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History of India

Ancient India

Medieval India

Modern India

Ancient India

Archaeological excavations have brought to light the remains of a highly developed urban civilisation in ancient India, that stretched across approximately 1520 kilometres, extending from the area on the upper Sutlaj in contemporary Punjab to Lothal in Gujarat. Historians are of the view that this civilisation flourished in the third millennium before the birth of Christ.

It is known by the name of the two of its great cities - Harappa and Mohenjodaro situated on the left and the right bank respectively of the river Ravi in Punjab. The two cities were built on a similar plan - houses constructed with standard burnt bricks arranged in squares, along roads intersecting at right angles. The houses varied in size but were all based on the same plan - a small courtyard surrounded by rooms with entrances in side alleys, often multistoried with no windows opening out to the street. The houses had bathrooms and the drains flowing out were connected to covered sewers with soak-pits. This unique sewage system is amongst the most impressive achievements of the Indus people and sets them apart from all other ancient civilisations.

By about 1500 B.C. an important change began to occur in the northern half of the Indian sub-continent. The Harappa culture in the Indus Valley had declined by about 1750 B.C, and the stage was being set for a second and more continuous urbanisation in the Ganges Valley.

The earliest literary source that sheds light on India's past is the Rig Veda. It is difficult to date this work with any accuracy on the basis of tradition and ambiguous astronomical information contained in the hymns. It is most likely that Rig Veda was composed between 1,500 B.C. and 1,000 B.C.

The people who composed these evocative hymns to nature and celebrated life exuberantly referred to themselves as Aryas usually anglicised as Aryan meaning 'superior'.

The 6th Century B.C. was a period of great ferment in India. The kingdom of Magadh -one of the 16 great janapadas - polities - had established paramountcy over other kingdoms of the Ganges Valley. This was the time when Buddhism and Jainism emerged as popular protestant movements to pose a serious challenge to Brahmanic orthodoxy. The fluid political situation, made it possible for Chandragupta Maurya (reign - 322 - 298 B.C.) to oust the oppressive ruler of Magadh and found his own dynasty.

The most famous of the Mauryas is Ashoka the Great (reign - 273 - 232 B.C.). He extended the boundaries of his empire considerably - stretching from Kashmir and Peshawar in the North and Northwest to Mysore in the South and Orissa in the East - but his fame rests not so much on military conquests as on his celebrated renunciation of war. After witnessing the carnage at the battle field of Kalinga (269 B.C.) in Orissa, Ashoka resolved to dedicate himself to Dhamma - or righteousness.

Ashoka died around 232 B.C. and the empire began to disintegrate under weak successors. Pushyamitra Shunga, a Brahmin general usurped the throne after slaying the last Maurya king and presided over a loosely federal polity. In subsequent centuries India suffered a series of invasions, and in the absence of a strong central authority, often fell under the spell of foreign rulers - Indo Bactrians, the Sakas and others.

For the next four hundred years, India remained politically disunited and weak. It was repeatedly raided and plundered by foreigners. Stability was restored by the Guptas. Exploits of Samudra Gupta (reign - 335 - 380 A.D.) - an illustrious ruler of this line - are recorded on a stone inscription at Allahabad.

It was Chandra Gupta II (reign - 380 - 412 A.D.) - Samudra Gupta's successor - who finally defeated the Sakas and re-established a strong central authority. His reign registered the high watermark in Indian culture. His accomplishments in war and peace were glorious enough for him to claim the title Vikramaditya - the resplendent, great and good king of legends. Fa-hien, a Chinese traveller who was in India from 399 - 414 A.D. has left an interesting account of contemporary India. This age of peace and prosperity witnessed an unprecedented flowering of art, literature and the sciences.

Kalidas, the famous Sanskrit poet and dramatist, author of Abhijnana Shankuntalam, Kumarsambhavam and Meghadutam is believed to have adorned the Gupta court. Mathematicians like Aryabhatta and astronomers like Varahmihir lived during this period. The dazzling wall paintings of the Ajanta caves too are traced back to this era. This period also saw the beginning of Hindu temple architecture.

