(Last Updated on : 13/01/2011)
Religion in the Epic Age (200 B.C.-300 A.D) witnessed a revival in Hinduism. In the Epic Age Ramayana
and the Mahabharata
received their final shape as edifying epics. Even the code of Manu and Yajnavalkhya were developed during this period. The Epic age was a period of a new political outlook. The Brahmans had learned some important lessons from the Buddhist Sangha. Buddhism
as a religion began to decline. The teaching of the Upanishads
was taught to the common man through the stories, the dialogues and the ideal characters in the epics. The gates of the temple were open to all classes.
The knowledge was made available for all. There was a great fusion of the Aryan culture and the Dravidian culture. The gods and goddesses who were worshipped by the common people were given honoured places in the Hindu Pantheon also. Organised sects like the worshippers of Lord Vishnu, of Lord Shiva
and of Shakti
, in addition to the Smartas came to prominence during this age. Shiva and Durga become one of the most worshipped. The Dharma-Artha-Kama Moksha
was now fixed and widely taught. Characters like Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Yudhishthira and Bhishma moulded Hindu society.
The most noteworthy development in the epic age is the popularization of the doctrine of incarnation. All created beings are only partial manifestations of God. All men are divine. Man becomes divine when he identifies himself with the eternal order of the universe. The feeling for the tangibility in religion led to the development of theism, to the conceptions of Trimurti and Avatars. The further steps in this process are images, temples, processions and pilgrimages. In this period there was a more systematic organization of temple-worship than in the preceding period. The Vedic-gods had become less prominent though we have references to Kuber, Varuna, Parana and Lord Indra. Worship of externals in religion had become all important. New divinities like Skanda and Visakha were introduced. The whole cosmos was conceived as a "perpetual process of creation and destruction filling eternity with an everlasting rhythm". The entire scheme is placed under the law of 'karma
' which provides that every individual shall reap the fruits of deeds performed in previous lives.
The Epic Age maintained the performance of yajnas of Vedic Age. Both Ramayana and Mahabharata testify to some popular beliefs. Like for instance, in the age of Ramayana people used to believe that work started at an auspicious moment would be successful. Thus, for the entrance to a new house, marriage and journey auspicious time was to be selected. It was further believed that, when setting out on a journey the vehicle should face northward and while entering a new country, one was to put one's left foot first in order to avoid bad luck. Packed water-pots and a bull's horn were considered to be indicative of auspiciousness and plentitude. Throbbing of eyes or other parts of the body, sight of birds or hearing their voices were supposed to foretell happiness or sorrow. The inauspicious cry of a crow flying high overhead was supposed to portend evil, but its peaceful cawing, while perched on a tree, indicated a happy event to happen.
The Mahabharata and the Ramayana in their final forms mark the end of a great era. Hinduism
had developed all the main features and characteristics with which people are familiar today.