Hinduism is one of the oldest religions with no definite theories of its origin and starting point. Earliest literary and religio-philosophical works are in form of Vedas and other literature. There are four Vedas and each of them also has – Samahitas, Brahmanas, Upnishadas and Araynakas – as four parts.
The Vedic literature is broadly divided into two categories viz. Shruti and Smriti. Shruti is ‘that which has been heard’ and is canonical, consisting of revelation and unquestionable truth, and is considered eternal. Shruti describes the sacred texts comprising the central canon of Hinduism viz. Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads. Smiriti literally means ‘that which is remembered, supplementary and may change over time’. It is authoritative only to the extent that it conforms to the bedrock of Shruti and it is entire body of the post Vedic Classical Sanskrit literature. It comprises Vedanga, Shad darsana, Puranas, Itihasa, Upveda, Tantras, Agamas, Upangas. There is no distinct division between Shruti and Smriti. Both Shruti and Smriti can be represented as a continuum, with some texts more canonical than others. First among Smritis is Manu Smriti.
Three older Vedas excluding Atharveda are called as ‘Trey’. Rigveda contains many hymns and Gayatri
Mantra is one of them. In Samaveda, ‘Sama’ means melody and it contains the Rhythmic compilation of Hymns of Rigveda. ‘Yajus’ means ‘sacrificial formula’ and Yajurveda is the book of sacrificial and ritual prayers. It contains the rituals of the Yajnas. It ranks next in sanctity and importance to the Rigveda. It contains 1549 hymns which are meant tobe sung at the soma sacrifice by a special class of Brahmans. Atharvaveda contains the magic spells, incorporates much of early traditions of healing and magic that are paralleled in other Indo-European literatures. It also mentions Dhanvantri as earliest medical person. Atharveda was not written by priestly class unlike other three Vedas.
Brahmvaidini were the women during Vedic period who composed many hymns during Rig Vedic period. Among such women, some of the prominent were – Lopamudra, Ghosa, Maitreyi. Lopamudra was the wife of the sage Agastya. Maitreyi, (the wife of Yajnavalkya) is accredited with about ten hymns in RigVeda.
The Samahitas contain hymns. There are two primary versions or Samhitas of the Yajurveda : Shukla(white) and Krishna(black)
The Brahmanas are the prose texts which explain the hymns in the Vedas, give explanation and applications and related stories of their origin. They also have some stories related to the certain persons related to the Vedic Text.
Aranyakas were written in forests and are concluding parts of the Brahmans. Aranyakas don’t lay much emphasis on rites, ritual and sacrifices but have philosophy and mysticism. So they have moral science and philosophy. It also provides the details of the Rishis who lived in jungles. They were studied and taught by men during their Vanprastha ashrama.
Upanishads are also called Vedanta (the end of the Veda) firstly, because they denote the last phase of the Vedic period and secondly, because they reveal the final aim of the Veda. They are called Vedanta also because they were taught at the end to the disciples. The Sanskrit term Upanishad derives from upa(nearby), ni – (at the proper place, down) and pad (to sit) thus meaning – ‘sitting down near’, implying sitting near a teacher to receive instruction. The main motto of the Upanishads is ‘Knowledge Awards Salvation’. More than 200 Upnishads are known, of which the first dozen or so, the oldest and most important, are variously referred to as the principal, main (mukhya) or old Upanishads. Copilation of 108 Upnishadas is also called ‘Muktika’. All Upanishads have been passed down in oral tradition. First and the largest Upnishada is Vrihat Aranyaka which is a discourse between Yajnavalyaka and Gargi on philosophical aspects of Dharma. ‘Aum’ is contained in Chandyuga Upnishad. Katha Upnishad contains dialogue between Yama and Nachiketa and it is about basic questions regarding Atma and Parmatma. Many of the ideas of the Upanishads were later developed by the famous thinker Shankaracharya.
There are four basic components of Hindu philosophy – Karma, Dharma, Soul and Parmatma.
Traditional Hindu life was governed by two fundamental principles – Varnavyavastha i.e theory of four varnas and Ashramavayavastha i.e. four stages of life and the associated principles. Around the time when Jainism and Buddhism were becoming popular, brahmins developed this system of ashramas.
Today, Hinduism can be broadly seen in two streams – orthodox and heterodox. Orthodox view believes that Vedas are the ultimate source of knowledge, failth and morality and they were not written by humans i.e. they are revealed. This is also known as ‘Sanatan’ view. Heterodox stream is more liberal and includes strands including ancient Lokayatta hilosophy to philosophy of Upnishadas, Sankhya, Yoga and Adwait.
During the later Vedic period definite ideas and philosophies about the true nature of soul and the cosmic principle or Brahman, who represented the ultimate reality, were developed. These Vedic philosophical concepts later on gave rise to six different schools of philosophies called ‘Shada-darshana’ –
Samkhya System – It talks of ‘Dukha’ and its remedy in Karma and Discipline. The founder of this philosophy was Kapila, who wrote the ‘Samkhya-sutra’. It does not recognize god. According to it, liberation is possible only through real knowledge and knowledge can be acquired through observation, inferences and words. According to it, the world is a production of natural forces.
Yoga – Yoga literally means the union of the two principal entities. The origin of yoga is found in the ‘Yogasutra’ of Patanjali believed to have been written in the 1000 BC. Yogic techniques control the body, mind and sense organs. Freedom could be attained by practicing self-control (yama), observation of rules (niyama), fixed postures (asana), breath control (pranayama), choosing an object (pratyahara) and fixing the mind (dharna), concentrating on the chosen object (dhyana) and complete dissolution of self, merging the mind and the object (samadhi). Yoga admits the existence of God as a teacher and guide.
