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Chapter 3: Classic Civilization: India

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  1. Introduction – difference vs. China
    1. China focus on politics/related philosophies vs. India focus on religion/social structure
    2. Less cohesive political structure
    3. Both were agricultural societies, localist flavor, male ownership, patriarchal, trade
  2. The Framework for Indian History: Geography and a Formative Period
    1. Closer to other civilizations
      1. Influenced by Middle East/Mediterranean
      2. Persian Empires spilled over/Alexander also
      3. Forced to react and adapt
    2. Topography
      1. Passes through Himalayas linked India
      2. Somewhat set apart
      3. Political unity difficult – greater diversity than middle kingdom
    3. River civilizations – Indus and Ganges
    4. Mountainous north – herding society
    5. Separate regions contributed to:
      1. economic diversity
      2. racial differences
      3. language differences
    6. Unstable, monsoon climate – but helped with agriculture
      1. Harvest two crops in a year, help support large population
    7. Formative period – Vedic and Epic ages – Aryan migrants – hunting and herding peoples
      1. Knowledge passed down through epics written in Sanskrit – Vedas
        1. Mahabharata
        2. Ramayana
        3. Upanishads
      2. Aryans settled, made tight-knit villages
        1. Families patriarchal, connected across generation
        2. Aryans created social classes
          1. Warrior/governing – Kshatriyas
          2. Priests – Brahmins
          3. Traders/farmers – Vaisyas
          4. Common laborers – Sudras
          5. Untouchables – refuse, transporting dead bodies, other lovely jobs
        3. Social groups became hereditary
          1. Can’t marry between castes – punishable by death
          2. Broken into smaller subgroups
        4. Aryans brought polytheistic religion – similar to Greek myth, Scandinavians
          1. One of few polytheistic religions to survive
            1. Hymns/sacrifice
        5. Upanishads – epic poems
          1. Sacred animals – monkeys/cattle
          2. Rituals and sacrifice
          3. Brahmin class enforced rituals
          4. Unifying divine force, seek union with this force
  3. Patterns in Classical India – end of 600 BCE – formative phase
    1. 16 major states existed – some monarchies, some republics – dominated by warriors/priests
    2. Eras often created as reaction to invaders
    3. Mauryan Dynasty – Chandragupta Mauryan 322BCE – unified subcontinent
      1. maintained large armies
      2. developed bureaucracy
      3. highly autocratic – rely on ruler’s power
      4. style of govt
        1. autocratic – based on ruler’s personal/military power
      5. Ashoka – grandson – lavish lifestyle
        1. influenced by nature/spiritualism
        2. but…bloodthirsty methods of expansion
        3. converted to Buddhism – think Constantine
          1. spread Buddhism throughout empire, honored Hinduism – precedent
        4. improved trade/ road network
      6. Kushans – outside invaders – converted to Buddhism
        1. but…bad for Buddhism – connected to outsiders
    4. Guptas – 320 CE
      1. no powerful individual rulers, but greater impact
      2. negotiate w/ local princes
        1. expanded influence w/out fighting – diff. than above
      3. two generations of political stability – think Pax Romana
    5. Shifted between empires and network of smaller kingdoms
  4. Political Institutions
    1. Regionalism – diversity
      1. Autocratic kings once in awhile, but also aristocratic assemblies
    2. How did they maintain power?
      1. Mauryan – military power
      2. Gupta
        1. negotiation
        2. appointed by gods
        3. allowed local rulers to have autonomy – think Rome
          1. no single language imposed – promoted Sanskrit, but…
        4. Golden Age
          1. spread laws
          2. supported university, arts, literature
    3. However…not an elaborate political culture
      1. little political theory, not like Greeks
      2. Kautilya – how to maintain power – like Legalism in China
      3. political service not valued as important
      4. Buddhist leaders not interested in political affairs
    4. Why the limitations?
      1. local governments
      2. caste system already regulated life – social behavior – political laws unnecessary
        1. subcastes, hereditary – can’t marry outside
          1. but…marry below, or lower job and you could lose caste
          2. rarely move up in caste – did well economically
        2. most rigid social structure of all classic civilizations
          1. method of conquerors and conquered to live together in peace
          2. not necessary to totally blend cultures
          3. promoted tolerance
          4. slavery avoided – untouchables not owned
    5. Qualities of civilization based on cultural values
      1. Hindu/Buddhism clearest cement
      2. remarkable ability to survive
      3. means so many different things to so many different people
      4. can evolve
      5. Indian children can indulge imaginations
        1. imaginative links with higher power
        2. clear continuity though rarely under one political power
  5. Religion and Culture
    1. Hinduism – origins in Vedic and Epic ages
      1. Rig-Veda – Creation hymn
      2. Different – no single founder – no central holy figure
        1. Grew gradually, sometimes in reaction to other religions – Buddhism/Islam
      3. Religious approaches
        1. Ritualistic ceremonies performed by brahmans
        2. mysticism – unite humans w/ divine
        3. encouraged political and economic goals (artha) and worldly pleasures (karma)
        4. fluidity – adaptable – tolerant – many suitable paths of worship – Christianity?
      4. Brahmanism – Brahman leadership elaborate – called by scholars – dharma by Hindus
        1. gods of nature altered – represent abstract
          1. Varuna – god of the sky to guardian of right and wrong
        2. Epic poems – gentle/generous behavior
      5. Upanishads – shallowness of worldly concerns – wealth/health
      6. each person’s soul part of universe
      7. religion of rituals vs. religion of mystics
        1. mystics – gurus and Brahmas agreed to
          1. existence of divine essence – several gods – try to seek union w/ this soul
            1. Vishnu – preserved/ Shiva – destroyer
            2. takes many lifetimes – reincarnation
            3. where soul goes depends on reincarnation
      8. options for good life
        1. meditation/self-discipline – yoga
        2. others wanted rituals – cremation, prayers, sacred cows, refrain from beef
        3. some believed in lesser nature gods
        4. symbolic sacrifices might assist in reincarnation
      9. life obligations
        1. serve family
        2. earn money
        3. serve in army when necessary
      10. Bhagavad Gita – classic hymn – OK to kill family, duty, plus they’re reincarnated
      11. but…doesn’t have strict ethical codes – aka Ten Commandments
      12. Why did it spread?
        1. satisfying rules of conduct for life
        2. incorporated previous religion
        3. caste system – better time in future life
    2. Buddhism – 563 BCE – Siddhartha Gautama – Buddha – enlightened one
      1. searched for truth, found it, accepted many elements of Hinduism, but..
        1. disagreed with caste system
        2. all worldly desires hurt you
        3. if you destroy self, can reach nirvana – self-control – regulate life
        4. denied importance of rituals/priests
      2. spread by group of monks – prayer/charity/piety helped spread message
        1. Brahman opposition strong
      3. Hinduism still attractive due to mysticism
    3. Literature
      1. Political theory sparse, but wrote about human life
      2. “laws of love” – Kamasutra – male/female relationships
      3. Recorded epics – lively stories
      4. Romantic adventure – separated/returned – romantic/adventure
    4. Science
      1. Supported university – astronomy and medicine
        1. Religion prevented dissection
        2. Bone setting, plastic surgery, sterilization – reached West much later
    5. Mathematics – imported through Arabs – but Indian
      1. Concept of zero – decimal system
      2. negative numbers
      3. square roots
      4. pi
    6. Art – lively, but much perished
      1. Stupas – spherical shrines to Buddha
      2. Not realistic like Greeks, but stylized
      3. Appreciation of nature
      4. Joy of life themes + celebrate religion
    7. Tone – not rational like West, or concentration on Politics like China
  6. Economy and Society
    1. Caste system
      1. Different punishments for different crimes – Brahman killed servant – same as dog
      2. Villagers rarely had contact with higher caste
    2. Family life based on hierarchy
      1. wife worship husband as god
      2. women lost power as male power expanded – common of agricultural societies
      3. question – could woman advance spiritually if not reincarnated as man?
      4. Arranged marriages – solid economic links
      5. Emphasis on loving relations/sexual pleasure
      6. children indulged and then expected to work hard
      7. clever-strong willed women as goddesses
    3. Economy
      1. Chemistry, strongest steel – better than West until recently
      2. Textiles – cotton cloth, calico, cashmere
      3. Emphasis on trade far greater than in China
        1. Tamil traders – cotton, silks, dyes, drugs, gold, ivory
      4. Most people lived subsistence lives

