History of the so called “Religion”
786 CE was the advent of Islam with the raise of Prophet Mohammed, 4 CE was the advent of Christianity with the raise of the Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Is there a similar dateline to mark the birth of Sanatana Dharma? As inquisitive as it is, the child in me wants to know the origin of Sanatana Dharma.
There is a famous analogy of life in a philosophical treatise written by Sage Yagnavalkya. The analogy is of a fig tree and he tries to explain the existence of god and soul through that. On being requested to explain which the inner substance of universe is, he asks his disciple to bring a fig and divide its seed, the inner seed and further. At one point, the disciple finds nothing inside to divide further. That none-ness, Yajnavalkya says is the essence of universe and its origin. It is the same analogy that occurs to me when I think about the origin of Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana Dharma originated from the very living of humans. It originated from the necessity of a disciplined, cultured society. Philosophical doctrines and spiritual texts are only later discussions, interpretations and explanations of this cultured, civilized style of living.
If at all I wanted to date the origin of this so called “religion”, how do I do it?
- Do I take the earliest recorded scriptures as the date of origin?
- Do I take the earliest available (religious) archeological evidence as the date of origin?
The solution I think is the confluence of answers to all these questions.
Let us try analyzing all the three aspects and find out what could be the earliest date of Dharmic practices.
Dating of the scriptures
The most popular dating method of writing the chronology of Dharmic scriptures is to start it from Rig Veda. This is universally accepted by scholars. It is said that Rig Veda was composed in stages between 6000 BC and 300 CE (approximately). In this little attempt to find the origin, I am not going to weigh archeological evidences for its credentials nor propound newer evidences. I assume the work of popular and ‘generally accepted’ work to be good enough as evidence. Rather, I would try to bring in certain logical questions in the basis of what is considered to be “Dharmic” in nature, and what when did it all begin?
With this as the backdrop, I have the following questions to be answered before qualifying Rig Vedic period as the origin of Sanatana Dharma:
- Are Dharmic religious works strictly in Sanskrit or Grantham alone?
- Do we consider the treatises and scriptures that supposedly predate Rig Veda as Dharmic (E.g. the First and Second Sangam Literature)
- Do we consider scriptures from Far East that were very much part of Indian civilization as dharmic literature?
Let us examine them on an individual basis.
Are Dharmic religious works strictly in Sanskrit or Grantham? No. I do not believe that any particular religion should be attributed to one particular language. Sanskrit undoubtedly is a very holy language and countless compositions including the holiest Vedas have been made in the language for worship and rituals. That does not disqualify other languages of the same status. For, I have never come through such linguistic prescriptions in any of the dharmic texts. As I already mentioned, Sanatana Dharma is open to any form and mode of worship and that also include the diversity of languages.
The Sindu/Saraswati Valley religion (though no treatises/religious scriptures have been found yet and you really do not know whether there were any) was very much Dharmic in nature. Idols of deities, evidences of nature worship, status of priests’ et al strongly suggest the same. Now, how do I support my claims as to Sindu/Saraswati Valley civilizations were Dharmic? There is an obvious continuity and blend of culture that necessarily is religious between the Sindu/Saraswati valley civilization and the later advent of Vedic civilization. Let us examine a few examples to test this theory.
First, Early Vedic worshippers were nature worshippers and were not necessarily idolaters (though early Vedic worship involved a lot of symbolism and iconography). Temple worship or idol worship as non-Dharmics term it, is one of the strongest pillars of Dharmic faith today, I believe, is the influence of pre-Vedic Dharmic religion that existed during Sindu/Sawarswati civilization. This also demonstrates another important feature of Sanatana Dharma. That is, the religion was founded by sheer evolution, as the mankind evolved. When it evolved, people to do not stop what had been done till the previous day, for the religion takes what is necessary and appropriate for that time and leaves the rest. Such is the tolerance levels and dynamism of Sanatana Dharma.
Second, Early Vedic worshippers were more associated with rituals around the fire and their predecessors were more associated with rituals in river banks or around water. Along the evolution of Vedic rituals, both water and fire based worships are simultaneously carried out in Dharmic religion and especially, even in strict Vedic rituals, water is used as an essential purifier. As what Vedic rituals stand today, it is very evident that it was seem-less blend of pre-Vedic worship and Vedic worship what we know today as Dharmic religion.
