2.5. Hinduism, a Look Back at its Origins – Part 2

Posted By on September 18, 2019

After the collapse of the Gupta empire, regional
kingdoms developed which patronised different religions. Adi Shankaracharya, who was born in Kerala
in the 8th century, was one of the three main teachers of medieval India who helped in the
revival of Hinduism. The other two teachers were Madhva and Ramanuja. Adi Shankaracharya consolidated the Advaita
Vedanta philosophy. Although he died when he was 32, he travelled
all over India on foot to teach his philosophy and discuss with other philosophers about
Hinduism and the Vedas. By winning debates with leading philosophers
of various traditions, including Jainism and Buddhism, he slowed down the spread of Buddhism
throughout India and revived Hinduism. This period saw the development of the great
regional temples such as Jagganatha in Puri in Orissa, the Shiva temple in Cidambaram
in Tamilnadu, and the Shiva temple in Tanjavur, also in Tamilnadu. All of these temples had an effigy of a major
deity and were centres of religious and political power. Islam had reached Indian shores around the
8th century, via traders crossing the Arabian Sea and the Muslim armies which conquered
the northwest provinces. Muslim political power began with the Turkish
Sultanate around 1200 CE. The Mughul Empire began in 1526 CE. Akbar was a liberal emperor who allowed Hindus
to practice freely. However, in the late 17th century, his great
grandson Aurangzeb destroyed many temples and restricted Hindu practice. Robert Clive’s victory at the Battle of Plassey
brought the Mughal Empire to an abrupt end. British people working for the East India
Trading Company started to assimilate into the warrior and noble class of native Indians
(Kshatriyas). However, they did not hold the Brahmins (priest
class) in higher regard. And the Shudras became regarded as ‘untouchable’. The arrival of Christian missionaries led
many Hindus to convert to Christianity. In response to this disruption of Hindu traditions,
the nineteenth century saw the development of the ‘Hindu Renaissance’. The first leading reformer of Hinduism was
Raja Rammohan Roy. Apart from his Bengali mother tongue, he studied
Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. He read the main scriptures of the world religions
and concluded that there was not much difference between them. In 1828, he founded the Brahmo Samaj based
on the concept of one supreme God from the Upanishads. He had to overcome opposition from the orthodox
Hindu community to defend the Brahmo Samaj. Together with Christian missionary William
Carey, he campaigned against Sati. This was the practice of widows jumping onto
the funeral pyres of their husbands. It is thought to have originated in the 14th
Century during the Islamic invasion of Rajput territories in North-West India. Hindus committed mass suicides called Jauhar
to avoid the consquence of invasions, including mass rape and servitude. Raja Rammohan Roy had called on the Governor-General
of India, Lord William Bentinck, to abolish sati. Lord Bentinck passed a law abolishing sati
in 1829. Rammohan Roy believed in the social equality
of all human beings. He also argued that the Vedas and Upanishads
described monotheism. The Brahmo Samaj’s main aim was worship
of the eternal God. It was against priesthood, rituals, idolatry
and sacrifices. It focused on prayers, meditation and reading
of the scriptures. It led to the emergence of rationalism and
enlightenment in India. The Brahmo Samaj believed in the unity of
all religions. After Rammohan Roy died in 1833, the Brahmo
Samaj was supported by Prince Dwarakanath Tagore and Pandit Ram Chandra Vidyavagis. Dwarakanath’s eldest son Debendranath Tagore
joined the Brahmo Samaj in 1842 and became its second main leader. Later, in 1911, Debendranath’s son Rabindranath
Tagore became the leader of the Adi Brahmo Samaj. They all aimed to remove what they regarded
as superstition from Hinduism. Another important figure of this period was
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. He too believed in the unity of all religions
and that pure devotion was at the centre of Hinduism. His disciple Vivekananda developed his ideas
and linked them to a political vision of a united India. Vivekananda is credited with having introduced
the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world, as well as bringing
Hinduism to the status of a major world religion during the late 19th Century. As we see, all of the Hindu reformers of the
19th Century advocated a return to the Hinduism of the Vedas and Upanishads. When giving independence to India, Britain
decided to partition it along religious grounds, between predominantly Hindu India and predominantly
Muslim West/East Pakistan. This led to communal violence and the mass
migration of over 15 million people. In recent decades, the Hindu diaspora has
spread widely outside India. Younger generations who have grown up outside
India have preferred these universal aspects of Hinduism. This has led to concern among older generations
of the Hindu diaspora about the perpetuation of the more orthodox Hindu traditions they
left behind. Meanwhile, in India, Hinduism has continued
to evolve. Hindus have always believed that various paths
lead towards God.

Posted by Lewis Heart

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