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The Heritage of India

The heritage of India is the result of developments in the social, economic, cultural and political life of the Indian people over a period of thousands of years. In this write up you will read about some aspects and features of these developments which are important for an understanding of India’s heritage.

The Land and the People

Two basic components of this heritage, which have at the same time shaped this heritage, are the land, the natural and physical environment of India, and the people who have inhabited this land. The generations of people who have inhabited India during various periods of her history have interacted with their physical and natural environment. They have also interacted among themselves. Through these processes of interaction – between people and their natural and physical environment and among themselves - the people have created their history, their social, economic, cultural and political life. These processes of interaction have been going on for thousands of years, bringing in changes in the life of the people. The world of man, therefore, has never been stationary.

India is a vast country. It extends for nearly 3000 kilometers from Kashmir in the north to Kanyakumari in the south and for the same distance from its western-most parts to its eastern-most parts. Nature has made it into a distinct geographical entity. The Himalayan ranges in the north and the sea in the east, west and south separates it from the rest of the world. The people inhabiting the country from very early times as well as people of other parts of the world have viewed it as a single integral and distinctive unit.

These geographical features, however, while making her a well-defined unit separated from the rest of the world, have not become a barrier to contacts with the rest of the world. Since the time of the Old Stone Age, people from neighboring as well as distant regions have been coming into India through the mountain passes and the seas and making India their home. The people of India have been formed as a result of these migrations over thousands of years. They are the descendants of groups of people belonging to almost all the ‘racial stocks’ which have gone into the making of the Indian population are the Proto-Australoids, the Palaeo-Mediterraneans, the Caucasoids, the Negroid and the Mongoloids in their varying degrees of mixtures. In historical times, the ethnic groups which have come to India and made India their home include the Indo-European speaking people (the Indo-Aryans), the Persians, the Greeks, the Kushanas, the Shakas, the Hunas, the Arabs, the Turks, the Africans and the Mongols. During the past few hundred years, many Europeans have also made India their home. All there ‘racial’ and ethnic groups have intermingled with one another and few of them can be recognized in their original form. Thus, India has been a crucible of various ‘races’ and ethnic groups. They have all contributed to the making of Indian history and culture.

The migration of people into India has been a major factor in the development of various aspects of India’s life and culture since pre-historic times. In historical times, the importance of this factor is conspicuous in almost every period of India’s history. The people from other cultures and civilizations have brought with them their own traditions, which got intermixed and integrated with the pre-existing traditions. Similarly, people of India have gone to other parts of the world and various elements of culture carried by them have intermixed and have been integrated with the pre-existing cultures there. During the past 2000 years, the influence of various elements of Indian culture has been particuevident in many countries of Asia.

The vastness of the country and the great variations in its geographical features- land forms, natural recourses, climate and others – have provided the bases for a great variety in ways of living from very early times. The mountains and the river systems have been an important factor in the emergence of a number of distinct cultural zones within the country. The Vindhya ranges, for example, divided India into north and south with the people of the Indo-European family of languages predominating in the northern, and those of the Dravidian family of languages in the southern parts of the country. These factors, however, have not made any part of the country isolated from the other parts. The physical barriers between different parts were not insurmountable even in early times when means of travel were not developed. They did not prevent the movement of the people from one part of the country to another. Despite the Vindhya ranges, for example, the movement of people from the north to the south and vice versa has been going on from very early times. Thus while geographical factors have deeply influenced the emergence of distinctive ways of living of people in different parts of the country, the interaction between them has been going on. The availability of different natural resources in the country has also furthered links between its diverse parts. These factors have helped the processes of both unity and diversity. The historical development of the country has brought the people together and has led to the growth of a common culture to which all parts of the country have contributed. At the same time, each part of the country has developed its own distinct identity. Because of this, the historical and cultural development of India is often described as one of unity in diversity and the culture of the country as a whole a composite one comprising distinct parts. It has never been a monolith.

As mentioned above, people of all parts of the country have contributed to the emergence of a common culture. No particular part of region of the country has been the main center or source of Indian culture, and different regions during different periods have played a leading role-setting new trends and influencing developments in other parts of the country. This has been true as much of political history as of other aspects of historical development. The first major political power arose in northern India with its center in the region around modern Patna. In the subsequent centuries, powerful kingdom and empires were built in north-western India, the Deccan and the south. The Turkish Sultans and the Mughal emperors ruled over large parts of India with their center at Delhi and, for some time, at Agra. In the eighteenth century, the Marathas, after settings up their kingdom in western India, built a vast all-India empire. In this context, it is important to remember the concept of the chakravarti ruler which was developed in India in ancient times. This ideal envisaged political unification of the entire country.

Another feature of India’s culture has been that it did not develop into a finished form in any period. Throughout her long history, India’s culture has been changing and developing due to internal factors and contacts with other cultures. This process of change and development continues. The culture of India, as of any other country, is not a fixed entity. Many aspects of culture, if they retard further progress, get discarded, others are changed, sometimes beyond recognition; some others continue to survivd remain important, while many new elements are added.

A remarkable feature of Indian historical and cultural development has been its continuity. This continuity has few parallels in the history of other civilizations. For example, the cultures of some of the earliest civilizations in human history left little evidence of their influence over subsequent cultural developments of the countries in which they had developed. In India, on the other hand, some elements of the Harappan culture continue to exist to this day.

It is interesting to know the story of the name of our country. The ancient Indians referred to their country as ‘Jambudvipa’ or the continent of the Jambu tree. The ancient Persians referred to our country as the land beyond the river Sindhu (Indus). They, however, pronounced it as ‘Hindu’. The word spread westward and the whole country came to be known by the name of its river. The Greeks called it ‘Inde’ and the Arabs ‘Hind’. In medieval times, the country was called ‘Hindustan’ from the Persian word. The English called it ‘India’ from the Greek ‘Inde’. The present name ‘Bharat’, derived from the ancient usage, means ‘the land of the Bharatas’, an ancient Indian tribe.

Before studying the development of a few selected aspects of India’s culture, it may be worthwhile to recapitulate broad features of Indian historical development.

The Ancient Period

As this is a known fact that India was one of the oldest centers of the prehistoric cultures of the world. India was also the cradle of one of the earliest civilizations in history-the Harappan culture. The Harappan culture was the first urban culture to emerge in India. Many of its features distinguished it from all its contemporary cultures in other parts of the world, and made it distinctly Indian. Larger in extent than any of its contemporary civilizations, it was spread over parts of Baluchistan, Sind, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, western Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat and had links with some other parts of India as well as with contemporary civilizations in West Asia. After its decline, India did not have cities for about a thousand years. However, all that this civilization had built was not forgotten and many of its features became a part of the Indian culture in the subsequent years.

The next major phase in ancient Indian history is the Vedic age which began with the coming of the Indo-European speaking people (the Indo-Aryans) and ended in about seventh century B.C. Initially, this phase marked a reversal in some respects. For example, it marked the end of city life, reversal to a pastoral economy

