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Gandhara grave culture

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Geography of the Rigveda, with river names; the extent of the Swat and Cemetery H cultures are indicated.
Geography of the Rigveda, with river names; the extent of the Swat and Cemetery H cultures are indicated.
Archaeological cultures associated with Indo-Iranian migrations (after EIEC). The Andronovo, BMAC and Yaz cultures have often been associated with Indo-Iranian migrations. The GGC (Swat), Cemetery H, Copper Hoard and PGW cultures are candidates for cultures associated with Indo-Aryan migrations.
Archaeological cultures associated with Indo-Iranian migrations (after EIEC). The Andronovo, BMAC and Yaz cultures have often been associated with Indo-Iranian migrations. The GGC (Swat), Cemetery H, Copper Hoard and PGW cultures are candidates for cultures associated with Indo-Aryan migrations.

The Gandhara grave culture, also called Swat culture, emerged c. 1600 BC, and flourished c. 1500 BC to 500 BC in Gandhara, which lies in modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. It has been regarded as a token of the Indo-Aryan migrations, but has also been explained by local cultural continuity.

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  • Aum - Encyclopedia Hermetica: A Big History (Part 31)
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Encyclopedia Hermetica: A Big History (Part 31) - Aum Intro Alright, so today I would like to do a little retrospection on the centuries leading up to where we’re currently at in our chronology, and that’s to take some time and talk about quote-unquote “Asiatic religion”, which we have covered a little bit of, especially in regards to Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, but obviously this is a massive subject, and Asia is home to a countless number of traditions (which today in the angloid world we very conveniently have monolithic names with which to paint ourselves some epistemological cartoons of reality). We tend to simplify things with words and lose sight of reality when we say “oh they’re Shinto”, they’re “Hindu” or “they’re Daoists.” And I want to explore this oversight for a minute. Just as it was in the quote-unquote “west” throughout antiquity, syncretism has always been a strong component of oriental religions. “Hinduism” emerged from and ultimately meshed well with animism and shamanism; Buddhism emerged from Hinduism and ultimately meshed well with Daoism, Confucianism, and so forth… To talk about confessional lines, about who believed in what creed or what dogma, is really to misunderstand the organic nature of ancient religion. When you do that, you’re imposing your own categories on the past based on our present situation – our present “logogram” (as Robert Anton Wilson would have called it). Today we have this notion that one has to be part of one, singular, exclusive, endogamous (and monotonous) belief system in order to consider oneself quote-unquote “part of a religion.” You can’t be a real Christian today in most people’s eyes, if you don’t go to church and happen to also consider the writings of the Zoroaster sacred. You can’t be a real Jew if you didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah and you also happen to keep an idol in your closet. No, no, this would not look good on tax forms and government issued censuses. You could, however, in 3rd century China (for example) be a Buddhist monk, a Confucian scholar, and a Daoist poet all at once. There’s plenty of overlap between these systems, and folks back then were more likely to focus on the things that all these loosely defined systems had in common rather than hair-split over differences. Systematization, categorization, taxonomy – all these things are a Western disease, and they were brought down on Asian religion during the colonial period, essentially “fabricating” rigid systems overnight, then peddling them in the West as discrete and cohesive religions. This is what is meant when people say the West “invented” Hinduism, or something along those lines. Obviously it’s not meant to say that they invented that infinitude of local gods, traditions, practices, etc. – it’s that they invented the labels – they cut up the territory into maps - and then in turn those discrete labels came back to influence how people (both in the West and the East) conceived of their own religions. In a way, as a Westerner, it’s not a crazy stretch to say that Herman Hesse played a larger part in creating the Buddhism I understand than the writings of some contemporary disciple of the Buddha. So… what I’m trying to say before getting into this stuff any further, is that our rigid categories – words like “Buddhism”, “Hinduism”, “Vedic religion”, etc. - these can only help to provide approximations of these quote-unquote ‘systems’ in people’s minds. I even hesitate to say “systems” because that implies they are closed off, isolated, and self-sustaining... they are not, and never were. No religion is nor ever was. We’ve got to stop thinking of religions as rigid models here, and start thinking of them as living intellectual ecosystems, all interconnected with one another. Think of fields, and woods, and swamps, and hills, and then all the various creatures which inhabit them. Some creatures use all these ecosystems, others prefer one or two, but there were no fences put up to isolate the creatures of the land. Now the reason we’re going to talk about some these loosely defined groups today is because I’ve sort of neglected them and we’ve just come to a point in our chronology where ‘east’ and ‘west’ have gotten hitched. I’m going to discuss how Alexander opened up the way through conquest; how he Hellenized the middle-east and even parts of India; and how this allowed for an opening up of trade routes – and with the exchange of goods comes always the exchange of ideas. If you read a hermetic grimoire like the Picatrix, which of course wouldn’t be composed for over another millennium, you’d notice that the Chaldeans, the Nabataeans, the Arabs, and the Indians (…especially the Indians) all play a crucial role in the formulation of quote-unquote “magical thinking” – just as much as do the thoughts of Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras. So – without making the mistake of assuming a continent like India exists in a vacuum, exists as a monolith, or exists purely in so far as it influenced the West – let’s dive into some Indian religions. Now, let it be known that when we’re talking about India in a historical sense, this label comprises everything now part of the modern states of Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, India, and even Tibet. I don’t want to have to hear any nationalists’ grumbling about the nitty-gritty details of who came from where, what country invented what, or any such nonsense. All these states are modern creations, and for the most part they are made up of arbitrary lines drawn in the sands by some sorcerous colonialists some two to three centuries ago. In any case – both the northernmost part of India and its southernmost part (Tibet and Sri Lanka) are predominantly Buddhist. In fact, most of the subcontinent at one point was Buddhist (around the time of King Asoka – who I’ll discuss), but as the centuries went on, India was mostly divided between both Islam and so-called “Hinduism” (which, for a lack of a better way to explain it, is roughly equivalent to that grassroots level Greco-Roman paganism – it’s a sort of infinite pastiche of local traditions). And now something to keep in mind is that, over the centuries, this diversity in Hinduism was made even stronger purely because India was so rarely unified under the rule of one single major empire. For most of its history, India was fragmented into all sorts of little states, tribal enclaves, chiefdoms, and so forth. Moreover, an added variable for generating diversity was the number of languages in the region – there were a handful of Indo-European languages in the North, and a bunch of Dravidian ones in the south. There have always been vast geographical and climatological differences across India, and even these have affected the diversity of religion from one region to the next. You can probably start to see why the idea of something called “Hinduism” is somewhat misleading. That huge assortment of myths, literature, rituals, gods, philosophies, practices, movements, aesthetic sensibilities, styles of music, etc. can only be so loosely defined before the definition has no value. I for one don’t have a problem ditching the term altogether, but I don’t think we’ll be getting into so much detail today so as to need to ditch it. To paraphrase the words of Ninian Smart (from whom I’ve gathered lots of information in putting together this lecture): “Hinduism today is now much more like the trunk of a single mighty tree; but its past is a tangle of most divergent roots.” Now… in previous lectures we’ve gone (in passing) over the so-called ‘Vedic culture’, whose dates are roughly between the years 3,000 and 1,000 BC. We’ve also been talking a lot about the axial age (especially in regards to Gautama Buddha), and this loosely defined period coincides with what we might call the “pre-classical” period of Indian history (running from about 1000BC to 100AD). During this time we have the founding of Buddhism, the birth of Jainism (from the teachings of Mahaira), the composition of the Upanishads, and the proliferation of Brahmanism (which was the chief vehicle for the spread of Sanskrit across the whole of India). But even in Buddhist circles, where people rejected the authority of the Vedic Brahmins, the language used in the composition of all their sacred texts and commentaries would be in the language of the Aryan invaders: Sanskrit. In Sri Lanka, Buddhist texts would be written in Pali and in Tibet, they were written in Tibetan. These three literary languages are essentially our chief markers for distinguishing Indian traditions from one another, and that’s a not-so-artificial boundary to keep in mind amidst all this variability. Some Commonalities OK, so – we know there are an infinite number of forms of religious expression as far as India is concerned, but then more importantly: what are some points of commonality? What do all Indians have in common in regards to religion? Let’s look at this… On the ritual and practical dimension, its these three elements which seem nearly universal: yoga (or “self-discipline” if you will), puja (i.e. worship), and last but not least: sacrifice. Yoga is a truly ancient practice, and I would argue is as old as language itself. As soon as language became a thing, I like to imagine yoga became a thing. It means ‘union’ – and it’s all about dispelling the illusion of selfhood – a very persistent illusion, which is entirely the by-product of language. Alternatively, yoga may also have been a later by-product of decadent shamanism. What I mean by this is that shaman traditionally accessed the divine by means of sacred plants. Over centuries and millennia, however, they either occulted or drove their sacraments to extinction, and this led them subsequently to develop all manner of yogic techniques to quote-unquote “get there on the natch”. So to fill the void where psychedelics dropped out (the theory goes), yogic techniques were invented to emulate those states. Obviously this too is an oversimplification, but it’s definitely one possibility (and I’m well aware that the old-school view is very much in disagreement with this – they like to see plant-wielding shamanism as ‘decadent shamanism’ rather than the other way around… to me this view is silly, but whatever.) In any case, for the sake of ease, let’s say that traditional yoga is an inward search and a commitment to self-discipline, particularly in the mental sphere, but so too in the bodily sphere (which of course, interpenetrate one another as categories, if they can even be said to exist at all – “everything is in your head, and your head is in everything”). Now, all this recent stuff about gymnastics (what I call Yoga Americana – to say nothing of aligning your chakras and loving your yoni) – none of this is ancient, but it is pre-modern. They’d simply call this stuff “asana” which is but one of the eight limbs of yoga, and truth be told, it’s not even one of the more important limbs. Asana means “postures” and the idea is: if you can tolerate the boredom and pain of holding a pose for an exceedingly long amount of time, then you might be able to move on to sitting zazen and meditating for hours on end without going nuts. If you can handle pain, you can handle distraction, the reasoning goes. Anyhow, this isn’t the place to get into yoga – I recommend Aleister Crowley’s Eight Lectures on Yoga if you want a good Western interpretation of what yoga really is (otherwise, just go read Patanjali). Alright, so if yoga (or union) is all about liberation – all about giving up the ghost and pouring out the illusory self or ego into that Great Oneness of Brahma – a kind of flight from the alone to the alone – then puja (or worship) is the opposite. It’s focused on the I-Thou construct, and it’s primarily communal and public. This is where gods like Vishnu and Shiva come into play, and these are obviously but two among millions (330 million to use the traditional number). For Buddhists in India, puja began with simple rituals by which Gautama Buddha might be remembered – but over the centuries the influence of Mahayana Buddhism developed a sort of devotion or bhakti which basically conceived of the Buddha as a sort of god. This Bhakti, or path of devotion, is especially prominent in that great samvada called the Bhagavad Gita – the song of god – the most famous section of the Mahabharata, one of Hinduism’s most sacred texts, written sometime between the 2nd century BC and 2nd century AD. What we know for sure is that the Bhagavad Gita makes references to many other spiritual paths and so reflects a milieu where Brahmins, Buddhists, Sramanas and Jains were all competing for adherents – it emerged from the whirlpool of all these great traditions, and in it, this path of Bhakti is what Krishna urges Arjuna to follow after unveiling himself in his great theophany, and even before then in verse 4.9 where he declares that those truly devoted to God or the gods are not reborn, but go straight to them (which in my mind is just another rebirth, but what do I know?). And of course, just like in Greco-Roman paganism, there’s always a sort of ‘Do ut Des’ relationship – I give so that you might give – a sense of mutual devotion between the god and his adherents… which brings me to my next point… sacrifice. Now, with respects to sacrifice – we need to remember that this notion of ‘Brahmin’ or priestly caste came into India from the Indo-European north. Greeks, Celts, Scandinavians, Romans, Persians, and many Indians are all tied together by their common ancestry. Along with this shared ancestry came shared values, traditions, and practices, and one of the most universally attested of these, is sacrifice, a communal act of ritualized murder (of “doing the deed”). It’s interesting to note that there are no temples in the Vedas – and this is because these were a later development by the Brahmin class, who were chiefly valued as experts in sacrifice and ritual. Once temples began to be built, these acted as houses for the gods, where their rituals and sacrifices might take place – these were not churches in the way we understand them now. Now let’s remember within this context that both Buddhism and Jainism are essentially rejections of the Brahmin belief systems, and thus they both rejected the notion of animal sacrifice. They did however practice a form of renunciation which I suppose modern day evangelicals would consider sacrifice (in the same way they consider tithing a sacrifice; that is, giving up something you like in order to weaken its hold on you). This is not what sacrifice meant to the ancients – all this is purely a modern ideal. Sacrifice in the ancient world was moreso about communal bonding than chipping away at greed or gilding church icons. For this reason, Jain and Buddhist sacrifices (or acts of renunciation) were largely confined to offerings of plants and butter. So… moving on… there’s this interesting polarity at work in Indian religion which arose between the two concepts of ‘tapas’ and ‘tantra.’ Tapas literally means ‘heat’, and that’s in reference to the ‘heat’ that is generated in the body by self-mortification, mutilation, immolation or starvation – the manipulation of tapas is a very important characteristic of Jainism, and is something which Buddhism arose to combat. Buddhism is all about the middle-path, not extremes. Now ‘tantra’, on the other hand, which basically means ‘short cut’, is more ‘magickal’ and esoteric – it’s all about acquiring liberation through occult means (means which can include everything from astrology, to extramarital sex, meat-eating, and all other manners of taboo-violating.) This is one means through which the tantric adept proves that he is above ordinary social mores. In the words of Crowley: “Ordinary morality is for ordinary people.” It’s this sort of ‘transvaluation’ we see at work in the Ptolemaic dynasty with their incestuous marriages, with the gnostic spermophages and fetophages, or with the worshippers of Kali who hang out in cremation grounds – it’s all about this idea that extra-ordinary morality is for extra-ordinary people. So… yeh - as we can see – even in regards to the points of commonality, we see a tension at work between various traditions. At least we can say, however, that in all Indian religions, there prevailed a strong belief in cyclical time, coupled with the notion that things typically got worse as these cycles went on. Doubtless this belief emerged from the fact that the Indians were master astrologers from a very early period. As I’ve discussed in a previous lecture, the present age is called the Kaliyuga – a time of ever increasing chaos and evil, leading toward dissolution and renewal. Time in India was conceived not merely as cyclical, but eternal. The wheel of life just turns, turns, turns, and the only way off is through Nirvana – extinction – the final blowing out of life’s candle for those so weary of the world they’ve given up all desire and thus ceased the process of metempsychosis. In the Jain tradition, this is called ‘kevala’, and it roughly translates to “isolation”. This is not union with god, as the mystical experience is often conceived of in the West (in fact, a true Buddhist would consider the mystical experience just another part of Maya that must also be pierced through). Liberation is not communion with God – it’s more like a joyous cosmic suicide – a hop, skip and a jump off the endless wheel of suffering. So there are a number of other dominant opinions pertinent to pre-classical and classical Indian culture – and among these we can count the certainty in reincarnation or metempsychosis, the possibility of liberation, and the idea of a endlessly creative God who is both entirely personal and impersonal. Now… how people actually act in accordance with these three things, how their ethics played out; let’s talk about this. For Jains and Buddhists, there’s a great deal of overlap. Much emphasis is placed on reducing or altogether eliminating harm to all living beings – and it was actually the influence from these religions which convinced most of India to become vegetarian (and not just out of necessity either – since it also became a form of aestheticism for many Brahmin). In the Vedic period, if you were a vegetarian, it was probably because you didn’t have access to meat, not because you had any moral qualms. This tendency toward respecting the sanctity of all forms of life has become a sine qua non of Indian religion. To make another blanket statement: another commonality throughout much of India has been a tendency toward the ideals of aestheticism, of good works, and of situational relativity (the sense that much about a person’s spirituality depends on a person’s lot and status in life). This is where the effects of the caste system introduced to India around 1500 BC by Indo-European invaders comes into play. In India, like in much of the Indo-European world, society was divided into into three categories: priests (or Brahmin), warriors (Ksatriyas), and artisans (Vaisyas) – later, after conquering numerous groups of indigenous peoples, they added a fourth class of people called the Sudras (who were essentially the working poor). Eventually, a fifth class was added: the infamously labelled ‘Untouchables’ who were thought to be so base that they would fuck up a Brahmin’s purity if they ever came in contact. Sometimes these classes are called “colours” and there’s a definite racial undertone to its sense. The Sanskrit-speaking Veda-reciting Indo-Europeans (or so-called Aryans) subjugated India and set this system into play, so obviously they put themselves at the top, and its remained that way up until today. Buddhism and Jainism, of course, didn’t recognize these categories: as far as they were concerned, We’re all human, and every last one of us is doomed to endless suffering until we achieve enlightenment, regardless of our status or ancestry. Distinctions such as class or race were (and are) explicitly banned from the Sangha (which is the word for the Buddhist monastic order of vow-taking monks). The ascetic traditions prevalent throughout India were reformed, re-envisioned and revitalized in this pre-classical period by Gautama Buddha and Mahavira; but they didn’t convince everyone with their ways. As in Greece at the time, there were itinerant teachers with all manner of positions which challenged the minutia of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism – there were even materialists! And these men, like materialists today, rejected all notions of transcendence, spiritual powers, and aspirations to holiness. Fundamentally, these were skeptics – and yes, they existed in India too – whether they got these ideas from Greece – I don’t know – part of me thinks it’s racist to assume Indians couldn’t figure out scepticism on their own, and then part of me thinks I have a tendency to underplay the influence Greece had on India. It’s a real ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ type of scenario… In any case, some of these wandering ascetics (not necessarily the materialist ones – but the ones who were ultimately not Brahmin), these were sometimes called Sramana (and this is actually where all the Central Asian variants of the word Shaman comes from – I talk about this briefly in my book). Whereas Brahmin were exalted priestly figures responsible for all manner of rituals and social functions, the Sramana had basically turned on, tuned in and dropped out. They just straight up didn’t give a shit – the rules just didn’t apply to them because they saw through the scam that is civilization. They didn’t care for bathing, wearing clothes, finding lodging or food – to say nothing of performing elaborate rituals or memorizing scripture. Some of these types wound up conceiving of stuff like breatharianism (which in its pathological sense is called inedia, or anorexia nervosa – but these are modern categories). Breatharians basically claim to live purely off of prana (which is breath or spirit), but is also sometimes conceived of as light or some sort of abstract life-force. I’m not really convinced, but hey – I’ve seen some weird shit in my life. Others of this type would just lay around and smoke charas all day, which is a strange noxious mixture of cannabis, tree resins, datura, and god knows what else. In Greek, these guys are sometimes called sarmanoi, and in other cases “gymnosophists” (naked sages) – and in any case, these aren’t strict categories. They all remind me a bit of Diogenes. I like to think how some must have been very sophisticated thinkers, while others might just have been old fools totally down on their luck, and there’d be really no way to distinguish them from one another until you sat at their feet and got to know them. ***As for the Brahmin: these men were believed to have tapped into a tradition which stretched back into mythical time, to an age of the seers who had first heard the sacred sound of the cosmos and from them coaxed out that great authoritative collection of hymns known as the Vedas (so if we ever want to talk about quote-unquote Hindu Orthodoxy – this refers to the acceptance of the Vedas as authoritative and divine). According to the Picatrix, the name “Brahmin” came from some guy named Barnac Al Brahmani, but I always assumed it was etymologically