NCERT Textbook - Thinkers, Beliefs and buildings Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

History(Prelims) by UPSC Toppers

UPSC : NCERT Textbook - Thinkers, Beliefs and buildings Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

 Page 1


 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 82
In this chapter we shall go on a long journey across a
thousand years to read about philosophers and their
attempts to understand the world they inhabited. We will
also see how their ideas were compiled as oral and written
texts as well as expressed in architecture and sculpture.
These are indicative of the enduring influence these
thinkers had on people. While we will be focusing on
Buddhism, it is important to remember that this tradition
did not develop in isolation – there were several other
traditions, each engaged in debates and dialogues with
the others.
The sources that historians use to reconstruct this
exciting world of ideas and beliefs include Buddhist, Jaina
and Brahmanical texts, as well as a large and impressive
body of material remains including monuments and
inscriptions. Among the best preserved monuments of
the time is the stupa at Sanchi which is a major focus in
this chapter.
1. A Glimpse of Sanchi
Sanchi in the nineteenth century
The most wonderful ancient buildings in the state of Bhopal
are at Sanchi Kanakhera, a small village under the brow
of a hill some 20 miles north-east of Bhopal which we
visited yesterday. We inspected the stone sculptures and
statues of the Buddha and an ancient gateway … The ruins
appear to be the object of great interest to European
gentlemen. Major Alexander Cunningham … stayed several
weeks in this neighbourhood and examined these ruins
most carefully. He took drawings of the place, deciphered
the inscription, and bored shafts down these domes. The
results of his investigations were described by him in an
English work …
FROM SHAHJEHAN BEGUM, NAWAB OF BHOPAL (ruled 1868-1901),
Taj- ul Iqbal Tarikh Bhopal (A History of Bhopal), translated by
H.D. Barstow, 1876.
THEME TWO
Thinkers, Beliefs and Buildings
Cultur Cultur Cultur Cultur Cultural De al De al De al De al Dev v v v velopments elopments elopments elopments elopments
( ( ( ( (c c c c c. 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 BC BC BC BC BCE E E E E- 600 600 600 600 600 CE CE CE CE CE) ) ) ) )
THEME
FOUR
Fig. 4.1
A sculpture from Sanchi
Fig. 4.2
Shahjehan Begum
2020-21
Page 2


 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 82
In this chapter we shall go on a long journey across a
thousand years to read about philosophers and their
attempts to understand the world they inhabited. We will
also see how their ideas were compiled as oral and written
texts as well as expressed in architecture and sculpture.
These are indicative of the enduring influence these
thinkers had on people. While we will be focusing on
Buddhism, it is important to remember that this tradition
did not develop in isolation – there were several other
traditions, each engaged in debates and dialogues with
the others.
The sources that historians use to reconstruct this
exciting world of ideas and beliefs include Buddhist, Jaina
and Brahmanical texts, as well as a large and impressive
body of material remains including monuments and
inscriptions. Among the best preserved monuments of
the time is the stupa at Sanchi which is a major focus in
this chapter.
1. A Glimpse of Sanchi
Sanchi in the nineteenth century
The most wonderful ancient buildings in the state of Bhopal
are at Sanchi Kanakhera, a small village under the brow
of a hill some 20 miles north-east of Bhopal which we
visited yesterday. We inspected the stone sculptures and
statues of the Buddha and an ancient gateway … The ruins
appear to be the object of great interest to European
gentlemen. Major Alexander Cunningham … stayed several
weeks in this neighbourhood and examined these ruins
most carefully. He took drawings of the place, deciphered
the inscription, and bored shafts down these domes. The
results of his investigations were described by him in an
English work …
FROM SHAHJEHAN BEGUM, NAWAB OF BHOPAL (ruled 1868-1901),
Taj- ul Iqbal Tarikh Bhopal (A History of Bhopal), translated by
H.D. Barstow, 1876.
THEME TWO
Thinkers, Beliefs and Buildings
Cultur Cultur Cultur Cultur Cultural De al De al De al De al Dev v v v velopments elopments elopments elopments elopments
( ( ( ( (c c c c c. 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 BC BC BC BC BCE E E E E- 600 600 600 600 600 CE CE CE CE CE) ) ) ) )
THEME
FOUR
Fig. 4.1
A sculpture from Sanchi
Fig. 4.2
Shahjehan Begum
2020-21
83
Nineteenth-century Europeans were very interested
in the stupa at Sanchi.  In fact, the French sought
Shahjehan Begum’s permission to take away the
eastern gateway, which was the best preserved, to
be displayed in a museum in France. For a while
some Englishmen also wanted to do the same, but
fortunately both the French and the English were
satisfied with carefully prepared plaster-cast copies
and the original remained at the site, part of the
Bhopal state.
