Other major gods included Varuna, the god of order and creation, and Agni, the god of fire and the messenger who communicated human wishes to the gods. The Aryans also honored animal deities, such as monkey and snake gods.

Brahmins offered sacrifices of food and drink to the gods. Through the correct rituals and prayers, the Aryans believed, they could call on the gods for health, wealth, and victory in war.

As the lives of the Aryans changed, so, too, did their beliefs. Some religious thinkers were moving toward the notion of Brahman, a single spiritual power that existed beyond the many gods of the Vedas and that resided in all things. There was also a move toward mysticism. Mystics are people who seek direct communion with the divine.

Aryan mystics practiced meditation and yoga, spiritual and bodily disciplines designed to enhance the attempt to achieve direct contact with the divine. The religions that emerged in India after the Vedic Period were influenced by both mysticism and the notion of Brahman.

The Great Vedic Epics

By 500 B.C., a new Indian civilization had emerged. Although it consisted of many rival kingdoms, the people shared a common culture rooted in both Aryan and local traditions. By this time, too, the Indian people had developed a written language, Sanskrit. Priests then began writing down their sacred texts.

The Aryans maintained a strong oral tradition as well. They continued to memorize and recite ancient hymns, as well as two long epic poems, the Mahabharata (muh hah BAH rah tuh) and the Ramayana (rah MAH yuh nuh). Like the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Indian epics mix history, mythology, adventure, and religion.

Mahabharata Describes Warfare and Religion

The Mahabharata is India's greatest epic. Through its nearly 100,000 verses, we hear echoes of the battles that rival Aryan tribes fought to gain control of the Ganges region.

Five royal brothers, the Pandavas, lose their kingdom to their cousins. After a great battle that lasts 18 days, the Pandavas regain their kingdom and restore peace to India. One episode, known as the Bhagavad-Gita(BUG uh vud GEE tuh), or Sacred Song, reflects important Hindu religious beliefs about the immortality of the soul and the value of performing one's duty. In its verses, the god Krishna instructs Prince Arjuna on the importance of duty over personal desires and ambitions.

Cloth painting of man with a headdress and jewelry in a chariot pulled by horses, surrounded by flowers.

Artworks depicting scenes from the Mahabharata have been created since ancient times. This folk-art painting on cloth shows the god Krishna in a chariot pulled by horses.

Ramayana Teaches Values

The Ramayana is much shorter but equally memorable. It recounts the fantastic deeds of the daring hero Rama and his beautiful bride Sita. Early on, Sita is kidnapped by the demon-king Ravana. The rest of the story tells how Rama finally rescues Sita with the aid of the monkey general Hanuman.

Like Hinduism, these epics evolved over thousands of years. Priest-poets added new morals to the tales to teach different lessons. For example, they pointed to Rama as a model of virtue or as an ideal king. Likewise, Sita came to be honored as an ideal woman who remained loyal and supportive to her husband through many hardships.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments