The History of India

Background Information

India has a long documented history spanning over 5000 years. It is rich in a variety of natural resources, and resultantly, has been invaded countless times. The West Asian Muslims, the Greek, the Orientals, the British, the Dutch, the Portuguese and the French have one thing in common - they have all invaded. The culture of India has been heavily influenced by these invasions, and today India is a cultural melange, which has derived something from all its residents.

The Indus Valley Civilisation

The Indus Valley / Mohenjo Daro civilisation, dates back to 3500 BC and is considered one of the first signs of Human civilisation. The Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa regions, which formed the Indus valley civilisation, are now in Pakistan, yet, it was so vast and extensive that it stretched all the way into Punjab and Gujrat.

The Indus valley civilisation is considered to have had a remarkably developed sense of aesthetics and an astonishing knowledge of town planning. From wide streets to Drainage systems, everything had been well accounted for by the Harappans. They had trade relations stretching as far as the ancient cities of Mesopotamia and Tigris. They were producing goods then that weren't to be invented again for three-hundred years after the death of their civilisation.

Strangely, the entire civilisation disappeared and there are few traces of their culture that survive. There are two popular theories explaining this - the first is that the marauding Aryans wiped them out and the second is that a flood from the river Indus caused the demise of their settlements.

The Aryans and Dravidians

The Dravidian tribes were predominantly settled towards the plains south of the Himalayas. Their contact with the Indus valley civilisation has never been documented.

The Aryan tribes were the first to invade the Indian subcontinent. They were warring tribes that are thought to be a possible cause of the destruction of the Indus valley civilisation. They were a much more powerful tribe than the Dravidians and they pushed them all the way down to the south of present-day India.

The Aryans were by race fairer and taller than the Dravidians who were darker and smaller in build. The colour associated with Indian complexion is actually a result of melange of the two tribes. Among the Aryan tribes was the Bharata tribe, the one that has lent its name to the country as the Indians know it, 'Bharat'.

The Dravidian race still exists in near untouched 'purity' in some of the tribal regions of the Andaman Islands and the Plains of the south. A lot of these tribes have been completely untouched by civilisation.

The Vedas

The Vedas, an Aryan legacy to India, are the earliest documented histories of the world. Of these, the first, the Rig Veda, dates back to 1500 BC. This makes it the oldest known book in the world. The Upanishads, the Bhagvad Gita and the Epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana are all legacies of the Aryan age.


Hinduism was born out of the Aryan invasion of India. Although it is named after the Indus valley civilisation, there is no real substantiation that the actual inhabitants of the Indus valley civilisation actually subscribed to any particular form of religious belief. Hinduism as we now know it developed over a long period after the Indus valley civilisation. Like the ancient Greek civilisation, it is greatly based on legends and mythology. The Bhagvad Gita is the Hindu holy book. It is thought to have evolved from Vedic traditions.

The Early Indians, The Buddhists, The Jains and the Greek

The Mauryas and the Guptas were the two greatest Dynasties in ancient India. India was initially just a host of small kingdoms and principalities. Under the Maurya dynasty of North India and Pataliputra, present day Patna, came the first trace of a unified Indian force. It was just before the birth of the Maurya Dynasty that the Greek invasion under Alexander brought a great deal of the subcontinent under its sway. As such, this was the first real instance of unification - a step towards India as we see it today.

After the death of Alexander, the Mauryas wrested power from the Greek and gave birth to the first Indian superpower. The Mauryas unlike their predecessors were more administrators than conquerors. This was what made them a powerful force and extended their boundaries all the way to Central Asia during the rule of Ashoka, the greatest of the Mauryas.

It was around this time that Siddhartha, the son of a local king took up asceticism and became Gautam Buddha. Buddhism flourished during the Mauryan period, when Ashoka gave resigned himself to a life of peace, promoting Buddhism, after a bloody war for the domination of eastern India.

Strangely, Buddhism suddenly gave way to other religions in India while it flourished all over the Orient and Sri Lanka thanks to the odd representative sent across by Ashoka. Mahavir, another ascetic, gave birth to another religion, Jainism. Although Jainism did flourish briefly, it didn't spread rapidly although it picked up a decent following and has maintained it ever since.

The Guptas were the second great Dynasty in India. They were Scholars rather than invaders or administrators, although they did show tremendous political and military ability. They were great patrons of culture and science. They were, however, the last of the great Hindu emperors.

After the Guptas, much of India was left to small warring nationalities. There was no unification and they were completely exposed to foreign invasion.

The Muslim Invasions

The first foreigners to invade India after the Greek were the Afghans. The Afghans under Mahmud Ghazni repeatedly invaded North India and raised many of the religious and historical monuments of India to the ground. His invasions opened the way to other incursions from the North west and Central Asia.

The rulers at Delhi at the time were too involved in their own battles to put up a united front against the invaders. They therefore went down rather meekly to the Muslim invaders, and within no time, the Delhi Sultanate and all of the North-western territory was lost, for centuries.

Many of these dynasties lasted, and lasted a lot longer than most of the Hindu dynasties of the past. They were initially restricted only to the North, but soon spread to the East and the South. At one time, around the seventeenth century, practically all of India was under Muslim rule. The North was the Mughal domain, the south was under the Sultans and the East was with the Nawabs of Bengal. Except the Rajputs and Marathas of Western India, none of the Hindu kings managed to hold out long enough.

