Ancient history of India pdf



The Indian subcontinent has three main reasons: Himalaya Mountains, southern peninsula and Indo – Gangetic plains.

Himalayan mountains: 

  • The mountains stretch from Pamir in the North West to north east. It has a length of 2560 km and breadth of 240-320km.
  • The Himalayas protect Indian subcontinent from cold winds blowing from Siberia to central Asia.
  • The Himalayas also protect against external invasions but the passes Khyber, Gomal, Khurram and Bolan allow easy access.
  • The Greeks, Huns, Parthian’s, Turks and Sakas entered the subcontinent through these. Alexander came through the Swat valley. These passes allowed trade as well as cultural contacts between India and central Asia.
  • In the east the Himalayas have thick forests and heavy rains and thus many regions of the Himalayas are isolated from rest.

Indo Gangetic Plains: 

It is a very fertile region irrigated by Ganga, Yamuna and Brahmaputra. Thar Desert and Aravalli hills are located between Ganga and Indus plains. Area between two rivers is called “doab“.

Many urban centres are located at the confluence of rivers and river banks. Most important urban centre isDelhi on the western side of Gangetic plain.

The plain is a source of temptation and attraction to foreign invaders due to its fertility and productive wealth. Important battles were fought to conquer these plains especially the Ganga Yamuna doab was the most coveted and contested battle.

Kurukshetra and Panipat were most common battles grounds.

The rivers in these regions are arteries of commerce and communication. 

Southern Peninsula: 

  • The Vindhya and Satpuda mountain ranges along with Narmada and Tapti rivers form the dividing line. The plateau to the south of it is Deccan plateau which is of volcanic rock.  As the rocks are easier to cut many rock cut temples and monasteries are found here.
  • The Deccan plateau is flanked by Eastern and Western Ghats.
  • The Coromandel Coast is located between Eastern Ghats and Bay of Bengal. The Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats meet at Nilgiri hills.
  • The Deccan plateau is bridge between north and south but due to the dense forests in the Vindhyas the culture and language is well preserved due to geographic isolation.
  • In the south, Palghat pass from Kaveri valley to Malabar Coast was famous for Indo – Roman trade. The Eastern Ghats are low and cut in places due to fast flowing rivers. The rivers of the southern peninsula flow from west to east except Narmada and Tapti which flow from east to west. The rivers flow parallel to each other.
  • The Krishna Tungabhadra doab has been hotly contested by southern kingdoms due to its fertility. Due to the long coastline the south kingdoms developed cultural and commercial relations with Greco – Roman kingdoms.



The Indian history is divided into following phases:

Old Stone Age [Paleolithic]

Middle stone age [Mesolithic]

New stone age [Neolithic] and Metal age.

The dates of these periods are overlapping. They are arrived at by using scientific calculation like carbon dating and dendro chronology [counting tree rings in wood]. 

Paleolithic age: Before 10000BC 

  1. Located in rock shelters and caves.
  2. Found close to water bodies.
  3. Hunting and gathering edible foods, tubers.  


Mesolithic age: 10000 BC to 6000 BC 

  1. Lived in rock shelters and caves.
  2. Settled for long periods in a place so cultivation and agriculture is practiced.
  3. Domesticated animals found.
  4. Bow and arrow was used in hunting – gathering
  5. Burial of dead started.
  6. Microlithic artifacts. 

Neolithic age: 6000BC to 4000 BC 

  1. Agriculture, domestication of animals, polishing tools and manufacturing pottery.
  2. Mud brick houses, polished tools, cultivation using animals.
  3. Transportation using animals and burial using urns.
  4. Advancements in agriculture and clothes of wool and cotton.

Metal Age:

  1. Copper and bronze were used.
  2. Smelting and crafting metal artifacts were started.
  3. Implements were used in agriculture.



Harappan civilization [since Harappa was the first place to be discovered] or Indus valley civilization [it is located on the banks of Indus River] is 5000 year old civilization. 80% of the settlements were on the banks of the now lost Saraswati River. The civilization was first discovered in 1920 while laying of the Lahore Multan railway line.

The capital cities: Harappa [banks of Ravi River] and Mohenjo-Daro [banks of Indus River].

Harappa was discovered by Dayaram Sahni and Mohenjo-Daro by Rakal das banerjee.

John Marshall the head of Archaeological survey of India played an important role.

Alexander Cunningham, the father of Indian archaeology was the first director of Archaeological survey of India.

Carbon dating uses C-14 isotope to find human bones age. Inventor is Libby.

Findings at the cities:

  1. Harappa
  • Granaries
  • Male and female gods
  • Painted pottery
  • Wheat and barley
  1. Mohenjo-Daro – Largest city of the civilization spread over 200 hectares.

                  ·   Public granary; Bath [largest structure in civilization]

  1. Lothal – Port city

                  ·    Terracotta figures
                  ·     Fire altars and dockyard, surrounded by a brick wall for flood protection.

