India is a nation that dominates the vast region known as the South Asian subcontinent.
With more than 1 billion people, it is the world's second most populous country
(after China) and the world's largest democracy. Shaped roughly like an upside-down
triangle, India stretches from the high Himalaya mountains in the north to the
island nation of Sri Lanka in the south.
Republic of India is the official name of the country.
Location: South Asia.
Area: 1,269,340 sq mi (3,287,590 km2).
Population: 1,030,000,000 (estimate).
Capital: New Delhi.
Largest City: Bombay (Mumbai).
Major Language(s): Hindi (national); English; Bengali, Telugu,
Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi,
Assamese, Kashmiri, Sindhi, Sanskrit (all official); Hindustani.
Major Religious Group(s): Hindu; Muslim; Christian; Sikh.
Government: Republic. Head of state--president. Head of government--prime
minister. Legislature--Parliament (Sansad), made up of the Council
of States (Rajya Sabha) and the People's Assembly (Lok Sabha).
Chief Products: Agricultural--rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton,
jute, tea, sugarcane, potatoes, cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats,
poultry, fish. Manufactured--textiles, chemicals, processed foods,
steel, transportation equipment, cement, refined petroleum, machinery,
software . Mineral--coal, iron ore, mica, manganese, bauxite, chromite,
ilmenite, zinc, petroleum, gold, silver, gems.
Monetary Unit: Indian rupee (INR) (1 rupee = 100 paisa).
India's history dates back at least 4,500 years, to when the Indus River
civilization, one of the world's first settled communities, developed there
on the fertile plains of the Indus River.
Over the centuries, many different
peoples invaded India and took control of its vast natural resources.
last outsiders to rule India were the British, whose administration, known
as the Raj, lasted more than 150 years.
India finally became a modern, independent
nation in 1947, after World War II.
In that year the British withdrew from
the subcontinent after partitioning (dividing) most of the region into the
two nations of India and Pakistan.
India has been a melting pot of varied ethnic groups since the beginning
of its history.
However, the majority of its people are of Dravidian and Indo-Aryan
The Dravidians have lived in India since prehistoric times.
Indo-Aryans first arrived in the subcontinent about 1500 B.C. The two people
differed in appearance, language, and customs.
The Indo-Aryans spoke a language
related to the modern European languages, and their religious beliefs evolved
The Indo-Aryans became the dominant people of India, particularly
in the north.
Southern India remained principally Dravidian.
The major languages of India can be divided into
two broad groups.
Those of northern, western, and eastern India are derived
from ancient Sanskrit, an Indo-European language and the sacred language of
They include Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Kashmiri, Marathi,
Oriya, Punjabi, Sindhi, Urdu, and Hindustani.
The languages of the south--Kannada,
Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu--belong to the Dravidian family, although
they have been influenced by Sanskrit.
Kashmiri and Urdu also contain many
words from Arabic and Persian.
Hindi, the national language, is spoken by about 30 percent of the population.
Most educated Indians speak English as well as Hindi and their regional language.
Indian children are taught both their regional language and Hindi in the primary
and lower secondary levels of school.
Later they may also learn English, Sanskrit,
Nearly all the world's major religions are represented
The vast majority of the people (about 81 percent) are Hindus.
Hinduism has four essential beliefs.
Hindus believe in God (or gods who
are manifestations of a single god or universal spirit) as the creator and
sustainer of the universe.
They believe in a soul that is eternal and merges
with God at salvation.
They believe in the moral responsibility (dharma) of
people for their actions (karma), because they have a will of their own and
determine their own actions.
Finally, Hindus believe in reincarnation (rebirth).
They believe that people must go through a series of births, deaths, and rebirths
to atone for their sins before they can achieve salvation.
The nature and
form of one's rebirth is largely determined by one's actions in an earlier
Islam, the religion of Muslims, is India's second largest religion in the number
of its followers. It is practiced by about 12 percent of the population. Other
religious groups include Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains. India also
has smaller communities of Parsis (Zoroastrians) and Jews.
Education in India is the responsibility of both
the states and the central government.
In almost all states, schooling is
compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 14.
The system provides
for eight years of primary education, two years of lower secondary education,
and two years of higher secondary education.
The students who graduate from
the higher secondary schools may be admitted to one of India's more than one
hundred universities and thousands of colleges.
