History of Hinduism
History of Hinduism ©HistoryMaps

3300 BCE - 2024

History of Hinduism

The history of Hinduism covers a wide variety of related religious traditions native to the Indian subcontinent. Its history overlaps or coincides with the development of religion in the Indian subcontinent since the Iron Age, with some of its traditions tracing back to prehistoric religions such as those of the Bronze Age Indus Valley civilisation. It has thus been called the "oldest religion" in the world. Scholars regard Hinduism as a synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with diverse roots and no single founder. This Hindu synthesis emerged after the Vedic period, between ca. 500–200 BCE and ca. 300 CE, in the period of the Second Urbanisation and the early classical period of Hinduism, when the Epics and the first Purānas were composed. It flourished in the medieval period, with the decline of Buddhism in India.

The history of Hinduism is often divided into periods of development. The first period is the pre-Vedic period, which includes the Indus Valley Civilization and local pre-historic religions, ending at about 1750 BCE. This period was followed in northern India by the Vedic period, which saw the introduction of the historical Vedic religion with the Indo-Aryan migrations, starting somewhere between 1900 BCE and 1400 BCE. The subsequent period, between 800 BCE and 200 BCE, is "a turning point between the Vedic religion and Hindu religions", and a formative period for Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. The Epic and Early Puranic period, from c. 200 BCE to 500 CE, saw the classical "Golden Age" of Hinduism (c. 320-650 CE), which coincides with the Gupta Empire. In this period the six branches of Hindu philosophy evolved, namely Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mīmāṃsā, and Vedānta. Monotheistic sects like Shaivism and Vaishnavism developed during this same period through the Bhakti movement. The period from roughly 650 to 1100 CE forms the late Classical period or early Middle Ages, in which classical Puranic Hinduism is established, and Adi Shankara's influential consolidation of Advaita Vedanta.

Hinduism under both Hindu and Islamic rulers from c. 1200 to 1750 CE, saw the increasing prominence of the Bhakti movement, which remains influential today. The colonial period saw the emergence of various Hindu reform movements partly inspired by western movements, such as Unitarianism and Theosophy. The Partition of India in 1947 was along religious lines, with the Republic of India emerging with a Hindu majority. During the 20th century, due to the Indian diaspora, Hindu minorities have formed in all continents, with the largest communities in absolute numbers in the United States and the United Kingdom.

1750 BCE - 500 BCE
Vedic Period
Vedic Age
Vedic period ©Anonymous
1500 BCE Jan 1 - 500 BCE

Vedic Age


The Vedic period, or the Vedic age (c. 1500 – c. 500 BCE), is the period in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age of the history of India when the Vedic literature, including the Vedas (ca. 1300–900 BCE), was composed in the northern Indian subcontinent, between the end of the Urban Indus Valley civilisation and a second urbanisation which began in the central Indo-Gangetic Plain c. 600 BCE. The Vedas are liturgical texts which formed the basis of modern day Hinduism, which also developed in the Kuru Kingdom. The Vedas contain details of life during this period that have been interpreted to be historical and constitute the primary sources for understanding the period. These documents, alongside the corresponding archaeological record, allow for the evolution of the Vedic culture to be traced and inferred.

Rigveda ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1500 BCE Jan 1


Indus River

The Rigveda or Rig Veda is an ancient Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns (sūktas). It is one of the four sacred canonical Hindu texts (śruti) known as the Vedas. The Rigveda is the oldest known Vedic Sanskrit text. Its early layers are among the oldest extant texts in any Indo-European language. The sounds and texts of the Rigveda have been orally transmitted since the 2nd millennium BCE. The philological and linguistic evidence indicates that the bulk of the Rigveda Samhita was composed in the northwestern region (see Rigvedic rivers) of the Indian subcontinent, most likely between c. 1500 and 1000 BCE, although a wider approximation of c. 1900–1200 BCE has also been given.

The text is layered consisting of the Samhita, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. The Rigveda Samhita is the core text, and is a collection of 10 books (maṇḍalas) with 1,028 hymns (sūktas) in about 10,600 verses (called ṛc, eponymous of the name Rigveda). In the eight books – Books 2 through 9 – that were composed the earliest, the hymns predominantly discuss cosmology, rites, rituals and praise deities. The more recent books (Books 1 and 10) in part also deal with philosophical or speculative questions, virtues such as dāna (charity) in society, questions about the origin of the universe and the nature of the divine, and other metaphysical issues in their hymns.

Dravidian Folk Religion
Dravidian folk deity Ayyanar with two wives ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1500 BCE Jan 1

Dravidian Folk Religion


The early Dravidian religion constituted a non-Vedic form of Hinduism in that they were either historically or are at present Āgamic. The Agamas are non-Vedic in origin, and have been dated either as post-Vedic texts, or as pre-Vedic compositions. The Agamas are a collection of Tamil and Sanskrit scriptures chiefly constituting the methods of temple construction and creation of murti, worship means of deities, philosophical doctrines, meditative practices, attainment of sixfold desires and four kinds of yoga. The worship of tutelary deity, sacred flora and fauna in Hinduism is also recognized as a survival of the pre-Vedic Dravidian religion. Dravidian linguistic influence on early Vedic religion is evident, many of these features are already present in the oldest known Indo-Aryan language, the language of the Rigveda (c. 1500 BCE), which also includes over a dozen words borrowed from Dravidian. The linguistic evidence for Dravidian impact grows increasingly strong as one moves from the Samhitas down through the later Vedic works and into the classical post-Vedic literature. This represents an early religious and cultural fusion or synthesis between ancient Dravidians and Indo-Aryans that went on to influence Indian civilization.

