100000 Years Story of BHARAT (INDIA):
India’s history and culture is dynamic, spanning back to the beginning of human civilization. It begins with a mysterious culture along the Indus River and in farming communities in the southern lands of India. The history of India is punctuated by constant integration of migrating people with the diverse cultures that surround India. Available evidence suggests that the use of iron, copper and other metals was widely prevalent in the Indian sub-continent at a fairly early period, which is indicative of the progress that this part of the world had made. By the end of the fourth millennium BC, India had emerged as a region of highly developed civilization.
Hindus believe that time is cyclical. So there is no one Ramayana or Mahabharata. These events recur in every cycle (kalpa). Each cycle has four phases (yuga), and Ramayana takes place in the second, and Mahabharata in the third. Between each cycle there is pralaya (end of the world) when all matter is dissolved and the only memory that survives is the Vedas.
The last Ice Age, when much of the earth was covered with snow, ended about 10,000 years ago. The faith-based school believes the Ice Age marked the last pralaya. Based on astronomical information such as position of constellations and time of eclipses available in scriptures, they have concluded that events in the Ramayana took place 7,000 years ago and events in the Mahabharata took place 5,000 years ago. The sages Valmiki and Vyasa witnessed these events, and composed epics, not merely to share the story, but to reveal how their protagonists, Ram and Krishna, used Vedic wisdom to engage with society. However, this traditional view is not accepted by scientists.
According to scientists, after the Ice Age, we find rise of human civilisation around the world, especially in river valleys. We find settlements in South Asia as confirmed by cave paintings and various Stone Age artefacts. The Harappan city civilisation thrived around the rivers Indus and Saraswati in the North West for a thousand years from 5,000 years ago to 4,000 years ago, with trade links to Egypt and Mesopotamia. Climate changes, and the drying of Saraswati, led to the collapse of this civilisation. We don’t know what language was spoken here so we don’t know if they were aware of Ram or Krishna.
The only image recognisable is one that suggests Shiva in meditation. While Harappan cities collapsed, the ideas found in the Harappan civilisation did not die out and probably served as one of the many tributaries to the river we called Indic culture. And so plants such as pipal, symbols such as swastika and mathematical proportions such as 5:4 (one and one quarter) which have been traced in Harappan cities are still very much part of contemporary Indian faith systems.
As the Harappan civilisation (cities without language) waned, the Vedic civilisation (language without cities) waxed, marked by hymns in a language similar to the language of a nomadic people who migrated out 5,000 years ago from Eurasia towards Europe in the West and India via Iran in the East. The migration of a people and/or language took place over several centuries. It was never an invasion as British Orientalists imagined.
According to language experts, while proto-Sanskrit may have come from Eurasia, the language we call Sanskrit today emerged in the region where Harappan cities once thrived. Did the two people mingle, exchange ideas? Did the Veda-chanting people inhabit the dying Harappan cities? Evidence is weak. The people speaking Vedic Sanskrit eventually spread further east towards the Ganga where they established a thriving civilisation 3,000 years ago. The hymns refer to an eastward migration. Reference to iron is found in later hymns. Archaeologists have found painted greyware pottery in the Gangetic plains that can be dated to this period. So we are fairly confident that Vedic civilisation thrived in the Gangetic plains 3,000 years ago.
The epics refer to events in the Gangetic plains, so can we say these events happened around 3,000 years ago? Events in the Mahabharata refer to the upper Gangetic plains (Indraprastha, near modern Delhi) and the behaviour of people is rather crude as compared to the very refined behaviour found in the Ramayana and which describes events in the lower Gangetic plains (Ayodhya, Mithila) and further south. Can we say events in the Ramayana took place after the Mahabharata, and the refinement indicates passage of time and evolution of culture? However, this goes against what the epics themselves say. In the Mahabharata, the Pandavas are told the story of an ancient king called Ram, which makes Ramayana, at least narratively, an earlier tale. This makes things confusing.
