Indian religions, also called Dharmic religions, are the related religious traditions that originated in the Indian subcontinent, namely Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism, inclusive of their sub-schools and various related traditions. They form a subgroup of the larger class of “Eastern religions”. Indian religions have similarities in core beliefs, modes of worship, and associated practices, mainly due to their common history of origin and mutual influence.
The documented history of Indian religions begins with historical Vedic religion, the religious practices of the early Indo-Aryans, which were collected and later redacted into the Vedas, four canonical collections of hymns or mantras. The language used, archaic Sanskrit, also stems from the same period. The period of the advent, spread, and eventual establishment of this religion lasted from 1,500 BCE to about 500 BCE.
The period from 900-800 BCE onwards marked the beginning of the Upanisadic or Vedantic period, and which ended around 500 BC (though prolonged seminaries lasted at much dates). This period heralded the beginning of much of what became classical Hinduism, with the composition of the Upanishads, later the Sanskrit epics, still later followed by the Puranas.
Jainism and Buddhism arose from the sramana culture. Buddhism was historically founded by Gautama Siddhartha, a Sakya prince-turned-ascetic of Nepal, and was spread beyond India through missionaries. It later experienced a decline in India, but survived in Nepal and Sri Lanka, and remains more widespread in Southeast and East Asia. According to Jain religious beliefs Jainism was established by a lineage of 24 enlightened beings culminating with Parsva (9th century BCE) and Mahavira (6th century BCE). Certain scholars hold that Jain practices may go back as far as Indus valley times to the period 2000-1500 BCE.
Hinduism is divided into numerous denominations, primarily Shaivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, Smarta and much smaller groups like the conservative Shrauta. Hindu reform movements and Ayyavazhi are more recent.
About 90% of Hindus reside in the Republic of India, accounting for 83% of its population.
Sikhism was founded in the 15th century; its founder, Guru Nanak, was born in the town of Talwandi in present day Pakistan. The vast majority of its adherents originate in the Punjab region.
Sometimes summarised as “Dharmic” religions or dharmic traditions (even though the meaning of dharma/dhamma differs per religion), Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism share certain key concepts, which are interpreted differently by different groups and individuals. Common traits can also be observed in both the ritual and the literary sphere. For example, the head-anointing ritual of abhiseka is of importance in three distinct traditions. Other noteworthy rituals are the cremation of the dead, the wearing of vermilion on the head by married women, and various marital rituals. In literature, many classical Hindu narratives have Buddhist or Jain versions. All three traditions have notions of karma, dharma, samsara, moksha and various yogas. Of course, these terms may be perceived differently by different religions. For instance, for a Hindu, dharma is his duty. For a Jain, dharma is his conduct. For a Buddhist, dharma is piety. For a Jain, dharma is righteousness. Similarly, for a Hindu, yoga is the cessation of all thought activities of the mind.
Rama is a heroic figure in all religions. In Hinduism and Sikhism, he is the God-incarnate as a princely king, in Buddhism, he is a bodhisattva-incarnate, in Jainism, he is the perfect human. Buddhist Ramayanas are Vessantarajataka.There also exists the Khamti Ramayana among the Khamti tribe of Asom wherein Rama is an avatar of a Bodhisattva who incarnates to punish the demon king Ravana (B.Datta 1993). The Tai Ramayana another book retelling the divine story in Asom.
Evidence attesting to prehistoric religion in the Indian subcontinent derives from scattered Mesolithic rock paintings such as at Bhimbetka, depicting dances and rituals. Neolithic agriculturalists inhabiting the Indus River Valley buried their dead in a manner suggestive of spiritual practices that incorporated notions of an afterlife and belief in magic.Other South Asian Stone Age sites, such as the Bhimbetka rock shelters in central Madhya Pradesh and the Kupgal petroglyphs of eastern Karnataka, contain rock art portraying religious rites and evidence of possible ritualised music. The Harappan people of the Indus Valley Civilization, which lasted from 3300-1300 BCE (mature period, 2600-1900 BCE) and was centered around the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra river valleys, may have worshiped an important mother goddess symbolising fertility,a concept that has recently been challenged.Excavations of Indus Valley Civilization sites show small tablets with animals and altars, indicating rituals associated with animal sacrifice.
The Vedic Period is most significant for the composition of the four Vedas, Brahmanas and the older Upanishads (both presented as discussions on the rituals, mantras and concepts found in the four Vedas), which today are some of the most important canonical texts of Hinduism, and are the codification of much of what developed into the core beliefs of Hinduism.
The Vedas reflect the liturgy and ritual of Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age Indo-Aryan speaking peoples in India. Religious practices were dominated by the Vedic priesthood administering domestic rituals/rites and solemn sacrifices. The Brahmanas, Aranyakas and some of the older Upanishads (such as BAU, ChU, JUB) are also placed in this period. Many elements of Vedic religion reach back to early Bronze Age Proto-Indo-Iranian times. The Vedic period is held to have ended around 500 BCE.
Specific rituals and sacrifices of the Vedic religion include:
* The Soma cult described in the Rigveda, descended from a common Indo-Iranian practice (cf. the Iranian haoma ritual) .
* Fire rituals, also a common Indo-Iranian practice (See Zoroastrianism):
o The Agnihotra or oblation to Agni.
o The Agnistoma or Soma sacrifice (including animal sacrifice) .
o The Agnicayana, the sophisticated ritual of piling the Uttara fire altar.
* The Darsapaurnamasa, the fortnightly New and Full Moon sacrifice
* The Caturmasya or seasonal sacrifices (every four months)
* a large number of sacrifices for special wishes (Kāmyeṣṭi)
* The Ashvamedha or horse sacrifice.
