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Origin of Hinduism

If you ask about the origin of Hinduism to a person who has perceived the essence of Hinduism, the answer will be a simple smile. This is because Hinduism has no history, it believes in the present. This might be hard for a common man to digest because we live in a world which gives so much importance to history. If you are looking for dates and other facts you can find it in these articles – Year of origin of Hinduism and History of Hindu religion and Origin of the term Hindu.

The great sages who gave us the Upanishads, Vedas and other Holy Scriptures, never talked about the history of their clan or kingdom. This is because history is of no use to the mankind. But the great thoughts found in Upanishads are eternal and have practical use in everyday life. They knew very well that history creates nothing but wars and tension.

Our world is dominated by monolithic religions. These religions have a proper beginning and founders. But Hinduism has no founders. Simply because it is not a religion but a way of life. It talks more about day-to-day problems. It deals with questions that every human being ask at some time in life like ‘Who am I?’

The question of the origin of Hinduism arises because other religions in the world have an origin. Modern education also might prompt a person to ask about the origin. So, many Hindus are forced to give a period of origin or a particular era.

There is an ongoing controversy over the origin of Hinduism. The traditional view is that Hinduism originated around 3000 BCE. But various modern scholars have challenged the 3000 BCE origin story. They argue that Hindu religion originated somewhere between 3500 and 5000 BCE. The 5000 BCE origin story is backed by the findings from Indus Valley Civilization.

I am not a historian. But I read what historians write in various newspapers and magazines. Although I did have my reservations about the 5000 BCE story, I too accepted it for academic purposes.

During my childhood, I also took pride like other Hindus in the fact that our religion is the oldest in the world. There is no doubt that Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world, especially for those people who think it in terms of religion.

But as I grew up, I understood the futility of the history of Hinduism. But I still read the various arguments that take place between the modern scholars regarding the origin of Hinduism.
Then one day I stumbled upon on an article in The Hindu in 2001.

“Similarly, it was on the banks of the Bolan on the Baluchistan rim of the Indus valley that the earliest agricultural community of the Indian subcontinent came into being. This community lived and farmed in Mehrgarh and its c.7000 BC pattern of agriculture, based on wheat, barley, cattle and sheep only reached the Indus flood plains after many millennia had elapsed.”

Nayanjot Lahiri in her article is talking about a full flourished culture 2000 years before Indus Valley Civilization. Tell me now, should I believe the 5000 BCE story? Or should I wait for another modern scholar to give me a new older period.

New research will find a new archeological site and it will reveal another older date. And the fight will continue among modern scholars regarding the history of Hinduism. 

Will pinpointing a particular date change the essence of Hinduism?

Many people influenced by modern education and monolithic religions might see this as an escapist attitude.

It is not escapism. When a person truly understands the teachings of Sanatana Dharma, he/she will go silent. A classic example of this is Ramana Maharshi. Such knowledgeable people will never care about history. They will only live in the present.

But everything should have an origin. So the thoughts found in Hinduism should have a source.
Now, even before the first building blocks of society were laid, the fear of the unknown had already created certain beliefs and dogmas in the mind of the humans. The pictures drawn by cavemen are a clear indication of this. These pictures depict the then unexplained phenomenon of nature. It influenced their mind to believe in a supernatural force.

So after hunting and eating, when the early human rested, he/she might have thought about the then unexplained natural phenomenon. This thought might have led to further inquiry into Who am I? We must remember here that the first stone tool of the Indian subcontinent is about two million years old.
Then human beings realized the power of fire and learned how to control it. This led to further development. Then early humans started to settle in a place and this led to the beginning of agriculture. In the earlier post, I had written about Mehrgarh, an agricultural settlement in 7000 BC.
The earliest known evidence of Hinduism is from Mohenjodaro and Harappa. Signs of rituals and worship have been revealed from here. But modern scholars have challenged it and states that Hinduism existed even before these cultures.

But most theories and writings on the origin of Hinduism kickstarts from Indus Valley Civilization.

The archeological excavations in Mohenjodaro and Harappa point to a highly developed culture. The people who lived here had neatly laid out streets and well constructed houses. Implements, terracotta seals and painted pots were of high standard. They domesticated dogs and their activities spread outside the domain of agriculture.

In Mohenjodaro, a large bath has been discovered with rooms and statutes indicating purification rites. Many figures of human shape have been unearthed from here. The figures are seated on their heels with knees apart. The eyes are half closed and are directed towards the nose-tip. Some figures have their hands folded in the way in which Hindus greet.

Numerous statues of goddesses have been discovered from the various sites. This gives a clear indication of fertility rites. Some of the objects excavated resemble ‘Lingas.’ The age of these sites are placed between 3500 and 5000 BCE.

We must remember here that these ancient cities were highly developed. The type of development found here cannot take place overnight. It might have taken several hundred years for these cities develop.

The seeds of Hinduism might have been therein the minds of these people even before that. It might have been passed on for many generations before Indus Valley Civilization.

In a way, we can assume that the origin of Hinduism can be traced back to the day when the first human being began to think about nature.

Hinduism is based on the concept of oneness – ‘Thou art that.’

It is not a religion to have an origin. To understand it, we need to come out of the narrow concept of religion. The echoes of this ancient thought can be seen in ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Stephen Hawking.