Monday, October 10, 2011

A Brief History of India - Greek conquests and Mauryan Empire(326-185 BC)

Persian influence:  Persians expanded eastward; built great cities and cultural centers; these help Persian civilization and culture spread into the India sub-continent.
Darius the Great
Much of the northwestern subcontinent (present-day eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan) came under the rule of the Persian Achaemenid Empire in c. 520 BCE, during the reign of Darius the Great, and remained so for two centuries.

Alexander the Great and the Macedonians:  Alexander reached the Indus early in the 4th century, but soon had to withdraw; nevertheless, the Greeks brought Hellenic culture with them and established cities; these too had a last influence on the Indian sub-continent, particular with with regard to art and architecture.

In 326 BCE, Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor and the Achaemenid Empire, reaching the northwest frontiers of the Indian subcontinent.
Alexander the Great
There he defeated King Porus in the Battle of the Hydaspes (near modern-day Jhelum, Pakistan) and conquered much of the Punjab.Alexander's march east put him in confrontation with the Nanda Empire of Magadha and the Gangaridai Empire of Bengal. His army, exhausted and frightened by the prospect of facing larger Indian armies at the Ganges River, mutinied at the Hyphasis (modern Beas River) and refused to march further East. Alexander, after the meeting with his officer, Coenus, was convinced that it was better to return.
Alexander the Great refuses to take water
After Alexander's death in 323 BCE, Chandragupta, had succeeded in defeating the Macedonian satrapies(name given to the governers of the provinces) in India and conquering the Nanda Empire.

Maurya Empire (322-185 BC):
Chandragupta Maurya began in 322 BC establishing a great empire in northern India and the lands abandoned by Alexander the Great.

  • The  Mauryan Empire included all of present-day northern India and much of modern Afghanistan. 
  • As an emperor holding supreme power, Chandragupta established a strong central government, governed with the aid of  paid officials, and defended his kingdom with an army of 600,000-700,000 men. Some argue that he learned the arts of war and government from Alexander's Macedonians
  • Established a capital of Pataliputra was located at the confluence of the Ganges and the Son rivers, and it was described by contemporary observers as having long wooden walls, towers, gates, and a moat. Within were grand palaces and other buildings.     
  • Chandragupta's minister Chanakya wrote the Arthashastra, one of the greatest treatises on economics, politics, foreign affairs, administration, military arts, war, and religion produced in Asia.  
According to legend, Chandragupta retired from the throne after ruling for twenty-four years, passed it to his son, and became a monk and starved himself to death.    
Later His grandson, Asoka, came to the throne about 270 BC.
  • Almost immediately, he launched a campaign to capture the south of India.  Eventually, his empire included Afghanistan as well as northern and central India. 
  • Laws and pronoucements were carved on massive stone pillars.  Asoka proclaimed:  "I consider that my duty is the good of the whole country."  Or:  "There is no better work than promoting the welfare of the whole world.  Whatever may be my great deeds, I have done them in order to discharge my debt to all beings."
Sarnath - Lion Capital of Ashoka
  • The four animals in the Sarnath capital are believed to symbolize different steps of Lord Buddha's life.
    • The Elephant represents the Buddha's idea in reference to the dream of Queen Maya of a white elephant entering her womb.
    • The Bull represents desire during the life of the Buddha as a prince.
    • The Horse represents Buddha's departure from palatial life.
    • The Lion represents the accomplishment of Buddha.
  •  He had, however, been sickened by the slaughter, leading him to adopt Buddhism and renounce violence.  He then helped Buddhism spread throughout India, and he sent missionaries to spread the faith throughout Asia and the Middle East.  His great historical legacies then were the dissemination of Buddhism and the creation of the idea of an Indian empire.
Following the death of Asoka in 232 BCE, the Mauryan Empire began to crumble. The last Maurya ruler was assassinated in 185 BCE, and northern India fell into the hands of foreign rulers.
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Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Brief History of India - Buddhism (563-483 BC)

Siddhartha Gautama -    A Northern Indian aristocrat who was troubled by questions concerning the meaning of life and the existence of suffering and death in the world. In his late twenties, Gautama then abandoned his wife and family and a cloistered life of luxury and set out to seek answers to his questions using the traditional Hindu methods of self-denial and meditation. His quest lasted six years and involved philosophic meditation and the most extreme forms of asceticism, or bodily self denial. Then while seated under a sacred fig tree, he had a moment of illumination in which he understood the reasons behind human suffering and a means to overcome them. At this moment, he became Buddha, or "the Enlightened One." Having achieved this state of enlightenment, Buddha then became an itinerant teacher in the north of India.

