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Classical Civilization: India


This tradition ultimately constructed a complex, vigorous religion of Hinduism. ... Two major religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, marked classical India. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Classical Civilization: India

Chapter 3
  • Classical Civilization India
  • I) The Framework for Indian History Geography
    and a Formative Period
  • II) Patterns in Classical India
  • III) Political Institutions
  • IV) Religion and Culture
  • V) Economy and Society
  • VI) Indian Influence
  • VII) China and India

Chapter 3 Introduction
  • The classical period of Indian history provides a
    number of contrasts to that of China. Whereas
    focus in classical China was on politics and
    related philosophical values, the emphasis in
    classical India shifted to religion and social
    structure. There were also distinctions in
    Indias scientific tradition and the tenor of the
    economy and family life.
  • There were some similarities, such as both India
    and China were agricultural societies, where most
    people were peasant farmers focused on food
    production for their own families survival. Male
    ownership of property created a strongly
    patriarchal flavor, where women were held as
    inferiors and treated as possessions.
  • Both India and China produced important cites and
    engendered significant trade, which created the
    basis for formal intellectual life, including
    schools and academies.

I) The Framework for Indian History Geography
and a Formative Period
  • Important reasons for Indias distinctive path
    lie in geography and early historical experience.
    India was much closer than China to other
    civilizations, both the Persian empire and
    Alexander the Great invaded India, bringing new
    artistic styles and political concepts.
  • Indias topography shaped a number of vital
    features of its civilization. The vast Indian
    subcontinent is partially separated from the rest
    of Asia (and particularly from East Asia) by
    northern mountain ranges, notably the Himalayas.
    Mountain passes linked India to civilizations in
    the Middle East.
  • Much of India is semitropical, and summer can
    bring torrential monsoon rains, crucial for

I) The Framework for Indian History Geography
and a Formative Period
  • Though it was not as isolated as China, the
    subcontinent was nevertheless set apart within
    Asia. The most important agricultural regions are
    along the two great rivers, the Ganges and the
  • During its formative period, called the Vedic and
    Epic ages, the Aryans (Indo-Europeans),
    originally from central Asia, impressed their own
    stamp on Indian culture. During these ages, the
    caste system, Sanskrit (language), and various
    belief systems were introduced.
  • Sacred books called the Vedas passed down the
    knowledge from this formative period. New
    stories developed during the Epic Age (1000 BCE
    600 BCE) included the Mahabhararta, Indias
    greatest poem, and the Ramayana, both which deal
    with real and mythical battles. The Upanishads
    were epic poems with a more mystical quality.

I) The Framework for Indian History Geography
and a Formative Period
  • The characteristics Indian caste system also
    began to take shape during the Vedic and Epic
    ages, perhaps as a means of establishing
    relations between the Aryan conquerors and the
    indigenous people the Aryans regarded as
  • Aryan social classes (varnas)partly enforced
    divisions in agricultural societies. The warrior
    or governing class (Kshatriyas) and the priestly
    class (Brahmans) stood at the top of the social
    ladder, followed by the traders or farmers
    (Vaisyas) and common laborers (Sudras). A 5th
    group evolved called the untouchables, who it was
    widely believed that touching these people would
    defile anyone from a superior class.
  • The Aryans brought to India a religion of many
    gods and goddesses who regulated natural forces
    and possessed human qualities, such as Indra, the
    god thunder and of strength. This tradition
    ultimately constructed a complex, vigorous
    religion of Hinduism. Toward the end of the Epic
    period one religious leader, Gautama Buddha,
    built oon the mysticism to create another major
    religion, Buddhism.

II) Patterns in Classical India
  • By 600 B.C.E., India had passed through its
    formative stage. Indian development during its
    classical era did not take on the structure of
    rising and falling dynasties, as in China.
  • Patterns in Indian history were irregular and
    often consisted of invasions through the
    subcontinents northwestern mountain passes. As a
    result, classical India alternated between
    widespread empires and a network of smaller
    kingdoms. Even during the rule of the smaller
    kingdoms, both economic and cultural life
  • In 322 BCE a young soldier named Chandragupta
    Maurya seized power along the Ganges River and
    became the first of the Mauryan dynasty of Indian
    rulers, who were in turn to help unify the Indian
  • The greatest of the Mauryan emperors was
    Chandraguptas grandson Ashoka (269-232 B.C.E.).
    He extended Mauryan control to all but the
    southern tip of India, and ultimately converted
    to Buddhism, believing in dharma, or the law of
    moral consequences.
  • After Ashoka the empire began to fall apart and
    new invaders, the Kushans, pushed into central
    India from the northwest, a new line of Kings,
    the Guptas did not produce as dynamic a leader as
    Ashoka, but they did provide classical India with
    its greatest period of stability.

