In speaking of religion especially in the context of the evolving nature of this facet of human culture, it is in hindsight a look at the evolving changes incurred In power dynamics as well. First however let us look at the historical context of religion per say. The flrst Instances as such of religious thought processes dates back many hundred thousand years back where signs of some of the first human burials were practiced.
Mankind’s early steps in the world around him have been imbued with a sense of onder and fascination with the environment around him, where he quickly came to realize that there was a greater force at work. Extending this belief to their daily life the first Instances of shamanism and animism as such could be seen to have come about. This slowly evolved with the changes according to the progression of time with its many implications; migrations, change in the environment, interactions and clashes with other communities.
This thought process began to be one of the first “rationale” exercises practiced by man, where Impinged by his curiosity mankind lowly try to reason out the exact nature of this force at hand and for that matter later on what exactly the role of mankind might be in this grand scheme of things. It should be understood that here we can slowly observe a more directed sense of focus by this species In pursuing this line of enquiry where first It was with a perception of wonder and a sense of openness In that there was a lot more to the world than he could imagine.
He had a more encompassing viewpoint at this point but slowly with the advent of new technologies and modes of progress this viewpoint began to be more centered on the supposed “place of man”. A sudden fear which could possibly be traced from their notions of death and what exactly being alive means caused this change in focus so to speak but try as he might the only thing he could do was “rationalize” further.
In this way various philosophies and lines of enquiry began to develop around the world. However in this pursuit slowly religion began to lose some of Its more philosophical characteristics as It began to be tied In very closely to matters of rule as well. Here this should not exactly be surprising as where else to seek guidance from in crucial moments than from what one feels is of a igher power than oneself; here the word power should be emphasized.
In this way slowly religion and the Individuals who claimed have an understanding of It began to take on a more dogmatic form where now customs and practices began to be more clearly defined but losing some of their actual functionality at times or better understood as the reason why it is like the way it is. In this way slowly religion began to be tied In to the ruling authority where even from the age of the pharaohs of Egypt It can be seen that “rule” was to be authenticated by religion.
Such was similarly the ase with many of the European states as well with the advent of systematized Foucault in his seminal piece “What is Critique? “The Christian pastoral, or the Christian Church insofar as it deployed an activity that was precisely and specifically pastoral, developed this idea ”unique, I believe, and completely foreign to ancient culture ”that every individual, whatever his age or his status, from the beginning to the end of his life and down to the very details of his actions, ought to be governed and ought to let himself be governed, that is to say, be directed toward his salvation, y someone to whom he is bound in a total, and at the same time meticulous and detailed, relation of obedience.
This lays the foundation for what Foucault goes on to instigate in later works of how religious forms as quoted above begin to form the initial pretext for modern day governance. Now to better understand this however this essay shall proceed to focus on the Indian Subcontinent and the religious interactions and perceptions that have taken place to better understand how this translates toa view of the present day India. General trends in Depictions of India In looking at historical records one of the first written accounts of the Indian Subcontinent can be traced back to the Greek civilization.
Some of the earliest portrayals of India are by prominent figures such as Ktesias, Herodotus and Megasthenese. Here what can be observed, to begin with the first two wrote accounts of a nature that was one of amazement and wonder. This was a time when mankind was still open to the idea that anything could actually exist and where the laws of science had not yet tailored a view so to speak. Here in speaking of this then distant and most of what was communicated to the people back home were of the following thematic nature.
Cotton trees were seen as mirroring what the sheep of ancient Greece had to offer in terms of wool, huge reeds and springs of various mysterious natures inhabit the landscape. To the people who live in this diverse and mysterious environment, many different tribes were introduced. Jackal men who live in the mountains who have a deal with the king of the land, humans with hair all over, people who are born with white hair to a group of immortals living in a remote island, fill the imagination of the readers of these initial accounts.
However the most interesting to note would be the creatures that share this space with these people, where amazing descriptions of river worms, gold digging ants, elephants to finally even a manticore. In terms of accounts of a more religious nature however we need to go the account of the writer Megasthenes in his publication known as Indika. This is a very interesting account similar to that of the physician Ktsesias regarding to quite a few of what is described to exist in the land.
