Birthplace of hinduism and buddhism
Chapter II: Ancient India - Birthplace of Hinduism & Buddhism.
2.1 Pre - History and Vedic India.
2.2 Indian Trade & Maritime Sea Routes
2.3 Indian Society & Religious Teachers( Pre-Buddhist India)
2.4 A Brief Introduction to Hinduism
Hinduism and Buddhism
There is a nice analogy which was told to me while visiting a Thai monastery many years ago. Buddhism and Hinduism are like two siblings raised in the same household, such as a brother and sister may have a certain family resemblance. A visitor would not mistake one for the other. And just like siblings they may differ in opinion in many things even to the point of arguing. Yet they still love and respect each other.
If the household of these siblings is the Ancient Indian sub-continent then that is the logical place to start. Before looking at Hinduism or Buddhism in the following chapters it is necessary to look at the Ancient Indian civilization and culture prior to any written records as both of these "religions" have their origins in the ancient history of the Indian sub-continent.
The references used are some of the earliest written works and the study will look at these in greater detail in the chapter concerning Hinduism and its teachings. The reader should note that modern science is now re-examining many of the statements made in these earlier works due to discoveries made by modern research which has scientific facts as its proof.
For this section I have chosen to follow the consensus of opinion, and for that reason, the dates given here are those found in other references. We must begin by stating that the Indian continent was first populated 250,000 years ago. When the original thesis paper was written, the first major civilization was considered to be the Harrapan civilization that occupied the Indus Valley where Baluchistan was a farming community from 3500 BCE (this may well have been pre-dated by the 9000 BCE Gulf of Cambay civilisation once more is known about it)
The consensus held by scholars and historians, is that ancient India's indigenous people were a dark skinned race. There are prehistoric cave paintings and rock art, which provide the basis for these assertions. This is said to be a 40,000-year-old cave painting seen on a white silica sandstone rock shelter depicting existence of human civilization is seen in Banda district 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of New Delhi, India. The painting below depicts hunting by cave dwellers in the Paleolithic age. These caves were discovered recently. Notice the horse with rider.
A 40,000 Year Old Cave Painting (AP Photo/Shekhar Srivastava)
Origins of the Indus Valley Civilization
The geography of India is one of many extremes. The land mass encompasses desert, mountains, forest, and jungle. All of these environments were susceptible to unpredictable periods of flood, drought, and monsoons. Though India contained some of the most extreme geological and climatic features, these difficult conditions were also an asset to the development of its early civilizations. The Himalayas provided a natural protective barrier from any nomadic or military invasions from the north, and other mountain ranges provided similar protection in the west and east. The account of the Indus valley and its people, (also known as the Harappa civilization), is a story of a people intricately tied to their environment. The waterways of the Indus valley provided an excellent resource for trade, commerce, and agriculture. Throughout India's history, the rivers were crucial to the inhabitants of the region.
As is found with most societies, especially non-nomadic ones, a rise in the cultivation of agrarian resources often leads to a surplus. Other factors permitting, this normally leads to an eventual population increase. As far as we can surmise, the development of civilization in the Indus valley followed this pattern ie. a static society, fertile soil , good harvest and no major wars or pestilence diminishing the populace.
The diverse geography of ancient India resulted in an increase of both the quantity and the specialization of agrarian crops. Faunal remains around the era of 3000 BC shows such trends and suggests that the Indus valley civilizations were benefiting from the rich alluvial soil of the Indus River. This region produced high yields of cereal grains, cultivated crops and plant materials. By 2,700 BCE, the presence of a state level society was evident, complete with hierarchical rule and large-scale public works (irrigation, etc.).
Such large-scale growth in so short a period can be attributed to two factors:
- The unique and rich environmental resources India provided,
- An organized civilization, which took direct control of its natural environment.
By 3000 BCE turmeric, cardamom, pepper and mustard were harvested in India. The Harappans who occupied Harappa and Mohenjodero in the Indus Valley, were of mixed stock They had club wheat, barley, sheep and goats from the Iranian Plateau and cotton from Southern Arabia or North East Africa. Sumer had trade links with the Indus Valley via Hindu Kush by 3000 BCE. and by sea from 2500 BCE, thus linking the Harappans with both Sumerians and Egyptians, where cumin, anise and cinnamon were used for embalming by 2500 BCE We can summarize by saying the Indus valley was populated by a dark skinned race of indigenous people who had a structured hierarchical agrarian society, the floods of the local rivers providing rich alluvial topsoil, which replenished the minerals on cultivated land. The non-nomadic conditions coupled with the harvest surplus were conducive to growth population.
Why then, can we assign some stories of ancient India to the period of nearly 10,000 BCE? Are there any material facts or evidence?
Pre-Harappan Evidence Found in Gulf of Cambay
VADODARA, INDIA, July 19, 2004: In an underwater exploration in the Gulf of Cambay, National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), scientists discovered almost 9,500-year-old bricks made of clay and straw. Archaeological experts of the MS University who, too, are involved in a part of the exploration near Surat and the coast of Gulf of Cambay, however, feel that a further insight into the size of the bricks can confirm its age and its period.
The bricks, believed to be pre-Harappan, have been identified to be of the Holocene age. In the NIOT surveys in the 17 sq km area, stone artifacts like blade scrapers, perforated stones and beads were found. The bricks, according to NIOT scientists, were used for construction. It indicates that the people of that age led an advanced form of life.
The artifacts found on the seabed, 20 to 40 ft below the present sea level, consisted of housing material. "It is important to confirm the brick size as people of the pre-Harappan age made bricks in the ratio of 1:2:3. A confirmation on the brick size can add more credence to the discovery," says head of the archeology and ancient history department V. H. Sonawane.
WARANGAL, INDIA, Feb 12, 2002 - Mysterious Sunken City Found Near Surat Michael Cremo recently attended a meeting of ranking Indian governmental officials at which Murli Monohar Joshi, Minister for Science and Technology, confirmed the archeological find by an Indian oceanographic survey team. Could the recent discovery of a sunken city off the Northwest Coast of India near Surat revolutionize our concept of history?
Michael A. Cremo, historian of archeology and author of "Forbidden Archeology", claims that all the history textbooks would have to be rewritten if this ancient find proves to be of Vedic origin. Radiocarbon testing of a piece of wood from the underwater site yielded an age of 9,500 years, making it four thousand years older than earliest cities now recognized.
According to Cremo, "The ancient Sanskrit writings of India speak of cities existing on the Indian subcontinent in very primeval times. "Although historians tend to dismiss such accounts as mythological, these new discoveries promise to confirm the old literary accounts." Michael Cremo is acknowledged as a leading authority on anomalous archeological evidence. Asserting the recent find may be just the first step, he says, "It is likely that even older discoveries will follow." The cultural identity of the people who inhabited the underwater city is as yet unknown. Most historians believe that Sanskrit-speaking people entered the Indian subcontinent about 3,500 years ago, from Central Asia. Other historians accept India itself as the original home of Sanskrit-speaking people, whose lifestyle is termed Vedic culture because their lives were regulated by a body of literature called the Vedas.
A City Dating Back to 7500 BCE
As was announced on January 16, 2002 from New Delhi, Indian scientists have made an archaeological discovery that dates back to 7500 BCE. This suggests, as a top government official said, that the world's oldest cities came up about 4,000 years earlier than is currently believed. The scientists found pieces of wood, remains of pots, fossil bones and what appeared like construction material just off the coast of Surat.
Science and Technology Minister Murli Manohar Joshi told a news conference. He said, "Some of these artifacts recovered by the National Institute of Ocean Technology from the site, such as the log of wood date back to 7500 BCE, which is indicative of a very ancient culture in the present Gulf of Cambay, that got submerged subsequently." Current belief is that the first cities appeared around 3500 BCE in the valley of Sumer, where Iraq now stands. A statement issued by the government said. "We can safely say from the antiquities and the acoustic images of the geometric structures that there was human activity in the region more than 9,500 years ago (7500 BCE)," said S.N. Rajguru, an independent archaeologist. Malleswaram boasts of many temples, but none is so shrouded in controversy and mystery as this one is. The ancient Nandeeshwara temple at Malleswaram 17th cross was discovered only three years ago, but it has stood for 7,000 years on that spot. Being buried over the years has not diminished its aura at all. It still draws huge crowds all day.
According to residents living nearby, the temple was completely buried and the land above it was a flat stretch. "Three years ago, a politician tried to sell this plot. But people objected on the grounds that the land should first be dug through to see if they could find something," says the priest, Ravi Shankar Bhatt. Therefore, when they started digging up the land, they found buried underneath, this temple. It was in perfect condition, preserved by the thick layers of soil. This underground temple was enclosed within a stone cut courtyard supported by ancient stone pillars.
At the far end of the courtyard, a Nandi was carved out of a black stone with eyes painted in gold. From its mouth a clear stream of water flowed directly on to a Shivalinga made out of the same black stone at a lower level. There were steps that led to a small pool in the centre of the courtyard where the water flowed and collected. The pool's centre had a 15 feet deep whirlpool.
Everything remains the same today. Nobody knows where the water comes from and how it passes from the mouth of the Nandi idol on to the Shivalinga. Nobody knows how the whirlpool came into being. The source of water, the sculptor, even the time when it was built remains a mystery. "There has been no scientific explanation for the source of water to date," says resident Shivalingaiah. "Some say it was built by Shivaji Maharaj. Some say it's older. However, of one thing we were sure, the temple has remained untouched over the years. We found it exactly as it might have been before it was covered by soil," he adds. On Shivaratri day, overwhelming crowds gather at this temple. Some perform the 'milk puja'. Others just come to marvel at a temple.
A Malleswaram committee has been specifically created to look after the temple. Committee president C Chandrashekhar functions along with a 11-member committee. "We are slowly introducing improvements in the temple to keep it in good shape. A lot of people come even from other parts of Bangalore," he says. The committee's next step is to build a gopuram in the temple premises.
Mehgarh 6,000 BCE
Mehgarh is located 125 miles west of the Indus valley, and provides early evidence of village dwelling level within the Indus Valley. The initial site is quite small and exhibits evidence of crop farming, with produce such as Asiatic wheat. The site also shows use of domestic goats and extensive trade with the west. Traded goods included turquoise, copper, and cotton from as far away as Arabia. By 5,000 BCE the dwellings of the Mehgarh went from simple semi-permanent housing to mud brick, and then large permanent housing.
The economy was largely dependent upon trade. Such trends, specifically emphasizing trade, continued well into 4,000 BCE when the culture clearly identified as Harappan became evident.
5000 Year Old Harappan Township Found in Haryana
Evidence of a township of the 5,000-year-old Indus Valley Civilisation (Harappan Era) has been found during excavations near Bhirdana village in Fatehabad district of Haryana . The excavations are being carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).The ASI had earlier discovered the presence of same townships of the Indus Valley Civilisation at two other places, Kunal and Banawali, in the district. The evidence found at Bhirdana includes many structures made of mud bricks, peculiar of the Harappan era; a well, a fortification wall, pottery and other antiquities. Mr L.S. Rao, Superintending Archaeologist of the ASI, who is leading the team of excavators here, informed that the team, comprising a Deputy Superintending Archaeologist, three Assistant Archaeologists and other officials like photographers, draftsmen, artists, and surveyors, was working on the excavation site spread across 62,500 square meters and situated on a mound.
Fifteen students of Institute of Archaeology, New Delhi, have also been assisting the team. The excavations, being carried out under the `Saraswati Heritage Project' of the Union Government, were part of a series of such excavations being made to unearth the old civilisations on the bank of the ancient Saraswati river. The Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Haryana, had protected the area of the present excavations. Mr Rao said the area where the excavations were being carried out was the bank of the Saraswati. The whole riverbed had been converted in to agricultural lands with the passage of time, he added that the ASI based its findings on the antiquities collected during the excavations on the surface of the mound. Pottery, among the antiquities, is the main criteria for ascertaining the civilization.
The excavators have also discovered a 2.4-metre-wide wall considered to be the fortification wall of the township on the excavation site. Ms Ankum, from Nagaland, a student of the Institute of Archaeology, who was manning the fortification area, said a clinching evidence of the township was that the earth outside the wall comprised of virgin soil while the one inside the fortification wall had all the evidence of structures. Mr Prabhash Sahu, Assistant Superintending Archaeologist, explained that it was a horizontal excavation and the whole mound had been divided into four parts for convenience. Mr Rao said the residents of the area were cooperative and were showing keen interest in the excavations.
First Harappan Burial site Found in Sinauli, Uttar Pradesh
SINAULI, June 28, 2006: Imagine for a moment that you're a farmer, leveling your field, when suddenly your plough hits something hard. You wipe away the dust and discover it's a bone, hardened over time. You dig some more and discover the remnants of pottery next to an ancient human skeleton.This is what happened to Sattar Ali while working in the sugarcane fields in Sinauli village near Baghpat in western UP, some 75 km from Delhi. Although he didn't know it at that time, Ali had chanced upon an ancient burial ground of the late Harappan period, believed to be more than 4,000 years old. Matters would have rested there had not a local youth, Tahir Hussain, informed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) about it. Since August last year, ASI's excavations have been going on in full swing. Dharamvir Sharma, superintending archaeologist, ASI, says, "The findings here are very important and have the potential to change the way we look at the history of Asia."
