Wednesday, 28 September 2011


Hinduism: A Short History by Klaus K. klostermaier


Hinduism is unlike any of the other major historic religions. It does not claim an identifiable human founder or a specific origin in history -- some Hindus derive their tradition from a primeval revelation of the Supreme, others consider it the beginningless sanatana dharma, the eternal law that governs everything, independently of any divine or human agent -- nor has it ever rejected a parent tradition from which it separated as a rebel child, as all others have done. Hindus had not found it necessary to define ``the essentials of Hinduism'' or prove it different from other religions until challenged by break-away spiritual movements like Buddhism or invaders from outside, who wanted to impose their own religions, such as Islam and Christianity.

Traditional Hinduism has preserved surprisingly much of the character of autochthonous native traditions, maintaining the holistic, all-embracing approach typical of these: there is no hard and fast distinction between the sacred and the secular, no strict separation of religious ritual from essential daily activities, no real difference or tension between religion and culture.

The various branches of what became known as ``Hinduism'' do not have a common creed and they do not demand from their followers any declaration of a ``Hindu'' faith. Until recently one could not become a Hindu unless one was born into a Hindu family; and one could not cease to be a Hindu if one was born a Hindu. As far as one's membership in the Hindu community was concerned, it did not matter what one thought or believed as long as one participated in the traditional rituals, which were also part and parcel of traditional Indian culture. On the other hand, many of the sampradayas, specific worship traditions within Hinduism, draw very close and narrow boundaries: those who wish to be members must obey a very strict regimen with regard to diet, life-style, reading, and worship; they must not accept the teachings of any other sampradaya, or read books or listen to sermons from them.

Left to itself the large and old Hindu civilization quietly appropriated whatever was brought into it from the outside, absorbed it, transformed it, and made it part of its own. That process of assimilation was disturbed in a major way first by the massive onslaught of Islamic conquerors from the tenth century C.E. onwards. The Muslims came to conquer India and to covert the native ``idolaters'' to their own religion. The rigid monotheism of Islam, the exclusivity claim of Mohammed's revelation, the rejection of the caste system proved irreconcilable with the native religio-cultural traditions of India.

While Islam could claim partial successes -- for over half a millennium most of India was under Muslim rule and a third of the population accepted Islam -- it generated a resistance among Hindus who began to realize an identity of their own based on their native ``Hindu'' traditions. Not by accident was it that from the eleventh century onwards nibandhas were composed -- encyclopedic works that collected Hindu legal traditions, information about Hindu holy places, Hindu rituals, and customs of all sampradayas. Hindus became aware of Hinduism as distinct from Islam. Islamic hostility toward ``idolatry'' further served to underscore the differences between Hindu traditions and other religions.

The second major disturbance was created by Western European powers from the sixteenth century C.E. onwards. While the main interest of the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Danish, the French and the English -- all of whom established colonies in India -- was trade, they were soon persuaded by the ecclesiastical powers of their homebases that they also had a duty to spread their Christian faith among the heathen.

Notwithstanding the presence of significant groups of indigenous Christians, who had lived for centuries peacefully side by side with their Hindu neighbors, the European Churchmen of various denominations considered India a mission field to be harvested for their sectarian Western Christian Churches. By demanding from the citizens of Goa, the first European colony on Indian soil, either to convert to the Catholic Church or to emigrate, the Portuguese established a hard and fast line between Christianity and Hinduism, and also made sure that future relations between the two religions were based on hostility and exclusivity. Like Islam, Christianity became a foreign invader and remained a foreign religio-cultural presence in India. It also provoked a reaction and a resistance among Hindus that became quite articulate from the end of the nineteenth century onwards.

