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06 - India and Southeast Asia - 1500 B.C.E. - 600 C.E.

06 - India and Southeast Asia - 1500 B.C.E. - 600 C.E. -...

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CHAPTER 7 India and Southeast Asia, 1500 B . C . E .–1025 C . E . I0. Foundations of Indian Civilization, 1500 B . C . E .–300 C . E . A0. The Indian Subcontinent 10. India has three topographical zones: (1) the northern mountainous zone; (2) the Indus and Ganges Basins; and (3) the peninsula. The Vindhya Mountains and the Deccan plateau divide the peninsula from the other two zones. 20. The peninsula itself includes further topographical sub-regions including: (1) tropical Kerala coast in the west; (2) Coromandel Coast in the east; (3) flat area of Tamil Nadu in the south; and (4) island of Sri Lanka. 30. Peninsular India and the Ganges Valley have a subtropical climate and plentiful rainfall. The Indus Valley is dry and agriculture there relies on irrigation. The staple crop of the Ganges Delta is rice; elsewhere, the staple crops are wheat, millet, and barley. 40. This geographical diversity has made it very difficult for any political power to unify all of India for any great length of time. B0. The Vedic Age 10. After the demise of the Indus Valley civilization, Indo-European warriors migrated into India. They were organized in patriarchal families and kinship groups, and at first, they herded cattle in the northwest. After 1000 B . C . E . some of them began to push into the Ganges Valley, using new iron tools to fell trees and cultivate the land. The oral tradition of these light-skinned Arya tribes tells of a violent struggle between themselves and the darker-skinned Dravidian-speaking Dasas, whom they evidently pushed into southern India. 20. The struggle between Aryas and Dasas led to the development of the system of varna, meaning “color” but equivalent to “class.” Under this system, people were born into one of four varna: (1) Brahmin (priests/scholars); (2) Kshatriya (warriors); (3) Vaishya (merchants); and (4) Shudra (peasant/laborer). A fifth group, Untouchables, was outside the system and consisted of persons who did demeaning or ritually polluting work such as work that involved contact with the dead bodies of animals or humans. 30. The four varna were subdivided into hereditary occupational groups called jati (also known by the Portuguese word caste). Jati were also arranged in order of hierarchy; complex rules governed the appropriate occupation, duties, and rituals of each jati and laid forth regulations concerning interaction between people of different jati. 40. The systems of varna and jati were rationalized by belief in reincarnation. According to this belief, each individual has an immortal spirit (atman) that will be reborn in another body after death. One’s station in the next life depends on one’s actions (karma) in this and previous lives. 50. Vedic religion emphasized the worship of male deities through sacrifice. Religious knowledge and practice was the monopoly of the Brahmin priestly varna who memorized the rituals, prayers, and hymns and may have opposed the introduction of writing in order to maintain their monopoly in religious knowledge.
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60. We do not know much about the status or roles of women in the Vedic period.
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