Sunday, November 11, 2018

Introduction to Ancient History of India

The history of India includes the prehistoric settlements and societies in the Indian subcontinent; the advancement of civilization from the Indus Valley Civilization to the eventual blending of the Indo-Aryan culture to form the Vedic Civilization the rise of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism the onset of a succession of powerful dynasties and empires for more than three millennia throughout various geographic areas of the Indian subcontinent, including the growth of Muslim dominions during the Medieval period intertwined with Hindu powers the advent of European traders and privateers, resulting in the establishment of British India; and the subsequent independence movement that led to the Partition of India and the creation of the Republic of India.

Ruins of Harappa and MohenJo Daro

Archaeological evidence of anatomically modern humans in the Indian subcontinent is estimated to be as old as 73,000–55,000 years with some evidence of early hominids dating back to about 500,000 years ago. Considered a cradle of civilization, the Indus Valley Civilization, which spread and flourished in the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent from 3300 to 1300 BCE, was the first major civilisation in South Asia. A sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture developed in the Mature Harappan period, from 2600 to 1900 BCE. This civilisation collapsed at the start of the second millennium BCE and was later followed by the Iron Age Vedic Civilisation. The era saw the composition of the Vedas, the seminal texts of Hinduism, coalesce into Janapadas (monarchical, state-level polities), and social stratification based on caste. The Later Vedic Civilisation extended over the Indo-Gangetic plain and much of the Indian subcontinent, as well as witnessed the rise of major polities known as the Mahajanapadas. In one of these kingdoms, Magadha, Gautama Buddha and Mahavira propagated their Śramaṇic philosophies during the fifth and sixth centuries BCE.

During the life time of Lord Gautam Buddha, sixteen great powers (Mahajanpadas) existed in the 7th and early 6th centuries BC. Among the more important republics were the Sakyas of Kapilavastu and the Licchavis of Vaishali. Besides the republics, there were monarchical states, among which the important ones were Kaushambi (Vatsa), Magadha, Kosala and Avanti. These states were ruled by vigorous personalities who had embarked upon the policies of aggrandisement and absorption of neighbouring states. However, there were distinct signs of the republican states while those under the monarchs were expanding.
Buddha was born in BC 560 and died at the age of eighty in BC 480. The place of his birth was a grove known as Lumbini, near the city of Kapilavastu, at the foot of Mount Palpa in the Himalayan ranges within Nepal. Buddha, whose original name was Siddhartha Gautama, was the founder of Buddhism, the religion and the philosophical system that evolved into a great culture throughout much of southern and eastern Asia.