The twilight of the Gupta Empire saw the setting in of decay. Powerful feudal governors in the provinces declared their independence. Trade and commerce suffered and social evils crept in. There was only a brief afterglow in the time of Harshavardhan (reign - 604 - 647 A.D.) - of Kannauj - who is famous for his philanthrophy and patronage of Buddhism. Himself an accomplished writer, he encouraged eminent dramatists like Bana. A Chinese traveller Huen-tsang visited India from (629 - 645 A.D.) during the rule of Harshavardhan. His account gives us an opportunity to note the changes that had taken place in the lives of the Indian people since the days of the Guptas.

In the Deccan, the Cholas ruled over what today are the districts of Thanjavur and Tiruchirapally. In the 2nd Century B.C. a Chola prince conquered Sri Lanka. The Pandyas reigned around present day Tirunelvelli and Madurai. A Pandyan king sent an ambassador to the court of the Roman emperor Augustus in first Century B.C. The territory under the Cheras was what constitutes the present day central and northern Kerala.

Pallavas of Kanchi rose to prominence in the 4th Century A.D. and ruled unchallenged for about four hundred years. The Nayanar and Alvar saint poets belong to this period. The gemlike shore temples at Mahabalipuram date to this period.

The Cholas overthrew the Pallavas in the 9th Century and regained political primacy in south India. The exquisitely crafted Chola bronzes - the resplendent Natraja - the Dancing Shiva - have introduced the world to the glory of the Cholas. The tide of political fortunes turned once again in the 13th Century to make the Pandyas dominant. Their kingdom became a great centre of international trade. Art, literature and culture flourished under generous patronage. The 15th Century saw the decline of the Pandyas.

Foreign invasions had little impact on the life in southern India and this region remained unaffected by political upheavals that convulsed the north.

Medieval India

Ancient India

Modern India

The period following the death of Harsha is known as the Rajput period. The word Rajput connotes the scion of a royal family and these princes claimed descent from the sun(thereby calling themselves Suryavanshis)or the moon(and so calling themselves Chandravanshis). This was an era of chivalry and feudalism. Family feuds and strong notions of personal pride often exacerbated conflicts. The Rajputs weakened each other by constant fighting. This allowed the foreigners (Turks) to embark on victorious campaigns using duplicity and deceit wherever military strength failed against Rajputs.

One of them, Mohammad Ghori defeated Prithviraj Chauhan, the Tomar ruler of Delhi, at the battle of Tarain in 1192 and left the Indian territories in the charge of his deputy, Qutubudin (reign - 1206 - 1210), who had started life as a slave. This is the reason that the dynasty founded by him is known as the Slave Dynasty. It is he who built the towering Qutub Minar in Delhi. Raziya (reign - 1236 - 1239), the daughter of his successor Iltutmish (reign - 1210 - 1236), was quite an exception for that age. She sat on the throne of Delhi for a short while. Khiljis, Tughlaqs, Sayyids and Lodis followed in the footsteps of the 'Slaves'. This period is known as the Sultanate. Only a few rulers distinguished themselves in statecraft. Allauddin Khilji (reign - 1296 - 1316) was not only a distinguished commander but also an able administrator. He is remembered for his military campaign in the south as well as market reforms and price control measures. Also, infamous for his infatuation with Rani Padmini of Chittor. Muhammad Bin Tughlaq (reign - 1324 - 1351) was a visionary who had the misfortune of being misunderstood by almost everyone who came in his contact. Modern historians, however, have judged him more sympathetically. Once derided for his whimsical decisions - he once ordered the imperial capital to be shifted to Daulatabad in the Deccan as the site was more central - he is now given credit for his unusual 'vision'. Lodis were, by comparison, quite mild and are only recalled when one is in the vicinity of the majestic Lodi tombs set in beautifully landscaped gardens. The Sultanate introduced, in the sub continent, the Islamic concepts of society and governance, and thus prepared the ground for a scintillating encounter between two important world civilisations.

