These twenty five beautiful written letters are an excellent window to Ancient India. They give a glimpse of the remarkable events and civilizations which existed in this land in a span of three thousand years, from 2000 BC-1200 A.D.
From the primitive village cultures to the wonderful cities built in the Indus basin by the Harappan people; from the coming of the Aryans to the great works of Vedic scholars; from the intellectual and spiritual ferment of the age of Buddha to the times of the Gupta empire when India was perhaps the happiest and most civilized region of the world as the decadent Roman empire was nearing it’s end, and China was passing through a turbulent period; from this era till the later incursions of the Muslims - the entire sweep of India’s rich history unfolds before the reader in this kaleidoscopic survey. It offers an all-round view of Indian Culture, it’s political life, its literature, it’s cults, doctrines and religions, it’s society and it’s people.
The style is lucid and makes for easy reading. The illustrations depicting the various facets of life through these pages enhance the quality of this work. Altogether a most enjoyable book.
The Indus Civilization
The earliest remains of a settled culture in India are of little agricultural villages in Baluchistan and lower Sind ( both now in Pakistan), perhaps at the end of the 4th millenium. The villagers dwelt in comfortable houses of mud brick and made good pottery. They knew the use of metals, for a few copper implements have been discovered in the sites. Their religion centered round fertility rites and the worship of a Mother Goddess whose figurine was represented by a bull. The culture of the people in Sind was called Kulli whereas up north-east, it was called Nal. By and large the culture was identical except that the people of the Kulli culture burnt their dead whereas those of Nal practiced fractional burial, or the inhumation of the bones after partial disintegration by burning or exposure.
However, we now know that in the earlier part of the 3rd century B. C. a civilization, in the sense of a organized system of government over a comparatively large area, developed in the Indus valley at about the same time as the civilizations in the river valleys of Nile( Egypt), Mesopotamia and the Euphrates. This Indus valley civilization is known as the Harappa culture, from the modern name of the site of one of its two great cities, on the left bank of the river Ravi. The second city, Mohenjo Daro, is on the right bank of the river and together with various other towns and settlements in this valley like Dholavira and Lothal in Gujarat, and Bhagwanpura in Haryana, we can say that the Harappa culture extended for some 950 miles from north to south.
The people of this culture lived mostly in towns-in small one or two room houses. The bigger houses had two storeys. The towns were well planned with well laid out roads and a good sewerage system. And wonder of wonders! The town of Mohenjo-daro had a Great Bath with rooms all around it. It was an ideal place for swimming. So ,if your Dadaji was living in those days you can guess where he would have gone every day. Right. In the Great Bath for his swim!
As for the people the men wore cotton robes which left one shoulder bare, and the women skirts which reached up to the knee. The garments of the upper classes were richly patterned. Ornaments were worn by both men and women including necklaces, armlets, finger rings and bangles.
The people were great traders as they traded both with the Middle East and the Deccan. They worshipped the Mother Goddess and a male God who has been identified as the prototype of God Shiva. Inaddition, people worshipped stones, trees and animals in the belief that these are abodes of spirits, good or evil. This form of religious worship called animism was common in all cultures of those times including Egypt, and Mesopotamia.
In conclusion it can be said that the Indus civilization or Harappa culture was in many respects identical with the other great civilizations of their times like Egypt and Mesopotamia. Indeed, India can boast of being the cradle of one of the first civilization of the world. This, dear Iyra, is your great inheritance. In my next letter I will talk of the arrival of Aryans in India; and their culture. With lots of love. Dadaji
The Arrival of the Aryans
Sometimes towards the close of the third century B. C. the Indus valley civilization began falling apart. How it’s end came is uncertain. The most commonly held view is that horsemen from the hills of Iran, Kassites, who were barbarians, with their swift mobility and superior weapons began invading the sub- continent and gradually established their suzerainty over the local people. These were the same people who destroyed the empire of Babylonia in west Asia.
A few centuries later another lot of people started arriving in north west India –again from the west. These were called Aryas, a word generally anglicized into Aryans. These people entered India over a period of centuries.
