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Early Vedic Age (~1500 – 1000 BC)

Successors of IVC. Horse riders. Arrived in hordes from central Asia over centuries. Earlier, it was
believed that they invaded the IVC and killed the inhabitants but this Aryan Invasion Theory has
been disproved now. The advent of Aryans was more gradual and prolonged.

Rigveda was written in Early Vedic period. Remaining shastras of Hinduism during and after Later
Vedic period.

Rajan – tribal chief/king. Post was hereditary in rigvedic times.

Sabha, samiti, vidatha, gana – tribal assemblies. Women attended sabha and vidatha

Purohita – tribal head priest

Senani – tribal army head (though there was no proper army)

No officer for tax collection. Princes were offered voluntary contributions called “Bali”.

No officer for administering justice. Wasn’t an ideal society. Incidents of theft. Spies were employed.

Vrajapati - Officer who enjoyed authority over pasture grounds. He led heads of families “Kulapas”
or heads of fighting hordes “Gramanis” to battle. After settling, gramani became head of village and
later identical with Vrajapati.

No standing army but militia were raised in times of need. Tribal groups used for this – vrata, gana,
grama, sardha.

Kinship was the basis of social structure. People identified with their clans and not territory/land
because they were in a state of perpetual expansion. Tribe/clan = jana.

Vis = mass of tribal people.

Grama = small tribal fighting group. Conflict between gramas = sangram.

Family = griha. “kula” is mentioned rarely.

Cows occupied an important place in the pastoral, semi-nomadic economy.

Wealthy person = gomat King = gopati (protector of cattle) daughter = duhitr(one who milks)

Buffalo = govala (cow-haired)

Women attended assemblies, gave sacrifices, polyandry existed, widow remarriage existed. No child
marriage. Marriageable age was ~16-17.

Varna was used for colour and not race. Colour distinctions gave rise to social orders. Dasas (lower
Aryans) and dasyus were treated as slaves and shudras. Social inequality rose due to conquests and
acquisition of booty. Population divided into priests, warriors and common people. Shudras were
not found in early vedic phase, only later. In early vedic period, division based on occupation had
started but was not very prevalent.

Economy was mainly pastoral and not food-producing. Society was tribal and largely egalitarian.
Worshipped natural forces. Copper tools were the first tools that early vedic people used. They did
not engage in sea trade.

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Indra = purandara = breaker of forts. Also called rain god.

Agni = fire god. Fire cult important in vedic age as well as in Iran. Oblations offered to agni.

Varuna = water god and upholder of natural order.

Soma = god of plants.

Maruts = storm gods.

Aditi, Ushas = female gods = appearance of dawn.

Prominent mode of worship = prayer recitation and offering of sacrifices (vegetables, barley etc.)

Later Vedic Age (1000-600 BC)

Rigved = prayers and recitals

Samved = prayers set to tune for singing.

Yajurved = hyms + rituals to accompany the recitation.

Atharvaved = charms and spells to ward off diseases/evil forces.

Samhitas = texts containing compilations of vedic hymns and mantras. One for each Veda.

Brahmanas = full of ritualistic formulae and explain social and religious aspects of rituals.

All the later vedic texts compiled in upper gangetic basin from 1000 – 600 BC.

These sites are called Painted Grey-Ware (PGW) sites because of that particular type of pottery.
These people also used iron weapons.

People did not know the use of burnt bricks.

Around 600 BC, people spread from doab to eastern UP and northern Bihar.

Vedic people succeeded in second phase of expansion because of iron weapons and horse-drawn

Iron age came in the subcontinent around 1000 BC. Iron implements and weapons started to be
used in NW first, then in western UP and Rajasthan. With these weapons, they were able to defeat
enemies in the doab and also clear the forests for expansion. Iron spread to eastern UP and Videha
(north bihar) by 600 BC. It is called “syama” or “Krishna ayas” in later vedic tests.

Agriculture was the chief means of livelihood. Wooden ploughshare was used. Satapatha Brahmana
spoke in detail about ploughing rituals. Cattle were scarce due to being used in sacrifices. Kings and
princes used to do manual labour. Later on, it was prohibited for higher varnas.

Barley production continued but rice and wheat became chief crops. Later, wheat became a staple
of people in Punjab and western UP. Use of rice was recommended in rituals but not wheat. Lentils
were also produced.

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Various trades were prevalent: smiths and smelters, coppersmiths, weaving (confined to women),
leather work, pottery, carpentry, jewellery work. Four types of pottery – Black and red ware, black
slipped ware, PGW and red ware. Last one was most popular while PGW is the most distinctive.

People lived in mud-brick houses. Wooden ploughshare resulted in less productivity so could not
result in rise of towns. Nagara is used in later vedic tests but this may refer to proto-urban sites
such as Hastinapur and Kaushambi. Mahabharat attributed to this period.

Representative institutions saw a decline. Vidatha disappeared. Nature of sabha and samiti changed.
They were dominated by princes and nobles. Women were not allowed to sit in them. Kings became
more powerful due to expanding kingdoms. Several tribes were now ruled by a king and the name of
a dominant tribe became name of the kingdom e.g: Panchala. Rashtra (territory) first appears in this

Rajasuya – conferred supreme power.

Ashvamedha – unquestioned control in area where royal horse ran uninterrupted.

Vajpeya – chariot race between royal chariot and the kinsmen.

Sangrihitri = officer collecting taxes and tributes.

King was assisted by priest, commander, chief queen. Village assemblies handled local
administration and tried local cases. King did not maintain a standing army and tribes were called
upon at the time of need. King had to eat with his people (vis) before war.

Varna system became functional in later Vedic period but the distinctions did not advance very far.
Top three varnas were entitled to thread ceremony but not the shudras. Chariot-makers or rathkars
enjoyed a high status and were allowed thread ceremony. Advent of patriarchal society. Women
thought to be inferior and subordinate to men.

Institution of gotra appeared. Gotra exogamy was practiced. Chaturvarnashram system

(brahmacharya, grihasth, vanaprasth, sanyas) was not well-established in early vedic age. In later
vedic period, the first three are mentioned. Last one was not well established.

Cult of sacrifice was the corner stone of vedic religious belief. New gods emerged. Different varnas
had different gods. Signs of idolatry emerged. Prayers became less important and animal sacrifices
became more important, especially destruction of cattle wealth. Guest = goghna (one who was fed
on cattle). Brahmins were only one of the 16 kinds of priests but they soon overshadowed the
remaining priests. Grant of land as sacrificial fee is not well established but portions of territory were
sometimes given to officiating priests.

Around 600 BC in Videha and Panchala, strong reaction to priestly domination. Upanishads compiled
around same time. They criticized rituals and laid stress on right belief and knowledge. Brahma
emerged as the supreme god. Kings of the area set the stage for reformation of the priest-
dominated religion. Emphasis on changelessness, indestructibility and immortality of atma served
the cause for stability and loyalty to superior authority.

Despite support from Brahmins, kshatriyas could not establish a state system due to lack of regular
system of taxes and a professional army. Existing situation of agriculture did not leave enough scope
for sufficient taxes and tributes.

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Jainism and Buddhism [Post-Vedic Age]
Uttarpath = Bactria – Taxila (Kandahar) – Punjab – Ganga watershed – Tamralipti (mouth of Ganges,

Dakshinpath = Varanasi – Ujjain – Narmada valley – Pratisthan (Paithan, MH).

Sarnath (south of Varanasi) was near to intersection of both routes and a major place of exchange of
ideas. So Buddha delivered first sermon there.

Causes of Origin:

1. Reaction of ruling class kshatriyas against brahmanical dominance.

2. Tensions between the shudras (and vaishyas) and the higher varnas due to establishment of a
rigid varna system in post-vedic age.

3. Introduction of a new agricultural economy in north-eastern India (eastern UP and north Bihar).
Forests were cleared with iron axes and agriculture was expanded with iron ploughs. Cattle were
needed to pull these ploughs and the cattle sacrifice was leading to erosion of cattle wealth. Thus,
stability of the new agricultural economy necessitated cessation of sacrifices and thus the
reformation of vedic religion.

4. Rise in large number of cities and expansion of economy resulted in increased trade and
specialization of arts and crafts. Punch-marked coins became prevalent (initially in eastern UP and
Bihar). Trade was controlled by Vaishyas and they looked to improve their position from the present
third position in the Vedic varna system.

