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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 l.jpg
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 are generally considered of independent origin on most, if not all of Indian subcontinent.

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Indus Valley Civilizationc. 2500-1750 bc

  • Fertile floodplains of Indus River

  • 2 major cities: Harappa and Mohenjo Dara

  • Civilization flourished for about 500 years

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Indus Valley Civilization

  • Vast territory united in homogeneous culture suggests strong centralized government, integrated economy and good internal communications

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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

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  • large granary for food storage

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  • Elaborate plumbing facilities unequalled until Roman times

Private baths

Household wells

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  • 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?

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Unicorn Sealmost common motif on Indus seals

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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

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Cooking Pots and Vessels



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  • 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

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  • Elaborate bathing facilities suggest ritual bathing and purification rites

  • Recurrent images:

    • pipal tree & swastika -- also in Hindu imagery

    • humped bull -- animal worship?

    • tiger, snake, unicorn

    • “Lord of All Creatures” -- merges with Shiva

    • pregnant & madonna female figures -- prefiguration of Devi, Shiva’s consort

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Three-headed Totemic Animal




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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

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Indo-Aryan Invasionsc.2000 bce-1500 bce

  • Aryas -- name of peoples who migrated from steppelands between Eastern Europe and Central Asia into Europe, Greece, Anatolia, the Iranian plateau and India in the 2nd and 1st millenia bc.

  • Warlike peoples with horse-drawn chariots conquered the Dravidians of central India

  • “Aryan” -- 19th c. term used to describe language group now called Indo-European.

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Vedic-Aryan Culture

  • Semi-nomadic warriors -- migrated in small tribal groups

  • Cattle herders and horsemen

  • Culture flourished for nearly a millenium without writing or building large cities

  • Language: Vedic Sanskrit > Sanskrit

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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 bc-1000 bc

    • Upanishads -- philosophical poems -- c.700 bc

    • Valmiki’s Ramayana -- epic -- 6th c. bc

    • The Mahabharata -- epic -- 400 bc-400 ad

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  • Patrilineal descent and inheritance

  • Patriarchal family -- monogamous, widows could remarry

  • 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 classes

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Caste System

  • Four classes:

    • Brahman -- priestly

    • Kshatriya -- warrior/noble

    • Vaishya -- peasant/tradesman

    • Shudra-- servant

    • Numerous subgroups known as castes within the four classes

  • Dasas -- darker, conquered peoples -- socially excluded

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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

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

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Vedic Religion

  • Priests (Brahmans) serving a military aristocracy

  • Numerous gods connected to natural forces

    • Indra -- god of war and storms

    • Varuna -- guarded cosmic order

    • Agni -- god of fire -- sacrifices, hearth, home

    • Vishnu -- god of the sun

    • Rudra -- the archer

    • Soma -- god of hallucinogenic soma plant

    • Ushas -- goddess of dawn -- one of few female divinities

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  • Vardhamana Mahavira was born in a village near Vaishali in north Bihar. His father was a ruler of that area and his mother a princess. At the age of thirty. he left home and started practicing penances in search of knowledge. After twelve years, he attained the state called Nirvana (enlightenment).

Mahavira (540 BC - 467 BC) founded the sect of Jainism.

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  • Emerged 6th c. bce

  • Total respect for animal life

  • Made farming and husbandry impossible

  • Jains became merchants – art patrons and now among the the wealthiest inhabitants of India

A carved ceiling in the Jain temple at Mt. Abu, ca. 9th-13th century A D.

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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

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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

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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

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Invasion of Alexander the Great327-325 bce

  • Spring of 327 BC, Alexander and his army marched into India

  • His goal was to reach the Ocean on the southern edge of the world

  • Alexander sought out, the Brahmins, and debated them on philosophical issues.

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Maurya Empire4th c. bce -- 2nd c. bce

  • Response to power-vacuum created by Alexander the Great’s conquest of northern India c. 326 bce

  • First emperor Chandragupta Maurya (r.324-301 bce)

  • Ashoka (r.269-232 bce) conquered and ruled almost entire sub-continent: encouraged spread of Buddhism

  • Last emperor assassinated 184 bc

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Siddhartha Gautama Sakya: Buddha ca. 563-483 bce

  • Prophesied to be king or world redeemer at birth

  • A prince who gave up his wealth to find escape from human suffering

  • Studied with Hindu masters

  • Became an ascetic

  • Meditated under Bo tree for 49 days and nights until he experienced enlightenment

  • Became a wandering preacher and teacher dedicated to help others achieve Nirvana

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  • A religion without a god

  • Each individual must find his/her own way to enlightenment

  • Four Noble Truths:

