Inida
From Grolier's The New Book of Knowledge

Click on the map above to see a larger map.

Facts and Figures

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 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.

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. The 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.

People

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 ancestry. The Dravidians have lived in India since prehistoric times. The 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 into Hinduism. The Indo-Aryans became the dominant people of India, particularly in the north. Southern India remained principally Dravidian.

Language

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 Hinduism. 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, or Persian.

Religion

Nearly all the world's major religions are represented in India. 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 life.

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

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 of Delhi.

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 did. 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.

A 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, K.R. Narayanan became the first president elected from the Dalit caste. Nevertheless, 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 Life

Family ties are very strong in India. The Indian 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. Dating takes 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 outside matters. Women had a great deal of authority in matters affecting the running of the household. Neither men nor women interfered with each other's duties. 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.

Homes

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. The home 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. At night farmers keep cattle or other animals in one of the rooms that open on the courtyard.

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 alcove. Food is eaten with the tips of the fingers from a bowl or tray. Hands are washed before and after eating. Poverty is widespread in India. More than 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.

Rural Life

India is largely a nation of villages. Nearly two-thirds of the population lives in one of thousands of villages. The village 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. In southern 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 figure. 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. The 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.

Festivals

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 Mysore, 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 or November. 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. The 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 religious leader.

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.

Land

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.

Land Regions

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 Himalayas. 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. Everest, which 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 heights. 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.

Peninsular India. 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 Western Ghats. 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 that height. 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 ancient volcanoes. 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, T[lamacr]pi, K[lamacr]veri, and Godavari rivers cross the Deccan plateau. Like the Ganges, the Narmada, K[lamacr]veri, and Godavari are sacred rivers of India. The K[lamacr]veri, 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.

Climate

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 the ocean. 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. Throughout 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. It ranges 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.

Natural Resources

India is rich in natural resources, particularly minerals. 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. Its coal reserves, found mainly in West Bengal and Bihar, provide much of India's industrial energy needs. 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 Karnataka state. India also produces diamonds, emeralds, and other gems.

India's rivers provide the water resources for irrigation and hydroelectric power development. Underground waters are also an important source of water for agriculture. 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.

Economy

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.

Services

Service industries account for 51 percent of India's total revenues. They include personal and business services, government, wholesale and retail trade, finance, insurance, real estate, transportation, communication, and utilities. Businesses related to tourism, such as hotels and restaurants, also provide much income.

Manufacturing

Indian industry developed rapidly after independence, spurred by a series of five-year plans sponsored by the government. Today 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 filmmaking industry.

Agriculture

Most of India's farmland is divided into small plots. 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 foods. 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 India. 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. Plantations 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. Other crops include jute (used to make burlap, sacking, and twine), peanuts, oilseeds, chickpeas, and such other grains as corn, millet, and sorghum.

Foreign Trade

India imports more goods from other countries than it exports abroad. Necessary imports include crude oil, machinery, and fertilizers. 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. Many of these goods are bought by the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan.

Transportation

India has vast transportation systems. There 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 bullock cart. 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. International airports are located in Bombay (Mumbai), Delhi, Madras (Chennai), Calcutta (Kolkata), and Bangalore. The national airline is Air India.

Communication

India has nearly 250 radio broadcast stations and more than 550 commercial television stations. Major daily newspapers include Hindustan Times, Indian Express, and Deccan Herald. Computer use has grown as the number of Internet service providers (ISP's) has increased.

Major Cities

India has numerous cities with populations of 1 million or more. Many others 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 homeless people.


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 the area.

Cultural Heritage

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.

Government

The government of the Republic of India is based on a constitution adopted in 1950. 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 five years. 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 prime minister. 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 the president.

History

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. Some houses had bathrooms with drains connected to sewers that ran underneath the streets.

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 India. 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 places. In the meantime, part of western India was conquered by Persia. Through 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 single rule. 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 India. The Gupta period was the golden age of Indian culture. Poets and artists flourished. Several great universities were established. It was during this era that the mathematical concept of zero was developed in India. Later the 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 India. 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 to 1627. 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 '[uamacr]lamg[lamacr]r), 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. Soon afterward 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 Company.

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 revolted. 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. In 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. Important 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 for India. He also sought to end discrimination against the Dalits. As part 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. It was 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 followed. 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 Bahadur Shastri. 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 controversy. For a time she governed under a state of emergency that caused much criticism. 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. Inder Kumar Gujral, also of the United Front, became prime minister in 1997. Vajpayee 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 economic strides. 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. But 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. His priorities were to combat poverty and develop rural areas.

Pradyumna P. Karan
Author, The Himalayan Kingdoms

Reviewed by Bakkrishna G. Gokhale
Author, The Making of the Indian Nation

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States and Union Territories of India
States Capital
Andhra Pradesh Hyderabad
Arunachal Pradesh Itanagar
Assam Dispur
Bihar Patna
Chhattisgarh Raipur
Goa Panaji
Gujarat Gandhinagar
Haryana Chandigarh*
Himachal Pradesh Simla
Jammu and Kashmir Srinagar (summer)
Jammu (winter)
Jharkhand Ranchi
Karnataka Bangalore
Kerala Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram)
Madhya Pradesh Bhopal
Maharashtra Bombay (Mumbai)
Manipur Imphal
Meghalaya Shillong
Mizoram Aizawl
Nagaland Kohima
Orissa Bhubaneswar
Punjab Chandigarh*
Rajasthan Jaipur
Sikkim Gangtok
Tamil Nadu Madras (Chennai)
Tripura Agartala
Uttaranchal Dehra Dun
Uttar Pradesh Lucknow
West Bengal Calcutta (Kolkata)
Union Territories Capital
Andaman and Nicobar Islands Port Blair
Chandigarh Chandigarh*
Dadra and Nagar Haveli Silvassa
Daman and Diu Panaji
Delhi** Delhi
Lakshadweep Kavaratti
Pondicherry Pondicherry

*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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