60,000 BCE–500 BCE
The first episode looks at identity and the roots of India's famous "unity in diversity." Wood takes us to places where dramatic new archaeological discoveries are changing our view of the migrations that have helped make up Indian identity.
Read more about Episode 1
- Themes and Events
- Cultures and Locations
- People and Gods
- Arts, Language & Religion
- Science & Education
- EPISODE 2:
The Power of Ideas
500 BCE–200 BCE
- EPISODE 3:
Spice Routes & Silk Roads
200 BCE–300 CE
- EPISODE 4:
Ages of Gold
300 CE–1000 CE
- EPISODE 5:
The Meeting of Two Oceans
1000 CE–1700 CE
- EPISODE 6:
1700 CE–2009 CE
Scale: 1 column = 500 years
- c. 70,000–50,000 BCE: First humans migrate to India
- c. 3300-1600 BCE: Harappa arises in the Indus Valley Civilization
- c. 2000–1500 BCE: Migrations of Indo-European Speakers into India
- c. 1800 BCE: Climate change began to affect Indus Valley Civilizations
- c. 1500–500 BCE: Vedic Period (Bronze Age - Iron Age in north India)
- c. 1500–1000 BCE: Earliest hymns of Rig-Veda composed
- c. 1000–300 BCE: Iron Age culture in South India
- c. 599–527 BCE: Mahavira
- c. 563–486 BCE: Prince Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)
- 518 BCE: Darius of Persia conquers Indus Valley
First Human Migrations
The first human migrations out of Africa are thought to have taken place 70,000 years ago. Migrants gradually made their way down India's coast over a few thousand years. The migration was possible because sea levels were 200 feet lower then they are now, allowing travel via long-since submerged land bridges. The migrants' descendants have been identified by DNA markers as far north as the Pakistani coast and as far south as the Kallar tribe on the Kerala coast in modern India, where entire villages share ancient DNA strains. Along India's west coast there remain pockets of tribal peoples who may have descended from these first human migrations. Until the modern age they have remained largely self-contained, endogamous (marrying within the tribe), physically distinctive in appearance and outside the Hindu caste system. Many retain their own languages, which are distinct from the main Northern and Southern Indian language groups.
Harappa was an ancient urban settlement of the Bronze Age, located near the former course of the Ravi River, in northeast Pakistan, uncovered in the 1920s. Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, a similarly-planned city situated further south, near the banks of the Indus River, are considered part of the same vast civilization, the Indus Valley Civilization, which thrived from 2600 to 1900 BCE.
Remnants of Harappa's citadel wall, made of mud brick, are still visible, even though many of its bricks were plundered during the construction of a railway in the 19th century. Archaeological excavations indicate that the city's granaries were situated north of the citadel, while a cemetery was located to its south. Similar to the other cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, the streets were laid out in a grid-like pattern, running either north to south or east to west. The settlement's flat-roof homes, of one or two stories, featured indoor plumbing that connected to a highly-developed drainage and waste removal system.
Painted pottery, bronze and copper tools, terra cotta figures, and numerous inscribed stamped seals, decorated with animal motifs, are among the artifacts that have been unearthed at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. Even with these finds, the identities of the cities' rulers remain in doubt.
Related Web Site:
The Indus Civilization
In the 19th and 20th centuries, archaeologists discovered traces of India's earliest civilization, one that developed in the fertile Indus River Valley between 3000 and 1900 BCE. Larger than either the Egyptian or Mesopotamian civilizations of the same period, the population of the Indus Valley (or Harappan) Civilization is estimated at anywhere between two and five million people. Among the civilization's 2000 major settlements were the planned cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, trading and craft production centers where craftspeople and villages wrought pottery and intricate beads made of gold, copper, and ivory.
Archaeological evidence shows that after 700 years of stability, the civilization declined. Most of the Indus settlements had been abandoned or had shrunk in size by about 1800 BCE. Many factors contributed to the end of the Indus civilization, but climate change is emerging as a primary reason for its gradual demise. Geological evidence shows that the region's climate grew colder and drier, in part perhaps because of a weakened monsoon. By 1800 BCE, the Ghaggar-Hakra River, a river in the region that paralleled the Indus system and that some scholars suggest is the Saraswati, the lost sacred river of Rig Veda, was severely diminished. As a result, cities were abandoned and though some of the population remained, many migrated to more fertile lands in the east around the Ganges and Jumna River.