--- Traders gave generous donations to Mahavira and Buddha. Why?

i. Initially, Jainism and Buddhism did not attach any importance to varna system.

ii. Preached non-violence  cessation of constant wars  promotion of trade and commerce.

iii. Lending money on interest was decried in brahmanical law books (Dharmasutras). So vaishyas
were not held in high esteem. New religions provided a way out.

--- There was also an accompanying backlash. Orthodox elements detested accumulation of coins
and the rise in social inequality. They wanted to go back to the primitive, simple way of life. Now
Jainism and Buddhism also preached simple, ascetic living. Monks were forbidden from touching
gold and were allowed to take only that much as was enough to keep their body and soul together.

So, Jainism and Buddhism appealed to both the modern and the orthodox elements of
Brahmanical society for different reasons.

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Jainism and Mahavira

540 BC near Vaishali (north Bihar). Father was head of a kshatriya clan and mother was a Licchavi
princess. Wandered for 12 years and attained Kaivalya (perfect knowledge) at the age of 42.
Conquered misery and happiness. Hence “Mahavira” (the great hero) OR “Jina” (the conqueror). So
followers called Jains. Associated with Kosala, Magadha, Mithila, Champa. Died at Pavapuri (modern
Rajgir) in 468 BC.

24th Tirthankar. 1st = Rishabhdev.

Doctrines of Jainism

Non-violence Truth No stealing No acquisition of property Continence (Brahmacharya)

Last one added by Mahavira. Parsvanath (9th prophet) had asked to cover upper and lower body but
Mahavira insisted on discarding clothes completely.  More austere lifestyle.  Two sects:
Digambar and Shvetambar.

Jainism recognized existence of god but placed it lower than Jina. Did not condemn the varna
system. Mahavira believed a person’s birth in a particular varna was dependent on the
sins/virtues acquired during previous birth. Liberation can be attained by pure and meritorious
life. Jainism mainly aims at freedom from worldly bonds.

For liberation  right knowledge, right faith and right action. These three are “triratna” or
“Ratnatraya” (three gems) of Jainism.

Jainism did not demarcate itself clearly from brahmanical religion and thus failed to attract

Reasons for spread of Jainism:

i. Chandragupta Maurya became a Jain and spent last years of his life in Karnataka as a Jain ascetic,
spreading Jainism to South India. (Baahubali at Sravanbelagola also contains Chandragupta’s tomb.)

ii. Great famine of Magadh (~260 BC). Many Jains migrated south under Bhadrabahu while several
stayed under Sthalabahu. The former spread Jainism in the South. Had differences and mistrust with
others upon return to Magadh. Council was convened at Pataliputra. South ones boycotted it.
Hereafter, southerners = digambars and Magadhans = shvetambars.

iii. Jaina monastic establishments called Basadis were granted land and patronage by K’taka kings.

iv. Spread to Kalinga (Orissa) in 4th century BC and was patronized by Kharavela in 1st century BC.
Subsequently to Tamil Nadu. To Gujarat, Rajasthan in later centuries, with Jainas engaged in trade
and commerce.

--- Jainism did not receive as much state patronage as Buddhism did and did not spread as fast as
Buddhism in earlier times. However, it has stayed in places where it has spread, while Buddhism
practically disappeared from the Indian subcontinent.

Contribution of Jainism:

i. First serious attempt to mitigate evils of varna order.

ii. Discarded Sanskrit as a language of the Brahmins and adopted Prakrit -- the common language --
to spread their doctrine.

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iii. Religious literature written in Ardhamagadhi and compiled in 6th century AD at Vallabhi (Gujarat).

iv. Adoption of Prakrit helped its growth and thus the development of regional languages. Sauraseni
language  Marathi. Jains composed earliest works in Apbhramsh which is the source for several
regional languages.

v. Jain literature contains epics, puranas, drama, novels. Much of this is still in manuscript form.

vi. Wrote extensively in Kannada and thus helped in its growth.

vii. Jainas used Sanskrit to compose many texts in early medieval times.

Buddhism and Gautam Buddha

563 BC in a sakya kshatriya family in Kapilavastu (foothills of Nepal). Father was the head of the
republican clan of Sakyas and mother was from Kosala dynasty. Siddhartha (Buddha) inherited some
republican sentiments due to his place of birth.

Kept roaming for 7 years and attained enlightenment under a pipal tree at Bodhgaya. First sermon
at Sarnath.

Died in 483 BC in Kusinagar (Deoria, eastern UP) which was one of the capitals of the republican clan
of Mallas.


Practical reformer, did not involve himself in debates of soul and Brahma but concentrated on
worldly problems.

World is full of sorrows and people suffer on account of desires. If desires are conquered nirvana will
be attained and there will be freedom from cycle of birth and death.

Eight-fold path (Ashtang marg) for elimination of human misery. Right observation, right
determination, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right exercise, right memory and right

A person should avoid excess of luxury and austerity and should follow the middle path. Buddha laid
down a code of conduct for his followers:

i. Do not covet others property.

ii. Non-violence.

iii. Truth.

iv. No intoxicants.

v. No indulgence in corrupt practices.

Special features and reasons for spread:

i. Does not recognize the existence of god and soul (atman).

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ii. Appealed to masses because it kept away from philosophical discussions.

iii. Attacked the varna system and therefore appealed to lower social orders. People were admitted
into the sangh without consideration of caste. Women too were allowed.

iv. Buddhism was liberal and democratic as compared to Brahmanism.

v. Made a special appeal to people untouched by vedic religion. People of Magadh accepted readily
since they were looked down by orthodox Brahmanas. Magadh was placed outside the holy Aryavrat
(land of Aryans – modern UP).

vi. Personality of Buddha and his approach helped spread Buddhism. He tried to fight hatred by love
and evil by goodness.

vii. Use of Pali, language of common people helped the spread. Sangh was made open to everyone,
provided they obeyed the rules of the sangh: continence, poverty and faith among others.

viii. Three main elements: Buddha, Sangh and Dhamma. Magadh, Kosala, Kausambi and several
republican states adopted Buddhism.

ix. Ashok embraced Buddhism and spread it to Central Asia, West Asia, Sri Lanka. Sent emissaries to
several countries.

Causes of Decline:

Had disappeared from India by 12th century AD.

i. Succumbed to rituals and ceremonies that it had denounced earlier.

ii. Brahmanism reformed in response to Buddhism. It stressed preservation of cattle wealth and
allowed women and shudras into its fold.

iii. Buddhists started idol worship from 1st century AD. Numerous gifts and land grants and revenue
from them moved the followers away from austerity to indulgence. Monasteries became centres of
corrupt practices.

iv. Monks gave up Pali and took up Sanskrit, thus abandoning the people connect. This luxurious
form of Buddhism was called Vajrayana.

v. Moral degeneration and violation of the key principle of incontinence due to presence of women
and monks living in the monasteries together.

vi. These riches attracted Turkish invaders who looted the monasteries and killed many monks in
Nalanda (Bihar). Some fled to Nepal and Tibet.

So, Buddhism disappeared from the land of its birth by 12th century AD.

Mahayana and Hinayana

Foreign influence in the post-Maurya period (~200 BC till 2nd century AD) changed Indian religions,
especially Buddhism. Originally it was too abstract and puritanical. Worshippers wanted something
tangible and concrete instead of the philosophical doctrines of Buddhism.

Mahayana (Great Wheel) came into existence, where images of Buddha were worshipped. Those
who did not subscribe to this school became Hinayana (Small Wheel). Kanishk became a great
patron of Mahayan.

