THE STUDY OF EASTERN LITERATURES
* Earliest periods of Indian civilization known only through scholarly
reconstructions based on archaeological evidence.
* Oldest artifacts yet found on Indian subcontinent have been dated
from Lower (or Early) Paleolithic period--c. 2.6 million years ago to
200,000 years before the present. So far, no prehistoric human remains
have been discovered.
- Discovered in hilly region of what is now northern Pakistan, these
quartzite pebble tools and flakes date from about two million years
ago. These artifacts represent a pre-hand-axe level of technology
that apparently persisted for eons afterward.
- Earliest hand-axes found in same area date from approximately 500,000
- Similar tools, discovered in Great Indian Desert (along what is
now southern half of India-Pakistan border, and south of former site),
date from about 400,000 years ago.
- Geological samples indicate this desert region once had humid climate
that produced lush, rich environment for hunting (from 140,000 to
25,000 years ago--during most of Middle-Paleolithic period).
- Middle-Paleolithic sites discovered where Indus River meets this
desert provide evidence of major factory centers for manufacturing
stone tools and weapons made of chert.
- Between 40,00 and 25,000 years ago (onset of Upper [or Late] Paleolithic
period), same region gradually changed into more arid climate.
- This stage of technology marked by gradual diminution in size of
hand implements during Middle and Late Paleolithic periods.
* By Mesolithic Period (c. 12,000 to 8,000 years ago), small parallel-sided
blades and microliths (tiny, geometrically-shaped blade-tools) are characteristic
* Great proliferation of cultures over enormous time span is evident
throughout India in Mesolithic period--from 30,000 years ago in Sri
Lanka to 15,000-10,000 years ago in hills of northern Afghanistan.
- These different cultures exhibited a wide variety of subsistence
patterns; hunting/gathering, fishing, even some herding and small-scale
agriculture (domestication of wild sheep/goats probably began in Afghanistan
c. 15,000 years ago).
* During late-20th century, major sites of Neolithic Indian culture
(c. 10000-5000 B.C.) have been discovered and excavated in Indus River
valley and along India's border with Iran, a broad plain which provided
a natural passageway through the mountains to the Middle East.
* Ancient commerce and communication among India, Egypt, and Mesopotamia
are proven by recovered artifacts and suggested by parallel developments
in all three civilizations.
*Group of Neolithic sites recently excavated at Mehrgarh (in what is
now central Pakistan) provides evidence of occupation for over six thousand
years, covering two major periods:
- I. 8000-6000 B.C.--early agricultural settlement with domestic architecture
and variety of crafts.
- IA. 8000-7000 B.C.: first phase lacked pottery; people used
mostly stone blades, a few ground-stone hand-axes; wheat, barley--staple
crops; domesticated sheep and goats; agriculture supplemented
by hunting; mud-brick huts; simple burial rituals.
- IB. 7000-6000 B.C.: pottery appears during second phase; domestic
cattle replace game animals, shhep, and goats; granaries appear
(indicate crop surpluses); more elaborate burial rituals; human
figurines modeled in clay.
- II. 5000-3000 B.C.--c. 5500 B.C., a major geologic event took place
(earthquake, flood, or shift of tectonic plates)--original site almostcompletely
buried in silt.
- Original culture persisted, but with alterations: increased
use of pottery; granaries larger/more numerous; appearance of
several new crafts--use of copper and ivory; size of settlement
* Other sites comparable to Mehrgarh in age and level of development
are believed to exist in same general area (Indo- Iranian borderlands,
* Other areas of India also show evidence of early habitation: In northern
parts of Indus system, earliest settlements date from 4000 B. C. Some
settlements almost 7,000 years old have been discovered in hills to
south of the Ganges Valley. The southern peninsula has yielded artifacts
from 3000 B. C.
* From c. 5000 B.C. many settlements appear along Indo-Iranian borderlands--village
communities of settled farmers who raised cattle, sheep, and goats,
and grew wheat and barley. Their technology featured use of stone, as
well as some copper and bronze. Each village produced distinctive high-quality
* By middle of 4th millenium B. C., such agricultural communities had
spread to Indus Valley proper. Archaeological evidence suggests that,
for more than 500 years, there was much interaction between these new
settlements and those lying farther west. Scholars believe that this
marks a transitional stage between earlier Neolithic cultures and urban
civilizations that developed in Mohenjo-daro and Harappa c. 2600 B.
C. This transitional culture known as "Early Harappan."
- Early Harappan began c. 3000 B.C. and continued until about 2600
B. C., when it was replaced by mature Indus Civilization. Early Harappan
sites dispersed over wide area--from Indus delta to its source, through
most of Pakistan and a large part of northcentral India.
- Several of the sites were large, mud-brick-walled towns, with streets
laid out in rectangular grid pattern.
- Evidence suggests that means of subsistence for Early Harappan culture
much same as for Mehrgarh 2,000 years earlier--cattle, sheep, and
goats were primary domesticated animals, while wheat and barley made
up the staple crops. Stone and copper were the main tool-making materials.
- Pieces of pottery recovered appear to be incised with marks that
may be a primitive written language. And some of decorations on pottery--especially
animal forms--seem to be used as religious symbols.
* All this archaeological evidence suggests that perhaps 4,000 to 5,000
years of settled agricultural life paved the way for the emergence of
Indus civilization about 2600 B.C.