Now the Vedic hymns are written in a Sanskrit called Vedic Sanskrit while the oldest Ramayana and Mahabharata texts we have are written in a Sanskrit called Classical Sanskrit. The latter uses a grammar first documented by Panini who lived 2,500 years ago. So the oldest versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata that we have today are less than 2,500 years ago, but they could be describing events that occurred many hundred years before that.
The Mauryan kings introduced writing to India 2,300 years ago and Vedic hymns started being put down in writing less than 2,000 years ago. Until then the corpus of Vedic knowledge was transmitted orally. This gave the Brahmins, carriers of Vedic knowledge, special status in society. Brahmins were challenged by hermits (shramana) who valued contemplation and meditation more than rituals. They spoke words of wisdom that appealed to society. The most popular hermit was the Buddha who lived 2,500 years ago. The hermits rejected the Vedic rituals and the householder’s life. Ramayana and Mahabharata seem to have been composed as a reaction to this hermit revolution, so after the age of the Buddha, they argue in favour of the householder’s life and reveal how hermit’s wisdom can be used within the household.
They may have used actual historical events as a framework to present their ideas, and embellished the story with fantastic elements. But it is tough to separate what may have really occurred, and what is fantasy, what is memory and what is imagination. Violent arguments break out when you suggest that ancient aeroplanes (Pushpak Viman) may be fantasy, and ancient transgenderism (Shikhandi) may be fact.
Scholars are of the opinion that many Brahmins contributed to the many editions of the two epics. This editing took place over 600 years from 2,300 years ago to 1,700 years ago. In other words, the epic we have now is seen as the work of multiple, not single, authors. Regional versions came much later: Tamil Ramayana is about 1,000 years old, Hindi Ramayana and Mahabharata about 500.
The Indus Valley Civilization
The History of India begins with the birth of the Indus Valley Civilization, more precisely known as Harappan Civilization. It flourished around 2,500 BC, in the western part of South Asia, what today is Pakistan and Western India. The Indus Valley was home to the largest of the four ancient urban civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China. Nothing was known about this civilization till 1920s when the Archaeological Department of India carried out excavations in the Indus valley wherein the ruins of the two old cities, viz. Mohenjodaro and Harappa were unearthed. The ruins of buildings and other things like household articles, weapons of war, gold and silver ornaments, seals, toys, pottery wares, etc., show that some four to five thousand years ago a highly developed Civilization flourished in this region.
The Indus valley civilization was basically an urban civilization and the people lived in well-planned and well-built towns, which were also the centers for trade. The ruins of Mohenjodaro and Harappa show that these were magnificent merchant cities-well planned, scientifically laid, and well looked after. They had wide roads and a well-developed drainage system. The houses were made of baked bricks and had two or more storeys.
The highly civilized Harappans knew the art of growing cereals, and wheat and barley constituted their staple food. They consumed vegetables and fruits and ate mutton, pork and eggs as well. Evidences also show that they wore cotton as well as woollen garments. By 1500 BC, the Harappan culture came to an end. Among various causes ascribed to the decay of Indus Valley Civilization are the recurrent floods and other natural causes like earthquake, etc.
The Vedic civilization is the earliest civilization in the history of ancient India. It is named after the Vedas, the early literature of the Hindu people. The Vedic Civilization flourished along the river Saraswati, in a region that now consists of the modern Indian states of Haryana and Punjab. Vedic is synonymous with Hinduism, which is another name for religious and spiritual thought that has evolved from the Vedas.
The Ramayana and Mahabharata were the two great epics of this period.
From a vantage point atop Ramtek Hill 52 km south of Nagpur is a cluster of temples on the cliff’s edge. Legend has it that Rama, the hero of the epic Ramayana, visited this hill with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman, leaving his footprint here. It was once believed that these temples were built by the Bhonsle Marathas, who had taken over the region in the 18th century CE. Their red, brick-coloured fort below, built on the ruins of a medieval-era Gond fort, would have been a fortress guarding against the forest tribes beyond. The temples above were their shrine.
