One of the most important, but often forgotten communities in the world histories is the Indian community, which has a remarkable history of evolution (Crinson 55). In the 1800s, the Indian community was still traversing the world and one of its destinations was Britain, even as the British people crossed to the Asian zones as well.
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The British Raj is a historical moment between 1858 and 1947, when the British colonized part of the Indian subcontinent and established their British rule (Deb 32). During this moment, people had discovered the essence of writing stories about the life of the people.
One of the renowned journalists and poets of the era of the British Raj is Joseph Rudyard Kipling, who lived and travelled widely across India, South Africa, England, and the United States. The intent of this essay is to examine “The Jungle Book” of Joseph Rudyard Kipling and the prehistoric lifestyle or culture of the Indians during the ancient times.
The Indians during the Old era
Culture is a multifaceted concept in the history of the people because culture means the people’s way of life or the manner in which people live (Crinson 16). In the simplest perspective, culture generally describes the intellectual and the spiritual way of living, where the sense of living philosophies, religion, economic activities, literature, music, leadership, art, and legal systems are the major facets that guide the human life (Crinson 27).
The ancient Indians had their unique lifestyle or their standard of living that guided the manner in which they behaved, interacted with people, and interacted with the environment. Culture being a mainstay of history, was the major interest of Kipling in his Jungle Book.
Kipling used animal characters and described the lifestyle of the Indians as a form of life where lawlessness, social rejection, lack of appropriate leadership, poor agricultural practices, primitive customs and beliefs, and archaic cultures were common lifestyle issues (42).
Kipling showed interest in the lives of the Indian people and the way these people practiced their culture during the period of 1882 and 1889. In The Jungle Book, Kipling discusses numerous cultural aspects of the Indian people of the primitive days.
Indians have continuously maintained most of their cultural values, and often practiced their religious dogma just as it was in their prehistoric days (Crinson 35). In his book, Kipling discusses the manner in which the Indians struggled to civilize into a modern society through the western civilization principles.
The Jungle Book presents animal stories that remarkably highlight the Indian culture and their major traditional beliefs. In this book, Kipling relates the animal’s life of individualism, collectivism, and lawlessness, with the real issues that affected the Indians while under the British rule (Kipling 3).
The book generally portrayed the naïve India, where lawlessness, racial discrimination, cultural civilization, and social concerns were major problems between the ancient Indians.
Lawlessness and the people
The Indian people during the 1880s were still naïve about lawmaking and they never realized the importance of having laws that could guide the actions of the people (Deb 30). Under the British governance, the Indians were unaware about their individual rights or any form of a regulation that would protect them from exploitation.
The book constantly mentions about the laws of the jungle, which are none existence laws just like in the animal kingdom, where wild creatures have no laws to guide them. “Thou hast been with the Monkey People—the gray apes—the people without a law—the eaters of everything” (Kipling 42).The Indians were living in lawless communities and much respect and attention went to their nuclear family structures, where no leadership existed.
The uncivilized and primitive India had people who never understood the importance of having laws to guide the human actions (Crinson 23). Lawlessness made the people aggressive, retrogressive, corrupt, careless, and inhumane.
Kipling uncovered the manner in which the lawless and the uncivilized Indian people behaved like the animals in the jungle. Through the literary art of personification, Kipling describes the prehistoric Indians as complicated people, who had different characters, but very submissive to their cultural norms (Kipling 12).
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Kipling uses the metaphor of monkeys and describes their behaviour, which deemed similar to that of the Indians who were lawless during the ancient period. The author focuses on identifying the funny and uncivilized behaviours of some animals such as the unmannered wolves and the mischievous monkeys, which often engaged in serious fights against each other without an appropriate reason (Kipling 45).
Jungle is a metaphoric word that represents the prehistoric Indian, who cared less about making of the formal laws or a constitution that would guide its citizens. According to Kennedy (86), the Englishmen seemed more organized and thus powerful in ruling the Indians during the British colonial rule.
The unfriendly nature of the prehistoric Indians
Indians were generally primitive people who never wanted to interact with foreigners. Kipling uses a personification approach and names Mowgli, as a young man-cub that visits the jungle where hatred, unfriendliness, and fear and social alienation are frequent problems (Kipling 20).
During the era of the prehistoric India, uninformed foreigners who visited India, found it difficult to acculturate and survive in the region. The young man-cub struggles to adjust living with the animals in the jungle and living with the human beings in the villages (Kipling 38).
