History of Hinduism

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Hinduism (Sanskrit सिन्धु "Sindhu" (Indus River) + ism) is a term for a wide variety of related religious traditions native to India.[1] Historically, it encompasses the development of Religion in India since the Iron Age traditions, which in turn hark back to prehistoric religions such as that of the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilisation followed by the Iron Age Historical Vedic religion.

The period between 800 BCE and 200 BCE is "a turning point between the Vedic religion and Hindu religions",[2] and a formative period for Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.

The Epic and Early Puranic period, from c. 200 BCE to 500 CE, saw the classical "Golden Age" of Hinduism, which coincides with the Gupta Empire. In this period the six branches of Hindu philosophy evolved, namely Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, and Vedanta. Monotheistic sects like Shaivism and Vaishnavism developed during this same period through the Bhakti movement.

The period from roughly 650 to 1100 CE forms the late Classical period[3] or early Middle Ages, in which classical Pauranic Hinduism is established, and Adi Shankara's Advaita Vedanta, which incorporated Buddhist thought into Vedanta, marking a shift from realistic to idealistic thought.

Hinduism under the Islamic Rulers, from 1100 to c. 1750 CE, saw the increasing prominence of the Bhakti movement, which remains influential today. The colonial period saw the emergence of various Hindu reform movements partly inspired by western culture, such as spiritism (Theosophy). The Partition of India in 1947 was along religious lines, with the Republic of India emerging with a Hindu majority.

During the 20th century, due to the Indian diaspora, Hindu minorities have formed in all continents, with the largest communities in absolute numbers in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the Republic of India, Hindu nationalism has emerged as a strong political force since the 1980s, the Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party forming the Government of India from 1999 to 2004, and its first state government in southern India in 2006.


James Mill (1773-1836), in his The History of British India (1817),[4] distinguished three phases in the history of India, namely Hindu, Muslim and British civilisations.[4][5] This periodisation has been criticised, for the misconceptions it has given rise to.[6] Another periodisation is the division into "ancient, classical, medieaval and modern periods".[7] Smart[8] and Michaels[9] seem to follow Mill's periodisation,[note 1], while Flood[10] and Muesse[12][13] follow the "ancient, classical, medieaval and modern periods" periodisation.[14]

Different periods are designated as "classical Hinduism":

  • Smart calls the period between 1000 BCE and 100 CE "pre-classical". It's the formative period for the Upanishads and Brahmanism[note 2], Jainism and Buddhism. For Smart, the "classical period" lasts from 100 to 1000 CE, and coincides with the flowering of "classical Hinduism" and the flowering and deterioration of Mahayana-buddhism in India.[16]
  • For Michaels, the period between 500 BCE and 200 BCE is a time of "Ascetic reformism"[17], whereas the period between 200 BCE and 1100 CE is the time of "classical Hinduism", since there is "a turning point between the Vedic religion and Hindu religions".[2]
  • Muesse discerns a longer period of change, namely between 800 BCE and 200 BCE, which he calls the "Classical Period":

...this was a time when traditional religious practices and beliefs were reassessed. The brahmins and the rituals they performed no longer enjoyed the same prestige they had in the Vedic pariod".[18]

According to Muesse, some of the fundamental concepts of Hinduism, namely karma, reincarnation and "personal enlightenment and transformation", which did not exist in the Vedic religion, developed in this time:

Indian philosophers came to regard the human as an immortal soul encased in a perishable body and bound by action, or karma, to a cycle of endless existences.[19]

According to Muesse, reincarnation is "a fundamental principle of virtually all religions formed in Indias".[20]

The period of the ascetic reforms saw the rise of Buddhism and Jainism, while Sikhism originated during the time of Islamic rule.[3]

Smart[8] Michaels
Muesse[13] Flood[21]
Indus Valley Civilisation and Vedic period
(ca. 3000-1000 BCE)
Prevedic religions
(until ca. 1750 BCE)[9]
Prevedic religions
(until ca. 1750 BCE)[9]
Indus Valley Civilization
(3300–1400 BCE)
Indus Valley Civilisation
(ca. 2500 to 1500 BCE)
Vedic religion
(ca. 1750-500 BCE)
Early Vedic Period
(ca. 1750-1200 BCE)
Vedic Period
(1600–800 BCE)
Vedic period
(ca. 1500-500 BCE)
Middle Vedic Period
(from 1200 BCE)
Pre-classical period
(ca. 1000 BCE - 100 CE)
Late Vedic period
(from 850 BCE)
Classical Period
(800–200 BCE)
Ascetic reformism
(ca. 500-200 BCE)
Ascetic reformism
(ca. 500-200 BCE)
Epic and Puranic period
(ca. 500 BCE to 500 CE)
Classical Hinduism
(ca. 200 BCE-1100 CE)[2]
Preclassical Hinduism
(ca. 200 BCE-300 CE)[22]
Epic and Puranic period
(200 BCE–500 CE)
Classical period
(ca. 100 CE - 1000 CE)
"Golden Age" (Gupta Empire)
(ca. 320-650 CE)[23]
Late-Classical Hinduism
(ca. 650-1100 CE)[24]
Medieval and Late Puranic Period
(500–1500 CE)
Medieval and Late Puranic Period
(500–1500 CE)
Hindu-Islamic civilisation
(ca. 1000-1750 CE)
Islamic rule and "Sects of Hinduism"
(ca. 1100-1850 CE)[25]
Islamic rule and "Sects of Hinduism"
(ca. 1100-1850 CE)[25]
Modern Age
Modern period
(ca. 1500 CE to present)
Modern period
(ca. 1750 CE - present)
Modern Hinduism
(from ca. 1850)[26]
Modern Hinduism
(from ca. 1850)[26]

Prevedic religions[edit]

