Development of Santan Dharma

From infinity to today !



Rishis of yore observed the universe and distilled some “eternal truths” in to the Vedic lore.  As these were the eternal laws that governed the lives of all creatures, they called it the Sanatan Dharma.  Some of these basic truths have also become the foundation of other religions that came out of India.  Concepts such as “Karma”, “Atma”, “Maya”, “Moksha / Nirvana”, “Reincarnation”, “Avatar”, “Yoga”, “Dhyana”, “Dharma” etc are used in Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.  Some of these concepts have even become popular in the west.


To express and explain some of these concepts, Rishis created some of the oldest mythologies known to man.  Ancient seers understood how the power of “Nature” impacted the lives men and wrote copiously about the benevolent and malevolent nature of Nature in heart-stirring verses.  Later still, sages gathered local and national customs on how to thank and propiate the “Gods of Nature” into ritual lore. 


In time, these concepts, philosophies, spiritual enquiries, mythologies, histories and rituals formed the Vedas – books of knowledge – which form the core scriptures of those who follow the Sanatan Dharma.  Hindus the world over are direct inheritors of this Vedic lore.


Sanatan dharma of the Vedas metamorphosised into Hinduism as we know it today.  In time, taking on various elements from the tribal religions, it assimilated Vedic philosophy and mythology and entered a Puranic phase of its transformation.  Gods, foreign to the Vedic pantheon, were assimilated as “aspects” and “avatars” of the Vedic gods.  Thus, assimilating and subsuming “outsiders” and making them “insiders”.  This allowed Vedic and non-Vedic people to worship side-by-side without feeling alienated from their roots.  Popular sect of JagganNath at Puri (in the Eastern Indian state of Orrisa) is a classic example of this merger where a tribal God is worshiped as an aspect of Vishnu / Krushna.


As Puranic mythology developed, Vedic gods were often relegated to the side lines in the new myths.  Sometimes, Vedic gods served as a foil for the new heroic gods, allowing them to “outshine” the older gods and to demonstrate their supremacy.  At other times, Vedic gods were shown to pay court to the new gods, acknowledging the supremacy of the newer divinity.  At all times though, the new god(s) were said to be older than the Vedic gods, indeed, some were said to have given rise to the Vedic gods !  Though their exploits were not explored in the Vedas, Puranas often mentioned that these new gods were the proto god(s) and due to certain specific cosmic reason(s), their worship was being revived in this darker, menacing kali yuga for the benefit of mankind.  As with “prequels” that often follow popular “sequels” of films, new mythologies were introduced to establish ancientness of these new God(s).


All new gurus, teachers, sadhus, philosophers claim they have found the perfect interpretation of the Vedas.  This is what has always happened and will happen in the future too.  But, Vedas are the Vedas and to "interpret" them is to try and take a pot of water from the Ganges and claim that water pot IS THE Ganges !! 


New gods, aspects or avatars of the original, reflected the ideals and ethics of the era they were created in.  Hence Puranic gods have colourful lives that reflect our own lives.  To show their divine greatness, they are often shown to interact with Vedic gods, and invariably “win” in any such interactions – eg – in the Shrimaad Bhagvat Purana, Shri Krushna interacts with Indra on two specific occasions and both times he is the victor.


Later, even minor human heroes were portrayed to be so strong that the Vedic devas sought their help in their battles with the danavas.  This forms part of the literary and historical development of India.  Several of these human heroes were the acknowledged ancestors of the than Royal Dynasties of India.  For example, the Pandavas were descendents of such heroes as Yayti, Dhushyant, Bharat and Pururava. 



Centuries later, Jain, Buddhist and Sikh philosophies emerged from the Sanatan Dharma / Hinduism.  Though some of their followers may claim to be different from it, their roots are firmly planted the soil of the Sanatan Dharama.  In their time, they adopted the Vedic / Hindu gods to boost their mythologies. For example, though Jains and Buddhists reject Vedas, their mythology depicts Vedic gods, particularly Indra, coming to pay homage to the Tirthankars and the Buddha on several occasions.  Sikhs have lifted several Vedic and Puranic chants and translated them in to Vraj-bhasha or Punjabi for their sacred book.  Basic concepts such as the law of karma and reincarnation are borrowed from the Sanatan dharma, without ever mentioning it.


These off-shoots of Sanatan Dharma have several variance points with their source, yet, in truly Indian style, they co-exist peacefully with each other.  Over time, Hindus have incorporated various features and concepts of these new religions into itself and have even admitted the gods and sages of these religions into its own pantheon of gods and sages.  For example, some Jain Tirthankars are accepted as avatars of Vishnu.  Buddha is popularly accepted as an avatar of Vishnu and founder of Sikhism is revered as a saint by Hindus.  It is common in parts of India to have Hindus, Jains and Sikhs living in the same family.  



New saints and gurus, like the Saibaba, carry the mantel of being incarnations / avatars of the Vedic gods.  Thus, even in the 21st century, Vedic, Sanatan heritage is being invoked.


Time and circumstances have given rise to new gurus, new sects, new religions, new philosophies and new understanding of the eternal messages of the Sanatan dharma. 

Hinduism is big enough to state that in their own time frame, these messages are correct and valid for spiritual upliftment of people.


Let us enjoy the diversity of thought afforded by the open-mindedness of the Sanatan Dharma.



© Bhagwat    [email protected]


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