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Quick Revision Notes™ on Indian History
Indian History forms an important part of the General Awareness paper of Civil Services (Prelims) Examination. Based on analysis of types of questions asked in previous years, we have compiled this feature to help you to be better prepared for the examination, as also to make your preparation easier. This will be a regular feature in the magazine and in coming months we will also provide you with similar notes on Indian Constitution and other topics. Beginning of Magadhan Ascendancy and beyond 1. Magadha kingdom’s most remarkable king was Srenika or Bimbisara, who was anointed king by his father at the young age of 15. 2. The capital of Bimbisara’s kingdom was Girivraja. It was girded with stone walls which are among the oldest extant stone structures in India. 3. The most notable achievement of Bimbisara was the annexation of neighbouring kingdom of Anga or East Bihar. He also entered into matrimonial alliances with ruling families of Kosala and Vaishali. The Vaishali marriage paved the way for expansion of Magadha northword to the borders of Nepal. 4. Gautama Buddha and Vardhaman Mahavira preached their doctrines during the reign of Bimbisara. 5. The modern town of Rajgir in the Patna district was built by Bimbisara. He had named it Rajagriha or the king’s house. 6. Bimbisara was succeeded by his son Ajatshatru. Tradition affirms that Bimbisara was murdered by Ajatshatru. 7. To repel the attacks of the Vrijis of Vaishali, Ajatshatru fortified the village of Pataligrama, which stood at the confluence of Ganga and Sona rivers. This fortress, within a generation, developed into the stately city of Pataliputra (modern day Patna). 8. According to the Puranas, the immediate successor of Ajatshatru was Darsaka, after whom came his son Udayi. 9. The name of Darsaka also occurs in a play named Svapna-Vasavadatta, attributed to Bhasa, which represents him as a brother-in-law and contemporary of Udayana, king of Kausambi. However, Jain and Buddhist writers assert that Udayi was son of Ajatshatru. 10. Bimbisara’s dynastic lineage ended with the Nanda dynasty taking over the reigns of Magadha. The first king of Nanda dynasty was Mahapadma or Mahapamapati Nanda. He was succeeded by his eight sons, of whom the last was named DhanaNanda. 11. Dhana-Nanda was overthrown by Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of a new and more illustrious dynasty. 12. Among the State functionaries, the Purohit was of special importance in Kasi-Kosala, as we learn from Ramayan and several Jatakas. In Kuru-Panchal and Matsya countries it was the Senapati who held the special place. 13. The armies of the period usually consisted of infantry, cavalry, chariots and elephants. While rulers of deltaic regions were known to maintain small naval fleets, a big naval department came into being only during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. 14. The Indian infantry usually carried long bows and iron-tipped arrows made of cane. They used to wear cotton garments. The chariots of the cavalry were drawn by horses or wild asses and carried six soldiers apiece—two bowmen, two shield bearers and two charioteers. 15. Greek writers bear testimony to the fact that in the art of war Indians were far superior to other peoples of Asia. Their failure against foreign invaders was often due to inferiority in cavalry. Indian commanders pinned their faith more in elephants than horses. 16. The oldest source of revenues was the bali. Bhaga, the king’s share of reaped corn, became the most important source of State revenue in course of time. Among the most important revenue officials was the Grama-bhojaka or village head-man. 17. The early Buddhist texts refer to six big cities that flourished during the days of the Buddha. These were: Champa (near Bhagalpur), Rajagriha (in Patna district), Sravasti (SahethMaheth), Saketa (Oudh), Kausambi (near Allahabad) and Benaras (Varanasi). 18. The usual recreations of women during the Magadhan era were singing, dancing and music. Little princesses used to play with dolls called panchalikas. 19. The chief pastimes of knights were gambling, hunting, listening to tales of war and tournaments in amphitheatres. Buddhist texts refer to acrobatic feats, combats of animals and a kind of primitive chess play. 20. The principal seaports of the period were: Bhrigukachcha (Broach), Surparaka (Sopara, north of Mumbai), and Tamralipti (Tamluk in West Bengal). 21. The chief articles of trade during the Magadhan era were: silk, muslin, embroidery, ivory, jewellery and gold. The standard unit of value was the copper Karshapana, weighing a little more than 146 grains. Silver coins, called Purana or Dharana, were also in circulation. The weight of a silver coin was a little more than 58 grains, which is one-tenth of that of the Nishka known to the Vedic texts. 22. The first undoubted historical reference to image-worship by an Aryan