When the power of the Sultans declined, the outlying provinces once again became important and the process of Hindu Islamic synthesis continued almost without any interruption.

Much before the expulsion of the last Lodi ruler from Delhi by Babur the lustre of the Sultanate had dulled. Babur (reign - 1526-30), the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, was a descendant of Timur as well as Changez Khan. Ousted by his cousins from the small principality in Central Asia that he had inherited, he came to India and defeated Ibrahim, the last Lodi Sultan in 1526 at the First Battle of Panipat. There was a brief interruption to Mughal rule when Babur's son Humayun (reign - 1530-40) was ousted from Delhi, by Sher Shah, an Afghan chieftain.

Sher Shah (reign - 1540-55), assumed power in the imperial capital for a short while. He is remembered as the builder of the Grand Trunk road that spanned the distance from Peshawar to Patna and also one who introduced major reforms in the revenue system, gratefully retained by the Mughals.

It was Babur's grandson Akbar (reign - 1556-1605), who consolidated political power and extended his empire over practically the whole of north India and parts of the south. Akbar realized that if the empire was to attain stability, it must grow roots in the native soil, and that it should seek support from the local ruling groups.

Jahangir (reign - 1605-27) who succeeded Akbar was a pleasure loving man of refined taste. Contemporary chroniclers have recorded that during his reign the Persian nobility related to his wife Nur Jahan had become influential. Shah Jahan (1628-58) his son, ascended the throne next. Shah Jahan's fame rests on the majestic buildings he has left behind - the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid. His successor,

Aurangzeb (reign - 1658-1707) was a brave general and an able administrator but his many virtues were eclipsed by religious dogmatism and rigid attitudes. By the end of his rule it was becoming clear that he had overstretched himself and depleted the resources of the empire. The long drawn conflict with the Marathas unfortunately projected Aurangzeb as an enemy of the Hindus. The man continues to be misunderstood.

Sharp decline set in after the death of Aurangzeb. His successors were weak and incapable of holding the far-flung empire together. Challengers to the imperial authority emerged in different regions. Provincial governors asserted their independence and soldiers of fortune made a bid for sovereign power. In western India, Shivaji (1637-80) had forged the Marathas into an efficient military machine and given them a sense of national identity. They adopted guerrilla tactics to maul the Mughals and put a severe drain on their economic resources. The contenders for political supremacy in the 17th and 18th Centuries included besides the Marathas, the Sikhs in Punjab and Hyder Ali (reign - 1721 - 1782) in Mysore. Tipu Sultan (reign - 1782 - 1799) - Hyder Ali's son and successor allied himself with the French against the British and strove to introduce the latest technical knowledge from Europe. To perceptive Indians of Tipu's generation it was becoming clear that Medieval Indian society and polity would have to meet the challenge of Europe by casting itself in its mould. Beset by fratricidal feuds and petty bickering India had remained indifferent to the advent of Europeans but, now the time of reckoning could not be delayed.

Culture under the Mughals

The Mughals were great patrons of the arts. Many emperors and princes - Akbar and Dara Shikoh (Shah Jahan's son) being the most prominent - were deeply concerned with problems of metaphysics, while some others were writers of considerable talent. Babur penned Babur Nama, a moving memoir wherein he expressed his nostalgia for the land of his birth and documented the Indian scene with great objectivity. Jahangir too has left behind an eminently readable memoir - Tuzuke Jahangiri. Babur and Humayun did not get enough time to undertake construction of imposing buildings but their successors displayed a great penchant for architecture.

Akbar commissioned the building of Fatehpur Sikri where an exquisite blending of elements and motifs from both the Islamic and the Hindu architectural styles is encountered.

Jahangir was a connoisseur of paintings and landscaped gardens. The beautifully landscaped gardens - Shalimar Bagh and Nishat Bagh - in Lahore and in Srinagar - evoke the resplendent floral exuberance of an expensive carpet.

Shah Jahan was a prolific builder. He built the Red Fort and the majestic Jama Masjid in Delhi, though what he is remembered most for is the Taj Mahal - the mausoleum to his beloved wife Mumtaj Mahal who had died during childbirth.