The rulers of Bhopal, Shahjehan Begum and her
successor Sultan Jehan Begum, provided money for
the preservation of the ancient site. No wonder then
that John Marshall dedicated his important volumes
on Sanchi to Sultan Jehan.  She funded the museum
that was built there as well as the guesthouse where
he lived and wrote the volumes. She also funded
the publication of the volumes. So if the stupa
complex has survived, it is in no small measure
due to wise decisions, and to good luck in escaping
the eyes of railway contractors, builders, and those
looking for finds to carry away to the museums of
Europe. One of the most important Buddhist
centres, the discovery of Sanchi has vastly
transformed our understanding of early Buddhism.
Today it stands testimony to the successful
restoration and preservation of a key  archaeological
site by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Fig. 4.3
The Great Stupa at Sanchi
If you travel from Delhi to Bhopal
by train, you will see the majestic
stupa complex on top of a hill,
crowning it as it were. If you
request the guard he will stop the
train at the little station of Sanchi
for two minutes – enough time for
you to get down. As you climb up
the hill you can see the complex of
structures: a large mound and
other monuments including a
temple built in the fifth century.
THINKERS, BELIEFS AND BUILDINGS
2020-21
Page 3


 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 82
In this chapter we shall go on a long journey across a
thousand years to read about philosophers and their
attempts to understand the world they inhabited. We will
also see how their ideas were compiled as oral and written
texts as well as expressed in architecture and sculpture.
These are indicative of the enduring influence these
thinkers had on people. While we will be focusing on
Buddhism, it is important to remember that this tradition
did not develop in isolation – there were several other
traditions, each engaged in debates and dialogues with
the others.
The sources that historians use to reconstruct this
exciting world of ideas and beliefs include Buddhist, Jaina
and Brahmanical texts, as well as a large and impressive
body of material remains including monuments and
inscriptions. Among the best preserved monuments of
the time is the stupa at Sanchi which is a major focus in
this chapter.
1. A Glimpse of Sanchi
Sanchi in the nineteenth century
The most wonderful ancient buildings in the state of Bhopal
are at Sanchi Kanakhera, a small village under the brow
of a hill some 20 miles north-east of Bhopal which we
visited yesterday. We inspected the stone sculptures and
statues of the Buddha and an ancient gateway … The ruins
appear to be the object of great interest to European
gentlemen. Major Alexander Cunningham … stayed several
weeks in this neighbourhood and examined these ruins
most carefully. He took drawings of the place, deciphered
the inscription, and bored shafts down these domes. The
results of his investigations were described by him in an
English work …
FROM SHAHJEHAN BEGUM, NAWAB OF BHOPAL (ruled 1868-1901),
Taj- ul Iqbal Tarikh Bhopal (A History of Bhopal), translated by
H.D. Barstow, 1876.
THEME TWO
Thinkers, Beliefs and Buildings
Cultur Cultur Cultur Cultur Cultural De al De al De al De al Dev v v v velopments elopments elopments elopments elopments
( ( ( ( (c c c c c. 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 BC BC BC BC BCE E E E E- 600 600 600 600 600 CE CE CE CE CE) ) ) ) )
THEME
FOUR
Fig. 4.1
A sculpture from Sanchi
Fig. 4.2
Shahjehan Begum
2020-21
83
Nineteenth-century Europeans were very interested
in the stupa at Sanchi.  In fact, the French sought
Shahjehan Begum’s permission to take away the
eastern gateway, which was the best preserved, to
be displayed in a museum in France. For a while
some Englishmen also wanted to do the same, but
fortunately both the French and the English were
satisfied with carefully prepared plaster-cast copies
and the original remained at the site, part of the
Bhopal state.
