The Vedic and Upanishadic Periods: Description, Influences & Texts

The Vedic and Upanishadic Periods: Description, Influences & Texts
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  • 0:01 Harappa Culture
  • 1:17 Vedic Period
  • 1:45 Upanishad Period
  • 3:23 Karma
  • 4:07 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 define the Vedic and Upanishadic periods of Hinduism. In doing so, it will discuss the Harappa culture, the melding with Aryan culture, the sacred Vedas and the birth of the concept of Karma.

Harappa Culture

If you surveyed ten people at your local supermarket and asked them what they thought of when you said the words 'Upanishadic thought,' I'm guessing you'd get ten blank stares. However, if you asked the same ten people what came to mind when you said the word 'Hinduism,' I bet you'd see some light bulbs come on.

Oddly, these two terms are intricately linked as Upanishadic thought actually formed much of the Hindu faith, the world's third largest religion. Today we're going to discuss this Upanishadic thought and its period of Hinduism, but first, we'll cover one of Hinduism's preceding periods known as the Vedic Period.

The Vedic Period of Hinduism is believed by many to hold the earliest traces of today's Hinduism. Prior to this period, the Harappa culture inhabited the banks of the Indus River.

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 were a group of Indo-Europeans, also known as Aryans, who began to move into the Indian subcontinent.

Vedic Period

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 referred to as the Vedic Period.

During this period, the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, came into being. These Vedas were orally passed down from generation to generation within the Vedic period.

Upanishad Period

As the Indian sub-continent faced more invasion and outside influences, the early Hindu faith also morphed with the culture. This brings us to the Upanishad Period of Hinduism, a time in which critical thought began to call for some rearranging of the sacred Vedic texts.

Named after the sacred written Hindu texts, known as the Upanishads, this period saw almost a philosophical slant make its way into the faith of the people. In fact, the word Upanishad can be loosely translated as 'sitting near a teacher.' For students of history, this translation bears resemblance to the early philosophers of Greece, sitting at the feet of men like Plato and listening to his teachings.

Written in Sanskrit, the Indo-Aryan form of writing, the Upanishads sought to go a step further than the Vedas, which mainly dealt with ritual and worship. Wanting to dig deeper, this period was characterized by a desire to actually understand the nature of knowledge and the reason for ritual.

In other words, these early Hindus were no longer satisfied with the answer, 'Because we've always done it this way' or 'Because I said so!' They wanted more. However, it's important not to misconstrue this questioning as a rejection of the sacred Veda teachings. They were still honored and revered as from the divine. In fact, the new Upanishad writings are considered appendages - not replacements - of the sacred Vedas.

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