Hinduism remained a religion with much variety. It was less organized and less concerned with heresy than Christianity, and it developed new trends. A movement called Bhakti – meaning devotion – had arisen among some of the poor in southern India and it would spread to the north. It was another move away from the religion of aristocrats. Bhakti worshipers rejected Brahmin scholarship and ritual Brahmin sacrifices, for which they lacked time as well as money. And being of lower caste, Bhakti adherents rejected, or at least minimized, caste. The followers of Bhakti practiced humility and sang of their adoration and love for a generous, merciful, supreme god. As in Christianity, women were encouraged to participate and Bhakti had some upper class devotees. And some within the Bhakti movement were made saints.
Hinduism changed again when Krishna became a god apart from Vishnu. Rivalry between Vishnu worship and the worship of another god, Shiva, had grown. The worshipers of Shiva tended to be rural, more intense in their devotion and more concerned with sin, especially the sin of carnality, while the worshipers of Vishnu were more urbane and moderate. The rural Shiva worshippers were closer to fertility worship than the worshippers of Vishnu, and some devoted to Vishnu derided the followers of Shiva as phallus worshipers. The priests of Vishnu worship tended to be Brahmins and saw their god Vishnu as both a god of love and a protector of order. They thought themselves more dignified than the priests of Shiva, and they saw themselves as maintaining Hinduism's noble tradition.
More variety came in the 600s after twelve worshipers of Vishnu began wandering through southern India singing songs in praise of Vishnu. These singers believed that worldly enjoyments were ultimately unprofitable and that only a loving surrender to Vishnu was durably satisfying. They sang in temples, villages and markets. The number of singers grew. A book of four thousand of their songs was to be compiled in the 900s and would become the prayer book called the Tamil Veda.
Also in the 600s some Hindus, including worshipers of Vishnu, became involved in rituals called Tantrism. While acknowledging the supreme authority of the Vedas, the Tantrists brought offerings of fruit and sweets to the icons of their gods. Their rituals celebrated the power of motherhood, and they saw birth as the highest form of divine strength.
In the 600s Buddhism made a comeback after a warrior-king from north of Delhi, Harsha Vardhana, managed to unify much of India's far north. Harsha supported Buddhism and tried to emulate the Buddhist monarch Asoka (Ashoka). He made the killing of any creature or the eating of any flesh within his empire a capital offense – with possibility of a pardon. Harsha's rule began in 606 and extended to the Himalayas in the north, to Punjab and Bengal. He wanted to India as had the Maurya or Gupta empires, but in 630 he was stopped at the Narbada River by Pulakeshin II, of the Chalukyan dynasty, centered at Badami (Vatapi). Harsha died in 648, after which no heir was able to hold together his empire. Fragmentation of his empire ensued, while in southern India the Pallava dynasty, centered at Kanchipuram, often warred against the Chalukyan dynasty, the Chalukyan dynasty coming to an end in 767.
In the 800s, Hindu intellectuals were aware of Muslim criticism of their faith. Led by a philosopher named Shankara (788-850), a few Hindu thinkers set out to defend Hinduism, especially against the Muslim charge that Hinduism was idolatrous. Shankara systematized the intellectual tradition of the Upanishads. Defenders of Hinduism claimed that, properly understood, Hindu rites helped simple folk along the path to a pure and transcendent belief in one god and to an absolute truth beyond sensory experience. Shankara gave a new impetus to orthodox Brahminism. He traveled about India, founding many religious schools, and he became a most revered Hindu leader. He imagined a unified reality and described Hinduism as about the realization of a single god in all things. He claimed that salvation came through philosophical speculation and meditation leading to the realization that God and one's self were the same.
However much Shankara brought unity to Hindu ideology, politically India remained disunited and therefore militarily weak. Muslims out of Afghanistan raided and then taxed the Hindus that they over-powered.They robbed Hindu temples. They slaughtered or enslaved thousands, leaving survivors shocked and disappointed that they were not being protected from harm by their god Shiva.
In the 1100s in Afghanistan a new Muslim dynasty arose: the Ghurids. With the Hindu reputation for weakness, a Ghurid army invaded India and fought its way to Delhi, reaching that city in 1193, overwhelming fierce Hindu opposition along the way. And by 1202 the Ghurids had conquered the larger kingdoms along the Ganges River. The Ghurids were unimpressed by Indic civilization. They did not adopt culturally as had invaders prior to Islam. Coming across Buddhism, they saw it as debased idol worship and tried to destroy it. They sacked Buddhism's major centers, slaughtering many, destroying Buddhism in northern India and sending Buddhists fleeing to Nepal and Tibet, where Buddhism was to flourish.
The Ghurids despised Hinduism, but their slaughter and enslavement of Hindus and the ruination of Hindu holy places was ineffective in diminishing that faith. The Hindus were too numerous for them. Only on the fringe of Hindu society were people attracted to Islam.
Muslim rulers in northern India refused to allow Hindu temples to be rebuilt, and, without temples, Hindu ceremonies became more public and plebeian. Ceremonies were often performed in a town's public square, with amassed worshipers passing along the town's streets. Without temple ritual, communion with God through ecstasy increased, and Sanskrit remained a language of a learned few – the language of the Brahmins.
Copyright © 2009-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.