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Vedic Literature Essay Questions

A Complete Review of

Vedic Literature

And the Knowledge Within

 

By Stephen Knapp


       If we are going to understand the essential truths in Vedic literature, then we must get a glimpse of the content and purpose of its many texts and the expansive nature of the knowledge it contains. The Vedic philosophy encompasses the oldest spiritual texts of any religion in the world, and its subjects are broad and numerous. Its more advanced concepts can be difficult for even the greatest scholars to fathom. The Vedic literature discusses many types of philosophical viewpoints, and studying some of them will let us see that many of the concepts that we accept as new today are nothing more than parts of the ancient Vedic knowledge that had been dealt with and thoroughly understood thousands of years ago. Thus, there are not many ideas that are really new at all. The main purpose of the Vedic literature is to establish knowledge of the Absolute Truth and the process for attaining the highest levels of self-realization. To do that it must, and does, contain the elementary as well as most advanced forms of spiritual knowledge. So let us see exactly what kind of information is found within the many volumes of Vedic literature, and if there is any one understanding or direction in particular which it encourages people to take for complete spiritual success.


IF YOU ARE NEW TO THE STUDY OF VEDIC CULTURE

       If you are new to the study of Vedic culture, you may not understand all of these ancient Vedic texts or their purpose, or why it is necessary to mention them in this review. However, this study will provide the knowledge for you to begin to see how vast the Vedic science is and how numerous are these Vedic texts. You will begin to understand that there are few topics that have been left uncovered in the Vedic investigation of reality and the search for Truth, and in its presentation of what is God. You will also understand in the final analysis what direction they most recommend and how to pursue it.



THE FOUR PRIMARY VEDAS

       The Vedic literature is composed of many books. The oldest texts are the Rig-veda, Yajur-veda, Sama-veda, and the Atharva-veda. It is said in the Muktikopanishad that these four Vedas had 21, 109, 1000, and 50 branches respectively, with over 100,000 verses. Now, however, we can only find around 20,023 (some say 20,379) verses in total from these four Vedas.

       The Rig-veda, the “Veda of Praise,” contains 1,017 hymns, or 10,522 verses, arranged in ten books or mandalas. The first eight mostly contain hymns of praise to the various demigods, such as Indra and Agni. The ninth book deals primarily with the soma ritual, which was the extraction and purification of the juice of the soma herb. The tenth book contains suktas or verses of wisdom and mantras that would cause certain magical effects to take place. The Rig-veda hymns were mainly of praise to the gods that were invoked during the Vedic ceremonies for ensuring immediate material needs. These were chanted by the four priests who conducted the Vedic rituals, namely the hota who calls the gods with the mantras from the Rig-veda; the adhvaryu who performs all the rituals of the ceremony according to the Yajur-veda; the udgata who sings the Sama-veda mantras; and the brahmana who supervises the general ceremony. However, it was usually only the brahmana priests who could be sure of chanting the mantras accurately to produce the desired result. If the mantra was chanted incorrectly by someone who was not qualified, the desired result would not take place and often something undesirable or horrible would happen instead.

        The main gods in the Rig-veda were Indra (the god of heaven and rain), Agni (the fire god) and Surya (the sun god). Surya is invoked in the sacred Gayatri mantra. However, Surya is also called Surya-Narayana in the Rig-veda. So the hymns to Surya and his different forms can also be related to Narayana or Vishnu, especially those to Savitur. Vishnu is also known as the Pervader, meaning that all the Vedic gods are absorbed in Him, and thus must also emanate from Him. They would be absorbed in Him during the time of cosmic annihilation, but would also emanate from Him during the time of the creation. There were also verses to three other names and forms of the sun god, namely Savitri, Mitra and Pooshan. Other gods included Dyos (a celestial god), Varuna (god of the seas), Soma, Marut (god of air or wind called Vayu in other places), Rudra (a form of Shiva) and Vishnu. All of these gods are celestial gods, or demigods, except for Rudra and Vishnu. There is also the important Purusha Sukta hymn in the 90th chapter of the Rig-veda’s tenth mandala.

       The Rig-veda is also a mystical text that contains knowledge in its abstract imagery of what the seers had realized. It has information on yoga, the spinal current and the chakras, as well as the planets and their orbits. Many aspects of this mystical knowledge are also contained in the other Vedas. The Rig-veda is said to have had 21 branches, out of which only two are still available. Much of the Shakal branch is still available, along with the Brahmana and Aranyaka of the Shankhayan branch. Although there are some stories in the Rig-veda, there are few historical records of the early Vedic kings. This has been a mistake amongst various linguists and researchers who study the Rig-veda to try to get an historical understanding of the early Vedic kingdom and Aryans.

       The Yajur-veda is the “Veda of Rituals” and contains 1975 verse-mantras in 40 chapters, many of which are similar to those in the Rig-veda and used in rituals, usually by the adhvaryu priest. These contain different levels of knowledge and wisdom. The Yajur-veda once had 109 branches of knowledge, but now only parts of seven branches are found, of which the Vajasaneyi is prominent. The Yajur-veda, however, has two samhitas, or collections of verses, known as the White Yajur-veda (or Vajasaneyi-samhita) with the hymns and rituals, and the Black Yajur-veda (or Taittiriya-samhita) with their interpretations. These were primarily for the priests to use as a guide in performing sacred rituals, such as the ashvamedha or rajasuya, since they also contain directions or formulas that the priests use along with the verses that are sung during the ceremony.

       The Sama-veda, the “Veda of Melodies,” contains 1549 verses meant to be used as songs in various ceremonies, primarily for the udgata priest. Most of them are taken from the Rig-veda and arranged according to their use as utilized in particular rituals. From the original 1000 branches of the Sama-veda, three are still available, of which the Kauthumiya and Jaiminiya are prominent.

       The Atharva-veda is the “Veda of Chants” and once had 50 branches of which we have only the Shaunak branch today. It is a book of 5977 verses in 20 chapters containing prayers, spells, and incantations which in some respects resemble magical instructions found in the Tantras and even various magical incantations found in Europe. The Atharva-veda contains a small section of verses of instruction, wisdom, descriptions of the soul and God, but the majority of it consists of rules for worshiping the planets, rules for oblations and sacrifices, prayers for averting evil and disease, incantations for the destruction of foes, for fulfilling personal desires, etc., mostly for the material needs of people.


THIRTY-THREE MILLION GODS?

       The four primary Vedasrepresent the accomplishment of a highly developed religious system and encourage satisfaction of material desires through worship of the demigods. They contain many directions for increasing one’s power and position, or for reaching the heavens in one’s future by properly performing particular sacrifices in worship to the devas (demigods), and so on.

       Some people ask why there seems to be so many gods within Hinduism or Vedic culture. Yet, if we properly analyze the situation, we will understand that there is but one Supreme Being who has many agents or demigods who assist in managing the creation and the natural forces within. And, like anyone else, if they are properly approached with prayer or worship, they may help facilitate the person by granting certain wishes that may be within the jurisdiction of that demigod.

       In some places in the Vedic literature it is explained that there are 33 Vedic gods, or even as many as thirty-three million. The 33 gods are calculated as being eight Vasus, eleven Rudras (forms of Shiva), twelve Adityas, along with Indra and Prajapati (Brahma). Then there are also other positions that are considered major or minor devas. According to the Vedas, the devas are not imaginary or mythological beings, but are agents of the Supreme Will to administer different aspects of the universal affairs. They also represent and control various powers of nature. Thus, they manifest in the physical, subtle or psychic levels of our existence both from within and without. In this way, a transcendentalist sees that behind every aspect of nature is a personality.

       The names of these gods are considered offices or positions, rather than the actual name of the demigod. For example, we may call the president of the country by his personal name, or simply Mr. President. It’s the position itself that allows for him to have certain powers or areas of influence. In the case of the devas, it is only after accumulating much pious credit that a living being can earn the position of being a particular demigod. Then a person may become an Indra, or Vayu, or attain some other position to assume specific powers, or to control various aspects of material energy.

       Another example is that when you walk into a big factory, you see so many workers and all that they are doing. You may initially think that these workers are the reason for whatever goes on in the factory. However, more important than the workers are the foremen, the managers, and then the executives. Amongst these you will find people of varying degrees of authority. Someone will be in charge of designing the products. Another may be the Chief Financial Officer or main accountant. Another may be in charge of personnel, while someone else may be in charge of maintenance in the factory itself. Finally, a chief executive officer or president of the company is the most important of all. Without him there may not even be a company. You may not see the president right away, but his influence is everywhere since all the workers are engaging in projects according to his decisions. The managers and foremen act as his authorized agents to keep things moving accordingly. The numerous demigods act in the same way concerning the functions of nature, all of whom represent some aspect or power of the Supreme Will. That’s why it is sometimes said there are 33 million different gods in Hinduism. Actually, there may be many forms, avataras, or aspects of God, but there is only one God, or one Absolute Truth.

       This is often a confusing issue to people new to Vedic philosophy. We often hear the question among Westerners that if Hinduism has so many gods, how do you know which ones to worship? The point is that the devas affect all levels of universal activities, including the weather, or who is bestowed with particular opulences such as riches, beautiful wife or husband, large family, good health, etc. For example, one could worship Agni for getting power, Durgadevi for good fortune, Indra for good sex life or plenty of rain, or the Vasus for getting money. Such instruction is in the karma-kanda section of the Vedas which many people considered to be the most important part of Vedic knowledge. This is for helping people acquire the facilities for living a basic material existence.

