Tuesday, August 9, 2011

India's Classic Age

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Indian cities are prosperous and stretch far and wide. There are many guest houses for travelers. There are hospitals providing free medical service for the poor. The viharas and temples are majestic. People are free to choose their occupations. There are no restrictions on the movement of the people. Government officials and soldiers are paid their salaries regularly. People are not addicted to drinks. They shun violence. The administration provided by the Gupta rulers is fair and just. (John Marshall,16)

Archaeological excavations have brought to light the remains of a highly developed urban civilization in ancient India that stretched across approximately 150 kilometers, extending from the area on the upper Sutlaj in contemporary Punjab to Lothal in Gujarat. Historians are of the view that this civilization flourished in the third millennium before the birth of Christ.

It is known by the name of the two of its great cities Harappa and Mohenjodaro situated on the left and the right bank respectively of the river Ravi in Punjab. The two cities were built on a similar plan houses constructed with standard burnt bricks arranged in squares, along roads intersecting at right angles. The houses varied in size but were all based on the same plan a small courtyard surrounded by rooms with entrances in side alleys, often multistoried with no windows opening out to the street. The houses had bathrooms and the drains flowing out were connected to covered sewers with soak-pits. This unique sewage system is amongst the most impressive achievements of the Indus people and sets them apart from all other ancient civilizations.

“The earliest literary source that sheds light on Indias past is the Rig Veda. It is difficult to date this work with any accuracy on the basis of tradition and ambiguous astronomical information contained in the hymns. It is most likely that Rig Veda was composed between 1,500 B.C. and 1,000 B.C.” (H.D.Sankalia, 174)

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The most famous of the Mauryas is Ashoka the Great (reign 7 - B.C.). He extended the boundaries of his empire considerably stretching from Kashmir and Peshawar in the North and Northwest to Mysore in the South and Orissa in the East but his fame rests not so much on military conquests as on his celebrated renunciation of war. After witnessing the carnage at the battle field of Kalinga (6 B.C.) in Orissa, Ashoka resolved to dedicate himself to Dhamma or righteousness.

It was Chandra Gupta II (reign 80 - 41 A.D.) Samudra Guptas successor who finally defeated the Sakas and re-established a strong central authority. His reign registered the high watermark in Indian culture. His accomplishments in war and peace were glorious enough for him to claim the title Vikramaditya the resplendent, great, and good king of legends. Fa-hien, a Chinese traveler who was in India from to 414 A.D. has left an interesting account of contemporary India. This age of peace and prosperity witnessed an unprecedented flowering of art, literature and the sciences.

The number of Dravidisms in all aspects of the language including phonology increased in the post-Rigvedic era.

The large majority appear first in the classical language, but in its early stage, being first recorded in Panini, Patanjali, Mahabharata, Srautasutra, etc. The majority appear also in Pali, which is important for dating since these canonical texts take us back to a period from 500-00 B.C.

Indian is an ancient civilization and an inheritor to a rich and diverse cultural tradition. The Fairs and Festivals celebrated across the length and breadth of the land present a fascinating pageant and showcase the resplendence of its arts and crafts tradition. Some festivals are of religious nature, others are linked with the lives of the people, change of seasons and harvesting. There are fairs which in past played an important role in the commercial life of the people and continue to be celebrated with great gusto.




Baisakhi and other harvest festivals




Guru Purnima

Regional Festivals

Education in ancient India was systematic. Kids were taught by a guru (a teacher). Even chief’s sons had to obey the guru. All students followed a rigorous course of studies which were imparted orally. Writing was done on bark and leaves, and hence was perishable, so we have very few rock edicts to tell us what they studied or what they wrote.

This ancient civilization must have had marvelous craftsmen, skilled in pottery, weaving, and metal working. The pottery that has been found is of very high quality, with unusually beautiful designs. Several small figures of animals, such as monkeys, have been found. These small figures could be objects of art or toys. There are also small statues of what they think are female gods. So far, scientists have found no large statues. They have found bowls made of bronze and silver, and many beads and ornaments. The metals used to make these things are not found in the Indus Valley. So, either the people who lived in this ancient civilization had to import all of these items from some other place, or more probably, had to import the metals they used to make these beautiful things from somewhere else.

John Marshall, Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India 1-4, Calcutta, 16, p. 47.

H.D.Sankalia, Prehistory and Protohistory of India and Pakistan nd ed., Poona, 174, pp. 84-85.

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