Indus Valley Civilisation (3300–1400 BCE)[edit]

The so-called Shiva Pashupati seal

Some Indus valley seals show swastikas, which are found in other religions worldwide, especially in Indian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The earliest evidence for elements of Hinduism are alleged to have been present before and during the early Harappan period.[27] Phallic symbols interpreted as the much later Hindu Shiva lingam have been found in the Harappan remains.[28][29]

Swastika Seals from the Indus Valley Civilization preserved at the British Museum

Many Indus valley seals show animals. One seal shows a horned figure seated in a posture reminiscent of the Lotus position and surrounded by animals was named by early excavators Pashupati (lord of cattle), an epithet of the later Hindu gods Shiva and Rudra.[30][31][32] Writing in 1997 Doris Srinivasan said that "Not too many recent studies continue to call the seal's figure a "Proto-Siva," rejecting thereby Marshall's package of proto-Siva features, including that of three heads. She interprets what John Marshall interpreted as facial as not human but more bovine, possibly a divine buffalo-man.[33] According to Iravatham Mahadevan symbols 47 and 48 of his Indus script glossary The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables (1977), representing seated human-like figures, could describe Hindu deity Murugan.[34]

In view of the large number of figurines found in the Indus valley, some scholars believe that the Harappan people worshipped a Mother goddess symbolizing fertility, a common practice among rural Hindus even today.[35] However, this view has been disputed by S. Clark who sees it as an inadequate explanation of the function and construction of many of the figurines.[36]

There are no religious buildings or evidence of elaborate burials. If there were temples, they have not been identified.[37] However, House - 1 in HR-A area in Mohenjadaro's Lower Town has been identified as a possible temple.[38]

Vedic period (1600–800 BCE)[edit]

Vedism was the sacrificial religion of the early Indo-Aryans, speakers of early Old Indic dialects, ultimately deriving from the Proto-Indo-Iranian peoples of the Bronze Age.[note 3] Its liturgy is preserved in the three Vedic Samhitas: the Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda and the Yajur-Veda. Of these, the Rig-Veda the oldest, a collection of hymns dated to between 1500 and 1000 BCE. The other two add ceremonial detail for the performance of the actual sacrifice. The Atharva-Veda may also contain compositions dating to before 1000 BCE. It contains material pertinent to domestic ritual and folk magic of the period. These texts, as well as the voluminous commentary on orthopraxy collected in the Brahmanas compiled during the early 1st millennium BCE, were transmitted by oral tradition alone until the advent of the Pallava and Gupta period and by a combination of written and oral tradition since then.

Rigvedic religion[edit]

The geographical horizon of the Rigveda (given with river names, together with the extent of the Swat and Cemetery H) extends from the Hindu Kush and the Punjab region to the upper Gangetic plain.

The earliest text of the Vedas is the Rigveda,[40] a collection of poetic hymns used in the sacrificial rites of Vedic priesthood. Many Rigvedic hymns concern the fire ritual (Agnihotra) and especially the offering of Soma to the gods (Somayajna). Soma is both an intoxicant and a god itself, as is the sacrificial fire, Agni. The royal horse sacrifice (Ashvamedha) is a central rite in the Yajurveda.

The gods in the Rig-Veda are mostly personified concepts, who fall into two categories: the devas – who were gods of nature – such as the weather deity Indra (who is also the King of the gods), Agni ("fire"), Usha ("dawn"), Surya ("sun") and Apas ("waters") on the one hand, and on the other hand the asuras – gods of moral concepts – such as Mitra ("contract"), Aryaman (guardian of guest, friendship and marriage), Bhaga ("share") or Varuna, the supreme Asura (or Aditya). While Rigvedic deva is variously applied to most gods, including many of the Asuras, the Devas are characterised as Younger Gods while Asuras are the Older Gods (pūrve devāḥ). In later Vedic texts, the Asuras become demons.

The Rigveda has 10 Mandalas ('books'). There is significant variation in the language and style between the family books (RV books 2–7), book 8, the "Soma Mandala" (RV 9), and the more recent books 1 and 10. The older books share many aspects of common Indo-Iranian religion, and is an important source for the reconstruction of earlier common Indo-European traditions. Especially RV 8 has striking similarity to the Avesta,[41] containing allusions to Afghan Flora and Fauna,[42] e.g. to camels (úṣṭra- = Avestan uštra). Many of the central religious terms in Vedic Sanskrit have cognates in the religious vocabulary of other Indo-European languages (deva: Latin deus; hotar: Germanic god; asura: Germanic ansuz; yajna: Greek hagios; brahman: Norse Bragi or perhaps Latin flamen etc.). Especially notable is the fact, that in the Avesta Asura (Ahura) is known as good and Deva (Daeva) as evil entity, quite the opposite of the RigVeda.


Since Vedic times, "people from many strata of society throughout the subcontinent tended to adapt their religious and social life to Brahmanic norms", a process sometimes called Sanskritization.[43] It is reflected in the tendency to identify local deities with the gods of the Sanskrit texts.[43]

Formative Period (800–200 BCE)[edit]


Map of early Iron Age Vedic India after Witzel (1989). Location hypotheses for Vedic shakhas are shown in green.

In Iron Age India, during a period roughly spanning the 10th to 6th centuries BCE, the Mahajanapadas arise from the earlier petty kingdoms of the various Rigvedic tribes, and the failing remnants of the Late Harappan culture. In this period the mantra portions of the Vedas are largely completed, and a flowering industry of Vedic priesthood organised in numerous schools (shakha) develops exegetical literature, viz. the Brahmanas. These schools also edited the Vedic mantra portions into fixed recensions, that were to be preserved purely by oral tradition over the following two millennia.

