Religion and Philosophy in Ancient India

  • Religion is the science of soul. Morality and ethics have their foundation on religion. Religion played an important part in the lives of the Indians from the earliest times.


  • The nature of the religious beliefs and practices of the Aryans is also known from the Rig Veda,
  • They believed in many gods like Indra, Varuna, Agni, Surya and Rudra.
  • Religious Practices: Sacrifices, and ritual offering of food and drink to fire in honour of the Gods
  • The Sama Veda and the Yajur Veda elaborated the different aspects of the sacrificial acts
  • The Atharva Veda contained a great deal of animistic beliefs


  • Religious movements associated with persons like Mahavira and the Buddha in about the middle of the first Millennium BC


  • Important deities of these religions were not primarily Vedic ones but those that came from unorthodox sources
  • Sects like Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Saktism, which came to be regarded as components of orthodox Brahminism


  • Sutra in Panini’s Ashtadhyayi refers to the worshippers of Vasudeva (Krishna).
  • Chhandogya Upanishad also speaks of Krishna, the son of Devaki, a pupil of the sage Ghora Angirasa who was a sun-worshipping priest
  • Vasudeva-Bhagavata cult absorbing within its fold other Vedic and Brahminic divinities like Vishnu (primarily an aspect of the sun) and Narayana (a cosmic God)

Vaishnava movement

  • Concerned mainly with South India
  • Poet-saints known as alvars (a Tamil word denoting those drowned in Vishnu-bhakti) preached single-minded devotion (ekatmika bhakti) for Vishnu and their songs were collectively known as prabandhas


  • Panini-Shiva-bhagavatas
  • In south 63 saints known in Tamil as Nayanars (Siva-bhakts)
  • Emotional songs in Tamil were called Tevaram Stotras, also known as Dravida Veda and ceremonially sung in the local Shiva temples
  • Nayanars hailed from all castes
  • Several forms of Shaiva movements like Agamanta, Shudha and Vira-shaivism


  • The East Iranian (Shakadvipi) form of the solar cult was introduced in parts of northern India in the early centuries of the Christian era.


  • Six different schools of philosophies called shada darshana.
  • They fall in the category of the orthodox system as the final authority of the Vedas is recognised by all of them.
  • Six schools of Indian philosophy
    • Samkhya System
      • Holds that reality is constituted of two principles one female and the other male i.e. Prakriti, Purusha respectively
      • Purusha is mere consciousness, hence it cannot be modified or changed. Prakriti on the other hand is constituted of three attributes, thought, movement and the change or transformation of these attributes brings about the change in all objects.
      • Propounder: Kapila, who wrote the Samkhya sutra
      • explained the phenomena of the doctrine of evolution and answered all the questions
    • Yoga
      • Yogasutra of Patanjali
      • purifying and controlling changes in the mental mechanism
      • release of purusha from prakriti
      • yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharna, dhyana, Samadhi
      • admits the existence of God as a teacher and guide
    • Nyaya
      • technique of logical thinking
      • real knowledge
      • considers God who creates, sustains and destroys the universe
      • Gautama author of the Nyaya Sutras
    • Vaisheshika
      • realistic and objective philosophy of universe
      • many bases or categories which are substance, attribute, action, genus, distinct quality and inherence.
      • All objects of the universe are composed of five elements–earth, water, air, fire and ether
      • God is the guiding principle
      • Creation and destruction of universe was a cyclic process and took place in agreement with the wishes of God.
      • Kanada wrote the basic text of Vaisheshika philosophy
      • Prashastapada in the sixth century AD
      • Explained the phenomena of the universe by the atomic theory, the combination of atoms and molecules into matter and explained the mechanical process of formation of Universe
    • Mimamsa
      • analysis of interpretation, application and the use of the text of the Samhita and Brahmana portions of the Veda
      • Vedas are eternal and possess all knowledge, and religion means the fulfilment of duties prescribed by the Vedas
      • encompasses the Nyaya-Vaisheshika systems and emphasizes the concept of valid knowledge
      • Sutras of Gaimini-third century BC
      • Sabar Swami and Kumarila Bhatta
      • essence of the system according to Jaimini is Dharma
      • stress on the ritualistic part of Vedas
    • Vedanta
      • philosophy of the Upanishad
      • Shankaracharya wrote the commentaries on the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and the Bhagavad Gita
      • Shankaracharya’s discourse or his philosophical views came to be known as Advaita Vedanta
      • Advaita literally means non-dualism or belief in one reality
      • Brahman is true, the world is false and self and Brahman are not different
      • Brahman is existent, unchanging, the highest truth and the ultimate knowledge
      • there is no distinction between Brahman and the self
      • Ramanuja was another well-known Advaita scholar
      • ventured to deny the existence of the apparent ego
      • teaches that all these different religions are like so many roads, which lead to same goal
      • every action must be governed by the intellect the discriminating faculty.


