The festival of Karwa Chauth is celebrated by married Hindu women to bring long life to their husbands. They fast for 24 hours, then eat a ritual meal Photo: From Reader's Digest
Both the Hindu and Muslim faiths came to India by conquest, but almost 3,000 years apart. Hinduism traces its origins to Aryan invaders who descended from the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan onto the North Indian Plain from about 1700 bc. Armed with bronze weapons, the warriors and horsemen had migrated from a homeland on the Eurasian steppes to settle in Iran by the start of the 2nd millennium bc.
The lands where they arrived already had an urban civilisation, one of the world’s earliest. The Indus Valley culture is known principally from sites at Harappa and Mohenjo Daro in present-day Pakistan. The citizens enjoyed sophisticated amenities, including the earliest known covered drains, but they left little record of their religion owing to a lack of decipherable written texts. Seals showing figures in the lotus position indicate that they were already familiar with the traditional yogic posture, while a large communal bathhouse at Mohenjo Daro suggests that ritual bathing may have been an established custom, as it is for many Hindus in the sacred waters of the River Ganges today.
Early development of Hinduism
Although Indus Valley beliefs and those of India’s aboriginal Dravidian peoples probably mingled with Aryan custom to shape the development of Hinduism, it was the invaders who introduced the first sacred texts. These were the Vedas, religious poems that were passed down orally before being committed to writing from about 1400 bc. The Vedas reveal that the Aryans worshipped 33 separate gods, each one representing some part of the cosmos or a natural force. The most frequently invoked was the thunderbolt-wielding Indra.
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