The origin of these people is uncertain but the most plausible theory is that about 2000 B. C. the great steppe land which stretches from Poland to Central Asia was inhabited by semi nomadic tribes, who were tall, comparatively fair, and mostly long headed. In the early part of the 2nd millenium, whether from pressure of population or language gradually adopted itself to the tongues of the conquered peoples. Some invaded Europe, to become the ancestors of the Greeks, Latins, Celts and Teutons, the others remained in their old homes, the ancestors of the later Baltic and Slavonic people, while others moved southwards and, from the Caucasus and Iranian tablelands led many attacks on the middle eastern civilizations.
The marauding tribesmen gradually merged with the local population of the middle east , and the ancient civilizations, invigorated by fresh blood and ideas, rose to new heights of material culture; and the peaceful and conservative cities of the Indus could neither withstand nor absorb the invaders Indeed, the culture which succeeded Harappa was diametrically opposite to what was practiced earlier.
The Aryan invasion of India covered many centuries and involved many tribes, perhaps not all of the same race and language. These people were pastoral and so the cities of Harappa fell into disuse and a culture diametrically opposite to it’s predecessor was begun by the new people. This new culture was village based and it’s predominant theme was agriculture.
Among the many peoples who entered India in the second millenium B. C. was a group of related tribes whose priests had perfected a very advanced poetic technique, which they used for the composition of hymns to be sung in praise of their gods for sacrifice. These tribes, chief of which was the Bharata, settled mainly in East Punjab, which later became Brahmavarta. The hymns were handed down by word of mouth till around the early 1st century B.C, they were collected and arranged. This collection of hymns called the Rig Veda, is still one of the most sacred texts of Hindus. Indeed, darling Iyra, this is one of the oldest books or scriptures written by man in any part of the world. Isn’t this something to be proud of for any Indian? I shall talk more about this in my subsequent letters . With love. Dadaji
Literature and Religion in the Vedic Era
The language of this period was Sanskrit and the most important text of the time was the Rig Veda. This is a composition of 1028 hymns, written by various authors. These hymns talk of a wide variety of subjects like the things done by gods of the period, the way sacrificial ceremonies should be performed, extolling the beauties of etc. For example, there are numerous hymns of how Indra, the god of weather, mounted his chariot and strode across the skies, bringing rain and thunder or stopping it. These hymns were usually recited at the time of the religious ceremonies, as is done even today in India.
After Rig Veda came the Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. Of the latter three the most important is Atharve Veda which in the main is a monotonous collection of spells. Many of the hymns of the Rig Veda are repetitive but some contain interesting stories like how a nymph inveigled a saint or how a brave warrior won the heart of a beautiful princess.
The Vedas were followed by the Upanishads which literally means ‘ a session’, sitting at the feet of the master who imparts esoteric or secret doctrines. There are said to be 108 Upanishads but most are of little importance. The earlier Upanishads like the Brhadaranyaka and Chandogya are in prose, and are often expounding a doctrine in question and answer form, whereas the latter compositions like the Katha and Svetasvatara are in verse. Upanishads rank high in literature, but their chief importance is religious.
This is because one entity, called the Brahaman, fills most of the space in these texts. Brahaman is explained as the area beyond all forms of existence, from which the whole universe, including the gods, have emerged. The Upanishads claim that only by recognizing the continued existence of Brahaman can man free himself from rebirth. For Brahaman resides in the human soul- indeed is the human soul,is Atma, the self. By merging his soul with the Brahaman, he merges with the supreme and thus escapes the cycle of births and deaths.
The most important gods of the Rig Vedic period were Indra - lord of weather, and Varuna, who was ethically the purest. He was omnipresent and knew everything that was happening in the world. There were lesser gods like Rudra, who had a dangerous side to his character, Yama, the god of death- a sort of Adam, the first man to die, Surya (sun) and Agni (fire). I would say these six were the chief gods of the Vedic period.
The centre of the Aryan cult was sacrifice. The chief purpose of sacrifice was the gratification of the gods in order to obtain boons from them. In these sacrificial ceremonies, offerings included milk, grain, ghee (clarified butter), flesh and soma (an alcoholic beverage). Most often numerous animals were slaughtered amidst the drinking of soma juice and chanting of hymns by the priests. The belief was that with these offerings, the gods would descend on the sacrificial field, drink and eat with the worshippers, and then duly reward them with success in war, progeny, increase in cattle, and long life on a quid quo basis. With the worshippers in a state of inebriation, you can well imagine, Iyra, how the ceremony must have had its element of awe and wonder.
