History Notes for UPSC [Part 13] Ancient Indian Contribution

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Sanskrit Literature in Ancient Times

Sanskrit Literature in Ancient Times
  • Fillip to Sanskrit literature after a long period of dominance of Pali and Prakrit languages mainly due to religion of Guptas, Vakatakas and Satavahana.
  • Religious texts- Traditional texts like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas and

Bhagavadgita were compiled. . Dharmashastras of Yajnavalkya, Brihaspati,

Narada and Katyayana. The Amarkosha of Amarsimha

  • Literature- The text Abhijnanashakuntalam was composed by Kalidasa in this era. This book is in the top 100 literary composition and one of the earliest European translated texts. This era marked the development of Sanskrit grammar based on the principles of Panini
  • Dramas-13 plays of Bhasha have been found. Sanskrit was the official language of Guptas. But plays show lower castes speaking Prakrit languages. MrichhaKatika by Shudraka, Vishakshadatt’a Mudrarakshasa, Bharavi’s Kiratarjuniya
  • Scientific texts- Agriculture manual Krishiparashara was written. Ayurveda and Sushruta, Rasarnava
  • Buddhist texts- Ashvaghosha’s Buddhacharita, Avadanas
  • A new style of panegyric style came up in the Samudragupta’s Allahabad Prashasti. This gave fillip to biographies.

Magha’s Shishupalavadha and the Bhattikavya, Bhavabhuti’s Malati-Madhava,. In later times of Harsha, Banabhatta.

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Ancient India’s Contribution to Science and Technology

Ancient India's Contribution to Science and Technology
  • Vedanga Jyotisha for time and date of sacrificial rituals
  • Greek influence- Texts like Romaka Siddhanta and Yavanajataka of Sphujidhvaja reflect transmission of Hellenistic ideas to India, mainly zodiac system
  • Aryabhatta 5th century- Aryabhatiya. Earth rotated on its orbit, length of the year as 365.25 days, explanation of eclipses
  • Varahamihira 6th century- Panchasiddhantika explains 5 prevalent astronomical schools
  • Brahma Gupta 7th century- Brahmasputasiddhanta. It has details of astronomical instruments for ovservations like Ghatika, Yashti or staff, Chakra of 360 degree. He used sun, stars, moon, Aksha or latitude, Chhaya or shadow, midday or Dinardha, Compass or Bhrama, etc. It shows development of astronomy
  • Root of mathematics is Shulvasutra. Shulva means measurement. It was needed during preparation of Vedic altars. Pythagoras theorem.
  • Indians were first to use decimal system of numbers with the symbol of dot or Bindu for zero. 3rd century text Yavanajataka and later 6th century Panchasiddhantika talks of it. Latter even uses symbol for zero.
  • Indians also developed arithmetical calculations and the basic process of addition, subtraction, division and multiplication.
  • Aryabhatt- development of trigonometric with sine or Jya values. Characteristics of circle with appropriate value of pi 3.1416, arithmetic progression, solving of complex simultaneous equations
  • Brahmagupta talks of cyclic quadrilateral and its area.
  • Bhaskara II started the concept of calculus or derivatives and integration.
  • Overall, Indian mathematics was advanced which even arabs took to Europe. Al- Beruni praise. However, advancement is more in algebra than geometry which was done by Greeks. Moreover, SR Sarma says Indians merely discovered things but were not much behind finding proofs for that. He also believes that wooden astronomcial instruments did not grant precision.

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Ancient Indian Education System

Gurukul at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram | © Parmarth Niketan Ashram / WikiCommons

• Gurukuls and ashramas under Upadhyayas or Bhatts.

  • Importance of education seen from the fact that among 4 Ashramas of life, Brahmacharya was specifically dedicated for education.
  • Brahadeyas and Agraharas and temple being the center of education
  • Students were generally taught the 4 Vedas, 6 Vedangas, Puranas and Smritis.
  • All children taught basic reading, writing and arithmetic with Brahmin students being taught Vedas according to different schools of teaching.
  • Women were largely kept outside education. However, Atharvaveda, Shrauta Sutra, Panini’s Ashtadhyayi
  • Vocational education from father to son or within the Shreni
  • Role of Buddhist Viharas
  • Mass education in universities like Nalanda, Takshashila and Vikramshila.
  • Forcing students too Philosophical education taken up by Mathas especially in south India.
  • Lack of scientific and technical education – works not taught on a large scale. Main focus on religion.
  • With time stagnated and new ideas did not come up. Repeating of ancient texts continued. Al Beruni’s comment on inwardly looking people.
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Coins used in Ancient India

