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INDIA, EMPIRE and CHAOS (1 of 10)

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India, Empire and Chaos

Migration and a New Civilization | The Upanishads | Hinduism in the 500s BCE | the Jains | Buddhism's founder, Siddartha Gautama | Epic Hindu Literature | Chandragupta | the Buddhist Emperor, Ashoka | Military coup and invasions | the Gupta Dynasty

Asian subcontinent

Asian subcontinent to 500 BCE

Migration and a New Civilization

subcontinent image

Around the year 1000 BCE, tribes living in the Indus Valley began running from drought. They trekked eastward along the foot of the Himalayan mountains, where jungles were less dense and rivers easier to cross. They entered the plains of the Ganges Valley, and there they found these societies with a more egalitarian organization than they had, and they despised them for being different, for not having kings as autocratic as theirs and for having strange religious beliefs.

By now, these migrating Hindus had iron tools and weapons, iron having spread eastward through Persia. And with their superior weaponry and self-confidence, the migrants advanced against local resistance.

With the Hindu conquests, a complex hierarchy of classes developed. At the top were the priests and their entire families: the Brahmins. Also at the top were the warrior-aristocrats, the Kshatriyas, whose job it was to practice constantly for combat. Neither the Brahmins nor the Kshatriyas conceded superiority to the other, but they agreed that the other classes were lower than they. The first of these lower classes was the Vaishyas and their families: those conquerors who tended cattle and served the Brahmins and Kshatriyas in others ways. The lowest class was the conquered, darker-skinned people who were servants for the conquerors. The servants were called Shudras. Hindus made these four classifications a part of their mythology and religion.

People from different classes could dine together. A man from a non-Brahmin family could still become a Brahmin. A Brahmin might marry a woman from a lower caste whom he found attractive, but this was a male prerogative. A girl from a Brahmin family was allowed to marry only someone also from a Brahmin family.

The conquerors sent priests as missionaries to southern India. And occasionally these missionaries felt mistreated and warrior nobles went to their rescue. But southern India remained independent of northern rule.

By around the 700s or 600s BCE, the migrations ended, and with their new successes in agriculture came an increase in population. In northern India, by the Ganges River and its tributaries cities arose, cities with fortifications, moats and ramparts in response to the dangers of war. In northern India sixteen different kingdoms emerged.

Traders, merchants and landlords appeared, as did money lenders. Indians began trading with Arabia and the great empire of the Assyrians. In the 600s, India began trading with China, the Malay peninsula and the islands of what are now Indonesia and the Philippines.

Hindu Brahmins were giving instruction to local elites who had not been completely Hinduized. These elites were accustomed to deference from local people. They resisted the claims of Brahmins to higher rank and were offended by the posturing, pride and arrogance of the Brahmins. Some of them were opposed to the bloodletting of Hinduism’s animal sacrifices. Some of them thought the Brahmins too involved in ceremonial formalities and ritual and saw the Brahmin’s view of gods and salvation as strange.

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