ancient bengla

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Our knowledge of Bengali life in this ancient period is fragmentary. Some descriptions of Bengali people, and some aspects of bengali food habits, culture, transportation, possessions, dress, society, religion, technology, literature, and arts are discussed in the respective pages. A brief outline of this period is supplied below. History begins by definition in the historic period, the early phase is thus defined as the period from the beginning of the historic period (before the 5th century AD
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  Our knowledge of Bengali life in this ancient period is fragmentary. Some descriptions of Bengalipeople,and some aspects of bengalifood habits, culture,transportation, possessions,dress,society,religion,technology, literature, andarts are discussed in the respective pages. A brief outline of this period is supplied below.History begins by definition in the historic period, theearly phaseis thus defined as theperiod from the beginning of the historic period (before the 5th century AD) till theGupta period (ending in 550 AD). After the decline of the sarasvati-sindhu civilization,direct foreign trade with India restarted only in the centuries before the birth of christ,when trade with the Ptolemaic Egyptian ports (like Berenice, Nechesia, and MyosHormos) allowed the Indians major benefits instead of the Arab intermediaries. Theimportance of the Indian trade increased in the first century BC when the Romans took over Egypt, and is underscored by Pliny's mention that the trade balance with India wasdraining the Roman empire, and in the laments of emperor Tiberius. In addition, in themauryaperiod, the trade route from eastern china through the desert and pamir,Afganisthan and Persia, all the way to the mediterranean was accessible to the major Indian empire. This contact increased during thesaka and kusana period. In fact this foreign trade was the major reason for the continuing power struggles in western India.The eastern ports of Gange and Tamralipti find mention from the very first century AD;sounagoura (possibly wari/vaTeshvar near DhAkA with occupation dating back to atleast 450 BC) is mentioned in the early second century AD, and trade with Tibet,Myamar, and the southeast asian states like suvarNadvIpa is attested from a later period.Because of all this trade, the period from the 2nd centuy BC to the 7th century AD foundthe rise of international cross-influence and a pan-Indian culture: in literature, inlanguage, in the scripts, and in arts. Overall, even though Bengal was never as rich as thewestern and southern parts of the country, trade seems to have been an importantcomponent of the economy in addition to farming, which, of course, had been themainstay sincethe prehistoric period. The society was basically feudal, and likeelsewhere in India, the Gupta period is a golden age in Bengal, with trade and well-minted gold coins.No doubt the Hindus, Jainas and Buddhists preachersbrought the aryan influence to Bengal early in this period, in addition to the influence that came through themauryyasand the shuGgas; and local religious traditions started becoming discerniblein Bengal. However, the complete aryanization probably had to wait till the age of theGuptas who were Hindu but supported the Buddhists and Jainas as well. It is to be noted however thataryanization here refers to the introduction of the aryan caste system and hindu religiousceremony into Bengal; and was equally accepted by the hindus and majoity of the jainsand buddhists leading family lives. The term is somewhat misleading as much of thehindu tradition all over India including Bengal and including some of the ceremonialstructure and most of the pantheon of modern hindu gods largely traces its srcins tonon-‘aryan’, (dravidian and tribal) cultures as much as to the culture shared with other Indo-European people.The golden period in Indian history was, however, not to last. The fall of Rome in 475AD, the wrenching away of the chinese trade route by the Huns in the fifth century, and  the rise of the Islamic power around the eighth century and them capturing the major western trading posts, and the slow decay of the eastern ports led to a major change in theeconomic and social landscape. The resulting fall in the centralized power, and the returnto a more agricultural pattern led to the rise of insular and local identities. Coming on topof the advent of the foreign influences not only through trade but also directly with theYueh-chi zaka kusana, Ahira (2–3 cent AD), huNa (5–6 cent AD), and gujar-gurjar turaSkas (7–9 cent AD), and this rise of the regional kingdoms in the second half of the7th century, the regional characteristics started dominating, in religion, arts and language,changing economic structures gave rise to feudalism, and it is counted as the beginning of  medieval times in Indian history.So also in Bengal, After the fall of the Guptas, different small kingdoms arose, and, some bengalis spread out into the rest of India in search of fortunes. For example, thegadAdhara of vArendrI, who in the 10th century founded a small kingdom in belArI inSouth India under the suzerainty of rASTrakUTa kRSNa III was probably a descendantof these expatriates. However, in Bengal, except for shashAGka, no powerful kings arosehere, but bengal was very much in the fray of North Indian politics. As opposed to thesituation under harSavarddhana in the UP region, the increasing influence of brahminism  in Bengal in this period precluded state support for buddhism and jainism, even thoughthey were popular religions, and the buddhist vihArasstarted. The only exception were the possibly foreign srcinkhaD.gas.DuringshashAGka,the buddhists were probably actually persecuted, and some religious artifacts destroyed. But, three things