Both the origins of Hinduism and Hindu Civilization are in the mist of antiquity. Unlike every other religion, it was not founded by any specific person, nor is there a founding date. Internally, it presents itself as eternal truths (Sanatana Dharma). What is known however, is that it is the oldest religion in the world and also one of the few which incorporated what we consider religion today along with all of the sciences (ranging from mathematics to astronomy to architecture) as part of its teachings. In modern terms, while Hinduism is considered to be a religion, it is in actuality a much broader set of teachings that cover everything useful in life.
Scriptures tell us that the Vedas were heard by the Rishis and passed down by an oral tradition for thousands of years before they were written down for the first time. Thus they are considered to be shruti upon which all other scriptures are derived from.
In order to trace the origins of Sanatana Dharma and hence Hindu Civilization, the evidence that is available must be examined from multiple perspectives and must corroborate for any dating to be certain. To date, various methods have been used to assign dates--but they do not concur on many aspects and thus the process of dating Sanatana Dharma is one that is ongoing.
Sanatana Dharma can be traced to thousands of years prior to any of the other world religions and is at least 8,000 years old, and probably older. Judaism, the second oldest surviving religion is dated to about 4,000 years ago, starting around 2,000 BC.
If the age of the various world religions is reduced to make them proportionate to human years with each 100 years of history representing one year of human life than Sikhism, is the youngest faith, at five years old. Islam, is the only teenager, and is fourteen. Christianity just turned twenty. Buddhism, Taoism, Jainism and Confucianism are twenty-five. Zoroastrianism is twenty-six. Shintoism is in its late twenties. Judaism is a mature thirty-seven. Hinduism, whose birthday remains unknown, is at least eighty years old—the white-bearded grandfather of living spirituality on this planet
Thus, Sanatana Dharma would not have been influenced by any of the existing world religions until at least 4,000 years ago. On the other hand, it could have influenced all of the other religions due to its antiquity.
The Indus civilizations (Harappa) has been dated archeologically to 7,000 BC and possibly as far back as 7,500 BC.
The Aegean civilizations (those based around ancient Greece) started around 3,750 BC when their civilizations began to change from nomadic tribes to establish villages. These civilizations went through a period of dark ages where their collective knowledge was lost before the founding of "Classical Greece" which is considered to be forefather of the western world.
Sumeria, considered by many to be the cradle of civilization, traces its roots to approximately 5,250 BC when it started coalescing into villages and later cities. But that civilization was extinct by approximately 1,750 BC and most of their knowledge was also lost.
The ancient Egyptians trace their history to 5,250 BC. They faced three sets of dark ages where much of their knowledge was lost. After the last decline they were ruled by foreign rule and whatever traces were left of their civilization were also lost.
Very little is known of the Harrappans and trace them based on the cities that have been found. Thus, the start date for their civilization is considered to be dated by their oldest city (and not when they started coalescing into cities like other ancient civilizations). We do however, know, that there has been civilization continuity from the Harrappans to modern day India based on some of the seals that have been found.
Based on this information, it can be surmised that they were not influence by the other (known) ancient civilizations but they may have influenced the others--at least until well after 5250 BC.
The Saraswati river is considered by many as "hidden" and is referred to by the Rig Veda more than 60 times. It is one of the seven sacred rivers ("sapt sindhu"). Until recently, scholars considered the river to be mythical.
Rishi Gritsamada among Rigveda rishi-s, calls Saraswati as mother, river and devi (ambitame, naditame, devitame Saraswati). This shows that Saraswati had attained the stature of a devi, divinity even in Vedic times. 
Another passage describes her course:
pra kṣodasā dhāyasā sasra
|Pure in her course from the mountains to the ocean, alone of streams Sarasvati hath listened.|
The Saraswati springs from Himalayan glaciers in Har-ki-dun in Uttaranchal and emerged at Adi Badri, a sacred spot 30 km. north of Jagadhri, through the foothills of the Shiwalik ranges. The river at its peak was between 7-12 km wide at its widest point and traversed a distance of over 1600 km., through Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat, to reach Sindhu Sagara at Prabhas Patan (Somnath). Then, between 6000 BC and 4000 BC, tectonic changes caused river-migration and the desiccation of the river. It was completely dry by approximately 2000 BC.