       There are, of course, various actions, or karmas, prompted by our desires to achieve certain results, but this is not the complete understanding of the karma-kanda section of the Vedas. The karma-kanda section is meant to supply the rituals for purifying our mind and actions in the pursuit of our desires, and not merely to live with the intent of acquiring all of one’s material wants and necessities from the demigods. By having faith and steadiness in the performance of the ritual, one establishes purification in one’s habits and thoughts. This provides a gradual process of acquiring one’s needs and working out one’s desires while simultaneously becoming purified and free of them. Such purification can then bring one to a higher level of spiritual activity. This was the higher purpose of the karma-kanda rituals. Without this understanding, one misses the point and remains attached to rituals in the pursuit of material desires, which will drag one further into material existence.

       The reciprocation between the demigods and society is explained in Bhagavad-gita (3.10-12). It is stated that in the beginning the Lord of all beings created men and demigods along with the sacrifices to Lord Vishnu that were to be performed. The Lord blessed them saying that these sacrifices will enable men to prosper and attain all desirable things. By these sacrificial duties the demigods will be pleased and the demigods will also please you with all the necessities of life, and prosperity will spread to all. But he who enjoys what is given by the demigods without offering them in return is a thief.

       In this way, it was recommended that people could perform sacrificial rituals to obtain their desires. However, by the performance of such acts they should understand their dependent position, not only on the demigods, but ultimately on the Supreme Being. As further explained in Bhagavad-gita (3.14-15), all living beings exist on food grains, which are produced from rain, which is produced by the performance of prescribed sacrifices or duties. These prescribed duties are described in the Vedic literature, which is manifest from the Supreme Being. Therefore, the Supreme is eternally established in acts of sacrifice.

       Although the demigods may accept worship from the human beings and bless them with particular benedictions according to the sacrifices that are performed, they are still not on the level of the Supreme Lord Vishnu (who is an incarnation of Lord Krishna). The Rig-veda (1.22.20) explains: “The demigods are always looking to that supreme abode of Vishnu.” Bhagavad-gita (17.23) also points out: “From the beginning of creation, the three syllables om tat sat have been used to indicate the Supreme Absolute Truth (Brahman). They were uttered by brahmanas while chanting the Vedic hymns and during sacrifices, for the satisfaction of the Supreme.” In this way, by uttering om tat sat, which is stressed in Vedic texts, the performers of the rituals for worshiping the demigods were also offering obeisances to Lord Vishnu for its success. The four Vedas mainly deal with material elevation and since Lord Vishnu is the Lord of material liberation, most sacrifices were directed toward the demigods.

       In Bhagavad-gita, however, Lord Krishna points out that men of small knowledge, who are given to worldly desires, take delight in the flowery words of the Vedas that prescribe rituals for attaining power, riches, or rebirth in heaven. With their goal of enjoyment they say there is nothing else than this. However, Krishna goes on to explain (in Bhagavad-gita 7.21-23) that when a person desires to worship a particular demigod for the temporary and limited fruits he or she may bestow, Krishna, as the Supersoul in everyone’s heart, makes that person’s faith in that demigod steady. But all the benefits given by any demigod actually are given by Krishna alone, for without whom no one has any power. The worshipers of the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but worshipers of Krishna reach Krishna’s spiritual abode.

       Thus, as one progresses in understanding, it is expected that they will gradually give up the pursuit for temporary material pleasures and then begin to endeavor for reaching the supreme goal of Vedic knowledge. For one who is situated in such knowledge and is self-realized, the prescribed duties in the Vedas for worshiping the demigods are unnecessary. As Bhagavad-gita (3.17-18) explains, for one who is fully self-realized, who is fully satiated in the self, delights only in the self, there is no duty or need to perform the prescribed duties found in the Vedas, because he has no purpose or material desires to fulfill.

       However, another view of the Vedic gods is that they represent different aspects of understanding ourselves, especially through the path of yoga and meditation. For example, the god of wind is Vayu, and is related to the practice of yoga as the breath and its control in pranayama. Agni is the god of fire and relates to the fire of consciousness or awareness. Soma relates to the bliss in the samadhi of yoga practice. Many of the Vedic gods also represent particular powers of yoga and are related to the different chakras in the subtle body. It is accepted that as a person raises his or her consciousness through the chakras, he or she will attain the level of awareness and the power and assistance that is associated with the particular divine personality related to that chakra.


BRAHMANAS AND ARANYAKAS

       Although the four principle Vedas include the concept of spiritual perfection or liberation, it is not so thoroughly developed or presented. Therefore, to help one understand what the goal of Vedic philosophy is, there are also other compositions along with the four Vedas, namely the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and the Upanishads. Originally, the Brahmanas consisted of 1180 branches, with the same number of Aranyakas. Unfortunately, only a few of these branches remain today. The Upanishads also had 1180 branches to continue the explanation of these Vedic divisions of knowledge and practice. However, only about 200 are still available.

       The Brahmanas are compositions that accompany different portions of the Veda Samhitas with additional directions and details that the brahmana priests would use when performing the sacrificial rituals, along with some of their histories. They include the Aitareya, the Shankhayan or Kausitaki, and the Shatpath and TaittariyaBrahmanas that are connected to the Rig-veda. These contain such instructions as what to meditate on and how to chant the mantras while conducting the sacrifice, etc. The Brahmanas also hold cosmological legends and stories that explain the reason for performing the Vedic rituals, along with the esoteric significance of the mantras and sacrificial rituals. They also describe the verses in the main Samhitas. Furthermore, they provide the seeds of the systematic knowledge of the Sutras, and can be used by the village householders.

       The Panchvinsha, Shadvinsha, and TandyaBrahmanas belong to the Sama-veda, while the Jaiminiya and Gopatha Brahmanas belong to the Atharva-veda. The Shatapatha Brahmana, a large volume of 100 chapters authored by Yajnavalkya, is said to belong to the Shukla Yajur-veda.

       The Aranyakas are sacred writings that are supposed to frame the essence of the Upanishads and are considered to be secret and dangerous to the uninitiated. The Aranyakas reveal more of the esoteric aspects of the rituals and their purposes than the Brahmanas. They are meant only for the brahmana priests and kshatriya warriors who have renounced all materialistic activities, and retired to the solitude of the forests, which is the meaning of “aranyaka.” They include a strict style of worship to particular forms or aspects of God. These instructions could consist of which mantras to use for particular purposes, how to sit, in which time of the morning to practice, the devotions to incorporate into the practice, and so on.

       Next we come to the Upanishads, which is the main part of the Aranyakas and constitute one of the most sacred portions of Vedic philosophy. There are three main sections of the Vedic scriptures. The Upanishads and Aranyakas are part of the jnana-kanda section, meaning they contain knowledge meant for introspection and contemplation. The four main Samhitas and Brahmanas which deal primarily with ritual are a part of the karma-kanda classification, meant for appeasing the gods for one’s necessities and desires, and for helping purify the mind. The upasana-kanda section consists of those instructions on devotional service to God, which is found later in the Vedanta-Sutras, the Puranas and other books.


THE UPANISHADS

       The Upanishads are essentially presented for the continued spiritual progress of the individual. If the Vedas emphasize and primarily consist of worship to the demigods for material needs and only hint at the prospect of spiritual liberation, then the Upanishads start to explain how worldly attachments need to be renounced so we can surrender to God. The word upanishad literally means to sit down (shad) near (upa) and below or at the feet with determination (ni). So it indicates that the student should sit near the feet of one’s spiritual teacher and listen with determination to the teachings. Only through such absorption can one learn how to apply the teachings in practice. Sitting at the feet of the teacher is both a sign of respect and humility, but also exhibits a natural flow, like water, from something high to that which is lower. Thus the student becomes a natural receptacle for such knowledge.

       Another meaning of the word shad in upanishad means to destroy. So the spiritual knowledge the student receives from the teacher destroys the ignorance of the true nature of the world and his own Self. As one’s ignorance is destroyed, enlightenment can follow.

       The Upanishads are a collection of 108 philosophical dissertations. The Muktikopanishad (verses 30-39) lists all 108. (See Appendix One) However, there are over 100 additional compilations if you also count the lesser Upanishads that are not actually part of the primary group, making a total of well over 200. Out of all the Upanishads, the following eleven are considered to be the topmost: Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka, and Svetasvatara.

       The Upanishads were considered the secret and confidential knowledge of reality. They mainly focus on establishing the Absolute as nonmaterial and describe it as Brahman: the eternal, unmanifest reality, source and ultimate shelter of everything. The Brahman is said to be incomprehensible because it is without material qualities or form. The secret to understanding Brahman according to the Upanishads is that they describe the Absolute as having no material qualities or material personality, but consists of spiritual qualities.

       The comparisons used in the Upanishads can be somewhat confusing to the beginner of Vedic study, but they are easy to understand for one who has some understanding in this matter or who is self-realized. For example, when the Upanishads describe the Absolute as being unembodied, without veins, yet runs swifter than the mind, or as being able to walk yet does not walk, or as being within everything and yet outside of everything, how can we know what to think? Does the Absolute have any qualities that we can comprehend?

