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The Classical Age -

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The “Classical” Age
320 to c. 700C.E
Our Focus GuptaEmpire320 to 470 CE
North India centric bias to historiographyButfor 150 yearsbetween320 to ca. 470 CE,Guptasprovided peace, security, and prosperity.Periods of chaos both BEFORE and AFTERWe have already seen series of invasionsPRIOR to the Gupta periodDuring and right after the GUPTAS came another set of C. Asian invaders, the HUNSGuptasprovidea peaceful interlude, where trade, ideas, art, literature, etc., prospered. PLUS important developments in religion/culture/societySo this period of peace, as it followed and was succeeded by an era of political turmoil in India, elevated to India's Golden AGE, or classical ageNew “upstart” dynasty, patronize BRAHMINS to acquire legitimacyPeriodofBrahmanical/ Vedic revival after being marginalized for almost half a millennium
Is the Classical Age only theGuptas?
Major developments in arts, literature and religious ideas that give it the labelof India’s “classical age”But to associate only the GUPTAs with these developments remains a limited and North India-centric approachContemporaryVAKATAKAof C. India as importantIn Central and South India, a succession of ruling dynasties; some like theChalukyasand thePallavasmaking repeated comebacksSome of the greatest architectural wonders created byRashtrakutas.In the Deccan and South,some of the greatest empiresandthegreatest cultural and artistic developments took placeAFTER theGuptasWewill return to look at peninsular India shortly
Gupta: Political Overview
Chandragupta I(320-335)Samudragupta(335-375)Maximum territorial expansion. Consolidation by:Chandragupta II (Vikramaditya)(375-415)Kumaragupta(415-455)Skandagupta(455-467)Overall:Guptasexpand the area under control of established kingdoms, bring forest-dwelling people under their control often with grants of UNCULTIVATED(forest) landto BrahminsBUT a pretty decentralized empire, lots of localPeriod of alliances (marital withVakatakas) and conquestsRead details in textbook,laid out pretty clearly
Gupta economy: building on history
A period of great prosperity, evidenced by the Gupta gold coinsTrade crucial, but trade and guilds had become imp. by the lateMauryanperiod, and hadcontinued to prosperKUSHAN era with connections to global trade (see earlier lecture), critical in this regardImportant families of SHRESHTHI or SETHS, came to dominate in Guptaera,offer credit, often at high interest rates. Rich enough to even offer loans to Kings
TheGupta era sees some important developments inSCIENCE, particularlyMathematics and AstronomyApproximation ofPi, theory of a heliocentric universe, theoretical measurements of the circumference of the earth, among othersGupta India was arguablythe center of the scientific world at this timeARYABHATTA and VARAMIHIRA in Math/Astronomy.Susrutain medicine, surgeryMetallurgy: construction of a 35 meter Iron pillar in present-day Delhi. Never rusted, from 400 CE to present
LITERATURE:GuptaspatronizeKalidasa, acknowledged as one of the greatestpoets and playwrights of all time. We will be discussing hisSAKUNTALA in more detail soon. Also plays such as theLittle Clay CartWorks on Human relationships such as the KAMA SUTRAAmazing developments in sculpture, MATHURA school of art. Plus GANDHARABut architecturally poor, few temples, though amazing carvingSome of the best architecture, temples particularly, came AFTER theGuptas, in the so-called dark age of Indian history (which was only so if we focus only on NORTH). Dynasties in central and south emerge as major players after theGuptas, and also patronize many important temples
RELIGION: What is Hindu
One reason why theGuptasconsidered a “golden age” is because much of what we understand as “Hinduism” emerge in this period. A series of texts called PURANAS critical to this enterpriseBUT: What is Hinduism?- any ISM suffix mostly a 19th C coinageThe term HINDU is not used a descriptor of a what we would recognize as RELIGION till very late, perhaps even as late as 16thCfirst used by GREEKS to describe the land beyond the river INDUS in 6th century BCEINDUS was known as SINDHU to the Vedic people and trans-SINDHU (beyond the river SINDHU) was corrupted to HINDUSo HINDU was initially a term of GEOGRAPHY, that came to applied to ALL PEOPLE who lived across the INDUS
Hindus before Hindu
Across the river Indus, people had a variety of social and religious practicesOther than Vedic peoples,there were PRE-VEDIC peoples. DASAS and distinct from them, forest dwellers (whose protectorswere the RAKSHASA) withown social and religious practicesSome amount of assimilation, for instance noted in the MBH and other texts of the timeONE of the waysnon-Vedic people INCORPORATED into the world and society of the Vedic rulers was by being assigned a place in the CASTE or VARNA hierarchyThe more powerful people among the non-vedicpeople (e.g. TRIBAL chieftains) given a HIGHvarnastatus, as KSHATRIYA, while the lower orders were incorporated at a lower level, e.g. as SUDRAS. Will return to VARNA a little laterBut this did not necessarily change the way people worshipped, so we have a variety of forms of worship, hundreds of gods, among people who use a mix of Vedic and local gods in worship. Vedas too, mention many gods, starting with the ones who were important early on AGNI, INDRA etc., later others seem to occupy an important place
