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The Age of Imperial Unity: The History and Culture of the Indian People (Volum II)

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Item Code: NAI192
Publisher: Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan
Author: R.C. Majumdar
Language: English
Edition: 2001
ISBN: 9788172765873
Pages: 800 (91 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.5 inch x 6.5 inch
Weight 1.30 kg
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Fully insured
Shipped to 153 countries
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This second volume, unlike the first, has been printed in India and published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, as the President of which I have planned and organised the publication of this series of 'History and Culture of the Indian People' in eleven volumes. On account of printing difficulties in England, the arrangements with Messrs. George Allen and Unwin Ltd. were terminated by mutual agreement. Since the Bhavan as the sponsoring institution has undertaken the publication of the series, it has become unnecessary to interpose the Bharatiya Itihasa Samiti which, in fact, was a part of the Bhavan, between the sponsor and the publisher. It is hoped that under this arrangement further volumes will be published expeditiously.


This volume deals with the history and culture of India from the beginning of what is termed 'The Historic Period'. It furnishes us with the basis for the structure of early Indian chronology like the dates of the death of Buddha, the rise of Chandragupta and the reign of Asoka, Just as a dynastic treatment of history gives but an incorrect historical perspective, so, to some extent, does any treatment which arbitrarily cuts history into sections of time. The history of a people having a common culture, I believe, flows as a running stream through time, urged forward by the momentum of certain values and ideas and must be viewed as such. It is necessary, therefore, that I should give my reading of this section of the flowing stream. The attempt by its very nature would be open to the charge of over-simplification; but without such an attempt, the past would have no message and the future no direction.



Long before the dawn of the 'Historic Period', the land, as we know it now, had been formed. For millions of years, the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush had risen; mighty rivers had brought down deposits to form the rich alluvial belt of the Sindhu and the Ganga; geographical determinants had been stabilized. Early man had wandered on the banks of some of the great rivers and disappeared.


Over five thousand years ago, aboriginal dwellers generally lived in forests; some of them, however, were slowly driven to the valleys before the pressure of more civilised migrants. Then a numerically vast people, with a culture of which the Mohenjodaro ruins are the physical relics and the base of the Tamil language perhaps the intellectual trace, over-spread the country.


In this land the Aryans, with their Nature Gods, their sacrifices, their cows and horses and their conquering zeal, came into conflict with the Dasas and Dasyus. They were invincible; for they had what their forerunners had not-cultural cohesiveness, powerful social institutions like the patriarchate, and a faith in their superiority. These bonds were further strengthened by a race of intellectuals who sang in sacred chants, worshipped their Gods through varied sacrifices and pursued the quest of higher things. The cohesive force in this community was furnished by the basic idea of an all-pervading law--Rita.--which sustained the universe and regulated the conduct of men; and the law was presided over by mighty god Asura-'the Great'Varuna.


Vast conflicts were waged by the Aryan tribes with the non-Aryans. During their victorious march through the country the races mingled, customs and beliefs were adjusted, a new harmony was evolved. Despite the fusion, the collective consciousness that the Aryans-whether by descent· or by adoption-were the elect and their ways God ordained, and hence unalterable, persisted. 'The Aryanisation of the entire world' remained the inspiring urge.

An unshakable collective consciousness had already taken deep roots in the racial mind, when Vasishtha and Visvamitra-participants in the Dasarajna, the Battle of Ten Kings: the echoes of which are found in the Rigveda,-lived on the banks of the holy Sarasvati; when Parasurama led the Aryans to the banks of the Narmada; when Agastya and Lopamudra crossed the Vindhyas and the seas; when Bharata, possibly the eponymous ancestor of the main tribes who fought in the Bharata War, held sway and gave his name to the land.


