Indian literature begins with the Vedas (Veda is a Sanskrit word meaning knowledge). The Vedas were a series of sacred texts used in religious rituals and sacrifices and composed in an early form of Sanskrit (Vedic Sanskrit). Even in modern times, the Vedas are regarded as the cornerstone of Hinduism.
The oldest Vedic texts are those of the Rig Veda, dating from about the 1300's B.C. These are mostly mythical poems to the great Vedic gods--Indra the Warrior, Agni the god of fire, Surya the sun god, and Varuna the upholder of heaven and earth.
The later books of the Vedas are the Yajur Veda (mainly formulas for sacrifice), Sama Veda (poetry from the Rig Veda adapted to melodies as priestly chants), and Atharva Veda (verses dealing with peace and prosperity and the daily life of human society).
Several prose sequels to the Vedas were written in the period before the Christian era. First were the Brahmanas (Priestly Explanations of Doctrine) and the Aranyakas (Forest Treatises), which discuss the function and purpose of sacrificial rites and consider the relationship of man and the universe.
A later group of texts, the Upanishads (Spiritual Teachings), written in prose and poetry, continues this enquiry into the nature of life. The Upanishads are great classics of spiritual and philosophical thought.
Rig Veda Being the oldest of the Vedic literature, it is most important because it is the valuable record of ancient India. It has ten books or mandalas containing 1028 hymns by the successive generations of Rishis (sages). As the Aryans had no script of their own, the hymns of the Rig Veda were memorized and passed on orally from one generation to the other before being recorded in written form at a much later stage. It has many mantras like the Gayatri mantras which is resided by the Hindus in their houses. It is said to represent the voice of Gods. Many hymns were written in the praise of different Gods of nature. The Rig-Veda gives us information not only on the early Vedic religion and their Gods but also on the social condition of those days. It points to settled people, and organized society and full grown civilization.Sam Veda It mainly contains verses taken from Rig-Veda with reference to Soma sacrifices. Its hymns are set to music. The Sam Veda has hymns meant for the priest only who sang them at the time of the performance of Yajnas. It tells us much about the music of ancient Aryans.Yajur Veda It contain hymns concerning sacrifices. The study of this Veda shows that the Aryans had acquired knowledge of sacrifices by that time. It depicts changes in social and religious conditions which had come in the society from the period of Rig-Veda. The Yajur Veda has two parts - the white and the black. The former consists of hymns and latter contains commentaries.Atharva Veda It contains mantras on three topics - gnana (Knowledge), Karma (deeds), and Upasana (invocation). It is important from the point of view of knowing the history of science in India. It is also collection of spells and charms which are popular among the people. This Veda throws light on the beliefs of the people some of the Mantras are meant to bring success in life, while some where used to ward off evil spirits responsible for disease and sufferings. This Veda believed to be a later composition and contains some non-Aryan material. It seems to have been composed when a synthesis of Aryan and non-Aryan cultures took place.
The Great Epics
Early Indian literature after the Vedas is dominated by two great Sanskrit epic poems, the Ramayana (The Story of Rama), and the Mahabharata (The Great War of the Bharatas). The poet Valmiki is known as the poet of the Ramayana. But both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata were composed over long periods by many poets. Poets wrote these epics for oral transmission by singers and storytellers. These two epics of ancient India have universal appeal. They have been translated and retold in all the Indian and all the important foreign languages.
The Ramayana consists of 24,000 verses divided into seven books, called kandas. Its form, kavya (epic poetry), means that it instructs while it entertains. The Ramayana tells the story of the righteous king Rama and his battle with the demon Ravana. The demon steals Rama's wife, Sita, and holds her captive in Lanka (now Sri Lanka). Rama, helped by the monkey army of Hanuman, rescues Sita. His victory over Ravana symbolizes the triumph of righteousness over evil. Rama was originally a folk hero but was later portrayed as an incarnation of the god Vishnu.
The Mahabharata is the world's longest poem, consisting of nearly 100,000 verses. It took shape gradually between about 700 B.C. and A.D. 400. Hinduism developed into its classical form during the same period. The main story of the Mahabharata is a war over succession to the throne between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, two branches of a royal family. The god Krishna sides with the Pandavas, who are themselves depicted as gods in later additions to the story.
Embedded within the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad Gita (The Song of the Lord), the most influential of all Hindu texts, in which Krishna explains to the Pandava prince, Arjuna, the meaning of dharma (religious duty). Krishna teaches Arjuna, who is dejected at having to fight his own relatives in the war, that everyone must follow the course of duty without thinking about its results.
