Ancient India

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Primary History Note on Ancient India, created by truffle chestnut on 10/18/2018.

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Page 1

INDUS AND GANGES RIVERS

The two great rivers of the Indian civilisation were the Indus and Ganges rivers. It was along these rivers where the ancient civilisation began. This is because rivers often enrich the soil for crop growth and provide transportation for people and cargo.

INDUS RIVER The Indus river flows through present-day Pakistan and India. The river has a total drainage area exceeding 1,165,000 km2 (450,000 sq mi). Its estimated annual flow stands at around 243 km3 . Farmers who settled here grew barley and wheat and kept animals such as cattle, goat and sheep for food. IMPORTANCE The first civilisations began along the Indus river, as its lands were ideal for farming and attracted farmers. The Indus is the most important supplier of water resources to the Punjab and Sindh plains – it still forms the backbone of agriculture and food production in Pakistan today. The river is especially critical since rainfall is meagre in the lower Indus valley. This allowed for farming in the area, and in turn an economy.

GANGES RIVER The Ganges river flows through present-day India and Bangladesh. It has a length of 2,525 kilometers. IMPORTANCE The disintegration of the Harappan civilisation, in the early 2nd millennium BC, marks the point when the centre of Indian civilisation shifted from the Indus basin to the Ganges basin. In many ways, the river symbolizes India itself, as stated by the country's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

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INDUS VALLEY CIVILISATION

The Indus Valley Civilization was an ancient civilization located in what is Pakistan and northwest India today, on the fertile flood plain of the Indus River and its vicinity. Evidence of religious practices in this area date back approximately to 5500 BCE. Farming settlements began around 4000 BCE and around 3000 BCE there appeared the first signs of urbanization. By 2600 BCE, dozens of towns and cities had been established, and between 2500 and 2000 BCE the Indus Valley Civilization was at its peak.

THE LIFE OF THE INDUS VALLEY CIVILISATION Two cities, in particular, have been excavated at the sites of Mohenjo-Daro on the lower Indus, and at Harappa, further upstream. The evidence suggests they had a highly developed city life; many houses had wells and bathrooms as well as an elaborate underground drainage system. The social conditions of the citizens were comparable to those in Sumeria and superior to the contemporary Babylonians and Egyptians. These cities display a well-planned urbanization system. There was also evidence of trade between the Indus Valley Civilisation and nearby cities. Commercial, religious, and artistic connections have been recorded in Sumerian documents, where the Indus valley people are referred to as Meluhhaites and the Indus valley is called Meluhha. The following account has been dated to about 2000 BCE: "The Meluhhaites, the men of the black land, bring to Naram-Sin of Agade all kind of exotic wares." They were skilled craftsmen. Archaeologists found a wide range of objects such as toys and seals at various sites along the Indus Valley. The Indus Civilization had a writing system which today still remains a mystery: all attempts to decipher it have failed. This is one of the reasons why the Indus Valley Civilization is one of the least known of the important early civilizations of antiquity. Examples of this writing system have been found in pottery, amulets, carved stamp seals, and even in weights and copper tablets.

DECLINE OF THE INDUS VALLEY CIVILISATION By 1800 BCE, the Indus Valley Civilization saw the beginning of their decline: Writing started to disappear, standardized weights and measures used for trade and taxation purposes fell out of use, the connection with the Near East was interrupted, and some cities were gradually abandoned. The reasons for this decline are not entirely clear, but it is believed that the drying up of the Saraswati River, a process which had begun around 1900 BCE, was the main cause. Other experts speak of a great flood in the area. Either event would have had catastrophic effects on agricultural activity, making the economy no longer sustainable and breaking the civic order of the cities.

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THE ARYANS

Around 1500 BCE, a large group of nomadic cattle-herders, the Aryans, migrated into the region from central Asia. The Aryans crossed the Hindu Kush mountains and came in contact with the Indus Valley Civilization. Some believe that as this was seen as an invastion, this caused the downfall of the Indus Valley Civilisation.  Over the course of several centuries, the Aryans gradually settled down. The language brought by the Aryans gained supremacy over the local languages: the origin of the most widely spoken languages today in south Asia goes back to the Aryans, who introduced the Indo-European languages into the Indian subcontinent. Other features of modern Indian society, such as religious practices and caste division, can also be traced back to the times of the Aryan migrations. Many pre-Aryan customs still survive in India today.  Sanskrit was the language of the Aryans. Their sacred holy texts have greatly influenced Indian civilisation, for instance, the Vedas is a collection of sacred songs and poems that is still sung and chanted by priests to this day. The Aryans also composed long poems known as epics. The most famous of these are the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The Mahabharata told stories of many battles, suggesting that the Aryans had encountered war many times. They also gradually adopted an agricultural lifestyle which was widely established by around 1000 BCE. 

