The history of ancient India is reflected in its rich culture, traditions and civilizations. The various communities that lived in ancient India were among the first to introduce ancient civilization in the Asian subcontinent. The civilizations did not only improve the quality of life but also led to the development of religion and modern science as well as mathematics (Richardson, 2005). This paper seeks to analyze the history of ancient India. The development of civilization, religion and cultural transformations in ancient India will be illuminated. India’s contribution to mathematics and science will also be highlighted.
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Civilization of the Indus River Valley
The Indus river valley civilization also known as the Harappan civilization occurred in the third millennium. Before the Harappan settlement, the Indus river valley was occupied by sedentary agriculturalists (Richardson, 2005). By 3000 BC, the sedentary communities produced wheat and barley (Richardson, 2005). They also managed to develop sophisticated agricultural and crop production techniques. They were able to make weapons and tools using bronze.
The Harappan civilization became dominant in the third millennium and influenced other civilizations in Asia. However, the civilization did not resemble preceding ones in the Mesopotamia region (Richardson, 2005). This indicates that the area was not colonized. The Harappan communities organized themselves into villages and urban centers whose capitals were based in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.
The construction of the massive buildings in the two cities implied the existence of an autocratic regime that mobilized the labor and provided the necessary raw materials (Richardson, 2005). The presence of citadels in the cities indicated the existence of a well established ruling class. The economic activities practiced during this period included farming. This involved the use of “advanced agricultural systems to produce wheat, rice, cotton and rye” (Richardson, 2005).
The cultural artifacts associated with the community included carvings, weapons and tools made of bronze. The cities also served as major trading zones and this led to contacts with the external world. The political system consisted of priests who ruled from the citadels. The priests, who also linked the people with the deities, were served by an elaborate administrative class (Richardson, 2005). The civilization was later destroyed by the Aryans who invaded the Harappan community.
The Aryans and the Caste System
The Aryans were Indo-European communities that conquered the Harappans and destroyed their civilization (Singh, 2005). The Aryans worshiped the sun and spoke the Sanskrit language. Even though the Aryans found the Harappa civilization at an advanced level, they also had their own advanced techniques in production. They had a powerful army which helped them to conquer Harappa. The conquered Indians became known as Dasya due to their dark skin (Singh, 2005). This means that there was a racial discrimination based on the color of the skin. The Aryans influenced the religious beliefs in India by introducing their religious beliefs. Their official holly book, Rig Veda, informed the teachings of Hinduism.
The Caste System
As the Rig Veda was being written, the people who lived in the Indus river valley were classified into two groups. The Aryans were classified as the ‘fair’ immigrants due to their light skin, while the Harappans were classified as ‘dark’ natives (Singh, 2005). These racial classes were further subdivided following the intense physical mixing between the Aryans and the Harappans. Four classes were thus made out of the original classes and membership in any of the classes was based on the color of the skin of the individuals. “This color based classes system still exists today” (Singh, 2005) and is referred to as the caste system. The Brahmans or priests are associated with the lightest skin and thus hold the highest caste. The Sudas or untouchables are associated with the darkest skin and thus belong to the lowest caste.
The Hindu Religion
The concept of Hinduism as a religion was developed following the introduction of Vedism in Indus river valley by the Aryans (Klostermaier, 2007). The major teachings of Hinduism are as follows. Hinduism has been considered a polytheistic religion. This means that it is characterized by the worship of many gods. This is based on the fact that Hindus worship various deities. Some scholars consider Hinduism to be a monotheistic religion since it acknowledges only a single supreme God.
Their argument is based on the “panentheistic principle of Brahman that all reality is unity” (Klostermaier, 2007). Hinduism has also been considered to be Trinitarian due to the fact that Brahma is depicted as one God in three persons namely, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Most urban Hindus are adherents of Vaishravaism and Shivaism. The followers of the former consider Vishnu to be the ultimate deity while the followers of the later view Shiva as the main deity.
