Ancient and Classical India:
Mr. Hermansen‐AP World History:
I. India a land of contrasts:
A. Wet regions, monsoonal rains, tropical environments and deserts.
B. High mountains and low river valleys with great rivers‐the Indus and Ganges
(and the legendary Sarswati which dried up in 3000 BC yet is mentioned in Rig Veda
C. Regions of geographical significance:
i. Himalaya/Hindu‐Kush Mts in the
North providing India with an unconquerable northern shield.
ii. Southern Peninsula and coastal
iii. River valleys and their tributaries.
1. A very strong agricultural region.
2. India’s massive geographical shifts create huge cultural gaps
3. Indian Ocean acts as a border to the Indian Peninsula making
II. The First Civilization: The Indus
A. A thriving urban center located in the Indus River Valleys dating back to 2500
B. Like Egypt there is compelling evidence that a gradual evolution of Neolithic
farmers to the flourishing Indus Civilizations. Time frames are comparable as well.
C. Evidence of Agricultural growth and development by 5000 BCE.
D. Cities were the center of areas of living, with farmland occupying the perimeter‐
similar to Mesopotamia.
E. Evidence of trade with the great empires of Mesopotamia. They were an
advanced culture with an undecipherable language.
F. Two centers of civilization: Harrapa and Mohenjo‐Daro. Located in Pakistan
and Punjab respectively.
G. India is unique in that they were unified yet very diverse in antiquity. The
civilizations show great sameness but also incredible diversity as a probable outcome
of its geography.
H. Dravidians: natives of central and southern India, moved freely through India
during the Indus civilization.
i. The origin of this group is a
mystery the assumption is that they are indigenous to India.
ii. Their culture resembled that of the
I. Harrapa and Mohenjo‐Daro: huge urban centers that have taught us huge
amounts about the history of Ancient India. Characteristics.
i. Three miles in circumference they
were the largest cities in the Ancient world.
ii. Houses built of Mud brick
iii. Unfortified walls
iv. Defended by citadels
v. Laid out on grids with advanced
plumbing systems that included bathrooms with drains.
vi. Tremendous public structures:
Public baths, community storehouses.
vii. Little known about Religion and
viii. Prosperity dependent on Indus and
the ability of the river to fertilize. The civilization was not nearly as
dynamic as the Nile which caused great fluxuations in Egypt‐the Indians
were remarkably prosperous.
ix. Despite all we know, there is much
more that we don’t know. Mainly about religion and intellectualism.
x. Early traces of Hinduism roots,
with deities similar to the great Siva.
J. Yet in a mystery as great as their language, the Indus civilizations gradually
died out and failed to exist. Reasons could be War, overuse of land, deforestation,
climactic shift. Most likely reason would be widespread disease such as Malaria.
However what is clear is that the people re‐located preserving the glorious culture
and sewing the seeds for later civilization and religion.
III. Aryan Invasion:
A. Like the brethren the Persians and Medians the Aryans were a group of Indo‐
European conquerors. These nomadic wanderers came in search of land and found
India with its amazing valleys and fertile potential.
B. Early indications suggest warfare and later cooperation with the native
C. Our source of knowledge as was the case in the Ancient Near East comes from a
religious text in this case the RgVeda or Rigveda; a collection of hymns, chants, and
poems in praise of Aryan gods.
D. The Aryans left behind them a series of holy texts known collectively as the
Vedas. Rigveda portrays the civilization as a group of battle loving nomads who
conquered the native Indians. Led by advanced metal weapons, chariots and horses,
and their leaders the Raja’s the Aryans left a dramatic impact on India.
E. Vedic or Aryan peoples were highly religious and placed great emphasis on
i. Warrior Nobles
1. Each group had a series of tasks that defined their religious and
social purity. For example to Non‐Aryans such as Dravidians fell
the worst jobs in society which came to be viewed as a symbol of an
impurity of their soul, which in the cycle of Karma/Darma meant
that they were an untouchable.
2. No formal slavery, but society certainly supported by a lower
class of menial workers.
