The Indic Society:
The period of the Vedas, from c 1500 BC
The Achaemenid Empire, covering much of northwestern Indian subcontinent (present-day eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan) for two centuries from c 520 BC, during the reign of Darius
The “Time of Troubles” in which the Buddha and Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, lived, sixth century BC: a period of destructive wars between local states
The Mauryan Empire, 323-185 BC, a Buddhist universal state made illustrious by the reign of Ashoka
The Hellenic intrusion, not with Alexander’s transitory campaign, but with the invasion of Demetrius, the Greek king of Bactria, c 183-2 BC; Indo-Greek Kingdom in northern India, 180 BC-10; the Greeks were opposed in the east by the more Brahmanical Sunga Empire, 185-73 BC
Their Greek-influenced Indo-European-speaking successors: Indo-Scythian/Saka kingdoms, 110 BC-400 (final extinction); Indo-Parthian Kingdom, 12 BC-before 100; Yuezhi/Kushan Empire, 30-375
Indo-Sassanids, 3rd century-410, displaced by Huns
Establishment of a Hindu universal state, the Gupta Empire, AD c 375-550
– all this, including (why including?) the Hindu Gupta Empire itself, Toynbee calls the Indic Society.
[Footnote: The Gupta Empire was actually founded about A.D. 350 and did not collapse till the fall of Skandagupta in A.D. 480; but the Empire did not [...] acquire the dimensions of a universal state until A.D. 390, and it had ceased to perform the functions of such a state before the second Hun invasion of India began in A.D. 470.]
Hinduism attained supremacy in India in the age of the Guptas, and eventually supplanted Buddhism. The Gupta Empire was overthrown by Huns from the Eurasian steppe, who were assailing the Roman and Sassanian Empires at the same time. The interregnum occupied by their activities and by the successor states of the Gupta Empire lies approximately within the dates 475-775. Thereafter, there began to emerge what Toynbee calls, in the first volume of the Study, the Hindu Society, which is still alive. Sankara, the father of Hindu philosophy, flourished around 800. In the ninth century, India began to articulate itself into states on a pattern which could still be discerned on the political map in 1934.
[Footnote: The break in tradition in India at the time of the Hun and Gujara invasions is emphasized by Mr. Vincent Smith in The Early History of India (3rd edition, Oxford 1914, Clarendon Press), p. 408. A number of facts which bear out Mr. Vincent Smith’s view are mentioned by Mr. C. V. Vaidya in The History of Mediaeval India, vol. ii (Poona 1924, Oriental Book Supplying Agency). For example, by about the year 800 of the Christian era, both Buddhism and the pre-Buddhist Indian ritual of the Vedic sacrifices had become extinct throughout the greater part of India (op. cit., p. 1). The ancient vernaculars (the so-called “prakrits”) had ceased to be spoken, and the modern vernaculars – Hindi, Bengali, Marati, Gujarati, Panjabi, and so on – were already full-fledged (p. 3). The Rājput dynasties of the modern Rājputāna can mostly trace their genealogies back to this epoch but not beyond (p. 46). Pace Mr. Vaidya, this last facts supports Mr. Vincent Smith’s view that the Rājputs are descended from the Huns and Gujaras who entered India in the post-Gupta Völkerwanderung and were converted to Hinduism.]
Is 800 AD really a new start?
Much of the modern “Hindu Society” has been ruled, for long stretches of time, by Muslims.
We can now observe that Hinduism – the universal church [of the Guptas] through which this Indic Society came to be “apparented” to the Hindu Society of to-day – resembles Islam and differs from Christianity, inasmuch as the germ of life in which it originated was native to, and not alien from, the society in whose history it played its part. No doubt, certain non-Indic accretions can be detected in Hinduism. The most prominent of these is the worship of deities in iconic form – a feature which is of the essence of Hinduism, though it was lacking in the primitive religion of the Indic Society as this is mirrored in the Vedas, and was lacking, likewise, in primitive Buddhism. It must [must?] therefore have been borrowed from the religion of some alien society – most probably from Hellenism through the medium of the modified Buddhism of the Mahayana. However, the chief differences between Hinduism and the Indic religion of the Vedas – and these differences are striking – are due to elements in Hinduism which were borrowed from Buddhism: that is, from a religion which was a reaction against the primitive Indic religion of the Vedas but a reaction of an entirely indigenous Indic origin. The most important elements, lacking in the Vedas, which Hinduism borrowed from Buddhism, were its monasticism and its philosophy.
The original home of the Indic Society [which does not include the Indus Valley civilisation which was being disinterred as he wrote], as we know from its records, was in the valleys of the Indus and the Ganges; and from this base the society had expanded over the whole sub-continent of India before it came to the end of its universal state. [Footnote: The Maurya Empire at its greatest extent – at which it stood when Açoka renounced War after the conquest of Kalinga – was practically conterminous with the present British-Indian Empire except that it did not include Burma but did include the greater part of what is now Afghanistan. It covered not only the whole basin of the Indus and Ganges but also the whole of India south of the Vindya Range except for the extreme tip of the peninsula. The Gupta Empire, which had the same capital as the Maurya Empire (at Pataliputra [modern Patna], in the present province of Bihar), never, at its largest, attained the same extension. Yet it exercised a hegemony over all India; and, thanks to the Mauryas’ work, all India, North and South, constituted a social though not a political unity in the Gupta Age.] The area which the Indic Society had thus come to cover at the close of its history was all embraced in the original home of the “affiliated” Hindu Society, which occupied the whole sub-continent from the outset and afterwards expanded eastward overseas into Indonesia and Indo-China.
A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934