The several centuries, from the Battle of Ten Kings to the Bharata War (c. 1500 B.C.), the central theme in the Mahabharata, were filled with incessant Aryan activities. The Aryans spread far and wide in the country. They opened up jungles, established large-scale settlements, and founded cities. Before the Bharata War, the Aryan Tribes, ethnically mixed, had already established powerful Kingdoms. Their culture had become a conscious instrument of providing a social pattern based on a kind of traditional common law, elaborate rituals, a background of heroic tradition preserved in epic recitals, a powerful language and literature and a philosophy of thought and of life. The fundamental law Rita-now called Dharma however, continued by the general acceptance of the people to be recognised as supreme; for Esha Dharma Sanatana in the Manu-smriti is an echo of an ancient, unalterable principle; this law was eternal. The race of rishis, Aryan intellectuals, multiplied. They founded their asramas or hermitages all over North India; some pushed their way even to the transvindhyan South. They settled in forests, preached Dharma; interpreted it afresh wherever necessary; laid down canons of conduct. They taught the fundamental values of Aryan culture wherever they went, their character and moral influence being their only source of power. They enriched literature, ethics and philosophy. The most aspiring of them continued in the quest of the 'Absolute', often in the wilderness or on mountain tops. With the growth of kingdoms, a section' of these intellectuals, the Brahmanas, became priests, ritualists, men of learning, ministers, even generals and social and political mentors. But at all times, the law prescribed that a true Brahmana should learn and teach, and not hanker after possessions; if he did, he -fell from his high status. The kings were the protectors of the Dharma. They were invested with the right to conquer and destroy enemies, but there was no right to destroy what they willed. Their duty to protect the people was inalienable; if they failed to fulfil it, they forfeited the people's allegiance.


Of the peoples with whom the Aryans came in conflict, the most powerful were the Nagas in the West and Magadhas in the East. The Haihayas, perhaps of mixed descent, broke the Naga power in the West, and in their turn were broken by the Aryans under Parasurama. Later, when the Aryan tribe' of Bharatas dominated the Madhyadesa, the Magadhas aspired to hegemony; the break-up of the Magadha Kingdom is possibly symbolised by the death of Jarasandha, its king, by Bhima the Bharata, who was assisted by Sri Krishna. To the latter more than to anyone else, if the Mahabharata records facts, belongs the honour of being 'the worshipful among men', and the credit of achieving for his friends, the Pandavas, the over lordship over North India. Thus, a little before the Bharata War the way was cleared for the Aryanisation of the eastern provinces.




The period with which this volume deals (600 B.C.-A.D. 320) offers a great contrast in many ways to the preceding one. We are no longer dependent upon religious literature of a single denomination and uncertain date as the sole source of our historical information, Instead, we have not only literary works of different religious sects which supplement and correct one another, but also valuable literary records of a secular character, both Indian and foreign, of known dates, and the highly important evidence furnished by coins, inscriptions and monuments. In addition, we have a continuous traditional account of states and ruling dynasties whose general authenticity is beyond question. All these enable us to draw an outline of the political history of North India and the Deccan for nearly the whole of the period. They also furnish a mass of highly valuable data for the reconstruction of the social, religious and economic life of the people of the whole region.


As regards South India, however, the position still is far from satisfactory, for we have neither coins, nor inscriptions, nor historical traditions, enabling us to draw even a rough outline of political history. And though the brilliant sangam age of Tamil literature falls within this period, even if it is not wholly covered by it, we can glean from it only the names of a few isolated kings and their heroic achievements without any connecting link. While the literature and other sources give us glimpses of social, economic and religious conditions of the people, and particularly of their extensive maritime trade with the West, we miss the framework of political history against which alone they can be studied in their true perspective.


South India, therefore, necessarily plays a comparatively insignificant part in this volume. But subject to this limitation, the history and culture of the Indian people unfolded in the following pages may be regarded as unique in many respects, marked both by brilliance and variety for which we look in vain during subsequent ages. First and foremost, the age saw the beginning and culmination of that political unification of India which has been alike the ideal and despair of later ages. We can trace the successive steps by which Magadha, a petty principality in South Bihar, gradually extended its authority till, in the course of two centuries, under the Mauryas, it became the mistress of extensive dominions stretching from beyond the Hindu Kush in the west to the hills of Assam in the east, and from Kashmir in the north to Mysore in the south. The royal edicts of this mighty realm still lie scattered throughout India from the North-West Frontier Province to Nepal Terai and the heart of Madras.