Yajurveda text describes formula and mantras to be uttered during sacrificial fire (yajna) rituals, shown. Offerings are typically ghee (clarified butter), grains, aromatic seeds, and cow milk. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1203 BCE Jan 1



The Yajurveda (Sanskrit: यजुर्वेद, yajurveda, from yajus meaning "worship", and veda meaning "knowledge") is the Veda primarily of prose mantras for worship rituals. An ancient Vedic Sanskrit text, it is a compilation of ritual-offering formulas that were said by a priest while an individual performed ritual actions such as those before the yajna fire. Yajurveda is one of the four Vedas, and one of the scriptures of Hinduism. The exact century of Yajurveda's composition is unknown, and estimated by Witzel to be between 1200 and 800 BCE, contemporaneous with Samaveda and Atharvaveda.

The Yajurveda is broadly grouped into two – the "black" or "dark" (Krishna) Yajurveda and the "white" or "bright" (Shukla) Yajurveda. The term "black" implies "the un-arranged, unclear, motley collection" of verses in Yajurveda, in contrast to the "white" which implies the "well arranged, clear" Yajurveda. The black Yajurveda has survived in four recensions, while two recensions of white Yajurveda have survived into the modern times.

The earliest and most ancient layer of Yajurveda samhita includes about 1,875 verses, that are distinct yet borrow and build upon the foundation of verses in Rigveda. The middle layer includes the Satapatha Brahmana, one of the largest Brahmana texts in the Vedic collection. The youngest layer of Yajurveda text includes the largest collection of primary Upanishads, influential to various schools of Hindu philosophy. These include the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Isha Upanishad, the Taittiriya Upanishad, the Katha Upanishad, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad and the Maitri Upanishad.Two of the oldest surviving manuscript copies of the Shukla Yajurveda sections have been discovered in Nepal and Western Tibet, and these are dated to the 12th-century CE.

Samaveda ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1202 BCE Jan 1



The Samaveda, is the Veda of melodies and chants. It is an ancient Vedic Sanskrit text, and part of the scriptures of Hinduism. One of the four Vedas, it is a liturgical text which consists of 1,875 verses. All but 75 verses have been taken from the Rigveda. Three recensions of the Samaveda have survived, and variant manuscripts of the Veda have been found in various parts of India.

While its earliest parts are believed to date from as early as the Rigvedic period, the existing compilation dates from the post-Rigvedic Mantra period of Vedic Sanskrit, between c. 1200 and 1000 BCE or "slightly rather later," roughly contemporary with the Atharvaveda and the Yajurveda.

Embedded inside the Samaveda is the widely studied Chandogya Upanishad and Kena Upanishad, considered as primary Upanishads and as influential on the six schools of Hindu philosophy, particularly the Vedanta school. The Samaveda set important foundations for the subsequent Indian music.

Sanskrit texts on law and conduct ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1000 BCE Jan 1



Dharmaśāstra is a genre of Sanskrit texts on law and conduct, and refers to the treatises (śāstras) on dharma. Unlike Dharmasūtra which are based upon Vedas, these texts are mainly based on Puranas. There are many Dharmashastras, variously estimated to be 18 to about 100, with different and conflicting points of view. Each of these texts exist in many different versions, and each is rooted in Dharmasutra texts dated to 1st millennium BCE that emerged from Kalpa (Vedanga) studies in the Vedic era.

The textual corpus of Dharmaśāstra were composed in poetic verses, are part of the Hindu Smritis, constituting divergent commentaries and treatises on duties, responsibilities and ethics to oneself, to family and as a member of society. The texts include discussion of ashrama (stages of life), varna (social classes), purushartha (proper goals of life), personal virtues and duties such as ahimsa (non-violence) against all living beings, rules of just war, and other topics.

Dharmaśāstra became influential in modern colonial India history, when they were formulated by early British colonial administrators to be the law of the land for all non-Muslims (Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs) in South Asia, after Sharia i.e. Mughal Empire's Fatawa al-Alamgir set by Emperor Muhammad Aurangzeb, was already accepted as the law for Muslims in colonial India.

Brahmanas are Vedic śruti works attached to the Samhitas (hymns and mantras) of the Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
900 BCE Jan 1



The Brahmanas are Vedic śruti works attached to the Samhitas (hymns and mantras) of the Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas. They are a secondary layer or classification of Sanskrit texts embedded within each Veda, often explain and instruct Brahmins on the performance of Vedic rituals (in which the related Samhitas are recited). In addition to explaining the symbolism and meaning of the Samhitas, Brahmana literature also expounds scientific knowledge of the Vedic Period, including observational astronomy and, particularly in relation to altar construction, geometry. Divergent in nature, some Brahmanas also contain mystical and philosophical material that constitutes Aranyakas and Upanishads.

Each Veda has one or more of its own Brahmanas, and each Brahmana is generally associated with a particular Shakha or Vedic school. Less than twenty Brahmanas are currently extant, as most have been lost or destroyed. Dating of the final codification of the Brahmanas and associated Vedic texts is controversial, as they were likely recorded after several centuries of oral transmission. The oldest Brahmana is dated to about 900 BCE, while the youngest are dated to around 700 BCE.

Adi Shankara, expounder of Advaita Vedanta and commentator (bhashya) on the Upanishads ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
800 BCE Jan 1



The Upanishads are late Vedic Sanskrit texts of Hindu philosophy which supplied the basis of later Hindu philosophy. They are the most recent part of the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, and deal with meditation, philosophy, consciousness and ontological knowledge; earlier parts of the Vedas deal with mantras, benedictions, rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices. While among the most important literature in the history of Indian religions and culture, the Upanishads document a wide variety of "rites, incarnations, and esoteric knowledge" departing from Vedic ritualism and interpreted in various ways in the later commentarial traditions. Of all Vedic literature, the Upanishads alone are widely known, and their diverse ideas, interpreted in various ways, informed the later traditions of Hinduism.

