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Indian Civilizations. Paleolithic and Neolithic Cultures. Diverse Paleolithic Cultures on Indian subcontinent Neolithic pottery and hunting tools in present-day Pakistan, c. 5500 bc.

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paleolithic and neolithic cultures
Paleolithic and Neolithic Cultures
  • Diverse Paleolithic Cultures on Indian subcontinent
  • Neolithic pottery and hunting tools in present-day Pakistan, c. 5500 bc.
  • Although a bit later than Near East, cultures, Indian cultures are generally considered of independent origin on most, if not all of Indian subcontinent.
indus valley civilization c 2500 1750 bc
Indus Valley Civilizationc. 2500-1750 bc
  • Fertile floodplains of Indus River
  • 2 major cities: Harappa and Mohenjo Dara
  • More are currently being found by archaeologists
  • Civilization flourished for about 500 years
indus valley civilization
Indus Valley Civilization
  • Vast territory – up to 5 million peopleunited in homogeneous culture suggests strong centralized government, integrated economy and good internal communications
city layout in harappa and mohenjo daro
City Layout in Harappa and Mohenjo-daro
  • N-S, E-W grid of avenues
  • walled citadel on western edge of city
  • cemeteries on periphery
  • private houses built around central courtyard
  • strong evidence of urban planning

Egalitarianism: all houses had access to water and drainage – a vast middle-class society

  • large granary for food storage
mohenjo daro
  • Elaborate plumbing facilities unequalled until Roman times

Private baths

Household wells

  • Indus inscriptions are found only on small objects, mostly stone seals and on pottery.
  • About 3700 inscriptions are presently known.
  • The inscriptions are all extremely brief, averaging not more than about five signs in a text. Longer inscriptions might have been written on palm leaves or cloth which have perished.
  • Sanskrit or Dravidian language?




material culture
Material Culture
  • Fine bronze and stone statues
  • Copper and bronze tools and vessels
  • Black-on-red painted pottery
  • Silver and gold vessels and jewelry
  • Dyed woven fabric
  • Flat stamp stone seals
cooking pots and vessels
Cooking Pots and Vessels






  • Thriving agriculture: wheat, barley, peas, lentils, sesame, cotton
  • Cattle, dogs, sheep, fowl, water buffalo
  • Cotton weaving, metalworking, wheel-driven pottery
  • Trade contacts in Mesopotamia, central Asia, possibly Arabia and prehistoric Greek cultures
  • Elaborate bathing facilities suggest ritual bathing and purification rites
  • Recurrent images:
    • Pipal tree
    • Swastika
    • Humped bull -- animal worship?
    • Tiger, snake, unicorn
    • “Lord of All Creatures” -- merges with Shiva
    • Mother Goddess: pregnant & madonna female figures
three headed totemic animal
Three-headed Totemic Animal




end of indus civilization
End of Indus Civilization
  • Began to decline during early 2nd millenium bce
  • Possible causes:
    • abnormal flooding of Indus River
    • ecological destruction -- baked bricks of construction led to deforestation
    • no firm evidence that invading Aryans destroyed civilization

Dravidan Hero Stone

aryan invasions c 2000 bce 1500 bce myth or misconception
Aryan Invasionsc.2000 bce-1500 bcemyth or misconception?
  • 19th c. European scholars claimed a migration by a light-skinned group they called ARYAS came from the steppelands between Eastern Europe and Central Asia into Europe, Greece, Anatolia, the Iranian plateau and India in the 2nd and 1st millennia bc.
  • Warlike peoples with horse-drawn chariots conquered the darker-skinned Dravidians of central India
  • “Aryan” -- 19th c. term used to describe language group now called Indo-European.
counter evidence
  • Sanskrit word Aryan refers to one who is righteous and noble – it has nothing to do with race.
  • Horses had been domesticated and used for battle by the Harappans.
  • No evidence of a significant influx of migrants into India during 4500-800 bce.
  • Rig Vedas describe Aryans as urban dwellers with hundreds of cities, numerous professions and seafaring capabilities.
discovery of the sarasvati river
Discovery of the Sarasvati River
  • River Sarasvati is mentioned in the Rig Veda 60 times (Ganges only mentioned once)
  • Now a dry river, the Sarasvati once flowed from the Himalayas to the ocean across the desert of Rajasthan
sindhu sarasvati civilization vedic civilization
Sindhu-Sarasvati Civilization:Vedic Civilization
  • Over 2500 settlements have been found.
  • More than 75% of these sites are on the banks of the dried up river Sarasvati.
  • The catastrophic drying up of the river led to a massive exodus of people ca. 2000-1900 bce.
  • Some went to Middle-eastern countries such as Iran and Mesopotamia.
  • Dynasties and rulers with Indian names appear and disappear all over west Asia confirming the migration of people from East to West.
vedic texts
Vedic Texts
  • Texts date from 1700 bc - 500 bc
  • Veda means “Knowledge” -- the eternal wisdom realized by ancient seers and preserved over thousands of years by professional reciters in unbroken oral transmission
  • 4 main texts:
    • Rig Veda -- 1028 hymns --c.1700 bce-1000 bce
    • Upanishads -- philosophical poems -- c.700 bce
    • Valmiki’s Ramayana -- epic -- 6th c. bc
    • The Mahabharata -- epic -- 400 bc-400 ce