The largest of these is the University
India has made great strides in education since independence.
It has more
than doubled the literacy rate, although it is still only about 50 percent.
In addition, many of the village elementary schools have only one teacher.
And because of the shortage of trained teachers, a large-scale expansion of
schools has been difficult.
The Caste System
The distinctive Indian institution known
as the caste system, in which heredity determines one's social class, developed
from the early Aryan custom of separating people according to the work they
The original system included four castes.
Brahmins--members of the
highest caste--were priests.
Kshatriya were soldiers and leaders of government.
Vaisya were traders and farmers.
Sudra were artisans and laborers.
fifth group, the Dalits (meaning "the oppressed"), later developed.
They were called "untouchables," because they were outside the bounds
of caste--or outcasts.
The use of the term "untouchable" was outlawed
at independence, and since 1951 many Dalits have benefited from government
affirmative action programs.
In 1997, as India celebrated 50 years of independence,
Narayanan became the first president elected from the Dalit caste.
discrimination against the Dalits remains strong, particularly in rural areas.
Although the caste system is less rigid than it once was, the country's
social structure is still strongly influenced by it, and members of the same
caste usually live in the same neighborhoods.
An Indian born into a low-caste
family cannot change to a higher caste by education or wealth.
Family ties are very strong in India.
family is made up not only of a husband and wife and their children but also
includes a large extended family.
Sons bring their wives to their parents'
home to bring up their children.
Often the extended family also includes grandsons
and their wives and children.
Daughters and granddaughters remain in the family
until they marry and then become part of their husband's extended family.
Marriages are usually arranged by the parents of the bride and groom.
place only among Westernized Indians.
Traditionally men took care of family money matters and the family's relations
with the outside world.
Women managed the household.
All members of the family
respected the authority of the elders, particularly of the oldest male, in
Women had a great deal of authority in matters affecting
the running of the household.
Neither men nor women interfered with each other's
In the extended family, all the property was held together, and all
able members worked together for the benefit of the entire group, including
those too old or too sick to care for themselves.
After the death of the head
of a family, a very large extended family would split apart, as sons started
new families of their own.
In recent years, the extended family system has begun to break up as a
result of new job opportunities in the cities.
Couples and their children
drift off to look for jobs.
Family members, however, still consider the family
home their center, to which they return regularly.
Indian homes vary in different parts of the country,
depending on climate and the availability of building materials.
A more expensive
house may be built of brick with wooden doors and a tile roof.
The house may
have many rooms or just a few, and it may have one or two stories.
of a poorer person is generally built of mud and straw with a thatched roof
and has only one or two rooms.
The majority of houses in the country have an interior courtyard around
which the rooms are built.
Sometimes there is an open court in front of the
house, where women sit to prepare vegetables for cooking, children study their
lessons, men have their hair cut, and peddlers bring wares to show.
farmers keep cattle or other animals in one of the rooms that open on the
In a Hindu home the kitchen is considered a sacred room.
If the house does
not have a separate kitchen, the cooking may be done in one corner of a large
room that is also used for other purposes.
The family sits on the floor mat
for meals, which are eaten in or near the kitchen.
People outside the family
and members of the family who have not performed the ritual of bathing do
not enter the kitchen section of the orthodox Hindu house.
In the homes of the poorer families, food is cooked on a little clay stove
(chula) in one corner of the room, or in a little
Food is eaten with the tips of the fingers from a bowl or tray.
are washed before and after eating.
Poverty is widespread in India.
one-third of the population cannot afford an adequate diet.
Most well-to-do families have a separate room for worship.
Only after bathing
and changing into a clean garment may one enter the "worship room." The
daily bath is an important ritual among Indians.
A bath may be taken near
an outside well, at a tap in the house, or in rivers or lakes.
India is largely a nation of villages.
two-thirds of the population lives in one of thousands of villages.
is both the center of farming activities and a social center.
In the western part of the Gangetic Plain of northern India, villages are
large and grouped closely together.
In the eastern part there are scattered
villages, each made up of a few homes.
In the Ganges Delta region of West
Bengal, villages are made up of small groups of scattered houses, usually
built on raised blocks above high flood level.
In Rajasthan and the Deccan
region where the land is dry, houses are built close together near the few
available sources of water.
Some Indian villages may have only a few hundred people, while others may
have several thousand inhabitants.
