Ancient Indian Daily Life
What would your daily life be like if you lived in ancient India? Well, like the ancient stone seals with the mysterious pictographs, a lot of early Indian life remains a mystery!
The little we do know about life in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro tells us that the ancient Indians were skillful craftsmen and talented city-planners, and that they loved to play games and wear jewelry!
We know that they had well-planned cities with straight roads and neat blocks. Most houses were made of baked brick and had flat roofs. As you learned in the Architecture section, the houses had courtyards, wells, and even bathrooms! Towns had places to store grain and some public baths were people could swim.
When these two ancient cities were excavated in 1922, many interesting things were found: little toy carts and birds, and a toy monkey that could slide down a string! Ancient Indian artwork reveals that the people liked to dance and sing. We also know that they made pottery, did metal work, and could weave cloth. They made carts with wheels, as well as boats and ships.
The early Indians may have been the first in the world to grow cotton, and they used it to make colorful clothing. The women must have loved to dress up, as many pieces of jewelry have been found: items made of gold, precious stones, and shells.
The Aryan people from central Asia arrived in India around 1500 BC, and we get some of our knowledge of daily life of that time from the books that they wrote. We know that life was centered around a community fireplace, where people would gather and talk about the day’s events.
Each “tribe” had a chief, and the leadership role was passed down from father to son. The men liked gambling, storytelling, and fighting. The women took care of the home and children. The children did not go to “school” as we think of it today. Instead, they had a Guru, or teacher, who taught them. All information was passed down orally (through talking) and had to be memorized.
When the Hindu religion became popular, the caste system began. What does that mean? Well, a caste is a class of people. Each caste had a certain role in the society. This made life more organized, but was not particularly nice or fair to those in the lower ranks.
The highest rank was the Brahmans. These were the priests and leaders. Next were the Kshatriya, or the warriors. The Vaishyas, or farm and business owners were next. Below them was the Shudras, who were servants and farm workers. Finally, there were the Untouchables. These people got all the “dirty” jobs that no one else wanted to do. The Untouchables were just slightly above the slaves. This system has been outlawed in modern India, but some aspects of it still affect their society.
What would you eat if you were an ancient Indian? Well, they grew wheat, barely, rice, chickpeas, lentils, dates, and veggies. They also had sheep, pigs, cows, and water buffalo for meant. And of course they could go fishing and eat fish. They used the wheat to make a flat bread called chapatis. Sugar cane grew there too, so most likely they enjoyed some sweet desserts!
Around the year 300, many of the people were Hindus, and they began to eat less meat, thinking it was bad to kill animals. A few centuries later, they began worshipping a goddess to whom cows were sacred, and so they stopped eating beef altogether.
When the Muslims invaded northern India, they brought with them the religious restriction on eating pork, so even less meat was eaten after that time. Many Indians became complete vegetarians.
What did the Indians wear? Of course they wore cotton, although the rich sometimes wore silks from China. The women wore a long cloth called a sari. The young women wore colorful saris, while the older women generally wore white. The men wore a long cloth called a dhoti. It was white and could be wrapped around the legs to look like pants. The also wore a cloth wrapped around their heads, called a turban.
After the Muslim invasion, some began to take on Muslim fashions and wore trousers with a long tunic. Sometimes Indians wore (and some still wear) a red dot on their forehead (called a bindi) for decoration.
What kind of games would you play as an Indian child? Indians liked to play games. An ancient die has been found in the area, suggesting that Indians may have been the first to play with dice, and ancient Indian stories speak of dice games.
Have you ever played Chutes and Ladders? This game was most likely invented by the early Indians. How about Chess? There is some evidence for that as well, although they may have taken some of the ideas from the Chinese. They also invented the game called Parcheesi, and played African game Mancala.
They also enjoyed athletic games such as wrestling and camel racing. I wonder how fast a camel can go!