Upanishads and shramana movements[edit]

This period of dominance of priestly Brahmanic Hinduism declines with the appearance of mystical traditions (the oldest Upanishads, BAU, ChU and JUB besides the Shatapatha Brahmana) attacking the rigid ritualism available only to the elite, in favour of spiritual insight through asceticism and meditation.[44] The rise of Buddhism at this time, according to tradition originating with Gautama Buddha, a 6th-century BCE prince, renouncing his status for enlightenment, is exemplary of this tendency. Politically, the Mahajanapadas declined, in the west falling to the invasion of Darius the Great, and from the east absorbed into the Magadha Empire which as the Maurya Empire would encompass almost the whole subcontinent by the time of Ashoka.

Survival of Vedic ritual[edit]

Vedism as the religious tradition of Hinduism of a priestly elite was marginalised by other traditions such as Jainism and Buddhism in the later Iron Age, but in the Middle Ages would rise to renewed prestige with the Mimamsa school, which as well as all other astika traditions of Hinduism, considered them authorless (apaurusheyatva) and eternal. A last surviving elements of Vedic Hinduism or Vedism is Śrauta tradition, following many major elements of Vedic religion and is prominent in Southern India, with communities in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, but also in some pockets of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and other states; the best known of these groups are the Nambudiri of Kerala, whose traditions were notably documented by Frits Staal.[45][46][47]

Mauryan empire[edit]

The Mauryan period saw an early flowering of classical Sanskrit Sutra and Shastra literature and the scholarly exposition of the "circum-Vedic" fields of the Vedanga. However, during this time Buddhism was patronised by Ashoka, who ruled large parts of India, and Buddhism was also the mainstream religion until the Gupta empire period.

Epic and Early Puranic Period (200 BCE–500 CE)[edit]

According to Hiltebeitel, a period of consolidation in the development of Hinduism took place between the time of the late Vedic Upanishad (c. 500 BCE) and the period of the rise of the Guptas (c. 320-467 CE), which he calls the "Hindus synthesis", "Brahmanic synthesis", or "orthodox synthesis".[48] It develops in interaction with other religions and peoples:

The emerging self-definitions of Hinduism were forged in the context of continuous interaction with heterodox religions (Buddhists, Jains, Ajivikas) throughout this whole period, and with foreign people (Yavanas, or Greeks; Sakas, or Scythians; Pahlavas, or Parthians; and Kusanas, or Kushans) from the third phase on [between the Mauryan empire and the rise of the Guptas].[48]

Sangam period[edit]

The Sangam literature (300 BCE – 300 CE) is a mostly secular body of classical literature in the Tamil language. Nonetheless there are some works, significantly Pattupathu and Paripaatal, wherein the personal devotion to god was written in form of devotional poems. Vishnu, Shiva and Murugan were mentioned gods. These works are therefore the earliest evidences of monotheistic Bhakti traditions, preceding the large bhakti movement, which was given great attention in later times.

The Hinduist smriti texts of the period between 200 BCE-100 CE proclaim the authority of the Vedas, and acceptance of the Vedas becomes a central criterium for defining Hinduism over and against the heterodoxies, which rejected the Vedas.[48] Of the six Hindu darsanas, the Mimamsa and the Vedanta "are rooted primarily in the Vedic sruti tradition and are sometimes called smarta schools in the sense that they develop smarta orthodox current of thoughts that are based, like smriti, directly on sruti.[48] According to Hiltebeitel, "the consolidation of Hinduism takes place under the sign of bhakti".[48] It is the Bhagavadgita that seals this achievement.[48] The result is an "universal achievement" that may be called smarta.[48] It views Shiva and Vishnu as "complementary in their functions but ontologically identical".[48]

Gupta and Pallava period[edit]

The Gupta period (4th to 6th centuries) saw a flowering of scholarship, the emergence of the classical schools of Hindu philosophy, and of classical Sanskrit literature in general on topics ranging from medicine, veterinary science, mathematics, to astrology and astronomy and astrophysics. The famous Aryabhata and Varahamihira belong to this age. The Gupta established a strong central government which also allowed a degree of local control. Gupta society was ordered in accordance with Hindu beliefs. This included a strict caste system, or class system. The peace and prosperity created under Gupta leadership enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors.

The Pallavas (4th to 9th centuries) were, alongside the Guptas of the North, patronisers of Sanskrit in the South of the Subcontinent. The pallava reign saw the first Sankrit inscriptions in a script called Grantha. Early Pallavas had different connexions to South-East Asian countries. The Pallavas used Dravidian architecture to build some very important Hindu temples and academies in Mamallapuram, Kanchipuram and other places; their rule saw the rise of great poets, who are as famous as Kalidasa.

The practice of dedicating temples to different deities came into vogue followed by fine artistic temple architecture and sculpture (see Vastu Shastra).

Expansion in South-East Asia[edit]

Expansion of Hinduism in Southeast Asia.

From about the 1st century, India started to strongly influence Southeast Asian countries. Trade routes linked India with southern Burma, central and southern Siam, lower Cambodia and southern Vietnam and numerous urbanised coastal settlements were established there.

For more than a thousand years, Indian Hindu/Buddhist influence was therefore the major factor that brought a certain level of cultural unity to the various countries of the region. The Pali and Sanskrit languages and the Indian script, together with Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, Brahmanism and Hinduism, were transmitted from direct contact as well as through sacred texts and Indian literature, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata epics.

From the 5th to the 13th century, South-East Asia had very powerful Indian colonial empires and became extremely active in Buddhist architectural and artistic creation. The Sri Vijaya Empire to the south and the Khmer Empire to the north competed for influence.

Langkasuka (-langkha Sanskrit for "resplendent land" -sukkha of "bliss") was an ancient Hindu kingdom located in the Malay Peninsula. The kingdom, along with Old Kedah settlement, are probably the earliest territorial footholds founded on the Malay Peninsula. According to tradition, the founding of the kingdom happened in the 2nd century; Malay legends claim that Langkasuka was founded at Kedah, and later moved to Pattani.