The art treasures of India are among the greatest in the world. They include 4,000-year old statuettes of lifelike vitality, fine paintings, and many types of images of Buddha. They also include temples carved into solid rock, huge temples with elaborately sculptured towers, and graceful mosques, palaces and tombs, all ornamented with delicate decorative work. Archaeologists have unearthed ruined cities from a period around 2000 B.C. known as the Harappan civilization. Objects found there and at other sites served, both, religious and practical purposes. After , this time, there is a break in the record of artistic objects. Very few objects from the period 1600-500B.C. have been found. But, from about 200 B.C., an unbroken sequence of art objects survives to give art,historians, some idea of the long rich tradition of Indian art.
The roots of the Indian Painting can be traced back to the days of the Indus Valley civilization. Paintings on pottery reflect a keen sense of painting among the Indus valley people. The paintings of the Ajanta and Ellora caves exhibit the creative genius of the artists of that period. Enduring tough weather conditions, these paintings have, surprisingly, survived for such a long period of time. A better perspective to study the painting forms of the whole of the nation is to divide it into various heads such as the Paintings of North India, South India, East India, West India, Central and Deccan India and under some special captions such as the Rajasthani Paintings, Mughal Paintings and the Colonial and Modern Paintings.
Sculpture first flourished in India in the 2000's B.C., during the Harappan period. Little sculpture survives from the period immediately after that. The beginning of traditional Indian sculpture can be dated to the 300's B.C. and to the establishment of empires that ruled most of south Asia. Much of India's sculpture was made for religious buildings. Before about A.D. 1200, the main religions were Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Training in the techniques of sculpture was passed down within the family. The subheads under which the Sculpture section has been divided are Indus Valley; Buddhist and Jain; Hindu; Islamic, Colonial and Modern.
Classical Indian dances are among the most graceful and beautiful in the world. They all make use of a complicated, visual language, consisting of hand gestures, body movements, and postures. The job of the artist is to take in emotions, such as amazement, anger, hatred, humour, or love, and communicate them to the audience. The major classical dance forms of India are Bharata Natyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Manipuri, Orissi and Kuchipudi.
Indian theatre is one of the oldest in the world. The origin of Indian theatre can be linked with the tale that the fifth Veda 'Natya' originated as per the desire of Brahma to entertain Gods. Its exact origins are uncertain, but sometime between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200, the wise man Bharata wrote the Natyasastra, an essay which established traditions of dance, drama, makeup, costume, and acting. Explore the world of Indian theatre, its various stages of development and view some of its masterpieces.
A BRIEF SUMMORY OF INDIAN HISTORY
India is a large country in southern Asia. It is the second largest country in the world in population. The river valleys of northeastern India are among the most densely populated places in the world. India ranks seventh in the world in area.
India occupies a strategic position in Asia, looking across the seas to Arabia and Africa on the west and Burma , Malaysia and the Indonesian archipelago on the east. Geographically, the Himalayan range keeps India apart from the rest of Asia.
India has great varieties and differences in both its land and its people. The land includes desert, jungles, and one of the world's rainiest areas. India also has broad plains, mighty rivers, the tallest mountain system in the world, and tropical lowlands. The people of India belong to many different ethnic groups and religions. They speak 14 major languages and more than 1,000 minor languages and dialects.
Location India lies to the north of the equator between 8 degree 4 minutes and 37 degree 6 minutes north latitude and 68 degree 7 minutes and 97 degree 25 minutes east longitude. It is bounded on the south-west by the Arabian sea and on the south-east by the Bay of Bengal. On the north, north-east and north-west lie the Himalayan ranges. Kanyakumari constitutes the southern tip of the Indian peninsula where it gets narrower and narrower, loses itself into the Indian Ocean.
Extent India measures 3214 Kms from north to south and 2933 Kms from east to west with a total land area of 3,287,263 sq kms. It has aland frontier of 15,200 kms and a coast line of 7516.5 kms. Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal and Lakshadweep in the Arabian sea are parts of India.
Neighbours India shares its political borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan on the west and Bangladesh and Burma on the east. The northern boundary is made up of the Sinkiang province of China, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. India is separated from Sri Lanka by anarrow channel of sea formed by the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar.
Physiographic regions The mainland comprises seven regions.
Northern mountains including the Himalayas and the north-eastern mountain ranges,
The Indo-Gangetic plain,
Central Highlands and Peninsular plateau,
Bordering seas and islands.
Mountain ranges They are seven :
1. The Himalayas,
2. The Patkai and other ranges bordering India in the north and north-east,
3. The Vindhyas which separates the Indo-Gangetic plain from the deccan plateau,
4. The Satpura,
5. The Arravali,
6. The Sahyadri which covers the eastern fringe of the west coast plains and
7. The Eastern Ghats, irregularly scattered on the east coast and forming the boundary on the east coast plain.
8. The Himalayas, the highest mountain ranges in the world, is one of the world's youngest mountain ranges. It runs practically uninterrupted for a distance of some 2500 km and covers an area of about 500,000 sq km. It contains the world's highest mountain peak, Mt Everest and some ten peaks, rising above 7,500 m. It appears to have risen as a result of collision between the drifting Indian peninsular plate and the Tibetan plate of South Asia about 50 million years ago. The Himalayas reached their present height much later.