Some of the large villages have small shops.
Generally, however, villagers do most of their buying and selling at nearby
market towns or at the weekly market.
Most Indian homes in rural areas have little furniture.
In northern Indian
houses, many beds are made from rice straw covered with a rug.
Indian homes, a simple mat may serve as the bed.
Each house has only a few
bare essentials, such as copper and earthenware pots for cooking, carrying
water, and storing grain.
Other common household articles may include several
cotton quilts, a small box with a few clothes, and a religious picture or
A nearby lake, pond, or river supplies water for livestock, washing
clothes, and domestic use.
Drinking water comes from the village wells.
The standard of living in Indian villages is low.
To bring medical care
to the rural population, health centers have been established in many areas.
Each of these centers includes four to six hospital beds and is staffed with
a doctor, several nurses, and midwives to assist women in childbirth.
more remote villages are served by roving health units made up of a doctor
and a nurse traveling in a medical van.
Food and Drink
Indian food differs from region to region,
although wheat and rice are staples.
Most Indians do not eat beef, and chicken
and lamb are expensive.
Therefore, most people eat fruit and vegetables with
rice or flat bread called chapati.
A typical meal includes dal, a mixture
of lentils or other legumes mixed with spices.
Indians use a wide variety
of spices, such as ginger, cloves, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, and cinnamon,
to create complex flavors.
Most Indians favor tea as a beverage.
The great variety of religious beliefs and cultural
traditions accounts for the large number of festivals in India.
Dashara, one of the chief festivals of India, celebrated in September or
October, symbolizes the triumph of Good over Evil.
In Delhi, Dashara celebrations
are climaxed with the burning of giant images of legendary demons made of
bamboo and papier-mâché and stuffed with firecrackers.
in southern India, a parade is led by the governor of the state riding on
a richly decorated elephant.
Divali (or Dipavali), the Festival of Lights, is celebrated in October
All homes are lit with lamps or candles to show great joy.
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year, is observed by Indian Muslims
as a sacred month during which they fast every day from dawn to sunset.
Id al-Fitr festival marks the end of the month of Ramadan and is celebrated
as an especially joyful event.
Christians throughout India celebrate Christmas.
In some northern Indian
villages, groups of Christians sing native Christmas carols to the accompaniment
of musical instruments.
The birthday anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion,
is celebrated with great joy, as is the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh, a Sikh
Independence Day (August 15) is observed by people all over India with
a sense of national pride, but Republic Day (January 26) celebrations in New
Delhi, the capital, are the most impressive.
In area, India is the world's seventh largest country. It is bordered on the
east by Bangladesh and Myanmar; on the west by Pakistan; and by Nepal, China
(including Tibet), and Bhutan on the north. The state of Jammu and Kashmir in
the extreme north, which is claimed by India, has long been the subject of hostile
boundary disputes among India, Pakistan, and China.
India has three main land divisions: the Himalaya
mountain system in the north; the Gangetic Plain of the Indus, Ganges, and
Brahmaputra rivers; and the peninsula of southern India.
The great mountain wall of the Himalayas stretches
for some 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) across northern and northeastern India.
The Himalayas consist of three parallel ranges--the Great Himalayas,
the Lesser Himalayas, and the Outer Himalayas.
At their western end stands
another lofty mountain range, the Karakoram.
The Great Himalayas and Karakoram have an average elevation of more than
20,000 feet (6,100 meters) and contain the highest mountains in the world,
including K2 (or Mt.
Godwin Austen), the world's second highest mountain peak.
It is situated in the Karakoram, in a part of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan.
At 28,250 feet (8,611 meters), K2 ranks second only to Mt.
lies on the border between Tibet and Nepal.
The world's third highest peak,
Kanchenjunga, on the border between the Indian state of Sikkim and Nepal, rises
to 28,169 feet (8,586 meters).
The mountains of the Lesser Himalayas, though smaller, also reach considerable
They are crossed by numerous large valleys, some of which are fertile
and of great scenic beauty.
Indians who can do so visit hill stations (mountain
resorts) here, such as Simla and Darjeeling, to escape the intense summer
heat of the plains.
The low foothills of the Outer Himalayas lie between the Lesser Himalayas and
the Gangetic Plain.
The Gangetic Plain.
The lowlands of the Gangetic Plain, also
known as northern plains, stretch in a wide arc across India.
