+
3 Tutorials that teach Ancient India
Take your pick:
Ancient India

Ancient India

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will provide an overview of Ancient Indian art and architecture

(more)
See More

Try Sophia’s Art History Course. For Free.

Our self-paced online courses are a great way to save time and money as you earn credits eligible for transfer to over 2,000 colleges and universities.*

Begin Free Trial
No credit card required

25 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

221 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 20 of Sophia’s online courses. More than 2,000 colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.

Tutorial

An overview of the culture, geography, and history of ancient India.

Video Transcription

Download PDF

[MUSIC PLAYING] Namaste. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's episode is about ancient India. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's learning objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms and explain some of the historic, geographic, and cultural background of ancient India. Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson.

First key term is Vedas, the oldest and most authoritative Hindu texts written in Sanskrit. Ashoka, an important Buddhist king of third century BC India known for its edicts posted at the top of monumental pillars. Buddhism is a religion based on the teachings of Buddha, which emphasizes that all suffering in life comes from desire, and that the way to achieve nirvana, or enlightenment, and released from the cycle of life is to eliminate one's earthly desires.

Hinduism is a system of religious practice in India that emphasizes the idea of dharma or duty, and corresponding daily rituals and practices. So continuing with key terms, next key term is Jainism, a religion founded in ancient India that teaches the immortality and transmigration of the soul and denies the existence of a perfect or supreme being. Mahavira is the man who established the central tenets of Jainism. And trefoil is a decorative shape with three lobes.

Big idea for today is pretty big. It's that the ancient Indian culture developed around the Indus Valley. The ancient religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism are fundamental to the cultural understanding of Indian civilization.

So when in history are we looking? Well, as you can see here, we're going to be looking at the Vedic period. We'll be talking about the Vedic period, which ranged from about 1500 to 500 BC. And here's the Indian subcontinent in dark green.

Now the Indian subcontinent is called the subcontinent because it's below the primary continent of Asia, but it's a large land mass nonetheless. And actually, millions and millions of years ago-- here's a quick lesson in plate tectonics-- the Indian subcontinent moved and actually continues to move north or northish in this direction, colliding with the Asian continent and creating the Himalayan Mountains.

The best way to look at the culture of ancient India is to look at the main religions or the important religions that people adhere to. So we'll with Hinduism. Now it's important for a number of reasons. One of the things that distinguishes Hinduism is that it's considered the oldest continuously practiced religion, just beating out Judaism by several years.

And it originated with the development of the Vedas, what are Hindu texts that were written in Sanskrit, which is an ancient language. And there are several tenets or important aspects of Hinduism, and I'm just summarizing here. But this idea of dharma is very important in the Hindu religion, as well as karma, which is the action or moral law of cause and effect.

Now samsara are pleasures, they're earthly pleasures, that lead people to desire to be reborn, this idea of rebirth or reincarnation, which is really fundamental to Hinduism. However, they can lead to unhappiness. So the elimination of the samsara through moksha, which is enlightenment or later called nirvana, is what's considered the path to happiness. And Brahman is this cosmic spirit, sort of a unifying spirit of the cosmos.

Buddhism is another important religion that originated in India. It originated with the Gautama Buddha, who was known as The Buddha or the Enlightened One during his lifetime, which ranges from about 563 to 483 BC. And the religion is based on his teachings.

So what's interesting about this religion is that the central tenets or the things that comprised this religion were really revealed to him. And The Buddha went out and, basically, roamed around India, sharing his discipline with others. And it's this idea of-- one of the central tenets is that the life is a journey of self-discovery where the ultimate goal is to achieve nirvana, which is a profound peace of mind. Nirvana is also analogous with enlightenment and the elimination of earthly desires, suffering, through path of liberation.

So you see that there are some similarities in all of these. And this idea of karma, enlightenment, and the elimination of suffering is something that's kind of fundamental to all these religions.

So Jainism is the final religion that we're going to look at today. And it originally was a major religion in ancient India. It's sort of been marginalized or relegated to a minor religion now as opposed to Hinduism, which is still quite a major religion or Islam. But Jainism originated sometime before the ninth century BC.

One of the central figures is the Mahavira, who established the central tenets of Jainism, these foundational laws if you will that sort of describe what Jainism is. There's two that I'm going to look at. The first is sort of a really forward thinking idea.

This idea of pluralism that is concerned with truth and the Relativity of viewpoints. There's not a single perception of truth, that it depends on your point of view. As opposed to the Christian religion, for example, where truth is sort of universal.

This other idea is the cosmic spirit or soul that's endowed within all living things from the lowliest bacteria to human beings. And that souls are inherently pure and that karma attaches itself to a soul. These religions were very integrated within the lives of the people. They very well defined and they really affected all areas of life. So to understand one of these individual religions or one of these particular religions and its components is to really understand the culture of the people that were participants of that religion.

There aren't a lot of examples of early Indian art that we have that predate the Vedic period. These are two examples here. The first one is this priest-king from Mohenjo-Dara, which is where it was found from 2000 to 1900 BC. It's a smaller stone sculpture.

But some of the things that pop out-- and notice the similarity between the scroll-like ear and the scroll-like ear that can be found on the mask of Agamemnon from the Aegean area, as well as the stylized beard that definitely seems to be similar in its portrayal, similar to what we've seen in Sumerian areas, as well as the trefoil-patterned robe.

Next is the seal with a figure in a yogic position from 2300 to 1750 BC. It's also stones-- some kind of stone relief carving. And some of the things that pop out, the horn-shaped hat or crown that he's wearing, as well as the fact that it looks like it's a three-faced figure, which is interesting. And the yogic pose, which shows that this was an important part of the religion, this yogic posture, is an important part of the religion of the people from this area as far back as potentially 2300 BC.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you explain some of the historic, geographic, and cultural background of ancient India?

And the big idea for today is that ancient Indian culture developed around the Indus Valley. The ancient religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism are fundamental to the cultural understanding of Indian civilization. And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me. See you next time.

Citations

Image of Seal with man in Yogic Positionl, Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Shiva_Pashupati.jpg; Image of Buddha Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Buddha_in_Sarnath_Museum_(Dhammajak_Mutra).jpg; Image of Mahavira Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mahavir.jpg

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Trefoil

    A decorative shape with three lobes.

  • Mahavira

    The man who established the central tenets of Jainism.

  • Jainism

    A religion founded in ancient India that teaches the immortality and transmigration of the soul and denies the existence of a perfect or supreme being.

  • Hinduism

    A system of religious practice in India that emphasizes the idea of dharma, or duty, and corresponding daily rituals and practices.

  • Buddhism

    A religion based on the teachings of Buddha, which emphasizes that all suffering in life comes from desire and that the way to achieve nirvana, or enlightenment and release from the cycle of life is to eliminate one’s earthly desires.

  • Ashoka

    An important Buddhist king of 3rd century BC India, known for his edicts, posted at the top of monumental pillars.

  • Vedas

    The oldest and most authoritative Hindu texts, written in Sanskrit.