Brahmi script and the respective language that have been found in the cave writings, pottery and seals cannot be excluded of being non-dharmic. So, if a religious lifestyle existed and if this was supported by a religious treatise that would have been undoubtedly Dharmic. Since Sindu/Saraswati Valley period had quite an active and rich religious life and the postulates of worship were well within the broad perspectives of Sanatana Dharma I assume that Dharmic religion and scriptures certainly pre-date Rig Vedic period.
With the answer to first question, we conclude that pre-Sanskrit/Grantham literature are also dharmic and can certainly contribute to the origin and early practice of Sanatana Dharma.
Do we consider the treatises and scriptures that supposedly predate Rig Veda as Dharmic?
What texts and treatises are available those supposedly predate or contemporaries of Rig Veda? Without extensively researching religious chronologies and analyzing with the available material, not many “religious” texts have existed before Rig Veda. I would dare to include the First and Second Sangam Literature which were composed either earlier or about the same time as Rig Veda as composite Dharmic Literature. However, since the dating of the First and Second Sangams are not corroborated with solid archeological evidences (unlike the third sangam literature), I would place it between the Sindu/Saraswati Valley Civilization and Rig Vedic Period. Again, this is only an assumption due to lack of material. Since the third sangam literature easily proves itself to be a contemporary to Rig Vedic period, I can assume the First and Second to have preceeded the Vedic age but since I lack evidences for dating Kumari Kandam and since the scripts used in the First and Second Tamil Sangams are the same as not fully developed Brahmi Script of Sindu/Saraswati Valley period, I place it after the latter.
If I am to assume Sindu/Saraswati valley civilization and sangam literature to argue for antiquity of Sanatana Dharma isn’t it wrong for me to ignore Greek, Egyptian, Chinese and Sumerian Civilizations and Atlantis of Greek Mythology as equal to Kumari Kandam of Sangam Literature. Yes it is. So, I let my hypothesis pass through this new test.
Arecheological (Religious) Evidences
As far as the earliest religious archeological evidences are concerned, there have been many from around the world excavated from different world civilizations, say, the Egyptian, Sindu/Saraswati Civilisation, Sumerian/Mesopotamian Civilisation and the Greek Civilisation. All of them have been rich in their religious culture and ample evidences have been found to prove their religious life, which I prefer not to discuss, as it would be reinventing the wheel.
However, there is a difference between other ancient civilizations and Sindu/Saraswati valley civilization when it comes to religious life. Yes, the fact is to be accepted that the other civilizations had religious systems as rich as Sindu/Saraswati valley, but the difference comes later. The question is what happened to those religions after the civilizations met their dates of destiny? Sindu/Saraswati valley also met its end, but not its religion and ways of worship. Their religion wonderfully blended with their descendants and developed into the richest ever religious heritage of the world.
In fact, first evidences of Idol Worship and Nature worship are found in Sindu/Saraswati Valley civilizations which were the basis and foundations for further development of Sanatana Dharma. So, there is a clear continuity of religion from Sindu valley civizations to the following Sangam and Vedic Periods. The approaches towards worships have been the same since then. There has been a close continuity and natural blending with futuristic developments. Especially if we take the available hypothesis stories of “mother goddess” worship, the status of priests (conceived from the seals and other archeological artifacts available from Sindu/Saraswati Valley).
It becomes clear that Sanatana Dharma is the oldest existing religious faith. Also to be noted that Dharmic practices are the only ones that have never experienced break. Dharmic practices have only evolved with time and not dissolved. For instance, nature worship and idolatory practices slowly evolved with the supported of spiritual treatises and scientific research.
In support of the logic I have placed here, I have given below a historical chronology of Sanatana Dharma given by "Hinduism Today" - Himalayan Academy (Copyright to Himalayan Academy). The chronology given here seems very convincing in terms of its relativity to world history, archeological findings and Dharmic religious scriptures. I would say this chronology given is more agreeable on dating the religion that other timeline. I have also taken the liberty to cut off those instances which I felt were irrelevant to the given hypothesis and have given the first part of the timeline from 10,000 c.a till 10 c.e to be more focussed to the given topic.
- -10,000: Taittiriya Brahmana 3.1.2 refers to Purvabhadrapada nakshatra's rising due east, a phenomenon occurring at this date (Dr. B.G. Siddharth of Birla Science Institute), indicating the earliest known dating of the sacred Veda.
- -10,000: Vedic culture, the essence of humanity's eternal wisdom, Sanatana Dharma, lives in the Himalayas at end of Ice Age.
- -8500: Taittiriya Samhita 6.5.3 places Pleiades asterism at winter solstice, suggesting the antiquity of this Veda.
- -7000: Proto-Vedic period ends. Early Vedic period begins.
- -7000: Time of Manu Vaivasvata, "father of mankind," of Sarasvati-Drishadvati area (also said to be a South Indian Maharaja who sailed to the Himalayas during a great flood).
- -7000: Early evidence of horses in the Ganga region (Frawley).
- -6776: Start of Hindu lists of kings according to ancient Greek references that give Hindus 150 kings and a history of 6,400 years before 300bce; agrees with next entry.
- -6500: Rig Veda verses (e.g., 1.117.22, 1.116.12, 188.8.131.52) say winter solstice begins in Aries (according to Dr. D. Frawley), indicating the antiquity of this section of the Vedas.
- -6000: Early sites on the Sarasvati River, then India's largest, flowing west of Delhi into the Rann of Kutch; Rajasthan is a fertile region with much grassland, as described in the Rig Veda. The culture, based upon barley (yava), copper (ayas) and cattle, also reflects that of the Rig Veda.
- -5500: Mehrgarh villagers are making baked pottery and thousands of small, clay of female figurines (interpreted to be earliest signs of Shakti worship), and are involved in long-distance trade in precious stones and sea shells.
- -5500: Date of astrological observations associated with ancient events later mentioned in the Puranas (Alain Danielou).
- -5000: Beginnings of Indus-Sarasvati civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. Date derived by considering archeological sites, reached after excavating 45 feet. Brick fire altars exist in many houses, suggesting Vedic fire rites, yajna. Earliest signs of worship of Lord Siva. This mature culture will last 3,000 years, ending around -1700.
- -5000: Rice is harvested in China, with grains found in baked bricks. But its cultivation originated in Eastern India.
- -4300: Traditional dating for Lord Rama's time.
- -3928: July 25th, the earliest eclipse mentioned in the Rig Veda (according to Indian researcher Dr. Shri P.C. Sengupta).
- -3200: Hindu astronomers called nakshatra darshas record in Vedic texts their observations of full moon and new moon at the winter and summer solstices and spring and fall equinoxes with reference to 27 fixed stars (nakshatras) spaced nearly equally on the moon's ecliptic or apparent path across the sky. The precession of the equinoxes (caused by the wobbling of the Earth's axis of rotation) causes the nakshatras to appear to drift at a constant rate along a predictable course over a 25,000-year cycle. From these observations historians are able to calculate backwards and determine the date when the indicated position of moon, sun and nakshatra occurred.
- -3102: Kali Era Hindu calendar starts. Kali Yuga begins.
- -3100: Reference to vernal equinox in Rohini (middle of Taurus) from some Brahmanas, as noted by B.G. Tilak, Indian scholar and patriot. Traditional date of the Mahabharata war and lifetime of Lord Krishna.
- -3100: Early Vedic period ends, late Vedic period begins.
- -3000: Saiva Agamas are recorded in the time of the earliest Tamil Sangam. (A traditional date.)
- -2700: Seals of Indus-Sarasvati Valley indicate Siva worship, in depictions of Siva as Pashupati, Lord of Animals.
- -2600: Indus-Sarasvati civilization reaches a height it sustains until 1700 bce. Spreading from Pakistan to Gujarat, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, it is the largest of the world's three oldest civilizations with links to Mesopotamia (possibly Crete), Afghanisthan, Central Asia and Karnataka. Harappa and Mohenjo-daro have populations of 100,000.
- -2600: Major portions of the Veda hymns are composed during the reign of Vishvamitra I (Dating by Dr. S.B. Roy).
- -2600: Drying up of Drishadvati River of Vedic fame, along with possible shifting of the Yamuna to flow into the Ganga.
- -2600: First Egyptian pyramid is under construction.
- -2500: Reference to vernal equinox in Krittika (Pleiades or early Taurus) from Yajur and Atharva Veda hymns and Brahmanas. This corresponds to Harappan seals that show seven women (the Krittikas) tending a fire.
- -1915: All Madurai Tamil Sangam is held at Thiruparankundram (according to traditional Tamil chronology).
