A History of World Societies,
The Foundation of Indian Society
Chapter 3 introduces one of the world's
oldest continuing civilizations, India. It explores the formation of Indian
culture, society, and religion. This foundation still influences India today.
Only China (see Chapter 4) has a comparably long history of cultural continuity.
These exercises examine the early history of the Indian subcontinent.
- You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore
different sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and
questions detailed in each activity.
- On many web sites you can increase the size of the images
by clicking on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine
fine details in photographs.
- The Indian subcontinent is huge land mass, as large as
western Europe. Study Map 3.1 on page 54. Pay close attention to topography
— mountains, rivers, oceans. Do not concern yourself yet with political
- Go to National
Geographic: Map of Asia. Locate the Indian subcontinent. What geographical
features separate the subcontinent from the rest of Asia? Why is it called
- To place Indian geography in the context of Chapters
1 and 2, locate Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia, and Persia. What geographical
features encourage communication and contact between these areas and India?
What geographical features discourage communication and contact between
them? (Be sure to consider all possible means of communication available
in this ancient time period.)
- According to page 54 of McKay, A History of World
Societies (Sixth Edition), which modern nations have inherited the tradition
explored in this chapter? Locate these nations at Political
Map of India.
- Look at political maps of India from 250
A.D.. (note that all the names on this map refer to weak regional kingdoms),
A.D. These maps reveal that the Indian subcontinent has no strong tradition
of political unity or continuity. The first two maps show two relatively
large empires. The third map reveals a subcontinent divided into many small
kingdoms. The last map shows the influence of foreign elements into Indian
politics. Despite this political fragmentation, India has maintained its
- Chapter 3 notes that part of India's remarkable cultural
continuity revolves around religion. The predominate religion in the area
for the past two thousand years has been Hinduism. Like the religions of
ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, Hinduism is a polytheistic religion. To explore
the evolution of Hinduism, go to Chronology:
India. Identify when the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, and
the Mahabharata appeared. List their development in chronological
order, including their dates.
- Now go to Vedas
and Upanishads and Bhagavad
Gita. What do these texts have in common? How are they different? Do
they claim to be mutually exclusive? How did they give rise to the polytheistic
nature of Hinduism?
- Unlike most ancient religions, Hinduism still has millions
of adherents today. Go to Hinduism,
the World's Oldest Religion. (Be sure to click on the next page.) As
you read, keep a list of reasons that Hinduism has survived and flourished.
For example, is Hinduism an exclusive religion like Christianity or Islam?
In other words, does it demand that its followers reject other religions?
- Choose what you believe are the two or three most important
reasons that Hinduism has survived for so long. Write a paragraph explaining
why you chose these reasons.
- The faith of the majority of modern Indians, Hinduism
one of the oldest of the world's great religions. However, Hinduism developed
from an even older religious and mythic system. What was this earlier system?
What historical conditions prompted Hinduism to evolve from it? How did
Hinduism draw from and change this earlier tradition? To answer these questions
review McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition), pages
59-63 and 67-69. For additional information consult The Aryans and the Vedic
Age and Rise
of Religions and the Emergence of the State.
- Go to Fundamentals
of Jainism. Read the information in the first eight links — Lord
Mahavir and Jain Religion through Meaning of Astra Prakari Puja.
Now go to Introduction
of Buddhism. Read the information at links 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8. After
reviewing these sites, make a chart that lists aspects of each religion
that are similar to Hinduism and aspects that are different. Then write
a paragraph explaining why all three religions were able to coexist on the
Indian subcontinent. How do they all reflect a common philosophy or cosmology?