Kipling wanted to demonstrate the problem of social rejection in the prehistoric India. Mowgli lives in the lawless jungle with the wolves that finally reject him because of his likeness with the humans, but later faces a similar rejection within the human villages, because of his resemblance with the wolves (Kipling 28). A clear picture that paints around this quandary is that India was full of racial divide that brought about disunity.
Foreigners and the socially underrepresented people in the primordial India never enjoyed any social freedom because the nation was lawless and without any formal arrangement (Evans 77). Mowgli represents the plight of the foreigners.
Kipling describes Mowgli as a young boy in the name of a man-cub, who acculturates to the jungle environment in a very harsh and unfriendly manner. The primordial Indian people were aware that India was a place that only favoured its natives despite the hostile political environment that their leaders instigated (Evans 61).
The Englishmen were foreigners in the Indian land, but seemed more organized and civilized in the manner in which they practiced their foreign culture and norms. For the foreigners who admired to visit the primordial India, getting food from the natives, a decent home for sheltering, or a welcoming society, was a difficult endeavour (Evans 23).
With lawlessness and dilapidated dwellings, the prehistoric Indians never realized the importance of social harmony or social acceptance. After arriving in the new city from the jungle, Mowgli meets with the monkeys, who occupied the roofless palace and the deserted houses that existed around the ancient India (Kipling 60).
In this monkey residence, the monkeys disagree on so many irrelevant things, and Mowgli being a foreigner, remains worried and confused about the state of life in Bandar-log. The Bandar-log is the deserted place with no proper shelter, no proper housing equipment, or any protection against natural hazards (Kipling 61).
The monkeys at the Bandar-log represent the primitive Indian people who survived without caring about others, about their shelter, the plight of the foreigners, and even about their own future. Mowgli notices that in the Bandar-log, the monkeys “have no law, no hunting call, and have no leaders” (Kipling 62).
Mowgli in this case acts as a foreigner in India and portrays a more civilized being that leads the monkeys in improving towards being a civilized society.
The unstable Indian leadership in the Old India
A key issue that characterized the prehistoric Indians, according to the perceptions of Kipling, was the absence of a formal leadership in the lifestyle of the Indians (Kipling 62). The ancient Indians lacked a formal leadership and their kingship systems were either non-functional or unstable.
Mowgli discovers the deserted old Indian city, where the human beings vacated the palace, and only the disorganized monkeys occupied the roofless palaces and the roofless houses (Kipling 60). Although the monkeys admired the human wisdom and often associated the human beings with a high level of intelligence, they wondered why the Indian people lacked a stable leadership that would help the people.
The people lacked the leadership wisdom that was necessary to bring the Indians together and such lapses resulted to lawlessness, disorganized empires, and powerless castles (Kennedy 95). The British colonizers would often use the leadership weaknesses to establish their values of westernization and oppress the weak Indians.
The people of India lived under heavily divided regimes and their concentration to their family issues made them uninterested in the national leadership (Evans 132). Kipling mentions the real monkey, and the monkey-people, because the Indians were truly like the monkey-people, who lacked the command to establish a proper leadership that would guide the Indian state.
Mowgli said that, “They are without leaders and they have no remembrance, they often boast around, chatter, and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but often fail” (Kipling 43). Although Kipling was referring to the lawless monkeys in the jungle, this metaphoric expression associated the Indians with poor governance.
The people were inattentive to the leadership because they concentrated on matters that were insignificant to the Indian nation. According to Kipling (65), simple issues would often destabilize the harmony of the Indians and they would turn against each other for no proper reasons.
The best way to describe the ancient occupants of India is the term anthropomorphic dwellers (Kennedy 81). The Indians were like these traditional survivors who never minded about the essence of having a stable leadership that would help the communities to transform smoothly.
The people of India never cared about the leadership of the nation because the nation seemed divided into racial groups and socioeconomic classes (Crinson 53). Lack of leadership and regulations that would govern the people made the Indian live in a mixture of individualism and collectivism, with the behaviours of some animals in the jungle portraying these two factors.
With no leaders, the monkeys lived a life of communism, but tended to disagree more often due to their behaviours associated with individualism (Kipling 46). Mowgli notices that some animals such as wolves a full of resentment and greed that makes them fight for power without any proper arrangement. Most Indians wanted power for their own selfish desires.
The ancient culture of wild hunting in India
A common Indian traditional culture that presents itself in the story of the jungle book is the culture of wild hunting that has its roots from the ancient India. The Indian people had a primitive hunting culture that made the jungle animals despise them and hate their presence around the jungle (Crinson 31).