need to be stated in this context. First, brahminicalhinduism in the early period was very strongly against religions like buddhism which didnot follow its rituals, and often explicitly criticized all ritual as meaningless or worse.Buddhists were considered inauspicious and their houses unclean. Many kings andkingdoms tried to expel them. Second, destruction of religious property in the ancientworld was not uncommon; through the ages it was indulged in by such great rulers aspuSyamitra Sunga, srI harSa of kashmir, pulakeshI II, subhAta varmaNa of the parmars,mahendra varmaNa, and rAjendra cola. The aims were varied: it was sometimes politicalas when at the end of the 12th century the malva parmars destroyed the jain temples andmosques for arab traders in the trade dominated chalukya gujarat, it was sometimessymbolic as when the rashtrakutas sent elephants to mow down pratihara temples in the10th century, it was sometimes economic as when harshadeva of kashmir decided toappoint deva utpATana nAYakas to loot hindu and buddhist temples at the end of the11th century, and it was sometimes religious like karnataka jaina temples being takenover by the shaivaites who destroyed the srcinal and put idols of shiva in it. AsshashAGka was fighting the buddhist harSavarddhana, the motives mght not have beenentirely religious vengeance. Third, it seems that traditional stories of extreme religiousintolerance such as the one about the southern shaivaite king srimaravarman killing 8000jains on a single day in late 7th century are not told about this reign, even though onlyaccounts by religious and political opponents of shashAGka have survived to date.In general, vaishnava hinduism was on the rise among the populace. Trade seems to havefurther reduced and currency devalued (even during shashAGka, land is being valued in  cowries, not gold dInAra or silver drahma). In fact, during the last hundred years, metalcurrency disappeared. The trading post of tAmralipta is hardly ever mentioned after thisperiod; Mithila, which used to be touched by eight trade routes earlier, now does notseem to be mentioned at all. Most urban centers seemed to be in decay, and the land turnsrural with increasingly small holdings from the pressure on land. But the state still seemsrich.Following this period, much of Bengal was ruled by thepalasfor about four hundredyears (8th-11th century AD). Stories of gopAla's election, dharmapAla's conquests, thekaivarta revolt, and mahIpAla's popular policies fill Bengali folklore. However, duringthis period, trade seems to have further reduced and the region became mainlyagricultural, though traders still seem important personages in the society. The capitalkeeps shifting in this agricultural society: at various times it was in pATaliputra,mudgagiri, rAmavati, vaTaparvataka, vilAsapUra (haradhAma), sahAsagaNDa,kAJcanapUra, and kapilavasaka. The feudal structure became more ornate along withincreased bureaucracy. Poverty becomes apparent in Bengal at least in some selectionsfromcarYAgIti(10th-12th cent AD) andsaduktikarNAmRta(11th-12th cent. poems collected in 1206 AD). Even though the pAla andcandra states were mahAyAnI buddhist (as was the firstkambojaruler) in name and in deed at least till the early 11th century, thesociety in all of Bengal (excepting, naturally, those of the buddhists who had renouncedthe worldly life and lived in the saGghas)followedthe brahminical class division; butwas quite tolerant. Land grants to buddhist organizations are found alongside those tobrahmins. The buddhistvihArasatnAlanda, vikramashIlA, odantapurI and sAranAtha flourished. Bengali language and literature rose to prominence in this period.When however thesenaandbarman kings (12th-13th cent A.D.) came from the south (karNATa and probably kaliGga respectively), replaced the pAla and candra dynastiesrespectively, andestablisheda strict hindu (but otherwise similar) regime much morecharacteristic of their home regions (since the time of andhra-sAtavAhana period thoughthe times of pallava-cola-cAlukya) and north India than Bengal of that period, thetolerance reduced and the caste system became very rigid and the influence of buddhismreduced, and to some extent was forcibly reduced. This intolerance extended to the extantkamboja kingdom as well. The documents of this period reflect that the lower castes arenot even mentioned in the royal edicts. The trading class no longer seems socallyrespectable, beaureaucracy seems to have reached new heights and feudal lords becomesvery powerful. This is the period when Bengaldevelopedits own brahminical tradition,rules and laws.Islam also started spreading slowly, especially in the magadha region. When the turkishinvaders started coming in to bengal, the society was ill-prepared to deal with the threat.The slow corruption of the sena era and its religious rigidity had made it inflexible, slow,poor, and too dependant on fatalism and astrology; to the extent that the horse-ridingswift-moving turks were almost seen as the inevitable future brought about by kalki, thelast incarnation of viSNu.  But, Bengal, by this time had a self-sufficient village agrarian economy, almost no longdistance trade, a feudal system and a distinct regional identity, its own language andscript, artistic and cultural styles, and distinct religious tradition. The vedic rituals wereweak and knowledge based philosophies were less important, emphasis was rather on thevery physical feelings and aesthetics. This, in turn, led to a very humanistic religiousstreak, a bigger recognition of property rights of women, and a coupled rise of theromantic and physical aspects of the lore of rAdhA and kRSNa,and the slow but steady rise of the cult of feminine shakti which played such an important role during themedieval periodushered in by the Turkish conquest.
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