EngradeWikisHistory Alive! Grade 6 › Chapter 15 Enrichment Essay

Enrichment Essay
Chapter 15. Learning about World Religions: Hinduism
The Impact of the Aryan Invasion of India

In Chapter 15 of History Alive! The Ancient World, you learned that the Aryans invaded northern India around 1500 B.C.E. What was the impact of this invasion on Indian civilization?

At one time, people believed that Indian civilization (and Hinduism) began with the Aryans. Today we know that the story is more complicated.

Pre-Aryans: The Indus-Sarasvati Civilization

In Chapter 14, you learned about the Indus-Sarasvati civilization. The remains of this civilization were only discovered in the last century. We still have much to learn about it.

We do know that the pre-Aryans of the Indus Valley were an agricultural people who built highly organized cities. Their civilization boasted many achievements of a settled people. They made pottery, wore jewelry, and played games. They practiced sculpture and prized singing and dancing. They had their own form of writing.

They also had a religious life. In fact, they may have practiced an early form of Hinduism. The Great Bath at Mohenjodaro looks a lot like modern Hindu baths. It might have been used in religious rituals. Also, one of the seals found at Mohenjodaro shows a figure surrounded by animals. The figure is sitting the same way some Hindus sit when they meditate. Some historians think the figure looks like the god Shiva, an important Hindu god. These hints suggest that pre-Aryan beliefs and practices may have helped shape Hinduism.

The Aryans

The Aryans were originally part of a larger group we now call the Indo-Europeans. Unlike the settled people of the Indus Valley, they were nomads who moved from place to place while raising livestock.

Around 2000 B.C.E., groups of Indo-Europeans left their homelands, which were probably in what is now Russia. They migrated to a number of areas in Asia and Europe. Those that went to India are known as Indo-Aryans, or simply Aryans.

The Aryans were fierce and warlike. They charged into battle on horse-drawn chariots. Their most important god, Indra, was a hero who held a weapon.

We know about the Aryans’ religion from the Vedas, India’s oldest sacred writings. The Vedas tell us that the Aryans worshiped a number of nature gods and offered sacrifices to them. But the earliest Veda also speaks of one god who has many names. In time, this god would be worshiped as Brahman, the source of all that exists.

As you learned in Chapter 15, the Vedas were originally passed down orally. They were already centuries old when they were first written down. By then, the Aryans had been in India for 500 years or more.

A Blend of Cultures

By the time the Aryans came to India, the Indus-Sarasvati civilization had declined. It may have already collapsed. Still, many people still lived in the Indus Valley.

The Aryans came to India as conquerors. The Vedas speak of dark-skinned people who had to be subdued. The Aryan word for these people came to mean “slave.” This might mean that the Aryans enslaved some of the local people.

Whether or not the Aryans made slaves of native Indians, they reshaped Indian society. The Aryans brought a new culture to India. They brought horses, cattle, their language, and their rituals and gods.

In India’s fertile valleys, the Aryans gave up their nomadic way of life. Along with raising cattle, they took up farming.

Long after settling in India, the Aryans developed written Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas. Along with the Vedas, Sanskrit was one of the Aryans’ great contributions to Indian civilization. It would become the language of Hindu scholarship as well as sacred writings.

The system of social classes described in the Vedas gradually evolved into India’s caste system. The important role of priests and religious scholars developed because of the complex demands of Vedic rituals. The caste system may also have reinforced the superior position of Aryans in Indian society. (The Sanskrit word Aryan means “noble.”)

But the Aryans also mixed with the local people, and they learned from them. In particular, the native Indians may have influenced the Aryans’ religion. Recall from Chapter 15 that Vedic religion evolved into Brahmanism and eventually into Hinduism. As you have read, scholars have found signs of some Hindu beliefs and practices in the pre-Aryan culture of India. It is likely that Hinduism developed out of a mixture of Aryan and local elements.

Indian civilization, then, was the result of a blending of Aryan and pre-Aryan cultures. But while Indian civilization does not begin with the Aryans, it would be very different without them. In Chapter 18, you will learn more about the rich and varied achievements of this civilization.


Enrichment Activity

Briefly answer the following questions. Illustrate each answer with appropriate drawings or other visuals.
1. List at least three ways in which the Aryans affected Indian society and civilization.
2. Describe at least two pieces of evidence that suggest a pre-Aryan influence on the development of Hinduism.
    Next Page »