VI – History Gist

Sites: Sites are the places where the remains of things were found. These were made, used and left behind by the people.

Paleolithic period: The earliest period is Paleolithic, which comes from two Greek words, ‘palaeo’, meaning ‘old’ and ‘lithos’ meaning stone. This period extends from 2 million years ago to about 12,000 years ago. This time is divided into the Lower, Middle and Upper Paleolithic ages.

Mesolithic period: The period when we find environmental changes, beginning about 12,000 years ago till about 10,000 years ago is called Mesolithic (middle stone). Stone tools found during this period are generally tiny, and are called microliths.

Neolithic Period: The next stage, from about 10,000 years ago, is known as the Neolithic.

  • Many of the Harappan cities were divided into two or more parts. Usually, the part to the west was smaller but higher. Archaeologists describe this as Citadel. Generally, the part to the east was larger but lower. This is called the lower town.
  • The Great Bath was built in Mohenjodaro. This was line with bricks, coated with plaster, and made water-tight with a layer of natural tar. There were steps leading down to it from two sides, while there were rooms on all sides.
  • In cities like Kalibangan and Lothal, there were fire altars, where sacrifices may have been performed.
  • Some cities like Mohenjodaro, Harappa and Lothal had elaborate store houses.
  • Many of the cities had covered drains.
  • Most of the things that have been found by archaeologists are made of stone, shell and metal, including copper, bronze, gold and silver. Copper and bronze were used to make tools, weapons, ornaments and vessels. Gold and silver were used to make ornaments and vessels.
  • The most striking finds are those of beads, weights and blades.
  • The Harappans also made seals out of stone. These are generally rectangular and usually have an animal carved on them.
  • From the remains of plants, its known that the Harappans grew wheat, barley, pulses, peas, rice, sesame, linseed and mustard.
  • The Harappans reared cattle, sheep, goat and buffalo.
  • The city of Dholavira was divided into three parts, and each part was surrounded with massive stone walls, with entrance through gateways. A unique find in this area are the large letters of the Harappan script that were carved out of white stone and perhaps inlaid in wood. This is unique as generally Harappan writing has been found on small objects such as seals.
  • The city Lothal has a dockyard.
  • There are four Vedas – the Rigveda, the Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda. Theb is the Rig Veda, composed about 3500 years ago.
  • Sanskrit is part of a family of languages known as Indo-European. Some Indian languages such as Assamese, Gujarati, Hindi, Kashmiri and Sindhi, and many European languages such as English, French, German, Greek, Italian and Spanish belong to this family.
  • Other languages used in the subcontinent belong to different families. Those used in north-east belong to the Tibeto-Burman family; Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam belong to the Dravidian family; and the languages spoken in Jharkhand and parts of central India belong to the Austo-Asiatic family.
  • The practice of erecting megaliths (bigger rocks) began about 3000 years ago, and was prevalent throughout the Deccan, south India, in the north-east and Kashmir.
  • The priests divided the people into four groups, called varnas. According to them, each varna had a different set of functions.
  • The first varna was that of the Brahmin. Brahmins were expected to study and teach the Vedas, perform sacrifices and receive gifts.
  • In the second place were the rulers, also known as kshatriyas. They were expected to fight battles and protect people.
  • Third were the vish or the vaishyas. They were expected to be farmers, herders and traders. Both the kshatriyas and the vaishyas could perform sacrifices.
  • Last were the shudras, who had to serve the other three groups and could not perform any rituals.
  • Painted Grey ware: Plates and bowls are the most common vessels made out of Painted Grey ware. These are extremely find to touch, with a nice, smooth surface. Perhaps these were used on special occasions, for important people, to serve them.
  • The word janapada literally means the land where the jana set its foot, settled down.


  • About 2500 years ago, some janapadas became more important than others, and were known as mahajanapadas.
  • Most mahajanapadas had a capital city, many of these were fortified.
  • The new rajas now began maintaining armies. Soldiers were paid regular salaries and maintained by the king throughout the year.


  • As the rulers started building huge forts and maintaining big armies, they needed more resources and they started collecting regular taxes.
  • Taxes on crops were the most important. Usually, the tax was fixed at 1/6th of what was produced. This was known as bhaga or a share.
  • There were taxes on crafts persons as well. These could have been in the form of labor.
  • Herders were also expected to pay taxes in the form of animals and animal produce.
  • There were also taxes on goods that were bought and sold, through trade.
  • And hunters and gatherers also had to provide forest produce to the raja.

Changes in agriculture:

Two important changes in agriculture around this time. They are:

  • Growing use of iron ploughshares.
  • People began transplanting paddy.

