Earliest Times to 800 A.D. (Set of 9 Books)

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Item Code: NAG292
Publisher: Indira Gandhi National Open University
Language: English
Edition: 2010
Pages: 488 (96 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
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Weight 1.30 kg
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Book Description

About the Book


Book 1: Environment and Early Patterns of Adaptation

Book 2: Harappan Civilization

Book 3: Evolution of Early Indian Society

Book 4: India : 6th to 4th Century B.C.

Book 5: Polity, Society and Economy: 320 B.C. to 200 B.C.

Book 6: India : Century 200 B.C. to 300 A.D.

Book 7: State and Society in South India: 200 B.C. to 300 A.D.

Book 8: Indian Polity : B.C. 300 to 800 A.D.

Book 9: Transition to Early Medieval India


Book 1: Environment and Early Patterns of Adaptation


This block is divided into two parts. The first two Units introduce to you the major geographical regions of India and sub-regions within them. They also tell you how the regions evolved in history owing to interplay of different factors. You know that the Indian sub- continent is vast in size and its different parts have-different characteristics in terms of elevation (height) soil, rainfall, drainage system or the way major rivers and their tributaries flow. An understanding of these different sets of characteristics of different areas or regions is necessary because, as you will read later, human activities in the Indian sub-continent were not uniform in nature, nor were similar activities taking place simultaneously everywhere. This is particularly true of the period with which this course is concerned.


At the early stages of social evolution the shape of history was largely dependent on how human communities were interacting with their environment, and the nature of this interaction laid the foundation of how different regions were formed. Unit 2 tells you how some region took shape comparatively early and also why other regions took time to assume recognizable shapes, although no region ever remained in complete isolation from one another. The unit also tells you that despite regional differences there were common traits in social organization, in religion, in the ideal of kingship, etc. which came to characterize all regions of the sub- continent. Thus, there emerged the idea of a common cultural identity which bound different regions together.

In units 3 and 4 you shall read about the earliest stages of cultural evolution in the Indian sub- continent. Unit 3 discusses how human communities lived essentially as gatherers of food from their environment by adapting themselves to it and by adapting appropriate techniques for preparing tools for this purpose. Even though the pace of change in this stage of culture was slow the stages of the evolution of tools which the human beings made to acquire food and process it, nevertheless show both changes in the climate and in the natural environment in which they lived and their capacity to adapt to this change. A major change, which a renowned archaeologist once called Revolution, came when human communities began to produce their own food by taking to farming and domesticating animals. These changes also took a long span of time to take shape because both involved human intervention in nature: wild plants had to be domesticated for yielding cereals which could be processed as food and selection of wild animals had to be made which could be domesticated and put to varieties of use. Another change which this stage of culture brought about was that human communities' tended to take to settled life, resulting in the formation of earliest villages in history.


Although the beginnings of farming and animal domestication have been generally associated with the Neolithic or New Stone Age, which is named after the ground stone tools of this phase, this may not be true for all areas. The earlier view that this change took place originally in one region (West Asia)and then spread to other areas is also being modified now. But whatever be the changes in scholarly views the important point remains that as in other areas, in the Indian sub-continent too, change-over to food production from hunting and gathering, in different regions and in different points of time marked a new stage in the evolution of Indian society.


We would also like to mention here that the primary sources for knowing about the culture of the period under discussion in this Block are archaeological sources. These have been unearthed by Archaeologists through excavations carried out at various places.


Book 2: Harappan Civilization


The excavations carried out in Harappa and Mohenjodaro, in the twenties changed our perception of the Indian history. The books written prior to these excavations . would begin with the Vedic society dating back to about the 12th Century B.C. Cities and Civilizations were believed to have emerged only around the sixth century B.C. The discovery of the Harappan Civilization altogether changed this perception. This was because now cities were discovered which dated back to about 500 B.C. Ever since its discovery 'the Harappan Civilization has presented one of the most exciting areas of research in the Indian history. Discoveries and excavations of new settlements and fresh approaches to research have enriched our information about the Harappans. New sites are still being discovered and our present day views about the Harappans might be radically changed by some future discovery.


In Unit 5 we have discussed the processes by which scholars established the chronology of the Harappan Civilization. The excavations in the past twenty years have also. shown that the Harappan cities did not come up suddenly as was believed earlier. They had a background in the emergent agricultural communities of the previous period. These agriculturists had already evolved small towns in the fourth

millennium B.C.


Unit 6 deals with the town planning and social structure of the Harappans. Since, the Harappan scripthas not been deciphered the arguments are based on inferences made out of the material finds.