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MAURYAN DYNASTY

After the Aryans, the Mauryans ruled over much of ancient India, stretching over parts of modern Iran and almost the entire Indian subcontinent, barring only the southern peninsular tip at its height.

BEGINNING OF THE MAURYAN DYNASTY The Mauryan empire came into being when Chandragupta Maurya stepped into the vacuum created by Alexander of Macedon's departure from the western borders of India. Chandragupta subjugated the border states, recruited an army, marched upon the Magadha kingdom, killed its tyrannical king who was despised by the populace, and ascended the throne. He thus founded the Mauryan dynasty.

Chandragupta used marriage alliances, diplomacy, trickery, and war to extend his kingdom. Under him, the Mauryan empire stretched from eastern Iran to the western borders of the Burmese hills, and from the Himalayan tribal kingdom to the southern plateaus of peninsular India. After ruling for about 25 years, Chandragupta abdicated in favour of his son, Bindusara, and became a Jain monk. Bindusara maintained his father's large dominions efficiently and extended the southern borders to cover the peninsular plateau of India. When he died, his son Asoka seized the throne after a fratricidal succession dispute. The empire that Asoka inherited was large, but a small kingdom on the east coast, Kalinga, was outside its pale. Asoka decided to conquer it. The war that ensued was bloody and long. Kalinga resisted to the last man but fell. After Kalinga, Asoka did not attack any kingdom but proceeded on a mission of peace. He erected several pillars throughout his kingdom, exhorting people to give up violence and live in harmony with each other and with nature. He actively patronised Buddhism, built several stupas and repaired older ones, and sent evangelical missions abroad, two of which comprised his own son and daughter.

ECONOMY Farmers comprised the largest part of the population, and agriculture was taxed. Tradespeople were organised into guilds that held both executive and judicial authority and also functioned as banks. Craftspeople engaged in a particular industry tended to live together. Goods could not be sold at the place where they were produced; they had to be brought to specific markets. Tolls were collected for roads and river crossings; and goods sold within the kingdom were taxed, as were imports and exports. The state fixed the wholesale price of goods and inspected weights and measures. Barter was prevalent, as were gold, bronze, and copper coins. Money was lent on interest against promissory notes. The main road that ran through the entire kingdom and connected it to the western Greek world was well maintained and well patrolled, with pillars and signposts marking the distances and the by-roads. Ships sailed down the Ganges and its tributaries, and to foreign shores such as Sri Lanka, China, and the African and Arabian harbours, and the state took care to destroy pirates.

DOWNFALL About 50 years after Asoka's death, the Mauryan king was killed by his general-in-chief, Pushyamitra, who founded the Shunga dynasty. Scholars give several reasons for the empire's downfall, the major ones being its size and its weak rulers after Ashoka. Border states had started asserting their independence right after Asoka's death. The empire started shrinking under Asoka's successors. By the time Pushyamitra seized the throne, the mighty Mauryan Empire was a fraction of its size, reduced to only the three city-states of Pataliputra, Ayodhya, and Vidisha, and some parts of the Punjab.

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GUPTA DYNASTY

OVERVIEW The Gupta Empire stretched across northern, central and parts of southern India between c. 320 and 550 CE. The period is noted for its achievements in the arts, architecture, sciences, religion, and philosophy. Chandragupta I (320 – 335 CE) started a rapid expansion of the Gupta Empire, which was continued by his son Samudragupta, and soon established himself as the first sovereign ruler of the empire. It marked the end of 500 hundred years of domination of the provincial powers and resulting disquiet that began with the fall of the Mauryas. The efficient government, good socio-economic conditions and general well-being of the empire allowed for a period of peace and prosperity. This led to excellence in the arts, architecture, culture, literature and sciences. This was a period of overall prosperity and growth that continued for the next two and half centuries which came to be known as a “Golden Age” in India’s history.

