The Vedas

Bharat, from all evidence, was likely a mythological figure or else he represents a composite of several rulers into an idealised archetype. Since there is no direct evidence (no contemporary written material, art, carvings, statues, etc) of his life and times, most likely he lived either just before or during the very earliest of the Vedic period, which runs from 1700BC to 1100BC. During his reign, as it has ever since, religion and spirituality played a prominent role in the lives of all Indians. From the King upon his throne down to the meanest beggar in the dirt, life centred around the stories and rituals found in the Vedas, the earliest examples of text in any Indo-European language and which is still in print to this day. Virtually nothing happened without first checking in with the gods or at least performing a cleansing ritual or a ritual to propitiate the gods and win their favour.

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The Vedas are stories and ritual instructions centring around the "devas", or anthropomorphic figures with Divine attributes. Some are personifications of natural elements, such as earth, air, fire, and water, while others are idealised humans: mighty warrior-gods and boundlessly compassionate and wise goddesses. The trick to having loyal sons, attracting (or keeping) wealth, good health, a bountiful harvest, a faithful spouse, and a happy life in general was keeping the devas happy and that involved sacrifice. Such sacrifice was rarely human (except in times of extreme duress), but was often livestock and most commonly took the form of food (cooked food, baked goods, etc) and flowers or other plants seen as pleasing or of value to the god or goddess in question.

The priests charged with keeping the knowledge of this very complex body of work were called "brahmins" and later evolved into a separate caste of high status. As so often happens, with great knowledge comes great questioning and, some time after 1000BC, the brahmins began to wonder if that's all life was, one giant commercial transaction: "You give me stuff and I won't destroy your crops and render your sons impotent with one fierce glance". They began to move away from materialism and worldly concerns to embrace a more ascetic, philosophical approach that focussed more on meditation and self-actualization. The result was the Upanishads, the completion of the Vedas.

From this enlightened approach evolved Hinduism, the oldest religion in the world. There is no actual "date" that Hinduism was founded - no sacrificial figurehead, no particular individual crying out a great revelation, nothing like that. Hinduism evolved to meet the needs of a great population that, just as it did in Bharata's day, was comprised of many different cultural groups spread out over a vast area from ocean front to mountain top. Sharing a common religious base ethic created a commonality that is readily apparent to anyone not from India and immediately identifies a Hindu to those from other countries, even if, within themselves, they are markedly distinct.

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