and the predominance of a tribal system of political organization. However, with the knowledge and use of iron technology, it saw the beginning of the spread of agriculture throughout the country. It thus laid the foundations of a civilization in all parts of the country, whereas the Harappan culture had been confined to parts of north-western India. The culture that began to emerge during this phase was the result of the intermixing of the Indo-Aryans with the pre-existing inhabitants of India. It is interesting to remember that some elements of the culture of this period have survived over a period of 3000 years and continue to be a part of Indian culture today. The next phase, covering the period from about the sixth century B.C. to about 200 B.C., is marked by far-reaching changes in almost every aspect of life in India. This period saw the spread of agriculture over large parts of the country, the rise of cities and the formation of states. The period also saw the rise and decline of the first all-India empire in Indian history. This period is important not only for political unity but also for cultural unity. Two major religions –Jainism and Buddhism – which arose in the sixth century B.C. left a lasting influenced religious beliefs and practices which, grouped together, are known as Hinduism. Hinduism as it developed, included many Vedic beliefs and practices but had many other features which distinguished it from the religion of the Vedas. This period saw the spread throughout the country of beliefs and practices associated with Hinduism, including Vedic religion, as well as Buddhism and Jainism. Alongside these, a large number of other beliefs and practices also continued. The Varna system, the system of social organization popularly known as the caste system, which had arisen in the Vedic Age now became well-established and gradually became the dominant form of social organization throughout the country. This form of social organization was peculiar to India. The rise of cities, crafts and trade also furthered the process of cultural unity. This process is best exemplified by Ashoka. He unified almost the entire country under one empire but renounced the use of war as state policy. Instead he declared the victory of righteousness as the real victory. In him we also find a change in the ideal of kingship. Ashoka, in one of his edicts, said, “whatever exertions I make, I strive only to discharge the debt that I owe to all living creatures”. Mosst of his inscriptions spread over different parts of the country are in Prakrit, which seems to have become the lingua franca of the country, and in Brahmi script, the earliest known Indian script, and mother of Indian Scripts. However, in areas where the language and script were different, the Ashokan edicts were inscribed in the local language and the local script. Though he himself became a Buddhist, Ashoka made no effort to impose it on others. In one of his edicts, he said, “One who reveres one’s own religion and disparages that of another from devotion to one’s own religion and to glorify it over all other religions, does injure one’s own religion most certainly”.

The next phase in ancient Indian history covers the period form about 200 B.C. to about A.D. 300. This phase is extremely important for the changes that took place in economic and political life, and significant developments in various aspects of culture, including religion, art and science and technology. In economic life, this period is significant for advancement in India’s international trade, both by land and sea routes, and the emergence of crafts and towns, unknown to earlier phases of ancient Indian history. In political life, large parts of north-western, northern and western India were ruled by dynasties of non-Indian origin. These were the Indo-Greeks, the Shakas, the Parthians and the Kushanas. These political contacts facilitated developments in the economy mentioned above and brought India into close contact with the cultures of Central and West Asia and with the Graeco-Roman world. This interaction played an important role in the flowering of Indian culture during this phase. Most of the foreign rulers of Indian territories adopted one or the other Indian religions. A significant event was the growth of the Mahayana sect of Buddhism, which the Kushana ruler Kanishka patronized, and the development of the great Buddhist art associated with it. In the Deccan and the south, a number of states emerged, including the powerful kingdom of the Satavahanas. These states also developed close trade relations with other parts of the world. There was significant progress of Buddhist art in the south. India’s first contact with Christianity is believed to have taken place during this period; though it was many centuries later that Christianity came to have a significant following in India.

The last phase of the ancient period of Indian history starts in early fourth century A.D. and ends in about the eighth century. The Guptas built a large kingdom during this period which remained powerful for about a century. In the Deccan and the south, there were two major kingdoms during this period – of the Pallavas and of the Chalukyas. In some respects, this was also a period of reversals, which witnessed a gradual decline of towns and trade, of strong centralized states, and the beginning of the system of land grants. These developments, according to some scholars, mark the beginning of feudalism in India. Some of the finest achievements in various fields of culture-art, architecture, literature, philosophy, science, technology – can, however, be dated to this period. Because of these achievements, this period is often described as the classical age of Indian civilization. In religion, this is a period of decline of Buddhism and the rise of Brahmanical religion or Hinduism as we know it today. Idol worship became popular and building of temples on a large scale started in the south and the Deccan as well as in the north. Art inspired by Buddhism also continued, particularly in sculpture and painting. Great progress was made in literature, both religious and secular, in Sanskrit which also became the language of the courts in most parts of the country. Tamil literature also made great progress and the Alvars and Nayanars, the Vaishnavite and Shaivite saints, made lasting contributions to it. In spite of the dominant position of Sanskrit in most parts of the country, this period marks the beginning of many modern Indian languages as well as distinct scripts in different parts of the country. The period is also important for some of the most significant advances in science and technology. Most of the major works in astronomy, mathematics and medicine belong to this period.

By the time the ancient period of Indian history came to a close, India had developed a culture which was marked by features that have characterized it ever since.

The Medieval Period

During the medieval period, some of the achievements of the ancient times were carried forward and new and magnificent structures were built on those foundations. Many new elements appeared in Indian society which influenced the growth of various aspects of culture.

The period from the eighth to the twelfth century in political life is dominated mainly by the presence of a large number of states. The bigger ones among them tried to establish their supremacy in northern India and the Deccan. The main contenders in this struggle for supremacy were the Pratiharas, the Palas and the Rashtrakutas. In the south, the most powerful kingdom to emerge during this period was that of the Cholas. The Cholas brought about the political unification of large parts of the country but the general political picture was that of fragmentation, particularly in northern India. The process of decline in trade and of urban centers had continued. In social life, there was greater rigidification of the caste system than before. In some respects, the period was characterized by stagnation and insularity. Seen as a whole, however, the situation was not so dismal. Some of the most splendid temples in India were built, in a variety of regional styles, during this period, both in the north and the south. The period is also important for the growth of modern Indian languages. Architecture, sculpture, literature, and philosophy flourished under the patronage of the Chola Kings. Trade and cultural contact with the countries of South-East Asia received an impetus in the Chola kingdom. New trends towards cultural unity also emerged during this period. One of these trends is associated with the name of the philosopher Shankaracharya who set up his maths or monasteries in different parts of the country. The other was the beginning of the Bhakti cult throughout the country. It had originated with the Alvars and Nayanars, this cult became a major feature of the religious life of the people in most parts of the country.

It was in this period that India’s contact with the new religion of Islam began. The contacts began late in the seventh century through the Arab traders. Later, in early eighth century, the Arabs conquered Sind. In the tenth century, the Turks emerged as a powerful force in Central and West Asia and carved out kingdoms for themselves. They conquered Persia but, in turn, their life was deeply influenced by the old and rich Persian culture. The Turks first invaded India during the late tenth and early eleventh century and Punjab came under Turkish rule. Another series of Turkish invasions in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century led to the establishment of the Sultanat of Delhi. Within a few centuries after the rise of Islam in Arabia, it became the second most popular religion in India with followers in every part of the country.

The establishment of the Sultanat of Delhi marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of medieval India. Politically, it led to the unification of northern India and parts of the Deccan for almost century. Its rulers, almost from the time of the establishment of the Sultanat, succeeded in separating in from the country from which they had originally come. The Sultanat disintegrated towards the end of the fourteenth century leading to the emergence of a number of kingdoms in different parts of the country. Some of these, for example, the Bahmani and Vijaynagar kingdoms, became very powerful. In society, the period is important for the introduction of new elements – the Turks, the Persians, the Mongols and the Afghans, besides the Arabs who had settled sown in some coastal regions- into India. There were important changes in economic life also. Trade and crafts received a stimulus and many new towns arose as centers of administrations, trade and crafts. New elements of technology were also introduced during this period.

Culturally, this period marks the beginning of a new stage in the growth of India’s composite culture. It saw the introduction of new features in art and architecture of India and their diffusion to all parts of the country. The architecture that developed during this period was the result of the synthesis of the traditions of Central Asia and Persia with the pre-existing Indian styles. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, distinctive styles of art and architecture also developed in the regional kingdoms, which had emerged with the disintegration of the Sultanat. During this time notable advances were made in the development of languages and literature. Modern Indian languages, which had started developing earlier, became major vehicles of literature. These languages were enriched by the Bhakti saints and this gave the literature of these languages many common features: Two new languages – Arabic and Pesian – became a part of India’s linguistic heritage. Of these, Arabic was mainly the language of Islamic learning. For literature and in its widespread use, Pesian was more important. In many areas, it replaced Sanskritas the court language and throughout the country, along with Sanskrit, it became the language of learning. Historical writings for the first time became an important component of Indian literature. Under the influence of Persian, new forms of literature such as the ghazal were introduced.

