In my previous blog article, "Dravidian Connections with the Rigveda and the Harappan Civilization", I showed how:
1. The Rigveda, the oldest Indo-European as well as the oldest Hindu text in the world, had participation from some Dravidian speaking people from the South, who contributed some very important rishis and words to the text of the Rigveda (a prelude to a larger influx of Dravidian words into Sanskrit and later Indo-Aryan languages in later Vedic and post-Vedic times).
2. These Dravidian rishis and words are found in the New Rigveda before 2000 BCE, nearly two millenniums before the Tamil Sangam Era! And also long before the first appearance of the Mitanni in Syria-Iraq and the Indo-European Iranians (Persians, Parthians, Medians) in Iran!
3. The Vedic-Dravidian relationship is an old and friendly one, and the reverence for Vedic culture in the oldest Dravidian Sangam literature (of the late first millennium BCE) has a long tradition behind it.
But a question arises: was the religion and culture of the Dravidian speaking people of the South in that era (pre-2000 BCE) also a part of, or very similar to, the religion and culture of the Rigveda? Actually, no, it wasn't: the religion and culture of the Rigveda was originally the religion and culture of the Pūru people of Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. Then what was the religion and culture of the Dravidian South, and what is its role in our heritage? There is usually an extremely Veda-centric and Sanskrit-centric attitude among Hindus in understanding our Hindu religion, culture and identity, so we must understand the true state of affairs if we are to not fall prey to divisive and fissiparous forces..
The Hindu religion is an amalgam of the religious features of all the different parts of India, not all of which are derived from the Vedas or the Vedic religion (which was originally the religion of the Pūrus of Haryana and westernmost Uttar Pradesh, and part of the northwestern Indian religious sphere). To understand the place of all this, let us examine the situation in two parts:
1. The Ancient Indian People in the Harappan=Vedic period.
I. The Ancient Indian People in the Harappan=Vedic period.
The beginnings of Indian history, according to traditional information in the Puranas, begins with a reference to the first king Manu Vaivasvata who ruled over the whole of India, and he was succeeded by his ten sons, who subsequently ruled over the different parts of India. The ten sons, according to the Puranas, were Sudyumna, lkṣvāku, Prāṁṣu, Śaryāti, Dhṛṣṭa, Karuṣa, Nariṣyanta, Pṛṣadhra, Nābhāga and Nabhagodiṣṭa, and these, as per the Puranic traditions, were the ancestral figures for the inhabitants of the different parts of the whole of India.
The actual Puranic data concentrates on the history of the descendants of only two of the reportedly ten sons of Manu: Ikṣvāku (whose descendants are referred to as Aikṣvāku or Ikṣvāku) and Sudyumna (who, on the basis of a mythical story in which, due to a curse, he becomes a woman and then is again reconverted into a man, is also given the masculine name Iḷa and the feminine name Iḷā , and his descendants are consequently referred to as Aiḷa or Iḷa).
The history of the descendants of the other eight sons is not recorded or discernible from the accounts.
The Aiḷas are treated in myth and tradition as members of the Lunar race, and the Ikṣvākus as members of the Solar race.
The Ikṣvākus are located in the eastern half of the northern area: in present-day terms, in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The Aiḷas, who form the central focus of the Puranic accounts, are located to the west and south of the Ikṣvākus. However, even here, the Puranic accounts are more-or-less ambiguous (or confused) about the history of the entire Aiḷa lineage, and only concentrate on the history of descendants who are mythically identified as descended from the five sons of an Aiḷa king named Yayāti: Yadu and Turvasu/Turvaṣa, sons by his wife Devayānī , and Druhyu, Anu and Pūru, sons by his wife Śarmiṣṭhā. These are located as follows:
a) To begin with, the Pūrus are located in the Central areas around Kurukṣetra, (Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh), the Anus to their north (Kashmir and the areas to their immediate west in northernmost parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan), the Druhyus to the west (present-day northern and central Pakistan), the Yadus to their south (Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra) and the Turvasus (to the east of the Yadus).
b) A series of battles in the pre-Rigvedic period leads to a realignment in the northwest: the Druhyus are pushed further out into Afghanistan, while a major section of the Anus expands southwards and occupies the major part of the former areas of the Druhyus.
c) The dāśarājña battle in the period of the Old Rigveda leads to a further realignment: the Pūrus expand westwards into the same (northern and central Pakistan) areas and a major section of the Anus expands outwards into Afganistan leading to a further northwards push to the Druhyus who spill out into Central Asia.
