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Hindu Customs in Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism

- Socio-Cultural Interchange between Religious Communities in India
(Part- 1)

by Sudheer Birodkar

View the Table of Contents



India is the birthplace of many religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are all progeny of this part of our globe. But they are not the only religions that exist here. Adherents of Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism and Judaism also to be found in India.

Over countless generations there has been significant exchange of customs,, traditions, beliefs, rltuals, etc., between these different religions Such an exchange is not peculiar to India and has been occuring the world over throughout the past. In India though, the existence of many religions in the same social environment created a situation favourable for such an interchange of customs and rituals.

The other fact that some religions existing in India are offspring of the amalgam of beliefs that co-existed under the heading Hinduism. This has also led to the presence of many features of the parent religion in the offspring religions. At times this has blurred the line dividing Hinduism from the offspring religions leading occasionally to tension of the offspring religions with their parent.

One instance of this is the ire against the constitution of India wherein the term 'Hindu' includes Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs.

But interchange of customs and rituals has taken place even between religions originating in India and those brought into India from other parts of our globe. This interchange has also been a massive one for the reason that that apart from the fusion of customs as a result of co-existence of different forms of worship, the adherents of religions originating in other parts of the globe like Christianity and Islam are largely converts from Hinduism. This does not apply in the case of Zoroastrianism and Judaism as these two religions have tended to be insular and have jealously guarded against the entry of members of other faiths by way of conversion. But even then they display many traits which they have absorbed from other religions especially Hinduism.

Although this interchange has been quite substantial, it has not succeeded in bringing about identity in many important respects. Communal riots are still not a thinq of the past, sectarian feelings are still very much with as and there normally run counter to the spirit of nationalism and secularism. The result of this is perhaps India's having the dubious distinction of being a Secular society without a common civil code. For an appraisal of contemporary Indian society to be complete we ought to examine the nature and genesis of the different religions that exist around us, and also the extent to which they have influenced each other. To obtain an insisght into every religion, we shall briefly state the history of every religion since its inception, what it has borrowed from other faiths and what it has lent to it.

We start with the religion which is not only professed by a vast majority in India, but has also been the birthplace for many customs found in other religious communities in India.


A student of Hinduism can be compared with one of those blind-folded wise men who set about to examine an elephant by touching it and came up with totally different ideas about what the elephant looked like, none of which were factual. Hinduism is like a multifarious ocean of beliefs and modes of worship with an indeterminate origin. It comprises within itself the most sublime philosophies and gross fetishism of all kinds of objects which are worshipped.

This is one religion with a history stretching from around the second millennium B.C.E. upto the present.

The Pantheism of Hinduism

A contemporary author has observed, "As a matter of fact orthodox Hindus have believed in every kind of theism, polytheism, and pantheism. They have worshipped any object which they prefer, or practically none. They followed any standard of morality or almost non. Yet they have been recognised as Hindus in good and regular standing as long as they have not flagrantly violated the rules of caste or for that offence been out-casted".

Educated Hindus though have rejected the primitive features and have developed a refined religion which they follow alongwith the cruder versions that resemble primitive animism followed by their rural and tribal brethren. Throughout its long history there have been many reform movements in Hinduism, the best known of which were Buddhism and Jainism in around the 6th century B.C.E. and Sikhism in the 16th century C.E. The recent referm movements such as the Brahmo Samaj, the Arya Samaj Prarthana Samaj, have been protests against ritualism and idolatory, but their membership is very small.

In other primitive religions, when a great reformer has come, the entire primitive religion has become uniform,and unified and has consequently become cohesive and monotheistic as in the case of Zoroastrianism and Islam. But in India the followers of a reformer have always been a separate sect and the old Hindu religion has continued to be the religion of a vast majority.

As Hinduism has always been an eclectic religion it becomes difficult to identify all features which are universally recognised in this religion. The objects of veneration and worship in Hindu temples are very startling to those not familiar with the history of this hoary religion (One has to remember that the term religion is very loosely applied to Hinduism. It is more a collection of attitudes and forms of worship). It is widely recognised that most elements of present day Hinduism descended from the amalgam of the religious beliefs of the Aryans who are said to have come into India (West Punjab) around 1750 B.C.E. and those of the earlier peoples who reportedly were the founders of the Indus valley civilization.

(Many scholars refute the Aryan invasion theory and also the date stated here for the entry of the Aryans into India. These scholars propound that India was the original home of the Aryans and it was from India that they spread to other parts of the globe. These scholars say that it was the Aryans themselves who founded the Indus (or Saraswati) valley civilization.

This is one point of view and the dating these scholars propound is supported by the star patterns mentioned in the Vedas, and the epics. Deciphering of the Indus Valley script as to be, in fact, Sanskrit also supports the point of view that the founders of the Indus - Saraswati - valley civilization were also Sanskrit speakers and hence Aryans (and not pre-Aryans). However, the author of this web page cannot claim any authority to either support or refute either theory. But then this debate is not relevant to our discussion as here we are not concerned with the fact whether the Aryans came into India from other parts of our globe or left India to go to other parts of our globe. That the Aryans existed in history is enough for our discussion. We are concerned with their modes of worship.)

The earliest objects of worship were the forces of nature and the religion was in essence polytheistic. Later on came the personified Gods like Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva while the polytheistic nature remained unchanged.

Partial Amalgamation through the Concept of Incarnation (Avatara)

With a view to having a unifying medium, in this mushroominq pantheon, was propagated the monotheistic philosophy that there is one God, one supreme reality (Brahman) and the various personified Gods, Goddesses and animistic objects of worship are incarnatlons (Avataras) of God. While God himself was indestructible, the various incarnations in which he descended to Earth in the form (Rupa) of an ordinary mortal had to go through the cycle of birth and death. The incarnation idea helped to partially unify the plethora of deities as different manifestations of a single divine entity. It also facilitated the absorption of deites from other religions and tribal cults which had been outside the pale of Hinduism.

Assimilation, acculturation, amalgamation have been the hallmarks of the development and growth of the Hindu religion. Many deities are themselves a result of amalgamation of two or more deities. For instance we have Hari-hara who is an amalgam of Hari (Krishan who is an incarnation of Vishnu) and Hara (Shiva). This amalgamation of the two recognised principal deities Vishnu and Shiva was undertaken to ease out the dualism in the Hindu religion due to the existence of the two principal sects Vaishnavism (worshippers of Vishnu) and Shaivism (worshippers of Shiva) who were frequently at loggerheads with each other. There are innumerable other sects though. Another deity who is also amalgam of Vishnu and Shiva is variously known as Sashta and Ayyappa. He has a famous shrine devoted to him at Sabarimala in Kerala.

The Ayyappa Mythology

The mythology behind Sastha, artfully explains this amalgam of Vishnu and Shiva. Briefly it is as follows. After a long drawn strife between Gods and demons, they mutually agreed to temporari1y sink their differences and with their combined efforts churn the ocean and draw out nectar (amrita) that existed at the bottom of the oceans. Both the Gods and demons stood on opposite sides and started the churning process with the help of Seshnaga (the celestial cobra) as a rope. The churning went on for and many beautiful and powerful things issued forth from the ocean. All these things were distributed equally between the Gods and demons. At last came the coveted nectar, but as soon I came up, the demons snatched it and ran away leaving the Gods high and dry. The Gods then prayed to lord Vishnu to retrieve their share.

To do this Vishnu struck upon an idea to deceive the demons. He took on the form of an enchanting maiden as Mohini known as the Mohini-Avatara of Vishnu. Mohini approached the demons who were having a lound argument as to how to distribute the stolen necter amongst themselves . Taking advantage of this confusion Vishnu in the guise of Mohini offerred to distribute the nectar on condition that the nectar also be distributed amongst the Gods.

Under the captivating influence of Mohini, the demons agreed and Mohini went about distibuting the nectar, first among the Gods. Very deceptively she had made the Gods and demons sit in different rows, such that when the nectar was distributed to the last God sitting there, no nectar would be left for the demons.

Now unknowing to Mohini, her seductive form had captured Shiva's imagination and later he requested Vishnu to reappear as Monini before him. Despite being warned by Vishnu that Mohini was irresistable and that Shiva would fall prey to her charms, Shiva insisted that she appear before him confident as he was of his self-control. But lust being the weakest link in the chain of instincts, on seeing the inviting forn of Mohini Shiva's self-control gave way and out of the union of Shiva and Vishnu (as Mohini) was born Sastha who is a repository of all what Shiva and Vishnu stand for.

The External symbols of being a Hindu

But among the Hindus, whatever the object of worship it was personified in the form of an idol. One cannot find a Hindu temple without a idol. Propitiation of the Gods takes place through the chanting of Mantras (hymns). This is done by the officiating priest. Considerable importance is attached to purification which is done by sprinkling water on an object to be purified and to the ritual washing of hands and feet before performing a prayer. Bathing in sacred rivers (notably the Ganga i.e. Ganges), is looked upon as an act of devotion that secures for a person a place in heaven . Fire plays a pivotal role in consecrating religlous ceremonies, marriages, etc. The importance of fire originates in its being one of the forces of nature worshipped by the Aryans The vermilion mark on the forehead (Tilaka) alongwith the tuft of hair as the Pigtail (Shikha or Choti or Shendi) and the sacred thread (Yagnopavit or Janeu) are the external symbols that proclaim a Person's adherence to Hinduism. All these Practices are now on the wane and in urban areas they have nearly vanished.

The saffron colour is looked upon as and is to be found on flags atop temples and in the clothes worn by ascetics (Sadhus and Sanyasis). The traditional form of greeting among Hindus is the joining of hands called Namaskara.

The 4 Ashramas (Stages of life)

Traditionally, life of a person was divided into four stages viz. Brahmacharya (childhood and celibate youth), Grithasta (householder) Vanaprastha (householder devoted to spiritual pursuits) and Sanyasa (ascetic). Sanyasa has been extolled as the culmination of an ideal life. The external signs of a person on becoming a Sanyasi were the unshorn hair and beard, the growth of fingernails, the forsaking of nornal ablusions.

A Sanyasi was supposed to rise above the requirements of normal material life and devoted himself to the seeking of truth Society among the Hindus has been divided into four Varnas Brahmin (clergy), Kshatriya (nobility), Vaishya (traders and cultivators) and Shudra {menials). This division is a social issue that was given religious sanctity. Belief in rebirth (Punar-janma) and release from thc cycle of birth and re-birth (Moksha) have been central to Hindu morality.

Another tradition that has been nurtured in Hindulsm is that of the Guru. A Guru is supposed to play the role of a tutor and mentor. But among the Hindus, the Guru, has traditionally been considered to be more than just a tutor. Suprisingly in one Vedic hymn even Gods are referred to as Guru. (Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnuhu, Gururu Devoh, Maheshwaraha: Guru Shakshat Parabrhma, Tasmayee Srhi Gurveh Namaha.)

Education, in India has been traditionally imparted through Gurukulas (homestead of a ,Guru). A student (Shishya) had to spend his early years at a Gurukula where he was taught all the known disciplines of knowledge. But the term Guru has also had the connotations of a spiritual guide. The term Shishya could be taken to mean both student and disciple. It has not been uncommon for a person with a spiritual bent of mind to go in search of a Guru. All spiritual personalities among the Hindus such as Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Ramkrishna Paramhansa, etc., who attained the status of Gurus were once shishyas of some Guru. The Guru-Shishya tradition has had manifestations in innumerable Babas, Swamis and Gurus that are a part of our society, so much so that eight out of ten Indians would be followers of one Guru or another

Throughout our history, spiritual leaders and social reforms be looked upon as Gurus. In the absence of a founding father for Hinduism, these Gurus have played the role of guiding this conglomorate of beliefs (Hinduism) through the ages of history. In this context the role of Adi Shankaracharya has to be recalled.

Adi Shankarachayra's Reform of Hinduism

Adi Shankaracharya can be considered as the only Hindu spiritual leader who was almost universally accepted in this religion . His philosophical standpoints of Vedanta were effective in overshadowing Buddhism on the philosophical and intellectual level. Shankaracharya came from a Brahmin family from Kalady in Central Kerala (South India). He is sald to have lived around t:he 8th century C.E. In the traditional manner he seems to have had his basic education in a Gurukula_ From his early days he displayed a passion for philosophical speculatlon endless debates. Completion of primary education in the Gurukula did not satisŁy his tthirst for knowledge. While still in his teens he set out to explore the various centers of learning.