The political history .of this empire reaches almost an epic grandeur as we trace the story of its growth from stage to stage, till our vision extends over the whole of India and even beyond. Then follows the story of its fall, imbued with a dramatic interest and pathos of almost equal depth. Religious fervour and pacifist ideals lead away a mighty emperor from the policy of blood and iron which created the empire and which alone could sustain it. Then follows an orgy of greed, ambition and lust for power which saps the vitality of the state. The commander of the imperial army seizes the opportunity to strike the final blow at his royal master. The coup succeeds, but the traitor wears only a crown of thorns. Nemesis appears in the shape of foreign invaders on the horizon of the distant West. They are lured by the gorgeous wealth of Ind, which treachery and dissensions place within their easy reach. The Greeks; the Parthians, the Sakas and the Kushanas move on the chess-board of Indian politics, but leave no permanent traces behind. India, stunned by the blow but not killed, recovers herself. The mighty Satavahana rulers bar the gates of the Deccan to the further advance of the foreigners, and the sturdy republican tribes of the north once more unfurl the banner of freedom and uphold the dignity of their motherland. It is at this juncture, when the ground is finally prepared for the foundation of another great Indian Empire, that we close this volume.


The rise and fall of the Empire of Magadha is thus our central theme, and the climax of its imperial pomp and power and the anti-climax of its decline and fall form a drama of intense human interest. This interest is further heightened by the career of the great emperor Asoka who shines in the dark firmament of Indian history as a bright star whose lustre increases as he recedes further and further into the course of time. His humanism and aversion to warfare cannot fail to strike a sympathetic chord in the heart of a generation, which has passed through two Armageddons shaking the human civilization to its very foundation and is now quailing in fear of a third which threatens to engulf it altogether.


The Maurya empire, which brought about the political unity of India, perished, but left a rich legacy behind it. Though India had to wait for nearly two thousand years for a similar achievement under a foreign yoke, the example of the Mauryas was never lost upon her and inspired successive. royal dynasties to emulate it with varying degrees of success. Besides, the political unity ushered in by the Mauryas led to a cultural unity which manifested itself through the development of a uniform type of language, literature, art and religion all over India; and this left a deep impress which the lapse of time has not been able to efface. The age of imperial unity, the title given to this volume, thus fittingly describes the essential characteristic of the period with which it deals.


But the dazzling brilliance of the political achievements of the period should not blind us to its cultural attainments, which are of an unusually high order. It was predominantly an age of that freedom of thought which is now regarded as a peculiar virtue, if not the monopoly, of the West. It led to an outburst of intellectual activity such as has rarely been witnessed in later ages. Although many of the channels through which this activity flowed were dried up or lost in the sands of time, a few broad streams have survived down to our age fertilising, for more than two thousand years, men's minds and hearts over a considerable part of the globe. These comprise Buddhism and Jainism, the theistic religions Vaishnavism and saivism, and the six systems of philosophy which may be regarded as the permanent contributions of Indian culture to the civilization of the world. The influence of all these upon the growth of civilization in India and the outside world has been described in the following pages, and more will be said in the succeeding volumes. For the student of human culture they perhaps constitute a theme of more abiding interest than even the evolution of an all-India empire under the Mauryas.


There are also other aspects of the intellectual activity which characterise the age. These are the developments in language, literature and art. The period saw the rise of Classical Sanskrit as well as the various forms of Prakrit which are the grand-parents of the numerous modern regional languages of India. It almost brought to perfection the analytical study of languages in the grammatical works of Panini, Katyayana and Patanjali, which still remain the standard works on the subject. As regards literature,

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