Ancient India

By Ravi Nayak

Ancient India was a very wealthy and organized civilization with a well structured military, and a complex culture.

Political System

The political system of India was very complex and contained many passionate rulers, an involved government, and many social classes that determined one's status in society. Indian society was based on Hindusim which organized people into classes based on religious texts called the Vedas.(Schomp,15) The classes were based on a person's wealth, occupation, and class of birth. 15) Indians called these classes Varnas.(16) The highest class were the Brahmans or priests.(16) The second highest were the Kyshatriyas or rulers and warriors.(16) The third highest were the Vaishyas or farmers and merchants.(16) The fourth highest class were the Sudras who were usually servants, laborers, and craftsmen.(16) People who didn't have a class or were outside the Hindu society were called Untouchables.(16) The higher the class, the purer one was considered.(17) Within these social classes or Varnas, there were subgroups called Jatis.(16) Everyone in a family was considered to be in the same Jati.(16) Special rules existed for each class outlining diet, work, marriage and relationships. (17) For example, Brahmans were strict vegetarians because they were considered the purest and eating meat was considered impure. (17) In the year 200, a group of Hindu priests made the Laws of Manu.(17) These laws stipulated all the rules and regulations classes must follow.(17) The Laws of Manu contained hundreds of laws and rules that covered almost every aspect of living from which foods to eat to what games to play.(17) One of the most important laws in the Laws of Manu stated that a man must marry a woman from his own class.(17) People were also expected to work in the traditional job of his or her own class.(17) Rules on who could make and serve food were specifically outlined too.(18) Most of the Hindus tried to follow these rules as best they could but some of the rules were quite strict. (18) For example, if a person would marry outside his class, his or her children would be assigned a special class.(18)

Brahmans were considered the "lord of the classes" and were the most priveleged.(18) Only people from the Brahman class could teach the Vedas, the sacred script. Only Brahmans could perform sacrifices and religious ceremonies.(18) Brahmans also recieved many gifts from people from lower classes because people would be rewarded in their next life if they did so.(18) Those who gave to Brahmans were said to be liberated from all sins.(18) Brahmans also didn't have to pay taxes.(18) The jobs of a Brahman were to serve the royal court, advise the king, tutor children, and perform state ceremonies.(21) Later in life, Brahmans joined religious colonies where they devoted thier lives to meditation, studies, and good works for the community.(21) Some Brahmans went to hermitages where they lived in small huts, dressed in rags, and lived off of one meal a day.(21) People from lower classes went to the hermitages to learn from the Brahman's wisdom.(21) Not all Brahmins wanted to perform religious ceremonies. Some Brahmans worked outside of thier class and became tax collectors, army officers, doctors, actors, and even spies.(21) They could only do this in a time of desperation and need.(21)

The second highest class were the Kyshatriyas.(22) They were usually government leaders and professional warriors.(22) The king and his wife usually came from the kyshatriya class.(22)