In this state of intoxication ,these worshippers saw wondrous visions of the gods; they experienced strange sensations of power; they could reach up and touch the heavens; they became immortal; they became gods themselves. And while the ceremonies were going on, the priests made meaningful reference to the great powers of the learned, the Brahama ( this is distinct from the Brahaman of the Upanishads and means the priest), who could get them whatever they wanted provided they followed their advise. This is how the Brahaman (priest) became very important by the end of this period.
Towards the close of this period, a new form of worship developed amidst some people-asceticism. This man would leave his family for penance and acquiring higher knowledge. He would either wander the countryside, seeking alms for his frugal living, and proclaiming his doctrines to all who wished to listen; or he would repair to a lonely, far away place, to think and meditate. It was believed that once this hermit had inured his body to pain and privation, immeasurable joys awaited him. It was also thought that through self discipline, asceticism and meditation, the hermit acquired magical powers to see the past, present and the future. Indeed, he reached as near god as any mortal could hope.. Most of these thoughts exist even today amongst us and to this extent the religion of this era has vastly influenced India.
In our next letter we shall travel further in our discovery of ancient India. We have so much to explore. Dadaji
The Poetry Of Rig Veda
Let us take a short break from our onward journey and see some of the poetry written in the Rig Veda. The 1028 hymns of the Rig Veda are the work of many authors and show great variation of style and merit. Some are superb; others monotonous. They are written in Sanskrit which is a very sweet language to speak and hear. Someday you must get somebody to recite to you some Sanskrit shlokas(verses). You will be enthralled by it’s beauty.
Our first translation describes Indra’s fight with the cloud dragon Vrta.
Let me proclaim the valiant deeds of Indra,
The first he did, the wielder of the thunder,
When he slew the dragon and let loose the waters,
And pierced the bellies of the mountains.
. . . When Indra, you slew the firstborn of dragons,
And frustrated the arts of the sorcer
Creating sun and heaven and dawn,
You found no enemy to withstand you.
. . . .Thunder and lighting availed him nothing,
Nor the mist he scattered abroad, nor hail.
When Indra and the dragon fought he conquered,
As he, the Generous, will in future conquer.
Of Varun, a poem has this to say
If we have sinned against the man who loves us, have ever wronged a brother, friend, comrade,
The neighbour ever with us, or stranger, O Varuna, remove us from the trespass.
A number of hymns show deep feeling for nature:
The goddess night has looked abroad
With her eyes, everywhere drawing near
She has put all her glories on
…….The clans have now gone home to rest,
home the beasts, and home the birds,
home even the hawks who lust for prey.
Similarly, sensitive to the moods of nature is a little hymn to Aryani, the elusive spirit of the forest:
Lady of the Forest! Lady of the Forest!
Who seem to vanish from sight in the distance,
Why do you never come to the village?
Surely you are not afraid of men!
Sometimes you catch a glimpse of her, and think it is cattle grazing or a house, far away,
And at evening you hear the Lady of the Forest like the distant sound of moving wagons.
So, Iyra dear, this will give you some idea of the poetry of this period. I personally feel that for people to have composed such wonderful compositions in that era is truly remarkable. Love. Dadaji.
In this letter I will tell you about a remarkable man, a prince who became a preacher, who lived at the close of 6th and early 5th century B. C. He was called Buddha, the Enlightened or Awakened by his yellow robed followers. He was perhaps the greatest man to have been born in India.
This boy was born in Lumbini, in the kingdom of Kapilvastu ( now a small area in Bihar on the India-Nepal border).He was named Siddhartha although his gotra name was Gautam. The soothsayers prophesied that he would become a universal emperor, with the exception of one, who declared that four signs would convince him of the misery of the world, and he would become a universal teacher. To prevent this prophesy coming true, his father king Suddhodhana resolved that he should never know the sorrows of the world. He was brought up in a delightful palace, from whose parks every sign of death, disease and misery was removed. He learned all the arts that a prince should learn, and excelled as a student. Later, he married his cousin Yashodhra, whom he won at a contest where he performed feats of skill and strength.
