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Aga Khan
Aga Khan, real name Hasan Ali Shah (1800-1881), believed to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Aga Khan was governor of the province of Kermān, Iran, until 1840, when he fled to India after an unsuccessful attempt to seize power in Iran. He helped the British government in India in its attempts to control frontier tribes. Aga Khan became leader of the Ismailis in India, Pakistan, Africa, and Syria.
Aga Khan II
Aga Khan II, real name Ali Shah (1831-1885), who served as leader of the Ismaili sect. He was its leader for four years after the death of his father, Aga Khan. His reign emphasized close ties with the British government in India.
Aga Khan IV
Aga Khan IV, real name Karim Al ), born in Geneva, and educated in Switzerland and at Hussaini Shah (1936- Harvard University. He was the grandson of Aga Khan III, who nominated him, rather than a son, to head the Ismaili sect, in the conviction that the Aga Khan should be “a young man brought up in the midst of the new age.”
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), king of Macedonia, conqueror of the Persian Empire, and one of the greatest military geniuses of all times.
Alexander, born in Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia, was the son of Philip II, king of Macedonia, and of Olympias, a princess of Epirus. Aristotle was Alexander's tutor; he gave Alexander a thorough training in rhetoric and literature and stimulated his interest in science, medicine, and philosophy. In the summer of 336 BC Philip was assassinated, and Alexander ascended to the Macedonian throne. Alexander disposed quickly of all conspirators and domestic enemies by ordering their execution. Then he descended on Thessaly (Thessalia) Before the end of the summer of 336 BC he had reestablished his position in Greece and was elected by a congress of states at Corinth. In 335 BC as general of the Greeks in a campaign against the Persians, originally planned by his father, he carried out a successful campaign against the defecting Thracians, penetrating to the Danube River. On his return he crushed in a single week the threatening Illyrians and then hastened to Thebes, which had revolted. He took the city by storm and razed it, sparing only the temples of the gods and the house of the Greek lyric poet Pindar, and selling the surviving inhabitants, about 8000 in number, into slavery. Alexander's promptness in crushing the revolt of Thebes brought the other Greek states into instant and abject submission.
Alexander began his war against Persia in the spring of 334 BC by crossing the Hellespont (modern Dardanelles) with an army of 35,000 Macedonian and Greek troops; his chief officers, all Macedonians, included Antigonus, Ptolemy, and Seleucus. At the river Granicus, near the ancient city of Troy, he attacked an army of Persians and Greek mercenaries totaling 40,000 men. His forces defeated the enemy and, according to tradition, lost only 110 men; after this battle all the states of Asia Minor submitted to him. In passing through Phrygia he is said to have cut with his sword the Gordian knot. Continuing to advance southward, Alexander encountered the main Persian army, commanded by King Darius III, at Issus, in northeastern Syria. The size of Darius's army is unknown; the ancient tradition that it contained 500,000 men is now considered a fantastic exaggeration. The Battle of Issus, in 333, ended in a great victory for Alexander. Cut off from his base, Darius fled northward, abandoning his mother, wife, and children to Alexander, who treated them with the respect due to royalty. Tyre, a strongly fortified seaport, offered obstinate resistance, but Alexander took it by storm in 332 after a siege of seven months. Alexander captured Gaza next and then passed on into Egypt, where he was greeted as a deliverer. By these successes he secured control of the entire eastern Mediterranean coastline. Later in 332 he founded, at the mouth of the Nile River, the city of Alexandria, which later became the literary, scientific, and commercial center of the Greek world. Cyrene, the capital of the ancient North African kingdom of Cyrenaica, submitted to Alexander soon afterward, extending his dominion to Carthaginian territory.
In the spring of 331 Alexander made a pilgrimage to the great temple and oracle of Amon-Ra, Egyptian god of the sun, whom the Greeks identified with Zeus. The earlier Egyptian pharaohs were believed to be sons of Amon-Ra; and Alexander, the new ruler of Egypt, wanted the god to acknowledge him as his son. The pilgrimage apparently was successful, and it may have confirmed in him a belief in his own divine origin. Turning northward again, he reorganized his forces at Tyre and started for Babylon with an army of 40,000 infantry and 7000 cavalry. Crossing the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers, he met Darius at the head of an army of unknown size, which, according to the exaggerated accounts of antiquity, was said to number a million men; this army he completely defeated in the Battle of Gaugamela, on October 1, 331 BC. Darius fled as he had done at Issus and was later slain by one of his own satraps. Babylon surrendered after Gaugamela, and the city of Sūsa with its enormous treasures was soon conquered. Then, in midwinter, Alexander forced his way to Persepolis, the Persian capital. After plundering the royal treasuries and taking other rich booty, he burned the city during a drunken binge and thus completed the destruction of the ancient Persian Empire. His domain now extended along and beyond the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, including modern Afghanistan and Baluchistan, and northward into Bactria and Sogdiana, the modern Western Turkistan, also known as Central Asia. It had taken Alexander only three years, from the spring of 330 BC to the spring of 327 BC, to master this vast area.
In order to complete his conquest of the remnants of the Persian Empire, which had once included part of western India, Alexander crossed the Indus River in 326 BC, and invaded the Punjab as far as the river Hyphasis (modern Beās); at this point the Macedonians rebelled and refused to go farther. He then constructed a fleet and passed down the Indus, reaching its mouth in September 325 BC. The fleet then sailed to the Persian Gulf. With his army, he returned overland across the desert to Media. Shortages of food and water caused severe losses and hardship among his troops. Alexander spent about a year organizing his dominions and completing a survey of the Persian Gulf in preparation for further conquests. He arrived in Babylon in the spring of 323 BC. In June he contracted a fever and died. He left his empire, in his own words, “to the strongest”; this ambiguous testament resulted in dire conflicts for half a century.
Alexander was one of the greatest generals of all time, noted for his brilliance as a tactician and troop leader and for the rapidity with which he could traverse great expanses of territory. He was usually brave and generous, but could be cruel and ruthless when politics demanded. The theory has been advanced that he was actually an alcoholic having, for example, killed his friend Clitus in a drunken fury. He later regretted this act deeply. As a statesman and ruler he had grandiose plans; according to many modern historians he cherished a scheme for uniting the East and the West in a world empire, a new and enlightened “world brotherhood of all men.” He trained thousands of Persian youths in Macedonian tactics and enrolled them in his army. He himself adopted Persian manners and married Eastern wives, namely, Roxana (died about 311 BC), daughter of Oxyartes of Sogdiana, and Barsine (or Stateira; died about 323 BC), the elder daughter of Darius; and he encouraged and bribed his officers to take Persian wives. Shortly before he died, Alexander ordered the Greek cities to worship him as a god. Although he probably gave the order for political reasons, he was, in his own view and that of his contemporaries, of divine birth. The order was largely nullified by his death shortly after he issued it.
To bind his conquests together, Alexander founded a number of cities, most of them named Alexandria, along his line of march; these cities were well located, well paved, and provided with good water supplies. Greek veterans from his army settled in them; young men, traders, merchants, and scholars were attracted to them; Greek culture was introduced; and the Greek language became widely known. Thus, Alexander vastly extended the influence of Greek civilization and prepared the way for the kingdoms of the Hellenistic period and the conquests of the Roman Empire.
Andhra Dynasty
Andhra Dynasty also called Satavahana (230? BC-AD 230), Indian ruling house originating in what is now the state of Andhra Pradesh. The dynasty may have begun as a family of high officials of the Mauryan Empire, gradually becoming independent as the empire declined. From the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD, the Andhras ruled over much of southern and central India, conquering the Sungas of Magadha in 27 BC and vying with the Sakas for control of the Deccan.
The greatest ruler of the dynasty was probably Satakarni I (1st century AD), who extended his kingdom over the northwestern Deccan, establishing his capital at modern Paithan in Mahārāshtra State. Although subsequently forced out of the area by the Sakas, the Andhras surged back in the 2nd century AD under Gautamiputra Satakarni (?-AD 128?), a great champion of Hinduism. The last great king of the dynasty was Yajna Sri Satakarni (late-2nd century), who once more asserted Andhra authority over the Sakas. The dynasty declined during the 3rd century, when the kingdom broke up into smaller units.

Arya Samaj
Arya Samaj (Sanskrit, “Assembly of the Ancient Nobles”), Hindu religious sect founded in 1875 by Swami Dayananda Sarasvati. An attempt to reform Hinduism by synthesizing ancient Eastern ideas (the Vedas) with modern Western ideas (natural sciences), it argued that the Vedas, the earliest Hindu scriptures, were the only revelation from God and that they were the basis of all science. All Hindus were exhorted to return to the Vedas and to preach them throughout the world. The actual text of the Rig-Veda, one of the four collections of the Vedas, was reinterpreted loosely, to explain many anachronisms (such as steam engines) and incorporate much post-Vedic thought. After the founder's death in 1883, the Arya Samaj split into two sections, one with headquarters at Lahore, the other at Haridwār.
Aryan Race
Aryan Race, name for the white race used by white supremacists, who claim the superiority of certain whites to other people. In Nazi Germany, the term was narrowed to refer to certain “pure” Germans. In linguistics, it is sometimes used to refer to people who speak any of the Indo-European family of languages.
For information on:

concept of the Aryan race used to justify persecution and conquest, see Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf; Adolf Hitler: Hitler's Racial Policies
Nazi persecution of Jews as non-Aryans, see Anti-Semitism: Organized Anti-Semitism as a Political Tool; Genocide: Types of Genocide; Holocaust: Pre-World War II Persecution of German Jews
writers who promoted the idea of Aryan superiority, see Joseph Gobineau; Houston Stewart Chamberlain
Badrinath, village in northern India, in Uttaranchal state. Badrinath is one of the most sacred Hindu centers of pilgrimage in India. It lies in the Himalayas, close to the peak of Badrinath, at an altitude of 3,137 m (10,291 ft), and is cut off by snow from November to March. Badrinath Temple is a shrine to the Hindu god Vishnu, who did penance in Badrinath. Nearby are the hot springs of Tapt Kund (believed to be warmed by Agni, the god of fire), where many pilgrims bathe. Badrinath is almost uninhabited in winter and crowded with pilgrims in summer. Population (1991) 978.