India's third highest class was the Vaishyas.(50) The duties of a Vaishya included tending the cattle, bestowing gifts on Brahmans, offering sacrifices, studying the Vedas, trading, lending money, and cultivating the land.(50) Vaishyas were sometimes owners of estates, merchants, traders, and sellers of goods.
A field of wheat. (
(50) Vaishyas also had to pay higher taxes than the two higher classes.(50) Vaishaya farmers paid tax equivalent to about a quarter of thier crops.(56) They also paid village taxes along wih taxes to refurbish canals and surveying land.(56) Some Vaishya farmers had to borrow money from people in a higher class to pay thier taxes.(56) If the borrower didn't repay, his hand could be chopped off as punishment.(56) He might also lose all his posessions.(56) The debtor would also become the lender's slave in the next life.(56) Most Vaishyas were were peasant farmers.(50) Most of the land belonged to kings or temples.(50) One of the most important crops in Ancient India was rice.(50) Farmers also grew wheat, barley, sugarcane, sesame, cotton, mangoes, peas, beans, lentils, and gourds.(52) Typical farm animals were cattle, buffalo, and sheep.(52) They also implemented a crop-rotation method along with a method described as skipping the planting of seeds. This was done in order to refurbish the minerals in the soil.(52) From spring to winter, men plowed, planted, tended, and harvested crops.(55) Women usually helped around the house, cared for children, and pitched in when they were needed in the fields.(55) The farmers built vast irrigation systems.(50) Some of the systems consisted of deep wells, resevoirs, and canals with pumps.(53) Vaishyas usually lived in farming villages.(53) A village was surrounded by a wall or fence to keep out wild animals or intruders.(53) Most houses in a village were small, one story buildings made of mud walls, dirt floors, and a roof of palm leaves, reeds, or grass. (53) Inside, there was usually one wooden bed and wooden tray stands.(53) Families ate thier meals off of banana leaves instead of plates.(53) They ate boiled or fried rice, vegetables, and sometimes meat or fish.(53) They drank water, milk, and whey.(53)

The last class was the Sudras.(65) While all the other classes were thought to reborn into another life (reincarnation), the Sudras were thought to have only one life.(65) They also did not have an initiation ceremony into society .(65) This effectively meant that Sudras did not become official members of Hindu society.(65) They couldn't study the Vedas, but they could, however, study other texts and could preform private rituals.(65) The Sudras wre considered so low that the penalty for a Brahman murdering a Sudra was the same of the murdering of a frog.(65) Sudras were said to be born into thier class because of evil deeds they did in past lives.(66) The Laws of Manu stated," The service of Brahmans alone is declared an excelent occupation for a Sudra."(66) A servant, who was usually a Sudra, lived with his master and ate the scraps of food and wore the worn out clothes of his master.(66) The owner and the servant also had to sign contracts or agreements stating hours, wages, and duties.(66) Masters also had to supply the tools needed to finish the task.(66) If a Sudra couldn't find a job as a servant, he or she would then go in the field of handicrafts.(66)

The people who did not have a class were called the Untouchables.(Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia) They were considered the least pure out of all the people because they worked in menial tasks that involved killing animals.(Schomp,77) Many Untouchables were sweepers, "garbage men", hunters, fisherman, butchers, executioners, and grave diggers.(77) Untouchables almost always lived in poverty and humiliation.(77) They were forbidden to enter temples, drink from public wells, and sometimes not use public roads.(79) They ate from cracked bowls, and wore clothes stripped from the dead.(79) Those who touched an untouchable were considered impure. (79) Foreigners living in India were considered outcastes like untouchables, but they were respected more than an untouchable.(79)

The king was the commander of the military forces and the kingdom.(Schomp,22) The king usually came from the Kyshatriya class.(22) The king kept the peace and order in the kingdom.(22) The Ramayana, a religious book, stated," A rulerless country is like a waterless river."(22) In the fourth century B.C., Kautilya, the chief minister of king Chandragupta, wrote a book called the "Arthastra."(23) The Arthastra was a book that covered every aspect of a good government and leadership.(23) The Arthastra stated that a king was to serve his people by protecting the kingdom and keeping alliances with other kingdoms.(23) It also said that the king had to make sure that the citizens of the kingdom were following the laws and was to punish them appropriately if they didn't.(23) Some jobs of the king were to develop irrigation systems, promote trade and business, provide relief for the needy, and build and repair roads.(23) Kings also supported priests and temples.(23) The king kept a strict schedule.(23) He had only seven hours for sleep, meals and other recreational activities.(25) The rest of his day was devoted to the kingdom and his subjects.(25) During his day, the king had to hear petitions from citizens, meet with government officials, meet with priests, and inspect the army.(25) The king must also meet with his spies.(25) The spies were the king's eyes and ears throughout the kingdom.(25) Many rulers devoted themselves to fostering Hinduism and Buddhism.(26) Some of the kings preferred to practice Buddhism because it freed them from the authority of priests and costly sacrifices.(27) Kings made generous donations to Buddhist temples, universities, and monasteries.(27) Ashoka was India's greatest Buddhist king.(28) He encouraged his subjects," to practice charity to all living beings."(28) Almost every king lived in a magnificent palace up to four square miles with every luxury imaginable.(28) To protect him, he had a personal entourage of female archers.(29) To fulfil his every desire were servants.(29) A king had snake charmers, dancers, musicians, acrobats, magicians, and sword swallowers for entertainment.(29)