But for all his prosperity and success he was not inwardly happy and he did see the four signs. One day, as he was driving round the royal park with his faithful charioteer Channa, he saw an aged man in the last stages of infirmity and decay. Siddhartha asked Channa who was this repulsive being and when told that all men must grow old he was even more troubled in mind. Sometimes later, in the same way, he saw a very sick man, covered with boils and shivering with fever. The third was even more terrible- a corpse, being carried to the cremation ground, followed by weeping mourners. But the fourth sign brought hope and consolation-a wandering religious beggar, clad in a simple yellow robe, peaceful and calm, with a look of inward joy. On seeing him Siddhartha realized where his destiny lay, and set his heart on becoming a wanderer.
Hearing of this king Suddhdhana doubled his precautions; Siddhartha was made a virtual prisoner. But Siddhartha’s pain grew and he could not forget the four signs. One morning the news was brought to him that Yashodhra had given birth to a son, later named Rahul, but it gave him no pleasure. That night there were great festivities, but when all were sleeping, he roused Channa and rode off with the latter on his favourite horse.
When far from the city he stripped off his jewellery and fine garments and sent them back to his father through Channa. He then became a wandering ascetic. In his wanderings he met many sages but was not convinced that man could obtain liberation from sorrow by self discipline and knowledge He meditated for long but found no answer. He even joined forces with five ascetics who were practicing the most rigorous self-mortification in the hope of wearing away their karma and obtaining final bliss .His penance’s became so severe that the five quickly recognized him as their leader. For six years he tortured himself till, worn out by penance and hunger, he fainted, and his followers believed that he was dead. But after a while he recovered consciousness, and realized that his fasts and penances had been useless. The five disciples left him in disgust at his back sliding.
One day Siddhartha Gautam, now thirty five years old, was seated beneath a large pipal tree on the outskirts of the town of Gaya, when on the forty ninth day of meditation he knew the truth. He had found the secret of sorrow, and understood at last why the world is full of sorrow and unhappiness of all kinds, and what man must do to overcome them. He was fully enlightened- a Buddha. He then remained under the pipal tree for another seven weeks, meditating on the great truth he had found.
For a time he doubted whether he should proclaim his wisdom to the world, as it was so recondite and difficult to express that few would understand it. But after great thought he decided otherwise. Leaving ‘the tree of wisdom’ he journeyed to a deer park near Varanasi (Sarnath) and there gave his first sermon to his five former disciples.
A few days later a band of sixty young ascetics became his followers, and he sent them in all directions to preach the Buddhist Dharma . He gathered together a disciplined body of monks ( called bhikshus), and knit them together by a common garb, the yellow robes of the order, and a common discipline. He took his message far and wide and the story goes that Buddha preached for many years and the greatest kings of the times favoured him and his followers . And so began the spread of this religion which later became a world religion. Bye and lots of love, Dadaji
The Mauryan Empire
After spending some time on Buddhism, and Jainism let us go back to history and see what was happening in India.
I had told you in my 11th letter that after Alexander left India, many Indian kings started thinking of setting up empires and one such man was Chandragupta Maurya. Well, after dethroning the last king of Pataliputra- Mahapadma Nanda around 326 B. C, he set up India’s first empire called Magadha ( the name of the region) or the Maurya dynasty. After a rule of twenty four years, in which he conquered large territories extending up to Gujarat and Punjab in the west and part of Deccan to the south (perhaps up to Mysore in Karnataka), he was succeeded by his son Bindusara, whose rule was largely uneventful.
Now we come to the third and greatest king of this dynasty-Ashoka, who succeeded his father around 370 B.C.. He too, like his grandfather, was a conqueror, and in the first eight years of his reign extended his kingdom to Afghanistan in the west, Bengal in the east, and the whole of south India except perhaps Tamil Nadu .His empire, as per legend, also included Nepal and Kashmir in the north. But then in the eighth year of his rule a singular event occurred which changed the face of India and large parts of the world.
