World History/Civilization and Empires in the Indian Subcontinent
The Indus River Valley Civilizations (ca. 2800 - 1800 BC)
Around 2800 BC, a new civilization rose along the banks of the Indus river (just like other early civilizations, along a river) in India. The place in which it arose was largely ideal, and was well-protected by the natural boundaries of the Hindu Kush Mountains. Although this limited outside contact, it is known that the early Indians used the Khyber pass through this range to communicate with other civilizations. In the future, groups would use this same pass to invade India.
Two major cities of the Indus Valley Civilization have been discovered: Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. These two cities developed at the same time as those in Egypt and Mesopotamia, but were much larger. Together they might have contained 100,000 people and the Civilization may have been as large as 5 million. These cities show remarkable organization, and the civilization seems to be the first to have developed urban central-planning. There were well-organized wastewater drainage systems, trash collection systems, and possibly even public granaries and baths. Most city-dwellers were artisans and merchants. The civilization developed the first accurate system of standardized weights and measures, some as accurate as to 0.001 millimeters. The Indus Valley peoples were adept at using metals as well, showing sophisticated use of bronze, tin, copper, and lead.
The Indus Valley economy was driven largely by trade. They use bull-driven carts to carry goods across distances. The same carts are still used throughout South Asia today. The Indus peoples developed boats, which possibly had sails. In addition, archaeologists have discovered a massive, dredged canal and docking facility at the coastal city of Lothal.
In spite of the many achievements of the Indus Valley Civilization, we know very little about them. Their system of writing, the Indus Script, remains undecipherable. We know next to nothing about their use of agriculture, except that they must have used the river's flood deposits and must have had a large agricultural surplus. We have no conclusive evidence about how they were ruled, nor of kings, priests, armies, temples, or palaces. Although the cities contained massive "citadels" their purpose seems largely defensive, even possibly used for floodwater diversion. Scientists do not even know what the Indus Valley peoples called themselves. Also, we do not know what caused their sudden collapse, beginning circa 1900 BC. What we do know is that the people of the Indus Valley Civilization did develop a massive, well-organized, and highly advanced civilization.
The Aryan Invasion (c. 1800 - 1500 BC)
Beginning in around 1800 BC, a group of nomadic peoples known as the Aryans suddenly and swiftly overwhelmed and conquered the Indus River Valley Civilization, probably entering through the Khyber Pass. Using horses and more advanced weapons against the peaceful Indus Valley denizens, they probably easily defeated the native peoples of northern India.
The Aryans were the opposite of the Indus River Valley Civilization, in that they left behind voluminous amounts of written and decipherable information but that there are almost no archaeological remains to examine. Some scholars dispute that the Aryans even classify as the reason the Indus Valley Civilization fell. In any case, a group of Indo-European nomadic peoples did migrate into northwestern India from around 1800 to 1500 BC. The Aryans had a system of writing known as Sanskrit which is still used in India today.
The Aryans brought with them a system of polytheistic beliefs which were based in a group of writings called the Vedas and the Upanishads. Over many centuries, these beliefs would evolve into the religion known as Hinduism. A major part of the Aryan religion, and of major consequence for the future of India to the present day, was the introduction of strict class divisions, which is known as the caste system. Originally, the caste system was divided into three classes: the warriors on top, the priests in the middle, and the broad mass of the population, the peasants, on the bottom. Eventually, a class of landowners and merchants was created above the peasantry, and the priests, known as Brahmans (not to be confused with Brahman, the Hindu "oversoul"), were elevated above the warriors. Inter-class movement was possible in the early days of the system. However, over time the society became more ingrained and complex, with subcastes making their way into the system. Social mobility declined to such an extent that children were born into a caste and were obliged to remain in that caste their entire lives, and to only marry someone within their caste. It was believed that good performance in a caste in this life could allow one to move up a caste in his or her next reincarnation. The caste system became so influential and ingrained in Indian society that it exists to this day.