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india1 - Vedic Age(ca 1500450 no Maurya Dnasty(ca 323—185...

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Unformatted text preview: Vedic Age (ca. 1500450 no.) Maurya Dnasty (ca. 323—185 BC.) 31006.6. Satavahana " . Gupta 3: I (ca. 4th—6th century AD.) $1 Pllava - (7th—9th century) Pala (ca. 8th—12th century) Chola (mid~9thu13th century) I. Sultanate (1192—1526) , Vijayanagar = (1336—1565) Mughal (ca.1526—1827} British I _. (ca. late 18th century— - 1947) . Reublic of India AN "EMPIRE OF THE SPIRIT”? Even though colonialism ended in India half a century ago in 1947, there are two major ways in which colonial India is still an issue. The first is the extraordinary impact that colonialism had on India’s institutions The two hundred years of British influence and con- trol, reckoning from the Battle of Plassey in 1757 to the drawing down of the Union Jack at midnight on August 15, 1947, turned India into a modern state and left no social institution unaltered. Terms like “tradi— _tional India” and “the timeless caste system” are Virtuall meaningless, nial era as long gone and irrelevant. When we go to India now, as tourists, scholars, or business people, we go to an India transformed by the col - : - - unter. [email protected] so dominates our knowledge of India in the colossal legacy of colonial scholarship about India. India did not have the indige- nous tradition of historiography that China had, as we shall see in chap- ter 7. If it had, that would have been the starting point and foundation for modern and Western models for writing India’s history. Indian historiog- raphy, to the extent it existed, was limited to genealogical pedigrees of local rulers to prove they were descended from Vishnu or the sun, or to ballads extolling the victorious battle of one ruler over his enemy. While such sources are not worthless and have recently been used with good effect by ethnohistorians, they were not sufficient to have prevented Whole eras and empires from disappearing from history. Indus Valley civ- ilization, the Mauryan Empire, King Ashoka, and Buddhism’s origin and spread throughout India all vanished without a memory. When in 1976 in China the huge burial army of the First Emperor (221u206 so.) was redis— covered archaeologically, it was not really comparable to the rediscovery of Mohenjo—Daro in northwest India in 1924, because there were Chinese histories aplenty describing Qin Shihuang, but there was not a trace in any Indian text to provide a parallel account of Indus Valley civilization. It was not that India had no intellectual class that might have been writing history; far from it. It was just that they had much more impor— tant maM-SIWWW them. There was the na ure 0 t e soul and the nature of the universe. There were the fabulous doings of divine characters like Shiva, Krishna, Our knowledge of Indian society is dominated by the colonial era. 119 120 Chapter Five Peshawar: _- (.4. “KATHMANDUV LUCKNOW I ’ Ganges PATNA ‘ o o Allahabad . Nalaflda Budh Gays. River o ' CA LC UTTA “armada Rivet INDIA 0 K’X. Cfldavarl Raw BOMBAY HYDERAJSAD MADRAS. - Mysore Map 5.1 India and Kali. There were legendary stories to be told at enormous length in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, treated as history and whose his— toricity has yet to be seriously addressed. And if little serious attention was paid to the doings of actual kings and actual ordinary persons, there was lengthy and sometimes brilliant reflection on how kings and king- doms should be ordered, how societ be or ' s .In_dia they uickl be an to an“ I. ls“ ' ' Wall India 121 many cases,- but texts taken seriously, applied to real life. They were authoritative in the sense that society in many intriguing ways altered itself to be what the texts asked of it. Since the mode of thinking about the world that we call historical was not a form of thought indigenous to India, when British adventurers, traders, and eventually administrators ll usurped power in methods to this exotic new place. The result was a vast literate of vana e quality. e have already encountered the brilliant Sir William Jones in chapter 3, whose effort in mastering Sanskrit led to the discovery of the Indo-Euro- pean language family and the founding of historical linguistics. That was only one of the discoveries of nineteenth—century scholarship. Discovery after discovery was reported in periodicals like the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, in travel accounts by the score, in the voluminous gaz- etteers describing every local region in minute detail written by over— worked local oificials, and in multivolume surveys such as A. C. Cunning- ham’s Archaeological Surveys of India, which ran to twenty—three volumes. It has sometimes seemed they discovered it all and said it all. A perennial topic was the caste system. Its complexities fascinated the British, while its inequities appalled themmeven as they inserted themselves at the apex of the hierarchy, bounding themselves off with rules