Kalinga (now Orissa), which had been holding out up to now, was subjugated in a very fierce war. Over 100,000 men were killed and 1,50,000 taken captive. The sight of this bloodshed and suffering so moved Ashoka that he embraced Buddhism. From now onwards he took upon himself the task of preaching Buddhism and ordered his officers to publish decrees on morality which were engraved on rocks and specially erected pillars throughout India .He toured his entire kingdom not only to conduct the affairs of the state but also give instructions on morality. He even sent emissaries to foreign lands like Sri Lanka, Burma and Sumatra to preach his new religion. According to tradition ,Sri Lanka became Buddhist through the efforts of his brother, Mahendra, who had become a Buddhist monk.
Ashoka died about 232 B. C. But by then he had converted a small religion which was existing on the banks of Ganga in Bihar, into a world religion ,and to this extent I consider him to be perhaps one of the greatest and noblest emperors of the world. Kunala was the immediate successor of Ashoka but he could not control his various brothers and relatives who were governors of various provinces and, on the death of Ashoka,established independent suzerainties. The Maurya empire soon came to an end. This happened around 183 B. C.
The successor of the Mauryas in Magadha were the Sungas ( Pushyamitra was the first ruler of this family),whose kingdom was by no means a closely knit centralized empire but one of a looser type, which was to become normal in Hindu India. As for north west, we again find the Greeks from Bactria entering India, and around the second century B.C. Demetrius, a descendent of a famous Greek usurper called Euthydemus, had occupied most of the Indus valley, Punjab and parts of Gujarat. The Greek domains in India were divided into several petty kingdoms, mostly ruled by the descendents of Euthydemus, or by the descendents of another famous Greek, Eucratides.
I shall talk about this and the post – Mauryan scenario in my next letter. Bye and lots of love. Dadaji
The Gupta Empire
We know little of events in India after the decline of the Kushans, but it seems that by the 3rd century A.D. all India east of Punjab and Malwa (western Madhya Pradesh) was in the hands of small Indian kings and tribal chiefs. In A.D. 320 a new Chandra Gupta arose, whose successors in great measure restored the splendour of the Mauryas. He owed his rise to power largely to his marriage with a princess Kumaradevi of the Licchavi tibe. This tribe, in the absence of any strong central control, was very influential in Magadha and Kosala (north Bihar).
Under his successor, Samudra Gupta( A. D 335-376), Pataliputra once more became a centre of a great empire. Samudra’s power reached from Assam in the east to Punjab in the west. He led a very successful expedition as far as Kanchi in the south, but the defeated kings were reinstated on giving homage and tribute, and probably heard no more from their titular overlord. Samudra’s main interest, however, was in the west, where the Sakas had ruled for over 200 years. From Ujjain in western Madhya Pradesh ,they still controlled Malwa and Kathiawar. Despite his best efforts he failed to subjugate them.
It was Chandra Gupta 11 (376-415 A.D.), the son of Samudra Gupta, who finally defeated the Sakas and thus became the paramount sovereign of all north India, with the exception of north west. His daughter, Prabhavati, was married to Rudrasena, the king of Vakatakas, who ruled a large area in Madhya Pradesh and Hyderabad. As Rudrasena died young, the daughter became the regent till her sons came of age and so the influence of Chandra Gupta 11was very much in evidence in south India, in the kingdom of the Vakatakas.
The reign of Chandra Gupta 11 ( also known as Vikramaditya, a legendry great and noble king) marks a high watermark in ancient Indian culture. Prosperity and happiness reached it’s zenith, with crime at it’s lowest. Fa-hien, a Chinese Buddhist monk visited India during this period and wrote extensively on the conditions then prevalent. According to him one could travel the length and breath of India without molestation, and the people appeared quite content and satisfied with the living conditions. Although Buddhism and Jainism were widely practiced, the dominant religion was Hinduism. Literature, arts and music flourished. Kalidasa, a great Sanskrit poet, was a contemporary of Chandra Gupta 11. Indeed, at this time India was perhaps the happiest and most civilized region of the world, for the decadent Roman Empire was nearing it’s end, and China was passing through a time of troubles between the two great periods of the Hans and the T’angs. Many people regard these times as the golden age of Indian civilization.