Most Hindus who live in the rural areas have their own goddess at the village level. The goddess is held in high esteem and is believed to be in charge of fertility and diseases (Klostermaier, 2007). There is a general belief in the progressive transformation of an individual’s soul upon death. This means that once a person dies, his or her soul is transferred to another body. Karma is the sum of good and bad deeds of an individual and it determines life after death. The major literacy works of Hindu culture and religion include the Vedas, “Rig Veda, Soma Veda, Yajur and Atharvu Veda” (Klostermaier, 2007) which is the oldest and primary text in Hinduism. They also use Ramayana which was written in 400 BC. The Mahabharata which is attributed to sage Vyasa was written between 540 and 300 BC is also a common text in Hinduism.
Buddha was originally known as Siddhartha Gautama and was born in 566 BC in Kapilavaslu. He got inspired to become a spiritual leader after encountering the ‘four sights’. The four sights included “sickness, death, old age and a wondering monk” (Keown, 2009). After realizing the sufferings of the masses, he decided to practice asceticism in order to find an end to suffering. He later achieved enlightenment following his defeat of Mara’s (evil one) temptations (Keown, 2009). He thus became a Buddha and utilized his enlightenment to help others to overcome suffering.
Buddha’s main teachings included the following. First, he discovered the three great truths which he explained as follows. The three truths include the concept of cause and effect and the fact that everything changes (Keown, 2009). He also taught that human beings consist of that which is around them. Consequently, he taught his followers not to kill or abuse any animal. Second, he taught about the four noble truths which are as follows.
He noted that suffering exists and human beings are the causes of their sufferings (Keown, 2009). In order to stop suffering, he advised his followers to stop engaging in acts that cause it. He believed that avoiding suffering was possible since everyone has the potential of being enlightened. He also taught the eightfold path which included the right view, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, concentration, thought and mindfulness (Keown, 2009).
King Ashoka and Buddhism
King Ashoka’s rule was associated with brutality and violence. He was bad tempered and tortured those who opposed him. He later joined Buddhism after conquering Kalinga (Keown, 2009). He took advantage of his position and spread the teachings of Buddhism and even made it the official religion in his state by 260 BC (Keown, 2009). He also constructed several stupas and viharas to be used by Buddhists. He encouraged tolerance, obedience, peace and respect for the Brahmas.
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Buddhist and Hindu Art
The Buddhist art can be categorized into two periods namely, the pre-iconic phase and the iconic phase. The pre-iconic phase occurred in the fifth century and was characterized by representation of Buddha’s life as well as his teachings through sculptures (Pruthi, 2004). The iconic phase occurred in the first century AD and was characterized by anthropomorphic presentation of Buddha.
Hindu art is mainly depicted in the structure of their buildings and their worshiping practices. Yoga is the main worshiping activity which focuses on self restrains (Pruthi, 2004). The artifacts associated with the Hindu art include carvings, weapons and tools made of bronze.
Gupta’s regime lasted between 320 to 550 CE and was characterized by significant achievements in science, engineering, mathematics and other disciplines (Pruthi, 2004). Gupta also helped in forming political ties with the neighboring countries and this facilitated trade with other countries. Significant achievements were also made in producing wonderful sculptures and architecture. India’s contribution in mathematics included the development of the concept of zero, decimal system, negative numbers and trigonometry (Pruthi, 2004). In science, India contributed to the development of irrigation systems and standardization of measurements using calibrated equipment (Pruthi, 2004).
Keown, D. (2009). Budhism. New York: Sterling Publishing.
Klostermaier, K. (2007). A Survey of Hinduism. New Delhi: Sunny Press.
Pruthi, R. (2004). The Classical Age. New Delhi: Arora Offset Press.
Richardson, H. (2005). Life in the Ancient Indus River Valley. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company.
Singh, E. (2005). Caste System in India. New Delhi: Kalpaz Publications.