History of India
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History of India covers thousands of years. It covers many periods and dynasties. It may be divided in the following parts:
The Paleolithic era [change]
Some old fossils found in India indicate presence of living beings called Homo Erectus. Archeologists think that these beings were living in India between 200,000 to 500,000 years ago. This period is known as the paleolithic era. Human beings (Homo Sapiens) settled in the Indian subcontinent at least 12,000 years before. At that time the last Ice Age had just ended. First settlements of human beings in India are found in Bhimbetka, a place near Bhopal (Madya Pradesh, India).
The Bronze Age [change]
Bronze Age was an important period of India’s prehistory. From this time onwards a solid base for more development came.
Vedic civilization [change]
The Vedas are the oldest teachings of India, though the transmission of these teachings was mainly oral until around the 5th century. There are four Vedas, and the first one is the Rigveda. The other three are Samveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda. The Vedas have verses in praise of gods and others. They also have other information. At that time, the society was pastoral. After the Rigveda, society became more agricultural. People became divided into four classes depending on the type of the work. Brahmins were priests and teachers. Khastriyas were the warriors. Vaishyas did agriculture, trading and commerce. The shudras were the general working class. This type of social division is called the Varna system in Hinduism.
During the period of the Vedic civilization, there were many Aryan clans and tribes. Some of them combined and became bigger like the kingdom of the Kurus.
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.
Persian and Greek invasion [change]
Around the 5th century BC, north-western parts of India faced invasion by the Achaemenid Empire and the Greeks of Alexander's army. Persian way of thinking, administration and lifestyle came to India. This influence became bigger during the Mauryan dynasty.
Achaemenid Empire [change]
From around 520 BC, Achaemenid Empire’s Darius I ruled large part of northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent. Then Alexander conquered these areas. Herodotus, a historian of that time has written that these areas were the richest areas of Alexander’s Empire. Achaemenid rule lasted about 186 years. In modern times, there are still traces of this Greek heritage to be found in parts of northwestern India.
Greco-Buddhist period [change]
Greco-Buddhism (also spelt as Græco-Buddhism) is a combination of culture of Greece and Buddhism. This mixture of cultures continued to develop for 800 long years, from 4th century BC until the 5th century AD. The area where it happened is modern day’s Afghanistan and Pakistan. This mixture of cultures influenced Mahayana Buddhism and spread of Buddhism to China, Korea, japan and tibet.
The Magadha empire [change]
Out of the sixteen Mahajanapadas noted below, kingdom of Magadha became most powerful. It had a big army. It started to rule other nearby kingdoms. Ashoka was the most famous ruler of the Magadha empire.
Shishunaga dynasty [change]
Many historians believe that the Shishunaga dynasty founded the Magadha empire in 684 BC. Rajgriha (presently in Bihar state, India) was their capital city. After some years, they changed the capital from Rajgriha to Pataliputra. Present day name of Pataliputra is Patna. Shishunaga dynasty ruled till 424 BC. Then Nanda dynasty came to power.
During this period, Buddhism and Jainism, two religions became important.
Nanda dynasty [change]
Nanda dynasty ruled India for about 100 years. Mahapadma Nanda of this dynasty died at the age of 88. His rule lasted longest among other kings of this dynasty. The last king of this dynasty was Dhana Nanda.
Maurya dynasty [change]
In 321 BC, Chandragupta Maurya defeated Dhana Nanda. Chandragupta founded the Maurya dynasty. Under his rule, almost all parts of India become united under one single government. Chandragupta Maurya conquered large parts of nearby areas, At that time, Indian borders touched Persia and Central Asia. He also conquered Gandhara and made all several such areas part of India. His son Bindusara also conquered many nearby areas.
Bindusara’s son Ashoka continued to conquer more and more areas. But, when he saw so many dead persons in the Kalinga’s war, he felt very bad. He became a Buddhist and stopped the policy of fighting and conquering new areas. He started to follow the path of Ahmisa. He sent persons to several parts of India and nearby countries like China and Sri Lanka to preach Buddhism. He also got messages engraved on rocks about Ahmisa. Ashoka is considered one of the best rulers the world has ever seen.
Shunga dynasty [change]
After about 50 years of Ashoka’s death, Shunga dynasty came to power in 185 BC. Pusyamitra Sunga was the first king of this dynasty.
Kanva dynasty [change]
Kings of a dynasty named Kanva dynasty ruled the eastern parts of India from 71 BC to 26 BC. This dynasty was founded by Vasudeva, the first king of the Kanva dynasty. Vasudeva defeated the army of Shunga dynasty. In 30 BC, powerful forces from the southern parts of India defeated the army of Kanva dynasty. Now, power passed on to the Satavahanas.
Satavahana empire [change]
The Satavahanas came to power from around 230 BC. They are also called Andhras. For about 450 years, many Satavahanas kings ruled most parts of the southern and central India. After that they became weak for various reasons. Major reasons for their weakness was fights among themselves and fighting with the Sakas.
