If rainfall declined in the Indus region between 1800 and 1700 BCE, around 1500 BCE it increased again, making the Indus Plain better able to support life. It has been estimated by various scholars that between 1500 and 1200 an illiterate, pastoral people migrated from the northwest, perhaps the steppe lands of central Russia through what is now Afghanistan, onto the Indus Plain. These migrants were to be called Aryans and to be classified as Indo-Europeans, their speech having been related to all modern European languages except Basque, Finnish and Hungarian -- an Indo-European speech that is related to and a remnant of speech among people in India today.
Hinduism has its believers in a divine origins of the faith -- not unlike other religions across the world. They take pride in Hindu scripture being the oldest scripture among the great religions of today, claiming that Hindu scripture was composed sometime around 3000 BCE by several sages in direct contact with their god, Krishna. They object to the theory of outsiders, the Aryans, having invaded India and bringing with them that scripture. They claim that there is no evidence of any such Indo-European invasion and blame the theory on Christian scholars from the nineteenth century and endeavor to made the theory of an Aryan invasion politically incorrect.
The rival theory among scholars is that the so-called Aryans came to the Indus Plain on horseback and oxcart, in waves separated perhaps by decades or longer. Like other pastoral people, they were warriors. They had two-wheeled chariots like the Hyksos, and coming through the mountains and the Kyber Pass they had the precious wheels of their chariots packed away on their carts.
The Aryans were familiar with prowling and hunting with bow and arrow. They enjoyed chariot racing, gambling and fighting. Like other pastoral peoples, men dominated the women. Like the pastoral Hebrews each family was ruled by an authoritarian male. And each Aryan tribe was ruled by a king who felt obliged to consult with tribal councils.
Gods, Creation and Human Mortality
Like other pastoral people, the Aryans were storytellers. They had centuries old sacred hymns, myths and oral history -- stories that expressed their desire to please the gods. Like the Hebrews, the Aryans had a father god of the heaven, sky and atmosphere: Dyaus Pitar (sky father). They had a male god of thunder and rain called Indra, who was a god also of that other awesome disturbance -- war. Indra was also called the "breaker of forts." And he was what the Aryan men thought a man should be: a warrior with courage, strength and energy who enjoyed drinking and making war.
The Aryans had a god of fire they called Agni. To the Aryans, Agni was fire, and they believed that Agni hungrily devoured the animals that they sacrificed in their rituals of burning. These sacrifices were performed by priests to obtain from their gods the gifts of children, success in war, wealth, health, longevity, food, drink or anything else that contributed to their happiness.
The Aryans enjoyed singing around their campfires, and they had a hymn about creation. Like many other creation myths, theirs described the world as beginning with the kind of creation they understood: birth. They believed that their father god, Dyaus Pitar, the embodiment of sky, had mated with his own daughter, the goddess that was earth.
A later Aryan version of The Creation reads as follows:
In the beginning was nothing, neither heaven nor earth nor space in between. Then Non-being became spirit and said: "Let me be!" He warmed himself, and from this was born fire. He warmed himself further, and from this was born light.
The Aryans had a story that described humanity as having been created with virtue and everlasting life. According to this story, the gods were concerned that humanity would become gods like themselves, and to guard against this the gods plotted humanity's downfall. The gods talked Dyaus Pitar into creating a woman who lusted after sensual pleasures and who aroused sexual desires in men. According to this story, the world had become overcrowded because humankind lived forever like the gods. So Dyaus Pitar decided to make humankind mortal, and he created the goddess Death -- not a goddess who ruled over death, but death itself. This creation of mortality for humankind pleased the gods, for it left them separate and of a higher rank than humans.
According to this story, Dyaus Pitar proclaimed that he did not create the goddess Death from anger. And the goddess Death was at first reluctant to carry out the task assigned her, but she finally did so, while weeping. Her tears were diseases that brought death at an appropriate time. To create more death, the goddess Death created desire and anger in people -- emotions that led to their killing each other.
Settlement, Conquest and Autocracy
With the passing of generations, the waves of Aryan tribes that had come to the Indus Plain spread out across the region. They warred against local, non-Aryan people, and they settled in areas that provided them with pasture for their animals. They grouped in villages and built homes of bamboo or light wood -- homes without statues or art. They began growing crops. Their environment supplied them with all they needed, but, responding to their traditions, and perhaps impulses, the different Aryan tribes warred against each other -- wars that might begin with the stealing of cattle. The word for obtaining cattle, gosati, became synonymous with making war. And their warring grew in scale, including a war between what was said to be ten kings.