The rulers of Bhopal, Shahjehan Begum and her
successor Sultan Jehan Begum, provided money for
the preservation of the ancient site. No wonder then
that John Marshall dedicated his important volumes
on Sanchi to Sultan Jehan.  She funded the museum
that was built there as well as the guesthouse where
he lived and wrote the volumes. She also funded
the publication of the volumes. So if the stupa
complex has survived, it is in no small measure
due to wise decisions, and to good luck in escaping
the eyes of railway contractors, builders, and those
looking for finds to carry away to the museums of
Europe. One of the most important Buddhist
centres, the discovery of Sanchi has vastly
transformed our understanding of early Buddhism.
Today it stands testimony to the successful
restoration and preservation of a key  archaeological
site by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Fig. 4.3
The Great Stupa at Sanchi
If you travel from Delhi to Bhopal
by train, you will see the majestic
stupa complex on top of a hill,
crowning it as it were. If you
request the guard he will stop the
train at the little station of Sanchi
for two minutes – enough time for
you to get down. As you climb up
the hill you can see the complex of
structures: a large mound and
other monuments including a
temple built in the fifth century.
THINKERS, BELIEFS AND BUILDINGS
2020-21
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 84
But what is the significance of this monument?
Why was the mound built and what did it contain?
Why is there a stone railing around it? Who built
the complex or paid for its construction?  When was
it “discovered”? There is a fascinating story that we
can uncover at Sanchi for which we must combine
information from texts, sculpture, architecture and
inscriptions. Let us begin by exploring the
background of the early Buddhist tradition.
2. The Background:
Sacrifices and Debates
The mid-first millennium BCE is often regarded as a
turning point in world history:  it saw the emergence
of thinkers such as Zarathustra in Iran, Kong Zi in
China, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in Greece, and
Mahavira and Gautama Buddha, among many
others, in India. They tried to understand the
mysteries of existence and the relationship between
human beings and the cosmic order. This was also
the time when new kingdoms and cities were
developing and social and economic life was changing
in a variety of ways in the Ganga valley (Chapters 2
and 3).  These thinkers attempted to understand
these developments as well.
2.1 The sacrificial tradition
There were several pre-existing traditions of thought,
religious belief and practice, including the early Vedic
tradition, known from the Rigveda, compiled between
c.1500 and 1000 BCE. The Rigveda consists of hymns
in praise of a variety of deities, especially Agni, Indra
and Soma. Many of these hymns were chanted when
sacrifices were performed, where people prayed for
cattle, sons, good health, long life, etc.
At first, sacrifices were performed collectively.
Later (c. 1000 BCE-500 BCE onwards) some were
performed by the heads of households for the well-
being of the domestic unit. More elaborate sacrifices,
such as the rajasuya and ashvamedha, were
performed by chiefs and kings who depended on
Brahmana priests to conduct the ritual.
2.2 New questions
Many ideas found in the Upanishads (c. sixth century
BCE onwards) show that people were curious about
the meaning of life, the possibility of life after death,
A prayer to Agni
Here are two verses from the
Rigveda invoking Agni, the god
of fire, often identified with the
sacrificial fire, into which
offerings were made so as to
reach the other deities:
Bring, O strong one, this
sacrifice of ours to the gods,
O wise one, as a liberal giver.
Bestow on us, O priest,
abundant food. Agni, obtain,
by sacrificing, mighty wealth
for us.
Procure, O Agni, for ever
to him who prays to you (the
gift of) nourishment, the
wonderful cow . May a son be
ours, offspring that continues
our line …
Verses such as these were
composed in a special kind of
Sanskrit, known as Vedic
Sanskrit. They were taught
orally to men belonging to
priestly families.
Ü Discuss...
Compare what Shahjehan
Begum described with what
you see in Fig. 4.3. What
similarities and differences do
you notice?
Ü List the objectives of
the sacrifice.
Source 1
2020-21
Page 4


 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 82
In this chapter we shall go on a long journey across a
thousand years to read about philosophers and their
attempts to understand the world they inhabited. We will
also see how their ideas were compiled as oral and written
texts as well as expressed in architecture and sculpture.
These are indicative of the enduring influence these
thinkers had on people. While we will be focusing on
Buddhism, it is important to remember that this tradition
did not develop in isolation – there were several other
traditions, each engaged in debates and dialogues with
the others.
The sources that historians use to reconstruct this
exciting world of ideas and beliefs include Buddhist, Jaina
and Brahmanical texts, as well as a large and impressive
body of material remains including monuments and
inscriptions. Among the best preserved monuments of
the time is the stupa at Sanchi which is a major focus in
this chapter.
