Thanks for sharing your views on this Forum. I appreciate your inputs and you may be even right regarding the antiquity of Jainism. However, I want to add a few clarifications here. It may sound strange but talking about whether Jainism is ancient or Hinduism is ancient is like discussing whether one part of the body is older than another part of the same body. If the entire body of religious knowledge that originated in India is called the Dharma, Jainism represents some parts of the body, Hinduism represents some parts and Buddhism represents some. comparatively, Hinduism represents a larger part of the body than the other two. Now one may argue which part of the body was older, ignoring that their nourishment came from the same soil. I hope I have used the right metaphor.
It is wrong to put Hinduism and Jainism in the same category as two distinct religions. The fact is the history of India, especially the religious part was never properly studied or researched in independent India. The Europeans did some research, but their aim was basically to find fault with it or show it in poor light in comparison with Christianity. Honestly, the historians of modern India did not do any original works. Most of the elite class of Indian historians chose to gloss over the facts to avoid hurting anyone. They played safe to win research grants, get their books published, get university jobs, or simply to push their ideologies. On the otherside of the spectrum you will find a rather reactionary response to the earlier research done by the European historians. Some people want to tell you that Hinduism is hundreds and thousands of years old and ancient Indians had the knowledge to build large bridges, and fly airplanes and spaceships. India was invaded by a number of foreign powers. Yet, a lot of people scoff at the idea of Aryan invasion. I am not a big fan of this theory, but I do not rule out the possiblity of people coming from other areas into the Indian subcontinent and getting absorbed into the mainstream culture.
If you study presentday Hinduism, you will see that the so called Vedic religion was almost obliterated except for namesake. Gods like Indra, Varuna, Agni or Mitra or Aditya are no more worshipped with the same reverence as Vishnu or Shiva or Durga. The memory of Aryan kings is preserved in the Upanishads, but their power is gone. Whether they were foreinger or natives and whether they were white or black or colored, I do not know. But they certainly contributed to the knowledge of Samkhya, Yoga, Upanishads, Jainism, Buddhism, and several other sects. Their memory is also preserved in the popular usage of the world Arya, meaning a noble person and its vernacular forms such as Ayya (means father or Sir). I also believe that Indians have been a heterogenous group from the earliest time, like the US today. For example, the ancestors of many feudal castes in a southern state like Andhra Pradesh were not Dravdians but Sakas or Pahlavas who settled in the coutnry under the royal patronage and received large tracts of land under feudal grants. Manuy of these people originally practiced Jainism or Buddhism (Andhra was a popular center for both), but gradually moved to Hinduism while many Buddhist and Jain shrines were converted into Hindu temples. Ancient Indian armies were a major source of cultural integration both in the north and the south, with many foreigners entering the service of Indian rulers and getting absorbed into native culture. There were frequent wars among the native kings and they needed lot of people to fight them. Caravans that came from Africa., Medittteranians and Far East, and the ships that sailed from the coast of Africa were other sources. Unfortunately, this part of the history is never explored in detail and people still keep talking about Aryan and Dravidian divide. Once in a while, I get some angry responses from people for supporting the Aryan invasion theory (where and when I do not know). Few days back also some one said it and I asked her to send me the links of the articles where I said it, and she never replied back.
The truth is India is home to not just four major religions but perhaps a hundred or even more. People followed a number of philosophies and beliefs, and worshipped a variety of gods and goddesses, without assigning any label of a religion. The concept of religion was alien to India until the British came. The Muslim rulers treated all the natives alike and never distinguished a Brahman from a Sikh or a Jain. They persecuted everyone. Around 6th Century B.C. India was dotted with several major religious movements and ascetic traditions. The number was probably between 50-100. When Jesus began teaching his doctrine, he might have had a few hundred followers in Jerusalem. A number of ascetic traditions in ancient India enjoyed a much larger following running into thousands.
Jainism and Buddhism managed to emerge as separate religions because of the leadership qualities of people like Parsvanatha, Mahavira and The Buddha, not because they had anything new to say but because they came from royal families and by virtue of their birth and status commanded respect and attention. At the time of the origin of these religions, they were nothing but schools of philosophy which coexisted with several others schools. There never was Hinduism in ancient India. As I stated elsewhere, you had a Vaidkia, a Snataka, a Jaina, a Buddha, a Sramana, a Tantrika, a Yogi, a Sadhaka, a Samkhya Vadin, a Lokayata, an Ajivaka, a Carvaka, a Shakta, a Parivrajaka, a Vaisesika, a Mimansaka, a Kapalika, a Saiva, a Vaishnava, but not a Hindu. And even among these there were many variations and branches. For example, there were over 25 schools of Buddhism and several schools of Jainism in ancient India. The rest of the schools that originated in ancient India, either became part of Hinduism, or disappeared. When the Muslims came, they treated everyone with the same contempt. When the British came, they also lumped initially all the religions of India into one, just as the Muslims rulers did in medieval India. However, later scholars separated Budddhism, Jainism and Sikkhism and identified them as separate religions or movements. The rest of the traditions were all lumped together under the generic term Hinduism. To put it bluntly, they did a major surgery upon the ancient body of Dharma and separated its parts to fit them into their western notions of a religion. They continue with these distinctions because it serves a lot of interests.
While a Jain historian may conveniently speak about the origins of Jainism with some certainty, it is difficult to say the same thing about Hinduism, because when you talk of the history of Hinduism, you do not know where to begin . Should we begin with Indus Valley or with thousands of tribes that existed in the past and continue even today and whose gods and rituals are integrated into popular Hinduism? And if, can any historian tell me that the Indus people practiced only one religion? The skeletons found in the excavations suggest that they belonged to different races and they were not cremated. They had African, Caucasian and Mongoloid features. The Indus valley civilization covered an area that is larger than the Egyptian empire. Can we say that all the people who lived in those days, in an area of a few thousand square kilometers worshipped the same gods and believed in the same ideas?
It is my observation that until Jainism became distinguished as a separate religion, its history was part of the history of the religious traditions of India which were collectively known as Hinduism in British India and as Dharma in the ancient world. People may jump at me for saying it but it is the truth. Mahavira did not know that his religion was Jainism. He believed in a particular Dharma or religious duty practiced by earlier Tirthankaras, just as Brahmans believed in a particular religious duty or Dharma practiced by ancient seers. While they differed in some fundamental beliefs, they also held several common beliefs, worshipped same gods, and derived inspiration from the ancient doctrines that took root in the soil of the country such as karma and rebirth.
To draw a modern analogy, Hare Rama Hare Krishna movement is said to be registered in the USA as a separate religion. Now, if it is true, one can argue that the Hare Krishna movement is also as ancient as Hinduism because both are derived from the Vedas. We know the truth because it happened recently. However, imagine if it happened in 1000 BC. We would have no clue which gave rise to which.
There can be spelling mistakes. I will correct them later.
Edited on 1/26/2014