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The Growth of Civilization in Early India

early india

Two hundred years before Columbus discovered America, a certain Marco Polo told strange, exciting stories to his friends and neighbours in Venice, a city in northern Italy. He had travelled, he said, to distant lands in Asia and had become rich. Europeans at that time had some general knowledge of eastern Asia and of its products, but Polo furnished detailed and colourful descriptions of magnificent cities, of strange customs and of powerful rulers who owned many palaces and lived in unheard of luxury. Marco Polo had visited the court of the khan, or ruler, of an empire that included most of east Asia as well as great islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Polo had been made a public official. He had been sent on errands to the cold wastes of present day Siberia and the green Spice Islands where it was always warm. He had seen civilizations of many kinds — some primitive, some more magnificent than those in Europe. Marco Polo’s stories were so amazing that not until long after his death did most people believe them. “How,” thought Europeans, “could Asians have travelled so far on the long road from savagery without our help?” Today we know that Marco Polo’s stories were true, atleast in all important respects. We know that while Egyptians were building their pyramids and the Sumerians their temple towers in Mesopotamia, civilization was growing in India. We know also that while the Greeks and Romans were creating “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome,” the Chinese were developing their own civilization and way of life. You will not find the empire of Alexander or the Roman Empire on a modern map of the world, as you know, but India and China still exist. Many changes have taken place …

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India: A Thousand Years of History A. D. 1 – 710


UNTIL 1947, when the Moslem state of Pakistan was carved out of its western and eastern corners, the entire triangle of land that points south from the Himalaya Mountains into the Indian Ocean was known as India. Geographers call this huge land mass a subcontinent, because it is almost completely cut off from the rest of the continent of Asia. The Himalayas on its northern frontier form a continuous barrier of rock, the highest in the world. “MOTHER GANGES” From the southern slopes of the Himalayas, two great rivers run down to the ocean. The valley of the Indus River, on the west, is mainly desert; overlooking it are the only breaks in the Himalayan wall, the Khyber Pass and the Bolan Pass. The valley of the Ganges River, on the east, is a broad, fertile plain. Indians consider this river holy and call it “Mother Ganges.” Together, the Indus and Ganges Valleys make up North India. South of the Ganges Plain rise the Vindhya Mountains. To the south stretches a very large region of hilly uplands, called the Deccan. At its western and eastern edges the Deccan drops suddenly to coastal plains, forming long mountain walls called Ghats. The Vindhyas, the Deccan, the Ghats and the strips of lowland along the coasts make up South India. INVADERS FROM THE NORTH Geography influences history. This is particularly true of India — so much so, in fact, that North and South India have really had two separate histories. From earliest times, the people in both parts of the country were mostly poor farmers, living in villages. They shared the beliefs of the Hindu religion. Hinduism taught them that life was only a dream, they paid little attention, north or south, to the events that took place in their lifetimes. Otherwise, however, …

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