The Upanishads are commonly referred to as Vedānta. Vedanta has been interpreted as the "last chapters, parts of the Veda" and alternatively as "object, the highest purpose of the Veda". The aim of all Upanishads is to investigate the nature of Ātman (self), and "direct[ing] the enquirer toward it." Various ideas about the relation between Atman and Brahman can be found, and later commentators tried to harmonize this diversity. Along with the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahmasutra, the mukhya Upanishads (known collectively as the Prasthanatrayi) provide a foundation for the several later schools of Vedanta, including Adi Shankara's Advaita Vedanta (monistic or nondualistic), Ramanuja's (c. 1077–1157 CE) Vishishtadvaita (qualified monism), and Madhvacharya's (1199–1278 CE) Dvaita (dualism).

Around 108 Upanishads are known, of which the first dozen or so are the oldest and most important and are referred to as the principal or main (mukhya) Upanishads. The mukhya Upanishads are found mostly in the concluding part of the Brahmanas and Aranyakas and were, for centuries, memorized by each generation and passed down orally. The mukhya Upanishads predate the Common Era, but there is no scholarly consensus on their date, or even on which ones are pre- or post-Buddhist. The Brhadaranyaka is seen as particularly ancient by modern scholars.

Of the remainder, 95 Upanishads are part of the Muktika canon, composed from about the last centuries of 1st-millennium BCE through about 15th-century CE. New Upanishads, beyond the 108 in the Muktika canon, continued to be composed through the early modern and modern era, though often dealing with subjects that are unconnected to the Vedas.

Image of sacred idol of Tirthankar Rushabhdev Bhagwan at the main temple of Palitana in Gujarat.. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
700 BCE Jan 1



Jainism is a religion founded in ancient India. Jains trace their history through twenty-four tirthankara and revere Rishabhanatha as the first tirthankara (in the present time-cycle). Some artifacts found in the Indus Valley civilization have been suggested as a link to ancient Jain culture, but very little is known about the Indus Valley iconography and script. The last two tirthankara, the 23rd tirthankara Parshvanatha (c. 9th–8th century BCE) and the 24th tirthankara Mahavira (c. 599 – c. 527 BCE) are considered historical figures. Mahavira was a contemporary of the Buddha.

According to a 1925 proposal of Glasenapp, Jainism's origin can be traced to the 23rd Tirthankara Parshvanatha (c. 8th–7th century BCE), and he considers the first twenty-two Tirthankaras as legendary mythical figures.

The two main sects of Jainism, the Digambara and the Śvētāmbara sect, likely started forming about the 3rd century BCE and the schism was complete by about 5th century CE. These sects later subdivided into several sub-sects such as Sthānakavāsī and Terapanthis. Many of its historic temples that still exist today were built in 1st millennium CE. After the 12th-century, the temples, pilgrimage and naked (skyclad) ascetic tradition of Jainism suffered persecution during the Muslim rule, with the exception of Akbar whose religious tolerance and support for Jainism led to a temporary ban on animal killing during the Jain religious festival of Dasa Lakshana.

600 BCE - 200 BCE
Second Urbanisation & Decline of Brahmanism
Vishnu Surrounded by his Avatars ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
600 BCE Jan 1 - 300 BCE



Vaishnavism is one of the major Hindu denominations along with Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism. According to a 2010 estimate by Johnson and Grim, Vaishnavites are the largest Hindu sect, constituting about 641 million or 67.6% of Hindus. It is also called Vishnuism since it considers Vishnu as the sole supreme being leading all other Hindu deities, i.e. Mahavishnu. Its followers are called Vaishnavites or Vaishnavas (IAST: Vaiṣṇava), and it includes sub-sects like Krishnaism and Ramaism, which consider Krishna and Rama as the supreme beings respectively.

The ancient emergence of Vaishnavism is unclear, and broadly hypothesized as a fusion of various regional non-Vedic religions with Vishnu. A merger of several popular non-Vedic theistic traditions, particularly the Bhagavata cults of Vāsudeva-krishna and Gopala-Krishna, and Narayana, developed in the 7th to 4th century BCE. It was integrated with the Vedic God Vishnu in the early centuries CE, and finalized as Vaishnavism, when it developed the avatar doctrine, wherein the various non-Vedic deities are revered as distinct incarnations of the supreme God Vishnu. Rama, Krishna, Narayana, Kalki, Hari, Vithoba, Venkateswara, Shrinathji, and Jagannath are among the names of popular avatars all seen as different aspects of the same supreme being.

The Vaishnavite tradition is known for the loving devotion to an avatar of Vishnu (often Krishna), and as such was key to the spread of the Bhakti movement in South Asia in the 2nd millennium CE. It has four main categories of sampradayas (denominations, sub-schools): the medieval-era Vishishtadvaita school of Ramanuja, the Dvaita school (Tattvavada) of Madhvacharya, the Dvaitadvaita school of Nimbarkacharya, and the Pushtimarg of Vallabhacharya. Ramananda (14th century) created a Rama-oriented movement, now the largest monastic group in Asia.

Key texts in Vaishnavism include the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Pancaratra (Agama) texts, Naalayira Divya Prabhandham and the Bhagavata Purana.

Śramaṇa Religions
A Jain monk ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
600 BCE Jan 1

Śramaṇa Religions


Śramaṇa (Sanskrit; Pali: samaṇa) means "one who labours, toils, or exerts themselves (for some higher or religious purpose)" or "seeker, one who performs acts of austerity, ascetic". During its development, the term came to refer to several non-Brahmanical ascetic religions parallel to but separate from the Vedic religion. The Śramaṇa tradition includes primarily Jainism, Buddhism, and others such as the Ājīvika.