1. A Glimpse of Sanchi
Sanchi in the nineteenth century
The most wonderful ancient buildings in the state of Bhopal
are at Sanchi Kanakhera, a small village under the brow
of a hill some 20 miles north-east of Bhopal which we
visited yesterday. We inspected the stone sculptures and
statues of the Buddha and an ancient gateway … The ruins
appear to be the object of great interest to European
gentlemen. Major Alexander Cunningham … stayed several
weeks in this neighbourhood and examined these ruins
most carefully. He took drawings of the place, deciphered
the inscription, and bored shafts down these domes. The
results of his investigations were described by him in an
English work …
FROM SHAHJEHAN BEGUM, NAWAB OF BHOPAL (ruled 1868-1901),
Taj- ul Iqbal Tarikh Bhopal (A History of Bhopal), translated by
H.D. Barstow, 1876.
THEME TWO
Thinkers, Beliefs and Buildings
Cultur Cultur Cultur Cultur Cultural De al De al De al De al Dev v v v velopments elopments elopments elopments elopments
( ( ( ( (c c c c c. 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 BC BC BC BC BCE E E E E- 600 600 600 600 600 CE CE CE CE CE) ) ) ) )
THEME
FOUR
Fig. 4.1
A sculpture from Sanchi
Fig. 4.2
Shahjehan Begum
2020-21
83
Nineteenth-century Europeans were very interested
in the stupa at Sanchi.  In fact, the French sought
Shahjehan Begum’s permission to take away the
eastern gateway, which was the best preserved, to
be displayed in a museum in France. For a while
some Englishmen also wanted to do the same, but
fortunately both the French and the English were
satisfied with carefully prepared plaster-cast copies
and the original remained at the site, part of the
Bhopal state.
The rulers of Bhopal, Shahjehan Begum and her
successor Sultan Jehan Begum, provided money for
the preservation of the ancient site. No wonder then
that John Marshall dedicated his important volumes
on Sanchi to Sultan Jehan.  She funded the museum
that was built there as well as the guesthouse where
he lived and wrote the volumes. She also funded
the publication of the volumes. So if the stupa
complex has survived, it is in no small measure
due to wise decisions, and to good luck in escaping
the eyes of railway contractors, builders, and those
looking for finds to carry away to the museums of
Europe. One of the most important Buddhist
centres, the discovery of Sanchi has vastly
transformed our understanding of early Buddhism.
Today it stands testimony to the successful
restoration and preservation of a key  archaeological
site by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Fig. 4.3
The Great Stupa at Sanchi
If you travel from Delhi to Bhopal
by train, you will see the majestic
stupa complex on top of a hill,
crowning it as it were. If you
request the guard he will stop the
train at the little station of Sanchi
for two minutes – enough time for
you to get down. As you climb up
the hill you can see the complex of
structures: a large mound and
other monuments including a
temple built in the fifth century.
THINKERS, BELIEFS AND BUILDINGS
2020-21
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 84
But what is the significance of this monument?
Why was the mound built and what did it contain?
Why is there a stone railing around it? Who built
the complex or paid for its construction?  When was
it “discovered”? There is a fascinating story that we
can uncover at Sanchi for which we must combine
information from texts, sculpture, architecture and
inscriptions. Let us begin by exploring the
background of the early Buddhist tradition.
2. The Background:
Sacrifices and Debates
The mid-first millennium BCE is often regarded as a
turning point in world history:  it saw the emergence
of thinkers such as Zarathustra in Iran, Kong Zi in
China, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in Greece, and
Mahavira and Gautama Buddha, among many
others, in India. They tried to understand the
mysteries of existence and the relationship between
human beings and the cosmic order. This was also
the time when new kingdoms and cities were
developing and social and economic life was changing
in a variety of ways in the Ganga valley (Chapters 2
and 3).  These thinkers attempted to understand
these developments as well.
2.1 The sacrificial tradition
There were several pre-existing traditions of thought,
religious belief and practice, including the early Vedic
tradition, known from the Rigveda, compiled between
c.1500 and 1000 BCE. The Rigveda consists of hymns
in praise of a variety of deities, especially Agni, Indra
and Soma. Many of these hymns were chanted when
sacrifices were performed, where people prayed for
cattle, sons, good health, long life, etc.
At first, sacrifices were performed collectively.