* The Purushamedha, or sacrifice of a man, imitating that of the cosmic Purusha and Ashvamedha
* The rites referred to in the Atharvaveda are concerned with medicine and healing practices, as well as some charms and sorcery (white and black magic).
* The domestic (grihya) rituals deal with the rites of passage from conception to death and beyond.
The period of Vedanta (Sanskrit : end of Vedas), typically thought to have begun around 900 BCE, marked the end of the evolution of the Vedas, much as it also marked the end of the semi-nomadic nature of the Indo-Aryan tribes as they formed permanent settlements in the Indo-Gangetic plain and other parts of Northern India. This period began in earnest with Brahmanas seeing the four canonical Vedas in a new light, and finally led to the Upanishads. While the ritualistic status of the four Vedas remained undiminished, the early Upanishads sought to offer spiritual insights. At this time, the concepts of reincarnation, samsara, karma, and moksha were widely accepted in ancient India outside the sphere of the priestly establishment i.e. the Brahmana class, and were most probably developed by the class of aborigines outside the caste system often called Yogis or Kesins. They were eventually accepted by Brahmin orthodoxy, and were to form much of the core philosophies of the later epics, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism itself.
-The Shramana tradition
Vedic Brahmanism of Iron Age India co-existed and closely interacted with the parallel non-Vedic Shramana traditions.These were not direct outgrowths of Vedism, but separate movements that influenced it and were influenced by it.The Shramanas were wandering ascetics. Buddhism and Jainism are a continuation of the Shramana tradition, and the early Upanishadic movement was influenced by it. The 24th Jain Tirthankar, Mahavira (599-527 BCE), stressed five vows, including ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing) and aparigraha (non-attachment).
The historical Gautama Buddha, who was a Buddha, was born into the Shakya clan of Angirasa-and-Gautama Rishi lineage, just before the kingdom of Magadha (which lasted from 546-324 BCE) rose to power. His family was native to Kapilavastu and Lumbini, in what is now southern Nepal. The Ajivikas and Samkhyas belonged to another sramana tradtion, both of which did not survive.
-Rise and spread of Jainism and Buddhism
Both Jainism and Buddhism in their present form, spread throughout India during the period of the Magadha empire.
Scholars Jeffrey Brodd and Gregory Sobolewski write that “Jainism shares many of the basic doctrines of Hinduism and Buddhism.” Jainism derives its title from the Sanskrit verb root “ji”, meaning to conquer. According to the Mahavamsa, Jainism was present in Sri Lanka before the arrival of Thera Mahinda. Early Tamil Brahmi Jain inscriptions in Tamil Nadu are dated to second century BCE. Jainism has declined since the 12th century in many regions, but continues to be an influential religion in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Buddhism in India spread during the reign of Asoka the Great of the Mauryan Empire, who patronised Buddhist teachings and unified the Indian subcontinent in the 3rd century BCE. He sent missionaries abroad, allowing Buddhism to spread across Asia. Indian Buddhism started declining following the rise of Puranic Hinduism during the Gupta dynasty, but continued to have a significant presence in some regions of India until the 12th century. Scholar James Bird writes, “But when primitive Buddhism originated from Hindu schools of philosophy, it differed as widely from that of later times, as did the Brahmanism of the Vedas from that of the Puranas and Tantras.”
-Period after 200 BCE
After 200 CE several schools of thought were formally codified in Indian philosophy, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta. Hinduism, otherwise a highly polytheistic, pantheistic or monotheistic religion, also tolerated atheistic schools; the thoroughly materialistic and anti-religious philosophical Cārvāka school that originated around the 6th century BCE is the most explicitly atheistic school of Indian philosophy. Cārvāka is classified as a nastika (”heterodox”) system; it is not included among the six schools of Hinduism generally regarded as orthodox. It is noteworthy as evidence of a materialistic movement within Hinduism. Our understanding of Cārvāka philosophy is fragmentary, based largely on criticism of the ideas by other schools, and it is no longer a living tradition. Other Indian philosophies generally regarded as atheistic include Classical Samkhya and Purva Mimamsa.
Between 400 CE and 1000 CE Hinduism expanded as the decline of Buddhism in India continued. Buddhism subsequently became effectively extinct in India but survived in Nepal and Sri Lanka.
There were several Buddhistic kings who worshiped Vishnu, such as the Gupta, Pala, Malla, Somavanshi, and Sattvahana. Buddhism survived followed by Hindus. National Geographic edition reads, “The flow between faiths was such that for hundreds of years, almost all Buddhist temples, including the ones at Ajanta, were built under the rule and patronage of Hindu kings.”
Several texts were being composed as tributaries to the Vedas. Devotion to particular deities was reflected from the composition of texts composed to their worship. For example the Ganapati Purana was written for devotion to Ganapati (or Ganesh). Popular deities of this era were Shiva, Vishnu, Durga, Surya, Skanda, and Ganesh (including the forms/incarnations of these deities.)
The Bhakti Movement began with the emphasis on the worship of God, regardless of one’s status – whether priestly or laypeople, men or women, higher social status or lower social status.
The movements were mainly centered around the forms of Vishnu (Rama and Krishna) and Shiva. There were however popular devotees of this era of Durga.
The most well-known devotees are the Alwars from southern India. The most popular Vaishnava teacher of the south was Ramanuja, while of the north it was Ramananda.
Several important icons were women. For example, within the Mahanubhava sect, the women outnumbered the men, and administration was many times composed mainly of women. Mirabai is the most popular female saint in India.
Sri Vallabha Acharya (1479 – 1531) is a very important figure from this era. He founded the Shuddha Advaita (Pure Non-dualism) school of Vedanta thought.
The most well-known devotees are the Nayanars from southern India. The most popular Shiava teacher of the south was Basava, while of the north it was Gorakhnath.
Female saints include figures like Akkamadevi, Lalleshvari and Molla.