Magadha Mahajanapada:

  • It became the most important mahajanapada in about two hundred years.
  • Many rivers such as the Ganga and Son flowed through Magadha. This was important for (a) transport, (b) water supplies (c) making the land fertile.
  • Magadha had two very important rulers, Bimbisara and Ajatasattu, who used all possible means to conquer other janapadas.
  • Mahapadma Nanda was another important ruler. He extended his control upto the north-west part of the subcontinent.
  • Rajagriha (present-day Rajgir) in Bihar was the capital of Magadha for several years.
  • Later the capital was shifted to Pataliputra (present-day Patna).


  • Vajji, with its capital at Vaishali (Bihar), was under a different form of government, known as gana or sangha.
  • Gana : is used for a group that has many members.
  • Sangha: means organization or association.
  • Rajas of powerful kingdoms tried to conquer the sanghas. Nevertheless, these lasted for a very long time, till about 1500 years ago, when the last of the ganas or sanghas were conquered by the Gupta rulers.

The story of Buddha:

  • The Buddha belonged to a small gana known as the Sakya gana, and was a kshatriya.
  • He attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in Bihar.
  • He then went to Sarnath, near Varanasi, where he taught for the first time.
  • He passed away at Kusinara.
  • The Buddha taught in the language of the ordinary people, Prakrit, so that everybody could understand his message.


  • Many of the ideas of the thinkers were recorded in the Upanishads.
  • These were part of the later vedic texts.
  • Upanishads literally means ‘approaching and sitting next’ and the texts contain conversations between teachers and students.
  • Most Upanishadic thinkers were men, especially Brahmins and rajas.
  • The women thinker, Gargi, who was famous for her learning, and participated in debates held in royal courts.
  • Satyakama Jabala, a poor person had a deep desire to learn about reality, was accepted as a student by a Brahmin teacher name Gautama, and became one of the best-known thinkers of the time.
  • Many of the ideas of the Upanishads were later developed by the famous thinker Shankaracharya.

# one of the most famous scholar was Panini, who prepared a grammar for Sanskrit.


  • The most famous thinker of the Jainas, Vardhamana Mahavira, also spread his message around 2500 years ago.
  • He was a kshatriya prince of the Licchhavis, a group that was part of the Vajji sangha.

# The rules made for the Buddhist sangha were written down in a book called the Vinaya Pitaka.

# the monasteries which were built for the monks were known as Viharas.

# Around the time when Jainism and Buddhism were becoming popular, Brahmins developed the system of ashramas. Four ashramas were recognized: brahmacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha and samnyasa.

  • The empire that Ashoka ruled was founded by his grandfather, Chandragupta Maurya, more than 2300 years ago.
  • Chandragupra was supported by a wise man called Chanakya or Kautilya. Many of Chanakya’s ideas were written down in a book called the Arthashastra.
  • Dynasty: When members of the same family become rulers one after another, the family is often called a dynasty. The Mauryas were a dynasty with three important rulers – Chandragupta, his son Bindusara, and Bindusara’s son, Ashoka.
  • The capital of their empire is Pataliputra.
  • Tribute: Unlike taxes, which were collected on a regular basis, tribute was collected as and when it was possible from people who gave a variety of things, more or less willingly.
  • Ashoka was the first ruler who tried to take his message to the people through inscriptions. Most of these inscriptions were in Prakrit and were written in the Brahmi script.
  • Ashoka’s dhamma did not involve worship of a god, or performance of a sacrifice.
  • The use of iron began in the subcontinent around 3000 years ago. Some of the largest collection of iron tools and weapons were found in the megalithic burials.
  • Irrigation works that were built during this time included canals, wells, tanks, and artificial lakes.
  • In the Tamil region, large landowners were known as vellalar, ordinary ploughmen were known as uzhavar, and landless labourers, including slaves, were known as kadaisiyar and adimai.
  • In the northern part of the country, the village headman was known as the grama bhojaka. The post was hereditary. He was often the largest landowner. Besides, as he was powerful, the king often used him to collect taxes from the village. He also functioned as a judge, sometimes police
  • Apart from the gramabhojaka, there were other independent farmers, known as grihapatis, most of whom were smaller landowners.
  • There were men and women such as the dasa karmakara, who did not own land, and had to earn a living working on the fields owned by others.
  • The earliest coins which were in use for about 500 years were punch marked coins.
  • Mathura has been an important settlement for more than 2500 years. It was important because it was located at the cross roads of two major routes of travel and trade – from the northwest to the east and from north to south.
  • Around 2000 years ago Mathura became the second capital of the Kushanas. Mathura was also a religious centre – there were Buddhist monasteries, Jaina shrines, and it was an important centre for the worship of Krishna.
  • An extremely fine pottery, known as the Northern Black Polished Ware is found here. It gets its name from the fact that it is generally found in the northern part of the subcontinent. It is usually black in color, and has a fine sheen.
  • Varanasi in north, and Madurai in the south are the important centres for manufacture of cloth.
  • Many crafts persons and merchants now formed associations known as shrenis. These shrenis of craft persons provided training, procured raw material, and distributed the finished product.

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