From the 5th-15th centuries Sri Vijayan empire, a maritime empire centred on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, had adopted Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism under a line of rulers named the Sailendras. The Empire of Sri Vijaya declined due to conflicts with the Chola rulers of India. The Majapahit Empire succeeded the Singhasari empire. It was one of the last and greatest Hindu empires in Maritime Southeast Asia.

Funan was a pre-Angkor Cambodian kingdom, located around the Mekong delta, probably established by Mon-Khmer settlers speaking an Austroasiatic language. According to reports by two Chinese envoys, K'ang T'ai and Chu Ying, the state was established by an Indian Brahmin named Kaundinya, who in the 1st century CE was given instruction in a dream to take a magic bow from a temple and defeat a Khmer queen, Soma. Soma, the daughter of the king of the Nagas, married Kaundinya and their lineage became the royal dynasty of Funan. The myth had the advantage of providing the legitimacy of both an Indian Brahmin and the divinity of the cobras, who at that time were held in religious regard by the inhabitants of the region.

The kingdom of Champa (or Lin-yi in Chinese records) controlled what is now south and central Vietnam from approximately 192 through 1697. The dominant religion of the Cham people was Hinduism and the culture was heavily influenced by India.

Later, from the 9th to the 13th century, the Mahayana Buddhist and Hindu Khmer Empire dominated much of the South-East Asian peninsula. Under the Khmer, more than 900 temples were built in Cambodia and in neighboring Thailand. Angkor was at the centre of this development, with a temple complex and urban organisation able to support around one million urban dwellers. The largest temple complex of the world, Angkor Wat, stands here; built by the king Vishnuvardhan, a king of the dynasty that believed themselves to be incarnations of Vishnu.

Medieval and Late Puranic Period (500–1500 CE)[edit]

By the 8th century, the "Hindu golden age" of the past millennium was over. The formerly rich philosophic literature tended to be reduced to scholastic quarreling and infighting between innumerable sects, notably between emerging traditions of Vaishnavism and Shaivism.[citation needed] Adi Shankara in the 8th century managed to reconcile the antagonistic sects and to establish Hinduism as a single, if diverse, religious tradition.[citation needed] The compilation of the Puranas provided a mythical backdrop for this tradition, and served as a means of acculturation of the various pre-literate tribal societies to the new religious mainstream. Various reforms of the later Middle Ages, notably the Bhakti movement, besides new Yogic schools (Jnana yoga, Karma yoga, Hatha yoga, Bhakti yoga) gave Hinduism its classical form as described by the 18th- to 19th-century pioneers of Indology.

Bhakti movement[edit]

The Bhakti movement was a Hindu religious movement in which the main spiritual practice was the fostering of loving devotion to God, called bhakti. It was a movement generally devoted to worship of Shiva, Vishnu or Shakti.

The first documented bhakti movement was founded by Karaikkal-ammaiyar. She wrote poems in Tamil about her love for Shiva and probably lived around the 6th century CE. The twelve Alvars who were Vaishnavite devotees and the sixty-three Nayanars who were Shaivite devotees nurtured the incipient bhakti movement in Tamil Nadu. They constitute South India's 75 Apostles of Bhakti.

During the 12th century CE in Karnataka, the Bhakti movement took the form of the Virashaiva movement. It was inspired by Basavanna, a Hindu reformer who created the sect of Lingayats or Shiva bhaktas. During this time, a unique and native form of Kannada literature-poetry called Vachanas was born.

Advaita Vedanta[edit]

Shankara (8th century CE) is regarded as the greatest exponent of Advaita Vedanta. Shankara himself, and his grand-teacher Gaudapada, were influenced by Buddhism.[49][50][51][52] Gaudapda took over the Buddhist doctrines that ultimate reality is pure consciousness (vijñapti-mātra)[53] and "that the nature of the world is the four-cornered negation".[53] Gaudapada "wove [both doctrines] into a philosophy of the Mandukaya Upanisad, which was further developed by Shankara".[50] Gaudapada also took over the Buddhist concept of "ajāta" from Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka philosophy.[51][52] Shankara succeeded in reading Gaudapada's mayavada[54][note 4] into Badarayana's Brahma Sutras, "and give it a locus classicus",[54] against the realistic strain of the Brahma Sutras.[54]

Shankara is the founder of the Dashanami Sampradaya of Hindu monasticism and Shanmata tradition of worship. Shankara is also regarded as the greatest teacher[55] and reformer of the Smartha Tradition.[56][55] According to Hunduism-guide.com:

Not all Brahmins specialized in this Smriti tradition. Some were influenced by Buddhism, Jainism or Charvaka tradition and philosophy. This did not mean that all these people rejected the authority of Vedas, but only that their tradition of worship and philosophy was based not on smriti texts. In time, Shankaracharya brought all the Vedic communities together. He tried to remove the non-smriti aspects that had crept into the Hindu communities. He also endeavoured to unite them by arguing that any of the different Hindu gods could be worshipped, according to the prescriptions given in the smriti texts. He established that worship of various deities are compatible with Vedas and is not contradictory, since all are different manifestations of one nirguna Brahman. Shankaracharya was instrumental in reviving interest in the smritis.[web 5]

Pauranic Hinduism[edit]

The transformation of Brahmanism into Pauranic Hinduism in post-Gupta India was due to a process of acculturation. The Puranas helped establish a religious mainstream among the pre-literate tribal societies undergoing acculturation. The tenets of Brahmanism and of the Dharmashastras underwent a radical transformation at the hands of the Purana composers, resulting in the rise of a mainstream "Hinduism" that overshadowed all earlier traditions.[57]

