Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

3.8: Bronze Age- Early Religions (Est. dates) (Vedic 1500-500 BCE, Hinduism 1500 BCE, Buddhism 500 BCE)

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    ( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorA}[1]{\vec{#1}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorAt}[1]{\vec{\text{#1}}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorB}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorC}[1]{\textbf{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorD}[1]{\overrightarrow{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorDt}[1]{\overrightarrow{\text{#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectE}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash{\mathbf {#1}}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)


    Throughout the Vedic Period, which lasted from 1700-600 BCE, a variety of tribes (3.8.1) migrated across different regions, resulting in the establishment of larger political entities (3.8.2) and the advancement of the Vedic religion. The Kuru Kingdom in northern India was the first significant group to establish a society at the state level. As part of this society, some historians believe that the kingdom expanded and formalized the Early Vedic religion. They consolidated the ritualistic hymns into the Vedas, which are sacred liturgical texts. The Rigveda contains over 1000 hymns that support their pantheon of gods. The word Veda is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning "to know" (vid or ved). Initially, the hymns were transmitted orally until they were written down after 500 BCE. 

    Early Vedic was established by people inhabiting the northern part of India. The northern region of India was inhabited by settlers who established themselves on the plains and hills near the Indus River. This area boasted fertile soil and ample water, allowing these settlers to raise cattle and cultivate crops. The Rigveda was one of four Vedas, and its hymns centered around gods and demons believed to support the universe. It was widely believed that natural forces governed daily life, and the pantheon of gods helped people understand these phenomena. Through chanting hymns and performing the correct sacrifices, individuals hoped to receive blessings such as good weather or protection from harm. Unlike modern temples, special fires were built on sacrificial altars by clan chieftains or heads of families, and priests would chant hymns while offerings of fruit or meat were made to the fire for the gods to consume. Agni, the god of fire, acted as an intermediary to summon other gods for sacrifice.

    Map of India
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Early Vedic Culture (1700-1000 BCE) (Avantiputra7, CC BY-SA 3.0)
    Map of India
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Late Vedic Culture (1100-500 BCE) (Avantiputra7, CC BY-SA 3.0)

    Indra was the god of war and storm and one of the most loved Vedic gods. Indra was a great warrior and epitomized ideals for men to follow. In the Rigveda people worshipped thirty-three gods and goddesses. The people based their spiritual needs on nature and events beyond human control. They saw the effects and results of monsoon rains, sandstorms, fires, floods, lightning, or cyclones and attributed gods and goddesses to the forces of nature. Early hymns were addressed to the deities of nature, including prayers for air, water, sun, and others. 

    “Through Vedic symbolism, we can understand the formation of Vedic deities. 

        1.    They are helpful and essential in our life so they should be worshiped

       or respected.

                2.   Worshiping gives a sense of their importance in the environment and life.

                      This also develops the ecological consciousness of the worshiper.

               3.   The attributes assigned to deities are their characteristics in general and

                      according to that generally, prayers are performed, and objects are desired.

                      It means that to get that thing from a particular deity, in fact, we should

                      develop those divine qualities in ourselves.”[1]

    Video Title

    An introduction to the Early and Later Vedic Religion


    During the later Vedic age, the social structure was classified by occupational categories forming a more rigid, hierarchical system. “These categories are known as varnas, and there were four of them: Brahmins, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra. The Brahmins were the priests, whose duty was to memorize and orally transmit the Vedas and perform sacrifices to maintain good relations with the gods. The Kshatriya were the chiefs and warriors, whose duty was to govern well and fight. The Vaishya were commoners who traded and farmed. They were responsible for society’s material prosperity. The Shudras were servants who labored for others, usually as artisans or by performing menial tasks.”[2]

    The hierarchical levels became part of society and additional texts were added. A text called Brahmanas defined the way sacrifices were carried out. The Upanishads was a set of ideas about karma and how a person lives their life; good acts produce a better rebirth and evil actions bring a worse one. In the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, virtue is eventually rewarded and evil penalized. As the Vedic Age ended, northern India had undergone significant changes. People spread further across the region, writing was based on the use of Sanskrit, religion was established, and a social system was in place. As new communities and states were formed, new religious concepts began, and the ideas of Hinduism started.  


    From the formations of the Vedic religion came Hinduism. The earliest beginnings were Brahmanism based on the Vedic Rigveda. Brahmanism presented the many deities, using the Vedas and added how to perform sacrifices. The priests were now considered as Brahmins and they wanted to ensure the universe was working well, the various gods were happy, and the kings were consecrated. Now with the population explosion and the growth of cities, society was more complex and the changes in religion reflected that complexity. Hinduism is based on a broad set of ideals and beliefs and a wide-ranging array of philosophical ideas and beliefs that evolved. Hinduism is a code of life and how to maintain good attitudes, spiritual practices, and human experiences. Many scholars believe Hinduism as the oldest religion in the world and a synthesis of multiple societies and customs. Hinduism is very diverse and did not have a single founder or place of origin. 

    Hinduism is henotheistic – they worship a single deity of different interpretations and still recognize other gods and goddesses because they have many ways to reach a god. Agni, Indra, Shiva, Vishnu, and Ganesha are some of the principal gods followed by different sects. Two major poems, Mahabharata and Ramayana were created to define Hindu principles and gods. The poems placed individual gods in dramatic stories of love and war. The Sanskrit epics portrayed Vishnu as the incarnated Krishna and Rama who embodied Chivalry and virtue as another incarnation of Vishnu. The Bhagavad Gita was a set of poems defining values and why one should follow the values. The Puranas and Upanishads are two other important scriptural texts. The Upanishads have eleven major texts forming a fundamental structure of Hinduism and the ideas of reincarnation and karma. 

    Hindu gods overview

    An overview of the Hindu pantheon including: Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Ganesh, Parvati, Durga, Lakshmi, Karthikeya, Rama and Krishna.


    The concept of different jobs separating people into groups grew and a formal caste system developed into four categories: brahmins (priests), kshatriyas (warriors/aristocrats), vaishyas (peasants/merchants), and shudras (serfs). People were born into a caste based on their previous life (incarnation). If people acted well in their lifetime, they might be born into a higher caste (karma). Samsara is the concept of a cycle of birth and rebirth and how a new birth is influenced by one’s karma. Hinduism allows people to choose their own religious path, whether it is worshiping a well-known god like Vishnu or Shiva, or a lesser-known deity supporting your home. Hinduism was developed over several periods, and one of the major periods was between 800 BCE and 200 BCE when Hinduism became more defined and accepted and Jainism and Buddhism began to form. 

    Hinduism Introduction

    Hinduism is one of the oldest and largest religions in the world. It is also one of the most diverse in terms of practice. This video gives an overview of the central spiritual ideas of Brahman, Atman, Samsara and Moksha.




    [1] Tiwari, S. (N.D.). Vedic Religion. 

    [2] The Long Vedic Age (1700-600 BCE)