Impressive progress was made in the spheres of music, painting and literature. The Mughal miniatures influenced and spawned schools of art in the princely states of Kota, Bundi and Kishangarh in Rajasthan and in Kangra, Bhaisoli, and Guler in Himachal Pradesh. The themes of these exquisite landscapes and portraits deal with the love of Radha and Krishna, the changing cycle of seasons and the Ragas - modes - of Indian classical music. The Barahmasa and the Ragamalika - series of paintings are the evidence that the native genius in painting had survived the vicissitudes of political history since the days of Ajanta.

Court chroniclers concentrated on the genre of biography, but it was the compositions of the saint poets who laid the foundation of modern Indian literature in vernacular. Poetry that was sensitive to the aspirations of the masses was penned not only in Hindi, but also in Marathi, Gujarati and Tamil. Jayasi, Namdev, Tukaram, Narsi Mehta, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Thyagraja are only some of the illustrious names.

Many regional languages, such as Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali had by the 17th Century, acquired a distinct identity and could boast of a large body of literature. The languages that are spoken today in most parts of India are the ones that evolved and grew to maturity during the Mughal period.

Bahadurshah Zafar - the last of the great Mughals - was a passionate lover of poetry and eminent Urdu poets Ghalib and Zauk graced his court. Mir preceded them by a few decades lamenting the disintegration of a civilized way of life that followed in the wake of the decay of this great empire. A great churning of ideas during this period gave rise to the Bhakti movement - a powerful social upsurge for reform - spearheaded by poet-saints. The ripples caused by verses sung by wandering minstrels carried the stimulating message across the land and engendered what can only be termed a national resurgence.

Kabir - the sharp-tongued weaver from Varanasi (Benaras) - delighted in exposing the hypocrisy of orthodox Hindus and Muslims alike. He wrote eloquently against idolatry, caste prejudice and articulated abstract metaphysical concepts in witty, memorable poetic phrases that were easy to grasp by the man on the street. The use of folk idiom blending many dialects made him exceptionally accessible for the masses.

Tulsidas retold the story of Rama, the virtuous Prince of Ayodhya, in vernacular as a moral discourse to instill ethical values in private and public life. His narrative poem Ramcharitmanas soon acquired the status of a sacred book and continues to be regarded by many Hindus in the countryside as a most useful encapsulation of traditional wisdom. Another remarkable name is that of Mira - a princess from Rajasthan who walked out of the palace to express her love for the cowherd God Krishna. She asserted the right of a woman to choose her way of life in a strait jacketed feudal society.

Raskhan was a Muslim devotee of Krishna and presents a wonderful illustration of communal harmony that prevailed. Interestingly, quite a few of these poet saints came from humble backgrounds.

Modern India

Ancient India

Medieval India

Vasco da Gama landed at Calicut, sailing via the Cape of Good Hope in 1498. This marked the beginning of the European era in Indian history. The lucrative trade in spices of Malabar - in modern Kerala - had tempted the Portuguese and inspired the search for a sea route to the Indies. The Portuguese had already established their colony in Goa by the first decade of the 16th Century but their territorial and commercial hold in India remained rather limited.

In the next century, India was visited by a large number of European travellers - Italians, Englishmen, Frenchmen and Dutchmen. They were drawn to India for different reasons. Some were traders, others adventurers, and quite a few fired by the missionary zeal to find converts to Christianity. Among them was Francois Bernier, the French doctor who enjoyed the confidence of princes and nobles and was in a uniquely privileged position to observe the functioning of the Mughal court. His account is a valuable source of information for historians.

These travelogues aroused European interest in India, and prompted in course of time, the colonial intervention. England, France, the Netherlands and Denmark, floated East India Companies. Chartered as trading companies by their respective governments, their primary commercial interest was in Indian textiles, both silk and cotton, indigo and at times, other sundry merchandise.

During the late 16th and the 17th centuries, these companies competed with each other fiercely. By the last quarter of the 18th century the English had vanquished all others and established themselves as the dominant power in India. The military campaigns of Robert Clive and the administrative enterprise of Warren Hastings (1772 - 1785) contributed significantly to this achievement.