Chandra Gupta 11 was succeeded by his son Kumara Gupta (415-454), who kept the empire intact and continued the good rule of his father. But in his last years the empire suffered a severe blow; he had to contend with new invaders from central Asia, called Huns. The Huns were a Turko-Mongol people and had occupied Bactria. Now, like the earlier Greeks, Sakas and Kushans, they crossed the mountains and attacked the plains of India. Kumara Gupta was killed in the war with them and his son Skanda Gupta (455-467) assumed power. Although he did succeed in re-establishing the Gupta Empire for a time but his reign lasted only twelve years. The Hun incursions continued and for over thirty years from A. D. 500 onwards they dominated western India. One of the Gupta kings, Narsimha Gupta, did defeat a powerful Hun chief, Mihirkula, later but this triumph could not stem the end of the Gupta’s. By 550 A. D. the Gupta Empire had completely vanished. The great days of ancient Indian civilization were over. With lots of love. Dadaji.
South-The Post Gupta Period
After the decline of the Satavahanas in Andhra, many small kingdoms arose in the Deccan. The Vakatakas tried to build a small kingdom but it did not last long. They were followed by the Chalukyas. The Chalukyas had two main enemies, the Rashtrakutas based in Andhra Pradesh and the Pallavas of Kanch.
The history of the region south of the Vindhya mountains, from the 6th century A.D. onwards is mainly the story of these three empires and their mutual conflict for supremacy. Let us briefly look at each of them.
The Chalukya kingdom was founded by Pulakesin 1 who in the mid 6th century A.D. carved out a small kingdom around Vatapi or Badami in the modern Bijapur district of Karnataka. His successor Kirtivarma extended his territories by conquering Kerala, Konkan, Maharashtra and Malwa( in western Madhya Pradesh). However the Chalukya power reached its zenith under Pulakesin II ( c 608-642 ) who not only consolidated his hold over Maharashtra but overran nearly the whole of Deccan from the banks of the Narmada to the region beyond the river Kaveri. He even defeated the armies of Harshavardhan of Kannauj near the Narmada river. He was ultimately killed by the Pallava ruler Narsimhavarman I who even destroyed his capital Vatapi.
The Chalukya power was revived by his son Vikramaditya I who recaptured a substantial portion of the lost southern territory. His grandson Vikramaditya II surpassed his grandfather’s exploits by actually entering the Pallava capital. In about 753 A.D. his successor was overthrown by a chief named Dantidurga who laid the foundation of the next empire of Karnataka and Maharashtra, that of the Rashtrakutas.
The definite history of the Pallavas begins in the second half of 6th century A. D., when its ruler Simhavishnu (c 575-600) captured some territory of the Cholas and established his kingdom at Kanchi. Mahendravarman 1, his son and successor, extended these territories by capturing more areas from the neighbouring states of the Cholas, Cheras and the Pandyas. He even sent two naval expeditions to Sri Lanka and placed his protégé on its throne. It was during his time that the great struggle began between the Pallavas and the Chalukyas for the supremacy of southern India. The struggle continued for several generations.
The Pallavas had many successful kings like Mahendrvarman II, and Narsimhavarman I. But the continuing struggle with the Chalukyas sapped their energies and ultimately their end came towards the end of the ninth century A.D. when Aditya Chola of the Chola empire ( one of the three great empires of the south), in alliance with the Pandyas of Madurai, defeated Aparajita Pallavas by the close of the 9th century..
Most of the Pallava kings were accomplished scholars and patron of arts. .Mahendravarman I, who bore the significant epithet of Vichitrachitta, ‘curious minded’, introduced the cave style of architecture and wrote a famous book called Mattavilasa Prahasana .His son Narsimhavarman built some of the most famous temples of south India cut out of rocks. Under their rule, Kanchi became a great center of Brahamanical and Buddhist learning. Two of the great scholars of Pallava times were Bharavi and Dandin.
Although the Rashtrkutas in their later records claimed descent from Satyaki, a Yadava chief of the north, in all probability they hailed from Andhra. They established an empire which in its greatness extended from south Gujarat, Malwa and central Madhya Pradesh in the north to Tanjore in the south. They extracted tribute from the Pallavas of Kanchi and the Palas of Bengal. Under one of their kings Govinda III they verily became invincible. The next king Amoghvarsha I had a very long reign (c 815-877) and shifted his capital to Malkhed near Hyderabad. The reign of the Rashtrakutas came to an end in 973 A. D when the last of its kings was overthrown by Taila II who claimed descent from the Chalukyas.