Nyaya – Nyaya is considered as a technique of logical thinking. According to Nyaya, valid knowledge is defined as the real knowledge, that is, one knows about the object as it exists. Gautama is said to be the author of the ‘Nyaya-sutras’.
Vaisheshika – Vaisheshika system is considered as the realistic and objective philosophy of universe. Vaisheshika thinkers believe that all objects of the universe are composed of five basic atomic elements – earth, water, air, fire and ether. Kanada wrote the basic text of Vaisheshika philosophy and he got this name as he was always interested into the smallest of particles ‘Kana’.
Purva Mimamsa or Mimansa – Mimamsa philosophy is basically the analysis of interpretation, application and the use of the text of the Samhita and Brahmana portions of the Veda. According to Mimamsa philosophy Vedas are eternal and possess all knowledge, and religion means the fulfillment of duties prescribed by the Vedas. It was given by Jaimini.
Uttar Mimamsa or Vedantic Philosophy – It deals with Vedanta or it implies the philosophy of the Upanishad, the concluding portion of the Vedas. It rejected the rituals and propounded the philosophy of atma-parmatma monism. It was given by Badrayana, but popularized by Adi Shankaracharya who wrote the commentaries on the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and the Bhagavad Gita. This philosophy largely shaped contemporary Indian culture.
Manu Smriti is officially called Manav Dharam Shastra. It is a metrical (one that is written in poetic verses) text, which presents a discourse given by the Prajapati Manu – the legendary first man and lawgiver, to a congregation of seers after a Mahapralaya (great Floods) in ancient India. In its present form it dates from the 1st century BC. It prescribes the dharma of each Hindu, stating the obligations attached to his or her social class and stage of life. According to Hindu tradition, the Manusmriti records the words of Brahma. It contains the source of law, origin of universe and most importantly division of society into four subtypes or varnas. Brahmanas are given the highest place. It is the most authoritative of the books of the Hindu law code (Dharma-shastra) covering a wide range of topics such as creation of the world, sacraments like ‘Upanayana’ (wearing of sacred thread by upper castes) and marriage; duties of men and women placed in different strata of society and stages of life; penitential rites for violation of codes of conduct; and so on.
Yajnayallaka Smriti is another one. It is important for its two commentaries – Mitakshara by Vijneshwara in 12th century AD and Dayabhaga of Jimutvahana. Mitakshra for the first time talked about the rights of women in property and inheritance. Jimuntavahana was an Indian Sanskrit scholar and writer of legal and religious treatises of early medieval period. He was the earliest writer on smriti (law) from Bengal. Dayabhaga has dealt with the laws of inheritance. This treatise differs in some aspects from Mitakshara (another treatise on law), which was prevalent in other parts of India. The right of a widow without any male issue to inherit the properties of her deceased husband is recognized in Dayabhaga.
Apart from these scriptures and philosophies, there are also puranas and upvedas. Purana literally mean old. Purans are late descriptions of ancient legends and consist of history of the universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, and descriptions of Hindu cosmology, philosophy and geography. The Puranas were written in simple Sanskrit verse, and were meant to be heard by everybody, including women and shudras, who were not allowed to study the Vedas. They were probably recited in temples by priests, and people came to listen to them. Mythologically, both the Puranas and the Mahabharata are supposed to have been compiled by Vyasa. Earliest puranas were composed during Gupta period. They are colored with superstitions and also represent a corrupt form of Hindu Philosophy. They promoted avtarvaad or re-incarnations and it also promoted polytheism in HInduism. They proclaimed that even Buddha was an incarnation of Vishnu (Bhagwat Purana, 9th century AD) and similarly, Rishabh Deva, first Jain teerthankara, was also termed as an incarnation of Vishnu. There are 18 major Puranas and, they today shape the dominant Hindu culture.
Upaveda means applied knowledge and are traditional literatures which contain the subjects of certain technical works. They are as follows –
It is one of the oldest monotheistic religions of the world and both Christianity and Islam developed from Judaism. Basic belief of the Jews is that God has promised to bless Abraham and his descendants if they remain faithful to him and God repeated the same to son and grandson Jacob or Israel of Abraham. This is the reason that all Jews are called children of Israel. Their basic teachings come from Torah or the first five books of Hebrew bible. Ten Commandments that god gave to Moses on Mount Sinai are principles that should govern the way of life of Jews.
India has two Jewish communities – the Malyali speaking Cochinis and the Marathi speaking Bene Israel.
The Parsi or Zoroastrian religion was founded by Zarathustra or Zoroaster, in the eighth century BC. He preached monotheism in the region now known as Persia (modern Iran).
He taught the worship of fire and the presence of good and bad in the form of Ahura Mazda and Ahura Man. He also taught the ethical doctrine of kindness and charity. These doctrines are enshrined in the Zend Avesta.
The Zoroastrian religion spread over the whole of Persia and remained the dominant religion till the eighth century AD when Muslims conquered this region. Most of the Parsis migrated to different parts of the world. They also came to India and settled at Navsari in Gujarat, and later on spread to almost all parts of India. Zoroastrianism is not a proselytizing religion and no new entrants are accepted into its fold under any circumstances.
They have contributed a lot to Indian culture. It was Dadabhai Naoroji, the famous nationalist leader and a Parsi, who exposed the hollowness of the British claim of civilizing India and not exploiting it. Another outstanding figure, who belonged to this community, was Jamshedji Tata, a pioneering Indian industrialist.
They don’t bury or burn their dead as according to them dead matter pollutes all, so they put their dead in open to be eaten by vultures. Tower of Silence in Mumbai is one such place.
Both Buddhism and Jainism emerged in background of rising orthodoxies in Hinduism and as a reaction and alternative to it. Both rejected caste, rituals, polytheism and even notion of God. Buddha as well as Mahavira challenged the authority of Vedas. Buddha emphasized on moral progress which was independent of any creator of the universe. Buddha was younger to Mahavira and was his contemporary. Greeks, Kushans and Shakas embraced Buddhism rather than Hinduism because Buddhism rather than Hinduism provided easy access to Indian society and Buddhism was open to all castes, creeds, nationalities, races and so on while Hinduism was strictly ascriptive and one could be a Hindu by birth only. Both Gautama Buddha and Vardhaman Mahavira preached their doctrines during the reign of Bimbisara.
The Buddha belonged to a small gana known as the Sakyagana, his father was Suddhodana. His mother Mahamaya died 7 days after his birth and he was brought up by his step mother Gautami (that’s why he is called as Gautam Buddha also). The site of nativity of Gautama Buddha is marked by the celebrated Rummindei Pillar of Ashoka. He enjoyed married life for 13 years and had a son named Rahula. After seeing an old man, a sick man, an ascetic and a corpse, he dicided to become a wanderer.
His chariot was Chann and Kanthaka was his favorite horse. His leaving of palace life is called ‘Maha-Bhinishkramana’ at the age of 29. Initially he practiced severe asceticism, but found it of no use.
He attained Nirvana six years later at the age of 35 under a peepal tree known as Bodhi Tree. According to him Nirvana is not extreme asceticism, but it is a state of bliss and peace of mind. After that enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, he was known as the Buddha or the Wise One.
He then went to Sarnath, near Varanasi, where he delivered his first sermon which is called Dhamm-Chakra-Parbartana or turning the wheel of law. He was also called Gautam or Sakya Muni or Amitabh or Tathagat also.
He spent the rest of his life travelling on foot, going from place to place, teaching people, till he passed away at Kusinara.
According to Buddhist philosophy, the world is transient (anicca) and constantly changing; it is also soulless (anatta) as there is nothing permanent or eternal in it. Within this transient world, sorrow (dukkha) is intrinsic to human existence. He considered the world as full of misery. Man’s duty is to seek liberation from this painful world.
The Buddha taught in the language of the ordinary people, Prakrit, so that everybody could understand his message.
Buddhism was atheistic, in as much as God was not essential to the Universe.
The acceptance of nuns in the Buddhist monasteries was a revolutionary step from the point of view of the status of women.
The doctrine of karma was essential to the Buddhist way of salvation. Unlike the brahmanical idea, karma was not used to explain away caste status, since Buddha rejected caste.
Buddhism stands on three pillars –
TEACHINGS of BUDDHA
He called for a ‘middle path’ – neither extreme indulgence nor self-mortification. He showed way for self-restraint instead of self mortification and right action instead of inactivity.
His teachings are –
Buddhism remained confined to a few place like Magadh and Koshala till around 100 years of his death and gained true prominence only during rule of Ashoka.
Over the years, Buddhism developed into many branches. Some of them are –
Theravada – literally, ‘the Teaching of the Elders’ or ‘the Ancient Teaching’, is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. It was founded in India. It is relatively conservative and closer to early Buddhism and is still prevalent in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia etc.
Hinyana – It is also the oldest and original branch and perhaps more orthodox. It depicts Buddha and incidents associated with his life only through symbols and prohibits representation of Buddha in human form.
Mahayana – Mahayana (literally the ‘Great Vehicle’) is one of the two main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. Mahayana Buddhism originated in India during times of Kushana. It was popularized by Kanishka and believes in gods, putting Buddha at the top of them. Its emphasis is more on devotion, charity and prayer instead of austere self-restraint. It depicts Buddha in human form, while earlier and original Hinyana form prohibits it. According to the teachings of Mahayana traditions, ‘Mahayana’ also refers to the path of seeking complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, also called ‘Bodhisattvayana’, or the ‘Bodhisattva Vehicle’; Bodhisattva is an enlightened being (bodhi – gyaan, Sattva – existence) or a minor god. Padmapaani is the most popular Bodhisttva. Others are like Amitabh, Vajrapani etc. In early Indian Buddhism the term bodhisattva was used generally to refer specifically to the Buddha in his former lives. The Jatakas, which are the stories of his lives, depict the various attempts of the bodhisattva to embrace qualities like self-sacrifice and morality.
This had two distinct features as compared to Thervada and Hinayana –
Many Buddhist Councils were held after death of Buddha.
Budhhist Literature is classified as canonical and non-canonical. Canonical literature includes Tripitaka and non canonical literature includes Jatakas, probably written by ordinary people and later compiled, which tell stories of Buddha in past lives. Milinda Panha is another non-canonical text. Milinda Panha means ‘Questions of Milinda’. It contains the dialogue of Indo-Greek king Meander and Buddhist monk Nagasena in 100 BC. Nagasena answered questions of Milinda and he was converted to Buddhism.
