The history of India is one of the grand epics of world history and can be best described in the words of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as "a bundle of contradictions held together by strong but invisible threads". Indian history can be characterized as a work in progress, a continuous process of reinvention that can eventually prove elusive for those seeking to grasp its essential character.
The history of this astonishing sub continent dates back to almost 75000 years ago when the evidence of human activity of Homo sapiens. The Indus Valley Civilization which thrived in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent from 3300- 1300 BCE was the first major civilization in India.
Following is the history of India through the Ages:
The Pre Historic Era
1. The Stone Age:
The Stone Age began 500,000 to 200,000 years ago and recent finds in Tamil Nadu (at C. 75000 years ago, before and after the explosion of the Toba Volcano) indicate the presence of the first anatomically humans in the area. Tools crafted by proto-humans that have been dated back to two million years have been discovered in the Northwestern part of the country.
2. The Bronze Age:
The Bronze Age in the Indian subcontinent dates back to around 3300 BCE with the early Indus Valley Civilization. Historically part of ancient India, it is one of the world's earliest, urban civilizations, along with Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. Inhabitants of this era developed new techniques in metallurgy and handicraft and produced copper, bronze, lead and tin.
Early Historic Period
1. Vedic Period:
The Vedic Period is distinguished by the Indo-Aryan culture which was associated with the texts of Vedas, sacred to Hindus, and that were orally composed in Vedic Sanskrit. The Vedas are some of the oldest extant texts, next to those in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Vedic era in the subcontinent lasted from about 1500-500 BCE, laying down the foundation of Hinduism and other cultural dimensions of early Indian society. The Aryans laid down Vedic civilization all over North India, particularly in the Gangetic Plain.
This period saw the second major rise in urbanization in India after the Indus valley Civilization. The word "maha" means great and the word "janapada" means foothold of a tribe. In the later Vedic Age a number of small kingdoms or city states had mushroomed across the subcontinent and also find mention in early Buddhist and Jain literature as far back as 1000 BCE. By 500 BCE, sixteen "republics" or Mahajanapadas has been established, namely; Kasi, Kosala, Anga, Magadha, Vajji (or Vriji),Malla, Chedi, Vatsa (or Vamsa), Kuru, Panchala, Matsya, Surasena, Assaka, Avanti,Gandhara, and Kamboja.
* Persian and Greek Conquests:
Much of the Northwest subcontinent (currently Afghanistan and Pakistan) came under the rule of the Persian Achaemenid Empire in C. 520 BCE under the rule of Darius the Great and remained so for two centuries. In 326 BCE, Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor and the Achaemenid Empire, when he reached the Northwest frontier of the Indian subcontinent he defeated King Porus and conquered most of Punjab.
* Maurya Empire:
The Maurya Empire, ruled by the Mauryan Dynasty from 322-185 BCE was a geographically extensive and mighty political and military empire in ancient India, established in the subcontinent by Chandragupta Maurya in Magadha (present day Bihar) and was it further thrived under Ashoka the Great.
3. The Mughal Empire:
In 1526, Babur, a descendant of Timur and Gengis Kahn from Fergana Valler (present day Uzbekistan) swept across the Khyber Pass and established the Mughal Empire which covered modern day Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. The Mughal dynasty ruled most of the Indian subcontinent till 1600; after which it went into decline after 1707 and was finally defeated during India's first war of Independence in 1857.
4. Colonial Era:
From the 16th century, European powers such as Portugal, Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom established trading posts in India. Later, they took advantage of internal conflicts and established colonies in the country.
5. The British Rule:
The British Rule in India began with the coming of the British East India Company in 1600 and continued till Indian independence from British rule in 1947.
6. The Indian Independence Movement and Mahatma Gandhi:
In the 20th century Mahatma Gandhi led millions of people in a national campaign of non-violent civil disobedience to contain independence from the British.
7. Independence and Partition:
Religious tension between the Hindus and Muslims had been brewing over the years, especially in provinces like Punjab and Bengal. The Muslims were a minority and they did not feel secure in the prospect of an exclusively Hindu government and hence made them wary of independence. All through this Mahatama Gandhi called for unity among the two religious groups. The British, whose economy had been weakened after World War 2, decided to leave India and participated in the formation of an interim government. The British Indian territories gained independence in 1947, after being partitioned into the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan.
