Thinkers, Beliefs and Buildings
The sources to reconstruct Cultural Developments of this period (c. 600 BCE - 600 CE)
1. Buddhist, Jaina and Brahmanical texts written in various languages.
2. Large and impressive material remains including monuments and inscriptions.
The mid-first millennium BCE is often regarded as a turning point in world history:
1. This period saw the emergence of thinkers such as Zarathustra in Iran, Kong Zi in China, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in Greece, and Mahavira and Gautama Buddha, among many others, in India.
2. They tried to understand the mysteries of existence and the relationship between human beings and the cosmic order.
3. This was also the time when new kingdoms and cities were developing and social and economic life was changing in a variety of ways in the Ganga valley
The sacrificial traditions (Vedic sacrifices)
1. The early Vedic tradition was one of the pre-existing traditions of thought.
2. The Rig-Veda consists of hymns in praise of a variety of deities, especially Agni, Indra and Soma.
3. Many of these hymns were chanted when sacrifices were performed, where people prayed for cattle, sons, good health, long life, etc.
4. At first, sacrifices were performed collectively. Later some sacrifices were performed by the head of the family for the wellbeing of the domestic unit.
5. More elaborate sacrifices, such as the Rajasuya and Ashvamedha, were performed by chiefs and kings who depended on Brahmana priests to conduct the ritual.
New questions in the early period
1. Many people were curious about the meaning of life, the possibility of life after death, karma and rebirth.
2. Such issues were hotly debated. Thinkers were concerned with understanding and expressing the nature of the ultimate reality.
Debates and discussions
1. There were as many as 64 sects or schools of thought. Lively discussions and debates took place between the teachers of these schools of thought.
2. Teachers like Buddha and Mahavira travelled from place to place, trying to convince one another as well as laypersons, about the validity of their philosophy or the way they understood the world.
3. Debates took place in the kutagarashala (a hut with a pointed roof) and in groves where travelling mendicants halted.
4. If a philosopher succeeded in convincing one of his rivals, the followers of the latter also became his disciples. So support for any particular sect could grow and shrink over time.
5. Many of these teachers, including Mahavira and the Buddha, questioned the authority of the Vedas. They also emphasised individuals to attain liberation from the trials and tribulations of worldly existence.
Fatalists and materialists
1. Fatalists or Ajivikas those who believe that everything is predetermined.
2. Materialists or Lokayatas those who believe that everything is not predetermined.
3. Fatalist teacher, named Makkhali Gosala, says that the wise and the fool cannot come out of karma. It can neither be lessened nor increased. So fool and wise alike will take their course and make an end of sorrow.
4. Materialist teacher Ajita Kesakambalin says that a human being is made up of the four elements. When he dies the earthy in him returns to the earth, the fluid to water, the heat to fire, the windy to air, and his senses pass into space. The talk of gifts is a doctrine of fools, an empty lie. Fools and wise alike are cut off and perish. They do not survive after death.
The Message of Mahavira or philosophy of Jainism.
1. The most important idea in Jainism is that the entire world is animated: even stones, rocks and water have life.
2. Non-injury to living beings, especially to humans, animals, plants and insects, is central to Jaina philosophy.
3. In fact the principle of ahimsa, emphasized within Jainism, has left its mark on Indian thinking as a whole.
4. According to Jaina teachings, the cycle of birth and rebirth is shaped through karma.
5. Asceticism and penance are required to free oneself from the cycle of karma. This can be achieved only by renouncing the world.
Rules for Jain Monks
1. Jain monks and nuns took five vows such as to abstain from killing.
2. To abstain from Stealing
3. To abstain from Lying
4. To observe celibacy
5. To abstain from possessing property.
Jain Literature and Spread of Jainism
1. The teachings of Mahavira were recorded by his disciples. These were often in the form of stories, which could appeal to ordinary people.
2. Jaina scholars produced a wealth of literature in a variety of languages such as Prakrit, Sanskrit and Tamil.
3. For many centuries, manuscripts of these texts were carefully preserved in libraries attached to temples.
4. Gradually, Jainism spread to many parts of India such as Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
5. Some of the earliest stone sculptures associated with religious traditions were produced by devotees of the Jaina tirthankaras, and have been recovered from several sites throughout the subcontinent.
Spread of Buddhism
1. Buddhism grew rapidly both during the lifetime of the Buddha and after his death, as it appealed to many people dissatisfied with existing religious practices and confused by the rapid social changes taking place around them.