By the time of the period of the New Rigveda or the Mature Harappan period, we find the following very complex situation over the whole of India:
1. The Mature Harappan civilization is spread out over the whole area of the Rigveda (from westernmost Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to southern and eastern Afghanistan), and its components are sections of three tribes with possibly the last remnants of a fourth one:
a) the central Pūrus in the eastern parts (mainly Haryana and eastern Punjab),
b) the eastern Anus and western Pūrus in the western parts (most of northern Pakistan), and
c) the western Yadus in the southern parts (Gujarat, Sind) along with
d) the last remnants of the Druhyus in the westernmost border areas.
They had all developed together as a composite more-or-less Pūru-ized "Indo-Iranian" civilization.
To their north, in the original Puranic area of the Anus, we still find the northern Anus, the ancestors of the Nuristani and Dardic people.
2. To the west of the Mature Harappan = New Rigvedic areas, we have:
a) the central Anus in the major part of Afghanistan (with remnants of Druhyus still in their midst) who had developed into the proto-Iranian, or pre-Avestan and Avestan, civilization.
b) other sections of western Anus further west expanding westwards into Iran: the ancestors of the proto-Armenian, proto-Greek and proto-Albanian speakers later to migrate westwards towards southeastern Europe. They were followed by other sections of the central Anus (proto-Iranian tribes, who spread westwards and northwestwards), and also a section of western Pūrus (the proto-Mitanni Indo-Aryans).
3. To the north in Central Asia, we have the Druhyu people, including:
a) the Uttara-Madras in the west (the proto-Hittites, with sections of them migrating westwards towards the Caspian Sea in their historical movement towards Anatolia),
b) the Uttara-Kurus in the east (the proto-Tocharians, who remained in the region till they became extinct a thousand or so years ago), and, between the two,
c) remnants of the other Druhyus (ancestral speakers of the proto-Italic, proto-Celtic, proto-Germanic, proto-Baltic and proto-Slavic languages), the main body of whom were already migrating westwards through northern Eurasia on their way towards eastern Europe.
The migrating Druhyus were also accompanied or followed by small sections of Anus and Pūrus who carried Iranian and Indo-Aryan linguistic elements into the Uralic areas (leaving traces of their ancient presence in the present-day Finno-Ugric languages).
4. To the east of the "Indo-Iranian" Harappans within India, were the eastern Pūrus in the major part of western and central Uttar Pradesh. They extended eastwards in the southern parts of Uttar Pradesh perhaps as far as Kashi in the latest parts of the New Rigvedic period. But their culture had evolved differently from the Harappan culture, and was more akin to the culture of the Ikṣvāku culture to their north and east: in northeastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
5. To the south of these northern areas were the areas of the Yadus and, to their east, of the Turvasus: in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh-Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and northern Maharashtra.
6. To the east of these areas, in Jharkhand, Orissa and Bengal and further east (greater Assam) were the areas of the speakers of the Austric languages.
7. To the south, in southern Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana-Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Kerala, were the speakers of the Dravidian languages.
8. In the border-areas of India - the Land of the Descendants of Manu - there were three more linguistic groups: the Andamanese people in the Andaman Islands, the Burushaski people in the areas of the northern Anus (in Gilgit in POK), and the Sino-Tibetan speakers in Ladakh, Tibet and the Himalayas.
9. Far out in the west outside the Indian sphere, the Mesopotamians (Sumerians, Akkadians) were having trade relations with the people of the Mature Harappan civilization, and Indus seals have been found at Akkadian sites from 2600 BCE onwards.
