As we saw previously, the bhakti made it possible for Brahmanism and then Hinduism to secure an ideological stronghold within the masses, the price being that the masses were active in this process. This allowed feudalism to become deeply rooted in society.
But then this raises another question: this process led to the unification of India. How was this possible?
In fact, after the collapse of the Mauryan empire, ancient India was divided into numerous kingdoms, all fighting for supremacy. The Gupta empire was only the temporary success of a kingdom in particular; in reality, the country was divided into a huge number of local powers.
Hinduism was the ideology of the general feudal system, each local power supporting a local divinity, etc. The masses were in this way involved in feudal inner confrontations.
In this context, what happened was that each time a king gained a strong position, he supported a religion in giving lands tand temples to the priests. A particular temple received lands and peasants to work it; as a result feudalism deepened.
Kings began to give land also to the feudal forces who supported them, even if officially, throughout ancient and feudal India's history, ownership of land was never problematized: the relations of power, through castes, were enough.
And in this process, the southern part of India joined the northern part. The southern part already had a strong culture, in particular the Tamils; it already had kingdoms trying to generate ideologies, especially through Buddhism.
This buddhism was nevertheless something totally different from buddhism in Ashoka's time. It was now an organized religion, known as Mahāyāna (“Great Vehicle” in sanskrit), with numerous gods, rituals, priests, etc.
The goal was no longer liberation, but the cult of the Bodhisattvas, deities who could become buddhas but had chosen to postpone it to stay in the world to help the masses (which make of them "models" for the humans). It was a clear feudal decadence of initial Buddhism, as shown by the gigantic statues covered in gold, jewels, etc.
Eventually, the ideological vigour of Hinduism led the feudal forces of the south to join Hinduism, through the integration of the feudal lords into the kshatriya caste and the instruction of priests, and a whole history was “written” about all this, to connect it with northern culture.
This was a pure ideological construction, and in reality, the south of India never knew four castes, but only a traditional two level system, with feudal lords and priests on one side, and the oppressed masses on the other.
Another variant was applied to the tribal areas that were integrated; in such cases, Hinduism had to adapt itself, which gave birth to tantricism, i.e. magical variants.
As R.S. Sharma points it in "Early Indian medieval society":
"A geographical survey of land grants would show that, except in the deep south where brahmanas settlement appear in large numbers from the eight century onwards, it was in the fifth to seventh centuries that large-scale land grants were made to the brahmanas in the peripheral areas such as Assam, Bengal, Orissa, central and south India. The Himalayan areas and Nepal were also opened to the brahmanas in post-Gupta times though land grants."
Hinduism's function was to generalize a system in which feudal lords dominated a area composed mainly of villages, where the bhakti carried by the local population brought about the beginning of the national element.
Without the bhakti, or devotion of the masses, the feudal lords would have been governing completely disparate kingdoms; with the bhakti, the masses could meet, in spite of linguistic and cultural differences.
The “shock” caused by the Islamic invasions helped to put this into perspective. First, the invaders gradually took over all the kingdoms, forming a new empire, unifying the country on the administrative level, the local feudal forces becoming the interface with central power.
Secondly, the masses upholding the bhakti were confronted with another religion, and this facilitated unification, except in the parts either directly linked to the invaders like North West India, or historically reluctant to the northern domination, like Bengal – historically a Buddhist stronghold and which eastern side became mainly Muslim.
The Mughal empire maintained the feudal system at it was, without abolishing the castes, just managing to coordinate from the top, like a sort of antithesis of the Maurya empire (except from the progressive Sulh-e-Kul ideology of Akbar, who tried to unify the empire in the Mauryan way, like a modern Ashoka).
As feudal forces could not evolve towards an absolute monarchy, the invaders were able to form a parasitic, tyrannic monarchy, living from revenues derived from tax collection and direct ownership of land (around 1/5 of the empire, depending of the period).
This is precisely what Karl Marx saw and what led him to believe that India never overcame feudal dispersal, nor achieved a central state to manage this chaos. In an article of 1853, The Future Results of British Rule in India, published in the New-York Daily Tribune, Karl Marx writes in this spirit :
“Indian society has no history at all, at least no known history. What we call its history, is but the history of the successive intruders who founded their empires on the passive basis of that unresisting and unchanging society.
The question, therefore, is not whether the English had a right to conquer India, but whether we are to prefer India conquered by the Turk, by the Persian, by the Russian, to India conquered by the Briton.
England has to fulfill a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying of the material foundations of Western society in Asia (…).
The ruling classes of Great Britain have had, till now, but an accidental, transitory and exceptional interest in the progress of India. The aristocracy wanted to conquer it, the moneyocracy to plunder it, and the millocracy to undersell it. But now the tables are turned.
The millocracy have discovered that the transformation of India into a reproductive country has become of vital importance to them, and that, to that end, it is necessary, above all, to gift her with means of irrigation and of internal communication (…).
Modern industry, resulting from the railway system, will dissolve the hereditary divisions of labor, upon which rest the Indian castes, those decisive impediments to Indian progress and Indian power.
All the English bourgeoisie may be forced to do will neither emancipate nor materially mend the social condition of the mass of the people, depending not only on the development of the productive powers, but on their appropriation by the people. But what they will not fail to do is to lay down the material premises for both (…).
The bourgeois period of history has to create the material basis of the new world — on the one hand universal intercourse founded upon the mutual dependency of mankind, and the means of that intercourse; on the other hand the development of the productive powers of man and the transformation of material production into a scientific domination of natural agencies.
Bourgeois industry and commerce create these material conditions of a new world in the same way as geological revolutions have created the surface of the earth.”
But as we previously discussed, there was an attempt at a “geological revolution” in India, with Buddhism and Jainism. So let's see: what happened to them, and what happened to Indian capitalism?