History of India
Archaeologists have discovered prehistoric Bronze Age sites throughout the Indian subcontinent. The economy of these prehistoric people was based on crop-growing, and the herding of domesticated sheep, goats, and cattle. The history of Indian civilization dates from around 3500 B.C. There was then a growth of villages and towns, which developed into a culture known as the Indus Valley civilization. The towns and cities of the Indus valley civilization show evidence of a government and economic system.
The Indus Valley people. Archaeologists have uncovered much about these people and their way of life. Inscriptions, mainly on clay seals, reveal that the people knew and practised the art of writing. Modern scholars cannot read these inscriptions, as there is no code-key to enable them to work out the meaning. But some inscriptions indicate that the people knew how to count and measure.
Trade and crafts. Trade supplied the Indus Valley people with essential foods, and with basic raw materials such as timber, raw cotton, dyes, metals, and glass. Archaeologists have also found a large quantity of well-made pottery, replicas of bullock carts, statues showing the human face, bronze objects (including a beautiful female statuette), and glass beads. These finds prove that the people of Harappa practised industrial crafts, such as ceramics, sculpture, metal work, and glass-making. There is a strong similarity between the Indus Valley civilization and the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia, in the Middle East. Scholars believe that sea trade may have existed between northwestern India and the Persian Gulf.
The coming of the Aryans. The Harappa civilization appears to have reached its peak in about 2500 B.C. The reason for its decline by about 1700 B.C. is not fully understood. On many ancient sites, archaeologists have found signs of destruction by fire. It is possible that nomadic invasions, and the migration of Aryan people from central Asia and Persia (now Iran), may have led to wars. These wars may have resulted in the sacking and burning of the Harappan towns. The appearance of the Aryans in the Indian subcontinent was part of a larger pattern of migration.
The Vedas. The history of the Aryans in India is known mainly from their religious texts, the four Vedas
. The oldest is the Rig Veda, which dates from about 1500 B.C. The three others are the Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Veda, probably composed during the following 700 years. The Vedas form the basis of Hindu religion and philosophy. They were transmitted orally (by word of mouth) by generations of priests and scholars before they were written down.
The Aryan social system. The early Vedic society, like that of other Aryan people, had three classes: priests, warriors, and commoners. A hymn in the Rig Veda speaks of the mythological origin of the Indian caste (class) system (see CASTE). But the division of society into Brahmans (priests and scholars), Ksatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vasyas (traders, artisans, and cattle tenders), and finally Sudras (labourers) took a long time to develop. Once the idea of castes had taken root, it became the most important principle of social organization. It was upheld by the moral force of the religious concept of dharma (right conduct).