       These kinds of descriptions in the Upanishads are called indirect or contrary descriptions. These are used to indicate the spiritual nature of the Lord’s qualities, meaning that He is not material nor confined to the rules of the material creation. An example of this is found in the Svetashvatara Upanishad, Chapter Three, which explains: The Supreme Lord does not have material hands and feet yet He is able to receive anything and go everywhere. He does not possess material eyes and yet He sees past, present and future. He does not have material ears and yet He hears. He is the knower of everything, omniscient, but Him no one can know. The self-realized and enlightened souls know Him as the Primeval Lord and Supreme Being.

       The Svetashvatara Upanishad offers more of these kinds of descriptions, such as “He is having His faces, heads and necks everywhere, yet He dwells in the cavity of the heart of all beings. He is omnipresent. Being the Supreme Godhead, He is present everywhere encompassing all that exists and He is benevolent. (3.11) With hands and feet everywhere, with eyes, heads and mouths everywhere, with ears everywhere, He stands encompassing all.” (3.16)

       Another example is the Isha Upanishad (5): “The Supreme Lord walks and does not walk. He is far away, but He is very near as well. He is within everything, and yet He is outside of everything.”

       So the point is that the Absolute has spiritual legs to run or walk with and spiritual senses that are not limited like material senses. One verse that clearly explains this is the following: “The Supreme Reality is far beyond this universe. He possesses no ephemeral form but He is sat-cit-ananda, the embodiment of complete eternal and spiritual bliss. He is free from any ill. He is beyond the illusive world. He is full of all-auspicious divine glories. Those who realize Him as such and render unalloyed devotion to Him become immortal, but others (who remain ignorant of Him) have to undergo suffering through transmigration in the realm of maya [illusions].” (Svetashatara Upanishad 3.10)

       Therefore, though the Upanishads generally refer to the Absolute in an impersonal way, they also begin to establish that the Supreme Reality has form, or, in other words, is a person, and that there is a Divine Abode, although the details of it are not always clearly provided therein. So as we go through the Vedic texts, we get clearer and clearer views of the nature of the Supreme Being.

       The Isa Upanishad in particular indicates that the Supreme Absolute is both impersonal and personal. Other Upanishads describe the Absolute as, “He who created the worlds,” or, “Who is luminous like the sun,” “beyond darkness,” “the eternal among eternals,” etc. In fact, the basic method used in most Upanishads, as explained in the Hayasirsa Pancharatra, is to first present the Absolute Reality in an impersonal way and then present the personal aspects.

       Yet, as we study the Upanishads, there are numerous references that go on to describe very clearly, in a direct manner, the spiritual nature and characteristics of the Supreme. The GopalaTapani Upanishad has numerous verses which explain the nature of the Absolute Truth, such as the following verse (1.22): “Sri Krishna is that Supreme Divinity, the Paramount Eternal Reality among all other sentient beings, and the fountain-source of consciousness to all conscious beings. He is the only reality without a second, but as the Supersoul He dwells in the cave of the hearts of all beings and rewards them in accordance with their respective actions in life. Those men of intuitive wisdom who serve Him with loving devotion surely attain the summum bonum, supreme goal of life. Whereas those who do not do so never gain this highest beautitude of their lives.”

       Another verse from the GopalaTapani Upanishad (2.23) that further explains the nature of the Supreme is this one: “Sri Krishna has got no birth and no old age, He is always in His adolescence without any change. He is ever most effulgently shining so gloriously more than the sun. He is fond of remaining with the divine cows of Goloka Vrindavana. He is eternally fond of being with the Gopas, cowherd boys, as He feels pleasure tending the cows. He is the very object of the Vedas, He as the Supersoul ever dwells in the heart of every living being, and He is the only Sustainer of all. He is the beloved sweet-heart of you all.”

       Not only do the Upanishads provide explanations of the impersonal Brahman and personal Bhagavan realizations, but as we can see they also speak of the Paramatma (Supersoul or Lord in the heart) realization. Especially in the Katha, Mundaka, and the SvetasvataraUpanishads, one can find statements explaining that within the heart of every individual in every species of life reside both the individual soul and the Supersoul, the localized expansion of the Lord. It is described that they are like two birds sitting in the same tree of the body. The individual soul, which is called the atma or jiva, is engrossed in using the body to taste the fruits of various activities that result in pleasure and pain. The Supersoul is simply witnessing the activities of the jiva. If, however, the jiva begins to tire of these constant ups and downs of material life and then looks toward his friend next to him, the Supersoul, and seeks His help, the jiva soul can be relieved of all anxieties and regain his spiritual freedom. This freedom is the spiritual oneness shared by the jiva and Paramatma when the jiva enters into the spiritual atmosphere by submitting to the will of the Paramatma. This is achieved by the practice of yoga and by being guided by a proper spiritual master. It is not said that the individual soul loses his individuality, but both the jiva and Paramatma remain individuals.

       In any case, the Upanishads present a much clearer approach to understanding the ultimate reality than the four primary Vedas. We can provide a little more insight into the information found within the Upanishads by reviewing a few.

       The Isha Upanishad comes from the 40th chapter of the Shukla (White) Yajur-veda. It has only 18 verses, but directly addresses the Personality of God in the first verse. Through the 18 verses, it gradually establishes that God has a personal form from which comes the great white Brahman effulgence. It explains that all opulence comes from God and that to try to enjoy such pleasures outside of the relationship with God is an illusion filled with suffering. Therefore, one should live life in such a way as to always remember God, and thus fulfill the real purpose of life so at the end one can constantly hold the vision of God within one’s consciousness. When God removes His effulgence or spiritual rays, then the devotee can see the personal form of the Lord.

       The Katha Upanishad contains six chapters divided in two sections. Within it is the conversation between Nachiketa and Yamaraj, the lord of death. Within that conversation Yamaraj establishes that due to ignorance and the desire to enjoy the material world, people continue to suffer in the cycle of birth and death, yet think they understand the real purpose of life. It is only in this human body that a person has the facility to realize God and escape the continued rounds of birth and death. Therefore, before the end of one’s life, he or she should realize God in order to fully utilize this human birth.

       The Mundaka Upanishad contains six chapters in three sections. This gives the instruction from the sage Angira to Shaunaka about the nature of God and how to become realized. These instructions include how the early Brahmanas understood that the Vedic rituals only provided the means to acquire the luxuries of life, without being able to deliver one to God. Therefore, they gave them up for approaching a God-realized saint, the only way one can learn how to surrender to the eternal Lord who is beyond all illusion of the universe. This is the God who cannot be understood by the Vedic impersonalistic philosophy, or intellectual meditation. The Lord is only realized when He reveals Himself to one whose heart is full of devotion, after that person has been graced with such faithfulness by a saintly devotee. Then one can see the Lord as He is in full.

       The Mandukya Upanishad is another short Upanishad with only 12 verses. Herein it explains the impersonal aspect of God without going on to the personal traits. Here we find descriptions that can be confusing to those who are just beginning their investigation into Vedic philosophy, such as relating how the Absolute cannot be conceived by the mind, or contacted in any way. It has nothing that it can be compared to, and thus cannot be understood or spoken of, nor meditated upon because it is inconceivable. So, from this Upanishad, based on the impersonal point of view, it would seem that there is little for us to understand about the Supreme.

       The Svetasvatara Upanishad is one of the most important. In its six chapters it elaborates on the more detailed characteristics of the soul, the Supreme Being, and the material nature, as well as the process for becoming spiritually realized. This is where we start to get deeper examples of the Paramatma, the Supersoul aspect of God. It describes that God is the Supreme, pure consciousness, from which all of creation manifests. And that God is realized when one becomes lovingly absorbed in the Supreme, which is the only way a person can cross the ocean of maya. It contains many relevant instructions and is one Upanishad that begins to take us much deeper into the understanding of the different aspects of the nature of God and the secrets of becoming God-realized.

       The Taittiriya Upanishad goes into explaining more about the creative process of the material manifestation from the Brahman, and that the Brahman is from Whom all souls emanate, and in Whom they enter at the time of the universal annihilation. That Brahman is eternally personified, by which He is knowable and reachable. Through that personified form He expands bliss and Divine love which we can experience through spiritual practice. This Upanishad is divided into three chapters called Shiksha Valli, Brahmanand Valli, and Bhrigu Valli.

       There are many other Upanishads, though they may be less prominent, that can be important to relating inner facts and secrets about the nature of God and how to realize Him. So I’ll mention a few.

       There is the Krishna Upanishad that directly reveals that the most divine form of bliss dwells in the supremacy of love of Lord Krishna. It elaborates that when Lord Krishna descended to Earth in Braja Mandala, Vrindavana, the other eternal and divine personalities and powers also came with Him in order to serve Him and taste the sweetness of that divine love.

       The GopalaTapani Upanishad goes much further in explaining things in this direction. It has only two chapters with a total of 172 verses. In the first chapter it explains that Lord Krishna is the absolute bliss. He is the Supreme God and the embodiment of eternal life, knowledge and bliss. This is elaborated throughout the chapter. Chapter Two explains how Lord Krishna is the supreme and most beautiful form of God. No other god or portion of this material creation can compare to His beauty. Therefore, it is recommended that we need to remember and adore Him, by which we can experience His divine love, which is like an ocean of nectar.