The term ``Hinduism'' has recently been problematized in western scholarly literature. ``Hindutva,'' the Indian-languages equivalent, identified with a cultural political program promoted by right-wing Hindu political parties and extremist Hindu organizations, is viewed with suspicion and apprehension by many non-Hindus. Some question the appropriateness of the very word ``Hinduism,'' which, they say, is an ``orientalist construct'' invented by western colonial interest. All agree that the term ``Hindu'' was imposed on the Indians by outsiders. However, the designation ``Hindu'' has meanwhile been adopted by Indians themselves, who identify their religion as ``Hinduism'' over against Islam or Christianity. Others deny historic validity to the very notion of ``Hinduism'' prior to nineteenth century ``Neo-Hinduism,'' which arose as a reaction to Christianity, the religion of the foreign colonizers.

The global designation ``Hinduism'' is apt to disguise the great diversity of Indian religious traditions. Till very recently ``Hindus'' defined their religious identities by using specific appellations like Vaisnava, S�aiva, S�akta, Smarta etc., and several modern movements like the Ramakrishna Mission and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness emphatically denied being ``Hindu,'' so as not to be identified with other branches of Hinduism that hold beliefs contrary to their own.


There is an uncanny resemblance between the original Greek word historia and the Sanskrit term for history, itihasa, meaning both story and history (in the modern sense), tale, narrative, as well as the event narrated and told. Herodotus, commonly called the ``Father of History'' in the West, offers in his Historiae a great variety of reports about events observed by himself, about customs of other peoples, about tales and traditions whose authority he was not able to vouchsafe. By comparison Indian itihasa, as reflected in the Epics and the Puranas, also consists of a rich store of historical events and legends, of myths and of moral lessons inextricably interwoven in order to tell a story, not to document ``facts.''

History writing in a more narrow sense is not unknown to India: the Buddhists chronicled the progress of their missions, and the famous Rajatarangini documents several centuries of Kashmir's history. The Upanisads maintained lists of guru-paramparas, containing scores of genealogies of teacher--disciple successions. But they give no dates and no references that allow precise dating by comparison with historic figures or events elsewhere. The Puranas contain many lists of dynasties and attempts have been made to identify these names and to relate them to datable rulers outside India and to historic events. There are Digvijayas, records of the encounters of great teachers with their opponents, temple-chronicles, like the Koil Olugu, that faithfully describes the history of Srirangam, and undoubtedly there are still many undiscovered manuscripts with historical information on many persons and places in India.

However, history in the modern sense, a chronological write-up of past events, the recording of ``facts, nothing but facts,'' was never popular with Hindus. They were seeking meaning in their religious texts, not resumes of past events. Mahatma Gandhi once said, when doubts about the historicity of the person of Jesus were expressed, that even if it should be proven that Jesus never lived, the Sermon on the Mount would still be true for him.

Until recently Hindus had found it rather unnecessary to prove the historicity of avataras like Rama and Krsna. Should endeavors of recent Hindu scholarship to find such proof be successful, that would probably not change anything for those who had always considered Rama and Krsna manifestations of the divine, their teaching a revelation, and their myths profoundly symbolically meaningful. It might, however, fuel competition between Hinduism and Christianity, pitting a historical Rama and Krsna against a historical Christ, and possibly worshipers of the one against worshipers of the other in an attempt to prove one to be the ``only true god.''

On a philosophical level, Hindus always made a distinction between appearance and reality, rating the waking consciousness, in which we note ``facts,'' lower in comparison to other states of awareness, in which we note ``ideas.'' Hinduism is a state of mind rather than an assembly of facts or a chronological sequence of events. The re-interpretations of scriptural texts, which Hindu acaryas have undertaken throughout the ages, and the freedom with which contemporary Hindu teachers modify traditional teachings and modernize ancient symbolisms, should caution us not to expect much enlightenment concerning the essentials of Hinduism from a ``history of Hinduism'' in the modern sense.

Most Hindus believe that the series of events which we call ``history'' repeats itself endlessly in a never-ending cycle. It is quite significant that some major Hindu schools of thought identify this self-repeating factual world (samsara) with maya (deception), or avidya (ignorance). A kind of ``higher ignorance'' can well be assumed to be the basis of a ``history'' that is content with documenting appearances and describing surface events.