His quest took him to north India where in one of the innumerable Buddhist monasteries, the philosophy of that religion caught his fancy and he spoke about this idea amongst his disciples and friends. One of Shankaracharya's disciplies expressed readiness to enrol as a student in the Nalanda University, which in those days was the leading senter for Buddhist philosphical speculation. But being a Brahmin by birth, Shakaracharya's disciple was refused admission. Undaunted by this the young monk upon a bold idea to gain entry into the Buddhist cloister. He shaved off the tuft of hair and pigtail, cast aside his sacred thread, wiped the ash (Bhasma) on his forehead, and dressed as a Buddhist monk he approached the Nalanda University again to be enrolled in a philosophy that had fired his imagination.

Having secured admission this way, he stayed on for a few years and mastered Buddhist philosophy. Steeled as he was in the rival Hindu schools of philosophy, he beset his tutors with incisive questions many of which exposed the weaker side of Buddhist philosophy.

And day-by-day the master-philosophers at Nalanda began to grow suspicious of this curious student and henceforth they never let go an opportunity to cross-examine him. During one such gruelling session Shankaracharya's disciple inadvertently slipped up and that cost him his identity (as a Buddhist monk) and very nearly his life.

The infuriated Buddhist Bhikkus (monks) caught hold of this imposter and threw him out of a window. Unfortunately for Shankaracharya's disciple, this meeting was in progress in one of the top floors of the multi-storeyed buildinqs of the Nalanda University. Realizing the peril he was in, whi1e falling to the ground, the disciple invoked the Vedas and cried out "If the Vedas are true not a single hair of mine will be hurt". He fortunately survived the fall but one eye of his was brutally injured and gave him a severe pain. Knowing that with this event his life as a Buddhist monk has ended, he decided to return to his Guru Adi Shankaracharya. After he returned to his Gurukula, he asked Shankaracharya one question that had been bothering him lately. He wondered why his eye had been injured when he had invoked the Vedas.

Shankaracharya explained this anomaly by telling him that he had said "If the Vedas are true not a single hair of mine w111 be hurt.", thereby he had not expressed confidence in the power of the Vedas to protect him but had expressed a hope which entertained doubts as to the power of the Vedas. Shankaracharya told him that had he said, "The Vedas are true and they will protect me", he would have come out unhurt.

Shankaracharya continued his studies and discourses for which he travelled far and wide throughout India. He is reported to have gone far north to Badrinath and Srinagar (in Kashmir). One thing for which he is remembered is his attempt to institutionalize Hinduism through the establishment of monasteries (Mutts or Mathas) under the charge of bishops (Jagadgurus). He established four such Mutts in different parts of the country. Although these institutions could not institutionalize Hinduism on the scale of other religions like Christianity or Buddhism, they left a lasting mark on the Hindu ecclesiastical organisation.

Sects within Hinduism made up this "Religion"

But in spite of this reform by Adi Shankaracharya, the centrifugal looseness inherent in Hinduism left no check on the imnnumerable sects with various objects and forms of worship that kept on mushrooming. What held the various sects together was the inclusion the principal deities like Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and the mother Goddess (Shakti) in the various sects, albeit in varying forms and the mutual recognition between the different sects of the validity of each other's patron deities (Ishta-devata).

Thus worshippers of Vishnu did not generally castigate the deities Shiva and Shakti as non-Hindu nor did the worshippers of Shiva look upon Vishnu as alien deity.

Some Sects broke off from Hinduism

But at times some of the sects withdrew this recognition given to the deities of other sects and acquired an exclusionist character. Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism are surviving examples of such sects.

But on the whole the main body of beliefs that are brought under the headinq Hinduism continued to be supple. On many occasions when it came into contact with alien forms of worship,it tried to incorporate them within itself. One of the offspring sects, Sikhism originated as a fusion of elements of Hinduism and Islam. During the 18tb century the formation of the Bramho Samaj in Bengal under Raja Rammohan Roy aimed at combining the best elements of Western Christianity and Hinduism. Despite the picture of ultra-orthodoxy that Hinduism normally presents, distinctly non-Hindu concepts were absorted into it. One of these is the concept of 'Niraakar Ishwar' the formless God* it found its reflection in some Hindu sects notably the Arya Samaj which is looked upon as a revivalist movement. The Arya Samaj upholds Vedic ritualism and disowns idol worchip. The influence of Islamic ideas of God (Allah) being an abstract power, on some strains of Hindu thought cannot be ruled out.

Even in day-to-day life,Hindus adhere to many practices which originate in other religions. For instance the practice among Hindus, especially among women, of covering thelr head while offering prayers is a result of Mohammedan influence and is an adaptation of the Mohammedan practices of wearing Burkha, Chador and observing Purdah. So is the practice of burning incense sticks (Agarbattis and Dhoop) in temples which comes form the (originally Zoroastrian) Muslim practice of burning Loban. In ancient times women in India did not follow the custom of wearing a veil.

Thus Hinduism which is the religion of the majority in India has imbibed many concepts and beliefs from the religions it came into contact with. This is more relevant in the context of Hinduism and Hindu culture being regarded largely, exclusively and distinctly Indian. What we know as the Hindu religion has been born and bred in India. Not surprisingly are the terms Indian and Hindu considered as synonymous. It is a widely held opinion that Hinduism is the heart and soul of the Indian nation. Remove Hinduism and India loses its identity. All this whi1e being generally true, leads to notions that everything associated with Hinduism originated in India, which is, strictly speaking, incorrect. Hinduism has borrowed significantly from other religions although this has not been a one way affair.

We shall see below how Hinduism has much more significantly lent to other religions than it has borrowed from them.


The second great religion that originated in India is Buddhism. Ironically though Buddhism flourished overseas; in the land of its birth it was ti11 recently non-existent. It received a lease of life after independence, when Dr. B.R. Ambedkar decided to embrace Buddhism. A significant section of the scheduled castes followed Dr. Ambedkar and they today constitute an overwhelming portion of the adherents of Buddhism in India today. But they do not form part of the two traditional sects of Buddhism viz., (Mahanayana and Hinayana) and are generally termed as Neo-Buddhists (Nava-Baudha). The history of Buddhism in India starts with that of its founder Gautama Buddha who lived in the 6th century B.C.E.

Life Story of Buddha

Buddha was born in the Shakya clan that belonged to the warrior (Kshatriya) caste. His father was Shudhodana and his mother Maya. Before Buddha was born his mother had a dream in which a white elephant descended from heaven and entered her womb. Buddha was said to have been born in a grove named Lumbini near the ancient town of Kapilavastu. At birth the name given to him was Gautama, probably after the more ancient Vedic seer to whom some of the hymns in the Rigveda are ascribed. Buddha was also known as Siddhartha which means 'he whose aim is accomplished' The latter name seems to be a title given to him by his disciples} although varying opinions are held on this issue.

The Prophecy of Buddha

At his birth, a sage is said to have told King Shudhodana that Gautama would grow up to be a powerful king. But to become a king he should be kept away from the sorrows of 1ife. And if perchance he happened to see any of the sorrows of life he would become an universal teacher. Keen as King Shudhodhana was to see Gautama to be a sucessful ruler, he built up special palace for Gautama from where he could set his eyes on none of the world's sufferings. Even when the prince Gautama went out for stroll or ride, all unpleasant objects were removed so as to prevent Gautama's mind from being disturbed.

The Young Gautama is kept away from Real Life

But the prophesy of Gautama becoming an universal teacher was destined to be fulfilled. One day through some lapse, Gautama managed to s1ip out unnoticed from the palace. Riding through the streets of the city he saw for the first time in his life, a lame person, a sick person, a dead body and an ascetic.

These sights made a deep impact on his tender teenaged mind and he set thinking upon the cause of sufferings and sorrow. Consequently, Gautama began neglecting the affairs of the State which his father had assigned to him. Alarmed at his son's strange behaviour, King Shudhodana, to get his son off this brroding decided to marry him to a princess Yashodhara. Some days after marriage a son was born to them who was named Rahula.

But married life could not distract Gautama from his life's mission for long. When his patience was at the end of its tether, Gautawna decided to forsake family life and one day he slipped out of his palace alongwith his servant Chandaka. After moving out of the city, Gautema cut off his hair removed his royal ornaments and jewels, his rich garments and sandals and gave them to Chandaka and bid him to return to the palace with the news of his (Gautama's) departure.

Gautama becomes The Buddha - The Enlightened One

Thus Gautama set out on his quest for the cause of sufferings (Klesha). He undertook severe austerities by fasting continuously. In this he was accompanied by five disciples. But his frail and pampered body could not stand up to this self-inflicted punishment and one day he fainted. Realizing that this was not the way to arrive at the truth, he gave up the austerities. Horrified at their Master's apostasy the five disciples left him. But undaunted, Gautama continued his quest for the cause of sufferings. He seated himself under a fig tree (Mahabodhi tree) and decided not get up unless he found answers to his questions. His enlightenment is said to have come suddenly and was exceedingly simple - viz., that all pain is caused - by desire, and therefore peace comes when one ceases to crave for anything. This thought was new at that age and it struck him with blinding force, and not only influenced his future life but left a lasting imprint on Buddhist philosophy. Freedom from all desires was said to release a person from the cycle of re-birth and lead to his salvation (Nirvana).

After this revealation Gautama started preaching to people and for this he travelled from place to place. He is said to have delivered his first sermon at a deer park (Isipatana) setting in motion, the wheel of law (Dharma-chakra or Dhammachakra in Pali).

As his teachings impressed people his followlng grew. Among his early converts were Sariputta, Mogallana and Ananda. He even received the patronage of rich traders like Anathapindika (i.e. feeder of poor) and powerful kinqs of the age like Ajatashatru of Magadha. After the revelation (Bodhi), Gautama came to be known as Buddha or Gautama Buddha . He was also known as Shakyamuni (Sage of the Shakyas). The tree under which he attained enlightenment is known as the Bodhi or Mahabodhi tree But though he received an impressive following Buddha never claimed Divine status. Very few miracles are attributed to him.

"Miracles" by the Buddha

On one occasion a grieving lady carried her dead child to Buddha and asked him to revive it. This was a perfect setting for a miracle to be woven into religious folklore, but Buddhist records state that Buddha calmed the lady and told her that he would require three mustard seeds to revive her child. But the mustard seeds should be from a family where so far no one has ever died. To fulfill this seemingly simple request the lady went from house to house only to be told that sometime or the other, someone had died in every family. Gradually, the truth dawned upon the grieving lady and going to a cemetery, she laid down her child's body and taking its little hand in hers, she said "Beloved son, I thought that death has overtaken you alone. but no it overtakes all of us". She went back to Buddha and became his disciple.

The Buddhist Sangha and Morality

Buddhism is unique among religions in a fundamental sense. It does not advocate invocation of any God. Salvation can be attained by controlling one's desire; as desire is the cause of suffering. The original Buddhism had neither God nor Devil. The emphasis was not on prayer but on controlling one's mind. In this sense it was more a worldly philosophy rather than a religion. But with the passage of time it acquired the nature of a religion complete with dogmas and rituals. Buddh's life-story is an eventful one. The most potent institution that Buddha established during his lifetime was the Sangha (monastic order) into which men were admitted irrsespective of their caste. The members of the Sangha who were known as Bhikkus (beggars)had to lead a rigorous life devoid of all desires. Their daily needs were limited to those necessary for physical survival. Their only possessions were a begging bowl, yellow coloured loin cloth, a walking stick if necessary and a pair of sandals for the more delicate. They were to sustain themselves by the alms they received but were forbidden from expressly begging for alms. Alms were to be accepted if given willingly and if not the Bhikkus were to move on to the next house. Thus came into being a clergy, but which unlike its Hindu counterpart was not based on caste and which was oriented towards missionary activities rather on the performance and upholding of rituals.

The break of Buddhism from other forms of worship that constituted Hinduism was almost complete in the lifetime of Buddha. This took the form of non-recognition of any personified Gods, spirits or the devil, and the near absence of rituals, repudiation of the caste system and the intense missionary activity of the monks which included rendering social service with the aim of alleviation of human suffering. Another significant aspect was that in the early stages all followers of Buddha were enrolled as members of the Sangha hence it was completely a missionary religion. The distinction between the Bhikkus and other lay adherents of Buddhism came about later when the following of the religion increased manifold.