Sanchi Stupa
In 326 BC, Alexander invaded India, after crossing the river Indus he advanced towards Taxila. He then challenged king Porus , ruler of the kingdom between the rivers Jhelum and Chenab. The Indians were defeated in the fierce battle, even though they fought with elephants, which the Macedonians had never before seen. Alexander captured Porus and, like the other local rulers he had defeated, allowed him to continue to govern his territory.
During this trip to rivers Hydaspes and Indus in the south, Alexander sought out the Indian philosophers, the Brahmins, who were famous for their wisdom, and debated with them on philosophical issues. He became legendary for centuries in India for being both, a wise philosopher and a fearless conqueror.
One of the villages in which the army halted belonged to the Mallis, who were said to be one of the most warlike of the Indian tribes. Alexander was wounded several times in this attack, most seriously when an arrow pierced his breastplate and his ribcage. The Macedonian officers rescued him in a narrow escape from the village.
Alexander and his army reached the mouth of the Indus in July 325 BC, and turned westward for home.
The period of the Mauryan Empire (322 BC-185 BC) marked a new epoch in the history of India. It is said to be a period when chronology became definite. It was a period when politics, art, trade and commerce elevated India to a glorious height. It was a period of unification of the territories which lay as fragmented kingdoms. Moreover, Indian contact with the outside world was established effectively during this period.
The confusion following the death of Alexander gave Chandragupta Maurya an opportunity to liberate the countries from the yoke of the Greeks, and thus occupy the provinces of Punjab and Sindh. He later overthrew the power of Nandas at Magadha with the aid of Kautilya, and founded a glorious Mauryan empire in 322 BC. Chandragupta, who ruled from 324 to 301 BC, thus, earned the title of liberator and the first emperor of Bharata.
At a higher age, Chandragupta got interested in religion and left his throne to his son Bindusar in 301 BC. Bindusar conquered the Highland of Deccan during his reign of 28 years and gave his throne to his son Ashoka in 273 BC. Ashoka emerged not only as the most famous king of the Maurya dynasty, but is also regarded as one of the greatest king of India and the world.
His empire covered the whole territory from Hindu Kush to Bengal and extended over Afghanistan, Baluchistan and the whole of India with the exception of a small area in the farthest south. The valleys of Nepal and Kashmir were also included in his empire.
The most important event of Ashoka's reign was the conquest of Kalinga (modern Odisha) which proved to be the turning point of his life. The Kalinga war witnessed terrible manslaughter and destruction. The sufferings and atrocities of the battlefield lacerated the heart of Ashoka. He made a resolve not to wage war any more. He realised the wickedness of worldly conquest and the beauty of moral and spiritual triumph. He was drawn to the teachings of Buddha and devoted his life to the conquest of men's heart by the law of duty or piety. He evolved a policy of Dharma Vijaya, 'Conquest by Piety'.
Ashoka was succeeded by weak rulers, which encouraged the provinces to proclaim their independence. The arduous task of administering such a vast empire could not be executed by the weak rulers. The mutual quarrel among the successors also contributed to the decline of the Mauryan Empire.

In the beginning of the 1st century A.D., the Kushanas established their authority over the north-west frontier of India. The most famous among the Kushana kings was Kanishka (125 A.D.-162 A.D.), who was the third in the Kushana dynasty. The Kushana rule continued till the middle of 3rd century A.D. The most notable achievement of their rule was the development of Gandhara School of Art and further spread of Buddhism into distant regions of Asia.

After the Kushanas, the Guptas were the most important dynasty. The Gupta period has been described as the Golden Age of Indian history. The first famous king of the Gupta dynasty was Ghatotkacha's son Chandragupta I. He married Kumaradevi, the daughter of the chief of the Licchavis. This marriage was a turning point in the life of Chandragupta I. He got Pataliputra in dowry from the Lichhavis. From Pataliputra, he laid the foundation of his empire and started conquering many neighbouring states with the help of the Licchavis. He ruled over Magadha (Bihar), Prayaga and Saketa (east Uttar Pradesh). His kingdom extended from the river Ganges to Allahabad. Chandragupta I also got the title of Maharajadhiraja (King of Kings) and ruled for about fifteen years.
Chandragupta I was succeeded by Samudragupta in about 330 A.D., who reigned for about fifty years. He was a great military genius and is said to have commanded a military campaign across the Deccan, and also subdued the forest tribes of the Vindhya region.

Samudragupta's successor Chandragupta II, also known as Vikramaditya, conquered the extensive territories of Malwa, Gujarat and Kathiawar. This provided exceptional wealth, which added to the prosperity of the Guptas. The Guptas in this period engaged in sea trade with the countries of the west. It was most probably during his reign that Kalidas, the greatest Sanskrit poet and dramatist, as well as many other scientist and scholars flourished.
The decline of the Gupta power in northern India between the close of 5th and the 6th century A.D. gave rise to various small independent kingdoms and attracted foreign invasions of Huns. Toramara was the leader of the Huns and was successful in annexing large parts of the Gupta Empire. His son, Mihirakula was a cruel barbarian and one of the worst tyrants known. Two native powerful princes, Yasodharman of Malwa and Baladitya of Magadha crushed his power and put an end to his reign in India.