       It is important to point out that the Sanskrit term for the experience of Krishna’s divine love is rasa. It is the Bhagavat Purana that, in the Vedic literature, begins to explain the rasa-lila or bliss pastimes of Lord Krishna with His numerous associates. The word rasa is never used in connection with Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, Goddess Durga or any of the other Vedic personalities in any of the Upanishads. That is because, though we may engage in respectful worship to these Divinities, the pleasure pastimes wherein there is such a deep exchange of divine bliss and love is not to be found in anyone but Lord Krishna. Even the expansions of Lord Krishna, such as Lord Vishnu or Lord Rama, may be forms of unlimited bliss, but the deep exchanges of loving bliss with Them do not have the potential that is found within Lord Krishna. Therefore, the conclusion is that Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality in which is found all other forms of Divinity, and from whom comes the Absolute Truth and Absolute loving bliss.

       The Radhika Upanishad explains this a little further. Therein it is described that only within Lord Krishna is there the hladini power, which is the pleasure or bliss potency. The other forms of the Lord are but parts or expansions of the Lord, and although They may be the same in power, They are lacking in the level of bliss potency that is found within Lord Krishna. This means that the supreme sweetness in loving exchanges is manifested from Lord Krishna. In this way, you have the sweet, sweeter and sweetest levels of loving bliss established in the different levels of the spiritual reality, until it culminates from the Brahman and Vaikuntha on up to Goloka Vrindavana, the spiritual abode of Lord Krishna. Or from the brahmajyoti to the Vishnu forms up to the supremacy of Sri Krishna. This is what is established by fully understanding the purport of the Upanishads.

       Another less prominent Upanishad, but one that is no less important, is the Sri Chaitanya Upanishad (Chaitanyopanishad), which comes from the ancient Atharva-veda. The Chaitanyopanishad is a short text with only nineteen verses. All of them are very significant. In this description there is not only the prediction of the appearance of Lord Chaitanya, but a description of His life and purpose, and the reasons why His process of spiritual enlightenment is so powerful and effective in this age of Kali-yuga.

       The Chaitanyopanishad explains how one day Pippalada, a son of Lord Brahma, approached his father and asked about how the sinful living entities in the age of Kali-yuga may be delivered. Lord Brahma told him to listen carefully and he would give him a confidential description of what would happen in Kali-yuga. He explained that in Kali-yuga the Supreme Being, whose form is completely transcendental and who is the all-pervading Supersoul in the hearts of all living entities, will appear again in the Kali age. He will appear in the guise of the greatest devotee, with a golden complexion in His abode on the banks of the Ganges at Navadvipa. He will disseminate pure devotional service to the Supreme. He will be known as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Appearing in this golden form, the all-powerful Supreme Being--who is understood only by the most fortunate and who is the oldest, the original person, the original cause of the universe--will spread spiritual bliss by the chanting of His own holy names. The Supreme Lord will chant a mantra consisting of the names of Hari, Krishna and Rama [the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra]. This mantra is the best of all mantras, and, though difficult to understand, it can be understood by engaging in devotional service to the Supreme. This is the most confidential of secrets, and those who seriously desire to make progress in spiritual life, and to cross the ocean of birth and death, continually chant these names of the Supreme.

       Herein we find the assortment of information that can be found in the main Upanishads. For the most part, except for the more specialized and detailed Upanishads that were referred to at the end, they only briefly indicate the personal traits of the Supreme Personality and the Divinity of Krishna and His abode. Mostly they provide knowledge only up to the Brahman or Vaikuntha, not beyond. They express the non-material, spiritual nature of God, but do not know or present much information on the personality and pastimes of the Supreme Being. The end or conclusive result of knowledge in the Upanishads is to attain liberation from material existence. But what such liberation consists of is often left out. So, information on the pastimes and nature of the abode of God and the spiritual domain is generally absent.

       This is the case with most all of the Shruti texts, which consist of the four Vedas, the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads. Once you get beyond the rituals and methods for acquiring material needs by worship of the Vedic demigods, the Shruti texts primarily contain knowledge of the futility of material existence, the temporary nature of the material creation, the bondage of the jiva souls in this existence of birth and death, and the spiritual nature of the individual and the Supreme Being. In parts, they may also describe that the goal of life is liberation from this material manifestation and the need to return to spiritual existence through the understanding of karma, spiritual knowledge, renunciation and devotion to God (bhakti). However, they are unaware of much beyond this, or at least the finer details. They do not deliver information about the bliss of spiritual activities and the pastimes of Goloka Vrindavana, the most intimate and confidential abode of the Lord, who is a spiritual being, a personality. Because of this basic deficiency, additional information is supplied elsewhere, which must be sought and understood. As we can see, this is a progressive ladder of education, in which case one should not stop with the Upanishads.


THE UPA-VEDAS AND VEDANGAS

       Aside from the Upanishads, there are also the Upa-vedas. These are the Artha-veda (science of economics and sociology), the Dhanur-veda (the science of defense, war, and politics), the Gandharva-veda (art of music, dancing, and singing), and Ayurveda (the holistic medical science). These are smaller compositions, each are attached to one of the four main samhitas (namely the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva respectively). Unfortunately, most of these compositions are difficult to find, except for the Ayurveda, the majority of which is still available but not all of its original text.

       These are a part of the eighteen principal branches of Vedic knowledge, which, according to the Vishnu Purana, are listed with their sources as the six Vedangas:


The four Vedas, the six Angas (or subsidiary portions of the Vedas), viz., Siksha, rules of reciting the prayers, the accents, and tones to be observed; Kalpa, ritual; Vyakarana, grammar; Nirukta, glossarial comment; Chandas, metre; and Jyotish, astronomy; with Mimamsa, theology; Nyaya, logic; Dharma, the institutes of law; and the Puranas, constitute the fourteen principal branches of knowledge. Or they are considered as eighteen with the addition of these four: the Ayur-veda, medical science as taught by Lord Dhanvantari; Dhanur-veda, the science of archery or military arms taught by Bhrigu; Gandharva-veda, or drama and the arts of music, dancing, etc., of which the Muni Bharata was the author; and the Artha sastram, or science of government, as laid down first by Brihaspati. (Vishnu Purana, Book Three, Chapter Six)


       To briefly explain some of the branches mentioned above:

       Vyakarana is the science of Sanskrit grammar. This is presently based on the Panini grammar, since the other ancient forms or books are extinct. The Panini system, which has some 4000 sutras, is said to have been inspired by Lord Shiva when he once played on his small damru drum from which came 14 separate sounds. Those vibrations inspired Panini, who then explained the science of Sanskrit grammar. These vibrations were said to be originally in the mysterious formula of the Maheshvara Sutra. This Sutra is said to contain all sounds arranged in an order that holds the key to all structure of language.

       Panini also provided the dhatu path, which is a dictionary of the root Sanskrit words. Then he gave the unadi sutras to describe how the words in the original Vedic samhitas (the four Vedas) were formed, which can provide the means of understanding the real definition of the words in the samhita mantras. Without this, it is easy for a person to mistranslate the real meaning or purpose of the Vedic mantras.

       Nirukta provides the explanations of the Vedic words. It is used along with the Nighantu, which is a collection of Vedic words with their basic explanations. These are used with the Vyakarana to understand the exact meaning of Sanskrit words to make sure the Vedic samhita mantras are not misunderstood.

       Siksha is the science of correct pronunciation of Vedic mantras, such as intonation, duration, and the accent on a word or syllable. This will determine how one “sings” each mantra. Differences in the pronunciation of a mantra can also change its meaning, and the outcome of the ritual. That is one of the reasons why the old Vedic rituals are no longer recommended for this day and age. The problem is that this is difficult to learn and almost all books on the topic have become lost.

       Chandas is the science of correctly emphasizing the meter of the Vedic verses according to the division or parts and letters, and the correct pronunciation of the words. The Vedic mantras are also named according to its parts. For example, the anushtup chand is a mantra of four parts in one stanza, and with 32 letters. Yet if it has 31 letters in four parts, it is called brihati chand, and so on.

       Jyotish is the science of Vedic astrology. This was used for a couple of reasons. Primarily it was for establishing the correct position of the stars and planets at certain times, such as one’s birth, and their effects for predicting one’s future life. It was also for calculating the best times to begin special activities, such as Vedic rituals. There were many books on jyotish, but most have now become lost, leaving but several left to study.

       The Artha-sastram is said to have been established first by Brihaspati, but was written most recently by Kautilya in the fourth century BC for the king, Chandragupta Maurya. It is the science of government and economics that takes credit for some of the principles of corporate management that have gained popularity today, such as using prabhu shakti (vision), mantra shakti (mission), and utsah shakti (motivation).

       The Mimamsa, Dharma, and Nyaya are parts of the Vedic Sutras, which is explained next.


THE SUTRAS AND SUPPLEMENTS

       When it comes to the Mimamsa, there is the Purva Mimamsa and the Uttar Mimamsa. First there is the Purva Mimamsa that was written by the sage Jaimini who was a student of Vyasadeva about 5,000 years ago. The Uttara Mimamsa is the Brahma or Vedanta Sutras, which is discussed soon.

