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Historical Vedic religion

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A Vedic Agnihotra Yajna

The Historical Vedic religion (also called Vedism, ancient Hinduism, Aryanism, Arya Dharma, Vedic Dharma) was the monotheistic religion that was practiced in Ancient India before the advent of its Vamachara interpretation, followed by the Charvaka, Jain, Ajivika, Buddhist and Paurannik Hindu religions. Adi Shankaracharya had tried to revive this Vedic tradition but with a different philosophy. It was Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj, who revived the Vedic tradition by correctly interpreting the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upanishads in the light of the Six Vedangas and Nyaya tradition. Today the Arya Samaj is the largest group of people who follow the Vedic religion.

History and origins

There have been numerous hypotheses regarding the origin of the Historical Vedic religion. Early 18th and 19th Century Western Indologists considered this religion to be a polytheistic and pantheistic religion


practiced by a group of invaders called Indo-Aryans who were pastoral and tribal in their culture. The prominent proponent of this theory was Prof. Freidrich Max Muller, who has also translated the works of Sayanacharya's commentary on Vedas on the basis of linguistics of a fictional Proto-Indo-European language. He had rejected the Brahamanaic and Vedanga based translations, which were Monotheistic in nature. This theory has been rejected by most scholars who claim by genetic, archaeological, historical and textual evidences of the Indo-Aryans being of native origin. There are a few historians, who have Marxist origins politically, who still claim Indo-Aryans to be foreigners. Though even they have melted their 'Invasion' hypotheses to simply peaceful migrations.

Degradation of the Vedic religion

According to the Vedic scholar and historian Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the core Vedic principles were degraded following the Mahabharata war. Gross misinterpretations took place which included animal sacrifices, meat-eating, caste-system, denigration of women, polytheism, pantheism, superstitious practices, etc. These misinterpretations formed the Vamachara tradition, which was later absorbed into the Tantric Cults.

Formation of rebellious religions and traditions

The degradation of Vedic religion resulted in the formation of the Charvaka school of Materialism. The Vedic tradition earned sub-branches of Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamasa and Vedanta. Though these traditions or schools of philosophy pre-existed they separated out during the formation of the Charvakas. Various practices of Hatha Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga were formed or rediscovered. The Charvakas opposed almost everything to the Vedas, be it the proper interpretations or the degraded ones.

This extreme materialism resulted in the re-formations of the Shaivite religion by unknown ascetics and Jain tradition by Vardhaman Mahavira, who revived the post-Vedic Shramanic traditions of Rishabha and his successors. This tradition centered on total non-violence. The Jain tradition formed an offshoot of Ajivikas, a sect which disappeared later. Parallel to these an ascetic named Shatakopa founded a cult called Vaishnavism centered on Vishnu worship and its rituals along with the founding of Zoroastrianism in Iran / Persia by Zoroaster. Shortly, Siddhartha Gautama Buddha of the Shakya clan founded a new religion of Shramanism under the term Buddhism. Many centuries later, after the invasions of Greeks, the Mauryan Empire was formed as a resistance by Chandragupta Maurya and his mentor Chanakya. Chandragupta himself was a Jain convert and Chanakya seemed to follow a Samkhya version of Shaivism. Chandragupta's successor Bindusara was an Ajivika and his successor Ashoka was a Buddhist convert. Buddhism had reached its peak of glory in and outside India under the guidance and rule of Ashoka. Various Schools of Buddhism rose, in contrast to Jainism, which had only two Schools, Shwetambara ad Digambara. Debates used to take place between different schools and sects of the Shramanic as well as the Brahamanic and Vedic traditions. The Buddhist and Shaivite religions had overpowered the Charvaka, Jain, Ajivika and other religions. During this period, Shakta philosophy and school had sprung out of Shaiva schools. It were the Samkhyas who started debating and defeating the Buddhists resulting in the beginning of the slow decline of Buddhism. The Samkhyas and Buddhists were encountered by a third philosophy called Purva Mimamsa which was long ago founded by Jaimini.

Though the Samkhyas had countered the Mimamsa proponents, Buddhism started taking a toll. Its scholars were defeated in philosophical debates by both the Samkhyas and the Mimamsas. the Mimamsas advocated strict atheism along with the ritualism of the misinterpretations of Vedas. They advocated heavy animal sacrifices. Yoga was the only common ground between all. Tantric cults started increasing in number. Buddhism founded a new system of Vajrayana on the basis of these Tantric practices.

Adi Shankaracharya's debates

Advaita philosophy of the Vedic branch had reduced to a very small number. An ascetic-scholar named Gaudapada re-interpreted the Upanishads in the Advaitic way. His student Shankara learnt the Vedas and Upanishads and debated against all rivalschools within the Vedic as well as the non-Vedic traditions. He is known to have integrated 383 different traditions under Advaita Philosophy. His main rivals were the Mimamsas and Samkhyas, followed by the Jains, Buddhists and Shaivites. He had defeated all of them in debates. Advaita had now reached its peak in India.

