End of the Indus Valley Civilization, Aryan invasions and the Vedic period (1500 – 340 B.C.E.).
The Indus Valley Civilization disappeared around 1500 B.C.E. coinciding with the arrival of the Aryan peoples also called Indo-European. It was a migration of human populations coming from the Eurasian steppes that flowed in successive waves to the northern shores of the Mediterranean (in Greece they were called Dorians), the Middle East (Hittites) and India where they penetrated through the northwest passages displacing the indigenous populations to the south. These people, who called themselves nobles (arya in Sanskrit means noble), were divided into castes: brahmins (priests), kshatriyas (warriors) and vaishyas (ordinary men, cattlemen, and farmers). At the base of these three groups were the shudras, the non-Aryans, despised and dominated as slaves.
In the period between the destruction of the cities of the Indus civilization until the third century B.C.E., virtually nothing has been found in India. After the end of the Indus Valley Civilization, there is a surprising absence of artistic remains well into the Buddhist era. This probably reflects the use of perishable organic materials such as wood. However, that long millennium set the fundamental principles of Hinduism and is known as the Vedic period because of the four great collections of hymns, prayers, ritual formulas, and magic spells called collectively as Vedas. These compilations have puzzled historians because -unlike other sacred literature- they never refer to historical events, nor do they speak of dynasties, wars, or chronology of any kind. The two great epic poems “Mahabharata” and “Rahmayana” also belong to the Vedic period.
It was during this period, in the sixth century B.C.E., that two heterodox religious phenomena appeared in northern India: Buddhism and Jainism. The first was founded by Prince Siddhartha called the Buddha (the Enlightened One), who radically rejected the caste system and taught that acceptance of life and self-control are more important than faith. It was a genuine revolutionary movement that profoundly broke the foundations of Vedic Brahmanism. Jainism, darker in its origin, was the reform made by a religious genius, Lord Mahavira (also known as Vardhamana), whose asceticism was very severe and who preached the doctrine of omni-sensibility and the morality of nonviolence.
Some of the typical personifications of the primitive polytheism prior to the arrival of the Aryans were incorporated, not only into the iconography of Brahmanism, but also into Buddhist religious art and Jainism. Thus arose the whole series of male and female geniuses, fairies and demons, such as the Nāga* (beings with human head and snake tail that inhabit the subterranean regions), yakshi* (male and female geniuses of vegetation), apsaras* (nymphs of the waters), etc.
The year 327 B.C.E. the Indian subcontinent suffered its first historical invasion: Alexander the Great who crossed the Indus after having defeated Darius. In 326 B.C.E. he fought the great battle of Hydaspes in which he defeated the Hindu army, left two Greek satraps in the Punjab and the Sind, and returned to Iran where he died in 323 B.C.E.
Apsara: A female spirit of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist culture. In Indian mythology, Apsaras are beautiful, supernatural female beings. They are youthful and elegant, and superb in the art of dancing. They are often wives of the Gandharvas, the court musicians of Indra. They dance to the music made by the Gandharvas, usually in the palaces of the gods, entertain and sometimes seduce gods and men. As ethereal beings who inhabit the skies, and are often depicted taking flight, or at service of a god, they may be compared to angels.
Nāga: A deity or class of entity or being taking the form of a very great snake, specifically the king cobra, found in the Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Yakshi: Also known as Yakshini are mythical beings of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain mythology. Yakshini (Yakshi) is the female counterpart of the male Yaksha, and they are attendees of Kubera, the Hindu god of wealth who rules in the mythical Himalayan kingdom of Alaka. Yakshinis are often depicted as beautiful and voluptuous, with a chauri (fly-whisk) in right hand, fleshy cheeks, with wide hips, narrow waists, broad shoulders, knotted hair and exaggerated, spherical breasts. They are the guardians of the treasure hidden in the earth.