This is the
country's most productive and densely populated region.
All three of the great
rivers that water these lowlands--the Indus, the Ganges, and the Brahmaputra--are
fed by the permanent snows and glaciers of the Himalayas.
Southern India consists of a vast wedge-shaped
peninsula covered mostly by a plateau called the Deccan.
The plateau is separated
from the Gangetic Plain by many hills varying in height and is bounded on
the east and west by two low mountain ranges--the Eastern Ghats and the
The average elevation of the Eastern Ghats is about 2,000 feet
(610 meters), although in some places the mountains rise to almost three times
The Western Ghats are more rugged, with elevations of 3,000 to
5,000 feet (900 to 1,500 meters).
The northwestern part of the Deccan is covered by vast lava flows from
Successive lava flows created what is known as the Deccan
Traps, which look like giant staircases.
They are actually weathered step-like,
flat-topped hills, and they are a major scenic feature of the region.
The west coast of the peninsula is a land of small fishing villages, coconut
palms, and spice gardens.
In the hills a few miles inland are coffee, tea,
and rubber plantations.
Rivers and Coastal Waters
Much of India is surrounded by
major bodies of water--the Arabian Sea to the west, the Indian Ocean
to the south, and the Bay of Bengal to the east.
The name "India" is derived from the Indus River, one of the great
rivers of Asia.
The greater part of the Indus basin now lies in Pakistan.
To Hindus, the Ganges is the most sacred of India's rivers. Its headwaters
rise in the Great Himalayas, near the peak of Nanda Devi. The Ganges enters
the plain through a gorge (opening) in the Outer Himalayas in the state of Uttar
Pradesh. It flows due east, turns south, and with the Brahmaputra River flows
through the nation of Bangladesh, finally emptying into the Bay of Bengal.
The Brahmaputra River sweeps around the eastern end of the Himalayas through
a deep gorge.
It flows through a region of tea gardens and rice fields in
the state of Assam.
From Assam it flows south into Bangladesh and then empties
into the Bay of Bengal.
The Narmada, Tpi,
and Godavari rivers cross the Deccan plateau. Like the Ganges, the Narmada,
and Godavari are sacred rivers of India. The Kveri,
also known as Dakshina Ganga (or Ganges of the South) is the second most sacred
river of India. It has been harnessed for irrigation and hydroelectric power
and supplies power to many areas in the state of Karnataka. The banks of the
Narmada are lined with Hindu shrines and temples.
To understand the climate of India, one must understand
the monsoon wind system.
In winter, when the landmass is cooler than the surrounding
water, the prevailing winds of the monsoon move from the subcontinent toward
These land winds are generally dry, and therefore no rain falls
over most of India in winter.
In summer, when the landmass is warmer than
the surrounding water, the monsoon winds move deep into the subcontinent from
the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.
The season of the summer monsoon brings
a great deal of rain.
The summer monsoon usually starts about the middle or
end of June, with very heavy rain and violent thunder and lightning.
the period between June and September, the southwest winds of the summer monsoon
bring rain to most parts of India.
The northwest winds of the winter monsoon
bring rain only to the southeastern coast.
Temperatures vary widely from north to south.
In January the days are generally
warm and the nights cold.
The average January temperature is less than 55°F
(13°C) in the Punjab in northwestern India and about 75°F (24°C)
in the state of Tamil Nadu.
April and May, when the sun is directly overhead,
are the hottest months.
The average temperature for May is more than 100°F
(38°C) in northwestern India and over 85°F (29°C) in the Ganges
delta in east central India.
The amount of rainfall also varies greatly from region to region.
from less than 10 inches (250 millimeters) a year in parts of the very dry
northwest to over 450 inches (11,430 millimeters) at Cherrapunji in Assam
in the northeast.
Cherrapunji is one of the wettest spots on Earth.
Years when rainfall is unusual may be disastrous for the people of India.
It can result in drought in one region and floods in another, with the loss
of lives and the destruction of crops and property.
India is rich in natural resources, particularly
Its deposits of iron ore and coal are among the largest in the world.
Most of India's iron ore is mined in the states of Bihar and Orissa.
reserves, found mainly in West Bengal and Bihar, provide much of India's industrial
Petroleum is also being produced in increasing amounts, both
inland and in offshore waters.
