In this song, travel to the resourceful destination of ancient India. Protected by the Himalayas, and fed by the Indus and Ganges rivers, India will dazzle you. Pictographs, the caste system, Hinduism and reincarnation—ancient India had this and more. Learn about the modern marvels of this ancient civilization—the twin cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro had a sewage system!
You do not know how far away your enemy is. You only know that if he sees you, he will kill you. But there are other dangers in this jungle, where the trees and bushes and leaves are so thick you can hardly see someone 10 feet away. There are tigers who, they say, love the taste of human flesh. There are snakes, too, with poisons your doctors and priests can't save you from. But your enemy has done something even more dangerous; his army has trained elephants for war. So when the soldiers come, they don't come on foot. They come on the backs of mighty war elephants and ride right over you. Welcome to India.
The world hasn't always looked the way it looks now. Land doesn't stay still but slowly shifts around on tectonic plates. India's plate was once part of Africa, but over millions of years, it slid off of Africa, across the sea, and slammed up against Asia. In doing this, it created a huge mountain range, the biggest in the world. These are the Himalayas, which is where you find Mount Everest.
Those massive peaks make a nice wall, cutting India off from the rest of the world. India is a peninsula, jutting down between the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. It's surrounded by water on three sides and topped off by the biggest mountains on the planet on the fourth.
Rushing down from the mountains are the Indus and Ganges rivers, which bring massive volumes of water to the countryside, making for great farming opportunities. This moisture, combined with the fact that India gets more rain than just about anywhere in the world, gives the area a moist, humid climate and lots of thick jungles.
The first people to migrate to the Indus River Valley were hunters who came from Africa, probably around 40,000 BC. For tens of thousands of years they followed animals around, until about 2500 BC, when they finally figured out that the fertile soil around them would make ideal farmland.
The farmers here discovered the same things that farmers elsewhere had - irrigation makes for abundant crops; surpluses lead to trade and commerce; houses and villages make living easier. They built villages and by about 2300 BC, a large city had been built. Named for the present-day city of Harappa in Pakistan, the ancient civilization of Harappa was one of the most developed in the world in its day, a very happening place. It included the city of Harappa and another big urban area - Mohenjo-daro, about 300 miles away on another section of river. Even though they were far apart, the two cities had striking similarities.
Mohenjo-daro and Harappa were quite advanced for their day. Both were actually laid out with grids of streets that made right angles. Streets were paved and were home to stone houses, some of which were three or four stories high. Big fortresses stood near each city to provide protection.
The people had weights, measures and a currency so they could trade. The government may have stored food in case of shortages. They were perhaps the first people to make garments out of cotton. The Harappans used pictographs, drawings and symbols that represented ideas, to write. There were about 370 separate glyphs, or symbols, used. Close to 2,500 seals have been recovered from cities across India and Pakistan.
For complex reasons, a big wind, called a monsoon, blows north through India every summer for a few months. It brings lots of rain and thunderstorms with it, so summers are the rainy seasons. These monsoons bring lots of water to Indian crops, which helps the economy.
Both cities had another great invention: sewer systems to carry all human waste out of the city. Almost no other cities had a sewer system at this time. I'm sure you can imagine that those other cities smelled really, really bad. Harappan civilization disappeared sometime after 2000 BC for reasons unknown.
Don't confuse the Aryans of ancient India with the Aryans of Adolf Hitler's master race. (It was Hitler who was confused.) These Aryans were Indo-Europeans who migrated from Central Asia through Iran to the Indus River Valley around 1500 BC. They were a nomadic and warlike people.
The Aryans rode in on chariots and horses, which are native to the steppes of Central Asia. By about 800 BC they'd made their way to the Ganges River, using weapons of iron to conquer more and more territory. Many of the Aryans settled around the Ganges. They brought their culture and their language, known as Sanskrit, as well as their gods and early Hinduism. They also brought their social hierarchy, known as the caste system.
The Vedas were ancient Indian texts that became the basis for the Hindu religion. There were four major ones: the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda. The Rig Veda is often considered the oldest piece of literature that still exists, dating back to at least 3700 BC, although some historians think it's much older than that. It has the earliest mentions of astronomy, astrology and many other metaphysical "sciences." As a group, the Vedas explored the relationship of the human soul to the material world. In them can be found the earliest mentions of yoga, meditation and mantras.
In cultures that believe in god or gods (as nearly all do), there are nearly always people who claim that they alone can speak with their god or interpret the messages of the gods. These people become priests. As the doorway to the gods, they usually become very powerful and often very rich. This is exactly the situation for the Brahmin in India. They interpreted the Vedas and guided the customs of Hinduism. And they became big shots.
