The construction of a chronological chart of religion in India presents notable problems, particularly with regard to Hinduism. Over the last four millenia, the Hindu tradition has evolved and developed along several diffferent lines and in the process given rise to a large number of tendencies and specific sects. To trace the history of all these is clearly an enormous task far beyond the scope of the present endeavour. For this reason different groups within Hinduism which share certain common features have been brought together under general headings such as Vaisnavism or Vedantic Hinduism.
Vedic Hinduism refers to the ancient religion of the Aryans who entered India probably around 1600 BCE, although the dating of events in such remote times is inevitably imprecise. Though the Vedic gods such as Varuna and Indra are no longer worshipped by Hindus, the ancient practice of fire offerings has persisted down to the present day and is still performed by brahmanas on specific occasions.
Vedanta is an ancient system of philosophy which teaches that the Absolute exists not as a Deity beyond this world but as brahman, the all-pervasive spirit that can be realised by contemplation of the self within each being. Mystical speculations of various types, including early Buddhism, appear to have been widespread in Northern India in the late Vedic period between 600 and 300 BCE. During this period the Upanishads were composed containing within them the earliest expressions of Vedanta. This philosophical perspective has influenced much of Hindu religious thought and remains a significant factor in contemporary Hinduism.
The practice of Yoga is closely linked to the Hindu search for the divine within. Originally Yoga appears to have had two functions: one was the acquiring of supernatural or magical powers and the other was to gain direct experience of the divine presence within. These goals were attained through various techniques, including breath control, sitting...