In Unit 7 we have discussed the trade network of the Harappans. The Harappan cities seem to have exploited resources from the surrounding regions. They also participated in an international trade network linking them with the Mesopotamians.


Religion and metaphysical speculation have been important characteristics of ancient civilizations. Religion, dealing with the ideals and metapliysical speculations, is difficult to understand without the written word. That is why Unit 8 dealing with the religion of Harappans is somewhat speculative. It discusses the finds of various objects which are believed to have some religious significance. However, the conclusions are largely tentative.

The end of the Harappan cities has been ad intriguing problem for the scholars. In Unit 9 we discuss various approaches to understanding the end of the Harappan civilization. However, this Unit also goes on to evaluate' what survives from the Harappan Civilization in the subsequent periods of history.


Book 3: Evolution of Early Indian Society


" In Blocks 1 and 2 you first became familiar with India as a geographically defined country and also learnt how the earliest human groups in this country adapted themselves to the varieties of its environment. You have seen that the earliest stage of cultural evolution is indicated by transition from hunting food gathering to the stage when humans discovered how to produce food. This change is revealed by archaeological evidence. Further changes - also revealed by archaeology - are indicated by the settlements (both urban and non-urban) and the various remains found in them of the Harappan culture which, as you have learnt, was the most widespread culture in the contemporary ancient world. It should however be remembered that processes of cultural change are neither universal nor uniform. The areas covered by the Harappan culture had within themselves significant variations. There were other parts of the subcontinent, either in contact with the Harappan culture or away from its sphere of influence, where there were no big or small cities In these areas the cultural patterns were different from the patterns represented by the Harappan culture. In Block 3 you shall be reading mainly about the cultural profiles of these regions, although cultural changes in the Harappan region also will be briefly touched upon in this block (you will find it useful to read this along with Block 2).


This Block will show that one should be cautious in viewing change as a constant movement towards development; Archaeology and History offers examples of backward movements. You have seen how the highly urbanized Harappan culture suffered gradual decline, it this block also you will read how the stable chalcolithic farming communities of western India suffered decline and had to change their way of life because of environmental deterioration.


Despite such examples, the cultural profiles of different regions of India between the beginning of the second millennium B.C. and the first millennium B.C. are important to learn about for man) ( reasons. First this was the period when the nuclear of what emerged as agriculture-based village cultures were being formed in all the major regions of the subcontinent, You know that villages, with their rural population and centred round agricultural production, have been the backbone of Indian civilization through centuries. Except in some areas, the small settlements based on small scale farming of this period came to be transformed into regular rural settlements. of later periods. Initially, the cultures of the small farming settlements were chalcolithic, but from the beginning' of the first millennium B.C. iron came to be known to different cultures, for example, the Painted Grey Ware culture of the Upper Ganga Valley as also the culture of the megalith-builders of peninsular India. The impact of this metal on different cultures is yet to be properly assessed but the point Can be forcefully made that all the crucial ingredients of village life, such as' the techniques of cultivation (even of irrigation), production of varieties of major crops cultivated even today and combining farming with rearing domesticated animals were present in some measure or the other in the regional cultures of the subcontinent between the second millennium B.C. and the first millennium B.C. This widespr.ead cultural pattern, of course, co-existed with other cultural patterns such as pastoralism and we must also remember that despite the emergence of farming communities, hunting and gathering continued as a way of life.


Secondly, you will learn from this Block (and in greater detail from. Block 4) that among the various reasons discussed, the pace of historical change in the Ganga Valley became suddenly fast from the first millennium B.C. onward. By the middle of the first millennium B.C. concrete examples of these changes ate noticeable in the presence of large territories or mahajanapadas, in the-monarchies and republics, in the big cities and in many other forms. Why these changes first originated in the upper middle Ganga is a complex question to answer. It was for long believed that the Aryans who, came from outside India and whose activities may be learnt by studying the Vedic texts composed by them had brought the civilizing influences With them, But sustained research by modem historians shows:


a) Even if there were movements of 'Aryans' into the subcontinent, there was no large scale migration; nor was there displacement of local population as a result of conquest."

b) Rigveda, which is the earliest evidence available for the 'Aryans' or the tribes (Janas) of the Vedic texts, reflects a society which is essentially pastoral and not one which had a substantial agrarian base.

c) The area with which the tribes of the Rigveda were associated did not include the Ganga Valley. It was only at


Book 4: India : 6th to 4th Century B.C.