Rama and Sita

vedic society
  • Patrilineal descent and inheritance
  • Patriarchal family -- monogamous, widows could remarry
  • Language: Vedic Sanskrit > Sanskrit
  • Kinship groups -- tribes ruled by rajas/ kings (cf. Latin rex), warrior leader
  • Brahman -- chief priest. Powers of priestly class increased with those of king
  • Two classes -- noble and common --evolved into four castes
vedic caste system
Vedic Caste System
  • Four classes:
    • Brahmans – priests/scholars
    • Kshatriyas -- warriors/nobles
    • Vaishyas --traders
    • Shudras-- servants
    • Caste is divinely ordained; one cannot migrate from one caste to another based on talent or accomplishment.
vedic material culture
Vedic Material Culture
  • Gray painted pottery
  • Wood and thatch, mud-walled houses
  • Measured wealth in cattle
  • Gold ornamentation
  • Wool
  • Alcoholic drink and soma
  • Highly developed music -- singing and dancing
  • Gambling -- especially dice games
  • Writing -- c. 700 bc-500 bc -- scorned for sacred texts

Rama and his allies begin the attack on Lanka, by Sahib Din. From a manuscript of the Ramayana, Udaipur, 1652

vedic deities
Vedic Deities
  • Indra -- god of war and storms: atmospheric
  • Varuna -- guarded cosmic order: oceanic
  • Agni -- god of fire -- sacrifices, hearth, home: terrestial
  • Vishnu or Surya -- god of the sun: celestial
  • Soma or Chandra -- god of hallucinogenic soma plant
  • Ushas -- goddess of dawn -- one of few female divinities
evolution of hinduism indus influences
Evolution of Hinduism:Indus Influences
  • Mother goddess
  • Bull figure: Nandi – still the symbol of Congress Party
  • Shiva cult:
    • seals with Shiva figure
    • lingam stones -- emblem of Shiva
    • Shiva cult may be world’s oldest surviving cult
evolution of hinduism vedic influences
Evolution of Hinduism:Vedic Influences
  • Vishnu – preserver god
  • Sanskrit as language of religious learning
  • Vedic hymns -- nucleus for more abstract religious thought
  • Notions of Hell (House of Clay) and Heaven (World of the Fathers)
  • Karma: action determines destiny
  • Upanishads: through philosophical interpretation -- inner meaning of traditional truths, ascetic teachings
hinduism sanatana dharma the everlasting way
HinduismSanatana Dharma“The Everlasting Way”

OMthat which hath no beginning or end

hinduism all embracing structure of thought
Hinduism:all-embracing structure of thought
  • All creation linked in huge web of being
  • Transmigration of souls through various life forms
  • Proper behavior linked to purgation and renewal
  • Dharma: the duty of the believer
  • God is Infinite.
  • Although one cannot divide or subtract from the Infinite, the Infinite can be represented in different ways.
  • The Infinite also manifests in billions of ways.
  • Hinduism believes not only in One God, but also in His Supreme Personality. This personality is manifested in different forms around us and within us perpetually. Therefore, the Infinite manifests in billions of ways to help mankind visualize the Divine Being. This belief of Hinduism is often confused with polytheism.
  • That the Supreme can be worshipped in any form is a unique concept in Hinduism.
  • Hinduism worships multiple forms of the one God.
hindu concept of time
Hindu Concept of Time
  • The transcendence of time is the aim of every Indian spiritual tradition.
  • Time is often presented as an eternal wheel that binds the soul to a mortal existence of ignorance and suffering.
  • "Release" from time's fateful wheel is termed moksha.
  • Hindus believe that the universe is without a beginning (anadi= beginning-less) or an end (ananta= end-less). 
  • The universe is projected in cycles.
  • Each cycle is divided into four yugas(ages of the world).
  • Time is conceived as a wheel turning through vast cycles of creation and destruction.

Shiva dancing

major hindu manifestations
Major Hindu Manifestations
  • BRAHMAN: divine source of all being
  • Brahma/Sarasvati, the creator
  • Vishnu/Lakshmi, the preserver: benevolence, forgiveness, love
  • Shiva/Kali, the destroyer: disease, death, the dance
  • Ganesha, god of wisdom, writing, elephant-headed
brahma the creator
BrahmaThe Creator
  • His 4 heads represent the four Yugas or cycles of time.
  • One of the earliest iconographic descriptions of Brahma is that of the four-faced god seated on a lotus.
  • The Lord has in his four hands a water-pot (kamandalu), a manuscript (Vedas), a sacrificial implement (sruva) and a rosary (mala).
  • She presides over and protects wisdom and the arts, and sheinvented writing.
  • Her four hands represent four aspects of human personality in learning:
    • Mind
    • Intellect
    • Alertness
    • Ego
vishnu the preserver
Vishnuthe Preserver
  • Protector of dharma (righteousness) and the guardian of humanity.
  • His particular task is the conservation or preservation of the Divine Order in the world.

