India > History > Ancient History

Ancient History of India

Indian history is divided into three different parts - Ancient Indian history, Medieval Indian history and Modern Indian history. The ancient people of India have a continuous civilization since the pre historic age of 40001 BC, when the first people of the World began to live. Most probably the first people came to India from Africa. They initially gathered in the northern part of India and hunting was their only profession. But after a long time in 4000 BC, they moved to the Indus river valley and took farming as their main profession.

After that in 2500 BC, they began to live a better life and made a number of beautiful cities and houses. There were two main cities; Harappa and Mohenjodaro. Both cities are now in Pakistan. The people of these cities lived in stone houses two and they used bronze tools. The Harappa people used an early form of writing based on hieroglyphs, like the Egyptians. By around 2000 BC, the Harappan civilization had collapsed.

The Indus Valley Civilization

Indus Valley Civilization is one of the world's oldest civilizations. It pointed approximately 3000 BCE in the western part of South Asia. It was extend over an area of 1,260,000 sq. km. including the entire of modern day in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. The Indus Valley Civilization might have had a population of over five million and over 1,052 cities have been found in this area. We do not know what language the public spoke. Among the 1,052 cities the major urban centers were Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, as well as Lothal, Dholavira, Ganweriwala, Kalibanga, and Rakhigarhi.

The Dravidians

Dravidians are supposed to be the primary unique settlers of ancient India. Dravidian culture was especially diverse, with a number of groups continuing extra traditional customs. Dravidian language has stayed comparatively intact despite a considerable amount of contact. Today, the Dravidian language makes up the fourth biggest linguistic group in the world. Dravidians in general were Hindus, but kept their languages. The Tamil language was the earliest of the Dravidian languages to reflect the influence of Hinduism.

Aryans in India

About 1500 B.C. a group of aggressive people left their abodes in middle Asia and came to India. They called themselves Arya. We identified them as Aryans. They adopted the farming lifestyle of their ancestors and established little agrarian societies across the state of Punjab. The Aryans step by step dominated the Dravidians and heard some of them southward. Finally, the Aryans extended their rule all over India except the south part. The Aryans tended sheep, goats, cows, and horses. The Aryans established several villages. Each village or group of villages was led by a leader or committee. Sanskrit was the main foundation of The Aryans. The Aryans did not have a script, but they developed a prosperous tradition.

The Vedic Civilization

Basically the culture and tradition of a country depends on its historical background. Ancient Vedic culture still continues in some aspects in India because the Indians are the successor of the Vedic inhabitants. The culture was divided in two distinct groups; Dravidians and Aryans. We are aware of the culture by two great scriptures; Vedas and Upanishads which had a thoughtful effect on the development of cultures, traditions and religious conviction of India. Vedic culture has continued from 1500 BC to 500 BC in the north and northwestern parts of India. This time period is divided into two parts - The Vedic period from 1500 BC to 1000 BC and the Later Vedic period from 1000 BC to 600 BC.

Vedas were said as Chaturvedas and it has four parts. Among them, Rig-Veda was the first composition of the Chaturvedas. It consists of verse composed of religious hymns and probably it inherited many elements from pre-Vedic, common Indo-Iranian society. Rig-Vedic Aryans have a lot in common with the Andronovo culture and the Mitanni kingdoms as well as with early Iranians. The other three Vedas are Samaveda, Yajurveda  and Atharvaveda. The Yajurveda provides information about sacrifices. The Samaveda is believed to be the base of Indian Cultural Songs and Music. The Atharvaveda consists of philosophy and lists solution to day-to-day problems, anxieties and difficulties. It also includes information on Medicines and Herbals. Another literature was Upanishad which consists of discussions on several problems such as creation of the universe, the nature of God, the origin of mankind.