    In Depth: Inequality as the Social Norm

  7. Indian Influence
    1. Indian Ocean – most active linkage point among cultures
      1. No civilization to compete w/ India – but not empire builders
    2. Effect on other areas
      1. married into royal families
      2. temples and Indian art constructed
      3. Buddhism spread throughout – Hinduism to upper class Indonesian families
      4. Affect China > Buddhism and art
    3. Started after Aryan invasions, but classical period lasted longer than China/Rome
      1. Foundation of religion, art, literary tradition, social & family network
  8. China and India – borrowed from each other, but didn’t change
    1. India vs. China - Differences
      1. Art – lively vs. restrained
      2. primary religion vs. separate religions/philosophies to fit needs
        1. Religion more otherworldly vs. practicial findings
        1. Emphasis on caste vs. political structure
        2. Different emotional reactions vs. restrained behavior
        3. Expanded cultural influence through trade vs. new territory/emissaries
        4. Land ownership consistent vs. trying to get more land/take over power
      3. India vs. China – Similarities
        1. large peasant class
        2. close-knit villages
        3. mutual cooperation
        4. cities/merchants took on secondary role
          1. but…more sea trade in India
        5. owners of land had power, could tax
        6. patriarchy
  9. Global Connections
    1. no civilization more open to others
    2. None more central to cultural exchanges
    3. New civilizations
      1. Trade influence grew
      2. Religion, epics, art, architecture led to new civilizations – Angkor Wat/Majapahit
    4. Trading network
      1. Coveted cotton textiles and bronze statuaries
      2. Epic literature

 

The History Database