India: a brief overview

Their history is about as complex as this temple, so I'm going to have to simplify it so I can understand it.

Their history is about as complex as this temple, so I’m going to have to simplify it so I can understand it.

Zach – Welcome back to Minimum Wage Historian. Sorry about not posting regularly but I’m currently trying to write a Minimum Wage Historian Book, volume 1: Kick butt women.
Anna – I better be in a book with a title like that.
Zach – That’s just a working title. Anyway, today we have a topic I’ve been trying to get to for some time: the history of India. Aside from amazing food and highly entertaining music videos, I didn’t know much about India so I was highly curious. The only thing I remember about Indian history from High School was something about ancient people making boring brick cities. Yawn. Let’s delve into this spice laden history.
Anna – To help us gain insightful perspectives into this topic we have with us today, Buffalo Calf Road: Killer of Custer. Matilda of Tuscany who fought the Germans. Mulan: woman soldier who defended her homeland. OIga of Kiev, Orthodox saint and has a tendency for blood soaked revenge. And lastly we have Gaspar Correia, conquistador historian…in a manner of speaking.
Gaspar – Word.
Zach – It seems every history book loves to start with pre-history and discussing pot shards found by rivers. We here at Minimum Wage Historian HQ have voted that that’s boring, so we’re skipping ahead to when we actually start to get some kind of recorded history. If you really want to know about pot shards, feel free to e-mail me at “Idontcareaboutstupidpotshards.com”
Anna – You’ll have to forgive Zach. He waded through several books about India and they all spent a rather large portion of their words discussing pottery. I believe he’s a tad bitter about it.

Photo courtesy of Gaspar Correia.

Photo courtesy of Gaspar Correia.

Matilda – Let’s start with what we do know. India never called itself “India” until modern times. The Persians knew of it as some variation if “Hidu” (from the name of the river at their border. When “Hidu” got to Greek and Latin speaking people, they cut off the “H” and added an “N”. So we get “Indu” and somehow we get “India” for the country and “Hindu” for the religion.
Mulan – Most of what we know come from ancient texts, holy books “Vedas,” “Ramayana,” and “Mahabharata.” These are holy books written in ancient sanskrit and tell a very…I’m not sure English word here…mythic? Yes, mythic telling of historical events. Some of it is so fantastic that they might as well have had Gaspar write them. Is hard to pull truth form myth. But this we know: there were people living in Northern India, we call them “Harappan.” They build uniform cities of brick. Bricks so good, English archeologist dismissed site as having “modern bricks.” We don’t know much about them. The holy writings are not very kind to them. Then along come Aryans from somewhere in central Asia. They invaded and merged with the culture there. They brought their gods with them and many Hindu gods were once Aryan gods. Some gods blended with local gods and some local gods kept their position. Many Avatars of the gods come from this mixing of gods. Some minor Aryan gods became avatars of stronger local gods and vice versa.

Their histories are filled with their gods, which you have to admit, are pretty cool. I don't know what's going on here, but I'm pretty sure its awesome.

Their histories are filled with their gods, which you have to admit, are pretty cool. I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m pretty sure its awesome.

Zach – Now let me step in here a moment. These Aryans are the same group the Nazis thought they were descended from. It has to do with their belief that they were a light skinned race that spread out and enlightened the world but became diluted with non-Aryan blood, except in Germany. The only problem with this theory was that it was total hogwash. The Aryans didn’t come in and enlighten the locals or unify much at all. They were nomadic herdsmen that learned civilization from the locals. I can go into dispelling the crappy history the Nazis thought of, but that would take too much time. Let’s just say that when we talk about Aryans here, we’re not talking about blonde haired uber-Germans.
Anna – Sometime between 400BC and 500BC, the Buddha was born and lived. During this time, India was made up of many small countries, some were kingdoms, but some were republics. They rose from tribalism into a kind of democratic oligarchy where the nobles met, advised and voted. Similar to how the ancient Greeks and the later Venetians ruled. Buddha was a noble from one of these republics. His teachings spread across India and thrived for a while but the Hindu priest eventually pushed back and Buddhism went and grew in China and other parts of the world. These sixteen countries were called the “Mahajanapadas.”

These kingdoms were mostly in the north. They had four castes, and was a forerunner of the later caste system the still lives in India, though to a lesser degree.

These kingdoms were mostly in the north. They had four castes, and was a forerunner of the later caste system the still lives in India, though to a lesser degree.

Olga – Oh! Oh! This is part where Alexander and Greek peoples come in. Alex destroy Persian Empire and go all way to India. He bring armies but Indians fight back and Alex decide to go home and sulk. Poor little Alex. Indians say “Who was that guy?” And they begin talking to new Greek neighbors. They trade stuff and start buying stuff. Good, dah?
Zach – Yes, Alexander’s attempted invasion did start trade between the two civilizations There were even Greek towns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Roman coins and statues made it to India and Indian spices and ivory went to Rome.

