The Origins of Hinduism: the Indus River Valley & the Harappa Culture

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  • 0:01 Paradigms of Religion
  • 0:39 Hindu Beliefs
  • 1:26 Harappa and Vedic Periods
  • 2:24 Sects & Brahman
  • 3:28 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 seek to explain the origins of Hinduism. Highlighting the Harappa culture and the Vedic period, it will also explore the Hindu beliefs in Moksha and Brahman.

Paradigms of Religion

Deriving from the ancient cultures of South Asia, Hinduism is the religious faith held by a majority of the people on the Indian subcontinent. As we study the origins of this faith, most of us will need to shift our paradigms about the concept of religion. To many of us, religion looks like a family going to church on Sunday or an elderly woman going to mass on Saturday night. We may think of families worshipping in a mosque, a young woman praying to the Christ or a pastor preaching on the Ten Commandments. However, none of these images really apply when it comes to the study of the Hindu faith.

Hindu Beliefs

Unlike our Western belief systems of say Catholicism or Judaism, Hinduism is without a specific founder, a prescribed theological system or even a definite moral code. For this reason, Hinduism is often heralded as one of the 'most tolerant' of all belief systems.

In fact, as a religion that is polytheistic, or believes in more than one god, Hinduism doesn't even claim to be the only way to secure a harmonious afterlife. On the contrary, even their concept of Moksha, the release from the cycle of life and death, isn't all that clearly defined and definitely seems alien to the Western concepts of heaven and hell.

Harappa and Vedic Periods

With all of this in mind, let's turn to the origins of the faith. Widely known as the Indus River Valley Civilization, the Harappa culture inhabited the banks of the Indus River as early as perhaps 4000 BCE. It's theorized that some of Hinduism's traits can be traced back to this ancient culture.

As this early culture faced invasion upon invasion, the faith of the Harappa culture evolved to include those of the invaders. One of the biggest influences on the Harappas was a group of Indo-Europeans, also known as Aryans, who began to move into the Indian subcontinent.

Carrying with them a religious culture known today as Vedism, the faith of the Aryans melded with the Harappa culture to create very early Hindu traditions. This period in the development of Hinduism is often referred to as the Vedic Period.

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