Dipavamsa or ‘Chronicle of Island’ is another non-canonical text. It is the oldest historical record of Sri Lanka. Other non-canonical Buddhist literature includes – Mahavamsa written in Pali, Buddha Charita etc.
Tripitaka – After his death his teachings were compiled by his disciples at a council of ‘elders’ or senior monks at Vaishali in present-day Bihar. These compilations were known as Tripitaka or Three baskets. Tripitaka traditionally contains three compilations –
Other Concepts related to Buddhism –
Causes for decline of Buddhism in India –
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Jaina comes from the word – jina – means conqueror.
Jain teachers are known as Tirthankaras. One who attains moksa is referred to as a siddha, but only a siddha who establishes or revitalizes Jainism – one who establishes a tirtha across the river of human misery – is called a tirthankara. In Jainism, a Tirthankara is a human being who achieves moksa through asceticism and who then becomes a role-model and teacher for those seeking spiritual guidance.
Jaina tradition identifies Rishabha (also known as Adinath) as the first tirthankar. Parshavnath was 23rd Tirthankara. His emblem was ‘snake’ and his main teachings were 4 – non-injury, non-lying, non-stealing, non-possession of property. The 24th and last Tirthankar is Mahavira, who lived from 599 to 527 BCE. He added – ‘Celibacy’ to the 4 existing principles given by Parshavnath. Earlier 22 Tirthankars are considered to be mythical while evidence of only last two has been ascertained.
Thus, Jainas believe that to attain enlightenment and ultimately liberation from all karmic bonding, one must practice the following ethical principles not only in thought, but also in words/speech and action –
The teachings of the Tirthankaras before Mahavira are known as Purva. There were total 14 Purvas which were memorized and passed on through the ages, but later lost into oblivion. Bhadrabahu is considered to be the last expert of fourteen Purvas. Bhadrabahu was also a guru of Chandragupta Maurya.
3 Ratnas or Three fold path of Jaina teachings are –
Vardhamana Mahavira was a kshatriya. The parents of Mahavira were Siddhartha, a Janatrika chief of Kundapura, and Trishala. His mother Trishala was sister of Lichavi prince Chetak. He was related to Bimbisara and was married to Yashodha. He became an ascetic at the age of 30 after the death of both his parents. He attained supreme knowledge or Kaivalya outside the town of Jrimbhikagrama and became a Jina or the conquerer. He was also called Arihanta. He died at Pavapuri.
He taught a simple doctrine – ‘men and women who wished to know the truth must leave their homes’ to join the Sangha. They must follow very strictly the rules of ahimsa, which means not hurting or killing living beings. ‘All beings,’ said Mahavira ‘long to live’. All men could join the sangha. However, children had to take the permission of their parents and slaves that of their masters. Those who worked for the king had to take his permission and debtors that of creditors. Women had to take their husbands’ permission.
Like Buddha he used Prakrit. There were several forms of Prakrit, used in different parts of the country, and named after the regions in which they were used. For example, the Prakrit spoken in Magadha was known as Magadhi.
One of the major differences of Buddhism and Jainism is that while the former called for a ‘middle path’, later called for severe non-violence. Everything in the universe, material or otherwise, has a soul according to Jainas. This is also the reason that the Jainism became out of bound of peasants and kshatriyas who have to kill living beings for one reason or another. So, Jainism was supported mainly by traders. Today, Jainas are concentrated mainly in Rajasthan, South India etc.
Like Buddhists, Jainas also held councils after his death. First Council was held in Patliputra presided by Sthulbhadra and it led to compilation of 12 Angas or scriptures of Jainas or Holy books of Jainas. Acharanga Sutra is the first of the 12 Angas. Angas are part of a wider group of Jaina teachings called Agamas.
After his death, his followers divided into two branches –
Jainas also place low importance on gods and placed gods lower than Jina.
Core beliefs and principles of Jainas are –
Jainas believe in 8 symbols –
Monastries established by Jains were called – ‘sthanakas’ – like Viharas of Buddhists.
One of the major impacts of Jainism on Hinduism and Indian society was practice of non-violence and vegetarianism. Animal sacrifice was also given up by most of the Hindu society due to influence of Jainism and Hinduism. Merchant class was attracted to Buddhism and Jainism because, both the religions preached non-violence and it was conducive for spread of trade. Dharmashastra also decried the practice of lending money and merchant class wanted to improve their status. Further, Buddhist and Jainist literature is also one of the oldest written sources of earliest history. Ashvaghosha was one of the Sanskrit writers. Buddhist and Jaina texts list sixteen Mahajanapadas and hence give information about later Vedic period also.
Guru Nanakdev founded Sikh sect and he was a nirguna Bhakti saint. He preached universal brotherhood and discarded caste.
It was Guru Angad who introduced Gurumukhi and Guru Granth Sahib – which is now revered as a living Guru – was compiled by Guru Arjun Dev. It not only carried vanis of Sikh Gurus, but also carried teachings of Farid, Kabir, Namdev and others as well. So, it was not just a religious book, but a book of composite culture and symbol of humanity, brotherhood and communal harmony.
