Friday, October 7, 2011

A Brief History of India -Vedic Aryan Civilization(1700 BC - 500 BC)

The Aryans were semi-nomadic warriors who may have entered India about 1800 BC from modern-day Afghanistan by crossing passes in the Hindu Kush.  They settled in the Punjab and the Indus Valley.   With them came a new language, a new form of social organization, new military techniques, and new religious ideas and rituals.  According to the Vedas, centuries of warfare followed as the Aryans established themselves and then expanded, ultimately occupying the entire Indian sub-continent, thus providing the basis for modern Indian civilization.  The invading Aryans also mixed with Indus and other peoples living on the subcontinent and assimilated elements of earlier cultures.

Political and social order: 

The Vedic Aryans were originally a nomadic and non-urban people, so it is hardly surprising that their basic political and social order was based on the patriarchical family and the grouping of related families into kin groups and tribes.  Early in the development of the social structure, there were probably only two Aryan social classes, nobles and commoners, and the Dasas, the original inhabitants. Over a long period of evolution, however, a more complex and rigid fourfold class or caste system (Varna) developed, and it was more or less in place by the 7th century BC:

 the Brahman (priestly) class
  the Kshatriya [=kuh-SHA-tree-yuhz] (warrior/noble) class
  the Vaishya [=VYSH-huhx] (commoner/herdsmen/tradesman) class
  the Shudra [SHOO-drah] (peasant/servant) class.

Vedic Religion:
Aryans gods were associated with the forms of nature.  Important deities include

  • Dyaus Pitar, the father-god. 
  • Prithivi Matar, the mother-goddess of earth. 
  • Indra, the god of war and storm. 
  • Mitra, the moral god of faithfulness and loyalty.  
  • The powerful Varuna, the god who guarded the cosmic order (the law of nature and the universal moral law or truth).
  • Rudra, the awesome mountain god. 
  • Agni, the god of fire.
  • Soma, the god of the hallucinogenic soma plant and drink.

the Vedas, collections of hymns, prayers, explanations of religious rituals, and wisdom statements.

the later Upanishads [=oo-PAHN-i-shadz] (composed, ca. 8th-6th centuries BC), which are commentaries on the hymns of the Vedas and explanations of Vedic beliefs.  In them are found fundamental speculations about right and wrong, the universal order of the universe, and human destiny.

Two great epic poems, the Mahabharata [=muh-hah-BUR-uh-tuh] (composed ca. 400 BC-AD 400) and the Ramayana [=rah-MAH-yah-nuh].  The former, called the Great War, tells of a civil war near Delhi.  Its last eighteen chapters are the Bhagavad-Gita, or "Song of the Blessed Lord," and they assert that the performance of moral duty according to one's responsibilities is the highest form of fulfillment in life.  The  Ramayana tells of two royal figures, Prince Rama — an avatara or human incarnation of the god Vishnu — and his wife Princess Sita.  They embody the virtues and ideals of Indian manhood and womanhood; Rama is a strong hero and Sita is a devoted wife.

Nature of Hinduism:

1) Brahman = a fundamental divine essence of world spirit that penetrates everything in the world.  This spirit resides within every living thing and everything is a part of the world spirit;
2) Atman = the self, describes the essence of an individual; Atman partakes of the divine essence;
3) Maya = this world, the world of the senses, the world of pain and suffering, and it is an illusion.
The goal of a Hindu is thus to return to Brahman and be reintegrated with the world spirit.
Karma [=deeds] is the sum total of the good and bad acts of the individual's previous lives.

  • Good karma, in the Hindu belief system, assures rebirth into a higher caste and higher life
  • bad karma means rebirth into the body of a person of a lower caste or insects.  
  • All creatures and things on the earth have souls, so all life must be respected.  
The final goal of this series of reincarnations is reunification with Brahman, the Great World Soul.
Hindus assert their religion is monotheistic, even though they honor a number of gods, including Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva [=SHEE-vuh] the Destroyer.  Hindus claim these various gods are all manifestations of the oneness of the universe.  Hindu religious practices vary from place to place, but they frequently include yoga, physical and mental discipline to harmonize body and soul, and ritual bathing.

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