The period saw two great religious movements, besides the spread of a new religion. The Bhakti movement which had started many centuries earlier, spread throughout the country. Significantly, the Bhakti movement, best represented by Kabir and Nanak, disapproved of religious narrow-mindedness, superstitions ad observance of formal rituals. The Bhakti saints condemned caste inequalities and laid stress on human brotherhood. The other was the Sufi movement. The Sufis, or the Muslim mystics, preached the message of love and human brotherhood. These two movements played a leading role in combating religious exclusiveness and narrow-mindedness and in bringing the people of all communities together. Sikhism began to emerge as a new religion based on the teachings of Guru Nanak and other saints.

The growth of a composite culture reached its highest point under the Great Mughals in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Mughals built an empire which once again brought about the political unification of a large part of the country. Like Ashoka earlier, Akbar, the greatest of the Mughal emperors, followed a policy of Sulh-kul (‘peace with all’). He said, “The various religious communities are Divine treasures enthused to us by God. We must love them as such. It should be our firm faith that every religion is blessed by Him, and our earnest end avour to enjoy the bliss of the evergreen garden of universal toleration. The Eternal King showers his favors on all men with out distinction. Kings who are ‘Shadows of God’ should never give up this principle”. Some of the finest specimens of Indian architecture and literature belong to this period. A new significant art form was painting which flourished under the patronage of the Mughal court. Influenced by the Persian traditions, the Mughal painting developed into a distinct Indian style. It later spread to other parts of the country in various regional styles. Another significant development was the emergence of anew language –Urdu- which became the lingua franca of the people of the towns in many parts of the country.

The Modern Period

The eighteenth century marks the beginning of the modern period of India’s history. Politically, the period saw the decline of the Mughal empire and the rise of a number of small and big independent states in different parts of the country: None of these states was able to replace the Mughal empire which had politically unified a large part of the country for about 150 years. In spite of this, however, the process of the growth of composite culture continued. This is evident from the new schools of painting which arose as a result of the influence of the Mughal painting, literature in various Indian languages, including Urdu, and the continuing process of the coming together of people belonging to different communities.

This period, when looked at in the context of changes taking place in some other parts of the world, is one of stagnation. Some of the developments that had been bringing about far-reaching changes in the social, economic, cultural and political life, were taking place in Europe. Significant advancements had taken place in the field of science, and soon new technologies were to further transform the social, economic and political life in many countries of Europe. The process of colonization of vast areas of the world by a few European counties had been underway since the sixteenth century. Changes of a comparable nature failed to take place in India, as also in other countries of Asia and Africa. There was also no awareness of the importance of the changes taking place in Europe in spite of contacts with European traders, missionaries and others. From about the middle of the eighteenth century, the conquest of India by Britain began. It was completed in a few decades and by the middle of the nineteenth century, the entire country was under the direct or indirect rule of the British. For the first time in her history, India came under foreign rule. She was ruled by foreigners who had not come to settle but to rule in the interest of their mother country. A new system of exploitation of one country by the dominant classes and groups of another country came into being. Under the new conditions created by foreign rule, the people of India were awakened and this awakening expressed itself, finally, in the struggle for independence, the end of imperialist exploitation of India the early decades of the nineteenth century, various social, religious, cultural and intellectual movements took root which aimed at removing the state of stagnation of Indian society. These movements were influenced by the modern democratic, humanistic and scientific though and played an important role in promoting national consciousness and in laying the foundations of a new phase in India’s cultural development. The nationalist movement united the Indian people on a new basis. It recognized and cherished the unity in diversity and the composite nature of India’s culture as its unique feature. Te nurturing of this feature was an integral part of the nationalist movement’s objective of building an independent, united and forward-looking Indian.

Art and Architecture

The story of Indian art begins with Harappan culture. You have seen that the Harappans were great builders, skilled in town planning. The houses with the various facilities, the granaries, the Great Bath, show how skilful and efficient the people were in construction. The terracotta and stone images, the bronze figure of the dancing girl and the artistic seals reveal the exquisite workmanship of the artists.

Mauryan Period

The next stage of Indian art begins with the Mauryan period. It was a period of economic prosperity, important development in religious thinking and practice and also one of remarkable artistic achievements. Megasthenes, who came to India as the ambassador of the Greek ruler Seleucus, described the palace of Chandragupta Maurya in glowing terms. It was large and luxurious and built of carver wood. The earliest stone buildings were based on wooden models.

The monolithic pillars of Ashoka on which are inscribed his famous edicts are the great monuments of the Mauryan age. Some scholars trace these pillars to the influence of Persia. The most striking feature of these pillars is the finely carved capital with magnificent animal figures. We are all familiar with Sarnath lion capital which forms part of India’s National Emblem. The Rampurva Bull capital is one of the best specimens of animal sculpture. The polish and smoothness of these pillars are amazing.

Another artistic achievement of this period is the famous stupa at Sanchi. In every stupa there was a small camber in which a casket with relics of the Buddha or the Buddhist monks were placed. The surface of the sputa was generally built of bricks with a thick layer of plaster. The stupa was crowned by an umbrella of stone. The monument was surrounded by a fence with a path provided for Pradakshina (circumambulation). The original stupas were enlarged and beautified from time to time. The Sanchi stupa which still stands intact is a well-preserved and splendid monument. A number of lesser stupas and other buildings such as monasteries and rest-houses are found in and around the main stupa.

The stupa at Sanchi as it stands today has stone railings and gateways around it. These were added later after the Mauryas. The gateways are a very striking feature. There are four gateways at the four cardinal points and they contain very lively and beautifully carved panels. In these panels are depicted events from the life of the Buddha and details from the Jataka stories. They also depict a landscape of trees and floral designs, groups of animals and birds, beautiful figures of yakshas and yakshinis, and men and women. Thus the Sanchi reliefs present the story of the Buddha and provide glimpses into Indian life through clear, simple and dramatic scenes.
The Buddha is depicted in these panels not through his image but through the use of various symbols; for example, the horse represents his ‘renunciation’, the ‘boddhi’ tree his enlightenment.

Gandhara and Mathura Schools of Art

The next important stage in the growth of art is associated with the name of Gandhara in the north-west. By this time the worship of the image of Buddha had become common. After the Greek invasions and during the period of the Kushanas, many artists from West Asia had settled down in the north – west of India. They were deeply influenced by the Graeco-Roaman art. Mahayana Buddhism encouraged image worship. The Kushana kings, particularly Kanishaka, encouraged the Gandhara artists to sculpture themes from Buddha’s life and the Jatakas. The distinctive school of art which grew here is called the Gandhara school of art. A large number of the images of the Buddha and the Bodhisattavas were produced.

Another school of art to develop in the early centuries of the Christian era is that of Mathura. From the beginning of the Christian era, Mathura became an important center of artistic activities and the figures of the Buddha and the Bodhisattavas were produced there. The fine qualities of indigenous art traditions were preserved and improved upon by the Mathura sculptors. The images produced here became the models for the succeeding generations of artists.

This was also the period of the growth of art in developed under the Satavahana kings. Like the stupa at Sanchi, there was a great stupa in Amaravati in the lower Godavari valley. The stupa has disappeared but many of its fine pieces are still intact in various museums. Many bas-relief medallions and paneled friezes decorated the stupa. These, like the stupa at Sanchi, depict events from the life of the Buddha and the Jataka stories. One of these depicts the story of the taming of the elephant by the Buddha. A rogue-elephant was let loose to kill the Buddha while he was walking along the streets of Rajagriha. The panel shows the elephant rushing through the streets, the panic it caused, the reactions of men and women and finally the elephant kneeling before the Buddha. The climax, is portrayed subtly and Pallavas of the Deccan and southern India added magnificent monuments, both caves and structural temples.

Both the rock-cut and structural monuments of the Pallavas are magnificent specimens of architecture. The Mandapas at Mahabalipuram are excavated halls with finely carved pillars and panels.

The splendid panel called the ‘Descent of the Ganga’ in Mahabalipuram is a unique rock-cut sculpture. The story of Bhagiratha’s penance to bring down the Ganga is the theme of the panel.

The Rathas of Mahabalipuram are well known. The ‘Ratha’ is a shrine carved out of a single rock and it looks like a structural temple. These Rathas are named after the Pandavas. When you look at these Rathas, you find that each one of them is different in shape and size.