of separation like any other caste. The caste system was the ele- phant and they the blind men trying to take its measure, determine its nature. Were the castes so many tribes, each with its own history and cus— toms, trying to preserve ethnic identity in close interconnection. with other tribes? No, that was too simple, since the caste system was also a division of labor: Unlike self-sufficient tribal cultivators, the castes were deeply interdependent economically. Above all, they were interdependent ‘ ritually Powerful landowning castes could not get their sons and daugh- ters married without ritualized services up and down the hierarchy. Brahmans could not maintain sufficient purity to chant the Vedic mané tras without washermen to remove impurities from their clothes, barbers’ wives to remove birth pollution, and sweepers to clean their latrines. Everyone depended on the Brahmans to perform their essential life~cycle rites. The logic that best accounted for the hierarchy of castes was a ritual I _. logic. Brahnians, not kings, were at the top. The puzzlin seconda position of kings and the subordination of political owertomlmmm mg feature. As kings were toppled one by one in the East India Com- Wding control—here a principality annexed, there a raja reduced to tax collector—British scholars consulted with Brahmans about how this society, which they now had to govern, worked. It seemed to be a system of weak kings and powerful Brahmans. It seemed to be a 122 Chapter Five ’i. civilization in which power and economics were subsumed under religion. It seemed to be an “empire 0 e spiri . In the process of ruling it and writing about it, the “timeless caste system” was being reconstructed. “Colonial intervention . . . removed the politics from society and created a contradictory form of civil society— with caste as its fundamental institution—in its place” (Dirks 1989bz61). Kings were deposed or reduced to figureheads while real power was transferred to the British. But this new form of power, being alien, was ignored by scholars writing about Indian society who wanted to know about the “traditional” system and found it inviting to render invisible the impact of their own usurpation of power. In this chapter, we will of course look at the caste system as it is now in postcolonial India. But in looking at the premodern state, we will attempt to reconstruct it before its colonial alterations began. THE MORAL SOCIETY The world’s earliest states, emerging in the second and third millennia no. in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China, were the first to face the questions that all states, including modern ones, have got to face: How to mobilize power effectively? How to survive past the first generation? How to manage the force that created the state without immediately destroying it? How to get and keep the loyalty of diverse groups drawn together in the state? The family, village, and tribal solidarities that long preceded the state had their moral codes, often implicit, which seemed as natural as the growth of plants in sunshine and rain or the springtime birth of calves and lambs. But as states emerged out of competition, conquest, and dom- ination, a new social formation had appeared for which there was no nat- ural model to provide for harmony and continuity. Both China and India sought ways to conceptualize these new concentrations of power that would legitimate the rule of a monarch and divert attention from the priv— ileged classes that now had to be supported. The family was a natural metaphor that both societies made use of. The king would be a father to his people, using the military might by which he conquered them to pro- tect them; the people would be his children who owed loyalty and obedi— ence and could expect justice from him. (The metaphoric potential of motherhood in state ideology was apparently less fruitful.) But an ideol- ogy of the family writ large could go only so far in underwriting state power. Rama, the hero of the Ramayana and India’s greatest (and mytho- logical) king, as he prepared to obey the command of his father that sent him into a fourteen-year exile on the day on which he was supposed to be a: India 123 crowned king, said: “There is no greater act of righteousness than this: obedience to one’s father and doing as he bids” (Pollock 1986). He was thus modeling a son’s moral obligation to his father and a subject’s obli— gation to his king. The word translated as righteousness is dharma. Dharma: The Moral Order of the Cosmos Some concepts, generally the most important ones, cannot be easily translated. If there is a key concept for understanding Indian society, it is the concept of dharma, which we will simply call by its Indian name. Dharma has a wide range of meanings deriving from the Sanskrit root dhr. It means the essential foundation of things, and so signifies “truth.” It means that which is established, customary, or proper, and so signifies “traditional” or “ceremonial.” It means one’s duty or responsibil- -_ity, hence “moral obligation.” It