The influence of Greek Culture on Indian Art

India’s contact with Western Asia and the Greeks also influenced Indian art. The Greeks greatly contributed to the development of Taxila, Gandhara and Mathuta as the centres of art in India. They gave birth to the Gandhara School of Art. Its style is partly Indian and partly Greek. Stone images and statues of the Buddha were carved. Indian architecture was also influenced to some extent by the Greeks. But not a single monument of the Greek style has survived. A temple of high pillars probably belonging to the first century A.D. has been discovered at Taxila.

The Indians learnt much about the art of making coins from the Greeks. Before the coming of the Indo-Bactrians and Indo-Parthians to India, the art of coinage in India was in an infant stage. It is evident from the fact that the coins of Chandragupta Maurya were rough and crude in form. Indians made punch-marked silver and copper coins. The Greeks circulated beautiful coins minted in India. These coins had pictures engraved on the obverse and the reverse. Like the Greek rulers, the rulers in other parts of India started manufacturing beautiful coins.

Art and Architecture During the Kushan Rule

The reign of Kanishka is famous for the progress of art in ancient India. The craftsmen produced many unique pieces of art in his times. Mathura, Sarnath, Vidisa, Gandhara and Taxila were the most famous centres of art.

(A) Gandhara School of Art: The Gandhara School of Art which developed in the times of Kanishka occupies a prominent place in the cultural history of India. Art was applied to architecture, sculpture and painting which flourished in the Gandhara region (modern Rawalpindi and Peshawar regions) from the first century A.D. to the 5th century A.D. It developed under the Kushans, especially Kanishka. It is also called Indo-Greek art because Greek techniques were employed to illustrate Indian thought and religion. Although the techniques were borrowed from the Greeks, the original conception of the Buddha figure was basically Indian. It was essentially Indian in spirit. This Art is also sometimes called the Buddhist Art of Gandhara because it produced mostly images of the Buddha and the Boddhistavas. Some features of Garidhara Art were as under:
1. The Buddha has been shown sitting and appears to be a king rather than an ascetic.
2. The Buddha has been shown sitting in the golden throne in the Gandhara Art whereas in other Indian styles he is shown sitting in the Padamasana.
3. The right shoulder of the Buddha has been shown naked. Moustaches have also been shown.
4. The hair of the Buddha are fashioned in the Greeco-Roman style.
5. Beautiful engravings, decorations, symbols and a halo round the face of the Buddha have been shown in the images.

The Gandhara sculptures have been found in the ruins of Taxila and in many ancient cities of Afghanistan and in the North West Frontier province of Pakistan. The standing figure of Buddha from Hoti Mardan has Indian features, but its size and presentation of the head and drapery show the influence of the god Apollo.

Fine figures of the Buddha and Buddhistavas are paintings portraying every incident of his life and previous births are remarkably executed in blackstone. The.life of the Buddha forms the inspiring motive of this art. In fact, the Gandhara Art is the living commentary on the life and deeds of the Buddha.

(B) Mathura Art: Mathura was also an important centre of art during the reign of Kanishka. The king beautified Mathura with number of monasteries, statues and sculptures. The well known relic of this period is a portrait statue of Kanishka. The statue is, however headless. At Mathura, besides the images of the Buddha and Boddhistavas, the idols of Hindu gods like Shiva, Vishnu, Surya and Jam Tirthankaras were also produced.

Chaitya at Peshawar: Peshawar being the seat of government, Kanishka built many buildings here. The most important monument of Kanishka in Peshawar is a relic tower of bronze called Shah Ji ki Dehn It was a hige stupa or a monastery. Hieun Tsang says that it consisted of a basement in five stages, a superstructure of carved wood in thirteen storeys and surmounted by gilt copper umbrella.

Founding of the new cities

Kanishka is said to have founded the city of Kanishkapüra after his own name. It was near modern Baramula. It is believed thai the Sirsukh city of Taxila and its monasteries and buildings were founded by Kanishka.

Coins

The art of coinage was also much developed during the Kushan rule. A large variety of copper and silver coins belonging to this period have been discovered. These coins have figures of Greek, Persian and Hindu kings. A gold coin bearing the image, of Kanishka has also been discovered. All the copper coins have images of Kanishka engraved on them: These coins throw light on the administration of Kanishka and also indicate that the art of coinage was greatly developed at this time.

The Imperial Guptas

The Gupta period is marked by great activity in the spheres of art and architecture. A large number of Brahmanical temples were built. The inscriptions show that the temples were dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva and Parvati. Monasteries were given over to the Buddhist Sanghas and even temples were built for the spiritual culture of the Jains. Among those which have survived, the following are well-known.

1. The Dasavatara temple at Devgarh in the Jhansi district. It had originally a pyramidical top about 40 feet in height. Its walls are decorated outside with terracota figures showing scenes from Hindu mythology.
2. The temple at Bhitargaon near Kanpur
3. Vishnu temple at Tigawa in Jabalpur district
4. Shiva temple at Bhumara
5. Buddhist shrines at Sanchi and Bodhgaya
6. The Shiva temple at Khoh (Nagod state) containing a beautiful Elsamukhi Linga
7. A beautiful Parvati temple at Nachna-Kuthara (Ajaygarh state) etc.