9. Patkai and allied mountain ranges run along the Indo-Bangladesh-Burma border and may be collectively called Purvanchal or eastern mountains. These ranges forming an arc must have come into existence along with the Himalayas.
10. Aravalli range in north-western India is one of the oldest mountain systems in the world. The present Aravalli range is only a remnant of the gigantic system that existed in pre-historic times with several of its summits rising above the snow line and nourishing glaciers of stupendous magnitude which in turn fed many great rivers.
11. Vindhyanchal range traverses nearly the whole width of peninsular India - a distance of about 1050 km with an average elevation of about 300 metres. The Vindhyanchal range is appears to have been formed by the wastes created by the weathering of the ancient Aravalli ranges.
12. Satpura range, another ancient mountain system extends for a distance of 900 km with many of its peaks rising above 1000 metres. It is triangular in shape, with its apex at Ratnapuri and two sides running parallel to the Narmada and Tapti rivers.
13. Sahyadri or Western Ghats, with an average height of 1200 metres, is about 1600 km long and runs along the western border of the Deccan plateau, from the mouth of the river Tapti to Kanyakumari. It stands overlooking the Arabian Sea.
14. Eastern Ghats bordering the East Coast of India, is cut up by the powerful rivers into discontinuous block of mountains. In its northern parts between the Godavari and the Mahanadi rivers it rises to above 1000 metres.
15. The Desert region can be divided into two parts - the great desert and the little desert. The great desert extends from the edge of the Rann of Kachchh beyond the Luni river northward. the whole of Rajasthan-Sind frontier runs through this. The little desert extends from the Luni between Jaisalmer and Jodhpur up to northern wastes.
Watersheds There are mainly three watersheds.
Himalayan range with its Karakoram branch in the north,
Vindhyanchal and Satpura ranges in Central India, and
Sahyadri or Western Ghats on the west coast.
Rivers The main rivers of the Himalayan group are the Indus, Ganga and the Bhramputra. These rivers are both snow-fed and rain-fed and have therefore continuous flow throughout the year. Himalayan rivers discharge about 70% of their inflow into the sea. This includes about 5% from central Indian rivers. They join the Ganga and drain into the Bay of Bengal.
The Indus which the Aryans called the Sindhu, has lent its name to India. Its valleys on both sides have been the seats of civilization. This historic river has five major tributaries - the Jhelum, the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej. The Indus rises from the Mount Kailash (the abode of Lord Shiva) in Tibet north of the Himalayas, at an elevation of 5,180 metres and traverses many miles through the Himalayas before it is joined by its tributaries in the Punjab. It travels west and southwest for 2,897 kilometres and empties into the Arabian Sea through several mouths. Thereafter it passes into Sind (Pakistan) to fall into the Arabian Sea.
The Ganga (also Ganges) famous like in legends and history, is considered the most sacred river by the Hindus. It covers, what is called the heartland of India, which was the main centre of the ancient Aryan culture. It is the greatest waterway in India and one of the largest in the world. It is most important to the Indians for the part it plays in the Hindu religion.
Each year, thousands of Hindu pilgrims visit such holy cities as Varanasi and Allahabad along the banks of the Ganga to bathe in the river and to take home some of its water. Temples line the riverbank, and ghats (stairways) lead down to the water. Some pilgrims come to bathe in the water only to cleanse and purify themselves. The sick and crippled come hoping that the touch of the water will cure their ailments. Others come to die in the river, for the Hindus believe that those who die in the Ganga will be carried to Paradise.
The river is an important trade area. Its valley is fertile and densely populated. Some of India's largest cities, such as Calcutta, Howrah, Patna, Varanasi, and Kanpur, stand on its banks. But the Ganga is less important commercially than it once was. Irrigation has drained much of its water and steamers can navigate only in the lower part of the river. The Ganga has its source in an ice cave 3,139 metres above sea level in the Himalayas of northern India. The glacier known as Gangotri gives rise to the river and its several tributaries. The river flows toward the southeast and through Bangladesh for 2,480 kilometres to empty into the Bay of Bengal . Several tributary rivers, including the Yamuna, Ramganga, Gomti, Ghaghra, Son, and Sapt Kosi add to the waters of the Ganga. They spread like a fan in the plain of India thus forming the largest river basin in India, with an area, one quarter of the total area of India. The Brahmaputra River joins some of the branches of the Ganga near its mouth, and together the two rivers form a large delta.