From its inception Buddhism received royal patronage. In the lifetime of Buddha Ajatashatru the king of north India's most powerful kingdom Magadha (in present-day Bihar) patronised Buddhism during Buddha's lifetime, and a few years after Buddha attained Nirvana {Salvation), the first religious council of the Buddhists was held at the town Rajagriha, which was the capital of Magadha from where Ajatashatru ruled. Councils such as this one were occasions for formulation and revision of the Buddhist religious code which was supposed to be adhered to by all followers. Thus it kept a check on the emergence of sub-sects- a tendency which is a hallmark oŁ Hinduism.

The second such council was held at Vaishali also in Magadha, about a hundred years after the first council i.e. in the 5th century B.C.E.

Relations Between Buddhism and Hinduism

Buddhism continued to grow steadily in the first few centuries after its birth. The reasons were its universal appeal, humane outlook, emphasis on missionary and social work and finally its peaceable methods that limited confrontation with the established local religions to a philosophical level. Thus even kings who patronised Hinduism did not feel it necessary to make a distinction between Hinduism and Buddhism in policy matters. Buddhism normally returned the sympathy of the ruling power by giving it a moral legitimacy amongst the lay people. And although Brahmin orthodoxy did grudge the inroads made into itself by the new faith there hardly ever was there active confrontation between the two faiths.

On the contrary there was a exchange of beliefs and attitudes between Hinduism and Buddhism. The Hindu insistence of vegetarianism and non-violence (Ahimsa) are borrowed from Buddhism (and Jainism). Hinduism in turn tried to absorb Buddhism within itself by making Buddha one of the incarnations of Vishnu.

Major Royal Patrons - Samrat Ashok Maurya, Kanishka, Harsha Vardhana

The growth of Buddhism received a tremendous boost in the 3rd century B.C. when Samrat Ashoka Maurya whose empire covered nearly the whole of India (including present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan) was converted to Buddhism. He elevated Buddhism to the level of a state religion and sent missionaries not only to all parts of India but also to Sri Lanka, West Asia, Central Asia and China. In his days Buddhism is said to have spread in varying degrees upto Egypt and South-western Russia. Since the days of emperor Ashoka, Buddhist missionaries built majestic monasteries known as Viharas, Stupas and Chaityas.

The simple ascetic character of Buddhism had received its first dent under the pampering effect of royal patronage. The religlon continued to grow nevertheless. During the reign of Ashoka the third Religious Council was held at Pataliputra which was the capital of Ashoka's vast empire.

But that Ashoka was not inimical to Hinduism is evident from one of the titles that he took viz. Deva-naam-priya (Beloved of the Gods).

After the fall of the Maurya empire, Buddhism did not receive official patronage on a comparable scale for a long time. During the period after the Maurya empire, India was beset with invasions from the Indo-Greeks, Kushanas, Parthians, etc. But most of these invaders acculturized themselves in a few years after their coming and many of their kings embraced either Buddhism or Hinduism. Prominent among them were, Menander (Milinda) who was an Indo-Greek and to whom is ascribed the Buddhist treatise called Milinda-Panho (Questions of Menander) in which thc king, posed certain questions to which answers were given by a Buddhist Sage called Nagasena. The next major royal patron of Buddhism was Kushana who was a Mongol king who ruled north India, Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1st century B.C.E. In his reign) the fourth religious council was held at Jalandhara (Modern Jullundar in Indian Punjab). Now Buddhism had spread far and wide and had received royal patronage in varying degrees almost continuously from one king or another since Ashoka.

Split into Two Sects - Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) and Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle)

By the time the fourth religious council was held, the religion had vertically split up into two schools. One school had elevated Buddha to the status of a God and introduced worship of the Buddha's image (idol), it also evolved elaborate rituals which were derived largely from Hinduism, and gave up the rigorous ascetic life in monasteries, discarded Pall and accepted Sanskrit as the literary medium. These changes had far-reaching effects in narrowing the breach between Buddhism and Hinduism but at the cost of departing from the essence of the way of life that Buddha established. This school was called the Mahayana {Greater Vehicle) school or the northern school of Buddhism. On the other hand the Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle) school stuck to the original character of Buddhism with its emphasis on rigorous and simple livingt although idol worship gradually made its way into Hinanana also. This school is also known as Theravada (from Staieryavada l. e. principle of stability) is mainly prevalent in Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand. Despite the split, Buddhism continued to grow steadily upto the reign of the Guptas.

Since the reign of the Gupta kings (3rd and 4th centuries C.E.) the growth of Buddhism came to a standstill and gradually the decline set in. The reasons for this decline could be many but the principal one was to be the absence of royal patronage since the Gupta period, although there was no persecution either.

The last known royal patron of Buddhism was Harsh Vardhana who ruled over a large part of northern India around the 7th century C.E. Harsha who was an ardent worshipper of the Hindu deity - Shiva, did not embrace Buddhism, but he extended many favours to the religion. During his reign the fifth religious council was held at Prayaga (Allahabad).

No significant event took place thereafter in the history of Buddhism. But it is certain that upto the beginning of the Gupta period the religion was on its ascendance and its following in India was significant. From the Gupta period Hinduism seems to have undergone a revival, partly under the patronage of the Gupta kings. Buddhism then onwards was definitely on the decline. The intellectual onslaught of Brahminic philosophers 11ke Adi Shankaracharya seems to have had its toll in emasculating what was once a cohesive and vibrant way of life. Whatever the reasons, it is certain that the following of Buddhism declined sharply during and after the Gupta perlod.

It survived nominally as an intellectual tradition kept alive by the select monks who controlled the monastic universities like the one at Nalanda. These universities were highly respected as seats of learning and attracted students from abroad. Fa Hien, Huien Tsiang and I-Tsing who came from China were said to have studied at Nalanda and other centres of Buddhist learning. But from the 5th century Onwards, Buddhism declined as the religion of the masses. Its following seems to have been absorbed into Hinduism, although this could have also been the result not of formal conversion but of a gradual relapse of the Buddhist laity into the parent religion. The potrayal of Buddha as an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu, and the absorption of many Hindu attitudes by Mahayana Buddhism, along with the absence of royal patronage to Buddhism (and the extension of this patronage to Hinduism during Gupta times) must have contributed to this effect. Whatever 8uddhists that remained constituted an elite who inhabited the Monasteries and rarely ventured out of them. Missionary activity was nearly absent.

Muslim Invasions give the Fatal Blow to Buddhism

The last fatal blow to this once virile religion came from a non-Indian impetus - the Muslim invasion of north India in the 12th century. The defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan and Jaichandra Gahadawal (Rathore) in 1191 and 1192 respectively by the Afghan raider, Mahmud Ghori opened up the Gangetic plains to the ruthless invader where the Buddhist (and Hindu) centres of learning were located. The destruction of monasteries and the slaughter of monks that followed the headlong rush, of the Muslim invaders, down the Ganges stilled the agony of this once glorious order into the silence of death.

Thus passed out of existence in the land of its birth a religion that touched the lives of millions of humans not only in India but in China, Japan, Korea and other countries of Central Asia and South-East Asia. Buddhism in India was to remain a dead religion until the 20th century.

Buddhism Resurrected in India in the 20th Century

In the mid 20th Century, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who was one of the architects of India's Constitution, gave Buddhism a fresh lease of life by embracing it a few years after India achieved independence. A significant number of members of those castes who were denied equal rights in the Hindu caste hierarchy also embraced Buddhism. Today an over-whelming proportion of Buddhists in India are these recent converts who term themselves as Nava-Baudha or Neo-Buddhists. A comparatively recent event of significance was the 6th religious council held at Rangoon in 1954 which came 1300 years after the 5th council held at, Prayaga in 643 C.E. in the reign of the last major pan-Indian emperor - Harsha Vardhana. The Rangoon council was also the first one to be held outside India.

Buddhism and Hinduism - Umbilical Marks

In the course of its chequered history Buddhism which began as a departure from the ritualism of the Hindu religion gradually adapted and absorbed many Hindu ideas and practices to the point that at times, the lines of distinction between the two religions (the parent and the offspring) were blurred. The objective of Nirvana towards which every Buddhist is supposed to strive is undoubtedly an adaptation of the Hindu concept of Moksha. The difference is that for the attainment of Moksha righteous behaviour and the conformation of duties as assigned by the caste into which a person has been born is necessary, while for the attainment of Nirvana a person has to be free of all desires. But the essence of both concepts is the release from the cycle of re-birth. The daily of life of the Buddhist Bhikkus (missionary ascetics) was evidently inspired by the concept and practice of Sanyasa which was the last phase of life a Hindu during which he was supposed to be free of al1 desires and to roam from place to place in search of spiritual enlightenment while spreading the qospel of rightousness among the people. The yellow coloured robes that the Buddhist Bhikkus donned were borrowed from the Saffron robes of the Hindu ascetic. Although as for the Buddhists the yellow colour was chosen to represent an autumn leaf which was once green but has inevitably turned yellow in conformation with the law that everything born has to decay and pass away.

Among the auxiliary Hindu practices which found their way into Buddhism, idol worship and the use of Sanskrit as the liturgical and scriptural language. The Buddhist conception of Buddha as a God and that in a later period after five thousand years when righteousness suffer an eclipse the Buddha will reappear on the earth. This Buddha who will be known as Maiterya wi11 restore the rule of dhamma (law and religion). This idea implies belief in incarnations and re-incarnations on lines parallel to the Hindu concept of Kalki who, we are told, is to be the future incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

But all said and done though Buddhism precariously came close to Hinduism it maintained its distinct entity unlike the Jaina religion whose proximity to Hinduism nearly made it a part of Hinduism. In its appeal Buddhism was not, like its parent religion Hinduism, restricted to India and Indians but spread far and wide.

Thus in Buddhism, India gave birth to a major international religion, while the Hindus continued their way. Buddhism was the world's first missionary religion and won its triumphs through missionary activity. The ancient Buddhist monks who carried the Master's message of peace, love and universal brotherhood were pioneers in such a mission in Human history.

Buddhism is the only trans-national religion which has never preached malice against other faiths, nor have its followers ever indulged in a holy war against those of another faith. Buddhism has won its way by persuation and never by the sword, nor has it ever used its position or power to compel conformity to its precepts.

And whatever its defects, it has unquestionably done much to benefit the human race by introducing and perpetuating a higher standard of conduct in life. One is inclined to bow before the Buddha, not in homage to a deity but in recognition to a superior craftsman in the art of living.


Parallel to Buddhism another religion has flourished in India since ancient times. This is the Jaina religion or Jainism. The term Jaina or Jain implies follower of Jina which means 'the victorious one'. Jina is the formal title of the 24 spiritual teachers (Tirthankaras) of the Jaina religion. In this sense the term 'Jina' is similar to the term 'Buddha.

Popularly, Mahavira who was the last Jaina Tirthankara is confounded to be the founder of this faith. But as per Jaina records, 23 Tirthankaras preceded him. He was only the last and incidentally the most famous Tirthankara.

Jainism like Buddhism arose us a protest against the ritualism of the Hindu religion. It's origin is traced to Vedic times. The first Jaina Tirthankara was Rishabha. After his appearance, 23 Tirthankaras made their appearance at successive intervals of decreasing length of time. Details about their lives are given in the Jaina treatise Kalpa-Sutra. The 23rd Tirthankara was Parshwanath who though not as famous as Mahavira is still widely remembered among the Jains. Parshwanath is said to have lived 250 years before Mahavira.

The Life Story of Mahavira

Mahavira lived in the 6th century B.C.E. and was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. There are close parallels not only the teaching of Buddha and Mahavira but also in the story of their lives. Mahavira, like Gautama Buddha was born in a kshatriya family. His father whose name incidentally was Siddhartha, belonged to the Kashyapa clan and was ruler of Kundagrama located near the powerful kingdom of Vaishali, Mahavira's mother Trishala was the sister of the reigning king of Vaishali. That Mahavira himself is referred to at times i as Vaishilika is an evident proof of Mahavira's close connection with this powerful kingdom located in eastern India.

According to Jaina legend, Mahavira was to be borne by a Brahmin woman but his embryo was transferred to that of a Kshatriya woman, for it was impossible for a person so great to be born "in low families, mean families, degraded families, beggar's families or Brahmin families". This statement in the Kalpa-Sutra is an indication of ill-feeling that existed in ancient times between the practioners of Vedic rituals and the Jainas.

The name given to Mahavira at birth was Vardhamana or 'increaser'. But later on he acquired fame as Mahavira or the 'Great Hero' which we are told was a name bestowed to him by the Gods. When he was thirty years old his parents died and in fulfilment of a promise, he decided to renounce material pleasures and meditate in solitude Like the Buddha, he subjected himself to severe penances, he had stripped himself naked observed fast and neglected his body. After revelation he spread his gospel among the people. At his death his following was considerable.

