Of the 1.12 billion people of India, 83 % are the followers of Hinduism according to the latest census. And Hindus live in large numbers outside India too. This religion is not founded on the teachings of one powerful master, as in the case of most other religions. There is no known single text nor the name of an author there for the origin of Hinduism, considered by the experts as the oldest religion of mankind. In fact, there is no idea of the time of its origin or of its earliest texts. It evolved over centuries and as is known now, it evolved out of the older Brahmanism, a style of living as practiced by the migrant Aryans, a community of nomadic nature and rural pursuits like farming. The theory was long held as valid that the Aryans were invading migrants, and that their Vedic religion and the Sanskrit language paved the foundations of Hinduism. The very word 'Hindu' is from the Sanskrit word 'Sindhu', meaning 'a river' or 'the sea' itself. This theory is now being challenged with the statement that the Aryans or the Sanskrit were not imported commodities. But the fact remains that the Zoroastrianism of ancient Iran and the Hinduism had a lot of similarities. The Dravidian Indus Valley Civilization that existed before the arrival of the Aryans had a far different style of living, language-wise and otherwise.
The Vedas, the first texts available from the Hindu thought, give the dawn of spiritual vision and the dawn of human thought as well. Scientists of today as well as all thinking men and women from day one of civilization have been asking the question – Where did all these originate and how ? Look at Rig Veda x, 129, as translated by Juan Mascaro (Penguin 1962), wherein the sages of this 'Song Celestial', in its chapter the Song of Creation asks the same question and finds an answer:
There was not then what is nor what is not. There was no sky, and no heaven beyond the sky. What power was there? Where? Who was that power? Was there an abyss of fathomless waters?
There was neither death nor immortality then. No signs were there of night or day. The ONE was breathing by its own power, in deep peace. Only the ONE was : there was nothing beyond.
Darkness was hidden in darkness. The all was fluid and formless. Therein, in the void, by the fire of fervor arose the ONE.
And in the ONE arose love. Love the first seed of soul. The truth of this the sages found in their hearts : seeking in their hearts with wisdom, the sages found that bond of union between being and non-being.
Who knows in truth? Who can tell us whence and how arose this universe? The gods are later than its beginning : who knows whence comes this creation?
Only that god who sees in highest heaven : he only knows whence comes this universe, and whether it was made or uncreated. HE only knows, or perhaps he knows not.
The older Brahmanism of the Vedic and Upanishadic west of India was put to drastic changes over a period when Buddhism was spreading fast in the east of India and even beyond it. These changes in-beliefs and practices and styles are graphically presented in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the great epics. The Ramayana is attributed to Valmiki, the sage while the latter, a conglomerate of a vast number of stories and anecdotes, was composed over a period of centuries – from 4th or 5th century before Christ through the 6th century AD. The Bhagavad Gita, acclaimed as the gem among the Hindu literature, was the first Sanskrit text to be translated into English. This is written in the form of a dialogue between Arjuna, the warrior-prince and Krishna, the incarnation of the supreme god, Vishnu. The dialogue discusses the right and wrong in the actions of men; and at the same time highlighting the fact that everything in the world is nothing but the manifestations of the same spirit.
It is widely thought that Hinduism had its beginning almost at the same time when the Aryans established their settlement on the banks of the river Sindhu that is Indus. In the beginning it was Aryanism, the religion of the Aryas. Into this basic corpus different racial sets of people contributed their own cultural inputs over different periods of time, and it resulted in a superb commixture of thoughts, ideas, observations, and feelings. The Hindu thought and philosophy is available not in any one text, but lies spread over several books of intense quest, arguments, analyses, observations, lessons, principles and laws. The most important of them are the four Vedas (The Rig Veda, The Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, and the Atharva Veda), the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, the Upanishads, the epics of Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Puranas, the philosophic treatises… all these carry the philosophic principles of Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gita, a part of Mahabharata, and the core of the Upanishadic vision, is Hinduism’s most venerable text of principles.