Prophet Mohammad preached Islam in the 7th century AD in Arabia. He was born in AD 571 in the Quraysh tribe of Arabia. He migrated to Madina from Mecca in AD 622 and this marked the beginning of the Hijira Era. According-to the Muslim belief, Quran is the message of Allah revealed to Mohammad through his archangel Gabriel. Prophet Mohammad’s sayings are preserved in what is called the Hadith or Hadees. After his death the Caliphate was established. There were four pious Caliphs. The Muslims first came to India in the 8th century AD mainly as traders. While Hindu society was divided into castes, Islam preached equality. Politically, India came under Muslim rulers only in 11th century with establishment of Delhi sultanate. Sultanate was replaced by Mughal rule in 1526 after First Battle of Panipat who ruled till 1707, after which they were only nominal rulers till 1857.
It is a religious movement which started in medieval India as a bid to rationalize Hinduism. Specifically, it refers to movements of 13th-16th century, but it has long roots in religious reforms movements of 7th-8th century in Tamil Nadu where Alvaras and Nayanars laid its foundation.
The word Bhakti comes from the Sanskrit term bhaj meaning ‘to share’. Its basic premise was devotion to a personal god for salvation or to unite with god. This suggests an intimate, two-way relationship between the deity and the devotee. Devotees repeat the name of their gods through Bhajan, Kirtan, Shabds etc. This form of worship gradually spread to different parts of the country. According to this system of belief, if a devotee worships the chosen deity with a pure heart, the deity will appear in the form in which he or she may desire. So, the deity could be thought of as a human being, lion, tree or any other form. Once this idea gained acceptance, artists made beautiful images of these deities. Anybody, whether rich or poor, belonging to the so-called ‘high’ or ‘low’ castes, man or woman, could follow the path of Bhakti.
Features of Bhakti Movement –
The 6th to 9th centuries saw the emergence of new religious movements in Southern India, led by the Nayanars (saints devoted to Shiva) and Alvars (saints devoted to Vishnu) who came from all castes including those considered ‘untouchable’.
Avaras were Vaishnav saints. The collection of their hymns is known as Divya Prabandha. The revered alvars came from all castes, a symbolic notion in Vaishnavism to show that devotion to God transcends above caste. There were 12 Alvaras. Vishnu Bhakti movement also had Vaishnav teachers known as Vaishnav Acharyas. While Alvaras presented emotional side, Acharyas presented intellectual aspect. They also included participation of women, Andal was one such famous woman and is often called ‘Meera’ of South. One of the Alvar saints was also a king – Kulashekhara – of Chera dynasty and he also promoted Kuttiyattam a dance form. Their songs were compiled into a single volume in 10th – 11th century in Divyaprabandham by Nath Muni.
Naynars on the other hand were devotees of Shiva. Unlike Vaishnavism, Shaivism had its origin in antiquity. There are two sets of compilations of their songs – Tevaram Stotras, also known as Dravida Veda, and Tiruvacakam or Thiruvasagam (‘sacred utterance’). The latter is a volume of Tamil hymns composed by the ninth century Shaivite bhakti poet Manikkavasagar. It contains 51 compositions and constitutes the eighth volume of the Tirumurai, the sacred anthology of Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta compiled by Nambi and other saints. Karaikkal Ammaiyar, Isaignaniyaar were among the three women amongst the 63 Nayanars. Appar was the most famous of these saints.
Together the two laid the foundation of Bhakti Movement in South India and India as a whole. Some historians suggest that the Alvars and Nayanars initiated a movement of protest against the caste system and the dominance of Brahmanas or at least attempted to reform the system. Alvars and Nayanars are also said to be opposed to Buddhism and Jainism.
Some of the other Bhakti saints of South are –
SHANKARA or ADI SHANKARA (8th century)
Shankara, one of the most influential philosophers of India, was born in Kerala in the 8th century. He was an advocate of ‘Advaita’ or the doctrine of the oneness of the individual soul and the Supreme God which is the Ultimate Reality. He taught that Brahm, the only or Ultimate Reality, was formless and without any attributes. He established four mathas at four corners of India – Dwarka, Puri, Badrinath, Sringeri. Mathas, like Sanghas and Monastries, were centers of religious discourse, education etc.
RAMANUJA (11th century)
Ramanuja, born in Tamil Nadu in the 11th century, was deeply influenced by the Alvars. According to him the best means of attaining salvation was through intense devotion to Vishnu. He propounded the doctrine of ‘Vishishtadvaita’ or qualified oneness in that the soul even when united with the Supreme God remained distinct. Only limited people are able to join paramatma. Ramanuja disagreed with Shankara and said that God can be found through love and not knowledge. He thus advocated Bhakti and he also rejected caste. Ramanuja’s doctrine greatly inspired the new strand of bhakti which developed in north India subsequently.
MADHAV (13th century)
He was a Bhakti saint from South who pioneered the philosophy of ‘Dvaita’ or dualism. It was in contrast with Advaita philosophy of Shankaracharya.
VALLABHACHARYA (15th century)
According to him, joining of atma and parmatma is impossible and to end suffering, one must surrender to the god (Krishna). His philosophy is also known as ‘Pushtimarga’ or ‘Shuddhaadvaita’ and the school was called Rudrasampradaya. He was a teacher of Suradasa.
This movement began in Karnataka in the 12th century during reign of Kalachuya kings. Their reign was marked by dominance of traditional Brahminical Hindu values, a social system based on caste and a polity and economy governed by feudal principles. Virashaiva movement emerged a akind of militant movement initiated by Basavanna/Basavesvara and his companions like Allamaprabhu and Akkamaha Devi.
The term ‘Akka’ (elder Sister) is an honorific given to her by great Veerashaiva saints like Basavanna.