The śramaṇa religions became popular in the same circles of mendicants from greater Magadha that led to the development of spiritual practices, as well as the popular concepts in all major Indian religions such as saṃsāra (the cycle of birth and death) and moksha (liberation from that cycle).

The Śramaṇic traditions have a diverse range of beliefs, ranging from accepting or denying the concept of soul, fatalism to free will, idealization of extreme asceticism to that of family life, renunciation, strict ahimsa (non-violence) and vegetarianism to permissibility of violence and meat-eating.

Hindu Synthesis
Hindu synthesis ©Edwin Lord Weeks
500 BCE Jan 1 - 300

Hindu Synthesis


The decline of Brahmanism was overcome by providing new services and incorporating the non-Vedic Indo-Aryan religious heritage of the eastern Ganges plain and local religious traditions, giving rise to contemporary Hinduism. Between 500–200 BCE and c. 300 CE the "Hindu synthesis" developed, which incorporated Sramanic and Buddhist influences and the emerging Bhakti tradition into the Brahmanical fold via the smriti literature. This synthesis emerged under the pressure of the success of Buddhism and Jainism.

According to Embree, several other religious traditions had existed side by side with the Vedic religion. These indigenous religions "eventually found a place under the broad mantle of the Vedic religion". When Brahmanism was declining and had to compete with Buddhism and Jainism, the popular religions had the opportunity to assert themselves.

This "new Brahmanism" appealed to rulers, who were attracted to the supernatural powers and the practical advice Brahmins could provide, and resulted in a resurgence of Brahmanical influence, dominating Indian society since the classical Age of Hinduism in the early centuries CE. It is reflected in the process of Sanskritization, a process in which "people from many strata of society throughout the subcontinent tended to adapt their religious and social life to Brahmanic norms". It is reflected in the tendency to identify local deities with the gods of the Sanskrit texts.

Vedanga ©Edwin Lord Weeks
400 BCE Jan 1



The Vedanga (Sanskrit: वेदाङ्ग vedāṅga, "limbs of the Veda") are six auxiliary disciplines of Hinduism that developed in ancient times and have been connected with the study of the Vedas.

The character of Vedangas has roots in ancient times, and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad mentions it as an integral part of the Brahmanas layer of the Vedic texts. These auxiliary disciplines of study arise with the codification of the Vedas in Iron Age India. It is unclear when the list of six Vedangas were first conceptualized. The Vedangas likely developed towards the end of the Vedic period, around or after the middle of the 1st millennium BCE. An early text of the genre is the Nighantu by Yaska, dated to roughly the 5th century BCE. These auxiliary fields of Vedic studies emerged because the language of the Vedic texts composed centuries earlier grew too archaic to the people of that time.

Vedangas developed as ancillary studies for the Vedas, but its insights into meters, structure of sound and language, grammar, linguistic analysis and other subjects influenced post-Vedic studies, arts, culture and various schools of Hindu philosophy. The Kalpa Vedanga studies, for example, gave rise to the Dharma-sutras, which later expanded into Dharma-shastras.

Decline of Brahmanism
Decline of Brahmanism ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
320 BCE Jan 1

Decline of Brahmanism


The post-Vedic period of the Second Urbanisation saw a decline of Brahmanism. At the end of the Vedic period, the meaning of the words of the Vedas had become obscure, and was perceived as "a fixed sequence of sounds" with a magical power, "means to an end." With the growth of cities, which threatened the income and patronage of the rural Brahmins; the rise of Buddhism; and the Indian campaign of Alexander the Great (327-325 BCE), the expansion of the Mauryan Empire (322-185 BCE) with its embrace of Buddhism, and the Saka invasions and rule of northwestern India (2nd c. BCE – 4th c. CE), Brahmanism faced a grave threat to its existence. In some later texts, Northwest-India (which earlier texts consider as part of "Aryavarta") is even seen as "impure", probably due to invasions. The Karnaparva 43.5-8 states that those who live on the Sindhu and the five rivers of the Punjab are impure and dharmabahya.

200 BCE - 1200
Hindu Synthesis & Classical Hinduism
Smriti ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
200 BCE Jan 2 - 100



Smriti, literally "that which is remembered" are a body of Hindu texts usually attributed to an author, traditionally written down, in contrast to Śrutis (the Vedic literature) considered authorless, that were transmitted verbally across the generations and fixed. Smriti is a derivative secondary work and is considered less authoritative than Sruti in Hinduism, except in the Mimamsa school of Hindu philosophy. The authority of smriti accepted by orthodox schools, is derived from that of shruti, on which it is based.

The Smrti literature is a corpus of diverse varied texts. This corpus includes, but is not limited to the six Vedāngas (the auxiliary sciences in the Vedas), the epics (the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyana), the Dharmasūtras and Dharmaśāstras (or Smritiśāstras), the Arthasaśāstras, the Purānas, the Kāvya or poetical literature, extensive Bhasyas (reviews and commentaries on Shrutis and non-Shruti texts), and numerous Nibandhas (digests) covering politics, ethics (Nitisastras), culture, arts and society.Each Smriti text exists in many versions, with many different readings. Smritis were considered fluid and freely rewritten by anyone in ancient and medieval Hindu tradition.

Two female Shaiva ascetics (18th century painting) ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
50 BCE Jan 1



Shaivism is one of the major Hindu traditions that worships Shiva, Parvati, Durga and Mahakali. as the Supreme Being. One of the largest Hindu denominations, it incorporates many sub-traditions ranging from devotional dualistic theism such as Shaiva Siddhanta to yoga-oriented monistic non-theism such as Kashmiri Shaivism. It considers both the Vedas and the Agama texts as important sources of theology.

