54 The Indian Religions: Early Development

The Indus River Valley and Vedic Religion

Some form of the belief system which would become, or at least influence, Hinduism most likely existed in the Indus Valley prior to the 3rd millennium BCE when a nomadic coalition of tribes who referred to themselves as Aryan came to the region from Central Asia. Some of these people, now referred to as Indo-Iranians, settled in the region of modern-day Iran (some of whom came to be known in the West as Persians) while others, now known as Indo-Aryans, made their home in the Indus Valley.

The early Indus Valley religion developed through the influence of the new arrivals during the Vedic Period. During this time, the belief system known as Vedism was developed by the so-called Vedic peoples who wrote in Sanskrit, the language the Vedas are composed in. The Vedas sought to understand the nature of existence and the individual’s place in the cosmic order. In pursuing these questions, the sages created the highly developed theological system which would become Hinduism.(13)

Archaeological site of Mohenjo-daro in modern-day Pakistan
Archaeological site of Mohenjo-daro by Andrzej Nowojewski is license under CC BY-NC 2.0


Vedism became Brahmanism, a religious belief focusing on the underlying Truth, the First Cause, of all observable phenomena as well as the unseen aspects of existence. At this time, there were many gods in the pantheon of Vedism who could have been looked to as the First Cause but the sages went beyond the anthropomorphic deities to argue for the existence of an incomprehensible, invisible, and all-encompassing force that united all of reality together. his entity was envisioned as an individual but one so great and powerful as to be beyond all human comprehension. The being they came to refer to as Brahman did not just exist in reality (another being like any others) nor outside of reality (in the realm of non-being or pre-existence) but was actual reality itself.(13)

Since Brahman could not be comprehended by observation, these thinkers argued that human beings must, therefore, possess a higher self within which directs us towards the Brahman, making it knowable. They called this higher self the Atman. Within the Indian religious tradition, the Atman is believed to be an aspect of the Brahman that exists within one’s own self. As such, there is no reason to seek the Brahman externally.(13)

A limestone Brahman worshipper from Thu Thien, Bnh Djnh province, Vietnam.
Brahman worshipper by James Blake Wiener is license under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0


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