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Spread to Burma in early Christian centuries led to development of Theravada Buddhism. Erected
many temples and statues and produced a rich corpus of literature. All Pali texts were compiled and
commented upon in SL.


i. Rise of agricultural economy and trade led to economic inequalities. So Buddhism asked followers
not to accumulate wealth. Poverty breeds hatred, cruelty and violence. So farmers should be
provided with grain, labourers with wages and traders with wealth. (How? Not elaborated)

ii. Code of conduct prescribed for monks was a reaction against the material culture of 6th and 5th
centuries. Partially reflects a revolt against money, private property and luxurious living.

iii. Also consolidated the socio-economic status of the people: debtors and slaves were not allowed
in the sangh ( thus protecting the creditors and slave-owners resp.)

iv. Quite similar to Brahmanism in that the monks did not participate in actual production but lived
off others, both emphasized carrying out family obligations, protecting private property and
respecting political authority. Both supported social order based on classes.

v. Buddhism preserved cattle wealth by emphasizing on non-violence. Buddhists monks were

allowed to eat meat provided that it was alms and had not been specially prepared for them. No
animals should be killed specially for consumption of a Buddhist.

vi. Buddhism created a new awareness in intellect and culture. Asked people to question and judge
things on merit. Promoted logic and rationalism.

vii. Enormously enriched Pali literature. Early Pali litt. Contains 3 categories: 1. Sayings and teachings
of Buddha. (Suttapitaka) 2. Rules to be observed by members of Sangh (Vinaypitaka) and 3.
Philosophical exposition of Dhamma. (Abhidhamnapitaka).

viii. Buddhist literary activites continued in middle ages and contributed to famous Apbhramsh
writings in East India. Monasteries were world-renowned centres of learning: Nalanda (Bihar),
Vikramshila ( Bihar), Vallabhi (Gujarat).

ix. First ancient statues worshipped in India were those of Buddha. Panels at Gaya (Bihar), Sanchi
and Bharhut (MP) show artistic activity. Gandhara Art (Indo-Greek) flourished in NW India with
Buddhist statues. Rock-cut caves were made in Barabar Hills (Gaya, Bihar) and in Nasik
(Maharashtra) for monks to live. Buddhist art flourished in Kushan delta under Roman trade

x. Important centres elsewhere were n Afghanistan and Central Asia. Begram is famous for ivory
work and Bamiyan Buddha rock-cut statues are legendary. There are thousands of viharas in

xi. Prakrit in Kharosthi script spread to central asia via Buddhism. Relics of stupas and inscriptions
have been found there. Buddhism was a major religion until it was supplanted by islam in 7th

State and Varna Society in Buddha’s times

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Archaeologically, 6th century BC was the beginning of NBP phase (Northern Black Polished Ware).
NBP = glossy, shining pottery, fine fabric used as tableware for rich people. Metal money began to
be used. Burnt bricks began around 3rd century BC.

NBP Phase = Second urbanization. After disappearance of IVC (~1500 BC), no towns existed for
1000 years.

Artisans and merchants were organized into guilds. They lived in boxed localities or towns. Crafts
were hereditary and specialization developed because of localization and the guild system.

Earliest metal coins are made of silver; copper rarely. Punch-marked with hills, trees, bulls, elephants

Writing began couple of centuries before Asoka and contributed to trade and commerce and law
and order. Sulvasutras deal with sophisticated measurements.

Rural NBP sites have not been found but kingdoms could not have existed without a strong rural
base to support them and give taxes. Nucleated settlements wherein people lived in one area and
their farm-lands existed surrounding that area seem to have begun during the age of Buddha. Iron
implements have been found in plenty.

Pali texts speak of 3 types of villages:

i. Typical villages inhabited by various castes and communities. Largest in number. Headed by Bhojak

ii. Suburban villages in the nature of craft villages (Carpenter’s village near Varanasi). These served
as markets for typical villages and linked towns with countryside.

iii. Border villages lying on the edge of the empire and merging with forests. People here were
mainly fowlers and hunters and lived a backward life.

Village lands were divided into plots and allotted family-wise. Fields were fenced and irrigation
channels were dug. 1/6th of produce was paid as tax (bali). Bali, which was voluntary in early vedic
times, became compulsory and was collected by balisadhaks. Some villages were granted to
brahmanas and rich merchants but they got only revenue, not administrative authority. Rich
peasants = grihapatis who employed slaves and labourers for cultivating their land.

Rice was staple. Paddy is mentioned in Pali texts. Transplantation of paddy started around this time.
Barley, pulses, millets, cotton, sugarcane were also produced.

Monarchy prevailed and rulers were kshatriyas. Jataka tales speak of expulsion of cruel kings, but
these instances were rare. Officials present were:

Mahamatras = Higher officials

Mantri = minister

Senanayak = commander

Ayuktas performed similar operations at state level.

High officers were mainly recruited from brahmanas.

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Early village headmen were called graminis (head of tribe). After settled life, they came to be known
as grambhojak or gramiks. Headmen collected taxes and maintained law and order. Tolls were
collected by saulkiks and shulkadhyakshas.

Sabha and samiti disappeared. These were essentially tribal institutions and with increasing
population and expanding kingdoms, it was impossible to convene them frequently. An exclusively
Brahmin body called Parishad replaced them. Assemblies were still present in republican states like
Lichhavis, not in monarchies.

Administrative machinery of the republican states consisted of: raja, up-raja, senapati and
bhandagarika (treasurer). It is said that 7707 rajas existed and met in the common Lichhavi assembly
to take collective decisions. Each raja maintained his own standing army.

Digha nikaya, in Pali, speculates on the origin of kingship and monarchy. Earlier, people were
governed by tribal law. After establishment of varna system, the Dharmasutras laid down duties of 4
varnas and civil and criminal laws came to be based on it. Jainism and Buddhism allowed Shudras to
enter their fold but did nothing much to improve their situation. Their position continued to remain
low. Ancient Indian polity, economic and society got shaped during Buddha’s period.

First Magadhan Empire [Territorial States]

From 6th century BC, rise of iron-based agricultural economy led to increasing agricultural surpluses
which could be used by kings to maintain a standing army. The ever-increasing need for agricultural
land led to wars and expansion at the cost of neighbouring states. People owed strong allegiance to
janpada (territory) rather than to their jana (tribe).

16 Mahajanpads existed north of Vindhyas. Magadha, Kosala, Vatsa, Avanti were very powerful.

Magadh = modern Patna + Gaya + parts of Shahbad. Vajjis were situated north of Ganga (8 clans).
Lichhavis were very powerful. Kashi with capital at Varanasi was powerful but succumbed to Kosala.
Kosala (eastern UP) had capital at Sravasti. Had Ayodhya (Ramayan) but was not settled till 600 BC.
Avanti = central Malwa and adjoining parts of MP. Northern capital at Ujjain and southern at

Rise and growth of Magadh attributed to Bimbisar’s (Haryanka dynasty) policy of aggrandisement
and conquest. Married daughters of Kosala, Lichhavi and Madra dynasties and forged alliances.
Became friends with Mahasena of Avanti. Recieved embassy from Gandhara ruler. Thus, forged a
great empire through conquests and diplomacy.

First capital at Rajgir, surrounded by 5 hills which made it impregnable.

Bimbisar  Ajatshatru. Latter followed aggressive expansion. Won prolonged battles against Kosala
and Lichhavis.

Ajatshatru  Udayin. Built Patna fort on confluence of Ganga and Son because of Patna’s strategic

Udayin Sisungas. Temporarily shifted capital to Vaishali and destroyed Avanti, ending the 100-year
conflict. Ujjain remained in Magadhan empire till end of Maurya rule.

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Sisungas  Nandas. Captured Kalinga. Alexander invaded Punjab but did not move East fearing the
Nandas. Mahapadma Nanda (ekarat – sole sovereign) most powerful. Maintained a large army via an
efficient tax collection system. Later Nandas unpopular and weak. Nandas  Mauryas.

Magadh’s Success

i. Ambitious, enterprising rulers.

ii. Advantageous geographic location. Rich deposits of iron in vicinity, enabling superior weapons.
Iron deposits were also found near eastern MP, which was in Avanti. So Avanti proved to be a
tougher competitor compared to others.

iii. Rajgir was impregnable. Second capital at Pataliputra was on confluence of 3 rivers Ganga,
Gandak, Son and Saryu was not far. Army could move in all directions quickly, which was
advantageous during wars. Pataliputra = jaldurg (water fort).

iv. Fertile alluvial plains = surplus agricultural produce = more taxes = more money = better army.

v. Rise of towns and use of coins. Expansion of trade in north india.

vi. Military organization: First state to use elephants in warfare.

vii. Unorthodox character of Magadhan society: original inhabitants were looked down upon by
orthodox Brahmanas. Advent of Vedic religion + new Aryan enthusiasm to expand.

Iranian and Macedonian Invasions

IN first half of 6th century BC, small kingdoms in NW India – Kambojs, Gandhars and Madrs fought
one another. There was no powerful kingdom like Magadh to stave off foreign invaders. Wealthy
area could be entered through passes in the Hindukush. Achaemenian rulers of Iran were rapidly
expanding their empire around the same time and took advantage of this disunity.

Darius attacked and annexed Panjab, west of Indus and Sindh in 516 BC. Revenue from these
accounted for 1/3rd of total revenue of Iran. These parts remained under Iranian rule till Alexander’s
invasion. Indo-Iranian contact lasted 200 years and gave impetus to Indo-Iran trade and commerce
and culture.