Shaivism developed as an amalgam of pre-Vedic religions and traditions derived from the southern Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta traditions and philosophies, which were assimilated in the non-Vedic Shiva-tradition. In the process of Sanskritization and formation of Hinduism, starting in the last centuries BCE these pre-Vedic traditions became aligned with the Vedic deity Rudra and other Vedic deities, incorporating the non-Vedic Shiva-traditions into the Vedic-Brahmanical fold.

Both devotional and monistic Shaivism became popular in the 1st millennium CE, rapidly becoming the dominant religious tradition of many Hindu kingdoms. It arrived in Southeast Asia shortly thereafter, leading to the construction of thousands of Shaiva temples on the islands of Indonesia as well as Cambodia and Vietnam, co-evolving with Buddhism in these regions.

Shaivite theology ranges from Shiva being the creator, preserver, and destroyer to being the same as the Atman (Self) within oneself and every living being. It is closely related to Shaktism, and some Shaivas worship in both Shiva and Shakti temples. It is the Hindu tradition that most accepts ascetic life and emphasizes yoga, and like other Hindu traditions encourages an individual to discover and be one with Shiva within. The followers of Shaivism are called "Shaivites" or "Saivas".

Hinduism in Southeast Asia
Ankor Wat ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
50 Jan 1

Hinduism in Southeast Asia


Hindu influences reached the Indonesian Archipelago as early as the first century. At this time, India started to strongly influence Southeast Asian countries. Trade routes linked India with southern Burma, central and southern Siam, lower Cambodia and southern Vietnam and numerous urbanised coastal settlements were established there.

For more than a thousand years, Indian Hindu/Buddhist influence was, therefore, the major factor that brought a certain level of cultural unity to the various countries of the region. The Pali and Sanskrit languages and the Indian script, together with Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, Brahmanism and Hinduism, were transmitted from direct contact as well as through sacred texts and Indian literature, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata epics.

The Goddess Durga Leading the Eight Matrikas in Battle Against the Demon Raktabija, Folio from Devi Mahatmyam, Markandeya Purana. ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
200 Jan 1



Purana is a vast genre of Indian literature about a wide range of topics, particularly about legends and other traditional lore. The Puranas are known for the intricate layers of symbolism depicted within their stories. Composed originally in Sanskrit and in other Indian languages, several of these texts are named after major Hindu deities such as Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma and Shakti. The Puranic genre of literature is found in both Hinduism and Jainism.

The Puranic literature is encyclopedic, and it includes diverse topics such as cosmogony, cosmology, genealogies of gods, goddesses, kings, heroes, sages, and demigods, folk tales, pilgrimages, temples, medicine, astronomy, grammar, mineralogy, humor, love stories, as well as theology and philosophy. The content is highly inconsistent across the Puranas, and each Purana has survived in numerous manuscripts which are themselves inconsistent. The Hindu Maha Puranas are traditionally attributed to "Vyasa", but many scholars considered them likely the work of many authors over the centuries; in contrast, most Jaina Puranas can be dated and their authors assigned.

There are 18 Mukhya Puranas (Major Puranas) and 18 Upa Puranas (Minor Puranas), with over 400,000 verses. The first versions of various Puranas were likely to have been composed between 3rd and 10th century CE. The Puranas do not enjoy the authority of a scripture in Hinduism, but are considered as Smritis.

Gupta Period
Gupta period ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
300 Jan 1 - 500

Gupta Period

Pataliputra, Bihar, India

The Gupta period (4th to 6th centuries) saw a flowering of scholarship, the emergence of the classical schools of Hindu philosophy, and of classical Sanskrit literature in general on topics ranging from medicine, veterinary science, mathematics, to astrology and astronomy and astrophysics. The famous Aryabhata and Varahamihira belong to this age. The Gupta established a strong central government which also allowed a degree of local control. Gupta society was ordered in accordance with Hindu beliefs. This included a strict caste system, or class system. The peace and prosperity created under Gupta leadership enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors.

Pallava Empires
Pillar with multi-headed lions. Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
300 Jan 1 - 800

Pallava Empires

Southeast Asia

The Pallavas (4th to 9th centuries) were, alongside the Guptas of the North, patronisers of Sanskrit in the South of the Indian subcontinent. The Pallava reign saw the first Sanskrit inscriptions in a script called Grantha. The Pallavas used Dravidian architecture to build some very important Hindu temples and academies in Mahabalipuram, Kanchipuram and other places; their rule saw the rise of great poets, who are as famous as Kalidasa.

During early Pallavas period, there are different connexions to Southeast Asian and other countries. Due to it, in the Middle Ages, Hinduism became the state religion in many kingdoms of Asia, the so-called Greater India - from Afghanistan (Kabul) in the West and including almost all of Southeast Asia in the East (Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines)—and only by the 15th century was near everywhere supplanted by Buddhism and Islam.

Golden Age of India
Golden Age of India ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
320 Jan 1 - 650

Golden Age of India


During this period, power was centralised, along with a growth of near distance trade, standardization of legal procedures, and general spread of literacy. Mahayana Buddhism flourished, but orthodox Brahmana culture began to be rejuvenated by the patronage of the Gupta Dynasty, who were Vaishnavas. The position of the Brahmans was reinforced, the first Hindu temples dedicated to the gods of the Hindu deities, emerged during the late Gupta age. During the Gupta reign the first Puranas were written,hich were used to disseminate "mainstream religious ideology amongst pre-literate and tribal groups undergoing acculturation". The Guptas patronised the newly emerging Puranic religion, seeking legitimacy for their dynasty. The resulting Puranic Hinduism, differed markedly from the earlier Brahmanism of the Dharmasastras and the smritis.

