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Chapter_4 - GS 1003 World Civilization Chapter 4 Indian...

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Unformatted text preview: GS 1003 World Civilization Chapter 4 Indian Civilization Government is the science of punishment. Kautilya I consider that my duty is the good of the whole world. Ashoka Turning from Greece and Rome to India, we enter an altogether different world. The differ- ences are not simply those that might naturally emerge from contrasting physical environ- ments—differences in occupations, diet, habita- tion, dress, and the like. The differences were much more far-reaching and fundamental. There were nothing in the West remotely resem- bling basic Indian concepts and institutions such as caste, ahimsa (nonviolence), reincarna- tion, and karma (the law of moral conse— quences). These were not just eccentric or ab- stract ideas. They constituted the bedrock of Indian civilization, molding the thought and daily lives of all Indians. The pattern that re- sulted was so distinctive and so enduring that Indian civilization to the present day has distin- guishing characteristics that mark it off from all other Eurasian civilizations. Distinctiveness also characterizes the civil- ization of China, as will be noted in the follow- ing chapter, but this is natural because of the unparalleled geographic and historical isolation of that country. In India, by contrast, the begin- nings appeared to be basically similar to those of the other regions to the west where Aryan in— vaders ‘had settled—the Iranian plateau and the Balkan and Italian peninsulas. As noted earlier the Aryan tribes that de- scended on India about 1500 B.C. possessed the same physical features, the same pastoral eco- nomy, the same. social institutions, the same gods, and the same epics as did, for example, the Achaeans and the Dorians. Furthermore the Indo—Aryans were not isolated in their subconti- nent to anywhere near the degree that the Chi- nese were on the eastern extremity of Eur- asia. The mountain ranges of northwest India are nbt impassable, so that armies and mer- chants and pilgrims crossed back and forth through the centuries. In fact, during much of the time there was more interaction between northern India and the Middle East and central Asia, than between northern India and the southern part of the peninsula. The question naturally arises, then, why the Indo-Aryans should have developed a civil- ization so basically different from those of their kin to the west. The scanty evidence available does not allow for a specific or definitive an- swer, but the most simple and likely explana- tion is that the Indo—Aryans were Indianized. In contrast to the Achaeans or Dorians or Latins, who settled in relatively uncivilized areas, the Indo~Aryans encountered in the Indus valley a highly developed civilization with large urban centers and a dense population. The na- tive population, although subjugated and de- spised, was too numerous and too advanced to be exterminated or pushed aside or assimilated, leaving few traces of the original culture. In- stead, as the Aryan pastoralists settled down and took up agriculture, they perforce lived in close proximity with the prior inhabitants of their new land. After some centuries of such coexistence and intermarriage, the inevitable result was a cultural synthesis. The circum- stances, nature, and consequences of this syn- thesis are the subject of this chapter. I. ARYAN IMPACT Following their penetration into the Indus val- ley, the Aryans concentrated in the more rainy, parts of the Punjab where the pasture was ade- quate for their herds. Gradually they began to _ madwinto the “heavily forested basin of the Gang§,_Their expansion was slow at first, since only__stonei.12r_onze. and. copper axes were avail- able. But iron was introduced about 800 B.C., and the expansion pace quickened. The main oc- cupation shifted from pastoralism to agricul- ture. The monsoon, climatesof the Ganges valley was ideal for rice cultivation, whichrwas more Indian Civilization productive than the wheat and barley grown in the Punjab. As a result the center of population density shifted from the northwest to the east, which then became the seat of the first powerful kingdoms. The shift to agriculture stimulated various crafts necessary for the new villages, including carpentry, metallurgy, weaving, and tanning. Agriculture also promoted trade, with the river serving as the natural highway for transporting surplus food. Barter was common practice at first, and the cow was the unit of value in large— scale transactions. When coins appeared, the earliest weight standards, significantly enough, were exactly those of the pre—Aryan Indus civil- ization. Towns grew out of villages that were strategically located for trade or that had speo cialized in particular crafts. This economic growth in turn facilitated political consolidation. Originally the Indo—Ary- ans, like their relatives in the West, were organ- ized