Most of ancient India's kings had many wives.(30) Only one of the wives was considered to be the legitimate wife.(30) All the other wives were considered concubines or secondary wives.(30) The wives and thier daughters lived in a special part of the palace called the Harem.(30) The Harem was a section for only women and girls.(30) No men were allowed in the Harem except the king himself.(30) The women of the Harem spent thier time following a beauty regimen.(30) The routine consisted of baths, massages, and expert applications of ointments and perfumes.(30)

The eldest son of the king was the official crown prince.(32) The crown prince started school at age three.(32) He studied history, religion, economics, politics, and warfare.(32) When a prince was done with his studies, he must join a military campaign to prove he is a good warrior.(33) Once he is done with that, the king would assign him to govern a province.(33) When ready to assume the throne, the prince would have to wait for astronomers to pick an auspicious night for a coronation ceremony to take place.(33) Once the ceremony was over, the new king would be mounted onto an elephant and marched through the capital city.(33)

The rest of the Kyshatriya class members were usually involved in the government.(Schomp,34) The most powerful officials were the Council of Ministers.(34) They were responsible for setting policies.(34) If the council thought that the King's policies were bad, they could overrule his decisions and create other policies.(35)

The kingdom was divided into provinces, each ruled by a member of the royal family.(35) Provinces were divided into districts ruled by deputies and prominent residents.(35) Districts were then divded into cities, towns,and villages governed by chiefs and councils.(35) In the government, only Brahmans or Kyshatriyas judged the legal cases.(35) A penalty for crime was usually a fine of money.(35) The execution penalty was implemented when someone murdered a close relative, stole one of the king's elephants, or forced his way into the harem.(36) The kingdom was constantly supervised.(36) Special agents or spies would be charged to report everything important that went on and relay this information to the king.(36) Sometimes spies were sent out of India to see what was happening in the border area. (36) The wages of a spy was 1,000 Panas.(37) 12,000 Panas were paid to a provincial governor.(37) 48,000 Panas were given to a prime minster.(37) Wages were also paid to families with family members that died or were injured during the job.(37)


Hinduism was the main religon of ancient India.(11) Sometimes Hinduism is called ,"The Essence of India." Hinduism is a blend of beliefs.(11) Hinduism grew stronger when new ideas emerged like the idea of Buddhism.(12) Hinduism involved many sacred texts.(11) One of these sacred texts was called the Vedas.(11) Hinduism believed in rebirth or reincarnation.(12) They also believed in karma.(13) Karma decides the class of rebirth.(13) In order to have a better rebirth, you must follow your dharma or set of specific religous and social duties.(13) Once you fulfill your dharma, you can achieve moksha or freedom.(13) Moksha is a state of perfect knowledge and happiness.(13) You escape death and rebirth and become one with Brahman or the One God.(13)

While Hindusim promotes the idea of one God or Supreme Brahman, this God can take many forms so there are many gods and goddesses.(15) The three most important deities are Vishnu, the preserver of the universe, Shiva, the god of rebirth and destruction, and Gayatri, the goddess of love, fertility, and creation.(15)