One of the favorite images in South Indian Vaisnava temples shows Visnu resting on s�esa, the coiled up world-snake representing eternity. The philosophy associated with this image opens up a new horizon for the philosophy of history; there is not only one human history and one universe, there are -- in succession -- many universes and many histories rolled up underneath the deity! What would be the meaning of these, in their totality, and what would be the purpose of the many universes?


In the light of the foregoing, it appears that history in the modern sense may not be the best approach to understand Hinduism. That point can also be proven by examining attempts to write histories of Hinduism. A history of Hinduism does not work as a history of Christianity or even a history of Buddhism works for understanding the content of these traditions. In Hinduism the momentous event of a foundation at one point in time, the initial splash in the water, from which concentric circles expand to cover an ever-wider part of the total surface, is absent. The waves that carried Hinduism to a great many shores are not connected to a central historic fact nor to a common historic movement.

The idea of a ``History of Hinduism,'' short or long, is almost a contradiction in terms. Hindus call their tradition sanatana dharma, the eternal law, and everything of religious importance is termed anadi, beginningless. Hinduism has never consciously given up anything of its large heritage that accumulated over the centuries. It appropriated many ideas and practices from many quarters, brought forth many creative minds, developed a large number of traditions that differ from each other in many respects but which collectively form what became known as ``Hinduism.''

Given all the discussion about ``Hinduism'' and the fact that the word ``Hindu'' has become a loaded term in today's India as well as in Indological writing, a clarification may be appropriate before setting out to introduce the reader to this short history of Hinduism. The term Hinduism has been fully accepted by today's ``Hindus'' and is hardly replaceable by any other designation to describe the religious culture of the majority of the inhabitants of India. The acceptance of the term Hindu by the adherents of this tradition makes it advisable to apply it when dealing with their beliefs and customs. While an extension of the term Hinduism to the earliest sources of the Hindu tradition is clearly an extrapolation, it appears justifiable. There are, after all, historical parallels that have been accepted unquestioningly by scholars and the general public alike.

There is little justification for the divisions found in much western scholarly writing between ``Vedism,'' ``Brahmanism,'' and ``Hinduism.'' If the term ``Hinduism'' is found problematic in connection with the Vedas and the Brahmanas, which certainly do not use the term, it is equally problematic in its application to the Epics and the Puranas, who do not use it either. Inversely, today's Hindus call their living religious traditions ``vedic,'' defining ``Hinduism'' as vaidika dharma, and making acceptance of the Veda as scripture the criterion of ``orthodoxy.'' It would hardly find the approval of those who are critical of the term ``Hinduism'' to replace it by ``Vedic Religion.''

In this book ``Hinduism'' is used as an umbrella designation for all traditions that declare allegiance to the Veda, however tenuous the actual connection with that body of writing might be, and however old or recent the particular branch might be. While speaking of ``Hinduism,'' without qualifying the term each time by a hundred caveats, it will also be made quite clear that Hinduism is not one homogeneous ``religion'' (in the biblical sense) but a ``family of religions,'' a vast and heterogenous tradition without a common leader, a common center or a common body of teachings.

Hinduism has continually been developing new expressions. It has aptly been compared to a Banyan tree that constantly sends forth new shoots that develop into trunks from which other roots originate to form other trunks, and so forth. The Banyan tree simile not only illustrates the diversity but also the interconnectedness of the countless forms under which ``Hinduism'' appears. While Hinduism may be lacking a definable doctrinal unity or uniformity in worship and ritual, it surely has a distinct shape of its own when set over against Islam or Christianity.


In the absence of a general common denominator and of an authoritative institution it is impossible to construct a schema for a history of Hinduism that provides a clear and commonly accepted periodization. While there certainly has been development, and innovation is not unknown to Hinduism, the situation was always complex and not amenable to being fitted into ``time lines,'' suggesting a progressive movement from a point A in the remote past via a point B in recent history to a point C today.

