India is the cradle of one of the earliest civilizations of the world. The archeological excavations at Mohenjodaro in the present day Pakistan and at Harappa (Gujarat, India) have revealed the existence of an urban civilization about 5000 years old. People lived in cities and had access to public baths, wide roads and engaged in maritime trade. Religion of the people in the Indus Valley had a strong element of worship of the mother goddess which links it to the present day worship of goddess Durga in the most parts of our country.
People also used coins made of precious metals as a means of commercial exchange. Indus Valley Civilization was completely destroyed in some natural upheaval like flood. The script used by the people living in the north western part of India about 5000 years back has greater resemblance with the Dravidian languages than with the Indo-European languages like Sanskrit and Hindi. It can, therefore, be safely assumed that Indus Valley civilization was a native growth and predated the Aryans by a couple of millennia.
India has given to the world two of its most ancient and extant religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism is an amalgam of myriad cults and beliefs. Unlike other world religions like Christianity and Islam which have some central figures in Christ and Mohammad and almost total dominance of the Bible and the Koran, Hinduism has a vast pantheon of Gods besides the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Polytheism and monotheism exist side by side and even the atheists have propounded some schools of thoughts like the Kapila's Sankhya Shastra which are widely revered by the Hindus.
While the Sanatan Dharam worships God in human forms of Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva besides many others, an influential section, of the Hindus, the Arya Samaj, founded by Rishi Dayananda, worships the formless, omniscient God and is opposed to idol worship. Over the years, various streams of religious thoughts have tended to merge and an eclectic religion has dominated the minds of the Indians who would pay obeisance to God and godly men in all forms and manifestations to seek their blessings for furthering their peace of mind, happiness and prosperity.
A very large section of the Hindus believe that God is one, but the wise men describe Him in various ways (Ekam Sadvipra Bahudha Vadanti). Traditionally, tolerance of all faiths is a part of our cultural heritage. This attitude is enshrined in the popular Sanskrit phrase of 'Sarva Dharma Sambhav' - equal respect to all religions. Even today, the word secular occurring in the preamble to Indian constitution implies that the State treats all religions equally.
Some of the earliest Christian groups like the Syrian Christians came to settle in India from the Middle-East in the early years of Christian era to escape persecution by the Jews. They were given shelter by the Hindu kings of South India and were allowed to build churches and practise their religion without let or hindrance. Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, reacted strongly against the multiplicity of rituals and sacrifices prescribed by the priestly classes of India of his times and preached the Middle Path characterised by a life of temperance, non-violence and sympathy for all living organisms as a means to salvation. Buddhism won greater acceptance outside India than within it and is practised in various forms in South-East Asia. It still arouses a great interest among the moderns and is studied and...