Hindu influence in Persia and Mesopotamia[edit]

Hindu and also Buddhist religious and secular learning had first reached Persia in an organised manner in the 6th century, when the Sassanid Emperor Khosrau I (531–579) deputed Borzuya the physician as his envoy, to invite Indian and Chinese scholars to the Academy of Gundishapur. Burzoe had translated the Sanskrit Panchatantra. His Pahlavi version was translated into Arabic by Ibn al-Moqaffa under the title of Kalila and Dimna or The Fables of Bidpai.[58]

Under the Abbasid caliphate, Baghdad had replaced Gundishapur as the most important centre of learning in the then vast Islamic Empire, wherein the traditions as well as scholars of the latter flourished. Hindu scholars were invited to the conferences on sciences and mathematics held in Baghdad.[59]

Muslim conquests[edit]

Muslim rulers began to extend their rule across Hindu-Buddhist populated lands in the 8th century CE and the Abrahamic religion of Islam began to spread across the Indian-subcontinent over several centuries. Most converts were from Hinduism or Buddhism, the two dominant local religions. While all traditions of popular Hinduism continued – including the worship of popular reincarnations of the primordial ShaktiBhakti tradition attained new prominence; Bhakti poetry of lasting greatness was composed in northern India under the rule of Muslim emperors. The humble mystic saint Kabir, who established his own order, composed devotional verses in the Bhakti spirit, but in common-man's Hindi dialect and transcendenting Hindu-Muslim theocratic divide. Tulsidas, Mira Bai and Surdas composed immortal Hindu devotional poetry in Hindi-dialects in the Mughal period – it is reminiscent of the earlier Kannada and Tamil Bhakti poetry of South India.

Unifying Hinduism[edit]

According to Nicholson, already between the 12th and 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.[60]

The tendency of "a blurring of philosophical distinctions" has also been noted by Burley.[61] Lorenzen locates the origins of a distinct Hindu identity in the interaction between Muslims and Hindus,[62] and a proces of "mutual self-definition with a contrasting Muslim other",[63] which started well before 1800.[64] Both the Indian and the European thinkers who developed the term "Hinduism" in the 19th century were influenced by these philosophers.[65]

Modern Age (1500–present)[edit]

Early Modern period[edit]

The fall of Vijayanagar Empire to Muslim rulers had marked the end of Hindu imperial assertions in the Deccan. But, taking advantage of an over-stretched Mughal Empire, Hinduism once again rose to political prestige, under the Maratha Empire, from 1707 to 1761.

Mughal India[edit]

Photograph of the Surya Temple, The most impressive and grandest ruins in Kashmir, at Marttand-Hardy Cole's Archaeological Survey of India Report 'Illustrations of Ancient Buildings in Kashmir.' (1869)

After the conquest of Persia by the Mongol Empire, a regional Turko-Persio-Mongol dynasty formed. Just as eastern Mongol dynasties inter-married with locals and adopted the local religion of Buddhism and the Chinese culture, this group adopted the local religion of Islam and the Persian culture; their descendants ruled in India as Mughals.

The official State religion of the Mughal Empire was Islam, with the preference to the jurisprudence of the Hanafi Madhab (Mazhab). Hinduism remained under strain during Babur and Humanyun's reigns. Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan ruler of North India was comparatively non-repressive. Hinduism came to fore during the three-year rule of Hindu king 'Hemu' during 1553-56 when he had defeated Akbar at Agra and Delhi and had taken up the reign from Delhi as a Hindu 'Vikramaditya' king after his 'Rajyabhishake' or coronation at 'Purana Quila' in Delhi. However, during Mughal history, at times, subjects had freedom to practise any religion of their choice, though Non-Muslim able-bodied adult males with income were obliged to pay the Jizya (poll-tax to be spent by the State only on protection of non-Muslims), which signified their status as Dhimmis (responsibility of the State, in regard to safety of life and property).

Akbar, the Mughal emperor Humayun's son and heir from his Sindhi queen Hameeda Banu Begum, had a broad vision of Indian and Islamic traditions. One of Emperor Akbar's most unusual ideas regarding religion was Din-i-Ilahi (Faith of God), which was an eclectic mix of Islam, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Jainism and Christianity. It was proclaimed the state religion until his death. These actions however met with stiff opposition from the Muslim clergy, especially the Sufi Shaykh Alf Sani Ahmad Sirhindi. Akbar's abolition of poll-tax on non-Muslims, acceptance of ideas from other religious philosophies, toleration of public worship by all religions and his interest in other faiths showed an attitude of considerable religious tolerance, which, in the minds of his orthodox Muslim opponents, were tantamount to apostasy.

Akbar's son, Jahangir, half Rajput, was also a religious moderate, his mother being Hindu. The influence of his two Hindu queens (the Maharani Maanbai and Maharani Jagat) kept religious moderation as a centre-piece of state policy which was extended under his son, Emperor Shah Jahan, who was by blood 75% Rajput and less than 25% Moghul.

Religious orthodoxy would only play an important role during the reign of Shah Jahan's son and successor, Aurangzeb, a devout Sunni Muslim. Aurangzeb was comparatively less tolerant of other faiths than his predecessors had been, and his reign saw an increase in the number and importance of Islamic institutions and scholars. He led many military campaigns against the remaining non-Muslim powers of the Indian subcontinent – the Sikh states of the Punjab, the last independent Hindu Rajputs and the Maratha rebels – as also against the Shia Muslim kingdoms of the Deccan. He also virtually stamped out, from his empire, open proselytisation of Hindus and Muslims by foreign Christian Missionaries, who remained successfully active, however, in the adjoining regions: the present day Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa.

Maratha Empire[edit]

The last Hindu empire of India – The Maratha Empire in 1760.