Western Kshatrapas [change]
For about 350 years, from the years 35-405, Saka kings ruled India. They ruled the western and central parts of India. Now-a-days, these areas are parts of the present day’s Indian states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh. There were 27 such independent rulers. Collectively they are called the Kshatrapas.
Indo-Scythians came to India from Siberia passing through several places like Bactria, Sogdiana, Kashmir and Arachosia. Their coming to India continued from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century BC. They defeated the Indo-Greek rulers of India, and ruled India from Gandhara to Mathura.
Gupta dynasty [change]
The Gupta dynasty reigned from around 320 to 550 AD. The Gupta Empire covered most of North-central India, the region Gupta Empire (never included Pakistan); and what is now western India and Bangladesh. Gupta society was ordered in accordance with Hindu beliefs. The time of the Gupta Empire is seen as Golden Age of India. Historians place the Gupta dynasty alongside with the Han Dynasty, Tang Dynasty and Roman Empire as a model of a classical civilization.
Hun invasion [change]
By the first half of the fifth century, a group of people known as Huns has settled in Afghanistan. They became powerful. They made Bamiyan as their capital city. They started attacking northwestern parts of India. Skandagupta, an emperor of the Gupta dynasty could fight back and kept them away for some years. At last Huns could enter most parts of northern India. With this the Gupta dynasty came to an end. Most of north India became badly affected by this invasion. However, Huns could not go up to the Deccan and the southern parts of India. These parts remained peaceful. No one knows definitely about the fate of Huns after end of the sixth century. Some historians believe that they mixed up fully with the Indian people of that time.
Late Middle Kingdoms [change]
In the history of India, Middle kingdoms of India covers a period beginning from around the 6th-7th century. In South India, Chola kings ruled Tamil Nadu, and Chera kings ruled Kerala. They also had trading relationships with the Roman Empire to the west and Southeast Asia to the east. In north India, Rajputs ruled in many kingdoms. Some of such kingdoms continued for hundreds of years.
Harsha's empire [change]
After the collapse of the Gupta Empire, it was Harsha of Kanauj (a place now in Uttar Pradesh state of India) who united the northern parts of India in one kingdom. After his death several dynasties tried to control north India and ruled from time to time from 7th century till the 9th century as described in some of the sections below. Some of these dynasties were the Pratiharas of Malwa and later Kannauj; the Palas of Bengal, and the Rashtrakutas of the Deccan.
The Pratiharas, Palas, and Rashtrakutas [change]
The Pratihara kings ruled kingdoms in Rajasthan and some other parts of northern India from the 6th century to the 11th century. The Palas ruled the eastern part of India. They ruled over areas which are now parts of the Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, and the west Bengal, and of Bangladesh. The Palas ruled from 8th century to the 12th century. In the southern parts of India, Rashtrakutas of Malakheda (Karnataka) ruled the Deccan during the 8th-10th centuries after the end of Chalukya rule. All these three dynasties always tried to control the entire north India. During all this time lasting for three to four hundred years, the Chola kings were growing in power and influence.
The Rajputs [change]
In the 6th century several Rajput kingdoms came into being in Rajasthan. Many other Rajput kings ruled in different parts of north India. Some of these kingdoms continue to survive for hundreds of years during different periods of the history of India.
Vijayanagar empire [change]
In 1336, two brothers named Harihara and Bukka founded the Vijayanagara Empire in an area which is now in Karnataka state of India. The most famous king of this empire was Krishnadevaraya. In 1565, rulers of this empire were defeated in a battle. But, the empire continued for about next one hundred years.
A number of kingdoms of south India had trading relations with the Arabs in the west, and with Indonesia and other countries of the east.
Delhi sultanate [change]
Slave dynasty was started by Qutub ud din Aibak. He was the one who started the first architectural monument of the slave dynasty or rather the first architectural work of Muslims in India which was Qutub Minar. Qutub ud din Aibak died while playing chaugan(modern day polo)as he fell from his horse. He was succeeded by Iltumish who completed the Qutub Minar. He was succeeded by his daughter Razia Sultan who became the first woman ruler. Though she reigned for three years but she introduced variious reforms in her tenure.
The Kingdom of Mysore [change]
The Kingdom of Mysore was a kingdom of southern India. People known as Wodeyars founded this kingdom in the year 1400. Later on, Hyder Ali and his son, Tipu Sultan, fought with the Wodeyar rulers. They also fought with the forces of the British Raj, but were defeated. Under the British Raj, Wodeyar kings continued to rule a large part of Karnataka. When India became independent on 15th August 1947, Wodeyars’ kingdom chose to become a part of India.
The Punjab [change]
Guru Nanak founded Sikhism and his followers were called Sikhs. The power of Sikhs continued to increase in the northwestern part of India. The Sikhs became rulers of large part of the northwestern India. This is called the Sikh Kingdom or Empire. Ranjit Singh was the most famous ruler of the Sikh Empire. He expanded the borders of the Sikh Empire and at the time of his death, this empire covered areas of Punjab, and present day Kashmir and parts of Pakistan. The Sikhs and forces of the British Raj fought many wars. Till Maharaja Ranjit Singh was alive, Britishers were not able to cross the Sutlej river. After his death, the they took over the entire Punjab after battles with disorganised sikh troops.
