Objectives Find out which religions became part of South Asian cultures. Understand which empires shaped the history of South Asia. Learn about the present-day religions and languages of South Asian cultures.
Key Terms Caste Colony Boycott Partition
Caste In the Hindu religion, a social group into which people are born and which they cannot change; each group with assigned jobs.
Colony A territory ruled by another nation.
Boycott A refusal to buy or use goods and services to show disapproval or bring about change.
Partition A division into parts or portions.
A territory ruled by another nation. Colony In the Hindu religion, a social group into which people are born and which they cannot change; each group with assigned jobs. Partition Boycott A division into parts or portions. A refusal to buy or use goods and services to show disapproval or bring about change. Caste
New Religions The Indus Valley civilization flourished from about 2500 B.C. to about 1600 B.C. About the same time the Indus Valley civilization was weakening, new comers to the region brought different languages and beliefs. A new culture, called the Aryan culture, combined the ancient languages and beliefs of the region with the language and religion of newcomers.
New Religions (Cont’d) The Aryans ruled northern India for more than 1,000 years. They divided people into four classes – priests and the educated; rulers and warriors; farmers, artisans, and merchants; and laborers. Europeans later called the division the caste (kast) system. A caste is a social group into which people are born and which they cannot change.
Hinduism The caste system became a central part of a new system of beliefs that also emerged from Aryan religious ideas and practices, called Hinduism. Hinduism has no one single founder. Hindus worship many gods and goddesses, but they believe in a single spirit. To Hindus, the various gods and goddesses represent different parts of this spirit. Today, Hinduism is the main religion of India.
The Three Main Hindu gods. Brahma is regarded as the creator of the universe. According to Hindu writings, Brahma originally had five heads. His fifth head was destroyed by Shiva because Brahma had offended him. Vishnu is worshipped as the preserver of the universe. Shiva appears in many different forms, including the destroyer of the universe.
Buddhism According to Buddhist tradition, Buddhism was founded in India by a prince named Siddhartha Gautama. He was born in 560 B.C. and taught that people can be free of suffering if they give up selfish desires for power, wealth, and pleasure. He became known as the Buddha, or “Enlightened One.” Buddha’s followers spread Buddhism to many parts of Asia, but it has almost completely died out in India.
Buddhism Buddha Bodhi Tree
Reading Check 1 What group of people developed the caste system? Which ancient religion founded in India is a main religion there today?
Reading Check 1 The Aryans Hinduism
The Maurya Empire A leader named Chandragupta Maurya conquered many kingdoms, and by the time of his death in 298 B.C., the Maurya Empire covered much of the Indian subcontinent. Chandragupta’s grandson, Asoka, became emperor in 268 B.C. He converted to Buddhism and set up pillars across India with his laws and beliefs in fair and just government carved into them. The Maurya Empire lost power soon after Asoka’s death, and collapsed in about 185 B.C.
Gupta Empire About 500 years after the Mauryas, the Gupta Empire came to power and ruled the Indian subcontinent from A.D. 320 to about A.D. 550. Gupta emperors set up a strong central government that was supported by trade and farming. Gupta mathematicians developed the system of writing numerals that we use today, called “Arabic” numerals. Weak rulers and foreign invaders led to the fall of the Gupta Empire.
Mughal Empire In the A.D. 700s, people from the north began moving into northern India and introduced the religion of Islam to the area. Islam is a set of beliefs revealed to the prophet Muhammad, who began teaching these beliefs around A.D. 610 in Southwest Asia. The Mughals were Muslims who settled in India around the 1500s, and quickly established an empire.
Mughal Empire (Cont’d) Akbar (r. 1556-1605) allowed all people to worship freely, regardless of their religion, and supported the arts and literature. Akbar’s grandson, ShaJahan, built many grand buildings, including the TajMahal. The cost of this and other of Jahan’s building projects was enormous, and eventually helped cause the empire’s collapse in the 1700s.
The British in India By the late 1700s, much of the Indian subcontinent had come under British rule. Until 1858, a trading company known as the British East India Company controlled most of India. From the that time until 1947, India was controlled by Britain as a colony of Britain’s empire. A colony is a territory ruled by another nation.
Independence and Division In the 1900s Mohandas Gandhi led a strong independence movement in India. Gandhi stressed the use of nonviolent resistance and employed methods such as boycotts (a refusal to buy or use goods and services to show disapproval or bring about change) to help end British control of India. India won independence in 1947, but Muslim feared that their rights wouldn’t be protected in a land where Hindus were the majority.
Independence and Division (Cont’d) Fighting erupted, and in 1947 a partition (division) of the subcontinent resulted. Muslims would be the majority in Pakistan, and Hindus would be the majority in India. Fighting continued after the partition, however, and about 1 million people were killed. Gandhi himself was murdered by a Hindu who was angered at Gandhi’s concern for Muslims.
1947 Independence and Division
Conflict in South Asia Conflict between India and Pakistan continued throughout the 1900s, and in 1971 Indian troops helped East Pakistan break away from Pakistan to form the nation of Bangladesh. Pakistan and India continue to fight over which country controls the area along the India-Pakistan border, called Kashmir.
Reading Check 2 Which empire introduced Islam to South Asia? (Maurya, Gupta, or Mughal) What major issues led to the partition of India in 1947? What is the main religion in Pakistan?
Reading Check 2 The Mughal Empire Muslims were a minority in the newly independent India and were afraid that their rights would not be protected. Islam
South Asian Cultures Today – Many Religions Hinduism and Islam are the major religions of South Asia today. Hinduism is the major religion in Nepal, and about 80% of the people in India are Hindus. Islam is the main religion in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Christianity, Sikhism (a combination of Hindu and Muslim beliefs), and Jainism (teaches that violence toward or injury of any living thing is wrong), are also practiced in South Asia.
South Asian Cultures Today – Many Languages The languages of South Asia generally belong to two families – Dravidian (spoken in Southern India) and Indo-European (spoken in northern India and most of the rest of South Asia). Hindi is spoken by about 30% of the people in India and is an Indo-European language. The Indian government recognizes 15 languages. English is also used as an official language in India.