Located in northern India that flows from the Himalayan Mountains to the Bay of Bengal lies the Ganges River. Known as a sacred entity, many Hindus bathe in its waters to cleanse past sins and to facilitate Moksha, liberation of reincarnation; thus, many faithful customs, such as the Kumbh Mela was established, which reflected the river’s significance. Since the beginnings of the Indian Civilization, ancient rituals were performed throughout and this continuance indicated the major role that religion played in the functioning and development of India. World historian Michael Wood filmed his exploration, “India: The Empire of Spirit,” characterized India as an empire united solely through divinity. From his ventured journey to observe and learn their culture, which they resumed to carry on its spiritual traditions, it it reasonable and acquiescent when he came to the conclusion that the Indian Civilization represented as an “empire of spirit” to portray the Aryans, Mauryan Dynasty and the Guptas as having primarily connected through the devotion of worships of Hinduism and Buddhism.
As an undertaking to see and be seen by their divine being, pilgrimage is a vital aspect of Hinduism in order to discover the centrality of purity and asceticism. Wood’s documentary began with the description of the grand and holy festival — Kumbh Mela — that attracts about 15 to 20 million visitors. Amongst the mass pilgrimage revealed all castes, and were given the opportunity soak in the sacred river of Ganges (near Benares, a known pilgrimage site) together to demonstrate their devotion and loyalty to god. Maha Shivaratri in Nepal is also celebrated, another example Wood had shown where pilgrims prayed, offered flowers, and cupped water before returning it as another offering. In Buddhism, Buddhist pilgrims go to the Pillars of Ashoka for veneration, worship, and teaching. Even in the Mahabharata of the 1st millennium BCE, it envisioned India as one motherland unified through pilgrimage. Because Hinduism is a broad and complex term that is not defined as one thing, it is recognized for its pluralism; whether one practicing puja, or the belief in multiple gods. The message of Krishna, the Hindu God, in Bhagavad Gita declared that one is able to choose any path they fulfill to desire and is encouraged to practice their own dharma rather than following another. On the other hand, Ashoka the third king of the Mauryan Empire was heavily influenced on the teachings of Buddha. After the Buddha’s death, Ashoka’s edicts for his people stated for religious tolerance; permission and respect to perform other teachings. While Buddha taught Nirvana could be achieved by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path, he did not believe that only alternative goal was hell, but instead, one could rebirth in any of the six realms of existence. Here with vast pilgrimage and pluralism reflecting both in Hinduism and Buddhism, it aided the process of Indians with different religions into one overarching belief of acceptance.
One of the world’s ancient religion, Hinduism originated near the Indus River Valley in northern India. Unlike others, Hinduism was a fusion of various beliefs through cultural diffusion. Around 1500 BCE (the start of the Vedic age), the Indo-Aryans migrated to the Indus Valley and Hinduism derived from their religion recorded in the Veda along with elements of the indigenous traditions they encountered with the Harappans and Dravidians of India. While Aryans expanded upon India, they collected the ideas and legends of those they conquered; cycle of life and death, karma, and the laws in the caste system (the Brahmanas). It segregated based on color where the light-skinned Aryans were superior over the dark-skinned native peoples. In addition to influencing India, components of Aryans deities, the language of Sanskrit, epics, religious and history combined to create Hinduism. For example the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are still popular in modern society and valued by Hindus, illustrating continuity. Importantly, the Vedas was a collection of hymns (Brahmanas) that revealed truth. Described as a wisdom literature, it helped people recognize their essential nature, thus the given knowledge would aid in saving themselves from suffering. One of the fundamental teachings of Hinduism is karma, here a person’s actions will determine their fate in the next life. In following, the dharma, meaning duty and virtue, refer to the moral order of the universe. Krishna’s conversation with Arjuna in the Mahabharata war said seeking the ethical to notice the condition of the divine and observing that the ethics own position is to act in the name of divine on social maintenance. He guided Arjuna that if taking his advice, these duties will allow Arjuna to complete his responsibility and dharma. From its origins to the scriptures passed and carried onto to modern society, the study of Hinduism is a prime example of merging distinct traditions and beliefs into a vast culture.