- -1900: Late Vedic period ends, post Vedic period begins.
- -1900: Drying up of Sarasvati River, end of Indus-Sarasvati culture, end of the Vedic age. After this, the center of civilization in ancient India relocates from the Sarasvati to the Ganga, along with possible migration of Vedic peoples out of India to the Near East (perhaps giving rise to the Mittani and Kassites, who worship Vedic Gods). The redirection of the Sutlej into the Indus causes the Indus area to flood. Climate changes make the Sarasvati region too dry for habitation. (Thought lost, its river bed is finally photographed from satellite in the 1990s.)
- -1450: End of Rig Veda Samhita narration.
- -1450: Early Upanishads are composed during the next few hundred years, also Vedangas and Sutra literature.
- -1350: At Boghaz Koi in Turkey, stone inscription of the Mitanni treaty lists as divine witnesses the Vedic Deities Mitra, Varuna, Indra and the Nasatyas (Ashvins).
- -1300: Panini composes Ashtadhyayi, systematizing Sanskrit grammar in 4,000 terse rules. (Date according to Roy.)
- -1300: Changes are made in the Mahabharata and Ramayana through 200 bce. Puranas are edited up until 400 ce. Early smriti literature is composed over next 400 years.
- -1255: King Shuchi of Magadha writes Jyotisha Vedanga, including astronomical observations which date this scripture-that summer solstice occurs in Ashlesha Nakshatra.
- -950: Gradual breakdown of Sanskrit as a spoken language occurs over the next 200 years.
- ca -900: Earliest records of the holy city of Varanasi (one of the world's oldest living cities) on the sacred river Ganga.
- -850: The Chinese are using the 28-nakshatra zodiac called Shiu, adapted from the Hindu jyotisha system.
- ca -800: Later Upanishads are recorded.
- -800: Later smriti, secondary Hindu scripture, is composed, elaborated and developed during next 1,000 years.
- -750: Prakrits, vernacular or "natural" languages, develop among India's common peoples. Already flourishing in 500 bce , Pali and other Prakrits are chiefly known from Buddhist and Jain works composed at this time.
- -750: Priestly Sanskrit is gradually refined over next 500 years, taking on its classical form.
- -700: Life of Zoroaster of Persia, founder of Zoroastrianism. His holy book, Zend Avesta, contains many verses from the Rig and Atharva Veda. His strong distinctions between good and evil set the dualistic tone of God and devil which distinguishes all later Western religions.
- -700: Early Smartism emerges from the syncretic Vedic brahminical (priestly caste) tradition. It flourishes today as a liberal sect alongside Saiva, Vaishnava and Shakta sects.
- -623-543: Life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, born in Uttar Pradesh in a princely Shakya Saivite family. (Date by Sri Lankan Buddhists. Indian scholars say -563-483. Mahayanists of China and Japan prefer -566-486 or later.)
ca -600: Life of Sushruta, of Varanasi, the father of surgery. His ayurvedic treatises cover pulse diagnosis, hernia, cataract, cosmetic surgery, medical ethics, 121 surgical implements, antiseptics, use of drugs to control bleeding, toxicology, psychiatry, classification of burns, midwifery, surgical anesthesia and therapeutics of garlic.
- ca -600: The Ajivika sect, an ascetic, atheistic group of naked sadhus reputated for fierce curses, is at its height, continuing in Mysore until the 14th century. Adversaries of both Buddha and Mahavira, their philosophy is deterministic, holding that everything is inevitable.
- -599-527: Lifetime of Mahavira Vardhamana, 24th Tirthankara and revered renaissance Jain master. His teachings stress strict codes of vegetarianism, asceticism and nonviolence. (Some date his life 40 years later. )
- -560: In Greece, Pythagoras teaches math, music, vegetarianism and yoga-drawing from India's wisdom ways.
- ca -500: Lifetime of Kapila, founder of Sankhya Darshana, one of six classical systems of Hindu philosophy.
- ca -500: Over the next 300 years (according to the later dating of Muller) numerous secondary Hindu scriptures (smriti) are composed: Shrauta Sutras, Grihya Sutras, Dharma Sutras, Mahabharata, Ramayana and Puranas, etc.