Sinauli's find is unique because this is the first Harappan burial site to be found in UP. More importantly, it's the first Harappan site where two antenna swords were found buried next to the skeletons. These were of the copper hoard culture, which has been a cause of debate among historians. These findings might just prove that the copper hoard was associated with the late Harappans, says Sharma.
The excavations have already yielded a rich haul. Almost 126 skeletons have been recovered, which indicates that the mound was a fairly large habitation. While some are broken, others are remarkably well preserved. One of the first skeletons to be discovered was found wearing copper bracelets on both hands. Some distance away, another was found buried along with an animal, presumably intended to be a sacrificial offering. Other finds include bead necklaces, copper spearheads, gold ornaments, and a few anthropomorphic figures which were typical of Harappan settlements. While these are all relative evidence of the late Harappan period, believed to be around 2000 BC, carbon dating of the skeletons would put a firm date on it.
Sinauli's findings might also prove that the Harappans were a part of the Vedic culture and followed prescribed Vedic practices. Sharma says, "All the skeletons have been found lying in the North-South direction, as prescribed by the Rig Veda. Near their heads have been found pots, which probably contained grains, ghee, curd and somarasa as an offering to Yama, the God of Death. This was in accordance with ancient Vedic burial practices, mentioned in the Shatpath Brahman." However, not all historians agree with this view. They feel it is too early to jump to conclusions without carbon dating being done.
The Early Harappan 4,000 BC to 3,000 BC
From the humble, but rapidly advancing beginning of the Mehgarh, came the eventual arrival of the early Harappan. The early Harappan evidenced very densely packed villages and village centers, all with extensive irrigation systems, and much the same subsistence pattern as the Mehgarh. The early Harappan people planted a wide variety of crops, including barley, and wheat, and did so according to the predictable cycles of the Indus River. The farmers of the Indus would plant their crops as the floods receded between June and September, and by early Spring harvested them.
The result of the Harappan civilizations emphasis on agriculture and irrigation lead to a plethora of irrigation systems around which human settlements were built. The settlements along the river were susceptible to periods of violent flooding. In such cases, stone walls were erected as flood barriers. Ironically, these flood barriers eventually became the city walls of some settlements.
The Harappan 2,500 BC. to 2,050 BC
From the Early Harappan arose such settlements as Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, as well as numerous other settlements which spanned roughly 1,000,000 miles of the Indus Valley. The culture of the classical Harappan era surrounded the rivers of the Indus valley and was greatly dependent upon the valley and trade for its subsistence. Indicative of all Harappan sites are the fire mud brick houses and the net-like city plans that took generations to evolve.3
The Indus Valley Civilization
The Indus Valley Civilization was one of the world's first great urban civilizations. It flourished in the vast river plains and adjacent regions in what are now Pakistan and western India. The earliest cities became integrated into an extensive urban culture around 4,600 years ago and continued to dominate the region for at least 700 years, from 2600 to 1900 BCE It was only in the 1920's that the buried cities and villages of the Indus valley were recognized by archaeologists as representing an undiscovered civilization.
Modern satellite images and field surveys indicate that the once mighty Saraswati River appears to have changed its course several times and became completely dry in approximately 1900 BCE. Some experts believe that the phonetically close affinities between the Deva Bhasha Sanskrit and several European languages may be due to natural calamities that may have caused the Indus Valley people to migrate out of India.
The Mohehjodaro in Sind was discovered in 1922 and Harappa in West Punjab a few years later. Although the two sites were about 600 km apart, these two civilisations covering an area in excess of a million square kilometers, were considered as one Indus civilisation in view of the similarity of the objects discovered in the ruins. A comparison of the archaeological remains of Indus Valley with the Vedic civilisation can be made from the Vedic hymns. These reveal almost one hundred per cent similarities between the two civilisations in food habits, animal rearing, cotton weaving, personal cleanliness, use of metals for weapons and ornaments, method of worship, practice of Yoga, cremation of dead, belief in immortality of soul and after-life etc.
Indian Trade and Maritime Sea Routes
India, situated at the central point of the ocean that washes its coasts on three sides, appeared destined for a maritime future. The majority of Western scholars have underestimated India's achievement with regard to commerce, shipbuilding, navigation, and sea travel. The Indian world stretched far beyond its borders, and it must be noted, that India had no policy of violent conquest to spread her influence. The antiquity of these voyages are most remarkable; regarding India's Western trade routes:- there is archaeological and historical evidence to show that as early as the 8th century BCE, there existed regular trade relations, both by land and sea, between India on the one hand and Mesopotamia, Arabia, Phoenicia, and Egypt on the other. The Eastern routes, which are the most pertinent to this study, can be traced back to the 7th century BCE using Chinese literary texts, which refer to their maritime trade activity.
The fact that this information is recorded and documented by non-Indian races, having nothing to gain by stating these ancient links, must lend substantial weight to the claims of Indian scholars and historians. The evidence may support many claims made by Hindus about the advanced culture that existed in India's ancient past. However, it is inconceivable that the Chinese, Egyptians, Romans etc wrote these articles to enhance or raise the status of what would have been a foreign power and alien religion.
We can confidently conclude that there was a time in the ancient past, when Indians were masters of the sea borne trade of Europe, Asia, and Africa. They built ships, navigated the sea, and held in their hands all the threads of international commerce, whether carried overland or sea. Sanskrit literature is replete with tales of merchants, traders, and men engrossed in commercial pursuits. Manu Smriti, the oldest law book in the world, lays down laws to govern commercial disputes having references to sea borne traffic as well as inland and overland commerce. Lord Elphinstone has written, "The Hindus navigated the ocean as early as the age of Manu's Code because we read in it of men well acquainted with sea voyages." Noted historian, R. C. Majumdar, observed: "The Indian colonies in the Far East must ever remain as the high watermark of maritime and colonial enterprise of the ancient Indians." It has been proved beyond doubt that the Indians of the past were not, stay-at-home people, but went out of their country for exploration, trade, and colonization.
For some of the oldest information we have to look in the ancient Rig Veda. One passage speaks of merchants going everywhere and frequenting every part of the sea for gain (L. 56.2) and another (I. 25.7) represents Varuna having a full knowledge of the sea routes. The Ramayana (translation in the English language by T.H. Griffith), refers to the Yavan Dvipa and Suvarna Dvipa (Java and Sumatra)* and to the Lohta Sayara or the Red Sea. The drama Sakuntala Ratnavali of King Harsha Sisupalvadha of Magha, relates stories of sea voyages of merchants and others. Ancient Indian books - the Kathasagara, the Jatakas and others - refer to these wondrous regions that set the imagination of civilized Indians on fire, to Suvarnabhumi, the fabulous "Land of Gold." Overall, the Indian influence on Southeast Asia proceeded peacefully. Local chiefs and petty chieftains were admitted into the caste structure as Ksatriyas through a ritual known as vratyastoma, performed by an Indian Brahmin. The Brahmin priests would, no doubt, have found it a relatively simple matter in persuading a local ruler to elevate his status and standing among his people.
Professor A. L. Basham, who reduced India along with her culture to a wonder-land in his book Wonder That Was India has observed that: "certain over-enthusiastic Indian scholars have perhaps made too much of the achievements of ancient Indian seafarers, which cannot compare with those of the Vikings or of some others early maritime peoples." Is this comment a fair assessment of the facts? What was the Viking achievement? It is clear that the Vikings, during the period 800 to 1200 BCE, migrated to all the corners of Europe. They did not do this peacefully, and had no lasting cultural influence on the people they came into contact with. On the contrary, they lost their identity when settling under the influence of the superior cultures of the lands they visited.In comparison to this, both from the qualitative and quantitative viewpoints, what was the Indian achievement?
With regard to their contact with Southeast Asia Professor D. P. Singhal remarks, "Indians came into contact with the countries of Southeast Asia principally for commercial reasons. Wherever they settled, they introduced their culture and civilization. In turn, they were influenced by the indigenous culture, laying thus the foundation of a new culture in the region. Indian cultural contact with Southeast Asia covers a period of more than thirteen hundred years, and segments of Indian culture even reached eastwards of this region." 1
Sir Aurel Stein (1862-1943) a Hungarian and author of several books including Ra`jatarangini: a chronicle of the kings of Kashmir and Innermost Asia."The vast extent of Indian cultural influences, from Central Asia in the North to tropical Indonesia in the South, and from the Borderlands of Persia to China and Japan, has shown that ancient India was a radiating center of a civilization, which by its religious thought, its art and literature, was destined to leave its deep mark on the races wholly diverse and scattered over the greater part of Asia." 2
Indians of old were keenly alive to the expansion of dominions, acquisition of wealth, and the development of trade, industry, and commerce. The material prosperity they gained in these various ways was reflected in the luxury and elegance that characterized their society. Some find allusion in the Old Testament, to Indian trade with the Syrian coast as far back as 1400 BCE, and we have noted the archaeological evidence shows Chinese links from the 8th century BCE. Recent excavations in the Philippines, Malay Peninsula, and Indonesia confirm early and extensive trade, which continued down to the historical period. This naval network enabled Indians to explore and colonize the islands in the Indian Archipelago.
Shortly after, there grew up a regular traffic between India and China, both by land and sea. India also came in close contact with the Hellenic world. We learn from ancient authority that in the processions of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.) were to be found Indian women, Indian hunting dogs, Indian cows, also Indian spices carried on camels, and that the vessels of the ruler of Egypt had a saloon lined with Indian precious stones. Everything indicates that there was a large volume of sea-trade between India and the western countries as far as African coast. From the coast the goods were carried by land to the Nile, and then down the river to Alexandria which was a great emporium in those days. There was a mercantile colony of Indians in an island off the African coast in the first century CE. The adventurous spirit of the Indians carried them even as far as the North Sea, while their caravans traveled from one end of Asia to the other.3
On journeys by sea, there were jalaniryamakas - guides who could predict the behavior of waters. In the sea-coast town of Shurparak, there was an arrangement to train persons with the help of the Niryamak Sutras. According to these verses, those persons who traveled together in a ship were called sanyatrika.
The Greater India with Islands
Comparing the achievements of the Indians and the Chinese in Southeast Asia, T. V. Mahalingam observes. "Though China also exercised a considerable influence over countries of Southeast Asia, Indian influence was more effective and durable for the Chinese always remained colonies of foreigners with little inclination to mix with the local population and in contrast to what the Hindus achieved, there is nowhere any trace of the taking-over of Chinese culture by the children of the soil."
His views have been upheld by John F. Cady who concluded that: "Indian cultural patterns in particular became widely disseminated during the early centuries CE, while Chinese influence, although culturally less contagious, virtually dominated from Sung times (960 and later) the trade and politics of the eastern seas."4
Amaury de Riencourt wrote: "The brightest sun shining over Southeast Asia in the first centuries CE was Indian Civilization. Waves of Indian colonists, traders, soldiers, Brahmins and Buddhist beat upon one Southeast shore after another. Great military power based on superior technical knowledge, flourishing trade fostered by the remarkable increase in maritime exchanges between India and these areas, the vast cultural superiority of the Indians, everything conspired to heighten the impact of the Indian Civilization on the Southeast Asian. Passenger ships plied regularly between the Ganges, Ceylon and Malaya in the middle of the first millennium CE. Indian settlers from Gujarat and Kalinga colonized Java, for instance, while others set out for Burma, Siam and Cambodia.
Old Indian books - the Kathasagara, the Jatakas and others - refer to these wondorous regions that set the imagination of civilized Indians on fire, to Suvarnabhumi, the fabulous "Land of Gold." On the whole, the Indianization of Southeast Asia proceeded peacefully. Local chiefs and petty chieftains were admitted into the caste structure as Ksatriyas through a ritual known as vratyastoma, performed by an Indian Brahmin. All over Southeast Asia tremendous ruins are strewn, testifying to the immense influence of Indian Civilization." 5
Ancient Indians knew Atlantic Ocean
Buddhist Jataka stories wrote about large Indian ships carrying seven hundred people. In the Artha Sastra, Kautilya wrote about the Board of Shipping and the Commissioner of Ports who supervised sea traffic. The Harivamsa informs us that the first geographical survey of the world was performed during the period of Vaivasvata.
The towns, villages and demarcation of agricultural land of that time were charted on maps. Brahmanda Purana provides the best and most detailed description of a world map drawn on a flat surface using an accurate scale. Padma Purana says that world maps were prepared and maintained in book form and kept with care and safety in chests.
