History of Ancient and Medieval India

India, the treasure trove of knowledge acquires her glorious name from the prospering Indus River. Quite often it is also referred as ‘Bharat’ or ‘Bharatvarsha’. The name Bharat has its roots from the Mahabharata, referring to the ancient emperor, Chakravarti Bharata, the founder of the Bharata Dynasty, and also the ancestor of the Pandavas and Kauravas. Chakravarti refers to an ideal and universal monarch, and Bharata is claimed to have conquered the whole of Indian subcontinent, reigning in peace and harmony.

One of the most fascinating features of the Indian civilization can be traced back to the richness of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation or Harappan Civilisation, flourishing along the banks of Indus. Dating back to 2500-1700 BCE, this civilization marks the only modern urban culture of the entire South-Asian continent. The civilization advocated literacy, marked by the excavation of the Harappan Script. Trade relations with foreign civilizations were also maintained. Two big cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro marked architectural excellency in terms of city planning, drainage system, political hierarchy, etc. The Great Bath, found in Mohenjodaro stands as an embodiment of social structure and historical significance. Handicrafts of terracotta flourished and the city was endowed with wealth, confirmed by the statues dressed with ornaments. Seals of this period depict the Indus people worshipping Gods resembling Shiva and Rudra. The superior Mother Goddess might be the embodiment of fertility. Perhaps no particular reason can be suggested why the city perished, but legend suggests that external invasions and heavy floods could be a possible reasons.

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The decline of the rich Indus Valley Civilisation paved the way to the Vedic era. The era was rich in knowledge and values to be in use till date and compiled in the books. The civilization dates back between 1500-600 BCE. India cherishes the rich heritage traced back from the Vedic era, whether in terms of medicine, or politics, or other cultural values. Even the two great Indian epics-Ramayana and Mahabharata also have their underlying roots in this era. The texts were written in Sanskrit but other European languages also flourished. The Vedic period is divided into two periods-Rig Vedic or the Early Vedic period when the Aryans resided in the ‘Sapta Sindhu’, or the ‘Land of the Seven Rivers’ and the Later Vedic period, when the Aryans moved eastwards and occupied western and eastern UP. Monarchy existed in the Early Vedic era, with a pastoral economy. Natural forces like the Earth, Fire, Wind, Rain, Thunder were worshipped, personified into deities like Indra signifying Thunder, the most important of all deities. Female deities like Ushas and Aditi were also worshipped. The Later Vedic period experienced a surge in the political power of the King, enjoying numerous benefits and the social structure became more rigid, emphasizing the Varna system of hierarchy. The artefacts discovered suggests deities Prajapati or ‘the Creator’ and Vishnu, ‘the Preserver’ gained more importance during this period of time.

The sixth-century marks a transitional landmark to the glory of Indian History, endowing important developments into entering the second stage of urbanization. Historians suggest that the sixth century is the result of the momentum of cultural growth, attained in the Later Vedic era, which underwent a series of stages to give rise to sixteen powerful States. But among them, the Mauryan Empire rose to glory, around 321-297 BCE. The reign exerted control over the whole of Northern India. Bindusara, Chandragupta’s son claimed the reign to the whole of India and was succeeded by Ashoka the Great (268-232 BCE), under whose rule the land flourished. However, the devoted King embraced Buddhism and sainthood after the battle of Kalinga, where numerous people got killed in the battle. Ashoka gifted India with numerous architectural glamour, spreading Buddhism as a whole. The Mauryan Empire experienced a sharp decline after the death of Ashoka and the State broke off into many small kingdoms.

Around 320-550 CE the trade with Rome flourished during this time and the cultural development led to what was known as the ‘Golden Age of the Gupta Empire’. The Gupta Empire has its roots in the hands of Sri Gupta, a Vaisya by caste who rose to supremacy in defiance of any existing caste system. The excellent political governance could control every aspect of culture and India reached its peak of developments. Philosophy, literature, science, maths flourished during the period. Aryabhatta, the great mathematician made his discoveries. Astronomy flourished under Varahamihira and arts attained its peak with Sakuntala being composed by Kalidasa and Kamasutra compiled by Vatsyayana.

Around 550 CE the huge Gupta Empire collapsed under the hands of subsequent weak rulers, and was replaced by the reign of Harshavardhana of the Vardhana dynasty, from 590-647 CE. However, the invasion of the Huns (nomadic people from Central Asia) scraped off the very existence, fragmenting India to be invaded under the hands of foreign rule.