According to P. S. Sharma, "the Gupta and Harsha periods form really, from the strictly intellectual standpoint, the most brilliant epocha in the development of Indian philosophy", as Hindu and Buddhist philosophies flourished side by side. Charvaka, the atheistic materialist school, came to the fore in North India before the 8th century CE.

Brahma Sutras
The Vedanta texts, state sutras 3.1.1-4 and 3.3.5-19 of Brahmasutra, describe different forms of meditation. These should be combined, merged into one and practiced, because there is nondifference of their basic import, that of Self, mind, knowledge and a state.[70][71] ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
400 Jan 1

Brahma Sutras


The Brahma Sūtras is a Sanskrit text, attributed to the sage Badarayana or sage Vyasa, estimated to have been completed in its surviving form in approx. 400–450 CE, while the original version might be ancient and composed between 500 BCE and 200 BCE. The text systematizes and summarizes the philosophical and spiritual ideas in the Upanishads. The sage Adi Shankara's interpretation of the Brahmasutra attempted to synthesize diverse and sometimes apparently conflicting teachings of the Upanishads by arguing, as John Koller states: "that Brahman and Atman are, in some respects, different, but, at the deepest level, non-different (advaita), being identical." This view of Vedanta, however, was not universal in Indic thought, and other commentators later held differing views. It is one of the foundational texts of the Vedānta school of Hindu philosophy.

The Brahma Sūtras consists of 555 aphoristic verses (sutras) in four chapters. These verses are primarily about the nature of human existence and universe, and ideas about the metaphysical principle of Ultimate Reality called Brahman. The first chapter discusses the metaphysics of Absolute Reality, the second chapter reviews and addresses the objections raised by the ideas of competing orthodox schools of Hindu philosophies such as Nyaya, Yoga, Vaisheshika and Mimamsa as well as heterodox schools such as Buddhism and Jainism, the third chapter discusses epistemology and path to gaining spiritually liberating knowledge, and the last chapter states why such a knowledge is an important human need.

The Brahma Sūtras is one of three most important texts in Vedanta along with the Principal Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. It has been influential to various schools of Indian philosophies, but interpreted differently by the non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta sub-school, the theistic Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita Vedanta sub-schools, as well as others. Several commentaries on the Brahma Sūtras are lost to history or yet to be found; of the surviving ones, the most well studied commentaries on the Brahma Sūtras include the bhashya by Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhvacharya, Bhaskara and many others.

It is also known as the Vedanta Sutra, deriving this name from Vedanta which literally means the "final aim of the Vedas". Other names for Brahma Sūtras is Shariraka Sutra, wherein Shariraka means "that which lives in the body (Sharira), or the Self, Soul", and Bhikshu-sutra, which literally means "Sutras for monks or mendicants".

Buddhist Mahasiddhas practicing the sexual yoga of karmamudrā ("action seal"). ©Anonymous
500 Jan 1



Tantra are the esoteric traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism that developed in India from the middle of the 1st millennium CE onwards. The term tantra, in the Indian traditions, also means any systematic broadly applicable "text, theory, system, method, instrument, technique or practice". A key feature of these traditions is the use of mantras, and thus they are commonly referred to as Mantramārga ("Path of Mantra") in Hinduism or Mantrayāna ("Mantra Vehicle") and Guhyamantra ("Secret Mantra") in Buddhism.

Starting in the early centuries of the common era, newly revealed Tantras centering on Vishnu, Shiva or Shakti emerged. There are tantric lineages in all main forms of modern Hinduism, such as the Shaiva Siddhanta tradition, the Shakta sect of Sri-Vidya, the Kaula, and Kashmir Shaivism.

In Buddhism, the Vajrayana traditions are known for tantric ideas and practices, which are based on Indian Buddhist Tantras. They include Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Esoteric Buddhism, Japanese Shingon Buddhism and Nepalese Newar Buddhism. Although Southern Esoteric Buddhism does not directly reference the tantras, its practices and ideas parallel them.

Tantric Hindu and Buddhist traditions have also influenced other Eastern religious traditions such as Jainism, the Tibetan Bön tradition, Daoism, and the Japanese Shintō tradition.

Certain modes of non-Vedic worship such as Puja are considered tantric in their conception and rituals. Hindu temple building also generally conforms to the iconography of tantra. Hindu texts describing these topics are called Tantras, Āgamas or Samhitās.

Advaita Vedanta
Gaudapada, one of the most important pre-Śaṅkara philosophers in Advaita tradition ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
500 Jan 1

Advaita Vedanta


Advaita Vedānta is the oldest extant tradition of Vedānta, and one of the six orthodox (āstika) Hindu philosophies (darśana). Its history may be traced back to the start of the Common Era, but takes clear shape in the 6th-7th century CE, with the seminal works of Gaudapada, Maṇḍana Miśra, and Shankara, who is considered by tradition and Orientalist Indologists to be the most prominent exponent of the Advaita Vedānta, though the historical fame and cultural influence of Shankara grew only centuries later, particularly during the era of the Muslim invasions and consequent reign of the Indian subcontinent. The living Advaita Vedānta tradition in medieval times was influenced by, and incorporated elements from, the yogic tradition and texts like the Yoga Vasistha and the Bhagavata Purana. In the 19th century, due to the interplay between western views and Indian nationalism, Advaita came to be regarded as the paradigmatic example of Hindu spirituality, despite the numerical dominance of theistic Bkakti-oriented religiosity. In modern times, its views appear in various Neo-Vedānta movements.