The account given also possibly exhibits one of the first instances of “orientalism” where the origins of a group of the eople living on the land can supposedly be traced to the Greek God Dionysus or the Hero Hercules. Looking at the time period these are the Gods Brahma and Krishna. The local legends regarding the two of them get translated into a somewhat Greek inheritance so to speak where the changes these gods have brought to this society from their time there can supposedly be seen such as like in the form of rulers with an ancestry to Hercules.
There is also quite possibly the mention of one of the first predecessors to the now known caste system however this was with seven classes ach with its own characteristics. No intermingling of the groups was allowed except the order of religion so to speak but as such no direct influence generated between the two as of now. Also of special mention is the writer Strabo. For the most part he discusses what other writers have had to say about the subcontinent but what is of significance is that the focus of this chapter in this case comes to be the people itself; where the customs and beliefs become of significance.
This gives an image of a somewhat wise understanding of the workings of the universe comparable to Greek notions. Of particular interest is the meeting of the Macedonian King Alexander the Great and Calanus the philosopher where there is a show of genuine respect for the understanding and wisdom these philosophers have. The next significant point of interest is that of the Chinese monks such as Fa Hien and Hieun Tsang.
These monks undertook this Journey to learn more and if possible to attain more scriptures regarding Buddhism. The accounts written by these monks in these travels concentrates more solely on the kind of lives the people of this region live. This account varies from others so far in that it seems more comprehensive in its pproach in trying to understand the different details of what happens in this land known as the “Middle Kingdom”. This is quite an important demarcation in that this is seen to be the center of the world.
What is written seem to be more observances and the only mythical reference is where the name of the land and outline is compared to that of the moon where it provides light in the time of darkness; here it is in specific reference to a sense of spirituality. Later on it is shown how daily life is lived out in these lands which had developed their own unique understanding of ime and space. There is a mention of a calendar and markings for the different seasons and changes which occur in a year; similarly distance is shown to be accounted for as well.
There is a definite structure which is outlined from the Brahmans to the Royalty. The cities are outlined and described where the different roles are played out like for instance military defense around the outlines of the city. The people fall into different castes; accordingly as such their education and life roles are determined. This account also depicts from the way clothes are worn to the ype of food that is usually eaten by the people. An interesting point to note would be the mention of the Vedas for the first time and how for a part they are studied.
There are mentions of the Buddhist teachings as well but few. In this manner the life view and the way of life of the people of the land now known as India was recorded by this monk but what makes this account fascinating is that this seems to be based more on actual findings. After the influence of Buddhism went down we have the advent of records from early Arab travelers to Christian missionaries, where the focus of the ravel begins to keep changing. One of the most famous travelers of regard is Ibn Battuta.
A native from Tangier in Morocco, Shams al-Din Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad Ibn Battuta is famous for spending the years between 1325 and 1354 travelling across North Africa, through much of Eurasia, all the way to China. His initial goal was to participate in the pilgrimage to Mecca (the haj]); his interest in Muslim holy men and places dominates portions of his text. Among the most valuable sections are his descriptions of Anatolia, the territories and customs of the Golden Horde, and Southern India. Another traveler of note is that of Marco Polo, especially for his escapades around the silk Route.
He worked for the king Qubilai Khan. His main task observe the local characteristics so to speak. It is imperative to note that he did not have a dairy as such and what he have are from an account he dictated to a fellow cell mate upon his subsequent capture and return back to home. Since his main associations were that with the Mongol rulers of China and with the Muslim merchant community, often he misses out in mentioning about the “obvious” features of Chinese society. Polo’s book became well known in Renaissance Europe and served as a stimulus to further travel and discovery.
In terms of India Polo’s descriptions of the various different countries are also of particular note. Later on we begin to encounter accounts of Christian Missionaries. Most of these are from individuals of fate who are quite rooted to their religion in a very strong way which is very clearly evident in most of what they write. The accounts most often than not deal with their mission and report much progress the church was making in spreading their influence and what the impediments to this was.