Vedas allow marriages between castes

History of Hinduism

Many elements of religion were subject to constant change: the conception of life and the world changed, time and again other gods were in the foreground and new forms of worship were added. On the other hand, other things from the earliest times have been preserved to this day.

Since the history of Hinduism does not go back to a specific founder, but to established religious structures, the beginnings are largely in the dark. The beginnings of the first epoch (up to around 1750 BC) remain speculative during the highly developed urban cultures in the Indus Valley in northwest India. Old representations suggest that people worshiped a forerunner of the god Shiva even then, and it is possible that the worship of mother goddesses and personified natural elements determined religiosity.

Vedic religion and ascetic reformers

The influence of various tribal groups who called themselves Aryans ("ārya") was significant. They are said to be from 1750 to 500 BC. Immigrated to northwestern India, but the hypothesis is controversial today. These tribes are still considered to be the originators of the oldest and most important Hindu texts, the Vedas.

The Aryans believed in a pantheon of gods; The focus was on the offerings made through fire sacrifices. The Brahmin priests gained power and influence around this time through the increasingly strictly regulated sacrificial ritualism. However, temples did not yet exist, and the gods were not worshiped in images or statues. Gradually the previously loose, professional structure of society solidified into a caste system that is still effective today. The religion of this epoch, the so-called "Vedic time", is seen as the oldest form of the Vedas. Many elements of it have been preserved in the rites to this day. Nevertheless, this Vedic religion differs significantly from Hinduism as we know it today.

Origin of Buddhism and Jainism

In the "post-Vedic period" from around 500 to 200 BC Criticism gradually arose of the increasingly restrictive sacrificial ritualism and resistance to the rule of the Brahmins. New teachings emerged. They did not seek redemption through fixed sacrificial rituals, but through asceticism. Even the authority of the Vedas has been questioned. From these reform movements, Buddhism and Jainism developed into their own religions.

Development of Classical Hinduism

The period between around 200 BC and 1100 AD is considered the epoch of classical Hinduism, in which it gradually developed into the form we know today: temples came up, as well as pictorial representations of the gods and pilgrimages. Intensive trade relations led to the influence of Hinduism in Tibet and Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, South Vietnam, Indonesia and Burma. Vedic influences faded into the background. Important deities of the Vedas, such as Indra, Varuna and others, lost their meaning for the life of faith. Instead, new gods emerged; especially the worship of Vishnu and Shiva, still today the gods of the main currents Vishnuism and Shivaism, came to the fore.

Between 650 AD and 800 AD (according to tradition between 788-820 AD) one of the most important philosophers of Hinduism, the wandering basket Shankara, preached against the ritualism of the Brahmins and against Buddhism, which was widespread at the time . This was at this time, not least due to Shankara's activity, more and more ousted from India.

New sects arise

Between AD 1100 and 1850, the influence of Islam and Christianity slowly became noticeable. From the 13th century, strictly Islamic rulers established empires on the Hindu subcontinent and intervened in the religious life of the Hindus with iconoclasm and persecution. This enormous pressure was followed by an extensive retreat by the Hindus. An attempt was now made to preserve old values ​​through social isolation. The caste system, which up until then had been rather permeable, became stricter and more impermeable than ever before as an external protection. Nevertheless, new religions developed from this confrontation with Islam. The best known is Sikhism, founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539 AD).

Also through the followers of charismatic personalities, singers and saints from low castes, new beliefs arose that still exist today. These include Tulsidas (1532-1623 AD), the author of the Hindi Ramayana (story of the god Rama), and the mystic Chaitanya (1486-1533 AD), an ardent devotee of the god Krishna and his consort Radha. Her devotional works are still part of the highly respected Hindu literature today. Both are part of the emerging bhakti currents at this time, in which bhakti, unconditional love for God, is at the center.

Reform Movements in Modernity

In the middle of the 19th century the British were able to extend their political and military control over all of India. Although few Hindus converted to Christianity, the influence of the western way of thinking and living brought about changes, at least among the urban elite and middle class. Various Hindus, educated in the British education system, campaigned for fundamental social and religious reform. Science calls these movements "Neohinduism".

One of the most important reform movements is Brahmo Samaj, founded in 1828 with founder Ram Mohan Roy. Thanks to his efforts, the legal abolition of many excesses of Hindustan society, such as widow burning, child marriage and outdated caste regulations. Arya Samaj, who came into being in 1875, fought against the same evils and brought the authority of the Vedas back to the center. The social reformer Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known as Mahatma Gandhi (1869 - 1948 AD), was popular beyond India.

Hinduism in the globalized world

But Hinduism not only changed constantly in the past, changes can still be seen today. The increasing influence of a globalized world is also leaving its mark on the religious worldview and changing traditions in families and society.

Since British rule, the mass migration of believers from the Indian subcontinent has carried Hindu religions into the whole world. These were not originally missionary, but since the middle of the 20th century at the latest they have spread through the activities of various gurus in all countries of the world.

More reviews on Hinduism

Other world religions in the ORF religious lexicon