The Vedas (sacred knowledge) are Hinduism's oldest and most sacred texts, composed between 1500 BCE and 600 BCE, and compiled by Vyasa Krishna Dwaipayana. The texts are collections of hymns and ritual instructions used to perform Vedic ceremonies, and the theology and philosophy they contain form the foundation of the indigenous religious systems of India which today we call Hinduism.
The oldest of the four works is the Rig-Veda, a collection of over 1,000 hymns, many of which invoke the deities Indra and Agni, the gods of war and fire, respectively. The remaining books are the Atharva-Veda, a collection of myths, verses, spells, and prayers named after the priest Atharavan; the Yajur-Veda, a book detailing Vedic sacrifice; and the Sama-Veda, a collection of liturgical chants.
Textual commentaries written by priests are attached to and elaborate on each of the Vedas and are also considered part of Vedic literature. These commentaries include the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads.
The Vedas are considered divine revelation or sruti ("that which has been heard") as opposed to texts of human origin, smrti ("that which is remembered"). Brahmin priests methodically memorized the content of the Vedas to ensure their consistent transmission to subsequent generations. The Vedas also provide early records of astronomy and mathematics in India that came out of Vedic ritual and temple construction.
A contemporary of the Buddha, Mahavira (meaning "Great Hero") Vardhamana established the central tenets of the Jain religion in India during the 6th century BCE. Accounts of Mahavira's life differ, particularly between Jainism's two sects, but he was born a prince in Patna as early as 599 or as late as 548 BCE and died of starvation brought on by fasting as early as 527 or as late as 468 BCE. Renouncing his secular life at the age of 30, Mahavira became an ascetic and through fasting, a vow of silence, and meditation, obtained perfection (keval-jnana) 12 years later.
Through the principle of ahimsa, non-injury, Jainism teaches that souls can break out of the cycle of reincarnation or the cycle of constant rebirth. Considered the last of Jainism's 24 great saints (tirthankaras), Mahavira taught throughout India for 30 years after achieving keval-jnana and organized Jain adherents into monk, nun, and layman and laywoman orders.
The Buddha is the title given to the founder of Buddhism, and means "enlightened one." He was born Siddharta Gautama, a prince of the Shakya clan whose small kingdom was located on the border between India and Nepal. Although exact dates for key events of his life are still in dispute, most scholars believe he was born sometime in the mid-fifth century CE.
Siddharta grew up in luxury in the palace of his father, Suddhodhana, a warrior-caste king, and in his late teens married the princess Yasodhara. On venturing outside of the palace, he was shocked by the misery he witnessed—of an old man, a sick man, a dying man, and a corpse—and began to contemplate renouncing his princely life.
When Siddharta was about 29 years old, he left his wife and young son to seek religious enlightenment. He spent the next six years in his quest to understand and break free of temporal suffering. He studied under a number of teachers and lived as a wandering, religious ascetic, practicing extreme forms of self-deprivation. He eventually decided to abandon such austere practices and resolved to sit in meditation until gaining enlightenment. One day when he was mediating under a pipal tree in the village of Gaya, later known as Bodhgaya, he reached enlightenment and came to be called the Buddha.
For the next 45 years, the Buddha spent his life preaching his doctrine of the Four Noble Truths throughout northern India and attracted disciples and converts. The Buddha died, achieving parinirvana (final nirvana), at the age of 80 in the town of Kushinagar, in Uttar Pradesh.
Darius I of Persia
Darius I of Persia annexed the states of Sind and Punjab in northern India in 518 BCE. From then the people of the Indus valley ("Hindush" in Persian) paid tribute to the Persian king in textiles and precious local resources. After Alexander the Great overthrew the Persians and conquered the region in 326 BCE, Greek culture would be a major influence for over three hundred years, with Indo-Greek kingdoms founded in the North West Frontier, Afghanistan and the Punjab. But because of the close relation between Old Persian and Sanskrit, the influence of Persian language and culture in the northwest of the subcontinent never really waned until the collapse of the Persian-speaking Mughal Empire in the 19th century.