Later (c. 1000 BCE-500 BCE onwards) some were
performed by the heads of households for the well-
being of the domestic unit. More elaborate sacrifices,
such as the rajasuya and ashvamedha, were
performed by chiefs and kings who depended on
Brahmana priests to conduct the ritual.
2.2 New questions
Many ideas found in the Upanishads (c. sixth century
BCE onwards) show that people were curious about
the meaning of life, the possibility of life after death,
A prayer to Agni
Here are two verses from the
Rigveda invoking Agni, the god
of fire, often identified with the
sacrificial fire, into which
offerings were made so as to
reach the other deities:
Bring, O strong one, this
sacrifice of ours to the gods,
O wise one, as a liberal giver.
Bestow on us, O priest,
abundant food. Agni, obtain,
by sacrificing, mighty wealth
for us.
Procure, O Agni, for ever
to him who prays to you (the
gift of) nourishment, the
wonderful cow . May a son be
ours, offspring that continues
our line …
Verses such as these were
composed in a special kind of
Sanskrit, known as Vedic
Sanskrit. They were taught
orally to men belonging to
priestly families.
Ü Discuss...
Compare what Shahjehan
Begum described with what
you see in Fig. 4.3. What
similarities and differences do
you notice?
Ü List the objectives of
the sacrifice.
Source 1
2020-21
85
and rebirth.  Was rebirth due to past actions?  Such
issues were hotly debated. Thinkers were concerned
with understanding and expressing the nature of
the ultimate reality. And others, outside the Vedic
tradition, asked whether or not there even was a
single ultimate reality. People also began speculating
on the significance of the sacrificial tradition.
2.3 Debates and discussions
We get a glimpse of lively discussions and debates
from Buddhist texts, which mention as many as 64
sects or schools of thought. Teachers travelled from
place to place, trying to convince one another as
well as laypersons, about the validity of their
philosophy or the way they understood the world.
Debates took place in the kutagarashala – literally,
a hut with a pointed roof – or in groves where
travelling mendicants halted. If a philosopher
succeeded in convincing one of his rivals, the
followers of the latter also became his disciples. So
support for any particular sect could grow and shrink
over time.
Many of these teachers, including Mahavira and
the Buddha, questioned the authority of the Vedas.
They also emphasised individual agency – suggesting
that men and women could strive to attain liberation
from the trials and tribulations of worldly existence.
This was in marked contrast to the Brahmanical
position, wherein, as we have seen, an individual’s
existence was thought to be determined by his or
her birth in a specific caste or gender.
Verses from the Upanishads
Here are two verses from the Chhandogya Upanishad, a text composed
in Sanskrit c. sixth century BCE:
The nature of the self
This self of mine within the heart, is smaller than paddy or barley or
mustard or millet or the kernel of a seed of millet. This self of mine
within the heart is greater than the earth, greater than the intermediate
space, greater than heaven, greater than these worlds.
The true sacrifice
This one (the wind) that blows, this is surely a sacrifice …
While moving, it sanctifies all this; therefore it is indeed a sacrifice.
Source 2
THINKERS, BELIEFS AND BUILDINGS
2020-21
Page 5


 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 82
In this chapter we shall go on a long journey across a
thousand years to read about philosophers and their
attempts to understand the world they inhabited. We will
also see how their ideas were compiled as oral and written
texts as well as expressed in architecture and sculpture.
These are indicative of the enduring influence these
thinkers had on people. While we will be focusing on
Buddhism, it is important to remember that this tradition
did not develop in isolation – there were several other
traditions, each engaged in debates and dialogues with
the others.
The sources that historians use to reconstruct this
exciting world of ideas and beliefs include Buddhist, Jaina
and Brahmanical texts, as well as a large and impressive
body of material remains including monuments and
inscriptions. Among the best preserved monuments of
the time is the stupa at Sanchi which is a major focus in
this chapter.
1. A Glimpse of Sanchi
Sanchi in the nineteenth century
The most wonderful ancient buildings in the state of Bhopal
are at Sanchi Kanakhera, a small village under the brow
of a hill some 20 miles north-east of Bhopal which we
visited yesterday. We inspected the stone sculptures and
statues of the Buddha and an ancient gateway … The ruins
appear to be the object of great interest to European
gentlemen. Major Alexander Cunningham … stayed several
weeks in this neighbourhood and examined these ruins
most carefully. He took drawings of the place, deciphered
the inscription, and bored shafts down these domes. The
results of his investigations were described by him in an
English work …
FROM SHAHJEHAN BEGUM, NAWAB OF BHOPAL (ruled 1868-1901),
Taj- ul Iqbal Tarikh Bhopal (A History of Bhopal), translated by
H.D. Barstow, 1876.
