The Goddess in India
The Goddess in India
At the same time as Proto-Indo-Europeans (i.e "Kurgans") from the area of the Ukraine were invading Europe and the Middle East, they were also launching attacks towards the east. These attacks began about 2300 BCE, and would eventually reach as far as the Indian sub-continent.
In the first wave, the Kurgans penetrated through central Asia and into modern-day Iran. Very little is known about the indigenous culture that previously existed there. Following the Kurgan conquest, between about 2300-1700 BCE, a new sub-culture developed, which is known as Proto-Indo-Iranian.
One distinguishing quality of this sub-culture was the language; it was a combination of Proto-Indo-European and that of the indigenous peoples. Beyond that, it was the same sort of barbaric, violent and patriarchal Kurgan society which we are now all too familiar with.
Around 1700 BCE, a second wave of expansion began... not from the Kurgan homeland itself, but from the conquered territory in Iran. It is sometimes referred to as the Indo-Aryan migration , "Aryan" being the name of the Proto-Indo-Iranian people in their own language. This second eastward wave of expansion entered India from the northwest, in the area of the Indus Valley, which is now part of modern-day Pakistan.
Settlements in the Indus Valley began as early as 7000 BCE, and were roughly equivalent to those found in the Neolithic Near East. By about 3300 BCE, numerous large cities with many advanced technical features existed, including water drainage and sewer systems, wells, grainaries, and ship building docks. There is no evidence of any social class or gender distinctions. All the homes were very similar, and the grave goods found with women were of equal value to those found with men. The personal effects of the population, such as pottery and jewelry, were very artistic and beautifully decorated... and from the large number of female figurines that have been found, archeologists speculate that the people probably worshipped a Mother Goddess of some sort.
Their peaceful way of life, however, was about to come to a tragic end. Beginning around 1700 BCE, heavily armed Kurgan invaders, on horseback and chariot, entered the area. The large number of unburied corpses found at cities like Mohenjo-daro (literally, "mound of the dead"), bear witness to a violent military-style assault. By 1500 BCE, every city in the region had been abandoned. The population (or what was left of it) began a massive migration eastward. It would buy them a little time, but in the end, the Kurgans would follow. Ultimately, as in Europe and the Middle East, India fell under Kurgan domination, and the old Goddess cultures were forced to adopt a new social and religious order.
Just as they did in the western world, the Kurgans installed their war-god as the chief deity in the conquered lands. The earliest written records that we have from India are the Vedas. They are religious texts, dating to around 1500 BCE, and were originally written in Sanskrit , which is an Indo-Aryan language. They therefore provide us with an excellent window into religious beliefs immediately following the Kurgan invasion, from the point of view of the Kurgans themselves. As we might expect, the cheif deity is now Indra , a god of war. He is referred to in the Rigveda as the "mighty one", under whose control are all horses and chariots.
The Vedic period (approx. 1500-500 BCE) was characterized by the institutionalization of Indo-Aryan culture. During this time a system of classes was established, the remnants of which are still in existence today. This system was proclaimed in a religious text, written in Indo-Aryan Sanskrit, known as the Manu Smriti. It was apparently intended to sanctify Kurgan domination, and maintain the purity of their blood lines as they governed a nation with such a large population. It should come as no suprise that even today members of the Indian upper classes have a much higher percentage of Kurgan haplogroup R1a DNA... for example, fully 72 percent of the Brahmins in Bengal posses this type of DNA.
The Vedic period is regarded as the time of origin of Hinduism , which in some sense is correct, since traditional Hinduism is based on the early Sanskrit texts from that period... however, it should be noted that those texts are not natural products of India. Rather, they are representative of the Indo-Aryan (i.e. Kurgan) culture and belief system, which was imposed on the indigenous people.
As we can see, the Kurgan invasion initially had a similar effect on religion in India as it did in western areas. The simple universal role of the Mother Goddess archetype came to an end, and Kurgan war-gods were placed above Her. As might be expected, during the confusion which followed, many new deities sprang up... most of which had various culturally-mixed qualities. This is still evident in some sects of modern Hinduism today.
The classic Vedic period lasted until about 500 BCE, when other schools of thought began to influence the Indian people. Buddhism was particularly significant... it rejected Vedic Brahmanism, with it's focus on attaining salvation after death, and replaced it with the concept of achieving liberation in this world, through increased self-awareness and an enlightened way of living. Buddhism was also especially critical of the Vedic practice of animal sacrifice.
Over the centuries, Vedic Brahmanism was forced to make major changes to it's doctrine and practices, and absorbed many of the new Buddhist concepts. This resulted in what we now call modern Hinduism. Fortunately, the religious landscape was such that although people still continued to regard themselves as Hindu, they were also willing to adopt new ideas and form new sects of the religion, with unique practices and beliefs. This allowed religious diversity to develop in a peaceful way, and enabled the story of the Goddess in India to have a far different outcome than it did in the west.
In modern Hinduism, a sect has re-emerged which had been suppressed during the Vedic period. It is called Shaktism , which means "the doctrine of the Goddess". Shaktism has roots in the pre-Kurgan religion of the Indus Valley civilization, and focuses mainly upon a Great Mother Goddess similar to the one which seems to have been worshipped there.
One of the most important texts in Shaktism is the Devi Mahatmyam (literally, "Glory of the Goddess") written around 400 CE. The text proclaims the Goddess as the supreme power in the universe, and not merely the subservient spouse of some Kurgan war-god. This constitutes a very significant rejection of patriarchal Indo-Aryan dogma, and a clear revival of earlier beliefs.
In tantric versions of Shaktism, certain metaphysical dimensions of the universe are recognized... and there are also non-tantric versions, which are more focused on the philosophy of peace and cooperation that the Goddess inspires. Shakti worship is very diverse and vibrant, and can take many forms. While the Goddess is known by various names throughout India, they are all recognized as manifestations of the same entity... Adi Shakti, the primordial cosmic force of creation.
Clearly, in India, the Goddess has survived the Kurgan invasion. She is alive and well, in the hearts and minds of millions of Indian people... whose reputation for spiritual enlightenment, and a peaceful way of living, demonstrates the sort of positive values that I know we all share and appreciate.
The Goddess as Durga