The river had its origins at least as early as 12000BC.
Considering that the Rig Veda mentions the river so frequently, it stands that the river must have been in its peak years. This implies that the Rig Veda must have been conceived in its present form between 12000 BC and 6000 BC.
Dating based on Archaeological Discoveries
The Harappan Civilization (also known as the Indus Civilization and the Indus-Saraswati Civilization) covered a span of 500,000 sq miles and has approximately 2,600 sites (identified so far). In comparison, modern India covers 1.2M sq miles. It has been dated to between 7000BC and 1900BC. Many of these settlements were along the Saraswati River.
Harappan cities displayed town-planning of a level that would be found over 2000 years later in Europe. Geometrically designed, the towns had fortifications (for protection against both intruders and floods), several distinct quarters, assembly halls, and manufacturing units of various types ; some bigger cities had furnaces for the production of copper tools, weapons or ornaments ; public baths (probably often part of temples), private baths for most inhabitants, sewerage through underground drains built with precisely laid bricks, and an efficient water management with numerous reservoirs and wells show that the ordinary inhabitant was well taken care of. Mohenjo-daro, for instance, had over 700 wells, some of them fifteen metres deep, built with special trapezoid bricks (to prevent collapse by the pressure of the surrounding soil), and maintained for several centuries. Quite a few of those wells were found in private houses. Dholavira had separate drains to collect rain water and six or seven dams built across nearby rivers.
The houses were almost always built with mud bricks (sometimes fired in kilns), which followed a standard ratio of 4 :2 :1, though the actual sizes varied : bricks for houses, for instance, might be 28 x 14 x 7 cm, while for fortification walls they could be 36 x 18 x 9 cm or even bigger. Walls were on average 70 cm thick , and many houses were at least two stories high. A few houses, perhaps those of rulers or wealthy traders, were particularly large, with up to seven rooms, but they might be found right next to a craftsman’s modest house. A number of big buildings, such as that around Mohenjo-daro’s “Great Bath,” seem to have served a community purpose. Dholavira, in Kutch, even boasts a huge public garden. It also has massive fortification walls, some of them as thick as 11m, built in the earliest stage of the city ; apart from standardized bricks, stones were also used there on a large scale, undressed as well as dressed (note that stones were perfectly dressed with just copper tools).
Only 5% of the ruins of this great civilization have been excavated to date and while no large signs have been excavated, over 4,200 seals have been uncovered. These seals are proof that the civilization had a written language by at least 2000BC but it is debated as to how it should be translated.
One of those seals shows a figure sitting in meditation showing a clear link with yoga and meditation as practiced today by followers of Sanatana Dharma. This along with the construction, whose style follows Stapatya Veda (whose derivative is Vastu Shastra which is also practiced today).
Mehrgarh is one of the oldest, identified, settlement of the Harappans prior to the finding of the ruins in the Gulf of Khambhat and has been dated by archeologists to have been settled between 7,000 and 6,500 BC. Like other Harappan cities, this was also built on a north- south axis. The main streets of the city ran north-south, and the entrance of the homes and public buildings faced east. Mehrgarh (like all the other cities as well) were built to the west of the rivers so that they were on land that sloped east to the river.
The most interesting find at Mehrgarh was that of skeletons of people who had cavities in their molars drilled (see image to the right). These drilling were made while these people were alive and they continued to live for years after the drilling as evidenced by wear of the teeth. Considering how cavities are treated today, it stands that these cavities were also filled (otherwise, they would not have alleviated pain, but increased it by exposing nerve endings even more than before). In addition, they had to have a way to hold a patient extremely still so that they could make such precise holes in the back of the mouth.
Gulf of Khambhat
In 2001, ruins of an an ancient city, off of the cost of Dwarka in the Gulf of Khambhat (also known as the Gulf of Cambay) were found by the National Institute of Ocean Technology. Based on the results of a battery of different tests, the city is thought to be up to 9500 years old (or dating it to 7,500 BC).
