Saturday, February 28, 2009

China-Astronomy 1

The ancient Chinese invented the first planetarium, which was actually made by an emperor. The planetarium was a big enclosed place with stars and constellations on the inside. The person using the planetarium would sit in a chair that was hanging from the top of the enclosed dome.

To the ancient Chinese, solar ecliA solar eclipse of 16 June 763 BC mentioned in an Assyrian text is important for the Chronology of the Ancient Orient.

By 2300 BC, ancient Chinese astrologers, already had sophisticated observatory buildings, and as early as 2650 BC, Li Shu was writing about astronomy. Observing total solar eclipses was a major element of forecasting the future health and successes of the Emperor, and astrologers were left with the onerous task of trying to anticipate when these events might occur. Failure to get the prediction right, in at least one recorded case in 2300 BC resulted in the beheading of two astrologers. Because the pattern of total solar eclipses is erratic in any specific geographic location, many astrologers no doubt lost their heads. By about 20 BC, surviving documents show that Chinese astrologers understood what caused eclipses, and by 8 BC some predictions of total solar eclipse were made using the 135-month recurrence period. By AD 206 Chinese astrologers could predict solar eclipses by analyzing the Moon's motion.pses meant that dragons were devouring the sun.

Friday, February 27, 2009

More to China Civilization 14

There are many online sign calculators that share the same JavaScript (from this website) that will give a person the wrong sign if he/she was born in January or early February.

There are some newer astrological texts which follow the Chinese Agricultural Calendar (the jie qi), and thus place the change over of zodiac signs at the solar term li chun (beginning of Spring), at solar longitude 315 degrees.

The Chinese zodiac signs are used by cultures other than Chinese also. For one example, they usually appear on Japanese New Year's cards. The United States Postal Service and those of several other countries issue a postage stamp each year to honor this Chinese heritage. However, those unfamiliar with the use of the Chinese lunar calendar usually just assume that the signs switch over on January 1 of each year.

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Since the (traditional) Chinese zodiac follows the (lunisolar) Chinese calendar, the switch over date for the zodiac signs is the Chinese New Year, not January 1 as in the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, a person that was born in January or early February may have the sign of the previous year. For example, 1990 was the year of the horse, but anyone born from January 1 to January 25, 1990 was born in the year of the snake (the sign of the previous year), because the 1990 year of the horse began on January 26, 1990.

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The elements are also associated with colors, the traditional correspondence being green to Wood, red to Fire, brown to Earth, white to Metal, and black to Water. Some websites denote the years by the color and zodiac sign (as opposed to animal sign and element). (Notice the title "Green (Wooden) Chicken Year".)

The elements are combined with the binary Yin Yang cycle, which enlarges the element cyle to a cycle of ten. Even years are yang, odd years are yin. Since the zodiac animal cycle of 12 is divisible by two, every zodiac can only occur in either yin or yang: the dragon is always yang, the snake is always yin, etc. This combination creates a 60-year cycle, starting with Wood Rat and ending with Water Pig. The current cycle began in the year 1984.

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There is also a cycle of the Five Elements (Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal (Gold), Water) on top of the cycle of animals. A person's year sign can be a gold dragon, a wood rooster etc. In ancient match-making practice in China, couples were brought together according to their compatible signs. For example, it is believed that dog and dog don't get along, but dog and pig do; a water dog supports a wood pig but dominates a fire pig in their relationship because water benefits wood, but controls fire according to the Chinese five elements' interaction. In Japan, completion of an entire sixty year cycle of twelve animals and five elements is celebrated in a special birthday for sixty-year olds called kanreki.

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-Some versions of the tale say that the cattle nominated a water buffalo to represent them because he was more proficient at water. The trade was acceptable because both animals are members of the family of bovines.

-Another expands the race; the route ran through a forest, over ranges of plains and grasslands, and along a stream, before finally crossing a lake to the destination town.
-Yet another variation tells of two different races. The first involved all the animals, in two divisions to avoid the fast animals dominating the top, and the top six in each division would "make the cut" for a second round, which would then determine the order of placement of the animals in the zodiac. This format is rather like the one that the National Football League uses to determine its playoff teams (six from each conference).
-Interestingly the cat -- but not the rabbit -- does make the Vietnamese Zodiac

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Another popular legend has it that a race was used to decide the animals to report to the Jade Emperor:

All the animals lined up on the bank of a river and were given the task of getting to the opposite shore. Their order in the calendar would be set by the order in which the animals managed to reach the other side. The cat wondered how he would get across if he was afraid of water. At the same time, the ox wondered how he would cross with his poor eyesight. The calculating rat suggested that he and the cat jump onto the ox's back and guide him across. The ox was steady and hard-working so that he did not notice a commotion on his back. In the meanwhile, the rat snuck up behind the unsuspecting cat and shoved him into the water. Just as the ox came ashore, the rat jumped off and finished the race first. The lazy pig came to the far shore in twelfth place. And so the rat got the first year named after him, the ox got the second year, and the pig ended up as the last year in the cycle. The cat finished too late (thirteenth) to win any place in the calendar, and vowed to be the enemy of the rat forevermore.

More to China Civilization 9

Another popular legend has it that a race was used to decide the animals to report to the Jade Emperor:

All the animals lined up on the bank of a river and were given the task of getting to the opposite shore. Their order in the calendar would be set by the order in which the animals managed to reach the other side. The cat wondered how he would get across if he was afraid of water. At the same time, the ox wondered how he would cross with his poor eyesight. The calculating rat suggested that he and the cat jump onto the ox's back and guide him across. The ox was steady and hard-working so that he did not notice a commotion on his back. In the meanwhile, the rat snuck up behind the unsuspecting cat and shoved him into the water. Just as the ox came ashore, the rat jumped off and finished the race first. The lazy pig came to the far shore in twelfth place. And so the rat got the first year named after him, the ox got the second year, and the pig ended up as the last year in the cycle. The cat finished too late (thirteenth) to win any place in the calendar, and vowed to be the enemy of the rat forevermore.

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The ancient Chinese astronomers called the 5 major planets by the names of the element they were associated with: Venus corresponds to Metal (gold); Jupiter to Wood; Mercury to Water; Mars to Fire; Saturn to Earth. According to Chinese Astrology, a person's destiny can be determined by the position of the major planets, along with the positions of the Sun, Moon and comets and the person's time of birth and Zodiac Sign. The system of the twelve year cycle of animal signs was built from observations of the orbit of Jupiter. Chinese astronomers divided the celestial circle into 12 sections to follow the orbit of Jupiter, the Year Star). Astronomers rounded the orbit of Suixing to 12 years (from 11.86). Suixing was associated with Sheti (Bootes) and sometimes called Sheti.

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- Encyclopedia Britannica

Chinese astrology is the divination of the future from the Chinese calendar, which is based on astronomy, and ancient Chinese philosophy. In particular, it is based on the sexagenary cycle of 60 years that has been documented since the time of the Shang Dynasty at the latest. This basic cycle has been constructed from two cycles: the 10 heavenly stems (the five elements in their yin and yang forms) and the 12 earthly branches, or the 12-year cycle of animals referred to as the Chinese zodiac. The Chinese animal zodiac also operates on a cycle of months or 'moons' and of hours of the day.