Dr. Bhasham points out that the Gupta temples show the same general pattern. Pillars were usually ornate with heavy bell shaped capitals. All the Gupta temples were small in size and most of them had flat roofs.
Several Buddhist buildings, stupas, chapels and monasteries have been discovered at Jaulian, Charsadda and other ancient sites near Pushkalavati. One of the Stupas found at Jarasandha-ka-Bamh at Rajgir and the Dhamek Stupa at Sarnath belong to the 6th century A.D. The Stupa at Sarnath is 128 feet high and has four niches for the Buddha images. Narasimha Gupta Baladitya built a magnificent brick temple of Buddha at Nalanda. It was about 300 feet high and was greatly admired by the Chinese travellers who visited this place. The main structure has entirely been destroyed and only its basement has been unearthed.

Arts, Crafts and Architecture in Ancient India

The development of Indian art is the result of evolution which began with the Harappan culture. The study of the ruins unearthed during the excavations show that the buildings at Harappa and Mohenjodaro were constructed according to some definite pians. They were made of pucca bricks. The houses had floors, courtyards, doors, windows and narrow stairways. The city of Mohenjodaro had an imposing Great Bath. “It is a swimming bath on a scale which would do credit to a modem seaside hotel.” The solid nature of the structure is proved by the fact that it has been strong enough to last for five thousand years. The most remarkable building excavated at Harappa is the Great Granary. This large godown is divided into two blocks, each having six big halls. These godowns must be serving the purpose of government store houses. The above account shows that the art of building had reached a high degree of perfection. At the time when the citizens of Indus valley freely used kiln-burnt bricks, the people of Egypt were ignorant of it and that of Mesopotamia (modem Ixaq) very seldom used it. A large number of figurines of both males and females made of bronze, stone and clay have been discovered at many places. The Indus valley people were skilled in this art and fashioned these figures stylically. The image of a dancing girl and the terracota figure of a woman named as the Mother Goddess are popular pieces of art. The seals discovered in the Indus valley are most puzzling and most important. The seal named Pashupati unearthed at Harappa shows the figure of a male god with horns and three faces. It throws light on the religion of the Indus people. Another seal “Bull seal” shows a stout humpee rahami bull. The modelling of the fleshy limbs is remarkable for its artistic beauty. The seals give us much information about the culture of the Indus people. They tell us about their agriculture, animals, ids, dress, ornaments, hair style, arts and crafts, religious beliefs and their script.

The Mauryan Period

India witnessed a remarkable progress in the field of art during the Mauryan period. The first Mauryan ruler Chandragupta built a number of monuments and palaces at Pataliputra. They were built of wood and they have perished. But some monuments of Ashoka have survived the ravages of the time. They form the earliest artistic records of Indian civilization.

Founding of new cities

The traditions tell that Ashoka built two great cities. Kaihana in his famous work writes that Ashoka laid the foundation of the town of Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. He built 500 Viharas. The Chinese traveller Hieun Tsang who visited India in the seventh century A.D. mentions 100 Viharas which he saw there. In 250-24 B.C., when Ashoka visited Nepal, he built a city named Lalitpattam and constructed five stupas there.

The Palace of Pataliputra

Ashoka built a magnificent palace at Pataliputra. Chinese pilgrim Fahien who visited India in the 5th century AD writes that he found Ashoka’s palace and an assembly hail at Pataliputra. They were built by Asuras. They created stone walls and gates and engraved beautiful pictures on them which no other craftsman in any part of the world could make in those days.

Stupas

Ashoka built stupas all over the country. The Buddhist traditions tell that he built as many as 84000 stupas in as many towns. They were situated at Taxila, Srinagar, Thaneswar, Kanauj, Mathura, Ayodhya, Prayag, Kausambhi, Kapilvastu, Benaras, Vaishali,Gaya etc. Some of his stupas were as high as hill tops. Only a few of them have been discovered. The be’t known is the Great Stupa of Sanchi near the ancient city of Vidisa (in modem Madhya Pradesh). It is 56 feet high with a diameter of 110 feet. At the top is a small stone umbrella, a symbol of royalty. There are carvings on the railings and gateway of the stupa which throw much light on the every day life, customs and dresses of the people of those days. There is another stupa of Ashoka at Bharhut (near Allahabad). It is about 68 feet high. The stupa was completely destroyed but some of its remains are preserved in theCalcutta (Kolkata) museum.

Pillars

Ashoka also built beautiful pillars (Lats). He built a number of monolithic pillars to commemorate some special events of his reign. Some of them have been discovered at Rammendai, Sarnath, Sanchi and Nigliva. Each of these pillars consists of two parts, namely the shaft and the capital. The workmanship of the Sanchi pillar is a “masterpiece in point of both style and technique”. The artistic beauty of the figures of the four lions standing back to back and the smaller figurines of animals in relief on abacus, have envoked admiration of all critics of art. Dr. V.A. Smith observes, “It should be difficult to find in any country an example of sculpture superior to or even equal to this beautiful work of art”.