means that which is right, virtuous, or meritorious-hence “ethical” (Malony 1987). It means, in sum, both “the 'way things are” and “the way things should be." Though mostly from a somewhat later period, the concept of dharma is found in the very earliest Indian text, the Rg Veda (1200 13.0.), where we hear about the gods engaged in dharma when they separate day from night, make one season follow another, and make the rains fall. The gods do not create the universe but maintain its good order through their cer- _ emonial acts, their vows, and their ascetic practices. And later, in the Laws of Manu, which ordain how humans should conduct themselves in moral society, those who support dharma are promised “fame in this world and incomparable happiness after death” (Mann 2.9). Thus, both humans and gods are responsible for maintaining dharma. Every social category and life stage has its own dharma that con— tributes to the fundamental goodness and order of the cosmos. There is a term, svadharma, which means “one’s own” (Sva-) dharma, but this does not imply an individualistic, personal sense of values such as Westerners typically mean by suchphrases as “This is what I stand for” or “These are my own personal values.” Svadharma means an individual’s moral obli- gation given one’s osition in the social order There is the dharma of kings (immdrma), the dharma of one’s class (varnadharma), the dharma of one’s life stage (asramwdharma), the dharma of one’s caste {iatidharma}. The moral order of society is com- posed of social categories, not of individuals. The Dharmashastras (the “science of dharma”) were lawbooks expounding on dharma for the vari— ous classes of people. Dharma has its opposite: adharma.1 Adharma means _“immorality” or “unrighteousness” or against :the natural ; order .inherent'in' the-uni- verse, _A person may conduct himself in an adharmik manner. A society may lapse into disorder, wickedness, chaos. A society where people do not 124 Chapter Five live by the dharma of their class, gender, life stage, and caste is a chaotic, immoral society. The concept of dharma holds society to an ideal that it cannot always meet, and its sympathy for reform is generally limited to reinterpreting change in terms of ancient values. It was the work of the'centuries from about 700 to 300 13.0. to find ways to link dharma to the state and to stabilize the early kingdoms that all too easily fell into bloody conflict. The First Civilizations The first urban society in India emerged in the Indus Valley around 2300 BC. This was the world’s third civilization, a thousand years later than'Egypt and Sumer in Mesopotamia. Indus Valley was in contact with Sumer via a land route stretching from oasis to oasis across the Iranian Plateau, and via a much easier coastal route in the shallow waters of the ‘ Arabian Sea and up the Persian Gulf. India was the fabled source of pea- cocks and monkeys, ivory and e ices and Who cities of Indus Valley were depmmfiver for a water source and for tranSportation. They grew wheat and cotton, were the first to weave cotton into cloth, and brought their raw materials by river to the two great cities of Mohenjo—Daro and Harappa. ' The first civilizations did not emerge quickly but required a long evolution out of farming communities whose growth and increased pro— ductivity supported the nonproductive elite that dominated them. Box 5.1, “Characteristics of Civilization,” identifies some of the primary and secondary features associated with early civilizations. The political struc- ture of a civilization is the state, where power is centralized in a monarch ‘ or oligarchy. Society had grown more complex, with new forms of special- ization and stratification. The king gathered around him a full-time war~ Iiorclass; priests who functioned as advisers, .diviners, and intercessors with the gods; and a nobility composed of the king’s family and lineage that grew larger and more powerful by the generation. All these people . had to be supported by the agricultural classes. Older studies sometimes talk about the “surpluses” produced by early states that allowed nonagri- cultural classes to emerge as if surpluses were some kind of natural phe- nomenon growing out of agricultural technology The facts are much less pleasant. Independent cultivators were turned into peasants, tied to the land by various devices that squeezed them for surpluses to support the growing nonproductive elite. _A percentage of the harvest, often 25 percent or 50 percent, was demanded, which forced peasants to work harder and find ways to grow more, because their own subsistence needs remained the same. It was political coercion,..not simply improved agricultural tech- nology, which squeezed out an extra portion of grain to be passed upward as taxation.‘ : ‘* India 125 _. ..-5._.