History of India . An overview : The people of India have had a continuous civilization since 2500 B.C., when the inhabitants of the Indus River valley developed an urban culture based on commerce and sustained by agricultural trade. This civilization declined around 1500 B.C., probably due to ecological changes.
During the second millennium B.C., pastoral, Aryan-speaking tribes migrated from the northwest into the subcontinent. As they settled in the middle Ganges River valley, they adapted to antecedent cultures.
The political map of ancient and medieval India was made up of myriad kingdoms with fluctuating boundaries. In the 4th and 5th centuries A.D., northern India was unified under the Gupta Dynasty. During this period, known as India's Golden Age, Hindu culture and political administration reached new heights.
Islam spread across the Indian subcontinent over a period of 500 years. In the 10th and 11th centuries, Turks and Afghans invaded India and established sultanates in Delhi. In the early 16th century, descendants of Genghis Khan swept across the Khyber Pass and established the Mughal (Mogul) Dynasty, which lasted for 200 years. From the 11th to the 15th centuries, southern India was dominated by Hindu Chola and Vijayanagar Dynasties. During this time, the two systems--the prevailing Hindu and Muslim--mingled, leaving lasting cultural influences on each other.
The first British outpost in South Asia was established in 1619 at Surat on the northwestern coast. Later in the century, the East India Company opened permanent trading stations at Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta, each under the protection of native rulers.
The British expanded their influence from these footholds until, by the 1850s, they controlled most of present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In 1857, a rebellion in north India led by mutinous Indian soldiers caused the British Parliament to transfer all political power from the East India Company to the Crown. Great Britain began administering most of India directly while controlling the rest through treaties with local rulers.
In the late 1800s, the first steps were taken toward self-government in British India with the appointment of Indian councilors to advise the British viceroy and the establishment of provincial councils with Indian members; the British subsequently widened participation in legislative councils. Beginning in 1920, Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi transformed the Indian National Congress political party into a mass movement to campaign against British colonial rule. The party used both parliamentary and nonviolent resistance and non-cooperation to achieve independence.
On August 15, 1947, India became a dominion within the Commonwealth, with Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister. Enmity between Hindus and Muslims led the British to partition British India, creating East and West Pakistan, where there were Muslim majorities. India became a republic within the Commonwealth after promulgating its constitution on January 26, 1950.
After independence, the Congress Party, the party of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, ruled India under the influence first of Nehru and then his daughter and grandson, with the exception of two brief periods in the 1970s and 1980s.
Prime Minister Nehru governed India until his death in 1964. He was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri, who also died in office. In 1966, power passed to Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977. In 1975, beset with deepening political and economic problems, Mrs. Gandhi declared a state of emergency and suspended many civil liberties. Seeking a mandate at the polls for her policies, she called for elections in 1977, only to be defeated by Moraji Desai, who headed the Janata Party, an amalgam of five opposition parties.
In 1979, Desai's Government crumbled. Charan Singh formed an interim government, which was followed by Mrs. Gandhi's return to power in January 1980. On October 31, 1984, Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated, and her son, Rajiv, was chosen by the Congress (I)--for "Indira"--Party to take her place. His government was brought down in 1989 by allegations of corruption and was followed by V.P. Singh and then Chandra Shekhar.
In the 1989 elections, although Rajiv Gandhi and Congress won more seats in the 1989 elections than any other single party, he was unable to form a government with a clear majority. The Janata Dal, a union of opposition parties, was able to form a government with the help of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the right and the communists on the left. This loose coalition collapsed in November 1990, and the government was controlled for a short period by a breakaway Janata Dal group supported by Congress (I), with Chandra Shekhar as Prime Minister. That alliance also collapsed, resulting in national elections in June 1991.
