Historical Context: The Urban Period

(4th century BCE to 6th Century CE)


1.      Main Features:

a.       Explosion of religion, arts, culture

b.      Kingship becomes a more stable and definative aspect of North Indian life

c.       Urban centers become more autonomous city-states

d.      Brahmans serving in the high coursts of vaidika kings

e.       Emphasis on ethics, woays of living, appropriate to urban life

f.        Popular devotionalism: the emergence of a new theism, new gods, mythology, ritual life focused on deities

g.       iconography and temples

2.      Mauryan Empire

a.       Alexamnder came to the banks of the Indus and planned to invade, late 4th C. BCE.  Candragupta Maurya had amassed the largest army ever on the sub-continent.

b.      Conquered or made alliances with princes of other city-states, expanding his empire across most of North India.

c.       Asoka, Candragupta’s grandson, enlarged area of Mauryan domiance via a brutal battle with the Kalingas on the east coast.

d.      Converted to Buddhism.  Favored Buddhist monastaries applied Buddhist dhamma in his rule (vegetarianism, compassionate justice, non-violence.

e.       Asoka became the model Buddhist king – a bodhisattva or cakravartin (turner of the wheel), the emperor who presided over the state and dhamma.  Snt emissaries into Persia, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka.

f.        Decline of Mauryans in 181 BCE, sense of nationhood declined, disintegration of subcontinent into separate city-states with various successors rising and falling, for centuries.

3.      External influences:

a.       Pahlava dynasty (of Persian ancestry): influx of Zoroastrianism and Persian motifs into subcontinent

b.      Kusanas: increased trade with China, migration of Buddhist monks toCintral Asia, Chinese influence in India (peper, notion of emperor as son of heaven).  Patrons of the arts and religion, human-like representation of the Buddha

c.       Sakas (frther South): patronized vaidika art forms and mythology.

4.      Gupta Empire in the Gangetic Basin (Maghada. 313-540 CE)

a.       Apex of Urban period, formed

b.      Sanskrit literature, the arts, temple construction, popular devotionalism, science

c.       Eclectic populations, incorporation of various traditions, including their gods, into the vaidika traditions

d.      Sacralization of kingship and legitimization of statecraft

                                                   i.      Arthasastras


5.      Formulation of an urban Ethic:

a.       Kingdom and palace as microcosm: preserving order

b.      The Dharmashastras

                                                   i.      Manu Smrti (200 BCE - 100 CE)

                                                 ii.      Two principle ideals: social life should be organized into well-regulated classes; individual life should have definite stages: varna, ashrama, dharma