The period between 7th and 5th century is considered as a glorious century in the World History. It was the turning point in the intellectual and spiritual development of the whole world. This period witnessed the emergence of early philosophers of Greece, the great Hebrew poets, Confucius in China and Zoroaster in Persia, and the rise of religious movements (Buddhism and Jainism) in India. Both Buddhism and Jainism were organized as ascetic order and brotherhoods. Asceticism has its origin in the Vedic thought.
Reasons behind the rise of religious movements in India:
There were several reasons behind the rise of religious movements after the later Vedic period. They are discussed as follows.
1. The Vedic Philosophy had lost its original purity:
During the Rig Vedic time, religion was very simple. There were no unnecessary rites and rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices. From the later Vedic period, this simplicity of religion disappeared. The religion had lost much of its inner substance. Dogmas and rituals became more and more rigid.
In course of time as the Vedic religion had become more ritualistic, the Vedic hymns were replaced by Vedic mantras. The priests forced people to believe that the mantras possessed divine powers and could cure diseased people, bring victory in war etc.
2. The desire of Vaishyas to improve their social & economic position in the society:
The Vedic society was divided into four varnas – Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra. In course of time, this caste system had become quite rigid. The Brahmanas & Kshatriyas were the elite class of the society where Vaishya & Shudras were lower class.
The higher caste members ill-treated the lower caste and deprived them even of basic human rights. The lower class members were not allowed to enter the temples. Naturally, there was great antagonism amongst the lower castes and they wanted to change their social and economic condition.
3. Introduction of New Agricultural Economy:
During the later Vedic period the Aryans had moved towards the east and iron had become known to them. They used it not only in the production of their arms but also for manufacturing agricultural tools and other implements. The tendency of changing social and economic life such as the growth of towns, different profession, and agriculture all could be possible because of the extensive use of iron. With the rise of several new professions and production of new articles, both internal and foreign trade was enhanced.
Due to wildfire, forests were burnt and more land was brought under cultivation towards the east. By the time the Aryans had reached Magadh where they had extensive land under cultivation. The land was fertile and the iron-plough and iron-tools helped in increasing the agricultural manifold. The increased agricultural production affected the social and economic life of the Aryans in several ways.
4. The supremacy of the Brahmanas:
The introduction of new rites and rituals led to the rise of the priests. This class occupied an eminent position in the society. In order to satisfy their own needs and desires, they introduced unnecessary rites and rituals. The people became so dissatisfied with these new introduced rituals and sacrifices and these rituals consisted sacrifices of animals and were quite costly. As most of the common people were unable to perform these costly rituals, they had turned against the system and the Priests.
The working class or the Vaishyas became rich due to rich agriculture and trade. In such circumstances, maintaining Varna on the basis of birth became a widespread protest. The rich Vaishya community supported this protest and helped the Kshatriyas to stand against the supremacy of Brahmanas. People of other professions also became a part of this protest as they thought this opportunity would help them to improve their social status.
5. The necessity of the cattle:
The increase in agricultural land required an increase in the number of cattle. The Vedic religion was based on performing Yajnas and animal sacrifices. In every social and religious ceremony Yajnas were done by the Aryans. The sacrifices which were performed to please gods resulted in animal sacrifices, thereby, lo`ss of animal life and decreased the number of animals. So, if agricultural production had to be raised, protection of animal life was necessary. Thus, a protest had started against performing Yajnas and slaughtering animals.
These are some causes of the rise of religious movements in India during 6th century BC. The old Vedic religion had ceased to be a living force. There was hatred against the costly religious rites and rituals and the supremacy of Brahmanas. Lower class people stood against the higher class domination and started improving their social and economic status. This led the society into a chaos and people wanted to get relief.