But a series of excavations atop Ramtek and below, within and around the fort in Nagardhan village, have revealed a layered story and an important chapter in Indian history, dating back more than 1,600 years.
It has unearthed evidence of a large capital city, a powerful dowager Queen, evidence of India’s most famous poet Kalidasa being here, and the story of empire-builders and strategists for whom this stretch of land was crucial in managing the subcontinent.
Who Were the Vakatakas?
These ruins and clues within them tell us plenty about the Vakatakas, sometimes described as an ‘obscure’ dynasty in the history of India. Yet they were significant builders of the famed Ajanta Caves (built by the western arm of the Vakatakas ) in Aurangabad, they were the political or temporal successors of the earlier Satavahanas, and they acted as a buffer for the Gupta Emperors in the Deccan.
There were two distinct branches of the Vakatakas – the original Nandivardhana branch, which ruled from Nagardhan, and the parallel though slightly later Vatsagulma branch, which ruled from present-day Washim (Washim District, Maharashtra).
Vindhyashakti’, mentioned in the Puranas as well as in an important inscription in the Ajanta Caves, is believed to have come down from the area around present-day Bundelkhand, a region divided between present-day Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. His son Pravarasena I enjoyed a long and successful rule, during which he extended his kingdom to Vidarbha, the northeastern region of Maharashtra. The Vatsagulma branch was begun by Pravarasena’s second son Sarvasena after Pravarasena’s death.
The reigns of Vindhyashakti and Pravarasena have been dated to the end of the 3rd century CE, till about 335 CE. Pravarasena was followed by his grandson Rudrasena I (his son Gautamiputra had passed away). Interestingly, in a long tradition that goes back to the Satavahanas (when the powerful Gautamiputra Satkarni reigned), here too we find mention of the matrilineal lines of some of the key Vakataka rulers.
Rudrasena’s mother, for instance, according to inscriptions, was the daughter of Bhavanaga, the King of the Bharasiva Nagas of Padmavati, south of present-day Gwalior. This alliance, historians believe, would have allowed the Vakatakas to cement their position and expand their kingdom.
However, by the time of the next king Prithvisena I, there seems to have been some trouble. While inscriptions referring to this ruler have been found in Baghelkhand, in the Northern part of Madhya Pradesh bordering UP, we also know that the ruler of this region was one of the many who was defeated by the Gupta King, Samudragupta, as he built his empire. Scholars like V V Mirashi and D R Bhandarkar have dated Prithvisena’s rule to about 350 CE.
India Through Kalidasa’s Eyes (5th CE)
Far back in time, King Raghu, an ancestor of Lord Ram and ruler of the Ikshvaku dynasty, conquered the region of Aparanta (today’s Konkan) and with this, he completed his conquest of India, from Kamarupa (Assam) to India’s Western coast. The next in his sights was the conquest of ‘the Land of Parasikas’ or Persia.
But it presented a peculiar conundrum. Should he take the easy sea route from the port of ‘Kalyana’ (Kalyan) or the perilous land route through the Thar Desert? After pondering this for a while, King Raghu and his army took the land route to Persia through Sindh and the Bolan Pass, before reaching Southern Persia. Here, he defeated an army of bearded Persian horsemen, and this was followed by his conquest of the land of the Hunas on the banks of the Vankshu River (Oxus) and the land of the Kambojas (Xinjiang province of China).
This fascinating snippet on the conquest of Persia, Afghanistan and Western China of Lord Ram’s ancestor is found in the epic Sanskrit poem Raghuvamsa, composed by celebrated Sanskrit poet Kalidasa in the 5th century CE. What makes Raghuvamsa so fascinating is that apart from the exploits of Lord Ram’s ancestor, we also find very interesting snippets of information.