Surya Siddhanta speaks about the construction of a wooden globe of earth and marking of horizontal circles, equatorial circles and further divisions. Some Puranas say that the map making had great practical value for the administrative, navigational, and military purposes. Hence, the method of making them would not be explained in general texts accessible to the public and were ever kept secret. Surya Siddhanta further informs us that the art of cartography is the secret of gods. This being the general thinking at those times, yet, there was one group of people who realized that the maps or the secret texts that contained the geographical surveys would not last a very long time. Only cryptology using words and names would last longer.6
The Indians built ships, navigated the sea, and monopolized the international trade by both sea routes and land route.Indian literature furnishes evidence with innumerable references to sea voyages and sea-borne trade and the constant use of the ocean as the great highway of international intercourse and commerce. The Scriptural books of the Hindu's will be looked at in greater detail in Chapter III. In the following section, the titles of some of these books are given as a heading. The books themselves will not be examined in great detail as the vast amount of ancient literature in India makes any study such as this difficult to write with absolute authority.
The fifth chapter, which is the most interesting passage (I. 116. 3), mentions a naval expedition on which Tugra, the Rishi king, sent his son Bhujyu against some of his enemies in the distant islands; Bhujyu, however, is ship wrecked by a storm, with all his followers, on the ocean, "where there is no support, no rest for the foot or the hand," from which he is rescued by the twin brethren, the Asvins, in their hundred-oared galley. The Panis in the Vedas and later classical literature were the merchant class who were the pioneers and who dared to set their course for unknown lands and succeeded in throwing bridges between many and diverse nations. The Phoenicians were no other than the Panis of the Rig Veda. They were called Phoeni in Latin which is very similar to the Sanskrit Pani.
"May Usha dawn today, the excitress of chariots which are harnessed at her coming, as those who are desirous of wealth send ships to sea." From this verse we note that not only was there trade but that it was profitable.
The Ramayana also contains passages that indicate the intercourse between India and distant lands by the way of the sea. In the Kishkindha Kandam, Sugriva, the Lord of the Monkeys, in giving directions to monkey leaders for the quest of Sita, mentions, all possible places where Ravana could have concealed her. In one passage he asks them to go to the cities and mountains in the islands of the sea, in another the land of the Koshakarsa is mentioned as the likely place of Sita's concealment, which is generally interpreted to be no other country than China. (the land where grows the worm which yields the threads of silken clothes); a third passage refers to the Yava and Dvipa, and Suvarna Dvipa, which are usually identified with the islands of Java and Sumatra of the Malaya Archipelago; while the fourth passage alludes to the Lohita Sagara or the red sea. The Ramayana also mentions merchants who trafficked beyond the sea and were in the habit of bringing presents to the king.
In The Mahabharata the accounts of the Rajasuya sacrifice and the Digvijaya of Arjuna and Nakula mention various countries outside India with which she had intercourse.There is a passage in its Sabha Parva which states how Sahadeva, the youngest brother of the five Pandavas, went to several islands in the sea and conquered the Mlechchha inhabitants thereof. the well known story of the churning of the ocean, in the Mahabharata, in the boldness of its conception is not without significance.
In the Drona Parva there is a passage alluding to shipwrecked sailors who "are safe if they get to an island." In the same Parva there is another passage in which there is a reference to a "tempest-tossed and damaged vessel in a wide ocean." In the Karna Parva we find the soldiers of the Kauravas bewildered like the merchants "whose ships have come to grief in the midst of the unfathomable deep."
There is another sholka in the same Parva which describes how the sons of Draupadi rescued their maternal uncles by supplying them with chariots, "as the shipwrecked merchants are rescued by means of boats." In the Santi Parva the salvation attained by means of Karna and true knowledge is compared to the gain which a merchant derives from sea-borne trade. But the most interesting passage in the Mahabharata is that which refers to the escape of the Pandava brothers from the destruction planned for them in a ship that was secretly and especially constructed for the purpose under the orders of the kind-hearted Vidura. The ship was a large size, provided with machinery and all kinds of weapons of war, and able to defy storms and waves.
Besides the epics, the vast quantity of Sutra literature also is not without evidence pointing to the commercial connection of India with foreign countries by way of the sea. The following are remarks of the well-known German authority, the late Professor Buhler: "References to sea voyages are also found in two of the most ancient Dharam Sutras."
In Sanskrit books, we constantly read of merchants, traders and men engrossed in commercial pursuits. Manu Smriti, the oldest law book in the world, lays down laws to govern commercial disputes having references to sea borne traffic as well as inland and overland commerce. Manu (iii. 158) declares a Brahmin who has gone to sea to be unworthy of entertainment at a Shraddha. In chapter viii of Manu's Code there is an interesting sloka laying down the law that the rate of interest on the money lent on bottomry (The lender of money for marine insurance) is to be fixed by men well acquainted with sea voyages or journeys by land. In the same chapter there is another passage which lays down the rule of fixing boat-hire in the case of a river journey and a sea voyage.
However, perhaps the most interesting passages in that important chapter are those which are found to lay down the rules regarding what may be called marine insurance. One them holds the sailors collectively responsible for the damage caused by their faults to the goods of passengers, and other absolves them from all responsibility if the damage is caused by an accident beyond human control. Sir William Jones is of opinion that the Hindus "must have been navigators in the age of Manu, because bottomry (The lender of money for marine insurance) is mentioned in it. In the Ramayana, the practice of bottomry is distinctly noticed. "
The Puranas also furnish references to merchants engaged in sea-borne trade. The Varaha Purana mentions a childless merchant named Gokarna who embarked on a voyage for trading purposes but was overtaken by a storm on the sea and nearly shipwrecked. The same Purana contains a passage which relates how a merchant embarked on a voyage in a sea-going vessel in quest of pearls with people who knew all about them.
In addition to the religious works like the Vedas, the Epics, and the Sutras and Puranas, the secular works of Sanskrit poets and writers are also full of references to the use of the sea as the highway of commerce, to voyages, and naval fights. Thus in Kalidasa Raghuvamsa (canto 4, sloka 36) we find the defeat by Raghu of a strong naval force with which the kings of Bengal attacked him, and his planting the pillars of victory on the isles formed in the midst of the river Ganges. The Shakuntala also relates the story of a merchant named Dhanavriddhi whose immense wealth devolved to the king on the former's perishing at sea and leaving no heirs behind him.
In Sakuntala, we learn of the importance attached to commerce, where it is stated: "that a merchant named Dhanvriddhi, who had extensivecommerce had been lost at sea and had left a fortune of many millions." In Nala and Damyanti, too, we meet with similar incidents.The Sisupalavadha of the poet Magha contains an interesting passage, which mentions how Sri Krishna, while going from Dvaraka to Hastinapura, beholds merchants coming from foreign countries in ships laden with merchandise and again exporting abroad Indian goods.
The expansion of Indian culture and influence both towards Central Asia and the south-east towards the countries and islands of the Pacific is one of the momentous factors of the period immediately preceding the Christian era. From the first century CE a systematic policy of expansion led to the establishment of Hindu kingdoms in Annam, Cochin-China, and the islands of the Pacific. The Ramayana knew of Java and Sumatra. Communication by sea between the ports of south India and the islands of the Pacific was well established many centuries before the Christian era. The discovery and colonization of Sumatra, Java and Borneo were the results of oceanic navigation. The allusions in the Ramayana to Java and Ptolemy's mention of Yava-dwipa in the first century CE clearly establishes the fact that Java had come under Indian influence at least by the beginning of the Christian era.
The reaction of this overseas activity on India was very considerable. An explanation of the immense wealth of the merchants who made such munificent endowments as witnessed by the inscriptions in the temples of the Satvahana period lies in the great overseas trade. Tamil literature of the first centuries, especially Silappadikaram and Manimekhalai also testify to this great overseas trade while in Kalidasa we have the allusion to ships laden with spices from distant lands lying in Kalinga ports.7 The Hitopadesha describes a ship as a necessary requisite for a man to traverse the ocean, and a story is given of a certain merchant, "who, after having been twelve years on his voyage, at last returned home with a cargo of precious stones."The Institutes of Manu include rules for the guidance of maritime commerce. Thus, the passage quoted indicates a well developed and not a primitive trade.
Significant also is the fact that Lieutenant Speake, when planning his discovery of the source of the Nile, secured his best information from a map reconstructed out of Puranas. (Journal, pp. 27, 77, 216; Wilford, in Asiatic Researches, III). It traced the course of the river, the "Great Krishna," through Cusha-dvipa, from a great lake in Chandristhan, "Country of the Moon," which it gave the correct position in relation to the Zanzibar islands. The name was from the native Unya-muezi, having the same meaning; and the map correctly mentioned another native name, Amara, applied to the district bordering Lake Victoria Nyanza.
"All our previous information," says Speake, "concerning the hydrography of these regions, originated with the ancient Hindus, who told it to the priests of the Nile; and all these busy Egyptian geographers, who disseminated their knowledge with a view to be famous for their long-sightedness, in solving the mystery which enshrouded the source of their holy river, were so many hypothetical humbugs. The Hindu traders had a firm basis to stand upon through their intercourse with the Abyssinians." 8
Some very definite and convincing allusions to sea voyages and sea-borne trade are also contained in the vast body of Buddhist literature known as the Jatakas, which are generally taken to relate themselves to a period of one thousand years beginning from 500 B.C. E. The Baveru Jataka without doubt points to the existence of commercial intercourse between India and Babylon in pre-Ashokan days. The full significance of this important is thus expressed by the late Professor Buhler: "The now well-known Baveru-Jataka, to which Professor Minayef first drew attention, narrates that Hindu merchants exported peacocks to Baveru. The identification of Baveru with Babiru or Babylon is not doubtful," and considering the "age of the materials of the Jatakas, the story indicates that the Vanias of Western India undertook trading voyages to the shores of the Persian Gulf and its rivers in the 5th, perhaps even in the 6th century B.C. just as in our days. This trade very probably existed already in much earlier times, for the Jatakas contain several other stories, describing voyages to distant lands and perilous adventures by sea, in which the names of the very ancient Western ports of Surparaka-Supara and Bharukachcha-Broach are occasionally mentioned." 9
Ms. Manning, author of Ancient and Mediaeval India Volume II, p. 353, writes: "The indirect evidence affordedby the presence of Indian products in other countries coincides with the direct testimony of Sanskrit literature to establish the fact that the ancient Hindus were a commercial people." 10
Sudas is stated in the Aitteriya Brahmana to have completely conquered the whole world. This conquest was not political; it means exploration of the whole earth. Puruvara navigated the ocean and explored 13 islands. 11Colonel James Tod (1782-1835) author of Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan: or the Central and Western Rajput States of India, says that one of the ancestors of Rama was Sagara also called the Sea-King whose sixty thousand sons were so many mariners. 12Sir William Jones wrote: " of this cursory observation on the Hindus which it would require volumes to expand and illustrate this is the result that they had an immemorial affinity with old Persians, Ethiopians, and Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Tuscans, the Scythians or Goth and Celts, the Chinese, Japanese and Peruvians." 13
There are references in Buddhist Jataka tales to ships sailing from Bhrigukachcha to Baveru (Babylon); in the Pali book Questions of Milinda, a merchant is described as having sailed to Alexandria, Burma, Malaya and China. Another story of the 6th and 7th century tells of a merchant having sailed to the "Island of Black Yavanas" maybe Zanzibar. 14 Professor Max Duncker, author of History of Antiquity, says, that ship-building was known in ancient India about 2000 BCE. It is thus clear that the Hindus navigated the ocean from the earliest times, and that they carried on trade on an extensive scale with all the important nations of the whole world. A. M. T. Jackson writes: "The Buddhist Jatakas and some of the Sanskrit law books tell us that ships from Bhroach and Supara traded with Babylon (Baveru) from the 8th to the 6th century BCE" 15
Rev. J. Foulkes says: "The fact is now scarcely to be doubted that the rich Oriental merchandise of the days of King Hiram and King Soloman had its starting place in the seaports of the Deccan, and that with a very high degree of probability some of the most esteemed of the spices which was carried into Egypt by the Midianitish merchants of Genesis." 16 Will Durant (1885-1981)American historian, would like the West to learn from India, tolerance and gentleness and love for all living things. He has observed:"Indian art had accompanied Indian religion across straits and frontiers into Sri Lanka, Java, Cambodia, Siam, Burma, Tibet, Khotan, Turkestan, Mongolia, China, Korea and Japan;"in Asia all roads lead from India." 17
Sir Charles Eliot (1862-1931), British diplomat and colonial administrator, in his book, says: In Eastern Asia the influence of India has been notable in extent, strength and duration. "Scant justice is done to India's position in the world by those European histories which recount the exploits of her invaders and leave the impression that her own people were a feeble dreamy folk, surrendered from the rest of mankind by their seas and mountain frontiers. Such a picture takes no account of the intellectual conquests of the Hindus. Even their political conquests were not contemptible and were remarkable for the distance if not for the extent of the territory occupied. For there were Hindu kingdoms in Java and Camboja and settlements in Sumatra and even in Borneo, an island about as far from India as is Persia from Rome." 18
Gordon Childe says: "The most startling feature of pre-historic Indian trade is that manufactured goods made in India were exported to Mesopotamia. At Eshunna, near Baghdad, typically Indian shell inlays and even pottery probably of the Indus manufacture have been found along with seals. After c. 1700 B. C. E. the traders of India lost commercial contact with the traders of Mesopotamia."S. R. Rao says that the Indian traders first settled in Bahrein and used the circular seal. Later on the different sections of the Indian merchants colonized the different cities of Mesopotamia after the name of their race. The Chola colonized the land where the two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, approach most nearly and the banks touch the so called Median wall. They called their colony Cholades which later came to be known as Chaldea (i.e. the land of the Cholas) as a result of corrupt pronunciation. Similarly the Asuras of Vedic India colonized the city Asura after their name and later they established the Assyrian empire.
