Learn About IndiaWritten by: Mark Bucknall
History of India
3,000BC to 1,500 B
Around 3,000 BC, the first known civilization to emerge out of the prehistoric era in India was the Indus (Sindhu) and Sarasvati Civilization which derived its name from the major rivers flowing through this area in north-western India, the Indus and Sarasvati rivers. At this point in India’s history, nomadic tribes were settling down and a culture began to develop. This civilization flourished and grew to become one of the most advanced civilizations of its time, rivaling that of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Western Asia. Cities were formed of up to 30,000 people spanning up to 3 miles in diameter. This civilization grew to over half a million square miles. Among their accomplishments was a written language, wide streets laid out in a grid system, houses built of burnt brick, a drainage system, and covered sewers. Agriculture was the predominant element of the economy of this time. Wooden ploughs were used in farming and cotton was known to be cultivated. A complex barter system was established to facilitate trade, which extended as far as Afghanistan, Persia, Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Samaritans. Dogs, cats, sheep and possibly even elephants were believed to have been domesticated by this civilization. An interesting contrast from this civilization to others during this time is that they were not ruled by Kings; rather their governing system seemed to involve merchant groups. This meant that the structures built were not temples and palaces built for worship or rule, they were centered around the needs and requirements of the citizens.
As the Thar Desert, in what is now North Western India, expanded around 2,000 BC, the civilization about the Sarasvati River was forced to move North and East as the river began to dry, leaving behind their beautiful cities to ruin.
In approximately 1,500 BC the Indus Valley civilization was forever changed by the migration of the Aryan’s, originating from the Caucasus Mountains and central Asia. The indigenous Dravidians were displaced southward, and the Indus Valley culture was no more, giving way to the Vedic era of India’s history.
BC to 185 BC
The ancient Aryan culture was not governed by merchants as in the Indus culture; rather it was ruled by warriors. Their written and spoken language is called Sanskrit. Some cultural traditions of the Aryans still exist today in modern India. Not much is known about the Vedic Age, other than through Vedas, which are a collection of sacred hymns originating from the Aryans.
From the period of approximately 1,000 BC to 600 BC was the Epic Age. This age is known for its three great epics: Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Upanishada. It was during this age that the caste system was introduced to India, and Hinduism’s roots were first planted. The caste system consisted of 4 castes: Brahmins (Priests), Kshatriyas (Warriors and Rulers), Vaisyas (Merchants) and the Shudras (Labourers and Farmers). During this time it was acceptable for people to move between the castes. A member of the Shudras caste, if adopted by a sage, could even become a Priest. Even though the fair skinned Aryans existed side by side with the dark skinned Dravidians, there was frequent competition and fighting for fertile lands. By about 800 BC most of Northern India was ruled by the Aryans. From 600 BC to 320 BC, Hinduism began to grow and flourish as a dominant philosophy and Kingdoms were developing and growing. Several dynasties’ came and went and the Nanda Dynasty, with its large standing army is considered one of the first empire builders in Indian history.
The Nanda Dynasty, which gave way to the Mauryan Empire in 322 BC, saw the expansion of Magadh, until the whole of Northern India was united. During the Mauryan Empire, which was highly centralized, roads connected most of India some of which still survive today. There was a large standing army and taxes were collected. This empire expanded as far as Afghanistan and included modern day Pakistan. During this era, trade flourished, India began its first use of a monetary system, and for the first time, most of India was under central control.
Buddhism made its first appearance in India. Gotama Siddhartha born in 565 BC was the founder of Buddhism. In 268 BC during the Mauryan Empire, Emperor Ashoka, after a terribly bloody rise to power, chose to adopt the path of Buddhism. He pursued the teaching and spreading of Buddhism as aggressively as he had fought when he was a warrior. Missionaries were sent out all through India and beyond and Buddhism spread as far away as Egypt, Palestine and Greece. Some say word of Buddhism made it as far a Britain.