  1. Kalibangan – elaborate town planning and urban features
  • fire altars
  1. Dholavira

                  ·  Water and drainage system
                  ·   Stadium

System of Harappan civilisation: 

  1. Progress in agriculture, industry, crafts and trade.
  2. System of grid shaped roads – streets and lanes cut at right angles, citadels – political authority was present, walled cities, burned bricks – absence of stone bricks.
  3. Houses with no windows; Made of stone and wood, every house had a bathroom.
  4.  Citadel areas for upper classes and non citadel areas for lower classes.
  5. Drains adjacent to the house covered with stone slabs or bricks.
  6. Seals, script [not yet been deciphered] written from right to left and left to right in alternate lines, standard weights and measures.
  7. Wheel based pottery, practice of burying the dead in north south direction.
  8. Cotton and woolen clothes.
  9. Male and female goddesses. Tree worship. Snake worship. No temples found, religion and castes did not exist in this civilization hence it was predominantly secular civilization.
  10. Vegetarian and non Vegetarian eaters.
  11. Cosmetics and weapons were used.
  12. Horses were not known but domesticated animals were cows, bulls, dogs, elephants.
  13. Iron was not known but bronze was used.
  14. Knowledge of tides and medicines.
  15. No currency so barter based exchange. Trade with other civilizations both internal and foreign.
  16. Agriculture based on wheat and barley.
  17. Fishing, hunting and bull fighting, music were common pass times.
  18. Bronze, stone and terracotta sculptures.
  19. Granaries show organized collection and distribution. Great bath show importance to ritualistic bathing, cleanliness.

Causes of decline:

    Climate change led to change in river course.

    Invasion by Aryans.

    Civil wars

By 1500 BC the civilization began to decline. The Sanskrit speaking Indo – Aryans entered the subcontinent in this period.



Aryans came to India in 2000-1500 BC periods. They are believed to be sons of the soil or originating from Central Asia as per popular belief. The origin is disputed but they were cattle herders. They first settled in Punjab or frontier provinces and then pushed into interior of India.

The Aryans  soon reached all over the northern part of India. The north was then called Aryavarta.

The Aryan period can be divided into Early Aryan period [Rig Vedic period] 1500BC to 1000 BC andLater Aryan period 1000BC to 600 BC.

The Vedic literature consists of four Vedas viz. Rig Veda, Sam Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda.

Rig Veda is oldest amongst them and contains the cultural, social and political life of the Aryans. Sam Vedais important for Indian music. Yajur Veda is a book of sacrificial prayers and Atharva Veda contains charms and spells to ward off evil.

Vedic period belongs to the Iron Age. Other than Rig Veda other Vedas belong to Later Vedic period.

Besides these other sacred texts are Brahmans, Aranyakas, Upanishads and the great texts Mahabharata and Ramayana. They spoke the Indo – Aryan language Sanskrit

Early Vedic Period: 1500 BC to 1000 BC 

  1. The civilization was confined to Indus Valley Rivers. 
  1. Political organization:
  • Family – Kula
  • Village – gram ; head – gramani
  • Group of village – visu; head – vishayapati
  • Highest political unit – tribe or Jana
  • Tribal kingdoms headed by Rajan; assisted by purohit [priest] and senani [head of army]
  • Bodies – Sabha [council of elders and Samiti [assembly of people].
  1. Social life
  1. Patriarchal society where property was inherited by son.
  2. Women were treated with respect. They were allowed to attend assemblies and participate in intellectual development.
  3. No sati or child marriage. Caste system not rigid and based on occupations.
  4. Monogamy was practiced and polygamy was found in royal households.
  5. Fruits, vegetables, wheat, barley, milk were common.
  6. Sanskrit was the language.
  7. Woolen and cotton clothes.
  8. Pastimes were chariot racing, music, horse racing and dance.
  1. Economic conditions:
  1. Trade was based on barter system but later for large transactions coins called Nishkas were used.
  2. Primarily they were cattle herders, but other occupations were carpentry, agriculture, pottery, spinning and goldsmith.
  3. Iron was known and widely used. Copper wasn’t known.
  1. Religion
  1. Male and female gods. Nature was personified and worshiped.
  2. No idol or temple worship.
  3. Offerings and small rituals were present. 

Later Vedic Period: 1000 BC to 600 BC 

  1. Larger kingdoms were formed from amalgamation of tribes or Janas into Janapadas or Rashtras.
  2. Kings started performing rituals for maintaining dominion.
  3. Many new posts of officials were created.
  4. Iron was used extensively to bring area into cultivation.
  5. Sea trade was started. Vaishya caste was formed of merchants.
  6. Caste system became more rigid. Brahmans and kshatriyas enjoy higher rights and Vaishya and Shudras were denied rights.
  7. Status of women deteriorated. They lost their political rights. Child marriages and sati became common.
  8. Rituals and sacrifices became more common. Dominion of Brahmins was seen. Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh were the chief deities.

A direct result of this system led to birth of Buddhism and Jainism. The lower castes were attracted towards them as they didn’t believe in rituals and castes.

Difference between Dravidians and Aryans:


  1. Dark skin and medium height.
  2. Trade and agriculture main occupation.
  3. Used only cotton
  4. Worshiped bull and idols.
  5. Used copper didn’t know iron
  6. Knew tiger not horses.
  7. Agriculture civilization and built towns.



The 6th century BC saw rise of many kingdoms in the north. Some were republican where decisions were made in a public assembly by majority vote. The others were monarchies where the decisions were made by the king assisted by the advisors.

The republics were scattered in Himalayas or northwest. The monarchies were concentrated in the Gangetic plains.

The Buddhist literature talks about 16 Mahajanapadas.

The smaller of these submitted to the larger and in the end there were only four – Magadha, Avanti, Kosala and Vatsa.

