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A History of World Societies, Sixth Edition
Web Exercises
Chapter 3: 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.

Helpful Hints:
  • 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.
Activity One:
  • 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 boundaries.
  • 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 a subcontinent?
  • 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.)
Activity Two:
  • 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 B.C., 400 A.D., 1000 A.D.. (note that all the names on this map refer to weak regional kingdoms), and 1795 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 cultural unity.
Activity Three:
  • 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?
Activity Four:
  • 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.
Activity Five:
  • 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.
Activity Six:
  • 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?