Archaeological evidence of the use of indigo in the cloths of the Egyptians mummies, Indian cedar in the palace of Nebuchandnzzar and Indian teak in the temple of the moon god at Ur shows the continuity of Indian commercial relations with the West. Rassam found a beam of Indian cedar in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 B.C) at Birs Nimrud. In the second storey of the Temple of the Moon-God at ur rebuilt by Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus (555- 538 BCE) Taylor found "two rough logs of wood apparently teak".
The ancient Egyptian traders sailed there boats not only on the Nile but also ventured into the Mediterranean and the Red Sea and even into the Indian Ocean, for they are said to have reached "God's land" or the land of Punt (India). Similarly the Indian traders sailed their ships not only on the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, they also ventured into the Red Sea and even into the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea. From the very beginning Indian traders had a very fair knowledge of all the ancient oceans and seas of the populated world. the Egyptians called India as "God's land" because India was in those days culturally very much developed. The priest of ancient Egypt required vast quantities of aromatic plants for burning as incense; frankincense, myrrh and lavender were also used for embalmment purpose. Herodotus has left us a sickening description of the great number of spices and scented ointments of which India was the center. Beauty products from India also attracted the women of Egypt. The cosmetic trade was entirely dependent on imports chiefly from India. The Pharaohs of the fifth and sixth dynasties made great efforts to develop trade relations with the land of Punt. Knemphotep made voyages to Punt eleven times under the captainship of Koui. This expedition was organized and financed by the celebrated Queen Halshepsut.19
Before trade with the Roman Empire, India carried on her trade chiefly with Egypt; whose king, Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.) with whom Ashoka the Great had , founded the city of Alexandria, that afterwards became the principal emporium of trade between the East and West.M. A. Murray, the Egyptologist says in his book, " The splendor that was Egypt" that the type of men of Punt as depicted by Halshepsut's artists suggests an Asiatic rather than an African race and the sweet smelling woods point to India as the land of their origin. 20
This expedition really appears to have been a great commercial success. The queen proudly recorded on the walls of the temple of Deir-el-Bahri: "Our ships were filled with all marvelous things from Punt (India); the scented wood of God's land, piles of resin, myrrh, green balsan trees, ebony, ivory, gold, cinnamon, incense, eye-coloring, monkeys, grey dogs and panther-skins." These objects indicate Indian goods exported to Egypt.
Indian Society & Religious Teachers ( Pre-Buddhist India)
If the reader is serious about understanding Buddhism, and early Hindu Teachings, then it is vitally important that we examine the period immediately preceding Siddhattha Gotama's birth. The atmosphere at the convergence of the Vedic and non-Vedic period of Indian history is a major factor in understanding the teachings later propounded by Gotama the Buddha.
The word 'veda' means knowledge, and in this instance refers specifically to spiritual or sacred knowledge. The literature of the Upanishads and hymns of the ancient Rig Veda were not considered as mere odes but as musings on the transcendental reality beyond the physical and natural phenomena. The Sanskrit term for Vedic literature is 'sruti '- what has been heard. The ancient sages and rishis, while in spiritual trance had come into direct contact with celestial beings whom they considered as expressions of the divine principle or cosmic intelligence. The belief was that these 'texts' were not composed by gods or men but existed externally and were to be cognized by the ' listener ' Brahmins were the class of men whose duty and function was to preserve the 'sruti'. The whole of the Brahmanical society was based on this fact, and though the Brahmins were the minority, they had the greatest influence in society at that time. Many of the Buddha's teachings were aimed at the Brahmin class, and for this reason, it is necessary to have a basic knowledge of the Brahmin hierarchy of that time.
The subject matter of the Vedas, and their role in shaping ancient India could, and in fact does, fill many volumes. Here we attempt to summarize the salient points in order to present a picture of the mindset of the people. The ancient Aryans had a concept of eternal law called 'Rita'. Agni, the immortal fire god who served the gods, was said never to break this law. The Rig Veda III 34:9 then informs us that Indra gave protection to the Aryan color.
The Hymn to Purisha, ( cosmic man ), is the first instance of the caste system. The Yajur Veda, circa 10th century, contains collections of the ritual formulas for the priests to use in sacrifices, which is what 'yaja' means. It also explained the method for constructing altars for the new and full moon sacrifices and other ceremonies.
By instituting ceremonies that were more elaborate the priest class grew in wealth and number. The Soma ritual was the most important and could last for up to 12 years. The plant had to be purchased and imported and a ritual drama was re-enacted. This showed the Aryan buyer snatching back the calf, which was paid for the Soma plant, after the transaction. The plant was then placed in a cart and welcomed as an honored guest and king.
At the ceremony, the sacrificial animals were slain and cut up according to the rites before their meat was eaten. After various offerings and other ceremonies, the Soma juice was purified and toasted to different gods. The text goes on to list the ceremonial and sacrificial fees to be paid, usually gold, cows, goats and food etc. Agricultural ceremonies were common and the Purisha ceremony symbolized human sacrifice, though this may refer back to a time when the hunting and pastoral people did not allow enemies to live. The Brahmins had three duties, (obligations, or debts) to repay during his lifetime. These were
- Learning the Vedas - fulfilling his duty to the Seers and Rishis.
- Offerings and sacrifice - duty to the gods.
- Raising a family - duty to father.
Thus, they assured their livelihood by ensuring that penance, through religious ritual, was a prime social value. The Brahmin priests, acting in this role, helped by providing social stability.The Brahmanas, circa 900 - 700 BCE, are written in prose as sacerdotal commentaries on the 4 Vedas. Acting as a guide the information is often mythical and fanciful but they do give information about the social conditions and customs prevalent at the time. They serve as a transition from the Vedas to the Aranyakas and Upanishads. Caste, based on color ( varna ), was by now firmly established. The system was not as rigid as it was later to become.
The caste system was later to become hereditary, but this was probably not the case in earlier times. The basis of the system is a Hymn in the Rig Veda X:90, verse 12 of the Purusa- Sukta, or the hymn of the Cosmic Man.
" His mouth was the Brahmin (white)
Arms were made Royal, (red)
His two thighs,
that which is the Vaisya (yellow)
from his feet
was born the Sudra" (black)
The cosmic man was equated (here) with society. The four classes listed clearly shows who comes at the top. The mouth to utter the Vedas literally assured the Brahmins position in this social structure. The arms, which represented strength and power, was composed of the warrior - king class known as Rajanya or Ksatriya. The Vaishyas were the thighs and loins of society. They represented the society's fertility and were composed of the producing class ie farmers and merchants. The Sudra, those serving the others were composed of the indigenous people, the Dasas. These were the lowest class of people and were not allowed to own property. (Females of the time, irrespective of caste, were not permitted to own property; and a Brahmin could take a wife simply by seizing her hand.) There was rivalry between the top two castes for prestige and power. The lower caste was forbidden to hear or study the Vedas and Upanishads.
The Upanishads, (those who sit near), implies listening closely to the doctrines expounded by a spiritual teacher. The oldest parts of the Upanishads are thought to date from around 700 BCE. The ascetics retreated to the forests with their students to study the spiritual doctrines. These ascetics placed less emphasis on sacrifices and rituals, which were being performed in the towns and cities. These Sages were not as wealthy as the Brahmins in the towns who served royalty and other wealthy patrons. The emphasis of teaching now shifted to wisdom and knowledge. The knower or inner person was known as the 'atman' or soul.
The 6th century BCE marked a historical epoch in the religious evolution of Northern India. The racial intellect of the time was forced to confront two opposing psychological trends. The solution lay in the emergence of a uniquely magnetic individual who could successfully synthesize the realism of the physical philosophers with the idealism of the ancient Vedas. Later in the thesis, I shall give details of other famous ascetics and their doctrines. For the present, it is sufficient we note that Indian society was filled with philosophers, mendicants, wanderers, hermits and ascetics. The mindset of the country was at a cultural crossroads, and this, was the atmosphere into which the Buddha was born.
RULERS AND TEACHERS OF PRE - BUDDHIST INDIA
In the sixth century BCE, India witnessed the origin and growth of Buddhism which subsequently became one of the worlds greatest international religions. A brief survey of the various conditions and the trend of thought in the midst of which it originated is a necessity for an adequate understanding of Buddhism.
India was divided into sixteen political divisions at, or shortly before, the advent of Buddhism. These sixteen divisions are technically known as Sodasa Mahajanapada in the Buddhist literature. The rulers of these Janapadas were in constant conflict with one another and that is why they could not establish a big kingdom. These sixteen Janapadas were Anga, Magadha, Kasi, Kosala, Vajji, Malla, Ceti, Vamsa, Kuru, Pancala, Maccha, Surasena, Assaka, Avanti, Gandhari, and Kamboja.
This map refers to India at the time of the Buddha, but the social landscape and districts prior Buddhism remained unchanged.
These Mahajanapadas were not local names, but names of tribes or peoples; they grew up in the vast area extending from Kabul to the Godavari. Of them only Assaka was situated on the Godavari in South India. These Janapadas are referred to in the Digha Nikaya, Anguttara Nikaya, Culla Niddesa, Mahavastu and also in the Bhagavati Sutra of the Jains. But there is no unanimity in regard to their names. The 'Lalitavistara, refers to sixteen Janapadas without mentioning their names. A brief account of them is given here:
Anga : was once a powerful kingdom in India. It was also rich and prosperous. The first reference to the Angas is found in the Atharva-Veda where they find mention along with the Magadhas, Gandharis and the Mujavats apparently as a despised people. The Jaina Prajnapana ranks Angas and Vangas in the first group of Aryan peoples. The River Champa formed the boundaries between the Magadha in the west and Anga in the east and by the river Ganga on the north. Its capital Champa, formerly known as Malini, was located on the right bank of river Ganga, near its junction with river Champa. It was a very flourishing city and is referred to as one of six principal cities of ancient India (Digha Nikaya). It was also a great center of trade and commerce and its merchants regularly sailed to distant Suvarnabhumi. Anga was later annexed by Magadha in the time of Bimbisara.
Magadha : was an important centre of political, commercial and other activities. The ancient literature is also replete with accounts of the people of the then Magadha. The first reference to the Magadhas also occurs in the Atharva-Veda. The bards of Magadha are spoken of in terms of contempt in early Vedic literature. The Vedic dislike of the Magadhas in early times was because the Magadhas were not yet wholly Brahmanised. The Rigveda mentions a king Pramaganda as a ruler of Kikata. Yasaka declares that Kikata was a non-Aryan country. Later Vedic literature refers to Kikata as synonym of Magadha. With the exception of Rigvedic Pramaganda, no other king of Magadha appears to in Vedic literature. According to the Mahabharata and the Puranas, king Brihadratha founded the earliest ruling dynasty of Magadha. Magadha came into prominence only under king Bimbisara and his son Ajatasatru. In the war of supremacy, which went on between the nations of Majjhimadesa, the kingdom of Magadha finally emerged victorious and became a predominant empire in Mid India.
The kingdom of the Magadhas roughly corresponded to the modern districts of Patna and Gaya in southern Bihar, and parts of Bengal in the east. It was bounded on the north by river Ganga, on the east by the river Champa, on the south by Vindhya Mountains and on the west by the river Sona. Its earliest capital was Girivraja or Rajagriha modern Rajgir in Patna district of Bihar. The other names for the city were Magadhapura, Brihadrathapura, Vasumati, Kushagrapura and Bimbisarapuri. It was an active center of Jainism in ancient times. The first Buddhist Council was held in Rajagriha in the Vaibhara Hills. Later on, Pataliputra became the capital of Magadha. It is said that in the Buddha's time it (inclusive of Anga) contained eighty thousand villages and was about twenty-three hundred miles in circumference.
Kasi : (also known as Kausika ; Kaushaka) : The Kasis were Aryan people who had settled in the region around Varanasi (modern Banaras). The capital of Kasi was at Varanasi. The city was bounded by the rivers Varuna and Asi on north and south which gave Varanasi its name. Prior to the Buddha, Kasi was the most powerful of the sixteen Mahajanapadas. Several Jatakas bear witness to the superiority of its capital over other cities of India and speak highly of its prosperity and opulence. The Jatakas also mention the long rivalry of Kasi with Kosala, Anga and Magadha. A struggle for supremacy went on among them for a time. Kasi was later incorporated into Kosala during Buddha's time. The Kasis, along with the Kosalas and Videhans are mentioned in Vedic texts and appear to have been a closely allied people.