F. Aryans continued moving into India to the Ganges where after conquering
Jungles and tribes they established major urban centers like Dehli. During this time a
blending of cultures occurred with each having a profound influence yielding Indian
IV. Shaping of Indian Society:
A. The conquest of India gave Aryan kings an approach of absolutism. Tribal rule
gave way to Kingships.
B. Any kingship needed support of the high class of priests‐Brahmans. They
served as spiritual and cleric support‐much like the Taliban in Afghanistan today,
where religious clerics known as Imams make decisions.
C. With these changes Indian village society grew dramatically, challenges were
met and conquered in this manner. Rajas were still the order of the day and village
leadership, which was responsible for clearing, and cultivating land was secondary
D. Each village societal scale was unique, making India’s societal history almost
E. All societies were clearly close‐knit groups that forged India’s development,
along with its spiritual beliefs as illustrated by Michael Wood in the Legacy series.
F. Primary contact with Rajas was taxation, which will create problems in India.
G. Goals of the caste system: (a hereditary class of social equals who share the same
religion, pursue a specific trade or occupation and avoid extensive social contact with
i. To distinguish Aryans from Non‐
ii. Mark birth or descent
1. Mobility was common at first allowing for social mobility, this
2. Jati: large joint family groups that ascend to power, clouded
a. Currently thousands of Jati, clouding caste system.
3. The caste system can be a perfect method of social control, see
explanation from me.
4. Ancient castes:
i. See text on page 72.
ii. Each group having a
specific task, vital to society.
to no caste, late entry or violations.
iii. Slavery resembled Ancient
Mesopotamian variety, not only low castes in theory but also those
captured in battle.
iv. Free men could sell themselves into
V. Early Indian Religion:
A. Aryan gods represented natural phenomena. Many were animist in nature as
Michael Wood pointed out, Fire, thunder, rivers, etc…
B. King of gods: Dyaus‐comparable to Greek Zeus.
C. Did not have mythologies, enjoyed sacrifices…manners different from other
D. Ritual became essential, ancient texts were created on that basis to offer rituals
and prayers to these deities.
E. Brahmans believed properly conducted worships granted clemency and wishes.
Called Brahmanism, very elite and unforgiving.
F. Brahmanism became predictable and unsatisfying, this led to a major alteration
in Indian religion: asceticism‐a phenomenon that we often associate with Eastern
religions and Indian religions‐ severe self‐discipline and denial of the needs of the
G. Drew mystical interpretations from symbolic gestures in all things.
H. Two major principles emerged
i. Samsara: transmigration of souls
ii. Karma: the tally of good and bad
deeds that determines the status of an individual’s life. Determines status
I. Escaping from reincarnation and joining with Brahma, the universal soul:
i. Extreme asceticism
ii. Yoga: intense meditation
J. This was a remarkable trend: gave lower class persons an excuse for piety and
made their lot in life much more tolerable. A way to end sorrow and jump off the
K. Solution: The Upanishads: a collection of sacred texts created by ascetics who
opened up new vistas in religious speculation. The key was a moshka or release
from the wheel of life, a method of obtaining atman or a unification with Brahman.
“Thou art that”
L. Consider passage on 74
M. This supported the new political reality of absolutist kings, which replaced any
local autonomy of religious priests and chiefs.
VI. Flowering of Indian Spirituality:
A. “There have been empires of the sword, but India was unique in that it was an
empire of the spirit”. Michael Wood.
B. Rise of three great religions.
C. Descended from the Aryan beliefs.
A. Oldest flourishing faith in the world, and certainly the most complex. Some
have guestimated the amount of gods to 3,333,333,333‐relating to the sacred number
B. The dominant religion of the Indian subcontinent.
C. Core‐Vedas are sacred texts. Sacred division of society.
D. Assumption: there are infinite ways of worshipping the supreme principles of
life‐hence Hindus are the worlds most tolerant faith.
E. All gods aspect of universal soul Brahma; indefinable principle of life.
F. Gods are very sacred and individual to India, there is no one deity that is
supreme, some seem more important but consistent with Indian doctrine there are an
infinite number of legitimate ways to worship the supreme principles of life.
