Art & Culture Notes Part 2 – Cultural Developments through Ages

IMPORTANCE OF STUDYING HISTORY

  • History is no longer treated as merely a study of dates and events and that too largely only political events.
  • These include the study of patterns of life, which we call culture.
  • Culture was once defined as that which relates to art, architecture, literature and philosophy. Now it includes all the activities of a society.
  • Therefore the emphasis of history has shifted from the study of only the upper groups of society to all levels of society.
  • It now covers information on kings and statesmen as well as on ordinary people who make history.
  • It includes the study of art and architecture, of the evolution of langauges in India, literature and religion.
  • We also try to reconstruct the interests and concerns of people at lower levels.
  • The people that went into the making of our society, at both the aristocratic and the ordinary level, were not all indigenous to India
  • They married locally, intermixed with the exisiting people and became a part of Indian society.
  • Our society, therefore, has a rich heritage of different kinds of people. Because of this large variety of people, there has been an equally large variety of religions, langauges, and customs in our country.
  • The correct understanding of history depends on two things. One is a careful and critical use of source material given to us by historians defending certain statements which should be decided on rational analysis.
  • Secondly, historical events have causes and these causes should be fully examined.

ANCIENT INDIA

  • India has a continuous history covering a very long period. Evidence of neolithic habitation dating as far back as 7000 BC has been found in Mehrgarh in Baluchistan.
  • The first notable civilization flourished in India around 2700 BC in the north western part of the Indian subcontinent, covering a large area.
  • The civilization is referred to as the Harappan civilization.
  • The culture associated with the Harappan civilization is the first known urban culture in India.
  • Agriculture was the main occupation of the Harappans who were living in rural areas. Those living in the cities carried on internal and external trade and developed contacts with other civilizations such as Mesopotamia.
  • By 1800 BC the Harappan civilization began declining. However, we do not know the exact reasons why this happened.

VEDIC CULTURE

  • A few centuries after the decline of the Harappan civilization, a new culture flourished in the same region and gradually spread across the Ganga-Yamuna plains. This culture came to be known as the Aryan culture.
  • Aryans settled on the banks of rivers Indus (Sindhu) and Saraswati (which is now non existent).
  • They composed many hymns in honour of the gods and goddesses they worshipped. These were compiled in four Vedas – the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda.
  • Since our knowledge of the early Aryans is based on these Vedas, the culture of this period is referred to as the Vedic Culture.

Society and religion      

  • Though Aryan society was patriarchal, women were treated with dignity and honour. The family was the smallest social unit; several families (kula) made a village (grama) and several villages formed a vis.
  • A number of villages formed a tribe or janawhich was ruled by a chief called rajan.
  • There was no concept of the state or kingdom at this stage. Although the post of Rajan had become hereditary, he could be removed from power if found weak and inefficient or cruel.
  • Towards the later Vedic period, society was divided into four varnas – Brahamanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras.
  • This was also called the Varna-Vyavastha
  • To begin with it denoted categories of people doing different kinds of functions but with the passage of time this division became hereditary and rigid.
  • Another important social institution of the time was the system of chaturashrama or the division of life span into four distinct stages i.e. brahmacharya (period of celibacy, education and disciplined life in guru’s ashram), grihastha (a period of family life), vanaprastha (a stage of gradual detachment and sanyasa (a life dedicated to spiritual pursuit away from worldly life).
  • Women were respected by the society, enjoyed freedom, had access to education and were often free to choose their partners through swayamvara. Purdah and sati was not prevalent.
  • The early Vedic people worshipped forces of nature and personified them as gods and goddesses. Indra, Agni, Varuna, Marut were some of their gods while Usha : Aditi, Prithvi were some of their goddesses
  • There was a change in religious practices during the later Vedic period. The prominent Gods of the early Vedic period like Indra, Agni and Varuna lost their prominence
  • Sanskrit mantras, which were the monopoly of Brahmins, became an essential part of all religious functions. This made the Brahmins very powerful and the Yajnas expensive.
  • The kings performed Ashvamedha, Rajasuya and Vajapeya sacrifies to establish their position.
  • It is very interesting to know that some elements of the culture of the Vedic Age have survived over a period 3,000 yrs and continues to be a part of Indian culture even today.

Material life and economy

  • The Aryans were primarily pastoral and agricultural people. They domesticated animals like cows, horses, sheeps, goats and dogs.
  • They ate simple food consisting of cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables, milk and various milk products.
  • They drank a beverage called Soma. Games of chess, chariot racing etc. were their modes of entertainment.
  • In the early period there was no money transaction or taxes. Bali or voluntary donation was prevalent.
  • Cows were the measure of wealth.
  • As the time passed, extensive use of iron brought great changes in their material life. Iron axes enabled them to clear forests leading to the expansion of agriculture throughout the Gangetic plains.
  • By sixth century BC, there were some sixteen large territorial states in North India and upper Deccan known as Mahajanapadas. Important among them were Anga, Magadha, Kosala, Kashi, Kuru, and Panchala.

POPULAR RELIGIOUS REFORMS

  • This period (B.C. 600 to B.C. 200) is important not only for political unity of the country but also for cultural unity.
  • Ancient India saw the rise of two very important religions, Jainism and Buddhism which left a lasting influence on Indian life and culture.
  • Vedic religion was earlier also known as Brahmanism because the Brahmins played a major role in it. Later it came to be called Hinduism.
  • Brahmins considered themselves superior to the other varnas and became arrogant.
  • This led to the unpopularity of Brahminism and a need for reforms was felt.
  • The reforms led by the Kshatriyas and aided by the poorer masses who could not afford the high cost of sacrifices, resulted in the emergence of Jainism and Buddhism around sixth century BC.
  • The founder of Jainism is believed to be Rishabhadeva, the first of the twenty four tirthankaras and as the last tirthankara Mahavira developed and gave final shape to the Jain doctrines.
  • The Jains lay great emphasis on severe penance and asceticism
  • Lord Mahavira asked them to take five vows – not to tell lies; not to injure life; not to own property; not to steal; and to maintain chastity (celibacy).
  • The other movement was led by Gautama Buddha (563 – 483 BC), a younger contemporary of Mahavira.
  • He taught the Four Noble Truths. His path was the middle path.


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