III) Political Institutions
  • Classical India did not develop the solid
    political and cultural institutions the Chinese
    experienced, nor the high level of political
    interest of Greece and Rome. Chandraguptas chief
    minister, Kautilya, did write an important
    treatise on politics, but it was devoted to
    telling rulers what methods would work to
    maintain power, like the legalists in China.
  • Its greatest features, still observable today,
    were political diversity and regionalism. The
    Guptas, for example, did not require a single
    language for all their subjects.
  • The development of a rigid caste system lies at
    the heart of this characteristic. In its own way,
    the caste system promoted tolerance, allowing
    widely different social classes to live next to
    each other, separated by social strictures.
    Loyalty to caste superseded loyalty to any
    overall ruler.
  • Religion, particularly Hinduism, was the only
    uniting influence in Indian culture.

IV) Religion and Culture
  • Two major religions, Hinduism and Buddhism,
    marked classical India.
  • Hinduism, the religion of Indias majority, is
    unique among world religions in that no central
    figure is credited for developing it. Hinduism
    encouraged both worldly and mystical pursuits and
    was highly adaptable to varying groups. The
    mystics, often called gurus as they gathered
    disciples around them, and the Braham priests
    agreed on certain doctrine.
  • The divine aspect of Brahma are manifested in the
    form of several gods, including Vishnu the
    preserver and Shiva, the destroyer. The quest of
    seeking unity with one's soul took many
    lifetimes, therefore Hindus stress the principle
    of reincarnation., in which the soul does not die
    when the body does but passes into other beings,
    either human or animal.

IV) Religion and Culture
  • Buddhism was founded on the teachings of an
    Indian prince, Gautama, later called Buddha, or
    enlightened one.
  • Buddha accepted many Hindu beliefs but rejected
    its priests and the caste system it supported.
  • Buddhism spread through missionaries into Sri
    Lanka, China, Korea, and Japan.

IV) Religion and Culture
  • Classical India also produced important work in
    science and mathematics.
  • The Gupta-supported university at Nalanda taught
    religion, medicine, and architecture, as well as
    other disciplines. Indian scientists, borrowing
    ideas from Greek learning provided by Alexander
    the Great, made important discoveries.
  • Still more important were the mathematical
    advancements, including the concept of zero,
    Arabic numerals, and the decimal system.
  • Indian thinkers about various aspects of human
    life. A manual of the laws of love, the
    Kamasutra, written in the 4th century discusses
    relationship between men and women. Indian
    artists created shrines to Buddha called stupas
    and painted in lively colors.

V) Economy and Society
  • India developed extensive trade both within the
    subcontinent and on the ocean to its south. The
    caste system described many key features of
    Indian society and its economy.
  • The rights of women became increasingly limited
    as Indian civilization developed however, male
    dominance over women was usually greater in
    theory than in practice.
  • The economy in this era was extremely vigorous,
    especially in trade, surpassing that in China and
    the Mediterranean world. Merchants traded from
    the Roman Empire to Indonesia to China.

In Depth Inequality as the Social Norm
  • The Indian caste system, like the Egyptian
    division between noble and commoner and the
    Greco-Roman division between free and slave,
    rests on the assumption that humans are
    inherently unequal.
  • All classical social systems (with the partial
    exception of Athens democracy) played down the
    importance of the individual and emphasized
    obligations to family, group, and government.
    This runs counter to modern Western notions about
  • Classical China and Greece probably came closest
    to modern views about individuality, but in both
    civilizations, it was largely expected that
    rulers should come from societys elites. In
    China thinkers made much of the distinctions
    between the scholar -gentry elite and common
  • In nearly all societies throughout most human
    history, few challenged the natural order of
    social hierarchy and fewer still proposed

VI) Indian Influence
  • Because of its extensive trading network, Indian
    cultural influence spread widely, especially in
    Southeast Asia.
  • Buddhism was a leading cultural export.
  • Indian merchants often married into royal
    families in other areas.
  • Political dominance of outside peoples was not a
    characteristic of Indian governments.

VII) China and India
  • China and India offer important contrasts in
    politics and society, yet they resembled each
    other in that both built stable structures over
    large areas and used culture to justify social
  • The restraint of Chinese art contrasted with the
    more dynamic style of India. The latter developed
    a primary religion, Hinduism, while the former
    opted for separate religious and philosophical
  • Chinese technological advancements stressed
    practicality, while Indians ventured into
    mathematics for its own sake. Indian merchants
    played a greater societal role than their Chinese
  • Both, however, relied on large peasant classes in
    agrarian settings both accepted political power
    based on land ownership.

Global Connections India and the Wider World
  • No classical civilization was more open to
    outside influences than India. None were more
    central to cross-cultural exchanges in the common
  • Important innovations in mathematics and science
    came from classical India.
  • Buddhism is one of the few truly world religions.
    Indian influence was especially important in
    Southeast Asia.
  • Placed between the great empires and trading
    networks of the Mediterranean and of China, India
    was ideally situated for its culture to influence
    both East and West