4: India


Ancient India & Ancient China
A larger map of Asia is here

  • Examine the origins and early history of Indian civilizations
  • Present classics of Indian literature and art
  • Outline the basic beliefs of Hinduism and Buddhism
  • Know and understand the different types of Hindu yoga and what they prioritize.
  • Know the contributions of the Buddha.
  • Know the terms caste and Arabic numerals

I. Historical Context

Key Terms


  • A. The Indus Valley Civilization (3,000-1,500 BCE)
    • Agricultural-based society
    • Undecipherable pictorial symbols for writing
    • Floods weakened civilization before Aryan Invasion
  • B. The Aryans (1,500-1,000 BCE)
    • Uncertain origins
    • Sanskrit language
    • Caste System - priests, warriors/rulers, merchants, laborers
    • Not a member of one of those 4, “outcastes”
    • Pastoral culture
    • Tribal structure
  • C. Late Vedic Period (1,000-600 BCE)
    • Emigration to the Gangetic Plains
    • Continued rural culture
    • Sacred texts - the Vedas - recorded during this time
  • D. Rise in Urban Civilization (600-400 BCE)
    • Time of Buddha
    • Expanded roads, military
    • New religions develop

II. Politics

  • A. Ashoka
    • Unifies India 261 BCE
    • The Emperor of Emperors
    • Converts to Buddhism
    • Changes laws, reduces animal sacrifice as part of a policy of nonviolence (ahimsa)
    • Buddhist monasteries (sanghas)
    • Builds stupas LINK
    • Appoints Buddhist monks as missionaries
    • Spreads Buddhism throughout Asia
  • B. The Gupta Empire
    • Chandra Gupta I (320 CE)
    • Chandra Gupta II (380-415 CE) rules during the Golden Age of India
    • Collapse of Gupta Rule due to invading White Huns

III. Religion

  • A. Religion in India in Brief
    • Hinduism enacted through Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Bhakti Yoga
    • Buddhism enacted through multiple forms of Buddhism
  • B. Hinduism
    • Complex ceremonies and rituals led by priests
    • Rituals recorded in the Vedas, the oldest recorded Indian religious literature
    • Many deities and writings like the Ramayana tell stories of gods, heroes, and battles
    • We stay in the material world, maya, because of samsara, the unending cycle of birth death and rebirth.
    • Our destiny in the next life is dependent upon our karma, an accumulation of our actions, positive or negative.
    • Different paths, called yogas, enable the end of Samsara.
      • The Path of Karma yoga: Performing one’s duty; the path of action
      • The Path of Yoga: Fasting, non-possession, bodily discipline
      • Path of Devotion (Bhakti): the discipline of devotion/love (for non-priests)
  • C. Buddhism
    • 1. Search for Enlightenment
      • Siddhartha Gautama 563-483 BCE
      • Siddhartha was a sheltered Indian Prince who never saw suffering or death in his young life
      • Left his father’s palace at 29 and witnessed suffering for the first time
      • The Four Sights: sickness, old age, death, asceticism
      • The Great Departure: became an ascetic, eating only one leaf or nut per day
      • Abandoned asceticism and pursued the Middle Way
      • Through meditation under the Bodhi tree, he achieved enlightenment and recognized the four noble truths
      • Siddhartha then became the Buddha = the “Awakened One”
    • 2. Four Noble Truths
      • Dukkha: Existence is filled with suffering
      • Samudaya: Suffering is caused by desire
      • Nirodha: Liberation from suffering is possible
      • The Eightfold Path is the way to achieve enlightenment
    • 3. Buddhist Worship
      • Pray in temples
      • Go on Pilgrimages
      • Appeal to Bodhisattvas, Buddhist saints who help people achieve enlightenment

IV. Key Texts

  • The Vedas - Core text of Hindu worship, one of the oldest religious texts
  • Upanishads - philosophical focus, about the Brahman and Atman
  • Bhagavad-Gita - conversations between Krishna and Prince Arjuna about the role of duty and other philosophical questions

V. The Arts

  • Early art influenced by Persia
  • Religious in nature
  • Found in temples
  • Hindu Art
    • Erotic LINK
    • Depicts belief in the unity of all life forms
    • Avatars, incarnations of the gods
  • Buddhist Art
    • Spiritual
    • Depicts the Buddha and Bodhisattavas
    • The Fasting Buddha LINK

VI. Lasting Contributions

  • Hinduism - 900 million adherents, 4th largest religion
  • Buddhism - 376 million adherents, 6th largest religion
  • So-called Arabic numerals