The Structural Temples

The Pallavas built a number of structural temples also. The most famous of these is the ‘Shore temple’ at Mahabalipuram. It is located on the sea shore and hence it has been called the ‘Shore temple’. The twin towers of this temple set in a picturesque background, make it an enchanting sight on a moonlit night. Kanchipuram was the capital of the Pallavas and numerous temples were built there. Two of them stand out prominently. The Kailasanatha temple with its lovely vimana and the numerous panels depicting Shiva as Nataraja is a fine specimen of Pallava art. The Vaikunthaperumal temple is noted for its vimana and the series of panels depicting the history of the Pallava dynasty.

The Cholas with their capital at Thanjavur were great builders. The greatest temple of India, the Birhadeeshwara temple at Thanjavur, was built during the reign of Rajaraja Chola. The most striking feature of this temple is its vimana. It is about 65 meters high and is built in such a way that its shadow does not fall on the ground. The grace and grandeur of the vimana have not been excelled by any other such creation. The pillared halls and the sculptures are fine specimens of Chola art. In one of the halls, the various dance postures mentioned in Bharata’s Natyashastra are shown in sculptures. In the walls of the inner shrine there are a number of fine paintings.

Many other famous temples were built in the south. The Pandya rulers encouraged the building of high outer walls with entrance gateways topped by gopurams. Attention was now concentrated on the gopurams rather than the vimana or the shikahara above the main shrine. The artistic glory of the gopuram became so popular that it became a special characteristic of south Indian temples. The gopurams of Kanchi and Madurai temples can be seen from long distances.

The Hoysala rulers of Mysore were great patrons of art. Magnificent temples were built in Belur, Halebid and other places. These temples are noted for the profusion of manifold pillars with rich and intricate carvings. The delicately carved friezes, the minute details of the panels depicting gods and goddesses, are the work of the jeweler rather than of the sculptor.

The Bronze Sculpture of the Cholas

Starting during the late Pallava period, the bronze sculpture reached heights of glory during the Chola rule. The image of Nataraja (the Lord of Dance) is a superb masterpiece of the Chola bronze sculpture. The grandeur of its conception, its symbolism, its artistic excellence and its charm has impressed connoisseurs throughout the world. There are many images of Nataraja in different dance poses. The bronze sculptures were one of the most significant contributions of the Cholas to Indian art.

North Indian Temples

As in southern India, several styles of temple architecture developed in northern India.
Some of the most magnificent temples were built in Orissa. The Lingaraja temple of Bhubaneswar is located in an extensive area, with a number of subsidiary shrines. The spire of the Lingaraja temple is about 40 meters high and is very impressive. The immense spire is curved and has a rounded top. Though there are many similarities between these and the temples in the south, the differences in style are striking.

The sun temple in Konark, popularly known as the ‘black pagoda’, perhaps because of the black stone used, is unique in design. Since it is dedicated to the sun god, the whole temple is designed as a chariot with twelve massive wheels drawn by seven horses. Each wheel with its rich carvings is a masterpiece. The human and animal figures carved out in black stone are most lifelike. The poses of dancing apsaras depicted in sculptures are studied by dancers even today and are brought alive by them in their performances. The theme of several of these sculptures is amorous. The Chandella rulers of central India built the great temples of Khajuraho. The built the great temples of Khajuraho. The shikhara of these temples is graceful and refined and is adorned with sculptures.
The style of the shikhara varies from that of the others. The sculptures in Konark and Khajuraho are some of the finest in India. They are full of life and vitality.

The Jain temples at Mount Abu are the finest monuments of the Solanki kings of Gujarat who were great patrons of art. The prosperous trade brought in wealth that was used for building Hindu and Jain temples. The Abu temples are very attractive because of the delicate and intricate carvings in white marble.

New Elements in Medieval Art and Architecture

The coming of the Turks inaugurated a new era in the history of Indian architecture, the turks brought with them architectural ideas developed in Persia, Arabia and Central Asia. When these new rulers started erecting religious and secular buildings such as palaces and mosques, they came into contact with the traditions that had already been developed in India. The interaction of these two traditions resulted in a new synthesis of architectural styles. The rulers of the Sultanat were great patrons of architecture and under them the process of synthesis started. It continued with many regional variations in the different kingdoms. During the Mughal period, the flowering of this synthesis took place and some of the greatest monuments of India were built. Based on the interaction of the two traditions, a unique Indian style of architecture was developed in this period.

Before we describe this development, it may be useful to see the distinctive features of the Islamic architecture which were to play an important part in the development of a new style in Indian architecture.

These features are clearly seen in the standardized architecture of the mosque and the mausoleum. The mosque consisted of a large, rectangular open courtyard surrounded by arcades on all four sides. The mehrab which faces Mecca indicates the direction to the prayer. The call to worship was made from a tall tower or minarets. Another characteristic feature was the arch in the gateway and other places. The dome was another prominent feature of the mosque and the mausoleum.

The chief decorative element was sculpturing the building with geometrical designs and lettering in calligraphic style. Some of these features were new to Indian architecture. The ancient Indian buildings were decorated with beautiful carving and sculpture while the Muslim buildings were marked by simplicity and lack of adornment. When the new buildings began to be erected, the two styles were gradually synthesized into a new and unique style.

Architecture under the Sultanat

The Turkish rulers utilized the services of the local designers and craftsmen who were among the most skilful in the world. The new fusion that started to take place avoided the extreme simplicity of the Islamic architecture and the lavish decoration of the earlier Indian architecture.

Among the first buildings to be erected were the mosques at Delhi and Ajmer by Qutb-ud-din Aibak. The mosque built in Delhi was called the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. It measured about 70 x 30 meters. The central arch of this mosque which is decorated with beautiful sculptured calligraphy still stands and is about 17 meters high and about 7 meters wide.

The successor of Qutb-ud-din, Iltutmish, was a great builder. He further extended the mosque. He also completed the building of the Qutb Minar which had been started by Qutb-ud-din and now stood in the extended courtyard of the mosque. This is a tower rising to a height of about 70 metres and is one of the most renowned monuments of India.

The next important buildings belong to the reign of Al-ud-din Khalji. He enlarged the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque still further and built a gateway to the enclosure of the mosque, the Alai Darwaza. Decorative element was introduced to beautify the building. He also started building a minar which was designed to be double the height of Qutb Minar, but the project remained unfulfilled.

The Tughlaqs who came after the Khaljis concentrated on the building of new cities in Delhi like Tughlaqabad, Jahanpanah and Feozabad. A number of buildings were erected which differed in their style from the earlier buildings. Massive and strong structures like the tomb of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq and the walls of Tughlaqabad were built. The buildings of the Tughlaq period were significant from the point of view of the development of architecture. They were not beautiful but massive and very impressive.

Architecture in the Regionnal Kingdoms

The regional kingdoms, building on the achievements of the previous period, developed their own distinctive styles of architecture. The process of synthesis continued in these kingdoms also and resulted in the construction of some of the finest buildings in India.

In Bengal were built the Adina mosque and the tomb of Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Shah at Pandua and the Dakhil Darwaza and Tantipara mosque at Gaur. The oblong shape of many structures and the peculiar style of roof constructions were some of the distinctive features of the regional architecture of Bengal.

In Jaunpur, the Sharqi kings built an impressive monument, the Atala mosque. A huge massive screen covers the dome. The walls and the ceilings are decorated with many ancient Indian designs like the lotus.

The rulers of Gujarat built many structures notable for their grandeur and excellence of their carving and other decorative forms. Ahmad Shah, the founder of Ahmedabad is the Sadi Saiyyid mosque popularly known as the Jaliwali Masjid. The delicacy of the work is evident from the screens. Mahmud Begarha built the imposing Jama Masjid at Champaner.

The buildings at Mandu developed a distinctive style of their own under the Sultans of Malwa. Here were built the Jama Masjid, the Hindola Mahal, the Jahaz Mahal and a number of tombs. The buildings of Malwa have wide and imposing arches and the windows are gracefully decorated. The tomb of Hoshang Shah is made entirely of marble, the first of its kind in India, and is delicately decorated with yellow and black marble inlay work.