The Chinese zodiac refers to a pure calendrical cycle; there are no equivalent constellations like those of the occidental zodiac. In imperial times there were astrologers who watched the sky for heavenly omens that would predict the future of the state, but this was a quite different practice of divination from the popular present-day methods.

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The roots of this interpretive art, are based deeply in the classical philosophy of Confucius, Lao-tse and the Yi Jing (I Ching). According to Chinese legend, the order of the twelve signs was determined by Buddha, upon celebration of the Chinese New Year (which falls on different dates, from mid-January to mid-February.) The Buddha invited all of the animals in the kingdom together for a meeting, but only 12 creatures attended.

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Chinese Astrology

Ancient astrologers could correctly predict when tides, seasons, and other things, just by looking at the stars and planets. One of the uses for astrology was for farming - the proper time to plant and harvest crops.

A lot of the Chinese looked to the stars, but some were drawn to the Earth, trying to solve riddles and mysteries of math. They did not know that everything was made from hundreds and millions of atoms, but instead they thought everything was made up of the five elements: fire, earth, metal, water and wood. They looked at how these elements could change, and explained how nature worked in those terms. Wood goes through a basic change to become fire (flames), fire turns into the earth (ashes), earth makes the metal (iron and other metals) mined from the earth. Metal brings water (metal collects dew if outside over night). And to make the circle, water produces wood (wood plants need water to grow). The scientists did not think of the five elements as DNA, but more like changing things in nature; and that is how the Chinese viewed life and nature.

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Chinese Astrology

It is essential in China that every person knows which animal sign he is born under. That is because it has been implicitly agreed upon that no important steps of life should be taken without consulting first the Chinese Zodiac.

Some Chinese consider this superstition, but many truly believe that the signs reveal the hidden secrets of a person's character. By the 5th century, the Chinese had cataloged 1464 stars.

In Beijing, there were about 5,000 stargazers.

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Chinese Astrology

According to one legend, during a Chinese New Year celebration, Buddha invited all the animals to his kingdom, but unfortunately, for reasons only known to the animals, a total of 12 turned up. The mouse was naturally the first, followed by the ox, then the tiger, the rabbit and so on and finally the pig.

Out of gratitude, Buddha decided to name the year after each of the animals in their order of arrival, and people born of that year would inherit the personality traits of that particular animal. These animals are also supposed to have some influence over the period of time they were named after.

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Chinese Astrology

More than 3,000 years ago, Chinese people invented the 10 Heavenly Stems and 12 Earthly Branches for chronological purposes. These signs are used to designate the hours, days, months and years. However, since most people at that time were illiterate, the signs were difficult to use. Later, to make things easier to memorize, people used animals to symbolize the 12 Earthly Branches. The animals in order are the mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

Many Chinese people strongly believe that the time of a person's birth is the primary factor in determining that person's personality. Many fortune-tellers, when telling your fortune, say what they need to know is your exact time of birth. Then, whether you are successful in your life and career, or whether you will be happy is clear to the fortune-tellers.

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China's Art and Literature

-Chinese literature has a long and prolific continuous history, in part because of the development of printmaking during the Song dynasty.
-Before that, manuscripts of the Classics and religious texts (mainly Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist) were manually written by ink brush (previously scratching shells) and distributed.
-Academies of scholars sponsored by the empire were formed to comment on these works in both printed and written form. Members of royalty frequently participated in these discussions.
-Tens of thousands of ancient written documents are still extant and more, from oracle bones to Qing edicts, are discovered each day, which had been formally ground up for use in Chinese medicine.
-For centuries, opportunity for economic and social advancement in China could be provided by high performance on the imperial examinations.
-This led to a meritocracy, though in practice this was possible only among those who were not female or too poor to afford test preparation, as doing well still required tutorship. Nevertheless it was a system distinct from the European system of blood nobility.
-Imperial examinations required applicants to write essays and demonstrate mastery of the Confucian classics.
-Those who passed the highest level of the exam became elite scholar-officials known as jinshi, a highly esteemed socio-economic position.
-Chinese philosophers, writers, and poets have been, for the most part, highly respected, and played a key role in preserving and promoting the culture of the empire.
-Some classical scholars, however, were noted for their daring depictions of lives of the common people, often to the displeasure of authorities.
-The Chinese have created numerous musical instruments, such as the zheng, xiao, and erhu, that have spread throughout East and Southeast Asia, and especially areas under its influence.
-The sheng is the basis for several Western free-reed instruments.Chinese characters have had many variants and styles throughout the Chinese history, and were "simplified" in the mid-20th century on mainland China.
-Calligraphy is a major art-form in China, above that of painting and music. Because of its association with elite scholar-official bosses, it later on became commercialized, where works by famous artists became prized possessions.
-The great variation and beauty in the Chinese landscape is often the inspiration for great works of Chinese art. See Chinese painting for more details.
-Calligraphy, sushi, and bonsai are all millennia-old art that later spread to Japan and Korea.

Reaction and Rebellion: Buddhism and Jainism 2

Although Buddhism became more important because of its spread outside of India, Jainism, at least within the confines of the subcontinent, gathered equal support. Western scholars frequently list Vardhamana Mahavira (c. 540 BC- 468 BC), as the founder of Jainism. According to Jain legend, however, Mahavira was the last in line of twenty-four Tirthankaras, or those who had successfully crossed the river of suffering and attained enlightenment.

Like Siddhartha Gautama, Mahavira came from the ksatriya caste, and eventually abandoned his family and earthly possessions to become a wandering ascetic in search of spiritual enlightenment. After an extended period of meditation, Mahavira attained full enlightenment and became a kevalin (completed soul), and a jina (conqueror). Mahavira continued his teachings for a number of years accompanied by a band of naked monks. Purportedly he died at the age of seventy-two as a result of starvation.

The codification of Jain religious doctrines did not occur until nearly two hundred years after Mahavira's death, but contained many of his teachings. According to Mahavira, all living things are divided into five categories and are delineated by the number of senses they posses. The highest class, which have five senses include men, gods, and animals with higher intelligence. The second class, with four senses (touch, smell, taste, and sight), include most larger insects. The third classification, supposedly devoid of sight, contains smaller insects such as fleas and ants. Included in the second group, with only touch and taste, are worms, some shellfish, and leeches. The final class of one sensed creatures, not only includes plants, but such inanimate objects such as minerals, fire, and water. In this respect, then, everything in nature contains karmic matter, and karma is the cause of bondage. Thusly, all Jains are instructed to respect all things unconditionally, and to practice ahimsa, or nonviolence, towards all things. Salvation, or enlightenment, according to Jain principles, can only be attained by freeing one's soul from karmic matter to reach a level of purity.

Reaction and Rebellion: Buddhism and Jainism 1

During the Axial Age, enlightened thinkers, throughout the known world, were developing new explanations of existence, and man's place within the order of the universe. In India, the Upanishads redefined the Aryan religious tradition. Led by ksatriya ascetics, this new development rebelled against the ritual superiority of the brahman class proliferated during the Vedic period. This movement gradually led to an integral transformation of Hindu thought. But, while these new thinkers quietly transmuted the Aryan belief system, two other luminaries, not only challenged the ritualism of the former tradition, but openly rejected the rigidity of class distinction, forming new religions.