Coins used in Ancient India
  • Mainly way of exchange was barter system. The most ancient coins we find are punch marked coins either circular or rectangular in shape
  • Literary evidence comes from 5-6th C BCE Buddhist texts and Ashtadhyayi which talks of Karshapana, Suvarna, Pana, etc. The oldest standard for measuring weight is the Ratti berry.
  • Style of making coins included cutting from metal sheets, flattening metal globules, die-punched and metal casting. The earliest are punch marked cut coins with inscription but no face of kings. They mainly contain geometrical figures and natural objects. Edges used to be cut off to balance weight.
  • Early coins have been classified by Mitchiner into 4 types depending on weights, method of making, etc- Light weights at Magadha and Avanti and heavy weight at Taxila and Koshala.
  • In later C of BCE, die punched and cast coins are also found. Earliest of this type are found in Taxila region in 4th C BCE.
  • Cast coins have been found at Ayodhya and Kaushambi 3-2 C BCE. Casts were of clay.
  • Metals of coins generally included copper, silver, lead, brass, tin and other alloys.
  • New style brought by Greeks. Die punched perfectly circular coins with faces of kings on one side and inscription or deities on the other.
  • Kushanas circulated gold coins. Greek style carried forward by Kushanas, Parthians and Shakas. Many times, script was bilingual with Brahmi and Kharoshti.
  • Indigenous local tribes, Janapadas and small kings also issued coins that date to 3rd C BCE to 4th C CE. They also mention names of cities like Taxila, Ayodhya, Mahishmati, Ujjaiyini, etc showing that city administration too issued coins. Even mercantile guilds issued coins where words like Nigama are found. Eg- Basarh near Vaishali during Gupta times.
  • Coins show condition of economy- Gupta and debasing gold coins
  • History of kings not mentioned in literature – Wima Kadphises of Kushanas
  • Availability of metals around- lead coins of satvahanas, gold by Kushanas from iran
  • Roman coins freely used as currency in Deccan during Satvahana period shoes no aversion to use foreign coins. Coins of Nahapana Kshatrapa restruck by Satvahana in Nashik shows no special sentiment attached to coins which could be freely used by other kings. Counter struck coins also ensure no supply shocks as well as maintainance of people’s confidence in currency. It also indicates political suzerainty.
  • The symbols and motifs on South Indian coin such as the boar (Chalukya), bull (Pallava), tiger (Chola), fish (Pandya and Alupas), bow and arrow (Cheras) and lion (Hoysala) etc. Representing their dynastic crests.

Land Ownership in Ancient India

Land Ownership in Ancient India
  • Land ownership has to be studied in 3 aspects- royal ownership, private ownership and community or village ownership.
  • In Vedic ages, as the various tribes started to gain territory and the political system got established, the community ownership of land passed on to the royal ownership during the period of Mahajanapadas.
  • Kautilya talks of Sita land that is owned by the king while other lands are called Janapada land. Megasthenes also mentions that the king owned all the land.
  • However, the concept of private property also came up. The various law books belonging to the time of 6th century BCE talk of ownership of land and its indivisibility. The Gautama Dharmasutra talks of ways of acquiring land like purchase, gift, mortgage, etc.
  • Within the villages also, the community would have had rights over resources like forests, water, pastures, etc due to the village autonomy that was the special feature of ancient India.
  • Thus, in the centuries before Christ, the king can be said to be the owner of land in his kingdom with some amount of private property existing and the community rights untampared.
  • In times after 300CE, the king started to become the de-jure owner while the actual ownership started to pass in hands of people.
  • On one side, we have the king claiming to be the absolute owner of land like in case of Katyayana Smriti where king is called Bhu-Svamin. But on the other, the concept of royal grants came up wherein the actual ownership passed in hands of people.
  • We have the Brihaspati smriti talking of 7 ways to acquire land. It also says that if the person has had the possession of land for 30 years, it cannot be taken away from him.
  • Thus, since ancient ages to 1st millenium of CE, the ownership of king reduced while the concept of private property took over for vassals, nobles, brahmins. Community ownership was hardly affected.
  • Women- They did not own land in their name. However, certain Dharmashastras allow a widow to get her share of land and dispose it.
  • Varna- Narada Smriti talks of rules of ownership of land by 4 Varnas. Thus, its a possibility that Brahmins acquired land through Brahmadeyas and Agraharas while the Shudras and Chandalas owned least property.
  • South India – The king was the owner of all the land but he also donated to Brahmins, temples, educational institutions, etc thus also indicating some private property. Eg- Cholas
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Varna vs Jati

Varna vs Jati

Write Basic distinction. Varnas are 4 while jatis can be multiple. Varnas need not be endogamous since extsitence of Anuloma marriages while Jati owes its existence to endogamy. Jati has a geographical connotation while varnas don’t. It is believed that Jati were formed in early centuries of CE. However,

Dharmashastras knew Jati. They called it a formation of inter-varna marrisges.