They wanted to replace the conservative Shaivism by a more egalitarian and free order. Their followers were known as – Virshaiva (heroes of Shiva) and Lingyats (wearers of Linga). The Lingayats challenged the idea of caste and the ‘pollution’ attributed to certain groups by Brahmanas. The Virashaivas argued strongly for the equality of all human beings and against Brahmanical ideas about caste and the treatment of women. They were also against all forms of ritual and idol worship.
They also produced literary works which are now known as ‘vachnas’.
NORTH INDIAN MOVEMENTS and SAINTS
While Southern Saints mainly focused upon two deities – Shiva and Vishnu. Northern Saints largely focused upon Rama and Krishna – two incarnations of Vishnu. Hence Northern Bhakti movement was largely Vaishnavite in theme.
In North, Bhakti was pioneered by Ramananda, who was a saint from Varanasi. Ramananda had many popular disciples like Kabir, Ravidasa and Sena. Other saints were – Guru Nanak, Meera Bai, Namdev, Tukaram etc.
In Northern India, it developed into two streams, Nirguna bhakti and Saguna bhakti. Most of the saints belonging to Nirguna and Saguna bhakti lived during Lodhi period i.e. from 15th – 16th century. The nirguna bhaktas were devotees of a formless God even while calling him variously as Rama, Govinda, Hari or Raghunatha. The most conspicuous among them were Kabir and Nanak.
The saguna bhaktas were devotees of god with attributes or in human form. Vishnu in its incarnations as Rama, or Krishna, are most popular deities that were worshipped by Saguna Bhakti saints. Thus, Saguna bhakti movement of North India was essentially vaishnavite in character as compared to Southern Bhakti movement which had both Vashnav as well as Shaiv streams. Some of the best examples of Saguna bhaktas were Tulsidas, who idolized Rama in his famous Ramcharita Manas, and Surdas, who sang praises of Krishna in his famous Sursagar. Raskhan, a Muslim poet, who was a devotee of Lord Krishna, also belonged to this tradition.
Some of them like Kabir and Baba Guru Nanak rejected all orthodox religions. Others like Tulsidas and Surdas accepted existing beliefs and practices but wanted to make these accessible to all.
Surdas was an ardent devotee of Krishna. His compositions, compiled in the Sursagara, Surasaravali and Sahitya Lahari, express his devotion.
Swami Ramanand, was a Vaishnava saint in 15th century. He pioneered the Ramanandi sect or worshippers of Vishnu in for of Rama. Ramananda for the most part of his life lived in the holy city of Varanasi, and was a pioneer of the Bhakti movement, as well as a social reformer in Northern India.
He campaigned against caste system and his disciples were from all castes and he was the first to use simple Hindi for preaching bhakti thus breaking the hegemony Brahmans who used Sanskrit language for holy texts. Ramananda played an important role in reviving a religious sect that provided a spiritual pathway to people of all castes. Kabir – a weaver, Namdev – a tailor, Sain – a barber and Ravidas – a Cobbler were all his disciples.
RAVIDAS or RAIDAS
He was a disciple of Ramananda. Ravidas also populary known as ‘Bhagat Ravidas’ or ‘Sant Ravidas’ was a north Indian saint in the 15th century CE.He belonged to shoemaker community and rejected the idea of ‘Jati’ and emphasized on deeds of individual.
Surdas (1483-1563) was a disciple of the famous teacher, Vallabhachara. He was a blind poet, whose songs are centered around Krishna. His Sursagar recounts the exploits of Krishna during his childhood and youth with gentle affection and delightfulness.
Dadu Dayal (1544–1603) was a saint from Gujarat, India. He was a disciple of Kabir. He was reputedly found by an affluent business man floating on the river Sabarmati. He later moved to Amber (city), near Jaipur Rajasthan, where he gathered around himself a group of followers, forming a group that became known as the Dadu-panth.
Mirabai is perhaps the best-known woman poet within the bhakti tradition. She was a Rajput princess from Marwar who was married against her wishes. She defied her husband and did not submit to the traditional role of wife and mother, instead recognizing Krishna, the avatar of Vishnu, as her lover. Her in-laws tried to poison her, but she escaped from the palace to live as a wandering singer composing songs that are characterized by intense expressions of emotion.
He is the most important Nirguna Bhakti saint. Kabir’s teachings were based on a complete, indeed vehement, rejection of the major religious traditions and vouched for Nirguna form of Bhakti. His teachings openly ridiculed all forms of external worship of both Brahmanical Hinduism and Islam, the pre-eminence of the priestly classes and the caste system. Kabir was from Benaras and he tried to bridge the gap between Hindus and Muslims. The language of his poetry was a form of spoken Hindi widely understood by ordinary people. His dohas are still very popular and relevant.
His ideas were similar to Kabir and Ramdas and he also vouched for Nirguna form of Bhakti (god without form). He preached above caste and religion and his langar all were welcome. He himself used the terms nam, dan and isnan for the essence of his teaching, which actually meant right worship, welfare of others and purity of conduct. His teachings are now remembered as nam-japna, kirt-karna and vand-chhakna.