Similar to the seekers, who reformed Hinduistic thought, the individuals responsible for the growth of these new religions came from the ksatryia caste that sought a release from the brahman's domination of ritual. Also significant, in this quest for change, were the members of the vaishya caste. With the collapse of tribalism, India experienced great material and economic growth from which this class, which included an increasing number of merchants, craftsmen, and professional, benefited. Many of the vaishya, therefore, resented the privileges afforded the upper two castes, which invariably prepared them for religious ferment.

Most prominent of the two individuals seeking answers to the orthodox Vedism, and the injustice of the caste system was Siddhartha Gautama(c. 563 BC-483 BC) who founded the religion known as Buddhism. Although this tradition significantly diminished in the land of its birth, it remained a powerful force in the rest of the world. Central to Buddhist thought are the Four Noble Truths: that all life is suffering (dukkha); the cause of suffering is desire; escape from dukkha can be attained by ending desire; the path to the cessation of desire can be achieved through the Noble Eight-Fold Path comprised by right views, motives, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, thought and meditation.

Ancient India Religion 11

The Vedantic Age

Although we are unable to accurately date the beginning of Hinduism, we can point to the Vedantic Age as the period in Indian history where the Hindu religious tradition began to solidify. The principles of karma and samsara directly appealed to a populace caught in the stranglehold of the rigidity of the caste system. In this respect, one's deeds in the present life would directly effect their future as the soul passes form life to life.

Interestingly, the Upanishads, nor the thinkers reponsible for the new orthodoxy of the Hindu religion, ever directly challenged the Vedic beliefs, the existing gods, or the practice of sacrifice. Instead, a quiet transformation gradually occurred that formulated a new system of thought that became the cornerstone of Hinduism. Increasingly, the common people directed their faith toward lesser deities that filled their specific needs. Rising to the top of the nonexistent hierarchy of the gods, the religious practices, although still based in the Vedic scripture, decidedly shifted from Indra and Varuna to the two current sects of Hinduism which worship Vishnu and Shiva.

Ancient India Religion 10

The Vedantic Age

During this time, the Vedas were still held in high regard, but this new generation of seekers sought a more enlightened meaning to life. This period is commonly referred to as the Vedantic Age. The collection of teachings generated by the ascetics who meditated on the mysteries of human existence became known as the Upanishads, and the seekers who produced the writings were called Upanishads, which literally means "sitting near" the gurus. Over a hundred Upanishads have survived, but only a dozen, or so, are considered authentic. To lend credibility to the teachings, they were invariably compiled as appendages to the Vedas. Vedanta, then, means the "end of the Vedas." In this respect, the Vedas are considered the foundation of the faith while the Upanishads are considered the vehicle whereby the devotee may attain enlightenment as to the nature of god and man's role in the cosmos.

Scholars continue to debate over the beginning of Hinduism. Some insists that this tradition began with the Indus civilization and its proto-Shiva personified by the horned god. Others point to the development of the Aryan religion of the Vedic Age as the genesis of the Hindu tradition. Still others point to the Vedantic Age, with the development of karma (deed), and the doctrine of samsara or the transmigration of birth and rebirth, as the fundamental beginning. Unfortunately, unlike many other religions, Hinduism can not be attributed to the teachings of any single individual. This sort of ambiguity naturally lends itself to debate and speculation.

Ancient India Religion 9

The Vedatic Age

Between 800 and 400 BC, significant changes began to occur in the lives of religious peoples in all of the civilized parts of the world. Independent thinkers, discontented with the traditional explanations of the cosmic order, and specifically man's place within that cosmos, began to develop new, more simple and rational, doctrines. Scholars frequently refer to this period as the Axial Age. There is, however, no solid explanation why such dramatic religious changes would occur throughout the world during the same period.

Prominent among the rising sages were the Greek philosophers led by Socrates. In Persia, Zarathustra extracted the elements of the supernatural from religion and created a new faith, Zoroastrianism. In China, Confucius devoted himself to teaching moral persuasion and good government, which would become the mainstay of Chinese thought. The Hebrew prophets formulated a monotheistic religious tradition notably different from the polytheistic religions of Greece, China, Mesopotamia, and India. While all of this was happening in the rest of the world, kshatriya ascetics, throughout India, began to challenge the proliferation of brahmin ritual that personified the Aryan religion of the Vedic Age.

Ancient India Religion 8

The Verdic Age

The cosmic order of the Aryan universe remained fairly simple. The heavens served as the residence of the major gods and the souls of the righteous. The region between heaven and earth was called the antariksa. This region, where the birds flew and the clouds crossed the sky, was also home to the demigods. Below the earth, in the darkness of the House of Clay, dwelled the spirits of the unrighteousness and the demons that sought to disrupt rta. The concept of birth and rebirth had not yet become part of the Indian cosmology that would later be indicative of all Indian religion.

Religion during the Vedic Age revolved around the sacrifice. Within the home, the patriarch of the family daily sacrificed at the domestic hearth while the brahmans performed great rituals slaughtering numerous animals to the gods. In each case, the idea was to communicate with the gods who would descend from the heavens granting the devotees health, happiness, and success. Over time, these rituals became so complex that the brahmans, who knew the correct ritual, became indispensable.

Ancient India Religion 7

The Verdic Age

Less important than Indra, but still held in high regard among the numerous deities of the Aryan religion, was Agni, the fire god. Agni descends from the darkened clouds as lightning, shines on the world as the sun, and manifests in the flame of the sacrifice. Through the sacrificial offering, Agni served as the intermediary between the gods and man, and the correct performance of this important ritual could beneficially reward the devotee. Rituals based on the fire sacrifice could be as personal as dumping clarified butter in the family hearth, to the production of soma juice. As part of the sacrificial ritual, parts of the soma plant were pressed between stones, mixed with milk, and filtered through a sheepskin. An hallucinogen, soma consumed during sacrifices supposedly produced a sense of superhuman strength and visions of the gods. Soma would later become the moon god.

Ancient India Religion 6

The Verdic Age

Although the deities of the Rig-Veda are not organized hierarchically, each could, in its own right, be looked upon as the supreme god. Nevertheless, Indra, the god of war and weather, receives the most attention in the ancient Vedic text, and is frequently referred to as the eka deva, or "one god." According to the Rig-Veda (6.7), creation began once Indra slew Vritra, the serpent demon, who had locked up the waters necessary for human existence in mountain caves. With the waters now released, he then placed the sun in the sky thus establishing the cosmic order (rta) under the god Varuna.

Varuna, then, sits in the palace of heaven and oversees the world below. As the guardian of the moral order, both earthly and cosmic, Varuna punishes the sinner with disease, or for all time by condemning them to the House of Clay following death. Aryans who practiced right deeds, or performed the proper ritual would forever celebrate happiness after death. Varuna is aided in his efforts by many spies who fly through the cosmos at his command.

Ancient India Religion 5

The Verdic Age

What little we know of the Vedic Age comes from the Rig-Veda. By the time the oral tradition of the Aryan religion was comitted to Sanskrit, however, some of the gods mentioned had already begun to lose their importance. Nevertheless, The Rig-Veda represented a blend of beliefs held by several Aryan tribes.