                                                                           Fig 1: Mahajanpadas

Rise of Magadha

Magadha was the most powerful amongst them. There were some geographic and strategic factors too that enhanced this advantage of Magadha like

  1. Her location between the upper and lower part of the Gangetic valley
  1. Fertile soil. Iron from Rajgir and copper from Gaya too added to her advantage.
  1. Her location at the centre of the trade highways added to her advantage and increased her wealth.
  1. First to use elephants in warfare.

Bimbisara was the first important king of Magadha. He was the contemporary of Vardhaman Mahavir andGautama Buddha.

Ajatashatru imprisoned his father and ascended the throne. His rule was strengthened by many military conquests. Initially he was a supporter of Jainism and later became a supporter of Buddhism.

Later the Aryankas and Saisunaga followed by Nandas ruled Magadha. The last Nanda ruler was Dhana Nanda who was resented by the people.

Taking advantage of this Chanakya and his disciple Chandragupta launched a popular movement and dislodged him. This was the time when Alexander invaded India. 

Persian invasions and their impact on India:

Persian invasions started from 550 BC to 450 BC and were restricted to the Northwest Provinces and Punjab.

The kings Cyrus, Darius and Xerxes led these invasions.

  1. The Persian impacted trade between India and Iran.
  1. Kharoshti script a form of Iranian writing [left to right] became famous and Asoka edicts were written in Kharoshti script.
  1. Persian art had an impact on Mauryan art especially on Ashok’s pillars and the sculptors found on them.
  1. Idea of issuing edicts and wordings on these bore Iranian influence.
  1. Pillars of Mauryan were lustrous and polished like Persian. They had bell shaped capitals like the victory pillars of Achaemenid emperors.
  1. Ceremonial head bath on birthday was of Persian influence.
  1. King consulted ascetic or physician who sat in a room of fire. This came from Zoroastrians the

religion of Persia.

                                                                       Fig 2: Persian invasions

Alexander’s invasion:

The political conditions in the North West India and Punjab allowed the invasion of Alexander. The small kingdoms present in those areas were disunited and couldn’t unite in face of a common enemy. However this doesn’t mean that Alexander’s invasion was easy.

 Causes of the invasion:

  1. He was attracted by the fabulous Indian wealth; he also wanted to conquer the entire Persian satrapy of India after defeating the Persians.
  1.  He was interested in geographical inquiry and natural history. He believed that on the eastern side of India there was a continuous sea so he had the desire of conquering eastern border of the world.

The battle of Alexander and the tribes of Indus resulted in victory for him. But his real test was againstPorus. In spite of having a strong army Porus was defeated.

But Alexander treated him with respect and reinstated him. Alexander wanted to move further east but his soldiers were tired of prolonged hardship and wanted to return home. He relented but his return journey too was difficult.

He was attacked by republican tribes. He fell ill and died on way home.


  1. Immediate unification of North West frontier under Mauryans was seen.
  1. The small independent kingdoms came to an end.
  1. It also started direct contact between India and Greece. Naval expeditions increased and additional trade routes came into existence.

Influence on architecture:


  1. Art of well shaped, beautiful silver and gold coins came from Greeks.
  2. Influence on Indian astrology.
  3. Ashok’s edicts were in Greek and inscribed on stone pillars made of single column. 

The effect of Persians was higher than the Greeks.



Foundation of Mauryan Empire opened a new era in the history of India.

Kauntilya’s Arthashastra gave a glimpse of this period. Megasthenes was a noble in the court of Selekus Nikator, a general appointed by Alexander to govern over his conquered provinces in the subcontinent.

After Nikator was defeated but Chandragupta, Megasthenes came to Chandragupta’s court. He wrote a book called “Indica”. It had detailed account of Mauryan administration.

Edicts of Ashok: the fourteen major edicts are in Pali, Prakrit language and in Brahmi and Kharoshti script.

They also give information about Ashok and Mauryan administration. 

Mauryan Kings

Chandragupta Maurya:

He was the founder of the Empire. He defeated the last Nanda king and ended the dynasty. He also defeated Alexander’s general Selekus Nikator. Nikator ceded Alexander’s conquered territories to Mauryan Empire.

Chandragupta also captured central Indian territories up to Narmada. At the end of his life he embraced Jainism moved to Shravan Belgola and starved to death.


He was called the slayer of enemies. He conquered Deccan up to Mysore. He appointed Ashok as governor of Ujjain. He supported Ajivikas, a religious sect.

Ashok the Great:

He was the most powerful and famous Mauryan emperor.
He embraced Buddhism after the Kalinga war.  He appointed officers to spread Dhamma.
He convened the third Buddhist council at Patliputra. He sent his son to Sri Lanka. The southern most states of Cholas, Chera, and Pandya were borders to it but outside his Empire.

He was the first emperor to have a welfare state for the people.

Dhamma concept of Buddha was a social code. It was wider than Buddhism which Ashok treated as his personal belief. He didn’t equate Dhamma and Buddhism. His concept of Dhamma is written on the rock edicts. The edicts were written in Pali, Prakrit, and Greek and in Brahmi and Kharoshti script.

Due to weak successors and Bactrian invasions in north the Mauryan Empire collapsed. Other reasons attributed to the decline of later mauryans were administrative and political factors. 


Mauryan was a monarchy. But the king took advice of his ministers. The kingdom had a well defined civil service.
The army was well maintained. Revenue administration imposed taxes and levies.
Civil and criminal courts were present and torture, mutilation, death were given.
Census was carried out. Village administration was well defined.
The currency of Mauryans was accepted worldwide.

