Speakers of Indo-European languages now dominate the globe (linguistically), with languages like English, Spanish, French and Portuguese at the forefront, thanks to the Age of Colonialisation. As has been examined in a previous article, Indo-European culture and social norms have had a big impact on modern European and European-influenced societies. This is true for many aspects concerning family life, marriage and arguably the hierarchy within families, companies and even governments. But if one starts to look for traces of Proto-Indo-European Religion the search for remnants turns out to be much more difficult (in western societies at least). Despite this there are two different areas in which traces can be found:
Firstly, and possibly more obviously, Indo-European belief systems such as the ancient Greek or Roman pantheons, have been replaced by other religions, such as Christianity. It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise then that myths and legends as well as the religious practices of pre-Christian Indo-European peoples may have influenced Christian belief and practices and thus traces of them can potentially be found within the various European Churches, i.e. the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox Church.
And secondly, folklore and fairy tales in modern Indo-European societies have been proven to go back thousands of year to a common source and thus are a potential source of recreating Proto-Indo-European mythology. In the same way that different words in different Indo-European languages can be traced back to a common PIE stem, different stories and myths (such as the Cosmogenic Myth) can be traced back to a common legend among the early Proto-Indo-Europeans. Examples of this are the story of “Wayland The Smith” or “Beauty And The Beast”.
But apart from these deeper, more hidden traces of PIE religion in Western societies, there is a more comprehensive one found in the east: Hinduism. On Wikipedia, Hinduism is described as “a fusion[note 3] or synthesis[note 4] of various Indian cultures,[note 5] with diverse roots[note 6] and no founder.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism, 24/05/2020_). Whilst this is undoubtedly true we can already answer the question if Hinduism is a purely Indo-European religion (the answer is no), although it has been in fact influenced by the ancient Vedic Religion, practiced by the first Indo-Europeans to arrive on the Indian Subcontinent, to a very large degree.
What is Hinduism?
If one is to ask the question what Hinduism is the answer is a lot more complicated than one might expect. In the Western World we have a pretty clear picture as to what a religion is and what elements comprise it. This is due to the fact that Christianity as the most dominant religion in Europe – and thus in many of its former colonies as well – is organised systematically, such as in the aforementioned Roman-Catholic Church, which in turn organizes religion and religious practices for all of its followers. So there is a hierarchical top down system, with the Pope at it’s head, through which information in regards to how to practice Catholic faith trickles down to priests of all ranks and through them to the Catholic believers all around the world. In addition to this there is only one holy scripture, the bible, which gives answers to all of life’s questions, from the most trivial to the most fundamental. So even though there are multiple different Christian Churches which put emphasis on slightly different aspects of the faith, there is a very large degree of overlap due to the fact that they are all based on one book and the teachings and philosophies of Jesus Christ.
In Hinduism, on the contrary, there is no centralized body, organization or system, which regulates the average Hindus belief. And thus it has been proposed that Hinduism itself can’t be considered a religion at all, but rather many different but related belief systems which have interacted with and borrowed elements from each other over millennia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism, 24/05/2020). As a consequence, there is a considerable amount of overlap between these different belief systems, which possibly has contributed to the commonly held view of Hinduism as a singular religion, such as Christianity and Islam.
In the course of this series I will introduce the main deities and concepts that most, if not all Hinduistic belief systems share to give a rough overview of the “religion” itself. Whilst doing so I will also give insights as to where these different aspects of Hinduism come from to prepare for the transition into the next chapter, where the Indo-European aspects will be filtered out and summarized to ultimately “reconstruct” Vedic Religion. Of course there are multiple primary sources concerning this religion, which will be used to supplement the reconstructed version to create a more complete picture of Vedic Religion. But firstly, let’s take a look at shared Hinduistic deities and concepts.
(to be continued)
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism, 24/05/2020
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_Vedic_religion, 24/05/2020
- Knott, Kim: Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.
Subscribe for regular Updates: