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The history of Hinduism

During the Maurya and Gupta empires, the Indian culture and way of life were deeply influenced by Hinduism.


  • During the Maurya and Gupta empires, the Indian culture and way of life were deeply influenced by Hinduism.
  • Hinduism reinforced a strict social hierarchy called a caste system that made it nearly impossible for people to move outside of their social station.
  • Emperors during the Gupta empire used Hinduism as a unifying religion and focused on Hinduism as a means for personal salvation.
Followers of Hinduism may worship multiple different gods, although it's not a polytheistic religion because all these gods are believed to be manifestations of the one Brahman.
Agni, Indra, Shiva, Vishnu, and Ganesha are just a few examples of Hindu gods that different sects have regarded as the most important gods at various times. Shiva is sometimes associated with the destruction process, and Vishnu is seen as a creator who uses the remains of Shiva’s destruction to regenerate what has been destroyed.
One notable difference between Hinduism and other major religions is that it doesn’t have a clear founder or starting point; rather, it grew and spread—possibly as early as 5500 BCE—in the Indian subcontinent and changed over time based on Indian culture and economics.

Background on social systems in India

In the Indian empires from 600 BCE to 600 CE, emperors maintained and further developed social systems that had been in place for a long time. The Aryans, nomadic herders from Central Asia who had migrated into the Indian subcontinent by 1500 BCE, had already established a caste system with four main groups of people: brahmins, or priests; kshatriyas, or warriors and aristocrats; vaishyas, or peasants and merchants; and shudras, or serfs.
This separation of people by class and job gained an even bigger foothold within Hinduism: according to Hindu myth, the god Purusha was assembled from the four castes, with the Brahmins at the head and the Shudras at the feet. It was believed that shudras had been born into their caste because they committed bad deeds in a previous life, or incarnation. The Hindu ideal of karma suggested that people who behaved well could be born into a higher caste.

Popularization of Hinduism

Hinduism originally started as a tradition from within the brahmin class, making it difficult for people of lower castes to access, but it gradually grew more popular. Sometime around 1500 to 500 BCE, two epic poems called the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were created and eventually written down in the early centuries of the Common Era. These poems laid out information about Hindu values and gods—Vishnu, for example—through dramatic stories of love and war. When these stories were written down, they spread more quickly and easily throughout India. Another text, the Bhagavad Gita, was a poem that highlighted Hindu values and the possibility of salvation for people who lived those values. The Bhagavad Gita helped popularize Hinduism among lower castes because it asserted that people could achieve salvation by performing their caste duties.
A painting of Lord Krishna instructing the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna in Kurukshetra. Lord Krishna is depicted in blue and adorned in jewels and is sitting on a golden, horse-drawn carriage.
Lord Krishna instructing the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna in Kurukshetra. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
During the Gupta empire—from about 320 to 550 CE—emperors used Hinduism as a unifying religion and helped popularize it by promoting educational systems that included Hindu teachings; they also gave land to brahmins. The Gupta emperors helped make Hinduism the most popular religion on the Indian subcontinent.

What do you think?

How did Hinduism spread?
How did Hinduism change over time?
Name one reason why it was difficult for people to change caste in India.
Why might emperors want to establish a popular religion?

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user Patrícia Raposo
    if the caste system was popularized by hinduism, how did it got to have such a strong presence in India, if part of the population follows buddhism, do they accept the caste system? or did it got bigger than that reaching everyone living in india?
    (8 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Navya Rao
      Now,This is a very good question.This was because hinduism didnot ask for something from the people(it just required people to believe and gave them hope and something to latch on to in times of need.) The development of the caste system was on the basis of the work they did however in the Late rig-vedic period it became rigid and hereditary.Let us take the example of the development of religion.People divided themselves into religions based on what culture the followed and who according to them is god.But however as we see now religion is now used for discrimination.Its like saying the caste system became-'A lifestyle.'
      Its true we cannot deny it.
      (13 votes)
  • starky seedling style avatar for user Ella
    Why are all the Hindu Gods portrayed in art blue?
    (5 votes)
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  • mr pants teal style avatar for user Harshita Wadhwa
    How did the caste system influence the process of state-building in India?
    (2 votes)
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  • starky ultimate style avatar for user E Simms
    What is Hinduisms view on LGBTQ+ people?
    (3 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      A number of Hindu texts have portrayed homosexual experience as natural and joyful,[Bonvillain, Nancy (2001). Women and men: cultural constructs of gender. Prentice Hall. p. 281.], the Kamasutra affirms and recognises same-sex relations,[Cush, Denise; Robinson, Catherine; York, Michael (2012-08-21). Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Routledge. p. 354.], and there are several Hindu temples which have carvings that depict both men and women engaging in homosexual acts.[Keene, Manu (2002). Religion in Life and Society. Folens Limited. p. 58]. There are also numerous Hindu deities that are shown to be gender-fluid and falling into the LGBT spectrum.[Devor, Aaron; Haefele-Thomas, Ardel (2019-02-15). Transgender: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 16.]
      (5 votes)
  • duskpin seed style avatar for user Quinn Miller
    how does the economy affect the religion?
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user ketanreddy01
    Even, The Gods of Hinduism are very powerful full like: -

    1. Brahma (A Creator of the universe)

    2. Shiva (Destroyer of the universe)

    3. Vishnu (Protector of universe) & God of Holy Trinity

    Thank you
    (3 votes)
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  • spunky sam blue style avatar for user Bekzod Kimsanboev
    It seems like there were many different nomadic groups of people in Central Asia in the second and first milleniums BCE such as The Huns, Aryans and others.
    What could have been the reason that such a vast number of people - capable to interfere with The Roman Empire in 400s, with Indians at about the same time and with other German tribes before - didn't unite as an empire(s) as in Middle east?
    (1 vote)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user baysim
      Precisely because they were nomadic groups - as you accurately ascertained. For the most part, nomadic groups of antiquity underwent mass migrations and eventually blended in with the locals of any given region. This is the case with the Aryans that assimilated in Persia and also India (to some extent). There were nomadic confederations such as the Xiongnu upon the northern border of the Han dynasty. However, their Hunnic descendants (arguably) did not merge into any empire of sorts. The Huns that ended up causing instability in the Gupta Empire would blend into Indian culture while the Huns that encroached on the lands of the Germanic tribes would also assimilate.

      In the future, however, you will encounter nomadic groups that will form the backbone of some of the most massive empires in history. The Arabs are perhaps the first major example of this. Later on, we will see the Central Asian Gokturks that incurred major problems for the Tang dynasty in China. These Turks will also move into the Middle East and amass power to the extent of making the Abbasid caliphs their puppets.
      (5 votes)
  • starky tree style avatar for user Carissa Lane
    How come Moksha is in both Buddhism and Hinduism?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Dafe Omokeni
    why might emperors want to establish a popular religion
    (1 vote)
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    • starky ultimate style avatar for user Zéca
      Well, my take on it is that when a whole nation adores the same gods, it is comsiderably easier to control the population. This is clearly shown in Constantine´s era, when he unified the roman empire under a single religion. Religion has always been a powerful tool when it comes to controlling masses, so establishing a religion helps the emperor maintain himself in power.
      This, however, is my view on your answer, not a theologic-politic statement from an expert

      this article gives a more fundamented response to your question


      hope i have helped =)
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Vivian Enery
    I am a middle school teacher , and in recent years I have read more and more about the Aryans as a controversial issue, their relevance and influence seems to be constantly debunked.
    I get a feeling that the controvery has a political/ social undertone
    Could you ellaborate on this topic ?
    (2 votes)
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