Mauryan Art and Architecture:

  • The use of stone for architecture and sculptures started from this period. However only the Sanchi Stupa survives till today. Other palaces, monasteries have perished.
  • The pillars were the finest specimen of Mauryan architecture. The pillars had animals on top.
  • Stupa’s were destroyed by foreign invaders.
  • Caves were given by Ashok to the Ajivikas sect. The inner walls of the caves are polished like mirrors.
  • Mauryan period saw the height of pillars, stupa architecture. Post Mauryans saw height of sculptures.
  • During Mauryan period only viharas existed after that both chaityas and viharas.

   Fig 1: Mauryan empire during Ashok’s reign



The Mauryan Empire was divided into north and south after Ashok’s death. The north collapsed due toBactrian invasions. The south was curtailed as Kalinga declared independence. Satvahana dynasty also declared independence.

The end of the Mauryan’s was done by Pushpamitra Sunga. The Sunga dynasty had to face Bactrian and Greek invasions which captured Patliputra for some time. The Sunga dynasts were Brahmins but they patronised Buddhist art too.

Sunga’s were followed by short reign of Kanva dynasty. Sunga kings promoted Sanskrit and Vaishnavism which reached its pinnacle during Gupta Empire.

The Kanva dynasty ended and no record is kept of Mauryan Empire after their end till the Gupta Empire started. 

Satvahana dynasty:

The Satvahana dynasty was present in Andhra Pradesh. But it was extended to Nasik in west and Berar.

They were feudatories of the Mauryan’s but after the decline of Mauryan’s they established an independent kingdom for 450 years.

Gautamiputra Satkarni was greatest ruler. He conquered Deccan province.


  1. Oversees trade was flourishing during this period. Silver coins were used. Merchants were organized into guilds to increase their activities.
  2. Buddhism and Brahmanism were patronized.
  3. Prakrit language flourished here.  

Bactrian invasions:

Greek rulers of Bactria captured Ujjain, Sind, Punjab and Afghanistan however they couldn’t maintain Patliputra due to Sunga dynasty.

The Greeks embraced Buddhism. Some were influenced by Vaishnavism too.

The Sakas or Scythians ruled over North West and captured them from Bactrian’s. The northern satraps ruled over Taxila and southern ruled over Maharashtra.

Saka’s of Taxila were overthrown by Parthian’s.           


Fig 1: Foreign Invasians

Kushana dynasty:

They were central Asian tribes. They displaced the Sakas in Bactria. Their Empire extended up to Mathura in north India. Kadaphises II and Kanishaka were famous Kushana rulers.

Kanishka: Founded the Saka era in 78 AD. Saka era starts at 22nd or 23rd March. He captured Bodh Gaya, Patliputra, Magadha and Kashmir. His Empire extended from Gandhar to Banaras, Kashmir to Malwa. His capital was Peshawar.

Kanishka embraced Buddhism but in his time Mahayana school emerged.

Buddha worshipped using flowers, rituals. He convened the fourth Buddhist council and Mahayana doctrine was finalised. He was a patron of Mahayana.

The last dynasty to control the silk route.


Gandhar School of Art

The Gandhar art emerged in areas around Peshawar.

The Sakas and Kushana were the real patrons of it.

The Gandhar form was influenced by Indian as well as Greco – Roman style. Buddha’s sculptures in various image, sizes and forms were made. Yogic posture of Buddha. The reliefs depict his birth, renunciation and preaching.


  1. Moulding human body with features like muscles, moustache and curtly hair.
  2. Thick drapery with large and bold fold lines.
  3. Rich carving, elaborate ornamentation and symbolic expressions.
  4. The main theme was  Buddhism – Mahayanism
  5. Grey sandstone was used.
  6. Only Buddhist religion was depicted.
  7. Patrons were Kushana. 

The Stupa’s were made taller with ornamentation to make them attractive. The monasteries were also influenced.

Mathura School of Art

The Buddha’s face had a spiritual feeling which was absent in Gandhar art. The Apsara’s and Yakshini’s too were carved beautifully. The school also carved Siva, Vishnu and their consorts Parvati and Lakshmi.

  1. Indigenous only.
  2. Red sandstone used.
  3. All religions were depicted.
  4. Patrons were Kushana.
  5. Buddha in Padmasan form. First to carve Jatakas on long rock panels. 

Kangra School of painting:

When Nadir Shah invaded India, the Mughal artists fled to hills and founded it. Its main inspiration was Vaishnavism.

Amravati School of Art 

  1. Indigenous influence
  2. white marble used
  3. Buddhist religion depicted
  4. Satvahana dynasty was patrons.
  5. Jatakas tales of Buddha
  6. Located in Krishna Godavari valley

Chapter 9: SANGAM – AGE


The Sangam age was a glorious period for south India.

The Sangam is an Academy of Poets and great literary work emerges out of them. The Sangam flourished under the patronage of the Pandya’s dynasty

The probable dates of Sangam era were decided as 3rd century BC – 3rd Century AD. 

Chronology of Sangams

First Sangam – Madurai – Attended by gods and legendary sages but no work survived.

Second Sangam – Kapadapuram – Tolkappiyyam is the only literary work that survived.

Third Sangam – Madurai – Few literary works survived.

The political situation during the Sangam is known: The south India was ruled by Chola, Chera and Pandya during this time.

