History of India
olated remains of Homo erectus in Hathnora in the Narmada Valley in central India indicate that India might have been inhabited since at least the Middle Pleistocene era, somewhere between 500,000 and 200,000 years ago. Tools crafted by proto-humans that have been dated back two million years have been discovered in the northwestern part of the subcontinent. The ancient history of the region includes some of South Asia’s oldest settlements and some of its major civilizations. The earliest archaeological site in the subcontinent is the palaeolithichominid site in the Soan River valley. Soanian sites are found in the Sivalik region across what are now India, Pakistan, and Nepal. The Mesolithic period in the Indian subcontinent was followed by the Neolithic period, when more extensive settlement of the subcontinent occurred after the end of the last Ice Ageapproximately 12,000 years ago. The first confirmed semipermanent settlements appeared 9,000 years ago in theBhimbetka rock shelters in modern Madhya Pradesh, India. Early Neolithic culture in South Asia is represented by theMehrgarh findings (7000 BCE onwards) in present-dayBalochistan, Pakistan. Traces of a Neolithic culture have been alleged to be submerged in the Gulf of Khambat in India, radiocarbon dated to 7500 BCE. However, the one dredged piece of wood in question was found in an area of strong ocean currents. Neolithic agriculture cultures sprang up in the Indus Valley region around 5000 BCE, in the lower Gangetic valley around 3000 BCE, and in later South India, spreading southwards and also northwards into Malwa around 1800 BCE. The first urban civilization of the region began with the Indus Valley Civilization.
The docks of ancient Lothal as they appear today.
The Bronze Age in theIndian subcontinentbegan around 3300 BCE with the early Indus Valley Civilization. It was centered on the Indus River and its tributaries which extended into theGhaggar-Hakra Rivervalley, the Ganges-Yamuna Doab,Gujarat, and southeastern Afghanistan. The civilization is primarily located in modern-day India (Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthanprovinces) and Pakistan (Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan provinces). Historically part of Ancient India, it is one of the world’s earliest urban civilizations, along with Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt.Inhabitants of the ancient Indus river valley, the Harappans, developed new techniques in metallurgy and handicraft (carneol products, seal carving), and produced copper, bronze, lead, and tin. The Mature Indus civilization flourished from about 2600 to 1900 BCE, marking the beginning of the urban civilization on the subcontinent. The civilization included urban centers such as Dholavira,Kalibangan, Rupar, Rakhigarhi, and Lothal in modern-day India, and Harappa, Ganeriwala, andMohenjo-daro in modern-day Pakistan. The civilization is noted for its cities built of brick, roadside drainage system, and multistoried houses.
Early historic period
The Vedic period is characterized by Indo-Aryanculture associated with the texts of Vedas, sacred to Hindus, which were orally composed in Vedic Sanskrit. The Vedas are some of the oldest extant texts in India and next to some writings in Egypt and Mesopotamia are the oldest in the world. The Vedic period lasted from about 1500 to 500 BCE,laying the foundations of Hinduism and other cultural aspects of early Indian society. The Aryans established Vedic civilization all over north India, particularly in the Gangetic Plain. This period succeeded the prehistoric Late Harappan, during which immigrations of Indo-Aryan-speaking tribesoverlaid the existing civilizations of local people whom they called Dasyus. The Aryans, originally came from the Caspian Sea area of Asia. Settling first in Bactria and then in the Hindu-Kush area of India, before settling in the Ganges and Yamuna River valleys. Many scholars throughout history have maintained that the Aryans subjugated the “backward aboriginies” that had previously lived in northern India. However, discoveries of advanced civilizations in the Indus River valley, caused many scholars to change their theories in this regard. The Aryans may have received as much from the neighboring cultures of northern India as they contributed. Indeed when the Aryans moved into India, they were semi-nomadic pastoralists, their clothing was simple, they had no regular legal institutions and their religion was a very basic form of animism. The basis of the Aryan economy had always been centered around cattle raising.During this period of time, the cow began to be venerated in Aryan society. Thus, the origins of the later Hindu belief in India that cows are sacred may have started during this time.
Early Vedic society consisted of largely pastoral groups, with late Harappan urbanization having been abandoned. After the time of theRigveda, Aryan society became increasingly agricultural and was socially organized around the four varnas, or social classes. In addition to the Vedas, the principal texts of Hinduism, the core themes of the Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are said to have their ultimate origins during this period. The Mahabharata remains, today, the longest single poem in the world. The events described in the shorter, Ramayana are from a later period of history than the events of the Mahabharata. The early Indo-Aryan presence probably corresponds, in part, to the Ochre Coloured Pottery culture in archaeological contexts. The Kuru kingdom corresponds to the Black and Red Ware and Painted Grey Ware cultures and to the beginning of the Iron Age in northwestern India, around 1000 BCE, as well as with the composition of the Atharvaveda, the first Indian text to mention iron, as śyāma ayas, literally “black metal.” The Painted Grey Ware culture spanned much of northern India from about 1100 to 600 BCE. The Vedic Period also established republics such as Vaishali, which existed as early as the 6th century BCE and persisted in some areas until the 4th century CE. The later part of this period corresponds with an increasing movement away from the previous tribal system towards the establishment of kingdoms, called mahajanapadas.