Buddhism in India

The main sacred goal of Buddhism is to attain 'Nirvana', which means the spiritual liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth. Buddhism religion does not believe in the existence of god, image worship and suppression of women and the elevation of Brahmins. Its foundation lies in the philosophy that everyone is equal and that nothing lasts forever and nothing happens by chance. Buddhism is divided into two major sects - Hinayana (travelers by a lesser vehicle) and Mahayana (travelers by a greater vehicle). Hinayana Buddhism flourished in Sri Lanka, Burma and South East Asia, while Mahayana Buddhism flourished in India, China, Japan, Tibet and Central Asia.

According to Hindu religion, god Vishnu incarnated as Gautama Buddha to rescues untouchable people of Hindu caste system. Buddha is the ninth Avatar to earth of god Vishnu. Siddhartha (563 BC to 483 BC) was a prince from the small Shakya Kingdom located in the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal. One day he leaves his kingdom and family as a religious beggar to searching for the meaning of existence.

Finally, he took shelter under a tree in the forests of Gaya (in modern Bihar). He determined to stir no farther until he had solved the mystery of existence. At least he achieved the knowledge that he later expressed as the Four Noble Truths: 1. all of life is suffering; 2. the cause of suffering is desire; 3. the end of desire leads to the end of suffering; 4. and the means to end desire is a path of discipline and meditation.

Jainism in India

Mahavir was born in a great family with all the comforts of life were offered to him but he did not show interest in worldly pleasures. Having strong religious tendency and desire to do well of the people, he had a strong urge of rejection of earthly affections. Spiritualism and rejection so much prevailed over him finally on November 11, B.C 570, at the age of 30 years, he left the place and proceeded to the park, Jnatrkhanda -Vana, close to Kundapur, and resigned his ornaments and clothes. He pulled out his hair by his hands and initiated himself as a Digamber Jain monk. He observed fast (Uposh) for 3 days and then plunged himself into meditation. After that he started a journey throughout the nation. He lived in gardens park, but as necessary by the rules of his vows and fast, he entered a town or a village once in a day and accepted the food offered to him according to the norms laid down for Jain ascetics.

Mahajanapadas System

There were lots of states of the Aryans in North India, around 600 B.C. These states were called the 'Mahajanapadas'. The Mahajanapadas of Anga, Kashi, Vatsa, Kosala, Chedi, Matsya, Ashmak, Shursen, Avanti, Gandhar and Magadha were ruled by kings among all of them Kosala, Vatsa, Avanti and Magadha were the most vital.

Kosala: Shravasti Kushavati, Saket, and Ayodhya were the famous cities of Kosala. Ayodhya was the State capital.

Vatsa: Kaushambi of the present day Bihar was the capital of Vatsa. It was prominent for its well cotton cloth.

Avanti: The kingdom of Avanti included the area around the present day Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh.

Magadha: growth of the Magadha Empire in progress during the reign of King Bimbisara.

The Kuru Kingdom

The Kuru Kingdom was the name of an Indo-Aryan family and their empire in the Vedic civilization of India. Their empire was positioned in the region of modern Haryana. They created the former of political center of the Indo-Aryans after the Rig Vedic age. Their capital was Indraprastha, which may have been the mainly powerful city in India, previous to the increase of the Magadhan city of Pataliputra.

The Kosala Kingdom

The Kosala Kingdom was an olden Indian civilization now south-central Uttar Pradesh state, it extended present into Nepal. Its capital was Ayodhya. In the 6th century BC it increased to become one of the leading states in northern India. It was the settings of a good contract with Sanskrit epic literature include the Ramayana. Buddha and Mahavira taught in the kingdom. Emperor Pasenadi was the ruler of Kosala, which was north of Magadha ruled by King Bimbisara. The capital of the empire of Kosala was called Savatthi.