Kharosthi script (right to left). Some Asokan inscriptions written in this. Continued to be used till 2nd
century AD. Iranian coins are also found. Point to trade with Iran. Influence on Mauryan sculpture.
Bell-shaped capitals influenced from Iran. Preambles of Asokan edicts were also influenced. Greeks
came to know of the riches through Iran and this led to Alexander’s invasion.

Alexander of Macedonia conquered Asia Minor, then Iran, then Kabul and then moved to India via
the Khyber Pass. Ambhi, ruler of Taxila surrendered. Porus resisted, lost and was made into an ally.
Alexander’s soldiers refused to go further because they feared the elephant armies of the Nandas.
He reached till Beas river and then returned home after 19 months.

This brief contact led to many interesting developments:

i. Indo-Greek contact. Four trade routes were opened up. Greek settlements came up in Kabul and
Sindh. Were later conquered by Mauryas.

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ii. Curiosity for the ocean led to extensive exploration and Greek historians left behind valuable
accounts helping in chronology as well as of socio=economic conditions – Sati, selling of children,
fine oxen, flourishing carpentry etc.

Weakening of the NW kingdoms after Alexander’s retreat enabled their conquest by Mauryas later.

Chandragupta Maurya. Origin uncertain. Either from a shudra woman in Nanda court or from a
kshatriya clan near Gorakhpur (Nepal terai), as mentioned in some Buddhist texts.

Took advantage of growing weakness and unpopularity of Nandas and overthrew them with help
from Chanakya (Kautilya).

Conquered NW India from Seleucus (Greek). Obtained eastern Afg, Baluchistan and area west of
Indus. Mauryan rule extended from this to Bihar, Orissa and many parts of Bengal in the east and
everywhere except Kerala and TN in the south.

Devised an elaborate system of administration. Known from accounts of Chanakya and Megasthenes
(ambassador of Seleucus), who wrote Indika.

Centralized power. King aided by wise councilmen. Kingdom divided into provinces, each under a
prince from the royal dynasty. Patliputra, Kaushambi, Ujjain and Taxila most imp cities. Patliputra
administration carried out by 6 committees – sanitation, regulation of weights, registration of
foreigners etc. Several weights have been found in Bihar.

Nearly two dozen state departments regulated socio-economic activities in the kingdom. Mauryans
maintained a huge standing army and a considerably large navy. Its expenses were managed
because state controlled all economic activities. Virgin land was brought into cultivation by allotting
it to shudras and labourers. Tolls were levied, tax on irrigation, monopoly in mining, arms
manufacturing etc.

Chandragupta  Bindusara  Ashok (273-232 BC) It is said he was so cruel he killed his 99 brothers
to ascend to the throne.


Engraved on rocks, polished pillars, caves. 44 royal orders in Prakrit (Brahmi script), Prakrit
(Kharosthi script in NW India) and Aramaic (Greek script and language in Afg.) Placed on ancient

After Kalinga war, he abandoned physical occupation (bherighosh) in favour of cultural occupation
(dhammaghosh). Appealed tribals and frontier kingdoms to repose faith in him and follow Dhamma.
He conquered regions ideologically instead of forcefully. However, not a total pacifist. He threatened
tribals who did not follow Dhamma. Rajukas were appointed to reward people for good behaviour
and punish them for bad (administration of justice).

3rd Buddhist council was convened under Ashok (250 BC) . Emissaries were sent to SL and central
asia to convert people there. Dharmamahamatras for propagating religion. Forbade slaughter of
certain animas and birds, disapproved of rituals, ordained that brahmanas and monks should be

Ashok’s dhamma allowed for maintenance of social order. Preservation of existing social classes and
maintaining peace and harmony.

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Under pacifist rule, Ashok unified the country through one dhamma, one language and practically
one script. Followed a tolerant religious policy. Maintained a huge army but urged neighbours and
successors to give up the policy of aggression and conquest. Was the first missionary ruler to resort
to pacifist policies. His viceroys declared themselves independent after his demise and powerful
neighbours invaded NW part of the empire by 232 BC.

Significance of Maurya rule:

King called Dharmapravartak or “promulgator of social order”. Assertion of absolutism was a

natural culmination of policy of annexation. State virtually controlled all aspects of the subjects’
lives. The State required a large bureaucracy for this. Mauryas thus had the largest bureaucracy in
their times. This was aided by an efficient mechanism of espionage.

Important functionaries = tirthas crown-prince = yuvraj

Minister = mantri high priest = purohit commander = senapati

Enormous income gap between highest and lowest classes of government servants. State appointed
27 adhyakshas (superintendents) to regulate economic activities of the state.

A striking social development was the use of slaves in agriculture. Actually, there was no slavery in
India. The shudras were regarded as collective property of the upper three varnas and served them.
The shudras and war-captives brought from Kalinga were made to serve in massive state-owned
farms. Shudras also served as artisans, domestic servants and labourers.

Well-designed system of roads spreading across the length and breadth of the kingdom. Horses
played an important part in transport. Royal writ was enforced except in the extreme east and
south. Patliputra’s strategic location allowed officials to quickly travel in all directions.

Taxation system was a landmark. Mauryas attached more importance to assessment than to
storage. Elaborate system of assessment is mentioned. Arthashastra names many taxes to be
collected from everyone.

Samaharta = highest official in charge of assessment

Samadhata = chief custodian of state treasury and store house.

Rural store-houses were present, which means taxes were also collected in kind and then used to
help people during famines, drought etc.

Punch-marked silver coins carrying the symbols of a peacock and the hill and the crescent formed
the imperial currency of the Mauryas. Uniformity in currency facilitated wider market exchange.

Mauryas introduced stone masonry on a wide scale. Pillars attest to high technical skills of Mauryan
craftsmen. Each pillar is made of a single piece of sandstone. Capitals containing beautiful sculptures
are joined to the pillars at the top. Also started carving out caves from rocks (Barabar caves, Gaya).

Impetus to trade and ommerce led to spread of gangetic basin material culture to the periphery of
the empire. Material culture = iron implements, punch-marked coins, NBP ware pottery, burnt
bricks and ringwells, rise of towns.

Arms and weapons were restricted for use of State only, but other tools could be used by everyone.
Burnt bricks were used for the first time in NE India. Mud brick settlements did not last long in moist
environment of NE, so burnt bricks were a boon. Soon, towns sprang up there. Similarly, spread of
ringwells meant that towns need not come up only on river banks. This culture spread to Andhra,

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Karnataka, Orissa and present Bangladesh. It is believed that iron technology in Andhra and K’taka
was a contribution of Southern megalith builders. Some Ahokan inscriptions have also been

There was an attempt to bring virgin soil under cultivation with the help of vaisyas, who were
provided seeds and irrigation facilities for the purpose. Thus, far flung areas were brought under
cultivation. Ashok maintained contacts with tribals, exhorted them to follow Dhamma and followed
a systematic policy of acculturation.

Use of steel started in 200 BC and led to better cultivation in Kalinga, paving the way for rise of Cheti

Satvahanas = Mauryas of Deccan. Adopted similar administrative machinery and patronized

Buddhism (although they called themselves Brahmanas).

Causes of decline:

1. Brahmanical reaction. Ashokan abhorrence for rituals and cessation of sacrifices affected the
social position and financial position of Brahmanas, who wanted status quo to prevail. Ashok did not
harass Brahmanas but followed a tolerant policy.

2. Financial crisis. Burden of maintaining large bureaucracy and army, combined with huge grants to
Buddhist monks, left the kingdom in a lurch.

3. Oppressive rule. Lack of due oversight in far-flung provinces led to oppressive rule by wicked
bureaucrats (Dushyamatyas). Ashok introduced rotation of officials but this failed to curb misrule.

4. Spread of material culture to outlying areas. Magadh owned its rise to material advantages.
Spread of this technology and culture to outward areas led to decline in influence of the empire and
rise of successor states (Sungas and Kanvas in central India, Chetis in Kalinga and Satvahanas in

5. Neglect of NW frontier. Scythian nomads were in a constant state of flux. Shih Huang Ti built the
great wall of China in 210 BC to protect China from Scythians. Since Mauryas took no such steps,
Scythians pushed towards India and forced Parthians, Sakas and Greeks to move towards India.
Bactrian Greeks were the first to invade NW in 206 BC. This was followed by two-century long

6. Empire finally destroyed by Pushyamitra Shunga in 185 BC. He was a Brahmana and ruled over
Patliputra and central India. They performed vedic rituals and sacrifices to mark the beginning of
Brahmanical way of life. Persecuted Buddhists. Succeeded by Kanvas who were also Brahmanas.