THEME TWO
Thinkers, Beliefs and Buildings
Cultur Cultur Cultur Cultur Cultural De al De al De al De al Dev v v v velopments elopments elopments elopments elopments
( ( ( ( (c c c c c. 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 BC BC BC BC BCE E E E E- 600 600 600 600 600 CE CE CE CE CE) ) ) ) )
THEME
FOUR
Fig. 4.1
A sculpture from Sanchi
Fig. 4.2
Shahjehan Begum
2020-21
83
Nineteenth-century Europeans were very interested
in the stupa at Sanchi.  In fact, the French sought
Shahjehan Begum’s permission to take away the
eastern gateway, which was the best preserved, to
be displayed in a museum in France. For a while
some Englishmen also wanted to do the same, but
fortunately both the French and the English were
satisfied with carefully prepared plaster-cast copies
and the original remained at the site, part of the
Bhopal state.
The rulers of Bhopal, Shahjehan Begum and her
successor Sultan Jehan Begum, provided money for
the preservation of the ancient site. No wonder then
that John Marshall dedicated his important volumes
on Sanchi to Sultan Jehan.  She funded the museum
that was built there as well as the guesthouse where
he lived and wrote the volumes. She also funded
the publication of the volumes. So if the stupa
complex has survived, it is in no small measure
due to wise decisions, and to good luck in escaping
the eyes of railway contractors, builders, and those
looking for finds to carry away to the museums of
Europe. One of the most important Buddhist
centres, the discovery of Sanchi has vastly
transformed our understanding of early Buddhism.
Today it stands testimony to the successful
restoration and preservation of a key  archaeological
site by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Fig. 4.3
The Great Stupa at Sanchi
If you travel from Delhi to Bhopal
by train, you will see the majestic
stupa complex on top of a hill,
crowning it as it were. If you
request the guard he will stop the
train at the little station of Sanchi
for two minutes – enough time for
you to get down. As you climb up
the hill you can see the complex of
structures: a large mound and
other monuments including a
temple built in the fifth century.
THINKERS, BELIEFS AND BUILDINGS
2020-21
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 84
But what is the significance of this monument?
Why was the mound built and what did it contain?
Why is there a stone railing around it? Who built
the complex or paid for its construction?  When was
it “discovered”? There is a fascinating story that we
can uncover at Sanchi for which we must combine
information from texts, sculpture, architecture and
inscriptions. Let us begin by exploring the
background of the early Buddhist tradition.
2. The Background:
Sacrifices and Debates
The mid-first millennium BCE is often regarded as a
turning point in world history:  it saw the emergence
of thinkers such as Zarathustra in Iran, Kong Zi in
China, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in Greece, and
Mahavira and Gautama Buddha, among many
others, in India. They tried to understand the
mysteries of existence and the relationship between
human beings and the cosmic order. This was also
the time when new kingdoms and cities were
developing and social and economic life was changing
in a variety of ways in the Ganga valley (Chapters 2
and 3).  These thinkers attempted to understand
these developments as well.
2.1 The sacrificial tradition
There were several pre-existing traditions of thought,
religious belief and practice, including the early Vedic
tradition, known from the Rigveda, compiled between
c.1500 and 1000 BCE. The Rigveda consists of hymns
in praise of a variety of deities, especially Agni, Indra
and Soma. Many of these hymns were chanted when
sacrifices were performed, where people prayed for
cattle, sons, good health, long life, etc.
At first, sacrifices were performed collectively.
Later (c. 1000 BCE-500 BCE onwards) some were
performed by the heads of households for the well-
being of the domestic unit. More elaborate sacrifices,
such as the rajasuya and ashvamedha, were
performed by chiefs and kings who depended on
Brahmana priests to conduct the ritual.
2.2 New questions
Many ideas found in the Upanishads (c. sixth century
BCE onwards) show that people were curious about
the meaning of life, the possibility of life after death,
A prayer to Agni
Here are two verses from the
Rigveda invoking Agni, the god
of fire, often identified with the
sacrificial fire, into which
offerings were made so as to
reach the other deities:
Bring, O strong one, this
sacrifice of ours to the gods,
O wise one, as a liberal giver.
