Ancient Civilizations:
India - Geography
Origins: Pre-Historic India
3000-1000 BCE
Archaeological excavations in the Punjab
and Indus valleys (right) have revealed the
existence of urban cultures at Harappa, the
prehistoric capital of the Punjab (located in
modern Pakistan); and Mohenjo-Daro on the
banks of the River Indus.
This early Indian culture is sometimes called
the Indus Valley civilization.
Historians are not sure who the origin
inhabitants were. Many believe the people
may have been proto-Dravidians, related to
the Dravidians of southern India.
Historians are also unclear as to why the
Indus civilization ceased to exist.
Origins: Arrival of the Aryans
2000-1000 BCE
• Some time in the second millennium BCE the
Aryan people arrived in north-west India.
• The Aryans (Aryan means noble) were a nomadic
people who may have come to India from the
Caucasus region of southern Russia.
• They brought with them their language and their
religious traditions. These both influenced and
were influenced by the religious practices of the
peoples who were already living in India.
Origins: Pre-Historic India
3000-1000 BCE
Language – Sanskrit
• The classical literary language of Hindu Indians.
• First appeared in the text of the Rig Veda.
• Grammar is similar to the other Indo-European languages
such as Greek and Latin.
Origins: Pre-Historic India
3000-1000 BCE
Aryan Migration to India
Origins: Arrival of the Aryans
2000-1000 BCE
• Why is the Aryan invasion of India theory so
controversial to the understanding of the
origins of Indian civilization?
Belief Systems: India
• Considered the world’s oldest religion – over 3,000 years
• The world’s third largest religion after Christianity and
- over 900 million followers
• The dominant religion in India and Nepal (80%) of the pop.
In both.
Belief Systems: India
• Hinduism claims to have many founders, teachers and
prophets who claim first hand experience of God.
• Hindus recognize one God, Brahman, who is the cause
and foundation of all existence.
• The gods of the Hindu faith represent different expressions
of Brahman.
Belief Systems: India
• Hindus recognize three principal gods:
- Brahma, who creates the universe
- Vishnu, who preserves the universe
- Shiva, who destroys the universe.
Belief Systems: India
• Hindus believe that existence is a cycle of birth, death, and
rebirth, (Samsara = reincarnation) governed by Karma.
• Hindus believe that the soul passes through a cycle of
successive lives and its next incarnation is always
dependent on how the previous life was lived (karma).
• Moksha is the end of the death and rebirth cycle.
“The Wheel of Life”
(Samsara = Reincarnation)
Belief Systems - India
Hinduism: The Ganges River and Varanasi/Benares
• After a Hindu is cremated, the ashes are usually scattered in water.
• The Ganges River is considered the most sacred place to scatter
• Varanasi (Benares), one of the oldest cities in the world, is seen as a
desired place to die.
- Anyone who dies here breaks the cycle of life and achieves
Varanasi / Benares - Cremation
Hindu Men Bathing in the Holy
Ganges River
Belief Systems: India
Hinduism – Religious Texts
• The Vedas are the most ancient religious Hindu
text and define the truth.
• Hindus believe that the texts were received by
scholars directly from God and passed onto
generations by word of mouth.
Belief Systems: India
Hinduism – Religious Texts – The Vedas
• The Vedas are the most ancient religious
texts which define truth for Hindus.
• They got their present form between 1200200 BCE and were introduced to India by
the Aryans.
Belief Systems: India
• The Vedas are made up of four compositions:
- The Samhitas
- The Upanishads
- Bhagavad Gita
- The Ramayana
Belief Systems: India
The Caste System
• The Aryans introduced the varna system (varna = estates
or classes) to India.
• Varnas are the historical division of society into 4 broad
Belief Systems: India
The Caste System
The Brahmins – priests and teachers – the highest caste
“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance,
honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness--these are
the qualities by which the brahmanas work.”
- Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 18, Verse 42
Belief Systems: India
The Caste System
2. The Kshatriyas – warriors, soldiers
• “Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle,
generosity, and leadership are the qualities of work for the ksatriyas.”
- Bhagavat Gita, Ch. 18, Verse 43.
Belief Systems: India
The Caste System
3. The Vaishyas – merchants and artisans
4. The Sudras – unskilled laborers and servants
• “Farming, cow protection and business are the qualities of work for the
vaisyas, and for the sudras there is labor and service to others.”
- Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 18, Verse 44
Belief Systems: India
Outcastes – Untouchables – “Dalits”
• Too low to be in the caste system
• Considered “impure” from birth
• Perform jobs that are traditionally considered “unclean”
- scavengers
- clean toilets and sewers
- handle dead bodies
- many Dalit girls forced into prostitution
Belief Systems: India
The Caste System – Jatis
• Hundreds of sub-castes.
• Exclusive social groups defined by birth, marriage
occupation, region, dialect.
• The higher a person's birth, the greater the blessings.