Gradually, Aryan tribal kings were changing from elected leaders to autocratic rulers. Aryan kings had begun associating their power with the powers of their gods rather than the approval of their fellow tribesmen. They had begun allying themselves with priests. And, as in West Asia, kings were acquiring divinity. By taxing their subjects, these kings could create an army that was theirs rather than an instrument of the tribe. And these kings allied themselves with the horse owning warrior-aristocracy to which they often belonged.
Migration to the Ganges Valley
In the decades around 1000 BCE came a shortage of rainfall, and, running from drought, Aryan tribes trekked eastward along the foot of the Himalayan mountains, where jungles were less dense and rivers easier to cross. They entered the plains of the Ganges Valley. And some Aryan priests wandered ahead of their tribe and tried to evangelize among the tribes they came upon. They found these societies with a more egalitarian organization than they had, and they despised them for not having kings as autocratic as theirs.
By now, the Aryans had iron tools and weapons, iron having spread eastward through Persia. And with their superior weaponry and self-confidence, the Aryans fought those who resisted their advance, the Aryans believing that their gods were on their side and that resistance from local peoples was inspired by demons. Gradually the Aryans spread over much of the Ganges Valley, clearing land for themselves by calling on their god of fire, Agni.
Some Aryans migrated south along the western coast of the Indian continent, and some Aryans went down the eastern coast, to an area called Kalinga. A few Aryans went as far south as the island that in Hindu literature was called Lanka. And some Aryan priests went as missionaries to southern India, where they found a dark-skinned people called Dravidians. Occasionally the missionaries felt mistreated. They sought the aide of their king, and their king's warrior nobles came south to their rescue. But southern India remained independent of Aryan rule.
The Beginnings of Caste
With the Aryans settling alongside local peoples, a complex hierarchy of classes developed that would be called caste. At the top of this class ranking was the priests and their entire families: the Brahmins. Also at the top was the warrior-aristocrats, the Kshatriyas, whose job it was to practice constantly for combat. Neither the Brahmins nor the Kshatriyas conceded superiority to the other, but they agreed that the other classes were lower than they. The first of these lower classes was the Vaishas and their families: Aryans who tended cattle and served the Brahmins and Kshatriyas in others ways. The lowest class was the conquered, darker, non-Aryans who were servants for the Aryans: the Shudras. The Aryans made these four classifications a part of their mythology. The four groups, it was claimed, came from the body of the god Prajapati, the Brahmins from the god's mouth, the warriors from the god's arms, the tenders of cattle from his legs, and the Shudras from his feet.
This class system was less rigid than it would be centuries later. People from different classes could dine together. A man from a non-Brahmin family could still become a priest and therefore a Brahmin. And although marriage within one's own class was preferred, there was no absolute restriction against marrying people from a different class. Brahmins married women from a lower caste whom they found attractive, but this was a male prerogative. A girl from a Brahmin family was allowed to marry only someone also from a Brahmin family.
Urbanization, Trade and War
By around 700 or 600 BCE, the migrations of the Aryans had ended, and with their new successes in agriculture the Aryans increased in number, and they began to create cities. Aryan traders, merchants, landlords appeared, as did money lending. Aryans began trading with Arabia and the great empire of the Assyrians. In the 600s, India began trading with China, the Malay peninsula and the islands of what are now Indonesia and the Philippines. By 600 BCE, numerous cities had arisen in northern India -- cities with fortifications, moats and ramparts in response to the dangers of war. In northern India along the Ganges River, sixteen different kingdoms had emerged.
A Blending of Pastoral and Agricultural Religion
Like the mix between the agricultural religion of the Canaanites and the pastoral religion of the Hebrews, in India a mix developed between the pastoral religion of the Aryans and the local religions of the conquered. This mix came with Aryan males marrying non-Aryan females, and it came with some among the conquered accepting the religion of their conquerors -- much as those in the Americas the 1500s (of the Common Era 17) would accept the religion of their Christian conquerors. In India this blend of Aryan and local religions became known as Hinduism, a word derived from the Aryan word Sindu, the name the Aryans gave to the Indus River. The Hindu religion ranged from veneration of traditional Aryan gods by urban intellectuals to the worship of a diversity of local, rural, agricultural deities.