For example, it tells us that Persia was famous for its vine creepers (‘draksavalayabhilmisu’) and its trade in precious furs (‘ajinaratna’). There are references to the cultivation of saffron flowers in Afghanistan ‘which got stuck to the manes of King Raghu’s horses’ or the walnut trees (Aksota) in the Xinjiang region, to which King Raghu’s elephants were tied. When we think of writers and poets of ancient India, the stereotype is that of ‘inward looking’ people, who were unaware of the world around them and were prone to exaggeration. There has been a general tendency to use the accounts for foreign travellers to piece together life in contemporary India at the time. But so much can be gleaned about life in India 1,500 years ago, from food to politics, by studying the works of Mahakavi Kalidasa alone.
One of the most detailed studies on daily life in the times of Kalidasa was carried out by Banaras Hindu University historian Bhagwat Saran Upadhyaya, between 1935 and 1945, published as India in Kalidasa (1947). By analysing Kalidasa’s poems and plays, Upadhyaya pieces together what daily life in India – food, politics, education and even entertainment – must have been like at the time. It is an invaluable resource for details on life under the Gupta Empire, during which time Kalidasa lived.
The Buddhist Era
During the life time of Lord Gautam Buddha, sixteen great powers (Mahajanpadas) existed in the 7th and early 6th centuries BC. Among the more important republics were the Sakyas of Kapilavastu and the Licchavis of Vaishali. Besides the republics, there were monarchical states, among which the important ones were Kaushambi (Vatsa), Magadha, Kosala and Avanti. These states were ruled by vigorous personalities who had embarked upon the policies of aggrandisement and absorption of neighbouring states. However, there were distinct signs of the republican states while those under the monarchs were expanding.
Buddha was born in BC 560 and died at the age of eighty in BC 480. The place of his birth was a grove known as Lumbini, near the city of Kapilavastu, at the foot of Mount Palpa in the Himalayan ranges within Nepal. Buddha, whose original name was Siddhartha Gautama, was the founder of Buddhism, the religion and the philosophical system that evolved into a great culture throughout much of southern and eastern Asia.
The Ikshavakus: Myth Meets History In Andhra (3rd CE – 4th CE)
Anyone familiar with the Indian epics and the Puranas will know of the Ikshavaku. After all, Lord Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, was a proud scion of this clan, named after the legendary king Ikshavaku mentioned in the Vedas.
But centuries after the writing of the epics, there was another dynasty, in the South, in peninsular India, that took this title. The Ikshavakus, who ruled the present-day region around Andhra Pradesh way back in the 3rd and 4th centuries CE, were undoubtedly trying to seek divine legitimacy by appropriating the name of this ancient clan. But was there a deeper connection? After all, there was a legend that the Ikshavaku of the Vedas was the son of the ruler of the southern kingdoms and hence also the protector of the five territories of the non-sacrificing, non-Aryan, pre-Aryan peoples. The Atharva Veda and the Brahmanas also refer to them as ‘non-Aryans’ and this led the well-known Orientalist of the late 19th-early 20th century CE, F E Pargiter, to associate them with the Dravidian people.
We will never know how much of this is plausible or whether there is any truth to the tales of yore, but we can piece together the story of the historic Ikshavakus of Andhra, who left quite a legacy, starting in the 3rd century CE, even though their grand capital was swallowed up by the waters of the Nagarjuna Sagar Dam in the 20th century.
You can trace the trail of the Ikshavakus through Vijayapura (present-day Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh) and the many inscriptions that its rulers and their families left behind.
In 326 BC, Alexander invaded India, after crossing the river Indus he advanced towards Taxila. He then challenged king Porus , ruler of the kingdom between the rivers Jhelum and Chenab. The Indians were defeated in the fierce battle, even though they fought with elephants, which the Macedonians had never before seen. Alexander captured Porus and, like the other local rulers he had defeated, allowed him to continue to govern his territory.
During this trip to rivers Hydaspes and Indus in the south, Alexander sought out the Indian philosophers, the Brahmins, who were famous for their wisdom, and debated with them on philosophical issues. He became legendary for centuries in India for being both, a wise philosopher and a fearless conqueror.
