Hindu history is not limited to history of India only; therefore, we should understand the history of the world with more emphasis on history of Asia in order to understand history of Hinduism. In this article, we will try to shed light on the facts about history of Hinduism.
History can be defined as a systematic record in a chronological order of important men and events in the past, which is supplied only by written documents or things found which would give sufficient evidence about those events.
The pre-historic period is the period when the art of writing was unknown to man and he led a primitive life. With the help of carbon dating and things found at the excavation sites, we can talk with confidence regarding the pre-historic period.
The period between the pre-historic and historic period is known as proto-historic period. The Indus Valley Civilization belongs to the proto-historic period. The Vedic period in India is also regarded as proto-historic because no written records have yet been discovered. The Vedic knowledge was imparted from ear to ear and was thus stored up in the memory and treasured up in the heart of meditation. A lot of research is needed to be done on History of Hinduism yet.
Hindu History before Indus Valley Civilization:
This period is also known as pre-history period where there was no concept of religion at all. We will still refer them as Hindus in this article for the sake of convenience. This period dates back to well before 10000 B.C. The Paleolithic men were the earliest inhabitants of India according to available evidence.
Neolithic age lasted till about 4000 B.C. Neolithic people were more cultured and progressive than their precedents such as Paleolithic and Mesolithic people. Neolithic men used to bury as well as cremate dead bodies which resemble to the cremation practice still followed by Hindus. Hunting and fishing were there main occupations. A large number of drawings showing stags, crocodiles and other animals as well as hunters have been discovered from the various sites across India. They are believed to have worshipped ancestral spirits. Stone worship was a common practice. They also used to worship phallus which resembles to Shiv Linga worship. Animal sacrifice was a common practice. They had understanding of fire, pottery, agriculture and domestication of animals. Some tribes of India like Gonds, Bhils, Satals, etc. are believed to have been from Neolithic people.
The Chalcolithic age lasted from 4000 B.C. to 2000 B.C. The Chalcolithic people are believed to have used metal such as copper as weapon and accessories. They knew how to make swords and other weapons of metal. They were better at farming than their precedents.
Indus Valley Civilization:
The discovery of Mohen-Jo-Daro and Harappa in the year 1922 gave rock-solid evidence to the world that Hindu culture is at least as old as that of Egypt Mesopotamia, etc. Before that, Indian history was not given very much importance.
The period of Indus Valley Civilization could be between 2500-3500 B.C. or even older.
The Indus Valley Civilization was spread over approximately 840,000 square miles in area covering Sind, Punjab, Kathiawar and some other areas. The towns were very planned with modern amenities like dwelling houses, public buildings, public baths, irrigation and drainage systems, excellent water supply.
The people during that time used to worship Devi, Shiva, Pashupati, Trimukha (three-headed god), and Yogisvara or Mahayogi. Besides that Yoni worship, animal worship, tree worship, fire worship, water worship, naga worship, and sun worship were common practices. People used to bury the dead bodies.
History of Hinduism during Vedic period:
The theory of Aryans invading India is controversial. Some historians believe that theory was propagated by British in order to lessen the importance of Hindu culture and Vedas but most of the scholars believe that the original home of Aryans was Central Asia. A lot of research needs to be done in this regard. Aryans expanded their reign to Afghanistan, Uttar Pradesh, and the basin of Ganges.
Vedic period was perhaps the best period for Hindu Religion. During Vedic period, there was no rigid caste system. The profession or the caste was not the criteria for getting married. Caste in the Vedic period meant only class.
“A poet am I, my father is a physician, My mother is a grinder of corn”
The above lines are from Rigveda (IX : 112)
Joint family was a common practice. No child marriages were allowed. Monogamy was prevalent, although there are some references to polygamy. Women were allowed to participate in social and religious functions. There were no restrictions for women. There was no Sati practice during Vedic age. The position of a widow was good. The standard of morality was high. The status of woman was high but unfortunately it deteriorated over the time.
