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History Of Ancient Indian Society


In the ancient era of the Indian subcontinent, especially up to the Gupta era, the state structure was consolidated. But since the 7th century, the state system has broken down. Between the seventh and twelfth centuries, North and South India were fragmented into many small kingdoms. As a result, a new socio-political system was formed instead of the central government.A clear picture of the social, economic and cultural life of ancient India is available during this period.

It is not possible to tie the social life of ancient India into a definite structure. Various changes have been observed in the social life in different epochs. After the arrival of the Aryans, the pictures of the social life of the Indus civilization were naturally mixed with new meditational ideas. Aryan society of Vedic period which had built the structure of social life also changed a little in the post-Vedic period. At the same time, the different meditation concepts and rituals of the Maurya, Gupta and post-Gupta periods shaped the social life in a new way. Various differences can be observed in the social life depending on the region.

Indus Civilisation's Society

If we look at the signs of the Indus civilization, it will be seen that the first class society was established at this time after the communist society of the prehistoric era. So in the Indus civilization there were huts next to big palaces and houses. Along with the rich - the merchant class and the artisans, there was the position of the slaves. They were directly involved in food production. In the Indus civilization, a class-divided society developed, which made it possible to develop planned cities, advanced crafts and trade systems. In the Indus civilization, the main livelihood was agriculture. So the primacy of matriarchal society was clear in their thinking. In favor of this, various signs including the idol of the mother goddess have been found in the ruins of this civilization.

Aryans' Society

After the arrival of Aryans, there was a great change in the social life. Aryans were mainly a nomadic race. Hunter-gatherers were also nomads in prehistoric times. Animal husbandry and animal hunting stage in human life was dominated by men. For this reason, male predominance can be observed in the thought of the nomadic Vedic Aryans. Mention of women was insignificant in this era. Therefore, the main deities of the Rigvedic period were all male. By destroying the urban civilization, the Aryans gave birth to the village-based Vedic civilization. In this civilization, the democratic structure in Aryan society was significant. Village councils were formed in people's elections. The role of women in the social structure cannot be noticed as the women of this era were neglected. The picture of the social conditions in the Vedic period is clearly found in the Vedic sources. According to the 'Svetyarjuveda', the priest at the Aswamedha Yajna blesses 'May the Brahmins of this kingdom concentrate on good deeds, may the warriors be valiant in battle, may the cows yield abundant milk, may the oxen bear burdens with ease, may the women protect the home, may the warriors be victorious, may the youth be gentle and well-behaved. Be it etc. Many other pictures of social life can be found in different sources of Upanishads and Vedas. From books like Chandogya Upanishad, Shatapatha Brahmana, Taittiriya Upanishad, it is known that Indians had various types of property at the time. For example - gold and silver and jewels, chariots, shakats, cows, horses, slaves, houses, buildings, agricultural fields etc.

Aryans initially lived a communal life. Aryan rishis have praise for this collective life of Arya society. A verse in the Rigveda says 'You meet together, proclaim with one voice, exchange your thoughts together - as in the past you consciously sat together and took your share.' The influence of primitive communist society can be seen in this commentary of Rigveda. But soon this thought breaks down. The leadership of the society went to the hands of Brahmins - Kshatriyas. Those involved in manual labor are condemned. On the other hand, non-functional knowledge or pure knowledge which culminated in prophetic philosophy or spiritual thought, those associated with it started to be glorified in the society. For this reason, as in the ancient parts of the Rigveda, there is the identity of materialism, on the other hand, in the Vedanta or the Upanishads, there is talk of the prophetic Paramatma. From this thinking, caste system developed in the Aryan society in the later period. This will be discussed later.