Each of them had two power centres one inland and one on the coast. 

Sangam Dynastys

Chera dynasty: Royal emblem: Bow

  1. They ruled over modern Kerala.
  2. Castes not known.
  3. No superstitions. Ancestors and tree worship seen.
  4. Declined as trade with Romans declined.


           Fig 1: Chera kingdom

Chola dynasty: Royal emblem: Tiger

  1. They ruled over southern Andhra Pradesh and part of north Tamil Nadu.



Pandya dynasty:  Royal emblem: Carp

  1. They ruled over Tamil country.
  2. Hereditary monarchy with king assisted by council of ministers. There was a large body of officials for administration.
  3. Empire divided into mandalam ->nadu -> urs.
  4. Rulers kept a regular army.
  5. Land revenue was main income source. Customs duty and war booty were others.
  6. Trade was prosperous. Pearls were famous.
  7. Sati, castes, idol worship were common. Widows were treated badly.
  8. Temples had:
  • Gopuram
  • Garbagriha
  • Viman
  • Prakaras
  • Gateways. 

Apart from these three there were minor chieftains who were subordinate to the Chera, Chola and Pandya but were strong and powerful in their respective regions.

    Fig 3: South Indian kingdoms

Sangam Polity:

Hereditary monarchy was prevalent. But king had advisors to assist him.

Each ruler had a regular army.

Land revenue was the chief source of income and customs duty was imposed on foreign trade. War booty was also a source of income. Roads and highways were protected from thieves.

was the chief god. Even deceased who had died in wars were worshipped.

Caste system was known. Women had respect and allowed to pursue intellectual pursuits. But condition of widows was bad. Sati was prevalent. But women were allowed to choose their partners.

Art, music and dancing were popular in Sangam age. Highly developed forms of music and dance were known.

Trade and agriculture flourished in this period. Internal trade was on barter system. External trade was carried with Greek civilisation using naval vessels.

Agriculture was the main occupation. Handicrafts, metal works and garments were famous in internal and external trade. Roman Empire too traded with them and roman merchants were present in Tamil country. Gold and silver roman coins are found here.

End of Sangam age:

The Kalabra’s occupied entire Tamil country for 250 years. Jainism and Buddhism grew to prominence in their rule. Finally the Pallavas and Pandya’s drew them out of Tamil country and re-established their rule again.

Chapter 10: GUPTA EMPIRE


The Gupta’s occupied the Magadha city and started their Empire. The coins issued give some information about their rituals and titles. The works of the rulers are mentioned in the Iron pillars erected by the rulers. 

Chronology of Gupta kings

Chandragupta – I:

The Gupta era started in 320 AD. Chandragupta was famous for extensive conquests.


He was the greatest of the Gupta emperors. He had complete control over North India from Taxila to Bengal. The policy regarding South India was different. He defeated the kings but handed them back their Empires. He only wanted them to acknowledge his suzerainty. He issued gold and silver coins depicting his conquests.

He is known as Indian Napoleon.

He was tolerant of other religions. He promoted music, poets and Sanskrit literature. He was an ardent follower of Vaishnavism.

Chandragupta – II:

The military genius of his father was inherited by him. He undertook military campaigns against the southern satraps in Maharashtra. The defeat of the Sakas brought the Arabian Sea as part of the kingdom. External trade with the Roman Empire also increased. This increased wealth of the Empire.

Fa – Hien the Chinese pilgrim visited during his reign. He wrote about the religious, social and economic conditions of the Gupta.

Successors of Chandragupta and their achievements:

  1. Kumargupta: Founded Nalanda University. It was a Mahayana university.
  2. Skandagupta: fought and defeated the Huns.

The successors of Gupta’s couldn’t save the Empire from Huns.

Because of the high level of cultural progress the Gupta period is known as the golden age.

Features of Gupta Age:

1.    Hereditary monarchy with king as head. King is assisted by a council.

2.    Kingdom divided into provinces. Provinces into city and districts with their own administrative machinery.

3.    Fa Hien’s account claimed that Gupta administration was mild. Negligible crime was seen. Punishments were not severe. Civil liberties were present. Administration was lenient than the Mauryan’s.

4.    Women status was poor. They were thoroughly subjugated to men. Caste system was also rigid. The lower castes were oppressed. Brahmins were favoured by kings.

5.    Brahmanism and its form Shaivism and Vaishnavism flourished in this time. Most of the kings were Vaishnavaites. They performed sacrifices and gave donations. Buddhism and Jainism declined in the Gangetic valley.

6.    The arts, science and culture flourished during this period and hence it’s called a golden age. This was due to culmination of various intellectual activities.

Art and Architecture:

1.Temple building styles like the Dravidian and the Nagara evolved during this period. However most of the work was destroyed by the Hun invasions.

2.No influence of Gandhar style but little of Greek style on sculptures.

3.The craftsmen became experts in art of crafting metal statues and pillars. The statue of Buddha and the Delhi iron pillar are good examples.

4.Coinage also saw great progress. Gold, silver and copper coins of different varieties were issued.

5.Sanskrit literature flourished and new script Nagari evolved from Brahmi script. Best works of Sanskrit were done in this period.

6.The example of literary works done in this period are Kalidasa – Shakuntala, Panchatantra stories, final touches to Purana, Epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.

7.Brilliant activity was achieved in the fields of science, mathematics, astronomy, medicine. Aryabhatta and Varahamihir wrote books on astronomy. Vagbhata wrote on medicine.