Bhil, tribal people of west-central India, found mostly in the hills of Rājasthān, Gujarāt, and Mahārāshtra. They subsist on wild grains, fruits, roots, and insects and practice primitive agriculture. Religious practices have been influenced by Hinduism; however, belief in witchcraft predominates. Their dialects, unlike the Dravidian tongues more common among Indian tribal peoples, are related to Gujarati and other Indo-European Languages.
Black Hole of Calcutta
Black Hole of Calcutta, small airless dungeon, measuring about 4.6 × 5.5 m (about 15 × 18 ft), in the old Fort William of the English East India Company in Calcutta (now Kolkata). According to a contemporary British account, after the fort fell to the nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Dawlah (circa 1732-57), on June 20, 1756, the 146 British prisoners taken by his forces were herded into the cell and locked up overnight; in the morning only 23 were alive. As related, the incident aroused outrage among the British, who used it as an excuse for harsh retaliation. Later study has indicated that only 64 prisoners were kept in the hole, of whom 21 survived. Some Indians have doubted that the incident took place at all.
Brahman (class)
Brahman (class), also spelled Brahmin, name of the sacerdotal, or highest, class (varna) in the system of Hinduism. Brahmán is the masculine form of the neuter noun Bráhman, cosmic revelation. This revelation is the responsibility of the Brahman priest and, by extension, of the entire priestly class (see Brahman). According to the Rig-Veda, the task of the Brahman is to relate knowledge (vidya). The primary activities of this priestly elite are the study and teaching of the Veda and the performance of religious celebrations. According to the Laws of Manu, this class issued from the mouth of the god Brahma at the moment of creation. To the orthodox Hindu, the person of a Brahman is sacred; Brahmans are the chief of all created beings, and other mortals enjoy life through them. The four stages in the ideal life of a Brahman are those of student, householder, forest-dweller, and renouncer.
Buddha (563?-483?BC), Indian philosopher and the founder of Buddhism, born in Lumbini, Nepal. He was the son of the head of the Sakya warrior caste, with the private name of Siddhartha; in later life he was known also as Sakyamuni (Sage of the Sakyas). The name Gautama Buddha is a combination of the family name Gautama and the appellation Buddha, meaning “Enlightened One.”
All the surviving accounts of Buddha's life were written many years after his death by idealizing followers rather than by objective historians. Consequently, it is difficult to separate facts from the great mass of myth and legend in which they are embedded. From the available evidence, Buddha apparently showed an early inclination to meditation and reflection, displeasing his father, who wanted him to be a warrior and ruler rather than a religious philosopher. Yielding to his father's wishes, he married at an early age and participated in the worldly life of the court. Buddha found his carefree, self-indulgent existence dull, and after a while he left home and began wandering in search of enlightenment. One day in 533, according to tradition, he encountered an aged man, a sick man, and a corpse, and he suddenly and deeply realized that suffering is the common lot of humankind. He then came upon a mendicant monk, calm and serene, whereupon he determined to adopt his way of life and forsake family, wealth, and power in the quest for truth. This decision, known in Buddhism as the Great Renunciation, is celebrated by Buddhists as a turning point in history. Gautama was then 29 years old, according to tradition.
Wandering as a mendicant over northern India, Buddha first investigated Hinduism. He took instruction from some famous Brahman teachers, but he found the Hindu caste system repellent and Hindu asceticism futile. He continued his search, attracting but later losing five followers. About 528, while sitting under a bo tree near Gaya, in what is now Buddh Gaya in the state of Bihār, he experienced the Great Enlightenment, which revealed the way of salvation from suffering. Shortly afterward he preached his first sermon in the Deer Park near Benares (now Vārānasi). This sermon, the text of which is preserved, contains the gist of Buddhism. Many scholars regard it as comparable, in its tone of moral elevation and historical importance, to Jesus Christ's Sermon on the Mount.
The five disciples rejoined Buddha at Benares. Accompanied by them, he traveled through the valley of the Ganges River, teaching his doctrines, gathering followers, and establishing monastic communities that admitted anyone regardless of caste. He returned briefly to his native town and converted his father, his wife, and other members of his family to his beliefs. After 45 years of missionary activity Buddha died in Kusinagara, Nepal, as a result of eating contaminated pork. He was about 80 years old.
Buddha was one of the greatest human beings, a man of noble character, penetrating vision, warm compassion, and profound thought. Not only did he establish a great new religion, but his revolt against Hindu hedonism, asceticism, extreme spiritualism, and the caste system deeply influenced Hinduism itself. His rejection of metaphysical speculation and his logical thinking introduced an important scientific strain heretofore lacking in Oriental thought. Buddha's teachings have influenced the lives of millions of people for nearly 2500 years.
Buddhism, a major world religion, founded in northeastern India and based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who is known as the Buddha, or Enlightened One. See Buddha.
Originating as a monastic movement within the dominant Brahman tradition of the day, Buddhism quickly developed in a distinctive direction. The Buddha not only rejected significant aspects of Hindu philosophy, but also challenged the authority of the priesthood, denied the validity of the Vedic scriptures, and rejected the sacrificial cult based on them. Moreover, he opened his movement to members of all castes, denying that a person’s spiritual worth is a matter of birth. See Hinduism.
Buddhism today is divided into two major branches known to their respective followers as Theravada, the Way of the Elders, and Mahayana, the Great Vehicle. Followers of Mahayana refer to Theravada using the derogatory term Hinayana, the Lesser Vehicle.
Buddhism has been significant not only in India but also in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), and Laos, where Theravada has been dominant; Mahayana has had its greatest impact in China, Japan, Taiwan, Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as in India. The number of Buddhists worldwide has been estimated at between 150 and 300 million. The reasons for such a range are twofold: Throughout much of Asia religious affiliation has tended to be nonexclusive; and it is especially difficult to estimate the continuing influence of Buddhism in Communist countries such as China.
As did most major faiths, Buddhism developed over many years.
No complete biography of the Buddha was compiled until centuries after his death; only fragmentary accounts of his life are found in the earliest sources. Western scholars, however, generally agree on 563 BC as the year of his birth.
Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was born in Lumbini near the present Indian-Nepal border, the son of the ruler of a petty kingdom. According to legend, at his birth sages recognized in him the marks of a great man with the potential to become either a sage or the ruler of an empire. The young prince was raised in sheltered luxury, until at the age of 29 he realized how empty his life to this point had been. Renouncing earthly attachments, he embarked on a quest for peace and enlightenment, seeking release from the cycle of rebirths. For the next few years he practiced Yoga and adopted a life of radical asceticism.
Eventually he gave up this approach as fruitless and instead adopted a middle path between the life of indulgence and that of self-denial. Sitting under a bo tree, he meditated, rising through a series of higher states of consciousness until he attained the enlightenment for which he had been searching. Once having known this ultimate religious truth, the Buddha underwent a period of intense inner struggle. He began to preach, wandering from place to place, gathering a body of disciples, and organizing them into a monastic community known as the sangha. In this way he spent the rest of his life.
Buddha’s Teachings
The Buddha was an oral teacher; he left no written body of thought. His beliefs were codified by later followers.
The four Noble Truths
At the core of the Buddha’s enlightenment was the realization of the Four Noble Truths: (1) Life is suffering. This is more than a mere recognition of the presence of suffering in existence. It is a statement that, in its very nature, human existence is essentially painful from the moment of birth to the moment of death. Even death brings no relief, for the Buddha accepted the Hindu idea of life as cyclical, with death leading to further rebirth. (2) All suffering is caused by ignorance of the nature of reality and the craving, attachment, and grasping that result from such ignorance. (3) Suffering can be ended by overcoming ignorance and attachment. (4) The path to the suppression of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path, which consists of right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right-mindedness, and right contemplation. These eight are usually divided into three categories that form the cornerstone of Buddhist faith: morality, wisdom, and samadhi, or concentration.
Buddhism analyzes human existence as made up of five aggregates or “bundles” (skandhas): the material body, feelings, perceptions, predispositions or karmic tendencies, and consciousness. A person is only a temporary combination of these aggregates, which are subject to continual change. No one remains the same for any two consecutive moments. Buddhists deny that the aggregates individually or in combination may be considered a permanent, independently existing self or soul (atman). Indeed, they regard it as a mistake to conceive of any lasting unity behind the elements that constitute an individual. The Buddha held that belief in such a self results in egoism, craving, and hence in suffering. Thus he taught the doctrine of anatman, or the denial of a permanent soul. He felt that all existence is characterized by the three marks of anatman (no soul), anitya (impermanence), and dukkha (suffering). The doctrine of anatman made it necessary for the Buddha to reinterpret the Indian idea of repeated rebirth in the cycle of phenomenal existence known as samsara. To this end he taught the doctrine of pratityasamutpada, or dependent origination. This 12-linked chain of causation shows how ignorance in a previous life creates the tendency for a combination of aggregates to develop. These in turn cause the mind and senses to operate. Sensations result, which lead to craving and a clinging to existence. This condition triggers the process of becoming once again, producing a renewed cycle of birth, old age, and death. Through this causal chain a connection is made between one life and the next. What is posited is a stream of renewed existences, rather than a permanent being that moves from life to life—in effect a belief in rebirth without transmigration.
Closely related to this belief is the doctrine of karma. Karma consists of a person’s acts and their ethical consequences. Human actions lead to rebirth, wherein good deeds are inevitably rewarded and evil deeds punished. Thus, neither undeserved pleasure nor unwarranted suffering exists in the world, but rather a universal justice. The karmic process operates through a kind of natural moral law rather than through a system of divine judgment. One’s karma determines such matters as one’s species, beauty, intelligence, longevity, wealth, and social status. According to the Buddha, karma of varying types can lead to rebirth as a human, an animal, a hungry ghost, a denizen of hell, or even one of the Hindu gods.
Although never actually denying the existence of the gods, Buddhism denies them any special role. Their lives in heaven are long and pleasurable, but they are in the same predicament as other creatures, being subject eventually to death and further rebirth in lower states of existence. They are not creators of the universe or in control of human destiny, and Buddhism denies the value of prayer and sacrifice to them. Of the possible modes of rebirth, human existence is preferable, because the deities are so engrossed in their own pleasures that they lose sight of the need for salvation. Enlightenment is possible only for humans.
The ultimate goal of the Buddhist path is release from the round of phenomenal existence with its inherent suffering. To achieve this goal is to attain nirvana, an enlightened state in which the fires of greed, hatred, and ignorance have been quenched. Not to be confused with total annihilation, nirvana is a state of consciousness beyond definition. After attaining nirvana, the enlightened individual may continue to live, burning off any remaining karma until a state of final nirvana (parinirvana) is attained at the moment of death.
In theory, the goal of nirvana is attainable by anyone, although it is a realistic goal only for members of the monastic community. In Theravada Buddhism an individual who has achieved enlightenment by following the Eightfold Path is known as an arhat, or worthy one, a type of solitary saint.
For those unable to pursue the ultimate goal, the proximate goal of better rebirth through improved karma is an option. This lesser goal is generally pursued by lay Buddhists in the hope that it will eventually lead to a life in which they are capable of pursuing final enlightenment as members of the sangha.
The ethic that leads to nirvana is detached and inner-oriented. It involves cultivating four virtuous attitudes, known as the Palaces of Brahma: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. The ethic that leads to better rebirth, however, is centered on fulfilling one’s duties to society. It involves acts of charity, especially support of the sangha, as well as observance of the five precepts that constitute the basic moral code of Buddhism. The precepts prohibit killing, stealing, harmful language, sexual misbehavior, and the use of intoxicants. By observing these precepts, the three roots of evil—lust, hatred, and delusion—may be overcome.
Early Developments
Shortly before his death, the Buddha refused his disciples’ request to appoint a successor, telling his followers to work out their own salvation with diligence. At that time Buddhist teachings existed only in oral traditions, and it soon became apparent that a new basis for maintaining the community’s unity and purity was needed. Thus, the monastic order met periodically to reach agreement on matters of doctrine and practice. Four such meetings have been focused on in the traditions as major councils.
Major Councils
The first council was held at Rajagrha (present-day Rajgir) immediately after the Buddha’s death. Presided over by a monk named Mahakasyapa, its purpose was to recite and agree on the Buddha’s actual teachings and on proper monastic discipline.
About a century later, a second great council is said to have met at Vaishāli. Its purpose was to deal with ten questionable monastic practices—the use of money, the drinking of palm wine, and other irregularities—of monks from the Vajjian Confederacy; the council declared these practices unlawful. Some scholars trace the origins of the first major split in Buddhism to this event, holding that the accounts of the council refer to the schism between the Mahasanghikas, or Great Assembly, and the stricter Sthaviras, or Elders. More likely, however, the split between these two groups became formalized at another meeting held some 37 years later as a result of the continued growth of tensions within the sangha over disciplinary issues, the role of the laity, and the nature of the arhat.
In time, further subdivisions within these groups resulted in 18 schools that differed on philosophical matters, religious questions, and points of discipline. Of these 18 traditional sects, only Theravada survives.
The third council at Pātaliputra (present-day Patna) was called by King Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. Convened by the monk Moggaliputta Tissa, it was held in order to purify the sangha of the large number of false monks and heretics who had joined the order because of its royal patronage. This council refuted the offending viewpoints and expelled those who held them. In the process, the compilation of the Buddhist scriptures (Tipitaka) was supposedly completed, with the addition of a body of subtle philosophy (abhidharma) to the doctrine (dharma) and monastic discipline (vinaya) that had been recited at the first council. Another result of the third council was the dispatch of missionaries to various countries.
A fourth council, under the patronage of King Kanishka, was held about AD 100 at Jālandhar or in Kashmīr. Both branches of Buddhism may have participated in this council, which aimed at creating peace among the various sects, but Theravada Buddhists refuse to recognize its authenticity.
Buddhist Literature
For several centuries after the death of the Buddha, the scriptural traditions recited at the councils were transmitted orally. These were finally committed to writing about the 1st century BC. Some early schools used Sanskrit for their scriptural language. Although individual texts are extant, no complete canon has survived in Sanskrit. In contrast, the full canon of the Theravadins survives in Pali, which was apparently a popular dialect derived from Sanskrit.
The Buddhist canon is known in Pali as the Tipitaka (Tripitaka in Sanskrit), meaning "Three Baskets," because it consists of three collections of writings: the Sutta Pitaka (Sutra Pitaka in Sanskrit), a collection of discourses; the Vinaya Pitaka, the code of monastic discipline; and the Abhidharma Pitaka, which contains philosophical, psychological, and doctrinal discussions and classifications.
The Sutta Pitaka is primarily composed of dialogues between the Buddha and other people. It consists of five groups of texts: Digha Nikaya (Collection of Long Discourses), Majjhima Nikaya (Collection of Medium-Length Discourses), Samyutta Nikaya (Collection of Grouped Discourses), Anguttara Nikaya (Collection of Discourses on Numbered Topics), and Khuddaka Nikaya (Collection of Miscellaneous Texts). In the fifth group, the Jatakas, comprising stories of former lives of the Buddha, and the Dhammapada (Religious Sentences), a summary of the Buddha’s teachings on mental discipline and morality, are especially popular.
The Vinaya Pitaka consists of more than 225 rules governing the conduct of Buddhist monks and nuns. Each is accompanied by a story explaining the original reason for the rule. The rules are arranged according to the seriousness of the offense resulting from their violation.
The Abhidharma Pitaka consists of seven separate works. They include detailed classifications of psychological phenomena, metaphysical analysis, and a thesaurus of technical vocabulary. Although technically authoritative, the texts in this collection have little influence on the lay Buddhist. The complete canon, much expanded, also exists in Tibetan and Chinese versions.
Two noncanonical texts that have great authority within Theravada Buddhism are the Milindapanha (Questions of King Milinda) and the Visuddhimagga (Path of Purification). The Milindapanha dates from about the 2nd century AD. It is in the form of a dialogue dealing with a series of fundamental problems in Buddhist thought. The Visuddhimagga is the masterpiece of the most famous of Buddhist commentators, Buddhaghosa (flourished early 5th century AD). It is a large compendium summarizing Buddhist thought and meditative practice.
Theravada Buddhists have traditionally considered the Tipitaka to be the remembered words of Siddhartha Gautama. Mahayana Buddhists have not limited their scriptures to the teachings of this historical figure, however, nor has Mahayana ever bound itself to a closed canon of sacred writings. Various scriptures have thus been authoritative for different branches of Mahayana at various periods of history. Among the more important Mahayana scriptures are the following: the Saddharmapundarika Sutra (Lotus of the Good Law Sutra, popularly known as the Lotus Sutra), the Vimalakirti Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra (Garland Sutra), and the Lankavatara Sutra (The Buddha’s Descent to Sri Lanka Sutra), as well as a group of writings known as the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom).
Conflict and new groupings
As Buddhism developed in its early years, conflicting interpretations of the master’s teachings appeared, resulting in the traditional 18 schools of Buddhist thought. As a group, these schools eventually came to be considered too conservative and literal minded in their attachment to the master’s message. Among them, Theravada was charged with being too individualistic and insufficiently concerned with the needs of the laity. Such dissatisfaction led a liberal wing of the sangha to begin to break away from the rest of the monks at the second council in 383 BC.
While the more conservative monks continued to honor the Buddha as a perfectly enlightened human teacher, the liberal Mahasanghikas developed a new concept. They considered the Buddha an eternal, omnipresent, transcendental being. They speculated that the human Buddha was but an apparition of the transcendental Buddha that was created for the benefit of humankind. In this understanding of the Buddha nature, Mahasanghika thought is something of a prototype of Mahayana.
The origins of Mahayana are particularly obscure. Even the names of its founders are unknown, and scholars disagree about whether it originated in southern or in northwestern India. Its formative years were between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD.
Speculation about the eternal Buddha continued well after the beginning of the Christian era and culminated in the Mahayana doctrine of his threefold nature, or triple “body” (trikaya). These aspects are the body of essence, the body of communal bliss, and the body of transformation. The body of essence represents the ultimate nature of the Buddha. Beyond form, it is the unchanging absolute and is spoken of as consciousness or the void. This essential Buddha nature manifests itself, taking on heavenly form as the body of communal bliss. In this form the Buddha sits in godlike splendor, preaching in the heavens. Lastly, the Buddha nature appears on earth in human form to convert humankind. Such an appearance is known as a body of transformation. The Buddha has taken on such an appearance countless times. Mahayana considers the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, only one example of the body of transformation.
The new Mahayana concept of the Buddha made possible concepts of divine grace and ongoing revelation that are lacking in Theravada. Belief in the Buddha’s heavenly manifestations led to the development of a significant devotional strand in Mahayana. Some scholars have therefore described the early development of Mahayana in terms of the “Hinduization” of Buddhism.
Another important new concept in Mahayana is that of the bodhisattva or enlightenment being, as the ideal toward which the good Buddhist should aspire. A bodhisattva is an individual who has attained perfect enlightenment but delays entry into final nirvana in order to make possible the salvation of all other sentient beings. The bodhisattva transfers merit built up over many lifetimes to less fortunate creatures. The key attributes of this social saint are compassion and loving-kindness. For this reason Mahayana considers the bodhisattva superior to the arhats who represent the ideal of Theravada. Certain bodhisattvas, such as Maitreya, who represents the Buddha’s loving-kindness, and Avalokitesvara or Guanyin, who represents his compassion, have become the focus of popular devotional worship in Mahayana.
By the 7th century AD a new form of Buddhism known as Tantrism (see Tantra) had developed through the blend of Mahayana with popular folk belief and magic in northern India. Similar to Hindu Tantrism, which arose about the same time, Buddhist Tantrism differs from Mahayana in its strong emphasis on sacramental action. Also known as Vajrayana, the Diamond Vehicle, Tantrism is an esoteric tradition. Its initiation ceremonies involve entry into a mandala, a mystic circle or symbolic map of the spiritual universe. Also important in Tantrism is the use of mudras, or ritual gestures, and mantras, or sacred syllables, which are repeatedly chanted and used as a focus for meditation. Vajrayana became the dominant form of Buddhism in Tibet and was also transmitted through China to Japan, where it continues to be practiced by the Shingon sect.
From India Outward
Buddhism spread rapidly throughout the land of its birth. Missionaries dispatched by King Ashoka introduced the religion to southern India and to the northwest part of the subcontinent. According to inscriptions from the Ashokan period, missionaries were sent to countries along the Mediterranean, although without success.
Asian Expansion
King Ashoka’s son Mahinda and daughter Sanghamitta are credited with the conversion of Sri Lanka. From the beginning of its history there, Theravada was the state religion of Sri Lanka.
According to tradition, Theravada was carried to Myanmar from Sri Lanka during the reign of Ashoka, but no firm evidence of its presence there appears until the 5th century AD. From Myanmar, Theravada spread to the area of modern Thailand in the 6th century. It was adopted by the Thai people when they finally entered the region from southwestern China between the 12th and 14th centuries. With the rise of the Thai Kingdom, it was adopted as the state religion. Theravada was adopted by the royal house in Laos during the 14th century.
Both Mahayana and Hinduism had begun to influence Cambodia by the end of the 2nd century AD. After the 14th century, however, under Thai influence, Theravada gradually replaced the older establishment as the primary religion in Cambodia.
About the beginning of the Christian era, Buddhism was carried to Central Asia. From there it entered China along the trade routes by the early 1st century AD. Although opposed by the Confucian orthodoxy and subject to periods of persecution in 446, 574-77, and 845, Buddhism was able to take root, influencing Chinese culture and, in turn, adapting itself to Chinese ways. The major influence of Chinese Buddhism ended with the great persecution of 845, although the meditative Zen, or Ch’an (from Sanskrit dhyana,”meditation”), sect and the devotional Pure Land sect continued to be important.
From China, Buddhism continued its spread. Confucian authorities discouraged its expansion into Vietnam, but Mahayana’s influence there was beginning to be felt as early as AD 189. According to traditional sources, Buddhism first arrived in Korea from China in AD 372. From this date Korea was gradually converted through Chinese influence over a period of centuries.
Buddhism was carried into Japan from Korea. It was known to the Japanese earlier, but the official date for its introduction is usually given as AD 552. It was proclaimed the state religion of Japan in 594 by Prince Shōtoku.
Buddhism was first introduced into Tibet through the influence of foreign wives of the king, beginning in the 7th century AD. By the middle of the next century, it had become a significant force in Tibetan culture. A key figure in the development of Tibetan Buddhism was the Indian monk Padmasambhava, who arrived in Tibet in 747. His main interest was the spread of Tantric Buddhism, which became the primary form of Buddhism in Tibet. Indian and Chinese Buddhists vied for influence, and the Chinese were finally defeated and expelled from Tibet near the end of the 8th century.
Some seven centuries later Tibetan Buddhists had adopted the idea that the abbots of its great monasteries were reincarnations of famous bodhisattvas. Thereafter, the chief of these abbots became known as the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lamas ruled Tibet as a theocracy from the middle of the 17th century until the seizure of Tibet by China in 1950. See Tibetan Buddhism.
New Sects
Several important new sects of Buddhism developed in China and flourished there and in Japan, as well as elsewhere in East Asia. Among these, Ch’an, or Zen, and Pure Land, or Amidism, were most important.
Zen advocated the practice of meditation as the way to a sudden, intuitive realization of one’s inner Buddha nature. Founded by the Indian monk Bodhidharma, who arrived in China in 520, Zen emphasizes practice and personal enlightenment rather than doctrine or the study of scripture.See Zen.
Instead of meditation, Pure Land stresses faith and devotion to the Buddha Amitabha, or Buddha of Infinite Light, as a means to rebirth in an eternal paradise known as the Pure Land. Rebirth in this Western Paradise is thought to depend on the power and grace of Amitabha, rather than to be a reward for human piety. Devotees show their devotion to Amitabha with countless repetitions of the phrase “Homage to the Buddha Amitabha.” Nonetheless, a single sincere recitation of these words may be sufficient to guarantee entry into the Pure Land.
A distinctively Japanese sect of Mahayana is Nichiren Buddhism, which is named after its 13th-century founder. Nichiren believed that the Lotus Sutra contains the essence of Buddhist teaching. Its contents can be epitomized by the formula “Homage to the Lotus Sutra,” and simply by repeating this formula the devotee may gain enlightenment.
Institutions and practices
Differences occur in the religious obligations and observances both within and between the sangha and the laity.
Monastic Life
From the first, the most devoted followers of the Buddha were organized into the monastic sangha. Its members were identified by their shaved heads and robes made of unsewn orange cloth. The early Buddhist monks, or bhikkus, wandered from place to place, settling down in communities only during the rainy season when travel was difficult. Each of the settled communities that developed later was independent and democratically organized. Monastic life was governed by the rules of the Vinaya Sutra, one of the three canonical collections of scripture. Fortnightly, a formal assembly of monks, the uposatha, was held in each community. Central to this observance was the formal recitation of the Vinaya rules and the public confession of all violations. The sangha included an order for nuns as well as for monks, a unique feature among Indian monastic orders. Theravadan monks and nuns were celibate and obtained their food in the form of alms on a daily round of the homes of lay devotees. The Zen school came to disregard the rule that members of the sangha should live on alms. Part of the discipline of this sect required its members to work in the fields to earn their own food. In Japan the popular Shin school, a branch of Pure Land, allows its priests to marry and raise families. Among the traditional functions of the Buddhist monks are the performance of funerals and memorial services in honor of the dead. Major elements of such services include the chanting of scripture and transfer of merit for the benefit of the deceased.
Lay Worship
Lay worship in Buddhism is primarily individual rather than congregational. Since earliest times a common expression of faith for laity and members of the sangha alike has been taking the Three Refuges, that is, reciting the formula “I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the sangha.” Although technically the Buddha is not worshiped in Theravada, veneration is shown through the stupa cult. A stupa is a domelike sacred structure containing a relic. Devotees walk around the dome in a clockwise direction, carrying flowers and incense as a sign of reverence. The relic of the Buddha’s tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka, is the focus of an especially popular festival on the Buddha’s birthday. The Buddha’s birthday is celebrated in every Buddhist country. In Theravada this celebration is known as Vaisakha, after the month in which the Buddha was born. Popular in Theravada lands is a ceremony known as pirit, or protection, in which readings from a collection of protective charms from the Pali canon are conducted to exorcise evil spirits, cure illness, bless new buildings, and achieve other benefits.
In Mahayana countries ritual is more important than in Theravada. Images of the buddhas and bodhisattvas on temple altars and in the homes of devotees serve as a focus for worship. Prayer and chanting are common acts of devotion, as are offerings of fruit, flowers, and incense. One of the most popular festivals in China and Japan is the Ullambana Festival, in which offerings are made to the spirits of the dead and to hungry ghosts. It is held that during this celebration the gates to the other world are open so that departed spirits can return to earth for a brief time.
Buddhism Today
One of the lasting strengths of Buddhism has been its ability to adapt to changing conditions and to a variety of cultures. It is philosophically opposed to materialism, whether of the Western or the Marxist-Communist variety. Buddhism does not recognize a conflict between itself and modern science. On the contrary, it holds that the Buddha applied the experimental approach to questions of ultimate truth.
In Thailand and Myanmar, Buddhism remains strong. Reacting to charges of being socially unconcerned, its monks have become involved in various social welfare projects. Although Buddhism in India largely died out between the 8th and 12th centuries AD, resurgence on a small scale was sparked by the conversion of 3.5 million former members of the untouchable caste, under the leadership of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, beginning in 1956. A similar renewal of Buddhism in Sri Lanka dates from the 19th century.
Under the Communist republics in Asia, Buddhism has faced a more difficult time. In China, for example, it continues to exist, although under strict government regulation and supervision. Many monasteries and temples have been converted to schools, dispensaries, and other public use. Monks and nuns have been required to undertake employment in addition to their religious functions. In Tibet, the Chinese, after their takeover and the escape of the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist officials into India in 1959, attempted to undercut Buddhist influence.
Only in Japan since World War II have truly new Buddhist movements arisen. Notable among these is Sōka Gakkai, the Value Creation Society, a lay movement associated with Nichiren Buddhism. It is noted for its effective organization, aggressive conversion techniques, and use of mass media, as well as for its nationalism. It promises material benefit and worldly happiness to its believers. Since 1956 it has been involved in Japanese politics, running candidates for office under the banner of its Kōmeitō, or Clean Government Party.
Growing interest in Asian culture and spiritual values in the West has led to the development of a number of societies devoted to the study and practice of Buddhism. Zen has grown in the United States to encompass more than a dozen meditation centers and a number of actual monasteries. Interest in Vajrayana has also increased.
As its influence in the West slowly grows, Buddhism is once again beginning to undergo a process of acculturation to its new environment. Although its influence in the U.S. is still small, apart from immigrant Japanese and Chinese communities, it seems that new, distinctively American forms of Buddhism may eventually develop.