The animals either would hide to avoid contact with the jungle people, or ran far away from the human population to avoid capture (Kipling 51). Apart from the ruthless competition for survival in the jungle, the animals feared the human population that preyed and hunted them without compassion.
A salient communal feature in the prehistoric India is that each subgroup of the Indian communities had a hereditary right to claim ownership of the land, including the forests where each community had its own fair-share of the hunting (Evans 15). Mowgli and the other wild animals remained spiteful of the hunting behaviours of the Indian people.
Just as the Indian pastoralists considered the grassland to be a free grazing zone for all the legitimate communities, the people who lived near the forests considered the woods to be their own (Kipling 186). There were no rules to safeguard the animal sanctuaries, the forests, or the bare land, because the young Indian nation was lawless and anarchic.
The traditional Indian hunters would hunt to catch the monkeys, would find the edible roots, and would search the wild fruits and dig out the tubers for food (Crinson 19). The Indian men would scare the wild animals in the jungle because they were in a dire need of wild meat, which was traditionally a needed delicacy among the Indians.
Mowgli exclaims, “Then they would howl and shriek senseless songs, and invite the Jungle-People to climb up their trees and fight them” (Kipling 45). The statement of Mowgli despised the chattering behaviour of the monkeys that predisposed them to the hunters.
In the jungle, Mowgli would see the Indian men carrying their hunting knives that were useful for skinning the hunted animals to produce flesh (Kipling 219). The wolf pack that accommodated Mowgli would remain silent in their hideouts or run away from the humans because they could not afford to come near the daring hunters who wandered within the jungle (Kipling 63).
Men were the food gatherers and hunting activity gave them an opportunity to provide their families with wild food. Kipling brings out the notion that just as the animals hunt for food, the hairy Indian men with shiny sharp knives would visit the jungle frequently in search of the wild meat (219).
Apart from hunting, there was human-wildlife conflict within the jungle. The animals clearly stipulated the Law of the Jungle that forbade the killing or attacking of a man. Animals feared that any killing of a man would result in attacks from the human beings.
The Indian religious doctrine during the prehistoric era
One cultural aspect that emanates from the stories in the Jungle Book is the issue of religion that seems to appear and reappear in the conversations of the characters. The prehistoric Indians were religious people who believed in various indigenous faiths and foreign religions that had already permeated into their country (Kennedy 13).
The scene where Mowgli meets the clergy at the village gate makes the readers understand the origin of the Hindu religion and its basic principles. After missing the promised food that monkeys were to offer, Mowgli strolled down the village in search for food, where he came across the yellow pariah dogs and the Hindu clergymen (Kipling 81).
According to the physical description that Mowgli gave, “the priest was a big, fat man, dressed in white, with a red and yellow mark on his forehead” (Kipling 81). Such a description portrays the traditional Indian community as a faithful society that mostly embraced the Hindu doctrine of worship.
The practice of Hindu worship has been in the history of the Indians since their prehistoric period, before the British introduced Christianity in India. Kipling recognizes the essence of considering the contribution of the Indian priests in the prehistoric India.
In their Hindu worship, the conventional Indians connected their religious principles with certain believes about the natural forces (Deb 33). In the book, Kipling reveals the manner in which the Hindu priest links the Hindu religion with certain natural forces and beliefs (62). As a way of cleansing and condemning the behaviours of Mowgli who still had the jungle manners, the priest waved a twig of a sacred tulsi plant.
Tulsi plant has been Indian’s holy basil and a very important symbol in the religious principles of the Hindu faith (Kipling 103). This scenario of the Indian priest demonstrated the ancient Indian beliefs concerning the importance of the tulsi plant and its association with religious cleansing.
A salient religious feature of the Indians that Mowgli notices on the face of the Hindu priest is the yellow mark on the forehead of the priest. Majority of the ancient Indians practiced the Hindu religion and the yellow or red forehead marks were important religious symbols (Kennedy 45).
The religion of the ancient Indians connected well with their cultural beliefs, which were mainly from the caste system of worship and governance. The forehead symbol has its roots from the caste leadership and the four castes of India that held beliefs in Varna or colour.
The yellow forehead colour came predominantly from the third caste known as the Vaisya, and signified a business success or wealth (Kennedy 38). The white garment of the priest is a noteworthy feature of the ancient Indian priests as this form of dressing associates with holiness. The description of Mowgli about the traditional Hindu priest shows a typical practice of the ancient and modern Hinduism.