Similarities and Differences with Buddhism

Unlike Buddhism, the Jaina faith does not seem to have received considerable royal patronage in Northeren India. The only great pan-Indian monarch said to have embraced Jainism was Chandragupta Maurya and he seems to have embraced it at the end of his reign. On embracing Jainism he is said to have renounced his throne in favour of his son Bindusara and migrated to the Jain spiritual centre at Shranvanabelgola in Karnataka (South India). In South India though, many local kings did give generous grants to Jains to build beautiful temples and monoliths of Bahubali. At Khajuraho in central India, the Chandellas in the 10th century did build some temples dedicated to Parshwanath. But despite the absence of considerable royal patronage, Jainism has kept itself alive through the ages although its following has always been a modest one. Unlike Buddhism, Jainism has remained limited to India and never spread overseas. In India also its followers are concentrated in North Gujarat, South Rajasthan, around Agra region in Uttar Pradesh and Sammed Shikhar in Bihar in North India. Jains are also found in parts of Karnataka in the South.

Two Sects - Shwetambara and Digambara

The followers of Jainsim are divided into two sects, viz., the Digambars or 'sky-clad' who theoretically accept the principle of a living person being shorn of garments. The second sect is that of the Shwetambars who clothe themselves with unstitched white cloth. The Shwetambars split from the main body of the Jaina religion some 200 years after Mahavira but today they account for a majority among the Jains. The Shwetambar Jains are concentrated in Gujarat and Rajasthan. The Digambars are mostly found in Karnataka.

The Central Principal of Jivadaya - Respect for all Living Forms

The principle that is central to the Jaina religion is that of Jivadaya (Respect for all Living Forms) and Ahimsa (non-violence). Although Ahimsa is recognised even by the Buddhists and the Hindus, it is practised ritually, only amongst the Jains. Under this obligation they abstain entirely from meat, fruit and wine and may drink only that water which has been used earlier by someone else for cooking. The logic behind this is that if by drinking such water if a Jain causes harm to any living organisms in the water, the guilt for that rests not on the Jain who drinks it but on the person who first used it for cooking. For the same reason a Jain monk does not bathe lest he should inadvertently destroy life, nor is he allowed to move about except on foot, he is prohibited from lighting a fire or to breath openly for which a piece of white cloth is tied loosely around his mouth so as to prevent the inadvertent killing of living organisms in the air by inhaling them. All this would appear ridiculous to a non-Jain or even to a modern-day Jain.

Despite these strictures against harming or killing any living creature, remarkably this logic is not applied by the Jains to themselves. When certain condtions have been fulfilled, a Jain ascetic may undertake Samadhi (defined in theological literature as a state of 'Super-consciousness' and is considered by lay people to be a suicide for religious reasons). This act is not only innocent, but is an act of merit or even a duty. The concept of Samadhi is not peculiar among the Jains. It exists amongst the Hindus too.

An Order of Jaina Monks (Munis) and Nuns (Sadhvis)

Like the Buddhists, the Jains have an order of Monks. In addition to Monks, the Shwetambars also have an order of Nuns called Sadhvis. In addition to the alms bowl, a Jain monk is supposed to carry a broom to sweep the ground before them as they walk on it so as to clear away whatever living creatures that may be there. The institution of monks no doubt is derived from the Hindu concept of Sanyasa. During the four months (Chatur-masa) of the monsoon, a Jaina monk is required to stay indoors so as to avoid treading on the many creatures that run around during the rains. This observance, during the four months of the monsoon is shared by the Jains with the Buddhists and is peffiapa derived from the Hindu concept of Chatur-masa during which indoor spiritual activity is recommended probably due to the physical difficulty of journeying during the rainy season

Kaivalya - The Jaina Concept of Salvation

Like the Buddhists, the Jains have a concept of Kaivalya which is similar to the Buddhist concept of Nirvana but the connotation differs from that in Buddhism. The Jaina connotation of Nirvana is derived from their interpretation of the universe. According to Jains, all things in existence are divided into two parts Jiva (i.e. living beings having a soul) and Ajiva (non-living things having no soul). The entanglement of living beings (Jiva) with things not having souls (Ajiva) is a source of all misery. Kaivalya is a result of a living beings becoming free of this entanglement. In this concept of Kaivalya, the Hindu attitude of not expecting the fruits of labour as preached by Srikrishna in the Geeta is reflected. As in the Hindu concept of Moksha, Kaivalya is attained in Jainism as a 'release from the cycle of rebirth' when the soul is free of attachment to all material things. Till the soul is so entangled, it has to continue to be reborn.

Affinity of Jainism with Hinduism

Like the Hindus, the Jains also believe in ages that are defined in terms of morality. Unlike the four ages that are recognised in Hinduism, the Jains recognise only two viz. the Utsarpini or Ascending and the Avasarpini or descending. This connotation of these two ages have a close parallel in the Satyuga and Kaliyuga of the Hindus. Over the ages the Jains have in practice drawn so near to Hinduism as to present outwardly little difference in modes of worship and ritual. The Jains reject the authority of the Vedas but recognize the caste System.

Jainism's Contribution to Hinduism

The Jains like the Hindus (today) practice Moorti Puja (Image Worship). In fact, Moorti Puja is a gift of the Jains to Hinduism. In the Vedic age, Hindus did not practice Moorti Puja. The Gods were the forces of nature who were not personified and they were propitiated through the yagnas.

Later on came the first break in Hinduism, when a section of the Hindus declared that the performing a Yagna sacrifice - where many animals were originally offerred - was an act of apostasy and that the Vedas were not the true embodiment of knowledge. These breakaway Hindus later became the Jains, who for the first time in India (after perhaps the Indus or Saraswati valley civilization) introduced the worship of Images. One instance of such worship is that of the image of the Bahubali who was the son of Rishabha Deva, the first tirthankara. Such Jain shrines with images are found at many places all over India, some of these places are Shravanabelagola, Palitana and Sammed Shikhar.

This practice of Moorti Puja was absorbed by the rest of the Hindus as their mode of worhip too and later on came the first personified Gods of the Hindus like Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh and then Sri Rama, Sri Krishna, Shakti, etc. Thus Moorti Poja which was pioneered by the Jain sect, became the most important and far-reaching contribution that the Jains made to Hinduism. This contribution was only second to their other contribution of the concept of Ahimsa and Jivadaya which also the Hindus borrowed from Jainism and Buddhism.

However, though the Jains were the first to split from the Hindu mainstream, nowadays there is observed among the Jains, a sub-conscious tendency to move into Hinduism. Many Jains allow themselves, whether by indifference or set purpose, to be described as Hindus. Though Jainism, like Buddhism arose as a reform movement directed at the then prevailing form of worship that made up Hinduism. It has in modern times shown a stronger tendency for being reabsorbed into the mother faith from which it sprang.

Before , we move ahead, we need to mention here that the difference between the collection of modes of worship termed Hinduism with that of the sects which broke away from the Hindu mainstream was that while within Hinduism, the different Hindu sects recognised all the dieties of the Hindu pantheon, when selecting one diety as its patron diety (Ista-Devata), the sects that broke away, withdrew recognition to the other dieties of the Hindu pantheon. This was the only difference between the various sects within Hinduism and the sects that broke away from the Hindu mainstream.


PHILOSOPHICAL SCHOOLS: Vedanta, Sankhya, Lokayata

In the history of religious beliefs in ancient India, philosophical and speculative thought played a very important role. There existed various philosophical schools of which Vedanta, Sankhya and Lokayata could be considered as representative of the three major schools of thought.

Vedanta's Theism, Sankhya's Materialism and Lokayata's Rationalism

While the Vedanta school was theistic (believing in the existence of God), the Lokayata school was materialistic and atheistic (believing in the existence of only those things whose existence could be seen, heard, felt, tasted and smelt). The Sankhya school was compromise between the other two schools.

While these philosophical schools played all important role in influencing the development of Indian religions, these philosophical schools themselves did not evolve into separate religions. They could not so evolve as they were intellectual traditions without any mass following. The lack of mass following had a positive effect as it kept the spirit of quest alive and disallowed the emergence of rigid commitment to certain ideas which prevented them from taking on the form of religion. Philosophical schools whether theistic or materialist remained distinct from religions proper. We shall explain in brief the nature of these different philosophical traditions.


Vedanta is the only philosophical tradition that remains alive today. The reason is that unlike any other philosophical school. Vedanta has been fully integrated into the Hindu religion. Vedanta literally means 'end of the Vedas' but it is interpreted as 'culmination of the Vedas'. The founder of Vedanta tradition is said to be the Vedic Seer Vyasa, but its most well known exponent was Adi Shankaracharya. There were others too like Sayanacharya, Madhavacharya and many others.

The Vedanta system virtually represents Shankaracharya's interpretation of the Sutras. The Sutras are a collection of rituals and practices that have been sanctioned in Vedic literature.

The essence of Vedanta philosophy is that all human beings have souls (Atman). And although physically all beings have a separate existence, their souls are actually not separate. They are merged into one supreme soul (Param-Atmah) or the absolute soul (Brahman). This unity of different souls is called Advaita or non-dualism (also called Monism). The doctrine of Advaita is central to Vedanta philosophy. The visible and palpable universe around us is considered to be unreal (Mithya) which is but an illusion i.e. Maya), while that which is tbe supreme reality the absolute soul (Brahman) cannot be perceived by our normal senses of sight, smell, hearing or touch.

(The Vedanta philosophy continues to be very popular among Hindu philosophers and is a subject at many discourses at temples. There are many contemporary names associated with this philosophy. It is not possible to recollect all, but some of those who have based their principles on Vedanta Philosophy include A. Parthasarthy, Swami Chinmayananda, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, among many others.)


The Sankhya school is relatively materialistic as compared to Vedanta. The founder of the Sankhya school is considered to be a philosopher named Kapila. The term Sankhya could be derived from Sankhyaa meaning 'numbers'. This could be so as Sankhya philosophy divides the universe into 25 principles (tattvas). The first 8 tattvas comprise of the material universe and are termed as Prakriti. One tattva is the motive power of the universe which is looked upon as the soul or spirit and is termed Purusha. The remaining 16 tattvas are the result of Purusha acting upon Prakriti and they constitute the material universe with all its movements of rotation, revolution, gravitation.

Thus everything begins with matter (Prakriti) but this matter in itself is inert or dead, it is activated by the stimulus provided to it by the motive power(Purusha) and the result of this 1s the active universe with its twinkling stars and rotating planets of which we are a part. The Sankhya system of ideas is thus not entirely theistic as it assumes the existence of both matter and motive power to begin with. The universe is not looked upon as the creation of a supreme creator. But the Sankhya doctrine is neither entirely materialistic. According to Sankhya, matter (Prakriti) which exists without any creator having created it, but is inert until it is actlvated by the motive power (Purusha).

Evidently the Sankhya doctrine tried to explain the existence (or creation) of the universe by extending the idea of sexual procreation to the entire universe. Incidentally, Purusha literally means "man" or male and Prakriti is one of the names of the Mother-Goddess.

Unlike Vedanta, the Sankhya doctrine was not incorporated into any religion. It never obtained wide acceptability among Hindu philosophers as did Vedanta. The most popular philosopher who is said to have propounded the Sankhya philosophy was Kapila. From the name it is uncertain whether this philosopher was a man or a woman. (Modern Indian philosophers like Rahul Sankrutyan and Devi Prasad Chattopadhyay have refered to the specualtions of Kapila.)

But Buddhism seems to have borrowed ideas from the Sankhya School. Thus this school appears to be of considerable antiquity and must have existed since before the 6th century B.C.E. when Gautama Buddha lived. But the Sankhya doctrine displays a dual character which arises from the attempts made to reconcile materislistic logic with the gaps in knowledge (perception)about the nature of the universe. In this sense the Sankhya doctrine proves inadequate as an intellectual doctrine as compared to another philosophical tradition or doctrine which was known as Lokayata (Derived from "Loka" meaning lay people) and which was thoroughly materialistic.


The Lokayata doctrine tried to explain the nature of the universe without the intervention of either God or devil. "Truth" for the exponents of this tradition was that which could be perceived by human senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste or touch. This kind of a down-to-earth approach necessitated recognition of the limits to human knowledge and capacity. But it also tethered the exponents of Lokayata to a realistic and convincing approach. Nothing was accepted as a matter of faith and the quest to know more about the unknown was the driving force of this school.

