religion of the Vedic period

The religion of the Vedic period (1500 BC to 500 BC ) (also known as Vedism,Vedic Brahmanismancient Hinduism or, in a context of Indian antiquity, simplyBrahmanism ) is a historical predecessor of modern Hinduism.  Its liturgy is reflected in the mantra portion of the four Vedas , which are compiled in Sanskrit. The religious practices centered on a clergy administering rites. This mode of worship is largely unchanged today within Hinduism; however, only a small fraction of conservative Śrautins continue the tradition of oral recitation of hymns learned solely through the oral tradition.


Texts dating to the Vedic period, composed in Vedic Sanskrit, are mainly the four Vedic Samhitas, but the BrahmanasAranyakas and some of the olderUpanishads (BṛhadāraṇyakaChāndogyaJaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana) are also placed in this period. The Vedas record the liturgy connected with the rituals and sacrifices performed by the 16 or 17 Śrauta priests and the purohitas. According to traditional views, the hymns of the Rigveda and other Vedic hymns were divinely revealed to the rishis, who were considered to be seers or "hearers" (Śruti means "what is heard") of the Veda, rather than "authors". In addition the Vedas are said to be "apaurashaya", a Sanskrit word meaning "uncreated by man" and which further reveals their eternal non-changing status.
The mode of worship was worship of the elements like fire and rivers, worship of heroic gods like Indrachanting of hymns and performance of sacrifices. The priests performed the solemn rituals for the noblemen (Kshatriyas) and wealthy Vaishyas. People prayed for abundance of children, rain, cattle (wealth), long life and an afterlife in the heavenly world of the ancestors. This mode of worship has been preserved even today in Hinduism, which involves recitations from the Vedas by a purohita (priest), for prosperity, wealth and general well-being. However, the primacy of Vedic deities has been seconded to the deities of Puranicliterature.
The Vedic period is held to have ended around 500 BC, Vedic religion gradually metamorphosizing into the various schools of Hinduism, which further evolved intoPuranic Hinduism. However aspects of the historical Vedic religion survived in corners of the Indian subcontinent, such as Kerala where the NambudiriBrahmins continue the ancient Śrauta rituals, which are considered extinct in all other parts.
The Soma rituals, which involved the extraction, utility and consumption of Soma:
Specific rituals and sacrifices of the Vedic religion include, among others:
    • The Agnistoma or Soma sacrifice
  • Fire rituals involving oblations (havir):
    • The Agnihotra or oblation to Agni, a sun charm,
    • The Agnicayana, the sophisticated ritual of piling the fire altar.
    • The New and Full Moon as well as the Seasonal (Cāturmāsya) sacrifices
  • The royal consecration (Rajasuya) sacrifice
  • The Ashvamedha or A Yajna dedicated to the glory, wellbeing and prosperity of the Rashtra the nation or empire.
  • The Purushamedha or symbolic sacrifice of a man, imitating that of the cosmic Purusha, cf. Purusha Sukta as well as, in its Śrauta form, the Ashvamedha. The "sacrifice" is symbolic, the text clearly indicating that the participant is to be released.
  • The rituals and charms referred to in the Atharvaveda are concerned with medicine and healing practices.
The Ashvamedha (horse sacrifice) has parallels in the 2nd millennium BC Sintashta and Andronovo culture as well as in Rome (the October Horse), medieval Ireland, and beyond in Central and East Asia. Although in the Rigveda, the cow's description asaghnya (that which should not be killed) may refer to poetry, it may be reflective of some of the social practices, as were other practices like rituals and deity worship.
The Hindu rites of cremation are seen since the Rigvedic period; while they are attested from early times in the Cemetery H culture, there is a late Rigvedic reference invoking forefathers "both cremated (agnidagdhá-) and uncremated (ánagnidagdha-)".(RV 10.15.14)]
Though a large number of devas are named in the Rig Veda only 33 devas are counted, eleven each of earth, space and heaven. The Vedic pantheon knows two classes, Devas and Asuras. The Devas (MitraVarunaAryamanBhagaAmsa, etc.) are deities of cosmic and social order, from the universe and kingdoms down to the individual. The Rigveda is a collection of hymns to various deities, most notably heroic IndraAgni the sacrificial fire and messenger of the gods, andSoma, the deified sacred drink of the Indo-Iranians. Also prominent is Varuna (often paired with Mitra) and the group of "All-gods", the Vishvadevas.
Vedic philosophy primarily begins with the later part of Rig Veda, which was compiled before 1100 BCE. Most of philosophy of the Rig Veda is contained in the sections Purusha sukta and Nasadiya Sukta.
The Purusha Sukta gives a description of the spiritual unity of the cosmos. It espouses Panentheism by presenting nature of reality as both immanent and transcendent. From this reality the sukta holds that original creative will (later identified with Brahma, Hiranyagarbha or Prajapati) proceeds, by which this vast universe is projected in space and time. The Purusha Sukta, in the seventh verse, proclaims the organic inseparability of the constituents of society. The Nasadiya sukta is thought to be the earliest account of skepticism in India.[19] It holds the Absolute to be both existence and non-existence and beyond all conception. The Śatarudrīya of Yajurveda shatters the extra-cosmic notion of Absolute (Rudra) and identifies it with both the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the right and the wrong, the positive and the negative, the high and the low, the conceivable and the inconceivable, the mortal and the immortal, existence and non-existence.