500 Jan 1 - 100 BCE

Nyāya Sūtras


The Nyāya Sūtras is an ancient Indian Sanskrit text composed by Akṣapāda Gautama, and the foundational text of the Nyaya school of Hindu philosophy. The date when the text was composed, and the biography of its author is unknown, but variously estimated between 6th-century BCE and 2nd-century CE. The text may have been composed by more than one author, over a period of time. The text consists of five books, with two chapters in each book, with a cumulative total of 528 aphoristic sutras, about rules of reason, logic, epistemology and metaphysics.

The Nyāya Sūtras is a Hindu text, notable for focusing on knowledge and logic, and making no mention of Vedic rituals. The first book is structured as a general introduction and table of contents of sixteen categories of knowledge. Book two is about pramana (epistemology), book three is about prameya or the objects of knowledge, and the text discusses the nature of knowledge in remaining books. It set the foundation for Nyaya tradition of the empirical theory of validity and truth, opposing uncritical appeals to intuition or scriptural authority.

The Nyaya sutras cover a wide range of topics, including Tarka-Vidyā, the science of debate or Vāda-Vidyā, the science of discussion. The Nyāya Sutras are related to but extend the Vaiśeṣika epistemological and metaphysical system. Later commentaries expanded, expounded and discussed Nyaya sutras, the earlier surviving commentaries being by Vātsyāyana (c.450–500 CE), followed by the Nyāyavārttika of Uddyotakāra (c. 6th–7th centuries), Vācaspati Miśra's Tātparyatīkā (9th century), Udayana's Tātparyapariśuddhi (10th century), and Jayanta's Nyāyamañjarī (10th century).

Bhakti Movement
Bhakti movement ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
650 Jan 1

Bhakti Movement

South India

The Bhakti movement was a significant religious movement in medieval Hinduism that sought to bring religious reforms to all strata of society by adopting the method of devotion to achieve salvation. It was prominent since 7th-century in south India, and spread northwards. It swept over east and north India from the 15th century onwards, reaching its zenith between the 15th and 17th century CE.

The Bhakti movement regionally developed around different gods and goddesses, and some sub-sects were Vaishnavism (Vishnu), Shaivism (Shiva), Shaktism (Shakti goddesses), and Smartism. Bhakti movement preached using the local languages so that the message reached the masses. The movement was inspired by many poet-saints, who championed a wide range of philosophical positions ranging from theistic dualism of Dvaita to absolute monism of Advaita Vedanta.

The movement has traditionally been considered an influential social reformation in Hinduism in that it provided an individual-focused alternative path to spirituality regardless of one's birth or gender. Contemporary scholars question whether the Bhakti movement ever was a reform or rebellion of any kind. They suggest the Bhakti movement was a revival, reworking, and recontextualization of ancient Vedic traditions. Bhakti refers to passionate devotion (to a deity).

Scriptures of the Bhakti movement include the Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavata Purana and Padma Purana.

Muslim Rule
Muslim Rule ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
900 Jan 1

Muslim Rule


Though Islam came to the Indian subcontinent in the early 7th century with the advent of Arab traders, it started impacting Indian religions after the 10th century, and particularly after the 12th century with the establishment and then expansion of Islamic rule. Will Durant calls the Muslim conquest of India "probably the bloodiest story in history". During this period, Buddhism declined rapidly while Hinduism faced military-led and Sultanates-sponsored religious violence. There was a widespread practice of raids, seizure and enslavement of families of Hindus, who were then sold in Sultanate cities or exported to Central Asia. Some texts suggest a number of Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam. Starting with the 13th century, for a period of some 500 years, very few texts, from the numerous written by Muslim court historians, mention any "voluntary conversions of Hindus to Islam", suggesting the insignificance and perhaps rarity of such conversions. Typically enslaved Hindus converted to Islam to gain their freedom. There were occasional exceptions to religious violence against Hinduism. Akbar, for example, recognized Hinduism, banned enslavement of the families of Hindu war captives, protected Hindu temples, and abolished discriminatory Jizya (head taxes) against Hindus. However, many Muslim rulers of Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire, before and after Akbar, from the 12th to 18th centuries, destroyed Hindu temples and persecuted non-Muslims.

Unifying Hinduism
Adi Shankara with disciples ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1100 Jan 1

Unifying Hinduism


According to Nicholson, already between the 12th and the 16th century, "certain thinkers began to treat as a single whole the diverse philosophical teachings of the Upanishads, epics, Puranas, and the schools known retrospectively as the 'six systems' (saddarsana) of mainstream Hindu philosophy." Michaels notes that a historicization emerged which preceded later nationalism, articulating ideas which glorified Hinduism and the past.

Several scholars suggest that the historical fame and cultural influence of Shankara and Advaita Vedanta was inetentionally established during this period. Vidyaranya (14th c.), also known as Madhava and a follower of Shankara, created legends to turn Shankara, whose elevated philosophy had no appeal to gain widespread popularity, into a "divine folk-hero who spread his teaching through his digvijaya ("universal conquest") all over India like a victorious conqueror." In his Savadarsanasamgraha ("Summary of all views") Vidyaranya presented Shankara's teachings as the summit of all darsanas, presenting the other darsanas as partial truths which converged in Shankara's teachings. Vidyaranya enjoyed royal support, and his sponsorship and methodical efforts helped establish Shankara as a rallying symbol of values, spread historical and cultural influence of Shankara's Vedānta philosophies, and establish monasteries (mathas) to expand the cultural influence of Shankara and Advaita Vedānta.