Nalanda University:

It was a residential University where education, lodging and boarding were free. Although it was aMahayana university, it gave education about all religious doctrines.

In addition it had other subjects like science, astronomy, medicine. More than lectures discussions played an important role. It was an institution of advanced learning and research. It had a great library and classrooms. Discipline was strict.

It was popular from the fact that it attracted scholars all over Asia.

Taxila University:

      1.      Located at junction of Central Asia and South Asia.

  1. Not considered a university a modern sense as teachers living there didn’t have official membership of colleges.
  2. No purpose built lecture halls and Residential quarters.



The decline of Gupta Empire in the north created political disunity which was resolved after Harshavardhanestablished his Empire. The details of Harshavardhan’s Empire can be seen in Huen Tsang’s, a Chinese traveler account and works of Bana, a court poet. 

Foundation of the Empire:

The founders were initially feudatories of the Gupta’s. They declared independence after the Huns invaded and the Gupta Empire weakened. When Harsha acceded to the throne he had to face crisis initially. His brother and brother in law were murdered and his sister was about to immolate herself. Harsha rescued her and took revenge on the rulers of Malwa and Bengal.

Harsha Empire extended over to entire north India. This was done by extensive military conquests. The suzerainty was also accepted by Kashmir, Sind, and Valabhi. However his ambition to entire the southern states was crushed by Chalukya ruler Pulekasin II who defeated him. 


Harsha was initially a Shaiva later he became a Hinayana Buddhist. Huen Tsang converted him to Mahayana Buddhism with the assistance of his sister. He constructed many Stupa’s and monasteries. Once every five years he convened a gathering of Buddhist monks to discuss Buddha’s doctrine.

He patronised Nalanda University.

He was tolerant towards all religions.


The administration was on lines of the Gupta’s. Taxation was light and civil liberties were given. Administration was organized and inspections by the king were common. However cruel punishments of Mauryan age continued. Forced labor was rare. 

Maintenance of records about events was done meticulously. 


  1. Society was divided into Varna’s or castes. Brahmins and kshatriyas enjoyed privileges and the lower castes were oppressed.
  2. Condition of women was unsatisfactory.
  3. Remarriage wasn’t permitted to widows.
  4. Sati, dowry became prevalent.


  1. Trade and industry declined. This led to decrease in trading centers, limited number of coins issued.
  2. Declining demand for handicrafts and agricultural produce led farmers to cultivate less. The self sufficient village economy started.
  3. On the whole prosperity was less than the Gupta age.


  1. Harsha period followed the art and architecture style of the Gupta’s.
  2. Harsha himself was a learned scholar and patron of learning. He wrote the plays Ratnavali, Nagananda and Priyadarshika.
  3. Nalanda University became an international centre of reputation during Harsha reign.

Huen Tsang: 

  1. Wrote Book – Journey to the West.
  2. He wrote about way of life, agriculture, food, dress, jewellery and taxes.
  3. He was attacked by robbers along the way.


Pallavas dynasty:

After the Sangam age ended, the Kalabraha’s captured the south and ruled for 250 years till the Pallavas dynasty started. The Pallavas ruled till they were ended by the Imperial Cholas in 10 century AD.

Their origin is widely disputed due to insufficient evidence. However they are believed to be natives of the area. Initially they were feudatories of the Satvahana but later declared independence.

The three lines of Pallavas rulers existed. Initially they issued their charters in Prakrit and later on in Sanskrit.

The third line ended the Kalabraha rule in south and firmly established Pallavas dynasty till it was ended by Imperial Cholas.

Features of the Pallavas Era:

The dynasty saw continuous Pallavas Chalukya conflict. The Chalukya would win over territory but lose it in next wars. The Pallavas also engaged in naval expeditions and sent embassies to china. Trade too flourished in the Pallavas era.


The hereditary monarchy was a feature. The king was assisted by council.
The kingdom was divided into kottams and kottams were administered by officials.
A well trained army was maintained.
At village level sabhas and samiti’s maintained village administration.
Land tax was main source of revenue. 



  1. The rigid caste system was seen. Brahmins and royals enjoyed high status.
  2. Bhakti movement was flourishing. Nayanmars and Alvar’s preached hymns. Vaishnavism and Shaivism improved due to these.
  3. Pallavas also constructed temples and gave grants to them.
  4. Buddhism and Jainism declined in this period. But the Pallavas were tolerant to them. 

Education and literature: 

  1. Sanskrit and Tamil literature flourished.
  2. Kanchi the Pallavas capital was an ancient centre of learning.
  3. Nayanmars and Alvar have composed hymns in Tamil.
  4. Music, drama and dance also developed in this era. 

Art and Architecture:  

  1. Dravidian temple building architecture emerged during this period. The rock cut temples of Pallavas were exemplary.
  2. Temple architecture developed in four stages:
  • Rock cut temples
  • Rock cut monolithic Ratha’s [monolithic shrine] and Mandapas [open pavilion, simple columned halls].
  • Structural temples E.g. Kailashnatha temple is the greatest specimen of Pallavas architecture.
  • Structural temples in Rajsimhan style
  1. Open art gallery too were started during this period.

Western Chalukya dynasty:

The Western Chalukya was an important power in the Deccan ruling an extensive Empire. Pulekasin I was the founder and his capital was at Badami. The eastern Chalukya were at Vengi and Chalukya of Kalyanis were offshoots of Western Chalukya.

