The oldest and most impressive civilizations of ancient India we know little beyond the archeological evidence. The exotic picture writing remains largely undecipherable. The Maurya and Gupta Empires were inheritors of the Aryan cast system. They expanded the cast system and promoted Buddhism to give their empires a loose control of India.
Key Concepts: The Framework for Indian History: Geography and a Formative Period:
Geography (including the mountainous northern region and agricultural regions along the Indus and Ganges rivers) and climate were major influences on Indian civilization.
The Aryan culture, which dominated India after the fall of the Indus River Valley civilization, also played a formative role. Among other things, the Aryans brought the rudiments of the caste system.
The Vedas, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Upanishads formed the basis of a great Aryan literary tradition.
The Greek conquest of the Indus and the exchange of ideas with the Mediterranean basin and southwest Asia influenced the rise of the Mauryan dynasty.
Chandragupta Maurya was the first Mauryan ruler, and Ashoka the greatest. Ashoka expanded the empire and promoted Buddhism.
The Guptas arose after a period of nomadic invasions, and created along period of political stability.
Regionalism and political diversity dominated classical Indian political life, so central authority was relatively weak.
The increasingly complex caste system promoted public order the way more conventional government structures did in many other cultures.
Religion and Culture:
Hinduism and Buddhims were integral parts of classical Indian life. They had great influence on the arts and sciences, and both tended to promote religious tolerance.
Hinduism is a polytheistic faith that gradually became more complex. It stresses reincarnation, the shallowness of worldly concerns, and dharma, the moral path.
Buddhism founded by Siddhartha Gautama in the 6th century B.C.E., scorned caste and the material world in favor of self control and the Eightfold Path to nirvana.
By the last centuries B.C.E., the Indian civilization developed a written language, built cities, and produced art and literature, and nurtured two of the great world religions. Artistic patterns linked to religion and a significant scientific tradition developed.
Economy and Society:
Dominated by the caste system, India developed extensive internal commercial and international maritime trade. However, India’s economy remained essentially agricultural.
Family life combined patriarchy with an emphasis on mutual emotional support.
Classical India had an enormous effect on other parts of the world. India emerged as the center of a Eurasian trade system, a source of great wealth and a means of exporting Indian culture abroad.