Spirituality in India - A Cultural Perspective/Roots of Indian spirituality

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The roots of Indian spirituality and religion stretch back into the stone age. As early as the Paleolithic, we find traces of it in forms that still resonate on the Indian subcontinent today. During the Upper Paleolithic, from 10,000 to 20,000 years before present (BP), there was fire worship and mother goddess worhsip.[1] At Baghor, in Madhya Pradesh, the feminine was worship 11,000 years BP using a triangle as a representation. A triangular stone was found incised with triangles, marked in red ochre, at an altar for a goddess. This practice continues even today in villages of the area, where similar stones, smeared in red and incised with triangles are offered to village deities.[2] Across the rest of India too, the triangular shape is the basis for creating yantras,[3] which are used for the worship of various deities. Archaeologists who excavated the site state that when the area's villagers saw the excavation, they told the archaeologists, “That’s one of our shrines. You must look after it properly.” After the archaeologists left, the villagers began worshipping at the shrine again.[4]

At the Harappan civilization (also sometimes called the Indus Valley civilization), more defined modes of worship turn up. Worship of the mother goddess is present alongside phallic worship and worship of a male god. One particular seal, termed the Pashupati seal by archaeologists is of interest. It depicts a horned figure, seated in what seems to be a yogic posture or asana, surrounded by an elephant, a buffalo, a tiger and a rhino. It is accepted by some scholar but disputed by others that this horned figure represents a "proto-Shiva", an early representation of Shiva, the Hindu God.[5] Even today, in yogic lore, Shiva is considered the lord of yoga, and the first yogi and guru.[6] Shaktism is also found in Harappa, as is the symbol of the swastika, another predominant presence in Hinduism today.

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