Caste System
Caste (social), rigid social system in which a social hierarchy is maintained generation after generation and allows little mobility out of the position to which a person is born. The term is often applied to the hierarchical hereditary divisions established among the Hindus on the Indian subcontinent (see India: The People of India). The word caste was first used by 16th-century Portuguese traders; it is derived from the Portuguese casta, denoting family strain, breed, or race. The Sanskrit word is jati. The Sanskrit term varna denotes a group of jati, or the system of caste.
The traditional caste system of India developed more than 3000 years ago when Aryan-speaking nomadic groups migrated from the north to India about 1500 BC. The Aryan priests, according to the ancient sacred literature of India, divided society into a basic caste system. Sometime between 200 BC and AD100, the Manu Smriti, or Law of Manu, was written. In it the Aryan priest-lawmakers created the four great hereditary divisions of society still surviving today, placing their own priestly class at the head of this caste system with the title of earthly gods, or Brahmans. Next in order of rank were the warriors, the Kshatriyas. Then came the Vaisyas, the farmers and merchants. The fourth of the original castes was the Sudras, the laborers, born to be servants to the other three castes, especially the Brahman. Far lower than the Sudras—in fact, entirely outside the social order and limited to doing the most menial and unappealing tasks—were those people of no caste, formerly known as Untouchables. (In the 1930s Indian nationalist leader Mohandas Gandhi applied the term Harijans, or "children of God," to this group.) The Untouchables were the Dravidians, the aboriginal inhabitants of India, to whose ranks from time to time were added the pariahs, or outcasts, people expelled for religious or social sins from the classes into which they had been born. Thus created by the priests, the caste system was made a part of Hindu religious law, rendered secure by the claim of divine revelation.
The characteristics of an Indian caste include rigid, hereditary membership in the caste into which one is born; the practice of marrying only members of the same caste (see endogamy); restrictions on the choice of occupation and on personal contact with members of other castes; and the acceptance by each individual of a fixed place in society. The caste system has been perpetuated by the Hindu ideas of samsara (reincarnation) and karma (quality of action). According to these religious beliefs, all people are reincarnated on earth, at which time they have a chance to be born into another, higher caste, but only if they have been obedient to the rules of their caste in their previous life on earth. In this way karma has discouraged people from attempting to rise to a higher caste or to cross caste lines for social relations of any kind.
The four original castes have been subdivided again and again over many centuries, until today it is impossible to tell their exact number. Estimates range from 2000 to 3000 different castes established by Brahmanical law throughout India, each region having its own distinct groups defined by craft and fixed by custom.
The complexities of the system have constituted a serious obstacle to civil progress in India. The trend today is toward the dissolution of the artificial barriers between the castes. The stringency of the caste system of the Hindus was broken down greatly during the period of British rule in India. The obligation of the son to follow the calling of his father is no longer binding; men of low castes have risen to high ranks and positions of power; and excommunication, or the loss of caste, is not as serious as it may once have been. In addition, the caste system was from time to time burst from within by ecclesiastical schisms, most notably the rise of Buddhism, itself a reaction from, and protest against, the intolerable bondage of the caste system.
In recent years considerable strides toward eradicating unjust social and economic aspects of the caste system as practiced in India have been made through educational and reform movements. The great leader in this endeavor was Mohandas Gandhi. The drafted constitution of India, which was published a few days after the assassination of Gandhi in January 1948, stated in a special clause under the heading “human rights”: “Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden.” Despite official attempts to improve the status of members of the lowest caste, many of whom now prefer to be referred to as Dalits (Hindi for "oppressed people"), discrimination and exploitation is still common.
Cholas, Tamil-speaking people of south India, founders of a dynasty that dominated the area from the 10th to the 13th century. The Chola Kingdom, in what is now Tamil Nādu State, probably existed as early as the 1st century AD, but its prominence dates from the mid-9th century, when it began conquering neighboring territories. Rajendra I (reigned 1016-1044), the greatest of the Chola kings, ruled Tamil Nādu, Kerala, Karnātaka, and Sri Lanka. He campaigned as far north as the Ganges River and sent naval expeditions to Burma (now known as Myanmar) and the Malay Peninsula. Kulottunga I (reigned 1070-1122) united the Chola domains with those of the Eastern Chalukyas in Andhra Pradesh, forming the Chalukya-Chola dynasty. It declined after 1200, finally dying out in 1279. See Chalukyas.

