India, History and Buddhism
India in the later Vedic phases witnessed the rise of State and Social order. Politically, there was a decline in the tribal assemblies at the cost of Monarchies. The tribal assemblies Sabha, Samiti and Vidhata gradually declined and the early Rajan took the form of Raja based on military power.
Socially, the early Vedic society depended on a pastoral and primitive form of agriculture. With the usage of iron tools, the society expanded to eastward regions that is Ganga deltaic plains. Iron tools enabled them to clear vast dense tracts of forest lands and the alluvial soil promoted agricultural prosperity. Thus, the Rig Vedic society which was fairly simple and egalitarian in nature transformed to the complex society in which Brahmanas took the role of the priestly class and ensured monopoly over a ritualistic practice which was emphasized in the later Vedas. Kshatriya took the role of Warrior class. This process of Aryanisation promoted social differentiation. The later Vedic society thus came to divided into four varnas
Gradually the varna based differentiation led to the oppression of Shudras. Their suppression in the society was carefully devised through a monopoly over knowledge, religious philosophies and the calculus of Karma.
In the sphere of religion, All the Vedic texts were compiled in the area of Kuru Panchalas. Thus, the cult of rituals, sacrifice became central to the culture of later Vedic society. The religious principles of Varna Ashrama Dharam and Purushartas had a significant impact on the functioning of the society and the activities of an Individual. The importance and the domination of Brahmanas rose due to the increasing emphasis on rituals and cults. Gradually these began to be questioned in the later philosophical texts of Upanishads and the Vedanta. These texts emphasized on Gnana Yoga, Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga.
RS Sharma in his book aspects of political ideas and institutions in ancient India outlines the broad relationship between the Varna system and the ‘Law and Politics’ Brahmanical traditions speculating on the origin of the state emphasized on the correlation between the cosmic structure and the varna based society. Dharmashastra and Arthashastra traditions both recommended the head of the state to maintain the social order based on the varnas. Maintainance of varna based order was even seen as a primary function of the state. Even the maintenance of order and justice was based on this structural division of society.
RISE OF BUDDHISM
Buddhism in India rose in the sociopolitical backdrop of the rise of Territorial states along with the eastward expansion of human settlements in India.RS Sharma in his book Ancient India notes that there are as many 62 religious sects that arose in the period of sixth century BCE because of changes in the socio-economic and political changes.
Domination of Brahmans
The Varna structured society characterized by knowledge power being held by the Brahmanas created a backlash from the Kshatriyas (the Warrior class). The tensions in the society led to opposition against Brahmanical ritualistic domination which has reached its apogee in the later Vedic ages. Thus, we can find that both the Buddha and Mahavira, the founders of Jainism and Buddhism belonged to the Kshatriya clans.
Moreover, Brahmana compiled their religious texts in the middle plains of Ganga around Kuru Panchala. This led them to regard Magadhans as secondary to the Aryavrata (The holy land of Aryans). It was also one of the reasons for the attraction of Buddhism and Jainism in these lands.
Buddha, on the other hand, rejected the existing ritualistic hierarchy in the society. Buddhist View on the varna based classification of society can be found in the following verse of sutta Nipiita
No brahman is such by birth.
No outcaste is such by birth.
An outcaste is such by his deeds.
A brahman is such by his deeds. (Sutta Nipiita)
The Urban settlements in India did not develop till the end of 1 st Millennium BC (around 600 BCE) despite inheriting the legacy of largely urban Indus Valley Civilization. The development of Urban Civilization required the strong agricultural surplus and blooming Commercial activity. The eastward expansion into the rich alluvium plains of Ganga played a vital role in the development of this new agricultural economy. The use of iron tools made possible clearance of forest lands and large-scale agricultural settlements. This period also marked the rise of new cities in northern India-Kaushmabi near Allahabad, Kusinagar, Varanasi, Vaishali, Chirand, Taradih, Pataliputa, Rajgir and Champa.However, the prospering of the agricultural economy based on iron ploughshare required blooming cattle wealth. The Brahmanical emphasis on ritual cults and Sacrifices was a major hindrance for the expansion of Cattle economy. Buddhism and Jainism by adopting the principle of Ahimsa became attractive religious sects for the Vis.
Support of Traders and Merchants
The Dharma sutras composed by brahmin lawgivers viewed the activity of Money lending as Usury and condemned them. Vaisyas and Merchants thus actively supported Buddhism and Jainism as they provided better social status and their gospel of Nonviolence was also conducive for trade.
Buddhism basically was the religion of the time and it tried to synthesize the changes that the society was witnessing with the transition of social, economic and political systems.