Under Oldest traditional religious pillars are Hinduism and Judaism . Judaism and related Branches well described in Part One , here we will start with Hinduism and their branches ..
Hinduism has been called the "oldest religion" in the world,and many practitioners refer to Hinduism as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal law" or the "eternal way" beyond human origins. It prescribes the "eternal" duties all Hindus have to follow, regardless of class, caste, or sect, such as honesty, purity, and self-restraint. Hinduism has been called the "oldest religion" in the world,and many practitioners refer to Hinduism as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal law" or the "eternal way" beyond human origins. It prescribes the "eternal" duties all Hindus have to follow, regardless of class, caste, or sect, such as honesty, purity, and self-restraint.Western scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with diverse roots and no single founder. its roots are the Vedic religion of the late Vedic period and its emphasis on the status of Brahmans, but also the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the Sramana or renouncer traditions of north-east India, and "popular or local traditions".This "Hindu synthesis" emerged around the beginning of the Common Era, and co-existed for several centuries with Buddhism, to finally gain the upper hand in most royal circles during the 8th century CE.From northern India this "Hindu synthesis", and its societal divisions, spread to southern India and parts of Southeast Asia. It was aided by the settlement of Brahmins on land granted by local rulers, the incorporation and assimilation of popular non-Vedic gods, and the process of Sanskritisation, in which "people from many strata of society throughout the subcontinent tended to adapt their religious and social life to Brahmanic norms".Since the 19th century, under the dominance of western colonialism and Indology, when the term "Hinduism" came into broad use,Hinduism has re-asserted itself as a coherent and independent tradition. The popular understanding of Hinduism has been dominated by "Hindu modernism", in which mysticism and the unity of Hinduism have been emphasized. Hindutva ideology and Hindu politics emerged in the 20th century as a political force and a source for national identity in India.
Many practitioners refer to Hinduism as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal law" or the "eternal way"
Hinduism is not just a faith. It is the union of reason and intuition that cannot be defined, but is only to be experienced.
Hinduism does not have a single system of salvation, but consists of various religions and forms of religiosity.
Yet some Hindus are atheists, they view Hinduism more as philosophy than religion.
Hinduism is therefore viewed as the most complex of all the living, historical world religions.
Hinduism as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions.Among its roots are the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India,itself already the product of "a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations", but also the Shramana or renouncer traditions of northeast India, and mesolithic and neolithic cultures of India, such as the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation, Dravidian traditions, and the local traditions and tribal religions.
After the Vedic period, between 500-200 BCE and c. 300 CE, at the beginning of the "Epic and Puranic" c.q. "Preclassical" period, the "Hindu synthesis" emerged, which incorporated shramanic and Buddhist influences and the emergingbhakti tradition into the Brahmanical fold via the smriti literature. This synthesis emerged under the pressure of the success of Buddhism and Jainism. During the Gupta reign the first Puranas were written, which were used to disseminate "mainstream religious ideology amongst pre-literate and tribal groups undergoing acculturation." The resulting Puranic Hinduism, differed markedly from the earlier Brahmanism of the Dharmasastras and the smritis. Hinduism co-existed for several centuries with Buddhism, to finally gain the upperhand at al levels in the 8th century CE.
From northern India this "Hindu synthesis", and its societal divisions, spread to southern India and parts of Southeast Asia. It was aided by the settlement of Brahmins on land granted by local rulers, the incorporation and assimilation of popular non-Vedic gods, and the process of Sanskritization, in which "people from many strata of society throughout the subcontinent tended to adapt their religious and social life to Brahmanic norms". This process of assimilation explains the wide diversity of local cultures in India "half shrouded in a taddered cloak of conceptual unity."Hinduism as it is commonly known can be subdivided into a number of major currents. Of the historical division into six darsanas, only two schools,Vedanta and Yoga, survive. The main divisions of Hinduism today are Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism.
Prevedic religions (until c. 1750 BCE)The first people to have settled in India, c. 40,000-60,000 years ago during Paleolithic times, were Australoids who may have been closely related to Aboriginal Australians After the Australoids, Caucasoids, including both Elamo-Dravidians (c. 4,000 to 6,000 BCE) and Indo-Aryans (c.2,000-1,500 BCE), and Mongoloids (Sino-Tibetans) immigrated into India. The Elamo-Dravidians possibly from Elam, present-day Iran, and the Tibeto-Burmans possibly from the Himalayan and north-eastern borders of the subcontinent.