This is the picture of ancient India, which, during the Mature Harappan period (= the New Rigvedic period) already had a tradition (long before latter-day Persians and Greeks called them "Hindus") of a unique composite identity as the descendants of a common ancestor to whom the Puranas at least give the name "Manu".
The Hindu religion is an amalgam of the religious features of all the different parts of India, not all of which are derived from the Vedas or the Vedic religion (which was originally only a part of the religion of the first three northwestern areas named above):
1. This northwestern religion is represented in the religion of the Anus (as in Iranian Zoroastrianism), the Druhyus (as in the Druidic religion of the Celts, and the Romuvan religion of the Lithuanians) and the Vedic texts of the Pūrus; and consisted of (a) worship of the elements, (b) the performance of fire-sacrifices, and (c) the composition and recitation of hymns.
This religion was taken out from India by the emigrating Anus and Druhyus along with the eleven other (than Indo-Aryan) branches of Indo-European languages. The Vedic religion of the Pūrus, being more systematically organized, and having developed a unique and unparalleled technique of recording its sacred hymns by a mnemonic system known as the ghaṇa-pāṭha, spread all over the rest of India in the next few millennia, absorbing, and in fact losing itself in, the diverse religions of the other "descendants of Manu", leading to the formation of modern-day Hinduism: the Parliament of all the religions of all the Descendants of Manu.
2. The religion of the Yadus to their south in particular was more naturalistic, and consisted of the worship of mountains (e.g. govardhan parvata), forests and groves, trees and animals, etc. This was probably a basic feature of the kind of religion which prevailed over most of the rest of India, especially the areas of the eastern Pūrus.
3. The religion of the Ikṣvākus to the east was more deep or spiritual, based on intuition, thought, logic and debate, and it is in their regions that we find the seeds of most of the philosophical and spiritual aspects of present-day Hinduism, including the Upaniṣads, Buddhism, Jainism, and even materialistic philosophies like the Cārvāka.
4. The areas of the Austric speaking people to the east contributed much of present-day Tantric rites and beliefs, and perhaps even the concept of reincarnation.
5. The areas of the Dravidian speaking people to the south (with perhaps some inputs from the Austric speakers of the east) contributed what is today the most central aspect of Hinduism: idol-worship, with all its accompanying features.
To understand the centrality of idol-worship in Hinduism, note that this includes all the following features:
1. The worship of consecrated idols, whether of:
a) The lingam,
b) "Rude blocks of stone" with eyes painted on them, or
c) Roughly, or finely, carved, or cast, images of stone, metal or some other material.
2. The most popular Hindu deities in every single part of India, including Ayyappa of Kerala, Murugan of Tamilnadu, Balaji of Andhra, Vitthala (originally) of Karnataka (=Vithoba of Maharashtra), Khandoba of Maharashtra, Jagannatha of Orissa, etc., or the myriad forms of the Mother Goddess, with thousands of names, in every nook and corner of India. Also every single local (originally tribal) God and Goddess in every remote corner of India, in the form of the kuladevatās, the gṛhadevatās or the grāmadevatās of local tribes and communities.
[In time, of course, myths were formed nominally associating many of these deities with one or the other of the main Gods and Goddesses of Puranic Hinduism as their manifestations, these Puranic Gods themselves being additions from different parts of India to the Hindu pantheon (or originally Vedic Gods like Vishnu and Rudra with basic characteristics adopted from the other local and tribal deities). But these associations were not an imposition “from above”, they were the result of popular local myth-making and part of the consolidation of the national popularization of the local deities: the deities mostly retained their local names, forms, myths, and special rituals and customs, and became all-India deities, objects of pilgrimages from distant areas].
3.The entire process of idol-worship:
a) Treating the idols as living beings: bathing, dressing and feeding them, putting them to sleep, etc.
b) Performing pūjā by offering flowers (the word, which first appears indirectly in a very late interpolated verse in the Rigveda, is alleged to be derived from the Dravidian pū or "flower"), water, milk, bananas and other fruits, coconuts, clothes and ornaments to the idols.
c) Performing āratī by waving lights in front of the idols, and ringing bells;
d) Singing with cymbals, and performing music and dance before the idols;
e) Partaking of prasāda, of food offered to the idols.
