Previous Page [Digital South Asia Library] Next Page

Schwartzberg Atlas, v. , p. 161.

Switch to image view

III From the Vedic through the Classical Age INTRODUCTION

The time span subsumed under the heading "From the Vedic through the Clas- sical Age" covers a period of roughly seventeen centuries, beginning about or shortly after 1000 B.C. with the final composition of the &Rtod;g Veda and the estab- lishment in the Gangetic Plain of the earliest Vedic Aryan tribal kingdoms and closing about the end of the 7th century A.D. Many of the extant patterns of Indian religion, society, literature, and art crystallized in these centuries. Further, the history of the period sheds much light on the various regions of the subcontinent as we know them today. The period witnessed the rise of the first pan-Indian polity, achieved in the reign of the Mauryan monarch Candragupta in the late 4th century B.C. Culturally its zenith was attained during the Classical Age under the Gupta rulers. The transition to a later period is marked by a decline in origi- nal cultural creativity, increasing conventionalization of the classical tradition, and a gradual feudalization of the political and military systems. No single climatic event can be specified to mark the close of the era. However, the death of the north Indian ruler Har&stod;avardhana in A.D. 647 marks a significant break in the great imperial tradition of ancient India, and as a matter of convenience we have adopted it for certain analytical purposes in section XIV of this atlas. Another noteworthy benchmark date is that of the Arab conquest of Sind in A.D. 711–12. For further discussion of the question of periodization the reader is referred to the Introduction to the atlas.

Although the period under review may be divided into several distinctive sub- periods and is characterized by considerable diversity from one region to another, it displays notable continuity with respect to each of the following:

1. the growth of Indian knowledge of the regions and peoples of the subcontinent and adjacent countries;

2. the expansion of Aryan settlement and the growing interaction between Ar- yans and indigenous peoples, often resulting in the latter's absorption within the evolving Indo-Aryan culture;

3. religious and cultural movements, beginning with the dominance of the Ganga Culture (see text for plate III.A.1), extending through the rise of Buddhism, Jainism, and the Ājīvika sect and leading to the emergence of Hinduism in a form somewhat similar to that of the present day;

4. political evolution characterized by the development of core areas, the emer- gence of regional powers, the growth of multiregional domains, and pan-Indian empires;

5. the economic penetration of all parts of the subcontinent and a growing trade and commercial interaction among diverse regions by land routes and water- ways;

6. the widening scope of foreign notices and knowledge of India, flowing from trade and cultural exchanges and from intrusions of outsiders (Achaemenids, Macedonians, Hellenistic Greeks, Śakas, Indo-Parthians, Ku&stod;ā&ntod;as, and Hū&ntod;as);

7. the Indianization of foreigners within India, through religious and cultural conversions, and their subsequent incorporation into society; and

8. the expansion of Indian culture to Central and Southeast Asia, China, and, through China, to Korea and Japan, through religious missions, economic enterprises, and political adventures of rulers and individual warriors.

Section III comprises four parts. The primary themes of subsection III.A, "India of the Vedas and the Epics," are the growth of Aryan knowledge of the various regions of India and the development of a distinctive Ganga Culture in the course of Aryan expansion. In time it overlaps with section II of the atlas, "Prehistory," which should be referred to for an analysis of the material aspects of the culture of the period as revealed by its archaeological remains. Subsection III.B, "The Pre-Mauryan and Mauryan Periods," focuses first on the emergence of a system of petty states or janapadas in the Gangetic Plain and subsequently in areas to the south; considers the growth of early political confederacies and ex- pansionist kingdoms and the emergence of a core area of political power in Maga- dha in northeastern India; then outlines the growth and accomplishments of the Mauryan Empire, the first to achieve pan-Indian hegemony. "The Post-Mauryan Period," dealt with in subsection III.C, details the rise of new centers of power in the northwest, west, and south of the subcontinent and beyond its northwestern limits, largely through the intervention of peoples of non-Indian origin (e.g., Indo- Greeks, Śakas, Parthians, and Ku&stod;ā&ntod;as), and treats their complex interactions with one another, with the Śu&ndot;ga successors to the Mauryas on the Gangetic Plain, and with such distant powers as Rome and China. Finally, subsection III.D, "The Imperial Guptas and the Classical Age," relates to the reestablishment of a pan-Indian state under the suzerainty of the Guptas, the interactions among the Guptas and subordinate and independent powers within and beyond India, and the outstanding cultural achievements of the 4th to 7th century A.D. The final map plate of the section summarizes the expansion of Indian cultural, economic, and political influences into Southeast Asia through the mid-7th century and notes the principal political developments within the largely Indianized states of that region during the period.