Each of the gods, of the Vedic Period, had a primary function, or Vrata. Usually these functions were closely connected to the forces of nature such as light, fire, and heaven which in turn followed the cosmic order (rta) of the universe. The demons of darkness and chaos, headquartered under the earth, arrayed their power against the righteousness of the gods. In this dualistic approach, the demons sought to disrupt the system of nature, therefore practicing anrta. During a later period, rta gave way to the concept of dharma, which could be translated as "virtue."

Ancient India Religion 4

The Vedas

The final Veda, the Atharva-Veda, is attributed to a sage, or rishi, named Atharvan, and consists of a number of hymns and magical incantations. Some scholars believe that this scripture may have originated with the original pre-Aryan culture of indigenous peoples, and because it deviated form the other Vedas, it was not at first readily accepted. Eventually it too was adopted as a ritual handbook by the Brahmans, the higest class of priests.

Although the Rig-Veda is still considered the most important of these ancient texts, it was still never very popular. Much of this comes from the fact of its composition by and for a religious aristocracy. In contrast, the Atharva-Veda, compiled perhaps as late as 500 BC, frequently refers to many lesser functional gods considered useful in the daily lives and simple rituals of the ordinary Aryan that did not need the mediation of priests.

Ancient India Religion 3

The Vedas

The most ancient sacred literature of Hinduism is called the Vedas. This collection of hymns, poems, and ceremonial formulas represent the beliefs of several Aryan tribes. Initially the Vedas were considered so sacred that they were only transmitted orally from one generation of brĂ¢hmans to the next. The passages of the Vedas were eventually written in Sanskrit, we believe, near the end of the third century BC, and primarily consist of four collections called the Rig-Veda, the Sama-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, and the Atharva-Veda. Collectively, these are referred to as the Samhitas.

The first three Samhitas were used in the Vedic period by the priestly class as ritual handbooks. Containing 1,028 poetic hymns, the Rig-Veda was used by the hotri who called on the gods by reciting the hymns aloud. The hymns vary in style and length, and praise a pantheon of gods. Although Indra, the god of war and weather, is the most frequently mentioned, there appears to be no hierarchy. Agni, the god of fire, is the second most prominently mentioned deity. The Sama-Veda consisted of various portions taken from the Rig-Veda and were utilized by the udgatri chanters. The Yajur-Vedas was used by the adhvaryu priests. This work contains specific sacrificial formulas which were recited during that form of ceremony.

Ancient India Religion 2

The Pre-Vedic Age

Excavations of Indus cities have not revealed any buildings that can positively be identified as temples. No large statues or monumental sculptures, similar to those found in Egypt, have been discovered. This lack of temples and statuary has resulted in the belief that the focus of religious life was primarily centered in the home. Anthropologists are relatively certain that the peoples of the Indus civilization emphasized ritual purity. Much of this is evidenced by the presence of drainable baths in most of the residences, as well as a great bath or pool surrounded by a pillared hall with small cell-like rooms. Scholars have surmised that washing and bathing were integral to the preservation of purity and that cleanliness was considered necessary to ward off evil spirits.

Similar to the culture of Egypt, it appears that the Indus religion recognized some type of life after death. Unlike later Indians, who practiced cremation, this civilization carefully buried their dead with their heads facing north and the feet pointing south. Included in the graves were pottery jars containing food and weapons for use in the afterlife

Ancient India Religion 1

The Pre-Vedic Age

Very little is known about the religion of the Indus civilization because no written records exit. There is, however, an assumption that parts of the Harappan tradition were held in common by ancient religions of the Middle East as well as the later Hinduism. Prominent among the evidence discovered are the many seals discovered at the sites along the Indus River, as well as in Mesopotamia. Some of these seals clearly indicate the sacredness of the bull which later became a common tradition in Hinduism. Other features are the horned god. These seals have two faces in profile, and one facing forward. The figure is surrounded by a tiger, an elephant, a rhinoceros, and a buffalo. His legs are bent with his feet pressed together in a yoga position which has led some to believe that this god is most likely a proto-Shiva. Shiva is the three-faced Hindu god of death, destruction, and fertility.

Some of these sites have also yielded terra-cotta figurines. Similar, in many respects, to evidence discovered in Egypt and Iran, some of these figurines are of broad-hipped pregnant-looking females. Representative of the Great Mother or nature, these types of deities, as well as the bull, are common among early agricultural societies of Eurasia.

The Age of the Guptas and After 4

The Gupta Dynasty (320-550)

Harsha, who was a descendant of the Guptas, quickly moved to reestablish an Indian empire. From 606-647, he ruled over an empire in northern India. Harsha was perhaps one of the greatest conquerors of Indian history, and unlike all of his conquering predecessors, he was a brilliant administrator. He was also a great patron of culture. His capital city, Kanauj, extended for four or five miles along the Ganges River and was filled with magnificent buildings. Only one fourth of the taxes he collected went to administration of the government. The remainder went to charity, rewards, and especially to culture: art, literature, music, and religion.

Because of extensive trade, the culture of India became the dominant culture around the Bay of Bengal, profoundly and deeply influencing the cultures of Burma, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. In many ways, the period during and following the Gupta dynasty was the period of "Greater India," a period of cultural activity in India and surrounding countries building off of the base of Indian culture. This medieval flowering of Indian culture would radically change course in the Indian Middle Ages. From the north came Muslim conquerors out of Afghanistan, and the age of Muslim rule began in 1100.

The Age of the Guptas and After 3

The Gupta Dynasty (320-550)

The greatest writer of the time was Kalidasa. Poetry in the Gupta age tended towards a few genres: religious and meditative poetry, lyric poetry, narrative histories (the most popular of the secular literatures), and drama. Kalidasa excelled at lyric poetry, but he is best known for his dramas. We have three of his plays; all of them are suffused with epic heroism, with comedy, and with erotics. The plays all involve misunderstanding and conflict, but they all end with unity, order, and resolution.

The Guptas tended to allow kings to remain as vassal kings; unlike the Mauryas, they did not consolidate every kingdom into a single administrative unit. This would be the model for later Mughal rule and British rule built off of the Mughal paradigm.

The Guptas fell prey, however, to a wave of migrations by the Huns, a people who originally lived north of China. The Hun migrations would push all the way to the doors of Rome. Beginning in the 400's, the Huns began to put pressure on the Guptas. In 480 they conquered the Guptas and took over northern India. Western India was overrun by 500, and the last of the Gupta kings, presiding over a vastly dimished kingdom, perished in 550. A strange thing happened to the Huns in India as well as in Europe. Over the decades they gradually assimilated into the indigenous population and their state weakened.

The Age of the Guptas and After 2

The Guptas Dynasty (320-550)

Under Chandragupta I (320-335), empire was revived in the north. Like Chandragupta Maurya, he first conquered Magadha, set up his capital where the Mauryan capital had stood (Patna), and from this base consolidated a kingdom over the eastern portion of northern India. In addition, Chandragupta revived many of Asoka's principles of government. It was his son, however, Samudragupta (335-376), and later his grandson, Chandragupta II (376-415), who extended the kingdom into an empire over the whole of the north and the western Deccan. Chandragupta II was the greatest of the Gupta kings; called Vikramaditya ("The Sun of Power"), he presided over the greatest cultural age in India.