Caves

A number of caves belonging to the Mauryan period have been discovered in Barabara hills near Gaya. The one called Sudama Cave was dedicated by Ashoka to the monks of the Ajivika sect. The caves were cut out of solid rocks and are wonderful monuments of patient skill and hard labour. These caves were used by the monks for residential purposes. These also served the purpose of shrines and assembly halls.

Small Pieces of Art

Some small pieces of art belonging to the Mauryan period have been discovered at Parkham near Mathura. One of these is a male figure and is seven feet in height. Besides, a female figure from Besanagar and some figures from Didarganj arid Patna are notable. According to Dr. Kumara Swami, these peices of art are the specimens of folk art.

Art of Polishing

The art of polishing was highly developed during the time of Ashoka. The walls of the rock-cut caves in Barabar and Nagarjuna hills are still shining like mirror. The polish of Ashoka’s pillars has astonished even the thodern craftsmen. They are so shining that they seem to be made of brass. An English priest Bishop Herber wrote in the beginning of the 18th century that the “Topara Pillar of Ashoka which was brought to Delhi was cast of a black metal.”

Art of Engineering

The Ashoka monuments also reveal that the people had acquired much knowledge of engineering technique in those times. The handling of monolithic shafts weighing 50 tons and more than 30 feet in height involved great engineering skill. We learn that Feroze Shah Tughlaq removed an Ashokan pillar from Topra near Ambala and brought it to Delhi. Its transportation required the labour of 8400 men pulling at the 42 wheeled cart on which it was carried. It was also during the Mauryan Age that the construction of a remarkable lake called the Sudrashana Lake near Junagarh was taken up by artificially damming up some of the streams. Dr. Radhakumad Mukerji observes that the engineers of the Mauryan times were also expert town planners. Megasthenese’s account shows that Pataliputra city was built according to well thought out plan by the Mauryan engineers.

Art of making Ornaments and Coins

Some ornaments have been discovered in the excavations at Taxila which prove that the art of making gold and silver ornaments was much advanced in the Mauryan period. The Greek writers tell that art of ivory carving and making ivory ornaments also flourished during this period. But the art of making coins was not well-developed as the coins of this period are crude in form.

Thus, we see that art, crafts and architecture made tremendous progress during the Mauryan Age. According to Rawilson, Indian art in Mauiyan times “reached a standard of technical and artistic perfection unsurprassed save perhaps in Athens, anywhere in the ancient world up to
that time?” But unfortunately with the collapse of the Mauryan empire; the art also declined.

Jainism and Buddhism

The Jainism probably arose in the later Vedic period and was only revived by Vardhmana Mahavira “the great hero” in the 6th century B.C. Mahavira was the 24th in the line of ‘path finders’ (Tirthankaras). The word Jainism is derived from the word JINA meaning spiritual conqueror. There are two principal sects of the Jainas known as Swatambaras and the Digambaras. The former are clad in white while the latter go naked. The Digambaras
firmly believe that whoever owns anything is not fit for attaining
salvation. Jainism believes in the transmigration of soul. The goal of
life is to help soul attain its salvation. Salvation could only be achieved
by following right faith, right knowledge and right action— the Three
Jewels or Three Ratnas.

It is believed that Buddhism began as a religion and became a
philosophy in its encounter against Brahmanism. Buddhism rejects
ritualism and emphasises on morality The real message of the Buddha
is to be found in the Four Noble Truths. The first truth is that life is
painful. The second is that the pain is caused by Trishna or Desire, a
constant craving for sensual delight, pleasures and material gains. The
third is that suffering could be removed by removing its cause i.e.,
when man becomes free from desires. The fourth is that suffering can
cease if one knows the right way. Buddhism was split into two sects—
Hinayna and Mahayana. The four noble truths are common to both.
The followers of Mahayana raised Buddha to the status of God and
began to worship him just like the Hindus. Images of the Buddha were made and placed in the Buddhist churches. The Mahayana monks preached and wrote their sacred books in the Sanskrit language instead of Pali.

Puranic Bralimaniam was another important faith which emerged in the country. It had faith in Puranas, Dharamshastra such as Manu Samriti, Vishnu Samriti and two great epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. It is also styled as Sanatan Dharma or Eternal Religion because the Dharamshastra and the Puranas are without beginning and ever lasting. The Puranic Hinduism was divided into several sects most important of them being Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism.

Vedant Darshan: In the later period of ancient Indian history, a new religious sect called Bhakti saints emerged in the South. The followers of Bhakti cult worshipped their favourite gods. It gave rise to the Vaishnav and Shaiv religions. Shankaracharya, the greatest Indian religious philosopher propagated love of God and composed many devotional
poems. He elaborated the subtle and the most profound philosophy of Upanishadas. He restored the Brahmanical Hinduism and the authority of the Vedas to the position of intellectual leadership. He taught the
unqualified monism of the Vedas. He reformed the method of worship from the uncivilised and indecent practices of the Tantrics. He gave a pleasant and elevating system of worship of the deities— Shiva,
Shakti, Surya, Vishnu, Ganpati and Shamukha. He established four maths or monasteries in four corners of India i.e. at Shringeri, Pun, Dwarka and Badrinath.

