The history of Ancient India begins with the Indus Valley civilization. Archaeological evidence showcases artefacts that were used by the people who belonged to this civilization. The most important is stone tools, which are suggestive of early settlements that date back to many thousands of years ago. The Indus Valley Civilization is known to be one of the greatest civilizations of all time due to its rich and diverse culture. Many of the inventions of the ancient people of India are still used to this day including drainage and sewage systems, public pools, the science of mathematics, veterinary sciences, plastic surgery, yoga and meditation.
India is also known to be the place that gave birth to four of the world’s biggest religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. In terms of philosophy, India is the birthplace of the philosophical school of thought known as Charvaka, which has played a significant role in the development of scientific thought and inquiry.
The Vedic period is an important time in Ancient India. It is characterised by an idyllic lifestyle and adherence to religious texts, known as the Vedas. During this time, societal traditions were dictated by classism. Based on the doctrines of the Vedas, people were categorised into four classes (Varnas), namely, the Brahmanas who were the priests and scholars of the region, the Kshatriya who were the warriors, the Vaishyas comprised the farmers and the merchants and the Shudras who were classified as the labourers. A fifth class also existed that consisted of the Dalits who were at the bottom of the caste system and were often treated like pariahs. The Vedic period was also influential in the formation of religious beliefs which led to a systemized religion known as the Sanatan Dharma, which is today, known as Hinduism. Apart from the Vedas, the Puranas, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana also came from this time period.
Then came the religious and spiritual reformers, Vardhamana Mahavira and Siddhartha Gautama who steered away from the Vedic Sanatan Dharma and created their own religious and spiritual traditions known as Jainism and Buddhism. Both Mahavira and Siddhartha dismissed the Vedas and spoke of salvation and enlightenment as a journey that is dependent solely on the self. The philosophical school of thought, Charvaka, disregarded all mystical elements of religious beliefs and elaborated on the role of one’s senses to determine the truth and how one’s primary goal in life was to seek pleasure and enjoyment.
The Great Empires of India
Following these spiritual sections of Ancient Indian history, came the emergence of India’s greatest empires, beginning with the invasion of Alexander the Great. In North India, Greco-Buddhist influences were seen in the cultural aspects of art and religion. Succeeding Alexander’s exit from India, came the birth of the Mauryan Empire, under the rule of Chandragupt Maurya. The other renowned ruler of the Mauryan Empire was Ashoka who played a monumental role in influencing the architecture and art of the Indian subcontinent. Then came the ‘Golden Age of India’, the reign of the Gupta Empire. It gets its high acclamations from the flourishing cultural heritage that existed during this time.
Followed by these rulers, came the emergence of the Mughal Empire. This time period was responsible for the birth of systematic public administration, exemplary infrastructure, and patronage of the arts. The eminent rulers of this time period were Babar, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb.
Q1. What was ancient India initially called?
Before ancient India was referred to as, ‘Bharata’, it went by the name of Jambudvipa. This term was extensively used in ancient religious texts as a name for India. Before the introduction of India as the country’s name, the term, ‘Jambu Dwipa’ was used as the historical term for India in many South-Asian countries.
Q2. What was the ancient Indian period most known for?
The most important aspect of the ancient Indian period was the emergence of the cities Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. It is known for these two cities because they are known as the very first cities in the entire world. It paved the way for many cultural, social and architectural themes of today.
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