4. The entire system of idol-temples and pilgrim-centres, with sacred tanks and bathing-ghats, and of temples, and temple-festivals with palanquins and chariot-processions.
Other vital aspects of Hinduism which are missing in the Vedic religion, but were adopted from the other Descendants of Manu, are:
1. The use of ash, kumkuma, sandalpaste, turmeric, etc. for smearing or anointing on the idols, and/or on the foreheads of worshipper. From this follow two very fundamental outward symbols of Hinduism today:
a) The tilak marks (of whatever material) on the forehead.
b) The sacred saffron colour, and, by implication, also the saffron flag.
2. The idea of soul, and the concept of transmigration of souls, and rebirth. [This concept forms a very fundamental aspect of Hindu philosophy, and is the one concept accepted by all the schools of Hindu philosophy including the Buddhist and the Jain (and excepting only the cārvāka and other nāstika schools of thought)].
3. The enumeration of the days by the phases of the moon, the tithis. [The importance of the pañcāṅga (the annual calendar based on the tithis) in ritualistic Hinduism can never be underestimated].
4. Zoomorphic aspects of Hinduism:
a) The worship of certain animals, birds and reptiles.
b) The concept of God coming down to earth in the form of zoomorphic avatāras (Narasiṁha, Kūrma, Matsya, Varāha); and, incidentally, even the very concept of God coming down to earth in the form of avatāras.
c) The concept of every God and Goddess having a "vehicle" or some special animal or bird (Viṣṇu's Garūḍa, Gaṇeśa's mouse, Kārtikeya's peacock, Śiva's bull, Durgā's lion, etc).
5. A host of concepts, and socio-religious rituals, rites, superstitions and taboos (for example, the concept of the "evil eye" and rituals for its removal, or taboos against cutting nails at night, or beliefs in different types of spirits and demons) and important ethical concepts (vegetarianism, adopted from the Jain traditions of a section of the eastern Ikṣvākus).
6. Several sacred cities, rivers, mountains, lakes and tanks, located all over India outside the Vedic area, and ancient myths and legends associated with them (often adapted to Puranic mythology).
7. A very wide range of materia botanica (coconuts, bananas, rice, sandalwood, turmeric, etc.) used in Hindu worship, native to the non-Vedic parts of the country and not referred to in Rigvedic rituals.
NOTE: This spread of the Vedic religion from Haryana to the rest of India was no different from the spread in later times of Buddhism and Jainism from Bihar to the rest of India, and had no elements of "invasion" or "imposition" in it: all these three are component members of modern-day Hinduism. If anything, there was a very much higher degree of acceptance and absorption of religious rituals, concepts, Gods and philosophies in the spread of the Vedic religion. We must keep in mind that except for the Vedic hymns and yajñas, and the Vedic/Sanskrit language, there is little of the Pūru Vedic religion in present-day Hinduism, except as an invisible umbrella layer covering all the different aspects of Hinduism Category One. And even the Vedic rituals are performed in originally non-Pūru religious contexts: in temples and in the worship of idols, all of which were acquired from the Dravidian speakers of the South, and which, as we saw, have today a much more central and dominant role in Hinduism than the original Vedic religious contexts.
Appendix: A Short note on the Three Categories of Hinduism.
What do I mean, above, by Hinduism Category One? I will simply quote here the put it at the very start of my article on "Are Indian Tribals Hindus?":
"According to the Constitution of India, laws framed for Hindus apply to the following three categories of people:
(a) to any person who is a Hindu by religion in any of its forms and developments, including a Virashaiva, a Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana or Arya Samaj,
(b) to any person who is a Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion, and
(c) to any other person domiciled in the territories to which this Act extends who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion.