Coming of Islam to India: Islam took birth in Arabia in the beginning of the 7th century. Indians came into contact with Islam in the
late seventh century A.D. through the Arab traders. Later, the Sufi saints came to India with Arab traders to spread the message of Lotus flower Symbol of Purity Islam. The Sufism had gained ground in India before the establishment of the Muslim rule in India by Maimud Ghazni. The Sufi saints condemned blind faith and useless rituals which had crept into Muslim society They had firm faith in One God. They asked their followers to shun wealth and life of luxury. They had firm faith in non-violence. They held that social evils could be eradicated only by peaceful methods. They preached love of mankind and universal brotherhood. The Sufis were successful in converting a large number of Hindus to Islam, especially the low castes. The Sufi movement spread all over India.

Bhakti Movements: During the Medieval period, Southern as well as Northern India witnessed the growth of the Bhakti movement. It aimed to purge Hinduism of its evils and to save it from the onslaughts of Islam. A series of Hindu saints and reformers started religious reform movements which adopted the method of devotion (Bhakti) to achieve salvation. Thus began the Bhakti movement. The most famous and popular among the reformers were Rama Nanda, Kabir, Sadna, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Ravi Das and Guru Nanak. The Bhakti movement greatly influenced the social, religious, cultural and political life of the people. It saved Hinduism from degeneration. It condemned the caste system, untouchability wasteful rituals and ceremonies to restore Hinduism to its ancient glory The Bhakti movement thus protected Hinduism and it began to flourish. The Bhakti reformers preached universal brotherhood. As a result, people were no more inclined to embrace Islam and thus growth of Islam was checked.

Religious Traditions in India

Religious traditions also bind men together. Belief in God is not a blind force but has an active and logical philosophy of life. Religion has always been the backbone of Indian society. During the times of national crisis, it was the religion that saved Hindu society from disintegration.

Dedicating oneself to upliftment of people is regarded as the highest religious duty because active social service means seeing God in the suffering humanity Such excellent ideals have given strength to the Hindu society and religion.

The earliest source of information regarding Hindu thought is Vedas, which signifies not a single work but a whole Vedic literature. This literature consists of two parts viz, Mantras and Brahmanas. The Upnishadas which are the main philosophical inspirations are included in Brahmanas but owing to their unique importance in the history of Indian thought they are treated separately. The Bhagvat Gita which is a part of the Mahabharata, contains the essence of the Upnishadas.

The six systems of Hindu philosophy can be traced to the Brahma sutras, the Upnishadas and the Bhagvat Gita. These six major Darshans (systems of philosophy) give different views about God. Nayaa and Visheshika accept the existence of God. The two Mimansa (Uttar Mimansa and Purava Mimansa) rely on the Vedas. The Sankhya system is materialistic and does not believe in the existence of God. The Yoga which is practically independent, is not really theistic.

Heritage-Social and Cultural Traditions

The social and religious traditions in a society are the products of three main factors— environments, personalities and social groups. The course of action that famous figures of history take and the environments and the society in which they are placed give birth to traditions, social, religious, economic or political. Such traditions develop gradually and imperceptibly during the course of time. Let us study some social traditions of our country.

Family: The family was the pivot of Indian society. Joint families were common. The relations between the members were cordial. They shared a common life and the entire property belonged to the family. The head of the family was highly respected. He could punish the wrong deeds of any family member. The decisions of the eldest male member were final even in the matters of marriage. But in the modern age, these traditions are fading away. Due to the changes in the life style of the people, the joint families are breaking. The eldest member of the family is no more shown the same respect.

Position of Women: In the early Vedic Age, the women enjoyed highly respectable position in the society. Among the composers of the Vedas, names of some ladies such as those of Ghosha and Sikata Nivavara are also mentioned. All the religious ceremonies were performed by the husband and wife together. Every mother was the mistress In the household matters. Marriage was a sacred ceremony. Women had the freedom in the choice of their partners, which is proved by the performance of Swayamvara. Polygamy was rare. Widow remarriage was not prohibited. Thus the standard of female morality was very high and women enjoyed an honourable position in the society.

But there was a marked decline in the position of women in the later Vedic Age. She could not inherit property. She could not take part in political activities. A daughter began to be looked ‘upon as a source of misery while a son was a light in the highest heaven. The practice of polygamy had increased their sorrows and miseries. Position of the women in the medieval age further deteriorated. She was generally treated as inferior. Her husband was her only hope and resource. If he died, she had to remain widow. Her only chance of happiness was to bear his son. Several high castes such as Rajputs committed female infanticide. There was the practice of purdah both among the Muslim and Hindu women. Early marriage was very common. The girls were given in marriage at the age of 7, 10 or at the most 12 years. The practice of Sati was not uncommon especially among the upper caste Hindu women.

Simple Life: In the ancient times, the Indians lived a very simple life. Most of the people were vegetarians. Their food consisted of parched grams, cakes, curd, and various vegetables and fruits. The rise of Jainism and Buddhism further encouraged the people to become vegetarians. Even today, most of the Hindus are vegetarians.

