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Prehistoric Indians gradually gave up their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Agriculture became their important means of living. They began to make tools useful for both agriculture and their self defence. These inventions made them believe in the power of physical objects. They began to feel less vulnerable to the forces of nature now. New beliefs replaced their earlier superstitions.
The earliest known culture of the Indian subcontinent was Harappan- a technically much advanced urban civilization. It emerged in the Bronze Age, around 3300-1300 BCE, on the banks of the Indus River. The important sites were found in Pakistan, Punjab, and Haryana.
Historians found that Harappan society was polytheistic in their beliefs. No excavations have proved the existence of temples during the Harappan period. But figurines and seals found from the Harappan sites, gave us information regarding the beliefs of the Harappan people. The Swastika symbols were excavated from many Indus sites.
They mainly worshipped Mother Goddess. The famous historian, Marshall, pointed out the Mother Goddess worship as a clue to state that matrilineage existed in the Harappan society. From their sites, Father God figurines were also found, who may have been the forefather of their race.
Another important Harappan deity was Pashupati- the Lord of the animals. The figurine of Pashupati excavated from the sites was that of a three-faced man sitting in a yogic posture. Marshall observed Pashupati as the earlier version of Lord Shiva.
Some seals reveal that they worshipped a tree, called ‘The Tree Of Life’. The tree was portrayed to be protected by animals like bulls, goats, etc. Rudra was also a Harappan deity.
Harappan people also believed that there existed an invisible relationship between the reproductivity of women and the fertility of agricultural land. Hence ‘Linga Pooja’ (worshipping of genital organs), also prevailed among Harappan people.
As Aryans started settling in India, there were constant conflicts between Harappan people and Aryans. However, Aryans eventually adopted many of the beliefs of Harappans.
According to the archaeologist and historian, Mortimer Wheeler, though Hinduism was claimed to be an Aryan belief, the roots of the same were based on the beliefs of the Harappan people.