Bestow on us, O priest,
abundant food. Agni, obtain,
by sacrificing, mighty wealth
for us.
Procure, O Agni, for ever
to him who prays to you (the
gift of) nourishment, the
wonderful cow . May a son be
ours, offspring that continues
our line …
Verses such as these were
composed in a special kind of
Sanskrit, known as Vedic
Sanskrit. They were taught
orally to men belonging to
priestly families.
Ü Discuss...
Compare what Shahjehan
Begum described with what
you see in Fig. 4.3. What
similarities and differences do
you notice?
Ü List the objectives of
the sacrifice.
Source 1
2020-21
85
and rebirth.  Was rebirth due to past actions?  Such
issues were hotly debated. Thinkers were concerned
with understanding and expressing the nature of
the ultimate reality. And others, outside the Vedic
tradition, asked whether or not there even was a
single ultimate reality. People also began speculating
on the significance of the sacrificial tradition.
2.3 Debates and discussions
We get a glimpse of lively discussions and debates
from Buddhist texts, which mention as many as 64
sects or schools of thought. Teachers travelled from
place to place, trying to convince one another as
well as laypersons, about the validity of their
philosophy or the way they understood the world.
Debates took place in the kutagarashala – literally,
a hut with a pointed roof – or in groves where
travelling mendicants halted. If a philosopher
succeeded in convincing one of his rivals, the
followers of the latter also became his disciples. So
support for any particular sect could grow and shrink
over time.
Many of these teachers, including Mahavira and
the Buddha, questioned the authority of the Vedas.
They also emphasised individual agency – suggesting
that men and women could strive to attain liberation
from the trials and tribulations of worldly existence.
This was in marked contrast to the Brahmanical
position, wherein, as we have seen, an individual’s
existence was thought to be determined by his or
her birth in a specific caste or gender.
Verses from the Upanishads
Here are two verses from the Chhandogya Upanishad, a text composed
in Sanskrit c. sixth century BCE:
The nature of the self
This self of mine within the heart, is smaller than paddy or barley or
mustard or millet or the kernel of a seed of millet. This self of mine
within the heart is greater than the earth, greater than the intermediate
space, greater than heaven, greater than these worlds.
The true sacrifice
This one (the wind) that blows, this is surely a sacrifice …
While moving, it sanctifies all this; therefore it is indeed a sacrifice.
Source 2
THINKERS, BELIEFS AND BUILDINGS
2020-21
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 86
How Buddhist texts were
prepared and preserved
The Buddha (and other teachers) taught orally – through discussion and
debate. Men and women (perhaps children as well) attended these discourses
and discussed what they heard. None of the Buddha’s speeches were written
down during his lifetime. After his death (c. fifth-fourth century BCE) his
teachings were compiled by his disciples at a council of “elders” or senior
monks at Vesali (Pali for Vaishali in present-day Bihar). These compilations
were known as Tipitaka – literally, three baskets to hold different types of
texts. They were first transmitted orally and then written and classified
according to length as well as subject matter.
The Vinaya Pitaka included rules and regulations for those who joined the
sangha or monastic order; the Buddha’s teachings were included in the Sutta
Pitaka;  and the Abhidhamma Pitaka dealt with philosophical matters.  Each
pitaka comprised a number of individual texts. Later, commentaries were
written on these texts by Buddhist scholars.
As Buddhism travelled to new regions such as Sri Lanka, other texts such
as the Dipavamsa (literally, the chronicle of the island) and Mahavamsa (the
great chronicle) were written, containing regional histories of Buddhism.
Many of these works contained biographies of the Buddha. Some of the
oldest texts are in Pali, while later compositions are in Sanskrit.
When Buddhism spread to East Asia, pilgrims such as Fa Xian and Xuan
Zang travelled all the way from China to India in search of texts. These they
took back to their own country, where they were translated by scholars.
Indian Buddhist teachers also travelled to faraway places, carrying texts to
disseminate the teachings of the Buddha.
Buddhist texts were preserved in manuscripts for several centuries in
monasteries in different parts of Asia. Modern translations have been prepared
from Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan texts.
Fig. 4.4
A Buddhist manuscript in Sanskrit, c. twelfth century
2020-21
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