At first, as in other cultures, there were two classes of people in India: nobles and commoners. Indo-Aryans later added a third category, the "darks," probably reserved for the darker-skinned people they conquered. But the caste system wasn't really about race. It was about dividing people into classes and making sure everyone stayed where they began. Who do you think set up that system - the people at the top or at the bottom?
All men and women were definitely not created equal, according to ancient Indian rules. Their society was soon / into four classes or castes. It was very hierarchical -there was a very definite high class and very definite lower classes and no movement from one to another.
At the very top were the Brahmin, who were the leaders and the priests. Only the men in this caste could attend school.
On the next rung were the Kshatriya, the soldiers. (Women couldn't fight but the wives of soldiers still belonged to this class.)
Beneath the warriors were the businessmen, tradespeople, and farmers - the Vaishya. This caste was able to own land.
The next class, Sudra, included the servants, clerks, and farmhands. There were huge numbers of these folks.
Beneath the Sudra was the group known as the Dalit, or "the untouchables." They were the freemen and women who held the worst jobs in society. They existed below the caste system, and people were not supposed to have any contact with them.
Hinduism is the world's oldest major religion that is still practiced. A group of diverse beliefs and traditions, Hinduism has no single founder. It is the world's third largest religion
, following Christianity
, with approximately one billion adherents, most of whom live in India
Brahman is the unchanging, infinite reality
that exists in all matter
and everything beyond in this universe. To achieve enlightenment, most Hindus believe that you must realize that you are and always will be made of pure energy - pure Brahman.
Your karma is the energy you create when you do something that is either right or wrong. Doing something wrong, like lying, creates bad karma, while doing something good, like helping someone, creates good karma.
Karma is important because it determines what you will come back as in your next life. Hindus believe in reincarnation, the idea that a person's soul is reborn again and again into different bodies, including animals. Basically, you go round and round, trying to live a better life, until you get it right. You might come back in your next life as a squirrel or a king, but you have to live life right in order to reach enlightenment and Nirvana.
Siddhartha was a young, rich Indian prince born in about 560 BC. He wasn't happy with his life as a Hindu; he sought more answers than he felt that religion could offer. One day he left his family and his riches behind, and decided that the secret of life was not to be reincarnated over and over but to find enlightenment, the state of being free from suffering.
Siddhartha wandered around India looking for life's answers, but not finding any. He stopped and sat under a big, beautiful tree on the Ganges River and meditated. For seven weeks he sat under that tree, until he became enlightened. After that he was known as the Buddha, or "enlightened one." He spent the rest of his life sharing his ideas with people, founding a whole new religion: Buddhism.
Nirvana is the highest goal of a Buddhist. Some people simply call it enlightenment. Nirvana happens when a Buddhist is finally free of suffering and all worldly problems - he or she has broken the cycle of reincarnation and is in a state of peace.
In 326 BC, Alexander the Great invaded India, and spread his huge empire all the way to the Indus River Valley. But when he returned to Babylon in 324 BC, an Indian ruler named Chandragupta overthrew a bunch of his generals in the Punjab area and set up the largest Indian kingdom yet, called the Mauryan Empire. Ashoka was another famous ruler of the Mauryan Empire. He expanded the kingdom of India - but at a terrible cost. They say his battlefield victories were so brutal and bloody that he eventually renounced war altogether. He became a Buddhist and was instrumental in spreading the faith to millions of others across Central Asia.
Civilizations and groups come and go, but some, like the Harappans, disappear in more mysterious ways than others. History is filled with such strange disappearances. Here are a few:
Maya: Once powerful, this early American empire had disappeared by the time the Spanish sailed over. Mayans had reverted to living in small, separate villages. Possible culprit: internal fighting.
Minoa: These people built amazing cities on the island of Crete, just below Greece. They even rebuilt after a volcano destroyed many of their towns, but 50 years later, they abandoned them altogether. Possible culprit: Who knows?
Atlantis: Ever heard of the lost city of Atlantis? It's a famous city that no archaeologist has ever found. There's a simple reason for this: It never existed. It was just something that Plato dreamed up and wrote about. Possible culprit: Fiction.
Buddhism isn't just a popular religion in India, China and Japan. It's practiced all over the world, and seems to hold a special attraction for Hollywood celebrities. Actors Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings), Naomi Watts (King Kong), Uma Thurman (Kill Bill) and Keanu Reeves (The Matrix) are all Buddhists. Jennifer Lopez told reporters she's given Buddhism serious thought, and the Beastie Boys' MCA has even written songs about the religion. In the song "Bodhisattva Vow," he raps, "With the interconnectedness that we share as one / Every action that we take affects everyone."
1. Describe the caste system.
2. Would you rather be a Brahmin or an untouchable? Explain why.