This period is regarded as the golden age of Indian culture. The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent and creative architecture, sculpture, and painting. The wall-paintings of Ajanta Cave in the central Deccan are considered among the greatest and most powerful works of Indian art. The paintings in the cave represent the various lives of the Buddha, but also are the best source we have of the daily life in India at the time. There are forty-eight caves making up Ajanta, most of which were carved out of the rock between 460 and 480, and they are filled with Buddhist sculptures. The rock temple at Elephanta (near Bombay) contains a powerful, eighteen foot statue of the three-headed Shiva, one of the principle Hindu gods. Each head represents one of Shiva's roles: that of creating, that of preserving, and that of destroying. The period also saw dynamic building of Hindu temples. All of these temples contain a hall and a tower.

The Age of the Guptas and After 1

Before the Guptas

When the last of the Mauryan kings was assassinated in 184 BC, India once again became a collection of unfederated kingdoms. During this period, the most powerful kingdoms were not in the north, but in the Deccan to the south, particularly in the west. The north, however, remained culturally the most active, where Buddhism was spreading and where Hinduism was being gradually remade by the Upanishadic movements, which are discussed in more detail in the section on religious history. The dream, however, of a universal empire had not disappeared. It would be realized by a northern kingdom and would usher in one of the most creative periods in Indian history.

Asoka 272-232 BC 4

His greatest achievement, however, was cultural. For he was dedicated to his new religion and fervently patronized its expansion. Under Asoka, Buddhist monks were sent in every compass direction: to Burma, Tibet, Nepal, Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Israel. The eastern evangelical missions were extremely successful; Buddhism spread very quickly from Nepal and Burma into Tibet and China where it was fervidly embraced. The western missions, however, were less successful. However, Buddhism left traces in Middle Eastern and even European culture. For instance, one of the Catholic saints of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was Barlam, whose life is based on that of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. Not only is this Catholic saint the Buddha, but one of the stories of Barlam is the conversion of a cruel king, Iosaphat; this king, in many ways, corresponds to Asoka, who is presented as intolerant and cruel before his conversion in the Indian epic, Asokavadana. So there is tantalizing evidence that Buddhism has had some influence on Christianity, though we are not quite sure to what extent.

Needless to say, the spread of Buddhism under Asoka greatly influenced the religious history of Asia. Asoka's conversion also produced the first written literature in India; it was not Vedic literature but the Buddhist scriptures that were first committed to writing. Finally, Asoka's zeal in spreading Buddhism beyond the borders of India ensured its survival, for when the Muslims defeated the Hindus and took control of India, Buddhism is destroyed as an organized religion in India.

Asoka was the last of the great kings of the Mauryan dynasty. His successors were less energetic and capable; in 184 BC, the last of the Mauryan kings was assassinated, and the first empire of India came to an end.

Asoka 272-232 BC 3

The Buddhist way of life was a way out of Asoka's crisis. He converted to Buddhism and strove to achieve the Buddhist "middle way" between extremes. He became a vegetarian, renounced all warfare, and attempted to build a state based on Buddhist principles. First and foremost, the state would strive for nonviolence, or ahimsa; in place of violence, the state would rule by "law" or "right" (dharma).

Asoka, of course, could not put all of these reforms into practice. He found that some level of violence and retribution was necessary and declared as much. Although he made the laws less harsh, they still involved physical punishment and, in some cases, execution. Still, Asoka began a process of transformation in Indian society. He represented first and foremost the possibility of exemplifying religious idealism in a lived life rather than in a merely formal position. Although he took the vows of Buddhism and even joined the order, he chose to remain active in the real world and exemplify his religion in his actions as king.

He also demanded religious toleration; under Asoka, all competing religious systems were allowed to co-exist peacefully. The stunning ability of Indian culture to tolerate competing religions throughout its history begins with Asoka. Finally, although he could never really fully translate Buddhist ideals into government, he began a process of cultural transformation that would completely remake India. By the start of the Gupta dynasty, the bulk of Indian society had become vegetarian and no laws carried the death penalty.

Asoka 272-232 BC 2

The conquest of Kalinga, which extended Mauryan rule to its farthest boundaries, seems to have been a tremendous shock to Asoka. War and conquest are always bloody and cruel, and the experience of massive homicide is often an experience that shakes people to their very souls. Asoka was so troubled by the conquest that he underwent a religious conversion. In the latter years of the Brahmanic period, several religious movements arose in reaction to the power and abuse of power by the Brahmans.

The most significant of these religious reactions was Buddhism, which is discussed in more detail in the chapters on the religious history of ancient India. Buddhism was really much less of a religion and more of a philosophy--or, better yet, a philosophical therapy. Its founder, Siddhartha Guatama, the "Buddha," or "Awakened One," was the son of a noble who, when he first encountered death and sickness, resolved to find a way to end human suffering.

After years of struggle and meditation, he "awakened" to the truth of things: that all human suffering is caused by human desire and that human desire can be quenched when one understands the impermanence of all things, including the self. Unlike Brahmanism, Buddhism eschews elaborate rituals and magic; unlike the Rig Veda, Buddhism advocates a non-striving, non-coercive and meditative life.

Asoka 272-232 BC 1

Of the great conquering kings of the Maurya Empire, the only one we know much about is Asoka, for it is in the reign of Asoka that the first samples of Indian writing since the fall of Harappa appear. Asoka kept careful records of his edicts, so we have an excellent source for the history of his reign.

He seems to have been forged from the same mold as his illustrious fathers. Once he rose to the throne, he began an aggressive campaign to conquer the remainder of the subcontinent. The last major regions yet to be conquered were the Dravidian regions in the far south and the Kalinga in North India.

Bindusara 297-272 BC

Chandragupta's son Bindusara extended the conquests even further by setting his sights south to the Deccan. By the end of Bindusara's reign, the Mauryan Empire included at least a third of the peninsula and stretched all the way from Bangladesh to the Hindu Kush mountains.

The Maruryans, 321-185 BC

He was an adventurer rather than a king. Like Alexander, he began with almost no army whatsoever; with this army he seized the region of Magadha just south of the lower Ganges and then steadily conquered the whole of the Ganges basin. Chandragupta Maurya had started his empire. When Alexander the Great departed from Gandhara, a power vacuum was left in western India which Maurya took advantage of. Marching westward, he quickly conquered the whole of the Indus Valley, and eventually gained Gandhara and Arachosia (the mountainous region west of the Indus) after defeating the Greek rulers of Persia and Bactria, the Seleucids.

Hand in hand with this ambitious conqueror was a shrewd and calculating Brahman named Kautilya. While Chadragupta Maurya built his empire by the force of his arm, Kautilya designed the government. Together they created the first unified state in Indian history. The government Kautilya and Chandragupta created strictly regulated economic activities. The laws were harsh and the death penalty was applied to a myriad of offenses.