Belief Systems: India
• Is 2,500 years old.
• Originated in Nepal when it was part of India.
• Currently 376 million followers worldwide.
• There is no belief in a personal God. It is not centered on the
relationship between humanity and God
• Buddhists believe that nothing is fixed or permanent - change is always
Belief Systems: India
• Founder: Siddharta Gautama (580 - ) born in Nepal.
• He was born into a royal family, and his privileged life
insulated him from the sufferings of life; sufferings such as
sickness, age and death.
• Once he left his royal surroundings he saw an old man, a
sick man, and a corpse. He learned that sickness, age,
and death are inevitable. He decided to give up his royal
lifestyle and become an ascetic.
Belief Systems: India
• Buddha became a wandering monk, devoting himself to meditation and
denying himself of material pleasure.
• After six years of asceticism, he concluded that suffering was not the
• He devoted his life to the “Middle Way” a life without luxury or poverty.
• Most important Buddhist doctrines:
- Four Truths for the Spiritually Noble
- The Eightfold Path
Belief Systems: India
Buddhism - Four Truths for the Spiritually Noble
Suffering is a fact of life.
- Birth, aging, sickness, death, encountering the
unpleasant, separation from the pleasant, and not gaining what
one desires
2. Origin / Cause of suffering:
- Unsatisfied cravings, desires
- Negative deeds and actions
Belief Systems: India
Buddhism - Four Truths for the Spiritually Noble
3. Cessation of suffering = nirvana.
4. The path to the cessation of suffering.
- that path is known as the Eightfold Path.
• Like in Hinduism, Buddhism recognizes reincarnation and karma. Your
karma determines what form your reincarnation will take.
Belief Systems: India
Buddhism – The Eightfold Path
Correct view – accurate understanding of the nature of things
Correct intention – avoiding thoughts of attachment, hatred, and of
harmful intent.
Correct speech – refraining from lying, hurtful, harsh, devisive
Correct action – refraining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct
Belief Systems: India
Buddhism – The Eightfold Path
5. Correct livelihood – avoid selling drugs, weapons, slaves, poisons
6. Correct effort – abandoning negative thoughts and actions ; sustaining
positive thoughts and actions
7. Correct mindfulness – awareness of body, mind, spirit
8. Correct concentration – through meditation
Belief Systems: India Belief
Systems: India
Sikhism - monotheistic
Sikhism was born in the Punjab area of South Asia,
which now falls into the present day states of India and
1.3% of India’s population are Sikhs.
The Sikh faith was founded by Guru Nanak around 1500 CE.
Sikhism combines elements of Hinduism & Buddhism (cycle of life, death, reincarnation, karma) with
Islam (monotheism, all humans equal in the eyes of God).
Sikhism stresses the importance of doing good actions rather than merely carrying out rituals /
emphasizes honest living and hard work.
Sikhs reject the caste system.
Sikhs have had strained relations with Hindus and Muslims.
Belief Systems: India
Jainism is an ancient religion from India that teaches that the way to liberation and
bliss is to live lives of harmlessness and renunciation.
No single founder. The truth has been revealed at different times by a tirthankara =
There are no gods or spiritual beings that will help human beings.
Animals and plants, as well as human beings, contain living souls. Each of these
souls is considered of equal value and should be treated with respect and
compassion. (ahisma – non-violence).
Jains are strict vegetarians and live in a way that minimizes their use of the
world's resources.
Believe in karma as a determination of what the person’s soul will be reincarnated
as. The goal is to be liberated from the cycle of rebirth.
Belief Systems: India
Islam arrived in the Ganges basin in the 7th century, but its influence was
not really felt until the Turks arrived in the 11th and 12th centuries CE.
Muslim rulers sought to conquer Hindu territories and, from the 17th
century, to assert the superiority of Islam.
India under the Mughals was ruled by Muslims.
• Islam was established — and flourished — chiefly in areas where
Buddhism was in a process of slow decline, that is mainly around
modern-day Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kashmir.
Politics and Government: India
Pre-Imperial Rule
• 1500-500 BCE - Aryan conquest.
• 513 BCE - Persians under Darius conquered the Indus Valley –
brought India in contact with Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece.
- As part of the larger Persian Empire, Indian
commerce grew.
• 326 BCE – After defeating the Persians, Alexander the Great
(Macedonia / Greece) took the Indus Valley.
Politics and Government: India
India had three major forms of imperial rule:
The Mauryan Empire (322 – 180 BCE)
The Gupta Empire (320 – 480 CE)
The Mughal Empire (1526 – 1858)
In between these periods, India was divided and suffered from
constant warfare.
Beginning in 711 CE, Arab Muslim armies invaded and plundered
By 1206, Persian, Afghan, and Turkish Muslim armies made Islam a
permanent fixture on the subcontinent.