In this Block we focus on the period extending approximately from the 6th century B.C. to the 4th century B.C. This period is justifiably regarded as a very significant period of Indian history. We can understand the significance of the period properly if we understand how the changes taking place in the earlier periods matured in this phase and also how this phase further influenced what happened after the fourth century B.C. In Block 3 you have read how simple cultures based on farming and animal domestication had emerged in different regions of India approximately from 2000 B.C. They first went through the phase when copper was used and then at a latter stage, around 1000 B.C., iron came to be used along with copper and other materials. We must remember that all these cultures did not appear together in different parts of India. For example, whereas a prosperous Cha1colithic village like Dhar in south Rajasthan existed in 1800 RC., in Bengal Cha1colithic villages came up centuries later. Secondly, even if the use of iron, the most convenient metal for making implements, came to be known in different areas around 1000 B.C. its function in society varied from period to period and from region to region. In the Ganga Valley, it seems that initially the most important use of iron was for making weapons. Only later on, its use spread to other areas of social life.


The shift to a sedentary society based on agricultural production as main occupation is indicated also by earliest available texts collectively known as the Vedic literature. We have seen (Block 3, unit 13) that society in the later Vedic phase was radically different from the society of the early Vedic phase.


It was in the context of this agrarian situation that a new type of society emerged in the Ganga Valley and it was in the period between the 6th century B.C. and the 4th century B.C. that the beginnings of this new type of society can be dated. This is why historians place the beginnings of the early historic period of Indian history in this phase. Let us highlight the main features of this new, early historical, society (you shall be reading in detail on them in separate units of this block):


(1) In literature, which refers to this period, we hear of Janapadas and Mahajanapadas. Some of these Janapadas are mentioned in later Vedic sources and lists of Mahajanapadas appear in later, particularly in Buddhist and Jaina texts. This signifies that for the first time in Indian history regions with different types of human settlements came to acquire specific geographical names. This is how that a region was demarcated from other regions. This was perhaps necessary because Janapadas and Mahajanapadas were ruled by kings or a group of rulers and their areas of control and the communities over which they ruled were different.


The incorporation of Janapadas by powerful rulers of the Mahajanapadas led to political conflicts between rulers and, in a later period, to the establishment of the Magadhan empire (you will see this in Block 5). This also meant that gradually the power of the ganasamghas (for example, the Licchavis of north Bihar) declined and rule of one King or the monarch became common.


(2) The Kings or groups of Kshatriyas, the chiefs of which called themselves kings (rajas), ruled over Janapadas or Mahajanapadas which had various type of settlements such as villages, market towns, towns and cities in them. The appearance of urban centres, after a long gap of time, meant the emergence of different social groups pursuing different occupations because the existence of cities implies the existence of different sections of population who are not primarily engaged in production of food but in other activities. This also meant that people pursuing different occupations and living in one place led to the distinction between urban and rural areas.


(3) The rulers and some other social groups (for example, the Brahmanas) were not engaged in production of food; so they had to receive a share of the produce. Thus emerged the system of taxation or appropriation of a part of the produce of others.


(4) The nature of exchange of goods also changed in this period and it became complex. So the mediation of goods between individuals and between different regions led to the emergence of professional middlemen and merchants. The rich merchants (setthis) were regarded as important in society as big landholders. This period also saw the appearance, for the first time in India, of meta coins which were used extensively for exchange. It also saw the appearance of a regular trade network connecting different cities and towns.


(5) The fact is that the majority of people in this society lived in villages and Were engaged in producing food for themselves and for others. This required a social order in which: relations between different social groups were defined. The Chaturvarna schemeor the scheme dividing society into four varnas which appeared in the later Vedic phase was the theoretical frame in which society w-as organized. Of course, the position of all social groups, for example that of dasas or the slaves, was not defined in the scheme. But generally, by laying down the privileges, obligations and duties of all varnas (in relation to one another) and by making varna a matter of heridity, it made possible for different social groups, with different customs, norms and hereditary pursuits, to accept the notion of varna division. Even radical thinkers like the Buddha who opposed the primacy of Brahmanas and the Brahmanical rituals did not depart from the varna based division of society.


(6) A new type of society also meant that people living in it had new questions about life, sought meanings in life and had new aspirations. For example, a group of merchants living in a city with artisans and Brahmanas or even a slave living in a village with his master and other independent cultivators, would not have been able to get their questions answered by a tribal assembly where members belonged to the same society. So the new complex society which had been emerging from the later Vedic phase in the Ganga Valley raised many questions about the position of various social groups in society and about life in general. This is reflected in the Upanishads, in the teachings of the Buddha and Mahavira, and in various other types of ideas of the period which sought answers to life's problems. These Ideas which were primarily put forward by individuals who did not belong to the group of Brahmanas and who opposed elaborate Vedic rituals and the primacy of the Brahmanas in society drew support from different groups of the new society, and Buddhism and Jainism in particular spread rapidly in the centuries which followed.