Indian mines produce large quantities of mica, manganese, copper, bauxite
(aluminum ore), chromite (chromium ore), ilmenite (titanium ore), zinc, and
other minerals essential to modern industry.
Gold and silver are mined in
India also produces diamonds, emeralds, and other gems.
India's rivers provide the water resources for irrigation and hydroelectric
Underground waters are also an important source of water
Forests cover over one-fifth of the country and are another
valuable natural resource, producing timber and helping prevent the erosion
(washing away) of soil.
Although India's economy was traditionally based on agriculture, it ranks
today among the ten leading industrial nations.
However, because of its enormous
population, India's per capita income (average income per person) is less
than $400 a year.
Thus, in spite of a growing economy, it remains one
of the world's poorest nations.
Service industries account for 51 percent of India's
They include personal and business services, government, wholesale
and retail trade, finance, insurance, real estate, transportation, communication,
Businesses related to tourism, such as hotels and restaurants,
also provide much income.
Indian industry developed rapidly after independence,
spurred by a series of five-year plans sponsored by the government.
it accounts for about 24 percent of the economy.
The manufacture of textiles, particularly cotton clothing and fabrics,
has long been one of India's most important industries.
Other industries include
the production of chemicals, processed foods, steel, transportation equipment,
cement, engineering machinery, and computer software.
India also has a flourishing
Most of India's farmland is divided into small
Farm machinery is not widely used.
Most farmers plant and harvest their
crops by hand.
Progress is being made in modernizing agriculture, however.
New farming methods, increased irrigation facilities, and new varieties of
seeds have greatly increased food production in recent years.
India is one of the world's leading producers of rice, one of its staple
Most of the rice is grown in the Ganges River valley and along the
coast of peninsular India.
Wheat is grown in much of northern and central
Cotton, for India's important textile industry, is grown in the southern
and northwestern parts of the Deccan and in the Punjab.
Sugarcane is grown
on the Gangetic Plain.
Tea is grown on plantations in the far eastern state of Assam.
in the south produce rubber, coffee, and spices, particularly pepper, cardamom,
and mustard seed.
Coconut groves on the Kerala coast in southwestern India
yield coir (coconut fiber) and copra (dried coconut meat).
Bananas are grown
in the fertile soil of the river delta along the eastern coast.
include jute (used to make burlap, sacking, and twine), peanuts, oilseeds,
chickpeas, and such other grains as corn, millet, and sorghum.
India imports more goods from other countries
than it exports abroad.
Necessary imports include crude oil, machinery, and
Most of these goods are purchased from the United States, the
Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), the United Kingdom,
Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Germany.
Among India's primary exports are cotton fabrics and other textiles, gems
and jewelry, engineering equipment, chemicals, software, and tea.
these goods are bought by the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany,
India has vast transportation systems.
are nearly 40,000 miles (64,400 kilometers) of railway track and more than
2 million miles (3,220,000 kilometers) of roadways (although only one-third
of them are paved).
Buses and bicycles are widely used by commuters, as automobiles
remain a luxury.
The chief means of transportation in rural India is the slow-moving two-wheeled
The bullock, or steer, is also the chief work animal on farms.
It is estimated that there are millions of these bullock carts in India, although
increasingly more villagers now ride bicycles.
India has more than half a dozen fine ports and harbors, easing the transport
of goods by ship and boosting foreign trade.
Oil and natural gas are transported
by a network of pipelines.
The country has nearly 450 airports.
airports are located in Bombay (Mumbai), Delhi, Madras (Chennai), Calcutta
(Kolkata), and Bangalore.
The national airline is Air India.
India has nearly 250 radio broadcast stations
and more than 550 commercial television stations.
Major daily newspapers include Hindustan Times,
and Deccan Herald.
Computer use has grown as the number of Internet service providers (ISP's)
India has numerous cities with populations of 1 million or more.
are rapidly approaching the 1 million figure.
Several rank among the great
cities of the world.
New Delhi, India's capital, is a modern city with
a population of more than 7 million people. Along with Old Delhi, it makes up
the city known collectively as Delhi.
Bombay (Mumbai), India's largest city, has a metropolitan
area population of more than 15 million. Situated on the west coast, it has
the tempo of a large Western city with its many business offices and skyscrapers.
Bombay is the nation's major port and commercial center as well as a key industrial
center. It is also the center of the nation's thriving film industry.
