The History of Hindu India, 300-1000 ce


Namaste! and welcome to India. My name is Raj
Narayan. Today we’re going to learn about this great country its people and its
religious developments during the seven centuries of 300 to 1000 ce. We will
discover India’s regional kingdoms, imperial political unification, and great
centers of learning and religious development. We will also explore the
life in her cities villages and homes, and witness a devotional movement that
profoundly influenced Hinduism. During this time, India’s Kings built
many magnificent monuments and great temples. I visited the Kailasanatha
temple at Ellora in Maharashtra. This temple was carved out of a single solid
stone hillside using only hammers and chisels and not by stacking stones
together. The work was begun in the eighth century and took a hundred years
to complete. 400,000 tons of stone were removed to
create the many chambers standing 266 feet high, it is the largest monolithic sculpture
in the world. The two stairways leading to the main hall of the temple our car
with narrative episode of The Hindu epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. this is a temple to Siva but it also has
shrines to Vishnu. Many Buddhist and Jain cave temples are carved into nearby
cliffs at Ellora. Ajanta, which is about 75 kilometers away, also has many large Buddhist cave
temples. All these were supported by the Hindu kings. These are just some of the magnificent
monuments built in at time when empires, religion, commerce, science, technology
literature, and the arts flourished across the subcontinent. Political
History In three hundred ce, an estimated 75 million peopl–a third of
the world’s populatio–lived in India. Hindu tradition, culture, scriptures and
the Sanskrit language linked people across this immense and fertile subcontinent.
Historians rely on four major types of evidence: archaeological studies, official
inscriptions on stone or metal, coins and contemporary texts including stories,
poems, plays and the account of foreign visitors. The greatest empire of the time
was founded in the fourth century CE by Chandra Gupta the first. His son Samudragupta,
extended the empire across India and rivaled the Mauryas in dominance over
the region after a gap of seven hundred years. His grandson, Chandra Gupta the Second, famously known as
Vikramaditya, is considered the most brilliant king in India’s entire history.
Through his conquest and well-organized government, he forged political unity and
peace across his vast empire. Historian A.L. Basham called it, “the happiest
and most civilized region of the world at the time.” What we regard as Indian
culture today developed largely during the time of the Guptas. Ruling from
their capital city of Patliputra, the kings granted local and regional
autonomy to the states under their control. Those far from the capital, such
as in southern India, paid tribute but were nearly independent. The empire was
responsible for security, major roads, irrigation projects, common welfare and
gave exceptional support to learning and the arts. Gupta culture and economy influenced
much of Eurasia notably China and Southeast Asia. The Gupta Empire declined
in the late 5th century because of internal conflict and invasions by
Central Asian Hunas–or Hun–who had conquered Indian territory east of the
Indus to central India early in the 6th century CE. However by the mid-6th
century, Hindu rulers united and drove the Hunas out of India. India received
many foreign visitors during this time. The most important were the Buddhist
monks, Faxian and Xuanzang, who left us fascinating reports. Faxian came to
India by the Silk Road from China in the fifth century, stayed in India for
thirteen years, wrote an account of his visit and returned by sea. He reported,
“Charitable institutions are numerous and rest houses for travelers are provided
on the highway. In the cities and towns of this country the people are rich and
prosperous and seemed to emulate each other in the practice of virtue. Another
monk and chronicler, Xuanzang left China in 629 for India and returned after 16
years. He has left us the most complete account of the Indian subcontinent of
his time. Xuanzang describes a complex political
environment with more than 70 regional powers. Many were part of the empire of
King Harsha while others were under the major imperial powers of the South. Xuanzang
was a guest of Harsha’s court for about a year and praised his patronage of
Buddhism, just rule and generosity. In the eighth century the Rashtrakuta dynasty took
control of the entire Deccan region, parts of west central India and much of
the south. The Rashtrakuta Dynasty also built the Kailasanatha Temple in Ellora.
Between the 8th and 10th centuries they competed with the Pratiharas and
Palas for dominance over the subcontinent. The Pratiharas at
their peak ruled much of the north. They were the first effectively stop the
Arab Muslim invasions into western India in the eighth century the exact a
tribute from the Arab rulers of Sindh and Multan and blocked any further
advancement for over 200 years. The Palas a Buddhist dynasty centered in
eastern India reached their zenith in the early 9th century until the Pratisharas
largely displaced them from the Ganga Plains. There were several large
Hindu kingdoms in the Deccan and southern India in this period. They
included the Chalukyas, Pallavas, Pandhyas and Cholas. Rajendra Chola the first unified the entire south.
The Cholas boasted a large army and navy and their maritime expeditions are unique in Indian history.