The rulers of Kashmir also built many beautiful buildings. Timber, stone and brick were used in the Jama Masjid completed by Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin. The turret is a striking feature of the mosques of Kashmir and recalls to mind of brick and glazed tiles, has been designed in the Persian style.

The Bahmani Sultans in the Deccan erected a number of buildings in a distinctive style at Bidar and Gubarga. They borrowed from the styles of Persia, Syria, Turkey and those of the temples of southern India. The Jama Masjid in Gulbarga is quite well known. The courtyard of this mosque is covered with a large number of domes. It is the only mosque in India which has a covered courtyard. Instead of minarets, there are domes at the four corners and a fifth and bigger one above the prayer chamber. The absence of decorative work does not mar its grandeur. There are two groups of tombs. The first group has the tombs of the first two Sultans and shows the impress of Tughlaq architecture. The second group called the half gumbad or ‘seven tombs’ shows the influence of Persian and ancient Indian styles. Bidar also has a number of tombs. The tomb of Sultan Ahmad Shah Ali is richly decorated with beautiful paintings. The finest monument at Bidar is the madrasa of Mahmud Gavan, the great minister of the Bahmani Kingdom for many years. It is a three-storeyed building and has two towering minars at the front corners.

After the Bahmani kingdom was split up, many other buildings, such as the Mehtar Mahal and the Ibrahim Rauza, were erected in the new principalities. The Gol Gumbaz, which is one of the largest domes in the world, at Bijapur, and the fort of Golconda, which is one of the strongest in India, and many tombs in Golconda also belong to this period.

These regional kingdoms, in the north and the south, played a significant role in the development of a common culture.

The Vijayanagar kingdom in the south which arose in the fourteenth century and was destroyed in A.D. 1565 also had a number of achievements in architecture to its credit. Only the ruins remain to tell the story of their past magnificence. The best examples of the Vijayanagar architecture were the Vithalswami and Hazar Rama temples at Hampi. The former has three gopurams and a number of highly decorated pillars. The pillars of the latter were richly carved as were the inner walls and depicted scenes from the Ramayana.

The Mughal Architecture

The process of synthesis was completed under the Mughals and the new architecture which had started taking shape with the establishment of the Sultanat reached the pinnacle of glory. The achievements of the Mughal period are the finest in architecture as well as in other fields of culture and can be very well compared with any preceding age in Indian history.

Babur and Humayun, the first two Mughal kings, erected a number of buildings with the help of Persian architects and these, now in ruins, are not very impressive. Humayun had to flee the country in the face of the rising power of the Afghan ruler, Sher Shah Suri. There was a short interregnum of Afghan rule before Hummayun recovered the Indian territories for the Mughals. The most important building erected during the Afghan interregnum is the mausoleum of Sher Shah at Sasaram. The mausoleum is a well-proportioned building and stands in the middle of a tank.

The Mughal architecture, properly speaking, began in the reign of Akbar. The first important building of Akbar’s reign is Humayun’s tomb at Delhi. In this magnificent tomb, the Persian influence is very strong, particularly in the construction of the dome. However, unlike the Persians’ use of bricks and glazed tiles, the Indian builders of the tomb used stone and marble. The two significant features of the Mughal architecture are also evident here – the large gateways and the placement of the building in the midst of a large park. The tomb provided many architectural ideas for the building of the Taj Mahal later.

The next important buildings erected under Akbar were the forts at Agra and Lahore. He built his palace within the Agra fort. Many new buildings were constructed in the fort and perhaps the old ones altered by Akbar’s successors. However, the parts attributed to Akbar’s reign were built under the strong influence of the ancient Indian style and have courtyards and pillars. For the first time in the architecture of this style, living beings-elephants, lions, peacocks and other birds – were sculptured in the brackets.

The crowning achievement of the reign of Akbar was the building of his new capital at Fatehpur Sikri, about 40 km from Agra. The buildings at Fatehpur Sikri have been built in a variety of styles making it one of the most magnificent capitals in the world. It had a circumference of over 10 kilometers. Even now there exist a number of magnificent structures in Fatehpur Sikri. The arch of the Buland Darwaza is about 41 metres high and is perhaps the most imposing gateway in the world. The tomb of Salim Chishti built in white marble is exquisite in its beauty. The building popularly known as the palace of Jodha Bai was built in the style of ancient Indian architecture. The Jami Masjid shows the influence of the Persian style. The cloisters surrounding it have a large number of domes and rooms. The Diwan-I-aam and the Diwan-I-khas are remarkable buildings and their planning and decoration have a unique Indian style. Birbal’s house is profusely sculptured with beautiful patterns. Another notable building is the Ibadat – Khana or the ‘House of Worship’ where learned people belonging to various religions gathered together and discussed questions of philosophy and theology in the presence of the emperor. Then there is the Panch Mahal, a five-storeyed building modeled perhaps on the Buddhist viharas.

During the reign of Jahangir, the mausoleum of Akbar was constructed at Sikandara. This is a magnificent monument in many ways. After a long time, the minar became architecturally significant here. It has beautiful arches and domes. But the whole structure, as Ferguson suggested, is inspired by the Buddhist viharas. Jahangir also extended the palace buildings in the Agra fort and built the beautiful tomb of Itmad-ud-daula, the father of Nur Jahan. The tomb was built in marble and is notable for its beautiful colored inlay work. Jahangir’s wife Bur Jahan built a beautiful mausoleum for her busband at Shahdara near Lahore.

The greatest of the Mughal builders was Shah Jahan, the successor of Jahangir. His reign marks the highest development of Mughal architecture. Some of the finest monuments of our country were built during his reign. Under him we find an exceedingly liberal use of marble, delicate decorative designs, a variety of arches and beautiful minarets. The list of Shah Jahan’s buildings is very large – the completion of a large number of buildings in the Agra fort, the city of Shahjahanabad and the Red fort of Delhi with its many buildings, the Jama Masjid at Delhi, the Taj Mahal and many others. Only a brief description of these buildings is possible here. The Diwan-I-aam and the Moti Masjid in the Agra fort are built mainly in white marble with beautiful colored inlay work. The Diwan-I-khas and the Diwan-I-aam in the Red fort are richly decorated and are works of great beauty. The Diwan-e-khas rightly bears the inscription: Agar firdaus barrooe zaminast-haminasto haminasto haminasto (if there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here). The Red Fort has become associated with the history of our country during the past 350 years and it is here that the national flag was unfurled on the day after India became free. The Jama Masjid at Delhi with its imposing domes and minarets is the most famous mosque in the country and one of the finest in the world.

The most magnificent of Shah Jahan’s buildings is the Taj Mahal built in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It represents India’s culture at its best and has been aptly described as ‘the dream in marble’. It is remarkably well conceived and all its parts – the gateways, the central dome, the elegant minars, the delicate decoration, the inlay work in colored marbles and precious stones, the lovely gardens surrounding it and the fountains in front- have been perfectly executed.

The only notable buildings of the reign of Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mugals, are the Badshahi mosque at Lahore and the Moti Masjid at Delhi. The period after him is one of general decline.

A significant contribution of the Mughals, especially Jahangir, was the laying of gardens. Some of the finest gardens were laid by him in Lahore and Srinagar.

The new style of architecture had significant influence on the construction of Hindu temples and the secular buildings of the Rajputs during this period.

The Development of Painting in India

As in architecture, the cultural heritage of India in the field of painting is very rich. The first and the most creative period of the art of painting extends from the first to the seventh centuries of the Christian era. Of this the richest heritage is that of the Ajanta Paintings. Many murals which once decorated the walls of the Ajanta caves have disappeared due to neglect and the ravages of time.