Calcutta (Kolkata) is India's second largest city.
Nearly 12 million people are packed into the city and its industrial suburbs.
As the hub of eastern India, it is also a great center of commerce and industry.
The city's museums provide information about Indian life and history. However,
Calcutta is also a city of great poverty, its streets teeming with poor and
Madras (Chennai), the major city of southern India,
is a busy port on the southeastern coast. A center of music, dance, and the
fine arts, Madras gives the visitor a colorful picture of Hindu life. Hindu
temples built between A.D. 600 and 1600 are found throughout
India's diverse cultural legacies date back thousands of years. One of the
world's first civilizations developed in the Indus Valley about 2500 B.C.
India was later the birthplace of several religions, including Hinduism and
Buddhism. From the A.D. 300's to about 500, Indian
art, literature, and the sciences flourished during the golden age of the Gupta
Dynasty. Muslim influence reached its peak under the Mogul (or Mughal) emperors
in the 1600's. Western culture, which took hold in the 1800's during the British
colonial period, is much in evidence today, particularly in the cities.
The government of the Republic of India is based on a constitution adopted
It has features similar to the government of the United States and
to the British parliamentary system.
India consists of a union of 28 states,
Delhi (the National Capital Territory), and six federally administered territories.
It has both a national (or federal) government as well as state governments.
The national legislature, or parliament (Sansad), is made up of two houses.
The People's Assembly (Lok Sabha) is elected directly by the people, except
for a few members who may be appointed by the president.
Its term is normally
Members of the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) are elected for
a term of six years by the state legislatures.
A few members are also appointed
by the president.
The president is elected (together with a vice president)
for a term of five years by an electoral college made up of members of the
national and state legislatures.
The president, for the most part, serves
as a ceremonial head of state.
Real executive power rests with the Council of Ministers, headed by the
The prime minister is usually the leader of the political
party that has the greatest number of seats in parliament.
Each state has its own elected legislature and a governor appointed by
Indus Valley Civilization. The earliest civilization in the
subcontinent developed in the valley of the Indus River, in what was formerly
northwestern India and is now part of Pakistan.
Archaeologists have uncovered
the remains of two great Indus Valley cities, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, which
date from about 2500 B.C. The cities were large and laid out in streets.
houses had bathrooms with drains connected to sewers that ran underneath the
The Aryans. About 1500 B.C.,
Aryan people from the northwest
of the subcontinent settled in India and built a highly developed civilization.
During the following centuries the Aryans gradually spread over all of northern
In the 500's B.C. two great religions, Buddhism and Jainism, originated
in eastern India.
During the next 1,000 years Buddhism spread over most of
Asia, and India became a "holy land" visited by pilgrims from far-off
In the meantime, part of western India was conquered by Persia.
the Persians, India came into contact with the Greek world.
In 327-26 B.C.,
Alexander the Great of Macedonia invaded India but withdrew after his homesick
army refused to go farther.
Hindu Kingdoms. Up until Alexander's invasion, the Aryan
people had been divided into many small kingdoms.
Inspired by Alexander, Candragupta
Maurya, king of Magadha (modern Bihar), began to conquer the smaller kingdoms
and build an empire in northern India.
He unified the Aryan people under a
Asoka, Candragupta's grandson, who reigned during the 200's B.C.,
was one of the great rulers of India.
He introduced a policy of religious
and racial tolerance.
After the death of Asoka, India again broke up into many small kingdoms.
New waves of people from southwestern Asia entered the country, bringing foreign
influence to northern India.
In the same period several Dravidian kingdoms
flourished in southern India.
These kingdoms spread Indian influence to Southeast
Asia, in what are now Cambodia (Kampuchea), Thailand, and Indonesia.
Gupta Rulers. In the A.D. 300's the Guptas, a new dynasty
(or ruling house), came to power in northern India.
The best known of the
Gupta rulers was Candra Gupta II, who extended his empire across northern
The Gupta period was the golden age of Indian culture.
Poets and artists
Several great universities were established.
It was during this
era that the mathematical concept of zero was developed in India.
concept was carried by the Arabs to Europe.
The Gupta empire was destroyed at the end of the 400's by the Huns, a tribal
people from Central Asia.
Thereafter, for more than a century, northern India
was under the control of a number of local kingdoms.