There is mention of many Gods and Goddesses in Rig Veda which later developed into Vedic mythology. Vedic Hindus used to worship deities like Sun, Indra, Vayu, Varun, Agni, Plants, rivers, etc. With the advent of modern science now a day, it is believed that Vedas are science in encrypted forms. The concept of magnetism, origin of universe, solar winds, etc. are discussed in a mystical form.
Rigveda is the oldest scripture known to mankind still in use.
History of Hinduism during later Vedic period:
Hinduism became a little bit complicated during this period. Caste system became more rigid with Brahmins getting more importance. The simple rituals became complicated. This resulted in the supremacy of Brahmin priests. The age of marriage was also lowered during this period. Aryans established 16 Mahajanpadas during this period. Agriculture became the most important occupation. The society was clearly divided in four main castes. Brahmins and Kshatriays gain more importance than the remaining Varnas. Upanishads and other Vedic literatures like Sriti and Smriti developed during this period. Lord Shiva remained the most popular deity along with Prajapati. Lord Vishnu, Trimurthi, and other Vedic deities were also popular.
Rise of Jainism and Buddhism:
Increase in the rigidity of caste system and supremacy of Brahmin priests gave rise to different agitations. Initially, caste was not decided by birth but by the quality but now Brahmins started the system of caste by birth. This naturally created tensions between Brahmins and people of other Varna. It is interesting to note that both Lord Mahavir and Gautam Buddha were warriors. They actually revolted against the tyranny of Brahmins. Buddhism helped to spread Indian culture beyond India to countries like Sri Lanka, China, Japan, etc. Buddhism became more popular than Jainism.
Hindu History during Pre-Mauryan period:
Before the invasion of Alexander and the rule of Mourya dynasty, most of the India was captured by 16 Mahajanpadas. Those were as follows:
Anga, Magadha, Vriji, Kosala, Malla, Vatsa, Kuru, Panchala, Matsya, Surasena, Kasi, Avanti, Asmaka, Chedi, Gandhara, and Kamboja. These 16 states were big and powerful.
Bimbisara became the king of Magadha in 543 B.C. He accepted policy of expansion. It is said that he had 500 wives. He used those relations to expand his kingdom. He conquered the big kingdom of Anga. It is believed that he was a follower of Jain but he supported Buddhism also. It is believed that his son, Ajatsatru, killed him while Jains believe that he committed suicide out of fear that Ajatshatru would kill him (A movie Amrapali was made on the life of Ajatsatru). In this ear, Jainism and Buddhism were on the plus side.
The original capital of Magadha was Rajgir but Ajatshatru built a new capital Pataliputra (Patna). Ajatshatru defeated the association of 36 republics called Vajji led by Lichchavis. Ajatshatru patronized Buddhism greatly. After a few generations, Magadha came under the rule of Mahapadma Nanda who was a son from a Shudra woman. This started the lines of Nandas who are supposed to be half-Shudras. His successor Dhanananda, one of the Nine Nandas, was a despotic ruler. He was the ruler of Magadha when Alexander invaded India at 327-326 B.C.
The Persian and Greek invasion of India:
During 518-515 B.C. Northern Punjab was part of the Persian Empire. Persians adopted the princess of secularism and they did not force their culture upon Hindus.
Alexander’s Invasion of India:
Alexander, the Great, was the son of the king of Macedon, Philip. He invaded India during 327-326 B.C. After conquering the Persians, he advanced towards the East. He entered India through the Khyber Pass with an army of about 30,000 soldiers. He not only received no opposition but also was welcomed by Ambhi of Taxila. He then defeated different small and big kingdoms of India like Astes, Poras, Kathaioi, and some hill tribes. But his journey was not easy. A stiff resistance was offered by Indians. This resulted in refusal of his army to march further and hence he returned to Greece and died in two years after reaching there. His invasion created a beautiful fusion of Indian and Greek art.