The team identified city-like structures at the location, said to resemble those of major cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, with regular geometric patterns representing a granary, a great bath and a citadel. Several follow up investigations were conducted and many additional artifacts were recovered.
Considering the advanced nature of this city, we can only assume that the civilization must have begun at least a few hundred years prior to the city's founding (if not more).
Archeology, Sthapatya Veda, and dating
Sthapatya veda prescribes detailed principles of the construction of temples, homes, and cities. One of the main principles of Sthapaatya Veda is that cities be laid out on an exact north-south grid, with all houses facing due east. Another is that the buildings be oriented to the east with a slope to teh east and any body of water on the east. Mehrgarg and most other cities of the Saraswati and Indus valleys followed these principles exactly.
While it is unknown when the principles of architecture were codified into the system described in the Sthapatya Veda, it is reasonable to conclude that the knowledge was well known and practiced during the earliest periods of this civilization. Thus, since Mehrgarg was built on these principles, the Sthapatya Veda was known at a time prior to that. Considering that the Sthapatya Veda is a part of the Atharva Veda, and the Atharva Veda came atleast 1000 years after the Rig Veda, it can be assumed that the origins of this ancient civilization date at least to 8,000 BC.
Dating based on the understanding of Astronomy
The accuracy of astronomy described in shastra amazes scientists even today. The only way to obtain as accurate constants of astronomy as described in texts like the Surya Siddhanta is through uninterrupted naked eye observations or tools and equipment (like telescopes, etc).
In the base case, it should be assumed that the rishi's did not have tools such as telescopes on hand and did not receive this information through samadhi; rather, they calculated these astronomical figures based on naked eye observations.
Naked eye observations are accurate up to one sixth of a degree.
The only way to obtain such accurate constants of precession (without modern instruments and techniques) is through a very long period of uninterrupted observation.
Many astronomical constants can only be determined by observation as well as determination of other constants. For example, to understand Earth's precession, the proper motion of stars must be understood, as must the motion of Earth's perihelion, as well as the period of the equinoxes. The vernal equinox is often used to measure the tropical year .
The Surya Siddhanta reports the Earth's precession is 0°0’50.4” / year (or 0.014° per year) </ref> while modern day science has calculated this to be 0°0’50.2583” / year (or 0.013958° per year) in the year 1900. The length of the tropical year varies over time, thus the difference of 0.000042° could be accounted for due to this change over time (ie the Surya Siddhanta provided the correct period for Earth's precession at the time it was composed).
The period of unaided observation required to observe Earth's period of motion is approximately 3,600 years assuming that the other constants are known. If they are not, than the total time required would be no less than 10,000 years of daily observation.
The Tropical Year
The tropical year is calculated by taking into account the time it takes the earth to move 360° and also taking into account the earth's precessional period. The period of the tropical year provided by the Surya Siddhanta is 365.2435374 days while the modern science calculated it to be 365.2421897 days for the year 2000. The difference between the two observations is 1 min, 54.44128 seconds. The length of the tropical year, due in part to the variation of the precessional constant, varies over time. Thus it is possible that the period of the tropical year described by the Surya Siddhanta was more accurate at the time of its composition.
In either case, in order to come up with this level of precession, it would have taken over 10,000 years (since it would take at least 10,000 years to observe and calculate the earth's precession).
The Surya Siddhanta
The exact date for the composition of the Surya Siddhanta is unknown. Scholars estimate that it was composed no later than 300 AD. If we assume this date and only naked eye observations by the rishi's than their observations began no earlier than 10,000 BC.
In addition, over this period of 10,000 years, they would have to maintain accurate records which were passed down from astronomer to astronomer over this period. Thus, there must have been institutions and enough interest for over 125 generations of astronomers to continuously make these observations. The only alternative, is to assume that the observations were aided by technology or received through samadhi.