SAINTS OF MAHARASHTRA-
Most of them belonged to the Untouchable ‘Mahar’ Caste and belonged to Varkari and Dharkari communities. This regional tradition of bhakti focused on the Vitthala (a form of Vishnu) temple in Pandharpur, as well as on the notion of a personal god residing in the hearts of all people. These saint-poets rejected all forms of ritualism, outward display of piety and social differences based on birth. In fact they even rejected the idea of renunciation (unlike Shankara) and preferred to live with their families, earning their livelihood like any other person, while humbly serving fellow human beings in need. Another unique feature of these saints was that, many of them advocated use of politics to protect religion. A new humanist idea emerged as they insisted that bhakti lay in sharing others’ pain. They wrote devotional hymns which are known as ‘Abhangs’. Prominent saints and women were –
He was the first Marathi Bhakti saint in 13th century. He wrote a Marathi commentary on Bhagwat Gita known as Janeshwari. It made it Gita accessible to all.
He was a disciple of Ramananda. Born in a low caste tailor family in Maharashtra in 15th century, Namdev uttered the word, ‘Vithala’, when he was merely two years old and since then, he was a devotee of Vithala. Bhagat Namdeo emphasized the importance of living the life of a householder and that even through marriage and having a family one could attain enlightenment. Namdev did write a large number of bhajanas, including short poems.
Eknath (1533–1599) was a prominent Marathi Saint, scholar and religious poet. In the development of Marathi literature, Sant Eknath is seen as a bridge between the towering predecessors Dnyaneshwar and Namdev and the equally noble successors Tukaram and Ramdas.
Sant Tukaram (1608–1650) was a prominent Varkari saint and spiritual poet during a Bhakti movement in India (Maharashtra). Saint Tukarm accepted Saint Namdev as his Guru. Saint Tukaram was a devotee of god Vitthala or Vithoba, a form of Krishna. He was a contemporary of Jhangir, he is said to have inspired Marathas to rise against Mughals.
He was the most important Dharkari saint and was also guru of Shivaji. He wrote ‘Dasbodha’.
She was also a devotee of Vithala
He was a Vaishnava saint and social reformer in eastern India (specifically present-day Bangladesh and states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Manipur, Assam, and Odisha of India) in the 16th century. He laid the foundation of Vaishnavism in Bengal and Eastern India, where till then Shakti cult was dominant. Like other Bhakti saints, Chaitanya too was willing to welcome everyone, irrespective of caste, into the fold.
He is believed by followers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism to be the full incarnation of Lord Krishna. Specifically, he worshipped the forms of Radha and Krishna and popularized the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha mantra and is inspiration behind ISKCON movement.
He also introduced Kirtan style of songs and introduced a new musical instrument called ‘Khol’ which is similar to a Mridangam, smaller at one end and broader at the another.
Ghasi Das founded a socio-religious movement in Chhattisgarh and called it the Satnamis. He was born in the year 1756 in a dalit family in village Girodhpuri of Raipur District (presently in Chhattisgarh). Ghasi Das instigated a socio-religious order that discarded and helped in demolishing the hierarchical caste system from the society. This new order initiated by Ghasi Das through Satnamis principles treated all people as equal.
A Vaishnav Gujarati poet whose hymns were also used by Gandhi in his everyday prayers.
He was a Vaishnav saint who brought Bhakti movement to Assam. He wrote several religious texts which are still part of dances like Sattriya sect etc. He is credited to introduce Vaishnavism to Assam where Skhati cult dominated in form of Devi Kamakhya. Shankardeva in Assam began the practice of setting up namghars or houses of recitation and prayer, a practice that continues to date.
He was a Shaivite and wrote Kathasaritsagara (ocean of the streams of stories) a famous 11th century collection of Indian legends, fairy tales and folk tales. The work was compiled for the entertainment of the queen Suryamati, wife of king Anantadeva of Kashmir. Kathasaritsagar was perhaps the most popular Sanskrit work in medieval times.
NATHPANTHIS, SIDHHAS and YOGIS
A number of religious groups that emerged during this period criticized the ritual and other aspects of conventional religion and the social order, using simple, logical arguments. Among them were the Nathpanthis, Siddhacharas and Yogis. They advocated renunciation of the world. To them the path to salvation lay in meditation on the formless Ultimate Reality and the realization of oneness with it.
To achieve this they advocated intense training of the mind and body through practices like yogasanas, breathing exercises and meditation. These groups became particularly popular among “low” castes. Their criticism of conventional religion created the ground for devotional religion to become a popular force in northern India.
Contribution of Bhakti Movement –
In the early centuries of Islam in around 1200 CE, a group of religious minded people in Persia called Sufis turned to asceticism and mysticism in protest against the growing materialism of the Caliphate as a religious and political institution. Word Sufi is derived from ‘suf’ which means coarse wool cloth that such saints wore.
Sufism is a common term used for Islamic mysticism. Their sense of piety, tolerance, sympathy, concept of equality and friendly attitude attracted many Hindus, mostly from lower classes, to Islam.
Features of Sufi movement –
By the 11th century Sufism evolved into a well-developed movement with a body of literature on Quranic studies and Sufi practices. Sufi saints such as Moinuddin Chisti, Nizamuddin Auliya, Fariduddin Ganj-e-Shakar were the pioneer Sufis who are still loved, respected and honoured in India.
Ajmer, Nagaur and Ajodhan or Pak Pattan (now in Pakistan) developed as important centers of Sufism. They preached the unity of God and self-surrender unto Him in almost the same way as the votaries of the Bhakti movement did.