Hindu History During Mauryan Dynasty:
Mauryan Dynasty was founded by Chandragupta Maurya. Because of inactivity of Dhana Nanda Arya Chanakya was upset with him. Therefore, Dhana Nanda expelled his out of Magadha Empire. With the help of Chandragupta, Arya Chanakya built the groups of rebellions and started revolting in the areas which Alexander had conquered. After the death of Alexander, the hold of Greek became weakened and the patriotic army of Chandragupta Maurya became more powerful. He defeated the Greeks and then conquered states and kingdoms in North India. Then, he attacked Magadha and killed Dhana Nanda who was a despotic ruler. Thus, he established Mauryan Dynasty in Magadha.
Chandragupta adopted a policy of expansion and brought different North Indian kingdoms under his rule. He penetrated into South India also. Chandragupta Maurya was succeeded by Bindusara who was a able king. After his death, Ashoka became the king of Mauryan Dynasty. During the war of Kalinga, Ashoka had to kill 100,000 soldiers of Kalinga and capture 150,000 soldiers. This violence changed his mind to renounce any further wars. He came closer to Buddhism and accepted Buddhism.
Chandragupta was follower of Jainism and his successor, Ashoka was the follower of Buddhism but they both were very secular and allowed everybody to enjoy their religion. Most of the people in India at that time were Hindus only and they continued to worship different gods like Vishnu, Shiva, Kubera, Skanda, Laxmi, etc.
History of Hinduism after Mauryas:
Brihatratha, the last king of Mauryan dynasty, was killed by Pushyamitra Sunga in 185 B.C. The Sunga dynasty ruled for the next 112 years. Then, the last king of Sunga dynasty, Devabhut, was killed by his minister Vasudev Kanva. The Kanva dynasty came to an end after 45 years when Satavahanas defeated the last Kanva king but Satavahanas did not establish their rule in the north.
Buddhism and Jainism declined during this period as Sunga and Kanva dynasty patronized Brahminism. During this period of transition, foreign tribes like Sakas, Parthians, and the Kushanas established their presence in some parts of North India. During the post-Mauryan period the famous books like Manavdharma Sastra, Charaksamhita, Rasaratnakar, Arthashastra were composed. Out of six main philosophical streams, Nyaya, Vaisheshika and Samkhya were written during this period.
After the fall of Mauryan empire, many small kingdoms came into existence. The satavahanas were the most powerful amongst them. They established their power from Sanchi in the north, Konkan in the south and the sea in the west and east. They believed to have ruled for about 450 years (235 B.C. to 215 A.D.). During their reign, the caste system was prevalent though was not very rigid. Inter-caste marriages were common. The women also enjoyed high status in the society. The Satavahanas followed Vedic religion and performed Vedic sacrifices. The famous deities included Indra, Sun, Moon, Vishnu, Krishna, Shiva, Ganesha, and Pashupati. They also patronized Buddhism and Jainism and supported them wholeheartedly.
Guptas were the rulers of Magadha. Following were the kings of Gupta Dynasty:
1. Chandragupta I (319-335 A.D.)
2. Samudragupta (335-375 A.D.)
3. Chandragupta II (380-415 A.D.)
4. Kumargupta (415-455 A.D.)
5. Skandagupta (455-467 A.D.)
6. Vishnugupta (500-570 A.D.)
Gupta era is known as golden era of Hinduism. Samudragupta is known as “Napoleon of India.” Hinduism was revived during this period as it was patronized by the kings themselves. Guptas constructed beautiful temples and popularized idol worship. Buddhism declined significantly during this period. More restrictions were put upon women, polygamy was practiced, and the practice of Sati caught the roots during this period.
Vakatakas, Pallavas, and Chalukyas:
These three dynasties were from southern part of India. They were contemporaries of Gupta dynasty and they played a significant role in strengthening Hinduism in South India.
The kingdoms of Vakatakas, Pallavas, and Chalukyas also patronized Hinduism. Shaiva and Vaishnavas, the two sects of Hinduism, also became powerful during their reign. Buddhism continued to lose its glory. These three kingdoms built many temples and sculptures. Some of these are famous Ajanta caves, Mahabalipuram, Aihole, and Badami.