Astronomy in the Veda
The Veda mention references to the night sky and astronomical events as a way of referencing the date/time of the events being described. Below are references to some of these mentions along with when they were last observed based on computer simulations of the night sky  :
- Winter equinox in Ashwini (7000 BC)
- Revati at the winter solstice (6000 BC)
- Vernal Equinox in Punarvasu (5000-6000BC)
- Vernal equinox in Mrigashira (5000 BC)
The Yajur Veda:
- Krittika at the winter solstice (8500 BC)
- Purvabhadrapada nakshatra as rising due east (10000 BC)
The dating of the Ramayana is very uncertain. The text self-dates itself to the end of the Treta Yuga which last occurred 1M years ago. The author of the Ramayana, Rishi Valmiki is referred to in the Taittiriya Brahmana in the Yajurveda.
Scientists have been tracing the evolution of Humans for many years using skeletons found by archeologists. Many hominid species have been found since the 1970 and this field continues to grow the Human family tree. Below is a graph with a of what is known today of the various hominid species and their time lines of existence (with very large margins of error in the time line).
If we correlate the timing of the Ramayana based on traditional dating, we find that three species of hominids existed at the same time approximately 1M years ago, Homo erectus, Australopithecus Boisei and Homo Antecessor.
The dating of the Mahabharata is considered to be fairly definite by many scholars, however, they don't have full agreement on the date of the events. They estimate that it occurred between 5,561 BCE and 4,500BCE based on astronomy, lists of Kings provided in the Mahabharata and the Puranas, etc
The strongest determinant of the date is based on simulations of the night sky targeted to match 140+ of the astronomical references made in the text.
The period of the Mahabharata also has possible co-incidence with archeological evidence. Archeologists have discovered the submerged city of Dwarka off the coast of Dwarka in Gujarat. Marine archeologists were able to recover a seal from the city that matches the description of a seal mentioned in the Mahabharata that citizens of Dwarka were to carry. In addition, the submerged city was apparently on land reclaimed from the sea.
The Mahabharata also refers to the Saraswati as a seasonal river that had dried up in a desert (at a place named Vinasana or Adarsana), disappeared in the desert, reappears in some places, and joins the sea "impetuously". The Saraswati river had stopped being a perennial river and became a seasonal between the period of 4000 BC and 1900 BC.
According to tradition, Bet Dwarka (the undersea city discovered by archeologists) is one of 6 or 7 Dwarka’s that got flooded over time and the others have yet to be discovered.
Astronomical dating is also limited in its accuracy. All astronomical events repeat over large periods of time. Thus the date calculated based on astronomical observances are the last time these events took place. They would have also taken place earlier in time as well.
Technology in Shastra
The technology described in shastra is both amazing in concept as well as in detail. Many of the vehicles and weapons are described in significant amount of detail and sometimes include details for construction. For example, space craft construction is given in the Atharva Veda but the technology available today does not allow us to create metals with some of the properties that are described.
The sampling of the technology described in shastra (below) is meant to illustrate the level of advancement of the authors of the scriptures.
Technology and Science of the Rig Veda
The Rig Veda describes several types of vehicles:
- a vehicle designed to operate in air and water
- a vehicle that operates on ground and in water
- a vehicle consisting of three stories
- Trichakra Ratha
- a three-wheeled vehicle designed to operate in the air
- Vaayu Ratha
- a gas or wind-powered chariot
- Vidyut Ratha
- a vehicle that operates on power
Modern man has re-invented some of these vehicles. For example, the Kaara is similar in definition to an amphibious craft such as those used in World War II and the Trichakra Ratha is similar to a modern day aircraft.
In addition to vehicles, the Rig Veda describes the Earth as being held in space by the Sun. It talks about the Earth being round and in solar orbit
The Sun does never set nor rise. When people think the Sun is setting (it is not so). For after having arrived at the end of the day it makes itself produce two opposite effects, making night to what is below and day to what is on the other side…Having reached the end of the night, it makes itself produce two opposite effects, making day to what is below and night to what is on the other side. In fact, the Sun never sets….
The Rig Veda itself was composed and has been passed on for hundreds (if not thousands) of generations using sophisticated error correcting codes.