According to the Lokayata doctrine, the universe was made up of active physical forces ( like gravitation) which activated and stimulated each other. But these physical forces although active were not alive as they did not move about consciously towards any set purpose. This is where the Lokayata school differed from other philosophies which interpreted the "active" quality of these forces as proof of their being "alive".

The idea that the active powers of the physical universe like thunder, lightning, rain and storms were alive and moved about consciously to achieve a set perpose was the foundation of most philosophies. The exponents of Lokayata did not believe in concepts such as life after death or rebirth. A charge that was made against adherents of this philosophy was that they emphasised only the material aspects while disregarding spiritual ones. But this was natural in a school which looked upon only the perceptible as real.

Lokayata looked upon Man and his psyche a result of the material conditions around him. In this respect this school came close to modern interpretations which look upon man to be ultimately a result of physical evolution of the universe, and religion together with all aspects of the human psyche a result of Man's intellectual and emotional evolution.

Thus the Lokayata philosophy which seems closest to the modern Rationalism, seems to have been popular at some stage in history in ancient India. The term Lokayata itself can be translated as 'widespread among the people'. Its principle exponent is considered to be a philosopher named Charavaka who is said to be a contemporary of Sri Krishna and if legend is to be believed, he was burned at the orders of Yudhisthira after the Mahabharat war. His crime was apostasy in declaring that the vedas are not the ultimate in human knowledge.

Modern philosophers who have propounded this philosophy include like Dharmanand Kosambi, Rahul Sankrutyan and Devi Prasad Chattopadhyay. There existed other philosophical schools like Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Yoga and Mimansa, but the three schools discussed here represented the major under-currents of Indian philosophical thought. As mentioned earlier, philosophies interacted closely with religions and Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism all show traces of ideas borrowed from the different philosophical schools which strictly speaking were part of no religion.

All the religions and philosophies we have so far discussed originated in ancient times, but among the religions that originated in India there is a mediaeval one wlthout the mention of which our discussion would be incomplete. This religion is that of the Gurus of Punjab.


From the 11th century onward North India was subject to invasions from the Afghans and Turks. Punjab which has been the gateway into India since ancient times, bore the brunt of the Islamic onslaught. The victory of the invaders meant not just a new ruler but a ruler who was committed to spread his religion among the conquered people - with all means, fair and foul.

Towards this end the Muslim conquerors imposed the Jazia tax on the conquered i.e. non-Muslim people, destroyed non-Muslim places of worship and converted people to Islam at the point of the sword. On the other hand the existing religion, Hinduism with its unbending caste system and rigid ritualism had become long overdue for reform. Voices of dissent against orthodoxy and ritualism had begun to be heard even before the birth of Sikhism. Dyaneshwar and Namdeo in Maharashtra, Basaweshwara in the south were among those who preached the message of equality of all humans irrespective of their caste and creed. Such was the environment in which was born Nanak whom the Sikhs look upon as their first Guru.

The Life-Story of Guru Nanak Dev Ji

The life story of Nanak is eloquent as to the nature of the society that surrounded him as also of the mind of this simple yet noble person.

Nanak was born in the year 1469 at a village near the present-day city of Lahore. He was born in a Kshatriya family. His family is said to have belonged to the Bedi sub-caste. At his birth, we are told by the Adi Granth that 33 crores of Gods paid homage to the infant. His mother Tripta was noted for her piety and his father, Kalu was a merchant by profession.

Nanak was a brilliant boy since his early days and had mastered many of the Shastras while still young. We get an insight into the boy's mind when during his thread ceremony he riddled the officiating priest, with questions as to how the mere placing of a thread around his body could initiate him into the religion.

As a young man Nanak was fond of visiting ascetics and hermits and brooding over the discussion he had with them. Troubled by Nanak's non-wordly attitude his father tried to settle him in business. But Nanak's mind was involved in something far beyond the ordinary affairs of life. Once having given a large sum of money to be paid to another merchant Nanak non-chalantly distributed the sum among a group of beggars and returned home empty-handed. After this his father gave up hope of rehabilitating his errant son in wordly affairs.

The God "Brahm" appears before Nanak

Nanak continued to brood over issues dear to him. One day his brother-in-law who had come on a visit to Nanak's place decided to take Nanak with him and install him in Government service. In this assignment Nanak was fairly successful but his mind roamed elsewhere. Once when he had gone to have his morning bath, he disappeared into a nearby forest where it is said, God appeared before him and said "I am God, the primal Brahm" and you are the Guru. Three days after disappearing into the forest Nanak returned. But he did not wait long, he gave up his job, distributed among the needy whatever possessions he had and with one companion whose name was Mardana and who was a musician, Nanak set out to preach his gospel.

Ninak combined his preachings with devotional music and became a popular evangelist. Another technique of his to attract quick attention was his attire, which was a combination of the tradition of the Hindu and Muslim dress. This way he also emphasized the superfluous nature of tradition and in his preachings, emphasized that there was a religion greater than the one embodied in tradition and rituals. An important theme of his preachings was "There is no Hindu Muslim, all are the children of God".Na koi Hindu, na koi Turak, sab hai kudrat de bande

Nanak's Ridicule of Hollow Ritualism

Spreading his gospel he visited many places of pilgrimage. Once while he was on a visit to Kashi (modern Varanasi) he saw people taking a purificatory bath in the Ganges and then throwing water in a particular direction so that it reached the heavens where their departed ancestors resided. On seeing this Nanak joined the devotees, but he started throwing water in the opposite direction. When asked the reason for his anomalous behaviour, Nanak explained that he was watering his fields in Punjab which were about 500 miles from Kashi. On hearing his explanation he was made a laughing stock of the corwds but he turned the tables on his scronful audience by asking them how the water could reach the heavens if it could not reach his fields just 500 miles away.

Though born a Hindu, Nanak was quite careless of the formal demands of Hinduism and openly attacked some of its practices. Once during his travels he askced for food at a wayside house and was offered deer meat which he ate heartily. For this he was rebuked by Brahman priests. But Nanak felt no qualms for having violated convention and his caustic reply to the priest was that, it was foolish for a man who was born of flesh and who continually lived in flesh to abstain from eating it. In his sermons he frequently ridiculed rituals held sacred by the orthodoxy.

Once during a sermon he posed a question to his audience as to what was the point in going to snake pits and worahipping a snake as a God when they would kill the same snake without hesitation if it chanced to enter their homes. Nanak's views would have sounded heretical and sacrilegious to the devout, but during his lifetime itself Nanak had acquired a considerable following among the peasantry in Punjab.

Nanak's visit to Mecca and the Kaaba

In the course of his missionary activity Nanak often visited foreign countries. According to local folklore, he is said to have visited, Mecca in the guise of a Muslim devotee. But his ignorance of Mohammedan etiquette nearly cost him his life. On his first night at Mecca he slept with his feet towards the Kaaba. He was rudely awakened by an Arab clergyman who said, "Who is thls sleeping Kaafir (infidel), who lies with his feet towards God?". To this Nanak replied "Turn my feet in the right direction where God is not". And when the clergyman turned Nanak's feet to the proper Mohammedan position, the sacred Kaaba itself turned round following Nanak's feet in their semi-circular revolution - or so, we are told, through Sikh folklore.

Hindu and Muslim disciples of Nanak

Nanak continued his missionary activities till the end of his days. When his end was near he had acquired a large following among the Hindus and also among some Muslims who had recently been converted to Islam at the point of the sword by the Sultans and Mughals who then were in power at Delhi. But when Nanak lay on his deathbed an unseemly quarrel broke out among his followers. The Hindus wanted to cremate the body of their Guru. while the Muslims wanted to bury it. We are told that to teach a lesson to his warring disciples Nanak asked each of the groups to place flowers at his dead body on either side and those whose flowers remained fresh throughout one night could have possession of his body. But after this was done, to everybody's surprise on the said morning when the shroud was lifted there was no body but only flowers and all of them were fresh. Thus even after his death as during his life Nanak taught the people the falsity of the barriers of religion.

Sikhism after Nanak

Nanak had appointed a disciple of his, named Angad, to succeed him as the next Guru. During Nanak's days there were many preachers who spread similar views among people. Dyaneshwara, Namdeo. Basaveshwara, Kabir, Tulsidas were a few among them. But it was only Nanak's tradition that 1ived on while that of the others withered away soon after the death of the founders. The reason why only Nanak's tradition survived the death of the founder could be found in the fact that Nanak did not present himself as belonging to any particular religion and his message was directed towards all.

Nanak wanted to propagate a message of universal brotherhood and did not limit himself with reforming the religion of his birth, although one of his objectives was to rid Hinduism, of casteism and ritualism. Another and more important reason could be the line of successive Gurus that followed Nanak and continued, to preach the message of universal brotherhood whose propagation he had initiated. After Nanak came 9 Gurus who succeeded each other in the following order:
Guru Nanak Dev Ji
Guru Angad Dev Ji
Guru Amardass Ji
Guru Ramdass Ji
Guru Arjan Dev Ji
Guru Hargobind Saheb Ji
Guru Har Rai Saheb Ji
Guru Har Kishen Saheb Ji
Guru Tegh Bahadur Saheb Ji
Guru Gobind Singh Ji
Guru Granth Saheb Ji

Sikhism under the Successive Gurus

Nanak did not present his teachings as though they were a separate religion but laid emphasis on the universal brotherhood among all humans irrespective of the religion they followed. But gradually the followers of Guru Nanak and of the, Gurus, who succeeded him acguired the status of a distinct religion which was one among the many others which had existed till then. To begin with no name was given to the followers of Guru Nanak but later on they acquired a name. The term 'Sikh' used to describe tbem means 'disciple' of the Guru and is derived from the term 'Shishya' which in Sanskrit means 'disciple'.

The 22 Segments

Under every successive Guru, the position of the followers as a separate and organised religion was further crystallized. The third Guru Amardass divided the territory inhabited by his followers in twenty two segments and spiritual administrators were appointed for each of the segments. The fourth Guru Ramdass established a temple near Lahore which could be looked upon by the followers as the seat of spiritual and temporal authority of the Guru. This temple was called the Harimandir and later the Harmindar Saheb or the Darbar Saheb Gurudwara. A lake was dug around it for devotees to bathe before offering prayers. This lake was termed the Amrit-Sarovar (lake of nectar) from which the city that grew around it derived its name 'Amritsar'.

The fifth Guru Arjan Dev compiled the Sikh canon)the Adi Granth (later to be called Guru Granth Saheb Ji) which alongwith the Sukhmani and the Japjee compi1ed by Guru Nanak, forms part of the worship (Ardas) of the Sikhs.

Guru Arjan Dev instituted practices which were to have far-reaching impact on the making of the Sikh community. In this he was surpassed only by the last Guru, Gobind Singh.

'Piri' and 'Miri'

Guru Arjan Dev declared that it was the duty of every Sikh to give one tenth of his income to the communal treasury and he appointed collectors for each of the twenty two segments to implement this. Thus Sikhism became a theocracy and a state of which the Guru was virtually a king. He used to wear two swords one on each hip which came to known as the 'Piri' the Saint and 'Miri' the Administrator. Here we see the combination of the role of the Church and the State in the context of Sikhism.

Amibivalance towards Hinduism

Though Sikhism began as a message of universal brotherhood among followers of all religions, it was gradually itself transformed into a separate religion. Its relationship with Hinduism remained a problematical one. This was so although as the Gurus preached the message of universal brotherhood all the Gurus themselves and almost all of their followers were drawn from Hinduism. Added to this was the burden of oppression of the Mughal emperors who looked upon the Sikhs as a group of heretical Hindus who tried to sow confusion amongst the followers of Islam. Guru Arjan Des tried to resolve the status of Sikhism by stating that:

"I have broken with the Hindu and the Musalmaan.

I will not worship with the Hindu, nor like the Musalmaan go to Mecca,

I shall serve Him and no other,

I will not pray to idols, nor say the prayer of the Musalmaan

I shall put my heart at the feet of the one Supreme Being,

For we are neither Hindus nor Mussalmaans.

Martydom of Guru Arjan Dev

But in the eyes of the Mughal rulers, the followers of the Gurus were Hindus who tried to undermine Mughal sovereignty. For this the Sikhs were violently repressed. In the reign of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, Guru Arjan Dev Ji was the first Guru to be martyred (at the hand of the Mughal oppressors). Jehangir sentenced Guruji to be beheaded after being tormented for days. Burning hot sand was poured on his bare body. After being subjected to such inhuman torture, Guruji we are told, expressed a desire as his last wish, to have a bath in the Ravi river before being beheaded. Guru Arjan Dev Ji who had suffered brutally at the hands of his Mughal tormentors, went into the river till his head disappeared into the swirling currents of the Ravi - never to return. Thus he became the first Sikh Guru to lay down his life due to Mughal oppression.