Acknowledgment: We are thankful to Eklavya, Hoshangabad (MP.) for permitting us to use some of their illustrations.


Book 5: Polity, Society and Economy: 320 B.C. to 200 B.C.


In Block-V you have read of the history of India of the period between the 6th arid the 4th century B. C. and have become familiar with the important changes which were taking place in this period. You have seen that one of the important developments of this period was the rise of some big Janapadas. These Mahajanapadas were mostly located in the Ganga valley, although some were located in other regions as well. Ruled by Kings or rulers of gana-samghas, these Mahajanapadas came to produce varieties of resources through agriculture, pastoralism, trade and production of various crafts, and in addition to agricultural settlements, these Mahajanapadas came to have commercial centres and also big cities in them. In the period between the 6th century B.C. and the 4th century B.C. we find the important Mahajanapadas fighting one another for political supremacy. In this Block we shall discuss how Magadha, one of the Mahajanapadas, gradually built an empire. Magadha grew into an empire by conquering and including in it other territories. When its territory was largest in the period of the Maurya King Asoka, it extended from Afghanistan in the northwest to Maharashtra , Karnataka and Andhra in the Deccan in the south and from Gujarat in the west to north and southwest Bengal in the east (see map)

The Magadhan empire, in its heyday therefore, included three major geographical regions:

1) the northwest

2) the Ganga valley and adjacent areas to the north of the Vindhyas and

3) the Deccan.


In the region of the northwest extending from Afghanistan to Punjab, there existed a large number of autonomous territories very much like gana-samghas. Some of them like the Malloi, Oxydrakoi, Siboi, Gandaris, Taxila, country of Porus are mentioned not only by the chroniclers of Alexander's campaigns; their existence is indicated by some old Persian or Iranian inscriptions and the famous grammarian Panini of Taxila also refer to them. In fact, from the sixth century B.C. the Achaemenid empire of Persia under rulers like Cyrus Darius r, Xerxes, Artaxerxes and Darius Ill, expanded into this region, and the 'contact proved to be culturally significant, because many elements of Achaemenid Imperial Culture came to be used by the Magadhan empire which originated in the Ganga valley, Towards the close of the 4th century B.C.) he mighty Persian empire was crushed by the expanding army of Alexander of Macedonia of north Greece. Alexander- advanced to the Panjab plains and fought valiant battles with territories of this region headed by their warriors. Alexander died without forging his conquered territories into an empire but his generals held his possessions in "West Asia and there emerged the Seleucid state in the region.


The contact with the Persians and the Greeks, op up north western part of the subcontinent to Persians and Greek cultural influences and to Persian and Greek population, using their own languages and scripts. It also resulted in lively commercial enterprise, and regions' like Bactria in the Oxus valley in north Afghanistan and Taxila near Islamabad in Pakistan became cultural and commercial centres of great importance. It is no wonder then after Magadha had consolidated its position in the Ganga Valley by conquering all the Mahajanapadas of the region, it tried and succeeded in conquering the northwest also from the successors of Alexander. The rulers of Magadha also gradually expanded into the Deccan but we do not have the details of this history. However, the facts that Mauryan emperor Asoka's edicts are found right from Maharashtra across the Deccan to Andhra and that the territories of the extreme south were Ashoka's friendly neighbours leave no doubt that Magadhan authority extended to Deccan.


The regions which were included within this vast Magadhan empire were very much different from one another geographically and culturally. How did the Magadhan rulers rule over this vast empire effectively? Till recently it was believed by historians that Magadhan rulers, particularly Mauryan rulers, maintained very rigid and direct control over all parts of the empire through different types of officials and through a large standing army. This view is now partially questioned and it is doubted whether in such remote past it was possible to govern different parts of the empire so directly. The empire of course maintained a large standing army, as mentioned repeatedly in Greek accounts, and there were different centres in the empire, like Taxila in the northwest, Ujjayini in Malwa and Suvarnagiri in the Deccan and Tosali in Orissa through which supervisory control was exercised over different parts of the empire. There is also evidence that in-the cities, a very efficient system of administration, looked after by different committees, prevailed and that in the period of the Mauryas, the state exercised significant control in all areas of economic activities.