Central Asian contacts [Scythians, Parthians, Sakas, Bactrians]

First to invade were Indo-Greeks (Bactrians). .Reached till Ayodhya. But could not establish united
rule. Two greek dynasties ruled in NW at the same time.

Famous ruler = Menander = Milinda. Capital at Sakala (Sialkot, Punjab). Converted to Buddhism by
Nagsen (Nagarjun). Miliind’s questions and Nagsen’s answers on Buddhism recorded in Milind
Panho. Good source of cultural life of the time.

 Rule important because of large number of coins that were issued. They issued coins which could
definitely be attributed to kings, in contrast to earlier punch-marked coins which could not be

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attributed to any specific dynasty. Indo-Greeks were the first ones to issue gold coins in India. The
coins increased under Kushans. The rule also led to introduction of Hellenistic features in Indian
art, giving rise to Gandhara school (in NW frontier).

Next came Shakas. Reached further inside the subcontinent than Bactrians. Five distinct branches:
Afghanistan, Punjab (capital at Taxila), Mathura, Western India (ruled till 4th century AD) and upper
Deccan. King of Ujjain defeated Shakas in ~58 BC. Called himself Vikramaditya and hence Vikram
Samvat came into existence. Vikramaditya then became a popular title and any popular ruler
assumed that title. It was widespread till 12th century AD in western India and western Deccan.

Most popular Shaka ruler = Rudradaman I (130-150 AD). Sindh, Kutch, Gujarat, Malwa, Narmada
Valley, Kathiawar. Popular because of repairs he undertook of Sudarshan Lake in Kathiawar. Was a
great lover of Sanskrit. Issued first-ever long inscription in Sanskrit. All previous ones were in Prakrit.

Parthians. Ruled over a shorter period of time, sometimes parallel to Shakas. Famous king is
Gondophernes. St. Thomas came to India to spread Christianity during his reign.

Kushans. One of the five clans of Yuechi tribe. Nomadic tribes of central asia. Set up authority over
Indus basin and gangetic basin. Central asia + part of Afg + pak + part of Iran +whole North India
united under Kushan rule. Unique opportunity for intermingling of peoples and cultures.

Two successive dynasties: 1. Kadphises Kadphises I, who issued copper coins south of Hindukush
and Kadphises II, who issued large no of gold coins and spread kingdom to east of Indus.

2. Kanishka. Extended power over most of north India. Issued gold coins with gold content higher
than Guptas. Two capitals: Mathura and Peshawar, where a monastery and a huge stupa was

Kanishk started Saka Era in 78 AD. Extended patronage to Buddhism. Convened Buddhist council
at Kashmir where contours of Mahayan Buddhism were finalized. Great patron of Art and Sanskrit
literature. His successors ruled till 230 AD but were replaced by Sassanians of Iran. Isolated pockets
of rule existed till 4th century. Toprak-Kala in Khorezm contains a huge Kushan palace which has
administrative archives containing documents in Aramaic script and Khorezmian language.


1. Burnt bricks for flooring and tiles for flooring and roofing. Construction of brick wells.

2. Red ware, plain and polished with medium to fine fabric. Similar to red pottery found around the
same time in central asia.

3. Got assimilated into Indian culture entirely. Introduced better cavalry and horse-riding, reins and
saddles. Numerous equestrian terracotta figurines excavated from Begram, Afg.

4. Introduced turbans, tunics, trousers and heavy long coats. Also cap, helmet, boots worn by

5. Enriched contacts with central asia. Was a major source of gold mined from Atlas mountains. Gold
also recovered due to trade with Rome. Plus, due to tolls levied by Kushans on the traders of Silk
Route, which passed through their kingdom.

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6. Led to development of feudatory organization. Divided kingdom into satrapies, each under a
satrap. Also introduced military governorship (Greeks called their governors “strategos”). Called
themselves “King of Kings”. Strengthened the idea of divine origin of kingship.

Since they came as conquerors, they were assimilated into Brahmanical system as Kshatriyas.
Manu termed them second class kshatriyas. In no other time were foreigners assimilated into
Indian society on such a large scale as in post-Maurya times.

7. Some converted to Vaishnavism, some to Buddhism. Greek ambassador Heliodorus set up a pillar
in honour of Vishnu near Vidisha (MP). Some Kushans worshipped Shiva and Buddha and images of
both appear on Kushan coins.

8. Led to creation of Mahayana and Hinayana. Led to development of Gandhara School of Art in
which images of Buddha were made in Greco-Roman style. The influence also spread to Mathura,
which was predominantly an indigenous school.

Mathura school produced beautiful images of Buddha, headless statue of Kaniskha and stone images
of Mahavira. Products made of red sandstone.

9. Buddhist caves carved out of rocks in Maharashtra. Nagarjunkonda and Amravati became centres
of Buddhist art and stories of Buddha were portrayed in numerous panels, earliest being Gaya,
Sanchi and Bharhut.

10. Literature. Patronized Sanskrit. Ashvaghosh wrote Buddhacharita (Buddha’s biography) and
Saundarananda (Sanskrit poem). Numerous avadanas due to Mahayana Buddhism. Most texts in
Buddhist-hybrid Sanskrit. Mahavastu and Divyavadana.

11. Theatre. Introduced curtain. Called Yavanika. Later, all foreigners came to be called Yavanas.

12. Indian astrology was influenced by Greek ideas but not medicine, botany and chemistry.

Charaksamhita = Numerous plants herbs from which drugs are to be prepared. Processes laid down
for mixing of plants. Plants = oshadhi and medicine derived from them = aushadhi.

13. Technology improved due to Roman contacts. Leather shoes, minted coins etc. Received a boost.
Glass-making advanced more in this period than in any other period.

14. Kanishk sent envoys to preach Buddhism in China and central asia. From China, Buddhism spread
to Japan and Korea. Monks like Fa Hsien and Hiuen Tsang came to India to learn more about
Buddhism. Indians learnt art of growing silk from Chinese and they learnt the art of painting Buddha
from Indians.

Also called Andhras. First appeared in Maharashtra. Gradually extended power over K’taka and
Andhra. Given a tough contest by Shakas who ruled in western India and western Deccan. Were
dispossessed by them. Revival by Gautamiputra Satkarni, who destroyed many kshatriyas. Occupied
Malwa and Kathiawar. His sucessors ruled till 220 AD.

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Sakas resumed conflict with Satavahanas (SVs) for Konkan coast and Malwa. Rudradaman I defeated
SVs twice. Yajna Sri Satkarni recovered Malwa and Konkan from Sakas. Loved navigation and trade.
Ships represented on his coins.

Material Culture and Social Organization

Fusion of local elements and northern ingredients. Megalith builders were aware of use of iron. Less
use before 200BC but rapid increase till 3rd century AD. Socketed hoes, sickles, spades, axes, adzes,
razors, arrowheads, daggers etc. Found.

Exploited iron from Karimnagar and Warangal and gold from Kolar fields. May have used gold as
bullion but did not issue gold coins like Kushans. Issued coins of lead, potin, copper and bronze.

People of Deccan knew the art of paddy transplantation and produced cotton. Developed an
advanced rural economy.

Fire-baked bricks and tiles, brick wells made lasting structures and dense population possible.

Satavahanas were the first ones to make land grants and tax-free villages to Brahmanas and
Buddhist monks.

Increasing trade and commerce led to rise in influence of traders. Artisans and merchants made
huge donations to Buddhist causes. Gandhika = perfumers were large donors. Later, the term
became so general as to include all traders.

Followed matrilineal social order. Kings took names of their mothers. But succession of throne
always passed on to the male member.

Administered according to dharmashastras and kept some institutions from Mauryan times. Military
characteristics of satavahana rule are evident.

Ahara = district

Amatyas or Mahamatras = officials.

Senapati = commander was also appointed provincial governor. Evidence of feudatory system.

Gaulmika = head of a small regiment = rural administrator

Kataka and skandhavaras = military settlements that acted as administrative centres while King was

Three grades of feudatories: Raja, mahabhoja and senapati.

Triumphant Brahmanism was present. Gautamiputra called himself the “only Brahmana” and
boasted of destroying many kshatriyas. Worshipped gods, did yajnas. Also patronized Mahayana


Chaityas(temples) and Viharas(monasteries) were carved out of rocks in Maharashtra. Chaityas for
praying, viharas for residence of monks. Independent stupas present in Andhra region. Amravati

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and Nagarjunakonda are most famous. Amravati stupa began construction in 2nd century BC and was
reconstructed in 2nd century AD.

Official language = Prakrit. Written in Brahmi script. Prakrit text Gathasaptasati composed by Hala.