The prehistoric Indian foods, houses, and transport systems
Through the Jungle Book, Kipling reveals some unique cultural aspects of the ancient Indians that associate with traditional foods, traditional housing designs, and the traditional transportation systems (74). When Mowgli goes to the human villages, he notices that the Indians have a cultural behaviour that is very similar to the jungle animals.
Before they civilized into the modern life, Indians were peasant farmers who practiced various traditional methods of farming to produce food for home consumption (Evans 9). The ancient Indian women gathered roots, tubers, and wild fruits, to supplement the bush meat.
The Jungle Book reveals how the vacated King’s garden known as the Bandar-log, was full of fruit trees such as the orange trees. The jungle was full of edible roots, wild fruits, and tubers that the Indian hunters dug out when they were in exploration of the forest areas (Evans 12). Such occasions explain the traditional foods of the ancient Indians.
Housing is one of the significant historical features that describe the ancient culture of a population (Deb 30). The book of Kipling mentions the thatched huts in several occasions to explain the traditional form of housing techniques that the Indians used to construct their houses.
After leaving the jungle and securing refuge within the Indian villages, Mowgli noticed that the Indians lived in huts and slept on the red lacquered bedstead (Kipling 82). Before the British colonizers brought the western civilization, the Indians constructed thatched huts, which were common forms of shelter, apart from the slightly polished King palaces.
Little Toomai, the Indian Priest, and Messua are some of the human characters that Mowgli interacted with after escaping from the jungle and securing a refuge within the Indian villages (Kipling 83). Mowgli explains that the small settlements along the Indian villages were in form of thatched huts and each single family owned at least one hut.
The manner in which people transported goods or travelled across their villages is an important feature in understanding the ancient culture of the people (Deb 25). In The Jungle Book, Kipling reveals some transport cultures of the ancient Indians before the British colonizers came up with the motor roads and rails.
Animals and carts were the main forms of transport systems. Donkeys, bullocks, and mules were the major animals of transport that the ordinary people used. On their journey to Khanhiwara market, Mowgli, Messua, the potter, the priest, and the village headman used the donkeys to transport their goods (Kipling 86).
For the royal families and kings, the main modes of animal transport were the horses, the camels, and the tamed elephants, which were the most treasured animals by the Indian monarchs. Mowgli explains that during the visit of the Amir of Afghanistan, the elephants, the camels, and a big troop-horse, formed the royal transport system.
Indian royalty – kingship and caste
A foremost feature in the ancient Indian culture is the form of kingship leadership that the communities embraced before the western civilization. The Jungle Book describes the life of the primordial Indians as one that relied on the kingship governance and caste systems.
Within the Bandar-log, there was a vacated place where the remnants of the king’s palace existed (Kipling 60). The book mentions the king’s palace, the king’s garden, the king’s elephants, and the king’s council chamber as some of the salient features that portrayed the kingship system of leadership of the primordial Indians.
During the prehistoric era, the Indians depended on the kings and queens, who had officials and advisers that helped to settle disputes between the Indian ethnic groups. According to Kipling (60), the palaces were ultramodern, as Mowgli reveals that the monkeys would run up and down the old palace that had pieces of plaster and some old bricks, which are features of modern housing.
The kingship system was an important cultural aspect of leadership because it portrayed the socioeconomic differences between the ordinary civilians and the royal families (Crinson 18). The conventional Indians lived in a social stratification based on the four Indian castes that separated the worriers, the common civilians, the leaders, and the successful businesspersons.
Mowgli compares the majority poor with the few rich when the donkey of the potter stuck in the mud while they were travelling to the Khanhiwara market. Mowgli exclaimed, “That was very shocking, too, for the potter is a low-caste man, and his donkey is worse” (Kipling 86).
The people of the upper caste were the rich businesspersons, the leaders, army commanders, and some powerful Indian priests who often dined with the kings and queens in the palaces. According to Crinson (21), these caste systems were the main loopholes that the British often used to strengthen their command and oppress the unprotected Indians.
Caste was the source of unfair social stratification that portrayed segregation and individualism between the powerful Indians and the underprivileged majority (Deb 100). The caste had an important connection with the aspects of religion, something that made the Indians believe and respect this form of tyrannical social stratification.
When the priest and the other clergymen caught up with Mowgli at the village gate, the priest bowed down in respect of Messua, who was a wife of a king that Mowgli regarded as the richest villager within the palace (Kipling 81). Messua wore some precious, heavy, copper rings around her ankles and wrists, as symbols of royalty.