According to anthropologist Possehl, the Indus Valley Civilization (2,600-1,900BCE) "provides a logical, if somewhat arbitrary, starting point for some aspects of the later Hindu tradition."The religion of this period included worship of a Great Male God, which some (most notably John Marshall) have compared to a proto-Shiva, and probably a Mother Goddess, that may prefigure Shakti. Other practices from the Indus religion that may have continued in the Vedic period include worship of water and fire. However these links of deities and practices of the Indus religion to later-day Hinduism are subject to both political contention and scholarly dispute.
Vedic period (c. 1750-500 BCE) :The Vedic period, which lasted from c. 1750 to 500 BCE, is named after the Vedic religion of Indo-Aryan pastoralists, who migrated into north-western India after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization, possibly from the Central Asian steppes bringing with them their language and religion. Their religion was further developed when they migrated into the Ganges Plain after c. 1100 BCE and became pastoralists.
Although the Vedic beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era may have drawn upon elements from the hypothesised Proto-Indo-European religion, the foundation text for the Vedic traditions of this period are the Vedic Samhitas from which this period derives its name. The oldest of these Vedic texts is the Rigveda, thought to have been composed in the 1700-1100 BCE period.The Vedas centre on the worship of deities such as Indra, Varuna and Agni, and on the Soma ritual. Fire-sacrifices, called yajña, are performed by chanting Vedic mantras.The Vedic texts were codified when the Indo-Aryans started to settle the Ganges-plain, making the transition from a pastoralist to an agricultural society, and the need for a more stratified organisation of society arose. This new society had to include older habitants of the Ganges-plain, and subsumed them under the Aryan varnas, delegating political and religious authority to the Brahmins and Kshatriyas.
During the Early Vedic period (c. 1500 - 1100 BCE) Vedic tribes were pastoralists, wandering around in north-west India. After 1100 BCE, with the introduction of iron, the Vedic tribes moved into the western Ganges Plain, adapting an agrarical lifestyle.Rudimentary state-forms appeared, of which the Kuru-tribe and realm was the most influential. It was a tribal union, which developed into the first recorded state-level society in South Asiaaround 1000 BCE. It decisively changed the Vedic heritage of the early Vedic period, collecting the Vedic hymns into collections, and developing new rituals which gained their position in Indian civilization as the orthodox srauta rituals, which contributed to the so-called "classical synthesis"or "Hindu synthesis".
The 9th and 8th centuries BCE witnessed the composition of the earliest Upanishads. Upanishads form the theoretical basis of classical Hinduism and are known as Vedanta (conclusion of the Veda).The older Upanishads launched attacks of increasing intensity on the rituals. The diverse monistic speculations of the Upanishads were synthesised into a theistic framework by the sacred Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita.The Vedic religion of the later Vedic period co-existed with local religions, such as the Yaksha cults,and was itself the product of "a composite of the indo-Aryan and Harappan cultures and civilizations"
Ascetic reformism (c. 500-200 BCE) :
Increasing urbanization of India in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE led to the rise of new ascetic or shramana movements which challenged the orthodoxy of rituals. Mahavira (c. 549–477 BCE), proponent of Jainism, and Buddha (c. 563-483), founder of Buddhism, were the most prominent icons of this movement. According to Heinrich Zimmer, Jainism and Buddhism are part of the pre-Vedic heritage, which also includes Samkhya and Yoga.The Shramana tradition in part created the concept of the cycle of birth and death, the concept of samsara, and the concept of liberation, which became characteristic for Hinduism.
Pratt notes that Oldenberg (1854-1920), Neumann (1865-1915) and Radhakrishnan (1888-1975) believed that the Buddhist canon had been influenced by Upanishads, while la Vallee Poussin thinks the influence was nihil, and "Eliot and several others insist that on some points the Buddha was directly antithetical to the Upanishads"
Classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE-1100 CE) , Pre-classical Hinduism (c. 200 BCE-300 CE)
Between 500-200 BCE and c. 300 CE developed the "Hindu synthesis", which incorporated shramanic and Buddhist influences and the emerging bhakti tradition into the Brahmanical fold via the smriti literature. This synthesis emerged under the pressure of the success of Buddhism and Jainism.several other religious traditions had existed side by side with the Vedic religion. These indigenous religions "eventually found a place under the broad mantle of the Vedic religion". When Brahmanism was declining and had to compete with Buddhism and Jainism,the popular religions had the opportunity to assert themselves. According to Embree, The smriti texts of the period between 200 BCE-100 CE proclaim the authority of the Vedas, and acceptance of the Vedas became a central criterium for defining Hinduism over and against the heterodoxies, which rejected the Vedas.Most of the basic ideas and practices of classical Hinduism derive from the new smriti literature, which form the basic inspiration for most Hindus.