Ethics in the Vedas are based on the concepts of Satya and Rta. Satya is the principle of integration rooted in the Absolute. Whereas, Ṛta is the expression of Satya, which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it. Conformity with Ṛta would enable progress whereas its violation would lead to punishment. Concept of Yajna or sacrifice is also enunciated in the Purusha sukta where reaching Absolute itself is considered a transcendent sacrifice when viewed from the point of view of the individual.
Vedic people believed in the transmigration of the soul and the peepul tree and cow were sanctified by the time of the Atharva Veda. Many of the concepts of Indian philosophy espoused later like Dharma, Karma etc. trace their root to the Vedas. While the term ahimsa is not officially mentioned, one passage in the Rig Veda reads, "Do not harm anything." Major Philosophers of this era were Rishis Narayana, Kanva, RishabaVamadeva, and Angiras
Interpretations of Vedic Mantras
Mimamsa philosophers argue that there was no need to postulate a maker for the world, just as there was no need for an author to compose the Vedas or a god to validate the rituals.Mimamsa argues that the gods named in the Vedas have no existence apart from the mantras that speak their names. To that regard, the power of the mantras is what is seen as the power of gods.
Adi Shankara interpreted Vedas as being non-dualistic or monistic. However, Arya Samaj holds the view that the Vedic mantras tend to monotheism. Even the earlier Mandalas of Rig Veda (books 1 and 9) contains hymns which are thought to have a tendency toward monotheism. Often quoted isolated pada1.164.46 of the Rig Veda states (trans. Griffith):
Indraṃ mitraṃ varuṇamaghnimāhuratho divyaḥ sa suparṇo gharutmān,
ekaṃ sad viprā bahudhā vadantyaghniṃ yamaṃ mātariśvānamāhuḥ
"They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni, and he is heavenly nobly-winged Garutmān.
To what is One, sages give many a title they call it Agni, Yama, Mātariśvan".
Moreover, the verses of 10.129 and 10.130, deal with the one being (Ékam sát). The verse 10.129.7 further confirms this (trans. Griffith):
iyám vísṛṣṭiḥ yátaḥ ābabhūva / yádi vā dadhé yádi vā ná / yáḥ asya ádhyakṣaḥ paramé vyóman / sáḥ aṅgá veda yádi vā ná véda
"He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not, He who surveys it all from his highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps even he does not"
The Vedic Samhitas contain references to ascetics, and ascetic practices known as (tapas) are referenced in the Brāhmaṇas (900 BCE and 500 BCE), early commentaries on the Vedas. The Rig Veda, earliest of the Hindu scripture mentions the practice. Robert Schneider and Jeremy Fields write, "Yoga asanas were first prescribed by the ancient Vedic texts thousands of years ago and are said to directly enliven the body's inner intelligence." Certainly breath control and curbing the mind was practiced since the Vedic times. It is believed that yoga was fundamental to Vedic ritual, especially to chanting the sacred hymns
While the actual term "yoga" first occurs in the Katha Upanishad and later in the Shvetasvatara Upanishad, an early reference to meditation is made inBrihadaranyaka Upanishad, the earliest Upanishad (c. 900 BCE). Yoga is discussed quite frequently in the Upanishads, many of which predate Patanjali's Sutras.  A Rig Vedic cosmogonic myth declares an ascetic with "folded legs, soles turned upwards" as per his name. 
Post-Vedic religionsVedic religion was followed by Upanishads which gradually evolved into Vedanta, which is regarded by some as the primary institution of HinduismVedanta considers itself "the purpose or goal [end] of the Vedas." The philosophy of Vedanta (lit. “The end of the Vedas"), transformed the Vedic worldview to monistic one. This led to the development of tantric metaphysics and gave rise to new forms of yoga, such as jnana yoga and bhakti yoga.  There are also conservative schools which continue portions of the historical Vedic religion largely unchanged until today (see ŚrautaNambudiri). 
During the formative centuries of Vedanta, traditions that supported it and which opposed the same, emerged. These were theĀstika and nāstika. 
  • Hinduism is an umbrella term for astika traditions in India (see History of Hinduism). 
    • PuranasSanskrit epics 
    • the classical schools of Hindu philosophy
    • Shaivism
    • Vaishnavism
    • Bhakti
    • Shaktism
    • Śrauta traditions, maintaining much of the original form of the Vedic religion.
Vedic Brahmanism of Iron Age India is believed by some to have co-existed, at least in eastern North India, and closely interacted with the non-Vedic (nastika) Śramana traditions.  These were not direct outgrowths of Vedism, but movements with mutual influences with Brahmanical traditions.  Following are the religions that evolved out of the Sramana tradition: 
  • Jainism, traditionally from the 8th century BCE during Parshva's time. There are Jaina references to 22 pre-historic Tirthankaras. In this view, Jainism peaked at the time of Mahavira (traditionally put in the 6th Century BCE). 
  • Buddhism, (traditionally put) from ca. 500 BC; declined in India over the 5th to 12th centuries AD in favor of Puranic Hinduism. 