It was under the later Gurus that Sikhism came to appear as the militant wing of the Hindu community. The idea of Sikhs being defenders of Hinduism was strengthened during the tenure of the 9th and 10th Gurus. Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh. During the tenure of these two Gurus the nature of the Sikh religion underwent a fundamental change. And from being a sect with ascetic and pacifist ideals, the Sikhs were transformed into an aggressive military theocracy.

Militarization of the Sikhs due to Mughal Oppression

The changes brought about by Guru Gobind Singh were so fundamental that they represented a new phase in the history of Sikhism. It is worth recalling the circumstances that led to this change. Understanding this phase of Sikh history is all the more important as it led to the formation of Sikhism as we know it today.

Thls phaes of the Sikh religion was a direct result of Mughal oppression. The Mughal rulers had no love for a sect that originated from among the Kafirs (Hindus) but had adapted Islamic ideas like monotheism rejection of idol worship, military theocracy and who with the indigenous Hindu terminology of expression tried to secure a following also among the adherents of Islam. This was unbearable to the Mughals who looked upon the Sikhs as wanting to usurp the platform of Islam and stall the process of converting Hindus (in Punjab) to Islam.

Sikhism was in the eyes of the Mughals - a Panic Reaction of the Hindus against Islam

For the Mughals, Sikhism represented a panic reaction from within the Hindu community to salvage its status as non-muslim by accepting the positive ideals of Islam like rejection of idol worship, casteism and ritualism of its Hindu parent religion and infusing militancy into the new Hindu converts to Sikhism. In the eyes of the Mughal rulers, the Sikh reform was detrimental to the conversion of the Hindus to Islam; and the militancy of the Sikhs was harmful to the security of the Mughal empire. Hence the bitter oppression of the Sikhs by the Mughals which was even more severe than the oppression of the Hindus in general.

During the reign of Aurangzeb the severest wave of oppression was unleashed on Non-Muslims with a view to Islamize the country. As the Mughal oppression found tough resistance from the Sikhs they were the favourite target for the Mughals. Here the story of Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh needs to be recollected.

The Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahudur

During the reign of Aurangzeb Guru Tegh Bahadur who was the then Guru of the Sikhs was approached by a group of Hindu Pandits from Kashmir with a plea for protection from Mughal oppression. True to the spirit of his faith the Guru decided to approach the fanatical Mughal emperor Aurangzeb himself for a redress of the grievances. Unfortunately at the Mughal court he received abuses and threats. He was told to accept Islam on the pain of death. To prove his word the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb tcrtured to death the members of the Guru's entourage one after the other. But Guru Tegh Bahadur did not lose his composure and calmly demanded a halt to the repressive policies. Wanting to teach a lesson to the obstinate Guru and to set an example to his followers the emperor ordered that the Guru to be beheaded. Thus after Guru Arjan Dev, Tegh Bahadur was the second Sikh Guru to meet a violent death at the hands of the Mughals. But after his execution some of his followers managed to sneak out the Guru's severed head from Delhi and carried it to Anandpur. At the place where the Gurus severed head was cremated, a Gurudwara was erected to commemorate this sacrifice undertaken in defence of the Dharma. This place is known to us today as the Anandpur Saheb Gurudwara.

The Khalsa Panth of Guru Gobind Singh Ji

When Guru Tegh Bahadur was martyred, his son Gobindrai, who later became Guru Gobind Singh) was still a boy, but the events which had overtaken his father, influenced him deeply and after succeedinq his father as the next Guru, he was determined to carry out the struggle against Mughal oppression. Towards this end he undertook a radical transformation of the Sikh religion. This transformation was too fundamental to be be termed as a reform and it virtually amounted to the establishment of a new religious order. And though he transformation differentiated the subsequent Sikhism (the Khalsa Panth from the earlier one; more in temporal and worldly aspects rather than in spiritual matters, it led to the first major split among the Sikhs.

The five Ks (Kakkars)

The transformation of Sikhism as the Khalsa Panth was formally launched by Guru Gobind Singh Ji on Baishakhi (New year) day in the year 1699. The new community was termed the Khalsa Panth or the 'Pure Sect' as its followers were required to be far more strict in observing the tenets of their reformed faith. The followers of the Khalsa were required to observe five visible symbols of membership. These signs as we know were: 1) Unshorn Hair (Kesha), 2) A curved dagger (Kirpan), 3) A comb (Kangva), 4) A steel bangle (Kada), 5) A pair of shorts (Kachha) . All members of the Khalsa were required to suffix their name with the term 'Sinqh' meaning 'lion'. Guru Gobind Singh's aim in forming the Khalsa Panth was to build up a militarized community which could resist Muqhal oppression. An anecdote about his forming of the Khalsa army is worth recalling.

The Formation of the Khalsa Army

Once the Guru was delivering an inspiring speech before a group of Sikh youths on the necessity for every youth in the community to be ready to sacrifice everything he had including his life for the cause of his faith. The response of the youths was enthusiastic and many expressed their readiness to get enrolled in the Khalsa Panth. But the Guru' s standards of integrity were very high and he said that he would require the heads of those who wanted to join the Khalsa. The Guru pulled out his sword and beckoned the enthusiastic youths to come forward and lay down their lives there and then.

The youths were dumbfounded and for some moments nobody volunteered to sacrifice his life, while the Guru waited with his unsheathed sword in hand. Finally one of the youths turned up and offerred his head to the Guru saying that his head already belonged to the Guru and the Guru may have it if he wanted. The Guru caught hold of the youth and led him inside the sacrificial tent that had been erected for the occasion. After sometime there was a piercing scream form the youth and the Guru emerged from the tent and in his hand was a blood-stained sword. The Guru now demanded another head.

His audience was benumbed at this evident gruesome scene and many devotees fled the place in disgust saying that the Guru had gone mad! But out of the few remaining youths another one offered his head to the Guru. After some time a few select youths had offered their heads to their Guru and has been "sacrificed" by the Guru, while many others had fled carrying with them the memory of a ghastly episode.

But those who fled were never to learn the secret of what happened to those brave youths, five in number, who had offered their heads to the Guru and who were the first Panj Pyaras. Contrary to the impression that he created, after leading every youth into the tent, the Guru embraced each of them and installed them as his select soldiers who were to form the Khalsa army. This army was the bravest that could be had as it was made up of men who had proved that they would lay down their lives to serve their Guru and the Panth in their struggle with the Mughal oppressors.

The Fierce Commitment to Overthrow Mughal Oppression

There is also a less known tradition which Guru Ji is said to have shared orally with the Panj Pyaras in the tent after they had offered him their heads. After baptising them as the first 5 members of the the Khalsa "Pure" Panth Guru Ji decided to have the Panj Pyaras observe the 5 kakkars which included wearing a Kada (Bangle) - as a sign of womanhood and shame for not yet having fulfilled a commitment of overthrowing the Mughal tormentors who then ruled Punjab(and the rest of India). The Kada, as a symbol of womanhood and shame was meant to instill a compelling sense of commitment in them to defeat their Mughal tormentors. This aspect of the kada signifying womanhood and shame was later not mentioned for obvious reasons and is not reflected in the Sikh legend. It was this act on part of Guru Ji that spurred on his followers to avenge their oppression by the Muslims and finally led to their successes under Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1799.

(This tradition of fighting Delhi was quoted again by the terrorists during the anti-Indian insurgency of the 1980s. But then the rulers of Delhi were different in 1980 from those in 1699!)

Sahejdharis and Keshadharis

Those members of the Sikh Panth (sect) who observed the five visible signs, and also used the suffix "Singh" (lion) with their names, imbibed the fighting spirit inclucated by Guru Gobind Singh. They came to be known as Keshadharis (wearers of unshorn hair) and those Sikhs (i.e. virtually all the remaining people of Punjab) who revered the Gurus but did not accept the 5 Kakkars laid down by Guru Gobind Singh Ji and did not use the suffix "Singh" were called Sahejdharis (casual devotees), or plainly speaking - Punjabis (i.e. Punjabi Hindus).

The Sahejdharis were also followers of the Gurus, though they did not belong to the Khalsa Panth. And despite this difference, there did not exist a feeling of belonging to different sects among the two sects of the followers of the Gurus till recent times.

The Political History of the Sikhs

The later history of the Sikhs is more a political history rather than religious and centers around the establishment of a soverign kingdom by Maharaija Ranjit Singh. Here let us digress into the politico-military situation in North India in the mid 18th century.

The Persian Invasion of 1740 by Nadir Shah

The immediate impetus for the establishment of the Sikh kingdom came from the invasion of North India by Ahmed Shah Durrani (Abdali) the ruler of Afghanistan in 1759/61. On his way to Delhi, Ahmed Shah burnt down the Harmindar Saheb Gurudwara at Amritsar. He stayed on in Delhi for 2 years and was planning to settle in India forever, when he was challenged by the Marathas. The Marathas who then were on their ascendancy in North India had since the first Persian-Afghan invasion by Nadir Shah, the king of Persia in 1740, established themselves as a dominant power in Northern India. The 20 years from 1740 to 1760 saw a see-saw battle between the Afghans and the Marathas for the domination of North India.

With the defeat of Mohammed Shah, the Moghul Emperor in 1740 by Nadir Shah (in whose army Ahmed Shah Abdali was a general), the Mughal power steadily declined and its place was usurped by the Rohillas who were led by an ambitious and ruthless chieftain named Najib Khan. Najib's ambition was to supplant the Moghal Emperor and crown himself as the ruler of India by capturing Delhi.

The Rise of the Marathas in Punjab

But the growing power of the Marathas in their northward expansion, stood between Najib and his ambition. To overcome the Marathas, in 1755, Najib invited Ahmed Shah Abdali from Afghanistan to help him in defeating the Marathas and crown himself the ruler of India. In this, he was thwarted by the Marathas who decisively defeated the Rohillas and Afghans near Delhi in 1756. The defeat was so decisive that Najib Khan surrendered to the Marathas and became their prisoner. The Maratha forces were led by Shrimant Raghunath Rao and Malhar Rao Holkar.

After defeating the Afghan-Rohilla forces, the Marathas pursued the Afghans into the Punjab upto the Khyber pass. The last frontier of the Marathas was at Attock in today's NWFP (or Paktoonistan) on the Afghan border. Thus after nearly 800 after the last Punjabi King Tirlochan Pal Shahi had been defeated by Mahmud of Ghazi in 1020 C.E. did that part of India come under Indian rule in 1756 due to the liberation of Punjab by the Marathas.

Meanwhile with machinations and trickery, Najib Khan won over Malhar Rao Holkar and secured his release. On his release Najib started to undermine the Marathas once again and treacherously killed Dattaji Shinde (eldest brother of Mahadji Shinde) . Najib continued to battle the Shindes in 1757-58 and with his newly found confidence again invited Ahmed Shah Abdali to invade India.

The 3rd Battle of Panipat - 1761

Abdali's second invasion was launched in 1759. The Marathas who after their successes in 1756 had been hibernating in Maharashtra and Central India again woke up and in alliance with the Jat King Suraj Mal of Bharatpur formed an alliance. This alliance led by Shrimant Sadshiv Rao Bhau and Shrimant Vishwas Rao (the Peshwa Shrimant Balaji Baji Rao's son) won spectacular victories and captured Delhi and Kunjapura (where the Afghan treasury and armoury was located).

Here the alliance developed cracks due to the Maratha insistence on not allowing the Jats to loot Delhi. This ultimately split the alliance and Suraj Mal withdrew from the alliance.

The Marathas consequently marched upto Panipat, but instead of continuing their attacks to completely defeat the partly defeated Abdali and Najib Khan, they stayed put at Panipat, blocking the way of the Afghans back to Afghanistan. Seeing their way back to their homeland blocked, the Afghans now became restless. They in turn, decided to block the way of the Marathas back into the Deccan. This stand-off continued for a few months, while the Afghans cut-off all supplies to the huge Maratha army. The Afghans with Najib Khan meanwhile recaptured Delhi and Kunjpura.

On the decisive day of 14th January 1761, the Marathas decided to break-through the Afghan blockade and re-enter Deccan. The disastrous battle saw about one hundred thousand Maratha troops being slaughtered in a matter of eight hours. But the Afghans too suffered heavy losses and decided enough was enough and went back to Afghanistan never to return to India.

