Wednesday, November 25, 2009



The sixth century Be is seen as the beginning of the phase of the Northern Black Polished (NBP) ware. (The third century Be being associated with the mid-NBP phase when burnt bricks and ringwell began to be used). What is called as the 'second urbanisation in India' following the end of the Indus Valley Civilisation, is said to have begun in this period. Pataliputra was founded in the fifth century. Gties such as Banaras, Vaisali, Taxila, Ayodhya, Ujjain, Kausambi, Rajagriha and Mathura, mainly established along the banks of rivers, became well-connected trade routes. Important towns were fortified. Houses were constructed of wood or even brick. Trade was practised by using money as the names of coins, nishka and satamana, in the Vedic texts suggest.

The beginnings of the legal and judicial systems in India are traced to this period. The tribal community was replaced by the class-distinct society. The duties of the four varnas-brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaisyas and sudras-were prescribed in the Dharmasutras. The varna classification I provided the basis of civil and criminal law. The highest varna was considered the purest and hence was prescribed a higher order of moral conduct. The emergence and spread of Jainism and Buddhism could not improve the social status of the sudras though they were embraced by the new religious orders. The age of the Buddha is significant in that ancient Indian polity and social set-up actually originated at this time.

A food-producing economy emerged with the practice of agriculture on a wide scale by using iron implements. There was 'peasant proprietorship' in rural areas as there were no landlords. But a landowner could. not sell or mortgage his land without the permission of the village council. Of the agricultural products, rice was the staple food-crop in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. The king received the tithes and his share, which varied from one­sixth to a twelfth of the produce, from the headman. The village residents, endowed with a sturdy civic spirit, unit­edly undertook tasks such as laying irrigation channels, building mote-hills, rest houses, etc. The women extended their full cooperation in these works of public utility. On the whole, each village was self-sufficient, and life was simple and unsophisticated.

Considerable progress was also made in such crafts as wood-work, architecture, pottery, weaving, ivory-work, etc, H was the general practice of the people to follow the occupation of their ancestors. Castes did not always deter­mine crafts.
The guild system was becoming popular. People from the same profession normally organised themselves into guilds and often lived, or had their business centre, in one ward or street of the town. The Jatakas name at least eighteen such groups.



The rise and growth of the new religions in the sixth century Be brought some important transformation in the society of the day. These changes may be summarised as follows:

(i) The period witnessed the popularisation of the idea of social equality. New religions accepted the entry of different castes in their religious order. It undermined the hitherto dominant position of brahmins. Equally significant was the equal status given to women.
(ii) Religious movements encouraged the trading community by sanctioning sea voyages, which were con. demned by brahmanical texts. Unlike Brahmanism, the new religious ideas did not assign an inferior position to traders. This provided a great morale boost up to trading commu­nity. Further, the new religions laid emphasis on karma for future .life. This indirectly favoured the activities of the trading community.
(iii) New religions paved the way for the development of vernacular literature. Prakrit, Pali and Ardha Magadhi were the languages used by religious philosophers in spreading their ideas. Religious books were written in these languages. The Jains, for the first time, gave a literary shape to Ardha-Magadhi, a mixed dialect, by using the dialect as the medium of their writings.



Buddha, Mahavira, Gosala, and many lesser teachers of the sixth century Be ignored the gods, but they were not thoroughgoing atheists and materialists. All admitted the existence of supernatural beings of strictly limited powers, and all accepted the fun<;iamental doctrine of transmigra­tion, though they interpreted its mechanics individually. Some thinkers, however, rejected all immaterial categories completely.
Important Materialistic Sects Some of the materialistic sects are given below.
Uchchedavada or Annihilationism The sect was estab­lished by Ajita Kesakambalin, a contemporary of Buddha. According to it, the concept of rebirth and life after death are false and as such there is no life after the present one. Annihilationism did not believe in the existence of soul.

Antinomianism Antinomianism was propagated by Purana Kassapa. According to Kassapa, there is nothing like bad consequences of bad works and good consequences of good works. Non-violence, sacrifices, rituals, meditation, helping others, etc., are not pious works; nor are lying, stealing and killing sins. According to this sect, no one does any type of work. So it preached inactivism (Akriyavad).
Atomism The Atomism sect was established by Pakuda Katyayana. The sect believed that just as earth, water, air and light are primary indestructible elements, so are sorrow, happiness and life. It is suggested that the later Vaisheshika school originated from this idea.