Kosala : The country of Kosalas was located to the north-west of Magadha with its capital at Savatthi (Sravasti). It was located about 70 miles to north-west of Gorakhpur and comprised territory corresponding to the modern Awadh (or Oudh) in Uttar Pradesh. It had the river Ganga for its southern boundary, the river Gandhak for its eastern boundary and the Himalaya Mountains for its northern boundary. King Prasenjit followed by his son Vidudabha ruled the kingdom. Kosala was merged into Magadha when Vidudabha was Kosala's ruler. Ayodhya, Saketa, Benares and Sravasti which has been identified with Sahet Mahet) were the chief cities of Kosala. We are told that the struggle between Kosala and Magadha was the leading political topic during the Buddha's time.
Vajji : The Vajjians or Virijis included eight or nine confederated clans of whom the Licchhavis, the Vedehans, the Jnatrikas and the Vajjis were the most important, names of all the eight clans are still wanting. (The Vajjis and the Licchavis were probably of the same clan.) Mithila (modern Janakpur in district of Tirhut) was the capital of Vedeha, which became the important center of political and cultural activities of northern India. It was in the time of king Janaka that Vedeha came into prominence. The last king of Vadeha was Kalara. On the ruins of his kingdom arose the republics of Lichchhavis, Vadehans and seven other small republics. The Lichchhavis were very independent people. Vaishali (modern Basarh in Vaishali District of North Bihar) was the capital of Licchhavis and the political headquarters of powerful Varijian confederacy. Vaishali was located 25 miles north of river Ganga and 38 miles from Rajagriha and was a very prosperous town. The Second Buddhist Council was held at Vaishali. The Licchhavis were followers of Buddha. The Buddha is reported to have visited the Licchavis on many occasions. The Licchhavis were closely related by marriage to the Magadhas and one branch of Lichhavis dynasty ruled Nepal until start of the Middle Ages but have nothing to do with current ruling shah dynasty in Nepal. King Ajatasatru of Magadha defeated Vaishali, the headquarters of the powerful Vajji republic and the capital of Lichchavis.
Malla : lay to the south of the country of the Sakyas and Koliyas. The Mallas are frequently mentioned in both Buddhist and Jain works. They were a powerful, some say brave and warlike, people dwelling in Eastern India. The Mahabharata also mentions Mallas along with the Angas, Vangas, and Kalingas as eastern tribes. The Mallas originally had a monarchical form of government but later they switched to a Samgha (republic or confederation) of which the members called themselves rajas. The nine territories formed a Mahajanapada composed of two parts; one with Kusinara (modern Kasia near Gorakhpur) as its capital and the second with Pava (modern Padrauna, 12 miles from Kasia) situated on the small river called the Gandaka as the capital. Both of these cities became very important during the time of Buddha
The Mallas originally had a monarchical form of government but later they switched to Samgha (republic or democratic confederation) of which the members called themselves rajas. Buddhism, (and Jainism) found many followers among the Mallas. The Mallas appeared to have formed alliance with Lichchhavis for self-defense, however, they lost their independence not long after Buddha's death and their dominions were annexed to the Magadhan Empire. . Kusinara and Pava are very important in the history of Buddhism since Buddha took his last meal at Pava and breathed his last at Kusinara.
Ceti ( Cedi ) : The Chedis, Chetis or Chetyas as they are variously referred to, were an ancient race of India and are mentioned in the Rigveda. They had two distinct settlements. One was in the mountains of Nepal and the other in Bundelkhand near Kausambi. According to old authorities, Ceti lay near Yamuna midway between the kingdom of Kurus and Vatsas. In the mediaeval period, the southern frontiers of Ceti extended to the banks of river Narmada. Sotthivatnagara, the Sukti or Suktimati of the Mahabharata, was the capital of Ceti. A Branch of Chedis found a royal dynasty in the kingdom of Kalinga according to the Hathigumpha Inscription of Kharvela.
Vamsa ( Vatsa / Vatsya ) : The Vatsas, Vamsas or Vachchas, as they are variously referred to, are stated to be an offshoot from the Kurus. The Vamsa country corresponds to the territory of modern Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. It had monarchical form of government with its capital at Kausambi (identified with village Kosam, 38 miles from Allahabad). Kausambi had been a very prosperous city where a large number of extremely rich merchants resided. It was the most important entry point of goods and passengers from north-west and south. King Udyana (Udauyana) was the ruler of Vatsa in sixth century BCE at the time of Buddha. He was very powerful, warlike, and fond of hunting. Initially king Udyana was opposed to Buddhism but later became a follower of Buddha and made Buddhism the state religion. According to Prof. Oldenberg, Vatsya was Vamsa in the Aitareya Brahmana.
Kuru : It may be identified with modern districts of Sonepat, Amin, Karnal and Panipat. It has two divisions, Uttarakuru and Daksinakuru. The two Kuru countries are referred to in the Mahabharata and Kaksinakuru used to rival Uttarakuru in its glory, prosperity and righteousness. The Jataka records that it was one of the powerful kingdoms in the pre-Buddhistic period. The Puranas trace the origin of Kurus from the Puru-Bharata family. Aitareya Brahmana locates the Kurus in Madhyadesha and further refers to the Uttarakurus as living beyond the Himalayas. According to the Buddhist text Sumangavilasini (II. p 481), the people of Kururashtra (the Kurus) came from the Uttarakuru. Vayu Purana attests that Kuru, son of Samvarsana of the Puru lineage, was the eponymous ancestor of the Kurus and the founder of Kururashtra (Kuru Janapada) in Kurukshetra. The country of the Kurus roughly corresponded to the modern Thaneswer union territory of Delhi and Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh.
According to Jatakas, the capital of Kurus was Indraprastha, (Indapatta) near modern Delhi, which extended seven leagues. At the time of the Buddha, the Kuru country was ruled by a titular chieftain (king consul) named Korayvya. The Kurus of the Buddhist period did not occupy the same position as they did in the Vedic period but they continued to enjoy their ancient reputation for deep wisdom and sound health. The Kurus had matrimonial relations with Yadavas, the Bhojas and the Panchalas. There is a Jataka reference to king Dhananjaya introduced as prince from the race of Yudhishtra. However, a well-known monarchical people in earlier periods, the Kurus are known to have switched to a republic form of government during sixth/fifth century BCE Fourth century BCE Kautiliya's Arthashastra also attests the Kurus following the Rajashabdopajivin (king consul) constitution.
Pancala : The Panchalas occupied the country to the east of the Kurus between the mountains and river Ganga Pancala may be identified with the regions of North and North-East of Delhi, from the foot of the Himalayas to Chambal including Budam. It roughly corresponded to modern Budaun, Farrukhabad and the adjoining districts of Uttar Pradesh. The country was divided into Uttara-Panchala and Dakshina-Panchala. The northern Panchala had its capital at Adhichhatra or Chhatravati (modern Ramnagar in the Bareilly District), while southern Panchala had it capital at Kampilya or Kampil in Farrukhabad District. The famous city of Kanyakubja or Kanauj was situated in the kingdom of Panchala. Originally a monarchical clan, the Panchals appear to have switched to republican corporation in the sixth and fifth century BCE Kautiliya's Arthashastra (4 BCE !) also attests the Panchalas as following the Rajashabdopajivin (king consul) constitution.
Maccha : The Country of Matsya or Machcha tribe lay to the south of the Kurus and west of the Yamuna which separated them from the Panchalas, It roughly corresponded to former state of Jaipur in Rajasthan, and included the whole of Alwar with portions of Bharatpur. The capital of Matsya was at Viratanagara (modern Bairat) which is said to have been named after its founder king Virata. In Pali literature, the Macchas are usually associated with the Surasenas (see below). The western Maccha was the hill tract on the north bank of Chambal. A branch of Macchas is also found in later days in Vizagapatam region. The Macchas had little political importance of their own during the times of Buddha. King Sujata ruled over both the Chedis and Macchas thus showing that Maccha once formed a part of Ceti kingdom. Several famous Asokan edicts have been discovered at Bairat.
Surasena : The Country of the Surasenas lay to the south-west of Maccha and west of Yamuna. It had its capital at Madhura or Mathura, identified with present Maholi, five miles to the south-east of the modern city of Muttra of Uttar Pradesh. Avantiputra, the king of Surasena was the first among the chief disciples of Buddha through whose help, Buddhism gained ground in Mathura country. The Andhakas and Vrishinis of Mathura/Surasena are referred to in the Ashtadhyayi of Panini. In Kautiliya's Arthashastra, the Vrishinis are described as Samgha or republic. The Vrishinis, Andhakas and other allied tribes of the Yadavas formed a Samgha and Vasudeva (Krishna) is described as the Samgha-mukhya.
Mathura, the capital of Surasena was also known at the time of Megasthenes as the centre of Krishna worship. The Surasena kingdom lost its independence on annexation by Magadhan empire. In course of his peregrination in India, the famous Chinese traveler Fa-Hien found many monasteries with hundreds of monks here.
Assaka : (Ashmaka) :.The country of Assaka or Ashmaka was located in Dakshinapatha of southern India. In the Buddha's time, Assaka was located on the banks of the river Godavari (south of Vindhya mountains). The capital of Assaka was Potana or Potali which corresponds to Paudanya of the Mahabharata. It has been identified with Bodhana in the Nizam state (Hyderabad). In Pali literature we find that Assaka is always associated with Avanti (see below) The Assakas are also mentioned by Panini. They are placed in the north-west in the Markendeya Purana and the Barhat Samhita. The River Godavari separated the country of Assaka from that of the Mulaka's (or Alaka's). The commentator of Kautiliya's Arthashastra identifies Ashmaka with Maharashtra. At one time, Assaka included Mulaka and their country abutted with Avanti (Dr Bhandarkaar).
Avanti : the country of the Avantis was an important kingdom of western India and was one of the four great monarchies in India when Buddhism arose, the other three being Kosala, Vatsa and Magadha. Avanti was divided into north and south by river Vetravati. Initially, Mahissati (Sanskrit Mahishamati) was the capital of Southern Avanti, and Ujjaini (Sanskrit Ujjayini) was the capital of northern Avanti. The Mahabharata records that Avanti and Mahissati were two separate countries, but at the times of Mahavira and the Buddha, Ujjaini was the capital of integrated Avanti. The country of Avanti roughly corresponded to modern Malwa, Nimar and adjoining parts of the Madhya Pradesh. Both Mahishmati and Ujjaini stood on the southern high road called Dakshinapatha extending from Rajagriha to Pratishthana (modern Paithan). Avanti was an important center of Buddhism and some of the leading theras and theris were born and resided there. King Nandivardhana of Avanti was defeated by king Shishunaga of Magadha. Avanti later became part of Magadhan Empire.
Gandhara : The wool of the Gandharis is referred to in the Rigveda. Gandhara can be included in the Uttarapatha division of Puranic and Buddhistic traditions. Aitareya Brahmana refers to king Naganajit of Gandhara who was contemporary of raja Janaka of Videha. According to Dr Zimmer, Gandhara's were settled since the Vedic times on the south bank of river Kubha (Kabol) up to its mouth into Indus itself.
Later the Gandhras crossed Indus and expanded into parts of north-west Punjab. Gandharas and their king figure prominently as strong allies of the Kurus against the Pandavas in the Mahabharata war. The Gandharas were a furious people, well trained in the art of war. According to Puranic traditions, this Janapada was founded by Gandhara, son of Aruddha, a descendant of Yayati. The princes of this country are said to have come from the line of Druhyu who was a famous king of Rigvedic period.
The river Indus watered the lands of Gandhara. Taksashila and Pushklavati, the two main cities of this Mahajanapada, are said to have been named after Taksa and Pushkara, the two sons of Bharata, a prince of Ayodhya. According to Vayu Purana (II.36.107), the Gandharas were destroyed by Pramiti aka Kalika, at the end of Kalyuga. Panini has mentioned both the Vedic form Gandhari as well as the later form Gandhara in his Ashtadhyayi. The Gandhara kingdom sometimes also included Kashmira (Jataka No 406). Hecataeus of Miletus (549-468) refers to Kaspapyros (Kasyapura i.e Kashmira) as Gandaric city. According to the Gandhara Jataka, at one time, Gandhara formed a part of the kingdom of Kashmir.
The Jatakas also give another name Chandahara for Gandhara. Gandhara Mahajanapada of Buddhist traditions included territories of east Afghanistan, and north-west of the Panjab (modern districts of Peshawar (Purushapura) and Rawalpindi). Its capital was Takshasila (Prikrit Taxila). The Taxila University was a renowned center of learning in ancient times, where scholars from all over the world came to seek higher education. Panini, the Indian genius of grammar and Kautiliya are both world-renowned products of the Taxila University. King Pukkusati or Pushkarasarin of Gandhara in middle of sixth century BCE was the contemporary of king Bimbisara of Magadha. Gandhara was located on the grand northern high road (Uttarapatha) and was a centre of international commercial activities. It was an important channel of communication with ancient Iran and Central Asia. According to some scholars, the Gandharas and Kambojas were same ethnic stock. Gandhara was conquered by Asoka and was included in his kingdom.
Kamboja : was also included in the Uttarapatha. In ancient literature, Kamboja is variously associated with Gandhara, Darada and Bahlika (Bactria). Ancient Kamboja is known to have comprised regions on either side of the Hindukush. The original Kamboja was located in eastern Oxus country and neighbour to Bahlika, but with time, some clans of the Kambojas appear to have crossed the Hindukush and planted colonies on its southern side also. These latter Kambojas are associated with the Daradas and Gandharas in Indian literature, and also find mention in the Edicts of Asoka.
