(Indian Art & Culture) Stages in the Evolution of Indian Culture, Contribution of Buddhism & Jainism



Indian culture is the oldest surviving culture in the world. It has passed through centuries of continuity and changes. It was not evolved in any particular phase of Indian history; but in every phase it continued to assimilate certain new features, which in turn, provided it with distinctiveness in each succeeding phase. If we look to the eternal march of Indian culture, we will notice that Indian culture along with its essential features remained receptive to new ideas. This receptiveness has given a new progressive outlook to Indian culture. In this topic, the evolution of Indian culture from the Harappan age to modem times is being traced in order to reveal the uniqueness of Indian culture.

The Harappan Culture

The Harappan culture was essential a city culture drawing sustenance form a large area extending from modern Punjab to as far as Gujrat. The traces of this culture have been found in various place in Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujrat.

The Harappan people lived in well-populated cities and towns with all amenities of a developed city life. Among the popular deities, the mother Goddess and Pashupati Siva were the most prominent. Serpents, trees and certain animals, most prominent being cows were also worshipped. These elements of religion, though contrary to the Vedic religion, were subsequently adopted in Hinduism. Good progress was achieved in the field of architecture, science and technology. Harappan civilization has made an important contribution to the growth and development of culture and civilisation in India during the subsequent phases.

The Vedic Culture

The Vedic Culture, which is associated with the advent of the Aryans in India, is the cornerstone of Indian culture. The word Veda comes from the root Vid (to know). The Rigveda is the earliest Veda, and is also the first testament of the world. The other Vedas are the Samaveda and the Yajurveda. The Atharvaveda is the later Veda.

The later Vedic literature comprises:

(i) the Samhitas of four Vedas;
(ii) the Brahmans attached to each of the Samhitas;
(iii) the Aranyakas and Upanishads (which are mostly attached to the Brahmanas).

The Samhitas are books of hymns or psalms. The Brahmanas are treatises relating to prayer and sacrificial ceremony. The Aranyakas and the Upanishads deal with the philosophical doctrines, allegorical significance of rites, etc.

The Vedic Aryans contributed to three facets of Indian culture. At the level of social institutions the idea of Vama (occupational groups) society was evolved at this time. The responsibility of maintaining this social order was undertaken by Indian society. At the religious level, the ritul of sacrifice became the keystone of religious ritul. Finally the philosophical thought of this period was gathered together in a body of literature (for example, the Upanishads) which not only contained subtle metaphysical doctrines attracting the respect of Indian intellectuals through the centuries, but was also germinal to many of the later systems of thoughts. It was the acceptance or rejection of these three facets that constituted the dominant trend in the evolution of Indian culture ideas and institutions.

Later Vedic Age

The period following that of the rigveda is known as the later Vedic Age, when later Vedic Samhitas, Brahmanas, Upanishads, etc. were composed During this period stately cities and extensive compact kingdoms came into existence. The society underwent a complete change. The concept of Varnasrama (varnas-ashramas) became the focal points of the social and individual life. The functions and duties, the privileges and status of the four varnas were minutely defined. Significant changes also took place in the religious life of the people. We discover three distinct currents of religious thought - the ritualistic, the philosophic and the ascetic. Hinduism was fully expounded in the later Vedic literature – the Brahamanas, the Upanishads and Aranyakas. The doctrines about the Soul (Atman), the Absolute (Brahma), relation between God and man, and the principles of Karma, maya, mukti , transmigration of soul and other special features that have dominated Hindu way of life and thought were evolved, stated and elaborated in the Upanishads.

But the most important achievement of this period is the geographical conquest of India. The rivers, the mountains and the general features of every part of India were known. The Aryan culture and thoughts were spread all over the country.

The Age of the Buddha and Mahavira and the Contribution of Buddhism and Jainism of Indian Culture

The sixth century B.C. witnessed great religious ferment in the world. It was an age when people in India were disgusted with philosophical dogmas and were striving for simple methods of worship and easier means of escape from the ills of this mundane existence. It was an era of revolt – an age of protest against the old order of things. The thinkers of new movement were pure intellectualists – philosophers. The greatest of these wandering teachers were the two Kshatriya princes, viz. Vardhaman Mahavir and Gautam Buddha.The philosophy and the ideologies of the former took the shape of a reforming movement known as Jainism, while those of the latter led to the other movement called Buddhism.

