Harappan civilization after Harapa, the first of its sites excavated in 1920, followed by Mohenjo-Daro. Gujarat too shows large concentration of Harappan sites, which include the important excavations of Lothal and Dholavira. This great civilization came to end due to the gradual drying up of the Saraswati River because of some structural changes in the north at the Himalayas. New evidence with satellite imaging and limited excavation by a French team has revealed the course of the prehistoric Saraswati River, earlier mentioned in the Rig Veda. It was hitherto considered as myth only!
India, on the other hand, continued to march ahead and, in fact, remained the wealthiest country in the world until the seventeenth century, despite repeated invasions from outsiders, who plundered and looted her repeatedly.
One more equally ancient and great civilization was established in the south of India. This became the home of the Dravidian culture, which incorporated Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, and other languages of this group. Dravidian culture has its own distinguished history, literature, fine arts, and spiritual heritage. The Dravidian community adopted the emerging Hinduism thought, translating it into its own languages and script. Later, the idol and the temple concepts of the southern Dravidian culture were assimilated in the emerging Hindu religion. Indeed, adaptation and modification would become the hallmark of the Hindu philosophy. Some also think that there is a link between the Sindhu-Saraswati civilization and the Dravidian culture, the exact extent of which has not been fully assessed; others consider the Dravidian a separate ethnic entity. The acceptance of the Vedas as the supreme authority, however, eventually became the melting point of many diverse ethnic cultures toward the formation of Hinduism.
The terracotta seals and sculptures of the Sindhu-Saraswati civilization indicate the introduction of Neolithic culture, which has remained very dominant in India as seen in the temple sculptures through millennia. Strong association of Dravidian society with the stone sculpture is suggestive of a close link between these two ancient civilizations. The history of Indian civilization begins in the Neolithic cultures dating back to the late eighth millennium B.C. Advancing from the hunter’s life to the agriculture and vegetarianism in India brought about the major cultural pursuits. The stone cutting techniques were modified from hunting tools toward sculpture, which became a great obsession with Indian people in the past and has continued to be an artistic passion even now.
The ancient scriptures of the Hindu religion, the Vedas, are recognized as the earliest documented literature of mankind. It is affirmed that the Vedas are the very first Hindu scriptures, but the flow of the written word would never stop in Hindu philosophy. In the beginning, many spiritual and moral concepts were devised to help man overcome his fears and problems. Initially, this doctrine was called the Manav Dharma, or the preferred duties of mankind. Later, the name Sanathan Dharma, the eternal religion, came to be associated with it and is still very popular in many places. It has also been described as Vaidika Dharma—religion based on the Vedas. Hindu sages in fact, perceived religion, or dharma, in a wide sense. Universal or cosmic religion is called rita, which denotes order and harmony; social religion of a community is named as varna dharma, which describes the laws governing a section of people according to their customs and culture; and religion of an individual, swadharma, guides a person to lead life in conformity with one’s personal situation. A Hindu is thus prompted to consider the righteous duty—dharma–as a guideline for all his actions.
Dharma itself has a wide spectrum of meanings. Literally, it means “something that sustains.” Religion in Hindu philosophy concerns with the rules and regulations that hold the society together. It is based essentially on ethical considerations so that we may hold and nurture each other. Without the ethical principles, the society would fall apart, hurting and destroying each other in the process. Thus, dharma is closely linked to its application in our everyday life. In Hindu philosophy, dharma has come to uphold the cause of righteousness and moral duty.
Until the fourteenth century, none of the earlier scriptures have any mention of the word Hindu. Hindu was first mentioned in the fifteenth century in Persian as a geographical concept in reference to the people and territory across the River Sindhu (Indus). Strangely, the term Hinduism became popular only around the nineteenth century.7
The concept of Hinduism thus has grown out of the mergence and union of many sects and cultures of different origins, joining together with greater freedom to pursue their individual customs, manners, practices, and languages. It is like a mighty ocean of thought, which has risen from the confluence of many small and large, old and new rivers of philosophy and doctrine. The origin of Hinduism fixedly belongs to India, without contest. Max Muller also confirms, “The Vedic religion was the only one the development of which took place without any extraneous influences.”8Hinduism was born in the cradle of peace; “religious persecution was rare” in its historical growth.10Civilizations grow with the manure of peace and cooperation, not in the brutalities of war and bloodshed.
There have been some interesting new discoveries regarding the ancient Indian symbol Swasika; it is now regarded as much older than believed, older than the Aryans and even the Sindhu-Saraswati Civilization. The researchers say the Swastika dates back at least 11,000 years. In tracking the antiquity of the Swastika, the researchers came across a staggering discovery -that the Rig Veda, generally associated with Aryan civilization, existed much before that, dating back to the pre-Harappan times in the form of Shruti that were orally handed down through the Indus Valley civilization. With passage of time over millennia, the Swastika did travel across many countries in Asia and Europe. Its use by Hitler as anti-Semitic weapon of destruction bears no relation to the original Indian symbol of peace and auspiciousness. (Source: timesofindia.indiatimes.com)
The prehistoric ancient history of proto-Hindu religion is truly vibrant, with its origin dating back to over 10,000 years. Relics of the Sindhu-Saraswati (Harappan) civilization include many sculptures, terracotta seals, paintings etc., which would later mold the future religions of Indian origin such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. The Dravidian culture co-mingled with plenty of temple structures. From the very beginning, proof of Hinduism’s open-arm methodology has been found in the assimilation of concepts and designs. Indeed, Hinduism is a conglomeration of many ethnic and tribal sacred concepts, which blended and coalesced peacefully in search of the highest truths of the divinity