Exploring Ancient World Cultures: Chronology, India,


Agriculture 7000 BCE Indo-Iranian 

Initial Settlement 3,500 BCE

EARLY PERIOD: 3000 BCE to Rig-Veda, 1000.

Harappan Civilization (Indus Valley Civilization): 2,700-1,500 BCE.

The early inhabitants of India are referred to as the Dravidians.

Archaeologists have identified 200 hundred villages and 5 large cities, the two largest being Harappa and Mahenjo-Daro.  At its zenith, around 2,400 BCE, Mahenjo-dara had a population of 35,000 - 40,000 people.  Possible emerged as a defense.

After 1500, a shift in agriculture from the Indus to the Ganges Valley.

Internet Resources:

Ancient India, http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/ANCINDIA/ANCINDIA.HTM.

The Ancient Indus Valley, http://www.harappa.com/har/har0.html.

 A Complete Guide to Indus Civilization, http://bosei.cc.u-tokai.ac.jp/~indus/english/index.html

The Aryans 2000-1500

Conquest or migration?

Materian culture is crude, probable illiterate.

The Vedic Age, 1500-1000 BCE:The Vedas first written down beginning in 1500 BCE.This collection of texts is referred to as the Samhitas, literally “put together.”There are four Vedas.The Vedas, supreme knowledge, revelations of divine matters revealed to the seer, the rishi. The word comes from the Sanskrit “Vid,” to know.

Rig Veda (re, to praise):1,028 hymns and chants associated with sacrifice performed by hotars, Aryan priests. These priest would, at first, have the sole responsibility for correctly performing sacrifices.

Sama Veda (samans, songs): Almost exclusively verses of the Rig Veda arranged in the order that singers would use in rituals. This would also indicate that a second group of priests would have been involved in these rituals, along with the hotars.

Yajur Veda (yajuses, incantations): A collection of formulas and instructions to be used during and in preparation of various ceremonies. Again, this indicates still another group of priests who would be responsible for preparing the rite and handling the offerings.

Atharva Veda: The Athavans, a group of medical practitioners and counselors, were added to the sacrificial rituals. Spells, chants, and popular hymns, not used in sacrifice and associated with the Atharvan were collected into this fourth Veda.

One of the characteristics of the religion of the Vedic period is the importance of sacrifice, both as a means of influencing the gods and as a re-enactment of cosmic creation.  Sacrifice maintained the order of the universe itself.  In fact, in the Rig Veda, both the cosmos and society are said to be the product of the sacrifice of the human self.

The Hymn of Purusha

The Man (Purusha) has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand feet. He pervades the earth everywhere and extends beyond for ten fingers breadth.

The Man himself is all this, whatever has been and whatever is to be. He is the lord of immortality and also lord of that which grows on food.

Such is his greatness, and the Man is yet greater than this. All creatures make up a quarter of him; three quarters are the immortal in heaven.

With three quarters the Man has risen above, and one quarter of him still remains here, whence he spread out everywhere, pervading that which eats and that which does not eat.

From him Virj (He who Rules afar', a primeval being) was born, and from Virj came the Man, who, having been born, ranged beyond the earth before and behind.

When the gods spread the sacrifice, using the Man as the offering, spring was the clarified butter, summer the fuel, autumn the oblation. They anointed the Man, the sacrifice, born at the beginning, upon the sacred grass. With him the gods, Sdhyas, and sages sacrificed.

From that sacrifice in which everything was offered, the clarified butter was obtained, and they made it into those beasts who live in the air, in the forest, and in villages.

From that sacrifice in which everything was offered, the verses and the chants were born, the metres were born, and the formulas were born (The three Vedas consist of verses (Rg Veda), chants (Sma Veda) and formulas (Yajur Veda)).

From it horses were born, and those other animals which have a double set of incisors; cows were born from it, and goats and sheep were born from it.

