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History of India

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The prehistory of India goes back to the old Stone age (Palaeolithic). While India lies at the eastern limit of the hand axe distribution, there are numerous Acheulean findspots. Hathnora, in the Narmada Valley has produced hominid remains of middle Pleistocene date. Recent finds include a middle palaeolithic quarry in the Kaladgi Basin, southern India. A tradition of Indian rock art dates to 40 or 50,000 years ago.

The early Neolithic is represented by the Mehrgarh culture of the 7th Millennium BCE, in northwest India. Recent data, substantiated by satellite imagery and oceanographic studies, suggests that the civilisation flourished even as far back as the 9th Millennium BCE.

Indus Valley Civilization and the coming of Aryans

Historians believe that the Indus Valley Civilization (known as the Harappan Civilization) flourished between 3000 BCE and 1800 BCE, stretching from Afghanistan in the west to the Ganges plains in the east; from the Pamir knot in the north to the Rann of Kutch in the south. This was the largest among the so called Bronze age civilizations of the period. This reached its most prosperous phase in the 2600 BCE in the valleys of the Indus river as an urban culture based on commerce and sustained by agricultural trade. This civilization declined between the 19th and 17th century BCE, probably due to ecological changes. See: Indus Valley civilization

Little is known about this lost culture, as attempts made by historians in deciphering the Harappan script have been in vain. The civilization declined towards the end of the millennium. No one knows where the Harappans came from and what happened after 1700 BC, but around this time, the Aryans are believed to have appeared on the scene (historians believe they entered India through the Khyber Pass). There have been many disagreements among contemporary Indologists over the exact events because the Harappans left a huge amount of archeology but no decipherable literature and Aryans on the other had have left voluminous literature, in the form of the Vedas, but no archaeology. It is agreed by many prominent historians that the influx of Aryans represent not a distinct race but rather a coagulate group of Indo-Europeans, possibly coming through ancient Persia. Others contend that the Aryans were always a part of the Indian subcontinent. The many theories surrounding the Aryan Invasion Theory and ideas of the origin of Vedic/early proto-Hindu culture continue to be debated, though most tend to favor the idea of a gradual migration and absorption into India.

Shishunaga Dynasty

Much is known about the Hindu Shishunaga dynasty of the Magadha empire in north India thanks to the Puranas (voluminous Hindu texts), the Buddhist Jatakas, and Jain texts. The emperors Bimbisara and Ajatashatru are connected with the life of Gautama Buddha. The Puranas assign it the period 684 BCE - 424 BCE.

The Shishunaga dynasty was followed by the Nanda dynasty that ruled for 100 years.

Rise of Jainism and Buddhism

Mauryan Period

Chandragupta Maurya, a famed Hindu monarch, founded the Mauryan dynasty with the help of Chanakya (or Kautilya) the author of the ancient Hindu text on governance and political savvy known as the Arthashastra. Ashoka, one of the greatest rulers of this dynasty, embraced and preached Buddhism after experiencing an epiphany on the bloody battlefield of Kalinga. The mighty empire of the Mauryans began to decline after the death of Ashoka.

Shunga Period

The first king in this period was Pushyamitra who rule during 185-151 BCE. The Shunga period is known for its art and sculpture.

The Classical Age

The political map of ancient and medieval India comprised myriad kingdoms with fluctuating boundaries. In the 4th and 5th centuries, the Gupta Dynasty unified northern India. During this period, known as India's Golden Age, Hindu culture, science and political administration reached new heights.


4th century to 9th century in Kanchi

Chalukya Empire

The Chalukya Empire ruled parts of southern India from 550 CE to 750 CE and again from 970 CE to 1190 CE.

Chola Empire

The Cholas built a very powerful Hindu empire during 9th century to 13th centuries.

The Vijayanagar Empire

The brothers Harihara and Bukka founded the Karnataka Empire, also known as the Vijayanagar Empire, in 1336. It suffered a major defeat in 1565 but continued for another century or so in an attenuated form.

Islamic rule

Islam spread across the subcontinent over a period of 1000 years. Prior to Turkish invasions, Muslim trading communities flourished throughout coastal South India, particularly in Kerala. In the 10th and 11th centuries, Turks and Afghans invaded India and established sultanates in Delhi. In the early 16th century, descendants of Genghis Khan swept across the Khyber Pass and established the Mughal (Mogul) Dynasty, which lasted for 200 years.

