War and Peace: How a different oriental civilisation thought that humans could live in harmony with nature

The Himalayas helped protect the hunter-gathering people living in what we now call India from the centralising, conquering and consolidating forces of China. But their effectiveness as a barrier decreases further to the north-west, where passes permit the passage of people travelling by foot, horse and chariot. Several waves of invaders came from the north. Some of them probably originated from the steppes of central Asia, from where, having passed through Mesopotamia, they swept into the Ganges plain in northern India, stopped only by the towering Himalayan peaks.

Surprisingly few archaeological remains have been found so far to help piece together the early history of these invasions. Most surviving evidence is literary.

Sacred texts called the Vedas were written in a language called Sanskrit that originated in the Middle East. These texts are thought to describe life between c1700BCE and 1100BCE. They paint a vivid picture of the tools brought by these early invaders in the form of horses, wheels and metal. Their verses talk of noble archers engaged in duels with rival heroes, exchanging volleys of arrows while galloping across fields of battle in horse-drawn chariots. They also describe the use of tools which were employed to clear the jungle around the Ganges Valley. This was a good place to settle. Heavy rains made for lush vegetation, allowing the growth of rice, which could sustain armies.

A superficial reading of some of the ancient texts of India might lead to the impression that these people's destiny was to be as violent as those of the emerging societies to the north, east and west. At the heart of the ancient Indian religion of Hinduism is the Mahabharata, one of the most famous sacred poems ever written.

The Mahabharata tells the story of an epic struggle for the throne of the kingdom of Kuru between two rival branches of a dynastic family, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The tale's climax is what is said to be the biggest and bloodiest battle in all history: the 18-day Battle of Kurukshetra, in which the Pandavas ultimately triumphed.

The most sacred section, possibly added in about 550BCE, tells of a debate between the leader of the Pandavas, Arjuna, and the god Krishna, who had incarnated himself into human form to serve Arjuna as his personal charioteer. On the eve of battle, Arjuna urgently seeks Krishna's advice as to whether or not to wage war. He has a dilemma: he knows war will mean having to kill various members of his own family, who are obliged to fight against him owing to previous oaths of allegiance.

In this part of the story, called the "Bhagavad Gita", or "Gita" for short, Krishna reveals the mysterious philosophy that still binds Hindu people together and defines their reverence for nature and all living things. He explains to Arjuna that despite the inevitability of war, there is no need to lament those who die in battle, because atman – the spirit of the self – is indestructible. Fire cannot burn it, water cannot wet it, and wind cannot dry it, he says. This self, says Krishna, passes from one body to another, like a person taking off worn clothes and putting on new ones.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Sport
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
sport
News
Tattoo enthusiast Cammy Stewart poses for a portrait during the Great British Tattoo Show
In picturesThe Great British Tattoo Show
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?