South Asian Religions

Over the course, important lessons were learnt regarding the practices and beliefs that were predominant in the Indian Subcontinent during the time between its earliest civilization (the Harappan/Indus Valley Civilization and dominance and the time of the Aryan culture. The Harappan Civilization flourished from 2600 BCE to 1900 VCE whereas the Aryans gained entry into India during 1900 BCE or may be later. It is likely that the Aryans interacted with the Harappan Civilization. Over this course, it became apparent that both the Harappan Civilization and the entry of the Aryans to India contributed to the development of Hinduism; however, it as the Aryans that made significant contribution to this development. The focus of this paper is provide insights into the lessons learned during this course focusing on the Harappan Civilization, the Aryans, and aspects relating to the Hinduism religion in the broader context of South Asian religions.


Hinduism in the Context of South Asian Religions

South Asia religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism have a number of common features. First, they all place a considerable attention to orthopraxis (right practice) instead of orthodoxy (right belief) with respect to their religious aspects. Several manifestations of these exist including emphasis on mental cultivation, moral actions, festivals, and spiritual path. The second characteristic shared by all South Asian religions is that they all posit that a vital fault of existence draws upon intellectual defect, which implies that suffering is caused by ignorance. An example in which such ignorance manifests itself is egoism, which denotes mistaking what is not for what is. Thus, these religions emphasis that the fundamental problem of a person is related to intellect rather than will. On the contrary, Abrahamic religious emphasize will, wherein sin is perceived as going against the will of God. South Asian religious emphasis the failure of mankind to discover ones true state and to see things as they really are rather than what they think they are.

Different scholars view Hinduism differently. Some scholars have identified early Hinduism - Hinduism of the Aryans together with their sacred text referred to as the Veda as an earlier and distinct religion. This religion, labelled pre-Hinduism is considered a pre-cursor to Hinduism. This religion is also known referred to as Brahmanism, which draws its name from the priests who had the responsibility of performing the rituals prescribed in the Veda. This means that the definition of the early Hinduism is limited to the Veda. Nevertheless, evidence exists to indicate that the Harappan Civilization forms part of the comprehensive Hinduism. Two broad perspectives exist in defining Hinduism, which include comprehensive Hinduism and restrictive Hinduism. Comprehensive Hinduism denotes the all communities, practices, philosophies and movements that range from the ancient times to the modern times that developed Hinduism practices and teachings. Also, the origins of these communities, practices, and movements is the Indian subcontinent. In this course, Brahmanism and the Harappan civilization are considered as part of comprehensive Hinduism. Restrictive Hinduism denotes the Hinduism that developed following the Vedic period, that is, after 400 BCE. In this course, emphasis was placed on comprehensive Hinduism.

The comments of David Lorenzen also provided important insights regarding who invented the religion of Hinduism. Lorenzen examines whether the term Hinduism was invented by British scholars in the 19th century or existed many centuries before, which is a very significant issue in understanding Hinduism. Lorenzen  stated that the claim that British scholars constructed Hinduism in the 19th century is false. Lorenzen  highlights that evidence exists to Hinduism was invented prior to 1800 due to the rivalry that existed between Muslims and Hindus during 1200-1500. In the view of Lorenzen , nobody created Hinduism; instead, it emerged as a result of the need to develop a distinct identity from that of foreigners. Although the word Hinduism first appeared in 1829, the invention of the religion is not in any way related to the coining of the name. The primary assertion made by Lorenzen  is that the invention of Hinduism cannot be neither credited to the British scholars and colonial administrator nor the Indians themselves; rather, it is a construct that emerged on its own due to the economic and political situations that transpired in India.

Besides exploring the origins of Hinduism, the nature of Hinduism was also covered in the course. Hinduism denotes the various religious practices, teachings, philosophies, and movements having origins in India for the past thousands of years. Hinduism forms a crucial part of the culture of the people of the Indian subcontinent. An important highlight in this regard relates to the fact that any religious practice or beliefs in India might be considered Hinduism unless those holding such beliefs and practices consider themselves different such as Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism. A number of general observations regarding Hinduism were also covered in the course, which included no founder; lack of agreed upon scripture; lack of agreement on the number of divinities and doctrine; more importance placed on religious practices than beliefs. Hinduism has also been described as both a collection of religions as well as a civilization that has neither a founder nor a beginning, nor a central authority. Overall, from a cultural perspective, Hinduism might include elements derived from Dravidians, Harappans, and Aryans as well as the Aboriginals. If the Harappan and aboriginal elements are considered to constitute Hinduism, then the religion can be said to date back several thousands of years (about 10000-15000).

An important lesson learned in the course related to the importance of the subject of dharma in Hinduism. Dharma comprises of all aspects regarding proper social and individual behavior as required of ones role in society as well as preserving ones social identity with respect to ones order of life, marital status, caste, gender, and age. Dharma is akin to law that specifies the rules of behavior such as the religious behaviors and moral behaviors that is binding to the members of a particular community . The Dharmasutras represents the texts that specifies the dharmas, which covers various areas such as sins and their penances; ancestral and death rites; justice administration; interaction between people from different social classes; dietary restrictions; marriage and the associated obligations and rights; and the ritual procedures for conducting religious ceremonies among others. In sum, the Dharmasutra texts provides an overview of the lives of people in ancient India and their expectations in a hierarchical and ordered society.

