. The Old Indian Civilization

The Old Indian Civilization


1. The unknown land of Asia India.

2. Early Indian Civilization.

3. Key Features of Indian Society.

4. Religion and the Indian way of life.

5. Lack of Political Unity.

6. Indias literature represented by Mahabharata and Ramayana.

7. Customs in India the practice of self-immolation by fire.

8. The role of muslims in Indias life.

9. Taj Mahal.

10. Art of India.

The unknown lands of Asia and Africa have fascinated Westerners for

centuries. The Orient, with her silks and her unique cultures, has

attracted travelers since early days. Despite the contacts, between Asia

and Africa remained virtually unaffected by Western influences until the

twentieth century.

India is a land of great diversity, in its topography (the physical

features of a land), climate, and population, it is a study in contrasts.

This triangular subcontinent extends from southern Asia into the Indian

Ocean, forming a giant Pennsylvania. Its terrain varies from subtropical

rain forest to barren deserts, from low coastal plains to the highest

mountain range in the world, the Himalayas. Between the rugged mountain

regions in the north and the coastal plains and tropical plateaus of the

south lie fertile valleys watered by two great river systems, the Indus and

the Ganges. Like the Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures, the earliest

Indian civilization began along riverbanks. The first inhabitants of India

settled in river valleys along the Indus and Ganges rivers.

These people must have felt secure from invaders and foreign

influences. They were protected by tall mountain ranges in the north and by

seas on the east and west. But despite these natural barriers, India did

not remain an isolated land.

Throughout her history, merchants, foreign invaders and Wandering

tribes crossed the mountains along Indias northwestern border and settled

in the fertile river valleys. As a result, India became a land of diverse

elements. Within Indian Society, a unique culture developed.

Early Indian Civilization

India derives its name from the Indus River, along whose fertile banks

the earliest Indian civilization flourished (ca 2300 BC). Much of our

limited knowledge of this civilization has come from excavations of two of

its leading cities: Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. These carefully planned

cities had wide, straight streets lined with brick houses. Evidence

indicates that, these cities had elaborate drainage and sewer systems,

which were more advanced than those in most, modern Indian Villages.

Although a great distance separates India and the Near East, the early

inhabitants of India carried on trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia. From

archeological evidence it is known that the Indus civilization ended

suddenly perhaps by flood on by enemy invasion. It was at this time that

a warlike people called the Aryans migrated into the Indus Valley.

The Aryans were a fair-skinned people who came from central Asia

sometime after 1500 BC and subdued the non Aryan people of northwest India.

Many historians believe that the Aryans were related to tribes that were

invading the Near East Greece and Rome about the same time. The Aryans were

herdsmen; they kept large numbers of cows and horses. Although they left

behind no cities as the Indus civilization did, they did establish a new

language in India Sanskrit.

Our knowledge of the Aryans and their influence on Indian society

comes not from archaeology, but from a collection of religious literature

known as the Vedas, meaning knowledge. Preserved in the Vedas are early

traditions and religious beliefs of the Indians, which were passed down

orally from one generation to the next. From Sanskrit literature, we gain

insights into the Aryan way of life, which became the basis of Indian

culture and tradition.

Key Features of Indian Society

India has one of the oldest cultures in the modern world. The basic

characteristics of Indian society, described in the Vedas, have changed

little from ancient to modern days.


The family has always been one of the most important social units in

India. The extended or Joint-Family included the children, grandchildren

wives, and close blood relatives of a common ancestor. The oldest male of

the group was the dominant authority over the family. When married, sons

did not establish their own homes; instead they remained in their fathers

or grandfathers household. Each family member had his own duties and

obligations. The interests of the family came before those of the

individual family members.

Parents chose the husbands or wives for their children in order to

maintain the familys position and honor in society.


Imagine living in a country in which your status in life was

determined the moment you were born. India was such a country. Her

population was divided into rigid social groups called castes. The Indians

formulated strict rules governing the life of the members of each caste

group: where they lived, what they did (profession), what they wore, what

and with whom they could eat, as well as, whom they could marry.

India had between two and three thousand different castes and

subcastes. Each one fell into one of four broad class groups. The most

important group was the priests, called the Brahmans.

Next in rank were the rulers, and warriors, followed by the merchants

and traders. The lowest class group was the sudras composed of servants

and serfs. Outside the caste system and at the bottom of the Indian social

ladder were the outcastes, or untouchables, for mere contact with them

was thought to bring defilement. While anyone could improve his status

within his caste system there was little change in the village and family

life of India.