To protect vital trade routes, they subdued kingdoms as far away as Malaysia and
Indonesia. The Cholas also dominated southern India’s trade between the
Middle East, Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa and China. Indian traders facilitated the
spread of Hinduism and Buddhism throughout the kingdoms of Southeast
Asia. For example, this is the great Chola temple at Thanjavur in South
India and this is the grand Prambanan temple in Central Java, built in the
eighth century where the Hindu king Pikatan in Indian style, and this is
Angkor Wat in Cambodia, largest religious building in the world. India’s rulers also welcomed Christians
Jews Muslims and Parsis into their kingdoms and encourage them to settle
and practice their faiths. This policy maintained religious harmony in society
and not surprisingly aided international trade. For over a thousand years, India
was the richest region on earth. It produced thirty percent of the
world’s total food, goods and services, while China produced 25 percent and Europe–
even by 1000 ce–produced just eleven percent. City and village life. Cities and towns group as centers of
commerce along important trade routes, at sea and inland river ports and around major
temples and pilgrimage centers. Cities were largely self-governing. A ruling
council consists of a chief records clerk and representatives from large
businesses, smaller merchants, and guilds of artisans. An ancient Tamil epic poem called, “The
Ankle Bracelet,” describes life in a city of that time: Shop selling similar products were
located near each other as they still are in many cities of India today. The poet
wrote, “In the street, hawkers were selling ointments, bath powders, flowers, perfume and incense.
Weavers brought their fine silks and all kinds of fabrics made of wool or
cotton. There were special streets for merchants of sandalwood, jewelry,
faultless pearls, pure gold and precious gems. One can see coppersmiths, carpenters,
goldsmiths, tailors, shoemakers and clever craftsmen making toys out of
cork or rags, and expert musicians who demonstrated their mastery of the seven
tone scale on the flute and the vena. Only ten percent of the population lived
in cities like this. The rest lived in villages surrounded by agricultural land,
as two-thirds still do in India today. Each village had a pond or reservoir,
wells, grazing grounds and at least one temple. India’s year-round warm climate and
monsoon rains allowed farmers to grow to crops a year or more. The villagers were self-sufficient.
People bartered and sold their goods in local markets and in nearby towns.
Because the village jatis, or castes, were hereditary, the families became
expert in their work, be they farmers, craftsmen or merchants. Each
family interacted with the other jatis. There will be a family barber, washerman,
carpenter, blacksmith, and others, providing their services to a family
generation after generation. Each village was self governed by an assembly of
five elder men called the panchayat. The central unit a society was the joint
family, as it is today among many Hindus. Father, mother, sons and their wives,
unmarried daughters and grandchildren all lived under one roof. Land and finances were held in common
and everyone who worked for the advancement of the family. Marriages were ideally arranged by the
parents and the boy and girl had little say in the matter. But however the union
occurred–such as elopement–the marriage itself was recognized. In an arranged
marriage, the boy and girl usually came from different villages. Visits to
relatives created a strong communications network through which
news, ideas, trade and technological innovations flowed freely. A Classical Age of Culture and Religion During this time India give rise to a
vast wealth of literature, including plays, poems, songs and epics in many
languages. The world’s first universities were
flourishing in India during this time including Takshashila,Nalanda, Vikramashila
and Vallabhi. Students studied the Vedas and 18 Arts and Sciences which
included medicine, surgery, astronomy, mathematics, agriculture, accounting, law
and military strategy. Xuanzang stayed a Nalanda University for five years
around 640 ce. He described it as a free residential center of advanced studies,
notably Buddhist, with 1,000 teachers and 10,000 students. Nalanda was supported
by royal endowments from both Hindu and Buddhist Kings as well as regular income
from nearly 100 villages. Many Hindu saints of this time preached the importance of devotion to
God and what is called the Bhakti Movement. Bhakti means devotion or worship.
The saints stressed one’s personal relationship with the divine as a love-
centered path of spiritual advancement. All over India great Hindu temples were
built or expanded between 300 and 1000 ce. Many are in large cities such as
Somnath in the west, Ujjain in central India, Varanasi on the river
Ganga in the north, Puri in the east and Kanchi and Madurai in the south. Today
these remain powerful places of worship Life in cities and villages centered
around the temples, which were places of worship, scholarship, education, and the performing
arts. During festivals, thousands of people pilgrimage to the most famous
temples as they do to this day. This flow of visitors helped local economies and spread
cultural practices and religious belief throughout the nation. The period from
300 to 1000 ce was a golden age in India. The Sanskrit language with its
many treasures on religion, philosophy, law and the epics spread throughout not
only India but most of Asia. Hinduism thrived throughout this period with the
Bhakti Movement in particular popularizing devotional worship across
the subcontinent through sacred stories and songs especially those of the Tamil
Alvars and Nayanmars. India’s prosperity, stability and religious harmony gave
rise to philosophical, technological scientific, literary and artistic
achievements that set high standards for succeeding generations. Unfortunately
there were those on her northwestern frontier who coveted in India’s wealth
and land and were driven by a desire to expand their faith and obtain glory. In
part 3 we will tell the sad tale of how India suffered first from periodic
raids of royal cities and rich temples for plunder followed by the sustained
conquest of large regions in pursuit of political power and religious dominance.
Namaste

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