Indus Valley Civilization

The earliest evidence of Hinduism as a form of an advanced civilization can be traced back to the Harappan Civilization; hence, it is imperative to have an understanding of the contribution of this civilization to the development of Hinduism. The material provided by Dr. Jonathan Kenoyer provided important insights regarding the Harappan Civilization, which was discovered in the course of the 1820s. Charles Masson first stumbled upon the Harappa ruins in the late 1820s and documented its existence. The site was first excavated during 1872-1873 by Sir Alexander, which led to the discovery of the Indus Seal. Extensive excavations were conducted in 1920 by Rai Bahadur Saya, which revealed the earliest forms of urban culture associated with the civilization. Recent excavations of the site have pointed out that the civilization went through five distinct phases including the initial site occupation in 3500-2800 BCE; the expansion and growth of the economic and political significance of the civilization during 2800-2600BC; becoming a major urban center with connections to other large towns settlements, and centers in the Indus Valley; and the cultural, economic, and ideological transformation between 1900 and 1300 BCE .

The important role played by the Harappan civilization with respect to the development of Hinduism is a key lesson learnt from the course. The likely contributions of the Harappan Civilization to Hinduism include phallic worship; the likely introduction of the god Siva; emphasis on the use of water as a purifier; the worship of trees and animals; the practice of yoga; and the Goddess Worship including the implication of the Supreme (Sakti) Goddess. There are several evidences obtained from the excavations of the Harappan site that indicate that the civilization made a contribution to Hinduism. An example is the seals obtained provided evidence of a cult. In addition, yoga-like figures have been found from the seals found in the process of excavating the site. Moreover, it is possible that the narrow-wasted large breasted female statues show evidence that people during the Harappan Civilization worshipped a female deity. In addition, in his article, The Indus Valley Origin of a Yoga Practice, Yan Y. Dhyansky suggests that yoga was a well-known practice in the Harappan Civilization. This assertion is valid due to the archeological evidence obtained from the site indicating a figure in a yoga-like posture. This figure portrays a person in ahead dress and being surrounded by various animals, which has been viewed to indicate one of the main deities worshipped in Hinduism Shiba in a yoga posture.

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The Aryans

Another insightful aspect learned from the course related to the important role played by the coming of the Aryans to India in the development of the Hinduism religion. Aryans refer to people who described themselves as being noble. The term Aryan does not denote a race of people as widely suggested by the Nazis. In the Vedic texts, there are references to Aryans. For instance, Aryans have been described in terms of skin color, appearance, nature and character in the Rgveda. The entry of Aryans into India during 1500 BCE is a matter of controversy, especially in terms of whether they were invaders or migrants. No evidence exists to indicate they invaded India. It is possible that they migrated to India based on the linguistic evidence. It is also possible that the Aryans were participants as migrants in the Harappan civilization. The Aryan Invasion theory posits that the Aryans conquered their inferior enemy and subsequently banned their priesthood and languages, with the conquered being compelled to occupy the lowest social class. The Indigenous Aryanist School rejects the notion that Aryans migrated or invaded India, and critical of how evidence was interpreted by the colonial European and British scholars. Although they consider linguistic evidence of Aryan migration and invasion to be stronger, it is considerably weakened by the nationalistic and ideological motives associated with the theory. Hindus generally believe that the scripture they use was developed during 3000 BCE through contact with Krishna, their god. They reject the proposition that outsiders Aryans invaded the Harappan bringing the Hindu scripture with them. They attribute the idea of invasion to European scholars during the 19th century and believe that Aryans were not outsiders by aboriginal Indians. The lifestyle of the Aryans are captured in the Vedas, which an important text in Hinduism.

Vedic Texts

The Veda, a set of hymns as well as other religious texts composed during the 1500-1000BCE in India, is also another important aspect covered in the course, especially with respect to the role it plays in distinguishing Hinduism from other religions in South Asia. The Veda is an affirmation of Indian Orthodoxy. However, some sects have rejected the Veda. Largely, the Veda details numerous religious texts and hymns related to Hinduism taking various forms such as poems, accounts, prayers, and formulas. The Vedic texts are the oldest scriptures that guide the religion of Hinduism. In Hinduism, it is believed that the Vedic texts were not written by man. Its key divisions include the Rgveda, the Atharvaveda, Samaveda, and the Yajurveda, with each being subdivided further into four types of texts Brahmanas, Samhitas, Upanishads and the Aranyakas. The Samhitas texts are concerned with mantras and benedictions; the Aranyakas texts are concerned with rituals, general sacrifices, ceremonies, and symbolic sacrifices; the Brahmanas texts are concerned with rituals, sacrifices, and ceremonies, while Upanisads texts are concerned with philosophy, knowledge, and meditation . The Rgveda is the oldest Vedic literature comprising of 1028 hymns in 10600 verses that are arranged in ten books . The Samaveda consists of two main parts including three verse books and four melody collections. In the Yajurveda, prose mantras are presented describing the formulas for providing rituals chanted by a priest and individuals performing the ritual actions. It contains 1875 verses. In the Atharvaveda, there are about 760 hymns with 160 obtained from the Rgveda. The Atharvaveda is the primary source of information concerning the Vedic aspirations, beliefs, and culture. The Rgveda is the most important text in the Vedic Corpus since it is the oldest and the fact that it creates the foundation for the other sections. In this regard, there are some sections in the Atharvaveda and the Samaveda that are obtained from the Rgveda.

