Monday, January 8, 2007

Brief historic background

The story of Hinduism begins during a cultural period known as the Indus Valley civilization (3,500-1,500 B.C.). Some of what we know of this civilization comes from archaeological digs in the 1920s at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. These digs show an advanced civilization as early as 2,500 B.C., with cities laid out in rectangular blocks with drainage systems. Houses were made of fired brick and contained bathrooms with running water. The civilization also had a written language, which has yet to be translated. Archeologists discovered religious statues and amulets of fertility gods and goddesses; some figures sit in a lotus position. The only written accounts of these people are from Hindu texts of a later time (the Vedas). These imaginative accounts describe them as having snubbed noses, curly black hair, and crude behavior. A common theory associates this civilization with dark skinned inhabitants who spoke Dravidian languages (a language group now found in the southern region of India). According to this theory, at around 1,500 B.C., a group of white skinned people migrated to the Indus Valley from Persia and drove the Dravidians south. The invaders called themselves Aryans, meaning noblemen or landlord, and scholars often connect them with the Hyksos people who invaded and ruled Egypt around 1700 B.C., and to the Celtic people of the British Isles. Those who didn’t migrate to India stayed in Persia and established the Zoroastrian religion. The Aryans spoke an Indo-European language called Sanskrit, which is the language of the ancient Hindu texts. The Aryans may have been less culturally advanced than their Dravidian counterparts and in time they absorbed many of the Dravidian cultural practices including some of their religious beliefs. For the next thousand years the Aryans extended their influence over India. Although this theory remains to be proved, historians and sociologists commonly use it to explain the origins of the northern Aryan language group and the southern Dravidian language group.