Dharma (Hinduism), the religion of Hindus, is the oldest
surviving religion in the world. Inspired by divine revelations
("by the breath of God") the ancient rishis (sages and seers)
sang divine songs in the forests and on the riverbanks of
India many thousands of years before Moses, Buddha or Christ.
Over many centuries these divine songs continued to be recited
by the sages, whose combined wisdom eventually gave birth
to the religion popularly known as Hinduism today.
The correct name for the religion of the Hindus is Om Dharma or
"Sanatan Dharma" (Eternal or Universal Righteousness). The word
Hindu is derived from the ancient Persians, who invaded northwestern India
in about 600 BCE. They came across the Sanskrit speaking people living
on the other side of the river Indus (called Sindhu in Sanskrit) and called
In the Persian language, the word Sindhu became Hindu and the people living
in India came to be known as Hindus. In order to trace the origin of Hinduism,
one must delve deep into ancient history.
The human species of today, biologically known as Homo sapiens,
wandered from place to place and formed small and large
congregations wherever they found a favourable environment.
They fought battles with other congregations in order to
acquire lands, and surrendered or fled when defeated.
The Vedic culture, based upon sanatan Dharma, was founded over ten thousand
years ago by Sage Maharshi Vaivasvata Manu, on the banks
of the ancient Saraswati and Dhrishadvati rivers. His descendants, known
as the Panchajanas, were a mixed race who spoke different dialects of
an ancient form of Vedic Sanskrit.
In the course of time (over thousands of years) the Panchajanas became
divided into hundreds of tribes and clans. They built cities and towns
on the banks of rivers.
They composed the earlier hymns of the Vedas (the primary scriptures of
Hinduism) between 6000 and 2500 BC. The persons managing the affairs of
the Vedas were known as Brahmanas. sanatan Dharma flourished from the
pre-historic times to about 600 BC in the form of a monotheistic Hindu
pantheon (i.e. the worship of one Supreme God in various ways and forms).
Meanwhile a number of social and religious vices appeared in the form
of excessive religious rituals, animal sacrifices, rigid operation of
the caste system, and self-declared Brahmana superiority over the other
castes. In a period marked 14 rebellion, Buddhism and Jainism emerged
in India.Buddhism dominated for a period of approximately 1000 years.
However, its influence in India gradually eroded because of internal strife
in its organization and the resistance put up by Sanatanists (the followers
of sanatan Dharma). The rise of Buddhism, however, opened the eyes of
Sanatanists. They accepted much of Buddha's message and included him as
an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
Buddha's message of deep friendship (mahamaitri) and unlimited compassion
(mahakaruna) toward fellow beings was absorbed into sanatan Dharma.Furthermore,
sanatan Dharma popularized the worship of Lord Rama and Lord Krishna
through Bhakti (devotion) Yoga.The worship of Lord Shiva, Divine Mother,
Lord Rama and Lord Krishna through Bhakti Yoga became very popular among
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Sanatanists. In about 700 AD, Adi Shankaracharya (a famous saint, philosopher,
and scholar) played a leading role in upholding the cause of sanatan
Dharma.He also brought the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita to the forefront.
Since early times, India's history has undergone many upheavals and changes
as a result of foreign domination.
the same time, India has had the good fortune of producing a number of
illustrious religious and spiritual leaders to enrich and preserve sanatan
Dharma. Great teachers that include Shankara, Alvars, Nayanars, Ramanuja,
and Madhva, and saints such as Chaitanya, Kabir, Gyaneshwara, Paramahamsa
Sri Ramakrishna, Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, and many others made significant
contributions to the continued preservation and growth of sanatan Dharma.
As a Sanatanist himself, Mahatma Gandhi became the greatest exponent of
ahimsa (non-violence), one of the fundamental tenets of sanatan Dharma.
He was able to secure political freedom of India from British rule by
practicing the ideals taught by sanatan Dharma.
concept of sanatan Dharma spread to other parts of the
world through emissaries who visited India and from Indians
who visited foreign lands. The forerunner of this movement,
the Western world was Swami Vivekananda. His address at
the World Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in September
of 1893, had an everlasting impact. The seeds of sanatan
Dharma were sown in American soil. Later, Paramahansa Yogananda,
who came to the United States in 1920, helped spread the
universal ideals of sanatan Dharma.
established the Self-Realization Fellowship in Los Angeles, California,
to disseminate his teachings. Chronology Following are the milestones
in the development of Hindu religious thought. It should be recognized
that authorities differ on the dates to which some of the earlier events
are assigned. Early Vedic Period (6000-1500 BCE).
This is the period in which the early Rig Vedic hymns were developed.
Later Vedic Period (1500-300 BCE) During this period Vedic Mantras were
recorded and Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads were added to the collection
of the Vedic hymns.
Hindu mind evolved from the worship of the natural forces
to the conception of a single, all encompassing Universal
Spirit, known as Brahman by seers of the Upanishads. Sutra
Period (700-200 BCE) In this period, Mimamsa, Nyaya, Sankhya,
and Brahma Sutras were recorded. These writings later led
to the six popular schools of Hindu philosophy (see chapter
6). The development of Buddhism and Jainisim also took place
in this period. Epic Period (500 BCE-200 AD).
This period saw the development of the Ramayana, Mahabharata,
Bhagavad Gita. the Laws of Manu, some of the earlier Puranas,
and PhilosophicaI Sutras. The higher teachings of Upanishads
were made available to the common people in the form of
ancient stories and legends. Puranic Period (300-1500 AD)
During this time Puranic and Tantric literature was developed.
The Philosophical Sutras for the six popular schools of
Hindu philosophy were interpreted. Darshana Period (750-1000
establishment of Shankara's Advaita Vedanta philosophy and the decline
of Buddhism in India are the two main landmarks of this period. This was
also the begining of the devotional movement spearheaded by the twelve
mystic poets of South India, known as Alvars. Bhakti Movement (1000-1800
AD) This period saw the rise of devotional worship expounded by Ramanuja,
Ramananda,Kabir,Tukaram,GuruNanak, Mirabai, Chaitanya, and many other
religious teachers and saints. Modern Hindu Renaissance (1800-1950 AD)
Many religious leaders, saints, and scholars nourished the roots of Hinduism
during this period. They unified Hindus in India by opposing the caste
system, excessive ritualism, and idol worship.
These and other vices had afflicted Hindu social life in
India. There were many leaders of the modern Hindu renaissance,
including Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayananda, Sri Ramakrishna,
Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, and Mahatma Gandhi.