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.
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, and a creative project to be ‘performed’ in class.
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
1. Harrapan Culture
2. Vedic Civilization.
3. Coming of The Buddha
5. Gupta Empire --- Political Structure, Culture, Religious Ideas
6. Coming of Islam -- Bhakti And Mughal Pluralism
8. 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
1.'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 )
2.The Past, Present and Future of Sanskrit ( A Post-Modern reflection on the Buddha, Mahavira and Sankara)
3.The Tirukkural (Its ethical and romantic as opposed to didactic voltage)
4. Kalidasa (His romantic and aesthetic as opposed to moral preoccupations)
'Rock of Ages Cleft For Me'
5.Asoka's Stones (The Imperatives of an Ethical Sovereignty)
The Peacock Throne
6. Shah Jehan's Progeny and Abanindranath Tagore's paintings
(with a tangential sighting of Sarmad and the Sufis)
Company - Colony - Country
7. Dalhousie - as a Maker and Breaker of India
8. Wavell – as a Soldier-Statesman who lost without knowing what he had lost
Faculty - Arindam Chakrabarti (Philosophy)
Indian Civilization: A Debating Society
The Sanskrit/ Bengali/ Hindi word for civilization “sabhyatā” derives from the concept of a sabhā, or assembly for civil debate and deliberation. To be sabhya/ civilized is to be worthy of an assembly. The Telugu, Tamil, Kanada, Malayalam words for the same concept have to do with “nāgarikatā” invoking the idea of citizenship in a polis. The central focus of this class will be the genealogy and philosophy of conflict-management through rule-guided public debate from the time of emperor Ashoka to modern India. The reading-plan will be divided into five modules: A. Philosophical Debates, B. Aesthetic Debates, C. Negotiations of Collective Violence, D. Colonization, Swaraj, Violence, and Annihilation of Caste, and E. the Crisis of Civilisation.
Beginning with Rabindranath Tagore’s mid-twentieth century classic “Crisis of Civilisation” the class will rewind back to ancient Indian pitch for inter-faith accommodation. In the first and longest module, we shall read the texts of and on Ashokan Edicts, and a translation of the early 9th century Kashmiri Sanskrit play “Tumult of Traditions” (Agama Dambara) by Jayanta Bhatta. By way of explaining the philosophical debates between Buddhists and Vedists, Jainas and Brahmins, Materialist Hedonists and ritualist Mimamsakas, we shall cover some of the central philosophical debates that have exercised the “argumentative Indians”: Self versus No-Self, God versus No God, morality based on the Authorless Imperatives of the Vedas versus morality based on alleviating the suffering of all living beings and so on. Religious conflict resolution during the Mughal period will be studied by a close reading of sections of Dara Shikoh’s Majma-ul-Bahrain.
Side by side with religious and metaphysical debates, debates on Aesthetics among conflicting accounts of what makes a work of art relishable will also be discussed on the basis of contemporary work on “Rasa”-theory and Indian theories of literary imagination.
The course will end with Indian Civilization’s cultural and political struggle with simultaneous valorization and denouncement of violence and war (through the lens of Mahatma Gandhi on the Bhagvadgītā) and Babasaheb Ambdedkar’s sustained argument for “annililation” of dehumanizing caste-divisions.