The paintings of Ajanta depict various themes. There are those which depict the pomp and splendor of the royal courts and the romance of love and the joy of feasting, singing and dancing and the man-made world with luxurious products, buildings, textiles and jewellery. Some depict the world of nature – vegetation and flowers, animals and birds. Many themes depicted are from the Buddha’s life and the jataka stories. All the scenes depicted are full of vitality. The figures are drawn with admirable skill. The intense human appeal gives the message of the unity of life depicted through the panorama of all forms of life. Every form receives the equal attention of the artists and the various worlds of painting combine to give a fuller picture of real life. The medium through which this is done is the line. In the West what is achieved with color is achieved with line in India. The line used by the Ajanta artists is unique, sweeping over vast areas with firmness and rhythm. It can accomplish with equal skill the calm and serene Buddha and the restless eager crowds in a dance or a market-place. This style in ancient times spread to Central Asia and is evident in wall paintings and in paintings on wooden panels.

In northern India, the frescoes at Bagh are the best survivals, most of the others having been lost to us. The tradition of painting continued for some time other parts of India, e.g. at Badami, Kanchi and Ellora. It later spread to Sri Lanka where the beautiful frescoes at Sigriya seem to be directly related to the traditions of Ajanta.

Gradually the art of wall painting died, though the art of book-illumination continued, particularly in Jain texts.

The next great era in the art of painting was ushered in by the Mughals. The Mughals brought with them the traditions of Persian painting. Humayun brought with him to India two pupils of the great painter Behzad. They came into contact with their counterparts in India and under Akbar the synthesis of the two styles were encouraged. He gathered together a number of painters from Persia, Kashmir and Gujarat. The Ain-I-Akbari mentions a number of artists – Abdus Samad, Mir Saiyid Ali, Miskin, Daswan, Mukand and many others. They illustrated manuscripts like the Dastan-I-Amir Hamza and Babar Nama. Individual pieces were also painted. By the end of Akbar’s reign, an independent Mughal style of painting had been developed.

Jahangir himself was a great connoisseur and patron of painting. Under him the Mughal school of painting was fully developed and made remarkable progress. The painting was no longer confined to book-illumination. Portrait painting and depiction of subjects drawn from life and nature became popular. Some of the finest painters in this period were Nadir, Murad, Bishan Das, Manohar, Govardhan, Mansur and Farrukh Beg. Writing about his own knowledge of painting in his autobiography, Jahangir says that he could distinguish between the works of each noted painter even if a painting was the product of joint work. The competence and skill of the Indian artists are evident from the incident which Sir Thomas Roe, who came to the court of Jahangir, mentions. The artists of Jahangir’s court made several copies of a painting which Roe had presented to the emperor on the same day. The copies were so perfect that Roe found it difficult to spot the original.

Thus in the course of a few decades, fine works of painting were created. The development continued under Shah Jahan. Dara Shikoh, son of Shah Jahan, was a great patron of painting. With Aurangzeb, the art declined in the Mughal courts.

With the withdrawal of court patronage many artists went to different parts of the country and influenced the development of new schools of painting. Two of the most important schools of painting that thus emerged were the Rajasthani and Pahari schools. The subjects of the paintings of these schools were drawn from the epics, myths and legends and love themes.

Languages and Literature

India’s heritage in languages and literature is one of the richest in the world. Through the many centuries of India’s history, many languages have grown and have influenced one another. Some of the languages that were spoken in India in ancient times and had a rich literature have become extinct; others remain important. For example, Sanskrit, though no longer a spoken language, is still a language of many religious rituals and of literature. However, the old languages have left their mark on the languages which we speak today and which began to develop towards the close of the ancient period. These languages have be-queathed a very rich literature to us.


Besides many small groups, there are two man groups of languages – the Indo-European or Indo-Aryan and the Dravidian. Most of the languages spoken in the northern parts of India belong to the former group and those of the southern parts to the later. However, these two groups have not developed in isolation from each other.

People know about the Harappan script which has not yet been deciphered. We also do not know what language the Harappans spoke. Sanskrit was the language of the Indo-Aryans who came to India and belongs to the Indo-European group of languages. Sanskrit was gradually standardized and given a highly scientific grammar by Panini, the great grammarian, in about fourth century B.C. Sanskrit was the language of religion, philosophy and learning and was used by the upper castes, the Brahmanas and the kshatriyas. The common people spoke a number of dialects which are called Prakrits. Buddha, as people already know, preached in the language of the people. Buddhist literature was written in Pali, one of the Prakrits. Ashoka had his rock and pillar edicts inscribed in the popular languages.

Among the Dravidian languages Tamil is the most ancient. The others developed during the first millennium of the Christian era.

Though Sanskrit again became the predominant language of learning in the period of the Guptas, the Prakrits continued to develop. The various spoken languages that developed are called Apabhramshas. These formed the basis of the modern Indian languages which developed in the various regions of India during the medieval period.

During the period of the Turks and the Mughals (Mogules), two new languages –Arabic and Persian – entered India. Of these Persian is more important. It was the court language for hundreds of years and continued to be used widely right up to the nineteenth century. A rich tradition of Persian literature grew in India during this period and led to the growth of a new language – Urdu- based on the dialects of Hindi and drawing much of its vocabulary from Persian. It became the common language of towns all over northern India and the Deccan and developed a very rich literature in poetry and prose.

Throughout the course of the development of Indian languages, various foreign languages have played a significant part and helped Indian languages to enrich their vocabulary. This happened as a result of close contacts with the cultures of many peoples outside India.

Thus the languages that we speak today have a long history behind them. There are eighteen languages which have been mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India. In addition to these, hundreds of other languages are spoken by people in various parts of the country. This variety of languages has made India a multilingual country. The languages spoken today have grown over a period of centuries and have influenced and enriched one another.

Ancient Indian Literature

The earliest known work of the Aryans in India was the Rig Veda which is a collection of 1028 hymns are in praise of different Vedic deities and were intended for recitation at the Yajnas or sacrifices. Many of them are beautiful descriptions of nature. Some of the most enchanting are addressed to Ushas, the goddess of dawn, like this one:

In the sky’s framework she has gleamed with brightness: The goddess has cast off the robe of darkness. Rousing the world from sleep, with ruddy horses, dawn in her well-yoked chariot is arriving.
The Rig Veda was followed by three more Vedas – Yajur Veda which gives directions for the performance of the Yajna, the Sama Veda which prescribes the tunes for the recitation of the hymns of the Rig Veda, and the Atharva Veda which prescribes rites and rituals. After the four Vedas, a number of works, called the Brahmanas, grew which contained detailed explanation of Vedic literature and instructions. The Aranyakas, which are an appendix to the Brahmanas, prescribed certain rites and also laid the basis of a body of more philosophical literature. It was the Upanishadic literature which dealt with questions like the origin of the universe, birth and death, the material and spiritual world, nature of knowledge and many other questions. The earliest Upanishads are the Brihad-Aranyaka and Chanddogya. The Upanishads are in the form of dialogues and express the highest thoughts in simple and beautiful imagery. Another body of literature to grow in the early period was the Vedangas which, besides rituals, were concerned with astronomy, grammar and phonetics. One of the most outstanding works of this period was a classic on Sanskrit grammar, the Ashtadhayi by Panini.

All these works were in Sanskrit. They were handed down from generation to generation orally and were put to writing much later.

The two great epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, were developed over a period of centuries and were perhaps put to writing in their present form in the second century A.D. The Mahabharata Contains about 100,000 verses and is the longest single poem in the world. Besides the main story of the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, a number of other interesting stories are woven into this epic. The Bhagvad Gita, a later addition to the Mahabharata, enshrines a philosophical doctrine and in it are described the three paths to salvation, viz. Karma, Gyan and Bhakti. The Ramayana, the story of Rama, is shorter than the Mahabharata and is full of interesting adventure and episodes. These two epics have influenced the thinking of millions of people for centuries.

This period abounds in both religious and secular literature in Sanskrit. The Puranas are important, for they were the main influence in the development from early Vedic religion to Hinduism. There were many other shastras and smritis. The shastras contained works of science and philosophy. For example, the Arthashastra by Kautilya was a treatise on the science of governance. There were shastras on art, mathematics and other sciences. The smrities dealt with the performance of duties, customs and laws prescribed according to dharma. The most famous of these is the Manusmriti.