The Four Noble Truths taught by Buddha were :

  1. Sorrow and suffering must be endured by all. 
  2. Suffering and sorrow result from the greedy desire for pleasure and possessions which people cannot have.
  3. Escape from such suffering and sorrow is achieved by giving up such desires and by reaching a state of mind of "not wanting".
  4. Reaching a state of enlightenment and perfect peace called nirvana by following the Middle Way (the avoidance of worldly pleasure and extreme asceticism), or the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path to Nirvana taught by buddha were:
  • Right views, or insight into the nature of life.
  • Right intentions.
  • Right speech (avoiding lying and gossip).
  • Right action (being honest and avoiding crime). 
  • Right living (the avoidance of harm to others).
  • Right effort (the prevention of evil). 
  • Right mindfulness (the awareness of one's self).
  • Right concentration to direct the mind in meditation.
Differences over beliefs and practices produced a split within Buddhism about 100 BC, and a number of different schools of Buddhist thought developed.  One of the two most important is Hinayana  or Theravada , the more traditional of the two schools, and it viewed Buddha as a teacher who had presented a set of guidelines for life.

 This "Southern Buddhism" eventually spread into Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia.  The second school, the Mahayana, considered Buddha as a god and savior.  Adherents of this "northern Buddhism," which spread to Afghanistan, central Asia, China, Korea, and Japan, turned it into a formal religion, complete with priests, temples, statues, creeds, and rituals.  One of its central concepts was the replacement of Nirvana as the highest goal with that of the enlightened status of a self-less bodhisattva, a "Buddha-to-be," who would help others attain Nirvana.

Within India itself, Buddhism had a curious history.  In the third century BC, King Ashoka made it the state religion.  But, the Brahmans opposed it, for Buddhism, by abandoning elaborate rituals and by opening salvation to all without outside assistance, threatened their position.  Over time, many Buddhist teachings and ttitudes were incorporated into Hinduism, and Buddhism more or less disappeared as a separate faith.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

A Brief History of India -Vedic Aryan Civilization(1700 BC - 500 BC)

The Aryans were semi-nomadic warriors who may have entered India about 1800 BC from modern-day Afghanistan by crossing passes in the Hindu Kush.  They settled in the Punjab and the Indus Valley.   With them came a new language, a new form of social organization, new military techniques, and new religious ideas and rituals.  According to the Vedas, centuries of warfare followed as the Aryans established themselves and then expanded, ultimately occupying the entire Indian sub-continent, thus providing the basis for modern Indian civilization.  The invading Aryans also mixed with Indus and other peoples living on the subcontinent and assimilated elements of earlier cultures.

Political and social order: 

The Vedic Aryans were originally a nomadic and non-urban people, so it is hardly surprising that their basic political and social order was based on the patriarchical family and the grouping of related families into kin groups and tribes.  Early in the development of the social structure, there were probably only two Aryan social classes, nobles and commoners, and the Dasas, the original inhabitants. Over a long period of evolution, however, a more complex and rigid fourfold class or caste system (Varna) developed, and it was more or less in place by the 7th century BC:

 the Brahman (priestly) class
  the Kshatriya [=kuh-SHA-tree-yuhz] (warrior/noble) class
  the Vaishya [=VYSH-huhx] (commoner/herdsmen/tradesman) class
  the Shudra [SHOO-drah] (peasant/servant) class.

Vedic Religion:
Aryans gods were associated with the forms of nature.  Important deities include

  • Dyaus Pitar, the father-god. 
  • Prithivi Matar, the mother-goddess of earth. 
  • Indra, the god of war and storm. 
  • Mitra, the moral god of faithfulness and loyalty.  
  • The powerful Varuna, the god who guarded the cosmic order (the law of nature and the universal moral law or truth).
  • Rudra, the awesome mountain god. 
  • Agni, the god of fire.
  • Soma, the god of the hallucinogenic soma plant and drink.

the Vedas, collections of hymns, prayers, explanations of religious rituals, and wisdom statements.

the later Upanishads [=oo-PAHN-i-shadz] (composed, ca. 8th-6th centuries BC), which are commentaries on the hymns of the Vedas and explanations of Vedic beliefs.  In them are found fundamental speculations about right and wrong, the universal order of the universe, and human destiny.