The Conquest of Alexander

In 331 BC, Alexander the Great of Macedon began one of the greatest conquests in human history. After conquering Egypt and defeating the Persian Empire Alexander had pushed his army to the very limits of the world as the Greeks knew it. But he wanted more; he saw that the world extended further. By conquering the ancient lands of the Mesopotamians, he came into contact with cultures to the east, such as Pakistan and India. After almost a millenium and a half, from the period of Harappa (2500-1750 BC), to the end of the Brahmanic period, the peoples of India entered into no commerce or trade with the Mesopotamians. But starting around 700 BC, the Indians began to trade again with the Mesopotamian cities, and by the time of Alexander, that trade was dyanmic. Partly out of curiosity, and partly out of a desire to conquer the enitre world within the boundaries of the river Ocean (the Greeks believed that a great river, called Ocean, encircled all the land of the world), Alexander and his army pushed east, through northern Iran and all the way to Pakistan and India. He had conquered Bactria at the foot of the western Himalayas, gained a huge Bactrian army, and married a Bactrian princess, Roxane. But when he tried to push on past Pakistan, his army grew tired, and he abandoned the eastward conquest in 327 BC.

Alexander only made it as far as the region of Gandhara, the plain which lies directly west of the Indus River. Alexander himself seems to have had literally no effect on Indian history, for he left as soon as he reached the Indus. Two important results, however, arose because of Alexander's conquests: first, from this point onwards Greek and Indian culture would intermix. But most importantly, the conquest of Alexander may have set the stage for the first great conqueror of Indian history, Chandragupta Maurya (reigned 321-297 BC), who, shortly after Alexander left, united all the kingdoms of northern India into a single empire.

The Aryans 4

What did the Aryans do with their time? They seem to have had a well-developed musical culture, and song and dance dominated their society. They were not greatly invested in the visual arts, but their interest in lyric poetry was unmatched. They loved gambling. They did not, however, have much interest in writing even though they could have inherited a civilization and a writing system when they originally settled India. We do not know exactly when they became interested in writing, but it may have been at the end of the Brahmanic period somewhere between 650 and 500 BC. Still, there are no Aryan writings until the Mauryan period—from Harappa (2500-1750 BC) to Maurya (300 BC) is quite a long time. The script that the Mauryans used is called "Brahmi" script and was used to write not only the religious and literary language of the time, Sanskrit, but also the vernacular languages.

The Vedic period, then, is a period of cultural mixing, not of conquest. Although the Aryans were a conquering people when they first spread into India, the culture of the Aryans would gradually mix with indigenous cultures, and the war-religion of the Aryans, still preserved in parts of the Rig Veda, slowly became more ritualized and more meditative. By 200 BC, this process of mixing and transforming was more or less complete and the culture we call "Indian" was fully formed.

The Aryans 3

The earliest history of the Aryans in India is called the Rigvedic Period (1700-1000 BC) after the religious praise poems that are the oldest pieces of literature in India. These poems, the Rig Veda, are believed to represent the most primitive layer of Indo-European religion and have many characteristics in common with Persian religion since the two peoples are closely related in time. In this early period, their population was restricted to the Punjab in the northern reaches of the Indus River and the Yamuna River near the Ganges. They maintained the Aryan tribal structure, with a raja ruling over the tribal group in tandem with a council. Each jana seems to have had a chief priest; the religion was focused almost entirely on a series of sacrifices to the gods. The Rigvedic peoples originally had only two social classes: nobles and commoners. Eventually, they added a third: Dasas , or "darks." These were, we presume, the darker-skinned people they had conquered. By the end of the Rigvedic period, social class had settled into four rigid castes: the caturvarnas, or "four colors." At the top of the caturvarnas were the priests, or Brahmans. Below the priests were the warriors or nobles (Kshatriya), the craftspeople and merchants (Vaishya), and the servants (Shudra), who made up the bulk of society. These economic classes were legitimated by an elaborate religious system and would be eventually subdivided into a huge number of economic sub-classes which we call "castes." Social class by the end of the Rigvedic period became completely inflexible; there was no such thing as social mobility.

In the early centuries of Later Vedic Period or Brahmanic Period (1000-500 BC), the Aryans migrated across the Doab, which is a large plain which separates the Yamuna River from the Ganges. It was a difficult project, for the Doab was thickly forested; the Aryans slowly burned and settled the Doab until they reached the Ganges. While the Rig Veda represents the most primitive religion of the Aryans during the Rigvedic Period, the religion of the Later Vedic period is dominated by the Brahmanas, or priestly book, which was composed sometime between 1000 and 850 BC. Later Vedic society is dominated by the Brahmans and every aspect of Aryan life comes under the control of priestly rituals and spells. In history as the Indians understand it, the Later Vedic Period is the Epic Age; the great literary, heroic epics of Indian culture, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, though they were composed between 500 and 200 BC, were probably originally formulated and told in the Later Vedic Period. Both of these epics deal with heroes from this period and demonstrate how Aryan cultural values, as we can understand them from the Rig Veda , are being transformed by mixing with Indus cultures.

The Aryans 2

And there is no question that they were bad news for the southern Asians. They swept over Persia with lightening speed, and spread across the northern river plains of India. Their nature as a warlike, conquering people are still preserved in Vedic religion, the foundation of Hinduism. In the Rig Veda, the collection of praises to the gods, the god Indra towers over the poetry as a conquering god, one that smashes cities and slays enemies. The invading Aryans were originally nomadic peoples, not agricultural. They penetrated India from the north-west, settling first in the Indus valley. Unlike the Harappans, however, they eventually concentrated their populations along the Ganges floodplain. The Ganges, unlike the Indus, is far milder and more predictable in its flooding. It must have been a paradise to a people from the dry steppes of central Asia and Iran, a paradise full of water and forest. When they arrived, the vast northern plains were almost certainly densely forested. Where now bare fields stretch to the horizon, when the Aryans arrived lush forests stretched to those very same horizons. Clearing the forests over the centuries was an epic project and one that is still preserved in Indian literature.

The Aryans, or Vedic civilization were a new start in Indian culture. Harappa was more or less a dead end (at least as far as we know); the Aryans adopted almost nothing of Harappan culture. They built no cities, no states, no granaries, and used no writing. Instead they were a warlike people that organized themselves in individual tribal, kinship units, the jana. The jana was ruled over by a war-chief. These tribes spread quickly over northern India and the Deccan. In a process that we do not understand, the basic social unit of Aryan culture, the jana, slowly developed from an organization based on kinship to one based on geography. The jana became a janapada, or nation and the jana-rajya , or tribal kingdom, became the jana-rajyapada, or national kingdom. So powerfully ingrained into Indian culture is the jana-pada , that Indians still define themselves mainly by their territorial origins. All the major territories of modern India, with their separate cultures and separate languages, can be dated back to the early jana-padas of Vedic India.

The Aryans 1

They called themselves the "noble ones" or the "superior ones." Their names are lost; their tribal names are lost. But when they found themselves conquerors, they gave themselves the name "superior" or "noble."

They were a tribal and nomadic peoples living in the far reaches of Euro-Asia in hostile steppe lands barely scratching out a living. They were unquestionably a tough people, and they were fierce and war-like. Their religion reflects it dominated as it is by a storm-god or sky-god that enjoins warfare and conquest. This god was called something like "Dyaus," a word related to "Zeus," "deus" (the Latin word for "god"), "deva" (the Sanskrit word for "god"), and, of course, the English word "divine." Their culture was oriented around warfare, and they were very good at it. They were superior on horseback and rushed into battle in chariots. They were a tribal people ruled over by a war-chief, or raja (the Latin word "rex" (king) comes from the same root word, along with the English "regal"). Somewhere in the early centuries of the second millenium BC, they began to migrate southwards in waves of steady conquest across the face of Persia and the lands of India.