The major Sanskrit epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, which belong to the smriti, were compiled over a protracted period during the late centuries BCE and the early centuries CE.They contain mythological stories about the rulers and wars of ancient India, and are interspersed with religious and philosophical treatises. The later Puranas recount tales about devas and devis, their interactions with humans and their battles against rakshasa. The Bhagavad Gita "seals the achievement" of the "consolidation of Hinduism",integrating Brahmanic and shramanic ideas with theistic devotion. In early centuries CE several schools of Hindu philosophy were formally codified, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta.
"Golden Age" (Gupta Empire) (c. 320-650 CE) :
During this period, power was centralised, along with a growth of far distance trade, standardization of legal procedures, and general spread of literacy. Mahayana Buddhism flourished, but orthodox Brahmana culture began to be rejuvenated by the patronage of the Gupta Dynasty, who were Vaishnavas. The position of the Brahmans was reinforced,the first Hindu temples dedicated to the gods of the Hindu deities, emerged during the late Gupta age. During the Gupta reign the first Puranas were written, which were used to disseminate "mainstream religious ideology amongst pre-literate and tribal groups undergoing acculturation." The Guptas patronised the newly emerging Puranic religion, seeking legitimacy for their dynasty. The resulting Puranic Hinduism, differed markedly from the earlier Brahmanism of the Dharmasastras and the smritis.
This period saw the emergence of the Bhakti movement. The Bhakti movement was a rapid growth of bhakti beginning in Tamil Nadu in Southern India with the Saiva Nayanars (4th to 10th centuries CE) and the Vaisnava Alvars (3rd to 9th centuries CE) who spread bhakti poetry and devotion throughout India by the 12th to 18th centuries CE.
According to P.S. Sharma "the Gupta and Harsha periods form really, from the strictly intellectual standpoint, the most brilliant epocha in the development of Indian philosophy", as Hindu and Buddhist philosophies flourished side by side.Charvaka, the atheistic materialist school, came to the fore in North India before the 8th century CE.
Late-Classical Hinduism - Puranic Hinduism (c. 650-1100 CE)
After the end of the Gupta Empire and the collapse of the Harsha Empire, power became decentralized in India. Several larger kingdoms emerged, with "countless vasal states".The kingdoms were ruled via a feudal system. Smaller kingdoms were dependent on the protection of the larger kingdoms. "The great king was remote, was exalted and deified", as reflected in the Tantric Mandala, which could also depict the king as the center of the mandala. The disintegration of central power also lead to regionalisation of religiosity, and religious rivalry . Local cults and languages were enhanced, and the influence of "Brahmanic ritualistic Hinduism"was diminished. Rural and devotional movements arose, along with Shaivism, Vaisnavism, Bhakti and Tantra, though "sectarian groupings were only at the beginning of their development". Religious movements had to compete for recognition by the local lords. Buddhism lost its position after the 8th century, and began to disappear in India. This was reflected in the change of puja-ceremonies at the courts in the 8th century, where Hindu gods replaced the Buddha as the "supreme, imperial deity".The early mediaeval Puranas were composed to disseminate religious mainstream ideology among the pre-literate tribal societies undergoing acculturation.With the breakdown of the Gupta empire, gifts of virgin waste-land were heaped on brahmanas,to ensure provitable agrarical exploitation of land owned by the kings,but also to provide status to the new ruling classes. Brahmanas spread further over India, interacting with local clans with different religions and ideologies.The Brahmanas used the Puranas to incorporate those clans into the agrarical society and its accompanying religion and ideology.
According to Flood, " the Brahmans who followed the puranic religion became known as smarta, those whose worship was based on the smriti, or pauranika, those based on the Puranas." Local chiefs and peasants were absorbed into the varna, which was used to keep "control over the new kshatriyas and shudras."The Brahmanic group was enlarged by incorporating local subgroups, such as local priets.This also lead to a stratification within the Brahmins, with some Brahmins having a lower status than other Brahmains. The use of caste worked better with the new Puranic Hinduism than with the shramanic sects. The Puranic texts provided extensive genealogies which gave status to the new kshatriyas.Buddhist myths pictured government as a contract between an elected ruler and the people.And the Buddhist chakkavatt "was a distinct concept from the models of conquest held up to the kshatriyas and the Rajputs." The Brahmanism of the Dharmashastras and the smritis underwent a radical transformation at the hands of the Purana composers, resulting in the rise of Puranic Hinduism.