Gaudiya Vaishnavism

Gaudiya Vaishnavism (also known as Chaitanya Vaishnavism  and Hare Krishna) is a Vaishnava religious movement founded by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534) in India in the 16th century. "Gaudiya" refers to theGauḍa region (present day Bengal/Bangladesh) with Vaishnavism meaning "the worship of the monotheistic Deity or Supreme Personality of Godhead, often addressed as KrishnaNarayana or Vishnu". Its philosophical basis is primarily that of the Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavata Purana, as well as other Puranic scriptures and Upanishadssuch as the Isha UpanishadGopala Tapani Upanishad, and Kali Santarana Upanishad.
The focus of Gaudiya Vaishnavism is the devotional worship (bhakti) of Krishna, as Svayam Bhagavan or the Original Supreme Personality of Godhead  . Most popularly, this worship takes the form of singing God's holynames, such as "Krishna" and "Rama", most commonly in the form of the Hare Krishna (mantra), also known askirtan. The movement is sometimes referred to as the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya sampradaya, referring to its traditional origins in the succession of spiritual masters (gurus) believed to originate from Brahma. It classifies itself as a monotheistic tradition, seeing the many forms of Vishnu as expansions or incarnations of the one Supreme God, adipurusha known as Krishna (literally “the All-Atractive”) or Govinda.
Among the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, devotion to Krishna often includes the worship of Krishna along with His spiritual internal potency (hlandhini shakti) or pleasure potency and manifest as His eternal consort, the Goddess of devotion known as Sri Radha.

Philosophical concepts

Living beings

According to Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy, consciousness is not a product of matter (this is common for all spiritual traditions), but is instead a symptom of the soul.  All living beings (jivas), are distinct from their current body - the nature of the soul beingeternal, immutable, and indestructible without any particular beginning or end.  Souls which are captivated by the illusory nature of the world (Maya) are repeatedly reborn among the various (8 400 000 in number) species of life on this planet and on other worlds in accordance to the laws of karma and individual desire. This is consistent with the concept of samsara found throughout Hindubelief.
Release from the process of samsara (known as moksha) is believed to be achievable through a variety of yoga processes. However, within Gaudiya Vaishnavism it is bhakti in its purest state (or "pure love of God") which is given as the ultimate aim, rather than liberation from the cycle of rebirth. 

