marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

The Wonder That Was India

The Wonder That Was India: A survey of the history and culture of the Indian sub-continent before the coming of the Muslims by Arthur Llewellyn Basham

As this says, it is a survey.  For such it's not very dry.  Uses archeology and records and travelers' accounts both from Greece and China.

The first thing surveyed is of course the basic history.  Starts with the Indus civilization, I think it pushes the evidence a bit far, though (alas) in a way that is very common.  The invasions, the kings -- the foreign contacts, down to Alexander the Great -- and times of order and chaos.  The theory of state, wherein the king is protector, not only from invaders but criminals -- he incurred the guilt of any criminal he did not punish -- and in general, as when Rama was forced to send Sita away because the population doubted her chastity and thought it would bring ill-fortune on them.  The practice of spying on the populace, even raising orphans for it.

The main four castes and the occupation group ones, which are a lot more flexible and can vanish and appear and go up and down in status.  The increasing rigorousness of the rules.  While women marrying down was generally disapproved of, men could marry down easily for their second wives, upon a time.  Historical forms of marriage, including one in which the bride choose her bridegroom.

Daily life.  Religion.  Hinduism, discussing the manifold changes throughout history, with the rise of some gods and the descent of others.  Vishnu acquiring an avatar as the Buddha -- to preach falsehood to mislead the evil ones.  Buddhism's own teachings and its great divisions (Greater Vehicle, where you are supposed to help others to nirvana before you get there yourself, Lesser Vehicle, which goes after nirvana)   Jainism.  And more obscure ones.

And the arts.  Personally I skimmed most of the non-literary ones, but the literary ones covered everything from epics to lyric, and I enjoyed them.
Tags: history reviews: across eras

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