Many local religions and traditions were assimilated into puranic Hinduism. Vishnu and Shiva emerged as the main deities, together with Sakti / Deva.Vishnu subsumed the cults of Narayana, Jagannaths, Venkateswara "and many others".Rama and Krsnabecame the focus of a strong bhakti tradition, which found expression particularly in the Bhagavata Purana. The Krisna tradition subsumed numerous Naga, yaksa and hill and tree based cults.Siva absorbed local cults by the suffixing of Isa or Isvara to the name of the local deity, for example Bhutesvara, Hatakesvara, Chandesvara In 8th-century royal circles, the Buddha started to be replaced by Hindu gods in pujas. This also was the same period of time the Buddha was made into an avatar of Vishnu.
The non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta, which was influenced by Buddhism In modern times, due to the influence of western Orientalism and Perennialism on Indian Neo-Vedanta and Hindu nationalism, Advaita Vedanta has acquired a broad acceptance in Indian culture and beyond as the paradigmatic example of Hindu spirituality.
Islamic rule and Sects of Hinduism (c. 1100-1850 CE)
Though Islam came to India in the early 7th century with the advent of Arab tradersand the conquest of Sindh, it started to become a major religion during the later Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent. During this period Buddhism declined rapidly and large number of Hindus converted to Islam. Numerous Muslim rulers or their army generals such as Aurangzeb and Malik Kafur destroyed Hindu temples.
however some, such as Akbar, were more tolerant. Hinduism underwent profound changes, in large part due to the influence of the prominent teachers Ramanuja, Madhva, and Chaitanya. Followers of the Bhakti movement moved away from the abstract concept of Brahman, which the philosopher Adi Shankara consolidated a few centuries before, with emotional, passionate devotion towards the more accessible Avatars, especially Krishna and Rama.
According to Nicholson, already between the 17th and the 16th century, "certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophival teachings of the Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as the "six systems" (saddarsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy." Michaels notes that a historicization emerged which preceded later nationalism, articulating ideas which glorified Hinduism and the past.
Modern Hinduism (from c. 1850)
With the onset of the British Raj, the colonialisation of India by the British, there also started a Hindu renaissance in the 19th century, which profoundly changed the understanding of Hinduism in both India and the west. Indology as an academic discipline of studying Indian culture from a European perspective was established in the 19th century, led by scholars such as Max Müller and John Woodroffe. They brought Vedic, Puranic and Tantric literature and philosophy to Europe and the United States.
Western orientalist searched for the "essence" of the Indian religions, discerning this in the Vedas,and meanwhile creating the notion of "Hinduism" as a unified body of religious praxisand the popular picture of 'mystical India'.This idea of a Vedic essence was taken over by Hindu reform movements as the Brahmo Samaj, which was supported for a while by the Unitarian Church, together with the ideas of Universalism and Perennialism, the idea that all religions share a common mystic ground.This "Hindu modernism", with proponents like Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Radhakrishnan, became central in the popular understanding of Hinduism.
Influential 20th-century Hindus were Ramana Maharshi, B.K.S. Iyengar, Paramahansa Yogananda, Prabhupada (founder of ISKCON), Sri Chinmoy and Swami Rama, who translated, reformulated and presented Hinduism's foundational texts for contemporary audiences in new iterations, raising the profiles of Yoga and Vedanta in the West and attracting followers and attention in India and abroad.
In the 20th century, Hinduism also gained prominence as a political force and a source for national identity in India. With origins traced back to the establishment of the Hindu Mahasabha in the 1910s, the movement grew with the formulation and development of the Hindutva ideology in the following decades; the establishment of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925; and the entry, and later success, of RSS offshoots Jana Sangha and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in electoral politics in post-independence India. Hindu religiosity plays an important role in the nationalist movement
Symbolism In Hinduism : Hinduism has a developed system of symbolism and iconography to represent the sacred in art, architecture, literature and worship. These symbols gain their meaning from the scriptures, mythology, or cultural traditions. The syllable om (which represents the Para Brahman) and the swastika sign (which symbolises auspiciousness) have grown to represent Hinduism itself, while other markings such as tilaka identify a follower of the faith.
Hinduism associates many symbols , which include the lotus (padma), chakra and veena, with particular deities.
(conti in part -3 .... significance and Philosophy behind worship of symbols In Hinduism )