India is traditionally known to be home of one of the four early “great”civilizations, the others being Mesopotamia(the land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates),Egypt and China.
Ancient Indian history can be broadly classified into 3 – The Indus valley civilization, the Vedic age and the Classical period.
The Indus valley civilization( 3000-1500 BCE )
This Bronze Age civilization was the earliest known civilization in India. Centered around the cities of the Indus river and its tributaries(present day Sind, Gujarat and Punjab in Pakistan and India).The civilization is known for its town planning, baths and seals.
Unlike other civilizations, it lacked large temples and other religious buildings suggesting small ceremonies and private worship. The main deities are thought to be the Mother Goddess(also later called Shakthi) and her consort represented by a phallus( called Lingam or later Shiva/Rudra ).The bull was considered important.
The Vedic age( 1500-500 BCE )
This Iron Age civilization was introduced to India by the migrating and conquering Indo-Aryans who originated from around the Caspian Sea. This civilization spread across the Indo-Gangetic plain covering Pakistan and most of North India.The Vedic age saw the introduction of the Sanskrit language,hymns(the Vedas) , rituals and the caste system.
The Aryans were predominantly nature worshippers. Ceremonies and rituals to ward off evil were important as were cremation rites. Aryan deities were many and represented elements. The important ones were- Indra (lightning and thunder), Agni (fire) ,Varuna (the oceans), Surya( the Sun ), Vayu(the wind),Prithvi(Earth), Usha (the dawn) and Yama( death ). Vishnu and Rudra/Shiva were only minor deities initially.The horse and later the cow were important to the Aryans. An early form of Hinduism had developed.
Reformism( 500-200 BCE )- The Vedic age saw an increased emphasis on rituals and ceremonies. The upper castes lost touch with society. Two great ascetics Mahavira and Buddha founded Jainism and Buddhism respectively.As more and more people converted to these religions, Hinduism itself began to evolve. The Ramayana and Mahabharata date to this period.The Mauryan empire flourished during this period.
The Classical period( 200 BCE-1000 CE )
This period saw the Sangam period in south India and the Gupta empire in the north. The Dravidians in the South( considered the remnants of the pre-vedic culture)formed the various Tamil kingdoms – the Pallavas(northern Tamilnadu) and the later Cholas(central Tamilnadu),Pandyas(south Tamilnadu) and Cheras(Kerala).The Tamil kingdoms led the cultural expansion to “greater India” covering Thailand,Indochina and Malaysia.The Gupta empire covered much of north India. This age saw the flowering of Hinduism in both the north and the south. The classical schools of Hindu philosophy and classical Sanskrit bloomed during this period. Aryabhatta the famous astronomer and mathematician and Kalidasa the poet, date from this period.
The traditional Hindu pantheon came of age and Vishnu( the preserver) and Shiva( the destroyer) were worshipped with equal fervor.Sanskrit was institutionalized and the caste system became firmly established.Large carved temples were constructed and Hinduism became the dominant religion while Jainism and Buddhism faded.