POST HARAPPAN PERIOD (1200-500 BC)
The material that helped me write this segment of Indian history is derived from both archaeological findings and from the writings from that period. A careful scrutiny of such evidence all but convinced me that, of all segments of Indian history, the period that helped shape the Indian persona, its character, it’s standing in world history and philosophy is this post-Indus valley civilization era. While no dynasty or major settlements (in the manner of Indus valley civilization) dominated this period, one witnesses the laying down of the foundation of and flowering of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism to such extent that these teachings remain substantially unchanged almost 3 millennia later. The literary gems that were composed during this period remain masterpieces of philosophical and theological thoughts.
This process began with the composition of the “Vedas” but flowered into the epics “Ramayana” and “Mahabharata”. An off-shoot of the latter and of great significance to Hindu way of life is the “Bhagavad-Gita”. Pure philosophical discourses without any references to historical events are the Upanishads. In contrast, the “Puranas” dwell upon dynasties that date back to the 4th Millennia BC. After the above treatises helped define Hinduism, two more major religions took root in India. Both also originated about the same period (6th Century BC). The first, Jainism, a strict ascetic religion remained confined to India but Buddhism not only spread all over India and Sri Lanka but also to China, Japan, Korea, Viet Nam and most countries of the South East.
Instead of dividing this period of Indian history into time segments, I will describe the above major literary and philosophical works and the religious teachings. They will at once help us delve into the Indian psyche and the historical time lines. Thus, the following major subsections will be the platform; however, when an important personality, event or dynasty demands our attention, we will take a suitable detour:
1) Roots of Hinduism
2) Vedic Hinduism
3) Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavad-Gita
4) Jainism and Buddhism
5) Pre-Mauryan states
1) ROOTS OF HINDUISM:
I have already indicated in the section on Indus Valley civilization that certain hints of distinctly Indian belief systems had already developed there. In the 3rd Millennia BC, these village-dwelling people left terra-cota figurines of women there and these have been believed to be some fertility deity. Combined with figures of bull, scholars see a connection between this civilization and the Mediterranean area. The “Great Bath”, a structure found in the central part of the Citadel in Mohenjo-Daro is thought to have been used for ritual bathing. Measuring 897Sq ft, the bath was constructed of fine bricks, approximately 8ft lower than the surrounding pavement. Flights of steps led to the level of the bath and an adjacent well supplied the water for the bath. All modern Hindu temples have large bathing ponds with similar construction and are obvious descendants of this “Great Bath”
While the scriptures left by these peoples have not been deciphered and therefore appropriate interpretation is difficult, small conical objects thought to be phallic emblems definitely show a link to later day Hinduism and the deity Lord Shiva. Another reminder of this tradition are the ‘ghats’ (the bathing steps on river banks) which are found in most Hindu temples of today. Belief in “sacred animals” and trees also make a link between the Harappan civilization and Hinduism.
2) VEDIC HINDUISM (2nd Millennium to 7th century BC):
“Creative energy was there with energy and action,
But who really knows where this creation came from?
For the gods came after the world’s creation.
Who could know the source of this creation and how it was produced?
The one seeing it in the highest heaven only knows,
Or may be it does not” from The Rig Veda.
I have included the sacred scripture of Vedas along with the Upanishads as they deal with the same general theme, were composed in roughly the same time period and because, collectively, they define the Hindu belief systems. The Vedas were composed around 1400 BC, the Upanishads between 1100 and 700 BC. Most scholars regard the Vedas as the most important (Veda= “Books of Knowledge”), of which there are four main Texts: “Rig Veda” (the oldest, the wisdom of the verses), the “Sama Veda” (wisdom of the Chants) the “Yajur Veda” (wisdom of the sacrificial formulas) and the “Atharva Veda” (wisdom of the Atharva Priests).
Composed in the 2nd Millennia BC and organized into 10 books or Mandalas, much of Rig Veda is devoted to description of the influx of the fair skinned “Aryans” (“the noble ones”) into India. There they discover, already flourishing, city dwellers of the Harappan culture. With their superior military weaponry the “Aryans” subdued and then enslaved the dark skinned “dasyus” (the indigenous inhabitants of the Indus valley). Thus, many of the hymns in the Rig Veda are devoted to glorifying this conquest and the justification of it.
The Rig Veda is also concerned with rituals to pacify the many Gods that Hindus already believed in. These were Indra (the foremost god of the Vedic pantheon), Varuna (the guardian of the cosmic order), Agni (the sacrificial fire) and Surya (the sun). The rites of marriage and disposal of the dead were described in the Rig Veda and has been followed in later Hinduism. Some special rituals in Rig Veda are contained in the “Soma sacrifice”, using a hallucinogenic beverage. In this practice, animal sacrifice, usually of goats was made in honor of the hallucinogen in Soma juice. During the sacrifice the juice was also poured on the offerings and toasted to different gods. During the Rig Veda period the Brahmins (the priests and teachers of the scriptures) emerged as the specialists in such rituals and one can see the beginning of the caste system in Hinduism.