Lokayat The Lokayat, an important materialistic sect, was established by Charvaka. Charvaka did not believe in the existence of God and was opposed to the Vedas. He did not believe in rebirth and soul either. According to him, one should lead a lustful life even if it entail~ing in debt (Yawat jivet sukham jivet, Rinam kritwa ghritam pibet).

Scepticism The propounder of this sect was Sanjaya Bellathiputta. According to this sect, the existence of heaven, soul, god, virtues, sin, etc., cannot be determined with certainty.

Besides numerous quotations attributed to materialists in religious and philosophical works, one anti-religious philosophical text has survived. This is the Jattvopaplavasimha ("The Lion Destroying all Religious Truth") written by a certain Jayarasi in the eighth century AD.



Besides Jainism and Buddhism, there was another unorth(J dox sect:-that of the Ajivikas, who also practised mmpleli nudity. The doctrines of the founder of the sect, Gosal, ,Maskariputra, bear a generic likeness to those of hi contemporary and former friend, Mahavira. Like Mahavirc1 hI;! looked back to earlier teachers and ascetic groups, whOSI doctrines he refurbished and developed. According]
Buddhist and Jaina tradition, he was of humble birth, anc he died a year or so before the Buddha died, after a fierq altercation with Mahavira in the city of Sravasti. Hi followers s~m to have combined with those of othf:J teachers, such as Purana Kassapa, the antinomian, an! Pakudha Katyayana, the atomist, to form the Ajivika seq After a period of prosperity in Mauryan times, whenAsokA and his successor Dilsarathapresented caves to the Ajivik~ the sect rapidly declined. It retained some local importancJ in a SD1all region of Eastern Mysore and the adjacent parIJ of Madras, where it survived until the 14th century, afte which we hear no more of it.

No scriptures of the Ajivikas have come down to us and ~e little we know about them has to be reconstructeci from tile polemic literature of Buddhism artd Jainism. 'tiu
sec:;t was definitely atheistic, and its main feature was striCI determinism. The usual doctrine of karma taught thai tIwugh a man's present condition was determined bylili past actions he could influence his destiny, in this liie.~d in the future, by choosing the right course of conduct. Tbis the Ajivikas denied. They believed that the whole universe was conditioned and determined to the smallest. detail by an impersonal cosmic principle, Niyati or destiny. I~ ~as imlJossible to influence the course of transmigration in any way.

Though nothing that a man could do would in any way influence his future lot, Ajivika monks .practised severe asceticism, because the force of destiny compelled them to do so, although their religious opponents accused them of licentiousness and immorality.

The Dravidian Ajivikas developed their doctrines in a way resembling Mahayana Buddhism. Gosala became an ineffable divinity, like the Buddha in Mahayanism, while the doctrine of destiny evolved into a Parmenidean view that all change and movement were illusory, and that the world was, in reality, eternally and immovably at rest.



There is much that is common betWeen Jainism and Bud­dhism. Not only were there marked similarities. in the careers of the founders of these two schools of philosophy, but both of them were contemporary and originated in Magadha; Both possess a common background of' Arya cuIture, ' Certain' common points in their philosophic conte!: are also striking. Both of them reject the authority of tl1 Vedas and the Vedic. priest; both repudiate the efficacy' ( ceremonies and rituals; both bitterly condemn animal sa! rifices; and both ignore God. Jainism even emphaticall denies any supreme deity or creator,' as man is Jus OVtl architect. To both distinctions based on 'birth ,have n meaning; both subscribe to ahimsa ,(non-violence), bot believe in transmigration and both hold that karma exerl a definite impact on the future. Both str.ess ,.on serviq Strangely enough, despite their strong regional orientatio~ both have acconunodated many popular beliefs and supel stitions.