2. Buddha’s messages metta (fellow feeling) and karuna (compassion) spread across the subcontinent and beyond – through Central Asia to China, Korea and Japan, and through Sri Lanka, across the seas to Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia.
3. Buddha’s teachings have been reconstructed by carefully editing, translating and analyzing the Buddhist texts.
4. Historians have also tried to reconstruct details of his life from hagiographies. (Hagiography is a biography of a saint or religious leader. Hagiographies often praise the saint’s achievements, and may not always be literally accurate. They are important because they tell us about the beliefs of the followers of that particular tradition)
5. Many of these were written down at least a century after the death of the Buddha, in an attempt to preserve memories of the great teacher.
Life of Buddha (What were the traumatic incidents changed the life of the Buddha?)
1. According to the traditions, Siddhartha was the son of a chief of the Sakya clan. He had a sheltered upbringing within the palace, insulated from the harsh realities of life.
2. One day he persuaded his charioteer to take him into the city. His first journey into the world outside was traumatic.
3. He was deeply anguished when he saw an old man, a sick man and a corpse (dead body). He realized in that moment that the decay and destruction of the human body was inevitable.
4. He also saw a homeless mendicant, who had come to terms with old age, disease and death, and found peace. Siddhartha decided that he too would adopt the same path.
5. Soon after, he left the palace and set out in search of his own truth. Siddhartha explored several paths including bodily mortification which led him to a situation of near death. He meditated for several days and finally attained enlightenment. After this he came to be known as the Buddha or the Enlightened One.
The Teachings of the Buddha
1. The Buddha’s teachings have been reconstructed from stories, found mainly in the Sutta Pitaka.
2. According to Buddhist philosophy, the world is transient (anicca) and constantly changing; it is also soulless (anatta) as there is nothing permanent or eternal in it.
3. Within this transient world, sorrow (dukkha) is intrinsic to human existence. By following the path of moderation between severe penance and self-indulgence that human beings can come out of these worldly troubles.
4. The Buddha regarded the social world as the creation of humans rather than of divine origin. Therefore, he advised kings and gahapatis to be humane and ethical towards common people.
5. Individual effort was expected to transform social relations. The Buddha emphasised individual agency and righteous action as the means to escape from the cycle of rebirth and attain self-realisation.
Followers of the Buddha(monks and nuns)
1. According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha’s last words to his followers were: “Be lamps unto yourselves as all of you must work out your own liberation.”
2. The body of disciples of the Buddha or an organisation of monks is called Sangha. Buddha founded a sangha. The monks too became teachers of dhamma.
3. These monks lived simple life by possessing only the essential requisites for survival, such as a bowl to receive food once a day from the laity. As they lived on alms, they were known as bhikkhus.
4. Initially, only men were allowed into the sangha, but later women also came to be admitted. The Buddha’s foster mother, Mahapajapati Gotami was the first woman to be ordained as a bhikkhuni. Many women who entered the sangha became teachers of dhamma.
5. The Buddha’s followers came from many social groups. They included kings, wealthy men, gahapatis, workers, slaves and craftspeople.
6. Once persons get into the sangha, all were regarded as equal, having shed their earlier social identities on becoming bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. The internal functioning of the sangha was based on the traditions where decisions were taken through discussions and voting.
Rules for monks and nuns
1. These are some of the rules laid down in the Vinaya Pitaka: When a new felt (blanket/rug) has been made by a bhikkhu, it is to be kept for (at least) six years.
2. Before the completion of six years if a Bhikku wanted to use a new one he has to be authorised by the other bhikkhus – it is to be forfeited and confessed.
3. In case a bhikkhu may accept two or three bowls of cakes or cooked grain-meal from a house if he so desires. If he should accept more than that, it is to be confessed.
4. Having accepted the two or three bowls and having taken them from there, he is to share them among the bhikkhus.
5. Any bhikkhu, who is leaving the lodging which belongs to the sangha, must inform to other Bhikkus.
1. From earliest times, people tended to regard certain places as sacred. These included sites with special trees or unique rocks, or sites of awe-inspiring natural beauty. These sites, with small shrines attached to them, were sometimes described as chaityas.
2. Buddhist literature mentions several chaityas. It also describes places associated with the Chaitya may also have been derived from the word chita, meaning a funeral pyre, and by extension a funerary mound.
Where were stupas built?
Stupas were built in the places associated with Buddha’s life –
1. Lumbini-where he was born
2. Bodh Gaya -Where he attained enlightenment
3. Sarnath -Where he gave his first sermon( public speech) and
4. Kusinagara -Where he attained nibbana (Death) gradually, each of these places came to be regarded as sacred.
5. By the second century BCE a number of stupas, including those at Bharhut, Sanchi and Sarnath had been built.
Why were stupas built?