The defeat of the Marathas and the withdrawal of the Afghans created a power vacuum in North India in the period 1761-1790. It was this vacuum that was filled up by the rising Sikh power uder the dynamic leadership of Maharaja Shri Ranjit Singh Ji.

The Rise of the first Sikh Kingdom

When the history of Maratha-Afghan warfare was being enacted, the Sikhs in Punjab had formed themselves into Misls (Local Armed Battalions). Though they did not actively participate in helping the Marathas against the Afghans, they nursed a grievance against the Rohillas and Afghans. On the departure of the Afghans, the Sikhs reasserted themselves in the Punjab and Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji who was the leader of one of the most powerful Misl, formed a kingdom with its capital in today's West Punjab in Pakistan. His kingdom stretched beyond the Hindu Kush into Afghanistan. He had able generals like Banda Bahadur and Hari Singh Nallua who had been born as Sahejdharis but had been baptised into the Khalsa Panth.

It was a tradition in those days for the eldest son of every family from Punjab to join the army (of the Maharaja) by observing the 5 Kakkars. Brave generals like Banda Bahadur and Hari Singh Nallua took the Sikh armies deep into Afghanistan and they are reputed to have brought back the original Gates of the Somnath Temple which had been desecrated by Mahmud of Ghazni in the 11th century. The gates had been carried off by Mahmud to Afghanistan and had remained there ever since. Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji retrieved them and sent them back to Somnath.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji's reign marked the consolidation of Indian sovereignty in Punjab after first Muslim invasions eight hundred years before in 1020. The Marathas had broken the continuous Muslim occupation of Punjab by liberating it in 1756 and Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji consolidated Indian rule in Punjab a few years later.

The kingdom established by Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji successfully resisted the Afghans, and Rohillas and also out-matched the new imperialist power of the British successfully till Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji was alive. At his death, the Maharaja had warned about the impending coming of the British.

(On his death-bed he is said to have expressed a desire to offer his most precious possession to the Jagannath Puri temple at Orissa. He was asked by the chief Mahant (priest) of the Jagannath Puri temple as to what he considered most precious. In reply Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji is said to have told the Mahant that as a Keshadhari follower of the Guru, his unshorn hair was most precious to him and he wanted to donate that to the temple along with umpteen gold and jewellery.)

It was during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji that the Harmindar Saheb Gurudwara at Amritsar which had been burnt down by Ahmed Shah Abdali in 1760, was repaired and was completely plated with gold and from then onwards it came to be known as the Golden Temple.

Such was Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji who consolidated Indian rule in India's frontier state which had been earlier liberated by the Marathas. Unfortunately the Marathas could not retain their hold over the liberated areas, many of which were re-occupied by the Rohillas and Afghans after a few years. But the rise of the Sikh power ensured that a large part of the Maratha achievements of rolling back alien rule could be consolidated and expanded.

The Coming of the British

The Sikh kingdom survived for some years after the passing away of Ranjit Sinah but in a few years after his death the British defeated the Sikh forces at Chillianwalla in 1856 and annexed the kingdom. Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji's son, the teenaged son Duleep Singh was taken into custody by the British and sent to London for studies!

Though the British annexed the Sikh kingdom, they recognised the fighting spirit and bravery of the Sikh soldiers and enrolled a large number of them into the British colonial army.

The Sikh troops ironically, proved to be loyal supporters of the British crown especially by their role in quelling the National uprising of 1857 which was spearheaded by troops from Bihar and the United Provinces who had mutined against the British. For this reason Sikhs were favoured by the British for enrollment in the army and despite participation of many Sikhs in the freedom struggle, they continued to form the bulk of Indian troops in the British colonial army and even today form a significant proportion in the Indian Army.

Modern History of the Sikhs - The Arya Samaj and the Singh Sabha

In the 19th century many parts of India - under British rule - saw a religious and philosophical revival. The Brahmo Samaj in Bengal, the Prarthana Samaj in Maharashtra, the theosophical society in Madras, the Arya Samaj in Punjab were some of these many movements.

In Punjab, the Arya Samaj was led by illustrious leaders like Swami Dayananda Saraswati and Lala Lajpat Rai. Initially the Keshadharis were also a part of the Arya Samaj. The principles of the Arya Samajis like rejection of idol worship and of castism and reduction of ritualism made it quite familiar with the principles of the Gurus. But the rigidity of the Arya Samaj principles subjected the teachings of the Gurus critically (and in the opinion of this writer also with an evident bias against the Gurus).

In "Satyarth Prakash", the mouthpiece of the Arya Samaj, the Gurus were severely criticised and on some trumpted up argument Guru Nanak Dev Ji was called a Dambhi (Hypocrite). This unjustified criticism of the Gurus due to a negatively revivalist (reactionary) streak in the Arya Samaj alienated the Keshadharis from the Arya Samaj. As a reaction to this, most of the Keshadhari followers of the Arya Samaj split from the Samaj and joined the Guru Singh Sabha which had been formed around roughly the same time as the Arya Samaj. The Guru Singh Sabha was later to act as an ideological spearhead of the Keshadharis. This ideology was based on differentiating the Keshadharis (i.e. the Sikhs) from the Sahejdharis (i.e. Hindus). This dubious credit for creating this split between the Keshadharis and the Sahejdharis was evenly divided between the orthodoxy and revivalism of the Arya Samajis and also the teachings of some the Gurus e.g., Guru Arjan Dev Ji's statement that we are "neither Hindus nor Musalmaans". But the Sahejdhari's led by the Punjabi Brahmin orthodoxy which had a strong presence in the Arya Samaj, made a rapproachment between the Keshadharis and the Sahejdharis increasingly remote. This set the stage for the Gurudwara Agitation of the 1920s.

The Gurudwara Agitation

This agitation which was launched by the Akali Dal in 1924-1925, aimed at wresting control of the Gurudwaras, from the traditional Mahants (priests) . These Mahants who held an hereditary position as priests in the Gurudwaras were mostly Sahejdhari Sikhs who had refused to conform to the five outward symbols prescribed by Guru Gobind Singh Ji. The Sahejdhari Mahants some of whom were clean shaven, were all but indistinguishable from the Hindus. Their natural affinity to Hinduism had led them to introduce elements of Hindu rituals and even image worship in the Gurudwaras and consequently Hindus (Sahejdhari Sikhs in the context of Punjab) and Sikhs (Keshadharis) worshipped together.

The Shiromani Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC).

These Mahants were considered to have uncertain loyalty towards their Sikh faith vis-a-vis Hinduism. And by virtue of the vital position they held as officiating priests at Gurudwaras, they represented a potent force that could merge the Sikhs with Hinduism.

After a protracted struggle the Akali Dal got the British administration to enact a Sikh Gurudwara and Shrines Act. Under this Act the hereditary tenure of the Mahants was abolished and all control Of the Gurudwaras was vested in a Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC).

Once having ejected the Mahants, the agitationists, threw out the images of Hindu deities, replaced the rituals and ceremonies of the Mahants by those which they considered were in ccordance with Sikh scrsptures and Maryada. They also appointed priests (Granthis and Jathedars) who were to be the on the payroll of the SGPC. This revivalist movement helped to strengthen the wedge between the Keshadharis and the Sahejdharis whose line of demarcation was blurred due to a common heritage.

The emphasis on Sikhs being a separate community distinct from the Hindus was sought to be expressed in terms of the 5 distinguishing symbols the Keshadhari Sikhs thus implying that the Sahejdhari Sikhs were not true Sikhs and that the religion which bore the name Sikhism was limited to members of the Khalsa Panth.

To a lay observer the insistence of the Keshadhari Sikhs to look upon only those members who observe the 5 visible symbols as Sikhs, and others who give up these symbols as being Patit (heretics) and having lapsed (into Hinduism) would appear gueer when the Muslims or the Christians can retain thieir identity as members of a religious community as distinct from the Hindus even without any external symbols.

Why is it that a Muslim without a beard remains a Muslim while a Keshadharis (Sikh) without one is looked upon as a Hindu?

The reason perhaps lies in the fact that most of the Muslims and the Christians though like the Keshadharis (Sikhs) being converts from Hinduism, own up traditions that do not originate in Hinduism or for that matter geographically in India itself. They generally look upon the history and traditions of another country as there own while those of their own country, which incidentally are bound up largely with Hinduism are for them either "infidel" or "pagan"!

This is not so among the Keshadharis (Sikhs) whose traditions have been part and parcel with those of the Hindus, in the five centuries of their existence; and for the period beyond that, the history of the Hindus and of India is their history. (The Keshadharis (Sikhs) share with the people of the rest of India, the history of the land of the Seven Rivers - a region where the concept of India first began to take shape Five Thousand years ago, which gave us the four Vedas; which gave birth to vedic seers like Vishwamitra, and Vyasa; Kings like Paurava (Porus), Ambastha (Ombhis), Shakuni, Raja Jai Pal Shahi, and Raja Tirlochan Pal Shahi; Queens like Kaikeyi, Gandhari; Scholars like Kautilya and Pannini; Universities like Takshashila, metropolises like Lav-kush Pur (Lahore), Mulasthana (Multan), Purushapura (Peshwar), Kubha-Kapisa (Kabul). The list could be endless.)

Hence the Keshadharis do not and cannot look to the history or traditions of another country or religion as their own and at the same time they do not want to be identified with the Hindus from whose ranks all of them have emerged at one time or the other, over the last 500 years.

To overcome this nagging dilemma the Sikhs (i.e. the Keshadharis), place emphasis on the most evident difference between them and the Sahejdharis (commonly termed Punjabis), which is their external symbols. The agitation for a separate Sikh state in the Punjab was in part a desperate attempt to preserve by political means the identity of a community that is precarlously perched on the verge of Hinduism and harbours a horror of going over the brink and disappearing into the quicksands of its mother faith.

Commonality of Sikhs (Keshadharis) with its Mother Faith - The Saffron Colour

This fear on part of the Keshadharis is natural as in the eyes of an average Sikh) the parallels between his faith and thst of the Hindus appear close enough to be confused with each other if sought to be distinguished. The list of parallels could be an endless one. Even a superfical look at Sikhism brings out the common points. A look atop a Gurudwara cannot miss the triangular saffron flag due to which a the place of worship could be considered to be a Hindu temple unless one is aware of the distinguishing architectural features of a Gurudwara.

Sikh spiritual leaders and priests use Saffron cloth for their turbans and dress as they consider the Saffron colour to have a religious significance though in the 1980s it had become a symbol of revivalism and bigotry (for the terrorists).

"Ek Onkar" of the Keshadharis and "Omkar" of the Hindus

The second thing that meets the eye while looking at Gurudwara is the letter "Ek Onkar" which is inscrlbed on most Gurudwaras (it means "One God"). The concept of God as Om is evidently borrowed from the Hindu concept which is also inscribed on many Hindu temples.

"Pheres" as a Wedding Custom among the Keshadharis

In spite of their horror of being called Hindus; till the 1920s, the fire (aqni) and the hearth (aqnikund) continued to hold a central place in their marriage rituals and a Keshadhari couple was deemed to have been married only after the couple went around the fire four times in the same manner as the Hindus do seven times in a ritual called the Saptapadi (Seven Steps) or Phere. But in the last few decades, the fire has been replaced by the Adi Granth and the rounds have been reduced from seven to four. Although the custom of Pheres has remained. Like the Hindus the Keshadharis cremate their dead. Ritual bathing before performing religious ceremonies in Gurudwaras is still a current practice which is parallel to the Hindu practice of bathing in rivers or tanks considered holy, before entering a temple. The pond or lotus pond (Pushkara) that is built near many Hindu temples has its parallel to the Amrit-sarovar around the Golden temple at Amritsar.

Even the practice of growing a beard and hair and tying it up in a knot atop one's head is not peculiar to the Keshadhairs. Since ancient times those who entered Sanyasa, the last stage of an ideal life for a Hindu, grew beard and hair and tied the hair in a knot atop their heads. The presence of long hair and beard was a sign of a man who had forsaken material pursuits. Those who accepted Sanyasa right since their celibate boyhood (Brahmacharya)had to wear unshorn hair and tie it atop their heads. Such persons were known as Keshin i.e. those with hair. All ancient Hindu Rishis (seers) are shown as having unshorn hair. Even today Sadhus and Sanyasis have unshorn hair. A Sikh without a turban appears quite similar to a Hindu Sadhu. It is quite possible that the inspiration for wearing unshorn hair come from the hoary tradition among the Hindus.