linked with the word Brahma, or God with a big G. The Brahmin were the driving force of creativity in India, so far as art, shrines, statues, temples, and all that jazz is concerned. Their hymns take us back to an era when Aryan horse lords and chariot riders were sweeping through the plains of Northern India. These Aryans dislodged the previous people, the Dasyus, who were dark skinned people living in citadels involved with the worship of phallus idols, doubtless related to some sort of fertility cult. Penis-worshipping fertility cults were sort of ‘the thing’ back in those days before one group of folks started getting exceptionally rowdy and proud. It was the values of these foreign men (and let’s not kid ourselves, it was men calling all the shots in this culture) which inspired such deities as Indra, who basically drank up lakes-worth of hallucinogenic Soma every day and fought endless battles against demons, demigods, anti-gods, evil men and so forth. Over a quarter of the Vedic hymns are dedicated to this war god. Among the gods of the Vedas, there’s a definite throw-back to a warrior ethos which was very much thriving in the Bronze Age. Varuna is another one of these gods – a cognate of Zeus as the old Sky Father who presides in judgement over the world. Varuna, like Zeus, was summed up in this idea of ‘rta’, the sacred pattern underlying all dimensions of existence – what some might call Logos, the rational ordering principle of the Universe. His partner in governance was the god Mitra, whose name literally means ‘contract’ or ‘covenant’ (to use a slightly more loaded term). I don’t want to get into too much detail regarding specific parallels between Greek and Indian divinities, I just wanted to point out that they’re there if you want to look into them. [Now, this is just an aside because I’ve seen people fall into this trap: in regards to the Mitra of Vedic and Avestan religion, this god has very, very little to do with the mystery god Mithras who was worshipped by the Roman legions. So if you want to look into this Greco-Vedic divine ancestry stuff yourself, don’t fall into that pitfall). An article which might be of interest to you is called “a light from distant asterisks”: Towards a Description of the Indo-European Religious Heritage by Peter Jackson (the linguist, not the guy who maintains the rotation of the Earth by perennially causing Tolkien to spin in his grave). Anyways… something worth noting along these lines is that the Vedic pantheon is not quite as blessed as wind-swept, cloud-girt Olympus. Indra was said to have parted the earth and skies (in a fashion similar to Saturn’s castration of Kronos) and this sets the stage for conflict between good and evil gods. The idea in Greece was that the gods on Olympus were deathless, ambrosial, indifferent, and unconcerned about human affairs once Zeus had brought some semblance of order to the cosmos... Indian cosmology was far more chaotic however. I even tend to think this was a factor which contributed to the world weariness of those attracted to Buddhism and Jainism, since the idea was that when you die, you reincarnate, and then it’s just more of the same… even if you ascend to godhood and go live the beatific life in some pocket plane, you’d still wind up having to battle with great demons and fight celestial wars. Even Gods partake in Samsara, and enlightenment or ‘isolation’ were ways of getting off the ride. Two gods I’ve said very little about, Shiva and Vishnu – who would come into a position of much greater importance at a later date – weren’t really all that important in pre-classical India. But this leads me to an important point… within any given hymn or sacrifice or festival or whatever, the god in question is in and of himself supreme. Every god (lower case g) is God (upper case G). We might call this belief “henotheism” (or one-god-at-a-time-ism) instead of polytheism, and this concept began at quite an early period in Indian history, only to carry on well into our current times. So I think that’s all I want to say about the Vedic element in Indian religion. I just want to remind everyone that although this collection of Vedic hymns is very useful to historians, we can ultimately yield little accurate information from them about a time before 600 BC. They are less important as historical documents, and more important as a rudder which shaped Indian society to come. Hinduism would ultimately develop from the collision between the Veda-chanting Brahmin and indigenous pre-Indo-European conceptions of spirituality. Alright, so I want to talk a bit about Buddhism for a minute – but keep in mind that the real meat and potatoes of Buddhist history lies just outside the reach of where we’re at chronologically. We’ve got a lot left to cover before we get into things like the split between Mahayana and Theraveda Buddhism and so on. And of course we’ve already covered the story of the Buddha in some detail – so here I’d like to talk more about the immediate history of Buddhism following the death of Gautama Buddha and set the stage for Buddhism’s ascendancy as a world religion. Buddhism’s so-called ‘classical period’ begins around the first century AD, and it’s during this period that it spread into China, Korea, and eventually Japan. We’ll talk more about the successive phases of Buddhism as we come to them, but for now, let’s focus our attention on the period following that final meal of mushrooms which destroyed the Buddha’s body and liberated him from his mortal coil. After this fateful dinner, it would be wrong to think of him as either existing or not existing… or both… or neither… His followers cremated his remains; his relics were carried off to the ends of the earth. If you look at certain pieces of Buddhist art which depict that great wheel, you’ll often see the Buddhas sitting zazen just outside of samsara (usually in the corners of the image) where they simultaneously are and are not. The Buddha had made no provisions for a successor during his lifetime. The new leader was to be the Dharma itself – the teaching which he’d left behind. The Sangha, a rather loose term for an initially very loose body of individuals, ultimately