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tribe occurs in passage of Curtis, who states that an image of Herakles was carried in front of Paurava army as it advanced against Alexander. 23. The early Magadhan period saw development of variant languages from Sanskrit. In the towns and the villages a popular form of Sanskrit, Prakrit, was spoken. This had local variations; the chief western variety was called Shauraseni and the eastern variety Magadhi. Pali was another local language. The Buddha, wishing to reach wider audience, taught in Magadhi. Persian and Macedonian Invasions 24. Cyrus, the founder of the Achaemenian empire of Persia, destroyed the famous city of Kapisa near the junction of the Ghorband and Panjshir rivers northeast of Kabul. 25. The successor of Cyrus, Darius sent a naval expedition to the Indus under the command of Skylax. This expedition paved the way for the annexation of the Indus valley as far as the deserts of Rajputana. The area became the most populous satrapy of the Persian empire and paid a tribute proportionately larger than all the rest—360 Eubic talents of gold dust, equivalent to more than a million sterling. 26. Once the Persian hold over Indian possessions became weak, the old territory of Gandhara was divided into two parts. To the west of Indus river lay the kingdom of Pushkalavati in the modern district of Peshawar; to the east was Takshasila in present district of Rawalpindi. Tradition affirms that Mahabharata was first recited in Takshasila. 27. In 331 B.C., Alexander inflicted heavy blows on the king of Persia and occupied his realm. In 327 B.C. Alexander crossed the Hindukush and resolved to recover the Indian satrapies that had once been under his Persian predecessors. 28. To secure his communications, Alexander garrisoned a number of strongholds near modern Kabul and passed the winter of 327-326 B.C. in warfare with fierce tribes of Kunar and Swat valleys. 29. Alexander finally crossed Indus river in 326 B.C. using a bridge of boats. Ambhi, the king of Taxila gave him valuable help in this. 30. Alexander’s march faced a major hurdle when it reached the banks of Hydaspes (modern Jhelum) river, near the town of Jhelum. Here he faced stiff resistance from Paurava king (Porus). 31. After crossing the Akesines (Chenab) and the Hydraotes (Ravi), Alexander stormed Sangala, the stronghold of the Kathaioi, and moved on to the Hyphasis (Beas). He wished to press forward to the Ganga valley, but his war-worn troops refused. Alexander erected 12 towering altars to mark the utmost limit of his march, and then retraced his steps to Jhelum. 32. During the return journey, Alexander received a dangerous wound while storming a citadel of the powerful tribe of the Malawas. He returned to Babylon after a long and treacherous journey and died soon after in 323 B.C. 33. The Persian conquest unveiled India for the first time to the Western world and established contact between the people of both regions. 34. The introduction of new scripts—Aramaic, Kharoshti and the alphabet style Yavanani by Panini— can be traced to Greek source. 35. The Macedonian garrisons were swept away by Chandragupta Maurya. However, these were not wiped out completely. Colonies like Yavana continued to serve the king of Magadha just as they served the Macedonians, and carved out an independent kingdom only after the sun set of Magadha. 36. One positive outcome of Alexander’s invasion was that Greeks of later ages got to learn lessons in philosophy and religion from Indian Buddhists and Bhagavatas and Indians learned use of coins, honoured Greek astronomers and learned to appreciate Hellenistic art. 37. One of the most remarkable things in the foreign policy of Alexander was his encouragement of inter-racial marriages. He was the first ruler known to history who contemplated the brotherhood of man and the unity of mankind. The White Kafirs of Kafiristan, classed in Ashoka’s edicts as definitely Greeks, are said to be descended from Alexander ’s men. Of the ruling Frontier families, eight claim direct lineage from the son born to Alexander by Cleophis queen of the Assakenoi. Jainism and Buddhism 38. The parents of Mahavira were Siddhartha, a Janatrika chief of Kundapura, and Trishala, a Kshatriya lady related to the ruling families of Vaishali and Magadha. 39. Mahavira married a princess named Yashoda. 40. Mahavira forsook the world at the age of thirty and roamed as a naked ascetic in several parts of eastern India and practiced severe penance for 12 years. Half of this time was spent with a mendicant (beggar) friar (brother) named Goshala who subsequently left him and became the leader of the Ajivika sect. 41. In the 13th year of penance, Mahavira attained the highest spiritual knowledge called Kevala-jnana, on the northern bank of river Rijupalika, outside Jrimbhikagrama, a little known locality in eastern India. He was now known as a Kevalin (omniscient), a Jina (conqueror) and Mahavira (the great hero). 42. Mahavira became the head of a sect called Nigranthas (free from Fretters), known in later times as Jains or followers of Jina (conqueror). 43. Mahavira died at Pava in south Bihar, after wandering for 35 years as a religious teacher, at the age of 72. 44. The Jains believe that Mahavira was not the founder of a new religious system, but the last of a long succession of 24 Tirthankars or “ford-makers across the stream of existence”. 45. The 23rd teacher, Parsav, the immediate predecessor of Mahavira, was a
