The ancient Indians recognized the world as experienced by sense organs to be composed of two fundamental principles: name and form.
Form refers to the seen objects and name refers to how humans describe what they see.
Having so analyzed the world, the Vedas then cultivate a sense of belonging and oneness with nature and the world.
A 3000 year old hymn proclaims thus
Prarpayatu sreshta tamaya karmaNe
This can be roughly translated to:
For food thee, for strength thee!
Ye are winds, ye are approachers.
Let the god Savitr impel you to the most excellent offering.
– Krishna Yajurveda, Taittiriya Samhita, 1.1
The ancients had different ways of looking at the world and understanding it.
Ancient Indians saw nature and found it worthy of worship.
There came about an elaborate system of worship known as yajna.
Mantras (sacred chants) are specified for every part of the yajna. For example, a mantra is chanted for the wood being collected for the fire by thanking the trees.
Some personalities have such impact that their effect is seen thousands of years after their lifetime.
Yajnavalkya is one such immense personality, a rishi from ancient India who lived somewhere between 800 to 700 BCE. He thus preceded the Buddha by around 300 years.
Although not much is known of his life, his impact is seen more from his works.
He is responsible for several texts and many of the Vedic portions of the Shukla Yajurveda were revealed to him. He is credited with being one of the earliest expounders of Advaita Vedanta.
He is said to have authored many texts, including the Isha Upanishad, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Yajnavalkya Smriti, Shatapata Brahmana among others.
With evolution, nature enabled species to survive and thrive.
Human being have got the extraordinary gift of consciousness.
This has enabled thinking, memory and a host of other features.
As compared to the rest of the species, over the years, humans have developed codes of morality.
This has given guidelines for individual and social conduct. These guidelines, as developed over thousands of years in India, are collectively known as dharma.
In writing poetry and prose, ancient Indians had gone into immense depths to study the process.
This is done under the science of rasa (aesthetics).
Various tools that can be used in the process are described in much detail.
One of the aspects is alankara (beautification), which includes over 200 templates that can be used to beautify a piece of literature.
In ancient India, a code of life developed that has had remarkable continuity over the millennia.
One of the concepts that came to be is the yajna. The idea behind the yajna (worship) was multifold. One’s life often revolved around the yajna.
On one hand is the personal discipline that came about with the daily nityayajna. On the other hand are the community based yajnas that involved bringing the entire community together.
The latter were events such as the soma yaagas. These brought together the entire village or town in a worship and celebration that lasted days. One of the interesting aspects of this is that the performers of such yaagas are required to be honored members of the community who are debt free.
Ancient Indians had devoted their time and effort in a number of areas.
In the scholarly field, the three main areas were those of dharma, brahma (spirituality) and rasa (aesthetics).
Dharma relates to the worldly system of morality and laws. Brahma relates to the spiritual path by pursuing which one attains liberation. Rasa is the unique system of aesthetics that has influenced the elaborate systems of art.
Indian philosophy has had many schools. These are known as darshanas (viewpoints). There are various classifications of the schools. But they all appear somewhat arbitrary. The schools include:
- Samkhya (enumeration)
- Nyaya (logic)
- Vaishesika (atomism or pluralism)
- Purva Mimamsa (prior Vedic exegesis)
- Uttara Mimamsa (later Vedic exegesis), also known as Vedanta
- Bauddha (Buddhism)
- Jaina (Jainism)
- Charvaka (Materialism)
Historically, the Yoga and Samkhya schools influenced each other and can be seen to merge into one school. Similarly, the Nyaya and the Vaishesika schools influenced each other. The same goes for the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa schools.
Among these nine schools, Yoga and Vedanta accept the existence of an Ishvara (Deity). The others are ambivalent about the subject or explicitly deny such an existence.
In history, the development of the urban settlements was a momentous achievement. Urban life can be contrasted to rural life with the lack of dependence on agriculture and pastoralism. The word “urban” is derived from a root meaning refined or cultured.
The development of urban centers in India can be observed to be an ancient phenomenon. Buddha developed and spread his philosophy mainly in the urban centers of his day in around 500 BC. Varanasi (or Kashi), one of the most ancient cities in the world, was one such center where the Buddha taught.
The word “Sanskrit” means refined or cultured. One can thus infer a close correlation between the development of Indian urban centers and the growth of Sanskrit.
In the long history of India, there have appeared several kings who were highly trained in shastra (multidisciplinary sciences). Traditionally, kings underwent rigorous training in all the shastras.
The Kalyani Chalukya king, Someshvara III, wrote a voluminous encyclopedia in Sanskrit, known as Rajamanasollasa, in which he lists 100 different disciplines to be learned by kings.
Emperor Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagara was also a prolific author who authored the Amuktamalyada.
In ancient times, many royals contributed to the Upanishads. Buddha himself was born a prince.