Hinduism is known as the world's oldest religion. According to ISKCON Educational Services (2004), it is hard to construct a timeline because Hinduism has no identifiable human founder or specific origin in history. It is so old that its past goes into pre-history. It is extremely diverse with the Hindu people being more interested in the meaning of events than in providing first hand records. There is also no clear-cut divide between history and myth.
It is believed that Hindu traditions appeared around 1500 B.C.E. and can be traced to the ancient Aryans as they migrated into southeastern Asia. It was during this time that the Vedic hymns were composed. These hymns, called Vedas, were composed by different Brahman priests and were orally passed down between the generations. They contained knowledge that was considered useful at the time and were not based on just one person's religious belief. The Vedas told the spiritual thoughts of the Aryas who lived in India (Craig, A., Graham, W., Kagan, D., Ozmet, S., Turner, F., 2011).
The Vedas were categorized into four primary groups. Rig Veda contained hymns or mantras to God recited by the main priest; Sama Veda contained hymns sung or recited by assistant priests; Yajur Veda contained the proper ways of performing rituals; Atharva Veda contained magical incantations and charms. Along with their spiritual value, they also gave a good view of everyday life in India four thousand years ago (Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, n.d.).
Scholars have determined the oldest of the four, Rig Veda, was written down in Sanskrit sometime after 300 B.C.E. The Vedas are the most ancient, extensive texts in an Indo-European language (Internet Sacred Text Archive, 2010).
When the Aryans moved into northwest India, they created a caste system to organize the new society created by their arrival. The caste system initially served to maintain strict social boundaries between the invaders and the previous inhabitants. Through the generations, the origins of the caste system were forgotten and it became the general rule of a single society (University of Wyoming, 1997).
People are born into the caste of their parents and are not allowed to cross into another one. They are also expected to marry in the same caste. The unequal distribution of money, influence, pain and suffering are seen as a natural consequence for ones previous actions, both in this life and in previous lives. Hindus can be reborn at a higher level through pure acts, good thoughts and devotion. They can also be reborn at a lower level through bad deeds. It is even possible to be reborn as an animal. Arizona State University (2004) lists the five social castes. They are: Brahmins (priests and academics); Kshatriyas (military); Vaishyas (farmers and merchants); Sudras (peasants and servants); and Harijan (outcasts or untouchables).
The caste system has been extremely stable in India for over two thousand...