The Mahajanapadas were the sixteen most powerful kingdoms and republics of the era, located mainly across the fertile Indo-Gangetic plains, however there were a number of smaller kingdoms stretching the length and breadth of Ancient India.
Nalanda is considered one of the first great universities in recorded history. It was the center of Buddhist learning and research in the world from 450 to 1193 CE.
In the later Vedic Age, a number of small kingdoms or city states had covered the subcontinent, many mentioned in Vedic, early Buddhist and Jaina literature as far back as 1000 BCE. By 500 BCE, sixteen monarchies and “republics” known as the Mahajanapadas — Kasi,Kosala, Anga, Magadha, Vajji (or Vriji), Malla, Chedi, Vatsa (or Vamsa), Kuru, Panchala, Matsya (or Machcha), Surasena, Assaka, Avanti, Gandhara, and Kamboja — stretched across the Indo-Gangetic Plain from modern-day Afghanistan to Bengal and Maharastra. This period saw the second major rise of urbanism in India after the Indus Valley Civilization. Many smaller clans mentioned within early literature seem to have been present across the rest of the subcontinent. Some of these kings were hereditary; other states elected their rulers. The educated speech at that time was Sanskrit, while the languages of the general population of northern India are referred to as Prakrits. Many of the sixteen kingdoms had coalesced to four major ones by 500/400 BCE, by the time of Gautama Buddha. These four were Vatsa, Avanti, Kosala, and Magadha. The Brahmanical tradition was paralleled by the non-Vedic Shramana movement. The Buddha was a member of this movement. Shramana also gave rise to Jainism, yoga, the concept of the cycle of birth and death, the concept of samsara, and the concept of liberation. The Brahmanicalashrama system of life was an attempt to institutionalize Shramana ideals within the Brahmanical social structure. The Shramana movement also influenced the Aranyakas and Upanishads in the Brahmanical tradition. The Buddha found a Middle Way that ameliorated the extreme asceticism found in the Sramanareligions. Around the same time, Mahavira (the 24th Tirthankara in Jainism) propagated a theology that was to later become Jainism. However, Jain orthodoxy believes the teachings of the Tirthankaras predates all known time and scholars believe Parshva, accorded status as the 23rd Tirthankara, was a historical figure. The Vedas are believed to have documented a few Tirthankaras and an ascetic order similar to the shramana movement. The Buddha’s teachings and Jainism had doctrines inclined toward asceticism, and they were preached in Prakrit, which helped them gain acceptance amongst the masses. They have profoundly influenced practices that Hinduism and Indian spiritual orders are associated with, includingvegetarianism, prohibition of animal slaughter and ahimsa (non-violence). While the geographic impact of Jainism was limited to India, Buddhist nuns and monks eventually spread the teachings of Buddha to Central Asia, East Asia, Tibet, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.
Persian and Greek conquests
In 530 BCE Cyrus, King of the PersianAchaemenid Empire crossed the Hindu-Kush mountains to seek tribute from the tribes of Kamboja, Gandhara and the trans-India region. By 520 BCE, during the reign of Darius I of Persia, much of the northwestern subcontinent (present-day eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan) came under the rule of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. The area remained under Persian control for two centuries. During this time India supplied mercenaries to the Persian army then fighting in Greece. Under Persian rule the famous city of Takshashila became a center where both Vedic and Iranian learning were mingled. The impact of Persian ideas was felt in many areas of Indian life. Persian coinage and rock inscriptions were copied by India. However, Persian ascendency in northern India ended with Alexander the Great‘s conquest of Persia in 327 BCE. By 326 BCE, Alexander the Great had conquered Asia Minor and the Achaemenid Empire and had reached the northwest frontiers of the Indian subcontinent. There he defeated King Porus in the Battle of the Hydaspes (near modern-day Jhelum, Pakistan) and conquered much of the Punjab.Alexander’s march east put him in confrontation with the Nanda Empire of Magadha and theGangaridai Empire of Bengal. His army, exhausted and frightened by the prospect of facing larger Indian armies at the Ganges River, mutinied at the Hyphasis (modern Beas River) and refused to march further East. Alexander, after the meeting with his officer, Coenus, was convinced that it was better to return. The Persian and Greek invasions had important repercussions on Indian civilization. The political systems of the Persians were to influence future forms of governance on the subcontinent, including the administration of the Mauryan dynasty. In addition, the region of Gandhara, or present-day eastern Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan, became a melting pot of Indian, Persian, Central Asian, and Greek cultures and gave rise to a hybrid culture, Greco-Buddhism, which lasted until the 5th century CE and influenced the artistic development of Mahayana Buddhism.