The early Buddhist literature was in Pali and consists of two sections. The Suttapitaka consists mainly of dialogues between the Buddha and his followers. The Vinayapitaka is concerned mainly with the rules of the organization of the monasteries. The Milinda-panha is another great Buddhist work consisting of dialogues between the Indo-Greek king Menander and the Buddhist philosopher Nagasena. Another great Buddhist work consists of hundreds of Jataka stories which became the subjects of Buddhist sculpture and are popular all over the world for their wisdom. Later many Buddhist works were written in Sanskrit. Of these the most famous is the Buddhacharita or ‘Life of Buddha’ by Ashvaghosha.
The period beginning a little before the reign of the Guptas ushered in the glorious period of Sanskrit literature, particularly secular. This was the greatest period for the growth of poetry and drama. The great writers of this period are well known-Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Bharavi, Bhartrihari, Bana, Magha and many others. Of these, Kalidasa is known all over the world. His works – the Kumarasambhava, the Raghuvamsha, the Meghaduta, the Abhijnanashakuntalam and others- are unrivalled for their poetry and style. Bana wrote the Harshacharita, a biography of King Harsha, and Kadambari. Among te other famous works of the period are Bhavabhuti’s Utter-Ramacharita, Bharavi’s Kitarjuniya, Vishakhadatta’s Mudra Rakhshasa, Shudraka’s Mricchakatika. Dandin wrote the Daskumaracharita or the ‘tales of the Ten Princes’. The subjects of these and other works were political events, romances, allegories, comedies and philosophical questions. Besides these, there was also a growing body of philosophical literature. The most famous of these in the later period are the great commentaries of Shandaracharya. There were also great collections of tales and stories. The most famous collections are the Panchatantra and the Kathasarit-sagar which have been translated into many languages all over the world.

The four Dravidian languages- Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam – developed their own distinct scripts and literature. Tamil is the oldest of these with its literature going bank to the early centuries of the Christian era. According to traditions, three literary gatherings or Sangams were held at which many sages and poets recited their compositions. This body of literature consists of many themes like politics, war and love. The famous works of this body of literature include the Ettutogai (‘Eight Anthologies’), the Tolkappiyam (a work of Tamil grammar) and the Pattuppattu (‘the Ten Songs’). Thiruvalluvar wrote the famous Kural which, in verse, deals with many aspects of life and religion. The Silappadikaram and the manimekalai are some of the other most famous works of early Tamil literature.

Literature in the Medieval Period

In the early medieval period in northern India, Sanskrit continued to be the language of literature. This is the period of the works of two writers in Kashmir-Somadeva’s Katha-sarit-sagar which we have already mentioned and Kalhana’s Rajataringing. The later, a history of Kashmir, is a work of great importance as this is the first proper historical work in India. Another famous work of this period is the Gitagovinda by Jayadeva, which is one of the finest poems in Sanskrit literatue. As mentioned before, this was the period when the Apabhramaha languages had started developing into modern Indian languages. One of the earliest works in an early form of Hindi was Prithviaraj Raso by Chandbardai. This work which marks the beginning of bardic literature deals with the heroic deeds of Prithviraj Chauhan.

In the southern parts, this period saw the flourishing of Sanskrit literature. The philosophical commentaries of Shankara has already been mentioned. Another important Sanskrit work of this period is Bilhana’s Vikramankadeva-charita, a biography of the Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI. However, this period is more important for the growth of literature in the Dravidian languages. Nripatunga wrote a great work of poetry in Kannada called the Kavirajamarga. For a few centuries, the Kannada literature was deeply influenced by Jainism. Pampa wrote the Adipurana and the Vikramarjana-Vijaya, the former dealing with the life of the first Jain tirthankara and the latter based on the Mahabharata. Poonna wrote the Shantipurana a legendry history of the sixteenth tirthankara. Another great Kannada writer was Ranna, a contemporary of Pampa, Ponna and Ranna are known as the Three Gems of the early Kannada literature. Kamban wrote the Ramayanam in Tamil. In Tamil, this was the period of the composition of the great hymns of the Alvars and the Nayanars. The hymns of the Alvars are collected into the Nalayira-Divya Prabandham. Some of the Nayanar works are the THiruvasagam, the Thiruttondattogai. Telugu also produced great religious and secular literature in this period. This included translations of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, works of grammar, science and other secular literature. Literature in Malayalam also started growing.

The period of the Sultanat of Delhi saw a great advance in the growth of modern Indian languages and literature. Braj Bhasha and khari Boli, forms of Hindi, began to be used in literary compositions. Many devotional songs were composed in these languages. Heroic literature was written in Gujarati. The famous ballad Alha Udal and the Vishaldeo Raso belong to this period. The literature in other modern Indian languages called Chandayana. Commentaries on ancient scriptures, however, continued to be written in Sanskrit.

Persian was the court language of the Sultanat. Because of its literature many Persian words became part of the vocabulary of Indian languages. A very notable contribution of the Turks was in the field of historical literature in Persian. In ancient India, there was no tradition of historical writing. The Turks introduced the Arab and Persian traditions of historical writing in India and with them we get a fairly syastematic account of Indian history beginning with the Sultanat of Delhi. There were many historians in this period. Ziauddin Barani wrote the Tarikh-i-Firozshahi which gives a detailed account of the reigns of the Khaljis and the Tughlaqs. He also wrote a work on political theory called the Fatawa-i-Jahandari. Perhaps the most outstanding literary figure of this period was Amir Khusrau. He was a poet, historian, mystic and composer of music. He was also a disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya. He wrote the Ashiqa, the Nuh SIpihr, the Qiranal-Sadayan, the Khazain-ul-Futuh and several works of poetry. He symbolizes the composite culture which was growing under the new impact. He took great pride in his being an Indian and praised India as the ‘Earthly Paradise’. He praised India’s fauna and flora, its beauty, its buildings, its knowledge and learning. He believed that in many respects the essence of Hinduism resembled Islam. He considered Handawi, the Hindi spoken around the region of Delhi, his mother tongue and composed many verses in it. He composed a number of bilingual quatrains and verses in Hindi and Persian. The healthy tradition started by him continued for centuries after him.

The regional kingdoms provided a great stimulus to regional languages and literature. The Sultans of Bengal, Gujarat and other states patronized local languages and literature. Bhakti saints preached in the language of the people. Many of them like Kabir were great poets. There were two main forms of Hindi in this period Bhojpuri and Awadhi. Kabir wrote in Bhojpuri and his dohas or couplets have become a part of the folklore. Malik Muhammad Jayasi wrote the Padmavat in Awadhi. The famous Ramacharitamanas by Tulsidas was also written in Awadhi in this period. There were many other poets of Qutban, a disciple of the Sufi Saint Shaikh Burhan, wrote the Mrigavati.

Literature in other languages also developed in this period. In Bengali the Ramayana by Krittivasa and the hundreds of lyrics by the famous poet Chanddidas were written under the patronage of the rulers. With Chaitanya, the tradition of writing devotional songs began. Narasi Mehta wrote devotional songs in Gujarati and Namdev and Eknath in Marathi. There were important developments in Kashmir under Zainul Abidin, under whose patronage many Sanskrit works like the mahabhatata and the Rajataringini were translated into Persian.

Under the Vijayangar Kingdom, Sanskrit literature continued to grow. However, this was an important period for the growth of Telugu literature. Krishnadeva Raya, the greatest of Vijayanagar rulers, was also a Telugu and Sanskrit writer. He wrote the Vishnuchittiya. There were many poets in his court, the most famous of whom was Allasani Peddana who wrote the Manucharita and another poet Dhurjati wrote the Kalahasti Mahatamya.

As in art and architecture the Mughal period also saw great developments in literature. Many Mughal emperors and members of the royal family were great men of letters. Babar, the first Mughal ruler, was one of the pioneers of Turkish poetry and also the author of a very valuable autobiography in Turkish, Babar Nama which was later translated into Persian. Gulbadan Begum, sister of Humayun, wrote the Humayun Nama. Jahangir, the great connoisseur of painting, wrote his aoutobiography, the Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri. Aurangzeb also was a prolific writer and the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’ was a notable Urdu poet.