The evidence in the Mahabharata and in Ptolemy's Geography distinctly supports two Kamboja settlements. The cis-Hindukush region from Nurestan up to Rajori, southwest of Kashmi,r sharing borders with the Daradas and the Gandharas constituted the Kamboja country (MBH VII.4.5; II.27.23). The capital of Kamboja was probably Rajapura (modern Rajori) in south-west of Kashmir. The Kamboja Mahajanapada of the Buddhist traditions refers to this cis-Hindukush branch of ancient Kambojas. The trans-Hindukush region including Pamirs and Badakhshan which shared borders with Bahlikas (Bactria) in the west and the Lohas and Rishikas of Sogdiana/Fergana in the north, constituted the Parama-Kamboja country (MBH II.27.27).The trans-Hindukush branch of the Kambojas remained pure Iranian but the Kambojas of cis-Hindukush appear to have come under Indian cultural influence The Kambojas are known to have had both Iranian as well as Indian affinities.
The Kambojas were also a well-known republican people since Epic times. The Mahabharata refers to several Ganah (or Republics) of the Kambojas (MBH 7/91/39). Kautiliya's Arthashastra (11/1/4) and Ashoka's Edict No. XIII also attest that the Kambojas followed republican constitution. Panini's Sutras (IV.1.168-175), though tend to convey that the Kamboja of Panini was a Kshatriya Monarchy, but the special rule and the exceptional form of derivative he gives to denote the ruler of the Kambojas implies that the king of Kamboja was a titular head (king consul) only (Dr K. P. Jayswal).
According to Buddhist texts, the first fourteen of the above Mahajanapadas belong to Majjhimadesa (Mid India) while the last two belong to Uttarapatha or the north-west division of Jambudvipa. In a struggle for supremacy that followed in the sixth/fifth century BCE, the growing state of Magadhas emerged as the most predominant power in ancient India annexing several of the Janapadas of the Majjhimadesa. A bitter line in the Brahmin Puranas laments that Magadhan emperor Mahapadama Nanda exterminated all Kshatriyas, none worthy of the name Kshatrya being left thereafter. This obviously refers to the Kasis, Kosalas, Kurus, Panchalas, Vatsyas and other neo-Vedic tribes of the east Panjab of whom nothing was ever heard except in the legend and poetry.
Of the sixteen Mahajanapadas mentioned above, most of them had monarchical constitution, while a few others were republics. The Kings of Magadha, Kosala, Vatsya, Avanti and others, who were most powerful and had monarchical form of government, were in constant conflict with neighbouring kingdoms to extend their suzerainty over them. Vajji which included the confederate clans of Vajji, Licchavi, jnatrika and the like were most prominent among the then republics. As there was no king to rule over this territory its administration was entrusted to a select committee.
Besides Vajji there were other republican states like Malla, Sakya, Monya and others mentioned in the Buddhist and Jaina texts. The sixth century BCE. witnessed a great spiritual upsurge in several countries. In Greece appeared Parmenides and Empedocles, in Iran Zarathustra, in China Lao-tse and Confucius and in India Mahvira and Gautama Buddha. In this period many mighty thinkers pursued the views of their predecessors and worked out new trends of thoughts.
This period is, therefore, of great importance in the history of the Buddhist religion. India was in a maze of inter-acting Philosophic and religious views, when Buddhism originated. The cult of sacrifice, much advocated by the Vedic Indian for a happy life in this world and in the next, could not really secure for the performer the objects for which the sacrifices were performed. Merits achieved through them were efficacious only for a short time.
They could not give eternal peace They could bring only temporary happiness. Thus people gradually lost their faith in the efficacies of the Vedic rituals. The goal of human life is to attain permanent happiness and the mind of the people is naturally directed to things eternal. The trend of the view therefore, turned against the rigidity of the Vedic sacrificial system, and people were inquisitive of true knowledge, which could bring eternal peace.
A new mood of life devoted to the pleasures of senses. Thus the system of four Asramas, i.e., four states of life was subsequently evolved. The four Asramas were Brahmacarya (celebate life), Garhasthya(household life),Vanaprastha (forest life) and Sannyasa (life of renunciation). "These stages were prescribed for the highest caste only, the Brahmanas, who monopolised intellectual culture and religious ceremonies, i.e., the homas, yajnas, etc." 1 The first Asrama insisted that a student should pass his early years in the house of a competent teacher acquiring knowledge and conduct under his guidance. He was to collect food for himself and for his teacher. With his formal initiation (Upanayana) commenced his studies. The Grhyasutras prescribe mutual duties and obligations of a student and his teacher. After spending the first Asrama (Brahmacarya), he could become a householder and marry. Even when he married, he should lead a life of restraint.
During the third Asrama (Vanaprastha) he should give up family life and live in a forest, and should devote himself to the acquisition of true knowledge which brought happiness and peace of mind. In the last Asrama (Sannyasa) he should cut off all worldly ties and pass his days in the realisation of ultimate reality. The first Asrama is concerned with education, the second with family life, the third with retirement from household life and the fourth with meditational practices to realise the highest truth. The third and the fourth Asramas, the Vanaprastha and Sanyasa, were considered favorable for "contemplation" and obtaining true knowledge and peace of mind.
Man's mind, therefore, gradually turned to the true knowledge and began to perceive it as far better than the performance of Vedic rites and 'rituals'. In the Upanisad we find the great quest for truth for the attainment of salvation and peace, (and in moment some of them are discussed in the nature of Brahman), the soul and transmigration and the doctrine of Karma. Brahman is real, the universe is false and there is no difference between a living being (jiva) and Brahman - these are, in short, the fundamentals of the Upanisad. The realization of the knowledge of Brahman could be made through true knowledge.
The cultured classes of the age were thus in favour of deeper aspects of learning as opposed to the elaborate and extensive Vedic sacrifices, the Common people were still steeped in the superstitious beliefs and rituals, they used to believe that souls dwell within the bodies of men, animals, plants, etc. all alike. In other words, they believed in animism. The worship of trees, serpents, Yaksas, Gandharvas and the like were also invoked in this age.
It is striking to note that we have no reference to the Upanisad or the Upanisadic teachers in the Buddhist texts. Some scholars maintain that Buddhism accepted most of the Upanisadic thoughts and that is why it is silent in this regard. However, Dr.N. Dutta2 holds that "it is idle to say that Buddhism issued out of the Upsnisads and was a phase in the evolution of Upanisadic thought. On the other hand, it may be stated that Buddhism was in fact a revolt against the Upanisadic thought and it was this denial of soul, which undermined the belief in efficacy of the sacrificial rituals and ceremonies." In the Buddhist and other texts, there are frequent references to the six non-Buddhist teachers3 who were respected by the wise, nobles, and kings alike. They were well known throughout the country as founders of schools of thought. Most of them were senior contemporaries of Gautama Buddha, and were followed by a large body of disciples. It is interesting to study their life and viewpoints. Below are given the names of these six teachers and the doctrinal views they held: -
1. Purana Kassapa -- came from a Brahmin family. In his book, A History of Pre-Buddhistic Indian Philisophy Dr. B.M. Barua observes " in the true significance of the Pali, either Purana Kassapa seems to have claimed to have attained perfect wisdom (purna jnana ) , or that his disciples believed that he was replete with perfect wisdom.4 He was an old and experienced teacher. He was the head of a religious Order with a large following. He was a contemporary of King Ajatasatru of Magadha Tradition records that he drowned himself in the sixteenth year of the Buddha's missionary career.
He upheld the doctrine of non - action (Akiriyavada), which, according to Dr. Barua5 is the doctrine of the passivity of soul. According to this doctrine, a person does not earn merit by good deeds such as gifts, sacrifices and the like. Similarly, he does not incur sin by bad deeds such as killing, telling a lie, and so forth. It is the body which acts; the soul remains passive. Whether we do good or bad deeds, the soul remains unaffected thereof. The body only, enjoys the effects of Karma. Silanka, the Jaina commentator, calls this Akaravada, and identifies it with the Samkhya view. Buddhism, however, admits neither identity nor difference of the soul and the body.
2. Makkhali Gosala -- was an important contemporary of Buddha. The Jaina and Buddhist texts furnish us with the accounts of his name and life. However, Doctor B.M. Barua opines that they are unhistorical.6 Dr. P.I. Vaidya observes, "he belonged to the sect of the Acclakas or Naked Ones, and, as the first part of his name indicates, carried a staff of bamboo (maskarin) 7. It is said that during the second year of Mahavira's career Gosala was received as his disciple. Both of them lived together for about six years, but later on Gosala broke away owing to his belief that all living beings were capable of reanimation. He predeceased Mahavira by about sixteen years. Gosala founded an independent school of thought known as the Ajivika School, the Majjhima Nikaya however, records his two other predecessors— Nanda Vacca and Kisa Sankicca.8 He may thus be regarded as the third or last Tirthankara of the Ajivika School.
He held the doctrine of fatalism (Niyatisangatibhava). According to him, all beings are without power and force; they are regulated by their destiny. In other words, they are helpless against destiny. He admits of no other cause whatsoever for the happiness and misery of a being.
He denied the consequences of action and exertions. He further advocated the theory of purification through transmigration (Samsara suddhi). All beings would pass through several existences in order to attain emancipation. Like a ball of thread, the consecutive existences are unalterably fixed. There are infinite gradations of existence and each existence is eternal.9 In the Post-Asokan period this sect attained prominence and enjoyed royal patronage. It was also popular in South India.
3. Ajita Kesakambali -- was another elder contemporary of Buddha. He was a materialist. He denied the effects of Karma. According to him Karma (action), good or bad, does not produce any fruit. There is no further life after death. A human being is composed of four elements. After death, each of them returns to the corresponding elements and the sense faculties (indriyas) into space (asasa). Everything ends in death. Nothing exists after death. It is mere idle to talk of the next world. "Fools and wise alike, on the dissolution of the body, are cut off, annihilated, and after death they are not.10
His doctrine is similar to that, of the Lokayata or Barhaspatya School better known as the Carvaka School. In Buddhism, it is known as the Ucchedavada, annihilationism which holds 'the cutting off, the destruction, the annihilation of a living being. 11
4. Pakudha Kaccayana -- was also known as Kakudha Katyayana as given in the Prasnopanisad. He was also an elder contemporary of Buddha. He was, like Purana Kassapa, of a Brahmin family. According to him a being is composed of seven elements: - earth (pathavi), water (apa), fire (teja), air (vaya), pleasure (sukha), pain (dukkha) and soul (jiva). These elements are ever lasting and immutable by their very nature.
They are uncreated and produce nothing new. They do not move or change or trench one upon another, or contribute to pleasure or pain, or both. There is, therefore, no killer, no teacher, and no hearer. Killing a being means nothing but separating the elements constituting the body. 'When one with a sharp sword cleaves a head in twain, no one thereby deprives any one of life; a sword has only penetrated into the interval between some elementary substances.12 In Buddhism, it is called Sassatavada, eternalism, which maintains that the soul and the world are eternal.
5. Sanjaya Belatthiputta -- was yet another elder contemporary of Buddha. He was a founder of a school of thought and was highly respected in the country. He advocated Ajnanavada (agnosticism). When a question was put to him, he resorted to equivocation. He did not give any positive opinion. His teaching consisted in evasion of answers and the substance of judgment. He refused to give any definite answer to the problems of metaphysical speculation. When those same questions were put to Buddha, he too refused to answer them, stating that they were not conducive to the gaol and did not lead to enlightenment or dispassion. The views advocated by Sanjaya were identical with those of Amaravikkhepikas (eel-wrigglers), who did not give any definite views as to the ultimate problems. It is said that Sanjaya who was an eminent religious mendicant and founder of a religious Order was the teacher of Sariputta and Moggallana. They subsequently left him and along with two hundred and fifty others joined the Buddhist Sangha. At this Sanjaya vomited blood and died.
6. Nigantha Nataputta -- was another elder contemporary of Buddha. He was none other than the great sage, better known as Mahavira. At first, he joined the religious Order founded by Parsvanatha who is said, to have lived two hundred and fifty years before Mahavira. His code was almost similar to that of Parsvanatha. Parsvanatha and his followers went naked, while Mahavitra and his disciples wore white garments. Mahvira upheld the doctrine of Kriya. According to him, misery is due to one's own deeds. It is not caused by others. Liberation can be obtained by true knowledge and good conduct. A soul transmigrates according to good or bad deeds.
From the Samannaphala Sutta13 we learn that Nigantha (fetterless) is restrained with a four-fold restraint (catuyamasamvara). He is restrained in regards to all water, as also in regard to all sinful activities. He is free from all sins and lives at ease, as he has purified himself from them. The Niganthas emphasised the commandment of Ahimsa (non-injury to all living beings). Jainism is further a philosophy based on the doctrine of Anekantavada (many possibilities). Every object is to be looked at from different aspects in order to have a true knowledge of it. "For the sake of practical application, the Anekantavada has been condensed into seven members (saptabhangi) thus:- from seven different standpoints a being is (i) permanent; (ii) impermanent; (iii) both permanent and impermanent; (iv) indescribable; (v) permanent and indescribable; (vi) impermanent and indescribable; (vii) both permanent and impermanent and also indescribable14 Jainism lays more emphasis than Buddhism on rigorous ascetic practices.
