Topic 7 state society and the quest for salvation in india
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Topic 7: State, Society and the Quest for Salvation in India. Chronology of Early Indian History. c. 2500 BCE: Indus Valley civilization c. 1900 BCE: Harappan decline c. 1500 BCE: Beginning of Aryan migration 1500-500 BCE: The “Vedic Age” 520 BCE: Darius of Persia invades India

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Topic 7: State, Society and the Quest for Salvation in India

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Topic 7: State, Society and the Quest for Salvation in India

Chronology of Early Indian History

  • c. 2500 BCE: Indus Valley civilization

  • c. 1900 BCE: Harappan decline

  • c. 1500 BCE: Beginning of Aryan migration

  • 1500-500 BCE: The “Vedic Age”

  • 520 BCE: Darius of Persia invades India

  • 327 BCE: Alexander the Great invades India

  • 321-185 BCE: Mauryan dynasty

  • 320-550 CE: Gupta dynasty

“original Gandhi”

Gupta “Golden Age” 320-550ce

Gupta’s “Golden Age”320-540ce

  • Arts and sciences fully developed

    • Sanskrit literature – Kalidasa

    • Science – striking achievements

      • Mathematics – “Arabic numerals,” concept of the zero,

        quadratic equations, atomic theory of matter

      • Surgery and dentistry

      • Metallurgy, glassware, cotton fabrics

  • Agriculture and trade the basis of Empire

  • Southernization – spread of Indian influence into Southeast Asia – Funan, Mekong River, Khmer


The “Vedic Age”: 1500-500 BCE

Named for sacred texts, the “Vedas”

Period important for:

Assimilation of Aryans

Emergence of varna distinctions

Emergence of Hinduism

The Rig Veda in Sanscrit

Caste / Varna

System of social distinctions probably created by Aryans

Distinctions were based on occupations and roles in society

Varna = caste

Jati = sub-caste


  • BrahminPriests

  • KshatriyasWarriors and aristocrats

  • VaishyasCultivators, artisans, merchants

  • ShudrasServants


  • Outcastes“Untouchables”

From the Rig Veda:

When they divided Purusha, how

many portions did they make?

What do they call his mouth, his

arms? What do they call his thighs

and feet?

The BRAHMIN was his mouth, of

both his arms was the KSHATRIYA


His thighs became the VAISHYA, and from his feet

the SHUDRA was produced.

Varna ISN’T:



Aryan vs. non-Aryan


Varna IS:

“A group of families whose members can marry each other and can eat in each other’s company without believing themselves polluted.” Taya Zinkin

“ranked, named, endogamous [in-marrying], with membership achieved by birth”

TE: Throughout Indian history, caste has promoted “social stability”

What is varna today?

Since 1949

Untouchability is illegal

India’s constitution forbids discrimination based on caste

India has caste-based “positive discrimination” programs

Yet caste remains important in social life: who one can marry, or eat and socialize with

Mohandas Gandhi

Oldest religion that is still widely practiced

A fusion of Aryan and Dravidian beliefs

Unique among world religions:

No founder

No centralized authority



Emergence of Hinduism

The Vedas 1400-900 BCE:

Ritual and sacrifice solely by priestly class

The Upanishads 800-400 BCE:

Individual is responsible for his/her own salvation

The Bhagavad Gita300 BCE-300 CE:

Salvation possible through a balanced life and by fulfilling one’s duties


Concepts introduced in the Upanishads:

Brahman: “the universal soul” (See RGH #40, p. 121)

  • Everyone and everything is part of Brahman

  • atman – individual soul (See RGH #39, p. 119)

    Samsara: reincarnation

  • The cycle of death and rebirth

    Karma: deeds (See RGH#41, p. 123-124)

  • One’s present situation is the product of deeds done in a previous life

    Moksha / Nirvana: release

  • Escape from samsara

Basic Hindu Beliefs:Bhagavad Gita:


  • Obedience to religious and moral laws; caste duty


  • “As you sow, so shall you reap;” for every action a consequence


  • Reincarnation or rebirth (or redeath?)


  • Pursuit of economic well-being and honest prosperity


  • Enjoyment of social, physical, sexual pleasure

    Moksha: Attainable through proper balance of these.


Varna and Hinduism

  • Varna is legitimized in Rig Veda

  • Hindu concepts uphold and reinforce varna

  • Samsara explains one’s present caste and offers hope of better incarnation in next life

  • “Fulfilling one’s duties” = fulfilling the duties of one’s caste

Hindu pantheon: combination of Vedic and indigenous gods:

Avatars: incarnations of god

Popular Hinduism, see TE text, p. 239

Shiva doing the dance of destruction


Founded by Siddhartha Gautama [b. 563 B.C.E.]

Shared many concepts with Hinduism

But also reacted against many Hindu ideas, including varna

Principles of Buddhism

Four Noble Truths:

All life is suffering

Suffering is caused by desire

To stop suffering, stop desiring

Stop desiring by following the Eight-Fold Path

Nirvana – “extinction of desire”


The Spread of Buddhism and Hinduism

Five Stages of Buddhism

  • “Old” Buddhism – 500-100 bce

    philosophy emphasized

  • Hinayana – “Lesser Vehicle”

    • monasticism

    • “save yourself through intense self-effort”

    • Popular in Tibet, Sri Lanka, Thailand


Five Stages of Buddhism

  • Mahayana – “Greater Vehicle”100bce-500ce

    • bodhisattva – emphasis on compassion (See RGH #44, p. 131) and “saving others”

    • blending of Buddhism with Greek philosophy

    • Buddha begins to be worshipped like a god

    • Education – Nalanda U. – center of learning

    • Popular in Japan, China, the world.

  • Buddhism spreads throughout Asia and the world 500ce - present

The many shapes and

faces of the


Why was (is?) Buddhism attractive?

  • message appealed to lower castes and women.

  • used common language, not Sanskrit.

  • pilgrimage and holy sites emphasized.

  • wealthy patrons, like Ashoka.

  • “Buddhism movement” – the monastery.


The Dalai Lama in conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House

Great Stupa of Dharmakaya in Colorado

"American Buddhist with Thai Buddha", Living Enrichment Center, Wilsonville, Oregon, 1998.

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