Thus, Jati goes back to 6th century BCE. Varna was fluid as seen from the Apad Dharma prescribed in Gautama Dharmashastra where a Varna can take up other functions in case of emergencies. It shows fluidity. Jayaswal says that hereditary occupations and system of privileges based on birth gave rise to Jati. Earliest term Asprishya occurs in Vishnu Dharmashastra in early centuries CE. Chandalas are considered as untouchables.

Post Mauryan Phase more rigidification of society. The condition of lower classes worsoned. The texts dont explicitly mention functioning of the caste but Jati, lineage and profession were important parameters of social identity. The condtion of Chandalas became worse. They lived outside cities and were segregated. Manu Smriti talks of distinguishing marks of Chandalas. On the other side, there is an effort to explain the arrival of new invader tribes. Manu Smriti tries to explain them as Vratya Kshatriyas or those who were degraded due to non-performance of duties. However, Jatakas also show certain kind of flexibility. It talks of stories where a prince took up profession of a potter, a Brahman who became a cowherds and trader.

Condition of women from 6th century BCE to 2nd century AD

  • In 6th century, Griha or family became the center of all activity. The Grihapati or Grihastha became the important member of the family while the women of the family were subordinate to him.
  • View on women-Jaya Tyagi said that women were considered both destructive and productive. Manu Smriti has different view on women. On one side it says that Gods rejoice when women are respected and that her blessings are no less than Shri. But on the other, it calls wives as sources of lust, fickle hearted and untrustworthy. Olivelle has suggetsed that Manu Smriti nature of statements vary according to context.
  • Unmarried girls- Gautama Dharmasutra believes that if he keeps his daughter unmarried even after puberty. Several smritis say that every cycle of menstruation means a missed opportunity of bearing a child. Thus, girls should be married at puberty. Manu smriti says a 30 year man should marry a 12 year old.
  • Marriage- The Dharmashastras mention 8 types of marriages that include arranged marriages, love marriages and marriage by kidnap and force where inherently, it is women who suffer. Smritis also ban marriages within kin and near relatives i,e Sapinda marriages.
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Wives- Wives are sources of lust and are untrustworthy. Vinaya Pitaka has a story of a Lichhavi man asking permission to the other members for killing his wife for adultery. Manu smriti also lays down rules for a man to leave his notorious, diseased, cruel and alcoholic wife. But it also states that a sick but caring wife should never be troubled. Existence of polygamy also is seen.

Condition of women in Ancient India
Condition of Widows women in Ancient India
  • Widows- Manu smriti lays down harsh conditions on widows. It says girls can be married only once and hence widows should live a life of austerity, celibacy and simplicity. She should follow these vows till death.
  • Ownership of property- regular property rights continued to be governed under patrilineal system. Gautama Dharmashastra says that the property of a deceased man could go to this Sapindas, Sagotras and wife. However, in later ages it seems the right was taken away. A woman only had a right to inherit Stri Dhana and not any other property.
  • System like Niyoga are called as Pashu Dharma by Manu Smriti. However, it lays down rules if it is used as a recourse. But in earlier ages, Gautama Dharmasutra accords legal status to the heir from niyoga system.
  • Overall, women were relegated to do estimate sphere with very less rights. Their public and political rights were curtailed.
  • However, the references to certain upper strata women show a bit of freedom. Satavahana kings used matronymns like Gautamiputra, Vashishtiputra, etc. However, very few subaltern references exist.
  • South India- Sangam literature reveals a less rigid structure with women working on fields, writing poems and even employed as bodyguards.
  • Buddhist Sangha- some women might have experienced freedom from societal rules as Bhikuni in Sangha like mentioned in Therigatha. But such numbers remain limited.
  • Ambedkar – The story of public disputation between Janaka and Sulbha, between Yajnavalkya and gargi, between Yajnavalkya and Maitrei shows that Indian women in pre-Manu’s time could rise to the highest pinnacle of learning and education.”

Condition of women in Gupta period

Condition of women in Gupta period
  • The society remained equally subversive for women like the earlier ages.
  • The women were now idealied as good homemakers and wives.

Texts like Vatsayana’s Kamasutra talks of a good wife who waits for her husband, attends social functions with his permission, attends to his friends, etc.

  • Katyayana Smriti says a wife who should always live with her husband and be devoted to him.
  • The practice of Sati came up in this times. Brihaspati Smriti gives an alternative to the woman to burn herself on her husband’ s funeral pyre. A memorial for a Sati woman has been found in Eran dating to 510CE. Xuanzang also mentions Sati as a prevalent practice.
  • The only property they could inherit still remained the Stri Dhana.
  • Certain examples of elite women being literate are seen. Vajjika, a

Chalukyan princess contemporary to late Gupta is composer of Kaumudi Mahotsava which is an important source of Gupta history. Chandrabellobe of Vakatakas was governor of Raichur. Prabhavati Gupta was the queen of Vakatakas.