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Indian Civilizations

Indian Civilizations introduces students to the various influences that have fashioned the civilizations that are integral to the history of India, with an emphasis on the multiplicity of strands in Indian culture and tradition from pre-history to the present. The rich and varied ideas and thoughts from the ancient times to the modern age and their expression through art and artefacts, through literature and philosophical writings, will form the basis for discussions for an understanding of the plurality of Indian civilizations.

Faculty

Semester : Spring 2023

This is a small course about a large and fascinating subject, that of Indian Civilizations. It has been structured in a way that it can be immersed in, I hope, with enjoyment. The course will draw out civilizational elements from prehistory till the present – through travels and lives, through ideas and art forms – in which small phenomena will be linked to the larger world of the Indian subcontinent and beyond. In the process, the course will explore a varied and rich tapestry that includes rock art, the Harappan Civilization, the iconic emperor Ashoka, the poetry of Bhakti saints, the travels of Indians beyond India and Mughal art along with its influence on European painters like Rembrandt. Indian civilization, as the course will emphasize, is not to be seen merely as part of the dead past but as an element that continued to be invoked in present times, by literary giants like Rabindranath Tagore and statesmen like Jawaharlal Nehru, and by more ordinary people in India’s villages and towns. The course will involve scholarly readings and literature, as also film appreciation and analysis.

Semester : Monsoon 2022

This course aims to provide students with an outline of the various influences that fashioned the civilizations that are integral to the history of India. The emphasis is on the plurality of Indian culture and tradition. The course is divided into two separate but interrelated parts.

In the first part Rudrangshu Mukherjee presents the very broad themes of the civilizations from ancient times to the modern age. The themes are:

  • Harrapan Culture
  • Vedic Civilization
  • Coming of The Buddha
  • Ashoka Gupta Empire — Political Structure, Culture,
  • Religious Ideas
  • Coming of Islam — Bhakti And Mughal Pluralism
  • British Rule — Indian Responses — Rammohun, Gandhi, Tagore

In the second part Gopalkrishna Gandhi looks at some specific features of these civilizations. These features are

  • Digging for the Future
    • ‘Dancer’, ‘Priest-King’ and Bull – Life’s Rhythms in the Indus Valley (Discussing the possible reasons for their decline and the trajectories of their continuance ).
  • Great Words
    • The Past, Present and Future of Sanskrit ( A Post-Modern reflection on the Buddha, Mahavira and Sankara)
  • Great Works
    • The Tirukkural (Its ethical and romantic as opposed to didactic voltage).
  • Kalidasa (His romantic and aesthetic as opposed to moral preoccupations) ‘Rock of Ages Cleft For Me’
  • Asoka’s Stones (The Imperatives of an Ethical Sovereignty)
    • The Peacock Throne
  • Shah Jehan’s Progeny and Abanindranath Tagore’s paintings (with a tangential sighting of Sarmad and the Sufis)
    • Company – Colony – Country
  • Dalhousie – as a Maker and Breaker of India
  • Wavell – as a Soldier-Statesman who lost without knowing what he had lost

Semester : Spring 2023

The guiding idea behind this course is that civilization is not a homogenous, static cultural monolith, but rather a choir – not always harmonious – of many voices, narratives, and practices. The course overviews some of the unique cultural and intellectual developments, which have taken place in the Indian subcontinent, beginning with the mysterious Indus Valley civilization, and ending with political imagination in Bollywood films. We will explore the religious thought and practice of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religions, Indian philosophical traditions – both classical and modern -, classical aesthetic theory and literature, and interrelations between Islam and indigenous religions. We will attempt to look at Indian civilizations from several points of view – traditional and historical, sympathetic and critical. We will try to trace historical continuities and ruptures, examples of cultural synthesis and antagonism, as well as critically examine how cultural insiders and outsiders have imagined and represented Indian civilizations.

Semester : Monsoon 2022

In this course we explore the idea of Indian civilization, with civilization defined as varying expressions of collective vitality, and the emergence of creative rather than destructive forms of contestation and cohabitation within structures of hierarchy. Rather than a sharp break between tradition and modernity, we seek to understand the ways in which old and new theological and civilizational questions and forms endure and are transfigured across three domains: politics, aesthetics and ethics. In each of these domains we examine the birth of ideas, moving across religious and secular formations, such as, in politics, Gandhi’s idea of how brute force may (or may not) be transformed into soul force, as well as Ambedkar’s embrace of Buddhism; in aesthetics, we examine Hindu-Urdu cinema as a lyric tradition, situated alongside older lyric traditions, which have had a critical task of teaching a society defined primarily by caste (in marriage and social structures of interaction), how to express love and forms of friendship and intimacy with others; in ethics we examine the ways in which potentially hostile neighboring groups have found ways of living together, amidst older and newer contestations of ideas of high and low, or self and other. Through these and other examples of the birth of ideas within politics, aesthetics and ethics, moving across disciplines, theologies, texts, films, and images, this course aims to teach students to think creatively about key concepts in Indian collective and intimate life such as caste, tribe, religion, sexuality, and gender, and about civilization as forms of collective vitality that may also wane, or be replenished.

Semester : Monsoon 2022 | Spring 2023

This course unlocks the mystery called Indian civilizations. What were they after all? The Indian civilizations can be likened to the boggarts that pounced out of the cupboard during Professor Remus Lupin’s class on the Defence Against the Dark Arts (from the Harry Potter Series). The boggarts were shape-shifting non-beings and no one really knew what they looked like.

On pouncing out, they at once took the form of students’ imagination and morphed into a tarantula, a dementor or an angry granny. Indian Civilizations are much the same. They don’t have any one form. They shift their shape according to the social group imagining them. For instance, for the nationalists, Indian civilization was the dazzling high Brahmanical and Sanskritist culture. For the hedonists, Indian civilization was about materialism and eroticism. For the Dalits, Indian civilization was about Aryan oppression of the indegenous peoples. For the European travelers, Indian civilization was seeped in social hierarchies and the personal despotism of the rulers. Through the semester you will come across several Indian civilizational boggarts. These encounters will expose you to the diverse imaginations that constitute the country that we know as India. Learning to appreciate this diversity will be your first lesson in Defence against the Dark Arts.

Faculty : Tanika Sarkar

Semester : Monsoon 2022

This is a small but challenging course which covers a vast and complex ground and raises difficult questions. For instance, does the term “ civilization “ have a fixed meaning ? What aspects of historical experience are left out of such definitions, and why? Which categories of people are commonly regarded as the authentic creators of our civilization and who are left out of their ranks?

Is there an Indian civilization which has a single, invariant essence, despite the immense cultural diversities in the subcontinent’s long history? If there is, indeed, a thread of unity that runs through all our historical epochs, then how do we define it? Is Indian civilization completely home-grown, developed from indigenous cultural resources alone? Or has it been enriched by many other cultures of the world which mingled with it? Is our civilization a seamless? harmonious phenomenon or is it also the product of conflicts and contradictions ?

The course will try to address some of these questions. It intends to introduce the students to a few areas of Indian lives and cultures from prehistory to the modern age. It will focus on changing patterns of material and cultural production, knowledge forms, religious belief and ritual, among different communities in different historical periods. It will also explore the persistent inequalities in our collective social life and the marginalization of subaltern people who do not have access to the riches of our civilisation.

Study at Ashoka

Study at Ashoka

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