Though ‘Hinduism’ – the world’s oldest religion is marked by no particular beginnings, but still the characteristics are known. ‘Sanskrit’ being the sacred language of the Hindus is itself the grounds on which the development and formalization of the more ancient Vedas were composed. ‘Sanskrit’ is an Indo-European language with very close links with the Iranian group. The Indo-Iranians formed the most easterly group of the Indo ‘European people, and both Indians and Iranians spoke of themselves as ‘Aryans’. Just when these Aryans invaded India according to scholars, events anywhere between 4000 and 1000 B.C., though the consensus of opinion would now appear to be settling on the second half of the second millennium B.C. (Zaehner, 1966, p. 14).
Indian religion has long been struck by the sharp difference that distinguishes this-worldly religion of the Rig-Veda, whose kinship with the sister religions of the other Indo-European peoples makes it immediately felt. Being influenced by the inwardness of the Upanishads and the extravagances of the later theistic cults in which the position of the Supreme Being has been usurped by minor Vedic gods whose position in the sacred canon itself gives no indication of the future greatness that was to fall to their lot. There seemed to be no explanation of this phenomenon except that the religion of the conquered peoples had once again emerged into the light of day and, as so frequently happens, transformed the religion of the conqueror into something that was not recognizably his at all.
Hinduism doctrine is based upon the transmigration of souls or the concept of ‘reincarnation’ or ’rebirth’, to which mostly all philosophical schools accept as not so much a revealed dogma as a self-evident fact of existence. This doctrine further manifests the notion that the condition into which the individual soul is reborn is the result of good or bad deeds performed in former lives, called ‘karma’. If an individual performs good deeds in this world he would be ‘reincarnated’ in a better environment and vice versa.
Apart from this belief, the notion that distinguishes old ‘Hinduism’ from the new ‘Hinduism’ is the concept of ‘monotheism’ and ‘polytheism’. According to the Hindus’ sacred book ‘Gita’, the previous versions follow monotheism that is, there is no God but ‘one’. The modern-day ‘Gita’ is a changed version that follows ‘polytheism’ and it is said that the whole onus of changing Gita today is on the shoulders of Brahmans, which have changed Gita to this day.
‘Upanishads’ or the sacred knowledge constitutes the ‘end of Veda’ which, despite their later date, is the real sacred book of classical Hinduism is based upon monotheism which conflicts with what Brahmans believe today. According to Upanishads in the original Gita, “Ekam evadvitiyam”. Translation: “He is One only without a second.” (Chandogya Upanishad 6:2:1) Brahma Sutra of Hinduism clearly states: “Ekam Brahm, dvitiya naste neh na naste kinchan”. Translation: “There is only one God, not the second; not at all, not at all, not in the least bit”. (Badarayan, 192:555)
Today due to many alterations in ‘Gita’, Vedas has become a history for all modern Hindus who believe in the multiplicity of Gods and Goddesses. Many scholars believe that it is through the work and devotion of modern-day Hindu scholars that today we are able to see an ‘updated version of Gita, so-called ‘Modern day Hinduism’ based entirely on the notion of polytheism.
For today’s modern scholar it is difficult to reconstruct the true image of such Vedic religion, however to ‘update’ religion is not impossible. Obviously, when modern scholars combine their efforts they were able to provide a picture of the religious world in which the Vedic Indian moved. The picture which identified in its true sense the meaning of ‘Karma’ and ‘Reincarnation’, linked with each other in a unique manner. A manner in which a Hindu before committing crime thinks twice for he would have to suffer for the sin he commits in this world, in the form of rebirth.
Badarayan (Vyasa) Brahma Sutra, 192:555. Translated by Swami Gambhirananda: Advaita Ashram, Kolkatta.
Chandogya Upanishad 6:2:1. The Principal Upanishad by S. Radhakrishnan page 447 and 448.
Sacred Books of the East, volume 1 ‘The Upanishads part I’ page 93.
Zaehner R. C., (1966) Hinduism: Oxford University Press: Oxford.