GOVERNMENT Great tact and foresight were shown in the governance of the vast empire. The efficiency of their martial system was well known. The large kingdom was divided into smaller pradesha (provinces) and administrative heads were appointed to take care of them. The kings maintained discipline and transparency in the bureaucratic process. Criminal law was mild, capital punishment was unheard of and judicial torture was not practised. Fa Hien called the cities of Mathura and Pataliputra as picturesque with the latter being described as a city of flowers. People could move around freely. Law and order reigned and, according to Fa Hien, incidents of theft and burglary were rare. The following also speaks volumes about the prudence of the Gupta kings. Samudragupta acquired a far greater part of southern India than he cared to incorporate into his empire. Therefore, in quite a few cases, he returned the kingdom to the original kings and was satisfied only with collecting taxes from them. He reckoned that the great distance between that part of the country and his capital Pataliputra would hinder the process of good governance.

SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONDITIONS People led a simple life. Commodities were affordable and all round prosperity ensured that their requirements were met easily. They preferred vegetarianism and shunned alcoholic beverages. Gold and silver coins were issued in great numbers which is a general indicative of the health of the economy. Trade and commerce flourished both within the country and outside. Silk, cotton, spices, medicine, priceless gemstones, pearl, precious metal and steel were exported by sea. Highly evolved steelcraft led everyone to a belief that Indian iron was not subject to corrosion. The 7 m (23 ft) high Iron Pillar in Qutub complex, Delhi, built around 402 CE, is a testimony to this fact. Trade relations with Middle East improved. Ivory, tortoise shell etc. from Africa, silk and some medicinal plants from China and the Far East were high on the list of imports. Food, grain, spices, salt, gems and gold bullion were primary commodities of inland trade.

RELIGION Gupta kings knew that the well-being of the empire lie in maintaining a cordial relationship between the various communities. They were devout Vaishnava (Hindus who worship the Supreme Creator as Vishnu) themselves, yet that did not prevent them from being tolerant towards the believers of Buddhism and Jainism. Buddhist monasteries received liberal donations. Gupta kings erected inns and rest houses for Buddhist monks and other pilgrims. As a pre-eminent site of education and cultural exchange Nalanda prospered under their patronage. Jainism flourished in northern Bengal, Gorakhpur, Udayagiri and Gujarat. Several Jain establishments existed across the empire and Jain councils were a regular occurrence.

DOWNFALL After Skandagupta’s death the dynasty became embroiled with domestic conflicts. The rulers lacked the capabilities of the earlier emperors to rule over such a large kingdom. This resulted in a decline in law and order. They were continuously plagued by the attacks of the Huns and other foreign powers. This put a dent in the economic well-being of the empire. On top of this, the kings remained more occupied with self-indulgence than in preparing to meet with the challenges of their enemies. The inept ministers and administrative heads also followed suit. The Huns finally drew the curtains on this illustrious empire in c. 550. 

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CHOLA DYNASTY

The Cholas controlled much of the south of ancient India. The Chola Dynasty reached the peak of its power under King Rajaraja Chola I, whole rule lasted from AD 984 to AD 1014. The Cholas also controlled Sri Lanka and certain parts of Southeast Asia. They traded with territories under their control, which helped spread Hinduism and Indian culture. The Cholas worshipped Hindu gods, inspiring their architecture and art greatly. Their craftsmen built temples and buildings filled with statues and carvings dedicated to the gods. Chola bronze and stone sculptures and still highly valued to this day.

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MUGHAL PERIOD

In 11th century AD, Muslims from central Asia came to ancient India, bringing the Islamic religion with them. In 16th century AD, a Muslim prince known as "Babur The Tiger", conquered many parts of ancient India, starting a period of Mughal rule that would last for more than 300 years. The Mughals built impressive structures and buildings to display their power and strength, including forts, palaces and tombs. They also supported the arts greatly, setting up workshops to create books, paintings and textiles.