Thus, according to the constitution, every citizen of India, except a Muslim, a Christian, a Parsi or a Jew, is legally a Hindu. The constitution draws a distinction between three categories of legal Hindus:
(a) Hindus Category One (consisting of all those who can still be categorised as full-fledged Hindus within the Hindu religious fold, including members of sects having antecedents traceable to mainline Hindu religious texts or individuals),
(b) Hindus Category Two (consisting of members of the three sects, namely Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, founded by Hindu individuals, which originated as sects within the Hindu religious fold, but, in the course of history, came to acquire a more distinctive religious identity), and
(c) Hindus Category Three (consisting of members of indigenous religious groups native to India, not founded by any particular individual, following ancestral forms of belief or worship not specifically having antecedents traceable to mainline Hindu religious texts or sects).
[Hinduism is a Parliament of all the three categories]
The people who are outside this purview themselves belong to two categories:
(a) ex-Hindus, i.e. Muslims and Christians, who, by and large, are converts from the Hindu fold, and
(b) non-Hindus, i.e. Jews and Parsis, who, in spite of different degrees of intermingling with local people, are by and large historical descendants of non-Hindu refugees or migrants from outside India"].
To put matters in perspective about the three categories of Hinduism, let me quote a larger later section of the same article, "Are Indian Tribals Hindus?":
"Keeping in mind that by tribal religions, we are referring only to the Hindu Category Three religions (Sarna, Donyi Polo, Khasi, Meitei, Garo, and possibly others practiced by more microscopic sections of other isolated tribes), since the other tribals are themselves fully conscious that their religious practices are 'Hindu' (which is why they clearly declare their religion to be 'Hindu' in the census, as accepted even by the Joshua Project), can we say that these Hindu Category Three tribal religions are neutral between Christianity and Hinduism?
The first and most fundamental factor which places Hinduism and these tribal religions in one fundamental category completely distinct from Christianity is the geographical factor. Hinduism Category One, Hinduism Category Two and Hinduism Category Three religions are all Indian religions, as distinct from Christianity which is a foreign import.
This has further automatic implications. It means that the sacred places, the sacred rivers, mountains and groves, the sacred plants, animals and birds, the materials used in religious rituals, etc. of all the three Categories of religions are Indian. India is the stage of activity of the acts and events involving all the historical and mythological characters in the narratives of all these religions. The languages in which the original religious lore, poetry and traditions of all these religions are couched are Indian languages. The traditional religious music, the traditional religious food, the traditional religious costumes, etc. of all these religions are representative of the traditional culture of some part or the other of India. The traditional religious beliefs and rituals of all these religions are derived from their Indian ancestors.
This geographical factor alone and in itself is so important that Dr Ambedkar placed emphasis not only on the necessity of placing in one legal class the followers of all religions other than those of foreign origin (Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Judaism), but put the matter in even more categorical terms with specific reference to the question of conversion itself: 'If the depressed classes join Islam or Christianity, they not only go out of the Hindu religion, but they also go out of the Hindu culture…What the consequences of conversion will do to the country as a whole is well worth bearing in mind. Conversion to Islam or Christianity will denationalize the depressed classes' (Dhanajay Keer: 'Dr Ambedkar: Life and Mission', p.279). That conversion to Christianity (or Islam) would 'denationalize' the converted Indians, with adverse 'consequences' for 'the country as a whole' was very clearly a matter of deep concern to him.
But the geographical factor is only the beginning. Quite apart from the fact that there is no form of religious belief or philosophy (from atheism, through agnosticism, to all forms of 'theism', and from the most 'ahimsak' philosophy to the most violent bloody rituals) which is not found in some part or the other of Hinduism, and which therefore, basically makes it almost impossible to point out fundamental opposition between Hinduism and any particular tribal religious system, the fact is that all the tribal religions have features which fit into the most basic accepted definitions of standard Hinduism: idol-worship, totemism, polytheism, pantheism, animism, worship of the elements and of nature, belief in reincarnation, ancestor worship, etc., every single one of which is pure anathema to Christianity. Note that in the Wikipedia entry on the Karbi tribe, quoted earlier, we are told with a straight face that the 'practitioners of traditional worship believe in reincarnation and honour the ancestors'. In fact, almost all these elements, and even most of the local deities in every village and town of India, which are now the core of Hinduism, entered standard Hindu religion from these very local tribal religions in the course of millenniums of mutual interaction and influence; even as every local tribe and community preserved its own religious traditions without interference, a circumstance which would have been impossible in a Christian dominated country.