Durrani Empire [change]
For a short period, a person named Ahmed Shah Durrani ruled some parts of northwestern India. Historians have named his rule as the Durrani Empire. In 1748, he crossed the Indus River and attacked Lahore, now a part of Pakistan. He also attacked many parts of Punjab. Then, he attacked Delhi. At that time, Delhi was the capital of the Mughal Empire. He took many valuable things from India. This included the famous diamond named Kohinoor.
Colonial era [change]
Colonial period means the period during which Western countries ruled India. These countries also ruled many other countries of Asia, Africa, and South America.
Company Raj [change]
Starting in the 1600's the British East India Company began a very profitable trading empire in India, centered in Bengal. In the mid-1700's Robert Clive (1725-1774) lead the Company to an expanded influence in India with victories over the French, the Bengalis, and the Mughals. With a victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 Clive became the first British Governor of Bengal.
In the hundred years after the battle, the East India Company conquered the entire subcontinent of India. They did this by trade, political intrigue, and direct military action. The British were very efficient administrators of their domains. But in 1857 the Indian Mutiny almost destroyed the Company's rule of India. Afterward the British government took control away from the Company. In 1858, India became a part of the British Empire and queen Victoria became the empress of India.
The British Raj For ninety years the British ruled India and Burma as a unified territory under the British king or queen. It was divided into eight provinces each with a governor. These provinces were Burma, Bengal, Madras, Bombay, UP, Central Provinces, Punjab, and Assam. A Governor-General (Viceroy) in Calcutta was head of the government.
The British did bad things. They took valuables, tortured and raped many Indians. The way they conquered India was often divide and rule. In the end, many kingdoms were defeated by the British and the riches taken. For example, many of the Royal Crown Jewels were taken from previous kingdoms in India- including the Koh-I-Noor diamond (one of the worlds largest diamonds). Also, they stole many other large diamonds and gold.
During famines and floods many people died because the government did not help enough. Any Indian not able to pay the British taxes, could be forced into prison and/or publicly beaten. Political opponents were jailed and sometimes killed for speaking out against colonial rule. After taking much of the India's natural resources for hundreds of years, England was criticized for not protecting Indians during the partition of India and Pakistan. During the partition of India and Pakistan, millions of Indians and Pakistanis’ died.
The British also did good things. They built railroads, telegraphs and telephones, improved trade, standardized laws, and water supplies. Many of these things were done to help improve commerce in India and taxes provided to England. They created the Indian Civil Service for administering rules and regulations. They also tried to eliminate practices like burning widows.
The British ruled India primarily for the economic benefit of Britain. India produced cheap raw materials for British industry. Indians had to buy British manufactured goods and profits went back to Britain.
The independence movement [change]
Many people in India wanted to be free from British rule. The struggle for independence was long and difficult. The most important leader of the struggle for Indian independence was Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi believed in non-violent opposition to the British.
India won its independence, along with Muslim Pakistan, and became a free country on August 15, 1947.
Republic of India [change]
On 15 August 1947, British Indian Empire was partitioned into two countries, India (Hindustan) and Pakistan. With this the British Raj in the Indian subcontinent ended. On 26 January 1950, Hindustan adopted a constitution. From that day, Hindustanis became the Republic of India or Indians.
During last 60 years, Republic of India has seen different stages in its national life. Some of them are as follows:
- It fought three wars against Pakistan, and one war against China. Wars with Pakistan were fought in 1947, 1965, and 1971. In 1999, it had a limited skirmish in Kargil. The war with China was fought in 1962. In 1971, the Republic of India also helped Bangladesh in its freedom struggle.
- Under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru (the first Prime Minister of India), India had adopted a socialist economy. Some economists think it was a mixed economy. In a mixed economy, socialism and capitalism continue together. During this period, lasting for several years up to end-1980s, India could rapidly develop its infrastructure, science and technology.
- By the early 1990s, India had changed its economic policies. It started several reforms to attract more capital from other countries. Local businessmen and industrialists also got more freedom to carry out their activities.
- In 1974, India had already detonated its first nuclear bomb. It repeated the same in 1998. With this, it became a nuclear power.
Presently (As of 2006[update]), India is currently the tenth largest economy in terms of gross GDP. It is the 4th largest economy of the world when accounting for purchasing power parity. Some economists think that in coming decades, India’s economy will become still larger.
Other pages [change]
Further reading [change]
- Allan, J. T. Wolseley Haig, and H. H. Dodwell, The Cambridge Shorter History of India (1934)
- Majumdar, R. C., H.C. Raychaudhuri, and Kaukinkar Datta. An Advanced History of India London: Macmillan. 1960. ISBN 0-333-90298-X
- Smith, Vincent. The Oxford History of India (1981)
Other websites [change]