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prince of Benaras and enjoined on his disciples the great four vows of non-injury, truthfulness, abstention from stealing and non-attachment. Mahavira added the vow of Brahamcharya or continence to this. 46. Jainism was atheistic in nature, the existence of God being irrelevant to its doctrine. It believes that universe functions according to an eternal law and is continually passing through a series of cosmic waves of progress and decline. Everything in the universe, material or otherwise, has a soul. The purification of the soul is the purpose of living, for the pure soul is released from the body and then resides in bliss. 47. Jains believe that by following the three-fold path of right Belief, right Knowledge and right Conduct, souls will be released from transmigration and reach the pure and blissful abode or Siddha Sila. 48. Jainism spread rapidly among the trading community. The emphasis on non-violence prevented agriculturists from being Jainas, since cultivation involved killing insects and pests. 49. According to the tradition of the Svetambara Jains, the original doctrine taught by Mahavira was contained in fourteen old texts styled Purvas. 50. Close to 4th century B.C., due to a famine in south Bihar, important sections of Jains, headed by Bhadrabahu, fled to Mysore. 51. To revive the knowledge of sacred texts, which was passing into oblivion following the famine in south Bihar and fleeing of majority of Jains, a council was convoked by those who were left behind in Pataliputra, which resulted in compilation of the 12 Angas which are regarded as the most important part of the Jain canon. Another council was held at Valabhi in Gujarat in 5th or 6th century A.D. which made a final collection of the scriptures and reduced them to writing. 52. The followers of Bhadrabahu, on their return to the north, refused to acknowledge the Angas and came to be known as Svetambaras (clad in white) as they wore white garments notwithstanding the injunctions of Mahavira. The original followers came to be called Digambaras (sky-clad or naked). 53. Gautama Buddha was born as Siddhartha to Suddhodana, a Raja or noble of Kapilvastu (in the Nepal Terai to the north of Basti district of Uttar Pradesh) and Maya, a princess of Devadaha, a small town in the Sakya territory. Maya died while giving birth to Siddhartha and he was brought up by his aunt and step-mother Prajapati Gautami. 54. The site of nativity of Gautama Buddha is marked by the celebrated Rummindei Pillar of Ashoka. 55. Siddhartha was married to Yashodara at the age of 16. Yashodara was also known as Bhadda Kachchana, Subhadraka, Bimba or Gopa. 56. The Great Renunciation took place when Sidhartha reached the age of 29. For six years he lived as a homeless ascetic. At Uruvila he practiced the most rigid austerities only to find that they were of no help to him to achieve his goal. 57. Sidhartha finally sat under a pipal or Banyan tree at modern Bodh Gaya, after taking a bath in the stream of river Nairanjana, modern Lilajan. Here he attained the supreme knowledge and insight and became known as Buddha or the Enlightened One, Tathagata (“he who attained the truth”) and Sakya-muni or the sage of the Sakya clan. 58. The first sermon by Buddha was given in the Deer Park near Sarnath, in the neighbourhood of Benaras. This sermon was called the Turning of the Wheel of Law, and was the nucleus of the Buddhist teachings. 59. Among Buddha’s early converts was his cousin Devadatta who, subsequently broke away and founded a rival sect that survived in parts of Oudh and western Bengal till the Gupta period. 60. The Buddha is said to have died at the age of 80 at Kusinagar, modern Kasia in the Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh. 61. Buddha taught his followers the four “Noble Truths” (Arya Satya) concerning suffering, the cause of suffering, the destruction of suffering and the way that leads to the destruction of sorrow. 62. As per Buddhist teachings, salvation is possible through the Eightfold Path, which consisted of eight principles of action, leading to a balanced, moderate life (right views, resolves, speech conduct, livelihood, effort, recollection and meditation, the combination of which was described as Middle Way). 63. The doctrine of karma was essential to the Buddhist way of salvation. Unlike the brahmanical idea, karma was not used to explain away caste status, since Buddha rejected caste. 64. Buddhism was atheistic, in as much as God was not essential to the Universe, there being a natural cosmic rise and decline. 65. The acceptance of nuns in the Buddhist monasteries was a revolutionary step from the point of view of the status of women. 66. The earliest surviving form of Buddhism, called Theravada, is still predominant in Sri Lanka and South-East Asian countries. 67. Shortly after the death of Buddha a great Council (Sangiti) was held at Rajagriha to compile the religious doctrine (Dharma) and the monastic code (Vinaya). A second council was convoked a century later at Vaishali which condemned the rules in respect of the ten points and revised the scriptures. 68. A fresh condemnation of heresy took place during the reign of Ashoka, under whose patronage a third council was summoned at Pataliputra by a learned monk, Tisaa Moggaliputta, 236 years after Buddha’s death. 69. The fourth council was held under Kanishka which prepared elaborate commentaries (Upadesh Shastras and Vibhasha Shastras) on the sacred texts. 70. According to Sri Lankan tradition, the sacred texts and commentaries were written down in books in first century B.C. during the reign of King Vattagamani Abhaya. Later, the texts, as distinguished from the commentaries, came to be known as Pali.
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