For many reasons, the study of ancient Indian history is important. It tells us how, when and where the earliest cultures in our country were formed by people. It shows how they started agriculture, which made life healthy and settled.
It explains how natural resources were found and used by the ancient Indians, and how they provided the means for their livelihood. We come to know how they were involved in farming, spinning, weaving, metal-working, and so on; how forests were cleared; and how villages, cities, and, finally, major kingdoms were created.
Until they understand writing, people are not considered civilized. The various forms of writing that are prevalent in India today are all derived from ancient scripts. This is true of the languages we speak today, as well. The languages we use have their origins in ancient times, and have grown through the centuries.
Unity in Diversity
It is interesting to have ancient Indian history because India proved to be a crucible of ethnic groups. India was the home of the Indo-Aryans, the Greeks,pre-Aryans, the Scythians, the Hunas, the Turks, etc. The growth of the Indian social system, art and architecture, and literature all led to each ethnic group. All these communities and their cultural features mixed with one another so inextricably that none of them can be clearly defined in their original form at present.
The combining of cultural elements from the north and south, and from the east and west, was a remarkable characteristic of ancient Indian society. The Aryan elements are related to the northern Vedic and Sanskritic culture, and the pre-Aryan to the southern Dravidian and Tamil culture. But in the Vedic texts ascribed to 1500-500 B.c., many Dravidian and non-Sanskritic terms occur.
Ideas, structures, goods and settlements linked to peninsular and non-Vedic India are described. Similarly, in the early Tamil texts called the Sangam literature, which is nearly used for the period 300 B.C.-600 A.D., many Pali and Sanskrit terms indicating ideas and institutions developed in the Gangetic plains.
Its own contribution was created by the eastern region inhabited by pre-Aryan tribals. The people of the area spoke the languages of Munda or Kolari. In IndoAryan languages are traced by linguists to the Munda languages, several terms that imply the use of cotton, navigation, digging stick, etc.. The traces of the Munda culture are not as strong as those of the Dravidian culture. While the Chhotanagpur plateau contains many Munda pockets.
In the Indo-Aryan languages most Dravidian words are also used. It is held that on the basis of the Dravidian influence, shifts in the phonetics and vocabulary of the Vedic language can be clarified as well as that of the Munda influence. India has been the land of many religions since ancient times.
The birth of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism was witnessed in ancient India; but all these religions and cultures intermingled and acted and responded to each other in such a way that while people speak different languages, practice different religions, and observe different social customs, they follow certain common lifestyles throughout the country.
Because of great diversity, our nation displays a deep underlying unity. The ancients strove to achieve unity. They saw this vast subcontinent as one single land. After the name of an ancient tribe called the Bharatas, the name Bharatavarsha, or the land of Bharata, was given to the entire country, and the people were called Bharatasantati or the descendants of Bharata.
The nation was regarded as an integral entity by our ancient poets, philosophers and authors. They spoke of the land extending from the Himalayas to the sea as a single universal monarch’s proper domain.
The Kings who tried to build their authority from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin and from the Brahmaputra valley in the east to the land beyond the Indus in the west were universally lauded. They have been called Chakravartins.
In ancient times, this type of political unity was achieved at least twice. In the Third Century B.C. With the exception of the extreme south, Ashoka extended his empire over the entire country. Once more, in the fourth century A.D. From the Ganga to the borders of the Tamil land, Samudragupta carried his victorious arms. A Chalukya king in the seventh century. Harshavardhana, who was called the lord of all of northern India, was defeated by Pulakeshin.
Despite the lack of political unity, the political formations in the country took more or less the same shape. The concept that India was a single regional unit existed in the minds of the conquerors and cultural leaders. The unity of India has also been re-established by foreigners.
They came into contact first with the people living on the Sindhu or the Indus, and so they named this river for the whole country. The word Hind comes from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, and over the time country came to be known as India , which is very close to the Greek word for it. In the Persian and Arabic languages, it came to be called Hind.’
In the third century, B.C, Prakrit acted as the country’s lingua franca. Ashoka’s inscriptions were written in the Prakrit language and Brahmi script in the major portion of India.
Sanskrit later acquired the same place and acted in the most remote parts of the country as the language of the country. In the fourth century A.D., the method became prevalent in the Gupta period.
While the country experienced various small states politically in the post-Gupta period, the official documents were written in Sanskrit. Another interesting aspect is that in the land of the Tamils, the ancient epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, were studied with the same passion and dedication as in the scholarly circles of the Banaras and Taxila.
These epics, originally written in Sanskrit, came to be presented in numerous local languages. But whatever the manner in which Indian cultural values and ideas were articulated, across the country, the content remained the same.
Because of a peculiar form of social structure established in this region, Indian history deserves our attention. The varna/caste system originated in north India, which came to prevail almost all over the country. The caste system affected Christians and Muslims as well. The converts belonged to a certain caste, and they continued to retain some of their old caste traditions even though they left Hinduism to join the new religion.