IN SPITE of the strong impact of Western ideas, Hinduism is still the dominant influence in Indian life, and a brief study of it is an essential preliminary to any understanding of modern India. One of the difficulties of such a study is the necessity of including three separate levels of religious thought and feeling. The lofty concepts of the Brahman philosopher, the more emotional, personal religion of the devotees of Vishnu and Siva, and the crude, dark superstitions of the fear-haunted villager are all equally entitled to a place in our account, since those who entertain these divergent ideas are, by reason of their membership of one of the castes, all included in the Hindu fold. In this chapter we shall endeavour to consider, though necessarily in summary fashion, firstly, the principal beliefs and practices of educated Hindus; secondly, the caste system; and, lastly, the religion of the Hindu masses.
Our approach must necessarily be historical, but for our purpose we need not go back to the great pre-Aryan civilisation of the Indus Valley. It will be sufficient to start at the stage when the ancestors of the early Hindus broke away from the parent 'Aryan'1 stock, perhaps in the beginning of the second millennium before the Christian era, and moved down into North-west India, driving the Dravidian inhabitants to the south. At a later stage, Dravidian religious ideas were to in- fluence Hinduism considerably, but in the early centuries after the immigration the beliefs of the Hindus developed along natural lines, with little outside interference.
The Hindu sacred literature, written in the Sanskrit language, provides a panorama of the unfolding of the human spirit--from the first, almost instinctive tendency to worship, up to the most profound theological speculation--unparalleled elsewhere. The first of the sacred works is the Rig Veda, a____________________