Friday, June 16, 2017

Ancient Indian Lifestyle & Culture

Ancient Indian life and culture
The ancient Indian societes established the basic social and cultural pattems of Indian civilzation and left the world a rich legacy in art, literature, mathematics, and science. Under the Indo-Aryan influence, four distinct varna, or social classes, emerged in Indian society: the Brahmins, or priests; the Kshatriyas, or warriors; the Vaisya, which included farmers, traders, and merchants; and the Sudras, or peasants. A fifth group, known as Pariahs “untouchables,” stood at the bottom of society as virtual outcasts. As time passed, these four great varnas further subdivided into hereditary groups known as jati, each with its own fixed social position and rules about eating, marriage, labor, and worship. Westerners would later refer to this division of society as the caste system.

The social divisions of Indian society were reinforced by religious teachings. So too was the position of women, which was subordinate to that of men. Polygyny, the marriage of a man to more than one woman, for example, was accepted in Indo-Aryan society and became more widespread during the Gupta period. Another practice that became more common under Gupta rule, especially among the upper castes, was suttee, which required a widow to commit suicide by throwing herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.

Religion, in fact, was a central feature of Indian life. In addition to the Vedas, over the centuries other religious writings became important. Sometime after 700 b.c., for example, religious thinkers began to question the authority of the Brahmins. Wandering and teaching their message among the forests of the Ganges plain, these thinkers produced a new body of religious literature known as the Upanishads, complex explanations of the Vedic religion. Ordinary people, however, preferred the two great epics of Indian poetry, the Mahabharata and Ramayana, which taught the doctrines of Hinduism through historical and religious stories. The last part of the Mahabharata, known as the Baghavad Gita, or “Song of the Lord,” was especially popular. Its main teachings were devotion to God and that one should conduct oneself according to one’s dharma, or moral duty in life, so that the soul could progress toward deliverance from the cycle of reincarnation. Under the Guptas, Indians also enjoyed the Panchatantra, a series of fables that included the story of Sinbad the Sailor, which later found its way into the Persian tale of The Thousand and One Nights.

Art and architecture also developed, particularly under the Guptas, as did mural paintings in caves. These paintings are a valuable source of information about the daily life of the Indian people at that time. Buddhist architecture developed its own distinctive style in the stupa the dome-shaped shrines that held artifacts and objects associated with the Buddha.

Perhaps the most significant developments came in the sciences. Indian mathematicians understood abstract numbers and negative numbers, as well as the concepts of zero and infinity. Indians probably invented the numbers we call “Arabic”: the digits 1 through 9. Indian astronomers also understood the rotation of Earth on its axis and could accurately predict eclipses of the Sun and moon. Indian physicians understood the importance of the spinal column and invented the technique of inoculation infecting a person with a mild form of a disease so that he or she will not fall ill with the more serious form. They also practiced bone-setting and plastic surgery, and some understood the importance of disinfecting wounds and practicing strict cleanliness to avoid infection. By the time of the Guptas, such knowledge was passed on through the great university at Nalanda, a Buddhist institution that offered a free education to as many as 10,000 students.

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