The Guru-Shishya Parampara

The Guru_Shishya tradition which is the core of the Keshadharis is a continuation of the same tradition among the Hindus. The Guru in traditional Hindu soclety is more than a coach or a tutor. He is looked upon as a spiritual guide next only to God. The Guru-Shishya tradition was natured in Ashramas and Gurukulas where education was imparted since ancient times. Children were sent to Gurukulas at a tender age and for years together they stayed with their Guru who trained them in all arts and sciences. The Guru was normally from the Brahmin caste (at times he could be a Kshatriya) hence in the eyes of his disciples (Shishyas) he could acquire a venerable and semi-divine status.

Even today this tradition of revering Gurus is not absent among Hindus as is evident from the innumerable Swamis, Gurus and Babas who are looked upon as equivalent of Gods and are an object of worship. Buddha and Mahavir (and the other Tirthankaras) also represented the same tradition as did Guru Nanak. Although many tenets of Sikhism are fundamentally different from the (generally recognised) ritualism of the Hindus, the Guru-Shishya tradition around which the Sikh Panth is built evidently betrays its Hindu Origin.

Idol Worship Among the keshadharis

Though the Sikhs reject idol worship, they look upon the Granth Saheb as their Guru. The Granth Saheb is placed on a throne (takht) where offerings are made to it and as an act of reverence, fans are waved before it so as to keep it comfortable by circulating the wind around in a way similar to that done for Kings in the past. This betrays a kind of respect for the Guru Granth as though it were a living Guru. This personifies the Guru Granth. The Granth being looked upon as an 'object' of reverence rather than only as a text that gives a message of universal brotherhood in itself betrays a trait of object worship which is but one step behind idol worship (moorti puja of the Hindus). And although the Sikhs worship no idols their reverence for the Granth and the Golden temple betrays a very similar sentiment. One instance is the practice and the structure of the Parikrama that involves going around the Golden Temple in a circle. The concept of Parikrama is an obvious derivation from the Hindu practice of Pradikshna.

Tbe suffix Sinqh which is today a common Sikh title has an origin older than may appear. In ancient times Hindu Kings and princes used to adopt the suffix 'Simha' meaning lion as e.g. in Narasimha Deva the ruler of Orissa who resisted the Muslims and built the Konark Temple. In mediaeval ages the Rajputs corrupted the word Simha to Sinh and Singh e.g. Gaj Singh, Uday Singh, etc. This title continued to be a trademark of the martial nobility. To inclulcate in the Sikhs, this martial tradition, Guru Gobind Singh Ji made it obligatory for Keshadharis to use this suffix after their first name. Even today the suffix Sinqh is used by many Hindus of the Rajput and Jat castes and in some cases it has even become a surname.

Despite their insistence on having a cultural identity distinct from the Hindus the Keshadharis continue to celebrate Hindu festivals like Diwali, Holi (Hola Mohalla) and Baisikhi in a popular way. Even other traditional Hindu festivals like Janmastami, Ramnavami, Mahashivratri and Vijaya-Dashmi are observed, though keshadhari participation in these festivals is not as popular) and in recent times it seems to be on the wane.

Concepts of Karma in Sikhism

Though not known and understood popularly, the Sikh concepts about Karma and Salvation are drawn from their counterparts in Hinduism. At this stage one might wonder, why is it that so many vestiges should have survived in Sikhism when the intention of Guru Nanak Dev Ji was not to identify his disciples with any one religions, or even to establish a separate religion but to preach the universal brotherhood of man and the unity of God by whatever name he may be called?

One reason is that despite these aims of the founder, at the practical level Sikhism functioned as a reform movement among the Hindus. Almost all its converts came from the Hindus and so did All the Gurus. Due to historic compulsion like Mughal oppression, Sikhism over a major period of its history remained a spiritual, temporal and political movement of the Hindus, by the Hindus and virtually for the Hindus.

That Keshadhari Sikhism has still not been able to completely circumcise itself of its Hindu heritage is evident from the repeated pronouncements in shrill tones that the Sikhs are not Hindus. This dread of a loss of identity on part of the Sikhs arises from the genetic similarity between -the mother religion and the offspring. The ambivalence of the Sikhs vis-a-vis Hinduism had till recently (in the 1980s) found expression in the form of terrorist violence. And in doing so the terrorists were waging a matricidal war on a people whose religion and religion, history and culture was their own cradle. It is not surprising that several Indians regarded the activities of the terrorists as those of prodigals gone berserk. Though Keshadharis have always tried to ensure their status as an independent religious community, the anti-Hindu slant was of recent origin. Hindus (Sahejadharis in the context of Punjab) and Keshadharis had till recently never looked upon each other as members of different faiths leave alone of rival or enemy faiths.

Common Struggles of the Recent Past

Needless to recall that in defense of their faith and of themselves; they had to throw their lot with each other in the face of a common danger throughout the five hundred years of the history of Sikhism - the last occasion being in 1947.

The anti-Hindu slant of the 1980s among the Keshadharis (or at least among some sections of them) was a recent phenomenon. In its earlier days Sikhism functioned as a reform movement among the Hindus of Punjab from whom came the followers of the Gurus some of whom became Keshadharis.

Although the message of the Gurus was aimed at all humanity, it was given a sympathetic hearing mainly by the Hindus in Punjab. Its converts came almost entirely from Hinduism as did all its Gurus. Though in many respects The principles of Guru Nanak Dev Ji were fundamentally different from the various Hindu sects his message was nevertheless couched in a Hindu terminology and methods of expression. Despite the differences between Hinduism and the views of the Gurus, they could not have openly preached against the tenets of Hinduism before an audience that was made up of Hindus. Also it is doubtful if the Gurus had disowned the caste system completely, as many Sikh converts originally came from the upper castes Jats and Khatris - the caste to which Guru Nanak Dev Ji belonged.

The Possible Face of Sikhism without Guru Gobind Singh Ji's Reform

Had the last Guru Gobind Singh not recast Sikhism as the Khalsa Panth, then, it would have today been among the many sects within Hinduism like those of the followers of Sai Baba in Maharashtra, Basaveshwara in Karnataka, or the Brahmo Samaj in Bengal.

The Sahejdhari Sikhs (i.e. most Punjabi Hindus) who do not conform to the tenets laid down by Guru Gobind Singh Ji could be considered symptomatic as to how all Sikhs would have been without the tenets of Guru Gobind Singh. Among the Sikhs today there are many sects like the Nirankaris, Namdharis, Nirmalas, Sanyasis, Udasis, Radhasoamis, etc. Many of these sects come quite close to Hinduism and for this reason are frowned upon by the Akalis.

The Dharam Yuddh Morcha of the Akalis

The Akalis, who represent the main sect among the Keshadharis had begun the Gurudwara Agitation in 1920s as also the Dharam Yuddh Morcha in the 1980s both of which increasingly acquired an anti-Hindu slant. We all know how the Dharam Yuddh Morcha of Sant Longowal had many just demands like the proclaimation of Chandigarh as a capital of Punjab and not a shared capital with haryana. This was justified as Chandigarh was made as a capital for East Punjab after independence and partition when Lahore the former capital went to West (Pakistani) Punjab. Other demands like the sharing of river waters were more of administrative issues. The broadcasting of Gurbani on AIR (All India Radio) was an understndable demand in the light of secularism being mis-interpreted in India as religious tolerance. Apart from these issues the demand that the Anandpur Sahib Resolution be accepted so that "Sikhs could enjoy the glow of freedom" was a first step to secessionism and needed to be rejected outright as was done. The colonial administration that could have further divided the country is no more around.

(The aim of dividing up any nation further - be it India, Pakistan or any other, is a retrograde one in the 20th century. The objective should be to move towards a single WORLD STATE.)

The Demand for Khalistan

The Akali agitation gradually slipped out of the hands of the Akali leaders and degenerated into the terrorist frenzy of indiscriminate killings of all clean-shaven bus passengers, mowing down of innocent bystanders in market places, targetted assasinatins of editors of newspapers (starting with that of Lala Jagat Narain), blowing up of railway tracks and trains all of which was shameful and culminated in an equally shameful slaughter of the the Keshadharis in New Delhi in November 1982 after the assasination of the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Terrorism and its Aftermath

The Akali agitation launched between 1980 and 1985 spawned a lunatic fringe of paranoid-killers among the Keshadharis whose activities brought death and destruction to many and sowed seeds of distrust between the Keshadharis and their fellow countrymen. The aim of this lunatic fringe of terrorists was to impose a second partition on the nation and establish a theocratic-military state which they termed 'Khalistan'. The arguements put forth in favour of another vivisection Of the motherland included the Keshadharis being a separate nationality which before the coming of the British the Keshadharis had their own state under Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji and that the Sikhs made maximum sacrifices during the freedom struggle but are now denied their pound of flesh. Yes, the Keshadharis made innumerable sacrifices during the freedom struggle (and the Partition) starting with the Gaddar movement. There were Kesahdharis like Bhagat Singh - but then there were Rajguru and Sukhdev also with him. Just as the Keshadharis had a kingdom, before the coming of the British, the Marathas also had their empire and so had many others. With this logic every linguistic group should have its own nation. And extending this logic to its foolish end, every individual should be an independent nation.

But then the such ways of thinking on part of the terrorists, contributed to vitiate the environment and create notions among the Keshadharis and Sahejdharis (in the context of Punjab and Hindus in the rest of the country) being different communities. Those in the lunatic fringe of terrorism also nutured exaggerated notions about the valour and bravery of the Keshadharis which although true was not something that could be monopolised by people in any one part of the country (or for that matter in any one part of the world). But these notions fuelled a false pride among the lunatic fringe and among those Keshadharis who decided to fall for their propoganda. The terrorists argued in such a way as if they were the only one's with a martial tradition and that others like the Rajputs, Jats, Marathas and Gurkhas, existed only in the imagination of historians.

Going Forward

The agony of Operation Bluestar and all those events that came before and after it in the tragic 1980s are too vivid to be recollected here. The last word on the terrorist insurgency can never be made.

The only thing one cannot refrain from saying is that the terrorists can never succeed against the will of the people of Punjab in carving up a separate state. The only thing the terrorists achieved in the 10 years of insurgency was a bad name for the Sikh community. Because of the crimes of the terrorists, in this short span of time, the Sikhs who, in the eyes of their countrymen, were respected as fearless and just warriors, fell to the status of cold-blooded killers of defenceless innocents and traitors to humanity.

However, it goes to the credit of the majority of the Keshadharis of Punjab who brought an end to the madness of terrorism by joining the Punjab Police in actively flushing out the terrorists hiding in the fields and the grasslands of the Mand.

The people brought out their tractors and guns against the Khadkoos (terrorists) and brought the misguided elements on the path of sanity. All those among the terrorists' ranks were also not fired by "service to the Panth", but had no guilt while not only asking for shelter and food from the lay Keshadhari farmers but also had the temerity of asking for sexual satisfaction from the daughters and sisters of their reluctant Keshadhari hosts. This was the last straw that turned the lay Keshadhari rural folks against the Khadkoos and everything that the Khadkoos stood for.

But it is pointless to criticize the terrorists in an emotional manner for it is doubtful as to how many of them understand the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and the other Gurus. We saw how Sikhism was originally born as a movement to unify humanity and overcome the fragmentation which different religions had brought about. But in the course of time, the noble humanist traditions of the original Sikh faith have itself acquired the status of a separate religion. This phenomenon has become acute especially in the last few decades. This process has been fuelled by Akali exclusivism which culminated in terrorist violence of the 1980s.

The events associated with the Sikh community in the late 19th and the 20th century, especially of the 1980s are such that they out did in terms of fanaticism and bigotry even the earlier religions which the original teachings of the Gurus had sought to unify! Even today many Keshadharis look upon themselves a separate community and they want to preserve by political means an identity which they think would be lost due to its affinity with their original faith - Hinduism.

Summary and on to the Next Chapter

With this we come to the close of the summary of religions that originated and flowered mainly in India. But as we all know these are not the only religions that exist in India. Religions like Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Zoroastrianism which originated outside India also find adherents here. The followers of Judaism and Zoroastrianism came to India as refugees and the, religions remained (confined to the descendants of the original immigrants.) Though both these religions allowed no converts from other religions; they have not remained untouched by the customs and beliefs of those of other religions.

The followers of both Christianity and Islam are overwhelmingly converts from Hinduism and for this reason still display visible tendencies of affinity with their original faith - or mode(s) of worship. To understand the fusion of customs and beliefs of different religions we shall review the history of these religions in the following chapter.


Sudheer Birodkar


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