Hindi literature made significant progress during Akbar’s reign. Tulsidas, who has already been mentioned, and the Keshavdas, a gret poet, wrote on themes of love. Rahim’s Dohas or couplets are extremely popular in many parts of the country. It was also in Akbar’s time that the great Sanskrit work on styles of writing, the Alankarashekhara by Keshava Misra, appeared.

This was a period of many notable writings in the Persian language. Abul Fazl wrote the Ain-i-Akbari and the Akbar Nama. Ain-i-Akbari gives details of Indian customs and manners, religions and philosophy, economic conditions and almost every other aspect of life. As a historical work, it is perhaps unparalleled. Abul Fazl’s brother Faizi was a great poet of Persian and was responsible for the translation of many Sanskrit works into Persian. Akbar had started a whole department for translation of works like the Mahabharata, the Ramayana the Atharva-Veda, the Bhagvad Gita and the Panchatantra.

Many important historical works were produced under the emperors after Akbar. Some of the most important historians of this period were Abdul Hamid Lahori, Khafi Khan, Muhammad Kazim and Sujan rai Bhandari. Literature in modern Indian languages also continued to grow. The famous book of Bihari Lal called the Satsai in Hindi belongs to this period.

One of the most Significant developments during the medieval period was the birth of the Urdu language. This new language soon developed one of the richest literatures as a modern Indian languages. It produced great poets like Wali, Mir Dard, Mir Taqi Mir, Nasir Akbarabadi, Asadullah Khan Ghalib and, in the twentieth century, Iqbal and others. Urdu prose also developed early in the eighteenth century when the translation of most of the historical works from Persian and Sanskrit into Urdu began. At the same time many original prose works in Urdu Azad’s Darbar-i-Akbari. The Urdu novel was one of the earliest to develop in the Indian languages. Urdu became the language of the urban people of northern India and the Deccan and is one of the best examples of the growth of a common culture.

Music and Dance

As in architecture, painting, languages and literature, signs of growth and synthesis are visible in the evolution of other aspects of culture. Governed by almost the same basic ideas, the music and dances of India developed a very rich variety on the foundations laid in the ancient times. The earliest traditions of Indian music can be traced bank to the Vedas which prescribed the pitch and accent for the chanting of Vedic hymns. The music of the Vedic chant scurvies to this day. The earliest known treatise of Indian music, dance and drama is as old as second century B.C. , this is Bharata’s Natyashastra. Much of the musical terminology used till today is derived work composed over a thousand years later was Matanga’s Brihaddesi. The concept of raga was discussed at great length in this work. A thirteenth century work, Sangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara, mentions 264 ragas. Indian music, both vocal and instrumental, developed with seven basic wind and drum instruments were later invented. Music has, from times immemorial, been one of the cherished arts of musicians; many rulers themselves were accomplished musician. We see, for example, Samudragupta’s coin in which the king himself is shown playing on the Vina. Music was also associated with the worship of gods and goddesses and in its perfection it has received the same devotion as worship.

The medieval period witnessed further developments in music. Music was not a part of the original Islamic tradition (though the form of recitation of the Quranic verses is musical), but it developed under the influence of the Sufis and became a part of court life. Many new forms and instruments were developed. Amir Khusrau, about whose contribution to literature and historical writing we have already gone through, is believed to have invented some of these musical instruments. He was the originator in India of the early form of the popular musical style known as Qawwali. Khayal, one of the most important forms of Indian classical music, is also believed to be his contributions. Then there are the legendary figures of Baz Bahadur, the ruler of Malwa, and his queen Rupamati in the sixteenth century. They were not only accomplished musicians but also introduced many new ragas. The most notable figure in music in medieval India was Tansen, the court musician of Akbar. His attainments in music have become a legend and his memory is deeply cherished by every musician to this day. The patronage of music continued at the courts of rulers in the eighteenth century and the traditions evolved through the centuries were kept alive. The contribution of the Bhakti and Sufi saints in the development and promotion of music is very important.

The growth of Indian classical music has been a major force of India’s cultural unity. For hundreds of years, most of the words and themes of the Indian classical music have been derived from Hindu mythology but some of the greatest masters of this music have been Muslims. It is interesting to mention here the Kitab-i-Nauras, a collections of songs in praise of Hindu deities and Muslim saints, which was written by a seventeenth century ruler Ibrahim Adil Shah II.

Both in vocal and instrumental music, two main classical styles have evolved Hindustani and Carnatic. Some of the greatest figures in Carnatic music were Purandaradasa, Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syamasastri whose compositions continue to dominate Carnatic music even now. These two styles have many things in common and each has a variety of forms. The rich heritage of classical music that has come down to us has been further enriched in the hands of masters in India today and has won admirers the entire world over. Besides classical music, Indian people have developed rich traditions of folk music.

Indian dance has also developed a rich classical tradition. It has become the medium of expression of emotions, of telling a story and of drama. The story of Indian dance can be seen in the temple sculptures of ancient and medieval times. The popular image of Shiva in the form of Nataraja symbolizes the influence this art form on the life of the Indian people. It received the patronage of emperors and kings as also of the common people. Some styles of classical dance that have evolved through the centuries are Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Bharat Natyam, Kathak and Manipuri. All these styles have developed over a long period of time. Practically every region and area in the country has also developed rich traditions of folk dances. The rich variety in music and dance forms, classical and folk, is a major component of India’s cultural heritage.

Through their music and dance, Indian people have expressed their joys and sorrows, their struggles and aspirations, and a myriad other emotions. While at work and during their hours of leisure, they have danced, sung and played music. These art forms have been inspired by life and in turn have enriched life.

In this write up only a few components and aspects of India’s cultural development have been described. Indians throughout their history made significant advances in various fields of knowledge such as science and mathematics, medicine and surgery, and philosophy. Some of the great names in Indian science, mathematics, medicine and surgery are Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Charaka and Sushruta. A prominent figure in the field of science in the sixteenth century was Fathullah Shirazi. In all these fields, India’s achievement reached other countries. Many works of these men of science were translated by the Arabs and through the Arabs they reached the Europeans. Today the world is already familiar with the story of the Indian numerals. Indians also benefited from the scientific achievements of other cultures, particularly in astronomy and, in medieval times, also in medicine. Science in India failed to keep pace with scientific development in some other parts of the world only from about the sixteenth century when modern science began to develop in Europe. In technology, this situation came even later. The comparative backwardness of Indian science and technology grew more acute as science and technology made rapid progress in the West. This has had disastrous consequences for most of the Indians resulting in the low life standard compared to the countries in the west.

In philosophy also, India made significant advances in ancient and medieval times. Many distinct schools of philosophy grew both idealist and materialist. In later times, however, there was too much emphasis on writing commentaries on earlier philosophical works rather than developing new thinking. Though India’s heritage in this area of intellectual life is of great importance and has been a significant influence in philosophical writings in other countries, the neglect of certain developments in philosophy had a negative effect on Indian intellectual life. These developments, particularly of scientific, humanistic and rationalist thinking, began to be imbibed in Indian intellectual life in the nineteenth century.

This in brief is the story of Indian cultural development through the ages. Through the long years, people living in India and those coming to India intermingled with each other. They developed a rich and dynamic culture always ever-growing through its internal evolution and through contacts with other cultures. Many streams of thought, belief and expression originating else where have mixed with the ever-growing streams in India and coalesced to form the ocean of Indian culture. Many streams of faith and religion, of styles of architecture and art, and of languages rich in literature have developed during the course of centuries. In its variety Indian culture is one of the richest in the world. All the diverse streams have developed in this country and are Indian. This richness has come about as a result of the freedom which every region and community has enjoyed to develop its genius and through their mutual interactions. It also needs to be remembered that the culture of any country is a dynamic and ever-growing entity which needs to be further developed and enriched by every generation.


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