conglomerated around the Buddha’s teachings. These individuals were typically monks, nuns, hermits, sramanas, and so forth. Some were recluses, others were missionaries. The latter rubbed shoulders with Brahmins, Jains, Ajivika monks, and so forth – while the hermits just did their thing. Individuals like these throughout all of India met together to ultimately form a wide variety of small monastic communities where they could eat and meditate together, debate matters of doctrine, clarify their philosophical footings and so forth. It’s during this period that Buddhism really began to take form as a ‘religion’ (a thing that binds people together), rather than one man’s philosophy on how to escape suffering through the middle path. From this point, it would not be long until Buddhism was taken up as a state-religion of sorts, but first, we need to address a very important event… and that would be none other than the coming of Alexander the Great onto the scene. %%%Alexander in India So, after Alexander had conquered Achaemenid Persia and parts of Afghanistan, the Greek King (and now Persian Sharasha) moved his eyes toward India, which was really nothing less than some sort of mythical Atlantean kingdom as far as he was concerned. In 326, Alexander fought at the Battle of Hydaspes with the Indian King Porus, and there he gained a great deal of respect as a military leader. Not long after this victory, however, Alexander was finally persuaded by his troops to return home rather than to march further into the interiors of the Indian sub-continent and face its harsh climate. This battle around the Jhelum river against King Porus is considered by many to be the most costly battle that the armies of Alexander had up to date fought, and it seemed his men had had enough. The truth is, they were scarred shitless to face more Indian armies. Despite being wounded himself on campaign, Alexander had wanted to subjugate the entire known world (which was presumed to end with India), but obviously this was too much to ask for. So, despite his relatively brief stay in India, Alexander had opened up the whole land for the arrival of Hellenism, and this collision of two such magnificent cultures would yield fascinating results. This Hellenism would first be felt in the realm of politics. When Alexander withdrew from India, he left his conquered Indian territories to the control of some of his generals – and this decision is what ultimately paved the way for the rise of the famous Maurya dynasty who would be so pivotal in the history of Buddhism as a world religion. While returning westward and even considering the conquests of both Carthage and Rome, Alexander died in Babylon in June of 323 BC. Two years after Alexander's death, one young ambitious man by the name of Chandragupta Maurya would liberate India’s North-Western frontier from Greek control and found himself a dynasty, in whose ranks stood some of India’s greatest kings of all time: Chandragupta himself, Bindusara, and the famed Buddhist ruler, Emperor Ashoka. All three of these kings maintained intimate relationship with the Hellenistic kingdoms. In fact, Chandragupta even wound up marrying the daughter of Seleucus Nikator, the Greek successor king over Syria and former General of Alexander’s army. This relationship was further reinforced during the reign of Bindusara, wherein we have records that King Antiochus was urged to send Greek wine and raisins which had come into great demand in India – so we know there was a whole bunch of trading going on during the Hellenistic period. And we should all know by this point that –like I said earlier – wherever material goods flow, so too do ideas. The diplomatic relationship between India and the West was recorded in one of Ashoka’s Rock Edicts (number XIII to be precise) wherein he mentions the names of five Greek rulers to whose kingdoms Buddhist missionaries had been sent. Even plain ol’ visitors between India and the West became more common sight. Contact between Greeks and Indians is recorded in great detail in works like Strabo’s Geography, Pliny’s Natural History, Arrian’s Indica, Ptolemy’s Geography, and a handful of other classical works. There are even references to quote-unquote “conversions” of Greeks to Hinduism (of course, this transition would have been seamless to Greek pagans – it would have occurred through a purely natural syncretic process – it was just a matter of taking on a number of new gods in addition to the old ones). Perhaps a more exceptional case would concern the Greek King of Bactria, Menander (or Melinda) – Chandragupta’s grandson – who took up Buddhism and wrote a great dialogue on the illusion of the self. In this way, India and all of its intellectual richness had come to occupy a peripheral, albeit important position in the Greek world (…and vice-versa, of course). The Greeks’ influence upon the cultural life of India in the fields of art and architecture, philosophy and science, cannot be understated. This is a really under-researched field due to linguistic hurdles, but the influence the Greeks had upon India was enormous. I plan to have a guest on sometime soon, Dr. Nirmal Das, to come and talk to us about it – but for now you’ll just have to deal with my assessment. So let’s start with art… the impact of Hellenistic art in India was tremendous, resulting in an entirely new school of art known as the Gandhara school (named after the region north-west of India we now call Afghanistan). This style actually originated in Bactria and Parthia, and it was only a matter of time until local artists began to construct Buddhist images with Greek techniques. Chiefly, this style was focused on realistic images of the Buddha or other Bodhisattvas made of stone or stucco. You’ll often hear this referred to as Greco-Buddhist Art. This was as much an eastward expansion of Hellenism as it was a westward expansion of Indian civilization. As one art historian once put it: “The Gandhara artist had the hands of a Greek and the heart of an Indian.” Highly polished images of the Buddha were being made which had more had more in common with the Greek god Apollo than with any Indian conception of this venerable