Supreme Person (God)
Gaudiya Vaishnavas believe that God has many forms and names, but that the name "Krishna" is the 'fullest' description because it means "He who is all-attractive",  covering all of God's aspects, such as being all-powerful, supremely merciful and all-loving. God is worshiped as the eternal, all-knowing, omnipresent, all-powerful and all-attractive Supreme Person. Names of God from other religious traditions, such as Allah and Jehovah, are also accepted as bonafide titles of the same Supreme Person. 
One of the defining aspects of Gaudiya Vaishnavism is that Krishna is worshiped specifically as the source of all Avataricincarnations of God. This is based on quotations from the Bhagavata Purana, such as "krsnas tu bhagavan svayam", translated as "Krishna is the original Personality of Godhead"  and from the Bhagavad Gita where Arjuna, when speaking to Krishna, states:
"You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest. All the great sages such as Narada, Asita, Devala and Vyasa confirm this truth about You, and now You Yourself are declaring it to me." 
Krishna is described elsewhere as the "seed-giving father of all living beings"[  and is worshiped within the Gaudiya tradition literally, as such - Krishna being the "sustaining energy of the universe". 
Inconceivable oneness and difference
A particularly distinct part of the Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy espoused by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the concept of Achintya Bheda Abheda, which translates to "inconceivable oneness and difference" in the context of the soul's relationship with Krishna,  and also Krishna's relationship with his other energies (i.e. the material world). 
In quality, the soul (jiva) is described as being identical to God, but in terms of quantity individual jivas are said to be infinitesimal in comparison to the unlimitedSupreme Being. The exact nature of this relationship (being simultaneously one and different with Krishna) is inconceivable to the human mind, but can be experienced through the process of Bhakti yoga.
This philosophy serves as a meeting of two opposing schools of Hindu philosophy, pure monism (God and the soul as one entity) and pure dualism (God and the soul as absolutely separate). In practice Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy has much more in common with the dualistic schools, as Krishna is worshiped as a Supreme person.
Devotional activities 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Bhakti Yoga
The practical process of devotional life is described as bhakti or bhakti-yoga. The two main elements of the bhakti-yoga process are vaidhi bhakti, which is devotional service through practice of rules and regulations (sadhana) and raganuga bhakti, which is taken as a higher stage of more spontaneous devotional service based on a selfless desire to please one's chosen Ishta-deva of Krishna or his associated expansions and avatars. Practicing vaidhi-bhakti with a view to cultivate prema creates eligibility for raganuga-sadhana.  Both vaidhi and raganuga bhakti are based on the chanting or singing of Krishna's names. Attainment of the raganuga stage means that rules of lifestyle are no longer important and that emotions or any material activities for Krishna should not be repressed, including sexuality. Vaidhi-bhakti's purpose is to elevate the devotee to raganuga; something which generally takes a long time.
Within his Siksastaka prayers, Chaitanya compares the process of bhakti-yoga to that of cleansing a dirty place of dust, wherein our consciousness is the object in need of purification.[17] This purification takes place largely through the chanting and singing of Radha and Krishna's names. Specifically the Hare Krishna (mantra) is chanted and sung by practitioners on a daily basis, sometimes for many hours each day. Famously within the tradition, one of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's close associates, Haridasa Thakur, is reported to have chanted 300,000 holy names of God each day. 
Diet and lifestyle
Gaudiya Vaishnavas follow a Lacto vegetarian diet, abstaining from all types of animal flesh, including fish and eggs. Onions and garlic are also avoided as they are believed to promote a more tamasic form of consciousness in the eater when taken in large quantities.
All types of food are first offered to Krishna, and then the remnants are eaten as prasadam. This is based on a number of instructions by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita that:
  • "If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it." (9.26) 
  • "The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin." (3.13)  
They avoid taking any recreational drugs or intoxicants and engage in sexual relations only within marriage, often for the sole purpose of procreation. Many Gaudiya Vaishnavas will live for at least some time in their life as monks (brahmacharya), and the majority of senior gurus live as renunciates (sannyasa) after the age of 50 years.