Some mystics initiated movements based on a radical interpretation of sufi ideals. Many took to mendicancy and observed celibacy. They ignored rituals and observed extreme forms of asceticism. They were known by different names – Qalandars, Madaris, Malangs, Haidaris, etc. Because of their deliberate defiance of the sharia they were often referred to as be-sharia, in contrast to the Sufis who complied with it and were called ba-sharia and included Chishti, Suhrawardi, Firdawsi, Qadiri and Naqshbandi silsilahs. Thus, silsilahs were divided into two types – Ba-sharia and Be-sharia.
SUFI SILSILAS or ORDERS
The Sufis were organized into religious orders or silsilahs. These silsilahs were named after their founders such as Chishti, Suhrawardi, Qadri and Naqshbandis. Abul Fazl while writing in the Ain-i-Akbari speaks of fourteen silsilahs of the Sufis. Each order had its own khanqah, which served as a shelter for the Sufi saints and for destitute, and later developed as a centre of learning. When a Sufi Saint died, his tomb-shrine dargah became the centre of devotion for his followers. This encouraged the practice of pilgrimage or ziyarat to his grave, particularly on his death anniversary or ‘Urs’ (It is an annual gathering to mark the death anniversary of a Sufi, urs signifies marriage of his soul and God).
Chishti order/silsilah was named after the town of Khwaja Chisht near Heart in central Afghanistan. The Chishti silsila was among the most influential orders. It had a long line of teachers like Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti (founder of Chisti movement in India in 1142 CE and is also called Garib Nawaz as he believed that serving mankind was the best form of devotion and therefore he worked amongst the downtrodden) of Ajmer (where there is now his famous Dargah), Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki of Delhi, Baba Farid or Fariddudin Ganj e Shakkar (called so due to his sweet voice) of Punjab (Pak Patan, now in Pakistan), Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi and Bandanawaz Gisudaraz of Gulbarga. Nizamuddin Auliya was a brave and outspoken sufi saint who spoke his mind even to Sultan. Devotees of all descriptions including members of the royalty and nobility, and ordinary people flocked to these khanqahs. A major feature of the Chishti tradition was austerity, including maintaining a distance from worldly power. Aamir Khusro was also a follower of Nizamuddin Aulia who established Chisti silsilah in Delhi.
Satari Silsila was founded by Mohammad Ghaus of Gwaliar and it laid emphasis on Yogic exercises as the basis of Sufism.
Suhrawardi Silsilah was founded by Sheikh Shihabuddin Suhrawardi. It was established in India by Sheikh Bahauddin Zakariya (1182-1262). He set up a leading khanqah in Multan, which was visited by rulers, high government officials and rich merchants. Sheikh Bahauddin Zakariya openly took Iltutmisht’s side in his struggle against Qabacha and received from him the title Shaikhul Islam (Leader of Islam). It must be noted that unlike the Chishti saints, the Suhrawardis maintained close contacts with the state. They accepted gifts, jagirs and even government posts.
The Suhrawardi silsilah was firmly established in Punjab and Sind.
Quadri Silsilah was similar to Suharawardi, but emphasized on music. Dara Shikoh was one of followers of it.
Firdausi Silsilah was another silsila which expounded that hunger is the root cause of trouble.
Contribution of Sufis –
Ajeevika, an ascetic sect that emerged in India about the same time as Buddhism and Jainism and that lasted until the 14th century. It was founded by Goshala Maskariputra, a friend of Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara.
Basic premise of this school was ‘Niyati’ or destiny. So, Ajivikas were fatalists and adhered to inaction as according to them everything is pre-determined. Ashoka built Lomus caves in Barbar Hilla near Bodh Gaya, Bihar for them.
CARVAKA or LOKAYATA or BRAHSPATYA PHILOSOPHY
It is one of the earliest schools of philosophies and Brihaspati and/or Charvaka is supposed to be the founder. The word Carvaka means ‘sweet/agreeable talkers’.
This philosophy is even more materialistic and according to it, what cannot be recognised by the senses of humans doesn’t exist and hence god also doesn’t exist. According to Charvaka there is no other world. Hence, death is the end of humans and pleasure the ultimate object in life. Charvaka recognizes no existence other than this material world. It doesn’t believe in atma, parmatma or transmigration. Since God, soul, and heaven, cannot be perceived, they are not recognized by Charvakas. Out of the five elements earth, water, fire, air and ether, the Charvakas do not recognize ether as it is not known through perception. The whole universe according to them is thus consisted of four elements.
This school is also called Lokayatta which means prevalence of world. Kautilya’s Arthshastra refers to only 3 philosophies – Samkhya, Yoga and Lokayata. Due to its rejection of traditional doctrines of Hinduism, it is also known as a heterodox or naastik school.
Antayajas were a class of people living outside the town, as they were considered untouchables. The synonym Chandala has also been used for them. They were considered even lower than the sudras and outside Chaturvarna system.
It was a monistic religion that was propounded by Akbar. It was based on 10 virtues and concept of Sulah-e-kul or universal harmony.
Pashupata Shaivism was one of the main Shaivite schools. The Pashupatas are the oldest named Shaivite group.
The Pasupata doctrine gave rise to two extreme schools, the Kalamukha and the Kapalika, known as Atimargika (schools away from the path), as well as a moderate sect, the Saivas (also called the Siddhanta school), which developed into modern Saivism.
It is also known as Tantric Buddhism and it grew out of infusion of Tribal ideas. According to Vajrayana scriptures Vajrayana refers to one of three vehicles or routes to enlightenment, the other two being the Hinayana and Mahayana. It also has a new goddess – Tara. A new form of paintng is also associated with it which is called ‘Thanka painting’. Its main scriptures are called Tantras.