The Hindu Marathas long had lived in the Desh region around Satara, in the western portion of the Deccan plateau, where the plateau meets the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats mountains. They had resisted incursions into the region by the Muslim Mughal rulers of northern India. Under their ambitious leader Shivaji, the Maratha freed themselves from the Muslim sultans of Bijapur to the southeast and, becoming much more aggressive, began to frequently raid Mughal territory, eventually sacking the wealthy Mughal port of Surat in 1664. After substantial territorial gains, Shivaji was proclaimed 'Chhatrapati' (Emperor) in 1674; the Marathas had spread and conquered much of central India by Chatrapati Shivaji's Maharaj death in 1680. Subsequently, under the able leadership of Brahmin prime ministers (Peshwas), who often led as generals also, Maratha Empire reached its zenith. Pune, the seat of Peshwas, flowered as a centre of Hindu learning and traditions. In 1761, the empire broke into smaller Maratha kingdoms that survived till they were eventually subdued by the British East India Company.

Early colonialism[edit]

Portuguese missionaries had reached the Malabar Coast in the late 15th century, made contact with the St Thomas Christians in Kerala and sought to introduce the Latin Rite among them. Since the priests for St Thomas Christians were served by the Eastern Christian Churches, they were following Eastern Christian practices at that time. Throughout this period, foreign missionaries also made many new converts to Christianity. This led to the formation of the Latin Catholics in Kerala.

The Goa Inquisition was the office of the Christian Inquisition acting in the Indian city of Goa and the rest of the Portuguese empire in Asia. St. Francis Xavier, in a 1545 letter to John III, requested for an Inquisition to be installed in Goa. It was installed eight years after the death of Francis Xavier in 1552. Established in 1560 and operating until 1774, this highly controversial institution was aimed primarily at Hindus and wayward new converts.

In the century from 1760 to 1860, India was once more divided into numerous petty and unstable kingdoms - most of them being subjects of the British Empire: the "lesser Mughals" following Bahadur Shah I; the Kingdom of Mysore; Hyderabad State;Maratha states;Rajput states,Polygar states,North-Eatern states,Himalayan states....and so on as well as the territories held by the British East India Company. From 1799 to 1849 the only major stable and independent empire in India was the non Hindu Sikh Empire although it had a secular character with a large number of Hindu and Muslim subjects living in peace. The Sikh Empire, unlike the other lesser Indian kingdoms and states was not under the paramountcy of the British Raj. The entire subcontinent fell under British rule (partly indirectly, via Princely states) following the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Modern Hinduism (after c. 1850 CE)[edit]

Hindu revivalism[edit]

1909 Prevailing Religions, Map of British Indian Empire, 1909, showing the prevailing majority religions of the population for different districts.

During the 19th century, Hinduism developed a large number of new religious movements, partly inspired by the European Romanticism, nationalism, scientific racism and esotericism (Theosophy) popular at the time (while conversely and contemporaneously, India had a similar effect on European culture with Orientalism, "Hindoo style" architecture, reception of Buddhism in the West and similar).

These reform movements are summarised under Hindu revivalism and continue into the present.

Reception in the West[edit]

An important development during the British colonial period was the influence Hindu traditions began to form on Western thought and new religious movements. An early champion of Indian-inspired thought in the West was Arthur Schopenhauer who in the 1850s advocated ethnics based on an "Aryan-Vedic theme of spiritual self-conquest", as opposed to the ignorant drive toward earthly utopianism of the superficially this-worldly "Jewish" spirit.[66] Helena Blavatsky moved to India in 1879, and her Theosophical Society, founded in New York in 1875, evolved into a peculiar mixture of Western occultism and Hindu mysticism over the last years of her life.

The sojourn of Vivekananda to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 had a lasting effect. Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission, a Hindu missionary organisation still active today.

In the early 20th century, Western occultists influenced by Hinduism include Maximiani Portaz – an advocate of "Aryan Paganism" – who styled herself Savitri Devi and Jakob Wilhelm Hauer, founder of the German Faith Movement. It was in this period, and until the 1920s, that the swastika became a ubiquitous symbol of good luck in the West before its association with the Nazi Party became dominant in the 1930s.

Hinduism-inspired elements in Theosophy were also inherited by the spin-off movements of Ariosophy and Anthroposophy and ultimately contributed to the renewed New Age boom of the 1960s to 1980s, the term New Age itself deriving from Blavatsky's 1888 The Secret Doctrine.

Contemporary Hinduism[edit]

As of 2007, of an estimated 944 million Hindus, 98.5% live in South Asia. Of the remaining 1.5% or 14 million, 6 million live in Southeast Asia (mostly Indonesia), 2 million in Europe, 1.8 million in North America, 1.2 million in Southern Africa.

South Asia[edit]

Modern Hinduism is the reflection of continuity and progressive changes that occurred in various traditions and institutions of Hinduism during the 19th and 20th centuries. Its main divisions are into Vaishnavism (largely influenced by Bhakti), Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism (Advaita Vedanta).

Besides these traditional denominations, movements of Hindu revivalism look to founders such as Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda (Arya Samaj), Rabindranath Tagore, Ramana Maharshi, Aurobindo, Shriram Sharma Acharya, Swami Sivananda, Swami Rama Tirtha, Narayana Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, Swami Chinmayananda, Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, Pandurang Shastri Athavale (Swadhyay Movement) and others.

The Hindutva movement advocating Hindu nationalism originated in the 1920s and has remained a strong political force in India. The major party of the religious right, Bharatiya Janata Party, since its foundation in 1980 has won several elections, and after a defeat in 2004 remains the leading force of opposition against the current Congress Party government.

Southeast Asia[edit]

The resurgence of Hinduism in Indonesia is occurring in all parts of the country. In the early seventies, the Toraja people of Sulawesi were the first to be identified under the umbrella of 'Hinduism', followed by the Karo Batak of Sumatra in 1977 and the Ngaju Dayak of Kalimantan in 1980.