1. The tradition of erecting stupas may have been pre-Buddhist, but they came to be associated with Buddhism.
2. Stupas were built because relics of the Buddha such as his bodily remains or objects used by him were buried there.
3. According to a Buddhist text known as the Ashokavadana, Asoka distributed portions of the Buddha’s relics to every important town and ordered the construction of stupas over them.
How were stupas built?
1. Inscriptions found on the railings and pillars of stupas record donations made for building and decorating them. Some donations were made by kings such as the Satavahanas; others were made by guilds, such as that of the ivory workers.
2. Hundreds of donations were made by women and men who mention their names, sometimes adding the name of the place from where they came, as well as their occupations and names of their relatives.
3. Bhikkhus and bhikkhunis also contributed towards building these monuments.
The structure of the stupa
1. The stupa originated as a simple semi-circular mound of earth called anda. Gradually, it evolved into a more complex structure, balancing round and square shapes.
2. Above the anda was the harmika, a balcony like structure that represented the abode of the gods.
3. Arising from the harmika was a mast called the yashti, often surmounted by a chhatri or umbrella. Around the mound was a railing, separating the sacred space from the secular world.
4. The early stupas at Sanchi and Bharhut were plain except for the stone railings. Later wooden fence and the gateways were richly carved and installed at the four cardinal points. Worshippers entered through the eastern gateway and walked around the mound in a clockwise direction keeping the mound on the right, imitating the sun’s course through the sky.
5. Later, the mound of the stupas came to be elaborately carved with niches and sculptures as at Amaravati, and Shahji- ki-Dheri in Pakistan.
Role of Begums in preserving the Stupa at Sanchi
1. Nineteenth-century Europeans like the French and English sought Shahjehan Begum’s permission to take away the eastern gateway, which was the best preserved, to be displayed in museums in France and England. But she refused.
2. The rulers of Bhopal, Shahjehan Begum and her successor Sultan Jehan Begum, provided money for the preservation of the ancient site. That is why John Marshall dedicated his important volumes on Sanchi to Sultan Jehan.
3. She funded the museum that was built there as well as the guesthouse where John Marshall lived and wrote the volumes.
4. She also funded the publication of the volumes written by John Marshall.
5. So if the stupa complex has survived, it is in no small measure due to wise decisions, and to good luck in escaping the eyes of railway contractors, builders, and those looking for finds to carry away to the museums of Europe.
The Fate of Amaravati Stupa
1. In 1796, a local raja who wanted to build a temple stumbled upon the ruins of the stupa at Amaravati. He decided to use the stone, and thought there might be some treasure buried in what seemed to be a hill.
2. Some years later, a British official named Colin Mackenzie visited the site. He found several pieces of sculpture and made detailed drawings of them, these reports were never published to protect the Stupa.
3. In 1854, Walter Elliot, the commissioner Andhra Pradesh visited Amaravati and collected several sculpture panels and took them away to Madras. These came to be called the Elliot marbles after him.
4. By the 1850s, some of the slabs from Amaravati had begun to be taken to different places: a) To the Asiatic Society of Bengal at Calcutta b) To the India Office in Madras and some even to London.
5. It was usual to find these sculptures adorning the gardens of British administrators. In fact, any new official in the area continued to remove sculptures from the site on the grounds that earlier officials had done the same.
View of H.H. Cole, about the preservation of ancient monuments:
1. He wrote: “It seems to me a suicidal and indefensible policy to allow the country to be looted of original works of ancient art.”
2. He believed that museums should have plaster-cast facsimiles of sculpture, whereas the originals should remain where they had been found.
3. Unfortunately, Cole did not succeed in convincing the authorities about Amaravati, although his plea for in situ (in the original place) preservation was adopted in the case of Sanchi.
Why did Sanchi survive while Amaravati did not?
1. Perhaps Amaravati was discovered before scholars understood the value of the finds and realised how critical it was to preserve things instead of removing them from the site.
2. When Sanchi was “discovered” in 1818, three of its four gateways were still standing, the fourth was lying on the spot where it had fallen and the mound was in good condition.
3. Nineteenth-century Europeans like the French and English sought Shahjehan Begum’s permission to take away the eastern gateway, which was the best preserved, to be displayed in museums in France and England. But she refused.
4. The rulers of Bhopal, Shahjehan Begum and her successor Sultan Jehan Begum, provided money for the preservation of the ancient site. That is why John Marshall dedicated his important volumes on Sanchi to Sultan Jehan.