The people wore simple clothes. A dhoti and another sheet sufficed for men. Sirnilar1) a simple croset and dhoti were the dress of women. The dhoti or saree was artistically worn. The clothes were made of cotton or wool. The rich wore artistic clothes generally embroidered with gold.
People led a merry pastoral life. Men and women enjoyed themselves in festive assemblies with music and dance. Dicing, drinking and gambling were the common vices.

Caste System: In the early Vedic period, the caste system in its rigid form did not exist. The word Varuna distinguished the Aryans from the non-Aryans. The modem caste names Kshatriyas and Brahmans were used in different sense altogether. Kshatriya means strong, Vipra means wise and Brahman means merely a composer of hymns. In the same family, father, mother and sons followed different occupations. But in the later Vedic Age, the whole society was divided into four Varunas or castes— Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras. The Brahmans occupied the highest place in the social organisation. Philosophers, scholars, teachers and priests were Brahmans. Next came the Kshatriyas. They were administrators, soldiers and leaders in war. The bulk of the people who were engaged in agriculture, industry trade and craft and cattle breeding were called Vaishyas. The lowest caste in the society was that of Sudras. They depended only on physical strength for their livelihood and served the other three classes. They were also looking after agriculture.
The most unfortunate feature of the Hindu society of the ancient times was the class of untouchables. They performed the menial and unclean jobs. They were criminals, hunters, fishermen, leather workers, sweepers, liquor venders etc. and were grouped as Chandals. They lived outside the villages or the towns, as their professions compelled them to do so. Gradually, distinct changes came in the social structure. The number of castes multiplied and caste rules were more rigidly observed. Now small occupational groups took the place of the older and bigger caste groups. The narrow outlook created by rigid caste system was a stumbling block in the growth of national spirit.

The Ashram system: An important tradition which began in ancient times was the Ashram System. The Grayhya Sutra and Dharam Shastras laid down a series of acts which an average man or woman was expected to perform in the whole span of his life. A man’s life, for instance, was divided into four Ashrams or periods, each of 25 years span. The first period (Brahmacharya) upto the age of 25 years was to be spent as a Brahmacharya. During this period, he was to undergo rigorous dis,cip line, learning various arts and crafts according to his tastes and requirements. During the second period called the Grahasth Ashram, a man was to live a householder’s life. He was to marry and look after his family. During the third period called the Vanprasth, he had to wean himself away from his wife and children and lead the life of a recluse. He was to render every type of social service to society and to make preparations for the Sanyas i.e. renunciation of the world. During the last period called Sanyas Ashram, he was to live as a hermit in the woods and meditate on God and attain Moksha or Nirvana.

These four Ashrams were laid down as an ideal way of leading life for human beings. There is ample evidence in the Vedic literature that some Aryans put into practice such a life. In fact, the best of the philosophical works in Sanskrit literature were produced by the ascetics and hermits who lived in the woods and meditated on the spiritual problems of life hereafter.

Asceticism: Another notable tradition of Indian society was the glorification of the ascetic way of life. An ascetic was a person who did not allow himself worldly pleasures. He believed that the life of
Tapas (austerity), Brahmacharya and detachment might lead to even greater results than the rituals and Yajnas. He renounced the worldly life and retired to the jungles to meditate on spiritual aspects of life.
This asceticism was widely preached in ancient times and it is practised by some even in the modem age.

Sanskrit language: Another important Indian tradition is reverence for the Sanskrit language. It developed in the Vedic age and deeply influenced all languages of India in vocabulary and structure. Its influence has gone so deep that scholars regard all other Indian languages as variations from the common language i.e. Sanskrit.

The earliest religion in India is Hinduism. It is rooted in the Vedas. It has developed throughout the centuries on the basis of the moral and religious ideas of many prophets, saints, philosophers and law givers of ancient
and medieval times. It is a synthesis of spiritual principles, moral precepts and practical rules of conduct. It is a way of life rather than a set creed. It is based on universal love, tolerance and sacrifice. In spite of multiplicity of gods such as Indra, Varuna, Agni, Vayu, Prithvi, Prajanaa, Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva etc. the Hindus believe in One Supreme God. The Supreme God is the creator of all, including the gods. Common belief in several hundreds of gods is an indication of the Hindu sense of tolerance and
belief in the all pervading nature of the Supreme Being. He is uncreated, self luminous, eternal spirit and the final cause of the Universe
and the power behind all force. To the Hindus, religion means the realisation of the Supreme.

Spirit: The study of scriptures, performance of rituals and practice of charity have no meaning without realising God. He is to rise above love and hatred, pleasure and pain, good and evil etc. Every man can do it by controlling his senses and the Hindu scriptures assert that every one including women and children can do it.