When they divided the Man, into how many parts did they disperse him? What became of his mouth, what of his arms, what were his two thighs and his two feet called?

His mouth was the brahmin, his arms were made into the nobles (Ksatriaya), his two thighs were the populace (Vaisya), and from his feet the servants Sudra) were born.

The moon was born from his mind; the sun was born from his eye. From his mouth came Indra (chief vedic god) and Agni (fire god), and from his vital breath the wind (Vayu) was born.

From his navel the atmosphere was born; from his head the heaven appeared. From his two feet came the earth, and the regions of the sky from his ear. Thus they fashioned the worlds. There were seven, enclosing fire-sticks for him, and thrice seven fire-sticks when the gods, spreading the sacrifice, bound down the Man as the sacrificial beast.

With this sacrifice the gods (devas) sacrificed; these were the first dharmas (designates social order, the social norm, the ideal order of the world).  And these powers reached the dome of heaven where dwell the ancient Sdhyas and gods.


There are many interesting Vedas that a student of the religion of this period could turn. One of the more often cited Vedas is the “Hymn of Creation,” from the Rig Veda.

Nasadiya: The Creation Hymn of Rig Veda

There was neither non-existence nor existence then. 
There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. 
What stirred? 
In whose protection? 
Was there water, bottlemlessly deep?

There was neither death nor immortality then. 
There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day. 
That One breathed, windless, by its own impulse. 
Other than that there was nothing beyond.

Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning, 
with no distinguishing sign, all this was water. 
The life force that was covered with emptiness, 
that One arose through the power of heat.

Desire came upon that One in the beginning, 
was the first seed of mind. 

Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom 
found the bond of existence and non-existence.

Their cord was extended across. 
Was there below? 
Was there above? 
There were seed-placers, there were powers. 
There was impulse beneath, there was giving forth above.

Who really knows? 
Who will here proclaim it? 
Whence was it produced? 
Whence is this creation? 
The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. 
Who then knows whence it has arisen?

Whence this creation has arisen
- perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not - 
the One who looks down on it, 
in the highest heaven, only He knows 
or perhaps even He does not know.


Translation by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty. From the Book The Rig Veda - Anthology



It is important to bear in mind that this is not the only way that creation is imagined within the religions of India. For example, the idea of the sexual generation of life is also a used to describe creation.A good example is this selection from the Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad, 1.4.1-7.

1. In the beginning this was Self alone, in the shape of a person (purusha). He looking round saw nothing but his Self. He first said, 'This is I;' therefore he became I by name. Therefore even now, ifa man is asked, he first says, 'This is I,' and then pronounces the other name which he may have.

And because before (purva) all this, he (the Self) burnt down (ush) all evils, therefore he was a person (pur-usha). Verily he who knows this, burns down every one who tries to be before him.

2. He feared, and therefore any one who is lonely fears. He thought, 'As there is nothing but myself, why should I fear?' Thence his fear passed away. For what should he have feared? Verily fear arises from a second only.

3. But he felt no delight. Therefore a man who is lonely feels no delight. He wished for a second. He was so large as man and wife together. He then made this his Self to fall in two (pat), and thence arose husband (pati) and wife (patni). Therefore Yagnavalkya said: 'We two are thus (each of us) like half a shell. ' Therefore the void which was there, is filled by the wife. He embraced her, and men were born.

4. She thought, ‘How can he embrace me, after having produced me from himself? I shall hide myself.'She then became a cow, the other became a bull and embraced her, and hence cows were born.The one became a mare, the other a stallion; the one a male ass, the other a female ass. He embraced her, and hence one-hoofed animals were born. The one became a she-goat, the other a he-goat; the one became a ewe, the other a ram. He embraced her, and hence goats and sheep were born. And thus he created everything that exists in pairs, down to the ants.

5. He knew, 'I indeed am this creation, for I created all this.' Hence he became the creation, and he who knows this lives in this his creation.