man. Interestingly enough, these images were seated in the typical Indian lotus posture which was actually based more on observations of Indian ascetics rather than on any western philosophers (who were more into walking and reclining than sitting, if we can use either a Socrates or a Diogenes as our model). And this leads me to my next point, which concerns the collision of each culture’s respective philosophies… and this is also where it gets really murky, because we have no clear idea of who influenced who in regards to what. Greek mystical philosophy, as seen in the Orphic and Pythagorean schools for example, have a great number of parallels with Indian philosophy... but I honestly don’t know who got what from whom (and I’ve heard countless arguments on all sides). Orientalists, nationalists, and so forth all have their own opinions. I’ve heard it said that metempsychosis was brought into India by Greek travellers starting from about the 8th century… You’ve probably also heard the opposite to be true far more often (especially when it comes to Theosophical circles). The reality is, however, that we have no way of knowing – and ultimately, it might just be that the philosophers of both cultures independently developed their respective theories of metempsychosis. We just don’t have the sources to make a strong argument either way. There’s all sorts of great questions we can ask like: did Stoicism and Epicureanism inform Buddhism, or did Buddhism inform Stoicism and Epicureanism? Or were they completely separate developments which only converged to influence one another at a later date? Since so much of history is retro-projection, does “at a later date” even mean anything? (In other words, how did eventual developments in both streams reinterpret old information in light of new information?) What about vegetarianism? The concept of the Self? Concepts like the Parmenidean/Platonic/Neo-Platonic “One” in relation to Brahma? What about astrology? Alchemy? The number of questions is endless, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no way of untangling this mess of a non-simultaneously apprehended universe. Sorry. As far as Indian science is concerned, the Greeks radically changed India’s thoughts concerning astronomy. Thanks to Alexander, the Greeks were the inheritors of that glorious Babylonian, Egyptian and Persian cultural heritage, and their millennia of observations went a long way in influencing the Indians. As far as I know, Vedic astrology was heavily concerned with the transit of the Moon through its 27 mansions – it was far more Lunar than it was Solar – however, the signs of zodiac, the seven day week, the concept of ‘hours’ – all of these things were brought into India by the Greeks (who themselves also gained much from Indian observations). By the middle-ages, however, Indians took a sort of mystical place of prominence in all matters astrological. Western Europe looked to the Arab world for authority, and the Arab world looked to India… there was a sort of never ending orientalism when it came to deciding who were the supreme race of astrologers. The Picatrix is a great example of this, since it was originally written by an Arab, and it’s brimming with references to great Indian sages who were masters of astrology, suffumigation, image-making, and so forth. But anyhow, that’s just an aside.   Alright so – I don’t plan on moving much further eastward from here – if we do, we’re getting into murkier territory as far as my ability to relate anything accurate or meaningful is concerned (and there are a number of reasons for this, both historical and linguistic). When it comes to India, we western folk can recognize all sorts of parallels with the traditions of our own pre-Christian ancestors – and even the language is not impenetrable – but when it comes to China, Japan, Korea, Polynesia and so forth, I’d really be talking about what scholars call “reception”, since everything I know about ancient China, for example, comes from narratives and recreations made by white angloid scholars during the 19th and 20th centuries, not from Chinese people themselves (there’s just only so many languages one can learn). I haven’t the faintest clue what primitive religion was like in China or Japan beyond the fact that it probably had many affinities with Central Asian shamanism (or just shamanism in general). Animism, ancestor worship, divination through bones and hexagrams, dance, drumming, use of sacred plants… it was these sorts of things which dominated much of East Asia until the coming of Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism and so forth... Now as far as the specifics of Daoism or Taoism is concerned, I’ll let it speak for itself. Go find a copy of the Tao Te Ching and consume it... in various translations. You can finish it in an afternoon, or read it piece by piece, it doesn’t matter - but I really do think it’s one of mankind’s most important texts. It is most universal in its wisdom, which is why I don’t really even like calling Daoism a religion. Sometimes I like to call it the revelation of Hermes Trismegistus to the Chinese, because Hermeticism and Daoism have so much in common (albeit completely independent developments from one another). But that is neither here nor there since my project is admittedly Eurocentric in nature (it can be no other way given who and what I am). So with that said, I think we’ll leave India for now, remembering that from this point onwards in our chronology it’s officially become intertwined with the greater Mediterranean system, and is now prone to giving and receiving influence from that particular corner of the Earth. The Hellenistic world will be intimately bound up with India for the next few hundred years, and the results of that bond will rub off on the Roman Empire in centuries to come. Ultimately, Rome will be cut off from India by local uprisings in formerly Seleucid regions in Persia, but that’s a long ways away from now, so we’ll leave it at that. This has been the 31st instalment of Encyclopedia Hermetica; I’m Dan Attrell, and I’d like to thank you for joining me for this rather cursory overview of pre-classical Indian civilization.