Crafts, Trade and Towns

200 BC to 200 AD was a period when arts and crafts flourished in ancient India.

Literature points to great advances in metallurgy and specialization of crafts. Mention of as many as
75 occupations is done. Cloth-making, silk-weaving and making luxury articles also made progress.

Mathura was famous for a special cloth called Sataka. Dyeing was thriving in south Indian towns. Oil
manufacturing increased due to oil-wheel.

Glass-manufacturing, bead making, coin-minting etc. Thrived. Yelleshwaram in Nalgonda contains

largest number of terracotta figurines and their moulds. Artisans were divided into at least two
dozen guilds and patrons deposited money with a specific guild to provide goods and materials to
Buddhist monks.

Development of Indo-Roman trade flourished. Land trade was disrupted by Parthians and trade
shifted to sea after discovery of monsoons. Broach and Sopara ports on western coast and
Tamralipti and Arikamedu on the east coast. Trade in luxury goods and not day-to-day goods. Initial
trade was with Tamil kingdoms for spices and precious stones. Then with northern kingdoms,
especially for iron. Chinese silk also came via India due to disruption of land route.

Sakas and Kushans used two land routes to connect NW to western coast. Both converged at Taxila:
One directly went South to lower Indus basin and Broach while the other reached western bank of
Yamuna (Mathura), went southward to Ujjain and then westward to Broach (covered parts of old
Uttarpath and Dakshinpath) . This was more widely used.

Rome exported wine amphorae and lead mostly. Glass jars to NW frontier, along with Greek statues
and alabaster vessels. Most significant export was of gold and silver coins due to India’s surplus
trade balance.

Arretine pottery, found commonly in south India is not visible in North and NW India. Satavahanas
and Tamils profited from Roman trade but majority of benefits accrued to the former.

Guptas [~275 AD]

Satavahanas provided unity and stability to Deccan and South while Kushanas provided the same to
North India. Both these empires came to an end in middle of 3rd century AD.

Kushanas were replaced by Guptas (Murundas in central India, followed by Guptas), who may’ve
been Vaisya in origin. Guptas kept north India united for more than a century. Guptas operated
from Madhyadesa comprising eastern UP and North Bihar; there were fertile plains, iron ores to
exploit. Plus, proximity to areas in north which carried on trade with Eastern Roman (Byzantine)

Chandragupta I started Gupta era in 319 AD. Followed by Samudragupta who delighted in conquest
and violence. Allahabad pillar of Ashoka also contains inscriptions of Harisena, Samudragupta’s
court poet, praising the military exploits of his patron.

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Samudragupta subdued princes of Ganga-Yamuna doab, eastern Himalayan states and frontier
states, republics of Punjab, forest kingdoms of Vindhyas (atavika rajyas), eastern Deccan and South
India as far as Kanchi (TN) and Sakas and Kushan territories in NW and Afg. So, called Napoleon of

Chandragupta II expanded kingdom further. Married daughter to Vakataka prince who died 
indirect control over Vakataka  conquered Malwa and Gujarat  gained western coast and Ujjain,
which was made second capital. Adopted title “Vikramaditya”. Court adorned with great minds like
Kalidas and Amarsimha. Fa-Hsien visited India during his reign.

Gupta empire undermined by Huna invasion from NW. They reached till Malwa and overthrew
Guptas. Malwa prince Yashodharman resisted Hunas and Guptas. Gupta empire was further
undermined by rise of feudatories.

Also, loss of trade revenue from west coast = loss of gold = decline. Granting of land grants to army
chiefs and officers = reduction of state revenue = decline. By 6th century, independent princes issued
land grants in northern MP and several other regions proclaimed independence.


Adopted pompous titles “Parmeshvar, Maharajadhiraj, Parambhattaraka”.

Kinghsip was hereditary but without primogeniture. Throne did not automatically go to the eldest
son and this created uncertainty that the royals benefited from.

Land taxes increased and trade and commerce taxes decreased. Standing army was maintained and
supplemented by feudatories. Villagers subjected to forced labour = vishti for serving royal army and

Judicial system was more developed than in earlier times. Civil and criminal law were clearly
demarcated. Laws based on varnas. Elaborate laws about inheritance. Guilds of artisans and
merchants were governed by their own laws. King tried cases with help from Brahmanas.

Bureaucracy was less elaborate than mauryas because much of imperial administration was done by
feudatories and the State did not interfere in economy as much as the Maurya State. Kumaramatyas
= appointed by kings in home provinces. Hiring from different varnas but concentration of several
offices in one person led to weakening of royal control.

Divisions = bhuktis in charge of Uparikas.

Districts = Vishayas

In eastern India, Vishayas divided into Vithis, further divided into villages.

Village headman became more important. He governed with help of elders. Organized professional
bodies were given considerable share in urban administration. These guilds enjoyed certain
immunities, could look after memners’ affairs and punished violators of customs. This system was
confined to north Bengal, UP, Bihar and some parts of MP.

Rest of the empire was governed by feudal chiefs who gave homage to the king, presented
daughters in marriage and paid tribute. Charters marked with royal Garuda seal were issued to

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Grant of fiscal and administrative concessions to priests and administrators. Several officials paid in
cash (gold coins) but many also given land grants. Priests given tax-free land and authorized to
administer justice in that land.


Fa Hsien says rich people of Magadh supported Buddhism. Decline in foreign trade. In 550 AD,
people of Rome learnt the art of making silk and thus imported less from China and India, thus
decreasing foreign trade. Emergence of priestly landlords at the cost of local peasants. Land grants
made to priests brought virgin land under cultivation.


Brahmana supremacy continued. Land grants were provided. Priests asked for more privileges.

Castes proliferated into numerous sub-castes because 1. Foreigners assimilated into Brahmanism
were thought of as separate sub-castes and 2. Many tribals were incorporated into Hinduism by land

Position of women and shudras marginally improved. They were allowed to listen to puranas and
worship a new god Krishna. Shudras were now portrayed as agriculturists instead of slaves and
labourers as in earlier times.

Untouchables = chandalas population increased a lot. Fa Hsien says they lived outside the village and
dealt in meat and flesh. When they entered the village, upper caste people stayed away from them.

Buddhism did not receive royal patronage. Nrahmanism came to the forefront. Gods worshipped
were Shiva and Vishnu. Vishnupuraan and law-book Vishnusmriti were written. BhagvadGita
appeared by 4th century . Siva was not as important as Vishnu in earlier Gupta period. Idol worship
became common and many festivals were celebrated. Agriculture festivals were given religious garb.
Kings followed tolerance towards various sects and did not persecute Jains or Buddhists.


Gupta Age called Golden Age of Art.

Towns in north region declined economically. Guptas had gold and issued largest amount of gold
coins. Samudragupta is portrayed playing Veena on the coins and Chandragupta II had nine scholars
in his court.

Art was religious. Buddhism led to great art in Maurya and post-Maurya times. Numerous images
were made. Bronze statue of Buddha near Bhagalpur, 25 metre tall statue seen by Fa Hsien, images
a Sarnath and Mathura, and Ajanta Paintings. Ajanta paintings depict events in life of Buddha and
successive Buddhas.

Images of Vishnu, Shiva and other Hindu gods seen for the first time in Gupta period. In many places,
chief god in middle and others depicted smaller in size, standing around the chief god. Shows social
distinction and hierarchy.

Architecture was poor; only brick temples, notably at Bhitargaon, Bhitarpur and Deogarh. Nalanda
university set up in 5th century. Iron and bronze craft was exemplary. Iron Pillar at Mehrauli has
remained rust free since 15 centuries.

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Remarkable for the production of secular literature. Plays are all comedies; no tragedies. Women
and shudras speak in Prakrit while upper classes speak in different language (probably Sanskrit).

Bhasa = 13 plays.

Kalidasa = Abhijnanashakuntalam (play; Dushyant meets Shakuntala and marries her), Raghuvamsa
(poem about kings of Raghu dynasty), Malvikagnimitram (play; king Agnimitra loves servant girl
Malvika), Vikramorvasiyam (play; king Pururavas falls in love with celestial nymph Urvashi) ,
Meghadootam (poem; Yaksha sends a message to his lover through a cloud), Kumarasambhavam
(poem; birth and adolescence of goddess PArvati).

Ramayan and Mahabharat were finally compiled during this period. Puranas follow epics and earlier
ones were composed in this period. Full of myths, legends, sermons meant for education and
edification of common people. Law books and smritis were also written.

Patanjali and Panini = Sanskrit grammar. Panini’s Ashtadhyayi.