This fact explains in part why Indian society remained nearly the same

for thousands of years.

Religion and the Indian Way of Life

Religion has played a dominant role in shaping Indian culture. From

India came two pagan religions that have had a major impact on Asian

culture: Hinduism and Buddhism.


Hinduism is ingrained in the Indian way of life. It developed from the

early culture and traditions of India: her social structure, literature,

arts and customs. It has not only preserved the traditional elements of

Indians past but also served as a unifying influence in Indias diverse


Because Hinduism has no formal statement of doctrine, it was able to

absorb into its system of belief a wide variety of gods and religious

concepts found among the many of the people of India. The majority of

people in India are Hindus.

The basic tenets of Hinduism are found in the religions literature of

ancient India, namely the Vedas and the Upanishads. Hindus believe that a

great god called Brahman permeates everything in the universe. The Hindus

acknowledge many gods; all deities, however, are considered only

manifestations of the eternal, unchanging Brahman .

Since Brahman is not a personal being, he is often referred to as the

great soul or world soul. The ultimate purpose and goal of man according to

the Vedas, is to reunite his soul with the world soul. This reunification

is accomplished through the process of reincarnation, in which a mans soul

passes through many states (or rebirths) before it escapes the physical

world and unites with Brahman. This cycle of rebirths is called the wheel

of life.

The Hindu believes that a persons deeds in this life determine his

status in the next. If he has lived a good life, then he will move to a

higher caste in the next life. The soul of an evil person may be reborn

into a lower caste or even into some form of animal life. By observing the

religious ritual and ceremonies prescribed by the Hindu priests and by

fulfilling the duties and obligations of his caste a Hindu believes that he

can ultimately gain release from the wheel of life and attain union with

the world soul.


India was also the birth of Buddhism. The founder of this new religion

was Siddhartha Gautama later know as Buddha, the Enlightened One.

At the age of twenty-nine, Gautama became troubled over the world. He

became convinced that he should devote all his efforts to find the way of

deliverance from suffering. Therefore, he renounced his wife and child,

and set out to find peace and true happiness. After six frustrating years,

living as a hermit in self-sacrifice and meditation, Gautama was at the

point of despair. Sitting down under a tree, he vowed that he would not

move until the truth came to him. According to Gautama, he was pondering

the questions of life when he realized the truth and attained

enlightenment. Central to Buddhas teaching are his Four Noble Truths: 1)

suffering is part of all existence; 2) suffering has a cause selfish

desires. As long as man has a craving for pleasure, possessions, and power,

he will have sorrow and misery; 3) suffering can be overcome by destroying

selfish desires. 4) If man follows the Eightfold Path, he will destroy

selfish desires and end all suffering. This pattern for living includes

correct beliefs, intentions, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, thoughts,

and meditations.

Buddhism is a religion built upon works and moral behavior. Buddhists

believe that man does not need the help of the gods or membership in a

higher caste in order to obtain freedom from suffering. Once a man has

absolutely freed himself from his selfish craving, he will no longer be

reborn but will enter into Nirvana the state of absolute peace and

happiness, where he loses himself in the world soul.

Lack of Political Unity

While many aspects of Indian Society have remained the same for

centuries, the political history of India has been one of constant change.

Through much of her history India has been little more than a patchwork of

small rival kingdoms. Successive waves of foreign invaders have streamed

into the Indian Subcontinent. The powerful empires established by these

invaders have provided brief periods of Unity and stability for the Indian


Mauryan Empire

In 326 B.C. Alexander the Great threatened India. His armies crossed

the Indus River and conquered many small kingdoms in Indias northwestern

region. Alexander intended to advance further into India, but when his army

refused to continue, he had to turn back. According to traditional

accounts, he met a young man named Chandragupta Maurya while in India. As

Alexanders empire began to disintegrate after his death, Chandragupta

conquered the disorganized and weak kingdoms in the north and created the

first strong empire of India The Mauryan Empire.

The most famous of the Mauryan rulers was Chandraguptas grandson

Asoka. He extended the Mauryan Empire to include all but the southern tip

of India. Sickened by the results of his own bloody conquests, Asoka

renounced war and became a convert to Buddhism. He spent much of his reign

promoting the Buddhist religion.

Asoca is created with building thousands of Buddhist shrines called

steepas. He also had Buddhist teaching inscribed on stone pillars still

stand, providing valuable information concerning Asocas reign.

One of his most far-reaching acts was the sending of Buddhist

missionaries abroad. Buddhism soon spread across much of Southeast Asia,

where it became a powerful force in other Asian cultures. It did not gain a

wide following in India, however.