Pulekasin II was the most important ruler. He defeated Harsha and checked his ambition to rule the Deccan. He also led a successful expedition against the Pallavas. He was later defeated and the Vatapi capital was plundered by the Pallavas. The last king of Chalukya was defeated by Dandidurga, Founder of Rashtrakutas.


Administration and Social Life: 

  1. The centralized administration under the king was a unique feature of Chalukya. Village autonomy was absent.
  2. Brahmanism was the main religion and the Chalukya kings performed rituals and sacrifices.
  3. Buddhism declined but Jainism progressed in this dynasty.

Art and architecture: 

  1. Vesara style of structural temples was developed in the Chalukya dynasty.
  2. Telegu literature developed.
  3. The Aihole inscription was composed. Aihole is the cradle of indian temple architecture.s
  4. Chalukya cave temple architecture and paintings were seen at Ajanta, Ellora and Badami.
  5. Temple building developed in two stages:

Stage 1: Temples had low flat roof with pillared halls. The walls and pillars are adorned with images of gods and humans.

Stage 2: Dravidian influence is seen. Partly the northern style is continued.

   Fig 1: Vesara style


Rashtrakutas dynasty:

Dandidurga was the founder of the Rashtrakutas dynasty. Initially were feudatories of Chalukya. He defeated Gurjaras and annexed Malwa, he also annexed the Chalukya kingdom. Thus Rashtrakuta became the paramount power in Deccan. The Rashrakuta kings went to the south to Rameshwaram. They built temples in conquered lands.

         Fig 2: Rashtrakuta empire



 Empire was divided into several rashtras. The rashtras into vishayas and further into bhuktis.


The village assemblies played important role. Thus administration wasn’t centralized as chalukyas.

Society and Economy: 

  1. The Brahminism sects like Shaivism and Vaishnavism prospered.
  1. The progress of Jainism continued but Buddhism declined. But harmony was existing between different religions.
  1. Trade between arabs and Deccan flourished.


Cultural contributions:

  1. Sanskrit literature flourished due to the patronage from the kings.
  1. Kannada literature too started emerging
  1. Jain literature too came forward and many poets and writers emerged.


Art and Architecture:

  1. Art and architecture of Rashtrakutas was found at Ellora and Elephanta.
  1. The Kailas temple at Ellora is an architectural marvel. It has a main shrine, entrance gateway, mandap and a subordinate shrine for nandi. The shikhar of the temple is three tiered. The beautiful sculptures and pillared halls make it visually appealing.



After the end of the Sangam age the Cholas became feudatories but rose again to prominence in 9 century AD. These were the years of the Imperial Cholas as they had captured the entire Malay peninsula and Sri Lanka.

The Cholas ended the Pallava dynasty and also defeated the Pandya’s but received a setback from the Rashtrakutas. But under king Rajaraj I they reached the height of their power.

Kaveri delta was a seat of Chola power. 

Features of the reign: 

  1. The Cholas established supremacy over the Chera and the Pandya under the reign of King Rajaraja I. The Cholas also invaded and captured north Sri Lanka.
  2. The Maldives too were captured after military conquest.
  3. By defeating the Western Chalukyas of Kalyani the Chola power reached to Tungabhadra river.
  4. The Chola king Rajendra I started a military campaign against the northern kings and defeated Bengal king.

The Chola kings were devout Shaivites but they were tolerant towards Buddhism and Vaishnavism. The Chola power weakened after successors of Rajendra I and finally the Chola Empire was absorbed into the Pandyan kingdom.

  Fig 1: Empire of Imperial Chola


1.      The king ruled with the help of ministers.

2.      The administration was efficient.

3.      Surprise visits were made by the king to check efficiency of the administration.

4.      Land revenue was collected by elaborately surveying the land. Relief was given during harsh times. The expenditure of taxes was done on canals, irrigation, army, navy, courts.

5.      The army and navy were trained in cantonments. The navy was top priority if the Cholas. The navy had dominated both Coromandel and Malabar coasts. In fact the Bay of Bengal was a Chola lake for some period.

6.      Village autonomy reached its peak during the Chola rule. Qualifications and disqualifications were prescribed for becoming a member of village committee. These committees had functions and could pass resolutions.


 1.      The caste system was prevalent. The upper castes enjoyed special privileges.
2.      The sub castes too existed but harmonious cooperation existed between them.

3.      Women had inferior status. Sati and Devdasi system was prevalent.

4.      Temples of Shiv and Vishnu were built. Hence both these sects flourished.

5.      Trade with china, Sumatra, Java and Arabs flourished in this period. Silk weaving of Kanchi was famous. Agriculture too increased and forest lands were brought under cultivation.

Fig 2: Great living chola temples Brihadeshwar [Thanjavur] , Airavatesvara Temple and Brihadeshvar [Gangaikonda]


  1. The temples were centers of imparting education.
  2. Numerous colleges too were created. In these apart from Vedic knowledge, mathematics and sciences too were taught.
  3. Land endowments were given to these.
  4. Tamil literature reached its peak during this period.

Art and Architecture

  1. The Vimana style of temple building grew prominent in this period. Walls have detailed frescoes, sculptures, paintings.
  2. The temples too were large.
  3. The mandaps, and semi mandaps were built in temples.
  4. Architectural beauty is also seen in sculptures of large size with fine execution.
  5. Chola paintings and bronze statues of dancing girl are famous.
  6. Dwarpal and Gana were common in temples. Base of Chola temples has ‘Yazhi’ – A mythical animal.
  7. Bharat natyam was developed.