Hindu Gods and Goddesses
Created the universe. One of the first three gods in Hindu culture.
The preserver of the universe. Often seen riding a mythical bird called Garuda.
God of destruction and creation. Often seen ridng a white bull called Nandi.
Goddess of love, fertility, and creation. All Hindu goddesses are different forms of this goddess.
Wife of Shiva. Her many forms include the goddesses Uma, Durga, Kali.
Wife of Vishnu. Goddess of wealth, fertility, and good fortune.
Wife of Brahma. Goddess of music, literature, and wisdom.
Sixth reincarnation of Vishnu. Defeated world's most powerful demon, Ravana.
Seventh reincarnation of Vishnu. Delivered the sermons of the Bhagavad Gita.
Elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati. One of the most beloved gods. He is jolly, wise, and thoughtful.
God of battle. Chief administrator of Heaven.
God of sun.
God of fire.
God of rain
God of death.

(Scomp, 14) To show devotion to a god, people held Pujas.(15) This is when the idols of gods or goddesses are bathed, dressed in luxurious clothes, offered gifts of food and flowers, and are entertained with ritualistic dancing or music.(15) People believed that a statue used for Pujas had the god's or goddesses' spirit inside.(15)

Hinduism described four stages of life.(39) The four stages were student, householder, hermit, and wanderer.(39) Student life began with sacrement.(39) Sacrement signaled a boy's spiritual birth and made him an official member of Hindu society.(39) Brahman boys were sacremented at age eight.(39) Kyshatriya boys were sacremented at age eleven.(39) Vaishya boys were sacremented at age twelve.(39) Sudras and Untouchables were not sacremented.(39) After a boys initiation, he was given a sacred thread that signified he was twice born.(39)

Once a boy finished his studies and was done being a student, he would marry and become a householder.(40) The most important job of a householder was to produce sons.(40) If the wife did not happen to produce sons, concubines might come into the household and help produce sons.(42) These concubines may be able to come from a lower class.(42) A householder has to devote himself to three main aims.(42) The first is righteousnes.(42) Righteousness meant that a householer had to follow all the sacred laws.(42) The sacred laws included performing various rituals throughout the day.(42) The most important of the rituals were the ones performed in front of a fire.(42) A fire was constantly kept burning throughout the household.(42) The second most important aim wais wealth.(43) Vishnu, a Hindu god, was felt to be the ideal combination of wealth and virtue.(43) Vishnu was very merciful and would rush to earth to help the poor and needy.(43) The third aim of life was pleasure.(43) This was the least important of the aims.(43) Many people enjoyed this aim.(43) The pleasures included painting, literature, drama, dancing, and music.(43) Almost every man and woman owned a vina.(43) A vina was a small, harplike instrument that was played with a bow.(43) Indians also played flutes, instruments with reeds, drums, gongs, cymbals, and bells.(43-44) People also amused themselves by playing board games, having archery contests, hosting social gatherings, gambling, and animal fights.(44) In the seventh century A.D., a book was written called the Kamasutra.(44) The Kamasutra listed things a householder should or shouldn't do.(44)

Once a householder has seen his grandkids, he was officialy declared a hemit.(45) Hermits were expected to go to hermitages where they studied scriptures and performed rituals.(45) A hermit also practiced yoga.(45) The goal of yoga was to achieve spiritual enlightenment and mental self discipline.(45)
Some people became wanderers.(45) A wanderer was usually dressed in rags and had few possesions tied to a cord and slung over his back.(45) A wanderer was respected because he was free from all desires.(45) He would have to beg for his daily meal.(46) Wanderers were respected for thier wisdom and spiritual purity.(46)
Vina Instrument from

While men had the four stages of life, women had a completely different life planned out for them. Girls were often tutored at home.(46) They often studied literature, painting, singing, dancing, and other arts.(46) She would also learn skills like cooking, weaving, embroidery, and managing servants from her mother.(46)
Most girls married at sixteen.(47) A wife was supposed to comfort her husband.(47) A wife spent most of her time at home.(47) A wife was also the only person that could cook and serve his food.(47) Woman were punished for violating the rules.(47) If a women was caught outside in the daytime to attend sports, a fine of six panas would have to be paid.(47) If a women went out while her husband was asleep or intoxicated, a fine of twelve panas was fined.(47) Worst of all, if woman carried on secret conversation with another man, the woman would ge whipped five times on each side of the body.(47)