The Rashtrakutas were patrons of learning and one king, Amoghavarsha, was an author of repute. They were also great builders and their second king built the famous Kailash temple at Elloraabout them in my next letter. Bye and love. Dadaji
Religion and Literature In The First Millenium
In my 14th and 15th letters I had told you how king Ashoka and later king Kanishka spread Buddhism outside India. But what about India? Did Buddhism develop in India and if not, why?
It seems Buddhism never became the predominant religion in India. After the Mauryas and king Kanishka, Hinduism revived although in a different form. Gone were the gods of the Vedic period like Indira ( lord of thunder), Varuna ( the omnipresent god) or Rudra. Instead, we find the rise of new gods like Brahma ( the god of creation ), Vishnu (the god who preserves the universe) and Shiva ( the god of destruction). Along with this was the change in the mode of worship. Deities and idol worship make their entry; new rituals, very much more complicated than before are introduced.
All this was done by the Brahaman ( the priestly class), who threatened by the rise of Buddhism and Jainism in the earlier years, wanted his flocks back. He did this by various ways including going to the villages singly or in groups and preaching, having temples made and convincing people that only by visiting and praying in them could they obtain salvation ( of course he became the priest in these temples), or getting close to a king, making him their follower through mysticism and superstition, and through him spreading their hold on the masses. By the time the Guptas became the emperors of India in the 4th century A. D., Hinduism had revived. The Guptas only furthered its growth.
The Gupta and the subsequent period saw the rise of new methods of worship like Bhakti, intense worship through devotional clapping and singing, introduction of new gods in different parts of India, many of them local, like Balaji in Tamil Nadu, and the construction of numerous temples, dedicated to different gods. In the 8th century a great Hindu philosopher and an excellent organizer called Shankaracharya developed the worship of Vishnu (the god who preserves the universe), and set up four great temples in the four directions of India- Sringeri in Mysore (south), Dwarka in Kathiawar in Gujarat(west),Puri in the east (Orissa), and Badrinath in the Himalayas in the north. Indeed, by the 12th century A.D.,Hinduism in its many forms was the dominant religion of India; Buddhism having disappeared and Jainism becoming one of the many forms of Hinduism.
Now let me turn to the literature of this period. The language still was Sanskrit whose scientific grammar was codified by Panini in the 4th century B.C. in his book Astadhyay (Eight Chapters). The great poet of this language was Kalidas who flourished in the Gupta empire in the 4th century A. D. He authored four great dramas Kumarsambhava (the birth of the war-gods), Raghuvamsa (the dynasty of Raghu), Meghdoot (the cloud messenger), and Abhijnashakuntala (the recognition of Shakuntala).The last, now known to the masses as Shakuntala, is reckoned as his masterpiece.
Kalidasa was followed by many other poets like Kumaradasa who wrote Janaka-harana (the rape of Sita), Bhatti of the 7th century who wrote a poem on the story of Rama in his works known as ‘ Bhatti Poems’, and Magha, who wrote a long poem about how Krishna slayed Sisupala. Bana in the 7th century, Kalhana who chronicled Kashmir , and Jaydev whose Gita Govinda (song of the cowherds), written in the 12th century ii Bengal, is still sung in religious festivals of that province, were some of the other great poets and authors of their times.
Along with Sanskrit, which was the language of the courts and the intellectuals, the other language of Aryan India were the many dialects of Prakrits. One of this dialect was Pali which is still the religious language of the Buddhists of Sri Lanka, Burma and South- East Asia.
Down south, the great language of this period was Tamil which was developing in its own consistent way in Tamil Nadu. Further north, the inscriptions of Kanarese started appearing from the 6th century AD, whereas Telugu of Andhra Pradesh became a really important language under the Vijaynagar Empire. East of Tamil Nadu in Kerala, the language which gained ascendancy was Malayalam. All these languages, except perhaps Tamil, were greatly influenced by Sanskrit and have very rich literatures of their own. Bye and lots of love. Dadaji