On May 27, 1991, while campaigning in Tamil Nadu on behalf of Congress (I), Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, apparently by Tamil extremists from Sri Lanka. In the elections, Congress (I) won 213 parliamentary seats and put together a coalition, returning to power under the leadership of P.V. Narasimha Rao. This Congress-led government, which served a full 5-year term, initiated a gradual process of economic liberalization and reform, which has opened the Indian economy to global trade and investment. India's domestic politics also took new shape, as traditional alignments by caste, creed, and ethnicity gave way to a plethora of small, regionally based political parties.
The final months of the Rao-led government in the spring of 1996 were marred by several major political corruption scandals, which contributed to the worst electoral performance by the Congress Party in its history. The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged from the May 1996 national elections as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha but without enough strength to prove a majority on the floor of that Parliament. Under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP coalition lasted in power 13 days. With all political parties wishing to avoid another round of elections, a 14-party coalition led by the Janata Dal emerged to form a government known as the United Front, under the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, H.D. Deve Gowda. His government lasted less than a year, as the leader of the Congress Party withdrew his support in March 1997. Inder Kumar Gujral replaced Deve Gowda as the consensus choice for Prime Minister of a 16-party United Front coalition.
In November 1997, the Congress Party in India again withdrew support for the United Front. New elections in February 1998 brought the BJP the largest number of seats in Parliament--182--but fell far short of a majority. On March 20, 1998, the President inaugurated a BJP-led coalition government with Vajpayee again serving as Prime Minister. On May 11 and 13, 1998, this government conducted a series of underground nuclear tests forcing U.S. President Clinton to impose economic sanctions on India pursuant to the 1994 Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act.
In April 1999, the BJP-led coalition government fell apart, leading to fresh elections in September. The National Democratic Alliance-a new coalition led by the BJP-gained a majority to form the government with Vajpayee as Prime Minister in October 1999.
India is a country with a rich history and culture. Home to the Indus Valley civilization and a region of historic trade routes and vast empires, the Indian subcontinent was identified with its commercial and cultural wealth for much of its long history. Four major world religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism originated here, while Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity arrived in the first millennium AD and mingled into the region's diverse culture. India became a modern nation-state in 1947 after a struggle for independence that was marked by widespread nonviolent resistance. The history of India can be divided into four major segments, the ancient era, the medieval era, the modern era and the post-independence era.
The hallmark of Indian history dates back to the stone age with paintings at the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh. These paintings symbolise the earliest known traces of human life in India. The first known permanent settlements appeared over 9,000 years ago and gradually developed into the Indus Valley Civilization, dating back to 3300 BCE in western India. It was followed by the Vedic Civilization, which laid the foundations of Hinduism and other cultural aspects of early Indian society. From around 550 BCE, many independent kingdoms and republics known as the Mahajanapadas were established across the country.
The empire built by the Maurya dynasty under Emperor Ashoka united most of South Asia in the third century BCE. From 180 BCE, a series of invasions from Central Asia followed, including those led by the Indo-Greeks, Indo-Scythians, Indo-Parthians and Kushans in the north-western Indian subcontinent. From the third century CE, the Gupta dynasty oversaw the period referred to as "The Golden Age" of Indian history. Among the notable South Indian empires were the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Hoysalas, Pallavas, Pandyas, and Cholas. Science, engineering, art, literature, astronomy, and philosophy flourished under the patronage of these kings. Paintings at the Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad, Maharashtra were made in the 6th century.
Following invasions from Central Asia between the tenth and twelfth centuries, much of north India came under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate, and later the Mughal dynasty. Mughal emperors gradually expanded their kingdoms to cover large parts of the subcontinent. Nevertheless, several indigenous kingdoms, such as the Vijayanagara Empire, flourished, especially in the south. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the Mughal supremacy declined and the Maratha Empire became the dominant power. From the sixteenth century, several European countries, including Portugal, Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom, started arriving as traders and later took advantage of the fractious nature of relations between the kingdoms to establish colonies in the country.
During the first half of the twentieth century, a nationwide struggle for independence was launched by the Indian National Congress and other political organizations. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, and displaying commitment to ahimsa, or non-violence, millions of protesters engaged in mass campaigns of civil disobedience. Finally, on 15 August 1947, India gained independence from British rule, but was partitioned, in accordance to wishes of the Muslim League, along the lines of religion to create the Islamic nation-state of Pakistan. Three years later, on 26 January 1950, India became a republic and a new constitution came into effect.