       Mimamsa means solutions through critical examination, and was originally expounded by Jaimini in the twelve chapters of his Mimamsa-sutra. It clarifies the Vedic principles so a person can focus on the ways for attaining a good life now and in the next. This system was traditionally called Purva Mimamsa, representing the early revered thought. This is in relation to the study of Vedanta since Mimamsa was considered the preliminary understanding of Vedanta philosophy. On the other hand, Vedanta is also called Uttara Mimamsa, meaning the conclusion and higher teachings of the Mimamsa philosophy, because the Vedas are regarded as self-evident scriptures that reveal divine knowledge.

       The Mimamsa system emphasizes the importance of action in terms of ritual, worship, and duty or dharma as the means of reaching liberation from karma and the cycle of repeated birth and death. It explains the essential Vedic issues and describes the eternal nature of the Vedic texts as part of the same spiritual energy as God, which are manifested on earth through the minds of the great sages. It then continues to clarify the accurate use of the Vedic mantras for the attainment of happiness and material facility. Mimamsa is basically a systematized code of rules for the Vedic rituals and worship used along with the Vedas and explains the purpose and meaning of the rituals. It is especially meant to help householders regulate and spiritualize their daily lives, while Vedanta is meant more for those who had grown tired of materialistic existence and are ready to retire and seriously engage in spiritual pursuits. Dharma is considered to be those moral activities that harmonize individual life with cosmic life.

       The Nyaya Sutra presents the Vedic system of logic as established by the sage Gautama. This was written in a question and answer format, like many of the Vedic Sutras. Nyaya is a school of logic which regards doubt as a prerequisite for philosophical inquiry. All other Indian systems of philosophy use the Nyaya system of logic as a foundation for reasoning and debate.

       The five principles of the Nyaya system are: (1) to present the proposition, (2) the reason for presenting the proposition, (3) an example of it, showing that it is realistic or unrealistic, depending on the instance, (4) apply the example of the proposition presented, and (5) establish the conclusion of the proposition.

       The ultimate purpose of the Nyaya system, which is closely linked to the Vaisheshika system, is to use this process of logic to establish the ultimate truth, or God, the Supreme Reality, and to show the spiritual platform is all that is truly desirable and not the temporary material creation. It is meant to help one achieve liberation from karma and material existence by properly understanding reality, or the difference between matter and spirit. Nyaya accepts that the only way to liberation is to obtain knowledge of the external world and understand its relationship with the mind and self. Through logical criticism, one can discriminate between truth and illusion and, applying such understanding in daily life, rid oneself of suffering and attain liberation. Additionally, this system of logic was developed to prove the validity of its principles by analysis and argument to counter the criticism of the Buddhists, Jains, and Charvakas. However, the Nyaya system was empirical and mostly relied on perception, inference, comparison, and testimony as its means of acquiring knowledge.

       The Vaisheshika-sutra, written in a question and answer format, was the first work written on this philosophy by Kanada. Prasastapada later wrote a definitive commentary on this sutra entitled Svartha Dharma Samgraha. The name Vaisheshika comes from vishesha, which means uniqueness or particularity. Therefore, the Vaisheshika system is a study of the uniqueness and qualities of existence, such as the elements, atoms, their interactions, as well as the soul. But it accepts only two independent sources of knowledge, which are perception and inference. It is a sutra that helps show the futility of life in the temporary worlds of maya, and the need for understanding God and to become free from all karma so that liberation can follow. However, the knowledge within this sutra is unnecessary if one already knows that understanding God and regaining one’s devotional love is the real goal of life.  

       The Vaisheshka-sutra contained several ideas: (1) that everything is composed of atoms bearing the qualities of either earth, water, light, or air; (2) that the individual souls are eternal and pervade a material body for a time; (3) there are nine basic elements, consisting of earth, water, light, air, ether, time, space, soul, and mind, which are all eternal in the form of energy; and (4) there are seven categories of experience, which are substance, quality, activity, generality, particularity, inherence, and non-existence. However, God is not mentioned in the sutra, but later commentators included knowledge of God to complete the system.

       Vaisheshika attempted to integrate philosophical theories with moral and spiritual attitudes or dharma which would lead people to good in this life and the next. However, it did not bring the Supreme Being to the point of ultimate reality, but as merely an agent of release from karma and repeated birth and death. Therefore, the Vaisheshika philosophy is not complete in its understanding of the Absolute Truth or of material nature.

       The Vaisheshika theory is that merely by interactions between atoms the elements are formed and, thus, the world and all objects within appear. However, this is refuted by the Vedanta-sutras. For example, if atoms are simply inert matter, then atomic combinations could not properly take place without some higher directional force. The Vaisheshikas say this force is the unseen principle but fail to explain fully what it is, where it resides, or how it works. They also say that atoms and relationships between the atoms of the elements as earth, water, air, etc., are eternal, but this would mean that any form composed of atoms would also be eternal, such as the material world and all that is in it. However, anyone can see that this is not the case since everything is always changing and breaking apart. Even the Vaisheshikas accept the fact that all bodies and forms composed of atoms are temporary. In this way, we can recognize the contradictions in the atomic theory of the Vaisheshikas, which is, therefore, unacceptable.

       The Sankhya philosophy is another system. The principal aim is to analyze the distinctions between matter and spirit. The study of the twenty-four material elements was originally developed as a complex science by Lord Kapila, as elaborated in Srimad-Bhagavatam. But later, there was another Kapila who presented an atheistic Sankhya system. Therefore, in other schools of this system, the existence of God is considered irrelevant. This is because the universe is regarded as a system of cause and effect. In other words, the cause of the universe is that which is eternal but ever-changing, or prakriti, the ever-changing material energy. God is eternal and non-changing, so, within this atheistic view of Sankhya it is considered that God cannot be the cause of the universe. Obviously, there are limitations in this analysis, such as not defining where prakriti came from and how could prakriti, which is inert, form the material universe without any guidance, and so on. So, gradually, there were additional arguments that again led to an acceptance of God in the philosophy of Sankhya.

       The original Sankhya system, as explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam by Lord Kapila, acknowledges matter and spirit as two separate principles of reality. Thus, genuine Sankhya introduces a dualistic philosophy more developed than the previous three systems discussed so far. Sankhya analyzed such factors as purusha and prakriti (spirit and matter), the creation and development of matter through excitation of the purusha, how the world evolved, how the modes of nature operate and affect us, how ahankara (false ego) causes our identification with matter and bondage to the material world, the five organs of action and five senses of perception, the subtle elements, the gross elements, etc.

       The goal of this system is to understand that the real self is eternal and free, but because of ignorance the soul identifies with what is temporary and, therefore, suffers. Through this kind of analysis of the material world it is expected that one will realize the difference between matter and spirit and attain freedom from false identification. After this stage is attained, release from existence in the material world is reached through spiritual training, meditation on the real self and Superself, and the practice of yoga.

       Yoga is the next system, which is the application of the Sankhya system. Sankhya is the theory, and yoga is the practice. Yoga, which is essentially theistic, was known many years before Patanjali. Although he is often given the credit for it, he merely codified it in his Yoga Sutras. The complete system of yoga is very complex and has many steps to it, each of which must be perfected before one can go on to the next step. The purpose of yoga is to suspend the flickering nature and internal dictations of the mind. Yoga is also to attain relief from the pain that exists from such things as ignorance, which brings attachment, which then leads the way to fear and hatred, as well as the fear of death. The practice of yoga and renunciation is for bringing freedom from such pains and suffering. Although the basis of this system may be quite popular, few people can actually reach the higher levels of self-realization through this process in this day and age. The different levels of this process and yoga systems are briefly explained in the next chapter.  

       The other subsidiary portions of the Vedas previously mentioned in the Vedangas have additional texts that further explain that section of Vedic knowledge. For example, the Kalpa-sutras, which elaborate on the many kinds of rituals, are divided into four kinds, namely the Shrauta-sutras, Grihya-sutras, Dharma-sutras, and the Shulba-sutras.

       The Shrauta-sutras explain the rituals the priests engage in, and the details of performing a Vedic yajna, or ceremony, according to the particular branch of the Veda with which it is connected. It covers the large and royal rituals performed by kings, such as the ashvamedha or rajasuya, to the ordinary ones performed by a family, such as the agnishtoma, agnihotra, or the pitri yajna for the dead relatives.  

       The Grihya-sutras describes the general and ritualistic social traditions that are usually observed by householders for their upliftment. These include such things as the performance of daily worship, study of scripture, or installing a Deity in a temple. Also, how to greet a guest, do rituals for moving into a new house, or timely samskaras for giving a name to a child, or the ritual for a child’s first hair cutting, a youth’s acceptance of a Vedic order, or the marriage ceremony.

       The Dharma-sutras deal with the different disciplines or duties of a person, from common individuals up to the king. This includes duties of people in the four orders of life (from birth up to renunciation, or brahmacari student to sannyasa), along with duties of a man to his family and society, or duties of a married couple to each other and their children, or duties of a king to his subordinates.