Roman statue...

Roman statue…

Indian statue.  Hmm....I wonder. Could there be some cultural exchange going on? Me thinks so.

Indian statue. Hmm….I wonder. Could there be some cultural exchange going on? Me thinks so.

Mulan – Let me get into detail about this time. There arose a division with the countries. The western kingdoms united and the eastern Republics united and they fought. The Republics were outnumbered and the kingdoms had professional armies like Rome would have a few hundred years later. Some say the war was over a woman. At this time each country and Republic chose a single woman, the most intelligent and most beautiful (each country chose differently) to be a sort of “first lady”…if the first lady was also a high class call girl. One courtesan/first lady that held much power was named Amrapali. (She eventually became disciple of Buddha, so don’t judge.) They say one of the kings snuck in and enjoyed her company. This was an insult and so they went to war.

I'm going to say she looked something like this. So...yes. She was gorgeous.

I’m going to say she looked something like this. So…yes. She was gorgeous.

Gaspar – Let me take it from here. At one battle at a fort at a place called “Ajatashatru” the Republicans were held up and the Monarchies couldn’t bash their way in. So, they made a giant catapult to hurl rocks at the walls. But this still wasn’t enough. Then, the monarchists made a giant robot with two arms that held clubs. They used these killer, magic powered robots to smash the fort and made the Republicans retreat to their cities.

Matilda - I call BS on that. Gaspar - No! I'm actually telling the truth. That's what their history says! I swear!

Matilda – I call BS on that.
Gaspar – No! I’m actually telling the truth. That’s what their history says! I swear!

Zach – After Alexander went home, India experienced their equivalent of the Classical Age. Literature became more common and trade flourished. (Such a historian’s word) A man rose up that would unite all of northern India. He was like an Indian Nobunaga. (guy unified Japan) He began conquering his weaker neighbors and with their strength, continued conquering more.
Anna – Eventually he died and his descendent, Ashoka took over. His predecessors did good, but he did better. Ashoka conquered almost the entire Indian sub-continent and most of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Not bad! Even Russian and America have a hard time with those regions.

Not bad! Even Russian and America have a hard time with those regions.

Buffalo – Yes, Ashoka conquered with sword, but he had a reason beyond power. He was a kind man that was very religious. His philosophy of Dhamma, a type of Buddhism, said that he was to rule to protect the weak. He viewed it as his duty to conquer the other kingdoms so he could rule them with true kindness. If those kingdoms were already kind, he had to double it. He thought it was the only way to make the world a good place. He was such a believer in this kind of peace that his last edict says, “I have done this so that among my sons and great grandsons, and as long as the sun and moon shall endure, men may follow Dhamma.” These edicts of peace were written down and read to every village in India. We can still find them carved in ancient temples. He was a peaceful warrior!
Gaspar – That doesn’t make much sense.
Matilda – Buffalo was right, this Ashoka was great and wanted the country to live in peace and harmony. So of course people hated that idea. Mainly the Brahminist priests that ruled the country. They started a major missionary push against Buddhism.
Zach – After this empire collapsed by infighting and weak rulers, India split into a bunch of little countries that we really don’t know much about. This was kind of like the Fall of Rome but without all the bloodshed and ignorance. In fact, culture spread and this is considered their Golden Age. This is where classic Indian culture comes from and for the first time we see stone building on a massive scale.

Olga - Okay, I suppose they good at building stuff. Whatever.

Olga – Okay, I suppose they good at building stuff. Whatever.

Zach – So, India grew and became urbanized with guilds and merchants evolving into an ever more complex economy that was probably the largest in the world for the next thousand years. Not bad, huh?
Anna – As always, we encourage you go go learn about this topic on your own. We only skimmed the surface. There’s so much to learn and its very intriguing. Please go do so.

Matilda - And we also want you to go look us up on Facebook. Here's a link.  Don't make me cross the alps and impale you with my spear.  You wouldn't want that. No, sir.

Matilda – And we also want you to go look us up on Facebook. Here’s a link. Don’t make me cross the alps and beat you with my mace. You wouldn’t want that. No, sir.

Gaspar – She’s got a mace? Does that mean she’s a 10th level cleric?

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3 comments on “India: a brief overview

  1. James says:

    Pot Shards?! We don’t need no stinkin’ pot shards!

  2. Susan Ozmore says:

    Fun! I enjoyed the post and learned something along the way. Very creative. I taught high school math, but if I’d taught history I would love to have had this kind of thing to refer my students to. 🙂

    • Thanks! Glad you liked it. A friend of mine’s daughter has used this site for a few of her history papers! I’d love it if teachers told their students to take a look and “see? History can be fun!”

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