The history of India is a mingle between the East and the West. India has always been an invader's paradise, while at the same time its natural isolation and magnetic religions allowed it to adapt to and absorb many of the peoples who penetrated its mountain passes. No matter how many Persians, Greeks, Chinese nomads, Arabs, Portuguese, Britishers and other raiders had their way into this great country, many of them merged into the society giving rise to a country full of diversity in terms of culture, religion, language and architecture.
India in the past - its rulers
Different parts of India have different histories and legends. Indians in different parts of the country look at their past from a different point of view than Indians in other parts of India. Indian history has a past of over thousands of years. The Hindus record their religious history at over millions of year. They believe that the world is created and destroyed every few million years. Religious Hindus and some Hindu historians record their present history at over 7000 years. This belief is different from the accepted general history which claims Indian history to be shorter than 5000 years.
In general Indian history different kingdoms were established in different parts of India, some by foreign invaders. The first known invaders of India were Aryans (also mentioned sometimes as Indo-Aryans). It is believed that the Aryans arrived in north India somewhere from Iran and southern Russia at around 1500 B. C. The Aryans fought and pushed the local people called Dravidians southwards. The Aryans are referred to in Indian history as fair skinned people who pushed the dark skinned Dravidians southwards (see also Aryans and Dravidians - a controversial issue).
The north Indians are considered to be the descendants of the Aryans and the south Indians are considered descendants of the Dravidians. Even today the most basic division of the Indian society is of north Indian Aryans and south Indian Dravidians. But this division isn’t proper. Many Indians emigrated from one part of India to other parts of India and not all local people of north India were pushed southwards by the Aryans. Some stayed and served the Aryans and others moved to live in the forests and the jungles of north India. There were also other foreign immigrations and invaders who arrived mainly in north India. Many Dravidians consider themselves as original Indians and their culture as the original culture of India. They also feel that their culture is discriminated by the north Indians (see also Regional parties).
After the Aryans many others invaded India. Alexander the Great and other Greeks arrived in India. The ancient Persian Empire expanded its boundaries up to India. But the Persian Empire like Alexander the Great, didn’t arrive to the center of present India but to present day Pakistan and up to the borders of present India. But there were other Greeks who arrived in India and established kingdoms in India. Others to arrive in ancient India were Scythians, Kushans and Huns. These invaders also established some kingdoms in India. At a much later period there were Muslim invaders - Turks, Arabs, Afghans and others. And of course the Europeans - Portuguese, Danish, Dutch, French and English. In between Indians also established their own kingdoms and empires. These different kingdoms fought among themselves to expand their kingdom boundaries. But never in Indian history was there a kingdom that ruled the whole of India. These different kingdoms that were established in different parts in India created different aspects of Indian history for different regions of India.
Different regions of India adore different heroes and empires from India’s past. For example people from Maharashtra in west India adore the Maratha Empire which was created in Maharashtra and ruled over large parts of India in the 17th and 18th century. Their most respected hero is Shivaji who created the Maratha Empire. People of Tamil Nadu have their own Tamil originated heroes and empires like the Chola Empire that ruled south India and some parts of north India between the 9th to 13th century. For some period the Cholas also reigned over parts of south Asia, including Sri Lanka, and some islands now parts of Malaysia and Indonesia. At other periods in Indian history other empires were established from Tamil Nadu among them the Pandya Empire and the Pallava Empire.
Two famous empires from Bihar in north-east India were Gupta and Maurya Empires, which ruled most of north India and large parts of south India. One of the Mauryan Emperors, Asoka, had perhaps the largest Indian Empire which covered almost the whole of present India. The Maurya Empire existed somewere between 4th century B. C. till 1st century B. C. The Gupta Empire existed between 4th century A. D. till 7th century A. D.