Two great epic poems, the Mahabharata [=muh-hah-BUR-uh-tuh] (composed ca. 400 BC-AD 400) and the Ramayana [=rah-MAH-yah-nuh].  The former, called the Great War, tells of a civil war near Delhi.  Its last eighteen chapters are the Bhagavad-Gita, or "Song of the Blessed Lord," and they assert that the performance of moral duty according to one's responsibilities is the highest form of fulfillment in life.  The  Ramayana tells of two royal figures, Prince Rama — an avatara or human incarnation of the god Vishnu — and his wife Princess Sita.  They embody the virtues and ideals of Indian manhood and womanhood; Rama is a strong hero and Sita is a devoted wife.

Nature of Hinduism:

1) Brahman = a fundamental divine essence of world spirit that penetrates everything in the world.  This spirit resides within every living thing and everything is a part of the world spirit;
2) Atman = the self, describes the essence of an individual; Atman partakes of the divine essence;
3) Maya = this world, the world of the senses, the world of pain and suffering, and it is an illusion.
The goal of a Hindu is thus to return to Brahman and be reintegrated with the world spirit.
Karma [=deeds] is the sum total of the good and bad acts of the individual's previous lives.

  • Good karma, in the Hindu belief system, assures rebirth into a higher caste and higher life
  • bad karma means rebirth into the body of a person of a lower caste or insects.  
  • All creatures and things on the earth have souls, so all life must be respected.  
The final goal of this series of reincarnations is reunification with Brahman, the Great World Soul.
Hindus assert their religion is monotheistic, even though they honor a number of gods, including Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva [=SHEE-vuh] the Destroyer.  Hindus claim these various gods are all manifestations of the oneness of the universe.  Hindu religious practices vary from place to place, but they frequently include yoga, physical and mental discipline to harmonize body and soul, and ritual bathing.

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A Brief History of India - Indus Valley Civilisation(3300 BC - 1300 BC)

The History of India begins with the birth of the Indus Valley Civilization in such sites as Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, and Lothal, and the coming of the Aryans. These two phases are usually described as the pre-Vedic and Vedic periods. It is in the Vedic period that Hinduism first arose: this is the time to which the Vedas are dated.

The greater Indus region was home to the largest of the four ancient urban civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, South Asia and China. It was not discovered until the 1920's. Most of its ruins, even its major cities, remain to be excavated. The ancient Indus Civilization script has not been deciphered.
View of Mohenjo-Daro towards the Great Bath.
Archaeological excavations in the 1920s unearthed the ruins of two vast cities, Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, that attested to the ancient roots of Indian civilization. Both sites, now part of Pakistan, are among the chief urban settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization that developed along the floodplains of the Indus River and its tributaries and flourished between 3000 and 1900 BCE

The river valley’s fertility, augmented by the rains, made farming and herding a mainstay of the civilization’s economy, which was also supplemented by internal and external trade. Among the key characteristics of the Indus civilization sites, which have now been found over a vast swath of Pakistan and northwestern India, is their uniformity. The cities were constructed with standardized size bricks and feature a rectilinear street plan, granaries, drainage and sewage systems, and multi-story homes. The civilization also developed a uniform system of weights and measures as well as a form of writing, which has yet to be decoded. In number and extent, the Indus civilization was the largest of the civilizations in the ancient world
Although the reasons for the Indus civilization’s decline are not absolutely known, mounting geological evidence suggests that climate change may have been a factor.
Many questions about the Indus people who created this highly complex culture remain unanswered, but other aspects of their society can be answered through various types of archaeological studies.

Harappa was a city in the Indus civilization that flourished around 2600 to 1700 BCE in the western part of South Asia.

Culture and Civilization:

Indus Valley civilization was mainly an urban culture sustained by surplus agricultural production and commerce, the latter including trade with Sumer in southern Mesopotamia. Both Mohenjo-daro and Harappa are generally characterized as having "differentiated living quarters, flat-roofed brick houses, and fortified administrative or religious centers.

  • Distinctive seals were used, among other applications, perhaps for identification of property and shipment of goods. Although copper and bronze were in use, iron was not yet employed. 
  • Cotton was woven and dyed for clothing; wheat, rice, and a variety of vegetables and fruits were cultivated; and a number of animals, including the humped bull, were domesticated. 
  • Wheel-made pottery—some of it adorned with animal and geometric motifs—has been found in profusion at all the major Indus sites. 
  • A centralized administration for each city, though not the whole civilization, has been inferred from the revealed cultural uniformity; however, it remains uncertain whether authority lay with a commercial oligarchy.
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