06 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Six


How did the arrival of the Aryans in India change Indian culture? What did the Aryans bring to India?

Harappan society was already long in decline by the time the Aryans arrived. Their great cities lay abandoned and only scattered small cities remained by the time the majority of invading Aryans came riding over the mountains passes of Hindu Kush.

The Aryans gave that name to themselves, and since it means “noble people,” scholars can safely assume they did not have self-esteem issues. They were warriors and cattle herders, not sedentary farmers. For the absorbed Harappan remnants, life would have become more tribal, and probably more violent. The Aryans were organized in small bands led by a war chieftain (rajah). Governance, such as it was, was provided by a pair of tribal councils, together with the priests.

Two things they brought with them would have had an immediate impact: war chariots and bronze weapons. These would have outclassed anything any remaining Harappan defenders possessed. There is no evidence of large-scale destruction, so the Aryans appear to have had a relatively easy time establishing dominance over the area. They brought horses, which were highly prized in their culture, but do not breed well in the Indian climate. This meant they had to import horses from central Asia continually. They brought within their pantheon the warrior god Indra, and a religious system that required daily sacrifices to appease the gods of the forces of nature and elicit their favor. Like most pagan nature gods, they were capricious and demanding, and one could never really know whether they were pleased or angered, except by observing the sunny or stormy weather, similar to the accuracy with which modern meteorologists can forecast the weather.

Describe the origins of the caste system. What were the different castes, and what functions did they perform?

The caste is a system of social stratification used by cultures to differentiate amongst its people, often for the purpose of discrimination or exaltation. In Aryan culture, the caste system was based on four “varnas,” distinct social, religious, and occupational classes. The word itself means “appearance,” and may have originally been used by the Aryans, who described themselves as “wheat-colored,” to distinguish themselves racially from the darker indigenous people of the Indian subcontinent. Centuries of intermarriage would have eventually made this distinction irrelevant.

The highest varna was the brahmin, which was reserved for the priests. Kshatriya comprised the ruling class, administrators, and professional soldiers. Vaishya were artisans, merchants, farmers, and skilled, specialized laborers. Occupying the lowest varna were shudras, common laborers. A fifth, unnamed class was reserved for people who were shunned, considered outcasts and defiled, either by birth or by menial, grimy occupation, such as animal slaughterers and sewage workers. As warriors and herdsmen, the early Aryans had little need for a more complex social hierarchy.

Within each varna, people were further subdivided by birth and occupation. While there were only four varnas, there were many “jati” (literally meaning “birth,” used in a broader, occupational sense, as descendants tended to remain in the traditional trade of their forebears). The system of jatis grew more complex as specialized labor developed and new occupations began to appear, eventually recognizing thousands of separate jatis, each with its own Dharma, or code of conduct. While it was expected that one would be limited to and remain within one’s jati, some scholars note that intermarriage and some upward mobility were not entirely unheard of. The caste system, while promoting systemic discrimination, gave the somewhat decentralized Indian society a self-imposed stability and order that would typically be provided by a stronger sociopolitical structure. People knew what was expected of them, and for the most part were at least resigned, if not content, to live within these boundaries.

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