But perhaps much more important than introducing efficient administrative measures was the question: how would the message of the emperor reach different sections of people in the vast empire? One way of doing this was to project the power and goodwill of the emperor by undertaking public works arid building impressive monuments. Like other ancient perors, the Magadhan emperors and particularly the Mauryas too did this by constructing canals and water reservoirs and digging wells, building roads, planting trees and organising medical treatment for men and animals. They also created splendid specimens of imperial art in the form of pillars and palaces with pillared halls. But the Mauryan emperor Asoka adopted a more effective and direct method of reaching across to the subjects (praja) of his empire, During his period we find a number of edicts on rocks, stone slabs and pillars which he placed in strategic parts of the empire so that he could communicate directly with his subjects through 'them, In many cases the edicts open with:

"Thus says Priyadarsi King, beloved of the gods".

Asoka borrowed the concept from his Achaemenid precedessors of Persia but he did not use his edicts for projecting his greatness as a conqueror and administrator but a a propagator of dhamma. In fact, what was unique about Magadhan empire in the period of Asoka was that he saw dhamma, in addition to administrative efficiency, as some thing which could' bind the people of the vast empire together. He abandoned territorial conquest for conquest by dhamma, he gave up tours of pleasure for dhamma tours and he enjoined his subjects to follow such simple tenets of dhamma as non-violence, respect for others, and understanding of others' faiths and beliefs. A oka's vision of his empire was thus unique; like other ancient emperors he too depended on his army and his large administrative machinery to govern it, but he realised the stability of such a heterogenous empire could be ensured only by establishing harmonious relations between different individuals, between different communities and between different faiths.


The Magadhan empire, however, did not last long and by about the beginning of the second Century B.C. it had declined. Only minor powers like the Sungas and Kanvas held Magadha and some other areas for some time but they did not rule over as an empire. There are various opinions as to why the Magadhan empire declined; you will read about them in Unit 22 of this Block. But though this .first Indian empire declined, it had great impact on regions it once controlled, Magadhan empire made possible movement of people, merchants and religious leaders to different parts of the subcontinent on a significant scale. Thus new elements of culture such as the idea of the state, urban life, new religious thought, writing, coinage and so on travelled to different corners of India and provided impetus for cultural change. The rulers of Magadha also actively encouraged contacts with countries outside both in the south and in the north west and these contacts came to be of great significance in the, subsequent period. You will read about them in Block-VI.


Acknowledgement: We are thankful to the Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi for permitting us to use their photographs.


Book 6: India : Century 200 B.C. to 300 A.D.


From Block. V, you have come to learn that the Magadhan empire, although it declined after the fall of the Mauryas in the beginning of the second century B.C., had a profound impact on the history of post-Mauryan India. In other words, although the political power of one region or one ruling family over the Indian sub-continent came to an end, it did not mean decline or set back for the society as a whole. On the other hand, the empire had initiated processes of change in many regions, and these processes of change reached a level of maturity in the post-Maurya period. In Blocks VI and VII you shall be reading mainly about these changes. Block VI has two Units (23 and 24) which deal specifically with-north India. Two other Units (25 and 26) have a wider coverage; they tell us in general terms about certain aspects of culture in post-Mauryan India. While Unit 25 deals with major' changes in religion, Unit 26 discusses how art activities became widespread throughout India and what we may learn from the actual material which is available from the important centres of art of

this period.

The political history of north India, which is discussed in Unit 23, presents some new features. North western India had always been a region which had active contact with Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. In the post-Mauryan period, population movements across Central Asia had direct impact on the political situation in north and north west India, particularly to the west of upper Ganga and Yamuna. The Greeks of Bactria (north Afghanistan) expanded and moved down across the Hindu Kush. Their rule extended to the Panjab. The Greeks or the Yavanas (as they were known in India) were followed by the 'Scythians (Sakas) and the Parthians (Pahlavas) and the Kushanas, a branch of the Yuch-Chi of course, the movements did not stop here and in later periods too the movements of people across the northwest frontier continued.


It would, however, be wrong to think that north and northwest India was under foreign domination in this period. The distinction between foreign and Indian was not clear in that period, and the Yavanas, Sakas, etc. in any case became part of the population of the Indian sub-continent. Further, there were different areas in the Panjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh where small local states were being ruled either by minor royal families or by members of dominant clans like the Audumbaras, Yaudheyas, Malavas and so on. Under the Sakas and

the Kushanas, the Ksbatrapas, the Mabadandanayakas and other officials also exercised con iderable local authority. The political map of north India in the post-Maurya period was therefore vastly different from the political map of Mauryan India.