       Vedic mathematics is found in the Shulba Sutras, which means codes of the rope since particular lengths of rope were used to make exact measurements. The Shulba-sutras had 1180 branches and give mathematical details on size and shape of altars for the fire rituals and the place where such ceremonies would take place. These mathematical codes are said to have been compiled from the 8th to the 5th century BC, however such codes probably existed far earlier than this. It is figured that the original Indian mathematical developments arose from the needs of their religious ceremonies that required altars of precise measurement. This started to gain significance when the sages began to emphasize the use of external processes of worship and ritual as an additional means to attain internal awareness and spiritual progress. In other words, they were not interested in math outside of what it could do for them spiritually. The Shulba Sutras show the earliest forms of algebra as used by the Vedic priests.

       The Shulba Sutras were only a portion of the broader system of mathematics found in the Kalpasutras. These consisted of arithmetic and algebra as well as geometry. In fact, geometrical instruments dating back to 2500 BC have been found in the Indus Valley, which was also a part of Vedic society. The Pythogorean theorem was already existing in the Shulba Sutras before Pythagorus presented it. This means he may have only learned of it through his travels in India rather than inventing it himself.

       It was the Vedic system that developed the decimal system of tens, hundreds, thousands, etc., and how to take the remainder of one column of numbers over to the next. The numeral system of nine numbers and a 0 made calculations very easy. Without the invention and use of 0, many of the mathematical advancements that have been made in the West would not have been possible. These numbers were developed from the Brahmi script and became popular after 700 AD, spreading into Arabia. They became known as the Arabic numerals because the Europeans, who had adopted them, got them from the traveling Arabians. Yet the Arabians called them “Indian figures” (Al-Arqan-Al-Hindu) because they had received them from India. Because of this it was called the India art (hindisat). Thus, the system of math that we all use today had its start in Vedic India.

       Further developments in mathematics in India by its mathematicians, such as Brahmagupta (7th century), Mahavira (9th century), and Bhaskara (12th century) in such areas as algebra and trigonometry were not known in Europe until the 17th and 18th centuries. In fact, many of the great inventions made in Europe that we take for granted today, would have been impossible if they had been stuck with their cumbersome Roman numerals, and without the advanced system of mathematics that came from India.

       The Anukramanika is another book in the same category as these sutras and relates the contents of the Vedas. It consists of 1180 books for the 1180 Vedic branches. It lists all of the Vedic gods and their associated mantras, and all the sages who composed them. So this works like a summary of the Vedic books.

       Beyond these are many other texts that include the Sraddha-kalpa, Pitrimedhasutras, Parisistas, Prayogas, Karikas, etc., all of which deal only with Vedic rituals.

       A later text that also deals with the Vedic rituals is the Rigvidhana by the sage Shaunaka. This book gives explanations on the usage of many of the verses or hymns in the Rig-veda. The precise chanting of particular verses produces specific magical or quick results, such as overcoming one’s enemies, getting rid of disease, protecting oneself from ghosts, and many other things. The Rigvidhana indicates which verses, and the procedure if necessary, to be used to accomplish their various effects.

       Additional topics, such as alchemy, are also dealt with, or architecture as found in the Sthapatyaveda, or erotics as found in the Kama Sutra.

       India also had a long agricultural heritage that went back to before 3700 BC, and had the first written texts on the topic. One of the oldest books is the Krishi-Parashara (c. 400 BC), which means “Agriculture by Parashara”. This has been translated by the Asian Agri-History Foundation in Secunderabad, India. This book gives lists of tools to be used, ways of predicting rain by using basic astrology with climate conditions, methods of good farming management for the high yield of crops, management of cattle, along with advice on seed collection and storage, etc.

       Another text on agriculture was the Kashyapiyakrishisukti by Kashyapa (c. 700-800 AD). This describes the means of producing certain crops, cattle management, soil properties, laying out gardens, means of irrigation, marketing, ways of support from the government, as well as mining, and even a personal code of conduct for farmers.

       The Vrikshayurveda (The Science of Plant Life) by Surapala was another book that appeared later (c. 1000 AD). This dealt with the application of Ayurveda to various kinds of trees. However, it also contained knowledge of raising orchards, seed management, selection of soil, ways of irrigation, finding groundwater, using fertilizers, dealing with plant diseases, and so on. These books recommend practical ways of efficient farming while preserving the world’s resources and environment, along with the means by which humanity can achieve the essential aims of life, such as dharma, artha, kama and moksha (religion, economic development, sensual fulfillment, and liberation through spiritual advancement) which are all things that we should still consider today.


THE SMRITIS

       The Smritis were additional books that included those of many ancient authors, such as the Manu-samhita, the famous Vedic law book, and Yagyavalkya Smriti, Parashar Smriti, and those of Brihaspati, Daksha, Gautama, Yama, Angira, Pracheta, Yogeshwara, Atri, Vishnu, and several others. There were also the Upa-Smritis (smaller books) of Narada, Pulaha, Garga, Pulastya, Shaunaka, Kratu, Baudhayana, Jatukarna, Vishvamitra, Pitamaha, Jabali, Skanda, Kashyapa, Vyasa, Sanatkumara, Janaka, Vashishta, Bharadwaj and others. Most anyone who has done a fair amount of Vedic study will recognize these names, but most of these books are now unavailable.

       These Smritis, especially like the Manu-samhita, explained the codes and laws or disciplines of proper conduct, and the consequences or recommended penances for bad or evil behavior. They prescribe the kind of fasting or charity or austerity one should perform for curing oneself of various sins, and what a person could expect if he was not relieved of such karmic reactions. However, some of the rules and laws it presents were meant for a much more conservative and stricter day and age. Thus, they are not as applicable in these modern times.

       The first three Smritis mentioned above are the most important. However, their content is mostly for attaining good results in the next life or for attaining heaven or celestial opulence and avoiding hell. These generally do not provide the means for attaining complete liberation or God-realization, although the Manu-samhita does include such things as a description of proper behavior between guru and disciple.

       Nonetheless, just as with the Upanishads, there are some Smritis that do relate the more confidential aspects of how to reach the perfection of life and attain liberation and God-realization. For example, the Smriti of Sanatkumara, the Sri Sanatkumara Samhita, is still available today and has over 321 verses. It is said to be connected with the Skanda Purana. It starts by describing the unfortunate characteristics of the people in this age of Kali-yuga, and then goes on to explain the need for all people, from the lowest to the highest, to take shelter of the holy names of Hari, Krishna, as the only way to attain the Lord. It then prescribes two mantras that are most effective for this purpose, and explains how to chant them. It later goes into some detail in describing the sweet pastimes of Lord Krishna and His associates in the spiritual world. In this way, this specialized and rare Smriti describes the way for God-realization and the most secret of secrets for complete liberation from material existence.


VEDANTA AND THE VEDANTA-SUTRAS

       After the above-mentioned sutras, we now come to the Vedanta-sutras. When it comes to Vedanta, many commentaries on it revolve around the Brahman. The Brahman generally means the all-pervading, self-existent power. The word brahman is based on the root word brah, which means vastness, power or expansion. It also denotes the Supreme Being, as well as the atman, the living being, who, when freed from the body, becomes situated on the level of Brahman, or the spiritual nature. The concept of the Brahman was, for the most part, first elaborated in the Upanishads. Therein we begin to find descriptions from which our understanding of it grows. It is described as invisible, ungraspable, eternal, without qualities, and the imperishable source of all things. (Mundaka Upanishad 1.1.6-7)

       It is explained that Shankara’s advaita doctrine was based on the famous passage in the Chandogya Upanishad (6.10.3), tat tvam asi, meaning “That thou art.” He taught that “thou and that” were not to be regarded as object and subject, but as identical, without difference (a-bheda), like the real self (atman). Thus, anything that was variable, like the body, mind, intellect, and ego are objects of knowledge and not the atman.

       These concepts were more fully explained on the basis of the Vedanta-sutras. The Vedanta-sutras are a systemization of sutras or codes for understanding Vedic knowledge. As you know, they are short codes that are later to be explained by the spiritual master, guru or spiritual authority. By themselves, without further explanations, it is not easy to fathom their depths. So it is these commentaries that contain the additional information about such things as the Brahman.

        Vedanta means the conclusion of the Veda

Ancient India: Previous Years’ Questions with Solutions

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1. Sources

(i)  Archaeological sources: Exploration, excavation, epigraphy, numismatics, monuments

(ii) Literary sources: Indigenous: Primary and secondary; poetry, scientific literature,

literature, literature in regional languages, religious literature.

(iii) Foreign accounts: Greek, Chinese and Arab writers.

“Ancient Indians had no taste for historiography; their scholars cared more for religious, spiritual and philosophical studies. Indian historiography is essentially an Islamic heritage.” Comment upon this statement with special reference to the contemporary writers and their works which help us in the reconstruction of history of the early medieval period of Indian history. 

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Discuss the changing approaches to the study of early Indian history. 

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“Reconstruction of Early Indian history is hardly possible without the help of inscriptions and coins.” Discuss. 

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In what ways are the accounts of the Graeco Romans and the Chinese helpful in reconstructing the social history of India? How far is their information corroborated by other Contemporary sources? 

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What light do early inscriptions and literature throw on the status of women in politico socio-economic spheres? 