NotWithstanding these close affinities, Jainism and Buddhism differ, at times widely, on certain basic issu~ Jainism glorifies self-mortification whereas Buddhism q sists upon the pursuit of the Middle Path and the avoidan~ of extremes. If Buddhism maintains "that everything lack an ego", "Jainism exhorts that "every object or particle i this world is tenanted by a soul". The concept of deliveranG and nirvana in the two sects are also not identical. The~ are~lso significant differences regarding the importancl role and structure of their respective church organisatioru THE AjIVlKAS

Contributions of Buddhism

Contributions of Buddhism Buddhism exercisedlmn­siderable influence in shaping the cultural, social; religious and political aspects of Indian Jife. Its' major contributions are as. follows:

(i) Buddhism gave the country a P9puIar religion which was devoid of complicated, elaborate and incomprehensible rituaIsand sacrifices. It made an important impact. on Indian society by keeping its doors open to 'shudrasand women who had been placed in the same category by brahmanism. By taking liberal stances for the lower classes of the society, it inspired the other future reformist leaders to take a similar view on these sections.

(ii) The doctrine of ahimsa (non-violence) is one of1he chief contributions of Buddhism. With its imphasis on non­violence and the sanctity of animal life, Buddhism'provided a great boost to the cattle wealth of the country. The religious sanctity to the protection of cattle came at a time when both the Aryans and the non-Aryans slaughtered animals, albeit for different purposes (Aryans in the name of religion and the non-Aryans for food). The later brahmanical insistence on the sacredness of the cow and non-violence was derived from Buddhism.

(iii) Buddhism laid the foundation of image worship in India. The first human statues worshipped in the country were probably those of the Buddha. Worshipping persoruiI gods and erecting temples in their honour are some of :the important practices adopted by the Hindus in: imitation of
the Mahayana Buddhists. "

(iv) It was perhaps in the realm of art and architecture that Buddhism made the finest contribution, the' most striking examples being (a) the stupas and stone -pillars depicting the life of Buddha at Sanehi, Bharhut and Gaya;
(b) the cave an:hitecture in the Barahar hills at Gaya and in westemlndia; (c) the art pieces of Amravati and Nagarjuna Konda;and (d) development of Gandhara art on the north.west frontier of India by the combined effort of the Greek and Indian Sculptors.

(v) Buddhism is credited with developing anew awareness in the field of intellect and, culture. It taught the people to judge things. on merit rather than taking them for granted. This promoted.rationalism amongtthepeople.

(vi) J3uddhism enriched the Pali language enormously.

(vii) Buddhism led to the establishment of residential universities such as _Natand~ !!Ild Vikramashila in Bihar, Vallabhiin Gujarat and Taxila.1 in the, north-west frontier region.

(viii) It promoted trade and commerce.

(ix) Through its missionaries in different parts of the world, Buddhism broke the isolation o[!Indiaand estab­lished an intimate contact betWeen India and the rest of the world. In fact, Buddhism proved to be one of. the, greatest civilising forces which India gave to its :1}eighbouring. countries.

Spread and Decline : Buddhism

Spread and Decline Whatever its position in the Buddha's lifetime, 200 years later, Buddhism was a distinct religion. In becoming a religion, Buddhism borrowed a adapted much from the popular beliefs of the time.

simple ritual was in no way based on sacrificial Brahma ism, but on the cult of the chaityas, or sacred spots. ThE were often small groves of trees, or single sacred trees, I the outskirts of villages, and might have also includl tumuli, such as those in which the ashes of chiefs we buried. These chaityas were the abodes of earth-spirits ar genii who, to the simpler folk, were more accessible and less expensive to worship than the great gods of the Aryan Stupas or tumulis were built by the recipients over the divided ashes of the Buddha. Other stupas, containing the remains of locally revered monks and ascetics of other denominations, rose up all over India in succeeding cen­turies. Asoka unearthed the ashes of the Buddha from their original resting places and divided them still further, rearing stupas for them all over India. The original Bodhi tree of Gaya became an object of pilgrimage and cuttings of it were carried as far as Ceylon. Temples proper or shrine­rooms do not appear to have been erected until the beginning of the Christian era, when the Buddha began to be worshipped in the form of an image (perhaps the first human figure to be worshipped in India was that of the Buddha).