Other scriptures mention multiple types of Viman-s (aircraft) as well as their construction, properties, etc.
They have references to time measurement ranging from a 'truti' which lasts 1/1687.5th of a second to a mahamantavara lasting 311 trillion years and discuss both the age of the Earth at approximately 4 billion years and the relativity of time.
They reference the water life cycle
Water ascends towards the sky in vapors;
from the sun it descends in rain,
from the rains are born the plants,
from the plants, animals
They mention weapons of mass destruction akin to nuclear weapons. For example, the effects of the Agneya Astra when used offensively in the Mahabharata are described as
a blazing shaft possessed of the effulgence of a smokeless fire, and let it off on all sides,…Endued with fiery flames…Meteors flashed down…A thick gloom suddenly shrouded the (Pandava) host. All the points of the compass also were enveloped by that darkness...Inauspicious winds began to blow. The sun himself no longer gave any heat…The very elements seemed to be perturbed...The universe, scorched with heat, seemed to be in a fever…The very waters heated, the creatures residing in that element…seemed to burn. From all the points of the compass, cardinal and subsidiary, from the firmament and the very earth, showers of sharp and fierce arrows fell and issued with the impetuosity of Garuda or the wind…the hostile warriors fell down like trees burnt down by a raging fire. Huge elephants, burnt by that weapon, fell down on the earth all around, uttering fierce cries loud as the rumblings of the clouds…The steeds, O king, and the cars also, burnt by the energy of that weapon, looked, O sire, like the tops of trees burnt in a forest-fire. Thousands of cars fell down on all sides. Indeed, O Bharata, it seemed that the divine lord Agni burnt the (Pandava) host in that battle, like the Samvarta fire consuming everything at the end of the Yuga…Burnt by the energy of Aswatthaman's weapon, the forms of the slain could not be distinguished.
The usage of the Agneya astra by Aswatthaman resulted in the death of a full Akshauhini [218,700] of the Pandava troops. In comparison, the nuclear bomb dropped on
- Hiroshima killed 60,000-80,000 people
- Nagasaki killed 90,000-166,000 people
Textual development of the Scriptures
Shastra is referred to as Siddhanta or the final conclusion.
- the goal, the achievement - siddha
- is reached, or its end
As such, it is reasonable to conclude that they were the culmination of a long process of discussion, criticism and review. For example, while Panini is referred to as the father of Grammar and the person who codified Sanskrit grammar, 85 grammarians are known to predate him. Similarly, Vedanta has had a long tradition of debate and discussion.
The Veda are direct in their statements yet speak in many tongues which require solidified thought. They are communicated in a language that is mature and systematic which speaks to the maturity of the civilization that conceptualized them in their present form.
Whatever the origin date that is provide by archeology time needs to be added for the development of technology & thought in the scriptures.
The dates ascribed by the various sciences have not reached any level of consistency to be considered authoritative and leave much to be ascertained. The archeological view is that the civilization began around 7,500 BC based on the earliest finds to date. The astronomical view is that the civilization must date to 10,000 BC unless they had technology which archeology has yet to find evidence of. The technology described in the shastra boggle the mind. They are beyond what many would consider conceivable unless the authors had actually seen things similar to what they had described. If the Mahabharata is to be coincident with the Harappan civilization, than no explanation is available as to how it was lost so quickly. And the scriptural view is that the shastra and Sanatana Dharma is significantly older and has been presented multiple times to multiple rishis over multiple yugas which creates significant cognitive dissonance to those who are scientifically minded.
Notes & References
- Panikkar, Raimon, "The Vedic Experience"
- Saraswati in Hindi Civilizational History & Culture
- Rig Veda 07.95.01.1-2
- Since the Ghaggar Valley (through which the Saraswati flowed) is eight to twelve kilometers wide at many places. Earthquakes and floods changed the course of the Ghaggar and its tributaries frequently, and satellite imagery together with ground morphological studies confirm that it too originated in the Siwalik Himalayas before flowing into the Arabian Sea. This was the ‘lost’ Sarasvati.
