Chapter Two
The Foundation
of Indian Society,
to C.E. 300
Mohenjo Daro
Mohenjo Daro
Mohenjo-daro, in southern
Pakistan, was one of the bestknown cities of the Harappan--or
Indus--civilization. It was a planned
city, built of fired mud bricks. Its
streets were straight, and covered
drainpipes were installed to carry
away waste. From sites like this
we know that the early Indian
political elite had the power and
technical expertise to organize
large, coordinated building
projects. (Josephine Powell)
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Figurine from Mohenjo-daro
Figurine from Mohenjo-daro
This small stone figure from
Mohenjo-daro is thought to depict a
priest-king. The man's beard is
carefully trimmed and his upper lip
shaved. The headband and armband
have circular ornaments, probably
once filled with colored paste. His
robe with its trefoil designs was
probably also filled with colors to
suggest the fabric more vividly.
(National Museum, Karachi)
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Bronze statue from Indus Valley
Bronze statue from Indus Valley
This small bronze statue from the
Indus Valley was found in a house in
Mohenjo-daro. It represents a young
woman whose only apparel is a
necklace and an armful of bracelets.
Appearing relaxed and confident,
she has been identified by some
scholars as a dancer. (National
Museum, New Delhi)
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Harappan seal
Harappan seal
The Bronze Age urban culture of the
Indus Valley is known today, alternatively,
as the Harappan civilization, from the
modern name of a major city.
Archaeologists have discovered some
three hundred Harappan cities in both
Pakistan and India. It was a literate
civilization, but no one has been able to
decipher the more than four hundred
symbols inscribed on stone seals and
copper tablets. The Indus civilization
extended over nearly 500,000 square
miles in the Indus Valley, making it more
than twice as large as the territories of the
ancient Egyptian and Sumerian
civilizations. This molded tablet,
discovered among the many small
objects at Harappan sites, depicts a
female deity battling two tigers. It
provides a glimpse of early Indian
religious imagination and daily life. (J.M.
Kenoyer/Courtesy Department of
Archaeology and Museums, Government
of Pakistan)
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Harappan jewelery
Harappan jewelery
Among the small objects found in the Indus Valley are these pieces of
jewelry--made of gold and precious stones--which give some insight into the
daily life of the time. (J.M. Kenoyer/Courtesy Department of Archaeology and
Museums, Government of Pakistan)
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Jain Ascetic
Jain Ascetic
Vardhamana Mahavira (fl. ca. 520 B.C.E.) was the key figure of Jainism. He accepted the doctrines
of karma and rebirth but developed these ideas in new directions. Like many ascetics of the period,
he left home to become a wandering mendicant ascetic. The most extreme of Jain ascetics not only
endured the elements without the help of clothes but were also generally indifferent to bodily
comfort. The Jain saint depicted in this eighth-century cave temple has maintained his yogic
posture for so long that vines have grown up around him. (Courtesy, Robert Fisher)
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Great Stupa at Sanchi, North Gate
Great Stupa at Sanchi, North
Gate
The North Gate is one of four
ornately carved gates guarding the
Buddhist memorial shrine--the
Great Stupa--at Sanchi, Madhya
Pradesh, Satavahana. The
complex at Sanchi, in central India,
was begun by Ashoka in the third
century B.C.E., though the gates
probably date to the first century.
The elaborate relief sculpture on
the gates includes Buddhist
symbols, scenes from the lives of
the Buddha, and voluptuous female
tree spirits. (Jean-Louis Nou/akgimages)
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Queen Maya's Dream
Queen Maya's Dream
The stupa erected at Bharhut in
the second century B.C.E. depicts
stories of the Buddha's previous
lives and events in his life as
Shakyamuni. In this panel we see
the legend of his conception. As a
lamp flickers at Queen Maya's
bedside, a large white elephant
hovers above her before
descending into her side.