India has been called a ``living museum'' and Hinduism is as good an example to demonstrate the truth of this statement as any other facet of Indian culture. Side by side with naked Hindu sadhus practicing archaic forms of penance and living a life of utter contempt for comfort and hygiene, there are jet-set Hindu gurus who move among millionaires and surround themselves with every luxury imaginable. One still can see Vedic altars being built in today's India and observe Vedic sacrifices being offered accompanied by the muttering of Vedic hymns -- rites and compositions that may be six thousand or more years old. One can also see temples built in a futuristic style where worshipers offer obeisance to images of still living teachers accompanied by rock music and the latest in electronic sounds. There are Hindus who find their faith best expressed in the theology of medieval masters, and there are Hindus who have rejected everything from the past for the sake of a complete reinterpretation of traditional beliefs.

The periodization offered in the following pages must be taken with more than just a grain of salt. Although Western scholars, since the early nineteenth century, have labored hard to stick labels with historic dates on the written sources of Hinduism, many of these dates are far from established (the dates given by the experts often vary by thousands of years!) and even when and where they are certain, they may be of limited relevance to a history of Hinduism as a whole.

Accepting, hypothetically, the claim made by many Hindus that Hinduism is ``vedic,'' i.e. based on the collections of books called Veda, we could postulate an initial period of ``Vedic religion'' that represents the ``beginnings'' of Hinduism. Apart from the questionable nature of this assumption -- there is a counterclaim established by tradition and supported by some scholars, that the Puranas are older than the Vedas, and ``mainstream Hinduism'' alive in Vaisnavism, S�aivism, S�aktism, and others contains a large heritage of un-vedic and possibly pre-Vedic beliefs and practices -- the problem about dating the ``Vedic period'' has given rise to one of the most enduring and most hotly conducted scholarly debates of our time, summarized in chapter 3 of this book.

In the so-called post-Vedic period, the development of Hinduism proper, instead of one, there is a multitude of fairly exclusive, frequently intertwining traditions, whose history is difficult to trace, because of many local variants of each. Things are made more complicated through the appropriation of particular philosophical schools by specific religious traditions, the formation of parallel teaching lines, and the emergence of new sects.


In Joseph E. Schwartzberg's A Historical Atlas of South Asia the following periodization of the history of India, and within it, the history of Hinduism, is given:

I. Prehistory, comprising everything from the early Stone Age to the Indus Civilization (``Harappan Era'').

II. The Vedic Age.

III. The Age of the Epics (Ramayana and Mahabharata).

IV. The Pre-Mauryan Age.

V. The Mauryas.

VI. The Post-Mauryan Period.

VII. The Imperial Guptas and the Classical Age.

VIII. Kingdoms and Regional Cultures of the 8th through the 12th Centuries.

IX. The Period of the Delhi Sultanate.

X. The Mughal Period.

XI. The Contest for Power and the Establishment of British Supremacy 1707--1857 [The only period with precise years given for events and persons mentioned].

XII. Imperial India and the growth of National Identity, comprising also the ``Indian Renaissance'' and Hindu Reform Movements.

XIII. Post-Independence India.

Jan Gonda, until his death in 1997, was for many decades the acknowledged doyen of European Indology and a prolific writer on many aspects of Hinduism. He contributed two volumes on Hinduism for a comprehensive series on ``The Religions of Mankind.'' His major divisions are as follows:

I. Veda and Older Hinduism

1. Vedic (and Brahmanic) Hinduism

2. Epic (and Puranic) Hinduism

II. Younger Hinduism

1. Major Phases of Post-epic Hinduism

2. Vaisnavism

3. S�aivism

4. Hinduism in the 19th and 20th Centuries

In his Chronology he provides the following dates for the key periods:

2600--1600 B.C.E. Indus-Civilisation.