TheMaurya Empire (322–185 BCE), ruled by the Mauryan dynasty, was a geographically extensive and powerful political and military empire in ancient India. The empire was established by Chandragupta Maurya in Magadha what is now Bihar. The empire flourished under the reign of Ashoka the Great. At its greatest extent, it stretched to the north to the natural boundaries of the Himalayas and to the east into what is now Assam. To the west, it reached beyond modern Pakistan, annexing Balochistan and much of what is now Afghanistan, including the modern Herat and Kandahar provinces. The empire was expanded into India’s central and southern regions by the emperors Chandragupta and Bindusara, but it excluded extensive unexplored tribal and forested regions near Kalinga which were subsequently taken by Ashoka. Like every state, the Maurya Empire needed to have a unified administrative apparatus. Ashoka ruled the Maurya Empire for 37 years from 268 BCE until he died in 232 BCE. During that time, Ashoka pursued an active foreign policy aimed at setting up a unified state. However, Ashoka became involved in a war with the state of Kalinga which is located on the western shore of the Bay of Bengal. This war forced Ashoka to abandon his attempt at a foreign policy which would unify the Maurya Empire. Slavery had begun in India during the Vedic era. However, during the Mauryan Empire slavery developed much more rapidly. The Mauryan Empire was based on a modern and efficient economy and society. However, the sale of merchandise was closely regulated by the government. Although there was no banking in the Mauryan society, usury was customary with loans made at the recognized interest rate of 15% per annum. Ashoka’s reign propagated Buddhism. In this regard Ashoka established many Buddhist monuments. Indeed, Ashoka put a strain on the economy and the government by his strong support of Buddhism. towards the end of his reign he “bled the state coffers white with his generous gifts to promote the promulation of Buddha’s teaching. As might be expected, this policy caused considerable opposition within the government. This opposition rallied around Sampadi, Ashoka’s grandson and heir to the throne. Religious opposition to Ashoka also arose among the orthodox Brahmanists and the adherents of Jainism–a religion based on non-violence toward all living beings. Chandragupta’s minister Chanakya wrote the Arthashastra, one of the greatest treatises on economics, politics, foreign affairs, administration, military arts, war, and religion produced in Asia. Archaeologically, the period of Mauryan rule in South Asia falls into the era of Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW). The Arthashastra and the Edicts of Ashoka are primary written records of the Mauryan times. The Lion Capital of Asoka at Sarnath, is the national emblem of India.
Early Middle Kingdoms — The Golden Age
The middle period was a time of notable cultural development. The Satavahana dynasty, also known as the Andhras, ruled in southern and central India after around 230 BCE. Satakarni, the sixth ruler of the Satvahana dynasty, defeated the Sunga Empire of north India. Afterwards, Kharavela, the warrior king of Kalinga, ruled a vast empire and was responsible for the propagation of Jainism in the Indian subcontinent. The Kharavelan Jain empire included a formidable maritime empire with trading routes linking it to Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Borneo, Bali, Sumatra, and Java. Colonists from Kalinga settled in Sri Lanka, Burma, as well as the Maldives and the Malay Archipelago. The Kuninda Kingdom was a small Himalayan state that survived from around the 2nd century BCE to roughly the 3rd century CE. The Kushanas migrated from Central Asia into northwestern India in the middle of the 1st century CE and founded an empire that eventually stretched from Tajikistan to the middle Ganges. The Western Satraps (35-405 CE) were Saka rulers of the western and central part of India. They were the successors of the Indo-Scythians and contemporaries of the Kushans who ruled the northern part of the Indian subcontinent and the Satavahana (Andhra) who ruled in central and southern India. Different dynasties such as the Pandyans, Cholas, Cheras,Kadambas, Western Gangas, Pallavas, and Chalukyas, dominated the southern part of the Indian peninsula at different periods of time. Several southern kingdoms formed overseas empires that stretched into Southeast Asia. The kingdoms warred with each other and the Deccan states for domination of the south. The Kalabras, a Buddhist dynasty, briefly interrupted the usual domination of the Cholas, Cheras, and Pandyas in the south.
Northwestern hybrid cultures
The northwestern hybrid cultures of the subcontinent included the Indo-Greeks, the Indo-Scythians, the Indo-Parthians, and the Indo-Sassinids. The first of these, the Indo-Greek Kingdom, was founded when the Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius invaded the region in 180 BCE, extending his rule over various parts of present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. Lasting for almost two centuries, the kingdom was ruled by a succession of more than 30 Greek kings, who were often in conflict with each other. The Indo-Scythians were a branch of the Indo-European Sakas (Scythians) who migrated from southern Siberia, first into Bactria, subsequently intoSogdiana, Kashmir, Arachosia, and Gandhara, and finally into India. Their kingdom lasted from the middle of the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century BCE. Yet another kingdom, the Indo-Parthians (also known as the Pahlavas), came to control most of present-day Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, after fighting many local rulers such as the Kushan ruler Kujula Kadphises, in the Gandhara region. The Sassanid empire of Persia, who was contemporaneous with the Gupta Empire, expanded into the region of present-day Balochistan in Pakistan, where the mingling of Indian culture and the culture of Iran gave birth to a hybrid culture under the Indo-Sassanids.