The Brahmaputra is one of the most important waterways of southern Asia. It rises on the northern slopes of the Himalaya in Tibet. After flowing about 2,700 kilometres through northeastern India and Bangladesh, it joins the Ganges (Ganga) River, with which it shares the Ganges Delta. The northern part of the river has many names. It is sometimes called Yarlung Zangbo in Tibet. Boats can sail up the river about 1,300 kilometres, but cannot go farther because of rapids. A bridge erected in 1963 crosses the river near Gauhati, India. The valley of the Brahmaputra, in Assam, has fertile farmland. Large crops of tea, rice, and jute grow there. In the rainy season, the river floods much of the valley, providing natural irrigation for rice growers. The principal branches of the Brahmaputra are the Lohit, Dibong, Dihong, and Subansiri rivers.
The Deccan rivers denuding their beds for long geological days have developed flat valleys with low gradients. The major deccan rivers are the Godavari, the Krishna, the Cauvery, the Pennar, the Mahanadi, the Damodar, the Sharavati, the Netravati, the Bharataphuza, the Periyar, the Pamba, the Narmada and the Tapti. They contribute about 30% of the total outflow in India. These rivers are entirely rain-fed and shrink into rivulets during the hot season
People and Population. About 16 per cent of all the world's people live in India. Only China, which has a population of more than one billion, has more people than India. India is more densely populated than most other countries.Vital statistics:
Population ('99 UN est.) : 998.1 million
Population (2025-projection) : 1,330.2 million
Sex ratio (female/1000 males) : 927
About 73 per cent of India's people live in rural areas. Most of the country's 557,000 farm villages have less than 1,000 people. About 27 per cent of the people live in urban areas. India has about 4,000 cities and towns. About 300 cities have populations over 100,000. Six cities have more than 3 million people. These cities, in order of population size, are Mumbai (Bombay), Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore, Chennai (Madras), and Hyderabad. Calcutta, the capital city of West Bengal, has the greatest population density of any city in India, with an average of about 42,000 people per square kilometre.
Since the early 1900's, India's population has grown by several million a year. During the 1980's and 1990's, the population increased by as much as 18 million per year. The main reason for this "population explosion" is that improved sanitation and health care have caused the death rate to fall more rapidly than the birth rate. Population growth has led to serious overcrowding. India's city population grows about twice as fast as the population of the country as a whole.
Ancestry. India's people belong to a variety of ethnic groups. The two largest groups are the light-skinned Indo-Aryans and the dark-skinned Dravidians. Most Indo-Aryans live in northern India, and a majority of the Dravidians live in southern parts of the country.
The Dravidians were among India's earliest known inhabitants. About 2500 B.C., they created an advanced civilization in the Indus Valley. About 1500 B.C., the Aryans invaded the Indus Valley and drove the Dravidians south.
Beginning about A.D. 1000, central Asian Islamic peoples, mainly from the area that is now Afghanistan and Iran, settled in India. Many of their descendants live in the northeast, especially in the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. Mongoloid peoples live in the Himalayan region along India's northeastern border and in the states that border Burma. Most members of such minority groups as the Bhils, Gonds, Khasis, Nagas, Oraons, and Santals live in remote hills and forests.
Climate India is so vast that the climatic conditions are much varied. India has mainly three seasons a year - Winter (mid-October - February), Summer (April-July) and Rainy (June-September : SW Monsoon; October-November : NE Monsoon). The Winter season lasts from October to February. The weather then becomes mild, except in the northern mountains. Snow usually falls in mountainous areas during this season. As the altitude increases, temperatures drop below freezing point (0 °C). No other section of India has temperatures below freezing point. The northern plains may get some frost during this season. Southern India lacks a true cool season, but the weather from October to February is usually not quite as hot as during the rest of the year. The Summer season lasts from March to the end of June. The northern plains get the greatest heat. Temperatures often rise to 49 °C. Temperatures on the coastal plains stay around 29 °C or 32 °C. Cyclones often bring storms to the coastal plains at this time. Parts of the southern plateau remain cool during the hot season. The northern mountains are cool or cold, depending on altitude. The Rainy season lasts from the middle of June to September. During this period, monsoons (seasonal winds) blow across the Indian Ocean, picking up moisture. They reach India from the southeast and southwest, bringing almost all the rain that falls on India. During the other two seasons, monsoons blow from the north or northeast. The southwest monsoons are of great importance to Indian agriculture. If the monsoons bring enough rain to the country, crops will grow. Sometimes they fail to arrive in time, and crops fail as a result. Some monsoons drop too much rain, ruining crops and causing destructive floods. Rain falls most heavily in northeastern India. Some hills and mountain slopes in this region receive an average of about 1,140 centimetres of rain a year. The world's heaviest recorded rainfall for one year fell at Cherrapunji. This village in Meghalaya had 2,647 centimetres of rain from August 1860 to July 1861. The Thar, or Indian, Desert in the northwestern part of the country receives less than 25 centimetres of rain a year. Some sections of the hot, sandy, and rocky, desert get only about 5 centimetres of rain annually