The complex rituals and sacrifices of the Brahmins in the later Vedic period weren’t acceptable to the common people. The sacrifices and rituals were too expensive and mantras and superstitions confused the people. The teachings of the Upanishads were philosophical in nature and weren’t easily understood. The common man needed simple, short and intelligible ways to salvation. The religious teachings should be in a language known to them. Jainism and Buddhism fulfilled this need.

The rigid caste system was also another reason that the new religions were accepted easily. The varna system gave highest status to Brahmins. This caused resentment in kshatriyas. The merchant class i.e. vaishyas wanted to improve their status in society as they were economically and socially more forward. The varna system didn’t allow this. It should be noted that this merchant class embraced these new religions.

Jainism had 24 tirthankars, 1st was Rishabdev, 23rd Parshvanath.

Vardhaman Mahavir

He is the 24th tirthankar of Jainism. His original birth was in a kshatriya family. He was married with a daughter. At age of 30 he gave up his old life and became an ascetic. After 12 years of wandering in the 13thyear he attained salvation or highest spiritual level known as keval gnana. His followers called him Mahavir or Jina. They became the Jains. Mahavir preached for 30 years and died at 72 yrs at Pavna.

Triratnas of Mahavir: Right faith, right conduct and right knowledge.

Mahavir believed in five vows: truth, ahimsa, no stealing, no owning property and immoral life. He rejected the Vedas and Vedic rituals.

Jainsm believes that there is no god and world is without a creator. All objects have a soul and feel pain and possess life. The universe functions on a law.

Mahavir organised sangha to spread his teachings. The growth of Jainism is due to the work of Sangha. In

Bihar there was a famine and Bhadrabagu and ChandraGupta Maurya came to Sravana Belgola in Karnataka. The monks who remained were led by Sthulabagu. This created two sects in Jainism: Svetambar [white clad] and Digambar [sky clad or naked].

The first Jain council was held at Patliputra and held by Sthulabagu the leader of Svetambar. The second Jain council was held at Vallabhi and the final compilation of 12 angas of Jain literature was done. 


The founder of Buddhism, Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini. He too was of kshatriya clan. He was married with a son. But he left home to become an ascetic. He wandered for 7 years and under different teachers but couldn’t get enlightenment. Finally under the bodhi tree in bodh gaya on banks of niranjan river after deep penance he attained enlightenment.

He became Buddha or the enlightened one. Buddha means “A person who knows good,bad and suffereing”.

He gave his first sermon at Sarnath at deer park. He died at 80 in kusinagara. There are 29 Buddhas, Gautam is 28th and Maitreya was 29th.

The kings Bimbisara and Ajatashatru became his disciples. Buddha visited places like Benares, Rajagriha, Sravasti, Vaisali, Nalanda, Pataligrama and also Magadha too meet Bindusara.

Buddhist Chaityas are places of worship. viharas are monastery and Sangharam are monastary or school.

Boddhisattvas are yet to attain enlightenment. Stupas are dome shaped structures were mortal remains of monks are kept.

Four noble truths:

  1.  World is full of sufferings
  2. Desire is cause of all sufferings
  3. Remove desire and remove sufferings
  4. Desire can be removed from eight fold path

Buddha didn’t accept or reject god. He was a rationalist and didn’t believe in blind faith. He never dealt with metaphysical questions like god, soul but focused on problems concerning man. He believed karma. He was against any caste distinctions.

Buddha organised the religious disciples into sanghas. The work of these sanghas made Buddhism into a large religion. Two hundred years after Buddhas death Emperor Ashok embraced Buddhism and through missionary efforts spread it to west asia and Ceylon. Thus Buddhism became a world religion. 

Buddhist councils:

  1.  First Buddhist council was Convened by Ajatashatru at rajgir
  2. Second Buddhist council was Convened at Vaisali
  3.  Third Buddhist council was convened at Patliputra by Emperor Ashok. The Tri-Pitakas [Sutta, Vinaya and  Abhidhamma] were compiled.
  4.  Fourth Buddhist council was convened by Kanishka at Kashmir. Here a second sect of Buddhism emerged called Mahayana Buddhism.

 The Buddhism preached by Buddha and propagated by Ashok was Hinayana.

Causes of decline of Buddhism:

1.      Revival of brahminism and the rise of bhagavatism

2.      Adoption of Sanskrit in place of pali by monks

3.      Increase in sacrifice and idol worship due to advent of Mahayana led to lowering of moral values

4.      Destruction of Buddhist monuments by Huns and the Turkish invaders.

Contributions of Buddhism to Indian culture:

1.      Creation of chaityas and viharas in different areas of the country. Stupa’s too were beautiful peice of art.

2.      Concept of ahimsa became popular. It was the chief contribution. It later became one of our nations cherished values.

3.      Promotion of education through residential universities like nalanda, vikramshila and taxila.

4.      Language of pali and other local languages developed through Buddhas teachings.


  1. Ajanta caves were discovered by british. They had carvings of buddhas life. Jataka tales inscribed.
  2. Ellora caves: Hindu, Buddhist and Jain paintings.
  3. Bhimbetka: stone Age paintings.
  4. Elephanta: Shiva, Parvati deities

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