The Kushan Empire expanded out of what is now Afghanistan into the northwest of the subcontinent under the leadership of their first emperor, Kujula Kadphises, about the middle of the 1st century CE. By the time of his grandson, Kanishka, (whose era is thought to have begun c. 127 CE), they had conquered most of northern India, at least as far as Saketa and Pataliputra, in the middle Ganges Valley, and probably as far as the Bay of Bengal. They played an important role in the establishment of Buddhism in India and its spread to Central Asia and China. By the 3rd century, their empire in India was disintegrating; their last known great emperor being Vasudeva I (c. 190-225 CE).
Roman trade with India
Roman trade with India started around 1 CE, during the reign of Augustusand following his conquest of Egypt, which had been India’s biggest trade partner in the West. The trade started by Eudoxus of Cyzicus in 130 BCE kept increasing, and according to Strabo (II.5.12.), by the time of Augustus, up to 120 ships set sail every year from Myos Hormos on the Red Sea to India. So much gold was used for this trade, and apparently recycled by the Kushans for their own coinage, that Pliny the Elder (NH VI.101) complained about the drain of specie to India:
“India, China and the Arabian peninsula take one hundred millionsesterces
from our empire per annum at a conservative estimate: that is what our luxuries and women cost us. For what percentage of these imports is intended for sacrifices to the gods or the spirits of the dead?”
—Pliny, Historia Naturae 12.41.84.
The maritime (but not the overland) trade routes, harbours, and trade items are described in detail in the 1st century CE Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.
The Classical Age refers to the period when much of theIndian subcontinent was reunited under the Gupta Empire (c. 320–550 CE). This period has been called the Golden Age of India and was marked by extensive achievements in science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature,logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy that crystallized the elements of what is generally known asHindu culture. The decimal numeral system, including the concept of zero, was invented in India during this period.The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Guptas enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors in India. The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent architecture, sculpture, and painting. The Gupta period produced scholars such as Kalidasa, Aryabhata,Varahamihira, Vishnu Sharma, and Vatsyayana who made great advancements in many academic fields. Science and political administration reached new heights during the Gupta era. Strong trade ties also made the region an important cultural center and established it as a base that would influence nearby kingdoms and regions in Burma, Sri Lanka, theMalay Archipelago, and Indochina. The Gupta period marked a watershed of Indian culture: the Guptas performed Vedic sacrifices to legitimize their rule, but they also patronized Buddhism, which continued to provide an alternative to Brahmanical orthodoxy. The military exploits of the first three rulers—Chandragupta I (c. 319–335),Samudragupta (c. 335–376), and Chandragupta II (c. 376–415) —brought much of India under their leadership. They successfully resisted the northwestern kingdoms until the arrival of the Hunas, who established themselves in Afghanistan by the first half of the 5th century, with their capital atBamiyan. However, much of the Deccan and southern India were largely unaffected by these events in the north.
Brahmanical Expansion at the Expense of Buddhism
Ronald Inden notes:
“before the eighth century, the Buddha was accorded the position of universal deity and ceremonies by which a king attained to imperial status were elaborate donative ceremonies entailing gifts to Buddhist monks and the installation of a symbolic Buddha in a stupa….This pattern changed in the eighth century. The Buddha was replaced as the supreme, imperial deity by one of the Hindu gods (except under the Palas of eastern India, the Buddha’s homeland)…Previously the Buddha had been accorded imperial-style worship (puja). Now as one of the Hindu gods replaced the Buddha at the imperial centre and pinnacle of the cosmo-political system, the image or symbol of the Hindu god comes to be housed in a monumental temple and given increasingly elaborate imperial-style puja worship.
The replacement of the Buddha as the “cosmic person” coincided with the same period of time that the Buddha was incorporated and subordinated within the cult of Vishnu as an avatar. Although Buddhism did not disappear from India for several centuries after the eighth, royal proclivities for the cults of Vishnu and Shiva weakened Buddhism’s position within the sociopolitical context and helped make possible its decline.