From 1200 B.C.E. Aryan immigration to India: Development of Vedas.

From 600 B.C.E. The Oldest Upanisads.

c.200 B.C.E. The Bhagavadgita.

From 4th century B.C.E. to 2nd century C.E. Development of Ramayana.

From 4th century B.C.E. to 4th century C.E. Development of Mahabharata.

From the 2nd to the 6th century C.E. Expansion of Hinduism into Southeast Asia.

320 C.E. to 6th century C.E. the Gupta Dynasty.

3rd to 5th centuries C.E. Origin of Visnu Purana.

7th century C.E. Flowering of Vedanta.

8th century C.E. Origin of Samhita literature; Pan�caratra.

After 7th century C.E. Development of bhakti Movements.

7th to 9th centuries C.E. Period of Brahmanic Reconstruction.

With great reluctance I am offering my own very tentative periodization of the ``History of Hinduism.'' Most Western experts will probably object to the first half -- its rationale will be provided in the text itself.

I. Beginnings of the Vedic ritual and textual tradition: possibly as early as 6000 B.C.E. in Northwest India (Saptasindhu), superseding and incorporating earlier local (village) cults.

II. Consolidation and expansion of Vedic tradition, formation of the ``Canon'' of the Rgveda and emergence of ritual specialists: c.4000 B.C.E.

III. Full flowering of Vedic religion in the Panjab and adjacent areas: c.3000 B.C.E. This would also include the so-called ``Indus civilization.''

IV. Major natural cataclysms and desiccation of Sindh and adjacent areas followed by migrations from the indus area eastward towards the Gangetic plains: As a result of population pressure building up in the Yamuna-Ganges doab the Mahabharata war was precipitated c.1900 B.C.E. Gradual acceptance of S�aivism and Vaisnavism.

V. Internal Disputes and Development of Many Mutually Incom�patible (``heterodox'') Traditions: while most of these, like the Ajivikas, have died out, some survived: Jainism (re-organization in the seventh century B.C.E. of an older independent ascetic movement) and Buddhism (originating in the sixth century B.C.E.). For several centuries (300 B.C.E. to 300 C.E.) non-Hindu traditions were dominant in India, and from there expanded into neighbouring countries.

VI. Restoration of Hinduism under the Guptas: from the late fourth century C.E. to the sixth century. Anti-Buddhist and anti-Jain polemics and development of orthodox (non-theistic) Hindu theologies (Mimamsa and Vedanta) as well as of mainstream (theistic) sampradayas (Vaisnavism, S�aivism, later also S�aktism). Foundation of Hindu kingdoms in the countries of South East Asia (Indonesia, Kampuchea, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines).

VII. Repression of Hinduism under Muslim Rule: from c.1200 C.E. till about 1800 C.E. Disappearance of Hinduism from public life, cultivation of personal piety (bhakti) and private ritual (Tantra).

VIII. Emergence of new Hindu kingdoms in Muslim-dominated India: Vijayanagara (1336--1565) and Maharastra (eighteenth century).

IX. Rising of reformers of Hinduism under British (Christian) influence: nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Development of a distinct Hindu identity and a Hindu consciousness.

X. Partition of India (1947): formation of a theocratic Indian Muslim State (Pakistan) and a secular Indian democratic state (Bharat). Efforts by Hindu nationalist political parties to ``hinduize'' Bharat and transform it into a Hindu rastra.

Basic Hindu Source Literature

The total mass of writings considered Hindu Scriptures, i.e. books that are religiously authoritative and believed inspired by a superhuman agency, far exceeds any scriptural tradition of any other religion. While much of it is accepted as divinely revealed only by believers in particular communities, there is a large corpus of books that form the basis of the ``Vedic tradition'' and that (at least nominally) is accepted by all Hindus as ``sacred.'' Although writing down of sacred texts was apparently forbidden for a long time, the collection of such texts, the memorization and their recitation, was central to ancient Indian traditions.