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FEATURES OF INDIAN CIVILISATION

CITY PLANNING The circuit of both Harappa and Mohenjo-daro spreads to about 3 miles, and both have the same differentiations of areas in terms of town planning as well. These areas can simply be divided into the lower (public) and upper (acropolis) areas. Both had the same shape where the acropolis is concerned namely a parallelogram that was 400-500 yards north-south and 200-300 yards east-west. The height is 40 feet from the flood-plain and both the cities are similarly oriented, with the major axis north-south. The grid plan is indicative of an evolved civil engineering principle that had developed at the time. In Mohenjo-daro, there were public buildings, a system of drains, wide roads, and forts. Brick houses were several storeys high, had staircases, wells, and tiled indoor toilets.  In Harappa, thirty meters due south of the main mound gateway is a small mound of the Harappan period with houses, drains, bathing areas and a possible well, which probably served as an externally placed traveler’s stop for incoming caravans. These all indicate that the ancient Indians had good city planning and had concern for health and cleanliness.

ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES Cities in ancient India had markets for selling and puchasing goods. Farmers would sell fruits and vegetables, craftsmen would sell their handicrafts, and merchants would sell goods from faraway places. Other crops/materials were also sold, like spices and cotton. Farmers kept animals like oxen and cows to plough the land and pull carts. Cows were important and sacred to farmers as they gave milk which could be used to make yoghurt or butter. Merchants also travelled to places like China, Greece, Rome and Southeast Asia to sell their goods. They would bring back items from those countries to sell in India, such as glassware, horses and pottery. They usually transported their goods by boat or over land on camels and travelled in groups called trade caravans. This was safer as they were less vulnerable to robberies and other dangers.

SOCIAL STRUCTURE The social structure in India is called the caste system. Different castes are not allowed to inter-marry, or simply marry those of a lower caste than them. At the top of this system are the Brahmin, those who are the connection between people and the gods. They perform religious rites and rituals and invoke the gods on behalf of others in society. These include scholars, teachers and priests. Next are the Kshatriya, those responsible for offering gifts and sacrifices to gods via Brahmins to protect the people. These include rulers, princes and warriors. After them comes the Vaishya, the merchants and farmers. Beneath them are the Shudras, whose duty is to serve the three higher classes. At the bottom of the system are the untouchables. They are seen as unclean and perform the unclean tasks in society, like hard/manual labour. They are not allowed to mix with the other classes, living on the fringe of society, excluded from education, religious temples and so on.

FOOD Indian food uses a lot of spices and seasonings to add flavour and texture to the food. Spices were also believed to have medicinal benefits, for example, the believed  ginger was good for colds, cough and loss of appetite. Food eaten was highly dependent on where they lived. People living in wheat growing areas would eat wheat breads, people living in rice growing areas would eat meals of rice with other condiments, and people living in coastal areas would have fish and prawns in their meals. Today, there are still many different types of food made with ingredients that come from different areas.

CLOTHING AND JEWELLERY One's clothes were a good indicator of one's wealth or importance. Wealthy womes would wear a lot of jewellery, including necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Married women wore a wedding necklace known as a mangalsutra. Mughals introduced a modern style of dressing when they came to ancient India, that covered most of the body.

LEISURE AND THE ARTS The ancient Indians also played games such as chess and the yo-yo. Children played with toys made of clay. Kite-flying was also popular in ancient India. Nobles in royal courts enjoyed sports such as hunting and horse-riding and polo was part of soldiers' training for horse riding. Dance and music were an important part of many religious ceremonies and festivals, where acrobats, dancers, folk singers and wrestlers would perform.

FESTIVALS Festivals in ancient India were times of celebrations and family gatherings. PONGAL(THE HARVEST FESTIVAL) Pongal celebrated the harvest. Before the festival, homes would be cleaned and decorated with mango leaves and flowers. On the third day, people would thank the cows for their hard work by decorating them with garlands and paint. HOLI(FESTIVAL OF COLOURS) Holi is a festival about discarding the old and welcoming the new. People light bonfires and throw offerings into the fire believing that they will be carried to the gods. They would also throw coloured dye and water at each other. DIWALI(FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS) This festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. During Diwali, known as Deepavali in Singapore, houses are cleaned and decorated. Colourful rangolis are created, new clothes are worn, lamps are lit around the house and people visit family and friends, bringing gifts of sweets. EID-UL-FITR(A CELEBRATION OF BREAKING FAST) Muslims in India also observe a month of fasting known as Ramzan(Ramadan in Singapore). During this period, Muslims eat only before sunrise or after sunset. At the end of the fasting month, Muslims in India celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr(Hari Raya Puasa in Singapore. It is a time of prayer, feasting and visiting family for Muslims.

