The term "Indic Temples" refer to the great civilizations' architecture which spread throughout South and Southeast Asia, which followed the Indian originated religions of Hinduism and
Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations.
Archaeological excavations have discovered artifacts used by early humans, including stone tools, which suggest an extremely early date for human habitation and technology in the area. While the civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt have long been recognized for their celebrated contributions to civilization, India and the Hindu-Buddhist Khmer of Southeast Asia have often been overlooked, especially in the West, though their history and culture is just as rich.
Prehistoric India Edit
The areas of present-day India, Pakistan, and Nepal have provided archaeologists and scholars with the richest sites of the most ancient pedigree. The species Homo heidelbergensis (a proto
human who was an ancestor of modern Homo sapiens) inhabited the sub-continent of India centuries before humans migrated into the region known as Europe. Evidence of the existence of Homo heidelbergensis was first discovered in Germany in 1907 and, since, further discoveries have established fairly clear migration patterns of this species out of Africa. Recognition of the antiquity of their presence in India has been largely due to the fairly late archaeological interest in the area as, unlike work in Mesopotamia and Egypt, Western excavations in India did not begin in earnest until the 1920’s CE. Though the ancient city nof Harappa was known to exist as early as 1842 CE, its archaeological significance was ignored and the later excavations corresponded to an interest in locating the probable sites referred to in the great Indian epics Mahabharata and Ramayana (both of the 5th or 4th centuries BCE) while ignoring the possibility of a much more ancient past for the region. The village of Balathal (near Udaipur in Rajasthan), to cite only one example, illustrates the antiquity of India’s history as it dates to 4000 BCE. Balathal was not discovered until 1962 CE and excavations were not begun there until the 1990’s CE.
Archaeological excavations in the past fifty years have dramatically changed the understanding of India’s past and, by extension, world history. A 4000 year-old skeleton discovered at Balathal in 2009 CE provides the oldest evidence of leprosy in India. Prior to this find, leprosy was considered a much younger disease thought to have been carried from Africa to India at some point and then from India to Europe by the army of Alexander the Great following his death in 323 BCE. It is now understood that significant human activity was underway in India by the Holocene Period (10,000 years ago) and that many historical assumptions based upon earlier work in Egypt and Mesopotamia, need to be reviewed and revised. The beginnings of the Vedic tradition in India, still practiced today, can now be dated, at least in part, to the indigenous people of ancient sites such as Balathal rather than, as often claimed, wholly to the Aryan invasion of c. 1500 BCE.
Other Empires Edit
Persia held dominance in northern India until the conquest of Alexander the Great in 327 BCE. One year later, Alexander had defeated the Achaemenid Empire and firmly conquered the Indian subcontinent. Again, foreign influences were brought to bear on the region giving rise to the Greco-Buddhist culture which impacted all areas of culture in northern India from art to religion to dress. Statues and reliefs from this period depict Buddha, and other figures, as distinctly Hellenic in dress and pose (known as the Gandhara School of Art). Following Alexander’s departure from India, the Maurya Empire (322-185 BCE) rose under the reign of
Chandragupta Maurya (322-298) until, by the end of the third century BCE, it ruled over almost all of northern India.
Chandragupta’s son, Bindusara reigned between 298-272 BCE and extended the empire throughout the whole of India. His son was Ashoka the Great (lived 304-232, reigned 269-232 BCE) under whose rule the empire flourished at its height. Eight years into his reign, Ashoka conquered the eastern city-state of Kalinga which resulted in a death toll numbering over 100,000. Shocked at the destruction and death, Ashoka embraced the teachings of the Buddha and embarked on a systematic programme advocating Buddhist thought and principles. He established many monasteries and gave lavishly to Buddhist communities. His ardent support of Buddhist values eventually caused a strain on the government both financially and politically as even his grandson, Sampadi, heir to the throne, opposed his policies. By the end of Ashoka’s reign the government treasury was severely depleted through his regular religious donations and, after his death, the empire declined rapidly.
The country splintered into many small kingdoms and empires (such as the Kushan Empire) in what has come to be called the Middle Period. This era saw the increase of trade with Rome (which had begun c. 130 BCE) following Augustus Caesar’s conquest of Egypt in 30 BCE (Egypt had been India’s most constant partner in trade in the past). This was a time of individual and cultural development in the various kingdoms which finally flourished in
what is considered the Golden Age of India under the reign of the Gupta Empire (320-550 CE).
The Gupta Empire is thought to have been founded by one Sri Gupta (`Sri’ means `Lord’) who probably ruled between 240-280 CE. As Sri Gupta is thought to have been of the Vaishya (merchant) class, his rise to power in defiance of the caste system is unprecedented. He laid the foundation for the government which would so stabilize India that virtually every aspect of culture reached its height under the reign of the Guptas. Philosophy, literature, science, mathematics, architecture, astronomy, technology, art, engineering, religion, and astronomy, among other fields, all flourished during this period, resulting in some of the greatest of human achievements. The Puranas of Vyasa were compiled during this period and the famous caves of Ajanta and Ellora, with their elaborate carvings and vaulted rooms, were also begun. Kalidasa the poet and playwright wrote his masterpiece Shakuntala and the Kamasutra was also written, or compiled from earlier works, by Vatsyayana. Varahamihira explored astronomy at the same time as Aryabhatta, the mathematician, made his own discoveries in the field and also recognized the importance of the concept of zero, which he is credited with inventing. As the founder of the Gupta Empire defied orthodox Hindu thought, it is not surprising that the Gupta rulers advocated and propagated Buddhism as the national belief and this is the reason for the plentitude of Buddhist works of art, as opposed to Hindu, at sites such as Ajanta and Ellora.