Lastly, it is to be noted that "of these six teachers, Purana denies the evil Karma in a bad act and vice versa; Ajita, in preaching annihilation at death, shuts out the possibility of any effect worked by Karma; and Makkhali rejects both Karma and its effect. The theory of Pakudaha seems to exclude responsibility; the Nigantha simply begs the question, by asserting that a Nigantha has attained the end, and Sanjaya gives no answer at all. 15
There were in those days, besides these six illustrious teachers, a large number of eminent Brahmanical teachers and Parivrajakas. These Brahmanical teachers were still maintaining the Vedic tradition. They recited the Vedic hymns and earned their livelihood by officiating as priests in the sacrifices. They were patronized by the kings as well as by a section of people. From the Kutadanta16, Tevijja 17 and other suttas we learn that the Vedic rituals and sacrifices were in vogue in those days. Only Brahmins, well-versed in the Vedic rituals, were requisitioned for the performance of the sacrifices; they also enjoyed grants of land and property under the patronage of the king. They were indeed very wealthy and sometimes performed sacrifices at heavy expense
The Parivrajakas were, on the other hand, a class of wandering teachers who had no permanent residence For the most part of the year they used to wander from place to place Their main objective was to enter into discussion with other religious teachers "on matters of ethics, philosophy, nature lore and mysticism'. There were in those days. in important villages and towns, public halls where these Parivrajakas could lodge and hold discussion. The life of a Parivrajaka was open to Brahmins and non-Brahmins alike. Even a woman could embark on the career of a Parivrajaka. Out of these Parivrajakas were formed from time to time, groups who expressed their allegiance to a certain teacher, or subscribed to some common tenets, marks or style of dress. Of these we may refer to the Magandikas, Vekhanassa, Parasariyas, orders of the six Teachers : Sanjaya, Pakudha, Ajita, Mankhali Gosala, Nigantha Nataputta and Gautama Buddha (Sakyaputtiyasamanas); and to the Jatilas, Tedankikas, Aviruddhakas and Devadhammikas.18 The Parivrajakas formed an important part of the religious and philosophical movement of Ancient India.
Hindu - Definition
The two words above are really a contradiction; I have researched and asked many people for a true definition of the word Hindu or Hinduism. It would appear that the more one searches for a definition the further one gets from actually defining the term. The term Hindu means different things to different people, even amongst those who class themselves as Hindu.
For this reason I have chosen to give two separate definitions, as Hindu's themselves have a very different view to non-Hindu's. I came across a phrase which I thought was most appropriate to introduce the Hindu definition.
"A Hindu knows in his heart who a Hindu is"
There may well be a lot of confusion among many foreign scholars as to what constitutes Hinduism and what does not, but there is no confusion among the native Indians as to who a Hindu is, and while a Hindu may not be able to define correctly who a Hindu is, in his heart he knows clearly whom he is talking about. Without recourse to any religious texts or scholarly analysis, he can instantly recognize and accept a fellow Hindu.
When we talk about Hindu's it is important to remember that Hindus come from different regions, belong to different economic and social strata, speak different languages, might well oppose each other politically, and may not even like each other personally due to ideological or ethical or ethnic reasons, but they do not fail to experience the bond of a religious tradition that is common to them. They know clearly that the tradition that binds them together was before them and would remain forever after them. This in essence what Hinduism is. It is a living tradition which communicates through the hearts, minds and spirits of its millions of adherents. As we have noted previously, the word "Hindu" is very much secular in its origin and a typical Hindu is very much secular in his out look and attitude towards all religious faiths and living traditions.
Hindu & Hinduism - as defined by non-Hindu's
"To try to define Hinduism is like trying to put the waters of an unfathomable ocean into a small vessel, or to capture the essence of human life in a single word or phrase." (By Jayaram V, © 2000-2009 Hinduwebsite.com.)
This section will try to look at the reason why no single definition is actually possible. The thesis must use the term in a very generalized way but the reader should take note that the word "Hinduism", which today defines it and distinguishes it from the rest of the religions, is of much later origin than its ancient beginnings. In ancient India you had either a yogi, a bhakta, a tantric, a sanyasi, a sankhya vadin, a vedantin, a lokayata, a rishi, a muni, a pandit, a pragna, a yogini, a devi, a swami, a Saivite, a Vaishnavite, a siddha or Buddha, but no Hindu.
The earliest reference to the word "Hindu" can be found in the Avestha, the sacred book of the Zoroastrians. The word "Hindu 'ush" was also found at least in two inscriptions of king Darius ( early sixth Century B.C.), whose empire said to have extended up to the borders of the river Sindhu.
The words "Hindu" and Hinduism are not Sanskrit words. No Hindu ever introduced them. The Hindus themselves were probably unaware of the use of such terminology for a very long time. While the foreign scholars of Greece and Persia looked towards the lands that existed beyond the Indus with occasional interest, the native Indians were busy in their own little world oblivious of the fact that they had very little in common with the outside world except perhaps in matters of commerce, governance and few other things.
The Greek "Indos"
Subsequently the word was picked up by Herodotus and also by the Armenians. For several centuries the word was used to denote the people of the subcontinent, not people of a particular faith. From the eighth century A.D. onwards when the Muslims began to settle down in the Indus region they started using the word "Hindus" to distinguish the natives from the Muslims.
The word "Hindu" is a secular word
Hindustan was the land that existed beyond the river Indus, and those that lived there were referred as Hindus. We can see clearly that the word Hindu was originally a secular word meant to define and distinguish people of the Indian subcontinent, rather than those practicing a particular religion.
Going by these ancient traditions, there is hardly any difference between a Hindu and an Indian. Both the words were corrupt forms of the original Sanskrit word "Sindhu" meaning river in general and the Indus river in particular. The Greeks referred to those living in the subcontinent as "Indos" while the Muslim scholars called them "Hindus".
However, there was one particular difference. The Greek historians who called the subcontinent as "Indos" knew very little about the religious activity of the region, while the Muslim scholars had some knowledge of the native traditions though not in complete detail, but they chose to describe the natives as Hindus to contrast them with the Muslims.
The Europeans who came to India from the sixteenth century onwards followed the same tradition and referred the natives as Hindus to distinguish them from the non-Muslims. More than tradition perhaps it was convenience which prompted them to use the word "Hindu" to describe the vast majority of the non-Muslim population of India. The "Hindoos" of British Raj
It is most interesting to note that the Hindus never referred themselves as Hindus until modern times. The earliest reference to the word "Hindu" is said to be found in the Gaudiya Vaishnava texts of the 16th century A.D. It was only during the 18th and 19th centuries that Hindus started accepting the word to describe their religious faith which stood in stark contrast to Christianity and Islam. The British, who were till then referring the natives variously as natives, heathens, baniyans, gentoos, etc, now started referring all the non-Muslim natives as "Hindoos".
For the educated modern Hindu of that period the word was a very convenient way to establish his identity against the British as well as the native Muslims. For some time the word "Hinduism", was used in a restricted sense, to designate the Vedic religion or Brahminism. But with the emergence of new reform movements, which played a very crucial role in restructuring and redefining the social and religious traditions of the country, the word came to encompass the entire religious tradition that originated from the Vedas and continued through centuries.
The study will now look at a brief overview of Hindu philosophy, its teachings, and its general structure as means to examine Hinduism in further detail in the following chapter. The following section, A Basic Outline, is not meant to be definitive in any way and the author has concentrated on the outline as is pertinent to the thesis and the later conclusions he intends to draw upon and the later conclusions he intends to make.
Hinduism - A Basic Outline
It is difficult to assign a dogmatic orthodoxy to Hinduism. Many variations have developed from Hinduism over the years, and many non-Hindu cults and religious movements gained their inspiration from Hinduism. Even in India today, the most orthodox divisions of Hinduism have changed significantly over the last three thousand years.
There is not a strict orthodoxy in Hinduism, though several principles that share a commonality among the various sects. Virtually all Hindus believe in:
"Brahman" The three-in-one god which is composed of:
Brahma (the creator),
Vishnu (the Preserver),
Shiva (the Destroyer).
The Caste System. One of the oldest aspects of Hinduism is as much social as religious, and that is the caste system. It is important to understand the caste system before delving into Hindu religious beliefs. According to Hindu teaching, there are four basic castes, or social classes. Each caste has its own rules and obligation for living. The elite caste is the Brahman, or priest caste. Second are the Kshatriyas, or warriors and rulers. Third are the Vaisyas, or merchants and farmers. Finally, the fourth caste is the Shudras, or laborers. Outside the caste system are the untouchables. The untouchables are the outcastes of Hindu society. Though outlawed in India in the 1940s, the untouchables are still a very real part of Indian society. One does not get decide his or her caste - that matter is decided when one is born into a particular caste.
Karma. The eternal and fundamental law that good actions beget good results, and bad actions beget bad results. Every action, thought, or decision one makes has consequences - good or bad - that will return to each person in the present life, or in one yet to come.
Reincarnation. Also known as "transmigration of souls," or "samsara." This is a journey on the "circle of life," where each person experiences as series of physical births, deaths, and rebirths. With good karma, a person can be reborn into a higher caste, or even in the 'Heavenly' realms. Bad karma can relegate one to a lower caste, to life as an animal in their next life, or even lower states associated with suffering ie 'the 'Hell' realms.
Nirvana. This is the goal of the Hindu. Nirvana is the release of the soul from the seemingly endless cycle of rebirths.
Hinduism is both polytheistic, and pantheistic. There are three gods that compose Brahman - Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Hindus also worship the "wives" of Shiva, such as Kali, or one of Vishnu's ten incarnations (avatars). This is only the beginning. There are literally millions of Hindu gods and goddesses - by some counts, as many as 330 million!
At the same time, Hinduism teaches that all living things are Brahman in their core. In other words, all living things are Brahman, or god. Enlightenment is attained by becoming tuned in to the Brahman within. Only then can one reach Nirvana. The release from the wheel of life that allows access to Nirvana is known as "moksha."
Hindus recognize three possible paths to moksha, or salvation. The first is the way of works or karma yoga. This is a very popular way of salvation and lays emphasis on the idea that liberation may be obtained by fulfilling one's familial and social duties thereby overcoming the weight of bad karma one has accrued.
The second way of salvation is the way of knowledge, or jnana yoga. The basic premise of the way of knowledge is that the cause of our bondage to the cycle of rebirths in this world is ignorance. According to the predominant view among those committed to this way, our ignorance consists of the mistaken belief that we are individual selves, and not one with the ultimate divine reality - Brahman. It is this same ignorance that gives rise to our bad actions, which result in bad karma. Salvation is achieved through attaining a state of consciousness in which we realize our identity with Brahman. This is achieved through deep meditation, often as a part of the discipline of yoga.
The third way of salvation is the way of devotion, or bhakti yoga. This is the way most favored by the common people of India. It satisfies the longing for a more emotional and personal approach to religion. It involves the self-surrender to one of the many personal gods and goddesses of Hinduism. Such devotion is expressed through acts of worship, temple rituals, and pilgrimages. Some Hindus conceive of ultimate salvation as absorption into the one divine reality, with all loss of individual existence. Others conceive of it as heavenly existence in adoration of the personal God.
Speaking in very general what one can say about human nature in Hinduism is that most followers accept these notions about man (i.e. human being):
- Man is a being, and also a living being, like other living beings
- Man is a sentient being (is conscious and capable of knowing i.e. gaining new knowledge, is self-conscious)
- Man is free in deciding what he/she wants to do or not to do, what he/she does and does not etc.
- Man is responsible for his/her own deeds - good and bad - what is good or bad is described by "dharma" (see p. 9)
- Man "eats" the fruit of his own deeds - which are suffering (for the bad deeds) and pleasure (for good deeds) (these 2 points are generally known as the "law of karman")
- Man is not only what we can see now, but also what he/she was in past and will be in future - there is a material body and a spiritual principle; In fact what constitutes "man" is rather the second one, not the first one
- Man can realize his obligations - known as 4 purusha-artha's, 4 human ends: - towards himself/herself (1: kama or psycho-physical pleasure, 4: moksha or final individual liberation), and society (the closest social group, entire humanity and the world; 2: artha or welfare, 3: dharma or righteousness).
- Man's ends No. 1 and 2 deal with using the world for own purpose, end No. 3 deals with adapting oneself to the rules and structures of the world, end No. 4 deals with gaining freedom from the world or over the world.
- Man is a social being - his social duties are described as "righteousness" (dharma) - which is different according to his birth (jati - including time and place, social class, sex etc) and stage of life (ashrama - being one of four: a child, a family-head, a retired one and a hermit). One of type of dharma is the obligation of sacrifices (for the sake of the sacrifice itself).