  • Brihaspati is supposed to be the founder
  • mention in the Vedas and Brihadaranyka Upanishad
  • knowledge is the product of the combination of four elements which leaves no trace after death
  • deals with the materialistic philosophy
  • known as the Lokayata Philosophy the philosophy of the masses
  • no other world
  • death is the end of humans and pleasure the ultimate object in life
  • no existence other than this material world
  • Out of the five elements earth, water, fire, air and ether, the Charvakas do not recognise ether as it is not known through perception


  • do not believe in the Vedas, but they admit the existence of a soul.
  • agree with the orthodox tradition that suffering (pain) can be stopped by controlling the mind and by seeking right knowledge and perception and by observing the right conduct.
  • first propounded by the tirthankar Rishabha Deva
  • Ajit Nath and Aristanemi are also mentioned with Rishabha Deva
  • twenty-four tirthankaras
  • first tirthankara- Adinath
  • twentyfourth and the last tirthankar was named Vardhaman Mahavira who believed in the importance of celibacy or brahamcharya
  • Seven Kinds of Fundamental Elements
    • jiva, ajivaa, astikaya, bandha, samvara, nirjana, and moksa
    • Substances like body which exist and envelope (like a cover) are astïkaya. Anastikayas like ‘time’ have no body at all.


  • Founder- Gautama Buddha
  • Born in 563 BC at Lumbini, a village near Kapilavastu in the foothills of Nepal
  • went to Bodh Gaya (in Bihar) and meditated under a pipal tree where he attained enlightenment and came to be known as the Buddha
  • three main disciples known as Upali, Ananda and Mahakashyap
  • Council at Rajagriha: Upali recited the Vinaya Pitaka (rules of the order) and Ananda recited the Sutta Pitaka (Buddha’s sermons or doctrines and ethics)
  • Abhidhamma Pitaka consisting of the Buddhist philosophy
  • Main Characteristics
    • World as full of misery
    • Man’s duty is to seek liberation from this painful world.
    • Strongly criticised blind faith in the traditional scriptures like the Vedas
  • Realization of Four Noble Truths
    • There is suffering in human life
    • There is cause of suffering
    • There is cessation of suffering
    • Path of Liberation
  • Eight-fold Path to Liberation (Nirvana)
    • Right Vision-Resolve-Speech-Conduct- Means of Livelihood-Effort- Mindfulness- Concentration
  • Except for Charvaka school, realisation of soul has been the common goal of all philosophical schools of India
  • Bodhgaya
    • Animeshlocha Stupa houses a standing figure of the Buddha with his eyes fixed towards Mahabodhi tree at Bodhgaya in Bihar
    • Also revered by the Hindus who go to the Vishnupada temple
  • Rajgir
    • Empathise with the Chinese traveller Fa-hein who visited this place 900 years after the death of Buddha.
    • Mauryan king Bimbisara joind the Buddhists order at Rajgir.
    • Buddha set out on his last journey.
    • The first Buddhist Council was held in the Saptaparni cave in which the unwritten teachings of Buddha were penned down after his death.
    • Concept of monastic institutions was laid at Rajgir which later developed into an academic and religious centre.
  • By 5th B.C., Nalanda acquired the position of a well-established monastery under the Guptas

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