Classical Civilizations in India: Maurya & Gupta Dynasties
Classical India • By 600 BCE, India had passed through its formative phase. • A classical civilization could now build on the social and cultural themes introduced during the Vedic and Epic ages. • Indian development in the classical era didn’t take on the Chinese structure of rising and falling dynasties. Indian history was irregular.
Geography • India’s distinctive culture was a product of its geography. It was far less isolated from other civs than was China. • The Indian subcontinent is separated from the rest of Asia by the Himalayas, but there are several passes in the mountains, linking India to Mid East. • Open to both Mid Eastern & Mediterranean influences. • For ex: while Alex the Great didn’t establish a durable empire, he connected India with Hellenistic culture. • Geography made political unity difficult, so India was more diverse than China.
Geography • Monsoons: a season wind that brings rains. Sometimes too little, and famine causing. Sometimes torrential and flood causing.
Mauryan Dynasty: Chandragupta • In 327 BCE, Alexander the Great, after conquering Greece and much of the Mid East, pushed into northwestern India, establishing the border state of Bactria. • Political reactions to this invasion produced the next stage in Indian history when a young soldier named Chandragupta Mauryaseized power along the Ganges River. • He began the Mauryan dynasty of rule. These were the 1st rulers to unify the subcontinent. • Chandragupta’s style of govt was autocratic, relying on his military power.
Chandragupta: 321 BCE-298 BCE • Unified northern India. • Defeated the Persian general Seleucus. • Divided his empire into provinces, then districts for tax assessments and law enforcement. • He feared assassination food tasters, slept in different rooms, etc. • 301 BCE gave up his throne & became a Jain.
Mauryan Dynasty: Ashoka • Chandragupta’s grandson, Ashoka, was an even greater Mauryan ruler. • Ashoka extended Mauryan conquests, gaining control of territory through fierce fighting. • He gave up his thirst for blood after the gruesome battle of Kalinga, when he converted to Buddhism, and adopted belief in the dharma, or the law of moral consequences. • Ashoka promoted Buddhism throughout India, but still honored Hinduism.
The Maurya Empire 321 BCE – 185 BCE
Asoka’s law code • Edicts scattered in more than 30 places in India, Nepal, Pakistan, & Afghanistan. • Written mostly in Sanskrit, but one was in Greek and Aramaic. • 10 rock edicts. • Each pillar [stupa] is 40’-50’ high. • Buddhist principles dominate his laws.
Kushan Empire • After Ashoka, the Mauryan empire collapsed. • The Kushanspushed across the Hindu Kush range through the Khyber pass into India and established a short-lived kingdom. • The greatest Kushan king, Kanishka, converted to Buddhism but actually damaged its popularity in India, because it became associated with foreign rule. • The collapse of the Kushan state in 220 CE ushered in 100 years of political instability before the rise of the Gupta dynasty
Gupta Dynasty • In 320 CE, a new line of kings, the Guptas, established a new empire. • The Guptas did not produce any individual rulers as influential as the 2 great Mauryan rulers, but they had perhaps greater impact on the shape of Indian civilization. • 2 centuries of Gupta rule gave classical India its greatest period of political stability. • It was ended in 535 CE by a new invasion of nomadic warriors, the Huns. • After the decline of the Gupta empire, north India broke into a number of separate Hindu kingdoms and was not really unified again until the coming of the Muslims in the 7c.
Gupta Rulers • Chandra GuptaI • r. 320 – 335 CE • “Great King of Kings” • Chandra Gupta II • r. 375 - 415 CE • Profitable trade with the Mediterranean world! • Hindu revival.
GuptaArt Greatly influenced Southeast Asian art & architecture.
Gupta Achievements 1000 diseasesclassified 500 healingplants identified Printedmedicinal guides Kalidasa Literature PlasticSurgery Medicine GuptaIndia Inoculations C-sectionsperformed SolarCalendar Astronomy Mathematics DecimalSystem The earthis round PI = 3.1416 Conceptof Zero
Political Institutions • The Guptas created a taxation system, spread uniform law codes, and built roads, but didn’t create an extensive bureaucracy. • Instead, they allowed local rulers to maintain regional control so long as they respected Gupta authority. • .
