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Most Important Keywords from Ancient Indian History for Prelims 2022

It is a part of our Nikaalo Prelims 2022 Initiative. You can join our official space on habitat to ask your doubts with the mentors and decode Prelims.

These keywords are taken from Upinder Singh book which is a very high relevant source for Prelims but bulky for an Aspirant to cover.


Agrahara: Land or village gifted by a king 

Ahimsa: Non-injury, non-violence 

Ajivikas: An ancient religious sect, associated with Makkhali Gosala 

Akam: Sangam love poems 

Alvars: The Vaishnava saint-poets of early medieval South India

Anekantavada: The Jaina doctrine of the manifold nature of reality

Antarala: The vestibule or antechamber of a temple

Araghatta: The Persian wheel, or a similar contrivance

Aranyakas: literally ‘forest books’; part of the Vedic corpus

Ardhamandapa: The hall preceding the sanctum in a temple

Ariya-sachchani: The Four Noble Truths related to suffering; an important part of the Buddha’s teaching

Ayyavole: A powerful merchant guild of early medieval South India 

Bands: Small and usually nomadic communities, usually related to each other through kinship

Brahmadeya: Land gifted to Brahmanas, generally by kings.

​​Charana: School of Vedic study 

Charvaka: An atheistic materialism philosophical school, also known as Lokayata

Dhamma: A Pali word (Sanskrit, dharma), referring to the ideal conduct of an individual living in society.

Dhammachakka-pavattana: Pali, literally ‘turning the wheel of dhamma’; the Buddha’s first sermon in the deer park near Benaras 

Dhamma-mahamatas: A new cadre of officials created by Ashoka to propagate dhamma.

Dvija: literally ‘twice born’: Those entitled to the performance of the upanayana (sacred thread) ceremony, which is considered analogous to a second birth, viz., the upper three varnas, namely the Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas.

Four Noble Truths(Ariya-sachchani): An important part of the Buddha’s teaching, viz., there is suffering; it has a cause; it can be eliminated; and the way to eliminate it is to follow the Eight-fold Path

Gahapati: Pali for Sanskrit grihapati, i.e., householder; a wealthy property-owner 

Gaja-Lakshmi: A popular representation of the goddess Lakshmi, flanked by two elephants, sometimes holding jars in their trunks gana: a word which has many meanings, including an oligarchy 

Garbha-griha: The inner sanctum of a temple, where the image of the main deity is placed and worshipped.

Hundikas: Bills of exchange used by traders in early medieval India

Kani rights: Rights over land in early medieval South India, sometimes also associated with certain duties and obligations 

Kara-shasanas: Tax-paying agraharas

kottam: Settlement clusters in the Pallava kingdom, similar to the nadus 

Kraya-shasana: A secular land-sale deed 

Kshatra: Secular power kshatrapa: a viceroy or subordinate ruler of the Scytho-Parthians; a title assumed by kings of the Kshaharata and Kardamaka dynasties

Madhayamaka: A major Mahayana school founded by Nagarjuna, in which the idea of shunyata (emptiness) is of great importance.

Mandapika: A local centre of exchange, in between small periodic markets and larger trade centres Manigramam: a powerful merchant guild of early medieval South India.

Mahakshatrapa: Viceroy, subordinate ruler; a title assumed by some kings of the Kshaharata and Kardamaka dynasties

Menhir: A type of megalithic burial, marked by a single, large, standing stone.

Nagarakkani: Land owned and managed by the nagaram 

Nagarams: Market or commercial centres in early medieval South India N

Agarattar: The corporate organization of the nagaram

Nattar: The leading men of the nadu (locality) in early medieval South India.

Nibbana: A term used often in the Buddhist tradition for liberation from the cycle of birth and death

Niyoga: levirate; the ancient custom of a widow cohabiting with her brother-in-law or another man in order to produce sons.

Paramitas: Perfections whose attainment led to the bodhisattva path; a Mahayana idea Paribbajaka: Pali, literally, ‘wanderer’, renunciant pariharas: exemptions and privileges granted to donees in royal land grants parinibbana: the passing away of the Buddha Patichcha-samuppada: Pali, the law of dependent origination; a part of the Buddha’s teaching

Periyapuranam: A 12th century work containing hagiographies of the Nayanmar saints

Pramanas: grounds of knowledge 

Prashasti: Panegyric 

Pravara: The names of one, two, three, or five supposed ancestral rishis, connected with the gotra system of the Brahmanas

Puram: War poems of the Sangam corpus 

Purva Mimamsa: A school of Vedic exegesis

Samana: A Pali word (Sanskrit shramana); literally, ‘one who strives’, a renunciant 

Samanta: Subordinate ruler; feudatory 

Samhita: A collection of hymns, associated with the Vedas 

Samkhya: A very ancient philosophical school which views the world as consisting of two fundamental categories of purusha (the spiritual principle) and prakriti (matter or nature)

Sandhara: A temple style with an enclosed passage for circumambulation

Sangam literature: Texts in old Tamil, comprising the earliest parts of the Ettutokai, Pattuppattu, and Tolkappiyam.

Sapindas: People who are held to be related to each other, an important category in Dharmashastra discussions on rules of marriage, inheritance, and rules of purity and impurity to be observed among relatives when a person died 

Saptanga rajya: Literally ‘the seven-limbed state’, the Arthashastra concept of the state as consisting of seven elements.

Setthi: Pali (Sanskrit sreshthin); a high-level businessman associated with trade and money-lending 

Shakha: A recension of a Veda

Siddhamatrika: An ancient script, known from the 6th century CE; also known as Kutila

Syadavada: Literally ‘doctrine of maybe’; the Jaina doctrine of the partial nature of all statements about reality

Taniyur: A special status given to certain brahmadeyas in early medieval South India, making them independent of the nadu wherein they were located

Tevaram: A collection of hymns, part of the canon of South Indian Shaiva bhakti

Tipitaka: Pali, literally ‘the three baskets’ or ‘three collections’, Buddhist canonical texts; the Pali Tipitaka is the canon of the Theravada school 

Tirthankara: Literally, ‘ford builder’; a Jaina saint 

Tirumurai: The canon of South Indian Shaiva bhakti 

Tiruttondar-Tiruvantai: A work by Nambi Andar Nambi, which gives a short hagiography of the Nayanmar saints 

Tiruttondar-Tokai: A work by Sundarar, which lists 62 Nayanmar saints torana: the gateway of a shrine

Vatteluttu: An ancient South Indian script used for writing Tamil

Vellala/vellalar: Cultivating groups of South India 

Vellanvagai: Non-brahmadeya villages of early medieval South India; same as ur 

Vendar: The three ‘crowned kings’ of early historical South India, i.e., the Cholas, Cheras, and Pandyas

Viragal: The word for a ‘hero stone’ in the Tamil Nadu area

Yajamana: The person for whom the yajna (sacrifice) is performed and who bears its expenses Yajna: sacrifice 

Yakshas: Deities associated with water, fertility, trees, forests, and the wilderness 

Yakshis: Female deities associated with fertility, consorts of yakshas 

Yavana: Greeks, foreigners from the West 

Yoga: A philosophical school which aimed at focusing the mind to achieve complete tranquility and control 

Yogachara: A major Mahayana school which attached great importance to meditation as a means of attaining the highest goal
Yupa: Sacrificial post

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