THE CIVILISATIONS OF ASIA

THE Greeks and Romans were satisfied with their own Mediterranean world and knew little of India and China except as lands from which came spices and silks. It might have surprised them to know that in these remote countries dwelt peoples who enjoyed good government and a fine civilisation. India had been invaded in the second millennium B.C. by some Aryan tribes who belonged to the great group of Indo-European peoples. The newcomers spread over Northern India, subjugated the dark-skinned natives, and imposed on them their language, and, finally, their religion. In course of time, the population became divided into separate classes, each with its own status and functions. These castes, as they were called, were intended to keep the fair-skinned conquerors apart from the dark-hued subjects, and consisted of the priests, the nobles and warriors, the peasants and traders, and, lastly, the lower labourers who belonged to the native races. Below these came the " hewers of wood and drawers of water," despised members of the native races who were " outcasts." The separation between these classes was rigid and permanent, for no intermarriage and no personal contact was allowed between them. These Aryan invaders spoke a language called Sanskrit which, though more primitive than Latin and Greek, is of the same type. We still have their religious books, called the Vedas, from which it appears that they first worshipped the powers of nature. Later on, they came under the control of their priests. These priests who were called Brahmins (from Brahma, which means the supreme God), did not insist on worship of one god only, but allowed the people to worship as many as they liked. The religion became a mixture of luke warm belief in one spirit which pervades the universe, and fervent devotion to many local gods and spirits. The outlook on life of these people was very different from that of Western races. They believed with us that life is full of pain and evil, but whereas we decide that our task is to improve the world, they drew the conclusion that the only remedy was to retire from the world and " to study being dead," because only thus could the soul be freed from the prison-house of the body and be reabsorbed in the all-pervading soul of the universe. It was not easy, according to the priests, to purify the soul completely. One had to be reborn on earth over and over again before the desires of the body were completely purged. So arrogant were these priests that they excluded the lower labourers and the outcasts from sharing in this creed.