Political Institutions • The caste syst and religion did for India life what more conventional govt structures did in other cultures for promoting public order. • It was virtually impossible to rise above the caste of birth, or to marry someone from a higher caste. Karma was the only way- one could be reborn into a higher caste with good karma.
Political Institutions • Loose political framework but rigid social structure. • Slavery was avoided. Untouchables were scorned, but their members were not owned by others.
Religion & Culture: Hinduism • Religion was the clearest cultural cement, cutting across political and language barriers, and across caste. • Hinduism didn’t displace minority religions, and has shown incredible capacity to survive as the major system of belief in India even to the present. • Even w/o enduring polit institutions, India has retained continuity and cultural cohesiveness b/c of religion. • Tradition of scientific inquiry emerged along with religion.
Religion & Culture: Hinduism • Unlike most religions, Hinduism had no single founder, & no central holy figure. • Hindus are guided by dharma, or the moral path. • Mystics, called gurus and brahman priests formalized the religion by the 1st centuries CE. • The divine aspects of brahma (holy essence) are manifested in the forms of several gods, including Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. • A proper life is one devoted to seeking union with the soul, but the quest may take many lieftimes. • Hindus stress the principle of reincarnation, in which souls don’t die, but pass into other beings, human or animal.
Religion & Culture: Hinduism • After many good lives, the soul reaches full union with the soul of brahma, and worldly suffering ceases. • Some try to reach this through the meditation and self-discipline of yoga, which means union. It allows the mind to be free to concentrate on the divine spirit. • Goal is to be reincarnated into a higher caste, and eventually salvation. • Relig reinforced the caste system, giving people of lower castes hope for better rebirth. • Epic poems are the key texts.
Religion & Culture: Buddhism • Siddhartha Guatama, aka Buddha, accepted many Hindu beliefs, such as reincarnation, but denied the validity of others, such as caste. • Buddhism spread through monasticism, and the emperor Ashoka attracted many followers. • Like Confucius, the Buddha was seen as divine. • Brahaman opposition to Buddhism was strong, so it did not gain a permanent following in India.
Religion & Culture: Science • Indian science was influenced by the Greeks after the conquest of Alex the Great. • Inoculation against smallpox. • Sterilization of wounds in hospitals. • Many medical findings reached the Western world only in modern times. • We use the Indian numbering system today, although we call it Arabic b/c Europeans imported it secondhand from the Arabs. • Developed concept of zero and decimal syst, negative numbers, square roots and sine. Computed pi more accurately than the Greeks.
Econ & Society • Justice syst influenced by caste. A brahman who killed a servant faced penalties than if he had killed an animal. • Dominance of husbands and fathers was strong, and women’s right were limited. • Women could only advance spiritually if reborn as a man. • System of arranged marriage and dowries. • Merchants had high caste status and traveled widely, over the subcontinent and into the Mid East and east Asia.
Econ & Society • Caravan trade w/ China developed. India dominated trade over the Silk Road, beyond the Himalayas. • The Indian Ocean, dominated by Indian merchants, was the most active linkage point among cultures (Mediterranean was a close second). • No previous civ in southeast Asia could compete with India.
Extensive Trade:4c spices silks cotton goods spices rice & wheat horses gold & ivory gold & ivory cotton goods
India vs China: Differences • Restraint of Chinese art and poetry vs dynamic sensual styles of India. • Strong bureaucracy in China vs. decentralized govt in India • Dominant religion in India vs. religious diversity in China. • Social mobility in China vs. fixed caste syst in India. • High status of merchants in India vs. low statues in China. • Extensive trade and openness in India vs. isolation in China.
India vs China: Similarities • Both agricultural societies with large peasant class. • Both patriarchal. • Classical traditions in both societies endure to the present.
Works cited • Adas, M., Gilbert, M.J., Schwartz, S.B., & Stearns, P.N. (2007). World civilizations: The global experience. (5th ed.). New York: Pearson Education. • Images from Susan M. PojerHorace Greeley HS Chappaqua, NY, http://www.pptpalooza.net/.