The growth of Hinduism has been driven also by the famous Javanese prophesies of Sabdapalon and Jayabaya. Many recent converts to Hinduism had been members of the families of Sukarno's PNI, and now support Megawati Sukarnoputri. This return to the 'religion of Majapahit' (Hinduism) is a matter of nationalist pride.

The new Hindu communities in Java tend to be concentrated around recently built temples (pura) or around archaeological temple sites (candi) which are being reclaimed as places of Hindu worship. An important new Hindu temple in eastern Java is Pura Mandaragiri Sumeru Agung, located on the slope of Mt. Semeru, Java's highest mountain. Mass conversions have also occurred in the region around Pura Agung Blambangan, another new temple, built on a site with minor archaeological remnants attributed to the kingdom of Blambangan, the last Hindu polity on Java, and Pura Loka Moksa Jayabaya (in the village of Menang near Kediri).

Neo-Hindu movements in the west[edit]

In modern times Smarta-views have been highly influential in both the Indian[web 6] and western[web 7] understanding of Hinduism via Neo-Vedanta. Vivekananda was an advocate of Smarta-views,[web 7] and Radhakrishnan was himself a Smarta-Brahman.[67][68] According to iskcon.org,

Many Hindus may not strictly identify themselves as Smartas but, by adhering to Advaita Vedanta as a foundation for non-sectarianism, are indirect followers.[web 6]

Influential in spreading Hinduism to a western audience were Swami Vivekananda, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Hare Krishna movement), Sri Aurobindo, Meher Baba, Osho, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Transcendental Meditation), Jiddu Krishnamurti, Sathya Sai Baba, Mother Meera, among others.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michaels mentions Flood 1996[10] as a source for "Prevedic Religions".[11]
  2. ^ Smart distinguishes "Brahmanism" from the Vedic religion, connecting "Brahmanism" with the Upanishads.[15]
  3. ^ The separation of the early Indo-Aryans from the Proto-Indo-Iranian stage is dated to roughly 1800 BCE in scholarship. See e.g. [39]
  4. ^ The term "mayavada" is still being used, in a critical way, by the Hare Krshnas. See [web 1] [web 2] [web 3] [web 4]


  1. ^ Brodd 2003.
  2. ^ a b c Michaels 2004, p. 38.
  3. ^ a b c d Michaels 2004.
  4. ^ a b Khanna 2007, p. xvii.
  5. ^ Misra 2004, p. 194.
  6. ^ Kulke 2004, p. 7.
  7. ^ Flood 1996, p. 21.
  8. ^ a b Smart 2003, p. 52-53.
  9. ^ a b c Michaels 2004, p. 32.
  10. ^ a b Flood 1996.
  11. ^ Michaels 2004, p. 31, 348.
  12. ^ Muesse 2003.
  13. ^ a b Muesse 2011.
  14. ^ Muesse 2011, p. 16.
  15. ^ Smart 2003, p. 52, 83-86.
  16. ^ Smart 2003, p. 52.
  17. ^ Michaels 2004, p. 36.
  18. ^ Muesse 2011, p. 115.
  19. ^ Muesse 2003, p. 14.
  20. ^ Muesse 2003, p. 15.
  21. ^ Flood & 1996 21-22.
  22. ^ Michaels 2004, p. 39.
  23. ^ Michaels 2004, p. 40.
  24. ^ Michaels 2004, p. 41.
  25. ^ a b Michaels 2004, p. 43.
  26. ^ a b Michaels 2004, p. 45.
  27. ^ "Hindu History".  The BBC names a bath and phallic symbols of the Harappan civilization as features of the "Prehistoric religion (3000-1000BCE)".
  28. ^ Basham 1967
  29. ^ Frederick J. Simoons (1998). Plants of life, plants of death. p. 363. 
  30. ^ Ranbir Vohra (2000). The Making of India: A Historical Survey. M.E. Sharpe. p. 15. 
  31. ^ Grigoriĭ Maksimovich Bongard-Levin (1985). Ancient Indian Civilization. Arnold-Heinemann. p. 45. 
  32. ^ Steven Rosen, Graham M. Schweig (2006). Essential Hinduism. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 45. 
  33. ^ Srinivasan, Doris Meth (1997). Many Heads, Arms and Eyes: Origin, Meaning and Form in Multiplicity in Indian Art. Brill. ISBN 978-9004107588. 
  34. ^ Mahadevan, Iravatham (2006). A Note on the Muruku Sign of the Indus Script in light of the Mayiladuthurai Stone Axe Discovery. harappa.com. 
  35. ^ Feuerstein, Georg; Kak, Subhash; Frawley, David (2001). In Search of the Cradle of Civilization:New Light on Ancient India. Quest Books. p. 121. ISBN 0-8356-0741-0. 
  36. ^ Clark, Sharri R. (2007). The social lives of figurines: recontextualizing the third millennium BC terracotta figurines from Harappa, Pakistan. Harvard PhD. 
  37. ^ Thapar, Romila, Early India: From the Origins to 1300, London, Penguin Books, 2002
  38. ^ McIntosh, Jane. (2008) The Ancient Indus Valley : New Perspectives. ABC-CLIO. Page 84,276
  39. ^ Mallory 1989, p. 38f.
  40. ^ Fisher, Mary Pat (2008). Living Religions (7th edition). Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc. p. 77. 
  41. ^ Indo-Iranian Studies: I by J.C. Tavadia, Vishva Bharati, Santiniketan, 1950
  42. ^ (RV 8.5; 8.46; 8.56)
  43. ^ a b Encyclopedia Brittanica, Other sources: the process of "Sanskritization".
  44. ^ Mahadevan, T. M. P (1956), Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, ed., History of Philosophy Eastern and Western, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, p. 57 
  45. ^ Staal, J. F. 1961. Nambudiri Veda Recitations Gravenhage.
  46. ^ Staal, J. F. 1983. Agni: The Vedic ritual of the fire altar. 2 vols. Berkeley.
  47. ^ Staal, Frits (1988), Universals: studies in Indian logic and linguistics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-76999-2 
  48. ^ a b c d e f g h Hiltebeitel 2002.
  49. ^ Sharma 2000, p. 60-64.
  50. ^ a b Raju 1992, p. 177-178.
  51. ^ a b Renard 2010, p. 157.
  52. ^ a b Comans 2000, p. 35-36.
  53. ^ a b Raju 1992, p. 177.
  54. ^ a b c Sharma 2000, p. 64.
  55. ^ a b Popular Prakashan 2000, p. 52.
  56. ^ Roosen 2006, p. 166.
  57. ^ Vijay Nath, From 'Brahmanism' to 'Hinduism': Negotiating the Myth of the Great Tradition, Social Scientist 2001, pp. 19–50.
  58. ^ Francisco Rodríguez Adrados; Lukas de Blois; Gert-Jan van Dijk (2006). Mnemosyne, Bibliotheca Classica Batava: Supplementum. BRILL. pp. 707–708. ISBN 978-90-04-11454-8. 
  59. ^ O'Malley, Charles Donald (1970). The History of Medical Education: An International Symposium Held February 5-9, 1968. University of California Press. p. 352. ISBN 978-0-520-01578-4. 
  60. ^ Ncholson 2010, p. 2.
  61. ^ Burley 2007, p. 34.
  62. ^ Lorenzen 2006, p. 24-33.
  63. ^ Lorenzen 2006, p. 27.
  64. ^ Lorenzen 2006, p. 26-27.
  65. ^ Nicholson 2010, p. 2.
  66. ^ "Fragments for the history of philosophy", Parerga and Paralipomena, Volume I (1851).
  67. ^ Fort 1998, p. 179.
  68. ^ Minor 1987, p. 3.