The personality of individual must be fully developed. A rich and vigorous life based on the four fold ideals— Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha must be pursued. Enjoyment of material goods and satisfaction of emotional and cultural need, is, therefore, inseparable part of true religious life. The Védas, the Puranas and the Epics prescribe optimistic and creative life. At the same time, man must not be a slave of passions and pleasures. Dedicating oneself to social service and upliftment of the common

Toleration: During the medieval period, in spite of the fundamental differences and tension between Hindus and Muslims, there began to flow a general current of mutual harmony and toleration in different spheres of life. In course of time, both the communities began to realise the futility of war and persecution. Gradually, a spirit of harmony and co-operation developed between them. The healthy spirit of mutual toleration found expression in the growing veneration of the Hindus for the Muslim saints. A desire for mutual understanding induced Muslims to study and translate the Hindu Sanskrit literature in the Muslim courts like those of Zainul abidin in Kashmir and Hussain Shah in Bengal. Muslim preachers and saints began to study Hindu philosophy like Yoga and Vedanta. A spirit of harmony, toleration and co-operation was visible in the growing attempts of some Muslim nobles to adopt Hindu customs while living in Hindu environment.

Tradition of Live and let live: Since times immemorial, India has been following a policy of coexistence or live and let live and not war with other countries. India sent its missions to other countries for moulding the civilization and culture of the vast regions in the continent of Asia which lie beyond the Himalayas and the sea. This cultural and colonial expansion of India beyond its natural frontiers is often termed as Greater India.

Preservation of Natural Heritage of India

In the modern age, man is playing havoc with his natural heritage. We have indiscriminately destroyed our forest wealth. In the earlier periods, large parts of our country were covered with forests. The enormous growth of population has led to the shrinkage of forest area. Extensive forest areas have been cleared for agriculture. Overgrazing of the cattle has led to the erosion of soil. Cutting of trees for timber and fuel have exhausted our forest resources. Deforestation has adversely affected climate of the country and eroded the soil. Deforestation causes floods and renders vast tracts of land waste and barren.

The government is taking some measures for preserving the existing forest areas. New forests are being developed in many parts of the country Grasslands are being regenerated. Improved methods of silviculture are being employed. The forest departments in different states are planting fast growing plants. Area under forests must be increased to increase forest wealth. The government has reserved some areas called Bio-reserves for the preservation and protection of the flora arid fauna of the country .

Some of them are:
1) Nilgiri Bio-reserve which has an area of 500 sq. km.
2) Nanda Devi Bio-reserve in Uttaranchal.
3) Nokrek in Meghalaya.
4) Andaman-Nicobar Bio-reserve.
5) Valley of Flowers in Uttaranchal
6) Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu
7) Thar desert in Rajasthan
8) Rann of Kutch in Gujarat
9) Kaziranga and Manas Park in Assam

The other problem of preserving natural heritage is-the conservation of the wildlife. India has a rich wildlife. It has about 81000 known species of animal life. It has 2500 species of fish and 1200 species of birds. But man has ruthlessly destroyed the wildlife in India. Many rare species have become extinct. Our rich wildlife heritage which took centuries to develop is disappearing speedily. We must preserve it. Many of the animals and wild beasts are found only in India such as swamp deer, the one horned rhinoceros, the bison, Kashmir stag, nilgais, the Bengal tiger etc. Indiscriminate hunting of the wildlife has brought these species to the verge of extinction. Wildlife is a gift of nature and is a thing of beauty. The Government has passed Wild Life Protection Act which provides for the protection and conservation of these species. The Government has set up National Parks, wildlife sanctuaries and zoological gardens. The Project Tiger has been started to protect the tigers. There are 16 Tiger reserves in the country. Some of them are

1)The Kanha National Park (Madhya Pradesh)
2)The Corbett National Park (Uttaranchal)
3)Sanjay National Park in Chhattisgarh

Importance of Natural Heritage of India

Our natural heritage, the land, mountains, rivers, fauna and flora and climate have always influenced the course of political, social, economic and cultural life of the people. The evolution of the history and culture of India cannot be understood if the influence of natural heritage is not studied.

The influence of the Himalayas on Indian history: The Northern Himalayan mountain range embracing Kashmir, Lahaul, Spiti, Tehri, Kumaun, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan is the highest in the country. This forms a sort of wall about 2400 km in length in the north of the country. The Himalaya “the great sentinel of the north” has greatly influenced the course of Indian history. It has always protected the sub-continent from great political and social convulsions from the north as also from cold Siberian winds.

The northern passes of the Himalayas are covered with snow throughout the year and hence no military invasion of India took place from this side. It is because of these snow covered passes that the Chinese and Indian people have separate histories of their own. Despite these hindrances, there had been some contact links between the two countries on the north and the south of these mountains. The travellers and traders braving great hurdles came to India through these passes. This ‘little movement’ is responsible for the mixture of Mongoloid blood among the people of Bhutan, Garhwal, Nepal and Assam. It was also through these passes that many Buddhist missionaries carried the message of the Buddha to China and Central Asiatic countries.

Similarly, the North-eastern ranges of Himalayas comprising Patkoi and the Naga hills running down to the Bay of Bengal have offered great hardships to the invaders.

The protective wall of the Himalayas has given to India a continuity of its civilization and social structure from the ancient times to the present day. The religious doctrines and beliefs, the rules of marriage, the rituals of burials and the organisation of social relations are not basically different from those described in the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. This continuity of Indian life is the supreme gift of the North Himalayan range.

