ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel


Updated on November 10, 2010

One of the most confusing and contradictory aspects of Hinduism is its plethora of Gods, rituals and apparently conflicting doctrines. This has been the plank used by critics of Hinduism and which when adeptly articulated leaves even the most devout and practicing Hindu wallowing in self-doubt. This is a unique problem because no other religion whether occidental or oriental has anything remotely similar to this.

Undoubtedly Hinduism is one of the most complex religions basically on account of two reasons. One it is one of the oldest religion, and second it is organic and constantly evolving over time. This also explains its durability because when old religions of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, have all faded away. Hinduism continues to exist.

To understand Hinduism we have to trace its evolution, particularly the Vedic period, because Vedas happen to be the sacred books of the Hindus. Normally the ancient period in India’s cultural history is considered to be from 2000 BCE to 1000 CE, which is categorized as follows:

1. The Vedic period (2000 BCE – 560 BCE)

2. The Age of the Vedangas and Kalpasutras (500 BCE – 200 BCE)

3. The Age of the Epics (200 BCE – 300 CE)

4. The Age of the Puranas, Agamas and Darshanas (300 CE – 650 CE)

5. The Age of the Later Puranas, Agamas and Darshanas ( 650 CE – 1000 CE)

The Vedic period is normally considered to have lasted from 2000 BCE to 560 BCE. During this period many religious works were produced which can be categorized under three groups.

  1. The Age of the Mantras
  2. The Age of the Brahmanas
  3. The Age of the Upanishads.


Aryans were a semi-nomadic group who had over long periods of time migrated from one place to another. Though the origin of the Aryans is still hotly debated, one fact is that around 2000BCE they had settled on the banks of the fabled river Saraswati and later on the banks of the river Ganga.(Ganges). Being an agrarian society, which depended on the vagaries of season, they realized the importance of the sun, rain and wind, which they began to personify and deify in an attempt to appease them. This personification was the creation of the fertile mind of poets; and thus arose a plethora of Gods like Agni, Indra, Varuna etc. But behind this flight of poetic imagination was a craving to understand the forces that knit all. In fact there is a verse in the early Rig Veda which voices this is as follows: “…. that being is one which the wise call by various names as Agni, Yama and Matarisvan”. This resulted in a series of divinities emerging like Vishwakarman (Maker of Everything), Prajapati (Lord of All) Brahmanspati (Lord of devotion) Aditi etc. This was a period of intellectual and spiritual ferment, which is reflected, in the quick succession of divinities in the pantheon of Gods in supremacy and social acceptance. Max Mueller called this henotheism and believed it was a stage on the way to monotheism, but in reality monism was the essential quest. One of the noteworthy concepts, which evolved during this period, was the concept of Rita or order. The ancient Aryans placed great emphasis on this both at the cosmic and moral level. To ensure that this order prevailed Yajnas or sacrifices were performed. The quest for order is understandable when we realize that this was also a period of intense conflict for the Aryans who not only had to contend with aboriginals but also among themselves in the fertile plains of the Punjab. The great seers who contributed to the RIG VEDA SAMHITA, which is one of the oldest, were Atri, Bharadwaja, Gritsamada, Madhuchhandas, Vasishtha, Vamadeva, and Vishwamita.


Curiosity and quest for unity was characteristic of the Age of the Mantras, which petered out during the Age of the Brahmanas. By then rituals became widespread and complex with priests became indispensable and powerful. This was also the time the concept of four varnas (Brahman, Kshatriay, Vysia and Sudra) became entrenched paving the way for the emergence of caste system.. The other concept of the four Ashramas ( Brahmacharya, Grihastashrama, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa) too originated around this time . Amongst the Pantheon of Gods, Vishnu and Rudra gained popularity and Prajapati continued to be the Lord of all. Socially the notion of debt to God, Rishis and forefathers gained currency and on the whole more than philosophical speculation, rituals became important. In a way this was a period of intellectual stagnation. However the corpus of Vedas got divided into Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva . The accessories needed to study the Vedas were incorporated in the Vedangas and sage Aitareya produced the Brahamanas, which was a treatise on rituals. Atharva Veda, which is a collection of charms and spells, gained legitimacy and was inducted as part of the Vedas.