The Kalinga Kingdom

During the 300 BC the Greek delegate Megasthenes had mentioned about the military power of the Kalinga army of about one lakh which consisted of sixty thousand soldiers, 1700 horses and thousands of elephants. This kingdom was also powerful in the naval force. The Magadha ruler Ashoka invaded Kalinga in 261 BC. Nearly one Lakh soldiers died in the War of Kalinga and one and half Lakh soldiers were imprisoned. After the death of Ashoka, the Great Kharavela became the emperor of Kalinga. The message found in the Elephant Caves of Khandagiri and Udaigiri mountains close to Bhubaneswar describes in detail of Emperor Kharavela.

Alexander Invasion in India

Alexander, The great king of Greeks, entered the borders of India with his army in 327 BC to defeat the great eastern continent of India. Alexander found the land of India was full of property and the people of India ready for war. Despite some victories and a positive agreement with the powerful king Poros. India at last broke the previously unbeatable Macedonian army of Greeks. After that in 325 BC, Alexander have pushed into the subcontinent of Punjab but his weary troops, afraid of the rumors of the strong king of Magadha, mutinied on the bank of the river Hyphasis. At least the Macedonian king was enforced to return west with India mainly unconquered.

Shishunaga Dynasty

The four commanding states of ancient India - Kasi, Kosala, Magadha and Vrjji - were all alongside the Ganges River. Among the four states, Magadha had a number of advantages that would help the state to prevail in the struggle for dominance. Magadha has risen to authority during the reigns of Bimbisara (544 to 491 BCE) and his son Ajatashatru (491 to 460 BCE) of Shishunaga Dynasty. Bimbisara ruled his domain from the city of Rajagriha, now known as Rajgir, near Gaya in the state of Bihar. Bimbisara established family relations by intermarriage with the dignity of neighboring Kosala and Vrijji, and simply conquered the territory of Vanga to the southeast. He was murdered by his son Ajatashatru in 493 BC.

Ajatashatru was the last powerful king of Shishunaga Dynasty who established a fort at Pataliputra now known as Patna, by the Ganga and near to her convergence with the Gandaki, Sona, and Ganghara Rivers. Magadha extended to include most of Bihar state and much of West Bengal with the invasion of Anga, and then expanded up the Ganges valley seizing Kosala and Kashi. Ajatashatru was died by 461 BC. Udayan was the last noticeable but not so powerful king of Magadha. He was died in 413 BC. After that the kingdom of Magadh did not proceeding for more than 50 years and the Nanda dynasty took over.

The Nanda Dynasty

Mahapadma Nanda, son of a low-caste woman, established the Nanda dynasty in the state of Magadha. The capital of Magadha was in Pataliputra (now eastern part of Bihar). Nandas ruled Magadha between 364 BC to 324 BC Dhanananda was the last king of the Nanda Dynasty. Magadha had become a very powerful kingdom in the period of Nanda Dynasty. It had extended up to Punjab in the West. Chandragupta Maurya attacked and conquered Magadha. That was the end of the Nanda Dynasty.

The Nanda episode of Indian history is measured to be significant from various points of view. Nanda kings had established a good administrative structure essential to run the vast empire. This structure continued even in the Maurya period. They had a enormous four-fold army of two lakh infantry, twenty thousand cavalry, two thousand chariots and three thousand elephants and they were lovers of art and literature.

The Mauryan Empire

The Maurya Empire was physically extensive and most dominant kingdom of Indian ancient history in the reign of 322 BC to 185 BC. Maurya Dynasty was ruled into the state of Magadha (today included with Bihar, eastern UP and WB) from the capital city at Pataliputra (today in Patna). Chandragupta Maurya had established the Kingdom in 322 BC by conquered the Nanda Dynasty. After the ruler Chandragupta Maurya seven more successors rose in power and lined the kingdom with a great Excellency, but the dynasty had disintegrated in 185 BC by Pushyamitra Sunga. There is a list of Maurya Ruler with time in power.