- Man can gain absolute freedom form the world.
All these theses can be challenged in details by some schools of thought.
Even with the thesis that is most often claimed to be a certainly special Hindu thesis, namely:
- Man is reborn in many (almost "unendless") lives - according to one's own deeds. (see points 4-5-6).
- even with this thesis there are certain schools that do not accept it and claim that human life is single (although this is really a rare position).
The other points, typically said of "Hinduism" in general, but which in fact are very differently understood and discussed in many schools of thought, include discussion of:
- whether human spiritual principle (atman) is identical with the soul (jiva) or not,
- whether it is identical (as to the nature and as to the number) with the Absolute being (brahman) or God (Ishvara) - or not,
- whether the liberation can be obtained by a certain own effort (yoga), like by sacrifices (yajna) or by moral practices (shila) or by ascesis (tapas) or by knowledge (jnana) - or must it be granted by God according the the God's grace (anukarma) - which in turn may or may not be influenced by the devotee's love (bhakti) towards God.
Also questions differ much about what are the obligations –
- whether sensual pleasure is good or bad or neutral,
- whether good deeds are finally good and not e.g. a burden rather than help towards final liberation, etc.
Questions differ much about what the final liberation is - - is it a state of bliss?
- a state of absolute knowledge?
- a state of unconscioussness?
- a state of nothingness?
- a state of identity with God?
- a state od being close to God?
- a state of realization that in fact one was never bonded and was ever free? etc.
- Is liberation accessible to everybody (than the Universe will once become "empty") or are there (sentient, human) beings that will eternally remain reincarnating?
Hinduism comprises numerous sects or denominations. The denominations are roughly comparable to different religions. The main divisions in current Hinduism are Shaivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and Smartism. These four denominations share rituals, beliefs, and traditions, but each denomination has a different philosophy on how to achieve life's ultimate goal (moksa, liberation).
It is important to note that the presence of different denominations and schools within Hinduism should not be viewed as a schism, as unlike Buddhism, there was no original unity (in that sense). On the contrary, there is at present no great animosity between the different "religions" which constitute Hinduism, and among Hindu followers as a whole, there is a strong belief that there are many paths leading to the One God or the Source, whatever one chooses to call that ultimate Truth. Whether Shiva is same as Vishnu or different from Vishnu, is a matter of dispute among adherents but now most keep their disputes private.
Vaishnavism is the monotheistic tradition worshiping Vishnu (or his forms of Krishna and Rama) as the supreme or svayam bhagavan.
The different Vaishnava schools (sampradayas) and the principle teachers (acharyas) connected with them are as follows:
Rudra Sampradaya: principle acharya -Vallabhacharya
Brahma Sampradaya associated with Vishnu, who is the para-brahma (Universal Creator), not to be confused with the other Brahma, who is the four-faced god in Hindu religion: principle acharya - Madhvacharya. Gaudiya Vaishnavism is associated with this sampradaya and is associated with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, International Society for Krishna Consciousness belongs to this sampradaya.
Srivaishnava Sampradaya associated with Laksmi: principle acharyas - Ramanujacharya,Vedanta Desikan, is the oldest Vaishnav sect in India.
This sampraday was followed by Vyasa, Parasara, Bodhayana. The linage of Acharya is Lord Narayana, next Lakshmi and then Vishweksenar, Nammalwar, Nathamuni, Uyyakondar, Manakal Nambi, Alavandar, Periya Nambi, Ramanujacharya and finally Vedanta Desikan. This sampradaya eradicated the caste system in their temples and made Hinduism a secular religion.
Kumara Sampradaya is the tradition associated with Four Kumaras: principle acharya - Nimbarka, hence Nimbarka Sampradaya
Saivism : Saivites are those who primarily worship Siva as the supreme god, both immanent and transcendent. Saivism embraces at the same time monism (specifically nondualism) and dualism. It focuses on yoga, meditation, and love for all beings.
Major theological schools of Saivism include Kashmir Saivism, Saiva Siddhanta and Virasaivism. To Saivites Shiva is both with and without form; he is the Supreme Dancer, Nataraja; and is linga, without beginning or end.
Shaktas worship Shakti, the divine Mother, in her many forms like (Kali, Durga, Laxmi, Saraswati etc.).
Shakta form was one of the oldest forms of Hindu religion (evidences even from Indus valley civilization), but with evolution of civilization and emergence of various doctrines, various other forms of Hindu philosophy emerged. Shaivism and Shakta forms are really inseparable, as is the description of Shiva and Shakti/Sati/Parvati. Vaishanvism has also its connections with Shakta philosophy as Goddess Durga herself is called Narayani.
Smartism: Aum Smarthas have free rein to choose whichever deity they wish to worship. They usually worship five deities (pancopasana) or panchadevata as personal formful manifestations of the impersonal Absolute, Brahman. Smarthas accept and worship the six manifestations of God, (Ganesha, Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu, Surya, and Skanda) and the choice of the nature of God is up to the individual worshiper since different manifestations of God are held to be equivalent. It is a liberal and eclectic sect.
It is the Smarta view that dominates the view of Hinduism in the West as Smarta belief includes Advaita belief and the first Hindu saint, who significantly brought Hinduism to the west was Swami Vivekananda, an adherent of Advaita. Not till much later, gurus, such as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and others, brought a Vaishnavite perspective to the West. By contrast with Smarta/Advaita belief, Vaishnavism and Shaivism follows a singular concept of God, or panentheistic monotheism or panentheistic monism.
The above definitions were sourced online from Wikimedia / Wikipedia. The author has used other works to cross reference and found the above statements to be in accordance with his own understanding of the subject matter. The study will now look at some of the gods / deities , festivals and practices of the Hindu religion.
Below is a list of Hindu gods and goddesses who are inseparably linked with their respective 'vahanas':
Aditya - seven horses
Agni - the ram
Brahma - seven swans
Durga - the lion
Ganesha - the mouse
Indra - the elephant
Kartikya - the peacock
Lakshmi - the owl
Saraswati - the swan or the peacock
Shakti - the bull
Shani - the crow
Sheetala - the donkey
Shiva - Nandi, the bull
Varuna - seven swans
Vayu - a thousands horses
Vishnu - Garuda, the eagle & Adi Shesha, the serpent
Vishwakarma - the elephant
Yama - the male buffalo
The study will look at some of these deities in further detail in the next chapter. For the time being it is suffice to note the variety of gods/ deities.
'Pancha Shraddha' or the five precepts constitute the five basic Hindu beliefs. By teaching these to sons and daughters, parents worldwide pass on the Sanatana Dharma to their children.
- Sarva Brahman: God is All in All
- Mandira: Holy Temples
- Karma: Cosmic Justice
- Samsara-Moksha: Liberation
- Veda, Guru: Scripture, Preceptor
The dear children should be taught of one Supreme Being, all-pervasive, transcendent, creator, preserver, destroyer, manifesting in various forms, worshiped in all religions by many names, the immortal Self in all. They learn to be tolerant, knowing the soul's Divinity and the unity of all mankind.
The dear children should be taught that God, other divine beings and highly evolved souls exist in unseen worlds. They learn to be devoted, knowing that temple worship, fire-ceremonies, sacraments and devotionals open channels for loving blessings, help and guidance from these beings.
The dear children should be taught of karma, the divine law of cause and effect by which every thought, word and deed justly returns to them in this or a future life. They learn to be compassionate, knowing that each experience, good or bad, is the self-created reward of prior expressions of free will.
The dear children should be taught that souls experience righteousness, wealth and pleasure in many births, while maturing spiritually. They learn to be fearless, knowing that all souls, without exception, will ultimately attain Self Realization, liberation from rebirth and union with God.
The dear children should be taught that God revealed the Vedas and Agamas, which contain the eternal truths. They learn to be obedient, following the precepts of these sacred scriptures and awakened 'satgurus,' whose guidance is absolutely essential for spiritual progress and enlightenment.
Sacraments are performed to celebrate and sanctify life's crucial junctures, inform family and community, and secure inner-world blessings. Here are eight of the essential rites or 'samskaras.' Others rites honor coming of age, the stages of child-bearing and attaining the wisdom years.
- Namakarana - Name Giving Ceremony
- Anna Prasana - Beginning of Solid Food
- Karnavedha - Ear Piercing
- Chudakarana - Head Shaving
- Vidyarambha - Beginning of Education
- Upanayana - Sacred Thread Ceremony
- Vivaha - Marriage
- Antyeshti - Funeral or Last Rites
This is the Hindu name-giving ceremony, performed in the home or the temple 11 to 41 days after birth. The father whispers the auspicious new name in the infant's right ear.
The first feeding of solid food is a sacred event performed by the father in the temple or home. The choice of food offered to a child at this crucial time is said to help determine his or her destiny.
The ear-piercing ceremony, given to both boys and girls, performed in the temple or the home, generally on the child's first birthday. Health and wealth benefits derive from this ancient rite.
The head is shaven and smeared with sandalwood paste in this rite performed in the temple or home before age four. It is a very happy day for the child. The shaven head denotes purity and egolessness.
The formal beginning of primary education. In this rite, performed in the home or temple, the child scribes the first letter of the alphabet in a tray of unbroken, uncooked, saffron rice.
The ceremonial investment of the "sacred thread" and inititation into Vedic study, performed in the home or temple, usually between the ages of 9 and 15, after which a youth is considered "twice born."
The marriage ceremony, performed in a temple or wedding hall around the sacred homa fire. Lifetime vows, Vedic prayers and seven steps before God and Gods consecrate the union of husband and wife. Sacraments are performed to celebrate and sanctify life's crucial junctures, inform family and community, and secure inner-world blessings. Here are eight of the essential rites or 'samskaras.'
The funeral rite includes preparation of the body, cremation, home-cleansing and dispersal of ashes. The purifying fire releases the soul from this world that it may journey unhindered to the next.
Deepawali or Diwali is certainly the biggest of all Hindu festivals. It's the festival of lights (deep = light and avali = a row, i.e., a row of lights) that's marked by four days of celebration, which literally illumines the country with its brilliance and dazzles all with its joy.
Each of the four days in the festival of Diwali is separated by a different tradition, but what remains true and constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment and goodness. Some other religious festivals are :
Gauri Trutiya (Chaitra Gaur or Gauri Teej)
Vat Savitri Pooja
Ashadhi Ekadashi (Pandharpur Fair and Festival)
Vyas Paurnima Guru Paurnima
All of these festivals will be examined further in the following chapter. The next important aspect to look at is Puja, This term may be translated as daily devotion or offerings and it is also an important aspect of Buddhism, especially Thai Buddhism as we will later see.
The author has noted that there are two concepts / definitions of puja and it may be that it is best left to each individual persons interpretation. First let us look at the festival type: A great puja is usually a community affair or performed during important occasions like religious festivals. This puja comprises of these steps:
Avahana - the invocation of the deity.
Asana - a seat is offered to the deity.
Svagata - the deity is welcomed, asked about his journey and whether he faced any problem coming to the place of puja.
Padya - the feet of the deity are washed with water.
Arghya - a respectful offering of water is made to the god.
This water is laced with sandalwood paste, vermilion and rice.
Achamania - water is then offered for washing the face and mouth of the deity.
Madhu-parka - a beverage made of honey, sugar, and milk is offered to the deity.
Snanajala - the deity is offered water for bathing.
Bhushana abharanasya - clothes, jewels and ornaments are offered next.
Gandha - sandalwood paste or any other fragrant object is offered.
Akshata - grains of rice mixed with vermilion are offered.
Pushpanjali - flowers are offered.
Dhupa - incense is lit.
Dipa - the lamp is lit.
Naivedya - rice, fruit, butter and sugar are offered next.
Visarjana - the deity is finally bidden farewell.
At the end, arati is performed.
Another definition, (Microsoft Encarta 2009. 1993-2008, Microsoft Corporation.) states that :- Many Hindus worship daily the deity they have personally chosen. This personal deity is known as the ishta-devata. Household puja usually consists of worshiping the ishta-devata with prayer and offerings of food, accompanied by chanting and the waving of a lamp or light. The offering of food acknowledges that all food has a divine source. After the offering, the food is ready to be shared by the worshipers. Household puja generally takes place in front of an image or statue of the ishta-devata, which may be set up as a domestic shrine. Hindus who are more deeply involved in ritual may also tend a domestic fire.
Puja possesses a markedly personal character and is more often performed privately by individuals and families than publicly at temples. ( this statement seems to be at odds with the earlier definition of puja as a community affair and the author was not able to formulate a single definition). The private nature of puja may arise from the extremely personal relationship that Hinduism nurtures with the divinity, as parent, friend, or other supportive person. It also could have evolved from Hindu historical experience under foreign occupation, during which expression of Hindu identity in public was frowned upon and even dangerous.
The complex and sometimes contradictory nature of Hinduism is only problematical if clear definitions are sought. The object of this study is not concerned with such detail and wishes only to address the subject matter in the most general terms. The author will attempt to draw lines between Buddhism and Hinduism rather than try to define the lines of Hindu belief and practice.
In the next chapter the antiquity of Hinduism and its practices will be looked at in further detail.
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