The authoritative Hindu religious literature is divided into two main categories: sruti (literally: ``that which has been heard'') and smrti (literally: ``that which has been remembered''). Sruti has the connotation of ``revelation,'' ``truth'' in an unquestionable sense, norm of belief and practice. Smrti bases its authority on the standing of the writer to which it is attributed, authoritative only to the extent to which it conforms to sruti. It offers a certain freedom of choice between conflicting opinions, allows interpretation that is more than the mere establishing of the one correct meaning of words and sentences.

Sruti is identical with the Veda (literally ``knowledge'') in its wider sense, which comprises:

(a) the Veda in the narrower sense, i.e. the four samhitas (literally ``collections'')

Rg-Veda (Veda of hymns, or verses)

Sama-Veda (Veda of melodies)

Yajur-Veda (Veda of rituals)

Atharva-Veda (Veda of incantations and spells)

(b) the Brahmanas, large texts explanatory of the rituals, associated with each of the four samhitas as follows:

Rg-Veda: (1)�Aitareya (As�valayana)

(2)�Kaus�itaki (Samkhayana)

Yajur-Veda: (1)�Taittiriya

(2) S�athapatha

Sama-Veda: Eight, of which the most important are

(1)�Praudha (Pan�cavims�a)



Atharva-Veda: Gopatha

(c) Aranyakas, literally ``forest treatises,'' i.e. teachings no longer relating to sacrifice and ritual, namely:





(d) Upanisads, also called ``Vedanta,'' ``end of the Veda,'' mystical utterances designed to teach the means for liberation from rebirth and all suffering. There is a very large number of these, of whom 108 are usually enumerated as ``genuine.'' The so-called ``Major Upanisads,'' commented upon by classical authors, are about ten to twelve. There is a large number of so-called ``sectarian Upanisads,'' compendia of Vaisnava, Saiva, and Sakta teachings and practices, and others.

Smrti or ``Tradition'' comprises a very large number of heterogeneous works, classified as follows:

(a) Smrtis, Codes of Law, often introduced by creation narratives and concluded by advice on how to reach salvation. They are fairly numerous, but some have acquired an authority that stands out, such as Manu-Smrti, attributed to Manu, the forefather of all humans now living, Yajn�avalkya-Smrti, attributed to an important Vedic sage, Visnu-Smrti, and many others.

(b) Itihasa, ``history,'' comprising the two ancient Indian epics


Mahabharata (including Bhagavadgita)

(c) Puranas, ``old books,'' texts that provide information about the creation of the universe, about genealogies of patriarchs and kings, rules of life and mythologies of the major deities they are dealing with. They are subdivided into 18 Maha-Puranas, ``Great Puranas,'' classified according to the deity they are devoted to, and a large number of Upa-Puranas, ``Lesser Puranas.''

1. The Maha-Puranas comprise:

6 Vaisnava (sattvika) Puranas:







6 Saiva (tamasa) Puranas:







6 Brahma (rajasa) Puranas:







2. Upa-Puranas, of which there are a large number.

The ascription to either category is not undisputed. Thus e.g. the Saktas consider the (Maha)-Devi Bhagavata Purana a ``Maha-Purana,'' while others classify it as a ``Upa-Purana.''

In general, the members of a particular sampradaya would consider the Purana, that they adopt as theirs, as sruti, revelation, with the same authority as that of the Vedas.

3. Numerous Sthala-Puranas, works that describe the history of a particular holy place (sthala), embellishing it with numerous miraculous events associated with the image and its worship.


At a certain time, when memorizing the increasingly voluminous primary literature apparently became next to impossible, short compendia, sutras (literally ``threads''), were composed that presented the essentials of each discipline in a succinct and reliable manner. In the course of time, virtually all subjects of traditional learning received their sutras. Thus we have in the context of religion Srauta-Sutras, summarizing the rules applying to public sacrifices; Grhya-Sutras, providing a summary of domestic rites; Kalpa-Sutras, compendia of other rituals; Dharma-Sutras, manuals of religious and secular law; and Sulva-Sutras, providing elementary geometry and rules of construction for fire-altars and so forth.

