Important Landmarks of Indian History
(Relevant to Indian Spirituality, Religion and Philosophy)
The ancient dates of Indian history are quite uncertain. The earliest records of Indian history are the Vedas, but the period, when they were composed, has been a matter of controversy and speculation. The Vedas themselves speak of the 'forefathers' who had achieved great spiritual conquests. The Vedas thus refer to a pre-Vedic period, during which, it is certain, the ancient forefathers of the Indian peoples had explored the secrets of the universe and produced momentous results.
Some historians have felt that the forefathers of Vedic sages must have lived around 10,000 B.C or even earlier. Some historians have tried to fix the dates of the Vedas on some basis of certain astronomical indications recorded in the Vedas, and they have concluded that the Vedas must have been composed around 4,500 B.C. Some conservative historians have, however, believed that the Vedas were composed around 2,000 B.C
It is thus clear that the first period of the ancient history of India cannot be accurately dated, but it is supposed to have been extended from an uncertain date upto the birth of Buddha. It is true that even the date of the birth of Buddha is somewhat controversial, but still, it was not later than 550 or 560 B.C
Thus the first period of the ancient Indian History may be said to extend from about 10,000 B.C (?) to 560 B.C
This period is generally called the Vedic period. Modern scholars divide it into three sub-periods: (1) the age of the Mantras (inevitable expressions of spiritual knowledge and power); (2) the age of the Brahmanas (prose writings in justification of Vedic rituals and practices); and (3) the age of the Upanishads (prose and poetical writings containing intuitions of spiritual explorers).
The Vedic age is also called the age of Intuition, and it is a source of the continuous stream of various spiritual, religious, philosophical and scientific movements that took place in the succeeding periods of Indian history.
The second period begins with the birth of the Buddha to the fall of the Mauryan empire. This covers the period from 560 B.C. to 200 B.C.
This period witnesses the remarkable life and work of the Buddha, the invasion of Alexander the great, the establishment of the Mauryan empire under the lead of Chandragupta Maurya and his adviser, Kautilya (or Chanakya), the life and work of Ashoka, who provided royal sanction to Buddhism and gave a great impetus to the spread of Buddhism not only in India but even in other Asian countries, and, finally, the decline and fall of the Mauryan empire. This period marks also the beginning of the Purano-Tantric age.
Psychologically, this period marks the transition from the age of Intuition to the age of Reason. The great epic literature (mainly the Ramayana and Mahabharta), great philosophical systems, codes of ethics, codes of statecraft as also great sciences and arts began to develop during this period. The great Purano-Tantric age, which began during this period, extends upto about 800 A.D
From 200 B.C to 300 A.D. India had a period of political uncertainty, and this came to an end with the rise of the Gupta empire beginning from 300 A.D. The Gupta period has been hailed in Indian history as a period of prosperity, opulence, richness, splendor and glory. The last great emperor of the Gupta period was Harsha. After him, the Gupta empire broke down around 700 A.D.
This marks the close of the ancient period in the history of India.
With the 8th century A.D. begins the medieval period of Indian history. The period extends upto the early 19th century. It is subdivided into the following sub-periods: (1) from 700 A.D. to 1200 A.D., extending from the fall of the Harsha's empire to the establishment of a Muslim kingdom in Delhi; (2) from 1200 to 1560 A.D., which extends from the establishment of the Muslim kingdom in .Delhi to the rise of the Moghul empire of Akbar; and-d (3) from 1560 A.D. to 1800 A.D., extending from the early Moghul empire to the establishment of the British supremacy in India.
During this medieval period, there was a development of
intellectual philosophies such as those of Acharyas, notably, Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhwa and Vallabha. This was also a period of the spread of Shaivism and Vaishnavism. But more significantly, this was the age of a large number of Saints. This period is, therefore, also known as the age of Bhakti (Devotion). The greatest among the Saints who belonged to this period was Chaitanya (1485-1533).
During this period, there was also a great problem of receiving Islam, and two great attempts were made to arrive at a new synthesis; one from the side of the Muslims, and the other from the side of the Hindus. The former was exemplified in the attempt of Akbar (1542-1605) to create a new religion called Din-i-Ilahi, and the latter was exemplified by the life and work of Guru Nanak (1469-1538). The work of Guru Nanak gave rise to the subsequent Sikh Khalsa movement which was astonishingly original and novel.
During this period, there was a tremendous churning of the spirit of India, and a great attempt was made to explore all aspects of human being and to develop them in such a way that they could all open up to the spiritual light and force. This attempt had not only an individual aspect but also a collective aspect, and this was a remarkable attempt which could have revolutionized the collective life of India. But this was interrupted on account of several factors.
Among these factors was the fact of the exhaustion of the vital force as a result of a long march of effort from the earliest times of Indian history. This also coincided with the political instability and the coming of the settlers from the west, the French, the Dutch and the British. Finally, the political instability led to the establishment of the British supremacy in India.
In fact, the period following the death of Moghul emperor Aurangzeb (1707) marks a period of complete decline of Indian culture; and the Indian spirit was so much endangered during this period that even today India suffers from a tremendous Inertia and obscurity.
Even then, the Indian spirit began to re-assert itself from the middle of the 19th century which marks the begimiing of what has come to be called the Indian Renaissance.
The period, beginning from 1800 A.D., when the British established the supremacy in India, is generally called the modern
period of Indian history. It was at the beginning of this period that there arose a galaxy of great personalities like Raja Rammohun Roy and Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, who filled India with a new breath and sowed the seeds not only of a new spiritual awakening but also of social and political awakening. The great Indian fighters of India's freedom who struggled against the British were not only men and women of high spiritual attainments, but also of immense social and political dynamism. The new nationalist spirit was at once spiritual and social in character, and the great mantra of Indian nationalism (Vande Mataram: I bow to the Mother) symbolised a new vibration of spiritual and political force, which generated waves of nationalist movement and led India to her freedom on 15th August, 1947.
It is, however, important to note that the meaning and significance of the vast effort of Indian spirituality and culture began to be understood only in the context of what is happening since the turn of the century in the inner life of India. It is, in fact, through the life and work of Sri Aurobindo that India has taken not only a new course of an integral endeavor, but also in doing so, it has embraced quintessence of the vast Indian movement of the past and infused it with a new spirit and motivation, and while fulfilling the promises of the early effort, it has broken a new ground for the fulfillment not only of the Indian spirit but of the deepest aspirations of mankind.
It is this new movement which makes India so relevant to the modern world. It is that which makes the story of Indian culture so significant and meaningful. It is that which invites the attention of the world. It is that which is in the making and gives a call for a new light that can guide the human race in its further evolution.
This new story has begun, as noted above, from the turn of the twentieth century, and it is still in the process of shaping the contemporary moment and the coming Future.