The Illustrated Cultural History of India

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Item Code: NAI143
Author: A.L. Basham
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9780195691924
Pages: 310 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.0 inch x 6.0 inch
Weight 430 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


In this book, scholars of India's past provide an engaging yet informed account of its cultural history. Adapted from the classic work A Cultural History of India, this illustrated edition makes the rich history of Indian art, architecture, philosophy, religion, music, and literature available to a wider audience, including young readers.


Divided into three sections, the book dwells on various phases of India's cultural development-from ancient times beginning with the Indus Valley Civilization to the medieval period dominated by the Muslim dynasties, and finally the advent and ultimate demise of British rule in India.


Engaging and easy-to-read, The Illustrated Cultural History of India spans over 4000 years and will captivate anybody interested in exploring and preserving the richness and diversity of India's cultural history.


About the Author


A.L. Basham (1914-86), one of the world's foremost scholars of Indian culture and religion, was one of the Directors of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He was also President of the 28th International Congress of Orientalists and President of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. His major works include A Cultural History of India (OUP 1975), The Origins and Deveiopment of Classical Hinduism (OUP 1997), and The Wonder that was India (1967).


Cover photograph: Portrait of a kathakali dancer, village of Cochin backwaters region, Kerala; courtesy Mediacolor's/ Alamy


Publisher's Note


The illustrated Cultural History of India is an adapted version of the c\a~~ic A Cultural History of India edited by A.L. Basham first published by OUP in 1975 and available to readers even today. This edition has been developed with the aim of bringing the knowledge of Indian history and culture to a much wider audience, including young readers. The book explores a vast, complex, and often controversial span of history imaginatively and accessibly. A part of the Oxford India illustrated Collection that brings together writings of enduring value, this book combines the rich content of the original volume with complementary visuals to capture the interest of younger readers who may associate history with 'boring details about the past'. Teachers, parents, and general readers will find it a useful aid in understanding and explaining India's past.


Divided into three sections, the book covers all phases of India's cultural development from the ancient times to its rebirth as an independent nation. The first section traces 'The Ancient Heritage' of the country, beginning with the Indus Valley Civilization and moves on to analyse the influence of the early Aryans and the Ashokan and Gupta periods. It traces the developments that took place in the fields of philosophy, literature, art and architecture, and music in this period. 'The Age of Muslim Dominance', the second section of the book, traces the rule of Muslim dynasties and their influence on Indian architecture. It also chronicles the rise of Islam and Sikhism, and the advent of medieval Indian miniature painting. The final section titled 'Challenge and Response-The Coming of the West' traces the period from the coming of the British to the Indian subcontinent to the ultimate demise of British supremacy.


Combining the best scholarship on the subject with lucid text, appealing visuals, and an easy-to-read format, this edition will, we ho inform a wide range of readers.


The Publisher would like to thank the institutions and individual who supported the idea of opening up the cultural wealth of India to wider audience by providing visual material for the project.




THERE ARE FOUR MAIN CRADLES of civilization, from which elements of culture have spread to other parts of the world. These are, moving from east to west, China, the Indian subcontinent, the 'Fertile Crescent', and the Mediterranean, especially Greece and Italy. Of these four areas India deserves a larger share of the credit than she is usually given, because, on a minimal assessment, she has deeply affected the religious life of most of Asia and has provided very important elements in the culture of the whole of South East Asia, as well as extending her influence, directly and indirectly, to other parts of the world.


It has been commonly believed in the West that before the impact of European learning, science, and technology 'the East' changed little, if at all, over many centuries. The 'wisdom of the East', unchanging over the millennia, it was thought, preserved eternal verities which Western civilization had almost forgotten. On the other hand, 'the East' was not ready to enter into the rough and rumble of the modern world without the guidance for an indefinite period of more developed Western countries.


In fact India has always been steadily changing. The civilization of the Guptas was different from that of the Mauryas, and that of medieval times was different again. The Muslims altered conditions considerably, and the high flowering of Indian Muslim civilization under the four great Mughals brought yet more changes. The religious life of India, for all her 'ancient wisdom', has changed greatly over the centuries. Between the time of the early Greek philosophers and that of St Thomas Aquinas, Buddhism developed into a great religious movement in India, changed its outlook almost completely, declined, and finally sank back into the Hinduism from which it had emerged, but only after Buddhist missionaries had spread their message throughout half of Asia. The Athenian Acropolis was at least 500 years old before the first surviving Hindu stone temple was built. Some of the most popular gods of Hinduism, for instance Ganesha and Hanuman, are not attested until well after the time of Christ. Certain other features of Hinduism also, for instance the cult of the divine Rama and the complex and difficult system of physical training known as hatha yoga, are centuries later than Christianity.


