How Bubonic Plague Reshaped the Streets of Mumbai in the 19th Century

In fact, you can’t really understand Mumbai without understanding the bubonic plague. Introduction On a leafy uphill road in Mumbai’s Bandra suburb, a fire burns at a Catholic shrine. Garlands adorn a cross and idols of saints below it as pedestrians walk by wearing masks. A nondescript sign at the back of the shrine tells[…]

A History of Handwoven Shawls in India’s Kashmir Region

This wool cloth is now sometimes known as “cashmere” after the old English spelling of “Kashmir”. Introduction For centuries, handwoven cloth from the Kashmir region of the Indian subcontinent has been revered for its exquisite softness and decorative surface patterns. The fleece used to make the cloth is known as pashm, meaning “soft hair” in[…]

The Mỹ Sơn Hindu Temple Complex

The Mỹ Sơn sanctuary was built by the Chams, who once dominated what is today southern Vietnam (Champa). A Sacred Sanctuary of the Chams Before the formation of modern-day countries in Southeast Asia, there were ancient kingdoms with magnificent temples. One location stands out—the Mỹ Sơn sanctuary, home of the Hindu gods. Today this is[…]

Jati: A History of the Caste System in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India

Towards the end of the Atharvaveda period (1000-900 BCE), new class distinctions emerged. Origins Perspectives There are at least two perspectives for the origins of the caste system in ancient and medieval India, which focus on either ideological factors or on socio-economic factors. The first school focuses on the ideological factors which are claimed to[…]

The Early Origins and Growth of Caste in India

They believed, influenced by the Rig-Veda epic, that lifestyles, occupations, ritual statuses, and social statuses were inherited. Introduction Caste systems through which social status was inherited developed independently in ancient societies all over the world, including the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. The caste system in ancient India was used to establish separate classes of[…]

Hindu Architecture at Rajarajesvara Temple in Tanjavur, India

The Rajarajesvara temple was built by one of the most successful rulers of the medieval period, Rajaraja Chola I. By Dr. Arathi MenonHistorian of Art and Architecture Introduction To see the Hindu god Shiva in the Rajarajesvara temple complex in Tanjavur, we must enter two impressive gateways, walk into a cloistered courtyard, past an enormous[…]

Analyzing an Ancient Indus Seal from Mohenjo-daro

Seals numbering in the thousands have been discovered in excavations of Indus cities as well as in sites in the Persian Gulf in southwest Asia. By Dr. Arathi MenonArt Historian Introduction Incised on this small stone (less than two inches across), we see a large figure seated on a dais surrounded by a horned buffalo,[…]

Social, Political, and Economic Landscapes in Kautilya’s ‘Arthashastra’

The Arthashastra (or Arthaśāstra) is one of the oldest surviving treatises on statecraft. Introduction There is considerable debate about the dating and authorship of the text; it underwent compilation, recension, and redaction several times over the centuries and is likely to have been a witness of religious and ideological transformations, political and socio-economic changes. As a śāstra, it[…]

Arjuna: Hero of Hinduism’s Ancient ‘Bhagavad Gita’

Arjuna takes center stage in the role of the seeker-student to the god Krishna’s role of teacher-guide. Introduction Arjuna (also given as Arjun) is the great hero of the Indian epic Mahabharata and the philosophical-religious dialogue Bhagavad Gita. His name means “shining”, “silver” and similar terms relating to brightness. He is the most popular champion[…]

A History of the Ancient Hindu Vedas and Vedic Period

The Vedas existed in oral form and were passed down for generations until they were committed to writing between 1500 and 500 BCE. Introduction The Vedas are the religious texts which inform the religion of Hinduism (also known as Sanatan Dharma meaning “Eternal Order” or “Eternal Path”). The term veda means “knowledge” in that they[…]

India’s Goddesses of Contagion: Protection, Unless You Make them Mad!

Goddesses have traditionally protected against sickness and cured the ill, according to Hindu belief. But there’s a catch. Introduction Hindus in India have had a helping hand – several in fact – when it comes to fighting deadly contagions like COVID-19: multi-armed goddesses co-opted to help contain and kill pestilence. Collectively known as “Amman,” or[…]

Charvaka: Understanding the Material World in the Philosophy of Ancient India

Materialism holds that perceivable matter is all that exists, while supernatural entities or planes of existence are imagined. Introduction Charvaka (also given as Carvaka) was a philosophical school of thought, developed in India c. 600 BCE, stressing materialism as the means by which one understands and lives in the world. Materialism holds that perceivable matter[…]

Adamgarh and Nagori: Rock Art History of Madhya Pradesh

Rock art is the primary source to study the culture, rituals, traditions, and lives of prehistoric societies. By Zenab Khan Introduction Rock art, that is paintings and carvings on natural rock formations, is one of the earliest forms of creative expression and a universal phenomenon among prehistoric societies. An instrument of communication rather than simply[…]