The basic themes, organization, and sources for the subsections noted above are further discussed in the "General" text preceding the accounts for the indi- vidual map plates of each. But a few remarks are in order here relative to the primary and secondary source materials for the period as a whole. At the outset we may note the perplexing paradox of plenty and scarcity. Sources exist in al- most all the major classical and modern languages of India and Eurasia, and art objects and artifacts bearing on the period have been discovered in many coun- tries of Eurasia. The dispersal of such evidence testifies to the extent of interac- tion between India and other parts of the world before A.D. 700, to the influential role of Indian culture, and to the success of Indian commerce.

The primary sources are generally divided into the indigenous literary works in Sanskrit, Prakrit (including Pali), Tamil, and Sinhalese and the foreign ac- counts in old Persian, Greek, Latin, Chinese, Tibetan, and Arabic. The archaeo- logical sources include inscriptions, coins, historical monuments, and excavated materials of a vast variety, ranging from entire cities to tiny pieces of pottery. Scripts and the regional variations among them also show considerable diversity. Indian inscriptions alone use two prominent scripts: Brāhmī and Kharo&stod;&ttod;hī. Among the Indian languages used for official edicts, Prakrit (Pali is a form of Prakrit) and Sanskrit attained pan-Indian currency, the former from about the start of the Mauryan period toward the end of the 4th century B.C. and the latter from the Classical Age, beginning in the 4th century A.D. Major Sanskrit inscrip- tions began to appear, however, as early as c. A.D. 150, the date of the Śaka king Rudradāman's inscription at Girnar.

The primary Indian sources have one thing in common: none represents his- tory in the sense of the Chinese or Western historical tradition. Yet there are valuable and reliable sources from which a relatively authentic history of South Asia has been reconstructed by the painstaking labor of generations of modern scholars, both Indian and foreign. Although many secondary works on Indian history suffer from conceptual deficiencies, often reflecting the personal, cultural, and ideological biases of their authors, they have built a sound framework of chronology and do provide a solid foundation for further study.

It was not possible to overcome all linguistic limitations for the utilization of primary and secondary sources, especially those in Dravidian languages and in several other languages of Asia. Available translations in English or Hindi have, however, frequently been consulted; otherwise materials are culled from second- ary works. This applies also to old Persian, Greek, and Latin, though in a few instances, acknowledged elsewhere in this text, we obtained external assistance with original sources. Works in German, French, and Russian were normally used only for important issues or in identifying peoples and places.

GENERAL BIBLIOGRAPHY

Altekar, Anant Sadashiv. State and government in ancient India. 4th ed. Delhi, 1962.

Banerji, Rakhal Das. History of Orissa. . . . 2 vols. Calcutta, 1931.

Previous Page To Table of Contents Next Page

Back to Schwartzberg Atlas | Back to the DSAL Page

Warning: include(/Volumes/data/www/dsal/updateinfo.php) [function.include]: failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /Library/WebServer/Documents/dsal/reference/schwartzberg/footer on line 27

Warning: include() [function.include]: Failed opening '/Volumes/data/www/dsal/updateinfo.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:') in /Library/WebServer/Documents/dsal/reference/schwartzberg/footer on line 27