Competing ideas of worship
MANY and competing forms of WORSHIP, even AMONGST the Vedic people. Early VEDIC = fire, animals/resourcssacrificed to please the gods. But early on (c. 800 BCE) there were challenges to such forms of worship, from the writers of the UPANISHADS, who thought that KNOWLEDGE was the path to salvation, and rituals relatively meaninglessIn later centuries there were further challenges to the supremacy of the Brahmins, from HETERODOX preachers like BUDHHA and MAHAVIRAIt is in the context of all of this that we need to recognize the SIGNIFICANCE of the series of TEXTS called the PURANAS that were COMPLETED in the Gupta era.PURANAS became the major vehicle of the incorporation of non-Vedic ideas, practices, and gods into areligio-social system that was dominated by the BRAHMINS
ThePuranaswere legends about gods LINKING popular deities of the time to the figures mentioned in the VEDASE.g. the VISHNU PURANA popularized the idea of VISHNU as savior, coming to earth in different incarnations, called AVATARS (yes, that’s the origin of your onlineavatars!) to destroy those who threaten DHARMA. So far 9 avatars: MATSYA fish, KURMA tortoise, BOARvaraha, man Lion NARASIMHA, Dwarf VAMANA, PARASHURAMA, RAMA, KRISHNA, and BUDDHA. The final one, KALKI to come.Buddha incorporated to retrieve those who moved to BuddhismPURANAS, complicated legends, massive in size and scope, but could incorporate, for instance, local ANIMIST practices, to a VEDIC deityKRISHNA described as dark-skinnedgod, probably of pre-Vedic origin, probablyincorporated into the MBH story AFTER the Gupta era, because it made so many references to KRISHNA as an AVATAR of VISHNUIn the South, but also in less “Aryan-ized” parts of the North -- SHIVA, became an important deity through the PURANASShiva, also represented as dark colored, as an acetic decorated with snakes, often dirty, even the consumer of unclean polluting objects was also probably a way of incorporating pre-Aryan, or non-Aryan deities within the Aryan-BrahmanicalframeworkSHIVA and VISHNU, along with another figure, BRAHMA (the creator) now incorporated as the TRINITY the three primary figures in the HINDU pantheon.
Puranas(and texts like the Bhagwat Gita,probablyincorporated into MBH in the Gupta period), allow for the growth of NEW FORM OF DEVOTIONALWORSHIP orBHAKTISo far there were TWO traditionsof “worship”1. Sacrificial kind, get Brahmins the ritual experts to conduct sacrifices, and assure salvation, or whatever desire2. The so called “KNOWLEDGE PATH” of the Upanishads, a much more intellectual/philosophical outlook(Heterodoxies draw on this tradition greatly)With PURANIC literature, new kindof worship: devotion.One example in Krishna’s advicetoArjunain the MBH, that says the path to salvation not through sacrifices, not even through meditation and knowledge, but devotion, BHAKTICults of worship, centering around Vishnu or Shiva, orsoecificmanifestations of Vishnu like Krishna became important during or soon after the Gupta period. Temples with images of deities emerged in this period-- possiblyinfluenced by MAHAYANA forms of Buddhism that involved worship of images of the BODDHISATVAEarliest temples, with prayers date fromGutpaperiod, as does the practice of offering "puja" individual worship at temples or to images of a deity
Classical India
Another field in which important new developments took place, was Hindu philosophy. Yoga, as well as the 5 other major "schools" of philosophy were systematized during the “classical age."Thus, the characterization of the Gupta period as India's classical age, as much because of its literary and artistic developments as becausesome very important developments in devotion, worship and philosophy are traceable to this periodThese developments enabled Vedic religion to be transformed into a more coherent tradition which incorporated, and at the same time was able to influence, the religious practices of a large number of people in Indiaandcome close to what might be described as “Hinduism"
Two of the developments which have to figure in any genealogy of Hinduism however, took place after theGuptasBoth originated not in the so-called Hindu heartland of the North, but in the SouthBHAKTI or devotional worship was only formed the pre-history of very important Bhaktimovementsin the15th and16th Centuries,that we will return to later in the courseThe other, was the adoption of "VEDANTA" school of philosophy by a man named SHANKARAVedanta drew upon ideas of the Upanishads, and was systematized along with Yoga and four other majorphilosphical"schools" in the Gupta eraIn the 8th and 9th Cs SHANKARA one of the most important advocates of Vedanta, travelled across the length and breadth of India, propagating this philosophy and held public disputations with the leading Hindu and Buddhist philosophersShankaraalso set up institutions for propagatingVedanticHinduism in four majorcentresin the N, S W and E IndiaAt a time when Buddhism was gaining ground at the expense of Hindu practices,Shankarais credited with reviving a "true" monistic "Hinduism."Shankara, and Vedanta, created the first “Hindu revival"It is interesting that some of the Hindu revivalists of the 19th C also found their source ofspirtuaastrength in the Vedanta





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The Classical Age -