There, they would take on the name "superior" or "noble" to distinguish themselves from the people they conquered. Their name is derived from the Indo-European root word, "ar," meaning "noble." In Sanskrit, they were the "Aryas" ("Aryans"); but that root, "ar," would also serve as the foundation of the name of the conquered Persian territories, "Iran." This concept of nobility, in fact, seems to lie at the heart of Indo-European consciousness, for it appears in another country's name, "Ireland," or "Eire." You can bet, however, that when a people go around calling themselves superior that it spells bad news for other people.

Harappa and the Indus River 5

We know that the Harappans were eventually supplanted by waves of migrations of Indo-Europeans. These new peoples, however, did not seem to adopt the religious practices of the Harappans, so it is not possible to reconstruct Harappan religion through the religion of the Vedic peoples, that is, the Indo-Europeans who constructed the rudimentary Indian religion represented by the Vedas.

Right at the heart of the mystery, like a person speaking behind sound-proof glass, are the numerous writings on the artifacts that have been unearthed. Harappan writing was a pictographic script, or at least seems to be; as of yet, however, no one has figured out how to decipher it or even what language it might be rendering. The logical candidate is that the Harappans spoke a Dravidian language, but that conclusion, which may not be true, has not helped anybody decipher the script. Like the rest of Harappan civilization, the writing was lost to human memory after the disappearance of the Harappans.

And finally they disappeared. And they disappeared without a trace. Some believe that they were overrun by the war-like Aryans, the Indo-Europeans who, like a storm, rushed in from Euro-Asia and overran Persia and northern India. Some believe that the periodic and frequently destructive flooding of the Indus finally took its toll on the economic health of the civilization. It is possible that the periodic changes of course that the Indus undergoes also contributed to its decline. All we know is that somewhere between 1800 and 1700 BC, the Harappan cities and towns were abandoned and finally reclaimed by the rich soil they had sprung from.

End of Harappa and the Indus River

Harappa and the Indus River 4

Life in the Harappan cities was apparently quite good. Although living quarters were cramped, which is typical of ancient cities, the residents nevertheless had drains, sewers, and even latrines. There is no question that they had an active trade with cultures to the west. Several Harappan seals have been found in excavations of Sumerian cities, as well as pictures of animals that in no way could have existed in Mesopotamia, such as tigers. There is not, however, a wealth of Mesopotamian artifacts in Harappan cities.

We know nothing of the religion of the Harappans. Unlike in Mesopotamia or Egypt, we have discovered no building that so much as hints that it might be a temple or involve any kind of public worship. The bulk of public buildings in the city seemed to be solely oriented towards the economy and making life comfortable for the Harappans. We do, however, have a number of tantalizing figures on various seals and statues. What we gather from these figures (and we can not gather much), is that the Harappans probably exercised some sort of goddess worship. There is, however, some sort of male god (maybe) that has the head of a man with the horns of a bull. In addition, we believe from various artifacts that the Harappans also may have worshipped natural objects or animistic forces, but the circumstances of this worship can only be guessed at.

Harappa and the Indus River 3

Like the civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece, Harappa grew on the floodplains of a rich and life-giving river, the Indus. The original cities and many of the towns seemed to have been built right upon the shores of the river. The Indus, however, is destructive and unpredictable in its floods, and the cities were frequently levelled by the forces of nature. Mohenjo-Daro in the south, where the flooding can be fairly brutal, was rebuilt six times that we know about; Harappa in the north was rebuilt five times.

The Harappans were an agricultural people whose economy was almost entirely dominated by horticulture. Massive granaries were built at each city, and there most certainly was an elaborate bureaucracy to distribute this wealth of food. The Indus River valley is relatively dry now, but apparently it was quite wet when the Harappans thrived there. We know this because the bricks that they built their cities with were fired bricks; since sun-dried bricks are cheaper and easier to make, we can only assume that over-abundant humidity and precipitation prevented them from taking the cheaper way out. In addition, many of the Harappan seals have pictures of animals that imply a wet and marshy environment, such as rhinoceroses, elephants, and tigers. The Harappans also had a wide variety of domesticated animals: camels, cats, dogs, goats, sheep, and buffalo.

Their cities were carefully planned and laid out; they are, in fact, the first people to plan the building of their cities. Whenever they rebuilt their cities, they laid them out precisely in the same way the destroyed city had been built. The pathways within the city are laid out in a perpendicular criss-cross fashion; most of the city consisted of residences.

Harappa and the Indus River 2

For the overwhelming majority of human history, this early culture was truly a lost civilization. The mounds which stood where great cities once thrived excited interest in observers, but no one in their wildest dreams could have imagined that beneath those large mounds lay cities that had been lost to human memory.

In the 1920's, excavations began on one of these mounds in Harappa in Pakistan. While the archaeologists expected to find something, they did not imagine that a city lay beneath the earth. Archaeologists would later discover another large city to the recovery of at least eighty villages and towns related to this newly discovered civilization. They named it Harappan after the first city they discovered, but it is more commonly called the Indus River civilization. While we have stones and tools and fragments and bones, we really have no one's voice or experience from the bustling days of the great Harappan cities. We don't know who the people were who built and lived there. We don't know, either, when they first built their cities; some scholars argue that Harappan civilization arises around 2250 BC, while others argue that it can be dated back to 2500 BC or earlier.

Harappa and the Indus River 1

Although agriculture seems to have come late to India, arriving sometime around 5000 BC, India was one of the first regions to give birth to civilization. Only a few centuries after the first Mesopotamian cities sprang up, a people living along the northern reaches of the Indus River discovered urbanization, metalwork, and writing. It is a mysterious civilization and one with no discernible continuity, for it thrived for just several centuries and then disappeared. The Indo-European immigrants who settled the region did not adopt most of the aspects of this civilization, and what precisely they did adopt is difficult to ascertain. So while Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Yellow River civilizations lasted for millenia and left their mark on all subsequent cultures, the Indus River civilization seems to have been a false start.

More to India Civilization 4

Despite this variety of languages, Indian culture is remarkably fluid and the contacts between peoples frequent and productive. Very few cultures are so tied into the overall geography of their region; Hinduism requires frequent pilgrimages as part of one's spiritual perfection, so the intercourse between different peoples has been constant throughout Indian history.

In the north, the great mountain barrier. To the south, the great river plains of the Indus and the Ganges, and the large, high plateau of the Deccan. This is the stage on which a complex history took place, and the first act began along the Indus River.