Finally, early in the
600's, one of the kings, Harsa, was able to unify much of northern India.
But Harsa died in 647, leaving no heir to his throne.
As a result, northern
India was again broken up into a number of small kingdoms.
During the post-Gupta period several Dravidian kingdoms flourished in southern
Among these were the Chola and Pallava kingdoms, which were seafaring
states on the east coast.
Muslim Invasions. During the 1000's, Muslim invaders from
Central Asia conquered northern India.
They founded the sultanate (kingdom)
of Delhi that dominated northern India for almost two centuries.
In 1398 the
Mongol conqueror Tamerlane invaded the Delhi Sultanate.
As a result, northern
India was again split into a number of kingdoms.
However, in the south the
Hindu empire of Vijayanagar was established, and it flourished until 1565.
The Mogul Conquest. The political disintegration of northern
India led to an invasion by another Muslim people from Central Asia, the Moguls.
Their leader, Babur, a descendant of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, conquered
northern India in 1526 and proclaimed himself the first Mogul emperor of India.
His grandson Akbar, who reigned from 1556 to 1605, was one of the ablest and
best-known rulers of India.
Unlike other Muslim rulers, Akbar allowed people
of all religions to worship as they pleased.
Akbar's son Jahangir ruled from 1605
During his reign, an English ambassador sent by King James I became
the first Englishman known to visit the subcontinent.
Mogul architecture reached its highest development during the reign of Emperor
Shah Jahan (1628-58), who built the famous Taj Mahal at Agra as a tomb for his
wife. Shah Jahan's successor, Aurangzeb (or 'lamgr),
who ruled from 1658 to 1707, had neither the ability nor the tolerance of the
former emperors. He destroyed many Hindu temples in northern India and followed
a policy of extreme bigotry. The weak Mogul emperors who succeeded Aurangzeb
were in no position to check invasions from the northwest. In 1739 Nadir Shah
of Persia defeated Mogul armies and carried away from Delhi most of the Mogul's
wealth and treasures. The resulting political chaos paved the way for the spread
of British power in India.
European Penetration of India. In 1498 the Portuguese navigator
and explorer Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India.
European traders--Portuguese, Dutch, French, and English--came to
India to look for the fine cotton cloth, rare woods, jewels, silk, and spices
they had heard about.
The Portuguese were the first to establish colonies
on the west coast of India.
They later lost most of their Indian territories
but remained in Goa until 1961.
During the first half of the 1700's, the Dutch, French, and British set up
trading settlements on the coast of India and became active rivals. In 1757
the British, under Robert Clive of the East India Company, won an important
battle at Plassey by defeating the French and their local allies. As a result,
the rich Ganges Valley region came under the control of the British East India
The British Indian Empire. The Battle of Plassey laid the
foundation of the East India Company's empire.
The company, through war and
diplomacy, continued to take over more and more Indian territory during the
second half of the 1700's.
Indian resentment of the British led to the Sepoy
Mutiny of 1857, in which Indian troops (sepoys) serving under the British
The mutiny was put down by the company.
But in the following year,
the British government took over the East India Company's Indian empire.
1877, Queen Victoria was proclaimed empress of India.
The political map of
India remained basically the same from the time of the Sepoy Mutiny until
the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947.
The Indian National Movement. An Indian national movement
began in the late 1800's, because the Indians wanted a constitution that would
give them a greater share in governing themselves.
When the British proved
slow in granting reforms, the revolutionary movement grew.
Soon the Indians
were demanding self-government and freedom from British control.
constitutional reforms were finally carried out by the British after World
War I (1914-18), but they came too late to stop the tide of nationalism.
Mahatma Gandhi. Mohandas K.
Gandhi, often called Mahatma (Great Soul), became the leader of the Indian national movement.
Gandhi, a Hindu, was trained in law in England.
He served twice as president
of the Indian National Congress (later the Congress Party), which had been
established in 1885 to work for the self-government of the Indian people.
In 1919, Gandhi began a policy of nonviolent protest to gain self-rule
He also sought to end discrimination against the Dalits.
of his campaign of civil disobedience, he urged Indians not to buy British
goods and to reject taxation without representation.
Gandhi himself often
fasted as a form of protest.
Partition and Independence. In 1935, under the Government
of India Act, Britain gave India a new constitution.
