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(3,000 BC-412 AD) by Lance Wilson and MichaelHolland


"An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind." - Buddha (BrainyQuote.com)


The earliest Indian civilization was rooted in the Indus River valley, around the twin capitals Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, which means "place of the dead." They were the first planned cities, with city blocks built around a central citadel, or fortress. The earliest Indians were theocracies, and their religion was Animism, which is the belief that spirits inhabit all things of nature. Around 1,500 BC, the Aryans, an Indo-European group, invaded India from the northwest with a desire for more cattle and took over the area. The Aryan society was based on tribes, ruled by a Raja, meaning "prince". They brough a new religioin, based on gods that represented forces of nature. Their supreme god, who created the universe, was called That One. Eventually they also created a system of writing. This writing was called Sanskrit. Among the works written in Sanskrit were Ramayana, a recording of the
duties and ideals of an Aryan warrior, and the Mahabharata, the world's longest poem, which contains over 90,000 stanzas. Their society was based on the caste sytem, which contained several social classes from priests down to peasants and those so low on the social ladder that they weren't even considered human.

After the Aryans invaded, they combined their religious beliefs with those of the native Indians. The result was
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The Buddha under the Bo Tree, where he reached Enlightenment.

Hinduism, which is based on Brahman, a single supreme force that unites the universe and karma, which is the actions in this life that affect one's rebirth in the next. Suffering in this life is believed to be a result of bad karma from a previous life. There are over 33,000 principle gods in Hinduism, but the three main gods are Brahma, the creator of the world, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. The other major religion was Buddhism. Buddhism began with Siddhartha Gautama, a man who was the heir to the throne of his father. At age 29, while on an errand outside the palace, he was an old man, sick man, and a dead man. The experience impacted him to the point where began travelling around India, searching for the cure for human suffering. While meditating under a Bo tree, Siddhartha reached enlightenment, and became known as the Buddha, or Enlightened One. He discovered during this meditation that life was full of suffering, and that suffering was caused by desire. In order to attain Nirvana, one must renounce desire and follow the middle way, which includes having the right view, intentions, speech, actions, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. Today the spiritual leader of Buddhism is the Dali Lama.

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Vishnu, the preserver and one of three main gods in Hinduism.
There were many empires that ruled in Ancient India, both foreign and domestic. The first invaders were the Aryans, who took over in 1,500 BC, established a system of tribes and castes, and generally asserted superiority over the native Indians. That empire weakened around 1,000 BC. King Darius, the leader of the Persian Empire, conquered the Indus Valley, but went no farther. Alexander the Great conquered the same area in 327 BC, taking most of northwest India. However, the empire fell apart after his death, and in 324 BC a new dynasty created an empire in India, organized by Chandragupta Maurya, who held his capital city, Pataliputra, on the Ganges River. His grandson, Asoka, was considered 2nd to Buddha, and was the greatest ruler of ancient India. This empire lasted a few hundred years before fading. Finally, in AD 310, the Gupta Empire was founded. This was a golden age in Indian history. During this time they developed the concept of zero, the decimal system, and the arabic numeral system. The also invented the scalpel, the process of setting broken bones, and a form of plastic surgery during this time. The Gupta Empire reached its greatest extent under Chandragupta II, who ruled from 375 AD- 415 AD.

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Key Terms


  1. Caste System - A sytem of social classes in ancient Indian civilization based on a person's occupation and skin color. The castes include Brahmans (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaisya (commoners), Sudras (the dark skinned, non-Aryan peasants), and Untouchables (those who did the most demeaning task).
  2. Nirvana - The ultimate reality and perfect peace in Buddhism, and the end of the self and a reunion with the world.
  3. Silk Road - The road between China and the Roman Empire that transported silk and other goods from the former to the later.
  4. Monsoon - The seasonal winds that bring warm, moist air from the Indian Ocean to India in the summer and cool, dry air from the Himalayas in the winter. During the summer monsoon their is the potential for many feet of rain to fall, causing flooding but also feeding agricultural needs.
  5. Raja - Raja was the ancient Aryan word for "prince." It can be modified into Maharaja, which means "great prince" or "king."

Important People

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A statue of the Buddha.


Siddhartha Gautuma: The man known as the Buddha, or the Enlightened One, whose teachings became the basis for the Buddhist religion. He was born into a wealthy ruling family, but eventually left to achieve enlightenment. (Right)

Chandragupta Maurya: The man who founded the new Indian state and drove out foreign invaders. He also divided the empire into provinces that were ruled by his appointed governors.

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A statue of Asoka, a strongly Buddhist and very kind leader of India.

Asoka: The grandson of Chandragupta, whose rule was guided with Buddhist ideals. He was known as a kind ruler, and is often considered the greatest ruler in Indian history. (Left)


Aryabhata: Aryabhata was a famous mathematician of the Gupta Empire, and was among the first to have used algebra. He was also among the group that introduced the concept of zero and the Indian-Arabic numerical system, which is used around the world today.

Samudragupta: The second monarch of the Gupta empire who made it a dominant political force in India. His rule began an era of great prosperity in Indian culture.


Video


This video presents information about the Gupta Empire.

Map


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Timeline of Key Events


1500 BC: The Aryans invade India becoming the dominant race in the region.
1000 BC: Sanskrit, the written language of the Aryans, is first used.
563 BC: Siddhartha Gautama, who would become known as the enlightened one, is born.
500 BC: Darius, the king of Persia, invades and conquers the Indus River Valley.
327 BC: Alexander the Great conquers northwest India, pushing his empire to its largest extent.
324 BC: Chandragupta Maurya, the first emperor in India, takes power, establishing the Mauryan Dynasty.
100 BC: Mahabharata, the world's longest poem, is published.
310 AD: The Gupta Empire begins, establishing the golden age of India, marked by advances in mathmatics and medicine.
375 AD: Chandragupta II, who would push the Gupta Empire to its largest extent, takes power.
415 AD: Chandragupta II dies, ending the golden age of India.

For more information:


The British Museum: The British Museum website provides a useful resource for the research of ancient India's history and religions.
BBC History: BBC History provides several slideshows that provide both pictures and useful information about places and developments in ancient India.
History for Kids: This website provides a lot of information about ancient India and the events that happened during this time period.
Wikipedia: History of India: Wikipedia's article on the history of India includes many of the events in ancient India, as well as some from more modern India.
India: Past and Present: This website contains information about the life and culture of ancient India. It also includes customs of the Aryan and Guptan eras.