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On the  basis  of  contemporary  sources  assess  the  nature  of  banking  and  usury  in ancient India. 

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Evaluate the ownership  of  land  in  ancient  India  on  the  basis  of  literary  and epigraphic sources. 

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“While using the  accounts  of  foreign  writers,  historians  must  distinguish  between statements  based  on  hearsay  and  those  grounded  in  perceptive  observations.” Elaborate with examples. 

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How far can the ancient Indian Sruti literature be used as historical sources? 

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2. Pre-history and Proto-history

(i)Geographical factors; hunting and gathering (paleolithic and mesolithic);

Beginning of agriculture (neolithic and chalcolithic).

To what extent archaeological materials are useful in understanding the progress of Neolithic man in India? 

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In the  absence  of  a  written  script  Chalcolithic  pottery  gives  us  a  fascinating  insight into the culture and life styles of the people of those times. Comment critically. 

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3. Indus Valley Civilization

(i) Origin, date, extent, characteristics, decline, survival and significance,

art and architecture.

“On circumstantial evidence Indra stands convicted.” Explain, and discuss briefly different views about a sudden end of the Indus Valley civilization. How would you explain the presence of those elements in Indian culture and civilization which are found to have existed in the Indus Valley period?

OR

“The Indus Civilization had an abrupt end.” Discuss the statement and explain how the Indus Civilization could influence Indian culture in its later history. 

OR

“The Indus civilization did not have an abrupt appearance.” Discuss the statement. How does the Indus civilization stand, in view of its geographical expansion and chronology, in relations to the Vedic civilization? 

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Write a brief essay on: “The burial customs in the Indus Civilization.” 

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Write a short essay on: “The Religion of the Indus Civilization.” 

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“The continuity of the Indus Civilization into later ages was not confined to the religious and spiritual fields alone.” Analyse the statement. 

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Analyze the elements of urban civilization in the Harappan Culture. What factors were responsible for its decline? 

OR

Give an appraisal of town planning of the Indus cities and evaluate the various reasons for their decline. 

OR

Discuss salient features of the Indus Valley Civilization. Mention important places from where relics of civilization have been recovered so far. Examine causes of its decline. 

OR

Was India civilized before the advent of the Aryans? State briefly the extent and striking features of the earlier civilization, if any. 

OR

How do you account for the decline of the major cities of the Indus Valley Civilization? 

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Write a short essay on: “External trade of the Harappans.”

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Evaluate the significance  of  seals  and  sealings  in  the  reconstruction  of  socio-economic and religious life of the Harappan people. 

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Discuss the water  management  and  its  conservation  planning  in  the  Harappan (Indus-Saraswati) cities. 

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Do you think the Harappan civilization had a diversity of subsistence base? 

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The decline of Harappan civilization was caused by ecological degradation rather than external invasion. Discuss. 

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Extra Questions and answers

With the help of historical sources, give an account of Harappan trade while mentioning trade centres, traded goods and trade routes. 

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4. Megalithic Cultures
(i)  Distribution of pastoral and farming cultures outside the Indus, Development of 

community life, Settlements, Development of agriculture, Crafts, Pottery, and Iron industry.

Discuss the  extent,  settlement  patterns  and  subsistence  economy  of  the  megalithic cultures. 

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In what  ways  can  the  Megalithic  culture  be  considered  a  foundational  phase  of  the history of peninsular India? 

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5. Aryans and Vedic Period

(i)             Expansions of Aryans in India.

(ii)           Vedic Period: Religious and philosophic literature;

(iii)         Transformation from Rig Vedic period to the later Vedic period;

(iv)          Political, social and economical life;

(v)           Significance of the Vedic Age; Evolution of Monarchy and Varna system.

Compare the economic, social and religious life of the Indus Valley (Harappan) people with that of the early Vedic people and discuss the relative chronology of the Indus and the early Vedic cultures. 

OR

Discuss briefly the development of religious ideas and rituals in the Vedic age. Do they show any parallelism with the religion of the Indus Civilization? 

OR

Examine the contribution of Vedic culture in the sphere of social institutions and religion. Was there any continuity between the Indus and the Vedic cultures in this respect? 

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Analyse the differences and similarities between Indus Valley and Vedic Cultures. 

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Write a short essay on: “Vedic literature” 

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Write a short essay on: “Vedic rituals” 

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Give a brief account of the social and economic conditions of the Later Vedic Aryans. 

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Describe the social life of the later Vedic people. How was it different from the Rig Vedic life? 

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Write a short essay on: “The formulation of social system in the later Vedic period.” 

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Write a short essay on: “Position of women in the Rig Vedic society” 

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What was the position of Varuna in the Vedic system of Gods? 

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Write a brief essay on: “The Vedic Gods of the terrestrial region.” 

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Evaluate the various approaches to the understanding of Vedic religion. 

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Examine the view that sacrifice was a ritual and a form of social exchange in Vedic India. 

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Evaluate the conceptual basis of the Vedic deities.

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Write a short essay on: “Democratic elements in the political system of the early Vedic period.” 

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Discuss the political pattern and the major religious ideas and rituals of the Vedic age.

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Evaluate various views  regarding  human  settlements  as  gleaned  from  the  Vedic sources. 

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Give an account of the geography of the Vedic texts and describe the social life during the Vedic times. 

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Discuss the geographical area known to the Rig Vedic people. Were they familiar with the sea? 

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Evaluate the contribution of the Puranas in disseminating secular knowledge among the masses in ancient India. 

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“The Varna concept may always have been largely a theoretical model and never an actual description of society.” Comment in the context of Ancient India. 

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“The Upanishadic principles embody the epitome of the Vedic thought.” Discuss. 

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“Archaeology knows of no Aryans; only literature knows of Aryans.” Examine critically. 

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Extra Questions and Answers

“Over the time it became difficult for individual to upgrade in the social order, but social mobilization was always evident in Indian society.” Critically Examine.

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6. Period of Mahajanapadas
(i)             Formation of States (Mahajanapada) : Republics and monarchies; Rise of urban

centres; Trade routes; Economic growth; Introduction of coinage;

(ii)           Spread of Jainism and Buddhism; Rise of Magadha and Nandas.

(iii)         Iranian and Macedonian invasions and their impact.

What were the causes of the origin of the heterodox sects in the sixth century BC? 

OR

Write a short essay on: “The intellectual revolution in the Sixth Century B.C.”

OR

“The Sixth century B.C. was a period of religious and economic unrest in India.” Comment. 

OR

How far is it correct to say that changes in the post-Vedic economy gave birth to new religious movements in India?

OR

Discuss the social & economic factors for the rise of Buddhism. How far was it influenced by Upnisadic thought?

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Give an account of the republics in the pre-Maurya period. Discuss the factors which contributed to their decline. 

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What role did iron play in changing their political and economic life? 

OR

Evaluate the introduction of iron technology in the development of human history of ancient India. 

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Extra Questions and Answers

On the basis of contemporary sources, explain the existence of the republics in the pre-Maurya period. Were they truly democratic? What were the factors which contributed to their rise and decline?

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“Though Alexander failed to plant his Greek civilization in India, nor could his invasion produce any direct consequences of permanent nature yet his invasion cannot be called a ‘non-event’ in the Indian history.” Elucidate.

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“Some of the hypotheses regarding the impact of iron technology on the history of ancient India is not supported by evidences and need to be discarded.” Comment.

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7. Mauryan Empire

(i)             Foundation of the Mauryan Empire, Chandragupta, Kautilya and Arthashastra;

(ii)           Ashoka; Concept of Dharma; Edicts; Polity, Administration; Economy; Art,

architecture and sculpture; External contacts; Religion; Spread of religion; Literature.

(iii)         Disintegration of the empire;

(iv)          Sungas and Kanvas.

 

Write a brief essay on: “Similarities and differences between the Maurya columns and Achaemenian pillars.” 

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Write a short essay on: “Mauryan municipal administration.” 

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Write a short essay on: “The architectural and artistic features of the great stupa at Sanchi” 

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Examine sources of information for Mauryan dynasty. Throw light on historical significance of Ashoka’s inscriptions. 

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Discuss the comparative merit of the Arthasastra, the Indica and Ashokan Inscriptions as sources for the administration, socio-economic conditions and religious life in the Mauryan period. 

OR

Critically examine the sources for the study of Mauryan dynasty. How are they useful in understanding the Mauryan administration? 

OR

Discuss critically the relative importance of the different source for the history of the Mauryan period.

OR

Write a short essay on: “Inscriptions of Ashoka” 

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Write a short essay on: “Mauryan court art as an alien grafting” 

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Write a short essay on: “The Maurya policy of regulating and controlling economic activities.” 

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Determine the extent of the Mauryan empire. 

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Examine the role of adhyaksha in the Mauryan administration. 

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Examine the administrative system of the Mauryas and discuss briefly the causes of disintegration of the Mauryan Empire. 

OR

Examine the nature of the Mauryan State. Bring out the features of their administrative system. 

OR

Do you think that the economic factors were alone responsible for the disintegration of the Mauryan Empire? 

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Determine the veracity of Megasthenes’ descriptions of Indian society and economy with the help of other contemporary evidences.

