History of India - Notes
and the natural flood begins.
From the Vedas, the oldest religious composition in the world. Vedas, Mahabharata and Ramayana, contain all India's history prior to 500BC
Indus Valley Civilisation (Harappa)
Not discovered until 1920's, when renamed Harappan, excavations around Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, in the Sind Valley. More extensive than its contemporary in Egypt.
'Similar doubts surround the female terracotta figurines which are often described as mother-goddesses. Pop-eyed, bat-eared, belted and sometimes mini-skirted, they are usually of crude workmanship and grotesque mein. Only a dusty eyed archeologist could describe them as 'pleasing little things''
The Harappans, winkled out of oblivion by the archeologists trowel and scrutinized by scholars from every conceivable discipline, have lately been attracting the funds. The mighty Aryans, on the other hand, are in retreat.
Arya Sanskrit translated as 'pure', respectable. Championed by European scholars, more interested in the language than the civilization. Found Sanskrit shared roots with Latin of Europe. 'The idea of a single race sowing the seeds of civilization from Bengal to Donegal proved intensely exciting and ultimately irresistible.' Max Muller 'Aryans the rulers of history'. Roots probably in Eurasian landmass. India's Aryans were therefore originally immigrants, and judging by Vedas, highly combative ones. Originally settled in Punjab, probably some contact with Harappans. Names of gods predate arrival in India, many synonymous with counterparts in Persian, Greek and Latin mythology.
Reg Veda source, predates arrival in India.
Mahabharata 500 years after Vedas, belongs to Ganga-Jamuna
Ramayana rooted in middle Ganga region. In one version, Kashi, rather than Ayodha becomes the locus of the story. In C17th Tulsi Das would penm Hindi version of Epic making R Varanasi's own.
Birth of caste. In Vedas. Ksatriya and Rajanya, warrior families acknowledged a chief, called raja, and sacerdotal authority of non-ksatriya priesthood, the brahmans. Then came Vaisya, less distinguished more agricultural. Then came dasa, household slave and desi, female domestic. Earliest four.
In the whole colossal corpus of Sanskrit literature, nowhere called 'India' is ever mentioned; nor does the term occur in Buddhist or Jain texts. Worse still, if etymologically India belonged anywhere it was not the republic proclaimed in Delhi by Nehru, but to its rival headed by Jinmnah in Pakinstan. Like Britain, Germany, it denotes an acquisition rather than a territory.
Name came from Darius, who lists amongst his domains 'Hindu'. Probably from Sanskrit sindhu, river, s dropped, Ind reached Latin. Hind retained by Turks and Mughals, giving Hindu.
Sometime mid-fifth century, ksatriya caste, son of raja of Sakyas.
The imagery of Buddhga's middle way (between extremes of indulgence and asceticism, clearly reflected the itinerant's experience. Buddhism began as a code for the road.'
Kings patronized new teachings included Magadha's Bimbisara. First Buddhist council at Magadhan.
Alexander's greatest achievement was not invading India but getting there. Seeking to upstage Darius and Xerxes, progress takes on Grail like quest for supposedly unattainable. Crossed what is now the frontier between Pakistan and India near Lahore. Near Amritsar they reached the Beas, fourth of the Panj-ab - five rivers - it was as good a place as any for a showdown:
'But to men who had been on the march for 8 years, such arguments had little appeal. They had bathed in the Tigris and the Indus, the Nile and the Euphratres, the Oxus and the Jaxartes. Across desert, mountain steppe and field they had trudged for over 25,000 kilometers. Of victory, booty, glory and novelty they had their fill. Alexanbder withdrew to his tent for a three day sulk, which made no impression on mens resolve.
Calanus the first Indian expatriate, traveled with Alexander. His naked, probably Jain life and self immolation death caused sensation: 'Though an extraordinarily stoical sacrifice in Greek eyes, this was a decidedly careless move for one dedicated to avoiding casual insecticide.' Made lasting impression on Greeks.
Chandragupta probably came from Punjab. The Mauryan empire was probably the most extensive forged by an Indian dynasty - even the Mughals rarely achieved a wider hegemony.
In 1837 following years of conjecture, James Prinsep, the assay-master at the British mint in Calcutta made what remains the single most important discovery in the unraveling of India's ancient history. From Sanchi stupa inscriptions he identified two letters, d and b, which convinced him that the language used was Pali. Pali was a Prakrit, one of several derivatives of Sanskrit, popular in Buddha's time and subsequently appropriated as the sacred language of Buddhist scripture. Script now known as Ashoka Brahmi. Inscriptions called Edicts, beginning, Thus speaks Devanampiya Piyadassi = Ashoka.
Buddhist sources tend to represent Ashoka's lifestyle prior to conversion as indulgence steeped in cruelty, killing 99 of his brothers, visited Hell to construct on earth a 'Hell-on-Earth', visited by a Chinese 100 years later. One event curtain, Ashoka conquered Kalinga (Orissa), and the Edict famously records the emperor's reaction. HG Wells 'He would have no more of it and adopted the doctrines of Buddhism'.