The simultaneous existence of small powers- along with some major powers does not mean that contacts between different regions came to an end. In fact, the communications between different regions for trade and other purposes, which had begun earlier, became much more intense during this period. This is the main theme which is dealt with in Unit 24. Although the unit deals with north India, it does not mean that communication was limited within north India or to trade alone. The Indian sub-continent as a whole had links in this period with central Asia, parts of western Asia, the Mediterranean world including north Egypt, and to some extent with Southeast Asia and with China through Central Asia and Southeast Asia. These links were not limited to importing and exporting goods for trade only; they also meant movements of people and movements of ideas with people. Within India all these activities had profound impact on society. For example, this is the period in which the towns and cities, which had originated much earlier, reached their most prosperous phase. Another evidence of this kind is that the largest quantity of coins was minted in this period; even clans like the Audumbaras and the Yaudheyas, who were earlier known only as warriors, were minting coins, sometimes in imitation of Greek and Kushana coins.


The changes within the Indian society are most evident in religion (Unit 25) and art (Unit 26). In religion, even Buddhism and Jainism, which originally began as protests against orthodox Brahmanical ideas and religious practices, changed substantially and there were divisions within both Buddhist and Jaina orders. One of the chief features which came to characterize all religions, is that worship of a deity in the shape of an .image or an idol became a dominant religious practice. Both Buddha 'and the Jaina Tirthankaras became deities and no longer remained as religious teachers only. in all religions again many earlier local beliefs. local cults. local gods and symbols were assimilated. In Brahmanical religion the trend was towards formation of groups around major deities. Thus Vishnu and Siva emerged as two major deities by assimilating or associating other deities with them. One example is that Uma, the Sakti of Siva. herself symbolised combination of many goddesses both Indian and non-Indian.


With changes in Buddhism, Jainism and also in the character of Brahmanic 8l religion. various groups in society are seen extending their patronage to one religion or the other. This is reflected also in the activities of the period. Evidence of art activities is found in the religious centres - at the Stupas, Viharas, early temples and so on. Buddhism had the largest support in this period, and it travelled to countries outside India along with merchants and monks. Influence of art of other regions like Central Asia and Hellenistic world is seen on Indian art. This was a result of regular contact with these regions and of support to Buddhism, but this influence is seen not only in Buddhist art bur on the art activities of the period in general. In any case, creations of art of a high order did not depend on support from the royalty or the state alone; they drew support from a wide social base.


Book 7: State and Society in South India: 200 B.C. to 300 A.D.


In Block 6 you read about different aspects of political, economic and cultural change that took place in north India in the post - Mauryan period (200 B. C. - 300 A. D.). In the five units of this Block you will be reading about the changes that peninsular India, which includes both the Deccan and the extreme south, was experiencing in this period.


Units 27 and 28 deal with the problem of the emergence of the institution of the State in the Deccan and the South. You have read in Blocks IV and V how the beginnings of territorial states in north India were represented first by the sixteen Mahajanpadas which originated in the 6th-5th Centuries B.C. and how over the next few centuries Magadha built a formidable state covering almost the entire Indian subcontinent. In peninsular India, the first rulers were local kings and some important families, like those of the Maharathis, who started minting their own coins from about the second century B.C. but the first organized state in the Deccan was built by the Satavahanas . (see Unit 27). In the far south, in the area represented by present-day Tamil Nadu and Kerala, an identical change did not take place in this period. In different regions of the south, power was wielded by chiefs who are known to us from poems written in their praise by bards. Among them, the chiefs of the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Cheras were like kings who commanded immense agricultural resources and profits from trade. In fact, the society of Tamilaham or the far south was going through a phase of many changes and cannot at all be considered a society with a single structure. There were many major differences between different sub-regions of the far south. These differences were expressed, in the early Tamil poems, in the different styles of life followed in different sub-regions in Tamilham, the name by which the far south was known. The different sub-regions like hilly areas, river-valleys, coastal areas, grassland areas were viewed as representing different tinais ( explained as eco-zones in unit 28) in the early Tamil poem collections of which are known as Sangam. These poems, in addition to other literary references and archaeology, suggested that early south Indian society was dominated by the major chiefdoms of the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Cheras and many other chiefs of varying importance. The big chiefs controlled the river valleys where agrarian settlements were expanding (see Unit 29) and also the coastal ports which were becoming prosperous because of lucrative trade. Besides, they derived considerable resources from tribute, plunder and other means, although a regular system of taxation does not seem to have been known. They as well chiefs of other categories, extended patronage to bards and other dependents and the Brahmanas also had started receiving considerable patronage and importance in early Tamil society. Thus, although a full-fledged state may not have emerged, there were sufficient indications of contact with Brahmanical ideology and society of the north and of major social inequalities existing within the society of early Tamilaharn.