Hindu Scripture and Sin
Maybe before and maybe around the same time that writing spread to the Hebrews, it appeared among the Aryans in India. Some Brahmins considered it a sacrilege to change from communicating their religion orally. But a sufficient number of Brahmins supported the innovation, and they put traditional Aryan stories into writing, in what became known as the Vedas -- Veda meaning wisdom. The Vedas became wisdom literature, a literature that would be considered an infallible source of timeless, revealed truth.
The most important of the Vedas was the Rig Veda, which consisted of hymns or devotional incantations of 10,562 written lines in ten books. Another Veda, the Yajur Veda, focused less on devotional incantations and more on sacrificial procedures as a means of pleasing the gods. A third Veda, the Sama Veda, was mainly concerned with the god Indra. Indra was now seen as the god that had created the cosmos, the ruler of the atmosphere, and the god of thunderbolts and rain -- Dyaus Pitar having diminished in importance. Also mentioned in the Sama Veda were other gods of the sky and atmosphere: Varuna, guardian of the cosmic order; Agni, the god of fire; and Surya, the sun. A fourth Veda, the Atharya Veda, was a collection of 730 hymns, totaling six thousand stanzas, containing prescriptions for prayer, rituals for curing diseases, expiations against evils, protection against enemies and sorcerers, and prescriptions for creating charms for love, health, prosperity, influence, and a long life.
Among the Vedas were descriptions of funeral rites that included cremation, and there were descriptions of lengthy and solemn rituals for marriage. The Vedas implied that humanity is basically good, and, in contrast to the view of sin in West Asia, sin among the Hindus was viewed as a force from outside oneself -- an invader. Hinduisms's Vedas saw evil as the work of demons that might take the form of a human or some other creature, which could be removed by the prayers and rituals of priests.
Diversity and the Upanishads
The religion of the Aryans continued to change. The Vedas, like other writings, had to be interpreted, and among the Hindus arose diversity in interpretations. Diversity in opinion was becoming a normal part of civilization, the result of a rise in population and freedom from tribal isolation and conformity. And diversity in opinion among the Aryans included skepticism. One Brahmin had the genius to see that there were truths not yet known, and he advocated doubt and recorded his insights in a late contribution to the Rig Veda, writing that some priests had an unwarranted certainty in belief and were blind men leading the blind.
Some Hindus became less interested in the monotonous routines of the ritual sacrifices and more interested in probing relations between self and the universe. They were interested in attaining religious bliss, and this new interest was expressed in writings that were to be collected into what would be called the Upanishads, a collection of as many as two hundred books written across two centuries.
The Upanishads consisted of attempts to describe truth through poetry and analogy. Some contributors made points drawn from observed fact, and some merely recorded their intuitions and asked the reader to accept their insights on faith. Some contributors to the Upanishads repeated beliefs already expressed in the Vedas, such as every living thing having a spirit, or soul, and spirits being able to migrate in and out of things. They wrote of death as the passing of one's spirit into other beings, and death as a rebirth, with souls returning to earth within another human or some other creature-- reincarnation. Where a soul went, they wrote, depended upon how well a person had behaved in his previous life. Good actions led to a soul being bound to a higher form of life and the soul of the doer of evil found its way to a lower form of life.
Some contributors to the Upanishads pleaded that one's fate could be altered only by learning - like a born again Christian who transforms himself by acquiring a knowledge of God. In the Upanishads this was expressed in the claim that rather than rejoice in externals known through the senses, people should turn their thoughts inward in a quest for self-realization and knowledge about themselves. They claimed that material or sensual pleasure should not be ultimate goals, that what people really want lies more deeply, that God is within us and that the wise seek the joys of the infinite, the joy that comes with separating the self from the body and freeing oneself from the clutches of birth and death.
It was written in the Upanishads that there are two kinds of knowledge. One kind was called lower knowledge, which was described as knowledge about the existence of a god, knowledge of rituals and the knowledge that one acquires through one's senses about the material world. This lower knowledge was described as standing in the way of the other kind of knowledge:higher knowledge. This higher knowledge was described as impossible to explain, like trying to explain warmth to someone who knows only cold. Higher knowledge was described as a personal experience that touched one's soul. It was claimed that written instructions might help guide one toward acquiring this knowledge but that in this acquisition emotions had to dominate.
