A Brief History of India

A Brief History of India

The 7th largest nation in the world has a long and cultured history. 

The Indus Valley Civilization

Life was thriving in this region long before the first civilization came to be. Farming started around 6500 B.C. and pottery showed up 1,000 years later. It wasn’t until 2600 B.C. that civilization first formed from a farming society. 

People started to live in towns, used bronze tools, and had carts pulled by water buffalo. One of the largest towns, Mohenjo-Daro, had an estimated 35-50,000 inhabitants. While they did have a writing system, it has yet to be deciphered, so nothing is known for sure about their religion or political systems. 

This civilization survived until about 1700 B.C. The best guess as to the cause of the breakdown is a change in climate or a change in course of the rivers in the area.

The Aryan Civilization

The next civilization didn’t settle in this area until the Aryans arrived from central Asia around 1500 B.C. Aryans were semi-nomadic pastoralists, meaning they traveled from place to place with cattle herds. Around 1000 B.C. they began to settle into a farming lifestyle and a more ordered society evolved.

Aryans maintained positions as rulers, priests, merchants, and warriors, while the natives they subdued were artisans, laborers, and slaves. This stratification was the basis of the caste system. 

The Hindu Religion

It was during this time that the Hindu religion came into being with the creation of The Vedas. 

Rice Cultivation

Around 600 B.C., rice started to flourish in India. This excess led to increased commerce and trade as people flocked to towns. 

The Birth of Buddha

He was born in 483 B.C. in India, though the religion he founded didn’t take root. 

Alexander the Great

Shortly after the Persians took hold of the northwest of India, Alexander the Great laid waste to the Persian Empire and took over their foothold in India. 

After his death in 317 B.C., the Greeks withdrew, leaving little impact on Indian civilizations. Instead, the multitude of kingdoms started to conquer each other, leading to the rise of the first empire in 322 B.C.

The Mauryan Empire

Chandragupta Maurya founded the first great empire when he became king of the central state of Magadha in the north in 322 B.C. He pushed back the remaining Greeks and continued to conquer portions of central India.

Trade thrived and the capital became one of the largest cities in the ancient world. Ashoka ruled from 269 to 232 B.C. and put a stop to further conquests, instead converting to Buddhism and spreading this religion throughout the empire.

The End of an Empire

After his death, the Mauryan Empire began to decline thanks to political instability and economic decline. The last Mauryan ruler was assassinated in 185 B.C.

The Shunga Empire

This empire rose after the fall of the Mauryan Empire but met an equally violent end in 73 B.C. when its ruler was assassinated. 

The Kanva Dynasty

They ruled briefly, from 73 to 28 B.C.

The Kushan Empire

India faced renewed turmoil when the Kushan invaded around 120 B.C. They slowly conquered Indian territory, starting in the north, and progressively built a larger and larger empire. 

Its peak was from about 78 A.D. to 114 A.D. under King Kanishka. India did much trade with the Roman Empire during this time and the arts flourished. 

This empire fell apart in the early 3rd century, splitting the country back into smaller states.

The Gupta Empire

India had a short reprieve from emperors until the 4th century with the rise of Chandragupta and his son Samudragupta, who conquered all of Northern India and a good portion of Central India.

China was a frequent partner in trade and areas like medicine, astronomy, and mathematics flourished. Literature and poetry also began to bloom.

Even though this empire was less severe than the Mauryans, it began to decline around 415 A.D. and fell apart completely around 500 A.D.

The Huns

The fierce, warlike people from Central Asia had a few brief skirmishes in India between 450 and 530 A.D. Their conquests were small and short-lived and they were expelled in 528 A.D.

The Cholas Empire

This empire was powerful but less central than previous empires. It focused mainly on growing trade and organized merchants into guilds. 

The Turks

Turks first came to India as raiders and later returned as conquerors, when they created the Delhi Sultanate state in the early 1200s. This Sultanate lasted until 1498 when a descendent of Genghis Khan laid waste to Delhi and murdered many of the people living there.

The Mughal Empire

This empire rose as two others started to fail. Led by Babur, who favored modern weapons like muskets and cannons, he quickly rose to power and secured his place as Northern India’s ruler.

When Akbar took the reins in 1556, he reorganized the government, changed tax practices, and promoted the Persian language and culture throughout India. The arts, particularly painting, flourished.

The Taj Mahal

Long considered one of the most stunning buildings in the world, Shah Jahan ordered its construction after the death of his queen in 1630. This building took over 20,000 laborers and craftsmen 22 years to complete, with construction completed in 1653.

An Empire Falls

The decline of the Mughal Empire created a window for the Europeans to invade, beginning with the Portuguese. England soon followed and established a trading base in India after the formation of the East India Company.

The English and French continued to establish bases across India and became rivals, starting the Seven Years’ War in 1756. With England’s victory came the impending colonization of India, which was heavily resisted. Many wars broke out between 1767 and 1799 between the British imperialists and the army of Mysore, who eventually lost. 

The East India Company gained control of most of India by 1819. Some revolts occurred over the next twenty years, but the country saw mostly peace. 

The Indian Mutiny of 1857

For every British soldier, there were four Indian ones, leaving the East India Company severely outnumbered. The mutiny was sparked when a new rifle, the Enfield, was issued, which was greased with cow and pig fat (one sacred, one unclean). It took over a year for the British to regain control.

The Late 1800s and Early 1900s

While respect for Indian culture grew after the mutiny, India still desired its independence. Legislative bodies formed across the country, though members were appointed instead of elected.

A railway system was installed in the late 1800s, creating over 25,000 miles of track. New roads were built and communication improved. Around this time, the country saw a shift from agriculture to manufacturing as the first industries were born.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Gandhi returned from South Africa in 1915 and quickly became the leader of the Nationalists. He launched a campaign against the British which led to his imprisonment in 1922. 

After his release, Gandhi continued his peaceful campaigns. His efforts helped secure Indian independence.

An Independent India

India achieved its independence on August 15, 1947. It faced many struggles over the next fifty years. When the economy was deregulated in the 1990s, India hit a boom that continues to this day. 

With a population of more than 1.38 billion people, India continues to grow in prosperity. 

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1 comment

Thank you a wonderful summary of India’s history. Certainly one of the oldest civilizations.

CD Kennedy

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