under tribal chiefs assisted by councils of elders and general assemblies. With economic development the tribes gave way to kingdoms in the Ganges plain and to republics in the Punjab and in the foothills of the Himalayas. Of these early states the kingdom of Magadha in the lower Ganges soon rose to preeminence because of its location on two main trade routes and its control over rich iron-ore deposits. With these advantages Magadha was to serve as the base for the formation of both the Maurya and Gupta empires. The Nanda dynasty in the fourth century B.C. was the first to exploit systematically the re- sources of Magadha for state—building purposes. They built canals, organized irrigation projects, and established an efficient administrative sys- tem for the collection of taxes. The Nandas have been described as the earliest empire builders of India. In fact, they laid the foundations of an empire but were not destined actually to fash- ion the first imperial structure. This was to be the historic role of Chandragupta Maurya, the young adventurer who usurped the Nanda throne in 321 B.C. and went on to build the fa- mous empire named after him. Economic and political developments were ‘ KUSHAN EMPIRE ' c. A.D. :00 C. A.D. 400 MAURYAN EMPIRE , 500 MILES X CLASSICAL AGE EMPIRES IN INDIA paralleled by fateful changes in social struc- ture. Originally the Indo—Aryans, like other Ary— ans, were divided into three classes: the warrior nobles, the priests, and the common people. They had none of the restrictions associated with caste, such as hereditary professions, rules limiting marriages to people of the same caste, and taboos about dining companions. But by 500 BC. the caste system was functioning with all its essential features. Although many theo- ries have been advanced concerning its origins, it is generally agreed that color was a basic fac- tor. Indeed the Sanskrit word for caste, varna, means color. The Aryan newcomers were very conscious of the difference in complexion betweenthem- selves and the dark natives, and dubbied them Dasas, or slaves. With their strong sense of ra- cial superiority, the Aryans strove to prevent mixture with their despised subjects. Accord- Indiun Civilization ineg they evolved a system of four hereditary ' castes. The first three comprised their own ()t cupational classes, the priests (Bra/imam“, 5.» warrior nobles (Kshatriyas), and the . (Vaishyas). The fourth caste (Shudmx) was ic— served for the Dasas, who were excluded from the religious ceremonies and social rights en~ joyed by their conquerors. This arrangement ceased to correspond to racial reality with the passage of time. Arysm tribes frequently made alliances with Dasux tribes to wage war against other Aryan it iiw Also Aryan settlers mingled with the with who then adopted Aryan speech and customs. In such cases the Dasas' priests became Bi'al‘ mans, and their chiefs, Kshatriyas. Thus today black southern Indian Brahmans are no less ari~ stocratic by reason of their dark skin, nor are the light~skinned, grey~eyed untouchables of some northern Indian regions any more ele— These Brahmans are of India's priestly caste, the highest in the caste system, 1907. (The New York Public Library Picture Collection) Indian Civilization hated because of their pale complexion. In re— sponse to these realities, traders and some land- owners were classified as Vaishyas, and Cultivators and general laborers became Shu- dras. A bewildering variety of castes have grown up within these four broad divisions. The castes have four basic features in common. One is characteristic employment, so that bankers and merchants often belong to the Vaishya caste. Another feature of caste is the hereditary prin- ciple, expressed in complex marriage regula- tions and restrictions. Caste also involves fur- ther restrictions concerning food, water, touch, and ceremonial purity. Finally each caste has its dharma, or moral code, which stipulates such duties as maintenance of the family unit and performance of prescribed ceremonies at mar- riage, birth, and death. Outside this system are the pariahs, or un- touchables, comprising today about a seventh of the Indian population. They are condemned to trades or crafts regarded as unclean because their function involves some ritual defilement or the taking of human or animal life. These oc- cupations include hunters, fishermen, butchers, executioners, gravediggers, undertakers, tan- ners, leather workers, sweepers, and scaven- gers. Involvement in these occupations has led in turn to social segregation. Untouchables live in isolated villages or in quarters outside town limits and are required to use their own temples and wells. They have to be most careful to avoid polluting members of the castes by any kind of physical contact or, in extreme cases, by even coming within their sight. For this reason, until recent decades they never moved outside their quarters or villages without striking a pair of clappers together to warn others of their ap— proach. ' The untouchables are further subjected to psychological disabilities that are as crippling and degrading as the physical. The doctrine of karma holds that one's status in present life has been determined by the deeds of previous lives. The untouchables therefore deserve their low position because of past sins, and their only hope for improved status in future lives is the dutiful performance of their present duties. This combination of social and religious sanctions has enabled caste to function to the present day. Of course, with its manifold provi- sions for mutual aid, caste does provide secu- rity as long as one follows its rules. 