One of the villages in which the army halted belonged to the Mallis, who were said to be one of the most warlike of the Indian tribes. Alexander was wounded several times in this attack, most seriously when an arrow pierced his breastplate and his ribcage. The Macedonian officers rescued him in a narrow escape from the village.
Alexander and his army reached the mouth of the Indus in July 325 BC, and turned westward for home.
The Mauryan Empire
The period of the Mauryan Empire (322 BC-185 BC) marked a new epoch in the history of India. It is said to be a period when chronology became definite. So was a period when politics, art, trade and commerce elevated India to a glorious height. It was a period of unification of the territories which lay as fragmented kingdoms. Moreover, Indian contact with the outside world was established effectively during this period.
The confusion following the death of Alexander gave. Chandragupta Maurya an opportunity to liberate the countries from the yoke of the. Greeks, and thus occupy the provinces of Punjab and Sindh. He later overthrew the power of. Nandas at Magadha with the aid of Kautilya, and founded a glorious Mauryan empire in 322 BC. Chandragupta, who ruled from 324 to 301 BC, thus, earned the title of liberator and the first emperor of Bharata.
At a higher age, Chandragupta got interested in religion and left his throne to his son Bindusar in 301 BC. Bindusar conquered the Highland of Deccan during his reign of 28 years and gave his throne to his son. Ashoka in 273 BC. Ashoka emerged not only as the most famous king of the Maurya dynasty. But is also regarded as one of the greatest king of. India and the world.
His empire covered the whole territory from Hindu Kush to Bengal and extended over. Afghanistan, Baluchistan and the whole of India with the exception of a small area in the farthest south. The valleys of Nepal and Kashmir were also included in his empire.
The most important event of Ashoka’s reign was the conquest of. Kalinga (modern Odisha) which proved to be the turning point of his life. The Kalinga war witnessed terrible manslaughter and destruction. The sufferings and atrocities of the battlefield lacerated the heart of Ashoka. He made a resolve not to wage war any more. And realised the wickedness of worldly conquest and the beauty of moral and spiritual triumph. He was drawn to the teachings of. Buddha and devoted his life to the conquest of men’s heart by the law of duty or piety. He evolved a policy of Dharma Vijaya, ‘Conquest by Piety’.
End of the Mauryan Empire
Ashoka was succeeded by weak rulers, which encouraged the provinces to proclaim their independence. The arduous task of administering such a vast empire could not be executed by the weak rulers. The mutual quarrel among the successors also contributed to the decline of the Mauryan Empire.
In the beginning of the 1st century A.D., the Kushanas established their authority over the north-west frontier of India. The most famous among the Kushana kings was Kanishka (125 A.D.-162 A.D.), who was the third in the Kushana dynasty. The Kushana rule continued till the middle of 3rd century A.D. The most notable achievement of their rule was the development of. Gandhara School of Art and further spread of Buddhism into distant regions of Asia.
After the Kushanas, the Guptas were the most important dynasty. The Gupta period has been described as the Golden Age of Indian history. The first famous king of the Gupta dynasty was Ghatotkacha’s son Chandragupta I. He married Kumaradevi, the daughter of the chief of the Licchavis. This marriage was a turning point in the life of Chandragupta I. He got Pataliputra in dowry from the Lichhavis. From Pataliputra, he laid the foundation of his empire and. Started conquering many neighbouring states with the help of the Licchavis. He ruled over Magadha (Bihar), Prayaga and Saketa (east Uttar Pradesh). His kingdom extended from the river Ganges to Allahabad. Chandragupta I also got the title of Maharajadhiraja (King of Kings) and ruled for about fifteen years.
Chandragupta I was succeeded by Samudragupta in about 330 A.D., who reigned for about fifty years. He was a great military genius and is said to have commanded a military campaign across the. Deccan, and also subdued the forest tribes of the Vindhya region.