6. Next he thus produced fire by rubbing. From the mouth, as from the fire-hole, and from the hands he created fire. Therefore both the mouth and the hands are inside without hair, for the fire-hole is inside without hair.

And when they say, 'Sacrifice to this or sacrifice to that god,' each god is but his manifestation, for he is all gods.

Now, whatever there is moist, that he created from seed; this is Soma. So far verily is this universe either food or eater. Soma indeed is food, Agni eater. This is the highest creation of Brahman, when he created the gods from his better part, and when he, who was (then) mortal, created the immortals. Therefore it was the highest creation. And he who knows this, lives in this his highest creation.

7. Now all this was then undeveloped. It became developed by form and name, so that one could say, 'He, called so and so, is such a one. ' Therefore at present also all this is developed by name and form, so that one can say, 'He, called so and so, is such a one.'

He (Brahman or the Self) entered thither, to the very tips of the finger-nails, as a razor might be fitted in a razor-case, or as fire in a fire-place.

He cannot be seen, for, in part only, when breathing, he is breath by name; when speaking, speech by name; when seeing, eye by name; when hearing, ear by name; when thinking, mind by name. All these are but the names of his acts. And he who worships (regards) him as the one or the other, does not know him, for he is apart from this (when qualified) by the one or the other (predicate). Letmen worship him as Self, for in the Self all these are one. This Self is the footstep of everything, for through it one knows everything. And as one can find again by footsteps what was lost, thus he who knows this finds glory and praise.

See also, The Vedic Experience by Professor Raimon Panikkar

PRE-CLASSICAL PERIOD: 1000 BCE – 100 BCE Mauryan Civ.-Alexander the Great

Upanishads (600-200 BC)

Full Text of Max Müller's Translation of the Upanishads, at http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/extra/bl-maxupanishads.htm

Upanishad, from the words, upa, near, ni, down, sad, sit.Pupils would sit near the master to hear the wisdom or truth that dispels ignorance.These sayings are the concluding portion of the Vedas and the foundation of Vedantic philosophy.Although there are more than 100 Upanishads, there are 10 main ones:Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, and Brhadaranyaka.Most are belong to the 8th and 7th centuries, BCE.

Not systematic and aimed toward the practical goal of self-realization or enlightenment there are, nonetheless, certain key ideas found in the Upanishads.

(Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli and Charles A. Moore, eds., A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989, 37ff.)

Mahavira the Jain (500 BCE) Age of Great Heresis

See: “Mahavira and Jainism” by Sanderson Beck, “Reaction and Rebellion:Buddhism and Jainism,” at World Civilizations, Jain History: An Outline, Lord Mahavir and Jain Religion, Nine Tattvas (Principles), and Path of Liberation.

Gautama the Buddha (500 BCE) The Axis Age

The Life of Gotuma Buddha, http://www.serve.com/cmtan/LifeBuddha/buddha.htm

Spread of the religion of the Brahmins, Buddhists, and Jains.

Persian invasion and Alexander the Great.Beginning of the outside influences on India.

500-200 The Ramayana and Mahabharata, R. Dutt translator (1899), at 


The Bhagavad-Gita, Sir Edwin Arnold, translator (1885), at 

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/gita/index.htm - arnoldgita

The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Ramanand Prasad, at 


The Gita is part of the Mahabharata, it means, “Song of the Blessed Lord.”The text speaks to the metaphysical, religious, and ethical concerns in India’s religion.Metaphysically the Gita continues to develop the Upanishadic notion that Brahman is the ultimate Reality but, it also stresses the theistic side of Brahman, also found in the Upanishads.Brahman is not only a transcendent, detached Reality but a divine reality concerned, supportive of the cosmos found in each individual being.The phenomenal world is created from the being of Brahman.

Religiously, the Gita tells of the incarnation of Vishnu in the form of his avatar, Krishna.The story is concerned about redemption and Vishnu becomes incarnate to help humanity when threatened by evil.As a redemption story Krishna tells Arjuna that there are several paths that one can take to liberation, from the arduous path of karma or raja yoga to that of bhakti yoga, devotion to Krishna.