Hinduism during the Chola Empire:
Chola kingdom was a very ancient empire whose reference can be found in Mahabharat. It was in Southern part of India. Rajrajeshwara revived the Chola Empire. He ruled from 945-1014 A.D. He constructed many big Shiva Temples during his reign.
The other kings of Chola Empire were:
Rajendra I (1014-1044 A.D.)
Rajadhiraja I (1044-1052 A.D.)
Rajendra II (1052-1063 A.D.)
Virarajendra I (1063-1070 A.D.)
Kulo Hung (1070-1118 A.D.)
The last king of Chola Empire was Rajendra III who was defeated in 1258 A.D. by Pandya and this ended the Chola Empire.
The Chola emperors patronized Hinduism, especially two sects viz Bhagvatism and Saivism. Many big temples were built during their reign. Jainism and Buddhism also flourished. The women enjoyed a good social status compared to North India at that time. Monogamy was general practice but rich people practiced polygamy and had many wives.
Invasion by Muhammad Ghazni:
At the time of invasion by Ghazni, Hindu Shehi dynasty was an important kingdom at that time. There were other small Rajput states that were fighting amongst themselves. Raja Jaipal was the ruler of the region from Kashmir to Multan and from Sirhind to Langhani. In the beginning of the 11th century, Muhammad of Ghazni attacked India. Jaipal was defeated and he committed suicide after that. His son, Anandpal organized a united front of Rajput chiefs but could not defeat Ghazni. Ghazni made about 17 invasions after that and looted India. He desecrated and destroyed Somnath temple in Sourashtra, Gujarat.
Mahammad Ghori was a powerful king in Central Asia who attacked India after defeating Ghaznavi. In 1191, he was defeated by Prithviraj Chauhan at the first battle of Tarai but Prithviraj set Ghori free, which was his biggest mistake. Mahammad Ghori attacked again in 1192 and defeated Prithviraj Chauhan. Ghori did not set Prithviraj free but he beheaded him. Then, Ghori attacked Gujarat but was defeated by Rana Bhimdev II of Anhilwada. He then conquered rich plains of Ganges and beyond. He died in 1206 and Qutb-ud-Din Aibak who was a Turkish slave captured the throne of Delhi. Ghori destroyed hundreds of Hindu temples and converted many to Islam during this period.
Following dynasties occupied the throne of Delhi after Ghori.
Slave Dynasty (1206-1290 A.D.)
Khilji Dynasty (1290-1316 A.D.)
Tughlaq Dynasty (1300-1414 A.D.)
Saiyyad Dynasty (1414-1451 A.D.)
Lodi Dynasty (1451-1526 A.D.)
The condition for all non-Muslims in India at this time was pathetic. Spreading Islam was one of the main aims of the emperors of all these dynasties. Many beautiful Hindu temples were desecrated and destroyed during this timeframe. All the non-Muslims had to pay Jezia and were not given high positions in the government service. They were regarded as Zimmi or second class citizens. No wonder Hinduism deteriorated during this time. The conditions of women worsened during this time. Rajput women burnt themselves in ‘Jauhar’ when their husbands were defeated. Many Hindu women were raped and the women were very insecure. Evil practices like infanticide and child marriages prevailed during this time.
Invasion of Babar:
In 1526, Babar defeated Ibrahim Lodi in the first battle of Panipat because of his advanced warfare techniques and assistance from rebellions against Delhi Sultanate. After that he defeated united front of Rajput chiefs led by Rana Sangram in the battle of Kanwah in 1527. Then, he attacked Afghan forces of Doab and established his kingdom from foot of Himalayas to Gwalior in the South. He died in 1530 after a short illness. He was succeeded by Humayun who became the king of Delhi. Sher Khan defeated Humayun at Kanoj and became the king of Delhi Sultanate in 1540. After that he wandered over many places and got married to Hamida Banu Begum. In 1542, Akbar was born. He was given shelter by Shah of Iran.
Sher Khan established Sur dynasty but could not enjoy it as he died in an accidental explosion of a shell after five years but he established a vast empire over the whole of North India except Kashmir, Gujarat, and Assam.