And by this is not meant only some mediaeval Inquisition-instituting and Crusades-mongering Christian country: see what has been the fate of other Pagan religions which have fallen prey to the Proselytising Armies in the very citadel of the Proselytisers, the U.S.A., which, along with its other white colleague nations (in Europe, Australia and the Americas), is always first and foremost in condemning any curbs on “religious freedom” (read curbs on missionaries) in India, and which prides itself on being the beacon of internal Democracy and Freedom:
From the 1600s European Catholic and Protestant denominations sent missionaries to convert the tribes to Christianity. These efforts intensified during the mid 19th century through mid-20'th as US Government and Christian churches' joint efforts forcibly registered Native Americans as Christians, which caused contemporaneous official government records (and sources that reference these government records) to show 'Christianity' as the majority religion of Native Americans for the past 100 years. These forcible conversions often occurred through US government and Christian church cooperative efforts that forcibly removed Native American children from their families, and forcibly moved those Native children into a Christian-US government operated system of American Indian boarding schools (aka The Residential Schools) where Native children were indoctrinated in European Christian beliefs, mainstream American culture and the English language. This forcible conversion and suppression of Indigenous languages and cultures continued through the 1970s.
As part of the US government's suppression of traditional Indigenous religions, most ceremonial ways were banned for over 80 years by a series of US Federal laws that banned traditional sweat lodge and sun dance ceremonies, among others. This government persecution and prosecution continued until 1978 with the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA).' (Wikipedia entry on 'Native American Religion')
All this, please note, was being done blatantly and on a war footing in the U.S.A. till 1978. Must we assume there was a sudden magical about turn in that year which miraculously brought about an overwhelming love for the indigenous religions of the native American Indians in the hearts of those who had been carrying on the above mentioned activities so blatantly till then, and that the suppression and persecution completely ceased thereafter?
When those same ruthless forces of Christian Evangelization, who thought nothing of indulging in the above barbarism to destroy the native religions of the U.S.A., send their Proselytizing Armies into India to do the same to the native religions of India (whether Hindu Category One, Two or Three), clearly it is the duty of all the native religions to unite against the common enemy. And clearly it is not only the right of Hindus to protect the tribals (whether Hindu Category One, Two or Three) from the depredations of Christian missionaries, it is their sacred duty to protect their fellow-Indians and fellow-Hindus from these wolves. Anyone who has read beyond the leftist and missionary sponsored articles in the media blaming Hindu organisations, every time there is conflict over conversions in tribal areas, will see that the conflicts are basically between the converted tribals and the non-converted tribals, the latter literally fighting a last-ditch battle for the preservation of their ancestral religions from the Proselytising Armies with their multi-pronged military divisions.
(1) Hinduism Category One itself is basically a Parliament of (Indian) Religions.
(2) If there are some religions born out of mainstream Hinduism (Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism) which have acquired distinctive identities over the centuries, they have still remained part of the Hindu cultural stream (having a common history, a common viewpoint towards life, common religious symbols like Om, respect for Sanskrit as a Sacred language and for the saffron colour as a Sacred colour, vegetarianism as an ideal ethic, similar religious-philosophical terms and institutions, etc., and, as Dr. Ambedkar pointed out: 'The application of the Hindu Code to Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains was a historical development, and it would be too late, sociologically, to object to it. When the Buddha differed from the Vedic Brahmins, he did so only in matters of creed, but left the Hindu legal framework intact. He did not propound a separate law for his followers. The same was the case with Mahavir and the ten Sikh Gurus' (Keer, p.427).)(3) if some tribal religions have retained or acquired identities with a distinctive name, all these are included within the different Categories of Hinduism (One, Two and Three), which together form a Full Parliament of Indian Religions. In fact, all these Categories of Hinduism fall within a larger Parliament of World Religions, namely Paganism (which includes all the native religions which existed in the world before the rise of the proselytizing Abrahamic Religions: Christianity and Islam)".