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Home » Indian History

Indian History
India, it is often said, is not a country but a continent. From north to south and east to west, the people are different, languages are different, customs and traditions are different.

India is one of the few countries in the world today in which the social and religious structures which define the nation’s identity remain intact, and have continued to do so for at least 5000 years despite invasions, famines, religious persecutions, political upheavals. There are many countries which would qualify for such a description in terms of the different ethnic groups, languages, religions, geography and traditions which make up the whole, but few can match the diversity to be found in India.

The modern state itself is a relatively recent creation born out of the people’s desire to throw of the yoke of colonialism. Basically India is what you make of it and what you want it to be. If you want to see temples with enough fascinating styles to confuse anybody. If it’s history that you are more interested in then India has plenty of it, the forts, battlefields, ruins and monuments all have their own histories. If you simply want to lie back on the beautiful beach there are enough of those to satisfy the most avid sun worshipper.

Indus Valley Civilization: India’s first major civilisation flourished for 1000 years from around 2500 BC along the Indus river valley in what is now Pakistan. Its great cities were Mohenjodaro and Harappa, where a civilisation of great complexity developed. The major city sites were only discovered during this century but, the other lesser cities have been subsequently unearthed at sites like Lothal, near Ahmedabad.

The origins of Hinduism can be traced all the way back to this early civilization. The society was ruled by priests rather than by kings, and it was they who interceded with the Gods, dictated social modes and determined such issues such as land tenure. The traditional Hindu’s fear of pollution and the need for ritual washing is also reflected in the intricate system of drains found at Harappa excavation sites. Comparatively little is known about the development and eventual demise of this great civilization. Their script has still not been deciphered, nor is it known why such an advanced civilization collapsed so quickly following invasion by the Aryans.

Early Invasions & the rise of religion
The Aryan invaders swept south from central Asia between 1500 and 200 BC. They bought their own gods and cattle-raising and meat eating traditions, but were absorbed to such a degree that by the 8th century BC the priestly caste had succeeded in reasserting its supremacy. During the period when the Aryans were consolidating their hold on North India, the heartland narrowly missed two other invasions from the west. The first was by the Persian king – Darius (521-486 BC), who annexed the Punjab and Sind but went no further. In 326 BC, Alexander the Great reached India in his epic march from Greece, but his troops refused to go further than the Beas river, and he returned back without extending his power into India. Buddhism rose around 500 BC and presented Brahmanical Hinduism with its greatest challenge by condemning caste. Buddhism began to drive a radical swathe through Hinduism in the 3rd century BC when it was embraced by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, who controlled more of India than any subsequent ruler prior to the Mughals.

The Mauryas & Ashoka
Chandragupta Maurya’s empire came to power in 321 BC and expanded into the Vacuum created by Alexander’s departure. They had a very rigid and well-organized empire. They also developed an efficient system for collection of taxes and measure agricultural produce. There were heavy penalties for those who evaded taxes. The empire reached its peak under emperor Ashoka in 262 BC. He left pillars which describes the span of his empire. These pillars can be seen in Gujrat, Orissa, Delhi, Sarnath and at Sanchi which are all states of India. Under his rule, the Mauryan Empire controlled more of India than probably any subsequent ruler prior to the mughals or the British. His empire rapidly collapsed in 184 BC after his death in 232 BC. The far south of India had no influence of the rising and falling of Kingdoms in the north. They had long established trading links with the Egyptians, Romans and South East Asia.

While Hindu kingdoms ruled in the south and Buddhism was fading in the north, Muslim power was creeping towards India from the Middle East. The Mughal emperors are the giants of Indian history. They marched into the region of Punjab from Afghanistan, defeated the Sultan of Delhi at the war of Panipat in 1525, and ushered in another Golden Age of building, arts and literature. Their rise to power was rapid, but their decline was equally quick. The Maratha Empire grew during the 17th century, thanks to the larger-than-life exploits of Shivaji, and gradually took over more of the Mughal domain. The Marathas consolidated control of central India until they fell to the last great Imperial power, the British.

The British colonization
British power in India was initially exercised by the East India Company, which established a trading post at Surat in Gujrat in 1612. The British were not the first or the only European power with a presence in India in the 17th century: the Portuguese had been in control of Goa since 1510 and the French, Danes and Dutch as well. Britain’s power spread from the time that Clive retook the city of Kolkata in 1757 until the British Victory in the fourth Mysore war in 1799. The long running British struggle with the Maratha was finally concluded in 1803, which left almost the entire country under the control of British East India Company.

The British came to India principally to make money, and its culture, beliefs and religions were left strictly untouched. The British expanded iron and coal mining, developed Tea, coffee and cotton plantation, and constructed India’s vast rail network. The Indian mutiny in Northern India in 1857, led to the demise of the East India Company, and the administration of the country was handed over to the British Government.

Opposition to British rule began in earnest at the turn of the 20th century The “The Indian National Congress” had been established to give India a degree of self-rule which began to push for the real thing.

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