Developments in Indian Religion and Philosophy

Another important insight learned from the course when examining the development of Hinduism related to the reformations and revolutions that occurred. Five major changes have been documented, which include the change from ritualism towards the liberationist ideas and movements outlined in the later Veda (the Upanisads); the institution of devotionalism in Indians religious loves; the development of the Muslim Sufi and Hindu Bhakti as linkages between Islam and Hinduism; and the influence of the West, the response by India, and the consequent emergence of Neo-Hinduism. Aryans lives were controlled and defined by ritualism. This religion concentrated significantly on performing sacrifices and rituals. In the later Veda, considerable attention is placed on gaining knowledge rather than performing rituals, as evident in the Upanisads. The second shift was marked by the incorporation of devotionnalism in Indians religious lives, which is considered an important development that occurred in the religions of South Asia as evident by the Supreme nature of personal divinity. Devotionalism marks the change of Hinduism from atheism to theism since emphasis is placed on devoting oneself to and honoring a Supreme Being. Evidence of this development include the existence of dance, music, and art for articulating devotion to the Supreme Being. Devotionalism existed for centuries.

The nature of Hinduism religion is also another important aspect covered in the course. As mentioned earlier, the incorporation of devotionalism in Hinduism marked a change from atheism to theism; however, the nature of theism in Hinduism is a crucial aspect of discussion, which was addressed in one of the class readings by Kesacordi-Watson . Kesacordi-Watson tried to establish the monotheistic nature of Hinduism, wherein the Brahman denotes the Supreme Being. In the West, the idea of devas in Hinduism is Hinduism is used to mistake Hinduism as a polytheistic religion, wherein Hinduism is perceived to ascribe various gods. By contrast, Kesacordi-Watson  indicates that Hinduism is a monotheistic religion characterized by the existence of and devotion to one God. To prove his claims, Kesacordi-Watson offers evidence by first asserting that the concept of Brahman in Hinduism is akin to a Supreme Being, to which Hindus devote themselves. In addition, Kesacordi-Watson maintains that the fact that Hinduism recognizes several devas should be used to argue that the religion is polytheistic. In the same way, Christianity has one God and numerous angels under Him yet the religion has been traditionally deemed monotheistic. Similarly, devas in Hinduism is similar to angels in Christianity with respect to their nature as well as status. Essentially, Hinduism draws upon the view that devas manifest in various forms and play different roles although they are not assume the position of the Supreme Being - the Brahman.

Important Themes Related to Hinduism Learned

A number of vital themes related to the religion of Hinduism were covered in this course, which helped for further the understanding regarding the nature of Hinduism. The first important theme is that of Atman, which is covered in the Upanisads. Atman is the Soul or the Self, and the texts presented in the Upanisads encourages individuals to know the Self since it is the core of a person. The Atman represents the spiritual crux of all beings, and it denotes their innermost being that is both real and essential. It is also described as the fundamental reason for the existence of every creature. The emphasis on Atman is consistent with the transformation of Hinduism from emphasis on rituals towards gaining knowledge. In the Upanisads, the Atman is likened to the Brahman. Therefore, the nature of the Self is an important theme in Hinduism, which was examined by Luyster. In the early Vedic Upanisads, the Self was likened to ones breath since lack of breath would result in the death of a person. The concept of the Self has also been examined in terms of sleep and death, wherein, during sleep, the Self momentarily leaves the body in the form of a bird, which underscores the importance of sleep in Indian philosophy and religion . In sleep, the Self explores the world without the person, and when it fails to return to a person, it can cause death. The destiny as well as well as the nature of the Self changed significantly to be likened to Brahman. Another way of examining the state is the dreamless state, the dream state, and the waking.


The course has provided important insights regarding the origins, development and nature of Hinduism religion. From the course, the role played by the Harappan Civilization in the development of the religion have been acknowledged. The development in Hinduism can be described in terms of the change from ritualism towards the liberationist ideas and movements outlined in the later Veda (the Upanisads); the institution of devotionalism in Indians religious loves; the development of the Muslim Sufi and Hindu Bhakti as linkages between Islam and Hinduism; and the influence of the West, the response by India, and the consequent emergence of Neo-Hinduism. Additionally, it has been clarified that Hinduism is a monotheistic religion.

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