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Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was an Indian prince around 623 BCE who knew nothing of the harsh realities outside his palace. Until his awareness of sickness, old age, and death, Gautama struggled with an internal conflict, an ultimate question that drove him to abandon his home: why do people suffer? After years of mediation and learning, he finally reached enlightenment, the awakening to one’s fundamental nature or letting go of the “self.” In Hinduism, the caste system was used for the Aryans to secure their privilege and to restrict the Untouchables (lowest group). The most powerful class being the Brahmins are accessed to teaching and maintaining sacred knowledge, whereas the lower positions had less freedom and rights. The Buddha, himself born into the caste, denounced the system and ridiculed the authority of the Brahmin priests. He introduced the principle of high value of morality and equality of people rather than what family or caste a person in born into. Anyone was capable of fulfilling enlightenment, and he preached the attachment to material desires is the root of all human unhappiness, unless its removal that will would lead people to salvation. Theravada Buddhism is a school based on Buddha’s oldest teaching that stresses spirituality, self-discipline, and the enlightenment, etc. to emphasize each individual’s liability for their salvation. Through the support by the people against the caste system and King Ashoka’s patronage, Buddhism became increasingly popular after 300 BCE.
Buddhism’s prominence pursed through the Mauryan Dynasty (300-200 BCE) marked the time india was unified politically. The first king of India, Chandragupta Maurya, grew his territory, successfully uniting the north and central. He ruled through violence and favored of prolonging strong military to enforce and conquer; however, his grandson, Ashoka thought differently. Later crowned the third king, Ashoka realized after his battle in Kalinga that violence was not the answer, but nonviolence and peace was. His contemplation to the extent of human torture he had caused, inspired him to convert to Buddhism. He introduced ahimsa, the concept of nonviolence where he resorted to conquer lands by the right conduct (dharma). Pillars inscriptions and rock edicts were built to educate and promote good behavior, or in other words, to be a good citizen. Due to his guilt, Ashoka embraced the philosophies of Buddhism in order to have stability, mandate, and peace. This pivotal point in history displayed the alternation of authority to reason and righteousness as a basis for politics. His contribution and dedication heavily influence the spread of Buddhism. The secular ideal enabled the citizens to learn the right action, also Ashoka sent messengers to spread the concept of dharma to other lands (Greece, Syria, Egypt, etc.) and built many stupas, residences, schools for Buddhist monks; therefore, the Mauryan Dynasty prospered in peace and union.
The Gupta Dynasty in 325 CE was a period of order and peace that developed from the fall of the Mauryan Empire. Because of the renewal interest in Hinduism under the Guptas, a decline in Buddhism progressed. Though the Guptas tolerated Buddhism, King Samudragupta devoted his worship to the Hindu gods. With a blending and consent to practice different religions, India advanced as a willing civilization to enrich its religious spectrum. At the height of the Gupta Empire, they had an era of tranquility with the promotion to areas of science, philosophy, art, and religion by the government. Samudragupta’s scholars contributed to mathematics, astronomy, and literature; Aryabhatta invented the concept of zero, Vatsayana built the greatest works on Indian astronomy, and Kalidasa set the standard for classical Indian drama and poetry. Because of their successful input, it resulted in social stability and economic prosperity. The Gupta Dynasty became the longest running empire in India, for their flourishing era was called the Golden Age of India.
Indeed, India is the “empire of the spirit,” for the identity and customs remained the same with a continuing sense of ordinance between the citizens and their government. Cultural diffusion from the Aryans, Harrappas, and the Dravidians bonded together to infused different cultures in the formation of a new religion, and this new growth passed down in a ceaseless chain. Continuity is expressed through the two prime worships of India, Hinduism and Buddhism, that are still practiced in modern society. The core principles of these beliefs contributed to the tradition of the renunciation of violence and pluralism. The qualities of pluralism allowed those around the whole word to link, Indians migrating to the Ganges River to bathe, praying in the Shiva Temple with offerings of flowers and milk, and lastly those who arrive at the pillars of Ashoka to receive lessons. The social structures of India advanced and changed the onset of the Mauryan and Gupta Dynasties, which highlighted the notions of ahimsa and balance. The revival of Brahmanism in the Gupta era represented the continuity of Hinduism; thus the theme of development and interaction between cultures is evident.