History since Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Over the three centuries following the disappearance of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition evolved into the form in which we largely find it today in contemporary India. In the early years of the tradition, the followers of Nityananda Prabhu, Advaita Acharya and other companions of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu educated and initiated people, each in their own locales across Bengal.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu requested a select few among his followers, who later came to be known as the Six Gosvamis of Vrindavan, to systematically present his theology of bhakti in their writings. This theology emphasized the devotee's relationship to the Divine Couple, Radha and Krishna, and looked to Caitanya as the embodiment of both Radha and Krishna. The six were Rupa GoswamiSanatana GoswamiGopala Bhatta GoswamiRaghunatha Bhatta GoswamiRaghunatha dasa Goswami and Jiva Goswami. In the second generation of the tradition, Narottama, Srinivasa and Shyamananda, three students of Jiva Goswami, the youngest among the six Goswamis, were instrumental in spreading the theology across Bengal and Orissa.
The festival of Kheturi (approx 1574),  presided over by Jahnava Thakurani, the wife of Nityananda Rama, was the first time the leaders of the various branches of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's followers assembled together. Through such festivals, members of the loosely organized tradition became acquainted with other branches along with their respective theological and practical nuances. That notwithstanding, the tradition has maintained its plural nature, having no central authority to preside over its matters. The festival of Kheturi allowed for the systemization of Gaudiya Vaishnava theology as a distinct branch of Vaishnava theology.
In the 17th century, Vishvanath Chakravarti Thakur held great merit in clarifying core doctrinal issues over the practice of raganuga-bhakti through works such as Raga-vartma-chandrika. His student Baladeva Vidyabhushanwrote a famous commentary on the Vedanta-sutra called Govinda Bhashya.
The 18th century saw a number of luminaries headed by Siddha Jayakrishna Das Babaji of Kamyavan and Siddha Krishnadas Babaji of Govardhan. The latter, a widely renowned teacher of the mode of internal worship (raga-bhajan) practiced in the tradition, is largely responsible for the current form of devotional practice embraced by some of the traditions based in Vraja.
From the very beginning of Chaitanya's bhakti movement in Bengal, Haridasa Thakur and others Muslim by birth were the participants. This openness received a boost from Bhaktivinoda Thakur's broad-minded vision in the late 19th century and was institutionalized by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur in his Gaudiya Matha in the 20th century. 
The Gaudiya Matha                                                                                                                     Gaudiya and other Vaishnava schools
Gaudiya Matha historians assert that in the 17th-18th century, there was a period of general decline in the movement's strength and popularity characterized by decreased preaching and appearance of persons following and promoting degraded teachings and practices.  These groups are called apasampradayas.  This period was followed by a renaissance which began at the start of the 20th century. This change is believed to have happened largely due to the efforts of a particularly adept preacher known as Bhaktivinoda Thakur, who also held the position of a deputy magistrate with the British government. Bhaktivinoda Thakur's son grew up to be both an eminent scholar and highly influential Vaishnava preacher, known in his later life as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. In total, Bhaktisidhanta Sarasvati Thakur founded sixty-four Gaudiya Matha monasteries in India, Burma and Europe. 
Although sharing a common set of core beliefs, there are a number of philosophical differences which distinguish Gaudiya Vaishnavism from other Vaishnava schools:
  • In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Krishna is seen as the original form of God, i.e. the source of Vishnu and not as His avatar. This is based primarily on verse 1.3.28 of the Bhagavata Purana (krsnas tu bhagavan svayam) and other scriptures. This belief is shared by the Nimbarka and Vallabha sampradayas, but not by the Ramanuja and Madhva schools, who view Krishna as an avatar of Vishnu.
  • As Krishna's consortRadha is similarly viewed as the source of all other Shaktis, including Lakshmi and Sita.
  • Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is worshiped as the most recent Avatar of Krishna to descend in the current yuga, or age. Other sampradayas view Chaitanya as a devotee of Krishna only, and not Krishna himself or a form of avatar.  According to his biographies, Chaitanya did not display himself as Krishna in public . and would in fact avoid being addressed as such. In this regard A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami states, "[When] addressed as Lord Krishna, He denied it. Indeed, He sometimes placed His hands over His ears, protesting that one should not be addressed as the Supreme Lord".  However at times Chaitanya would exhibit a different mood and would welcome worship of himself as the Supreme Lord, and at a few occasions exhibited his Universal form. Rupa Goswami, when first meeting with Chaitanya, composed the following verse showing his belief in Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's divinity:
"O most munificent incarnation! You are Krishna Himself appearing as Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu. You have assumed the golden color of Srimati Radharani, and You are widely distributing pure love of Krishna. We offer our respectful obeisances unto You." 
Although not a widely accepted viewpoint outside of the Gaudiya tradition, Chaitanya's followers point at verses throughout the Puranic literatures such as in the Padma Purana, Garuda Purana, Narasimha Purana, Bhavisya Purana, Agni Purana, Vayu Purana etc as evidence to support this claim. 
Theological sources
Gaudiya Vaishnava theology is prominently expounded by Jiva Goswami in his Sat-sandarbhas, six elaborate treatises on various aspects of God. Other prominent Gaudiya Vaishnava theologians are his uncles, Rupa Gosvami author of Sri Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu  and Sanatana Gosvami, author of Hari-bhakti-vilasa, Visvanatha Chakravarti author of Sri Camatkara-candrika and Baladeva Vidyabhushana, author of Govinda Bhashya, a famous commentary onVedanta Sutra.