Apart from differences in political organization, there were other differences between the society of the Deccan and the society of the far south in this period. It was not only Brahamanism which had taken a firm hold of the society; more widespread was Buddhism, as is evident from the number of stupas and Budhist viharas (monastic establishments) which came up in the Deccan during this period. This was made possible by the generous gifts given to the stupas' and the monks of the viharas not only by kings and officials but also by merchants, artisans and others. Much of the wealth of the Deccan in this period was derived from different types of trade, a special feature of which was the development of commercial contact with the Roman world. This contact affected both the Deccan and the far south, but judging by the number of towns and cities in the Deccan of this period, it would appear that the impact of this trade was greater in this region than in Tamilaham (see Unit 30).


The final Unit (Unit 31) discusses important aspects of early Tamil literature and language. As the Vedic texts are the earliest specimens of the Sanskrit language so are the Tamil poems, collectively known as the Sangam, and a few short inscriptions, the earliest specimens of Dravidian languages. The Sangam poems were orally composed much before they were classified and compiled in the form of collections. They were, also not concerned directly with religious rites and practices, as the Vedic texts were. However, for students of history, the texts as well as the Sangam poems are important sources of information about the societies which produced them. You have learnt in Block 3 how historians use the evidence of the Vedic texts to analyze the transition from early Vedic to later Vedic society; the Sangam poems, similarly, help historians analyse the changes through which society was moving in early Tamilaham or the far south in the early centuries of the Christian era.


Book 8: Indian Polity : B.C. 300 to 800 A.D.


This Block is going to focus mainly on the political history of both north India and peninsular India from the beginning of the fourth century to the eighth century A.D. You h've read in Blocks 6 and 7 about the political situation in north India and peninsular India in the post-Mauryan period. You must have noticed that compared to the pre-Mauryan and Mauryan periods, the number of ruling families had increased considerably in the post- Mauryan period. This means that: (i) more and more areas were experiencing the emergence of local states; these states which may have been small were represented mostly by local ruling families, (ii) when large state structures arose these small local states either' lost their separate existence obey continued as subordinates within the larger states.

One larger state structure which began to emerge from the beginning of the fourth century A.D. was that of the Guptas. In Unit 32 you will read about the political and other aspects of the history of the Gupta period. The Gupta power, at its peak, extended from Kathiawar peninsula in Gujarat in the west to-Bengal in the east-and from northwest India in the north of Madhya Pradesh in the south. This however does not mean' that this entire area was directly ruled by the central authority; there were areas like- Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, which the Guptas administered through officials appointed by them; even in far-flung Saurashtra in Gujarat governors were appointed by Gupta rulers like Skandagupta.


Elsewhere, as in Malwa regions, the Guptas maintained their suzerainty through political and matrimonial alliances with various autonomous powers: In Unit 33 you will read about the administrative, economic and social aspects of the Gupta period. this Unit will attempt- to familiarize you with some of the significant changes which. were taking place in society and which greatly changed the character of the society in the post-Gupta period. You will read more about these changes in Block 9 but Units 34 and 35 of this Block introduce to you what major changes were taking place in the political structure of the country.


In Unit 34 you will notice that in the post-Gupta period, a number of new political powers emerged in different parts of north India. This may give the impression that political authority was-very fragmented and that this was the result of the weakening of the central authority. But when you look at it from a different angle you will realize that formation of new political powers was a continuous process in early India history. Further, the political powers like 'the Palas of Bengal, the Gurjara-Pratiharas and others who emerged in Rajasthan or the kingdom of Kashmir did not last for only one generation as did the large state structure of Harsha. They were more stable, they had their bases in the regions in which they emerged and in many cases they marked the beginning of the political identity of a region or a sub-region. In Unit 35 you will be reading about the kingdoms which emerged in-peninsular India in the post-Satavahana period. Here too you will notice that the minor ruling families became gradually subordinates to the powers of the Pallavas of coastal Tamilnadu and the Chalukyas of Badami in north Karnataka, The basis of Pallava and Chalukya powerwere important political sub-regions, respectively in Tamilnadu and' Karnataka.


Book 9: Transition to Early Medieval India


In Block 8 you have already read that certain important changes had started taking shape in the Gupta period, and in the four Units of this Block you will read how these changes, both in the Gupta and in the post-Gupta periods, may together be taken to mark the beginning of a new period in Indian history. Historians have come to think that the ancient phase of Indian history came to an end now and the period, approximately between the sixth century and the eighth century, may be considered to mark the beginning of the early medieval phase. You will notice that the change from one phase of history to another was not simply a matter of change from one ruling family to another or even a change from an imperial power like the Guptas to the rise of comparatively insignificant local states. This was a change which gave new shape to various spheres of life: political, economic, social, religious and so on. This Block is, therefore, concerned with such questions as you are expected to ask:

What were the major changes which affected different spheres of life?