The Jungle Book presents the word jungle, which is a metaphoric term that describes the lawless India, where the rich manipulated the poor through the caste systems (Kipling 8). With great respect and honour, the people of the low caste often showed some adoration and gave tribute to the rich monarchs.
The Indian art during the prehistoric India
In the entire history of human civilization, art has been a significant feature because it explains the cultural norms of certain ethnic groups (Evans 27). Kipling was keen about the ancient art of the Indians and thought it was imperative to note the ancient Indian art in The Jungle Book.
The book portrays some ancient arts of the primordial Indians, which are still paramount features of the present Indian culture. The story of Bandar-log shows how the monkeys adored the art of weaving that the Indians practiced during the prehistoric era (Kipling 63).
Knowing that the man-cub or rather Mowgli was a half human with an Indian origin, the monkeys felt delighted that Mowgli would finally assist them to weave sticks together to build nests that would shield them from the strong wind. In the villages, Mowgli noticed that the Indians weaved small baskets of dry grass (Kipling 91). This scenario reveals the ancient Indian culture of weaving and basket making.
To supplement the income that their husbands would make from a few business trips, the conventional Indian women weaved mats, blankets, winnowing fans, and bamboo baskets. Another significant art that Kipling portrayed in The Jungle Book is the traditional art of pottery, which was very prominent among the ancient Indians (86).
Mowgli describes the hardship that the poor potter undergoes when he ferries his moulded pots to the Khanhiwara market using the donkey. Pot making was an ancient art of the Indians that still dominates a great part of the Indian ultramodern culture (Kennedy 65).
Mowgli came across several scenarios where the Indians used decorated and non-decorated pots for various issues. Sculpturing was another ancient art of the Indians that Kipling revealed in the Jungle Book. In the hut of Messua, Mowgli saw “a dozen copper cooking pots and an image of a Hindu god” (Kipling 83). Such scene portrays the Indian culture of sculpturing.
The culture of agriculture in the Ancient India
The ancient Indians had the culture of practicing small-scale farming, which people commonly refer to as peasantry or peasant farming. The farmers were peasants because they lacked powered machinery and modern farming skills to carry out commercial farming (Crinson 36).
Kipling uses some salient features of peasantry that lead the readers towards understanding the ancient peasantry of the Indians. The presence of the small-scale farming animals such as the bullocks, the donkeys, and the mules, signify the traditional practices of the Indian agriculture (Kipling 237).
Kipling also mentions the hoes, the gardens, and other peasantry tools to portray the small-scale farming of the conventional Indians. Rearing of livestock and taming of the wild animals were also some of the important farming activities among the conventional Indians (Evans 22).
In the Jungle Book, Kipling notes the presence of the cattle and the manner in which the Indian elders organized the youths to take the herds of livestock for grazing. While adjusting to the lifestyle of the Indian villagers, Mowgli noticed the rearing of the cattle and tamed buffaloes within the Indian villages.
Mowgli wondered that, “the custom of most Indian villages was for a few boys to take the cattle and buffaloes out to graze in the early morning, and bring them back at night” (Kipling 89). In the world history, one of the important features of the Asian civilization was cultivation and domestication of the world animals.
Rearing of the animals and domestication of some wild animals had a considerable contribution to the economic growth and stabilization of the ancient India (Evans 23). The ancient Indians hunted the elephants and domesticated them because they offered important service to the farmers and to the government of the ancient India (Kipling 177).
Taming of wild animals, digging of the farms with ploughs, and keeping of the herds of cattle, portrays the traditional form of agriculture of the Indians.
Perhaps Rudyard Kipling is one of the outstanding novelists who managed to articulate the Indian history in the most desirable manner. Through The Jungle Book, Kipling reveals the real traditional India, which was full of individualism, naivety, weak communism, and unorganized leadership.
The word jungle is a metaphoric expression that Kipling uses to demonstrate a primitive India that was full of lawlessness, primitivism, unfair distribution of wealth and power, and oppression that resulted from the British colonists.
The traditional India survived through the kingship governance and caste leadership systems, and the people practiced hunting of the wild animals, gathering of the wild foods, peasantry, trading, pottery, weaving, and other nomadic and economic activities.
The conventional Indian families lived in nuclear families within their thatched huts and used the donkeys, camels, elephants, mules, and buffaloes for transport. The transport animals suited people of different groups of castes depending on their wealth and influence in the community.
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