Early Religion in India: Hinduism & Buddhism

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  • 0:01 Hinduism
  • 0:50 Harappan Culture
  • 1:48 Siddhartha Guatama
  • 3:01 Founding of Buddhism
  • 4:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explore the founding of Hinduism and Buddhism. It will cover the basic beliefs of Hinduism and the life of Siddhartha Gautama, and the presence of both religions in modern day India.


Apart from having a rich culture and giving the world some pretty delicious spicy food, India is also the birth place of two of the world's major religions. They are Hinduism and Buddhism. Today we will take a look at these belief systems and how they came to existence in India.

We'll start with Hinduism, which is known as one of the world's very oldest religions. When speaking of solid historic fact, Hinduism is a pretty difficult religion to nail down. For example, this ancient faith, which believes in reincarnation of the soul, has no specific founder, no specific founding date, nor a set theological system. With this rather nebulous foundation, we'll stick to what we do know about Hinduism's birth in India.

Harappan Culture

For starters, it's believed that the first hints of Hinduism came from the Harappa people, a culture that inhabited the Indus River Valley of India around the year 4000 B.C. As time progressed, the formerly isolated Harappan culture came under invasion by outside people groups. One of these people groups were groups of Indo-Europeans, also known as Aryans.

As these Aryans invaded, they brought with them their faith known as Vedism. Many historians assert that when the Harappan faith mixed with the Aryan's Vedism, Hinduism was born.

As a religion, Hinduism is polytheistic. In other words, Hinduism believes in more than one god. Being very different from many Western belief systems, Hinduism doesn't hold to the concept of heaven. Instead, its goal is what they call moksha, the release from the cycle of rebirth and death. With this brief summary of Hinduism in ancient India, we now turn our attention to Buddhism.

Siddhartha Gautama

Quite ironically, perhaps, the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, started out as a Hindu. For this reason, Buddhism is often referred to as an off-shoot of Hinduism. Known to the world as Buddha, Gautama is believed to have been a wealthy Indian prince. However, just like the rather hazy information surrounding Hinduism, the founding of Buddhism is also rather unclear. In fact, the birth of Gautama is sometimes placed around 480 B.C., while others place it around 463 B.C.

Despite not knowing the actual date of his birth, it's believed that the young Siddhartha Gautama led a very sheltered life. So sheltered that as he aged, he desired to be set free of his rather gilded cage. Leaving the riches of the palace, it's told that he came across a sick man, an old man, a dead man, and an ascetic (or in more Western terms, a monk). Seeing the suffering of these men, Gautama traveled throughout India studying under Hindu priests. However, when he felt they lacked the answers he sought, he turned to a life of asceticism, or extreme self-discipline, even to the point of starvation. He hoped this may bring him to enlightenment.

Founding of Buddhism

When asceticism seemed to not be doing much more than causing severe weight loss, he turned to meditation. During one of his meditative sessions, Siddhartha Gautama claimed to have reached what he considered a state free from suffering, desire, and sense of self.

From this incident, Siddhartha Gautama earned the famous name of Buddha, which many translate as 'The Enlightened One,' 'The Awakened One,' or even the 'Goal Attainer.' With this, Buddhism was born!

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