After the year 1000 BCE, the world continued to be disturbed by migrations, on the subcontinent called India as well. Around the year 1000, 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. They found these societies with a more egalitarian organization than they had, and they exercised a common arrogance: they despised them for being different, for not having kings as autocratic as theirs and for having strange religious beliefs.
By now, these were people with iron tools and weapons, iron having spread eastward through Persia. And with their superior weaponry and self-confidence, the migrants fought those who resisted their advance. Some priests went as missionaries to southern India. Occasionally the missionaries felt mistreated. And their king's warrior nobles came south to their rescue. But southern India remained independent of northern rule.
With Hindu conquerors settling alongside local peoples, a complex hierarchy of classes had 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.
By around the 700s or 600s BCE, the migrations had ended, and with their new successes in agriculture came an increase in population. They created cities. 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. By 600 BCE, numerous cities had arisen in northern India – cities with fortifications, moats and ramparts in response to the dangers of war. In northern India along the Ganges River, sixteen different kingdoms had emerged.
There, Brahmins gave 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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