Fields

Ancient Indians had devoted their time and effort in a number of areas.

In the scholarly field, the three main areas were those of dharma, brahma (spirituality) and rasa (aesthetics).

Dharma relates to the worldly system of morality and laws. Brahma relates to the spiritual path by pursuing which one attains liberation. Rasa is the unique system of aesthetics that has influenced the elaborate systems of art.

Views

Indian philosophy has had many schools. These are known as darshanas (viewpoints). There are various classifications of the schools. But they all appear somewhat arbitrary. The schools include:

  1. Samkhya (enumeration)
  2. Yoga
  3. Nyaya (logic)
  4. Vaishesika (atomism or pluralism)
  5. Purva Mimamsa (prior Vedic exegesis)
  6. Uttara Mimamsa (later Vedic exegesis), also known as Vedanta
  7. Bauddha (Buddhism)
  8. Jaina (Jainism)
  9. Charvaka (Materialism)

Historically, the Yoga and Samkhya schools influenced each other and can be seen to merge into one school. Similarly, the Nyaya and the Vaishesika schools influenced each other. The same goes for the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa schools.

Among these nine schools, Yoga and Vedanta accept the existence of an Ishvara (Deity). The others are ambivalent about the subject or explicitly deny such an existence.

Urban and rural

In history, the development of the urban settlements was a momentous achievement. Urban life can be contrasted to rural life with the lack of dependence on agriculture and pastoralism. The word “urban” is derived from a root meaning refined or cultured.

The development of urban centers in India can be observed to be an ancient phenomenon. Buddha developed and spread his philosophy mainly in the urban centers of his day in around 500 BC. Varanasi (or Kashi), one of the most ancient cities in the world, was one such center where the Buddha taught.

The word “Sanskrit” means refined or cultured. One can thus infer a close correlation between the development of Indian urban centers and the growth of Sanskrit.

Scholar-kings

In the long history of India, there have appeared several kings who were highly trained in shastra (multidisciplinary sciences). Traditionally, kings underwent rigorous training in all the shastras.

The Kalyani Chalukya king, Someshvara III, wrote a voluminous encyclopedia in Sanskrit, known as Rajamanasollasa, in which he lists 100 different disciplines to be learned by kings.

Emperor Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara was also a prolific author who authored the Amuktamalyada.

In ancient times, many royals contributed to the Upanishads. Buddha himself was born a prince.

Development

During the Golden Age of the Guptas, the change occurred from a mostly rural society to one where cities began to develop. One of the results of this development was the blooming of arts and aesthetics.

With Kalidasa, one finds an urban poet-playwright unparalleled in impact.

The science of aesthetics in the form of the Natya Shastra also began to be widely studied, implemented and improved.

Golden age

The age of the Guptas is known as the Golden age of India which lasted around four centuries. Travelers such as Fa Hien documented the life style of the people who lived in a mostly crime-free safe society as well as the standard of living.

Melting pot

Historically, India has been the recipient of innumerable populations from all over the world. During ancient times, it was a melting pot of similarly aligned cultures.

After the coming of Alexander in 326 BC, a contingent of Greeks remained in northwest India.

The ancient Greeks and the ancient Indians followed similar systems of worship. It is thus not surprising that the Indo-Greeks  eventually adopted the customs and philosophies of India. Menander I (Milinda), for example, was a patron of Buddhism.

Later on the Indo-Scythians and the Kushans similarly followed in the footsteps of the Indo-Greeks.

Unexpected courage

Chandragupta Maurya was one of the great emperors of all time. He was guided by the great philosopher and strategist, Chanakya.

Chandragupta came from a simple background. His family had little to do with major statecraft.

However, with the help of Chanakya, he built an empire that spanned much of India.

His story is one where courage sprang from unexpected places.

Ancient mathematics

It is interesting to note the advances made in mathematics in ancient India.

It is well known that the zero was invented in ancient India. Much of the mathematics was developed for ritual purposes. The shulba sutra (rope manual) gives elaborate mathematical instructions on constructing altars to conduct sacrifices in.

Aryabhatta contributed much to the development of the mathematical tradition.