Vishnu has 10 avatars or incarnations. He assumes these and comes down to earth in order to help humanity. He carries his symbols of:

  • a white conch shell with which he is victor over the demons
  • a rotating disc, a weapon to oppose every enemy of the Divine order
  • a golden mace, symbol of his royal power in the realm of gods and men.
  • a lotus flower, symbol of purity and original creation.

The goddess of beauty, of good luck and wealth. She is generally depicted seated or standing on a lotus flower.

Lakshmi sprang from the primeval ocean.

Lakshmi always accompanies Vishnu in his incarnations on earth.

shiva the destroyer
Shiva the Destroyer

Lord of the Dance

He performs the dance of destruction so that the world can be recreated.


Shiva is the acknowledgment that everything that comes to birth comes ultimately to death and from death comes new life.

He is cruel and yet tender, wrathful and merciful, unpredictable and yet ever the same.

parvathi uma

Parvathi is the very expression of femininity, the woman par excellence, daughter of the Himalayas. She is beautiful, sweet, tender, and is always portrayed as Shiva's erotic partner.

the great goddess devi
The Great Goddess: Devi
  • Parvathi and Uma are the benign aspects of the goddess; the destroyer goddesses Kali and Durga are in turn all aspects of the Devi, or the Great Goddess.
  • Kali is the negative aspect of the Goddess and symbolizes death. In this form she is sometimes considered the presiding deity of famine and disease. This is the negative aspect and symbolizes death. In this form she is sometimes considered the presiding deity of famine and disease.
  • God of knowledge and the remover of obstacles
  • He has four hands, elephant's head and a big belly.
  • His vehicle is a tiny mouse.
  • The combination of his elephant-like head and a quick moving tiny mouse vehicle represents tremendous wisdom, intelligence, and presence of mind.

In his hands he carries

  • a rope -- to carry devotees to the truth
  • an axe -- to cut devotees' attachments
  • a sweet dessert ball –laddoo -- to reward devotees for spiritual activity
  • His fourth hand's palm is always extended to bless people.
rama and sita
Rama and Sita
  • Rama is the 7th avatar of Vishnu.
  • Lord Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, is one of the most adored gods.
  • He always holds a bow and arrow indicating his readiness to destroy evils.
  • More commonly he is pictured in a family style with his wife Sita, his brother Lakshmana and his devotee Hanumana sitting near Lord Rama's feet.
ramayana 5 th 4 th c bce
Ramayana5th-4th c. bce
  • First poem in Sanskrit outside a religious context
  • Attributed to Valmiki
  • Society of small villages and republics
  • Purpose is to preserve the divine order through the practice of dharma

Battle of Lakmana from the Ramayana

  • Krishna is the 8th avatar of Vishnu.
  • The mythology around Krishna is the most colorful and the richest in lyricism, adventure and in love in all its forms, from the sensuous to the worship of the divine.
  • Krishna is central to the Mahabharata, the Sanskrit epic that is eight times longer than the Iliad and the Odyssey put together.
  • Krishna, the most accessible of the major Hindu deities, is a loyal ally of humans and always helps his friends. His worship is popular all over India and there are many sacred shines to him.
  • Bhakti is the emotional attachment and love of a devotee for his or her personal god. This is common in the worship of Krishna.
mah bh rata c 4 th c bce 4 th c ce
Mahābhāratac. 4th c. bce- 4th c. ce
  • Epic narrative of the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kauravas and the Pandava princes
  • Attributed to Vyasa
  • Reflects events of 9th-8th c. bce
  • Society of powerful monarchs and kingdoms
  • Explores polygamy
  • Complex views on interaction of karma and dharma

Draupadi after the Game of Dice

challenges to hinduism
Challenges to Hinduism
  • The strongest criticism and rejection of Hindu theology of Brahman and atman came from two near contemporaries of Valmiki:
  • Mahavira, the last of Janism’s founders
  • Siddhartha-Guatama Buddha, who launched Buddhism.
maurya dynasty
Maurya Dynasty
  • Central administration
  • Diplomatic and trade links with Greece, Rome, Egypt, Syria and Central Asia
  • Emperor Aśoka (269–232 B.C.E.) –the king turns the “wheel of dharma”
  • Standardized Brahmi script used in rock inscriptions
  • Multilingual pluralism
  • Buddhism and ahimsa (non-violence) as state policy
asoka maurya 273 232
Asoka Maurya273-232

Renounced violence after the devastating battle for Kalinga in which over 100,000 were killed

Built thousands of stupas and viharas (monasteries)

Sponsored 3rd Buddhist Council in 250 bce

Sent forth of monks, well versed in the Buddhist teachings, to teach in nine different countries

A collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka, as well as boulders and cave
  • The edicts describe the first wide expansion of Buddhism.
  • Buddhist proselytism during this period reached as far as the Mediterranean
  • The inscriptions revolve around a few themes: Asoka's conversion to Buddhism, his efforts to spread Buddhism, his moral and religious precepts, and his social and animal welfare program.