A guide to various aspects of Indian religious thought
and inter-religious understanding and religious tolerance.
"Its chief mark consists in concentration on the spiritual aspect,
belief in the intimate relationship of philosophy and life,
the inseparability of theory and practice and the insistence
on intuition coexisting with the acceptance of authority."
Source: The Gazetteer of India, Volume 1: Country and people. Delhi,
Publications Division, Government of India, 1965.
CHAPTER Vlll - Religion
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It seems clear from the hymns of the .Rg-Veda and the Persian Gathas and Avesta that the Vedic Aryans and the Zoroastrians had a common origin. The languages in which Zoroaster preached and the Rsis sang their hymns are almost identical, and Vedic meters are re-produced in the Avesta. Evidently, the two groups of Aryans separated after a violent quarrel, so that several deities of one group - Indra or Jindra, Sarva and Nasatya - were transformed in the other into evil spirits. It is, however, to be noticed that Mitra, Aryama, Vayu and Vrtraghna are divine in both the systems. A period of unity was probably followed by civil war, as envisaged in the fight between Asuras and Devas.
The Vedic Aryans were warlike, while the Avesta reflects an abhorrence of war. In the period when the ancestors of the Iranians and the Hindus had lived together, Asura had been a term of honour; and the Zoroastrian Ahura Mazda was Asura Mahat, the great Asura. The .Rg-Yeda (III-55-11 & 15) cites several Asura qualities of the Divinities. Varuna, Mitra and several other gods were called Asuras. Later, when differences were accentuated between the two communities, Asura became equivalent to a spirit of evil and Sura came to signify a good spirit.
The undivided Indo-Iranians must have passed a long time in their Central Asian home. The Indo-Iranian culture and religion have been reconstructed, at least in part, by comparing the Vedas with the Avesta. Before the occupation of Iranian high lands by tribes from the Indo-Iranian original home, the plateau was the seat of a culture that was probably matriarchal, and the people worshipped snake-gods in the manner of India's primitive non-Aryans. It is likely that the pre-Aryan cultures of North- western India and Iran were alike in origin and spirit.
This ancient cultural link between pre-Aryan Iran and pre- Aryan India, instead of getting strengthened by Aryan migration into the two countries, as could be normally expected, was to all appearances completely severed. Also, there is nothing to show that the Vedic Aryans of India maintained an active cultural relation with their brethren in Iran.
In the earliest days, while the Aryans of India must have been connected with the Aryans of Iran as friends or as foes, actual historical contact cannot be asserted with any degree of probability. The two peoples turned their backs upon each other, as it were, and developed their distinctive civilisations apparently without the least mutual influence, although in language, culture and religion their similarity in the earliest period had been little short of identity. When, later in history, under the Achaemenids, Greeks, Bactrians and Sakas, the Iranians and the Indians were forced to meet as citizens of the same empire, they met as complete strangers, not as cousins or as scions from the same stock. The earliest literary productions of the Aryan settlers in India were the Rg-Veda, Sama Veda (consisting of chants), Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda (a composite religious and magical compilation) The Vedas comprise Mantras (hymns ), Brahmanas (ritual and ceremonies), Aranyakas (forest speculations) and the philosophical Upanisads. In the context of This commonly accepted interpretation of the Vedas, it may be recalled that European Orientalists have too often considered them mainly from the theological, anthropological and sociological points of view. A study of the material in its religious aspect is difficult, since even the great commentary of Sayana is in terms of the ideas of his own age. On the presumption that the Vedas originated in primitive times, the Rg-Veda hymns were regarded as the outpourings of a child-like nature worship. John Dowson in his Hindu Classical Dictionary observed: "The Aryan settlers were a pastoral and agricultural people, and they were keenly alive to those influences which affected their prosperity and comfort. They knew the effects of heat and cold, rain and drought, upon their crops and herds, and they marked the influence of warmth and cold, sunshine and rain, wind and storm, upon their own personal comfort. They invested these benign and evil influences with a personality; and behind the fire, the sun, the cloud, and the other powers of nature, they saw beings who directed them in their beneficent and evil operations. To these imaginary beings they addressed their praises, and to them they put up their prayers for temporal blessings. They observed also the movements of the sun and moon, the constant succession of day and night, the intervening periods of morn and eve, and to these also they gave personalities, which they invested with poetical clothing and attributes. Thus observant of nature in its various changes and operations, alive to its influences upon themselves, and perceptive of its beauties, they formed for themselves deities in whose glory and honour they exerted their poetic faculty.";
But on a careful analysis of the Vedas it would be apparent that the Vedic view is more subtle and deeper in concept. The One Being whom the sages call by many names (Ekam-sat) is referred to in the neuter gender, signifying divine existence and not a divine individual. The monotheistic God stands in relation to man as a father and a patriarch, while in a Rg-Veda hymn to Agni he is called "my father, my kinsman, my brother and my friend". Monotheism, it has been aptly stated "contemplates the Divine in heaven and polytheism contemplates the Divine in the universe. Polytheism believes in the assembly of gods, each possessing a character of his own. Max Muller coined the word henotheism for indicating the tendency of the Vedic seers to magnify the importance of the particular deity they are praising in a hymn at the expense of the other gods. This has been described as "opportunist monotheism''. One deity is identified with another or different deities are identified with one divine entity, indifferently described as Ekam (one) and Tat Sat (the reality).
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