The fall of the Delhi sultanate saw the advent of the greatest Empire to rule India, the Mughal dynasty. The Mughal dynasty, comprising of just six major rulers, held sway over the North and almost all of central India for over 200 years. A great deal of the architecture in India can be attributed to the Mughals.

The Raj

Vasco-da-Gama, the Portuguese explorer discovered India in the late 15th century. The country, rich in natural resources and poor in technology was an excellent target for Imperialist Europe. The Portuguese were the first to come into India, followed by the British, the Dutch and the French. They all came in as traders and got hold of Trade permits from local rulers. The next step was often conquest.

The modus operandi of the imperialists was rather simple. They came in as companies representing their respective countries. The English had the British East India company while the French had the French East India company. They both annexed territories and waged proxy wars towards gaining control of the subcontinent.

The Portuguese did not last. They were driven out of the south by the Dutch who in turn were driven away by the British and the French. The Dutch left early while the British, French and Portuguese warred on.

The British, however, emerged as the leading power in India and the French and Portuguese were reduced to governing a handful of tiny islands scattered all over the coast.

Strangely, the main contention for power was always among the Europeans. Not once did any Indian empire seem like taking charge. The Marathas were the only significant force after the death of the Mughal empire, and after the great Mutiny of 1857, even that was done away with. It was only after the 1857 Sepoy mutiny that the East India Company handed over charge to Her Majesty's Government.

By the second half of the 19th century, practically all of present day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma were under British rule. The first signs of revolt had already appeared with the Sepoy Mutiny, an organised movement was to follow.

The Freedom Movement

The Freedom Movement of India actually started in the late 19th and early 20th century in an organised manner. Spearheaded by the Indian National Congress, the freedom revolution became a directed, structured movement. Leaders such as Lala Lajpatrai of Punjab, Tilak of Bombay and Bipin Chandra Pal of Bengal, the country united with one intention, freedom.

Gandhi gave the movement a whole new turn with his famous philosophy of non-violence. His theory that a nation founded of the basis of violent struggle can never prosper in peace was what turned the entire struggle around for Indians.

Although there has always been a strong belief that the country could have gained freedom a lot faster if the methods of Extremists like Netaji Bose (who liberated a few southern and eastern parts with his own private army) were put into action, it is undoubted that there would have been a lot more bloodshed and loss.


Independence in India was attained on the 15th of August 1947, after the Labour party came into power in London under Major Atlee. What was most incredible was the fact that the handover of power was a peaceful one and the British eventually left without spilling a drop of blood.

Although, in theory the handover of power was peaceful, the partition of land was not. M.A. Jinnah said that he would either split the country into two or destroy it.

Although a lot of the two-nation theory is attributed to the divide and rule policy of the British, the Hindu domination of the Congress and the non-recognition of the Muslim League as a major force also contributed in their own way towards the division.

Although most of the states were decidedly Hindu or Muslim, two - Bengal and Punjab had an even distribution of both. This was where the rioting started. Both the states were split in two, giving the India and Pakistan a piece of the action. What resulted was a massive exodus.

Free India under Nehru was a secular state while Free Pakistan under Jinnah was an Islamic state. Approximately 10 million people changed sides after the partition, most of them Hindus escaping to India. Calcutta's entire economy was destroyed by penniless refugees rushing in from East Bengal, now Bangladesh, while Delhi and Amritsar were flooded by Punjabi and Sikh refugees from Pakistan.

Kashmir and the Princely States

Post Independence, the states that had not been under direct British rule but were governed by independent rulers left a question of how they were to be divided amongst the new nations. The states were conveniently annexed by the newly formed countries in which they fell. However, there was one exception. Kashmir. The king was Hindu, but the populace predominantly Muslim. Pakistan invaded Kashmir soon after independence and the King turned to India for help. This help was offered in return for accession into India.

Although the Pakistani forces were driven out of India, the land was forever disputed territory. There exists an area of Kashmir that is occupied by Pakistan whereas another in presently under Chinese governance. Yet, both India and Pakistan have laid claim to all of Kashmir.

Three wars have been fought over the state of Jammu and Kashmir and it still remains an unresolved issue.

Post Independence India

Post Independence India went through its fair share of turbulence. In January 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead. The Nehru-Gandhi family, the greatest political dynasty in the subcontinent was at the forefront of Indian politics for almost a century. Motilal Nehru was one of the biggest names in the Congress in the pre-independence era. India's first prime minister was his son Jawaharlal Nehru, to be followed by Indira Gandhi, his daughter and finally Rajiv Gandhi, her son.

The bloody history of the Gandhi family saw both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi assassinated by terrorist groups. Indira Gandhi was shot dead by one of her bodyguards in connection to her role in the Punjab crisis, whereas Rajiv was killed by a suicide bomber of the LTTE over the Sri Lanka situation.

India has fought four wars since Independence. Three against Pakistan and one against China. The '62 war against China was a humiliating defeat for the Indians, in the wake of the Chinese invasion into Tibet. The first two against Pakistan were not of a very great scale, but the third, over Bangladesh was fought fiercely by both sides. The war ended in a victory for India and liberation to Bangladesh which till then was known as East Pakistan.

India has been ruled by the Congress for most of its fifty year period of Independence. Although after the death of Rajiv Gandhi the Congress has been in an unstable position in terms of leadership.

Compiled and edited from information given in the brilliant:" website
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