Upanishads not only revived the inherent curiosity of the Age of the Mantras, but also introduced philosophical speculation of a very high order. The quest for the ultimate reality not only laid the foundations of Indian metaphysics but also fostered tolerance so rarely found in many religious doctrines. In fact in the 46th verse of the hymn Dirghatamas is found the following declaration EKAM SAD VIPRA BAHUDHA VADANTI (“The one Being (ekam sad) but the wise calls it by various names” is an excellent example of the accommodative spirit of the age and philosophy. Contemplation of the Absolute Brahaman replaced propitiating Prajapati and deliverance was through Jnana or knowledge rather than Yagna.or sacrifice. Amongst the 108 Upanishads, there are ten principal Upanishads and Bhagavat Geetha sums up the essence of these Upanishads. By this time the Law of Karma gained currency and became the fundamental base for not only Hinduism but later Jainism and Buddhism too. The goal was to attain Brahman and it was through Jnana or knowledge and not through rituals. There were no idols or temples nor any form of congregational worship. It was highly individualistic and esoteric and was naturally elitist and confined to a very few.

The popular belief is that the Vedas are of divine origin and is called ‘APAURUSEYA’. In fact according to Sayanacharya a celebrated commentator of Rig Veda and a brother of Madhavacharya , God created the whole universe out of the knowledge of the Vedas. The interesting aspect of the Vedas is that this vast corpus of verses was never written, and it was handed down over the centuries orally from one generation to the next. Listen to what Max Mueller has to say and his predictions: “The entire RIG VEDA containing ten books of hymns consisting of 1028 poems, 10,580 verses and more than 1, 53, 826 words had spread from mouth to mouth! The whole thing went from person to person only by memory…… if every MSS on the Rig Veda were lost, we should be able to able to recover it from the memory of the STROTRIYAS in India…I have had such students in my room at Oxford who not only could repeat these hymns, but who repeated them with the proper accent (for the Vedic Sanskrit accent has accents like Greek) nay, when looking through my printed edition of the RIG VEDA, could point out a misprint without the slightest hesitation. ……I doubt whether it will last much longer, and I always impress on my friends in India and therefore impress on those who will soon be settled as civil servants in India, the duty of trying to learn all that can still be learnt from those living libraries. Much ancient Sanskrit love will be lost for ever when that race of STROTRIYAS become extinct.” Fortunately this realization has resulted in recording, documenting and interpreting many of this and much of the Vedas have been the focus of study by linguists, Indologists and historians apart from priestly class who have been so far the sole transmitters of this esoteric learning..

All learning process in Vedic times starts with this invocation from the Upanishads, which is called the SHANTI MANTRA or Peace chants. I think it would not be out of place to conclude this hub with this:

Sanskrit version (in Roman script)

“Om saha nāvavatu

saha nau bhunaktu

saha vīryam karavāvahai

tejasvināvadhītamastu mā vidvisāvahai

OM śāntih śāntih śāntih”

English translation

“Om ! May He protect us both together; may He nourish us both together;

May we work conjointly with great energy,

May our study be vigorous and effective;

May we not mutually dispute (or may we not hate any).

Om ! Let there be Peace in me !

Let there be Peace in my environment !

Let there be Peace in the forces that act on me”

Map of Vedic India
Map of Vedic India
a RIG VEDIC hymn
a RIG VEDIC hymn
score of a RIG VEDIC hymn
score of a RIG VEDIC hymn
Max Mueller
Max Mueller | Source



Submit a Comment

  • ram_m profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from India

    Thanks rishil

  • ram_m profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from India

    Thanks Shreya

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    thanks hubpage for making it easier for me to understand this chapter. it was to difficult to study it from the book. THANKS A LOT...

  • profile image


    7 years ago


  • ram_m profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from India

    Thank you Nellieanna for your nice comments. If I have been able to throw some light on understanding a complex religion, nothing could be more happier to me.

  • Nellieanna profile image

    Nellieanna Hay 

    8 years ago from TEXAS

    What a wonderful and scholarly insight into Hinduism, which is so much unknown and/or misunderstood. I'm sure I'll be back to read, study and digest it further. I read every word and found myself just drawn along to get it all. Thanks for this, ram_m - and for following me!


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)