Politics and Government: India
The Mauryan Empire (322 – 180 BCE)
Alexander the Great’s retreat from India led to the rise of the first unified Indian
Empire under Chandragupta Maurya.
- United the Gangetic and Indus Valleys.
- Made Pataliputra the capital city.
- Learned from the Persians how to divide territory into provinces and rule
through governors.
- Established a bureaucracy to help govern and collect taxes on
agriculture that financed public services.
- The state exercised control over all mines and forests, some farms,
granaries, shipyards, and spinning and weaving factories.
India under the Maurya
Politics and Government: India
The Mauryan Empire (322 – 180 BCE)
Ashoka (269-232 BCE), Chandragupta’s grandson, extended the empire to its
farthest limits.
261 BCE - He embraced Buddhism after a particularly bloody was of conquest
against Kalinga over 100,000 were killed in battle.
- He used the governors in his empire to spread Buddhist teaching
all over India and beyond.
For the rest of his rule, Ashoka promoted non-violence, humane treatment for
all, from Brahmans to slaves.
Asoka saw government as a father that takes care of his children without giving
them much freedom.
After he died, the dynasty declined and eventually the empire collapsed.
Politics and Government: India
2. The Gupta Empire (320 – 480 CE)
Controlled less territory than the Mauryans, but they were able to unify much of
northern India under their rule.
Modeled their government after the Mauryans.
Under Chandragupta II (375-415) India achieved its “Golden Age”
- Indian cash crops – sugar, cotton, pepper, cinnamon was in
great demand.
- Mathematics – the “Arabic” numerical system was developed.
- developed the concept of “zero”
- The arts, poetry, drama flourished / Kalidasa = “India’s Shakespeare”
- Religious toleration.
Politics and Government: India
2. The Gupta Empire (320 – 480 CE) – The Economy
• The textile industries were well developed:
- Silk, calico, muslin, linen, wool, cotton were produced in large
quantities and exported.
- Merchants (Vaisyas) were well respected.
• Around 480, the invasions of the Huns from Central Asia dealt the
dynasty the final blow.
Politics and Government: India
Islamic Conquests
• Arab Muslims first pushed into the subcontinent beginning in 711.
• 870-1030 – Turks from Central Asia came.
- Systematically looted palaces and temples, destroyed religious
• 1206 – Dehli Sultinate – led by Persians
- Muslims saw Buddhism as a bigger threat than Hinduism
Politics and Government: India
3. The Mughal Empire (1526-1858)
• The largest, wealthiest, and most populous of the Islamic empires of
the modern world.
• Babur (1483-1530), Turkish ruler claiming to be descendent of Mongol
conquerors Ghenghis Khan and Tamarlane, conquered northern India.
• Mughals (Mongols) were mostly Turks, Persians, Afghans.
Politics and Government: India
3. The Mughal Empire (1526-1858)
The high point of Mughal rule in India – Akhbar (1556-1505)
- Through conquest, he expanded and consolidated India under
centralized, Mughal rule.
- Developed a sophisticated bureaucracy to govern his vast
- Practiced religious tolerance and promoted people of talent to
positions of administration irrespective of religious affiliation
(Hindus made up 30% of his imperial bureaucracy).
- Abolished the property tax on non-Muslims
- Made Persian the official language of the Empire
Politics and Government: India
3. The Mughal Empire (1526-1858)
Akhbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan
(1628-1658) continued to
consolidate Mughal rule throughout
Had the “Taj Mahal” constructed in
honor of his wife who died giving
birth to their 15th child.
Politics and Government: India
3. The Mughal Empire (1526-1858)
The origins of the decline of the Mughal Empire start with Shah Jahan’s son –
Aurangzeb (1658-1707).
Strict Muslim – sent officials to enforce Islamic laws against gambling,
prostitution, drinking & the use of narcotics.
Forbade suttee.
Re-imposed the tax on non-Muslims.
Ordered the destruction of some Hindu temples / Made Hindus pay higher
customs taxes than Muslims / but employed more Hindus in the imperial
administration than any other Mughal ruler.
Height of the Mughal Empire
India & China Rising
Thematic Questions
Compare the principles of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Islam).
Do you think India’s native religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism) will help or hinder
India’s current economic reforms?
Why is the Aryan invasion of India theory so controversial to the understanding of the origins of
Indian civilization?
Compare the political theories of Kautilya, aide to India’s Chandragupta Maurya, the Chinese
Legalists, and Niccolo Machiavelli.
Compare the crisis of conscience experienced by Ashoka Maurya and Emperor Constantine
affected their respective empires.
Discuss the major achievements of Indian civilization during the three great imperial periods.
For most of India’s early history (up to British colonialism), the country found itself divided. What
other great ancient civilization in this project also found itself divided? Did the absence of unity
help or hinder cultural achievements?
Recommended Web Sites
 The British Museum
0306/feature1/ - Untouchables
sm/ - Hinduism and Indian history

Ancient Civilizations: India and China