British Colonialism

The British administered India for a period of about two centuries and brought about revolutionary changes in the social, political and the economic life of the country. Most Indians who came in their contact could not perceive the strategic threat posed by the East India Company. The British from the beginning followed a policy of divide and rule. Diplomacy and deceit were used to gain control of revenue collection in the province of Bengal. This gave the foreigners effective control of administration. The Marathas, the Sikhs and the rulers of Mysore could never unite to confront the foreign enemy and fell one by one. By the onset of the 19th century there was no local power that could cope with their onslaught.

Once the British had consolidated their power, commercial exploitation of the natural resources and native labour became ruthless. It is true that there were a few benevolent Governor Generals who initiated social reforms and tried to render the administration more efficient and responsive, but they were exceptions. By the middle of the 19th Century arrogant exploitation of the people had tried the patience of the Indians to the limit.

The British had, to serve their own purpose, set up educational institutions that imparted western education and had established a vast network of rail-roads and telegraph lines. This united the country in an unprecedented manner. The Indians, exposed to western ideas of responsible and representative government, began to yearn for liberty and equality. There were many who looked back to the nation's glorious past and strove to rekindle the sentiment of patriotism. Foremost among them were Raja Ram Mohan Roy, and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. The 19th Century is often referred to as the age of national resurgence in India.

The flash point was reached in 1857 when the British introduced a new rifle and cartridge in the British Indian Army. The bullet offended the religious sentiments of both the Hindus and the Muslims, as it allegedly contained pork and beef tallow. Soldiers at Meerut were the first to rebel and reaching Delhi proclaimed Bahadurshah Zafar the sovereign ruler of India. The revolt soon spread like wild fire all over north India and could only be put down after great difficulty and bloodshed. Nationalist historians have seen in it the first Indian war of independence.

The six decades between the end of the "mutinous" war of 1857 - 59 and the conclusion of First World War saw both the peak of British imperial power in India and the birth of nationalist agitation against it.

The Freedom Struggle

With increasing intrusion of aliens in their lives, it was natural that nationalist feelings began to be articulated by an increasing number of Indians. A group of middle class Indians formed the Indian National Congress (1885) - a society of English - educated affluent professionals - to seek reforms from the British. The British did not respond adequately to the legitimate demands of the Indians and this resulted in growing resentment against them.

By the last decade of the 19th Century a younger, more militant generation of Indians had begun to assert their birthright to independence. The Indian National Congress inevitably changed under the constant pressure exerted by men like Bal Gangadhar Tilak from Maharashtra. In Bengal too, there was a fiery group of revolutionaries who maintained that violence was the only language the foreigners understood.

The partition of Bengal announced by Lord Curzon in 1905, triggered a political earthquake - people rose in revolt en masse and forced the withdrawal of the ill advised plan. The mass movement brought out the widespread love for India and things Indian - Swadeshi - and reinforced communal harmony. Foreign produce was boycotted and a bonfire of imported clothes became the characteristic feature of protest.

The anticolonial struggle became truly a mass movement with the arrival of Gandhi in 1915. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 - 1948) had suffered great humiliation in South Africa due to the policy of racial discrimination and was commited to rid his motherland of the ills of foreign rule. While practising as an attorney in South Africa, Gandhi had read widely and contemplated deeply. After having acquainted himself with the ground reality in India he devised a unique strategy for India's freedom struggle. Laying equal emphasis on the ends and means, he told his compatriots to accept non-violence as their creed and civil disobedience as their invincible weapon.

Gandhi had a unique gift for dramatic manipulation of symbols as well as a charismatic personality. It was not long, before he galvanised the masses in the fight against the British. Almost all the major leaders in the national movement accepted him as their mentor. He conceived and led the Non-cooperation Movement in 1922, the Salt Satyagraha in 1930 that climaxed in the Dandi March and the Quit India Movement in 1942 with its stirring battle cry - Do or Die - shaking the roots of the British empire.