Amarsimha = Amarkosh (was in the court of Chandragupta II)

Ornate style different from Sanskrit was developed. Greater emphasis on verse than prose. Sanskrit
was court language of Guptas.


Aryabhatiya by Aryabhatta.

Zero was invented in 2nd century BC. Notation system, decimal system and zero were the notable
contributions. Decimal system came into use by 5th century AD. Indian numerals and decimal system
spread to China, then to Arabia and then to western world (that called them the Arabic numerals).

Romak Siddhanta for astronomy – influenced from Greek astronomy, as is evident in the name.

Varahmihir = Brihatsamhita in 6th century AD. Proposed heliocentricity.

A region is considered civilized if its people know the art of writing, have a system of collecting
taxes and maintaining law and order, and possess social classes and specialists for performing
priestly, administrative and producing functions.

Civilization spread to eastern MP, eastern Bengal, Orissa and Assam from 4th to 7th centuries.

Several small kingdoms emerged in eastern part of the subcontinent.

Matharas made endowments called agraharas = land +income from villages. Meant to support
religious and educational activities of the Brahmanas. Some agraharas had to pay taxes but majority
of them were tax free.

Princes of south east and central Bengal issued land grants and also issued Agraharas like the princes
of Orissa.

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A fiscal and administrative unit called Dandabhukti was formed in border areas between Bengal and
Orissa. Danda = punishment and Bhukti = enjoyment. So the unit seems to be made to tame and
punish tribal inhabitants of the region. Similar for Vardhmanbhukti (Burdwan) in 7th century.

Between 5th and 7th centuries, several small states, some independent and some feudatories, were
formed in Bengal. Each had its army, fiscal and administrative units, and practiced expansion
through war and land grants. Agraharas increased so much that an agraharika had to be appointed
to look after them.

Hiuen Tsang visited Assamese kingdom of Kamarup in 7th century, when the ruler was

Post-Gupta Period
Hunas established supremacy over Punjab, Kashmir and western India from 500 AD. North and
western broke up into half a dozen feudatories. Harshvardhan (606-647) ruled over Thanesar in
Haryana and overshadowed his contemporaries.

Harsha shifted capital to Kanauj. Ruled in all directions. Patliputra’s supremacy declined. Why? Trade
declined and gold declined and officers were paid through land grants. So strategic locations
controlling vast swathes of land and military camps became places of power. Kanauj emerging as
centre of power signifies advent of feudal age, just as Patliputra = pre-feudal order.

Kanauj situated in elevated area. So easily fortifiable. Situated in the middle of doab, wings of
soldiers could be moved in all directions.

Banabhat = Harshacharita.

Account of socioeconomic life known through Hiuen Tsang, who visited India in 7th century.

Harsha’s sphere of influence extended over whole of Northern India and upper Deccan. His
southward march was stopped by Chalukyan king Pulakesin II on banks of Narmada.


Became more feudatory and decentralized. Revenue divided in 4 parts: Expenditure of king, scholars,
endowment of officials and for religious purposes. Officials were rewarded with land grants and
correspondingly, coins issued under Harsha were less.

Law and order was not well mainitained. Hiuen Tsang was robbed. Robbery was considered second
treason and severe punishment was given at first, but then reduced under the influence of

Social Conditions

Nobles and priests led luxurious lives. Shudras were agriculturists, untouchables lived outside the
villages and announced their arrival by shouting loudly so people might keep away from them.

Buddhists were divided into 18 sects. Nalanda was the most famous centre. Taught Mahayana
school of Buddhism. Was supported from revenues of 200 villages. Harsha followed tolerant
religious policy. Was a Shaiva earlier but became a patron of Buddhism. Was a literary figure and
wrote three plays.

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Southern India
Megalith builders (~1000 BC to 1st century BC)

Upland portions of peninsula inhabitated by megalith builders till 2nd century BC. Several portions
continue to be inhabited till early years of Christian era. Mostly settled on hill slopes and not on flat
or low lands.

Graves were encircled by big pieces of stone and hence called megaliths. Graves contain skeletons,
pottery and iron objects including arrows, hoes, spearheads etc. Black and red ware was most
popular. Advanced agriculture was not practiced. Grew paddy and ragi. Megaliths are concentrated
in eastern Andhra and TN.

Megalithic builders of TN buried dead in urns made of red pottery. Urns were not surrounded by
stone circles and goods were not too many. Urn-burial was different from cist-burial or pit-burial
which was practiced in KG Basin.

In 1st century AD, they began to settle in marshy areas and fertile basins. Came into contact with
material culture of north, Jains and Buddhists and learnt wet paddy cultivation and began to have
social classes.

Early Kingdoms

Cholas, Pandyas, Cheras.

Pandyas covered southern and south-eastern portion (modern TN) with capital at Madurai. Society
was matrilineal. Sangam literature refers to Pandya rulers and mentions that the kingdom was
prosperous. Pandyas profited from Roman trade and sent embassies to Augustus. Brahmins enjoyed
considerable influence and Pandya kings did Vedic sacrifices.

Cholas were situated north east of Pandyas, between Pennar and Velur rivers. Cholamandalam or
Coromandel. Capital at Uraiyur, famous for cotton trade. Real history begins in 2nd century AD with
Karikala who founded Puhar (Kaveripatnam) and built 160 km embankment along Kaveri with slaves
brought from SL. Maintained efficient navy that sailed till Ganga, Irrawady and Malaya peninsula.
Kingdom was destroyed under Karikala’s successors. Cheras and Pandyas expanded at Cholas’ cost.
No role of Cholas in 4th to 9th centuries.

Cheras or Keralas were situated more or less in modern Kerala. Traded with Romans, held
embassies. Temple to Augustus was built there. Greatest king = Senguttuvan or Red Chera. Power
declined after 2nd century AD.

Sangam = assembly of Tamil poets held under royal patronage. Mostly 3 sangams were held in 1st
and 2nd century AD (one of them at Madurai) and the sangam literature was compiled in 300-600 AD.

All three kingdoms warred with each other and with SL. They were immensely rich and grew and
traded in spices, ivory, pearls and precious stones in addition to muslin and silk. Tamil poems speak
of complex designs of silk. Real foundation of war and polity lay in a sound agriculture which could
be taxed to maintain large armies.

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Tamils traded with Greeks and Arabia on one side and Malays and Chinese on the other. Trade
received great impetus after discovery of monsson in 1 st century AD. Kingdoms began to decay due
to cessation of this lucrative trade with Romans in 2 nd century AD.

Taxes enabled kings to provide patronage to poets, who were Brahmanas. Poets also received gold,
land, elephants. Vaisyas and kshatriyas are not mentioned as separate varnas in Sangam litt.

Enadi = captain of army

Arasar = ruling class. Inter-marriage b/w them and Vallalas.

Vallalas = Rich peasants held civil and military offices.

Kadaisiyar = women of lowest class who carried out agri operations. ~ slave

Pulaiyans = low class artisans who made rope beds.

Sharp social and economic inequalities existed in Sangam age. Caste system was not defined and it is
unclear if rites and rituals were used to maintain inequality. Acute caste distinctions appeared during
later Sangam age and are absent in early Sangam age.

South India Phase 2 [300-750 AD]

Before 300 AD, Northern TN, south K’taka, south MH and land b/w Godavari and Mahanadi broadly
owed allegiance to seats of power outside their domains. Now, several kingdoms sprang up in these

Eventually, Pallavas of Kanchi, Chalukyas of Badami and Pandyas of Madurai emerged the major
powers. Trade, towns and coinage declined in phase 2, contrary to phase 1. Land grants were given
to Brahmanas and this resulted in expansion of agrarian economy.

Phase 1 was marked by Buddhism and Jainism in AP and K’taka respectively. In phase 2, widespread
Brahmanism was prevalent. Jainism was restricted to K’taka and several kings performed vedic
sacrifices. This phase marks the beginning of building of temples for Shiva and Vishnu by Pallavas
in TN and Chalukyas in Badami (K’taka). By the end, south ceased to be a land of megaliths and
became a land of temples.

Earlier, Prakrit in Brahmi script was the language used for inscriptions and literature. By phase 2,
Sanskrit became the official language in the peninsula and most charters were written in it.

In North MH and Vidarbha (Berar), Satavahanas  Vakatakas. Chandragupta II married his

daughter to Vakataka prince who died and thus managed to conquer the Konkan coast,

Vakatakas  Chalukyas of Badamis  Rashtrakutas (feudatories of Chalukyas).