G. Each deity, branch, locality has differentiated methods of ritual that are outlined
in local customs based on different interpretations of the Vedas. For example the city
of Binares‐the holy city associated with the god Siva has 3,000 some sanctuaries,
temples, shrines, with a common purpose that are all unique!
H. In their quest for immortality and unification with Brahma, the Hindu must
practice Dharma or moral purity based on the laws of the Vedas and custom.
Mahabharata outlines the concept of Dharma. See 75 and 88.
I. Hinduism defined: goals of life and how to attain them.
J. Deities in Hinduism:
i. Brahma: creator
ii. Siva: destroyer and creator
iii. Vishnu: preserver and sustainer
iv. Ganesha: elephant headed deity
K. Hinduism emphasizes non‐violence to all living creatures.
L. Most sacred text: the Gita (Bhagavad Gita), outlines the conflict of Karma and
everlasting life, despite the value of life. There is a line between the human reality
and eternal spirit. Warriors have a duty to action, actions are within the limits of
M. Religion of India coincides with Caste system.
A. Founder: Vardhamana Mahavira: (another axis age thinker) accepted the
doctrines of Karma but developed the animistic philosophy that human beings,
animals plants and even inanimate objects all have living souls. Souls contain matter
and the only way to join with eternal happiness is to rid ones soul of matter. Lives of
ascetism and an avoidance of all‐evil will eliminate all forms of matter from the soul.
Adhere to a strict hierarchy of nature that prevents any un‐necessary killing of
animals, strictly vegan in nature.
B. Influence of peace and non‐violence is crucial.
A. Story of the Buddha: a wealthy prince who became obsessed with the nature
and causality of suffering after living in solitude and prosperity. His dismay of
suffering led him away from Hinduism.
B. Tenets of Buddhism. Most who believe feel his teachings scratch but the surface
of what he actually saw.
i. Four Noble Truths:
1. Pain and suffering, frustration and anxiety are ugly but
inseparable from human existence.
2. Suffering and anxiety are caused by the human weaknesses of
greed selfishness and egoism.
3. People can understand these weaknesses and triumph over
4. Triumph is made possible a simple code of conduct called the
C. Attainment of the eightfold path brings Nirvana a state of happiness achieved
by the extinction of self and desires and the release from the effects of Karma.
D. Gods are not a factor in Buddhism; it is a philosophy as much as it is a religion.
They do not help achieve afterlife or enlightenment, yet not to undermine the
existence of a great universal soul ala Brahma
E. Everyone is equal in Buddhism, thus it appeals to a wide audience. Key:
enlightenment is an individual concept and cannot be judged by outsiders and must
be done alone, thus it is an individual spiritual journey, and dogma cannot stand in
the way of their journey.
F. Sangha: Buddhist disciples/monks that each person must be individual, thus
eliminating Buddha as a divine figure in most branches of Buddhist thought.
Buddhism is not sexist as men and women are all significant.
G. Two Branches: Theravada or Lesser vehicle: SE Asia authentic teachings of
Buddha, not a divine figure, very conservative, strict tenets. Mahayanna Great
vehicle, liberal many ways to salvation, could evolve in different cultures, many
interpretations, Buddha is viewed as a bodhisattva a semi divine figure to whom one
can pray to, North/Central Asia, Japan.
X. India and the West:
A. As mentioned the geography of India insulated her from invasion, thus
ensuring a peaceful time after the Aryans. However, the rise of Cyrus the Great and
his predecessors in Persia challenged the sanctity of Indian peace and independence.
Cyrus grandson Darius conquered great parts of India including the Indus valley in
the 513 BCE.
B. The invasions of the Persians and later Macedonian/Greeks invigorated the
Indian culture bringing about the great gift of cultural diffusion. They learned from
the Persians governmental techniques, practiced religious freedom, mining,
metallurgy, currency, language innovations etc…States that weren’t conquered
submitted to their yoke!
C. Key contributions were in the areas of economic where Indians contributed to
global trade networks, becoming slowly more urban and commercial.