Late Middle Kingdoms — The Classical Age
The “Classical Age” in India began with the Gupta Empire and the resurgence of the north during Harsha‘s conquests around the 7th century CE, and ended with the fall of theVijayanagara Empire in the south in the 13th century, due to pressure from the invaders to the north. This period produced some of India’s finest art, considered the epitome of classical development, and the development of the main spiritual and philosophical systems which continued to be in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. King Harsha of Kannaujsucceeded in reuniting northern India during his reign in the 7th century, after the collapse of the Gupta dynasty. His kingdom collapsed after his death. From the 7th to the 9th century, three dynasties contested for control of northern India: the Gurjara Pratiharas of Malwa,the Eastern Ganga dynasty ofOrissa, the Palas of Bengal, and the Rashtrakutas of theDeccan. The Sena dynasty would later assume control of the Pala Empire, and the Gurjara Pratiharas fragmented into various states. These were the first of the Rajput states, a series of kingdoms which managed to survive in some form for almost a millennium, until Indian independence from the British. The first recorded Rajput kingdoms emerged inRajasthan in the 6th century, and small Rajput dynasties later ruled much of northern India. One Gurjar Rajput of theChauhan clan, Prithvi Raj Chauhan, was known for bloody conflicts against the advancing Islamic sultanates. The Shahidynasty ruled portions of eastern Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, and Kashmir from the mid-7th century to the early 11th century. The Chalukya dynasty ruled parts of southern and central India from Badami in Karnataka between 550 and 750, and then again from Kalyani between 970 and 1190. The Pallavas of Kanchipuram were their contemporaries further to the south. With the decline of the Chalukya empire, their feudatories, the Hoysalas of Halebidu, Kakatiyas of Warangal, Seuna Yadavas of Devagiri, and a southern branch of the Kalachuri, divided the vast Chalukya empire amongst themselves around the middle of 12th century. The Chola Empire at its peak covered much of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Rajaraja Chola I conquered all of peninsular south India and parts of Sri Lanka. Rajendra Chola I‘s navies went even further, occupying coasts from Burma (now Myanmar) to Vietnam, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Lakshadweep (Laccadive) islands, Sumatra, and the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia and the Pegu islands. Later during the middle period, the Pandyan Empire emerged in Tamil Nadu, as well as the Chera Kingdom in parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. By 1343, last of these dynasties had ceased to exist, giving rise to the Vijayanagar empire. The ports of south India were engaged in the Indian Ocean trade, chiefly involving spices, with theRoman Empire to the west and Southeast Asia to the east. Literature in local vernaculars and spectacular architecture flourished until about the beginning of the 14th century, when southern expeditions of the sultan of Delhi took their toll on these kingdoms. The Hindu Vijayanagar dynasty came into conflict with the Islamic Bahmani Sultanate, and the clashing of the two systems caused a mingling of the indigenous and foreign cultures that left lasting cultural influences on each other. The Vijaynagar Empire eventually declined due to pressure from the first Delhi sultanates that had managed to establish themselves in the north around the city of Delhi by that time.
The Islamic Sultanates
After conquering Persia, Arab Islamic Caliphate incorporated parts of what is now Pakistan around 720 CE. The Muslim rulers were keen to invade India, which was a rich region,with a flourishing international trade and the only known diamond mines in the world. In 712 CE an Arab Muslim general called Muhammad bin Qasim conquered most of the Indus region in modern day Pakistan, for the Umayyad empire, to be made the “As-Sindh” province with its capital at Al-Mansurah, 72 km (45 mi) north of modern Hyderabad in Sindh, Pakistan. After several wars including the Battle of Rajasthan, where theHindu Rajput clans defeated the Umayyad Arabs, their expansion was checked and contained to Sindh in Pakistan, many short-lived Islamic kingdoms (sultanates) under foreign rulers were established across the north western subcontinent over a period of a few centuries. Additionally, Muslim trading communities had flourished throughout coastal south India, particularly in Kerala, where Muslim traders arrived in small numbers, mainly from the Arabian peninsula. This had marked the introduction of a third Abrahamic Middle Eastern religion, following Judaism and Christianity, often in puritanical form. Later, the Bahmani Sultanate and Deccan sultanates founded by Turkic rulers, flourished in the south.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, Turks and Afghans invaded parts of northern India and established the Delhi Sultanate in the former Rajput holdings. The subsequent Slave dynastyof Delhi managed to conquer large areas of northern India, approximately equal in extent to the ancient Gupta Empire, while the Khilji dynasty was also able to conquer most of central India, but were ultimately unsuccessful in conquering and uniting the subcontinent. The Sultanate ushered in a period of Indian cultural renaissance. The resulting “Indo-Muslim” fusion of cultures left lasting syncretic monuments in architecture, music, literature, religion, and clothing. It is surmised that the language of Urdu (literally meaning “horde” or “camp” in various Turkic dialects) was born during the Delhi Sultanate period as a result of the intermingling of the local speakers of Sanskritic Prakrits with immigrants speakingPersian, Turkic, and Arabic under the Muslim rulers. The Delhi Sultanate is the only Indo-Islamic empire to have enthroned one of the few female rulers in India, Razia Sultana (1236–1240). A Turco-Mongol conqueror in Central Asia, Timur (Tamerlane), attacked the reigning Sultan Nasir-u Din Mehmud of the Tughlaq Dynasty in the north Indian city of Delhi. The Sultan’s army was defeated on December 17, 1398. Timur entered Delhi and the city was sacked, destroyed, and left in ruins, after Timur’s army had killed and plundered for three days and nights. He ordered the whole city to be sacked except for the sayyids, scholars, and the other Muslims,; 100,000 war prisoners, mostly Hindus, were put to death in one day.