Sama Veda is a compilation of melodies and music for the chants of Rig Veda. The contents of Sama Veda represent the origin of the Indian music as well as of the musical notes, which later became the basis of the Western musical notes.
Yajur Veda dates to the 10th Century BC, by which time the priestly class and the ruling Kshatriyas accumulated wealth and power in their hands and the structure of the Hindu class system was in place. This Veda text is divided into two “Samhitas” (collections), the White and the Black, the latter being somewhat obscure. The text deals with the construction of the altars for and performance of the various rituals and animal sacrifices. The highest form of sacrifice was the “Sarvamedha” in which the sacrificer paid all his possessions as fee at the end of the ceremony.
Atharva Veda, the last of the Vedas compilations, deals primarily with magical spells and incantations. Positive spells included those conducted for successful childbirth, romance, virility and for healing many ailments. The negative spells were for attempting to cause disease or other harm to the enemies. After the period of Atharva Veda, all sacrificial performance required four priests, each an expert in the four Veda Samhitas. Atharva Veda has other positive manifestations in that philosophical and abstract thinking started to appear and seems to be the forerunners of the Upanishads.
“Upanishad” means “those who sit near” implying that this learning was from listening closely to a teacher. Composed between 1100 and 700 BC, the abstract, esoteric, highly introspective philosophical renditions do not speak of sacrifices or conducting rituals (that the Vedas were concerned with) but seem to seek answers to unknowable and unanswerable questions regarding the undying soul and its connection with God the “Supreme Soul”. Although there are at least one hundred Upanishads but only 14 contain scriptural material. These are the Aitareya, Brhadaranyaka, Chandogya, Isavasya, Katha, Kaivalya, Kausitaki, Kena, Maitri, Mandukya, Mundaka, Prasna, Svetasvatara and Taittiriya Upanishads.
Even before the Upanishads, Hinduism, with its caste system was well in place. The Brahmin caste, with its almost exclusive knowledge of the Vedas were the priests and teachers. The Kshatriya were the ruling caste, vaisyas were the farmers and merchants and the sudras the working class. Justification for this strict division of labor can be found in the following hymn from the Rig Veda:
“The Brahmin was His mouth,
Of both His arms was the Rajanya made.
His thighs became the Vaisya,
From His feet the Sudra was produced”.
The Upanishads attempt to make the connection to the Supreme Soul, the Brahma though meditation and numerous chants were described. A very limited collection of these is presented below:
“He the Supreme Soul, who dwells in all human beings, who controls all beings, yet, whom the beings do not know, is the inner ruler, the imperishable”.
“God dwells in the heart, where, like the spokes of a wheel on its limb, the arteries come from all over the body. Worship Him by repeating the word OM. By doing so you will cross over and beyond darkness”.
“He is the knower of everything. His glory is manifest in the universe He created. He shines in the hearts of people. He is the One who has endowed us with a mind and has given us life. Wise people recognize Him in their own heart and receive His bliss by finding the glorious eternal within”.
“Sinless sages see the glorious Lord in their own hearts-the Lord who is attainable through truthfulness, meditation, wisdom and continuous self-discipline”
The Upanishads repeatedly dwell on the subject of the indestructible nature of the soul.
“At death the voice goes into the mind, the mind into the breath, the breath into heat and heat into the highest divinity, the finest essence of truth and soul”
“Truly, indeed, when the living soul leaves it,
This body dies; the living soul does not die.
That which is the subtle essence
This whole world has for its soul.
That is reality (truth). That is the soul.
That you are, Svetaketu
“Speech is to be valued, because it makes known right and wrong,
True and false, good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant.
Mind is revered, because it enables one to do sacred work.
Will is valued, because heaven and earth and all things were
Formed by being willed.
Thought is important, because it is better not to be thoughtless.
Meditation is revered, because one attains greatness by meditation.
Understanding is valued, because by it we can understand everything.
Strength maintains everything. Food, water, heat and space
Each has their value. Finally also memory, hope, and life (prana)
Are to be revered”
Through passage after passage, encompassing 200 Upanishads, in these spirited writings by sages and teachers, who remain anonymous, the Hindu philosophy flowered. These were perfect springboard for the later teachings of the Buddha and the great volumes of Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as the philosophic masterpiece Bhagavad-Gita.
For further reference the reader is directed to: The Bhagavan Mahima.The Hindu Scriptures,
Vol I, The Vedas, Vol II the Upanishads, Sacred Books inc., and http://www.san.beck.org/EC7-vedas.html