Clive, Robert
Clive, Robert (1725-1774), British governor of Bengal, who was one of the founders of British rule in India.
Clive was born on September 29, 1725, near Market Drayton, England. In 1743 he accepted the position of writer, the lowest rank of clerical employee in the East India Company, and assumed his duties in the city of Madras (now Chennai) in 1744. The same year war broke out between France and Great Britain, and Madras was captured by the French. Clive eventually escaped and accepted a commission in the British army in 1747 as an ensign. Displaying conspicuous military ability, Clive thus began a distinguished career as one of the great British Empire builders. In 1751, with a small force of about 500 British and Indian soldiers, Clive, then a captain, captured Arcot, a French stronghold 105 km (65 mi) west of Madras, compelling the French to give up their siege of the British-held town of Trichinopoly (now Tiruchirappalli). The French and their Indian allies, numbering 10,000, then laid siege to Clive's forces in Arcot. After an 11-week defense in the citadel of the town, Clive and his small band defeated the French. These and later victories broke French power in southern India and gave the British a stronghold in that region. In 1753 Clive returned to England, where he was welcomed as a hero. In 1756 he was in India again, as governor of Fort Saint David. In June of that year, the Indian leader Siraj-ud-Dawlah, who was the nawab of Bengal, captured Calcutta (now Kolkata) from the British. In January of the following year, Clive recaptured Calcutta, meeting little resistance from the nawab; they made peace the following month. By this time, war had again broken out between the French and the British, and Clive captured Chandernagore, the principal French settlement in India. The French out of the way, Clive promptly broke the peace with the nawab and on June 23, 1757, with less than 3000 troops and with the help of a traitor within the enemy ranks, defeated Siraj-ud-Dawlah and his army of 50,000 at Plassey; this victory permanently embedded British power in India.
Clive returned to England in 1760 and bought a seat in Parliament. He was elevated to the Irish peerage in 1762 and knighted in 1764. The following year he returned to India as governor and commander in chief of Bengal. He ended the disorder and corruption that had developed while he was away, restored discipline to the armed forces, and reformed the civil service. He also obtained from the Mughal emperor of India decrees giving the English East India Company control over Bengal and other key regions in India, thus establishing the empire of British India.
Ill health forced Clive to resign his office. On his return to England in 1767, the enemies he had made in India and England accused him of having used his offices in India for personal enrichment and caused Parliament to impeach him. He defended himself brilliantly, but although Parliament acquitted him of the charges in 1773, the acquittal was so qualified as to make him feel disgraced. This feeling, continued illness, and addiction to opium at length resulted in his suicide on November 22, 1774.
East India Company
East India Company, any of a number of commercial enterprises formed in western Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries to further trade with the East Indies. The companies, which had varying degrees of governmental support, grew out of the associations of merchant adventurers who voyaged to the East Indies following the discovery in 1497 of the Cape of Good Hope route by Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama. The most important of the companies were given charters by their respective governments, authorizing them to acquire territory wherever they could and to exercise in the acquired territory various functions of government, including legislation, the issuance of currency, the negotiation of treaties, the waging of war, and the administration of justice. The most notable companies were the following.
Danish East India Company Chartered in 1729 by King Frederick IV of Denmark after unsuccessful attempts by Denmark to gain a share of the East India trade in 1616 and 1634, it enjoyed great prosperity in India until the advance of British power there in the late 18th century. As a consequence of the destruction of Danish naval power in the war between Britain and Denmark in 1801, the power of the Danish company was broken. Its principal Indian possessions, Tranquebar in Tamil Nādu and Serampore in Bengal, were purchased by Britain in 1845.
Dutch East India Company
Incorporated from a number of smaller companies by the States General of the Netherlands in 1602, its monopoly extended from the Cape of Good Hope eastward to the Strait of Magellan, with sovereign rights in whatever territory it might acquire. In 1619 Jan Pieterszoon Coen, regarded as the founder of the Dutch colonial empire in the East Indies, established the city of Batavia in Java (now Jakarta, Indonesia) as the headquarters of the company. From Batavia, Dutch influence and activity spread throughout the Malay Archipelago and to China, Japan, India, Iran, and the Cape of Good Hope. During the course of the 60-year war between Spain and the Netherlands (1605-1665), the Dutch company despoiled Portugal, which was united with Spain from 1580 to 1640, of all its East Indian possessions. It supplanted the Portuguese in most of present-day Indonesia and in the Malay Peninsula, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the Malabar Coast of India, and Japan. During this period it was also successful in driving English rivals from the Malay Archipelago and the Moluccas. In 1632 the Dutch killed the English factors, or agents, in Amboina, capital of the Dutch Moluccas; for this act the English government later exacted compensation. In 1652 the company established the first European settlement in South Africa on the Cape of Good Hope. At the peak of its power, in 1669, the Dutch company had 40 warships, 150 merchant ships, and 10,000 soldiers.
Between 1602 and 1696 the annual dividends that the company paid were never less than 12 percent and sometimes as high as 63 percent. The charter of the company was renewed every 20 years, in return for financial concessions to the Dutch government. In the 18th century, internal disorders, the growth of British and French power, and the consequences of a harsh policy toward the native inhabitants caused the decline of the Dutch company. It was unable to pay a dividend after 1724 and survived only by exacting levies from native populations. It was powerless to resist a British attack on its possessions in 1780, and in 1795 it was doomed by the ouster of the States General at home by the French-controlled Batavian Republic. In 1798 the republic took over the possessions and debts of the company.
English East India Company
The most important of the various East India companies, this company was a major force in the history of India for more than 200 years. The original charter was granted by Queen Elizabeth I on December 31, 1600, under the title of “The Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies.” The company was granted a monopoly of trade in the East Indies, with the formal restriction that it might not contest the prior trading rights of “any Christian prince.” The company was managed by a governor and 24 directors chosen from its stockholders.
In early voyages the company penetrated as far as Japan, and in 1610 and 1611 its first factories, or trading posts, were established in India in the provinces of Madras and Bombay. Under a perpetual charter granted in 1609 by King James I, the company began to compete with the Dutch trading monopoly in the Malay Archipelago, but after the massacre of Amboina the company conceded to the Dutch the area that became known as the Netherlands East Indies. Its armed merchantmen, however, continued sea warfare with Dutch, French, and Portuguese competitors.
In 1650 and 1655 the company absorbed rival companies that had been incorporated under the Commonwealth and Protectorate by Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. In 1657 Cromwell ordered it reorganized as the sole joint-stock company with rights to the Indian trade. During the reign of Charles II the company acquired sovereign rights in addition to its trading privileges. In 1689, with the establishment of administrative districts called presidencies in the Indian provinces of Bengal, Madras, and Bombay, the company began its long rule in India. It was continually harassed by traders who were not members of the company and were not licensed by the Crown to trade. In 1698, under a parliamentary ruling in favor of free trade, these private newcomers were able to set up a new company, called the New Company or English Company. The East India Company, however, bought control of this new company, and in 1702 an act of Parliament amalgamated the two as “The United Company of Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies.” The charter was renewed several times in the 18th century, each time with financial concessions to the Crown.
The victories of Robert Clive, a company official, over the French at Arcot in 1751 and at Plassey in 1757 made the company the dominant power in India. All formidable European rivalry vanished with the defeat of the French at Pondicherry in 1761. In 1773 the British government established a governor-generalship in India, thereby greatly decreasing administrative control by the company; however, its governor of Bengal, Warren Hastings, became the first governor-general of India. In 1784 the India Act created a department of the British government to exercise political, military, and financial control over the Indian affairs of the company, and during the next half century British control was extended over most of the subcontinent.
In 1813 the company's monopoly of the Indian trade was abolished, and in 1833 it lost its China trade monopoly. Its annual dividends of 10.5 percent were made a fixed charge on Indian revenues. The company continued its administrative functions until the Sepoy Rebellion (1857-1859). In 1858, by the Act for the Better Government of India, the Crown assumed all governmental responsibilities held by the company, and its 24,000-man military force was incorporated into the British army. The company was dissolved on January 1, 1874, when the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act came into effect.
French East India Company
Established in 1664 by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, finance minister of King Louis XIV, the company founded its first trading post at Surat in Bombay in 1675. The following year it set up its principal Indian base at Pondicherry, on the Coromandel Coast. The company prospered and extended its operations to China and Iran. In 1719 the company was reorganized with the American and African French colonial companies as the Compagnie des Indes. This company, headed by Scottish financier John Law, suffered severely with the collapse of the Mississippi Scheme. In 1730 it lost its slave trade with Africa, in 1731 its general trade with Louisiana, and in 1736 its coffee trade with the Americas. The company prospered in India, however, under governors Benoît Dumas, from 1735 to 1741, and Joseph François Dupleix, from 1742 to 1754. Dupleix directed the unsuccessful French struggles against the British control of India. The capture of Arcot in 1751 by the British under Robert Clive limited French control to southern India, where it remained supreme until 1761, when the British captured Pondicherry. The operations of the company were finally suspended by royal decree in 1769, and in the following year it turned over its capital of more than 500 million livres to the Crown. In 1785 a new company received commercial privileges, but this company was abolished in 1794 during the time of the French Revolution.

Ganges, most important river of the Indian subcontinent. The Ganges flows 2,510 km (1,560 mi) from the Himalayas of north central India southeast through Bangladesh and into the Bay of Bengal. Named for the Hindu goddess Ganga, the river draws from a basin of 1 million sq km (400,000 sq mi), one of the world’s most fertile and densely populated regions.
The Ganges is formed by the junction of two headstreams, the Bhagirathi and the Alaknanda, in the Himalayas of India’s Uttaranchal state. The commonly acknowledged source of the Ganges is the Bhagirathi, which originates in an ice cave at an elevation of 4,000 m (13,000 ft) and is the smaller of the two headstreams. The Alaknanda rises below the peak Nanda Devi (7,817 m/25,646 ft) near the Tibetan border. Fed by melting snow and ice from glaciers such as Gangotri and from peaks such as Nanda Devi and Kāmet (7,756 m/25,446 ft), the two streams flow southward through the Middle Himalayas toward their point of convergence.
After traveling more than 200 km (125 mi), the Ganges reaches the city of Haridwār (altitude 310 m/1,020 ft), where it breaks through the low Siwālik Range and begins its generally southeasterly flow across the Gangetic Plain. At Haridwār a dam diverts water to the Upper Ganges Canal. Between Haridwār and Allahābād, a distance of nearly 800 km (500 mi), the river follows a winding course made unnavigable by shoals and rapids. At Allahābād, the Ganges is joined by the Yamuna River from the southwest, then flows east past the cities of Mirzāpur, Vārānasi, Patna, and Bhāgalpur near the Bangladesh border. In this portion of the river, the Ganges also receives the Son River from the south and the Gumti, Ghāghra, Gandak, and Kosi rivers from the north.
Past Bhāgalpur, the river skirts the Rājmahal Hills on the border of Bangladesh. Here, bending south, lies the head of the Ganges delta, roughly 900 km (560 mi) downstream from Allahābād and about 450 km (280 mi) short of the Bay of Bengal. Near Pākaur, India, the river branches. The subsidiary branch, the Bhagirathi, winds south to form the Hugli River (Hooghly), the westernmost branch of the delta as well as its principal channel of navigation. Oceangoing vessels may navigate the Hugli from its mouth on the Bay of Bengal to the port city of Kolkata, about 130 km (80 mi) upstream. Since the mid-1970s India has diverted water into the silted Hugli, aiding transportation to Kolkata but creating disputes over water rights with Bangladesh.
The main branch of the Ganges continues through Bangladesh, where for part of its course it is called the Padma River. The river gives rise to several distributaries that form a vast network of waterways and one of the world’s largest, most fertile deltas. The main course of the river continues south and is joined by the Brahmaputra and then by the Meghna River (the name by which it is known thereafter) before entering the Bay of Bengal. At the bay the Meghna estuary measures 30 km (20 mi) wide. The river’s average annual discharge of water is surpassed only by those of the Amazon and Congo rivers. Because the discharge includes large deposits of sediment, the delta continues to expand into the bay.
The Ganges basin is India’s most extensive, most agriculturally productive, and most densely populated region. In Asia, only the Huabei Pingyuan (North China Plain) is as densely settled. In the western part of the Gangetic Plain, the river provides irrigation water for an extensive canal system whose main arteries are the Upper Ganges Canal and the Lower Ganges Canal. Chief crops of the plain include rice, sugarcane, lentils, oil seeds, potatoes, and wheat. Almost all of the plain has been cleared of its former grasslands and forests to make way for crops.
Typically, the banks of the Ganges are lined with swamps and lakes. In these areas as well as in the fertile delta, crops such as rice, legumes, chilies, mustard, sesame, sugarcane, and jute are cultivated. Only a stretch of the southwestern delta, covered with mangrove trees, is left uncultivated. The mangroves are ideal habitat for several species of crocodile.
Because the Ganges is fed by snow-capped peaks, it remains a sizable body of water throughout the year and can be used for extensive irrigation even during the hot, dry season of April through June. During the summer monsoon season, heavy rains can cause destructive floods, especially in the delta area.
Hindus, who constitute the vast majority of India's population, consider the Ganges a sacred river: Ganga (or Ganges) is the daughter of the mountain god, Himavan or Himalaya. In Hindu ideology, bathing in the river is said to wash away one’s sins, and river water is used extensively in rituals. It is auspicious to drink from the Ganges in the hour before death, and many Hindus ask to be cremated along the Ganges and to have their ashes placed in the river.
Hindu pilgrims travel to the holy cities of Vārānasi, where religious ceremonies are often performed; Haridwār, revered because it is the place where the Ganges leaves the Himalayas; and Allahābād, where the mythical Saraswati River is believed to enter the Ganges. Every 12 years a month-long Purna Kumbha (Full Urn) festival is held in Haridwār and Allahābād in which millions of people come to bathe in the Ganges. Pilgrims also travel to sacred locations near the river’s headwaters, including a shrine beneath Gangotri glacier.
Since the 1950s, population and industry along the Ganges and Hugli rivers have grown dramatically and both municipal and industrial wastewater and sewage have been discharged in large quantities into the rivers. In addition, because of the religious significance of the Ganges, Hindus often cremate their dead on the river’s banks and throw the remains and burnt charcoal into the river. This practice is especially common at Vārānasi. All of these factors have so polluted the river that drinking and bathing in its water have become dangerous.
In 1986 the Indian government launched the Ganga Action Plan, a program to reduce pollution of the river in 40 cities in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihār, and West Bengal. Under the plan, sewage is intercepted and water is diverted for treatment. Several electric crematoria have also been built, and parts of the riverfront have been redeveloped. A decade after the plan’s introduction, the level of pollution had been reduced to some degree.

. Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan (1167?-1227), Mongol conqueror and founder of the Mongol Empire, which spanned the continent of Asia by the time of his death. Originally named Temujin, he was born on the banks of the Onon River, near the present-day border between northern Mongolia and southeastern Russia. Native folklore is the only source for details about his ancestry, birth, and early life, and thus the facts are intermingled with purely legendary material. His line of descent is traced back, through many generations, to the mythical union of a gray wolf and a white doe. The newborn infant is said to have held in his hand a large clot of blood, thus presaging the future career of the world conqueror.
Genghis Khan's father, Yesugei, was a local chieftain and nephew of the former khan (ruler) of the Mongol tribe. The Mongols had long played the leading role in eastern Mongolia but had lost their supremacy and sunk into comparative insignificance after their defeat in 1161 by a rival tribe, the Tatar, in alliance with the Jin (Chin) rulers of North China. (The name Tatar, or Tartar, was later used by Europeans to refer to the Mongol invaders of Europe in general.) Yesugei named his son Temujin after a Tatar chieftain whom he had taken prisoner at the time of the child's birth. When Temujin was nine years old his father took him on a journey into the extreme east of Mongolia to find him a bride among his mother's people, the Konkirat. Temujin was betrothed to ten-year old Borte, daughter of the chieftain, and left, according to custom, to be brought up in the tent of his future father-in-law. Yesugei was traveling home when he fell in with a party of Tatars who invited him to share in their feast. However, they then recognized their old enemy and poisoned his food. Yesugei survived only long enough to reach his own encampment and send one of his men to fetch Temujin home again to succeed him as chieftain.
After his death, Yesugei's wife and young children were deserted by his followers under the influence of the Taichi'ut, a clan whose leaders aspired to take the dead chieftain's place. The widow attempted to rally the tribe to her but was unsuccessful. Soon the family was left to fend for itself. When Temujin had grown into a young man, his encampment was attacked by the Taichi'ut. He escaped into the forest but was finally captured. The Taichi'ut spared his life but kept him as a prisoner with a wooden collar around his neck. One night, when the group was feasting on the banks of the Onon, Temujin eluded his captors and hid, almost completely submerged in the river. He was detected by a member of the party, who, however, befriended him and persuaded the Taichi'ut to hold up the search for their prisoner until daylight. In the meantime, Temujin made his way to the tent of his benefactor, who concealed him from a search party and then provided him with the means of escape.
Shortly afterward, Temujin visited the Konkirat to claim his bride, Borte. As a dowry, he was given a black sable coat, which was to prove the foundation of his fortune. He decided to present it to Toghril, later known as Ong-Khan, the powerful ruler of the Kereit, a tribe in central Mongolia. Toghril, who had been an ally of Temujin's father, took the young man under his protection and promised his support, which Temujin was soon to need. The Merkit, a tribe in the north, raided his encampment and carried off his wife. Temujin appealed for help to Toghril and to Jamuka, a young Mongol chieftain, and together the three were able to defeat the Merkit and rescue Borte. For a time, Jamuka and Temujin remained firm friends, setting up camp and herding their animals side by side, but then they became estranged. This break mirrored the larger political landscape of the time, in which loyalties and alliances shifted constantly. It was at this juncture that the Mongol leaders declared themselves for Temujin and acclaimed him as their ruler with the title of Chingiz-Khan (Genghis Khan), which translates roughly as "universal monarch."
From then on he began to play a major role in the intertribal wars, but still as the protégé of Toghril rather than his equal. In 1198 the two rulers took part, as allies of the Jin, in a successful campaign against the Tatar. Toghril was rewarded for his share in the victory with the Chinese title of wang ("prince"), and thereafter he was known as Ong-Khan ("Ong" is a corruption of wang). They remained allies and on several occasions between 1200 and 1202 defeated a coalition of tribes headed by Genghis Khan's former friend Jamuka. In 1202 Genghis Khan conducted a final campaign against the Tatar, which resulted in the total extermination of that people. His relations with Ong-Khan had been steadily deteriorating, however, and in 1203 they fought. After an indecisive battle Genghis Khan withdrew into the extreme northeast of Mongolia, then, recovering his strength, returned to the attack and inflicted an overwhelming defeat on his adversary later that year.
Genghis Khan was now master of eastern and central Mongolia. In 1206, with the death of his old rival, Jamuka, he was at last in undisputed possession of Mongolia. In the spring of 1206, at an assembly of the Mongol princes held near the sources of the Onon, he was proclaimed Great Khan. The powerful ruler proceeded to organize the military forces of his empire.
Genghis Khan was now in a position to embark upon foreign conquests. Hostilities with China commenced in the spring of 1211, and by the end of that year the Mongols had overrun northern China. By the beginning of 1214 all China north of the Huang He (Yellow River) was in the Mongols’ hands, and they were closing in on the Jin capital at Beijing. Peace was purchased by the Chinese emperor at the price of an immense dowry for a Jin princess as Genghis Khan's bride, and the invaders began to withdraw northward. However, fighting broke out again almost at once. Beijing was besieged and sacked in the summer of 1215.
Although the war was not yet over—indeed the conquest of North China was not completed till 1234—Genghis Khan now decided to relinquish personal command of operations, and in the spring of 1216 returned to Mongolia in order to give his attention to events in Central Asia. Genghis Khan’s western territory abutted the state of Khwarizm, a vast but poorly organized empire, ruled by Sultan Muhammad, covering the present-day countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, as well as Afghanistan and most of Iran. War between the two empires became inevitable when Genghis Khan's ambassadors were murdered at Otrar on the Syr Darya River. Setting out from Mongolia in the spring of 1219, Genghis Khan passed the summer of that year on the Irtysh River and by autumn had arrived before Otrar. He left a force to besiege and ultimately capture the town and, continuing west at the head of the main army, attacked Bukhoro (Bukhara) in February 1220. The city, deserted by its garrison, surrendered after only a few days' siege. The Mongols then advanced on Samarqand, which likewise offered little resistance and was captured the same year. Genghis Khan dispatched his two best generals in pursuit of Sultan Muhammad, who had fled to the west. The sultan finally sought refuge on an island in the Caspian Sea but was found and killed there. The generals, continuing their westward sweep, crossed Caucasia and defeated an army of Russians and Kipchak Turks in the Crimea before turning back to rejoin Genghis in Central Asia. In the autumn of 1220, Genghis Khan captured Termiz on the Oxus River (present-day Amu Darya) and in the early part of the winter was active in the upper reaches of that river in what is today Tajikistan. At the beginning of 1221 he crossed the Oxus into northern Afghanistan and captured the ancient city of Balkh. Soon after the fall of Samarqand he had dispatched his elder sons north into Khwarizm to lay siege to Muhammad's capital. He now sent his youngest son into eastern Persia to sack and destroy the great and populous cities of Merv (now Mary, Turkmenistan) and Nishapur (now Neyshābūr, Iran).
In the meantime, Sultan Jalal al-Din, the son of Sultan Muhammad, had made his way into central Afghanistan and inflicted a defeat on a Mongol force at Parvan, north of Kābul. Genghis Khan, rejoined by his sons, advanced south in the autumn of 1221 and defeated this new adversary on the banks of the Indus River. With Jalal al-Din's defeat the campaign in the west was virtually brought to its conclusion, and Genghis Khan proceeded by easy stages on the long journey back to Mongolia. In the autumn of 1226 he was again at war, with the Chinese Tangut tribal confederation, but he did not live to witness the successful outcome of this, his last campaign. He died in August 1227, in his summer quarters in the district of Qingshui south of the Liupan Shan (Liupan Mountains) in Gansu, China.
Genghis Khan had many wives and concubines, but it was Borte, his first and chief wife, who gave birth to his four most famous sons: Jochi, Jagatai, Ögödei, and Tolui. Jochi’s son Batu founded the Golden Horde, a powerful Mongol state in Russia and Eastern Europe. Jagatai gave his name to a state that he founded in Central Asia. Ögödei was designated by Genghis Khan to succeed him, and he ruled Mongolia and northern China. Tolui was the father of Mangu Khan, ruler of the unified Mongol Empire from 1251 to 1259; Kublai Khan, who founded the Yuan dynasty in China; and Hulagu, who founded the il-Khanid dynasty of Persia.
Genghis Khan knew no language but Mongolian, and it has been said that to the end of his days he remained at heart a robber chieftain. No mere bandit, however, could have conceived or undertaken the great campaigns against China and Western Asia, and in fact, though he spoke no foreign language, Genghis Khan was not without knowledge of the civilized nations beyond the borders of Mongolia. Already at the beginning of his career he counted among his followers certain Muslim merchants from Central Asia, and later he could rely also upon the counsel of Chinese advisers.
It was, however, mainly on native foundations that his empire was built. The legal code which he instituted, known as the Great Yasa, was based upon Mongol customary law. The instrument of his victories, the superbly efficient Mongol army, seems to have owed nothing to foreign models. It was developed and perfected in intertribal wars before it was turned, with irresistible effect, against the nations of Asia and Eastern Europe. It is, in fact, as a military genius that Genghis Khan lives in history.
As such he was the equal of Alexander the Great or Napoleon I, and neither of the latter two achieved such vast or such enduring conquests. Genghis’ son ruled over an empire that stretched from Ukraine to Korea. His grandsons founded dynasties in China, Persia, and Russia, and his descendants ruled in Central Asia for centuries.