Ethical the story is about a warrior, caught, as it were, between conflicting sacred duties as a member of warrior caste and of a family.He is counseled that he must follow the path of the warrior, to heed the dharma that his role requires but, to do so without attachment born from the illuminated perception of Brahman’s all pervading presence.

Key Terms: 

Dharma= sacred duty, moral order that sustains the universe.

Yoga= discipline

Karma= action

Jnana= knowledge

Bhakti= devotion

Avatars= incarnations

Moksa =liberation

Maya = Magical Illusion


Samsara = the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth.

Brahma= The One, eternal reality.

The main issues are the problems of moral evil and suffering.It is a story of “conflicting sacred duties” “which is better?”What does “dharma” require?Notes the tragic dimension of human existence. --Arjuna & Krishna

Problem of moral evil & suffering



Bhakti—devotion“works performed in faith”

The Brahman/Atman is eternal.The distinctions between being and nonbeing is illusory, Maya.To say there are distinctions is to affirm a knower; perceived pairs of opposites of not reflect the nature of things but the perceiving mind.Brahman comprises all polarities, which proceed from it.Karma yoga= selfless action which entails self-surrender and devotion to the Lord who is identical to the self and within all.It is to act detached from the fruits of action.



Being endowed with a body, to believe that one can avoid the wheel of Karma is illusion but, by absolute self-sacrifice on might become less involved.

For an excellent list of internet resources on the Gitasee “Bhagavadgita Internet Resources” at World Civilizations at Washington State University and for an equally good introduction to the Gita see Soumen De’s, “The Historical Context of The Bhagavad Gitaand Its Relation to Indian Religious Doctrines,” at Exploring Ancient World Cultures.

Ashoka (304-232 BCE), the 3rd King in the Mauryan Dynasty, ruled from 272-232, converted to Buddhism.

The Edicts ofKing Ashoka, an English rendering by Ven. S. Dhammika, at


A map of the Mauryan Empire


200 C.E. Beginning of Vedanta system of thought

800 C.E. Teaching of Advaita Vedanta philosophy by Sankara


1000 – 1750 Formation of Hindu – Muslim Culture

1200-1757 Muslim domination of India


After 1750 Missionaries

1757-1947 British rule of India

1947 Independence of India




MIMASA- Ritual is efficacious in itself

Vedanta – a single divine reality underlying or sustaining existence

The sub school differ in their interpretation of ATMAN(self) BRAHMAN and the RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN


--VEDANTA sub schools

Shankara (Brahman 788-820AD) Follower of Shiva.NON-DUALISTIC




RAMANUJA (+1137) Follower of Vishnu.

Concerned with a personal God & devotion & worship

A “body-soul” cosmology-distinct but inseparable.



Madhva ( 1300 cent)VISHNU

Concerned with Bhakti

Each soul iS distinct, God is distinct

Different salvations and damnation's

--Islamic INFLUENCE (Invasion 998, 13th century, 16th century

Sikh – combines the two

a)KABIR 1440-1518 MUSLIM

b)NANAK 1440-1538 the first guru- stressed BHAKTI for both


ARJON 5th GURU 1581-1606 SIKH 


Smart identifies the following elements as the ingredients of Indian Religion.






Austerity (tapas)




Dhyana-meditation to liberation

3.Mythic (330 million gods)

Brahma, Visnu, Shiva

Sakti-female consorts-creative force




Karma(action) to the round of existence-samsara

Moksa-liberation (nirvana in Buddhism)


Sanctity of life



Caste systems

Priest and Philosophers (Brahmins)

Kings, Warriors, Vassals (ksatriyas)

Servants (shudras)



The Temple

Temple and house icons.

Internet Resources on the Religions and History of India

Hinduism Online

Hindu Resources Online

Internet Indian History Sourcebook