His simpler followers evidently raised the Buddha almost to divinity even in his lifetime, and after his death he was worshipped in his symbols-the stupa, recalling his parinirvana, and the tree, recalling his enlightenment. The worship consisted of circumambulation in the clockwise direction, and prostrations, with offerings of flowers.

With the support of Asoka, Buddhism greatly ex­panded, spreading throughout India and to Ceylon. Though there is a tradition testifying to cruel persecution of the Buddhists under Pushyamitra Shunga, the faith continued to grow. Of all the religious remains during 200 BC-200 AD so far discovered in India, those of Buddhism outnumber those of Brahmanism, Hinduism and Jainism together.
Probably much of the Pali canon of the Sthaviravadins emanates from the great monastery on a hilltop near Sanchi.

Another very important sect, the Sarvastivadins, was strong in the region of Mathura and in Kashmir. It was in Kashmir, according to a tradition preserved in China, that under the patronage of Kanishka (first-second century AD), a fourth great council was held, at which the Sarvastivadin doctrines were codified in a summary, the Mahavibhasa. It was chiefly among the Sarvastivadins, but also in the old schism of the Mahasanghikas, that new ideas developed, which were to form the basis of the division of Buddhism into the 'Great' and the 'Lesser' Vehicles-Mahayana and Hinayana respectively.

The Mahayanas ruled out self-abnegation but insisted on the dedication of one's life to the service of others. Thus altruism was the keynote of Mahayanism. Mahayana Bud­dhism believes in salvation through the Bodhisattava too. The concept of Bodhisattava-or incarnation' of the Bud­dha-came into vogue around the first century AD.

In the early Christian centuries the Mahayana sect became more popular. (The Sthaviravadin and kindred sects constituted Hinayana Buddhism.) In Ceylon, however, Hinayana Buddhism held ground and thence it was later taken to Burma, Thailand and other parts of South-East Asia, where it became the national religion. Mahayana Buddhism itself soon divided by various schisms, was carried by a succession of Indian monks to China and thence to Japan.

By the time of the Guptas Mahayanism predominated, and Hsuan Tsang, in the seventh century, found the Lesser Vehicle almost extinct in most of India, and only flourishing in a few parts of the west. The chief Buddhist monastery was at Nalanda, which, under the patronage of the Pala kings, remained a centre of Buddhist piety and learning until the Muslim invasion. From Nalanda, the missionary monk Padmasambhava went forth to convert Tibet to Buddhism in the eighth century.

At this time the general standards of culture in North India were decliiung. From the end of the Gupta period onwards, Indian religion became more and more permeated with primitive ideas of sympathetic magic and sexual mysticism, and Buddhism was much affected by these developments. A third vehicle, 'the Vehicle of the Thunder­bolt' (Vajrayana), appeared in Eastern India in the eighth century, and grew rapidly in Bengal and Bihar. It was this form of Buddhism, modified by primitive local cults and tantric practices, which was finally established in Tibet in. the eleventh century, as a result of missions sent from the great Vajray~na monastery of Vikramsila in Bihar.

In the sixth century, the Huna king, Mihirakula, de­stroyed many Buddhist monasteries and killed many monks. A fanatical Saivite king of Bengal, Sasanka, in the course of an attack on Kannauj at the very beginning of the seventh century, almost destroyed the Tree of WISdom at Gaya. There are other less reliable accounts of persecution, but persecution was not the main cause of the disappearance of Buddhism from India by the end of the 12th century AD. A more important factor was the revived and reformed Hinduism, which began to spread northwards from the Tamil country from the ninth century onwards, when Shankaracharya travelled throughout India disputing with
the Buddhists. Behind him he left an organised body of Hindu monks to carry on his work. The new form of devotional Hinduism made a very vigorous appeal to the ordinary man, and the persistent tendency of Hinduism to
assimilate was always at work.

The Buddhist monks also contributed , to the decline in their own way. For instance, they gave up Pali, the language of the people, and adopted Sanskrit. They began to practise idol worship. Lavish offerings from their devotees made their life easy. The monasteries thus began to acquire enormous wealth. Women were also allowed to reside in monasteries and this practice led to further degeneration.
. An illuminated Buddhist manuscript contains a colo­phon stating that it was prepared in Bihar in the 15th century. This is our last record of Indian Buddhism, until its revival in recent years.