-1 ...Choro¢i_e'ri$lics ofcivilizalion'5-pi-I Primary Features The State: - Centralized authority in a monarch, king, emperor, or oligarchy - Stratification of society with an aristocracy, priesthood, military, and peasants - A taxi'tribute system for redistribution of surpluses upward High population densities Expanded food production to support economically unproductive classes Urbanization: villages, towns, and a few true urban centers with populations of 7,000 to 10,000 Full-time craft specialists Secondary Features Monumental art and architecture Long-distance trade Codified law Writing systems Mathematics and astronomy Religion in the service of the state Bifurcation of folk culture and court culture, with court-sponsored arts and intellectual traditions In the meantime, urban densities formed around the king’s court and in a few trade centers, so that along with villages there is a hierarchy of urban spaces: towns and one or two major cities. In the earliest cities, ten thousand was a lot of people; by 2500 13.0., there are cities with popu- . lations close to one hundred thousand. Cultural and intellectual life began to diverge from village culture in the urban centers of privilege in the caurts of early kings. Specialists of all sorts elabOrated their own cul- tural domains: a few carpenters turned into architects and engineers, building palaces, temples, and mausoleums for their royal patrons; min- isters codified the law; priests pondered the old myths and rites, raising new philosophical questions. They gazed at the stars and developed astrology and astronomy. Mathematics grew out of useful practices like engineering and astronomy. Royal courts sponsored new forms of art: the- ater, music, dance, and poetry. Most interesting of all, perhaps, is the development of new uses for religion: The power of the state needed to be legitimated somehow; new forms of religion emerged in the service of the state. Note that a civilization is something more than a state. States are political formations that can come and g0 rather quickly, and most will 126 Chapter Five not form a true civilization around themselves. A civilization includes enduring cultural traditions that can be maintained and passed on from generation to generation even when political centralization has lapsed, whereas a state is a centralized social system that is much more vulner- able to spinning into disorder at the death of a powerful leader or collaps- ing into bitterly contested struggles for leadership that end in fragmenta- tion. So civilizations can outlast particular states. Indian civilization has survived through eras when no state could be said to be functioning or when only small regional states existed. Similarly, Chinese civilization has stretched across eras when the state itself disappeared in periodic chaos. Indus Valley Civilization (2300—4750 13.0.) Indus Valley is the mystery civilization of Asia. While its two major cities, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, have been extensively excavated and now lie exposed once again to the blistering sun of Pakistan (see box 5.2, “A Most-Curious Object"), almost everything We would want to know about the people and their culture remains unexplained. Perhaps these people were ancestors of the Dravidians, who are now the vast popula— tions of the southern Indian states of Tamilnadu, Kerala, and Mysore. There are a few tiny tell-tale pockets of Dravidian—speakers stranded in the Indus Valley region of Baluchistan, though now the languages of the northern states are all Indo—European. They certainly had a well-orga- nized and centrally planned society, but what kind of political order was responsible for this is not clear from the archaeological record. They had a script, but what ideas were captured by it is unknown because the script has never been'cleciphered. The religious ideas that motivated their lives have left traces only in rough sculptural form, and so the connection to later Indian ideals remains conjectural (Fairservis 1975). The cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa were the most modern cit- ies of their time; there was a genius of civil engineering and public works. The cities were built on a grid plan, with a broad north-south street bisected by narrower east-west streets. Houses built on these streets were often large and multiroomed with windowless exterior walls, inner court— yards, and flat roofs. This house style remains prominent in much of India to this day, allowing family life to be lived in inner privacy in the court- yard and, on hot nights and cool winter days, on the rooftop. Many of these houses had private interior wells with outlets in several rooms of the house. Bathrooms were built against an exterior wall, with sloping floors and chutes that drained bathwater to the lane outside. From there, sewage was disposed through brick-lined covered channels to cesspits outside the city. This water and sanitation engineering was unmatched anywhere in the world prior to the last couple of centuries. a ' India 127 _ '_ 5.2 A Most Curious Chisel _ _ In the winter of 1872—3, while touring the Punjab, Cunningham investigated Harappa. _ on the Ravi river. It was 'the most extensive of all the old sites alon...
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