Visions of Paradise: Manuscripts and Gems from Medieval India and Europe

Empires in the Indian subcontinent shared intertwined histories with principalities to the west such as the Greeks and Romans. Introduction The word “paradise” often describes an idyllic place of unmatched beauty, but it can also refer to a mindset of harmony and bliss. Several world religions share these conceptions of paradise, but the paths for[…]

British India and the Anti-Colonial Movement during the 1918 Flu Pandemic

When the 1918 influenza pandemic struck India, the death toll was highest among the poor. Introduction In India, during the 1918 influenza pandemic, a staggering 12 to 13 million people died, the vast majority between the months of September and December. According to an eyewitness, “There was none to remove the dead bodies and the[…]

Eastern Sports and Western Bodies: The “Indian Club” in the U.S. in the 19th Century

Exploring the rise of the phenomenon in the U.S. This article, Brilliant Visions: Peyote among the Aesthetes, was originally published in The Public Domain Review under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0. If you wish to reuse it please see: https://publicdomainreview.org/legal/ Although largely forgotten today, exercise by club swinging was all the rage in the 19th century. Daniel[…]

Art and Architecture in Early Medieval India’s Gupta Period

The Guptas were ambitious rulers and by the end of the fourth century claimed dominance over a vast swathe of northern India. By Dr. Arathi MenonHistorian of Art and Architecture Introduction During the Gupta period (c. 320 – 647 C.E., named for the Gupta dynasty) there were tremendous advances in poetry, prose, and drama as[…]

Ancient India’s Madhubani Paintings: People’s Living Cultural Heritage

It is believed that King Janak, ruler of Mithila Kingdom in the 8th or 7th century BCE, asked that these paintings be developed for a wedding. By Chandra Shamsher Bahadur Singh Introduction Mithila, a region in the state of Bihar, northern India (and also stretching into Nepal), has an important tradition of knowledge in the form of[…]

Hoysala Architecture of Medieval India

The vigorous temple building activity of the Hoysala Empire arose from the social, cultural and political events of the period. Introduction Hoysala architecture indicates the distinctive building style developed under the rule of the Hoysala Empire in the region known today as Karnataka, India, between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. Hoysala influence stood at its[…]

The Maratha Empire of Early Modern India

As the British expanded their presence in India, the Marathas represented a major threat to their territorial ambitions. Introduction The Maratha Empire (also transliterated, Mahratta), or the Maratha Confederacy, was a Hindu state located in present-day India. It existed from 1674 to 1818. At its peak, the empire’s territories covered 250 million acres (1 million[…]

Mahajanapadas: Independent Monarchies and Republics in Ancient India

From a semi-nomadic tribal society to an agrarian-based society with a vast network of trade and a highly-organized political structure. Introduction Mahajanapadas, literally “Great Kingdoms” (from Maha, “great,” and Janapada “foothold of a tribe,” “country”), refers to 16 monarchies and ‘republics’ that stretched across the Indo-Gangetic plains from modern-day Afghanistan to Bangladesh in the sixth[…]

Angkor Wat, Medieval Center of the Khmer Empire

Introduction Angkor Wat is a temple complex in the province of Siem Reap, Cambodia originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu in the 12th century CE. It is among the largest religious buildings ever created, second only to the Temple of Karnak at Thebes, Egypt and, some claim, even larger. Its name means “City of[…]

An Overview of the Flourishing Ancient Indus Valley Civilization

The Indus Valley Civilization had an advanced urban culture. Introduction The Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), was an ancient civilization thriving along the lower Indus River and the Ghaggar River-Hakra River in what is now Pakistan and western India from the twenty-eighth century B.C.E. to the eighteenth century B.C.E. Another name for this civilization is the[…]

Bharatavarsha: A History of Ancient India

India has often been overlooked, especially in the West, about the contributions of its rich history and culture to civilization. Introduction India is a country in South Asia whose name comes from the Indus River. The name ‘Bharata’ is used as a designation for the country in their constitution referencing the ancient mythological emperor, Bharata,[…]

Hindus and Muslims under the Delhi Sultanate in Medieval India

The Delhi Sultanate, which lasted from 1206 to 1526, is known as a period of cultural intermixing. By Christopher Klune The Republic of India stands as one of the most pluralistic nations in the modern world, with many people of varying faiths co-existing under one national identity. Part of the origin of this pluralism can[…]

Sacred Space and Symbolic Form at India’s Medieval Lakshmana Temple

The temples at Khajuraho, including the Lakshmana temple, have become famous for their amorous images. Ideal Female Beauty Look closely at the image above. Imagine an elegant woman walks barefoot along a path accompanied by her attendant. She steps on a thorn and turns—adeptly bending her left leg, twisting her body, and arching her back—to[…]

The Battle of Hydaspes: Alexander the Great Meets Indian King Porus

At Hydaspes Alexander met a formidable opponent in King Porus. Introduction For almost a decade, Alexander the Great and his army swept across Western Asia and into Egypt, defeating King Darius III and the Persians at the battles of River Granicus, Issus and Gaugamela. Next, despite the objections of the loyal army who had been[…]