Satavahanas (Deccan)Ikshvakus (Krishna-Guntur region)(started land grants and built monuments

in Nagarjunakonda nd Dharnikota)  Pallavas (means creeper and also means robber; took some
time to become civilized, set up capital at Kanchipuram).

Pallavas came in conflict with Kadambas who ruled over North K’taka in 4th century. Mayursarman
defeated Pallavas and gave extensive land grants and set up capital at Vaijayanti or Banvasi.

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Gangas set up kingdom in South K’taka, between Kadambas and Pallavas. Were feudatories of
Pallavas most of the time. Made land grants to Jains, but favoured Brahmanas more.

All kings performed yajnas and gave lavish gifts and land grants to priests. Priests emerged as an
important class at the expense of the peasantry. This oppressive situation was ended by a revolt led
by Kalabhras. They overthrew kings and put an end to brahmadeya (villages given to priests) rights.
They patronized Buddhism. Were put down by joint action of Pallavas, Chalukyas and Pandyas.

Conflict between Pallavas and Chalukyas

Tungabhadra doab formed a bone of contention. Both vied for supremacy over the doab region,
which was natural boundary between kingdoms of deccan and deep south.

Pulakesin II – famous Chalukyan ruler who stopped Harsha’s advances near Narmada and overthrew
Kadambas and forced Gangas to accept suzerainty. Ravikirti wrote a eulogy for him in the Aihole
inscription, which is an example of poetic excellence in Sanskrit.

Pulakesin II reached Pallava capital but was given northern provinces and pacified. He later acquired
region b/w Krishna and Godavari, named it Vengi and set up a branch called Eastern Chalukyas of

Second invasion in Pallava territory ended in failure. Pallava king Narsinhvarman occupied Badami in
~642 AD and Pulakesin II was killed. Narsimhvarman = Vatapikonda.

Chalukyan king Vikramaditya II overran Kanchi 3 times and completely defeatd Pallavas in 740.
Chalukya hegemony brought to end by Rashtrakutas in 757.


Worship of Vishnu and Shiva was getting popular. Alvars (Vishnu) and Nayanars (Shiva) popularized
the worship of their gods from 7th century. [Trick to remember: Shiva = third eye = nayan = nayanar]

By Pallava kings:

7 ratha temples at Mahabalipuram (stone temples; Narsimhvarman)

Shore temple, structural construction at Mahabalipuram

Structural temples at capital Kanchi, similar to Kailasnath Temple in 8th century.

By Chalukyas:

Numerous temples at Aihole from 610.

In adjacent towns of Bdami and Pattadakal. Latter has 10 temples built in 7th and 8th centuries.
Famous ones are Papanatha Temple (680, northern style, low tower) and Virupaksha temple (740,
southern style, high square and storied tower “shikhara”). Temple walls have beautiful scenes from

The temples seem to have been maintained out of taxes. Common people worshipped local gods by
offering them paddy and toddy.

Rural Life

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Peasants faced heavy burden of demands. Had to give land tax, produce as tax, give food and
supplies to marching army, do forced labour (vishti), provide plant produce to the king for sugar,
liquor etc, and give oxen and food to officials who came to the village to settle disputes or try

These burdens could not be fulfilled without rural expansion. Grants given to Brahmanas made
available tribal labour and land for spreading agriculture and civilization.

Three types of villages: Ur, Sabha and Nagaram.

Ur = normal village

Sabha = brahmadeya villages granted to brahmanas and agrahara villages. Individual rights enjoyed.

Nagaram = Villages inhabite by merchants and traders. Traders possibly moved to villages due to
decline in trade.

Mahajan managed rural affairs in Chalukyan kingdom.

Social Life

Priests dominated. Princes called themselves Brahmanas and Kshatriyas. Priests invented
respectable family trees to provide legitimacy to rulers. Priests gained authority because of
numerous land grants.

Peasantry was divided into numerous castes. If a particular caste of artisans or peasants failed to do
its duties, it was looked upon as departure of established norms and referred to as “Kaliyug”. It was
duty of the king to stop this departure. So, title Dharma-Maharaja adopted by almost all kings of the

Cultural Contacts
Indian culture spread to SE Asia mainly through brahmanical cults.

Suvarnabhumi = Pegu in Myanmar

Suvarnadvipa = Malaysia

Yavadvipa = Java

Brahmanical religion was prevalent in Java in 5th century.Pallavas established colonies in Sumatra,
which flourished into Sri Vijaya. Remained an important power centre till 10th century.

Two powerful kingdoms were established in Ind0-China (presently Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia):
Kamboja and Champa.

Kamboja – 6th century, devotees of Shiv, developed it as a centre of Sanskrit learning.

Champa – traders set up colonies, ruler was Shaiva, official language was Sanskrit. Great centre for
education in Vedas and Dharmashastras.

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Indian settlements in Indian Ocean continued till 13th century and resulted in new forms of art,
language and literature due to comingling of people. These new arts forms are a blend of Indian +
indigenous culture.

Largest Buddhist temple = Borobudur in Java. Stories of Ramayan, Mahabharat inscribed on walls.

Angkor Vat in Cambodia = belongs to medieval times but larger than Borobudur.

Indonesian language contains numerous Sanskrit words.

In sculptures, head of Buddha from Thailand, head of Kamboja and bronze images from Java = best
examples of blended cultures. Similar blending observed in paintings in SL and Tun Huang caves on
Chinese border.

Trade played a vital role in spreading religion here.

Medieval age was ushered in due to the widespread practice of giving land grants. Why did this

1. Social upheaval occurred wherein lower classes (vaishyas = traders and artisans; shudras =
agriculturists) refused to pay taxes or do the work assigned to them(grow crops). Called
Varnasamkara = intermixture of varnas. This led to decline in production and upset the entire
system; called Kaliyug in ~4th century.

2. Grants were given to officials in order to shift the burden of revenue collection and law and order
to them.

3. Brahmanas were given grants so that they would assimilate tribals into brahmanical way of life
and train them to pay taxes to the ruler.

4. Brahmanas were also granted land grants so that they could legitimize the rule of the new rulers
of the emerging kingdoms, who were mostly Vaishyas or traders. Brahmanas invented fake family
trees to lend legitimacy.

5. Trade declined. Trade with west Rome had ended by 3nd century; silk trade with Iran and east
rome ended in 6th century. Declining trade led to: decline of gold coins in circulation, shifting of
production from specialized artisanship to agriculture, shortage of salaries to be paid to officials.

Social organization changed due to land grants. Earlier, vaishyas and shudras = free peasants in north
gangetic basin. After grants, landlords came between king and peasants. So vaishyas and shudras
came to be treated inferiorly. This spread throughout India and created unrest.

Land grants to vaishyas sometimes = they aspired to higher stature = economically well-off but
socially low. Law books had to be rewritten to accommodate this landlord class.

Varahmihir graded house sizes based on varnas and also based on class.

Numerous castes were created from 7th century. Various sub-castes resulted because people could
not move. So, same profession but each territory became a different sub-caste. Intermarriage b/w

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vaishya women and shudra men and such intermingling led to additional castes. Add to this the
tribes assimilated in Hinduism. Most tribals were given designation of shudras and mixed castes.

Sub-national units like Andhra, Gujarat, Assam, Bengal were formed during 6th-7th centuries.
Vishakhdatta mentions different regions inhabited by people different in customs, clothing and


Sanskrit became popular amongst ruling class from 2nd century. Ornate prose and verse were written
in courts. Bana’s prose served as a model for Sanskrit writers till the medieval period.

Regional languages grew due to breakup of Gupta empire, decline of trade and rise of regional
kingdoms which hindered contacts between people. Scripts also diverged from 7th century.

Religion and art

Architectural styles and statue-making diverged from 7th century. South India = land of stone
temples. Stone and bronze statues were made in large numbers because of use in southern temples
and eastern monasteries.

Hindu deities also arranged in hierarchy. Vishnu, Shiv and Durga supreme deities presiding over
others. Monastic organization of Jains, Shaivites and Vaishnavites also became organized in 5 ranks;
acharya being the topmost.

Bhakti cult began in south India in 7th century. People offered whatever they could to the god and
received prasadam in return. They surrendered themselves in worship of the god. Personal
relationship between god and devotee.

Tantricism spread in 6th century. Admitted both women and shudras and stressed on magic rituals.
It arose due to large scale assimilation of tribals into Hinduism – to satisfy their cravings for physical
possessions and to cure day-to-day illnesses. Tantricism permeated Jainism, Buddhism and
Vaishnavism. It continued to hold say till medieval age.

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