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ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE INDIAN CIVILISATION

ARCHITECTURE AND ART CAVE TEMPLES Some of the earliest Buddhist and Hindu temples were built in caves, as they are strong and long lasting. They are cool in summer and stay dry during rain. The ancient artists working on the Ajanta Caves were able to paint very vivid pictures in the caves unaided with the help of electricity or flashlights. The walls are covered with lively paintings and sculptures, depicting the lives of ancient Indians and telling stories of the Buddha. STUPAS Another type of architecture inspired by Buddhism was the stupa, a mound of earth and stone pieces used to house a holy relic(item from a religious leader). Buddhists go to stupas to worship. The details and fine carvings in the stupas demonstrate the skill of the ancient Indian craftsmen. HINDU TEMPLES AND ART Hindus regard temples as the earthly homes of the gods, hence a lot of effort is put into ensuring that they are grand and beautiful. The pillars, walls and ceilings are all decorated with elaborate carvings, paintings and sculptures. MOSQUES AND MAUSOLEUMS When the mughalscame to ancient India, they built buildings in the Islamic style to reflect their muslim heritage. Mosques are important places for worship and can be decorated with calligraphy, designs inspired by nature and geometric patterns. Muslims believe that animals, human figures and images of gods should not be portrayed. The Islamic style of architecture can also be found in Mughal forts, palaces and mauloseums(large buildings houding tombs). Mauloseums can be decorated with fine jewels, carvings and calligraphy.

METAL ART The ancient Indians used metals such as bronze and iron to create amazing pieces of art. The ancient Indian craftsmen made statues out of bronze from the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Bronze was also used to make sculptures of religious figures for worship. These had to be made with great skill in order to inspire awe and respect.

LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE The ancient Indians developed a system of writing since 2600 BC. Their writing is seen on tablets and seal found in the Indus Valley. Tamil and Sanskrit are two of the earliest Indian languages. Sanskrit is the origin of many present-day Indian languages. The Aryans introduced Sanskrit to India. Sanskrit was the language of the upper classes - kings, priests and nobles. The commoners spoke a dialect known as Pali. Two of India's greatest works of literature are the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. These tell us about the Aryans and the gods they worshipped. The epics tell the story of good triumphing over evil and have been retold and enacted in many forms. The Mahabharata was written over 2,000 years ago and compses of over 100,000 verses. The Ramayana tells the story of the hero Rama in 24,000 verses.

DANCE AND MUSIC The stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata also inspired many dances. Dance was an important part of Hindu religious ceremonies, and was believed to be a form of worship. Every step, hand movement and facial expression has a meaning in Indian dance; together, they tell a story. Music was also an importance part of the daily lives of ancient Indians. Singing was believed to have originated from the chanting of the Vedas. Indian music is usually performed by a small group of musicians playing different instruments, and the music does not always follow a written score; improvisation is a special feature of Indian music.

GAMES A stable government and peace allowed the ancient Indians to create and enjoy many games. The ancient Indians were responsible for several board games which are still popular today, for instance, Pachisi, said to be the inspiration for the game of Ludo now played all over the world. Some historians believe that the game of chess was invented around the 1st century AD, started as a game called chaturanga. 

MATHEMATICS AND MEDICINE The cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro could have only been built with a deep understanding of geometry and accurate calculations. Ancient Indian mathematicians also displayed their skills in astronomy. The ancient Indians also introduced a number system starting from zero to nine, now known as "Arabic numerals" as they were spread first to the Arab lands. This numeric system made it easier to express large numbers and do calculations. The ancient Indians were also advance in medicine. They were especially skilled in surgery. Indian surgeons could set bones and repair injured ears, lips and noses well. Indian medical knowledge influenced those in west Asia and Greece. Besides surgery, they also pioneered ayerveda, a kind of medicine and practice that treats the whole body. Ayurvedic treatments are a combination of diet, exercise and massage. The ancient Indians also practiced yoga to maintain good health, done through diet, exercise and meditation.