D. Alexander’s conquest of India in the 3rd century BCE brought rise to the first
great empire of India: The Mauryan Empire.
XI. The Mauryan Empire:
A. Alexander the Great died before thoroughly organizing his conquests in India
(Malaria the likely culprit), this lack of organization and Power vacuum, allowed for
the rise of the first great Indian Empire.
B. Chandragupta Maurya a small central Ganges state ruler took advantage of the
chaos and defeated enemy after enemy to gain control of the empire. By 322 BCE he
made himself sole ruler of India dispelling Seleucus and the remnants of Alexander
in 304 BCE.
C. Stretched from the Himalayas to the tip of the subcontinent. From Afghanistan
to the Bengal in the East (See map on page 66). Utilized Persian methodology of
political administration, utilized his families capable lineage as governors.
D. Established a great capital at Pataliputra where he ruled over this village based
federalist society. Utilized the many talents of his great statesman (Kissinger like)
Kautilya. Application of the lessons of the Persians was vital to the longevity and
success of this empire.
E. Bureaucracy, state police, army, taxation, departmental government and even a
F. See description of page 82, from a Greek perspective.
G. Actually turned his empire over to his son so he could pursue the Jainist path of
ascetism, the prosperity continued.
XII. The Reign of Ashoka (Asoka) 269‐232 BCE.
A. Clearly one of the great kings/leaders of Antiquity.
B. Followed Chandragupta and his son Bindusara into power and took advantage
of the solid foundation left behind by these individuals.
C. Huge event in religious, political, and philosophical history of the world.
D. Was not the rightful heir to throne his brother was, after a lengthy struggle he
obtained the office. An “ancient party animal” had problems with the harem and
E. Ashoka embraced the philosophies of Buddhism, and after a crushing defeat of
his military enemies at Kalinga in which he claimed 150,000 lives he had a
philosophical, and political renaissance. This battle over control of East India
changed his state of mind.
F. Despite victory he was consumed with grief and sadness over the ways of his
life and the course of his empire. What good came out of the carnage was an
enthusiastic embrace of Buddhism and the tenets of peacefulness that come with it
and Jainism. Throughout the empire his method of Buddhist non‐violence became
the law. His crisis of conscience altered the kingdom from a state of warfare to a
state based on virtue, love and kindness.
G. Components included: adherence to Dharma, nonviolence and empire. He
created pillars of virtue, a police to patrol virtue and kindness a type of “ancient love
police”. Penalties were given for lack of adherence to Dharma, not for crimes, but for
violating the principles of human virtue as portrayed by the Buddha. Moral welfare
became a law, its messengers were pillars throughout India conveying his message.
H. See quote on 84.
I. His religious enlightenment changed world history and paved the way for
future leaders like Constantine who converted Rome to Christianity in the 3rd century
J. Hinduism, Jainism were also believed to be great vehicles by Ashoka and thus
K. Despite this philosophical/religious revolution Ashoka’s reign never
compromised the status of the empire, as he took India to new heights. India has not
seen this level of peace and prosperity since.
XIII. India and its Invaders: 250‐200 BCE:
A. Ashoka’s death like all great rulers left a power vacuum. Successors failed to
capture his magic. Small invaders constantly plagued India and her empire.
B. Petty Kings arose in the wake of Ashoka’s death determined to stamp the fate of
India with their own yoke.
C. The energy devoted to constant fighting plagued India’s economy and moral
D. Kushans: invaded in the 2nd century BCE and lasted until the 3rd century AD.
E. The Kushans warrior kings of Central Asia enjoyed high status in Indian society
and joined them in their Greek renaissance, with India being encapsulated by the
Greek dominance of the day, which was spreading throughout the world.
F. The Kushan Empire was a melting pot where Asian, Indian, Persian, and Greek
ideas were blended. Great examples of this in the Art of the day.
G. The Kushian ideas, Greek in nature were powerful for a time but in the long run
like Buddhism on the West left little or no lasting impression.
H. Most significant events of the day were the spread of Buddhism to China and
beyond, as the Indian invaders embraced the ideas of Buddhism. (Mahayanna)