(Government of India, Department
of Archaeology)
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Fasting Buddha
Fasting Buddha
This sculpture of the Buddha,
showing the effects of a protracted
fast, is from Gandhara in northwest
India. It displays the influence of
Greek artistic styles emanating from
Greek settlements established in that
region by Alexander the Great in the
late fourth century B.C.E. (Courtesy,
Robert Fisher)
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Vishnu asleep
Vishnu asleep
In this stone relief from a temple at
Deogarh, in central India, Vishnu
reclines on the coiled body of a
giant multiheaded serpent that he
subdued. The beneficent god of
preservation, Vishnu appears in a
new incarnation whenever
demonic forces threaten the world.
The Indian view of the vastness of
time is embodied in this mythic
image, which conceives of Vishnu
as creating and destroying
universes as he exhales and
inhales. (John C. Huntington)
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Ashoka's column
Ashoka's column
The best preserved of the pillars that
King Ashoka erected in about 240
B.C.E. is this one in the Bihar region,
near Nepal. The solid shaft of polished
sandstone rises 32 feet in the air. It
weighs about 50 tons, making its
erection a remarkable feat of
engineering. Like other Ashokan pillars,
it is inscribed with accounts of Ashoka's
political achievements and instructions
to his subjects on proper behavior.
These pillars are the earliest extant
examples of Indian writing and a major
historical source for the Mauryan
period. (Borromeo/Art Resource, NY)
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Kushan girl
Kushan girl
In 20 B.C.E., a nomadic tribe, the
Kushans, began their rule of the
region of today's Afghanistan,
Pakistan, and west India as far south
as Gujarat. During the Kushan
period, Greek culture had a
considerable impact on Indian art.
Here, a young Kushan woman on
this second-century stone sculpture
wears bracelets, necklaces, and
earrings. She is carrying a platter of
food, perhaps for a feast. (Courtesy,
Archaeological Museum, Mathura)
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Bodhisattva at Bamian, lst B.C.
Bodhisattva at Bamian, lst B.C.
Carved into the side of a cliff at
Bamiam, this was one of two
monumental Buddhist sculptures
near the top of a high mountain pass
connecting Kabul, Afghanistan, with
the northern parts of the country.
Carved in the sixth or seventh
century, the sculptures were
surrounded by cave dwellings of
monks and rock sanctuaries, some
dating to the first century B.C.E. (Ian
Griffiths/Robert Harding Picture
Library)
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Relief, Sailing Vessel, Indian Ocean, from Borobudur
Relief, Sailing Vessel, Indian Ocean, from Borobudur
Ships like this Indian Ocean sailing vessel, in a rock carving in the Buddhist
temple of Borobodur in Java (built between 770 and 825), probably carried
colonists from Indonesia to Madagascar. (Ancient Art & Architecture
Collection)
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Map Ancient India
Ancient India
Mountains and ocean largely separate the Indian subcontinent from the rest of Asia. Migrations and invasions usually came through the
Khyber Pass, in the northwest. Seaborne commerce with western Asia, southeast Asia, and East Asia often flourished. Peoples speaking
Indo-European languages migrated into the broad valleys of the Indus and Ganges Rivers in the north. Dravidian-speaking peoples
remained the dominant population in the south. The diversity of the Indian landscape, the multiplicity of ethnic groups, and the primary
identification of people with their class and caste lie behind the division into many small states that has characterized much of Indian
political history. (Copyright (c) Houghton Mifflin Company. All Rights Reserved.)
Copyright © Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Map: India from ca. 2500 B.C.E. to 300 C.E.
India from ca. 2500 B.C.E. to 300 C.E.
The earliest civilization in India developed in the Indus River valley in the west of the subcontinent. The Ganges
River valley was the heart of the later Mauryan Empire. Although India is protected from the cold by the mountains
in the north, mountain passes in the northwest allowed both migration and invasion. (Copyright (c) Houghton
Mifflin Company. All Rights Reserved.)
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