Effects of the North-West ranges of the Himalayas: Unfortunately, the North-western ranges of the Himalayas are not very high and have no forests. The passes on this side of the Himalayas can be easily crossed. They have offered an easy access to the invaders of our country from times immemorial. These passes are the gateways through which the Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Scythians, Turks, Mongols, the Duranis etc. penetrated into the plains of India. Some like the Aryans came to settle permanently in India, while the others like the Hunas and the Mongols came to loot and plunder the country They came through the passes or openings like Khyber, Gomal, Kurram, Tochi and Bolan. For the security of the country, it became necessary for the rulers of India to keep these gateways always well-guarded. Our history shows that whenever the government of India neglected the defense of this side, the country had to suffer heavy losses at the hands of the invaders.

The influence of the Indo-Gangetic plain: The Indo-Gangetic plain has a very fertile soil. Its wealth and prosperity have been the chief source of its fame and trouble. Being rich in agricultural production, it was bound to attract the attention of the people living in poor and barren regions of the north-west. It was due to this reason that since ancient days there had been a continuous migration of tribals from the west to this territory. The Aryans came to settle here. The Persians and the Greeks tried to occupy the Gangetic plains. The Hunas and Mongols also tried to penetrate these fertile and prosperous regions of India.

Influence of Rivers: The Rivers of the Indo-Gangetic plain also played an important part in the life of the people. First, it was in the valley of the Indus that the earliest civilization known in India as the civilization of Harappa and Mohanjodaro flourished. Secondly, the river system irrigated the wide plain and brought economic prosperity to it. Thirdly, the rivers serve as the natural barriers for checking the advance of the invaders, especially during the rainy season. For example, Alexander had great difficulty in crossing “very broad and deep rivers” which were in flood at the time of his invasion. The invaders generally launched expeditions of India from October onwards when the rivers could be crossed easily by boats. Lastly, historically all the rivers served as convenient administrative and political boundaries. During the Mughal period, rivers served as the boundaries of the Subas and the Sarkars.

Influence of Hills and Forests: The snow-fed lofty Himalayan ranges provided natural protection to the northern and eastern parts of the country from the invaders. It is also in the Himalayan ranges that some of the best hill stations of India like Muree (now in Pakistan), Shimla, Daihousie, Mussoorie, Nainital, Shillong aid Darjeeling are situated. The hills also provide medicinal arid aromatic plants which have wide range uses in the pharmaceutical and perfume industries. The Himalayas are the great source of economic prosperity and beauty of the landscape of the Punjab and the Gangetic plains.

The influence of Deccan Peninsula: The Deccan or the South Land is separated from the Northern India by the Vindhya and Satpura mountain ranges. This separation has been responsible in the past for great differences in the political, economic and cultural developments in the Northern and Southern India. While the Aryan civilization and culture were flourishing in the north, the people were leading the Dravidian way of life in the far south. It was because of these natural barriers— the Vindhya mountains, for centuries together the Aryan culture did not penetrate into the south. Similarly the Deccan enjoyed freedom from political and cultural conquest of Islam for several hundred years after the Muslim occupation of the north.

In one way, however, the separation of the country into two parts has benefited India many times. The Deccan, in times of trouble, always became a sort of safety zone for the culture of the north. When the Buddhism became a popular religion in the North, the Brahmanical religion and literature found their way into the South and were saved from extinction. After the resurrection of Hinduism in the North, the Brahmanical religion again became forceful. Similarly, when the Jams found it hard to stay in the Northern India, they took shelter in the South. In the same way when the Muslims occupied the Northern India, the Hindu religion and literature continued to be patronised by the Hindu rulers of the South.

Besides, the Eastern and the Western Coasts of the Deccan peninsula had been responsible for the great maritime activities of the South Indians. The rulers of the Deccan in ancient India encouraged people to go to the South East Asian countries to propagate their culture and civilization. Without the access to the sea, we could not have spread our culture and civilization in the South East Asia.

Impact of climate and other physical conditions: The climate and other physical conditions had also their impact on the habits and character o the people. The martial races were found chiefly in the hilly districts of the north west, the western coast and the desert regions of Rajputana where a livelihood can only be earned from the soil by hard labour. The low lying areas of the U.P., Bihar, Bengal have been inhabited by the peace-loving people. Besides, in the parts of the country where rainy season lasts for several months, there people were slack in their activities from July to October throughout the ancient and the medieval times.

Spirit of Toleration: India’s natural heritage, to a great extent, has also been responsible for the spirit of toleration among the people of India. Prof Humayun Kabir in his book “Our Heritage”, says, “the vastness of Indian lands, the great variety in landscape, climate and conditions of life prepared in the minds a spirit of readiness to accept differences”.

Unity of India: The natural heritage of India is also responsible for the unity of India. “Physical features,” observes, Humayun Kabir, “so sharply mark off India from the rest of Asia that attempts either to divide the country or to expand it beyond its natural frontiers have invariably failed.”

Vegetation and Wildlife in India

Vegetation in India

Ancient India was very rich in forests. There were forests of deodar, blue pine and oak in the Himalayas above the level of 5000 feet. A strong growth of chir pine was often found in the Himalayas between 3000 and 5000 feet. The hills in the north-western districts of the Punjab were covered with low scrubs including in some parts a dwarf palm and wild olive. The pipal, bor or banyan and shisham or tall were popular trees.