Why should these changes be taken to mark the beginning of a new phase of history ?

Why did these changes take place?


You may have noticed that the political map of the Gupta period was vastly different from the political map of the Maurya period. It is not only that the Guptas ruled over an empire which was less extensive than the empire of the Mauryas. It is that the regions outside the Gupta empire as well inside the Gupta empire had numerous ruling families of various categories. Although, we know from the Allahabad prasasti or the eulogy of Samudra Gupta that many rulers were subjugated by Samudragupta, milny of them continued in remote areas, and one significant reference found in the Gupta inscription is to "eighteen atavi - rajyas" or to forest kingdoms. You know that Asoka Maurya referred of the forest people of his empire in the context of the problems they were creating for him; the appearance of rajyas Of kingdoms in forest regions and other are asin Gupta period marked a significant change in the political structure and in political relations from the Gupta period onward. The grants of lands by kings may also have created such strata of landholders who also wielded political power in their areas. So, many new developments continued to result in a new kind of polity in which it was not only the King who was the symbol of political authority. Political authority in the new set up, was shared with rulers of various kinds, such as the samantas, mahasamantas, mandalesvaras, mahamandalesvaras, mandalikas, rautas, ranakas and so on.


Political authority had its base in the control of land, and therefore the emergence of different types of authorities, political as well as those associated with political, also meant major changes in agrarian and revenue systems. In areas where land was given to brahmanas, temples and other beneficiaries; the recipients of grants started exercising various types of authority on cultivators and other sections of rural people. The decline of trade and of urban settlements also put considerable' strain on the economy which was essentially dependent on resources from land. The presence on resources from land led to imposition by ruling authorities and by those who were closely associated with them, of many, taxes and levies on cultivators. Historians have shown that the number of dues which the peasants had to pay in post-Gupta times was much more than in earlier periods. It would however be wrong to think that the peasants were, as an entire community reduced to complex servitude. Here too the situation was complex. There were different categories of cultivators from landless to rich ones and dominant peasant or tribal groups could aspire for political power as well. At least this is what happened in tribal pockets where many new ruling families emerged from within the localities.


Changes within the society in which the four varnas were known as well as across different regions are best illustrated by the nature of the caste system of the early medieval period. New castes, like the Kayastha caste emerged from the Gupta period onward: many older communities and professions developed characteristics of castes and sub-castes. In many regions, existing social groups were put in one or two broad categories and were contrasted. with brahmanas as another broad category. Thus, there appeared the broad division of Brahmana and Sudra, although within each division there were numerous sub-divisions.





Block 1 Environment And Early Patterns of Adaptation



India: Physical Features



Regions in Indian History: Formation and Characteristics



Hunter-Gatherers: Archaeological Perspective



Origins of Agriculture and Domestication of Animals



Block 2 Harappan Civilization



Antecedents, Chronology and Geographical Spread



Material Characteristics



Nature of Contacts



Society and Religion



Diffusion and Decline



Block 3 Evolution of Early Indian Society: 2000 B.C. to 1000 B.C.



Chalcolithic and-Early Iron Age-I



Chalcolithic and Early Iron Age-II



The Early Vedic Society



Changes in The Later Vedic Phase



Block 4 India: 6TH to 4TH Century B.C.



Janapadas and the Malllajanapadas



Rise of Urban Centres



Society and Economy



Buddhism, Jainism and Other Religious Ideas



Block 5 Polity, Society And Economy: 320 B.C. to 200 B.C.



Magadhan Territorial Expansion



Economy of the Mauryan Empire



Administrative Organisation and Relationship with Other Powers



Asoka's Policy of Dhamma



Disintegration of the Empire



Block 6 India : Century 200 B.C. to 300 A.D.



Northern-Western and Northern India



Expansion in Network of Trade and Urbanisation



Development in Religion



Art and Architecture



Block 7 State And Society In South India: 200 B.C. to 300 A.D.



Early State Formation in Deccan



Early State Formation in South India (Tamilaham)



Agrarian Settlements and Agrarian Society in Peninsular India



Expansion of Trade and Urban Centres



Growth of Tamil Language and Literature



Block 8 Indian Polity: B.C. 300-800 A.D.



Rise and Growth of Guptas



Economy, Society and Polity: Guptas



Post-Gupta Kingdoms in North India



Kingdoms in the Deccan and the South



Block 9 Transition to Early Medieval India



Changes in Economy



Changes in Society



Structure of Polity



Developments in Religion



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