The empire of Vijayanagar is considered to be one of the biggest Hindu kingdoms in the past. It is still remembered for its glorious contribution for Hinduism. The emperors built many beautiful temples of Hindu deities and saints. Some of them were Vitthalswamy temple, Hazar Ramaswamy, Krishnaswamy, Bhuvaneshwari, Achutraya, etc. The art and paintings also flourished during this period. Krishna Devraya and Ramraya were famous kings of Vijayanagar Empire. The empire was at its peak during the reign of Krishna Devraya. The entire South India was under his rule at that time.
The Vijayangar Empire was ruled by many dynasties. Hampi was the capital city of empire. Harihara I and Bukka of Sangama dynasty is considered as the founder of Vijayangar Empire. Vijayangar Hindu Kingdom was founded by Harihara and Bukka in 1336.
I. Sangama Dynasty:
1. Harihara I (1336-1356)
2. Bukka I (1356-1377)
3. Harihara II (1377-1404)
4. Devraya I and his sons (1406-1424)
5. Devraya II (1424-1446)
6. Mallikarjuna and Virupaksha III (1446-1485)
II. Saluva Dynasty
1. Saluva Narasimha (1485-1491)
2. Narasa Nayaka and successors (1491-1503)
III. Taluva Dynasty
1. Vira Narasimha (1503-1509)
2. Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1529)
3. Achyuta Raya (1529-1542)
4. Sadasiva Raya and Ramaraya (1543-1570)
IV. Aravidu Dynasty:
1. Tirumala (1570-1578)
2. Sriranga II and Venkatapati (1579-1616)
The Mughal Dynasty:
After the death of Sher Khan, Sur dynasty destabilized. Therefore, Humayun, with the help of Shah Tahmasp of Persia, captured Lahore but unfortunately he died in 1556. After that, Bahiram Khan helped Akbar to defeat the Sur dynasty lead by a Hindu general, Himu, in 1556. This battle is known as second battle of Panipat. Thus, Akbar became the king of Delhi. Bahiram Khan consolidated the Mughal dynasty by capturing Agra, Gwaliar, and Jonpur. Akbar did not have full control over his kingdom because of Bahiram Khan. Therefore, he had a conflict with him. Bahiram khan rebelled but was defeated. Akbar asked him to go to Mecca but he was murdered on the way in 1561.
Akbar consolidated the empire by bringing in many areas under his control. His kingdom spanned through Himalayas to the Narmada and from Hindukush to the Brahmaputra. He adopted a policy of friendship with Rajputs. Raja Bhar Mal of Jaipur gave his daughter, Jodha, in marriage to the Mughal king. He persuaded other Rajput kings and brought them in the service of Akbar. Rana Pratap Singh from Mewar did not surrender and fought almost single-handedly for 25 years against Mughals. In the battle of Haldighat in June 1576, Rana Pratap was defeated but he did not surrender. He continued his fight until last breath.
Akbar adopted policy of secularism and abolished Jezia on non-Muslims. His wife, Jodha, was a Hindu and he knew that policy of tolerance would benefit all. He founded a new religion called Din Ilahi. But after the death of Akbar, his successors discontinued his policy. Shah Jahan reimposed Jezia on non-Hindus. His successor Aurganzeb was the height of cruelty and religious fanaticism. He converted thousands of Hindus to Islam either by force or by luring them. Actually, this policy was followed by all the Muslim kings in India except Akbar. Aurangzeb devastated Kashi Vishweshwar Temple and threw the Shivlingam in a well nearby. He killed the king of Marathas, Sambhaji Raje, on declining to convert to Islam. The same was done with Guru Tegh Bahadur Singh. This period was the worst known period in Hindu history. Thousands of Hindus were killed and/or converted to Islam. Thousands of Hindu women were raped and kidnapped. In Maharashtra, people still refer to the reign of Mughals as the darkest period. It is a symbol of injustice for them. Aurangzeb would have definitely Islamized India if Maratha king Shivaji would not have been there.