Hindu priests viewed Buddhist teaching as dangerous to the caste

system. Fearing that they might lose their prestige and rank in society,

they worked against the acceptance of Buddhist beliefs.

Gupta Empire

The first great period of Indian unity was short-lived. Not long after

Asokas death (232 B.C.), the Mauryan Empire collapsed. The years between

the second century B.C. and the third century A.D. Witnessed new invasions

and the rise of small competing kingdoms. However, during this time of

turmoil, India did enjoy a profitable trade with Rome and China.

Even so, it was not until the fourth century A.D. with the rise of the

Gupta Empire, that India entered a new, and perhaps her greatest, era of

prosperity and achievement.

One historian has stated that at the time India was perhaps the

happiest and most civilized region of the world. The rulers of the Gupta

dynasty reunited northern India under a strong and effective government.

Trade flourished and the people prospered materially. Indias culture

spread throughout Southeast Asia. Her universities attracted students from

all over the continent, and she made great strides in the fields of

textiles and finest periods of Indian art, architecture, literature and


Gupta literature became renowned for its adventurous and imaginative

fables and fairy tales.

The foremost Indian poet and dramatist of this period was Kalidasa,

whose plays have earned him the title the Indian Shakespeare. The

popularity of various Indian Stories soon spread outside India, where many

of them found their way into the literature of other lands.

But Indian literature is represented by Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Mahabharata is one of the two great Sanscrit epics. Its the story of

the Great Bharata War, a fratricidal war of succession between the Kaurava

and Pandava cousins (descendants of Bharata) in which nearly all the kings

of India joined on one side or the other. The Kauravas were destroyed and

the Pandavas attained sovereign power but in the end the eldest.

(Yo) Yudhishthira, renounced the throne and with his four brothers

(heroes of the war) and Daraypadi (the joint wife of all 5) parted for

Mount Meru, Indias heaven. Mahabharta is the longest poem in the World

(2.20.000 lines). It is perhaps 15 centuries old and is written in

classical Sanscrit. It consists of 18 books with a supplement, the

Harivamsa a poem of 16.375 verses written by different people in

different times, and of a much later date, which has nothing to do with the

main theme.

Book III Ch.313

The Mahabharata

The following represents a selection of the questions and answers that

passed between the Spirit and Youdhishthira:

1) What is greater than Earth? What is higher than heaven? Mother is

greater than Earth; father is higher than heaven.

2) In what one thing is all dharma summed up? What single thing

constitutes all fame? What sole means takes one to heaven? Skill in the

discharge of ones duties sums up all dharma; giving sums up all fame;

truthfulness is the sole road to heaven and good conduct is the one means

to happiness.

3) What is the foremost wealth? Learning.

4) What is the best gain? Health.

5) What is the supreme happiness? Contentment.

6) What is superior to all other dharmas in the world? Benevolence

7) Whose control leads to absence of sorrow? The control of mind.

8) Which friendship ages not? That with good souls.

9) By abandoning what thing does man become rich? Desire.

10) By giving up what, does one become happy? Avarice.

11) What is penance? Penance is the observance of ones own obtained


12) What is self control? Control of the mind.

13) What is forbearance? Putting up with opposites. (pleasure and

pain, profit and loss)

14) What is shame? Aversion to do reprehensible act is shame.

15) What is straight forwardness? Equanimity.

16) Who is the enemy hard to be won? Anger.

17) What is the endless disease? Avarice.

18) Who is said to be a good man? He who is benevolent to all things.

19) Who is a bad man? He who is barren of sympathy.

20) What is the best path? To cast away all mental dirt.

21) What is gift? Protection of life.

22) What is the wonder of the world? Every day live beings enter the

abode of death; those who remain think that they will survive; what

greater wonder is there than this?

23) What is the news of the world? With Earth as the pot, the firmament

as the covering lid, the sun as the fire, day and nights as faggots and

the seasons and months as the stirring ladle. Time cooks all beings; this

is the great news.

Extract from Mahabharata

Romayana (adventures of Rama) is the earliest of the two great

Sanscrit epics, the incidents of which precede the Mahabharata by about

150 years. Rama was a king before he became translated into a deity. In

course of time, his story and epic became sacred and the belief became

established that spiritual and other blessings would be conferred on its

knowers ramayana became popular in India in every Hindy home. The story is

told in 7 books (96 000 lines).

At instigation of his second queen Dasaratha sends Rama, his eldest

son, into exile for 14 years. He is accompanied by Sita, his young Wife and

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