- The Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI), Jodhpur, mapped the defunct course of a river through satellite and aerial photographs and field studies. It originates in Kailash Mansarovar and emerged on the plains from the Siwalik Hills at the foothills of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh, flowed through the Ghaggar valley in Haryana and the Rajasthan desert, on to Hakra in the Cholistan desert (Sindh, Pakistan), before reaching the Rann of Kutch through the Nara Valley and falling off into the Arabian Sea.
- Archaeologists from the Shimla Circle in 2003-2004 reported three sites and a Buddha vihara in Adi Badri alone. Dr. Vijay Mohan Kumar Puri, an expert on Himalayan glaciers, reported finds of metamorphic rocks on the terraces created by Himalayan glacial River Sarasvati and proved that Adi Badri was the site where the river entered the plains from its Himalayan home. Adi Badri is just 20 kms. from Jagadhri (Yamuna Nagar) and 70 kms. from Dehradun (Paonta Saheb) or Kurukshetra. Further, Dr. Puri proved the origins of Sarasvati from Rupin-Supin glaciers north of Paonta Saheb, where a Yamuna tear occurred on account of plate tectonics and caused a lateral shift of the Shiwalik ranges and consequent eastward migration of the Yamuna, a tributary of Sarasvati, taking the Sarasvati waters to join the Ganga at Prayag and create the Triveni Sangam.
- The Saraswati: Where lies the mystery by Saswati Paik, GIS Devlopment
- After the Pokharan blasts on 11 May 1998, the Isotope Division of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) led by Dr. S.L. Rao took water samples from 800 deep wells within a radius of 250 km. of Pokharan. Their findings, published in Current Science, showed the waters tested were between 8000 to 14000 years old and thus confirmed ISRO findings about the river.
- The site was discovered by a team from the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) in December 2000 and investigated for six months with acoustic techniques.
- Discoveries in Archeology from the Gulf of Cambay
- Pre-Harappan bricks found in Gulf of Cambay
- Lost city 'could rewrite history'
- Synodical lunar month of Suryasiddhanta differs from modern value at the rate of 1 seconds (of time ) in 83 years.
- Motion of Earth’s Perihelion : The perihelion is point nearest the sun in the orbit of a planet or other celestial body. Due to the nature of Earth's orbit, this point changes every year by a small amount. The motion of this point is referred to as the motion of Earth's perihelion.
- The day an "equinox is observed" is the day when the day length equals the length of night
- The vernal equinox is the equinox that occurs in the spring time
- K Chandra Hari, "True Rationale of Surya Siddhanta", Indian Journal of Science, 32(3), 1997
- The Tropical year is the interval between two equinoxes
- Tropical Year
- Surya Siddhanta, 1st chapter, 23rd verse
- Origins of Vedic Civilization byKenneth Chandler, Ph.D.
- Date of the Rigveda
- Gods, Sages and Kings: Vedic Secrets of Ancient Civilization By David Frawley
- The Scientific Dating of the Mahabharata War By Dr.P.V.Vartak
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RedV48OCEFg Dating of the Ramayana and Mahabharata by Nilesh Oak]
- Nilesh Oak, When Did the Mahabharata War Happen? : The Mystery of Arundhati
- Mahabharata 3.80.118, 3.82.111, 3.88.2, 3.130.3, 6.7.47, 6.37.1-4, 9.34.81, 9.37.1-2
- The problem of using Astronomy in dating the Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata
- Rig Veda 6.58.3
- Rig Veda 9.14.1
- Rig Veda 3.14.1
- Rig Veda 4.36.1
- Rig Veda 5.41.6
- Rig Veda 3.14.1
- Rig Veda, Aitareya brahmana 3.44
- Error correcting code-like chanting procedures in ancient India by R. L. Kashyap and M. R. Bell
- Mahabharata, Drona Parva, CCI
- Translation of Mahabharata into English published between 1883 and 1896 was authored by Kisari Mohan Ganguli (1842-1895)
- Mahabharata, Virata Parva, LXV
- Mahabharata, Bhishma Parva, LXXXVII