* Thus, between 2600-2500 B. C., a mature Indus civilization emerged
and flourished until about 1700 B. C. along the banks of Indus River.
- Four major cities excavated so far: Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Kalibangan,
- Level of culture equivalent to contemporary civilizations in Mesopotamia
and Egypt (probably trade/commerce among these three).
- Archaeological remains suggest highly centralized political structure,
probably a priest-king state rather than military empire.
* Civilization destroyed by invasions from NW by light-skinned Aryans
(Indo-Europeans), beginning in about 2000 B.C.
- Aryan invaders probably possessed different religious system and
priesthood; thus, worked to obliterate aboriginal belief. Indus culture
thus destroyed forever, once social glue (religion/priesthood) wiped
* Immediate aftermath of Aryan invasions probably a heroic age comparable
to Mycenean age in Greek history (Time of Iliad, Odyssey).
* Mahabharata--great epic of India--centers around war
between two rival factions of noble charioteers.
- Like warfare in Iliad, war in Mahabharata is affair of heroic individual
combat, in which Gods occasionally become involved (Bhagavad Gita)
--taking on human form and advising/assisting favorites.
- Mahabharata thus reflects aristocratic, warlike, barbarous
* About 8th C. B.C., however, centralized monarchies begin to dominate
political scene; and, by 6th c. B.C., nobly born charioteers of heroic
age had lost their supremacy. warfare now matter of iron weapons, infantry/cavalry
* By 800 B.C.--large-scale clearing of jungle for agriculture
- Irrigation projects undertaken on Ganges plain
- Trade/manufacture grow in importance
- Overseas commerce reestablished with Babylonia.
* By 6th century B.C., monarchies control most of Northern India; center
of political power moves eastward--from Indus to Ganges river.
* Old Aryan tribal-aristocratic unity melts away; society somewhat
Levelling spurs development of caste system:
(1) Light-skinned Aryans wished to remain separated from darker aboriginies;
(2) Vedas urged ceremonial purity; forbade touching persons/things
(3) Aryan prejudice encouraged non-Aryan solidarity/pride;
(4) Brahmanic religion believed in 4 castes:
(b) Kshatriyas--nobles/warriors Aryans
(c) Vaisyas--professions/gainfully employed
(d) Sudras--lowest/peasants Non-Aryans
Caste system firmly in place after 500 B.C.
* Indian Religion develops in Four Stages:
(1) Rig-Vedas--aboriginal, pre-Aryan beliefs. Gods ill-defined
= personifications of natural forces/phenomena; powerful, sometimes
capricious. Vedas mostly hymns to these deities.
- With Aryan invasions, Vedic gods become less important; gods actually
become servants of priests/Brahmins skilled in performance of elaborate
(2) Brahmanas--scholarly commentaries on Vedas which
raised Brahmins and their rituals to a hereditary, closed, and privileged
caste. Priests became only ones fit and learned enough to offer gods
- By 6th century B.C., however, ascetic hermits were rebelling against
religious monopoly of Brahmins and sought enlightenment on their own
in jungle retreats.
(3) Upanishads--result of ascetic rebellion. Commentaries
that reject sacrifice and priestly offices. Declare that goal of religious
life is "enlightenment" = attainable only through individual
effort to master secret knowledge, not through correct performance of
ritual acts. Knowledge comes through individual work/discipline rather
than through sacrifice of priests. Result of individual's work = enlightenment
= an individual mystical experience.
- Upanishads contain many of key concepts that later evolve
into Hinduism (Brahman, Atman, Karma--see Hindu
- Upanishads suggest that final/perfect end of religious striving
may be attained without aid of priests, sacrifices, rituals, or any
- Brahmins soon saw benefit of incorporating these theories into developing
doctrine of Hinduism.
- Upanishads represent radical shift in direction of Indian
- Vedic religion--earthly aims: prosperity, health, long life
are rewards for good relations with the Gods.
- Brahmanism--also promised earthly rewards plus a suggestion
that carefully performed sacrifices might secure reincarnation
in an immortal body.
- Upanishads--disdained earthly pleasures; proclaimed personal
annihilation in universal Brahman religion's supreme goal; other-worldly
- This radical religious shift probably best explained by political
and social chaos/instability (700-500 B.C.).
(4) Buddhism - Jainism (reform movements)
- Both faiths held out hope for salvation without resort to priest/sacrifice.
- Both centered around groups of energetic seekers after enlightenment
- Monks attracted followers, whose obligations were less demanding.
- Both groups took reincarnation as universal principle and sought
to escape from cycle of birth/death through correct knowledge/conduct.
- Both systems atheistic.
*Jainism, however, considers Atman a permanent entity.
- Jainists believe in ascetic practices as principal means of releasing
soul from karma. Jainists also uphold principle of non-violence (Ahimsa).
*Buddhism denies permanence of Atman and of everything in physical
- advances "Middle Way"--quiet, moderate life of contemplation,
religious discussion, and self-control--as true path to religious
- Buddha's central ideas: all life involves suffering; correct knowledge
and good habits of life can overcome suffering; way to obtain release
is through following "Noble Eightfold Path."
- Buddha presents a practically organized pursuit of holiness in this
To: Hindu Cosmology