Hinduism and Its Relation to the Indus Valley Civilization

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Ramanan Ravendran – I got 22.5 out of 25 for this!
Asian 225 : Indus Valley Civilization and Hinduism
The origins of Hinduism, centered on the relationship between Hinduism and the Indus Valley civilization, have always been fiercely debated amongst historians and scholars. The Indus Valley civilization flourished from around 2500 BCE to 1500 BCE (Flood, pg 23). However, without written records of this prehistoric civilization, we are unable to make accurate claims about the religious practices of this civilization. The people of the Indus Valley did have a form of writing, which has been found inscribed on steatite seals and copper plates, but we are currently unable to decipher this ancient form of writing (Flood, pg 27). Colin Renfrew makes the point that “in deciphering the script we need to begin with something known, but there are no bilingual inscriptions, so decipherers assume a solution and then try to demonstrate its plausibility” (Flood, pg 27). Logically, it follows that the relationship between the origins of Hinduism and the Indus Valley civilization can only be affirmatively known once we can accurately decipher the script as “such an insight could tell us about daily transactions and possibly something about religion, although individual sacred texts may have only been preserved orally” (Bowker, pg 26). There exists considerable debate about whether these writings belong to the Dravidian linguistic family or are an early form of an Indo-European language belonging to the Aryans (Flood, pg 27). Severe critics also question if the Indus Valley civilization was a precursor to modern Hinduism at all (Dasa). Background of the Indus Valley Civilization and its link to Hinduism Given the inability to decipher the writings of the Indus Valley people, we must assume that their religion can be inferred from the buildings and artifacts that have since been excavated. From what has been gathered so far, we know that the religion of the Indus people, probably, emphasized ritual purity, achieved by cleansing oneself in water (Basham, pg 3). This deduction is supported by “the presence of a drained bathroom in almost every house and by the large swimming pool surrounded by small cells in Moenjo-Daro” (Basham, pg 3). This bath, excavated in Moenjo-Daro, showed remarkable similarities to tanks found in present day Hindu temples, and demonstrates the belief of ritual purification with water in Hinduism (Flood, pg 27). Thus, with this evidence, it would be just to think that Hinduism could be traced back to the Indus Valley civilization. Excavation of the sites also yielded “many terracotta figurines of broad-hipped women, some with fantastic headdresses, which were evidently representations of a goddess” (Basham, pg3). Once again, the Indus peoples’ representation or worship of goddesses is similar to the presence of and the practice of worshipping female deities in Hinduism. Hence, it is possible that ancient Indus Valley practices may have been the foundation stone for the current Hindu practices of praying to goddesses. However, although the ritual baths and female figurines of the Indus religion are very much like the aspects of present day Hinduism, it can be argued that ritual purity and an emphasis on goddess worship were common in other ancient religions too, thus weakening the claim for Hinduism originating from the Indus Valley civilization (Flood, pg 28). The bull, as mentioned previously, was found engraved in steatite seals, which suggests that the Indus people considered the bull a sacred animal, as do Hindus (Basham, pg3). The fact that this specific animal has been singularly identified as worthy of worship cannot be mere coincidence and suggests the existence of some link between the ancient Indus religion and Hinduism. Another feature worth mentioning, which supports the existence of the aforementioned link, would be the absence of any structure that could confidently be identified as a temple. One...
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