Published sources[edit]

  • Brodd, Jefferey (2003), World Religions, Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press, ISBN 978-0-88489-725-5 
  • Burley (2007), Classical Samkhya and Yoga: An Indian Metaphysics of Experience, Taylor & Francis  Unknown parameter |frist= ignored (help)
  • Clark, Sharri R. (2007), The social lives of figurines: recontextualising the third millennium BCE terracotta figurines from Harappa, Pakistan. Harvard PhD 
  • Comans, Michael (2000), The Method of Early Advaita Vedānta: A Study of Gauḍapāda, Śaṅkara, Sureśvara, and Padmapāda, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass 
  • Flood, Gavin D. (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press 
  • Fort, Andrew O. (1998), Jivanmukti in Transformation: Embodied Liberation in Advaita and Neo-Vedanta, SUNY Press 
  • Hiltebeitel, Alf (2002), Hinduism. In: Joseph Kitagawa, "The Religious Traditions of Asia: Religion, History, and Culture", Routledge 
  • Kenoyer, Jonathan Mark (1998), Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation, Karachi: Oxford University Press 
  • Khanna, Meenakshi (2007), Cultural History Of Medieval India, Berghahn Books 
  • Kulke, Hermann; Rothermund, Dietmar (2004), A History of India, Routledge 
  • Lorenzen, David N. (2006), Who Invented Hinduism: Essays on Religion in History, Yoda Press 
  • Mallory, J.P. (1989), In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology, and Myth, London: Thames & Hudson, p. 38f.. 
  • Marshall, John (1931), Mohenjo Daro and the Indus Civilisation, London 
  • Michaels, Axel (2004), Hinduism. Past and present, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press 
  • Minor, Rober Neil (1987), Radhakrishnan: A Religious Biography, SUNY Press 
  • Misra, Amalendu (2004), Identity and Religion: Foundations of Anti-Islamism in India, SAGE 
  • Muesse, Mark William (2003), Great World Religions: Hinduism 
  • Muesse, Mark W. (2011), The Hindu Traditions: A Concise Introduction, Fortress Press 
  • Nicholson, Andrew J. (2010), Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History, Columbia University Press 
  • Popular Prakashan (2000), Students' Britannica India, Volumes 1-5, Popular Prakashan 
  • Raju, P.T. (1992), The Philosophical Traditions of India, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited 
  • Renard, Philip (2010), Non-Dualisme. De directe bevrijdingsweg, Cothen: Uitgeverij Juwelenschip 
  • Rosen, Steven (2006), Essential Hinduism, Greenwood Publishing Group 
  • Sharma, B. N. Krishnamurti (2000), History of the Dvaita School of Vedānta and Its Literature: From the Earliest Beginnings to Our Own Times, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers 
  • Singh, S.P. (1989), "Rigvedic Base of the Pasupati Seal of Mohenjo-Daro", Puratattva 19 (1989): 19–26 
  • Smart, Ninian (2003), Godsdiensten van de wereld (The World's religions), Kampen: Uitgeverij Kok 


Further reading[edit]

  1. Majumdar, R. C.; H. C. Raychauduri, Kaukinkar Datta (1960), An Advanced History of India, Great Britain: Macmillan and Company Limited, ISBN 0-333-90298-X 
  2. Benjamin Walker Hindu World: An Encyclopaedic Survey of Hinduism, (Two Volumes), Allen & Unwin, London, 1968; Praeger, New York, 1968; Munshiram Manohar Lal, New Delhi, 1983; Harper Collins, New Delhi, 1985; Rupa, New Delhi, 2005, ISBN 81-291-0670-1.
  3. Basham, A. L. (1967), The Wonder That was India 

External links[edit]