A Presentation for English 2332
Central Texas College
Dr. Brenda Cornell
Beginnings: Overview of Ancient
• Overview of Ancient
• The earliest civilizations
in the Indus valley were
characterized by nomadic
developing into cities at
Harappa (see p. 1324).
• With their cattle-based farming economy,
these communities established the early
Vedic period (1500-500 B.C.E.). Society
was structured around the clan, an
extended family group headed by a chief,
whose job was that of a war leader and
protector of the clan.
From Chiefdom to Empire
• By the end of the Vedic era, large
settlements became kingdoms rather than
chiefdoms. The king replaced the chief
and had greater responsibilities,
overseeing the welfare as well as the
defense of the people. Fancy ceremonies
demonstrated and honored the king’s
power and position.
From Chiefdom to Empire
• When Chandragupta Maurya (r. 321-296
B.C.E.) established the first Indian empire,
this idea of king and state shaped his
reign and the Maurya empire that
followed. “All men are my children,”
Ashoka, the third Maurya ruler, claimed.
India flourished under Maurya rule and
came to include almost the entire
Collapse of the Empire
• The centralized government was
supported by land revenues and trade
profits. The expansion of both enabled the
government to extend the empire’s
borders and benefit from foreign
technology. However, because the
economy could not keep pace, the Maurya
empire eventually collapsed
• Brahma , a major Hindu god
in the late Vedic period, is
regarded as the creator of the
universe. He was said to have
been born from a golden egg,
symbolic of the birth of the
universe. It was the doctrine of
Trimurti that brought Brahma,
Vishnu, and Shiva together as
the three aspects of a supreme
deity. To this day, any temple
dedicated to Vishnu or Shiva
also contains an image of
The Caste System
• The caste system is one of the lasting influences of early Hinduism on Indian society.
As early as the Rig Veda one can find references to the four groups said to have
emerged from Purusha's body (see The Song of Purusha, p. 1342-1343): the
Brahmins (from the mouth), the Kshatrias (from the arms), the Vaishya (from the
thighs), and the Shudras (from the feet).
• A Brahmin is designated as one with divine knowledge, a Kshatria as one with
authority, and a Vaishya as one settled on the land.
• Scholars have generally regarded the non-Aryan derivation of Shudras as evidence
that this caste originally consisted of non-Aryan cultivators who were conquered by
the Aryans and often enslaved.
• In Hinduism, one of the main distinctions between the groups is that members of the
first three can become "twice-born" (dvija) after undergoing the ceremony of spiritual
rebirth (upanayana), receiving the sacred wool thread. This ceremony is meant to
initiate one into Aryan adulthood. Shudras are denied this opportunity.
• The literary language of
classical India, Sanskrit
was the written and
spoken language of the
Aryan peoples who
invaded the Indian
2000 B.C.E. The Vedas
(the collective term for all
of the sacred Hindu
scriptures) were all
composed in Sanskrit.
• The Vedas: foundation of Hinduism.
“Veda” means “knowledge,” knowledge
about the world, about superhuman
powers and how to influence them.
• There are 4 Vedas in the Hindu tradition:
Rig Veda, Yayur Veda, Sama Veda, and
Atharva Veda, all of which feature a wide
variety of literature.
Contents of Vedic Literature (c.
1000, 1st Century B. C. E.).
• The Rig Veda: creation stories, sacrificial rites, and formulas for
priests. Earliest known Indo-European document and the oldest
Veda. “Hymn to the Sun God” is an example of this literature.
• The Yayur Veda: priestly chants, litanies, and ritual sacrifices for
maintaining the favor of the gods.
• The Sama Veda: known for its songs of praise; contains the “Hymn
to the Horse,” for the occasion of the horse sacrifice, the elaboriate
ritual created exclusively for kings.
• The Atharva Veda: focus on spells and magic.
• Some of these works are believed to be divinely inspired and
• The Bhagavad Gita (Sanskrit भगवद्गीता, Bhagavad Gītā,
"Song of God") is one of the most important Hindu
scriptures. It is revered as a sacred scripture of
Hinduism, and considered as one of the most
important philosophical classics of the world. The
Bhagavad Gita comprises 700 verses, and is a part of the
Mahabharata. The teacher of the Bhagavad Gita is
Krishna, who is revered by Hindus as a manifestation of
the Lord Himself, and is referred to within as
Bhagavan—the divine one. The Bhagavad Gita is
commonly referred to as The Gita for short
• Davis, et. al. The Bedford Anthology of
World Literature. Volume I. Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006.