When the Veda became difficult to understand owing to the archaic language it used and the distance in time between its composers and its later students, Vedangas, books teaching the auxiliary sciences connected with Veda-study, were provided. Thus we have Siksa (phonetics), Chandas (meter), Vyakarana (grammar), Nirukta (etymology), Jyotisa (astronomy) and Kalpa (ritual).

While training in the Vedas was mandatory for brahmins in order to enable them to fulfill their priestly duties, very often they were also taught secular subjects, termed Upa-Vedas (sciences not connected with Veda-study). The traditional subjects were Ayur-Veda (medicine), Gandharva-Veda (music and dancing), Dhanur-Veda (archery), and Sthapatya-Veda (architecture).

Sectarian Scriptures

In addition to the vast body of writing described above, which forms the common heritage of Hinduism, there is an extensive sectarian literature which advocates tenets that are exclusive to certain sampradayas and are not shared by other Hindus. Thus there are numerous Samhitas, sectarian Vaisnava writings; Agamas, sectarian Saivite works; and Tantras, sectarian Sakta books. By the followers of these sampradayas these works are considered revealed (sruti) and equal in authority to the Veda. While offering some philosophical reflections on the nature of God, world, and living beings from the specific theological perspective which the particular sect advocates, they are mostly concerned with ritual and with regulations of the life of the devotees. Some are manuals of worship as it is performed in major temples. Thus the Paramesvara Samhita, to mention just one example, codifies the worship of the great Visnu sanctuary at Srirangam, the Somasambhupaddhati details the daily ritual in South Indian Siva temples.

While the classification of Hindu scriptures is fairly universally accepted, both the relative and the absolute dating are controversial. With regard to the relative dating, there are Hindu scholars who assume that the Atharvaveda is older than the Rgveda and there is a fairly strong Hindu tradition that insists that the Puranas are as old as the Vedas, antedating the epics.

With regard to absolute dating the gap between those who accept the Aryan invasion theory and those who do not is enormous. Because the dating has to be seen in this context, no figures will be mentioned here and the reader is advised to compare the sets of dates provided earlier. The estimated age of Epics, Puranas, and Tantras will be mentioned when dealing with these writings. There is a tendency among Hindus to consider scriptures ``beginningless'' (anadi) and to take literally the claim of many of them to be direct revelations from the Supreme -- again removing them from any meaningful historical process of dating.


There is an ancient rivalry between North and South in India that also extends to language and scriptures. While the North insists on the primacy of Sanskrit scriptures and considers Sanskrit the only sacred language proper, the South claims that Tamil is older than Sanskrit and that certain Tamil writings are on an equal footing with Sanskrit sruti. This linguistic cum religious issue came to the fore in medieval Tamilnadu: the acaryas of Srirangam had the Tamil hymns of the Alvars recited in temple-worship, side by side with Sanskrit hymns. One branch of Srivaisnavas, the Vadagalais, even placed the Tamil writings above the Sanskritic ones.

With the development of popular bhakti movements, which replaced much of traditional Brahminism and its ritual, compositions in the vernaculars of India also became part of religious ritual. The Hindi re-creation of the Ramayana, Tulsidasa's Ramcaritmanas all but eclipsed Valmiki's Sanskrit original and the inspired poetry of singers in many tongues became the preferred hymns sung by groups of devotees meeting for bhajan singing. The religious literature created by hundreds of saint-singers is enormous.

In addition, contemporary leaders and poets add to the volume. For the devotees of a particular guru his or her words are usually inspired and worth recording and repeating. Thus the recorded conversations of saints like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharsi, Anandamayi Ma, and many others are treated as ``Gospels'' by their followers and read out in religious gatherings. There is, quite literally, no end to producing ever more religious literature and there is no hope that any single person could read all of it.