Aryan And Non-Aryan Union

The position of the Aryans in India was created by establishing dominance over the local non-Aryans. However, in long-term coexistence, new social combinations were created through the union of Aryan and non-Aryan. There is ample evidence of this in the Rigveda. From the statement of Rigveda, researchers think that from the beginning, Aryas were forced to take non-Aryan concubines and later wives for the need of procreation. Due to the nomadic nature of the Aryans, there was naturally a lack of women in their ranks. Because of this, non-Aryan women have a place in the house of Aryans from the beginning. Shantanui in Rigveda was Shantanu of Mahabharata. This Aryan prince married an Aryan slave girl. Again this slave girl had sexual intercourse with a man of Aryaparashar tribe in her virginity. The child who was born as a result of this union is the author of the Mahabharata, Krishna Dvaipayana Vyas. Initially the Aryans were opposed to Linga worship but gradually they came to terms with the non-Aryan Shaivite community due to their amalgamation with the non-Aryans. It is believed that the misogynist Aryas took advantage of the Shaiva community's conflict with the non-Aryan matriarchal ideologues.This is how Aryans developed their relationship with Purusha Shiva's devotees. As a result of the amalgamation with the Shaivite sect, Shiva was placed in the Aryan pantheon, and the Vedic god Rudra was conceived as a counterpart of the original Shiva. The Shiva linga that was once condemned in the Rigveda is now venerated in the Yajurveda and later Vedic literature.

Ancient India's Caste System

Caste system spread in Indian society through Aryans.Power was concentrated in the hands of upper caste Brahmins. By imposing new social and religious rules, the lower caste people were cornered. The Brahmins, on the other hand, kept themselves at the top of the society. According to the social rules propagated by the Brahmins, even if the language of the Shudras was touched, the Brahmins had to atone. Not only that, anyone from the upper caste who opposed the Brahmins was ostracized and declared untouchable. Despite these strictures, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas did not always follow the caste system strictly. As a result, sometimes there was a mixture between different castes. From these some sub-classes are created in the society. Due to the diversity of occupations in the rural economy, the number of sub-castes also increases. Different subcastes are formed with the practitioners of medicine, surgery, numerology etc. Kayasthas were included in the administration as clerks. In the 11th century, the Kayasthas came to be known as a separate subcaste. Thus, with the presence of four main castes and many sub-castes, the Hindu society became enmeshed in the narrowness of orthodoxy. This situation gradually weakens the Hindu society.

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Hinduism As A collective Thought

Hindu society and civilization first developed in the Indus Valley where the Aryans settled after destroying the Indus civilization and gradually dominated the entire North-West India.Hinduism is not a particular religion but a religious collective.This includes formless monotheism as well as body worship. Some of them believe in matriarchy, some in patriarchy.The purpose of someone's sadhana is to gain love and some are sensual worshippers.In Hindu society there are differences and many self-contradictory ideologies in worship, work, caste, marriage, funeral etc. Some of these societies are vegetarians and some are non-vegetarians. In Vedic and Upanishad societies, both non-vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets are heard. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad mentions ten types of food grains. Namely- Brihi, Barley, Sesame, Mas, Anupriya, Angava, Godhum, Musur, Khalb and Khalkul. In addition to these foods, Mudga, Meebar and Shyamakar are mentioned in Shwetyajurveda. All these grains were ground and eaten soaked in curd and milk. Beef was the favorite food. It is known from 'Aitareya Brahmana' that barren cows were killed when kings or noble guests came. The Brahmin text 'Krishna Yajurveda' has also specifically described the type of cow to be killed in any Yajna and according to the taste of any deity. For example, a cow with horns for Vishnu, a horned bull for Indra, a fleshy cow for Vayu, a barren cow for Vishnu and Varuna, a black-colored cow for Prisha, and a bi-colored cow for Mitra and Varuna. Horse, cow, goat, deer, etc. used to eat about 180 types of domestic animal meat.