5. She funded the museum that was built there as well as the guesthouse where John Marshall lived and wrote the volumes.
6. She also funded the publication of the volumes written by John Marshall. So if the stupa complex has survived, it is in no small measure due to wise decisions, and to good luck in escaping the eyes of railway contractors, builders, and those who were looking for finds to carry away to the museums of Europe.
7. In 1796, a local raja who wanted to build a temple stumbled upon the ruins of the stupa at Amaravati. He decided to use the stone, and thought there might be some treasure buried in what seemed to be a hill.
8. In 1854, Walter Elliot, the commissioner Andhra Pradesh visited Amaravati and collected several sculpture panels and took them away to Madras. These came to be called the Elliot marbles after him.
9. By the 1850s, some of the slabs from Amaravati had begun to be taken to different places: a) To the Asiatic Society of Bengal at Calcutta b) To the India Office in Madras and some even to London
10. Some years later, a British official named Colin Mackenzie visited the site. He found several pieces of sculpture and made detailed drawings of them, these reports were never published to protect the Stupa
Stories in stone
1. At first sight the sculpture (4.13) seems to depict a rural scene, with thatched huts and trees. However, art historians who have carefully studied the sculpture at Sanchi identify it as a scene from the Vessantara Jataka. This is a story about a generous prince who gave away everything to a Brahmana, and went to live in the forest with his wife and children.
2. According to hagiographies, the Buddha attained enlightenment while meditating under a tree. Many early sculptors did not show the Buddha in human form – instead, they showed his presence through symbols.
3. The empty seat was meant to indicate the meditation of the Buddha.
4. The Stupa was meant to represent the mahaparinibbana (death)
5. Another frequently used symbol was the wheel. This stood for the first sermon of the Buddha, delivered at Sarnath.
6. A beautiful woman swinging from the edge of the gateway, holding onto a tree. After examining other literary traditions, Scholars realized that it could be a representation of a shalabhanjika. According to popular belief, this was a woman whose touch caused trees to flower and bear fruit
7. Some of the finest depictions of animals are found in sanchi. These animals include elephants, horses, monkeys and cattle.
8. While the Jatakas contain several animal stories that are depicted at Sanchi, it is likely that many of these animals were carved to create lively scenes to draw viewers. Elephants were depicted to signify strength and wisdom.
9. Another motif is a woman surrounded by lotuses and elephants which are sprinkling water on her as if performing an abhisheka or consecration. While some historians identify the figure as Maya, the mother of the Buddha, others identify her with a popular goddess, Gajalakshmi – literally, the goddess of good fortune – who is associated with elephants.
10. The serpent motif, which is found on several pillars, seems to be derived from popular traditions, which were not always recorded in texts. Interestingly, one of the earliest modern art historians, James Fergusson, considered Sanchi to be a centre of serpent worship.
The Division of Buddhism into Mahayana and Hinayana
1. By the first century CE, there is evidence of changes in Buddhist ideas and practices.
2. Early Buddhist teachings had given great importance to self-effort in achieving nibbana. Besides, the Buddha was regarded as a human being who attained enlightenment through his own efforts. Those who adopted these beliefs were described as Hinayana or the “lesser vehicle”.
3. However, gradually the idea of a saviour emerged. Buddha was regarded as a God the one who could ensure salvation. Those who adopted these beliefs were described as Mahayana or the “greater vehicle”.
4. Simultaneously, the concept of the Bodhisatta (Buddha in the previous birth) also developed. Bodhisattas were perceived as deeply compassionate beings they accumulated merit through their efforts not to attain nibbana but to help others.
5. The worship of images of the Buddha and Bodhisattas became an important part of Mahayana tradition.
The growth of Puranic Hinduism
1. Vaishnavism, a form of Hinduism within which Vishnu was worshipped as the principal deity.
2. Shaivism, a tradition within which Shiva was regarded as the chief god.
3. In such worship the bond between the devotee and the god was visualized as one of love and devotion, or bhakti.
4. Within the Vaishnavism many cults developed around the various avatars or incarnations of the deity. Ten avatars were recognized within the tradition.
5. Avatars were forms that the deity was believed to have assumed in order to save the world whenever the world was threatened by evil forces.
6. It is likely that different avatars were popular in different parts of the country. Recognizing each of these local deities as a form of Vishnu was one way of creating a more unified religious tradition.
7. Shiva, for instance, was symbolized by the linga, although he was occasionally represented in human form too. All such representations depicted a complex set of ideas about the deities and their attributes through symbols such as headdresses, ornaments and weapons (ayudhas or auspicious objects) the deities hold in their hands – how they are seated.