There were many other empires which were established at different periods in different parts of India and reigned over large parts of India. In south India the Vijayanagar Empire was established in the 14th century. In central India the Bahmani Empire was also established in the 14th century. Alongside with the empires, there were also small kingdoms which ruled on small parts of India. In present day Rajasthan there were many such kingdoms and their rulers belonged to the Rajput caste. The Rajputs even today symbolize the warrior castes of India. These kingdoms sometimes were completely independent and at other times acted as autonomies of bigger empires. Some of these kingdoms came into existence after a collapse of bigger empire and sometimes after a mutiny in a bigger empire. The Bahmani Empire broke up into five kingdoms. The world famous Moghul Empire from the Delhi-Agra region collapsed into many small kingdoms and into Maratha Empire.
The Moghuls are perhaps the most famous of the Indian Empires which ever existed. At their height they controlled the whole of north India, present day Pakistan and large parts of south India. In their empire they had many kings and rulers who were subjected to them. In west India, there were many local rulers who were subjected to the Moghul Empire. These rulers of West India were called Maratha (or Maharatha). Till the Moghul Empire, different Maratha rulers acted sometimes as independent rulers and at other times subjected to different larger kingdoms or empires including the Moghuls.
When Aurangzeb attained the Moghul throne, the empire began its first step towards collapsing. Aurangzeb was a religious and fanatic Muslim. He tried to enforce Islam and Islamic law on his citizens. As a result the Marathas under the leadership of Shivaji revolted and declared independence. Shivaji was also nominated emperor of the Marathas. The Marathas enlarged their empire by taking control over more Moghul territories and other rulers territories.
After Shivaji’s death in 1680 the Maratha people had lot of interior crisis. Sometimes the different Maratha parties acted as one power and at other times as separate independent powers sometimes fighting each other. After Aurengzeb’s death in 1707 the Moghuls started collapsing into separate independent kingdoms even though there was always a acting Moghul Emperor. In this period of chaos in the Moghul and Maratha empires, some European powers – English, French, Dutch, Danish and Portuguese - began controlling Indian territories.
Among these European powers the Portuguese arrived first in India in 1498 via sea after they had circled the whole of the African continent. The Portuguese had to circle the whole of African continent because in those days the Muslim Ottoman Empire of Turkey which ruled the middle east caused lots of problems to European Christian merchants who tried to pass through their land. Therefore the Europeans tried to find other routes to reach India. Columbus tried to get to India while sailing westwards from Europe. Columbus presumed that because the earth is round he would eventually get to India while sailing westwards, instead he found the continent of America whose existence was not known then to the Europeans. Columbus thought that he had arrived in India and called the natives Indians.
The Europeans came to India because of commercial reasons. The Indian sub-continent was then world famous for its spices. Local rulers leased to the Europeans, land so that they could build factories. Later on the Europeans got permits from local leaders to build forts around their factories. The Europeans then established forces to protect their interests. The next step of the European was occupying Indian land with these armies and so one of the European powers, the British, became the rulers of India.
The British control of India was a result of several factors. The Portuguese who along with their business tried to enforce Roman Catholicism on Indian(including the Syrian Christians) were defeated by local rulers sometimes in collaboration with Protestant European powers. But still the Portuguese remained in India with small pockets. Their main center in India was Goa. The Dutch and the Danes left India for their reasons. The two main European powers that remained in India were British and French. These two powers tried different ways to control India and to defeat each other.
The kingdoms of India, especially in north India, sought with the collapse of the Moghul Empire, patronage of another Empire. The French and the British both tried to fill this place. The British succeeded more than the French in convincing the local leaders. But not all Indian rulers were interested in British patronage or British rule on Indian soil. The Sikhs in north India, Marathas rulers in west India and kingdom of Mysore in south India were among those who opposed the British rule.
The British succeeded in defeating the Indian rulers (some of whom got also French assistance against the British) and became the rulers of India. But the French like the Portuguese remained in India with small pockets and both these powers remained in India even after the British left India in 1947.
The British ruled India via two administrative systems. One was ‘Provinces’ and the other ‘Princely States’. Provinces were British territories completely under British control. Princely States were states in British India with local ruler or king with honorary titles like Maharaja, Raja, Maharana, Rana, Nizam, Badshah and other titles meaning king or ruler in different Indian languages. These rulers were subjected to the British Empire.
During India’s independence in 1947 there were 562 Princely States and 11 Provinc