This view of knowledge did not acknowledge a limited ability to know so much as it did a limited ability to teach. Some contributors to the Upanishads wrote that all they could do was stimulate thinking in others that would lead these others to acquire wisdom on their own. They described this search as an adventure on behalf of the human spirit. One contributor to the Upanishads wrote:
Into blind darkness enter they who worship ignorance;
Into darkness greater than that enter they who delight in knowledge.
Additional contributions to the Upanishads made this search for higher knowledge an attempt at awareness of an underlying, universal unity. Assumptions were made about universal consciousness. Various writings described different unifying forces: Vishvkarman, the Great Soul; the god Hiranyagargha, who established the earth and sky; Brahmanaspate the Lord of Prayer, who also produced the world; and Aditi, the mother of gods.
In these later contributions to the Upanishads the search for unity led to the question of how many gods exist -- unity suggesting a single, all encompassing god. One contribution described a youth asking a learned man how many gods there are. The learned man named three hundred and three. "Yes," responded the youth, "but how many are there really?" The learned man narrowed their number to thirty-three. "Yes," responded the youth, "but how many are there really?" And finally the learned man said there was only one god.
One contributor to the Upanishads wrote that a person had to realize the god in himself before he could realize the god of the cosmos, and he claimed that realizing the god in oneself is recognizing oneself in all others.
Another view in the Upanishads held that everything is unified but that there is a world of the senses, which is illusion, that God is a maker of this illusion, and that there is the world of the spirit and mental realization. This view held that to grasp reality and reach one's goal of harmony with the cosmos one must turn from the illusion of materiality to the world of mental realization.
A contrary view in the Upanishads combined the material and spiritual worlds more closely. Instead of turning from materiality, this view claimed that one helped oneself understand the unity of the universe by gaining knowledge about materiality, including the origins of the universe. One writer of this persuasion speculated that the world had begun as water, that the earth is water solidified, that every solid is basically water and that water and God are one. Another contributor to the Upanishads saw reality and God as fire.
One contributor to the Upanishads described God as mystery, and another contributor claimed that in the beginning there was nothingness, that the world was created from nothingness and would eventually return to nothingness. Another writer described God as having existed before all else. He wrote that in the beginning God was alone, that he looked around and saw nothing, and, being lonely, he divided himself into male and female, and that these two aspects of God then mated and brought into creation all living things.
Intellectual unrest continued in India through the 500s. A few writers in India challenged Hinduism by proclaiming that the universe was essentially inanimate and functioned other than by the magic of gods. They claimed that when a person dies he dissolves back into primary elements, that after death there is neither pain nor pleasure, that there is no afterlife or reincarnation, that soul and god are only words and that Hindu sacrifices accomplish nothing.
The materialist point of view found its way into the Upanishads, and Brahmin authorities responded by removing the offending entries, and they destroyed other materialist writings. No writings expressing the materialist point of view were to survive. They were to be known only through those who argued against them.
Spirituality without Mental Struggle
During the 500s, an alternative grew to spiritual attainment through the attainment of knowledge as advocated in the Upanishads. Many seeking spiritual fulfillment were uninterested in metaphysical complexities. They continued to worship gods such as Indra and Agni but they also found satisfaction in devotion to gods that were parental figures, gods with whom they could have a personal relationship -- like Christians who believed in God the father and had their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In the northwest of India, people worshiped a personal god called Shiva, a god who embodied a reconciliation between the extremes of passionate eroticism and ascetic renunciation, and between frenzy and serenity. Shiva was believed to dwell in the Himalayas, to have a benevolent goddess counterpart called Pavati, and to have many brides and numerous children.
Some Hindus turned from the complexities of the Upanishads to a more simple spiritual benefit by way of good behavior, which they claimed was more important than whatever god one worshiped. This good behavior included proper eating, restrictions on drinking, keeping oneself in godly cleanliness, performing one's duties and behaving in a manner appropriate with one's class and stage in life -- all described as good for one's soul.
In the latter half of the 500s came growth in another effort at spirituality through proper behavior: asceticism. These were times of insecurity and misery, and a greater number of young men were giving up on the material world and searching for eternal bliss. Orthodox Brahmins attempted to keep in check the loss of youthful manpower to asceticism, and they tried to confine asceticism to men beyond middle age. To this end they invented four stages in life regarding duties of a Hindu: the celibate religious student; the married Hindu, including priests; the forest hermit, who was older than the students; and the elderly wandering ascetic.