1200 - 1850
Medieval & Early Modern Periods
Eastern Ganga and Surya States
Eastern Ganga and Surya States ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1200 Jan 1

Eastern Ganga and Surya States

Odisha, India

Eastern Ganga and Surya were Hindu polities, which ruled much of present-day Odisha (historically known as Kalinga) from the 11th century until the mid-16th century CE. During the 13th and 14th centuries, when large parts of India were under the rule of Muslim powers, an independent Kalinga became a stronghold of Hindu religion, philosophy, art, and architecture. The Eastern Ganga rulers were great patrons of religion and the arts, and the temples they built are considered among the masterpieces of Hindu architecture.

Vijayanagar Empire
Hinduism and Vijayanagar Empire ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1336 Jan 1

Vijayanagar Empire

Vijayanagara, Karnataka, India

The Vijayanagara Emperors were tolerant of all religions and sects, as writings by foreign visitors show. The kings used titles such as Gobrahamana Pratipalanacharya (literally, "protector of cows and Brahmins") and Hindurayasuratrana (lit. "upholder of Hindu faith") that testified to their intention of protecting Hinduism and yet were at the same time staunchly Islamicate in their court ceremonials and dress. The empire's founders, Harihara I and Bukka Raya I, were devout Shaivas (worshippers of Shiva), but made grants to the Vaishnava order of Sringeri with Vidyaranya as their patron saint, and designated Varaha (the boar, an avatar of Vishnu) as their emblem.

The fall of Vijayanagara Empire to Muslim rulers had marked the end of Hindu imperial defences in the Deccan.

Mughal Period
Hinduism in the Mughal period ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1553 Jan 1

Mughal Period


The official state religion of Mughal India was Islam, with the preference to the jurisprudence of the Hanafi Madhhab (Mazhab). Hinduism remained under strain during Babur and Humanyun's reigns. Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan ruler of North India was comparatively non-repressive. Hinduism came to fore during the three-year rule of Hindu ruler Hemu Vikramaditya during 1553–1556 when he had defeated Akbar at Agra and Delhi and had taken up the reign from Delhi as a Hindu 'Vikramaditya' after his 'Rajyabhishake' or coronation at Purana Quila in Delhi. However, during Mughal history, at times, subjects had the freedom to practise any religion of their choice, though kafir able-bodied adult males with income were obliged to pay the jizya, which signified their status as dhimmis.

Hinduism during the Maratha Empire
Hinduism during the Maratha Empire ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1674 Jan 1

Hinduism during the Maratha Empire

Deccan Plateau, Andhra Pradesh

The Hindu Marathas long had lived in the Desh region around Satara, in the western portion of the Deccan plateau, where the plateau meets the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats mountains. They had resisted incursions into the region by the Muslim Mughal rulers of northern India. Under their ambitious leader Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the Maratha freed themselves from the Muslim sultans of Bijapur to the southeast. Subsequently, under the able leadership of Brahmin prime ministers (Peshwas), the Maratha Empire reached its zenith; Pune, the seat of Peshwas, flowered as a centre of Hindu learning and traditions.

Hinduism in Nepal
Hinduism in Nepal ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1743 Jan 1

Hinduism in Nepal


King Prithvi Narayan Shah, the last Gorkhali monarch, self-proclaimed the newly unified Kingdom of Nepal as Asal Hindustan ("Real Land of Hindus") due to North India being ruled by the Islamic Mughal rulers. The proclamation was done to enforce Hindu social code Dharmashastra over his reign and refer to his country as being inhabitable for Hindus. He also referred Northern India as Mughlan (Country of Mughals) and called the region infiltrated by Muslim foreigners.

After the Gorkhali conquest of Kathmandu valley, King Prithvi Narayan Shah expelled the Christian Capuchin missionaries from Patan and revisioned Nepal as Asal Hindustan ("real land of Hindus"). The Hindu Tagadharis, a Nepalese Hindu socio-religious group, were given the privileged status in the Nepalese capital thereafter. Since then Hinduisation became the significant policy of the Kingdom of Nepal. Professor Harka Gurung speculates that the presence of Islamic Mughal rule and Christian British rule in India had compelled the foundation of Brahmin Orthodoxy in Nepal for the purpose building a haven for Hindus in the Kingdom of Nepal.

Modern Hinduism
Hindu Renaissance
Portrait of the elderly Max Muller ©George Frederic Watts
1850 Jan 2

Hindu Renaissance

Indianapolis, IN, USA

With the onset of the British Raj, the colonization of India by the British, there also started a Hindu Renaissance in the 19th century, which profoundly changed the understanding of Hinduism in both India and the west. Indology as an academic discipline of studying Indian culture from a European perspective was established in the 19th century, led by scholars such as Max Müller and John Woodroffe. They brought Vedic, Puranic and Tantric literature and philosophy to Europe and the United States. Western orientalist searched for the "essence" of the Indian religions, discerning this in the Vedas, and meanwhile creating the notion of "Hinduism" as a unified body of religious praxis and the popular picture of 'mystical India'. This idea of a Vedic essence was taken over by Hindu reform movements as the Brahmo Samaj, which was supported for a while by the Unitarian Church, together with the ideas of Universalism and Perennialism, the idea that all religions share a common mystic ground. This "Hindu modernism", with proponents like Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Radhakrishnan, became central in the popular understanding of Hinduism.

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar ©Image Attribution forthcoming. Image belongs to the respective owner(s).
1923 Jan 1



Hindutva (transl. Hinduness) is the predominant form of Hindu nationalism in India. As a political ideology, the term Hindutva was articulated by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1923. It is used by the organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other organisations, collectively called the Sangh Parivar.

The Hindutva movement has been described as a variant of "right-wing extremism" and as "almost fascist in the classical sense", adhering to a concept of homogenised majority and cultural hegemony. Some analysts dispute the identification of Hindutva with fascism, and suggest Hindutva is an extreme form of conservatism or "ethnic absolutism".

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