To a society accustomed to such cynical sentiments, Ashoka's change of heart must indeed have appeared revolutionary.'
Remembered for one word - Dhamma.
Ashoka is not just India's first defined historical personality, but he is an intelligible personality. The language is personal and intimate, not stilted or formalized as is more usual with official directives, and neither condensed for the purpose of inscription nor artfully organized for easy memorizing. Occasionally repetitive, it slips from third person to first and from direct speech to indirect just as one might expect of something dictated and recorded verbatim.'
Emphasis on respect for life in all forms was clearly derived from Jain teachings. Animal sacrifices forbidden, court limited to two peacocks and one deer.
Yet the ideology of Dharma died with the death of the emperor (231bc)
Between death of Ashoka and advent of Gupta power in 320 India's ancient history plummets into a murky obscurity.
Spread of Buddhism - Karakoran Highway.
When Pakistani and Chinese engineers began construction of a road link between their two countries in late 1970's, eyebrows raised in Delhi and elsewhere. As well as politically sinister it was thought geographically perverse, for if ever there was a frontier decreed by nature it was the Himalayan chain. Nowhere this wall more formidable than at its western bastion… Nevertheless, at fearful cost in lives, the road was built. The 8th wonder of the world' it was duly hailed and convoys of battered trucks and busses began occasionally to emerge at its either end after eventful days of motoring across 'the roof of the world'. Benefits mixed and not fulsome. Except to archeologists and historians.
That from India the teachings of the Buddha had originally spread to China via central Asia had long been known, but how? Road builders of 1970's found that their rout was the shorter and better signposted route by way of upper Indus and Hunza. Sign posted by Ashoka Rock Edicts. Around Gilget to the Sacred Rock of Hunza. The Karakoram Highway, in fact faithfully follows what is now recognized as the preferred route of Buddhist missionaries carrying their teachings to Sinkiang and China.
Teachings clearly those of Mahayana Buddhism. Schims occurred at 4th Buddhist council, long simering dispute within the sangha. Purists adhering to essential ethical were Hinayana, while those who wished to elevate the Buddha and other potentially 'enlightened ones' became Mahayana.
Girnar, 'City on a hill', outside town of Junagadha in Saurashtra. One of India's most remarkable mountains whose several peaks garland of temples so beloved of Jains. Girnar's least visited attraction Ashoka's Major Rock Edict. 'Isolated and ignormed in this remote extremity of the subcontinent, the Ashoka rock, 'converted by the aid of iron pen … into a book' as James Todd put it, retains the capacity to stir an indologist dust emotions. Replica outside New Delhi National Museum. Describes irrigation system of Junagadha long since disappeared, built in time of Gupta emperors C5th. Added to by Rudradman, one of Great Satraps, probably from Punjab overtook Gujarat and Rajasthan, conquered whole of Malwa, staunchly upheld dhama.
Two Gupta dynasties: Chandragupta founded Mauran empire in BC320
Chandragupta founded Gupta dynasty in AD 320.
A pillar stands in the city of Allahabad where, soon after Prinsep's death, another Ashokan pillar or part of it was found in possession of a contractor who used it as a road-roller. British antiquarians were mortified. A similar fate had befallen the pillar with the Samudra-Gupta epigraph, found half buried in the ground. Re-erected with a new pedestal for its missing capital. Supposedly a kion, the capital 'resembles nothing so much as a stuffed poodle on top of an inverted flower pot, wrote Alexander Cunningham, the father of Indian archeology in C19th.
Chandra-Gupta united central Ganga basin around Patna. Sumudra-Gupta addednoth and east (madras). Called 'the unconquered conqueror of unconquered kings, maharajadhiraja. Success in longevity
Eight centuries after Buddha only Sri Lanka was more Buddhist.
Hinduism as a religion with specific doctrines and practices was still unrecognizable. Concepts like those of dhama, karma and transmigration of soul, though aired in Upinsads and nowadays considered quintessentially Hindu, had been more zealously championed by Buddhists. Bhagavad Gita probably 3-4th C AD
Gupta championed science and astrology
Concept of zero made its epigraphic debut usually in the form of a dot.
Witnessed by Banam an outstanding writer and also, incicentally, a rakish Brahman whose ill-spent yoiuth and varied circle of friends 'shows how lightly the rules of caste weighed on the educated man.' Most important work Harsa-carita, a prose account of Harshas rise to power. Though more descriptive than explanatory, and though loaded with linguistic fancies and adjectival compounds of inordinate length, it rates as Sanskrit's first historial biography as well as a mater piece of literature.
The urgency with which the followers of the Profit carried his teachings out of Arabia resulted in one of the campaigning wonders of the world history. Within 20 years of his death in 632 had overrun much of Byzantine