Gond, aboriginal tribe of Dravidian origin, inhabiting the hill country of India, in Madhya Pradesh State. The Gond, who call themselves Koitur (“highlander”), number several million; the tribe is the largest stock of the Dravidian people in India. The subgroup Rajgond, who claim Rajput ancestry, generally follow the Hindu religion, but most of the Gond practice an animistic religion.
Gurkhas, Nepalese mercenaries known for their bravery and fighting skills. Gurkha soldiers come from several different ethnic backgrounds within Nepal and have a military tradition dating from the 16th century. Their fame spread throughout the world after they fought the British army in the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-1816) over Nepal’s southward and Britain’s northward expansion in India. Although the British defeated Nepal, they were so impressed by the Gurkha fighters that they enticed them to enter the British (and subsequently, Indian) army. The Gurkhas, known for carrying razor-sharp curved knives called kukris, have fought in nearly all of the world’s major wars and have earned Britain’s highest service awards, including the Victoria Cross. Since India’s independence in 1947, Gurkha soldiers have served in the British army, the Indian army, the Nepalese army, and United Nations peacekeeping forces. Gurkhas hold a high status in their home country of Nepal and, through their salaries and other awards, contribute significantly to Nepal’s economy. The increasing use of technology in warfare, however, is decreasing the need for fighters such as the Gurkhas. Both Britain and India reduced their recruitment of Gurkha soldiers in the 1990s.

Haidar Ali
Haidar Ali (1722-1782), Muslim ruler of Mysore, who figured prominently in the fight against British encroachment in India during the 18th century. A soldier of fortune, he deposed the previous raja in 1761, soon extended his dominions over most of south India, and defeated the British Bombay Army in 1768. Eleven years later he allied himself with the nizam of Hyderābād and the Marathas against the British, again fighting them successfully until they managed to split the alliance. Haidar was then defeated at the Battle of Porto Novo (1781). He fought on, aided by his son and successor, Tipu Sahib, but died before the war was concluded.
HinduismHinduism, religion that originated in India and is still practiced by most of its inhabitants, as well as by those whose families have migrated from India to other parts of the world (chiefly East Africa, South Africa, Southeast Asia, the East Indies, and England). The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit word sindhu (“river”—more specifically, the Indus); the Persians in the 5th century BC called the Hindus by that name, identifying them as the people of the land of the Indus. The Hindus define their community as “those who believe in the Vedas” (see Veda) or “those who follow the way (dharma) of the four classes (varnas) and stages of life (ashramas).”
Hinduism is a major world religion, not merely by virtue of its many followers (estimated at more than 700 million) but also because of its profound influence on many other religions during its long, unbroken history, which dates from about 1500 BC. The corresponding influence of these various religions on Hinduism (it has an extraordinary tendency to absorb foreign elements) has greatly contributed to the religion’s syncretism—the wide variety of beliefs and practices that it encompasses. Moreover, the geographic, rather than ideological, basis of the religion (the fact that it comprises whatever all the people of India have believed and done) has given Hinduism the character of a social and doctrinal system that extends to every aspect of human life.
Fundamental Principles
The canon of Hinduism is basically defined by what people do rather than what they think. Consequently, far more uniformity of behavior than of belief is found among Hindus, although very few practices or beliefs are shared by all. A few usages are observed by almost all Hindus: reverence for Brahmans and cows; abstention from meat (especially beef); and marriage within the caste (jati), in the hope of producing male heirs. Most Hindus chant the gayatri hymn to the sun at dawn, but little agreement exists as to what other prayers should be chanted. Most Hindus worship Shiva, Vishnu, or the Goddess (Devi), but they also worship hundreds of additional minor deities peculiar to a particular village or even to a particular family. Although Hindus believe and do many apparently contradictory things—contradictory not merely from one Hindu to the next, but also within the daily religious life of a single Hindu—each individual perceives an orderly pattern that gives form and meaning to his or her own life. No doctrinal or ecclesiastical hierarchy exists in Hinduism, but the intricate hierarchy of the social system (which is inseparable from the religion) gives each person a sense of place within the whole.
The ultimate canonical authority for all Hindus is the Vedas. The oldest of the four Vedas is the Rig-Veda, which was composed in an ancient form of the Sanskrit language in northwest India. This text, probably composed between about 1500 and 1000 BC and consisting of 1028 hymns to a pantheon of gods, has been memorized syllable by syllable and preserved orally to the present day. The Rig-Veda was supplemented by two other Vedas, the Yajur-Veda (the textbook for sacrifice) and the Sama-Veda (the hymnal). A fourth book, the Atharva-Veda (a collection of magic spells), was probably added about 900 BC. At this time, too, the Brahmanas—lengthy Sanskrit texts expounding priestly ritual and the myths behind it—were composed. Between the 8th century BC and the 5th century BC, the Upanishads were composed; these are mystical-philosophical meditations on the meaning of existence and the nature of the universe.
The Vedas, including the Brahmanas and the Upanishads, are regarded as revealed canon (shruti,”what has been heard [from the gods]”), and no syllable can be changed. The actual content of this canon, however, is unknown to most Hindus. The practical compendium of Hinduism is contained in the Smriti, or “what is remembered,” which is also orally preserved. No prohibition is made against improvising variations on, rewording, or challenging the Smriti. The Smriti includes the two great Sanskrit epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana; the many Sanskrit Puranas, including 18 great Puranas and several dozen more subordinate Puranas; and the many Dharmashastras and Dharmasutras (textbooks on sacred law), of which the one attributed to the sage Manu is the most frequently cited.
The two epics are built around central narratives. The Mahabharata tells of the war between the Pandava brothers, led by their cousin Krishna, and their cousins the Kauravas. The Ramayana tells of the journey of Rama to recover his wife Sita after she is stolen by the demon Ravana. But these stories are embedded in a rich corpus of other tales and discourses on philosophy, law, geography, political science, and astronomy, so that the Mahabharata (about 200,000 lines long) constitutes a kind of encyclopedia or even a literature, and the Ramayana (more than 50,000 lines long) is comparable. Although it is therefore impossible to fix their dates, the main bodies of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were probably composed between 400 BC and AD 400. Both, however, continued to grow even after they were translated into the vernacular languages of India (such as Tamil and Hindi) in the succeeding centuries.
The Puranas were composed after the epics, and several of them develop themes found in the epics (for instance, the Bhagavata-Purana describes the childhood of Krishna, a topic not elaborated in the Mahabharata). The Puranas also include subsidiary myths, hymns of praise, philosophies, iconography, and rituals. Most of the Puranas are predominantly sectarian in nature; the great Puranas (and some subordinate Puranas) are dedicated to the worship of Shiva or Vishnu or the Goddess, and several subordinate Puranas are devoted to Ganesha or Skanda or the sun. In addition, they all contain a great deal of nonsectarian material, probably of earlier origin, such as the “five marks,” or topics (panchalakshana), of the Puranas: the creation of the universe, the destruction and re-creation of the universe, the dynasties of the solar and lunar gods, the genealogy of the gods and holy sages, and the ages of the founding fathers of humankind (the Manus).
Hindu Philosophy
His rich literature is a complex cosmology. Hindus believe that the universe is a great, enclosed sphere, a cosmic egg, within which are numerous concentric heavens, hells, oceans, and continents, with India at the center. They believe that time is both degenerative—going from the golden age, or Krita Yuga, through two intermediate periods of decreasing goodness, to the present age, or Kali Yuga—and cyclic: At the end of each Kali Yuga, the universe is destroyed by fire and flood, and a new golden age begins. Human life, too, is cyclic: After death, the soul leaves the body and is reborn in the body of another person, animal, vegetable, or mineral. This condition of endless entanglement in activity and rebirth is called samsara (see Transmigration). The precise quality of the new birth is determined by the accumulated merit and demerit that result from all the actions, or karma, that the soul has committed in its past life or lives. All Hindus believe that karma accrues in this way; they also believe, however, that it can be counteracted by expiations and rituals, by “working out” through punishment or reward, and by achieving release (moksha) from the entire process of samsara through the renunciation of all worldly desires.
Hindus may thus be divided into two groups: those who seek the sacred and profane rewards of this world (health, wealth, children, and a good rebirth), and those who seek release from the world. The principles of the first way of life were drawn from the Vedas and are represented today in temple Hinduism and in the religion of Brahmans and the caste system. The second way, which is prescribed in the Upanishads, is represented not only in the cults of renunciation (sannyasa) but also in the ideological ideals of most Hindus.
The worldly aspect of Hinduism originally had three Vedas, three classes of society (varnas), three stages of life (ashramas), and three “goals of a man” (purusharthas), the goals or needs of women being seldom discussed in the ancient texts. To the first three Vedas was added the Atharva-Veda. The first three classes (Brahman, or priestly; Kshatriya, or warrior; and Vaisya, or general populace) were derived from the tripartite division of ancient Indo-European society, traces of which can be detected in certain social and religious institutions of ancient Greece and Rome. To the three classes were added the Shudras, or servants, after the Indo-Aryans settled into the Punjab and began to move down into the Ganges Valley. The three original ashramas were the chaste student (brahmachari), the householder (grihastha), and the forest-dweller (vanaprastha). They were said to owe three debts: study of the Vedas (owed to the sages); a son (to the ancestors); and sacrifice (to the gods). The three goals were artha (material success), dharma (righteous social behavior), and kama (sensual pleasures). Shortly after the composition of the first Upanishads, during the rise of Buddhism (6th century BC), a fourth ashrama and a corresponding fourth goal were added: the renouncer (sannyasi), whose goal is release (moksha) from the other stages, goals, and debts.
Each of these two ways of being Hindu developed its own complementary metaphysical and social systems. The caste system and its supporting philosophy of svadharma (“one’s own dharma”) developed within the worldly way. Svadharma comprises the beliefs that each person is born to perform a specific job, marry a specific person, eat certain food, and beget children to do likewise and that it is better to fulfill one’s own dharma than that of anyone else (even if one’s own is low or reprehensible, such as that of the Harijan caste, the Untouchables, whose mere presence was once considered polluting to other castes). The primary goal of the worldly Hindu is to produce and raise a son who will make offerings to the ancestors (the shraddha ceremony). The second, renunciatory way of Hinduism, on the other hand, is based on the Upanishadic philosophy of the unity of the individual soul, or atman, with Brahman, the universal world soul, or godhead. The full realization of this is believed to be sufficient to release the worshiper from rebirth; in this view, nothing could be more detrimental to salvation than the birth of a child. Many of the goals and ideals of renunciatory Hinduism have been incorporated into worldly Hinduism, particularly the eternal dharma (sanatana dharma), an absolute and general ethical code that purports to transcend and embrace all subsidiary, relative, specific dharmas. The most important tenet of sanatana dharma for all Hindus is ahimsa, the absence of a desire to injure, which is used to justify vegetarianism (although it does not preclude physical violence toward animals or humans, or blood sacrifices in temples).
In addition to sanatana dharma, numerous attempts have been made to reconcile the two Hinduisms. The Bhagavad-Gita describes three paths to religious realization. To the path of works, or karma (here designating sacrificial and ritual acts), and the path of knowledge, or jnana (the Upanishadic meditation on the godhead), was added a mediating third path, the passionate devotion to God, or bhakti, a religious ideal that came to combine and transcend the other two paths. Bhakti in a general form can be traced in the epics and even in some of the Upanishads, but its fullest statement appears only after the Bhagavad-Gita. It gained momentum from the vernacular poems and songs to local deities, particularly those of the Alvars, Nayanars, and Virashaivas of southern India and the Bengali worshipers of Krishna (see below).
In this way Hindus have been able to reconcile their Vedantic monism (see Vedanta) with their Vedic polytheism: All the individual Hindu gods (who are said to be saguna,”with attributes”) are subsumed under the godhead (nirguna,”without attributes”), from which they all emanate. Therefore, most Hindus are devoted (through bhakti) to gods whom they worship in rituals (through karma) and whom they understand (through jnana) as aspects of ultimate reality, the material reflection of which is all an illusion (maya) wrought by God in a spirit of play (lila).
Although all Hindus acknowledge the existence and importance of a number of gods and demigods, most individual worshipers are primarily devoted to a single god or goddess, of whom Shiva, Vishnu, and the Goddess are the most popular.
Shiva embodies the apparently contradictory aspects of a god of ascetics and a god of the phallus. He is the deity of renouncers, particularly of the many Shaiva sects that imitate him: Kapalikas, who carry skulls to reenact the myth in which Shiva beheaded his father, the incestuous Brahma, and was condemned to carry the skull until he found release in Benares; Pashupatas, worshipers of Shiva Pashupati, “Lord of Beasts”; and Aghoris, “to whom nothing is horrible,” yogis who eat ordure or flesh in order to demonstrate their complete indifference to pleasure or pain. Shiva is also the deity whose phallus (linga) is the central shrine of all Shaiva temples and the personal shrine of all Shaiva householders; his priapism is said to have resulted in his castration and the subsequent worship of his severed member. In addition, Shiva is said to have appeared on earth in various human, animal, and vegetable forms, establishing his many local shrines.
To his worshipers, Vishnu is all-pervasive and supreme; he is the god from whose navel a lotus sprang, giving birth to the creator (Brahma). Vishnu created the universe by separating heaven and earth, and he rescued it on a number of subsequent occasions. He is also worshiped in the form of a number of “descents”—avatars (see Avatar), or, roughly, incarnations. Several of these are animals that recur in iconography: the fish, the tortoise, and the boar. Others are the dwarf (Vamana, who became a giant in order to trick the demon Bali out of the entire universe); the man-lion (Narasimha, who disemboweled the demon Hiranyakashipu); the Buddha (who became incarnate in order to teach a false doctrine to the pious demons); Rama-with-an-Axe (Parashurama, who beheaded his unchaste mother and destroyed the entire class of Kshatriyas to avenge his father); and Kalki (the rider on the white horse, who will come to destroy the universe at the end of the age of Kali). Most popular by far are Rama (hero of the Ramayana) and Krishna (hero of the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata-Purana), both of whom are said to be avatars of Vishnu, although they were originally human heroes.
Along with these two great male gods, several goddesses are the object of primary devotion. They are sometimes said to be various aspects of the Goddess, Devi. In some myths Devi is the prime mover, who commands the male gods to do the work of creation and destruction. As Durga, the Unapproachable, she kills the buffalo demon Mahisha in a great battle; as Kali, the Black, she dances in a mad frenzy on the corpses of those she has slain and eaten, adorned with the still-dripping skulls and severed hands of her victims. The Goddess is also worshiped by the Shaktas, devotees of Shakti, the female power. This sect arose in the medieval period along with the Tantrists, whose esoteric ceremonies involved a black mass in which such forbidden substances as meat, fish, and wine were eaten and forbidden sexual acts were performed ritually. In many Tantric cults the Goddess is identified as Krishna’s consort Radha.
More peaceful manifestations of the Goddess are seen in wives of the great gods: Lakshmi, the meek, docile wife of Vishnu and a fertility goddess in her own right; and Parvati, the wife of Shiva and the daughter of the Himalayas. The great river goddess Ganga (the Ganges), also worshiped alone, is said to be a wife of Shiva; a goddess of music and literature, Sarasvati, associated with the Saraswati River, is the wife of Brahma. Many of the local goddesses of India—Manasha, the goddess of snakes, in Bengal, and Minakshi in Madurai—are married to Hindu gods, while others, such as Shitala, goddess of smallpox, are worshiped alone. These unmarried goddesses are feared for their untamed powers and angry, unpredictable outbursts.
Many minor gods are assimilated into the central pantheon by being identified with the great gods or with their children and friends. Hanuman, the monkey god, appears in the Ramayana as the cunning assistant of Rama in the siege of Lanka. Skanda, the general of the army of the gods, is the son of Shiva and Parvati, as is Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of scribes and merchants, the remover of obstacles, and the object of worship at the beginning of any important enterprise.