    • Life consists of suffering, impermanence, imperfection, incompleteness

    • The cause of suffering is selfishness

    • Suffering and selfishness can be brought to an end

    • The answer to the problem of suffering is the Eight-fold Path

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The Eight-Fold Path

  • Knowledge of the Four Noble Truths

  • Right aspiration toward enlightenment

  • Right speech that is honest and charitable

  • Right conduct: no drinking, killing, lying, lust

  • Right living

  • Right effort

  • Right thinking with emphasis on self-awareness

  • Right use of meditation

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Gupta Era 320 ce — 550 ce

  • Gupta dynasty was founded by Chandra Gupta I

  • Development of Mahayana Buddhism

  • Classical Age in north India

  • Cave paintings at Ajanta

  • Shakuntala, Jataka, Panchatantra and Kamasutra were written

  • Aryabhatta’s Astronomy.

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  • During the 4th century A. D. in a remote valley, work began on the Ajanta caves to create a complex of Buddhist monasteries and prayer halls.

  • As centuries passed, numerous Buddhist monks and artisans dug out a set of twenty-nine caves, converting some to cells, and others to monasteries and Buddhist temples.

  • These caves are adorned with elaborate sculptures and paintings which have withstood the ravages of time

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Kalidasafl. 5th c.

  • The dramatist and poet is regarded as the greatest figure in classical Sanskrit literature.

  • His three surviving plays are Sakuntala (or Shakuntala), Vikramorvasi, and Malavikagnimitra.

  • These court dramas in verse (nataka) relate fanciful or mythological tales of profound romantic love intensified and matured by adversity.

  • In Kalidasa's two epics, Raghuvansa and Kumarasambhava, delicate descriptions of nature are mingled with battle scenes.

  • The other poems of Kalidasa are shorter and almost purely lyrical.

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Aryabhatta (476-550?)

  • Hindu astronomer and mathematician

  • Known to Arabs as Arjehir

  • 499: calculated pi as 3.1416

  • 499: calculated the length of the solar year as 365.358 days.

  • Postulated that the Earth was a sphere rotating on its own axis and revolving around the Sun

  • Discovered the exact cause of eclipses.

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Muslim Dominance

  • 711 -- Arabs take Sind

  • 11th c. -- Invasions of Muslims from Central Asia led to political dominance of Muslims in N. India and introduction of Persian culture and Islam into South Asia

  • Development of Sufism

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Timur Lang (Tamerlane) sacks Delhi 1398-99

  • Mongol ruler who attempted to reclaim Genghis Khan’s empire

  • Attacked India and conquered Delhi after slaughtering 100,000 captives

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Vasco da Gama reaches India 1498

  • Opened the Indian or Cape Route for regular sailings between East and West

  • Expansion and consolidation of Portugese empire and trade, dissemination of Portugese culture and Christianity

  • Portugese settlements in Goa and Cochin

  • 1524: Da Gama named Portugese viceroy in India by King John III.

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Moghul Empire(Islamic) 1526-1858

  • Unification of N. India and parts of S. India under its rule

  • Amalgam of Persian and Indian culture created in courts and territories

  • Establishment of trading outposts in India by Europeans:

    • 1609: Dutch

    • 1612: English

    • 1674: French

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Rise of Regional Powers

  • Weakening of Moghul authority frees local Muslim rulers

  • Rise of indigenous regional powers

    • Sikhs -- Punjab

    • Rajputs -- Rajasthan

    • Marathas -- West India

  • 1757: Battle of Plassey: victory of Nawab of Bengal gives East India Company control of Bengal and begins expansion of British power in India

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British Empire1800 - 1947

  • Political dominance of British introduces Western culture, language, methods of government and technology into urban centers

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Paddle-steamer on the Hooghly, watercolour over a lithographed outline, Kalighat painting by Becaram Das Datta, 1857

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  • Independence from British rule

  • Partition of Indian subcontinent into countries of India and Pakistan (East and West)

  • 1971: creation of Bangladesh from East Pakistan

Mahatma Gandhi, 1869-1948

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Indian IndependenceJawaharal Nehru (1889-1964)

  • Nehru graduated from Cambridge University, and returned to India in 1912

  • . Over the next thirty years, he rose to become the top political leader of the Indian National Congress Party and its struggle for independence from Britain.

  • He was jailed seven times.

  • After independence he served as India first Prime Minister from 1947 until he died in May, 1964.

  • He was also a great internationalist, and one of the founders of the non-aligned movement.

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Creation of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948)

  • In Pakistan, Jinnah is known as "Quaid-e-Azam," or Father of the Nation

  • An early member of the Congress Party and "Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity," he later parted ways with Gandhi and Nehru and worked for an independent homeland for the Muslims of British India

  • Served as President of the All-India Muslim League from 1934 onwards.

  • At midnight between August 14th and 15th, 1947 he led Pakistan into simultaneous freedom with India from the British Empire.