Location and characteristics

Relevant finds, artifacts found primarily in graves, were distributed along the banks of the Swat and Dir rivers in the north, Taxila in the southeast, along the Gomal River to the south. Simply made terracotta figurines were buried with the pottery, and other items are decorated with simple dot designs. Horse remains were found in at least one burial.


The Gandhara grave culture may be an artifact of the Indo-Aryan migrations, but it may also be explained by regional cultural continuity.

Indo-Aryan migrations

The pottery finds of the Gandhara grave culture show clear links with contemporary finds from southern Central Asia (BMAC) and the Iranian Plateau[1] and may be associated with early Indo-Aryan speakers as well as the Indo-Aryan migration into the Indian Subcontinent,[2] which came from the Bactria–Margiana region. According to Kochhar, the Indo-Aryan culture fused with indigenous elements of the remnants of the Indus Valley Civilization (OCP, Cemetery H) and gave rise to the Vedic Civilization.[2]

Cultural continuity

Asko Parpola argues that the Gandhara grave culture is "by no means identical with the Bronze Age Culture of Bactria and Margiana".[3] According to Tusa, the Gandhara grave culture and its new contributions are "in line with the cultural traditions of the previous period".[4] According to Parpola, in the centuries preceding the Gandhara culture, during the Early Harappan period (roughly 3200–2600 BCE), similarities in pottery, seals, figurines, ornaments etc. document intensive caravan trade between the Indian Subcontinent and Central Asia and the Iranian plateau.[5] Tusa remarks that

... to attribute a historical value to [...] the slender links with northwestern Iran and northern Afghanistan [...] is a mistake[, since] it could well be the spread of particular objects and, as such, objects that could circulate more easily quite apart from any real contacts.[4]

Cremation urn
Cremation urn

According to Kennedy, who argues for a local cultural continuity, the Gandhara grave culture people shared biological affinities with the population of Neolithic Mehrgarh. This suggests a "biological continuum" between the ancient populations of Timargarha and Mehrgarh.[6] This is contested by Elena E. Kuz'mina, who notes remains that are similar to some from Central Asian populations.[7]

Antonini,[8] Stacul and other scholars argue that this culture is also not related to the Beshkent culture of Kyrgyzstan and Vakhsh culture of Tajikistan.[9] However, E. Kuz'mina argues the opposite on the basis of both archaeology and the human remains from the separate cultures.[10]


Narasimhan et al. 2018 analyzed DNA of 362 ancient skeletons from Central and South Asia, including those from the Iron Age grave sites discovered in the Swat valley of Pakistan (between 1200 BCE and 1 CE from Aligrama, Barikot, Butkara, Katelai, Loe Banr, and Udegram). According to them, "there is no evidence that the main BMAC population contributed genetically to later South Asians", and that "Indus Periphery-related people are the single most important source of ancestry" in Indus Valley Civilization and South Asia. They further state that the Swat valley grave DNA analysis provides further evidence of "connections between [Central Asian] Steppe population and early Vedic culture in India".[11]

See also


  1. ^ Gupta, Om (2006). Encyclopaedia of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Gyan Publishing House. p. 749. ISBN 9788182053892.
  2. ^ a b Kochhar 2000, pp. 185-186.
  3. ^ Parpola 1993, p. 54.
  4. ^ a b Tusa 1977, p. 690-692.
  5. ^ Asko Parpola, Study of the Indus Script, May 2005 p. 2f.
  6. ^ Kenneth A.R. Kennedy. 2000, God-Apes and Fossil Men: Palaeoanthropology of South Asia Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p. 339.
  7. ^ "The origin of the Indo-iranians, volume 3" Elena E. Kuz'mina p. 318
  8. ^ Antonini 1973.
  9. ^ Bryant 2001.
  10. ^ E. Kuz'mina, "The origin of the Indo-Iranians, volume 3" (2007)
  11. ^ Narasimhan, Vagheesh M.; Patterson, Nick J.; Moorjani, Priya; Lazaridis, Iosif; Mark, Lipson; Mallick, Swapan; Rohland, Nadin; Bernardos, Rebecca; Kim, Alexander M. (2018-03-31). "The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia". bioRxiv: 292581. doi:10.1101/292581.


  • Bryant, Edwin (2001), The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-513777-9
  • Kochhar, Rajesh (2000), The Vedic People: Their History and Geography, Sangam Books
  • Müller-Karpe, Hermann (1983), Jungbronzezeitlich-früheisenzeitliche Gräberfelder der Swat-Kultur in Nord-Pakistan, Beck, ISBN 3406301541
  • Parpola, Asko (1993), "Margiana and the Aryan Problem", International Association for the Study of the Cultures of Central Asia Information Bulletin 19:41-62
  • Tusa, Sebastiano (1977), "The Swat Valley in the 2nd and 1st Millennia BC: A Question of Marginality", South Asian Archaeology 6:675-695

External links

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