The great and lesser Hindu gods are worshiped in a number of concentric circles of public and private devotion. Because of the social basis of Hinduism, the most fundamental ceremonies for every Hindu are those that involve the rites of passage (samskaras). These begin with birth and the first time the child eats solid food (rice). Later rites include the first haircutting (for a young boy) and the purification after the first menstruation (for a girl); marriage; and the blessings upon a pregnancy, to produce a male child and to ensure a successful delivery and the child’s survival of the first six dangerous days after birth (the concern of Shashti, goddess of Six). Last are the funeral ceremonies (cremation and, if possible, the sprinkling of ashes in a holy river such as the Ganges) and the yearly offerings to dead ancestors. The most notable of the latter is the pinda, a ball of rice and sesame seeds given by the eldest male child so that the ghost of his father may pass from limbo into rebirth. In daily ritual, a Hindu (generally the wife, who is thought to have more power to intercede with the gods) makes offerings (puja) of fruit or flowers before a small shrine in the house. She also makes offerings to local snakes or trees or obscure spirits (benevolent and malevolent) dwelling in her own garden or at crossroads or other magical places in the village.
Many villages, and all sizable towns, have temples where priests perform ceremonies throughout the day: sunrise prayers and noises to awaken the god within the holy of holies (the garbagriha, or “womb-house”); bathing, clothing, and fanning the god; feeding the god and distributing the remains of the food (prasada) to worshipers. The temple is also a cultural center where songs are sung, holy texts read aloud (in Sanskrit and vernaculars), and sunset rituals performed; devout laity may be present at most of these ceremonies. In many temples, particularly those sacred to goddesses (such as the Kalighat temple to Kali, in Kolkata), goats are sacrificed on special occasions. The sacrifice is often carried out by a special low-caste priest outside the bounds of the temple itself. Thousands of simple local temples exist; each may be nothing more than a small stone box enclosing a formless effigy swathed in cloth, or a slightly more imposing edifice with a small tank in which to bathe. In addition, India has many temples of great size as well as complex temple cities, some hewn out of caves (such as Elephanta and Ellora), some formed of great monolithic slabs (such as those at Mahabalipuram), and some built of imported and elaborately carved stone slabs (such as the temples at Khajurāho, Bhubaneshwar, Madurai, and Kanjeevaram). On special days, usually once a year, the image of the god is taken from its central shrine and paraded around the temple complex on a magnificently carved wooden chariot (ratha).
Many holy places or shrines (tirthas, literally “fords”), such as Rishikesh in the Himalayas or Benares on the Ganges, are the objects of pilgrimages from all over India; others are essentially local shrines. Certain shrines are most frequently visited at special yearly festivals. For example, Prayagā, where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers join at Allahābād, is always sacred, but it is crowded with pilgrims during the Kumbha Mela festival each January and overwhelmed by the millions who come to the special ceremony held every 12 years. In Bengal, the goddess Durga’s visit to her family and return to her husband Shiva are celebrated every year at Durgapuja, when images of the goddess are created out of papier-mâché, worshiped for ten days, and then cast into the Ganges in a dramatic midnight ceremony ringing with drums and glowing with candles. Some festivals are celebrated throughout India: Diwali, the festival of lights in early winter; and Holi, the spring carnival, when members of all castes mingle and let down their hair, sprinkling one another with cascades of red powder and liquid, symbolic of the blood that was probably used in past centuries.
The basic beliefs and practices of Hinduism cannot be understood outside their historical context. Although the early texts and events are impossible to date with precision, the general chronological development is clear.
About 2000 BC, a highly developed civilization flourished in the Indus Valley, around the sites of Harappā and Mohenjo-Daro. By about 1500 BC, when the Indo-Aryan tribes invaded India, this civilization was in a serious decline. It is therefore impossible to know, on present evidence, whether or not the two civilizations had any significant contact. Many elements of Hinduism that were not present in Vedic civilization (such as worship of the phallus and of goddesses, bathing in temple tanks, and the postures of yoga) may have been derived from the Indus civilization, however. See Indus Valley Civilization.
By about 1500 BC, the Indo-Aryans had settled in the Punjab, bringing with them their predominantly male Indo-European pantheon of gods and a simple warrior ethic that was vigorous and worldly, yet also profoundly religious. Gods of the Vedic pantheon survive in later Hinduism, but no longer as objects of worship: Indra, king of the gods and god of the storm and of fertility; Agni, god of fire; and Soma, god of the sacred, intoxicating Soma plant and the drink made from it. By 900 BC the use of iron allowed the Indo-Aryans to move down into the lush Ganges Valley, where they developed a far more elaborate civilization and social system. By the 6th century BC, Buddhism had begun to make its mark on India and what was to be more than a millennium of fruitful interaction with Hinduism.
From about 200 BC to AD 500 India was invaded by many northern powers, of which the Shakas (Scythians) and Kushānas had the greatest impact. This was a time of great flux, growth, syncretism, and definition for Hinduism and is the period in which the epics, the Dharmashastras, and the Dharmasutras took final form. Under the Gupta Empire (320-550?), when most of northern India was under a single power, classical Hinduism found its most consistent expression: the sacred laws were codified, the great temples began to be built, and myths and rituals were preserved in the Puranas.
In the post-Gupta period, a less rigid and more eclectic form of Hinduism emerged, with more dissident sects and vernacular movements. At this time, too, the great devotional movements arose. Many of the sects that emerged during the period from 800 to 1800 are still active in India today.
Most of the bhakti movements are said to have been founded by saints—the gurus by whom the tradition has been handed down in unbroken lineage, from guru to disciple (chela). This lineage, in addition to a written canon, is the basis for the authority of the bhakti sect. Other traditions are based on the teachings of such philosophers as Shankara and Ramanuja. Shankara was the exponent of pure monism, or nondualism (Advaita Vedanta), and of the doctrine that all that appears to be real is merely illusion. Ramanuja espoused the philosophy of qualified nondualism (Vishishta-Advaita), an attempt to reconcile belief in a godhead without attributes (nirguna) with devotion to a god with attributes (saguna), and to solve the paradox of loving a god with whom one is identical.
The philosophies of Shankara and Ramanuja were developed in the context of the six great classical philosophies (darshanas) of India: the Karma Mimamsa (“action investigation”); the Vedanta (“end of the Vedas”), in which tradition the work of Shankara and Ramanuja should be placed; the Sankhya system, which describes the opposition between an inert male spiritual principle (purusha) and an active female principle of matter or nature (prakriti), subdivided into the three qualities (gunas) of goodness (sattva), passion (rajas), and darkness (tamas); the Yoga system; and the highly metaphysical systems of Vaisheshika (a kind of atomic realism) and Nyaya (logic, but of an extremely theistic nature).
Parallel with these complex Sanskrit philosophical investigations, vernacular songs were composed, transmitted orally, and preserved locally throughout India. They were composed during the 7th, 8th, and 9th centuries in Tamil and Kannada by the Alvars, Nayanars, and Virashaivas and during the 15th century by the Rājasthāni poet Mira Bai, in the Braj dialect. In the 16th century in Bengal, Chaitanya founded a sect of erotic mysticism, celebrating the union of Krishna and Radha in a Tantric theology heavily influenced by Tantric Buddhism. Chaitanya believed that both Krishna and Radha were incarnate within him, and he believed that the village of Vrindaban, where Krishna grew up, had become manifest once again in Bengal. The school of the Gosvamins, who were disciples of Chaitanya, developed an elegant theology of aesthetic participation in the ritual enactment of Krishna’s life.
These ritual dramas also developed around the village of Vrindaban itself during the 16th century, and they were celebrated by Hindi poets. The first great Hindi mystic poet was Kabir, who was said to be the child of a Muslim and was strongly influenced by Islam, particularly by Sufism. His poems challenge the canonical dogmas of both Hinduism and Islam, praising Rama and promising salvation by the chanting of the holy name of Rama. He was followed by Tulsidas, who wrote a beloved Hindi version of the Ramayana. A contemporary of Tulsidas was Surdas, whose poems on Krishna’s life in Vrindaban formed the basis of the ras lilas, local dramatizations of myths of the childhood of Krishna, which still play an important part in the worship of Krishna in northern India.
In the 19th century, important reforms took place under the auspices of Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, and the sects of the Arya Samaj and the Brahmo Samaj. These movements attempted to reconcile traditional Hinduism with the social reforms and political ideals of the day. So, too, the nationalist leaders Sri Aurobindo Ghose and Mohandas Gandhi attempted to draw from Hinduism those elements that would best serve their political and social aims. Gandhi, for example, used his own brand of ahimsa, transformed into passive resistance, to obtain reforms for the Untouchables and to remove the British from India. Similarly, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar revived the myth of the Brahmans who fell from their caste and the tradition that Buddhism and Hinduism were once one, in order to enable Untouchables to gain self-respect by “reconverting” to Buddhism.
In more recent times, numerous self-proclaimed Indian religious teachers have migrated to Europe and the United States, where they have inspired large followings. Some, such as the Hare Krishna sect founded by Bhaktivedanta, claim to base themselves on classical Hindu practices. In India, Hinduism thrives despite numerous reforms and shortcuts necessitated by the gradual modernization and urbanization of Indian life. The myths endure in the Hindi cinema, and the rituals survive not only in the temples but also in the rites of passage. Thus, Hinduism, which sustained India through centuries of foreign occupation and internal disruption, continues to serve a vital function by giving passionate meaning and supportive form to the lives of Hindus today.

Indo-Iranian Languages
Indo-Iranian Languages, group of related languages spoken by more than 450 million people in a region extending from eastern Turkey to Bangladesh and including most of India. The Indo-Iranian languages form a subfamily of the Indo-European languages.
The Indo-Iranian languages are generally divided into an Iranian branch and an Indo-Aryan, or Indic, branch. Major Iranian languages include ancient Avestan and Old Persian, various medieval languages (see Persian Language), and modern Persian, Pashto or Afghan, Kurdish (see Kurds), and Baluchi (see Baluchistan). Also of Iranian stock are the languages of the ancient Scythians and Sarmatians and a modern remnant, Ossetic (see Ossetians), spoken in the Caucasus. The Indo-Aryan branch includes the ancient Sanskrit language; medieval languages called Prakrits; and modern languages such as Hindi-Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, and other languages of India (see Indian Languages), Nepali (official in Nepal), and Sinhalese (official in Sri Lanka). Considered to be an Indo-Aryan subgroup or a third Indo-Iranian branch are the Dardic languages, which include Kashmiri and Romani (Gypsy).
Early Sanskrit literature is the oldest of any Indo-European literature except Hittite. Sanskrit and Avestan resemble each other closely and are considered to reflect extremely faithfully the consonantal system and elaborate inflections of the Proto-Indo-European language. The modern Indo-Aryan and Iranian branches have tended to simplify the ancient consonantal system and to replace inflections with word combinations. The Indo-Aryan languages were also influenced by the sounds and grammar of the non-Indo-European Dravidian language family.
Indus, river of Asia, formed in western Tibet (an autonomous region of China) by the confluence of the glacial streams from the Himalayas. It flows from Tibet northwest across the Indian-controlled portion of Jammu and Kashmīr, passing between the western extremity of the Himalayas and the northern extremity of the Hindu Kush mountain range; it then courses generally south through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea, covering a distance of 2,900 km (1,800 mi). The major tributaries of the Indus are the Sutlej, Rāvi, and Chenāb.
The Indus enters the Pakistani province of Punjab 1304 km (810 mi) from its source, and, at a point 77 km (48 mi) farther, it becomes navigable as a result of its junction with the Kābul River from Afghanistan. Entering Sind province of Pakistan, it flows under the Ayub and Lansdowne bridges at Sukkur and the Hyderābād-Kotri Bridge before branching into the generally infertile delta that covers an area of about 7770 sq km (3000 sq mi) and extends for some 201 km (125 mi) along the Arabian Sea. The Indus has some importance as an artery of traffic and in addition provides irrigation for many millions of acres of the naturally arid lands of Sind Province. Historically, the Indus River valley is important as the cradle of the ancient Indus civilization, which, with Mesopotamia and Egypt, was one of the earliest civilizations (see Indus Valley Civilization).