``Indian Islam'' did develop some peculiarities that were frowned upon by Islamic authorities elsewhere, and from the sixteenth century onwards there was considerable interest in upper-class Muslim circles in becoming familiar with and even accepting certain aspects of the Hindu tradition. Sufism, as it developed in India, incorporates many Buddhist and Hindu features.

The ``St. Thomas Christians'' in India trace their origins back to a direct disciple of Jesus, whose tomb they believe to be in St. Thome, near Cennai (Madras). They probably originated from a group of Syrian merchants who settled in India in the fourth century. They still use Syriac as liturgical language and until recently their bishops came from the see of Edessa.

Richard F. Young, Resistant Hinduism. Sanskrit Sources on Anti-Christian Polemics in Early Nineteenth-Century India, Vienna: Indologisches Institut der Universitat Wien, 1981

The term ``Hindu-dharma'' occurs for the first time in Sanskrit literature in Chapter 33 of the Merutantra (date unknown, but certainly fairly recent, because it refers already to the English foreigners and their capital London).

A comprehensive encyclopedic description of Hinduism in Hindi authored by Ramdas Gaur and published in Samvat 1995 (1938 C.E.) carried the title Hindutva. It was planned to be paralleled by similar volumes on all other major religions.

Vir Savarkar's seminal 1938 English essay ``Essentials of Hindutva'' attempts to differentiate between Hindutva as ``Hindu culture'' shared by all who live in India, and Hinduism, as a religion, which is not shared by all. This is usually the interpretation given today by the advocates of a ``Hindu India'' and Hindutva.

The Indian expression ``Hindu-dharma'' is used over against ``Isai-dharma,'' or ``Islam-dharma''.

Taranatha's History of Buddhism in India, Buston's History of Buddhism, the Culavamsa and the Mahavamsa, are the best-known examples.

Cf. A. D. Pusalker, ``Historical Traditions,'' in The History and Culture of the Indian People, vol. I, Bombay, 4 1965, pp.271--336.

Whereas the rulers in most other countries had their court-chroniclers, singing the praises of their masters and immortalising their great deeds, such a custom was curiously absent in ancient India. Possibly the Indian tradition of considering kings as but one element of the state, and not the raison d'etre of it, prevented them from having their deeds recorded by a court historian. The Muslims, who ruled India, left voluminous records of their activities.

I am following the same logic by which historians of Christianity apply the term ``Christians'' to the immediate followers of Jesus, while the term ``Christianoi'' was coined by outsiders at a later time and it took centuries before becoming universally accepted by the ``Christians'' as self-designation.

In this respect Hinduism is not that different from today's Christianity either. While ``Christianity'' is considered one ``religion,'' all of whose followers are supposed to accept the New Testament as their scripture and Jesus of Nazareth as their saviour, in reality there have been from the very beginning many independent and mutually exclusive ``Christian Churches'' whose interpretations of the New Testament as well as customs and forms of worship have hardly anything in common. Still, nobody objects to using the term ``Christianity'' in connection with works on the ``History of Christianity.''

Joseph E. Schwartzberg, A Historical Atlas of South Asia, New York--Oxford: Oxford University Press, second impression, with additional material, 1992.

Die Religionen Indiens, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1960--63.

Sankara commented on sixteen.

Hundreds of these have been published with English translations by the Adyar Library.

So far no translation into a Western language exists of this text, which was published in 1953 at Srirangam.

Sanskrit text with French translation by H. Brunner-Lachaux, published by the Institut Fran‡ais d'Indologie at Pondicherry in two volumes, 1963 and 1968.

Govinda Krishna Pillai, Vedic History (Set in Chronology), Kitabistan: Allahabad, 1959.

Some idea of its range can be gained from J. N. Farquhar, An Outline of the Religious Literature of India, originally published by Oxford University Press in 1920, Indian reprint 1967 (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass). Since then much more has been printed and produced.

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