80 it contin- ues to serve as the steel framework of Hindu society. And although it has been attacked by re— formers and undermined by the pressures of modern industrial society, caste nevertheless still operates in rural India, where three-fourths of the total population continues to live. II. REFORMATION AND COUNTER—REFORMATION Caste, with its basic tenents of dharma, karma, and reincarnation, is part and parcel of the Hindu religious system. Originally the Aryans had typical tribal gods personifying natural forces, such as Indra, god of thunder and war; Agni, god of fire; and Soma, god of their sacred intoxicant of the same name. Gods of this nature were appropriate for pastoralists, but as the Ar- yans settled down to agriculture they perforce turned to new deities. Hence the advent of the “great gods" of Hinduism—Brahma, the Crea- tor; Vishnu, the gracious Preserver; and Shiva, the Mighty and the Destroyer. It is not acciden- tal that these new gods, particularly Shiva, bear striking resemblances to finds in the Indus val- ley sites. At this time, the Aryans naturally ap- propriated native religious ideas and practices that had evolved through the millennia in the ancient agriculture-based civilization. With the new gods there came also a grow- ing concentration of power in the hands of the priestly class, or Brahmans. This also was prob ably derived from pre-Aryan religious tradition. The Brahmans, who in some regions were in contact with native religious leaders, presum- ably leamed of the magical claims and practices of their counterparts in the Indus civilization. Whatever the historic prototypes in the distant past, the Brahmans effectively exploited their mastery of the Vedas, or hymns, that were re- cited aloud during rituals and sacrifices. These were transmitted orally through the gener- ations and were considered so sacred that they were memorized word for word, sound for sound. As the custodians and transmitters of this precious heritage, the Brahmans were able to assert and enforce their claims as the leaders of Hindu society, superior to the Kshatriya, or secular heads. The Brahmans enjoyed numerous preroga- tives and exemptions because of the sacred na— ture of their functions. Donors of gifts were as- sured definite reward in this, as well as in subsequent, lives. A "gift of land" was rated most highly, for it “liberated from all sin." Thus the Brahmans acquired vast estates, including entire villages. Additionally they were exempt from all taxes, since they were deemed to have discharged such debts through "acts of piety." And being sacrosanct, the Brahmans could not be sentenced to death or to any type of corporal punishment. Finally the doctrines of karma, re- incarnation, and dharma provided virtually ir- resistible means for Brahman control of the mind. There was little chance for individuals to assert themselves when a person's station in life was the inescapable result of one's own past ac- tions, and when hope for a better life in the fu~ ture depended entirely on one's faithful obser- vance of specific caste duties, regardless of how onerous or degrading they might be. The Brahman pretensions and exactions were one factor in the religious reformation in India in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. Another was the economic growth previously noted, which created a wealthy merchant, or Vaishya, caste that reSented the special privi- leges enjoyed by the two upper castes. Finally there was the tension between the Brahmans and the non-Aryans who had been admitted to the Hindu fold but who resented the priestly domination. Thus the Shakya tribes in the Nepal hills from which the Buddha came are thought to have been of Mongolian stock. This combination of factors lay behind the ferment in Indian religious and intellectual circles dur- ing these centuries. The demand arose for moshka, or . freedom—for something more meaningful and satisfying than prescribed rit- uals and rigid doctrines. One manifestation of the unrest was 3 Indian Civilization trend toward asceticism. Some of the most ac- tive minds, alienated by the society about them concentrated on pure introspection. They (.ic‘xr‘l oped techniques for disciplining or “yoki..g (yoga) the senses to an inward focus, ending in. a state of trance or ecstasy, which mystics de» scribe as “enlightenment” and sceptics cali “self-hypnotism." Out of this inward searching and speculating came many reform movements, of which the most important was Buddhism. The new religion had no place for caste or for Brahmans. It required that the scriptsuw. should be understood by all believers and not merely by a few at the top. Buddhism also banned all magic, sacrifices, and obscure writ- ings. Buddhism became a powerful force not only in India but also in central Asia and East and Southeast Asia. After AD. 600, however, it Shiva Nataraja—Shiva as Lord of the Dance. Bronze sculpture dating from about AD. 1000. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase 1964. Harris Brisbane Dick Fund) lmliaiz Civilization Braham, Relief dating from about A.D. 600-700. (A rborio MeIIa) lost ground within India. Eventually it existed in only a few localities in the land of its birth. One reason for the decline of Buddhism at home was that it failed to provide for the usual crises of life. It offered no ceremonies for birth. mar- riage, death, and other critical turns in the lives of the laity. By contrast the Brahmans were ready with their rites, and their survival was as- sured despite the attacks of the reformers. More important, the Brahmans themselves embraced reform. In their philosophical texts, the Upani- shads, they set forth their own paths to moshka ~—to freedom and release. They taught ,that the supreme spirit per- meating the universe was Brahman, a being cap- able of all knowledge and feeling. He was the universal soul and the all-pervading breath; all else was illusion. The individual soul—Atman— was a spark of the supreme being. By transmi- gration it passed from state to state until it at- tained release by reabsorption into Brahman, the Soul of the universe. This identification of the individual soul and the Soul of the universe was the ultimate goal that holy men sought to reach by discipline, meditation, and withdrawal from the world of the senses. Seekers after truth could now abandon the world and rest within the fold of Hinduism. Although Bud- dhism aS‘a practicing faith disappeared in lu- dia, it has survived to the present because its basic tenets have been incorporated in the Hindu counter-reformation. III. MAURYA EMPIRE Turning from religious m‘ovements to political developments, the outstanding political event was the emergence of India’s first imperial structure, the Maurya Empire. As noted earlier in this chapter, the migration of the Aryans to the Ganges valley had shifted the center of grav- Indian Civilization . \ ~ . _~ ,' b . ~ riftii‘lii _ Fifteenth-century representation of the infant Mahavira with his mother. It was Mahavira (about 540—467 B.C.) who consolidated Jaina ideas and gave them institutional organization. (Arborio Mella) f‘u‘diull Civilization :tv to that region, and particularly to the king- ,»tém of Magadha. Meanwhile the northwest provinces had been going their own way, iso- lated from the rest of India because of their (3056 ties with Persian civilization. In fact, Em- peror Darius crossed the Hindu Kush moun- [alIlS about 518 BC. and made the western Pun- jab the twentieth province of his empire. Two centuries later, in 327 8.0, Alexander the Great also invaded India from the northwest. But he stayed only two years, and soon after he left, Greek rule in the Punjab ended. Despite his short stay, Alexander did have considerable in- fluence on India. One effect was the growth of the east-west trade from northwest India through Afghani~ stan and Iran to Asia Minor and Levant ports. The Greek colonies planted throughout the Mid- dle East by Alexander doubtless contributed much to this trade, and the Hellenistic states that followed Alexander promoted it for two centuries. Most important for Indian history was Alexander’s role in creating a political vacuum in northwest India by overthrowing several 16 cal kingdoms and republics. Chandragupta Maurya promptly filled the void and founded the empire namedafter him... In 322 BC, three years after Alexander's departure, Chandra- gupta, then an ambitious young general, un- seated the Nanda dynasty of Magadha and founded his own. In the following years he ex- tended his rule steadily northwestward until his empire extended from the Ganges to the Indus, including the deltas of both rivers. At the same time he organized a powerful army and an effi- cient administration to sustain his realm. Thus when Seleucus became king of the Middle East as one of the successors to Alexander and at- tempted to recover Alexander’s Indian prov- inces, Chandragupta easily repelled the Greek forces. Chandragupta's son conquered the Deccan region in the south, and his grandson, the fa- mous Ashoka (273—232 BC), conquered Kalinga, or eastern India. Thus the Maurya Empire un- der Ashoka included the whole Indian peninsula except for the southern tip. India under the Mauryas was wealthy and well governed, like the Roman Empire at its height. Numerous highways were crowded wt-‘h merchants, soldiers, and royal messenger "'Eae co...
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