Even though many restrictions were implemented, a wife still had much authority around the household.(49) A wife handled all household affairs.(49) All the wife's personal properties were hers only and could not be passed down to anyone without her permission.(49) The wife was also respected by all family members. (49)

Many boys got their education by going to either a guru or teacher or attending a village school. Brahman and kyshatriya boys went to the home of a guru to learn.(40) The lower classes went to village schools.(40) The boys learned the Vedas and other sacred texts.(40) Kyshatriya boys learned fighting skills.(40) They also learned archery, swordsmanship, and hand-to-hand combat.(40) Many gurus gave lessons in literature, painting, grammar, music, dancing, math, and science.(40) Some boys went to Buddhist monastery schools.(40) The most famous Buddhist monastery school in Gupta times was in Nalanda.(40) The monastery schools taught lessons in grammar, medicine, Hindu philosophy, and Buddhist principles.(40) Kyshatriya boys usually stopped school at age sixteen.(40)

Many ancient Indian scientists made remarkable discoveries that impact our life today. In the field of medicine, doctors diagnosed and treat many sicknesses.(41) Doctors also operated on the brain and the eye as well performed plastic surgery like reattaching severed body parts or limbs.(41) The techniques described helped expand the fields of plastic surgery, neurology and opthomology.(41) Ancient Indian astronomers also made many discoveries.(41) In A.D. 499, Aryabhata, an Indian astronomer, discovered that the world was round, the earth rotated on an axis, and that it revolved around the sun.(41) Indian mathematicians created a number system (later adapted by the Arabs) and invented the concept of the zero. This is the basis of our current number system.(41)


Ancient India’s military was very strong and contained many divisions. It employed strategies most other civilizations didn’t have. It used many deadly weapons that could easily kill a soldier in battle. Some armies numbered more than 600,000 men.(37) Kyshatriyas were said to be the "backbone" of the military because of thier military intelligence.(37)

The army was divided into four sections.(37) The sections were the elephants, cavalry, infantry, and chariots.(37) The elephants were at the front because they coud smash through anything.(37) An elephant carried two or three soldiers armed with bows and spears and a driver.(37) Long, steel spears with poison tips were mounted onto the tusks of elephants.(Gorkhali) The cavalry was used for surprise attacks.(Schomp,39) The horses were given a drink of wine before they went into battle.(38) The war chariots attached to the horses were made of wood covered with metal plates.(38) Early chariots were swift and easy to manuever.(38) Over time, the chariots got bulkier and more difficult to maneuver.(39) The infantry was the largest division of the military.(39) It was also respons
Kukri Knife (
ible for most of the fighting done in battles.(39) The infantry men carried a steal bow the size of the man's body height-wise and fired three yard long arrows.(39) They also used swords, spears, battle-axes, and daggers.(39)

The weapons of ancient India were very effective and deadly. India made the world's first steel bow.(Gorkhali) Other deadly weapons included the kukri knife, tiger claw, the trident, the long handled mace, swords, battle-axes, and all types of spears.(Gorkhali)

India also had many unique intelligent battle strategies. India was one of the first civilizations that implemented strategies.(Gorkhali) Some formations used in battle are the chukra (wheel) vyuha, suchi (needle) vyuha, chayana (hawk) vyuha, mala (garland) vyuha, and garuda (eagle) vyuha.(Gorkhali) Another formation was the lotus formation in which the archers were on the inside while the cavalry and the infantry protected them.(Gorkhali)

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Schomp, Virginia. Ancient India. New York: Scholastic Inc. , 2005. Print.