In the dry plains of Punjab, Eastern Rajasthan, Saurashtra, Southern Haryana, Maiwa Plateau, Kamataka Plateau the scrub jungles mostly consisted of jand, jal, karir, shisham, khaxr. These are hard
wood trees and are used for making agricultural implements, furnitures and carts.

Agricultural Products:  There were two harvests in the plains of the Northern India- the autumn or Kharif and the spring or the Rabi The important agricultural crops in the Northern plains were wheat,
rice, grams, barley, maize, bajra, sugarcane, cotton, mung, mash, moth, oilseeds, carrots, peas, beans, onions, turnips and melons.

In the fertile regions of North India, of the cultivated fruit, mango, mulberry peach, guava and pears were grown. In the Deccan, besides the foodgrams, the spices like black pepper, ginger, cardamom etc were grown.

Wildlife in India

In ancient India, wildlife was also rich and varied. Tigers were common in almost all parts of India till the nineteenth century. The famous Bengal tigers were found in the Sunderbans, the tidal forests. Leopards were to be found in low hills and sometimes they strayed into the plains. The Himalayan ranges had wild sheep, mountain goats, the Ibex and langoors. Wolves were seen occasionally and jackals were very common. The graceful little chikaras or ravine deers were found in sandy tracts and hogdeer near rivers. Nilgais were less common. Monkeys were found in the hills. Elephants and the rhinos were found in the Assam region.

Peafowis were seen in the Punjab and Rajasthan. The sisa and chikor were found in the hills. Quails frequented the ripening fields in April and the end of September. The green parrots, crows and vultures were familiar sight in all parts of the country. Crocodiles haunted the big rivers like the Ganges. Tortoises were also found in the rivers. Poisonous snakes like karats, the cobra and Russel’s viper were mostly found in Bengal. India had a variety of domestic animals. Cows and the buffaloes were the most important and goats, donkeys and horses were found in large numbers. Camels and pack animals were mostly found in Sindh and Rajasthan.

Major Rivers of India

We have read that the rivers constitute the life blood of our country. India is very often called “the land of rivers”.

Major rivers of the Northern India

Indus System: It is one of the largest river systems in the world. It comprises the rivers—Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Satluj.

The Ganges: It is the most sacred river of India. From olden times, the Ganges is the story of Indian civilization and culture. The Ganges begins its journey from Gomukh glacier near Gangotri. It enters the plains at Haridwar. It meets Jamuna river at Prayag (Allahabad). The Ganges is a 2525 km long river. Many important cities of India like Haridwar, Kanpur, Allahabad, Patna and Calcutta (Kolkata) are situated on its banks.

Brahmaputra is a very important river system. This river is 2880 km long. It flows parallel to the Himalayas in Tibet. It enters India in Arunachal Pradesh. There are frequent floods in this river which cause huge loss. After passing through Assam, it enters Bangla Desh. It is joined there by Padma river and forms a large delta.

Major rivers of the Deccan Peninsula
The rivers of the Deccan Peninsula are seasonal. These flow through narrow and deep valleys.

The rivers falling in the Arabian Sea

  • Narmada- it rises from Amarkantak Plateau in Madhya Pradesh. It does not form delta on the western coast.
  • Tapti rises near Betul in Mahadev hills. It flows through a rift valley. The other rivers which fall in it are Looni, Sabarmati and Mahi. It is 724 kilometres long and falls in the Arabian Sea.

Rivers failing into the Bay of Bengal

The Damodar River rises from Chhota Nagpur plateau and is 570 km long. A multipurpose project known as Damodar Valley Project (DVC) has been constructed on it. It has checked floods and generates electricity The Mahanadi rises from Amarkantak plateau. It is 857 miles long. It is a navigable river and forms a fertile delta. The Godavari rises from Western Ghats. It is 1440 km long and is the longest river in the Deccan. It forms a delta on the east coast.

The Krishna rises in Western Chats. It is 1400 km long. It is joined by two main streams : Bhima and Tungabhadra. The Cauvery rises in the Coorg district. It is 800 km long. This river is much useful for irrigation, navigation and hydro-power generation. This river has a very beautiful waterfall named Shivsamudram. The river forms a delta on the East Coast.

The Himalayan rivers of the North have some different characteristics from those of the Deccan peninsular rivers. In the first place, the rivers of the North viz, the Indus and Ganges and their tributaries derive water from the Himalayan snow fields and have regular flow of water. But the Peninsular rivers are seasonal. They get water from the rainfall. Secondly, the Northern rivers have a few waterfalls. These are, therefore, not so useful for hydel power generation. On the other hand, Deccan rivers have waterfalls and are used for hydel electric power. Thirdly, the Himalayan rivers have large basins and have extensive catchment areas. These can be used to store large volumes of water. But the Peninsular rivers have small basins and small catchment areas. They do not have large volumes of water. Fourthly, the Northern rivers flow through the plains, they irrigate large tracts of land. But the Peninsular rivers flow on the rocky lands They are not much useful for irrigation or navigation. Fifthly, many important towns have developed on the banks of the rivers in the Northern India. But very few towns are situated on the banks of the rivers in the peninsula.