The Mughal era
In 1526, Babur, a Timuriddescendant ofTimur andGenghis Khanfrom Fergana Valley (modern dayUzbekistan), swept across the Khyber Passand established the Mughal Empire, covering modern dayAfghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. However, his son Humayun was defeated by the Afghan warrior Sher Shah Suri in the year 1540, and Humayun was forced to retreat to Kabul. After Sher Shah’s death, his son Islam Shah Suri and the Hindu king Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya, who had won 22 battles from Punjab toBengal and had established a secular Hindu Raj, ruled North India from Delhi till 1556, when Akbar‘s forces defeated and killed Hemu in the Second Battle of Panipat on 6 November 1556. The Mughal dynasty ruled most of the Indian subcontinent by 1600; it went into a slow decline after 1707 and was finally defeated during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, also called the 1857 War of Independence. This period marked vast social change in the subcontinent as the Hindu majority were ruled over by the Mughal emperors, most of whom showed religious tolerance, liberally patronising Hindu culture. The famous emperor Akbar, who was the grandson of Babar, tried to establish a good relationship with the Hindus. However, later emperors such as Aurangazeb tried to establish complete Muslim dominance, and as a result several historical temples were destroyed during this period and taxes imposed on non-Muslims. During the decline of the Mughal Empire, several smaller states rose to fill the power vacuum and themselves were contributing factors to the decline. In 1739, Nader Shah, emperor of Iran, defeated the Mughal army at the huge Battle of Karnal. After this victory, Nader captured and sacked Delhi, carrying away many treasures, including the Peacock Throne. The Mughals were perhaps the richest single dynasty to have ever existed. During the Mughal era, the dominant political forces consisted of the Mughal Empire and its tributaries and, later on, the rising successor states – including the Maratha confederacy – which fought an increasingly weak Mughal dynasty. The Mughals, while often employing brutal tactics to subjugate their empire, had a policy of integration with Indian culture, which is what made them successful where the short-lived Sultanates of Delhi had failed. Akbar the Great was particularly famed for this. Akbar declared “Amari” or non-killing of animals in the holy days of Jainism. He rolled back the jizya tax for non-Muslims. The Mughal emperors married local royalty, allied themselves with local maharajas, and attempted to fuse their Turko-Persian culture with ancient Indian styles, creating a unique Indo-Saracenic architecture. It was the erosion of this tradition coupled with increased brutality and centralization that played a large part in the dynasty’s downfall after Aurangzeb, who unlike previous emperors, imposed relatively non-pluralistic policies on the general population, which often inflamed the majority Hindu population.
Maratha Empire (orange) in 1758- The last Hindu empire of India.
The post-Mughal era was dominated by the rise of the Maratha suzerainty as other small regional states (mostly late Mughal tributary states) emerged, and also by the increasing activities of European powers (see colonial era below). The Maratha kingdom or confederacy was founded and consolidated byShivaji. By the 18th century, it had transformed itself into theMaratha Empire under the rule of the peshwas (prime ministers). Gordon explains how the Maratha systematically took control over the Malwa plateau in 1720-1760. They started with annual raids, collecting ransom from villages and towns while the declining Mogul Empire retained nominal control. However in 1738 the Marathi defeated a Mogul army, and in 1741 the Mogul emperor ceded Malwa to them. The Maratha built an efficient system of public administration known for its attention to detail. It succeeded in raising revenue in districts that recovered from years of raids, up to levels previously enjoyed by the Moguls. The cornerstone of the Maratha rule in Malwa rested on the 60 or so local tax collectors (kamavisdars) who advanced the Maratha ruler ‘(Peshwa)’ a portion of their district revenues at interest. By 1760, the domain of the Marathas stretched across practically the entire subcontinent. The defeat of Marathas by British in three Anglo-Maratha Wars brought end to the empire. The last peshwa, Baji Rao II, was defeated by the British in the Third Anglo-Maratha War.
Harmandir Sahib or The Golden Temple is culturally the most significant place of worship for the Sikhs.
The Punjabi kingdom, ruled by members of the Sikh religion, was a political entity that governed the region of modern-dayPunjab. The empire, based around the Punjab region, existed from 1799 to 1849. It was forged, on the foundations of theKhalsa, under the leadership of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780–1839) from an array of autonomous Punjabi Misls. He consolidated many parts of northern India into a kingdom. He primarily used his highly disciplined Sikh army that he trained and equipped to be the equal of a European force. Ranjit Singh proved himself to be a master strategist and selected well qualified generals for his army. In stages, he added the central Punjab, the provinces of Multan and Kashmir, the Peshawar Valley, and the Derajat to his kingdom. His came in the face of the powerful British East India Company. At its peak, in the 19th century, the empire extended from the Khyber Pass in the west, to Kashmir in the north, to Sindh in the south, and Tibet in the east. This was among the last areas of the subcontinent to be conquered by the British. The first and second Anglo-Sikh war marked the downfall of the Sikh Empire.
The Kingdom of Mysore in southern India was founded around 1400 CE by the Wodeyar dynasty. The rule of the Wodeyars was interrupted by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan. Under their rule, Mysore fought a series of wars sometimes against the combined forces of the British and Marathas, but mostly against the British, with Mysore receiving some aid or promise of aid from the French. Hyderabad was founded by the Qutb Shahi dynasty of Golconda in 1591. Following a brief Mughal rule, Asif Jah, a Mughal official, seized control of Hyderabad and declared himself Nizam-al-Mulk of Hyderabad in 1724. It was ruled by a hereditary Nizam from 1724 until 1948. Both Mysore and Hyderabad became princely states in British India. Around the 18th century, the modern state of Nepal was formed by Gurkha rulers.
