Ancient Indian Religion
By now you have realized that religion has played a big role in Indian history! The people of modern-day India mainly follow the Hindu religion, but there are also followers of Buddhism, Islam, Jainism and Christianity. Let’s look at each of these religions one by one.
Hinduism is the oldest religion in India. In fact, some of the Hindu gods were most likely worshipped by the people of ancient Harappa. When the Aryans came into India, they brought their beliefs, and the stories of their gods in their holy book, the Rig Veda.
The Aryans believed in re-incarnation. This means that they believed that people, when their lives are over, are re-born into something else. It could be another person or even an animal. What kind of re-birth you got depended on how well you worshipped the gods in this life.
Hinduism has many gods, but they are all believed to be the main god, Brahman, showing himself in different forms. Hinduism also has many different “sects”, or groups that believe different things. People in different regions may have completely different beliefs from each other, worship different gods, and have different rituals.
Gautama Buddha was a young Hindu man born to riches and luxury. His parents tried to keep him from seeing any suffering, sickness, or death. But one day, as a young adult, he saw an old man who was suffering. Buddha questioned why people suffered. He wanted to make sense of it. He left his family and went off to meditate by himself. He sat under a tree and meditated until he reached “enlightenment”. He came to the conclusion that, for a person to reach nirvana, or a state of complete happiness, he had to get rid of all his desires. If you don’t desire anything, you can’t suffer from the loss of it.
Buddha told others of his thoughts, and the belief spread. He taught that people could escape the cycle of reincarnation by living a very good life. He developed what is called the 8-fold Path, the way to reach nirvana:
Buddhism 8-fold path
- Hold the right views.
- Have the right aspirations.
- Use the right speech.
- Show the right conduct.
- Pursue the right livelihood.
- Expend the right effort.
- Maintain the right attitude.
- Practice the right meditation.
Many people converted to Buddhism, including the famous King Asoka, who also helped spread it. But, over the years, Buddhism mixed with Hinduism and many people came to view Buddha as just another of the Hindu gods. Also, when the Muslims invaded northern India, they destroyed many Buddhist buildings and monuments, and many Buddhists moved to other countries such as Sri Lanka and Tibet.
One Hindu teacher, named Mahavira, encouraged people to escape from re-incarnation by being kind, truthful, and generous. He began a new religion, called Jainism. Followers of Jainism do not worship any gods, but try to achieve goodness in themselves by conquering their bad desires. They fast (give up food for a time) and meditate. One rule of the Jainists is not to kill anything, even with the intent to eat it. They are strict vegetarians, and even have rules about not eating vegetables that cannot be harvested without killing the plant.