Cities And Education Late Vedic Period

Archaeological finds in Hastinapur, Kampilya and Ayodhya give a picture of the life system of the later Vedic period. At that time, the cities were walled, the highways were wide, and there were buildings on the side of the highways. The capital was located in the middle of the city.Near the capital were the residences of the military feudal lords, priests and monks. There were settlements of the people around the city. The subjects offered oblations to the fire in their houses every evening, entertained guests, obeyed the royal rules, invited priests to great sacrifices and respected divine persons. Aryan boys used to go to Gurugriha to receive education. Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas all used to sit in one seat, study and practice one religion. At the end of the lessons, with the Guru's permission, they could return to their homes, marry and engage in domestic life. Priests and soldiers of this era were not considered special but common caste.

Hinduism As Collective Religious Diversity

In the last chapter of ancient India, religious life also began to change. The spread of Jainism and Buddhism was stopped and curtailed. Jainism survives in western India and Buddhism in its original form in eastern India. The position of Buddhism in Bengal and Bihar was consolidated under the patronage of the Pala kings who were followers of Buddhism. This situation changed in the Sen period. Sena kings were followers of Brahmanical religion. Their conservative views hurt Buddhism and culture. During this period, the various rituals of Brahmanical religion entered deep into the social life. King Ballalasena introduced the Kaulinya tradition. The tyranny of the Brahmin rulers brought disaster to Buddhism. Many Buddhist people and Buddhist scholars of Bengal left the country and went to Tibet and other countries. From the 7th century, the influence of Buddhism in South India began to decline. Gradually the Brahmin religion split into two branches. One is Vaishnavism and the other is Shaivism. Predominance of these two communities can be seen in North and South India. The kings of different dynasties of this region were worshipers of Shiva. Big temples of Brahma Vishnu and Shiva were built during their time. The influence of Vaishnavism and Shaivism also increased in the Rashtrakuta kingdom. Due to this, idol worship gradually increased and many deities started to be created. Brahmins had full power to manage the temple. Untouchables and Shudras had no right to enter the temple.

Women Position In Ancient India

Caste system deprives women of rights in Indian society. Arya Manishi Manu's law book or Manusamhita (also known as Manusmriti) described the position of women in society long ago. Here women are deprived of all kinds of rights by binding various rules and policies. Later, the bond of this rule increased. Women are in a sense made slaves of men. Child marriage continues to prevail in the society. It was ordered that Hindu widows could not remarry. At the same time, the practice of burning sati was also introduced in the society. After the death of the husband, the wife's self-immolation on his pyre was believed to be a virtuous act. In ancient India, war was a necessary and popular matter for expansion and defense of the kingdom. It had a great impact on social life as soldiers were recruited from common people. Social and religious leaders preached that dying in war would be an act of virtue. So the girls looked at the soldiers with respect. This had an impact on the practice of burning satis. Widows often did not hesitate to sacrifice themselves with the corpse of a soldier husband. If someone did not want to go to the pyre of their husband voluntarily, they were forced to do so. In this way the practice of satidah came to be a normal rule.

Declining Morality And Slavery In Ancient India

In the last chapter of ancient India, the standard of morality in social life went down. Devdasi is also seen in the temples of Gujarat, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and other places. Initially, Devdasis were given the responsibility of temple attendants. Then they had a place of honor in the society. Later they were used in anti-social activities.Slavery was also prevalent in ancient India. However, it is not known about the widespread employment of slaves in agricultural land or technical industrial establishments. The number of slaves in the society does not seem to have been high. Slaves were generally used for household work and temple maintenance.

Emerging New Religion in Ancient India

In the last chapter of ancient India, two religions came from outside India and two new groups emerged in the subcontinent under the influence of these two religions. One is Christianity and the Christian ethnic group and the other is Islam and the Muslim ethnic group. The kings of some regions have shown generosity towards Islam. Among them Chalukya, Rashtrakuta and Pandya kingdoms can be named. The kings of all these regions helped Muslims to establish settlements. All these kings had the same attitude towards the followers of Christianity. Of course, such liberal conditions did not exist everywhere.

© 2022 MD Khalid Hasan

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