Even revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad, who disagreed with the philosophy of non-violence, respected Gandhi Ji. Netaji Subhash Chadra Bose, who organised the Indian National Army (1943) in South East Asia during the Second World War to liberate India, also sought his blessings before starting his military campaign. Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, Jaiprakash Narayan, Vallabhbhai Patel followed Gandhi's commands as disciplined soldiers of the Congress party.

After a long and arduous round of constitutional negotiations and in the face of the determined struggle of the Indian people, the British agreed to transfer power on 15th August, 1947(the date is commemorated as Independence Day).

But with freedom came the division of the country - a partition(leading to the creation of Pakistan)that brought in its wake unprecedented death and devastation. Undeterred, millions of Indians continued their endeavour to build the nation.

India since Independence

India at the time of independence was a country beset with great economic problems. It had suffered colonial exploitation for about two centuries and was recovering painfully from the blight of a distressing famine. The disruption of life caused by the Second World War had aggravated the crisis. Large parts of the country were under the feudal rule of Indian princes and only a miniscule minority had taken any initiative to modernize their states. In any case, the benefits of industrialisation remained confined to a small privileged section of the society. With freedom from foreign rule, also came partition and the government was confronted with the awesome task of rehabilitating millions of refugees.

Perhaps the most remarkable achievement of India since independence has been to overcome the trauma of partition and forge a unified modern nation from a bewildering diversity. India today can take pride in its federal form of governance that gives full scope to the development of the country's diverse ethnic and linguistic groups within the overall framework of a united nation.

The process of political integration was completed in two stages after the adoption of a federal constitution on January 26, 1950(the date is commemorated as Republic Day). The first step was to secure the merger of princely states and second by redrawing the boundaries of the states to accommodate the aspirations of major linguistic or ethnic groups. This political transformation synchronised a revolutionary social change with far reaching economic development.

Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the first Prime Minister of India was influenced by socialist thought. Many young leaders also seriously attempted to give the policies of the Indian National Congress - the party in the vanguard of the anti imperialist struggle - a socialist ideological orientation. Mahatma Gandhi too was unequivocal in his championing of the impoverished masses. God for him was no other but the Daridranarayan, poorest of the poor.

The new government gave top priority to economic planning for development. Land reforms were undertaken to ensure greater social justice and eradicate bondage. Steps were taken to accelerate industrialisation and redress regional imbalances. Progress was slow, as the infrastructure was not there. People had very high expectations and the government had to provide for education, health care and employment for hundreds of millions of people. For more than three decades, India's national income grew by no more than 3.6 per cent a year, one of the slowest growth rates in the developing world. Its per capita income was among the lowest.

It took the nation almost half a century to find its feet. Today India is a nuclear power, has launched satellites into space, produces its own steel, and builds its own warships and many of its aircrafts. It has an impressive heavy engineering base, and is one of the few developing countries that is able to bid successfully for heavy engineering turnkey contracts in other developing countries. Its progress in agriculture is equally impressive.

India's most impressive achievement is that the Indian economy today is stable and self-reliant. A powerful entrepreneurial class has emerged - almost as important an objective as securing all-round industrial development.

India's strategy for development has had many critics. It was pointed out that the emphasis on heavy industry made capital inefficient and lowered the annual rate of growth of GNP to about 3.6 per cent between 1950 and 1975.

But the philosophy of self-reliance is finally paying off. By the 80's, the first phase of industrialisation was largely over. India now has a well-developed industrial base that can produce almost anything that the country needs. The scientific and technical infrastructure is capable of responding to complex challenges. With the success of the green revolution that began in 1975 spearheaded by Dr. Swaminathan, India has also become self-sufficient in food grains.

A self confident nation, India is prepared to interact with the rest of the world without anxiety or inhibition. Just when other countries began to increase protection, the Indian government began to lower protective barriers, invite global tenders for its major investment projects, and encourage industry to secure the most up-to-date technology from abroad.Globalisation of the economy began in the early nineties initiated by Dr.Manmohan Singh,the then Finance Minister.

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