Mauryan RulerReign of Power
Chandragupta Maurya 322 BC to 298 BC
Bindusara 297 BC to 272 BC
Asoka the Great 272 BC to 232 BC
Dasaratha 232 BC to 224 BC
Samprati 224 BC to 215 BC
Salisuka 215 BC to 202 BC
Devavarman 202 BC to 195 BC
Satadhanvan 195 BC to 187 BC
Brihadratha 187 BC to 185 BC

The Shunga Dynasty

Pushyamitra Sunga a Brahmin from Ujjayini, became the ruler of the Magadha and neighboring territories. He was succeeded by son Agnimitra. Agnimitra is the hero of Malavikagnimitra, a famous drama by Kalidasa. After Agnimitra, the power of the Sungas gradually weakened. The Sunga dynasty lasted for about one century and was then overthrown by the Brahman minister Vasudeva, who founded the Kanva dynasty

The Satavahana Dynasty

The Satavahanas Dynasty rose to authority in Maharashtra state roughly 200 B.C. They stayed in power, for about 400 years. Almost the entire of present day Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and South India were under Satavahana law. Paithan formerly called Pratishthan, was the capital of the Satavahanas. The founder of the Satvahanas was Simuka. But the king who raised it to fame was Satakarni I. Sri Yajna Satakarni was the final great king in this dynasty. After him, the kingdom began to decline.

Gautamiputra Satakarni was most famous king of the Satvahana dynasty. He had beaten the Sakas, Greeks and Pahlavas. His kingdom extended up to Banavasi in the south, and included Maharashtra, Konkan, Saurashtra, Malwa, west Rajasthan and Vidharbha.

The Kushan Empire

Kujula Kadphises established the Kushan dynasty in 78 AD by taking benefit of disunion in existing dynasty of Pahalava and Scytho-Parthians, and increasingly wrested control of southern wealthy region, which was the northwest division of ancient India, usually known as Gandhara (now in Pakistan).

Vima Kadphises, The grandson of Kujula Kadphises, had reached Kushan Empire in a supreme power of northern India. His time in power saw emergence of Kushan Empire when he conquered north-western India (now in Punjab). He came under influence of Hinduism and took chance to announce himself Mahishwara, another name of Lord Shiva. Kushan kings introduced gold and copper coins, a large number of them have stay alive till today. Vima Kadaphises introduced the first gold coins of India. Kushan empire enclosed North West of India includes Pakistan, Afganistan and northern India. Sufficient evidences of trade with China, central Asia, Egypt and Rome were available which made their financial system very powerful and wealthy and prosperous.

The Gupta Empire

Gupta Dynasty was the last dominant power of Indian ancient history. The time period of Gupta Dynasty is referred to as the Golden Age of India. We are familiar with the Gupta culture by some ancient evidence of this culture; coins, scriptures, messages, texts, etc. The Gupta rulers efficiently controlled their kingdom from 319 AD to 467 AD. Skandagupta was the last influential ruler of the dynasty. There is an approximate list of successful Gupta ruler.

Ruler of Gupta DynastyReign of Power
Srigupta I 270 AD to 290 AD
Ghatotkacha 290 AD to 319 AD
Chandragupta I 319 AD to 335 AD
Samudragupta 335 AD to 375 AD
Chandragupta II 375 AD to 414 AD
Kumaragupta I 415 AD to 455 AD
Skandagupta 455 AD to 467 AD

The Huns

In 450 AD, the Huns, a violent and aggressive people from Central Asia attacked Northwest India. But they were repulsed by Skandagupta in 460 AD. Hunas waited till 470 rights after the death of Gupta king, Skandagupta, and entered into India from the Kabul valley after the conquest of Kushan. They cleaned on along the Ganges and ruined all city and town. The gracious capital, Pataliputra, was reduced in inhabitants to a village. For 30 years the north-western India was ruled by Huns kings. We learned some of the Huns kings ruling from coins. The most famous ones were Toramana and Mihrakula ruling India in the first half of the 6th century.