In 1498, Vasco da Gama successfully discovered a new sea route from Europe to India, which paved the way for direct Indo-European commerce. The Portuguese soon set up trading posts in Goa,Daman, Diu and Bombay. The next to arrive were the Dutch, the British—who set up a trading post in the west coast port of Surat in 1619—and the French. The internal conflicts among Indian kingdoms gave opportunities to the European traders to gradually establish political influence and appropriate lands. Although these continental European powers controlled various coastal regions of southern and eastern India during the ensuing century, they eventually lost all their territories in India to the British islanders, with the exception of the French outposts of Pondicherry and Chandernagore, the Dutch port of Travancore, and the Portuguese colonies of Goa, Daman and Diu.
Company rule in India
Map of India in 1857 at the end of Company rule.
In 1617 the British East India Company was given permission by Mughal Emperor Jahangir to trade in India. Gradually their increasing influence led the de-jureMughal emperor Farrukh Siyar to grant them dastaks or permits for duty free trade in Bengal in 1717. TheNawab of Bengal Siraj Ud Daulah, the de facto ruler of the Bengal province, opposed British attempts to use these permits. The First Carnatic War extended from 1746 until 1748 and was the result of colonial competition between France and Britain, two of the countries involved in the War of Austrian Succession. Following the capture of a few French ships by the British fleet in India, French troops attacked and captured the British city of Madras located on the east coast of India on September 21, 1746. Among the prisoners captured at Madras was Robert Clive himself. The war was eventually ended by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle which ended the War of Austrian Succession in 1748. In 1749, the Second Carnatic War broke out as the result of a war between a son, Nasir Jung, and a grandson, Muzaffer Jung, of the deceased Nizam-ul-Mulk of Hyderabad to take over Nizam’s thone in Hyderabad. The French supported Muzaffer Jung in this civil war. Consequently, the British supported Nasir Jung in this conflict. Meanwhile, however, the conflict in Hyderabad provided Chanda Sahib with an opportunity to take power as the new Nawab of the territory of Arcot. In this conflict, the French supported Chandra Sahib in his attempt to become the new Nawab of Arcot. The British supported the son of the deposed incumbent Nawab, Anwaruddin Muhammad Khan, against Chanda Sahib. In 1751, Robert Clive led a British armed force and captured Arcot to reinstate the incumbent Nawab. The Second Carnatic War finally came to an end in 1754 with the Treaty of Pondicherry. In 1756, the Seven Years War broke out between the great powers of Europe, and India became a theatre of action, where it was called the Third Carnatic War. Early in this war, armed forces under the French East India Company captured the British base of Calcutta in north-eastern India. However, armed forces under Robert Clive later recaptured Calcutta and then pressed on to capture the French settlement of Chandannagar in 1757. This led to the Battle of Plassey on June 23, 1757, in which theBengal Army of the East India Company, led by Robert Clive, defeated the French-supported Nawab’s forces. This was the first real political foothold with territorial implications that the British acquired in India. Clive was appointed by the company as its first ‘Governor of Bengal’ in 1757. This was combined with British victories over the French at Madras, Wandiwash and Pondicherry that, along with wider British successes during the Seven Years War, reduced French influence in India. Thus as a result of the three Carnatic Wars, the British East India Company gained exclusive control over the entire Carnatic region of India. The British East India Company extended its control over the whole of Bengal. After the Battle of Buxar in 1764, the company acquired the rights of administration in Bengal from Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II; this marked the beginning of its formal rule, which within the next century engulfed most of India and extinguished the Moghul rule and dynasty. The East India Company monopolized the trade of Bengal. They introduced a land taxation system called thePermanent Settlement which introduced a feudal-like structure in Bengal, often with zamindars set in place. By the 1850s, the East India Company controlled most of the Indian sub-continent, which included present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh. Their policy was sometimes summed up as Divide and Rule, taking advantage of the enmity festering between various princely states and social and religious groups.
The rebellion of 1857 and its consequences
The Indian rebellion of 1857 was a large-scale rebellion by soldiers employed by the British East India in northern and central India against the Company’s rule. The rebels were disorganized, had differing goals, and were poorly equipped, led, and trained, and had no outside support or funding. They were brutally suppressed and the British government took control of the Company and eliminated many of the grievances that caused it. The government also was determined to keep full control so that no rebellion of such size would ever happen again. It favoured the princely states (that helped suppress the rebellion), and tended to favour Muslins (who were less rebellious) against the Hindus who dominated the rebellion. In the aftermath, all power was transferred from the East India Company to the British Crown, which began to administer most of India as a number of provinces; the John Company’s lands were controlled directly, while it had considerable indirect influence over the rest of India, which consisted of thePrincely states ruled by local royal families. There were officially 565 princely states in 1947, but only 21 had actual state governments, and only three were large (Mysore, Hyderabad and Kashmir). They were absorbed into the independent nation in 1947-48.