Samudragupta’s successor Chandragupta II, also known as Vikramaditya, conquered the extensive territories of Malwa, Gujarat and Kathiawar. This provided exceptional wealth, which added to the prosperity of the Guptas. The Guptas in this period engaged in sea trade with the countries of the west. It was most probably during his reign that Kalidas, the greatest. Sanskrit poet and dramatist, as well as many other scientist and scholars flourished.
Decline of Gupta Dynasty
The decline of the Gupta power in northern India between the close of 5th and the 6th century. A.D. gave rise to various small independent kingdoms and attracted foreign invasions of Huns. Toramara was the leader of the Huns and was successful in annexing large parts of the Gupta Empire. His son, Mihirakula was a cruel barbarian and one of the worst tyrants known. Two native powerful princes, Yasodharman of Malwa and Baladitya of. Magadha crushed his power and put an end to his reign in India.
With the commencement of the 7th century, Harshavardhana (606-647 A.D.) ascended the throne of. Thaneshwar and Kannauj on the death of his brother, Rajyavardhana. By 612 Harshavardhana consolidated his kingdom in northern India.
In 620 A.D. Harshavardhana invaded the Chalukya kingdom in the Deccan, which was then ruled by Pulakesin II. But the Chalukya resistance proved tough for Harshavardhana and he was defeated. Harshavardhana is well known for his religious toleration, able administration and diplomatic relations. He maintained diplomatic relations with China and sent envoys, who exchanged ideas of the. Chinese rulers and developed their knowledge about each other.
The Chinese traveller, Hiuen Tsang, who visited India during his reign, has given a vivi. Description of the social, economic and religious conditions, under the rule of Harsha spoke highly of the king. Harsha’s death, once again, left India without any central paramount power.
The Chalukyas of Badami
The Chalukyas were a great power in southern India between 6th and 8th century A.D. Pulakesin I, the first great ruler of this dynasty ascended the throne in. 540 A.D. and having made many splendid victories, established a mighty empire. His sons Kirtivarman and Mangalesa further extended the kingdom. By waging many successful wars against the neighbours including the Mauryans of the Konkans.
Pulakesin II, the son of Kirtivarman, was one of the greatest ruler of the Chalukya dynasty. He ruled for almost 34 years. In this long reign, he consolidated his authority in Maharashtra and conquered large parts of the Deccan. His greatest achievement was his victory in the defensive war against Harshavardhana.
However, Pulakesin was defeated and killed by the Pallav king Narasimhavarman in 642 A.D. His son Vikramaditya, who was also as great a ruler as his father, succeeded him. He renewed the struggle against his southern enemies. He recovered the former glory of the Chalukyas to a great extent. Even his great grandson, Vikramaditya II was also a great warrior. In 753 A.D., Vikramaditya and his son were overthrown by a chief named. Dantidurga who laid the foundation of the next great empire of Karnataka and Maharashtra called Rashtrakutas.
The Pallavas of Kanchi
In the last quarter of the 6th century A.D. the Pallava king Sinhavishnu rose to power. And conquered the area between the rivers. Krishna and. Cauveri. His son and successor. Mahendravarman was a versatile genius, who unfortunately lost the northern parts of his dominion to the Chalukya king, Pulekesin II. But his son, Narsinhavarman I, crushed the power of Chalukyas. The Pallava power reached its glorious heights during the reign of. Narsinhavarman II, who is well known for his architectural achievements. He built many temples, and art and literature flourished in his times. Dandin, the great Sanskrit scholar, lived in his court. However, after his death, the Pallava. Empire began to decline and in course of time they were reduced to a mere local tribal power. Ultimately, the Cholas defeated the Pallava king. Aparajita and took over their kingdom towards the close of the 9th century A.D.
The ancient history of India has seen the rise and downfall of several dynasties, which have left their. Legacies still resounding in the golden book of Indian history. With the end of the 9th century A.D., the medieval history of. India started with the rise of empires such as the. Palas, the Senas, the Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas, and so on.