Countering Advaita and dawn of Bhakti movements

Various new movements of Bhakti devotional movements arose around India. These included various sects and cults. New philosophies were re-discovered. The successors of Shankara faced many debates with these new sects. Vaishnava and Shaiva, both were the prominent sects. The Ganpatya sect arose followed by the re-discovery of the sun-worshiping cult of Saurakas in east India. Buddhism had completely disappeared from mainland India by this time. Many commentaries on the Vedas took place, out of which the most famous were that of Sayanacharya, Mahidhara and Urva.

Vedic Symbol of God

Islamic invasions, formation of new philosophies, traditions until Arya Samaj

Various Islamic invasions started taking place and Muslim empires ruled India. Many rulers were intolerant of the native religions while some were tolerant. Persecutions and forceful conversions of non-Muslims was common. Various Sultanates were followed by the Mughal Empire. During these times, all of the native 'cultures' and their traditions were clubbed together as 'Hindu'. Various Bhakti movements and traditions continued to spread. Sikhism was a new religion formed by Guru Nanak. Sufi Islam was highly influenced by the Hindu traditions. India got to see many brave Hindu kings and warriors like Rana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shivaji who had defeated the Muslim rulers in their respective regions. The rise of Marathas was the start of decline of Islamic rule. The Rajputs, Ahoms, Sikhs, Nairs, and many Hindu empires weakened the Islamic rule. The Peshwa-lead Marathas completely stormed down the Mughal rule.

The British strategically took over India within a few centuries. Many Hindus were forcefully converted to Christianity, as the British used similar policies of the Muslim rulers against others. The British tried to interpolate the native history and were successful up to some extent. Various new movements were formed to counter these, and many of them are successful even today. The most famous ones are the Brahmo Samaj and its branches, Ramakrishna Mission founded by Swami Vivekananda, etc.

Arya Samaj and the re-discovery of the Historical Vedic religion

Swami Dayananda formed the Arya Samaj on the basis of traditional Vedic principles. He revived the Vedic religion to its core. His works have been praised by many scholars like Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo Ghose, Rabindranath Tagore, etc.

Translations of the Vedas and other scriptures

It is a noted fact that almost all of the Western translators and Indologists translated the scriptures on basis of their personal pre-defined assumptions of 'White Supremacy', 'Foreign origin of Indians', etc. Few Indian translators also followed them, and most of them had some Marxist connections.

The different translations are:

  • Ritualist interpretations : By medieval period commentators like Sayanacharya, Mahidhara, Urva. These interpretations deviated from the basic rules of Sanskrit Grammar, Phonetics and Philology.
  • Linguistic interpretations : Used by Western Indologists on basis of linguistic similarities between Indo-European languages. Many translations were based on the works of Sayanacharya. These interpretations were based on pre-defined racist assumptions. The most famous of these were Max Muller and Ralph Griffith followed by Keith Wilson and Wendy Doniger.
  • Phonetic interpretations : Used by Swami Dayananda Saraswati and the other translators from the Arya Samaj. Their works are considered to be the most authentic as their works are based on the right translations of the Brahmanas, Dahupath, Vedangas.
  • Psychological interpretations : Used by Sri Aurobindo Ghose and his followers of the Aurobindo Ashram. He translated a part of Rig Veda, but his followers have continued his works. The most famous being Pandit Vamadeva Shastri (David Frawley).

Rituals and characteristics

There existed no Idol-worship of that time in correspondence with Yajurveda 40.13 where worshiping Matter is prohibited. Many people translate Indra, Agni, Vayu, etc. to be Gods, though many have given elaborate terms on the basis of the Nirukta and Shatapatha Brahmanas as tending Vedas to be Monotheistic or Monistic. Indra means Mind, Electricity, King and the Vedic God- Aum called as the "Almighty One" (Yajurveda 40.17 and Rigveda 1.164.46) . Worship usually was done by prayers of the Rigveda and Sandhya or meditative worship. Yoga was a part of their spiritual and physical worship. Mantra-Yoga, Bhakti-Yoga, Karma-Yoga, Hatha-Yoga, Raja-Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga were the most famous of the various Yoga practices. Hatha yoga was revived by Yogi Gorakshanath and Ashtanga Yoga was revived by Patanjali. The practice of Yajna was common. Yajna means any noble deed. The most common Vedi Yajnas were:

  • Soma pressing Yajna and the Agnistoma Yajna.
  • Agnihotra and Agnicaya Yajnas which were fire based rituals to purify the air, water and soil.
  • Rajasuya Yajna which is the royal consecration ceremony.
  • Ashwamedha Yajna which was any noble deed for the Ashwa meaning Nation. Ashwa also meant horse, sun, etc.
  • Purushamedha Yajna which is the ritual cremation of the dead body.

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