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Discuss different  interpretations  of  historians  about  the  nature  of  Asoka’s  ‘Dhamma’. Did his principle of ‘Dhamma-vijaya’ render the Mauryan Empire militaristically weak? 

OR

Discuss the nature of Ashoka’s Dhamma. Was it responsible for the downfall of his empire? 

OR

Write a short essay on: “Contents of Asoka’s dhamma and reasons for Asoka’s keenness to propagate dhamma.” 

OR

Analyze Ashoka’s policy of Dhamma and account for its failure. 

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Extra Questions and Answers

“Mauryan art was not only unique in itself but also influenced by others.” Illustrate.

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8. Post – Mauryan Period (Indo-Greeks, Sakas, Kushanas, Western Kshatrapas)
(i) Contact with outside world; growth of urban centres, economy, coinage,

development of religions, Mahayana, social conditions, art, architecture, culture,

literature and science.

Write a short essay on “Indian participation in the silk trade through Central Asia.” 

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Write a short essay on: “Origins, chronology, characteristics and geographical spread of Gandhara art.” 

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Furnish a critical and comparative account of various schools of art in the Post -Mauryan period (c. 200 B.C. – c. 300 A.D.) 

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Write a brief essay on: “Buddhist writing in Sanskrit in the post-Maurya period.” 

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“The centuries between c. 200 B.C. and c. A.D. 300 constitute a landmark in the socio-religious history of India.” Analyses the proposition. 

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How justified are we in characterizing the post-Mauryan five centuries as the ‘Dark Period’ of Indian History? Give reasons in support of your answer. 

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Examine the significance of the deities depicted on coins of the Kushanas. 

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Explain as to  how  the  early  Buddhist  Stupa  art,  while  using  folk  motifs  and narratives  and  common  cultural  symbols,  succeeded  in  transforming  these  themes  for expounding the Buddhist ideals. 

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Extra Questions and Answers

With the help of contemporary sources, explain the expansion of trade activity in the period c. 300 BCE-300 CE in ancient India. 

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On the basis of contemporary sources, give an account of different kind of functions performed by guilds in ancient India from c. 200 B.C. to c. 300 A.D.

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In the realm of religious doctrines and practices, the period c. 200 BCE to 300 CE reflects several continuities with the earlier centuries, but also some striking new developments.

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9. Early State and Society in Eastern India, Deccan and South India
(i)             Kharavela,

(ii)           The Satavahanas,

(iii)         Tamil States of the Sangam Age;

(iv)          Administration, economy, land grants, coinage, trade guilds and urban centres;

Buddhist centres; Sangam literatureand culture; Art and architecture

Discuss the military activities of Kharavela of Kalinga. Do you think that his reign is significant for military expeditions alone? 

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Assess the role of guilds and trade organizations in the development of early Indian economy. 

OR

Trace the role of guilds and trade organizations in the development of early Indian economy. 

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Examine the role of guilds in the economic life of ancient India. 

OR

Write a short essay on: “The role of guilds in the economic life of India from c. 200 B.C. to c. A.D. 300.” 

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Justify Pliny’s statement  the  Rome  was  being  drained  out  of  its  gold  by  India  during  the first century of the Christian era. 

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“Not only does ancient Tamil literature furnish an accurate picture of widely disparate classes; it also describes the social condition of Tamil country as it was.” Discuss. 

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Extra Questions and Answers

“Sangam literature reflects a society with its distinctive cultural traditions, one which celebrated war and love.” Explain.

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10. Guptas, Vakatakas and Vardhanas
(i) Polity and administration, Economic conditions, Coinage of the Guptas, Land grants,

Decline of urban centres, Indian feudalism, Caste system, Position of women, Education

and educational institutions; Nalanda, Vikramshila and Vallabhi, Literature, scientific

literature, art and architecture.

Polity and administration

Write a short essay on: “The significance of the policy of matrimonial alliances for the expansion and consolidation of the Gupta Empire.” 

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Write a short essay on: “Skandagupta’s war with the Hunas” 

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Examine the information of Fa Hien about the political, religious, social and economic conditions of India. Make a comparative study of his account with that of Yuan Chawang. 

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What are the salient features of the administrative system of the Guptas? 

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Describe the expansion of the Gupta Empire under Samudragupta. 

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Describe the expansion of the Gupta Empire under Samudragupta with the help of the Allahabad pillar inscription. 

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Discuss the provincial and district administrative units of the Gupta Empire  with  the designations and functions of the officers. 

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Economic conditions, Coinage of the Guptas, Land grants, Decline of urban centres, Indian feudalism, Caste system, Position of women

How far do the coins of the Gupta’s provide clues regarding trends in economy, polity, religion and arts? Discuss them in the light of corroborating evidence from archaeology and literature. 

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Examine the development of religion, literature and fine arts under the Guptas. 

OR

“The Gupta period stands at the center of Indian history.” Discuss the development of arts and literature in that Gupta period in the light of this statement. 

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Discuss the conditions of economic life in the age of the Guptas. 

OR

Write a short essay on “The economic prosperity in the Gupta period.” 

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Write a short essay on: “Origins and meaning of the samanta system.” 

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What were  the  privileges  granted  to  the  donees  in  land-grant  charters  of  early  India? How far were these charters responsible for integration or disintegration socio-political milieu? 

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Extra Questions and Answers

On the basis of contemporary sources, give an account of Royal land grant in ancient India. 

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With the help of literary and archaeological sources, critically evaluate the hypothesis that there was urban decay during c. 300-600 CE.

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Education and educational institutions; Nalanda, Vikramshila and Vallabhi, Literature, scientific literature, art and architecture

Write a short essay on: “Nalanda Mahavihara” 

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Highlight the achievements of the Gupta period in the field of literature, science and technology. 

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Vardhanas

Critically examine the sources of information for the study of Harshavardhan and discuss his religious policy. 

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Harsha is described as ‘the lord of the whole of north India’. Determine the extent of his empire and discuss his political relations with Sasanka, Bhaskaravarman and Pulakesin II. 

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Write a short essay on “The Maukharis paving the way for the glory of Harshavardhana” 

OR

Who were the Maukharis? Discuss their political relations with the Later Guptas of Magadha. 

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Give an account of the Society in Northern and Central India since the death of Harsha to the Muslim conquest of North India. 

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“Harsha owes his greatness largely not to any real achievements but to formulate descriptions by two famous men.” Discuss.

OR

“Harshvardhan was himself great, but he has been made greater by Ban and Yuan Chiang.” Critically examine the statement. 

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11. Regional States during Gupta Era
(i)             The Kadambas, Pallavas, Chalukyas of Badami;

(ii)           Polity and Administration, Trade guilds, Literature; growth of Vaishnava and

Saiva religions.

(iii)         Tamil Bhakti movement, Shankaracharya; Vedanta; Institutions of temple and

temple architecture; Palas,

(iv)          Senas, Rashtrakutas, Paramaras, Polity and administration; Cultural aspects.

(v)           Arab conquest of Sind; Alberuni,

(vi)          The Chalukyas of Kalyana, Cholas, Hoysalas, Pandyas;

(vii)        Polity and Administration; local Government; Growth of art and architecture,

religious sects, Institution of temple and Mathas, Agraharas, education and literature,

economy and society.

Polity and administration

Discuss critically the main aspects of polity and society under the Pallavas.

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Give an account of the struggle for supremacy in South India between the Chalukyas of Badami and the Pallavas. 

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Trace briefly the history of the struggle between the Chalukyas and the Pailavas. Analyze its causes and bring out its importance. 

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Give an account of the rise of the Chalukyas of Vatapi and their struggle with other rulers. Write a note on their patronage of arts. 

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How could the local self-government under the Cholas adjust with their centralized administration structure? 

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Extra Questions and Answers

Write about the different views on the nature of South Indian states with the special reference to the Chola state.

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Art and architecture

Trace the origin and development of the political authority of the Chalukyas of Badami and discuss their contribution to religion and architecture. 

OR

What was the contribution of the Chalukyas of Badami to Indian architecture? 

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Assess the achievements of the Pallavas in administration and art. 

OR

Write a short essay on: “The contributions of the Pallavas to Indian architecture.” 

OR

Evaluate the importance of the contributions of the Pallavas in the history of the development of art and administration in South India. 

OR

Who were the Pallavas? Review briefly their contribution to art and administration.

OR

Discuss the contribution of the Pallavas to South Indian art. Was this art wholly indigenous?  

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Bring out the regional variations in the early South Indian Temple’s architectural styles. 

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Assess Ellora as a unique art centre of the different cultural streams. 

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How far is it true to say that the strength and vigour of Indian history during c. A.D. 500-750 lay in the south of the Vindhyas? 

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Arab conquest of Sind

Write a short essay on: “Historical significance of the advent of the Arabs in India” 

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12. Themes in Early Indian Cultural History
(i)  Languages and texts, major stages in the evolution of art and architecture, major

philosophical thinkers and schools, ideas in Science and Mathematics.

Assess the educational  system  in  early  India  and  identify  important  educational institutions of the period. 

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Solution of Map Based Questions

Map Based Questions with Solution of 2016 Main Examination

Map Based Questions with Solution of 2015 Main Examination

Map Based Questions with Solution of 2014 Main Examination

Map Based Questions with Solution of 2013 Main Examination

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