Jainism and Buddhism were the reformation movements of Hinduism. Mahavir did not believe that God created this world or that he exercised any control over it. According to him there is no creation of the world, no supreme creative creative spirit, nor is there any creator necessary to explain the nature of the world. He regarded all objects, animate or inanimate, as endowed with various degrees of consciousness. So the greatest emphasis is laid on the doctrine of ahimsa or non-injury to any kind of living being.

Mahavir successfully founded the Jain Church. His severe asceticism and simple doctrines attracted many followers. The Jains have played a very important part in the development of the languages of the country. the Jains utilised the prevailing spoken language of different times at different places in the country for their religious. Propaganda and preservation of the sacred knowledge. Their religious literature is very vast. They have also produced a rich literature in Sanskrit and Prakrit, both narrative and philosophical, and works on technical subjects like grammar, prosody, lexicography and mathematics are also not wanting.

The beauty of Jainsim found its high watermarks during the eleventh and the twelfth centuries. The gigantic statues of Bahubali called Gomateswara at Sravanabelgola and Karkal in Mysore are among wonders of the world. The Jain Caves with their relief works and statues at Udaigiri hills near Bhilsa in Madhya Pradesh and Ellora in Maharashtra are Examples of excellent architecture and sculpture of the period. The Jain tower at Chittor in Rajasthan is one of the best specimens of Jain architecture. The famous Jain temples at highest perfection the India genius for the invention of graceful patterns and their application to the decoration of masonry architecture.

Gautama Buddha never endeavoured to establish a new religion or creed. He advocated not a set doctrine of dogmas but a rational scheme of spiritual development. Simple goodness of spirit, deed and conduct are the basis of his teachings. The Buddha preached his followers the four ‘Noble Truths’ concerning sorrow, the cause of sorrow, the remedy or destruction of sorrow and the way leading to the destruction sorrow. With regard to his religious teachings and Buddha may call an agnostic, because he neither accepts nor rejects the existence of God.

The Buddhist Scriptures known as Pitakas are divided into three sections, namely the sutta, the vinaya and the abhidhamma. The Buddha had two kinds of disciples – monks (bhikshu) and lay worshippers (upasakas); the former were organised into sanghas or congregations. Perhaps the greatest factor that contributed to the popularity and growth of Bhuddhism was the missionary activities of the Buddhist Sangha. The Buddhist congregations became the centres of light and learning.

The progress of Buddhism exercised considerable influence in shaping the various aspects of Indian life- cultural, social, religious and political. Buddhism gave a popular religion, without any complicated, elaborate and unintelligible rituals such as could be performed only be the priestly class. The doctrine of ahimsa so strongly stressed, devoutly preached and sincerely practiced by the Buddhists was incorporated bodily in their teachings by the brahmanas of later days. This indirectly led to the rise of that particular phase of the bhagwat religion which completely absorbed the doctrine of Ahisma.

The practice of worshipping personal Gods, making their images and creating temples in their honour was adopted by the Hindus in imitation of the Mahayan Buddhists. As Buddhism was intended for the masses it made popular the spoken languages of the people. Buddhism thus fostered the growth of a vast and varied literature in the languages of the people.

The finest contribution of the Buddhism to Indian life was made in the realm of architecture and sculpture. Under the patronage of Buddhism all branches of arts – architecture, sculpture, painting etc. made good progress. Viharas or monasteries were built all over the country for giving permanent abodes to the Buddhist monks. Some pieces of Buddhist sculpture are considered to be the finest specimens of art in the world. The stupas of Sanchi, Bharhut and Amravati, the stone pillars of Asoka and the cave temples of Kanheri (Bombay), Karle (Poona) and Nasik are regarded as the best specimens of the Buddhist art. The stupa at Sanchi is world- renowned for its gateways and railings which are profusely covered with sculpture. The Buddhist art was essentially an art with an intense feeling for nature and a vivid comprehension of the unity of all life – human animal and vegetable.

But the most important fact is that Buddhism proved to be one of the greatest civilizing forces which India gave to the neighbouring countries. Buddhism broke the isolation of India established an intimate contact between India and the foreign countries. It was India’s greatest gift to the outer world. Indian culture and civilisation had been carried by the Buddhist missionaries to China, Mongolia, Manchuria, Korea, Japan, Myanmar, Java Sumatra, Indo-China and other countries since the days of Asoka. These religious ties came to bind many foreigners with our country and paved the way for spreading the Indian Culture abroad.