Yet the older strata of India's cultural life go back far beyond anything we have in the West. The whole of the Rig Veda had been composed long before the Iliad, and there is hardly anything in the Old Testament in its present form which is as old even as the latest Rig Vedic hymns. Some practices and beliefs of popular Hinduism, for instance the cults of the sacred bull and the pi pal tree, are as old as the prehistoric Harappa culture, and probably even older. In fact every generation in India, for over 4000 years, has bequeathed something, if only a very little, to posterity.


No land on earth has such a long cultural continuity as India, since, though there were more ancient civilizations, notably in Egypt and Iraq, these were virtually forgotten by the inhabitants of those lands, and were overlaid by new intrusive cultures, until nobody remembered the Book if the Dead or the Epic of Gilgamesh, and great kings such as Ramesses 11 or Hammurabi were not recorded in any living tradition. Only nineteenth-century scholarship resurrected them from oblivion, and if they are now national heroes, remembered by every schoolchild in their respective lands, this is not thanks either to the historical genius or to the retentive folk memory of the countries concerned.


On the other hand, in India the brahman still repeats in his daily worship Vedic hymns composed over 3000 years ago, and tradition recalls heroic chieftains and the great battles fought by them at about the same time. In respect of the length of continuous tradition China comes second to India and Greece makes a poor third.


The pre- Vedic Harappa culture bequeathed to later times sacred animals and trees, the Mother Goddess, and preoccupation with personal cleanliness, and, less certainly, other aspect of Indian culture. From the Vedic Aryans came many of the gods, the Vedic hymns, some of the most important personal rituals of Hinduism, the partiarchal and patrilineal family system, and the horse. Later Vedic times (c. 1000-600 BC) brought the passion for speculation on ultimate causes, the quest for the Absolute, the doctrine of transmigration, the search for release from the round of rebirth, and mytical gnosis. In social life and material culture the same period saw the crystallization of the four classes (varnas) of Hindu society, the production of iron from western Asia, the domestication of the elephant, and the development of kingdoms out of tribal chieftainships.


In the following 300 years coined money became common, and writing, known in the time of the Harappa culture and later apparently

forgotten, became widespread. Heterodox teachers, chief of whom was the Buddha, spread new doctrines which bypassed the gods, the Vedas, and the brahmans, and the area of civilization steadily expanded into the remoter parts of the subcontinent.


Political developments over the preceding period led to the first great empire of India, that of the Mauryas, when for the first time most subcontinent was united under a single government. This period (c. 320-185 BC) produced the Machiavellian system of statecraft associated with the name of the minister Kautilya, the reputed author famous Arthashastra. From the Mauryas also come the earliest surviving stone sculpture of India, the oldest artificial caves, and the most ancient Buddhist stupas. Under Ashoka (c. 272-232 BC) Buddhism increased its influence, and was taken to Ceylon.


The 500 years between the Mauryas and the Guptas (c. 184 BC- AD 320) saw tremendous developments in Indian civilization, partly due to fresh influences brought in by various invader and traders, and partly the result of internal developments. few forms of devotional religion emerged, centring on the gods Vishnu and Shiva, and these led to the composition of the Bhagavad Gita, now the most influential text of Hinduism. Buddhi m developed a theology, the Mahayana, which was carried to China. Schools of law appeared, codifying in written form earlier traditions. The two great epics of India, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, were edited in something like their present form. Courtly literature began developing out of vanished prototypes: drama, ranging from the heroic to the sentimental, and verse, wonderful in its polish and ingenuity yet often filled with deep and sincere feeling. Logically reasoned philosophical schools emerged, as distinct from the older religious teachers, most of whose arguments were analogical. Contact with South East Asia became closer with the spread of trade, and that region began to adopt many features of the religion and culture of India. These are only a few of the many innovations of this, perhaps the most formative period of Indian history before the nineteenth century.




Publisher's Note




PART I: The Ancient Heritage


The Indus Civilization


The Early Aryans


Ashokan India and the Gupta Age


Medieval Hindu India


Ancient Indian Religions Philosophy


Classical Literature


Early Art and Architecture




PART II: The Age of Muslim Dominance


Muslim Architecture in India


Medieval Hindu Devotionalism


Islam in Medieval India




Medieval Indian Miniature Painting


PART III: Challenge and Response-The Coming of the West


The Mughals and the British


Hindu Religious and Social Reform in British India


The Nationalist Movement


Modern Literature


List of Contributors





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