Kushāna Dynasty
Kushāna Dynasty (1st century BC-230? AD), rulers of an ancient empire stretching from Central Asia to northern India. The dynasty emerged from the Yue-chi, a seminomadic people of northwestern China. The Yue-chi overran the area from modern Kyrgyzstan to Pakistan by about 125 BC, but they were not united under a single ruler. Between 27 and 2 BC, one of the Yue-chi kings, Kadphises, brought them together into a single confederation and established a ruling dynasty. In the 1st century AD, the Kushānas (named for the Hindu Kush mountains) took over Kashmīr and most of northwestern India. They reached their greatest strength under Kanishka, who ruled in the late 1st century. Kanishka commanded the Central Asian territories as well as northern India. There, the Kushānas extended as far south as Gujarāt in the west, the Narmada River in central India, and Bihār in the east. Kanishka’s armies also campaigned in Bengal to the east and Parthia to the west.
The Kushānas pacified the Central Asia trade routes, enabling many commercial and cultural contacts. Cities flourished, and the Silk Road linking Rome to China thrived. Buddhism migrated from India to China along the trade routes, and the Kushāna kings exchanged ambassadors with the emperors of Rome. An influential school of art blossomed at Mathura, a Kushāna capital, while the art of Gandhara blended Indian and Greco-Roman styles. Kanishka was a great patron of Buddhism, and some of his monuments remain. After his death the Indian part of the empire lasted for about 70 years before disintegrating into several principalities, some of which survived for another century or more. The surviving Central Asian empire lasted until about 230, when the Sassanids overwhelmed it.
Maratha Confederacy
Maratha Confederacy, Hindu state that dominated much of India in the mid-18th century. The Maratha Kingdom, founded in Mahārāshtra by Shivaji in the mid-17th century, was temporarily subdued by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in the 1680s. After Aurangzeb's death in 1707, however, Maratha power revived under a succession of peshwas (prime ministers) who extended the influence of the Marathas as far south as Mysore and Tanjore (Thanjāvūr) and north to Delhi, Āgra, and Rohilkhand (Bareilly), establishing a virtual protectorate of the weakened Mughal Empire.
In 1758 Maratha confederal forces occupied Lahore (now in Pakistan), alarming the Muslims of northern India. The latter sought help from Ahmad Shah of Afghanistan, who led an expedition against the Marathas, defeating them at Pānīpat, north of Delhi, in 1761. The defeat split the Maratha confederacy into five independent states—those of the Holkar, Sindhia, Bhonsle, Gaekwar, and Peshwa. These states, which frequently fought among themselves, lost their independence in three successive conflicts with the British—the Maratha Wars—1775-1782, 1803-1805, and 1817-1818. Maratha dynasties survived under British control in Gwalior (the Sindhia), Indore (the Holkar), and Vadodara (the Gaekwar) until India became independent in 1947.

Mahabharata (Sanskrit, The Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty), longer of the two great epic poems of ancient India; the other is the Ramayana. Although both are basically secular works, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are ritually recited and are thought to confer religious merit on their hearers.
The central theme of the Mahabharata is the contest between two noble families, the Pandavas and their blood relatives the Kauravas, for possession of a kingdom in northern India. The most important segment of the poem is the Bhagavad-Gita, a dialogue between Krishna, the eighth incarnation of the god Vishnu, and the Pandava hero Arjuna on the meaning of life. It has influenced devout Hindu believers for centuries. The Mahabharata was composed beginning about 400 BC and received numerous additions until about AD 400. It is divided into 18 books containing altogether about 200,000 lines of verse interspersed with short prose passages. The Harivansha, one of several late appendixes to the poem, discusses at length the life and genealogy of Krishna.
Mongol Empire
Mongol Empire, realm ruled by the great Mongol khans in the 13th and 14th centuries; uniting almost all of western and eastern Asia, it was one of the largest land empires in history.
The original homeland of the Mongols, situated in the eastern zone of the Asian steppe, was bounded by the Da Hinggan Ling (Greater Khingan Range) on the east, the Altay and Tian Shan mountains on the west, the Shilka River and the mountain ranges by Lake Baikal on the north, and the southern extent of the Gobi Desert on the south. Today this region comprises approximately the Inner Mongolia (Nei Mongol) Autonomous Region of China, Mongolia, and the southern fringes of Siberia. Consisting for the most part of fertile prairies and wooded mountains in the north, the Gobi Desert in the central zone, and vast grasslands in the south, the entire region lies about 1000 m (about 3000 ft) above sea level. With the exception of the northernmost extremities, it is extremely arid.
In this environment Mongolian-speaking tribes developed a pastoral economy based on the sheep and the horse, the latter supplemented by the camel in the most arid regions. Certain commodities, such as grain, textiles, tea, and metals, were obtained through trade with the adjacent agricultural civilization of China. Other than tending the flocks, hunting was the foremost occupation. The way of life was nomadic and social organization tribal. Tribal warfare was endemic, and individuals of great personal prowess moved easily to positions of leadership. The political-military hierarchy of the tribe was bound together by personal bonds of mutual protection and loyalty extending downward from the chieftain, to subordinate chiefs, to individual warriors.
The first flowering of the Mongol Empire occurred in the 13th century. At a convocation of tribes in 1206, the powerful conqueror Temujin, then master of almost all of Mongolia, was proclaimed universal ruler with the title Genghis Khan, or Great Khan. The city of Karakorum was designated his capital. Genghis's army, although not particularly large for its day, was distinguished by its superb horsemanship and expert archery, the discipline and control of its aristocratic leaders, and the khan's own brilliant military strategy and tactics. The neighboring Chinese Empire and the Central Asian states, both militarily weak and fragmented, inevitably surrendered, as did the decaying Arab-Turkish society of the Middle East, to the Mongol hordes racing over Asia. It was thus a foregone conclusion that the empire Genghis subsequently welded together should achieve a degree of centralization and power unprecedented among the earlier domains of Mongol-speaking tribes. Genghis presided by virtue of self-asserted divine right, acknowledging as his only superior authority, the Great Yasa, an imperial code that he drew up and that remained the permanent basis for Mongol rule. Genghis's vast empire stretched from the China Sea to the Dnieper River and from the Persian Gulf virtually all the way to the Arctic Ocean.
After the death of Genghis, his empire in accordance with tribal custom was divided among the sons of his primary wife and their heirs. The khanate of East Asia was ruled directly by the third son, Ögödei, who succeeded Genghis as the great khan. The khanate included Outer Mongolia, Manchuria, Korea, much territory in China, Tibet, and the northern fringes of Indochina.
Although Ögödei was in turn succeeded by his son and his grandson, the next great leader of the khanate was his nephew, Mangu Khan. Together with his brother Kublai Khan, Mangu Khan succeeded in conquering nearly all of China.
In 1279 Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis, defeated the Southern Song dynasty, bringing the remainder of China under his control. Kublai transferred the capital to Beijing, which he called Khanbalik. There he ruled as emperor of the Chinese Yuan (Yüan) dynasty as well as great khan of the Mongols. Rather than attempting to amalgamate the sedentary agricultural society into tribal units, he successfully followed the bureaucratic system through which Chinese dynasties since the Tang (T’ang) had ruled. The Mongols carefully guarded, however, their cultural identity and ruling-class prerogatives; Chinese talent was systematically excluded from positions of authority, and discriminatory social and legal codes were followed.
The Mongol emperors following Kublai succumbed to the decadent life of the Chinese court and became intrigued with the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. When disaster struck with flooding of the Huang He (Yellow River) and severe famine in northern China during the middle decades of the 14th century, the Mongol leadership was unable to meet the administrative challenge. In 1368, while the Mongols' Asian empire was torn by internal dissension, the great khans in China were replaced by the Ming, a native dynasty.
Upon the division of the Mongol Empire at Genghis's death in 1227, the region of Turkistan was ruled by Jagatai, his second son, and subsequently by Jagatai's successor. This khanate, known as the Jagatai khanate, extended from what is today the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China westward south of Lake Balqash to the area southeast of the Aral Sea and was bordered on the south by Tibet and the Kashmīr region of India and Pakistan. The western reaches were inhabited largely by sedentary Muslims, but the remainder of the populace were nomadic Mongols. A strategic central communications zone of the Mongols' Asian empire, it became the focus of political rivalry among the descendants of Genghis, and it required the constant attention of Kublai Khan to keep it under control.
In the 14th century the authority of the Jagatai khans over their Muslim subjects diminished sharply. After 1370 the western portion of the khanate became part of the empire of Turkic conqueror Tamerlane. The khans' rule was thereafter confined to the eastern region of the original khanate.
By 1231 Mongol armies had overrun Iran, Mesopotamia, Armenia, and Georgia. In 1258 Baghdād, the seat of the Abbasid caliphate, was captured. The Iranian khanate was established by Hulagu, grandson of Genghis and brother to Mangu and Kublai. Hulagu ruled over the areas that today comprise Iran, eastern Iraq, western Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan. Hulagu’s successors, who were known as il-khans, eventually accepted the faith of Islam. Under the Ghazan Khan, who succeeded in 1295, the ruling house became independent of the great Mongol khan. New systems of taxation were introduced; the armed forces were reformed and communications reorganized. Iranian culture was promoted, although new Mongol elements were infused in both art and architecture. Along with Mongolian, the Turkish, Persian, and Arabic languages were employed. The administration of the later il-khans, however, was poor, and when the khan Abu Said died without a male heir in 1395, the khanate broke up into small states ruled mainly by Iranians.
While Ögödei and his successors were completing their conquest of eastern Asia, Batu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, surged westward toward Europe. In 1237 his armies, known as the Tatars (who comprised a considerable portion of Batu's forces and came to dominate the empire he established), sacked most of the cities in the Vladimir-Suzdal’ region and Kyiv in 1240, continuing westward into Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, and the Danube River valley. Batu established the Golden Horde, also known as the Khanate of Kipchak. By 1241 his armies had reached the coast of the Adriatic Sea, poised for the invasion of western Europe. Disunited and ill-prepared to resist the Golden Horde, Europe was spared only by the death of the Great Khan Ögödei in 1241. Batu then withdrew his forces to southern Russia in order to participate in the selection of a successor.
The Golden Horde ruled the area that is now southern Russia until the late 15th century. The Tatars imposed a bureaucratic system and methods of tax collection that showed the influence of the Chinese methods adopted by their east Asian kinfolk. In the late 14th century, the Russians seemed on the verge of overthrowing the Golden Horde. The victory of the grand prince of Muscovy (Moscow), Dmitry Donskoy, over the Mongols in 1380 marked the turning point of Mongol power. In 1395 Tamerlane began the conquest of the Golden Horde, which after his death broke into four independent khanates: Astrakhan’, Kazan’, Crimea, and Sibir, thereby removing a major obstacle to the rise of the Muscovite principality. In 1480, by refusing to continue to pay tribute to the Horde, Ivan III Vasilyevich, grand prince of Muscovy, ended Mongol domination of southern Russia.
The Mongol Empire had done much to bind eastern and western Asia together. A system of mounted couriers, somewhat like a pony-express network, was established through the grasslands and deserts of Central Asia, linking the capital of the great khan in China with the far-flung outposts of the empire. The Central Asian trade routes were made more secure than they had ever been previously. Consequently the traffic by traders and missionaries back and forth over these routes increased notably, and China became known in the West chiefly through the accounts of one of these travelers, the Venetian merchant Marco Polo. Although improved communications helped the Mongols maintain their vast and diverse empire, common lineage also played an important role. The great khan was always selected by a convocation of the nobles of the whole empire, and, in general, all four khanates shared in the plunder of each.
Nevertheless, good communication and kinship ties proved inadequate to counteract the centrifugal forces that tore at the empire. Religious differences appeared early; the Mongol rulers in western Asia tended to accept Islam, while those in China were converted to Buddhism or Lamaism. In political life, the Mongols in China followed the sociopolitical teachings of Confucianism, stressing the universality of the ruler's authority; those in western Asia became absorbed in the confused politics and warfare of eastern Europe and the Middle East. China, Russia, and Iran each had its own language, culture, and system of rule, and each tended to influence its Mongol overlords. Perhaps most significant was the fact that each of these areas was the home of a sedentary agricultural civilization. In each location the imposition of Mongol rule seems to have led to a revival of local bureaucratic regimes more concerned with domestic problems and therefore less susceptible to Mongol domination.
Pandya Dynasty
Pandya Dynasty (around 200s BC-AD 1378), longtime rulers of southernmost India in an area now occupied by Tamil Nādu State. Little is known about the origins of the dynasty. Its capital was at Madurai, and the Pandyas participated in an international trade system linking India with the Roman world and China. By the 3rd century AD, the Pandya kingdom and other kingdoms of southern India were dominated by India’s northern kingdoms. Inscriptions dating to the 7th century indicate a Pandya resurgence. At the same time, the nearby Pallava dynasty was enjoying a period of growth, and the two dynasties competed with each other.
In the 10th century the nearby Cholas defeated the Pandyas and incorporated Madurai into their vast empire, using both Chola and Pandya viceroys to rule the area. By the late 12th century, the Pandya kings were allied with forces from Sri Lanka in a guerrilla struggle against the Cholas and in civil wars for the throne in Madurai. Maravarman Sundara Pandya I (ruled 1216-1244) reunited the Pandya kingdom and conquered the entire Chola realm, beginning a period of Pandya dominance in southern India. During this time, the dynasty was a great patron of religious institutions, especially the great Hindu temple in Madurai dedicated to the gods Shiva and Minakshi.
In the 1310s and 1320s the Delhi Sultanate launched campaigns that disrupted the Pandya kingdom. Muslim Turks eventually took Madurai and ruled until 1378, when the Vijayanagar kingdom supplanted them.

Puri, sometimes called Jagannāth, town, eastern India, in Orissa State, on the Bay of Bengal. It is a seaport, resort, and market center. Its industries include handicrafts, fish curing, and rice milling. In the town is a 12th-century temple erected in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu, under his aspect as Juggernaut. Puri is the site of an annual festival attended by thousands of Hindu pilgrims in honor of Vishnu. Population (1991) 125,199.
Ramayana (Sanskrit, “Way of Rama”), shorter of the two great Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Mahabharata. Rich in its descriptions and poetic language, it consists of seven books and 24,000 couplets and has been translated into many languages. It was probably begun in the 3rd century BC, with the beginning and possibly the ending added later. The Ramayana tells of the birth and education of Rama, a prince and the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu, and recounts his winning of the hand of Sita in marriage. Displaced as rightful heir to his father's throne, Rama goes into exile, accompanied by Sita and by his brother Lakshmana. Sita is carried off by the demon king Ravana. With the aid of the monkey general Hanuman and an army of monkeys and bears, Rama, after a long search, slays Ravana and rescues Sita. Rama regains his throne and rules wisely. In the probable addition, Sita is accused in rumors of adultery during her captivity. Although innocent, she bears Rama's twin sons in exile, sheltered by the hermit Valmiki, said to be the author of the poem. After many years Rama and Sita are reunited.
Although basically a secular work, the Ramayana incorporates much of the sacred Vedic material (see Veda). Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman are widely revered as ideal embodiments of princely heroism, wifely and brotherly devotion, and loyal service, respectively. Reciting the Ramayana is considered a religious act, and scenes from the epic are dramatized throughout India and Southeast Asia. Known widely through translations and recensions (the best-known version being that of the 16th-century Hindu poet Tulsidas), the Ramayana exerted enormous influence on later Indian literature.