The British Indian Empire at its greatest extent (in a map of 1909)
When the Lord Curzon (Viceroy 1899-1905) took control of higher education and then split the large province of Bengalinto a largely Hindu western half and “Eastern Bengal and Assam,” a largely Muslim eastern half. The British goal was efficient administration but Hindus were outraged at the apparent “divide and rule” strategy.” When the Liberal party in Britain came to power in 1906 he was removed. The new Viceroy Gilbert Minto and the new Secretary of State for India John Morley consulted with Congress leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale. The Morley-Minto reforms of 1909provided for Indian membership of the provincial executive councils as well as the Viceroy’s executive council. The Imperial Legislative Council was enlarged from 25 to 60 members and separate communal representation for Muslims was established in a dramatic step towards representative and responsible government. Bengal was reunified in 1911. Meanwhile the Muslims for the first time began to organize, setting up the All India Muslim League in 1906. It was not a mass party but was designed to protect the interests of the aristocratic Muslims, especially in the north west. It was internally divided by conflicting loyalties to Islam, the British, and India, and by distrust of Hindus.
During the British Raj, famines in India, often attributed to failed government policies, were some of the worst ever recorded, including the Great Famine of 1876–78 in which 6.1 million to 10.3 million people died and the Indian famine of 1899–1900 in which 1.25 to 10 million people died. The Third Plague Pandemic started in China in the middle of the 19th century, spreading plague to all inhabited continents and killing 10 million people in India alone. Despite persistent diseases and famines, the population of the Indian subcontinent, which stood at about 125 million in 1750, had reached 389 million by 1941.
The Indian independence movement
The numbers of British in India were small, yet they were able to rule two-thirds of the subcontinent directly and exercise considerable leverage over the princely states that accounted for the remaining one-third of the area. There were 674 of the these states in 1900, with a population of 73 million, or one person in five. In general, the princely states were strong supporters of the British regime, and the Raj left them alone. They were finally closed down in 1947-48. The first step toward Indian self-rule was the appointment of councillors to advise the British viceroy, in 1861; the first Indian was appointed in 1909. Provincial Councils with Indian members were also set up. The councillors’ participation was subsequently widened into legislative councils. The British built a largeBritish Indian Army, with the senior officers all British, and many of the troops from small minority groups such as Gurkhas from Nepal and Sikhs. The civil service was increasingly filled with natives at the lower levels, with the British holding the more senior positions. From 1920 leaders such as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi began highly popular mass movements to campaign against the British Raj using largely peaceful methods. Some others adopted a militant approach that sought to overthrow British rule by armed struggle; revolutionary activities against the British rule took place throughout the Indian sub-continent. The Gandhi-led independence movement opposed the British rule using non-violent methods like non-cooperation, civil disobedience andeconomic resistance. These movements succeeded in bringing independence to the new dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947.
Independence and partition
Along with the desire for independence, tensions between Hindus and Muslims had also been developing over the years. The Muslims had always been a minority within the subcontinent, and the prospect of an exclusively Hindu government made them wary of independence; they were as inclined to mistrust Hindu rule as they were to resist the foreign Raj, although Gandhi called for unity between the two groups in an astonishing display of leadership. The British, extremely weakened by theSecond World War, promised that they would leave and participated in the formation of an interim government. The British Indian territories gained independence in 1947, after being partitioned into theUnion of India and Dominion of Pakistan. Following the controversial division of pre-partition Punjab andBengal, rioting broke out between Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims in these provinces and spread to several other parts of India, leaving some 500,000 dead. Also, this period saw one of the largest mass migrations ever recorded in modern history, with a total of 12 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims moving between the newly created nations of India and Pakistan (which gained independence on 15 and 14 August 1947 respectively). In 1971, Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan and East Bengal, seceded from Pakistan.
In recent decades there have been four main schools of historiography regarding India: Cambridge, Nationalist, Marxist, and subaltern. The once common “Orientalist” approach, with its the image of a sensuous, inscrutable, and wholly spiritual India, has died out in serious scholarship. The “Cambridge School,” led by Anil Seal, Gordon Johnson, Richard Gordon, and David A. Washbrook, downplays ideology. The Nationalist school has focused on Congress, Gandhi, Nehru and high level politics. It highlishted the Mutiny of 1857 as a war of liberation, and Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ begun in 1942, as defining historical events. More recently, Hindu nationalists have created a version of history for the schools to support their demands for “Hindutva” (“Hinduness”) in Indian society. The Marxists have focused on studies of economic development, landownership, and class conflict in precolonial India and of deindustrialization during the colonial period. The Marxists portrayed Gandhi’s movement as a device for the bourgeois elite to harness popular, potentially revolutionary forces for its own ends. The “subaltern school,” was begun in the 1980s by Ranajit Guha and Gyan Prakash. It focuses attention away from the elites and politicians to “history from below,” looking at the peasants using folklore, poetry, riddles, proverbs, songs, oral history and methods inspired by anthropology. It focuses on the colonial era before 1947 and typically emphasizes caste and downplays class, to the annoyance of the Marxist school.