'India' today means the Republic of India which has another constitutional name also – Bharat. The term 'India' is derived from 'Sindhu', a word in Sanskrit, to mean either a river or the river Indus. The 'S' in 'Sindhu' is a phonetic 'h' in certain languages. Thus Sindhu was pronounced as 'hindu' and this explains 'Hindustan' (the land of the Hindus), another name for India. The term 'India' is found used from 5th century BC, according to some historians, quoting Darius the King, Herodotus, Megasthenes and some others. In certain Buddhist texts, India is denoted as 'Aryadesh' or 'Aryavarta' (both to mean the land of the Aryas), and also as 'Jambudvipa' to mean one of the seven islands (continents) of the earth. The English term 'India' is borrowed from the Latin equivalent and in French it is Inde. In Japan India for long has been referred to as Tenjiku which means 'heaven'.
THE PRE-HISTORIC INDIA
It is an accomplished fact that the Indian land mass was the abode of humans far ahead of the origin and development of recorded civilizations like the Indus Valley one. Anthropologists and other experts have collected evidences of the presence in Kashmir, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, of the species homo erectus, one of the most ancient of human types (of the geologic Middle Pleistocene Period, 730,000 to 130,000 years). The next major finds are of the migration from Africa along the coastal lines of the Indian Ocean, some 65,000 years ago, leaving genetic imprint all along their route. Modern human migrations have left skeletal fossils, weapons and other tools along a wide area covering the Narmada Valley and the Uttar Pradesh, representing the Mesolithic culture. Figures of humans holding weapons like clubs are seen in the drawings of Bheembetka in Madhya Pradesh. They are also significant, and they represent the period of 25,000 to 10,000 years. Whether the original inhabitants of India were replaced by more modern immigrants is a question being debated even today, according to certain experts.
The Neolithic period in India is represented by remains dating to 7000-4000 BC, indicating the development of village communities and of agriculture. In another discovery, cultivation of barley and wheat was established, dating between 5000 and 4000 BC., and by about 3000 BC, a vast area from Kashmir to Karnataka flourished under the Neolithic cultures.
THE INDUS VALLEY CIVILIZATION
An ink-well, more than thousand seals bearing inscriptions of a yet-to-be-deciphered script, seals with the figure of a three-faced divinity in a sitting 'yoga' posture, the figurine of a dancing girl, remains of brick-built houses, public tanks for bathing, statuettes of animals, well-laid out city centers, farm houses – these are some of the evidences left behind by a magnificent, mature and higher level urban civilization that existed some 5000 years ago over a space of 1,600 kilometers from east to west, and 1,500 kilometers from north to south. – This is the outline of what history calls the Indus Valley Civilization, one of the earliest on our planet Earth.
Experts have established that the foundations of this civilization in India were laid during the Bronze Age that followed the Neolithic Age. The remnants of it were first unearthed from Mohanjo-Daro, in Sindh and Harappa in Multan both in what is now Pakistan, and also from Lothal and Dholavira in Gujarat and Rakhigarhi in Rajasthan, both in the India of today. It has been called the Indus Valley Civilization, for it was first thought to be of the area networked by the Indus and its tributaries. But later on it was found that this highly developed civilization of urban nature, endowed with the art of writing and arts such as dancing, extended even beyond the valleys of the Ganges and the Yamuna.
Where did this superior culture emerge? From Sumeria or from Egypt where similar cultures existed almost at the same time? But the Indus Valley Civilization was far more advanced than the Sumerian or the Egyptian civilizations, as is seen from its city plans with farm houses with thoughtful facilities like ablution tanks, figurines of a dancer girl indicating the level of artistic pursuits, and the script of the language etc. John Marshall who piloted the excavation of the sites in India was of the opinion that the people worshipped Shiva of the Dravidian culture. Linguists have opined that the scripts as seen in the seals indicated a relationship with the early Dravidian family of languages, if not the very proto-Dravidian language, for re-constructing which great scholars have toiled for years. However, attempts at deciphering the script have not yet been successful.
Civilizations have been found to decline and disappear for various reasons like the invasion from a superiorly strong foreign force, the depletion or destruction of sources for food and water as from floods or drought, the spread of some contagious disease, the change in the course of a river or a more catastrophic fault or shift in the surface structure of the land due to tectonic movement. And one of these or a combination of more than one factor might have caused the end of the Indus Valley Civilization. But the question remains as to how a civilization which had spread to a vast area of different river systems and different topographic features ended altogether.
THE VEDIC PERIOD
In the long history of India, the Vedic Age (1500-500 BC) comes after the Indus Valley Civilization. It was during this period that India presented to human culture one of its invaluable contributions – the Vedic Literature. It was attributed to the Aryans who flourished in India as a well-knit agricultural society. Their origin is thought to be somewhere in the ancient central Asiatic region from where they migrated to the rich Indian plains, after long wars with the locals. This is evident in their literature. The Vedic literature comprises mainly the four Vedas (The Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, and the Atharva Veda). Then there are the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas, the epics of Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and the Upanishads that represent the culmination of the Vedic thought.
It was during this period the so-called chaturvarnya system of social layering came into existence. The chaturvarnya or the four-layered arrangement of social order established the caste system in India – the priestly class of brahmins, the warrior class of the kshatriyas, the trading and farming class of the vaishyas, and the working class of the shudras. Unlike in the urban Indus Valley Civilization, the Aryan culture was basically pastoral and agricultural. The people worshipped the thunder and rain god Indra, the fire god Agni, the earth and sea god Varuna, the sun god Surya, the air god Vayu and the like. No serious dispute has come up in that this has an Iranian touch about it.
To be continued.....