Istoria temprana de India
Dr. C. George Boeree

Vide ance

Also around 1500 bc, a group of people who called themselves Aryans invaded the Indian subcontinent, and came to dominate most of the original Dravidian people. The Aryans spoke a language related to the western European languages, and came from the Russian steppes. They brought with them what is known as the Vedic religion, which would eventually result in a series of books called the Vedas.

As the Aryans settled in, they developed the caste system. The top two castes were composed entirely of Aryans: the Kshatryas or warriors, and the Brahmins or priests. Below them were a mixed group of peasants called the Vaishas, and the subject Dravidians, called the Shudras. Below all of these were the various people of the jungles, as well as the slaves of the original Dravidians, who were called the Pariahs or outcastes. The hierarchical society would last officially until the British rule, and continues informally even today.

Around 500 bc, several people, in the process of searching for enlightenment, would shake the caste system: First, there was Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha. He preached a stoic life style involving moral living and meditation that would develop into the rich philosophy of Buddhism. The other was Vardhamana, called Mahavira, and his follower Jina, who believed that suffering was due to the mixing of spirit with base matter, which must be separated from each other by means of fasting, asceticism, and chastity. Their beliefs would become the religion called Jainism.

In the late 300's bc, the troops of Alexander the Great knocked at India's door, and would remain a significant presence in Bactria, just northwest of India. These Greeks would be the only westerners to adopt Buddhism, and they would take part in introducing Buddhism into China. At the other end of northern India, Chandragupta, king of Maghada (where Buddha preached), established the Maurya Empire, controlling most of northern India.

His grandson Ashoka (272 - 231 bc) is one of the most famous figures in Indian history. After a particularly bloody battle, he swore off killing and embraced Buddhism. Among other things, he established laws based on Buddhism and recorded them on stone pillars and monuments all over northern India. He also sent missionaries as far west as Egypt and Greece, whose effects on western thought are still unknown. Unfortunately, his empire was divided among his descendants after his death, and India again became a land of many small feudal states.

The next major event comes around 50 ad, when Yüeh-chih (an Indo-European people from western China called the Tocharians or Kushans) invaded India from their base in Bactria. Later, in 320 ad and lasting until 535, the Gupta Empire would permit a cultural renaissance, including a blossoming of poetry, drama, and other literature. Beginning around 430 ad, the Huns would start nibbling away at the Gupta Empire until its collapse. This was followed by another period of short-lived empires and smaller states.

From 700 ad on, we see a major change in the subcontinent. First, Buddhism, the dominant religion of India, would be gradually driven out by the Brahmin caste and its supporters, and replaced with a revitalized, if very conservative, Hinduism. Second, the Moslems would enter India from the west and slowly expand to rule over the northern half of the subcontinent, all the way to Bengal (what is now Bangladesh). In 1206, the Sultanate of Delhi was established, an empire based on Moslem theocracy and military might. Nevertheless, India prospered during this period, and greatly expanded trade with the Near East. The Sultanate would last until 1526.

Despite Moslem rule, the caste system continued, now with Moslem rulers at the top, and the native Indians were kept poor through harsh taxation. The Moslems accepted Hindus as "people of the book" (what they called Jews and Christians in the west, because they shared the same Biblical traditions as the Moslems), as long as they kept to their place in society. Buddhism, however, they found threatening, and Buddhist monasteries, temples, and books were destroyed. This has continued even to the present, as demonstrated by the destruction of ancient giant Buddhist statues in Afghanistan by tha Taliban in 1998.

It was in 1498 that the Portuguese discovered the sea route to India, circumventing the hostile Moslem empires inbetween, and established the trading settlement that would become Calcutta. In the early 1500's they went on to colonize Goa, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Bombay (now Mumbai), and other coastal spots.

The Moguls -- led by Babar, descendant of the Khans -- invaded India from their stronghold in Kabul (Afghanistan), and defeated the Sultan of Delhi. By 1576, they would take over all of northern India. The Moguls, although Moslem, were very tolerant of the Hindus and even the Jesuits, and declared the Edict of Toleration in 1583. A number of syncretic sects developed during this time, the most famous of which is Sikhism. The Sikhs were founded by Nanak (1469 - 1538), who blended Islam and Hinduism and other philosophies into a strong egalitarian religious culture, where each man takes as his last name "lion" and each woman "princess." To this day, the Sikhs provide the backbone of the Indian military.

The Arab Moslems and the Moguls, although outsiders, brought another period of renaissance to India. They established libraries and universities, contributed greatly to literature (including updates of the great Indian religious texts), and founded a new style of Indian architecture, exemplified by the great Taj Mahal.

In 1612, a new player entered the scene: The British took over the Portuguese colonies. They would eventually rule all of India and much more.

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