185 BC to 1948 AD
As the Mauryan Empire declined, India fragmented into smaller kingdoms, and saw the beginning of several invasions. Among the invaders from 185 BC to 320 AD were: Bactrian Greeks, Parthians, Shakas and Kushans. Throughout this period of invaders and cultural fusion, India became an important part of central Asian trade. In the 3rd Century, the Gupta Dynasty began. This dynast, sometimes referred to as the Golden or Classical Age of India saw the return of India to centralized control for the first time since the Mauryan Empire. This time in Indian history is remembered for its religious tolerances, literature, art and science. Mathematics as we know it today can be traced back to India, where the decimal system was first used, the use of zero along with many other mathematical achievements. Many incredible temples were also constructed throughout this era.
Beginning in 500 AD White Huns (Hunas) from Central Asia began several invasions into India. By 550 AD, the end result was that neither the Huns retained control, nor the Gupta Empire. India fragmented into smaller regional kingdoms over the next several hundred years. These kingdoms grew and shrank as the years passed by, with no single kingdom unifying India. During this period, the caste system was recorded as becoming rigid, meaning there was no movement between castes, as there was in the past. There were also many more castes and subcastes in existence
The beginning of the new millennium saw the first Muslim invasions. From 1001 AD through the next 25 years, the Turks invaded India 17 times. The second wave of Turkish attacks came from 1181 to 1206 AD. Much of Northern India was then ruled from Turkey until 1397, until the coming of the Mongols. The Mongols under Timur Lang (Tamerlane) struck India mercilessly with great speed. For the next few hundred years the north of India was ruled by Timur’s successors and the Mughal era began which lasted until the mid 1800’s. The south of India remained mainly Hindu, while the north was predominantly Muslim. Throughout the centuries, there were frequent wars waged throughout India, many between the North and South.
In the 1600’s, the British East India Company established a hold in India and started 300 years of British involvement in India. The British East India Company's dominance over India continued until 1858. Throughout its presence in India, Britain was able to supply itself with raw materials and had a ready made market for finished goods shipped back to India. Unfortunately this circumvented local Indian production. India began to resent British rule and resistance increased until 1858 when a struggle for independence reached a head. The British government quelled the resistance, and in the same year took direct control of India’s affairs (previously controlled by the British East India Company). By the end of the 1800’s, the British had established a comprehensive structure of governance that allowed them to effectively govern India. British control spanned from today’s Pakistan eastward through India into Burma. The desire for independence did not go away. Increased tensions between Muslim and Hindu factions were building and Muslims feared that an independent India would be dominated by the Hindu majority. In 1915, Mohandas Karamchand Ghandhi, later referred to as Mahatma (great soul) Ghandi, started appealing for unity between the two groups. Throughout the years the independence movement ebbed and flowed, and eventually achieved success in 1947. Even though Ghandi appealed to both Muslims and Hindus alike to unite, he was primarily seen as a champion Hindu independence movement. The Muslim League arose to protect the interests of Muslims within India. Ghandi was able to mobilize an entire nation the size of India and through his exemplary leadership brought about the peaceful transition of power from Britain to a newly independent India. Unfortunately as independence drew closer, so did the violence between Muslims and Hindus. This eventually led to the separation of India into 3 different countries: Pakistan (West Pakistan), Bangladesh (East Pakistan, gaining independence from Pakistan in 1971) and India. In the weeks following the breakup of India, half a million people lost their lives in violence and desperate relocation efforts as stranded Muslims and Hindus alike struggled to move to friendlier territory. Ghandi’s dream of an independent India was tainted by violence and the eventual breakup of the country along religious lines. Ghandi was assassinated in 1948.
1948 to today
Since Independence, India has grown to be the world’s largest democracy. Unfortunately that independence has been marred by several wars and political assassinations. The Kashmir district is divided between India and Pakistan and remains a region of intense tension between the two nations, each with nuclear capabilities. Nevertheless, India is at last an independent nation, with diversity like no other nation. In the early 1990’s there were 32 languages spoken by over 1 million people each. Roughly 18% of the languages spoken are of Dravidian decent. Though Hindu is the religious majority, many other religions exist peacefully within India. India is a shining example of resilience, patience and tolerance. It is a colourful mosaic of cultures whose past has given it a richness and vibrancy unlike any other nation in existence today.
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