Sepoy Rebellion
Sepoy Rebellion (1857-1859), also known as the Indian War of Independence, uprising against British rule in India begun by Indian troops (sipahi or sepoys) in the employ of the English East India Company. The rebellion was the first concerted attempt by the people of South Asia to overthrow the British Indian Empire.
By the 1850s the English East India Company had established control over present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), and Sri Lanka. By conquest or diplomacy, the company had overrun numerous autonomous Indian kingdoms during the previous two decades. It had also reduced the emperor of the moribund Mughal Empire, a vast empire that had ruled the subcontinent for more than 300 years, to a pensioner in his palace in Delhi. A small elite of British civilian officials and an army of 160,000 men, only 24,000 of them British, controlled the vast division of British India known as the Bengal Presidency. This area stretched from Burma in the east to Afghanistan in the west and included huge territories in central India.
The Indian troops employed by the English East India Company felt that British rule often failed to respect their traditions of religion and caste. The sepoys’ discontent came to a head in late 1856, when rumors began circulating that the cartridges for the newly-issued Lee-Enfield rifles were greased with the fat of cows, which are sacred to Hindus, and pigs, which Muslims believe are unclean. If this rumor were true, any Hindu or Muslim soldier would be ritually polluted when he bit off the end of a cartridge, as was necessary before loading the rifle. There were several isolated cases of soldiers in the Bengal army refusing to use these cartridges, but the issue exploded in Meerut, a military town northeast of Delhi in the Ganges River valley. There, 85 men of the 3rd light cavalry refused to use the cartridges on April 23, 1857. They were convicted of mutiny, sentenced to prison terms, publicly fettered, and stripped of their military insignia.
In response to this harsh treatment of their fellow soldiers, members of the 11th and 20th infantry regiments revolted on the evening of May 10. They freed their comrades along with hundreds of civilian prisoners, and the rampaging mob slaughtered 40 British officers and civilians in Meerut. The sepoys then marched to Delhi, where other Indian regiments joined the mutiny. They massacred dozens of British there, and reinstated the 82-year-old Mughal emperor, Muhammad Bahadur Shah. The news of these events triggered mutinies throughout the Bengal army, rapidly igniting a general anti-British revolution in north and central India. Among those joining the sepoys in the uprising were Indian princes and their followers, whose territories had been annexed by the English East India Company, and people whose ways of life and sources of income had been disrupted by British trade, missionary activities, or social reforms.
Unprepared for and paralyzed by the mutiny at first, the British eventually rallied. To control the uprising in the Ganges valley, British commanders disarmed the sepoys in the nearby province of Punjab and assembled a small army that marched on Delhi, occupying a position outside of the city. The British command in Calcutta (now Kolkata) was able to contain the rebellion in the east while retaining control of the Ganges River and communications lines as far upriver as Allahābād. In central India, a British army of several thousand engaged in dozens of battles with forces led by several local princes and Rani (Queen) Lakshmibai of Jhānsi. The rani was fighting against annexation of her kingdom by the company after the death of her husband, the last ruler of Jhānsi.
In the central part of the Ganges River valley, the recently-annexed state of Oudh became the focal point for rebellion. On May 30, rebel forces besieged Europeans along with loyal Indians at the British Residency, the official residence of British administrators in the capital, Lucknow. A few days later the British garrison at Cawnpore (now Kānpur) also came under attack, enduring a siege that lasted until June 27. On that day, the survivors were attacked while evacuating to boats on the Ganges River under an agreement of safe passage negotiated with the rebel leader, Nana Sahib. Most of the British soldiers were killed. The women, children, and wounded who lived through this disaster were later murdered in prison. These events provided a rallying cry for British forces and a rationale for widespread atrocities committed against Indian combatants and noncombatants alike.
After many inconclusive battles fought before the walls of Delhi, the reinforced British army attacked the city on September 15 and overran it after five days of ferocious fighting. A relief force reached the Lucknow residency on September 25 but became pinned there until late November, when a second relief force broke the siege and evacuated the survivors. The British returned to Oudh in February 1858 with an army of more than 30,000 men, including troops lent by the kingdom of Nepal. The city of Lucknow fell on March 23 and the rebel forces in north India scattered. The fort at Jhānsi fell in April, and the rani was later killed in battle.
For the next year British forces engaged in running fights with ever-smaller rebel forces, finally capturing their most skillful opponent, Nana Sahib's general Tantia Topi. With his execution in April 1859, the revolt ended.
The war had far-reaching consequences for India. The British government officially abolished the Mughal Empire and exiled Muhammad Bahadur Shah to Burma. The British crown also ended the administration of the English East India Company, assuming direct rule of India in 1858. Military policies altered dramatically. New recruits were sought primarily in Punjab and Nepal, where troops had remained loyal during the rebellion, and emphasis was placed on a doctrine stressing the hierarchy, prestige, and authority of the British officer corps. Thereafter the British administration displayed a pronounced distrust of its Indian subjects and a reluctance to share power or strategic technologies, an attitude that damaged relations with an emerging nationalist movement later in the century.
Shakas or Sakas, Iranian nomads who ruled parts of India and southwestern Asia in the 1st century BC. The name is associated with various ancient Scythian kingdoms.
For information on:

group of tribes that Shakas are sometimes associated with, see Scythians
control of Bactria (now part of Afghanistan) by the Shakas, see Bactria
relations of Shakas with India, see Andhra Dynasty; Hinduism: Classical Hindu Civilization; India: The Maurya Dynasty; Gandhara

Shiva (Sanskrit for “auspicious one”), also called Siva, Hindu god who personifies both the destructive and the procreative forces of the universe. As the destroyer, he is represented wearing a necklace of skulls and surrounded by demons. His reproductive aspect is symbolized by the lingam, a phallic emblem. Shiva is also the god of asceticism and of art, especially dancing. He rides on the bull Nandi, and his consort is the mother goddess Uma, or Kali. Some Hindus worship Shiva as the supreme deity and consider him a benevolent god of salvation as well as a god of destruction.
Sunga Dynasty
Sunga Dynasty (185?-75? BC), rulers of the Kingdom of Magadha in northeastern India. The dynasty began after the last Mauryan king of Magadha, Brihadratha, was murdered by his general Pushyamitra. Pushyamitra then ruled the kingdom from his capital, Pātaliputra (modern Patna), controlling the Ganges River basin and central India to the Narmada River. He countered invasions of Greek armies from the northwest and ruled until the middle of the 2nd century BC. His successor, Agnimitra, kept the core of the empire together during his rule, which lasted about a decade, but later Sunga rulers allowed subordinate lords to issue their own coinage and function as independent kings. Increasingly pressured by rivals, the Sungas survived more than half a century longer before the last Sunga king was murdered, allegedly by his minister.

Tipu Sahib
Tipu Sahib (1749-1799), Muslim ruler of Mysore, the son and successor of Haidar Ali. He fought in his father's campaigns against the British and after Haidar's death in 1782 continued his war to a successful conclusion. A peace made in 1784, however, was only temporary; five years later war broke out again. The nizam of Hyderābād and the Marathas sided with the British, and despite valorous defense Tipu was overcome by the odds; he was forced to give up half his dominions and pay heavy indemnities. Not reconciled, he began to look for new allies, but the British preempted him and in a tripartite alliance with the nizam and the Marathas marched on his capital, Seringapatam, in 1799. Tipu fell defending the city. His name sometimes appears as Tipu Sultan.
Upanishads, Hindu esoteric and mystical writings grouped in the Aranyakas, which are part of the Veda. The philosophical concepts contained in the Upanishads served as the basis of one of the six orthodox systems of Hindu philosophy, Vedanta. Some 150 Upanishads exist (108, according to the traditionally accepted number). Most are written in prose with interspersed poetry, but some are entirely in verse. Their lengths vary: The shortest can fit on 1 printed page, while the longest is more than 50 pages. They are believed to have been composed between the 8th century BC and the 5th century BC.
The underlying concern of the Upanishads is the nature of Brahman, the universal soul; and the fundamental doctrine expounded is the identity of atman, or the innermost soul of each individual, with Brahman. Formulations of this doctrinal truth are stressed throughout the Upanishadic writings. Other topics include the nature and purpose of existence, various ways of meditation and worship, eschatology, salvation, and the theory of the transmigration of souls.
Vārānasi (formerly Benares or Banaras), city, northern India, in Uttar Pradesh State, on the northern bank of the Ganges River. It lies in a fertile region in which sugarcane and grains are produced. The city is also an important commercial center. Silk brocade, gold and silver thread, filigree work, and brass articles are manufactured.
The city has few buildings built before the late 16th century, but its site was occupied in ancient times by the kingdom of Kashi; to devout Hindus the city has always existed. It is to them the holiest of cities; Hindu pilgrims come to Vārānasi from all parts of the world. Records of such pilgrimages date from the 7th century. Large throngs gather along the banks of the sacred Ganges River, where terraced landings, or ghats, lead down to the water. Hindus believe that immersion in the Ganges water cleanses them of sins and that death on its banks leads to salvation. The level portions of the ghats are used for funeral pyres.
From Rāmnagar, across the river, the city of Vārānasi gives an impression of splendor that is dissipated on closer view. The narrow streets wind circuitously between painted and carved buildings, many of them with overhanging galleries. Among the more than 1500 temples, the best known are the mosque of Aurangzeb; the observatory of Raja Jai Singh and the Durga Temple, both built in the 17th century; and the holiest of all temples, the Bisheshwar, or Golden Temple. Vārānasi is also a center of learning, especially for the study of Sanskrit, centered at Banaras College (1791) and maintained by the government. Banaras Hindu University (1916) was the first denominational university in India under private control; it is now nonsectarian. Varanasaya-Sanskrit University was founded in 1958. Population (1991) 929,270.
Veda (Sanskrit, “knowledge”), the most ancient sacred literature of Hinduism, or individual books belonging to that literature. This body of ancient literature consists primarily of four collections of hymns, detached poetical portions, and ceremonial formulas. The collections are called the Rig-Veda, the Sama-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, and the Atharva-Veda. They are known also as the Samhitas (roughly “collection”).
The four Vedas were composed in Vedic, an early form of Sanskrit. The oldest portions are believed by scholars to have originated largely with the Aryan invaders of India some time between 1500 and 1000 BC; however, the Vedas in their present form are believed to date only from the close of the 3rd century BC. Before the writing down of the present texts, sages called rishis transmitted the Vedic matter orally, changing and elaborating it in the process. Large masses of material probably taken from the original Aryan milieu or from the Dravidian culture of India were preserved, however, and are distinguishable in the texts.
The first three Samhitas are primarily ritual handbooks that were used in the Vedic period by three classes of priests who officiated at ceremonial sacrifices. The Rig-Veda contains more than 1000 hymns (Sanskrit rig), composed in various poetic meters and arranged in ten books. It was used by the hotri, or reciters, who invoked the gods by reading its hymns aloud. The Sama-Veda contains verse portions taken mainly from the Rig-Veda. It was used by the udgatri, or chanters, who sang its hymns, or melodies (Sanskrit sama). The Yajur-Veda, which now consists of two recensions, both of them partly in prose and partly in verse and both containing roughly the same material (although differently arranged), contains sacrificial formulas (Sanskrit yaja,”sacrifices”). It was used by the adhvaryu, priests who recited appropriate formulas from the Yajur-Veda while actually performing the sacrificial actions.
The fourth Veda, the Atharva-Veda (in part attributed by tradition to a rishi named Atharvan), consists almost exclusively of a wide variety of hymns, magical incantations, and magical spells. Largely for personal, domestic use, it was not originally accepted as authoritative because of the deviant nature of its contents. Scholars believe that it dates from a later time and that it may have been derived mainly from the remnant of the indigenous pre-Aryan culture. Eventually it was acknowledged as one of the Vedas, especially after its adoption as a ritual handbook by the Brahmans, the fourth and highest class of priests officiating at the sacrifices.
Strictly speaking, the Vedas include the Brahmanas and the mantras. The former are prose commentaries attached to each of the four Vedas and are concerned principally with the details and the interpretation of the sacrificial liturgy. The latter are the poetic stanzas of the four Vedas, mantra being the term used specifically for the four verse collections. The mantras are regarded by some scholars as the oldest part of the Vedas.
Supplementary to the Brahmanas are later esoteric works known as forest treatises, the Aranyakas from Sanskrit aranya,”forest.” The Aranyakas were expounded and written by Brahman sages in forests because it was felt that a proper understanding of them could be achieved only in seclusion. The final portions of the Aranyakas are called Upanishads. Profound metaphysical and speculative works closely linked with the Brahmanas, they emphasize knowledge and meditation and are the first Hindu attempts at a systematic treatment of speculative thought. Vedanta and most other Indian philosophical systems developed from the Upanishads.
The latest products of the Vedic period are the sutras (Sanskrit sutra, literally “thread,” roughly, “string of rules”). Collections of aphorisms elaborating and dissertating on the Vedic sacrifices, domestic ceremonies (such as marriage and funeral rituals), and religious and secular law, the sutras are significant for their influence on the development of Hindu law. As works of authority, they are not as highly regarded as the Vedas, Brahmanas, and Upanishads. The latter, especially the Vedas, are revered as apaurusheya (Sanskrit, “not of human origin”).

Vishnu or Chu Ta, major god of Hinduism and Indian mythology, popularly regarded as the preserver of the universe. In the ancient body of literature called the Veda, the sacred literature of the Aryan invaders, Vishnu ranks with the numerous lesser gods and is usually associated with the major Vedic god Indra in battles against demonic forces. In the epics and Puranas—writings belonging to subsequent periods in the development of Hinduism—Vishnu (especially in his incarnations) becomes prominent. Some Puranic literature refers to him as the eternal, all-pervading spirit and associates him with the primeval waters believed to have been omnipresent before the creation of the world. So regarded, Vishnu is depicted frequently in human form, sleeping on the great serpent Shesha and floating on the waters.
The concept of Vishnu as preserver is comparatively late. It is based chiefly on two beliefs: humans may attain salvation by faithfully following predetermined paths of duty, and good and evil powers (gods and demons) contend for dominion over the world. Occasionally, the balance of power is upset in favor of evil, and then Vishnu is believed to descend to earth in a mortal form (his avatar) to save humankind or the world. Ten such avatars (descents or incarnations) are commonly recognized, of which Rama and Krishna are the most important. Nine descents are thought to have already occurred; the tenth and last is yet to come. Scholars believe that Vishnu's role as preserver (or redeemer) arose from the characteristic practice of assimilating local legendary heroes and gods into the Hindu pantheon by attributing their deeds to one of the major Hindu deities.
Vishnu is depicted as dark blue or black (his avatars appear in other colors). Normally, he is depicted with four arms: One hand holds a lotus; a second holds a conch; a third holds a discus (which always returns by itself after being thrown); and the fourth carries a mace. The petals of the lotus are believed to symbolize the unfolding of creation; the conch is said to symbolize that from which all existence originates; and the discus and the mace reputedly were obtained by Vishnu as rewards for defeating the god Indra. Vishnu is said to possess also a special sword called Nadaka and a special bow called Sarnga. His wife is Lakshmi (also known as Shri), goddess of beauty and fortune. He rides a huge creature, half bird and half man, called Gandara. His home is in a heaven called Vaikuntha (where the Ganges River is believed to flow from its source at Vishnu's feet). The god has a thousand names, the repetition of which is regarded as an act of devotion.
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