Special Reports

Origin and Development of Hinduism

The Institute of Objective Studies organised a lecture on the “Origin and Development of Hinduism” on September 12, 2015. President, Universal Knowledge Trust and former Secretary General, IOS, A R Agwan, spoke on the subject. He held that two prominent views about the origin of Hinduism exist. While one section of scholars believed that Hinduism had its origins in the present Indian territory, the other group, mostly led by Western scholars and Indologists, say that the Aryans were key contributors in the formation and development of Hinduism. He said that the origin of the word ‘Hindu’ was itself debated among academics. The most argued interpretation could be that it had its roots in “Sapta-Sindhu”, which generally meant the area of the present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan and part of western India. He said that in the prevailing socio-political accounts, Hindus hardly took that territory as their “holy land.” They would also not like the word “Hindu” to be replaced by “Sindhu,” he said. The main hurdle in accepting the Indian origin of Hinduism was archeology. The archeological evidence to prove either the so-called “Ramayana Route” or the existence of people of the Mahabharata period could not be found, creating doubts regarding the historicity of these major events embedded in Hindu traditions. He said that no evidence of urbanisation in the present Indian territory existed before the seventh century BCE.

AR Agwan speaking

Agwan maintained that the nearest urbanisation in the ancient times had been found in the Indus Valley Civilisation during 3300-1300 BCE, but its main location was not part of the present Indian territory. The mention of palaces, large populations and the existence of huge armies required advanced urbanisation which lacked in the territory presently in India and this created doubts about the claims.

Referring to genome studies during the last two decades, Agwan said that these had brought another challenge in understanding the origin of Hinduism. Although the Out-of-Africa theory had been propounded long back, the genome studies had recently substantiated it with the direct evidence embedded in human genes. The theory, he said, underlined that the Modern Man was born in northeast Africa, which fell in the present day Ethiopia and from there his descendants migrated to other parts of the world. Hindus, however, made its followers believe that the first-ever man  was Swayambhu Manu. Agwan pointed out that if one believed in things the Hindu way, he has to either accept that he and his early generations had existed long back in Africa or that he was not the first human being at all. He explained that the genome studies had also pointed out that Indian genes were an admixture of two kinds of genetic pools. The ancient one belonged to the African ancestors which became pronounced while going down to southern part of the country and the caste hierarchy. The other genetic pool became more and more evident going to northern areas and with the ascendance in the caste ladder with its origin in the Middle East and Europe.

Agwan noted that the issue of the origin of Hinduism was complicated as its main upholders seemed to have migrated from other lands, and they would have contextualised their belief to the present Indian territory in later days, a process which was still going on. With the growing evidence, it was becoming increasingly difficult to accept that Hinduism in its present form would have originated in India. He called for taking up intensive academic and scientific research in view of its origin in the area around Afghanistan or in the Middle East or Africa.

In his expert comments, Secretary, Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Hind, Maulana Abdul Hameed Nomani, said that the issue of Hindutva was first raised by Hindu Mahasabha leader, Veer Savarkar in 1932. The concept of Hindutva rested on a negative thinking. Commenting on the contradictions in Hinduism, he said that there were as many as 300 types of Ramayanas in circulation in the country. He contended that there was no concept of history or historicity in India as poetry, philosophy, music, song, etc. formed basis for description of anecdotes. He said that since no organised and complete history was available, the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Vedas were the only sources of knowledge about Hinduism. While in Islam, there was faith, guide and guidance, no such thing existed in Hinduism, he said.

Former Head, Department of Buddhist Studies, Delhi University and former Vice-Chairman of the IOS, Prof. Sanghasen Singh, urged the Muslim scholars to come out of their shell and produce standard works on Hinduism as German and British indologists like Max Meuller and MacDonnell did.

Describing Hinduism as a complicated religion, he said that its development was circuitous. It was still growing with the protagonists of Hindutva making every attempt to assimilate other religions, like Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists with Hinduism.

He briefly gave an account of the five periods through which Hinduism grew and developed, including the “Hindu Renaissance” in the 18th and 19th centuries. In this connection, he especially mentioned the names of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Vivekananda and Ramkrishna Paramhans, who were responsible for the revival of Hinduism.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2015 on page no. 13

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