Incredible India – Part 6 - Religious Developments in Ancient India

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

The Indus Valley Civilization ensued during the Bronze Age (3300–1300 BCE; mature period 2600–1900 BCE). It mostly spread along the Indus and the Punjab region, extending into the Ghaggar-Hakra river valley and the Ganga-Yamuna Doab, surrounding most of what is now Pakistan, the western states of modern-day India, as well as extending into south-eastern Afghanistan, and the easternmost part of Baluchistan, Iran. 

It was widely suggested that the Harappan people worshiped a Mother goddess symbolizing fertility. A few Indus valley seals displayed swastika signs which were there in many religions, especially in Indian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The earliest evidence for elements of Hinduism is before and during the early Harappan period. Phallic symbols close to the Hindu Shiva lingam was located in the Harappan ruins.

One famous seal displayed a figure seated in a posture reminiscent of the lotus position, surrounded by animals. It came to be labeled after Pashupati (lord of beasts), an epithet of Shiva. The swastika appears only very rarely in the archaeology of ancient Mesopotamia. In Hinduism, the Swastika in two drawings symbolizes two forms of the creator god Brahma. Facing right it signifies the evolution of the universe; facing left it typifies the involution of the universe. The swastika is one of the 108 symbols of the Hindu deity Vishnu and represents the Sun's rays, upon which life depends.

Buddhism originated in the fifth century BCE and spread throughout the Indian subcontinent in the third century BCE. The religion of the Vedic period also known as Vedism or Vedic Brahmanism or, in a context of Indian antiquity, simply Brahmanism was a historical predecessor of Hinduism. Elements of Vedic religion reached back to a Proto-Indo-Iranian religion and an earlier Proto-Indo-European religion. The Vedic period was held to have ended around 500 BCE, Vedic religion with time evolving into the various schools of Hinduism. Vedic religion also influenced Buddhism and Jainism.

Hinduism's origins include the cultural elements of the Indus Valley Civilization along with other Indian civilizations. The oldest surviving text of Hinduism is the Rigveda, produced during the Vedic period and dating to 1700–1100 BCE. During the Epic and Puranic periods, the earliest versions of the epic poems, in their current form including Ramayana and Mahabharata were written roughly from 500–100 BCE, although these were orally transmitted through families for centuries before this period.

After 200 BCE, several schools of thought were formally codified in the Indian philosophy, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa, and Vedanta. Hinduism, otherwise a highly theistic religion, hosted atheistic schools and atheistic philosophies. Other Indian philosophies generally regarded as orthodox include Samkhya and Mimamsa.


The decline of Buddhism in India has been attributed to a variety of factors, which include the resurgence of Hinduism in the 10th and 11th centuries under Sankaracharya, the later Turkish invasion, the Buddhist focus on renunciation as opposed to familial values and private property, Hinduism's use and appropriation of Buddhist and Jain ideals of renunciation and ahimsa, etc. Although Buddhism virtually disappeared from mainstream India by the 11th century CE, its presence remained and manifested itself through other movements such as the Bhakti tradition, Vaishnavism and the Bauls of Bengal, who are influenced by the Sahajjyana form of Buddhism that was popular in Bengal during the Pala period.


Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469–1539) was the founder of Sikhism. The Guru Granth Sahib was first compiled by the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjan Dev, from the writings of the first five Sikh gurus and other saints who preached the concept of universal brotherhood, including those of the Hindu and Muslim faith. Before the death of Guru Gobind Singh, the Guru Granth Sahib was declared the eternal guru. Sikhism recognizes all humans as equal before Waheguru, regardless of color, caste or lineage. Sikhism strongly rejects the beliefs of fasting (vrata), superstitions, idol worship, and circumcision.

Jews first arrived as traders from Judea in the city of Kochi, Kerala, in 562 BCE. More Jews came as exiles from Israel in the year 70 CE, after the destruction of the Second Temple.

Tradition says that Christianity was introduced to India by Thomas the Apostle, who visited Muziris in Kerala in 52 CE and proselytized natives at large, who are known as Saint Thomas Christians (also known as Syrian Christians or Nasrani) today. Although the exact origins of Christianity in India remain unclear, there is a general scholarly consensus that Christianity was rooted in India by the 6th century AD, including some communities who used Syriac liturgically, and it is a possibility that the religion's existence in India extends to as far back as the 1st century.

Though Islam came to India in the early 7th century with the advent of Arab traders in the Malabar coast, Kerala, it started to become a major religion during the Muslim rule in the Indian subcontinent. Islam's spread in India mostly took place under the Delhi Sultanate (1206–1526) and the Mughal Empire (1526–1858), greatly aided by the mystic Sufi tradition.

Part 7 - Delhi Sultanate

Part 5 - India & Looting of Arabs


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