- ca -500: Tamil Sangam age (500 bce-500 ce) begins. Sage Agastya writes Agattiyam, first known Tamil grammar. Tolkappiyar writes Tolkappiyam Purananuru, also on grammar, stating that he is recording thoughts on poetry, rhetoric, etc., of earlier grammarians, pointing to high development of Tamil language prior to his day. He gives rules for absorbing Sanskrit words into Tamil. Other famous works from the Sangam age are the poetical collections Paripadal, Pattuppattu, Ettuthokai Purananuru, Akananuru, Aingurunuru, Padinenkilkanakku. Some refer to worship of Vishnu, Indra, Murugan and Supreme Siva.
- ca -486: Ajatashatru (reign -486-458) ascends Magadha throne.
- -480: Ajita, a nastika (atheist) who teaches a purely material explanation of life and that death is final, dies.
- -478: Prince Vijaya, exiled by his father, King Sinhabahu, sails from Gujarat with 700 followers. Founds Singhalese kingdom in Sri Lanka. (Mahavamsa chronicle, ca 500.)
- ca -400: Panini composes his Sanskrit grammar, the Ashtadhyayi. (Date accepted among most Western scholars.)
- ca -302: Kautilya (Chanakya), minister to Chandragupta Maurya, writes Arthashastra, a compendium of laws, administrative procedures and political advice for running a kingdom.
- ca -300: Pancharatra Vaishnava sect is prominent. All later Vaishnava sects are based on the Pancharatra beliefs (formalized by Shandilya around 100 ce).
- ca -300: Pandya kingdom (-300-1700 ce) of S. India is founded, constructs magnificent Minakshi temple at its capital, Madurai. Builds temples of Shrirangam and Rameshvaram, with its thousand-pillared hall (ca 1600 ce).
- -297: Emperor Chandragupta abdicates to become a Jain monk.
- -273: Ashoka (-273-232 reign), greatest Mauryan Emperor, grandson of Chandragupta, is coronated. Repudiating conquest through violence after his brutal invasion of Kalinga, 260 bce, he converts to Buddhism. Excels at public works and sends diplomatic peace missions to Persia, Syria, Egypt, North Africa and Crete, and Buddhist missions to Sri Lanka, China and other Southeast Asian countries. Under his influence, Buddhism becomes a world power. His work and teachings are preserved in Rock and Pillar Edicts (e.g., lion capital of the pillar at Sarnath, present-day India's national emblem).
- -251: Emperor Ashoka sends his son Mahendra (-270-204) to spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka, where he is to this day revered as the national faith's founding missionary.
- ca -250: Lifetime of Maharishi Nandinatha, first known satguru in the Kailasa Parampara of the Nandinatha Sampradaya. His eight disciples are Sanatkumar, Shanakar, Sanadanar, Sananthanar, Sivayogamuni, Patanjali, Vyaghrapada and Tirumular (Sundaranatha).
- ca -200: Lifetime of Rishi Tirumular, shishya of Maharishi Nandinatha and author of the 3,047-verse Tirumantiram, a summation of Saiva Agamas and Vedas, and concise articulation of the Nandinatha Sampradaya teachings, founding South India's monistic Saiva Siddhanta school.
- ca -200: Lifetime of Patanjali, shishya of Nandinatha and gurubhai (brother monk) of Rishi Tirumular. He writes the Yoga Sutras at Chidambaram, in South India.
- ca -200: Lifetime of Bhogar Rishi, one of eighteen Tamil siddhas. This mystic shapes from nine poisons the Palaniswami murti enshrined in present-day Palani Hills temple in South India. Bhogar is either from China or visits there.
- ca -200: Lifetime of Saint Tiruvalluvar, poet-weaver who lived near present-day Madras, author of Tirukural, "Holy Couplets," the classic Tamil work on ethics and statecraft (sworn on in today's South Indian law courts).
- ca -200: Jaimini writes the Mimamsa Sutras.
- -145: Chola Empire (-145-1300 ce) of Tamil Nadu is founded, rising from modest beginnings to a height of government organization and artistic accomplishment, including the development of enormous irrigation works.
- -140: Emperor Wu begins three-year reign of China; worship of the Mother Goddess, Earth, attains importance.
- -58: Vikrama Samvat Era Hindu calendar begins.
- ca -10: Ilangovadikal, son of King Cheralathan of the Tamil Sangam age, writes the outstanding epic Silappathikaram, classical Tamil treatise on music and dance.
Western Calendar Begins. C.E. - Common Era