Muslim Indians, however,
complained that the Hindu majority would gain control of the country and thereby
place Muslim religion and culture in a disadvantageous position.
In 1940, Muslim leaders demanded a separate state of Pakistan to be formed
from areas in the subcontinent that had a majority of Muslims.
When all attempts
to form a single government in an undivided India failed, the creation of
the separate Muslim state of Pakistan was finally agreed to.
On August 15, 1947, the Indian subcontinent achieved independence.
partitioned into two nations, India and Pakistan (including what is now Bangladesh).
After partition, about 9 million Hindus and Sikhs moved from Pakistan to India.
The settling of these refugees was a major problem for India.
In January 1948, Gandhi was assassinated in Delhi by an extremist Hindu who
blamed Gandhi for the partition of the subcontinent. Gandhi's principal lieutenant,
Jawaharlal Nehru, became India's first prime minister.
Relations between India and Pakistan were often hostile in the years that
In 1947 and again in 1965, the two nations went to war over the
disputed territory of Kashmir.
India's relations with China also were strained
after Chinese troops attacked Indian border posts in 1962.
Recent History. Nehru died in 1964 and was succeeded by Lal
When Shastri died in 1966, Indira Gandhi, Nehru's daughter,
became prime minister.
Clashes between India and Pakistan erupted once more
in 1971, when civil war broke out in East Pakistan.
Indian troops occupied
East Pakistan and helped in its formation as the new nation of Bangladesh.
In 1975 the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim became part of India as its 22nd state.
Indira Gandhi's years as India's leader were marked by accomplishment and
For a time she governed under a state of emergency that caused
Her defeat in the 1977 elections seemed the end of her political
rule and that of the Congress Party.
The party, which had governed India since
independence, split into rival factions.
But in 1980, Gandhi returned as prime
minister and as head of her branch of the party.
The 1980's were marred by conflicts among India's many ethnic and religious
groups. The Sikhs were especially passionate in their demands for equal religious
status and for greater self-rule for their state of Punjab. Some Sikhs resorted
to violence. In 1984, government troops stormed the Golden Temple at Amritsar,
where armed Sikh extremists had taken refuge. The attack on their holiest shrine
angered the Sikhs, who denounced the Gandhi government. These events had tragic
results. On October 31, 1984, Gandhi was assassinated by Sikhs. Her son Rajiv
succeeded her as leader of the Congress Party and prime minister. He headed
the government until the 1989 elections, when the Congress Party lost its majority
in Parliament. In 1991, while he was campaigning for re-election, Rajiv Gandhi
was killed by a terrorist bomb.
The new head of the Congress Party, P.V.
Narasimha Rao, became prime minister
in 1991, but his party lost its majority in 1996.
His successor, Atal Bihari
Vajpayee, leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, was soon
replaced by H.D.
Deve Gowda of the left-center United Front coalition.
Kumar Gujral, also of the United Front, became prime minister in 1997.
returned as prime minister following elections in 1998 and again in 1999.
Three new states--Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Uttaranchal--were
created in 2000.
Challenges of the Future. India, which has preserved the
democratic ideals and practices it adopted at independence, has made great
It is among the top ten industrial nations of the world
and is self-sufficient in food.
But economic gains have been erased by population
growth, and in 2001 a devastating earthquake in the heavily industrial state
of Gujurat set back the economy even further.
The government also faced challenges from groups seeking to break from
the Indian union.
Meanwhile, tensions with Pakistan continued.
In 1998 both
countries tested nuclear weapons, raising fears of a nuclear confrontation
between the two countries over the disputed area of Kashmir.
In 2001, Pakistani
suicide bombers attacked India's parliament, killing 13 people.
The attack strained relations between the two countries even further.
in 2002, Prime Minister Vajpayee ruled out the possibility of another war.
Later that year, A.P.J.
Abdul Kalam, a missile scientist, was elected president.
priorities were to combat poverty and develop rural areas.
Author, The Himalayan Kingdoms
Reviewed by Bakkrishna G.
Author, The Making of the Indian Nation
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States and Union Territories of India
|Jammu and Kashmir
|Andaman and Nicobar
|Dadra and Nagar Haveli
|Daman and Diu
*Chandigarh serves as the capital of Haryana and Punjab states and the territory of Chandigarh.
**Delhi (the National Capital Territory) is generally classified as a state but lacks formal statehood.
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