Continuation of More to India Civilization 3

Each of these peoples speak a bewildering variety of languages; each region of India is dominated by a single language. The major languages, most of which are Indo-European, are:

-Urdu (which is very closely related to Hindi but uses Arabic script)
-Telugu (Dravidian)
-Tamil (Dravidian)
-Kannada (Dravidian)
-Malayalam (Dravidian)

More to India Civilization 3

India is one of the most culturally, linguistically, and ethnically diverse regions one can imagine. Four major peoples, distinguished by the languages they speak, make up the population of the region. The majority of the population are Indo-European speaking a variety of languages related to European languages such as Greek, German, or English. Precisely when these peoples arrived is subject to much debate, but they seem to have arrived somewhere between 2000 BC and 1600 BC, and they brought with them their own religion and social system. The bulk of Indian religion and almost all of its literature is Indo-European. Second to the Indo-Europeans, but more ancient in India than the later immigrants, are a people who speak languages from the Dravidian family of languages. While we cannot be certain, the Dravidians were probably the authors of the great Indus River civilizations contemporary with the Mesopotamian civilizations to the west.

In addition, the peoples in the northern mountains speak languages related to Chinese, Tibetan, or Mongolian. Finally, the smallest group, but most likely the oldest inhabitants of India, speak languages from the Australoid family, which are the languages spoken by indigenous peoples scattered throughout southeast Asia and Australia. Australoids are still present throughout the mountainous forests of the Deccan, but their traditional way of life, which was still vital only forty years ago, is beginning to die out.

More to India Civilization 2

The most striking element of Indian geography is the natural barrier formed by the mountain ranges in the north of India. For India is a continental plate that is crashing into the Asian continental plate. As it does, both continental plates push up the earth where they meet into a forbidding range of mountains. The central mountain range, passing across in the shape of a sword near the northern edge of the Indian subcontinent, is the Great Himalayas. These northern mountains, which are less of a barrier in the west, have naturally isolated India from its neighbors.

All along the southern edge of this great mountain wall are rich soils that are generously rained on; even though this region lies in the temperate zone, it is lush and subtropical. To the south are the extensive flood plains of the Indus River in the west and the Ganges in the east. With rich soil renewed every year by river flooding and with generous summer rains, these plains in the north are among the richest agricultural areas in the world. It was here that Indian civilization first arose, in the fertile flood plains adjoining the Indus River. This vast stretch of flood plain has been the home of the great Indian empires as well, the Mauryans and the Guptas.

The southern portion of India is a large peninsula with a forbidding mountain range all along the western coast and a large flat plateau called the Deccan in the center of the sub-continent. The eastern coast is flat land and affords many opportunities for harbors; from this area Indian culture had the widest contacts with foreign peoples. The western portion, however, being walled from the sea and hard to reach by land, subsequently became the seat of the powerful empires of the south, such as the Muslim kingdoms.

More to India Civilization 1

Indian culture is an ancient and dynamic entity, spanning back to the very beginnings of human civilization. Beginning with a mysterious culture along the Indus River and in farming communities in the southern lands of India, the history of the sub-continent is one puncuated by constant integration with migrating peoples and with the diverse cultures that surround India. Placed in the center of Asia, Indian history is a crossroads of cultures from China to Europe, and the most significant Asian connection with the cultures of Africa. Indian history, then, is more than just a set of unique developments in a definable process; it is, in many ways, a microcosm of human history itself, a diversity of cultures all impinging on a great people and being reforged into new, syncretic forms.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia
Hinduism in Southeast Asia influenced the former Champa civilization in southern parts of Central Vietnam, Funan in Cambodia, the Khmer Empire in Indochina, the Srivijayan kingdom on Sumatra, the Singhasari kingdom and the Majapahit Empire based in Java, Bali, and the Philippine archipelago. The civilization of India influenced the languages, scripts, calendars, and artistic aspects of these peoples and nations.Prominent Hindus (e.g., Swami Sadananda Maharaj) from India have visited South East Asia for the purpose of exploring the Hinduism of these places.

China Civilization

China has one of the world's oldest people and continuous civilizations, consisting of states and cultures dating back more than six millennia. It has the world's longest continuously used written language system, and is the source of many major inventions, such as what the British scholar and biochemist Joseph Needham called the "four great inventions of Ancient China": paper, the compass, gunpowder, and printing. Historically, China's cultural sphere has extended across East Asia as a whole, with Chinese religion, customs, and writing systems being adopted to varying degrees by neighbors such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam. The first evidence of human presence in the region was found at the Zhoukoudian cave and is one of the first known specimens of Homo erectus, now commonly known as the Peking Man, estimated to have lived approximately from 300,000 to 550,000 years ago. Noticeably, it is also known that the Peking Man was able to control and use fire.

India Civilization

The known history of India begins with the Indus Valley Civilization, which spread and flourished in the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent, from c. 3300 to 1300 BCE. Its Mature Harappan period lasted from 2600-1900 BCE. This Bronze Age civilization collapsed at the beginning of the second millennium BCE and was followed by the Iron Age Vedic period, which extended over much of the Indo-Gangetic plains and which witnessed the rise of major kingdoms known as the Mahajanapadas. In one of these kingdoms Magadha, Mahavira and Gautama Buddha were born in the 6th century BCE, who propagated their Shramanic philosophies among the masses.Later, successive empires and kingdoms ruled the region and enriched its culture - from the Achaemenid Persian empire around 543 BCE, to Alexander the Great in 326 BCE. The Indo-Greek Kingdom, founded by Demetrius of Bactria, included Gandhara and Punjab from 184 BCE; it reached its greatest extent under Menander, establishing the Greco-Buddhist period with advances in trade and culture.The subcontinent was united under the Maurya Empire during the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. It subsequently became fragmented, with various parts ruled by numerous Middle kingdoms for the next ten centuries. Its northern regions were united once again in the 4th century CE, and remained so for two centuries thereafter, under the Gupta Empire. This period, of Hindu religious and intellectual resurgence, is known among its admirers as the "Golden Age of India." During the same time, and for several centuries afterwards, Southern India, under the rule of the Chalukyas, Cholas, Pallavas and Pandyas, experienced its own golden age, during which Indian civilization, administration, culture, and religion (Hinduism and Buddhism) spread to much of south-east Asia.Islam arrived on the subcontinent in Kerala. The exact date is uncertain, but it is clear that Kerala had maritime business links with the Roman Empire and the Middle East from before the birth of Jesus. Muslim rule in the subcontinent began in 712 CE when the Arab general Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh and Multan in southern Punjab, setting the stage for several successive invasions between the 10th and 15th centuries CE from Central Asia, leading to the formation of Muslim empires in the Indian subcontinent, including the Ghaznavid, the Ghorid, the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire. Mughal rule came to cover most of the northern parts of the subcontinent. Mughal rulers introduced middle-eastern art and architecture to India. In addition to the Mughals, several independent Hindu kingdoms, such as the Maratha Empire, the Vijayanagara Empire and various Rajput kingdoms, flourished contemporaneously, in Western and Southern India respectively. The Mughal Empire suffered a gradual decline in the early eighteenth century, which provided opportunities for the Afghans, Balochis and Sikhs to exercise control over large areas in the northwest of the subcontinent until the British East India Company gained ascendancy over South Asia.Beginning in the mid-18th century and over the next century, India was gradually annexed by the British East India Company. Dissatisfaction with Company rule led to the First War of Indian Independence, after which India was directly administered by the British Crown and witnessed a period of both rapid development of infrastructure and economic decline.During the first half of the 20th century, a nationwide struggle for independence was launched by the Indian National Congress, and later joined by the Muslim League. The subcontinent gained independence from Great Britain in 1947, after being partitioned into the dominions of India and Pakistan.