8. To understand the meanings of these sculptures historians have to be familiar with the stories behind them – many of which are contained in the Puranas, compiled by Brahmanas
9. Puranas contained much that had been composed and been in circulation for centuries, including stories about gods and goddesses. Generally, they were written in simple Sanskrit verse, and were meant to be read aloud to everybody, including women and Shudras, who did not have access to Vedic learning.
10. Puranas evolved through interaction amongst people – priests, merchants, and ordinary men and women who travelled from place to place sharing ideas and beliefs. We know for instance that Vasudeva-Krishna was an important deity in the Mathura region. Over centuries, his worship spread to other parts of the country as well.
1. The early temple was a small square room, called the garbhagriha, with a single doorway for the worshipper to enter and offer worship to the image.
2. Gradually, a tall structure, known as the shikhara, was built over the central shrine. Temple walls were often decorated with sculptures.
3. Later temples became far more elaborate – with assembly halls, huge walls and gateways, and arrangements for supplying water.
4. One of the unique features of early temples was that some of the temples were hollowed out of huge rocks, as artificial caves (Rock cut temples). The tradition of building artificial caves was an old one. Some of the earliest of these were constructed in the third century BCE on the orders of Asoka for renouncers who belonged to the Ajivika (fatalist) sect.
5. This tradition evolved through various stages and culminated much later – in the eighth century – in the carving out of an entire temple, that of Kailashnatha (a name of Shiva) in Maharashtra.
European Scholars with the unfamiliar Indian sculptures
1. In nineteenth century European scholars first saw some of the sculptures of gods and goddesses; they could not understand what these were about. Sometimes, they were horrified by what seemed to them grotesque figures, with multiple arms and heads or with combinations of human and animal forms.
2. These early scholars tried to make sense of what appeared to be strange images by comparing them with sculptures of ancient Greece. While they often found early Indian sculpture inferior to the works of Greek artists.
3. European scholars were very excited when they discovered images of the Buddha and Bodhisattas that were evidently based on Greek models. These were, more often than not, found in the northwest, in cities such as Taxila and Peshawar, where Indo-Greek rulers had established kingdoms in the second century BCE.
4. As these images were closest to the Greek statues these scholars were familiar with, they were considered to be the best examples of early Indian art (Gandhara Art-Use of Greek style to make sculptures for Indian Gods or religious teachers)
5. In effect, these scholars adopted a strategy we all frequently use – devising yardsticks derived from the familiar to make sense of the unfamiliar.
If text and sculpture do not match what do Art Historians do?
1. Art historians often draw upon textual traditions to understand the meaning of sculptures. While this is certainly a far more efficacious strategy than comparing Indian images with Greek statues, it is not always easy to use.
2. One of the most intriguing examples of this is a famous sculpture along a huge rock surface in Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu).
3. Art historians have searched through the Puranas to identify it and are sharply divided in their opinions.
4. Some feel that this depicts the descent of the river Ganga from heaven – the natural cleft through the centre of the rock surface might represent the river. The story itself is narrated in the Puranas and the epics.
5. Others feel that it represents a story from the Mahabharata – Arjuna doing penance on the river bank in order to acquire arms – pointing to the central figure of an ascetic.
1. Were the ideas of the Upanishadic thinkers different from those of the fatalists and materialists? Give reasons for your answer.
2. Summarise the central teachings of Jainism.
3. Discuss the role of the begums of Bhopal in preserving the stupa at Sanchi.
4. Why do you think women and men joined the sangha?
5. To what extent does knowledge of Buddhist literature help in understanding the sculpture at Sanchi?
6. Discuss the development in sculpture and architecture associated with the rise of Vaishnavism and Shaivism.
7. Discuss how and why stupas were built.
8. Which period is often regarded as a turning point in world history? Why?
9. What is kutagarashalas? Explain its importance.
10. What were the three pitakas? How were these texts prepared and preserved?
11. Explain the basic principles of Buddhism or major Teachings of Buddha? How did it spread to other parts of the world?
12. What is a sangha? What were the rules to be followed by members (Monks and Nuns) of sangha?
13. What are chaityas?
14. Explain the structure of a stupa in five points?
15. How was Amaravati stupa discovered?
16. Why did sanchi stupa survive while Amaravati did not?
17. Explain any four stories found in sculptures of Sanchi stupa?
18. Explain the growth of puranic Hinduism and construction of temples?
19. What were the two sections of Buddhism? Explain them.