The Hindu Chola and Vijayanagar Dynasties came into conflict with Islamic rule and the clashing of the two systems - prevailing Hindu and the Muslim caused a mingling that left lasting cultural influences on each other. The Mughal rule also saw such influences with Gujarat and Rajasthan contributing towards this.

See also: Islamic invasion of India, Islamic Empires in India

Mughal Dynasty

Main article: Mughal Era

The Mughal Empire ruled most of the northern Indian subcontinent from 1526; it went into a slow decline after 1707 and was finally defeated during the War of Independence of 1857

Colonial India

Main articles: Colonial India, European colonies in India

Vasco da Gama's discovery of a new sea route to India in 1498 paved the way for European colonization of India.


The British established their first outpost in South Asia in 1619 at Surat on the northwestern coast of India, arriving in the wake of Portuguese and Dutch visitors. Later in the century, the British East India Company opened permanent trading stations at Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta, each under the protection of native rulers.


The Portuguese set up bases in Goa, Daman, Diu and Bombay. They remained the longest colonial rulers for 500 years till 1962.


Main article: French India

The French set up base along with the British in the 17th century. They occupied large parts of southern India. However subsequent wars with the British made them lose almost all their territory. Colonies remained were Pondicherry -(Pondicherry, Karaikal, Yanam, and Mahé.) and Chandernagore. Pondicherry was ceded to India in 1950.

The Dutch

The Dutch did not have a major presence in India. The towns of Travancore were ruled by the Dutch. However they were more interested in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and their prize of the Dutch East Indies now Indonesia. However they trained the military of the princely state of Kerala.

The Danes

In 1845, the Danish colony of Tranquebar was sold to Britain.

British India

Main article: British Raj.

The British expanded their influence from these footholds until, by the 1850s, they controlled most of the Indian sub-continent, which included present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh. In 1857, a rebellion in northern India led by mutinous Indian soldiers caused the British Parliament to transfer all political power from the East India Company to the Crown. Britain began administering most of India directly, while controlling the rest through treaties with local rulers. From 1830, the defeat of the Thugs played a part in securing establishing greater control of diverse Indian provinces for the British.

In the late 19th century "British India" took its first steps toward self-government with the appointment of Indian councillors to advise the British viceroy and with the establishment of provincial councils with Indian members; the British subsequently widened participation in legislative councils. Beginning in 1920, the Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi (also known as Mahatma (Great Soul) Gandhi) transformed the Indian National Congress party into a mass movement to campaign against British colonial rule. The movement eventually succeeded in bringing about independence by means of parliamentary action, non-violent resistance and non-cooperation.

See also: India during World War II

1947 Onwards

On August 15, 1947, India became a dominion within the Commonwealth of Nations under the leadership of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Concurrently the Muslim northwest and north east of British India was separated into the nation of Pakistan. Violent clashes between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs followed this partition. The area of Kashmir in the far north of the subcontinent quickly became a source of controversy that erupted into the First Indo-Pakistani War which lasted from 1947 to 1949. Eventually a cease fire was agreed to that left India in control of two thirds of the contested region.

The Indian Constituent Assembly adopted India's constitution on November 26, 1949. External link to the constitution India became a secular republic within the Commonwealth after promulgating its constitution on January 26, 1950.

After independence, the Congress Party, the party of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, ruled India under the influence first of Nehru and then of his daughter Indira Gandhi and of his grandson Rajiv Gandhi, with the exception of two brief periods in the 1970s and 1980s. Prime Minister Nehru governed the nation until his death in 1964. Under Nehru the country launched a policy of industrial expansion based on heavy industries through a number of five year plans. Nehru foreign policy emphasized non-alignment and India was consequently a central member of the Non-Aligned Movement. It started tentative relations with the USSR in response to the United States' burgeoning relationship with Pakistan.

In 1961, after continual petitions for a peaceful handover, India invaded and annexed the Portuguese colony of Goa on the west coast of India. In 1971 India annexed the semi-independent principality of Sikkim.

In 1962 China and India engaged in the brief Sino-Indian War over the border in the Himalayas. The war was a complete rout for the Indians and led to a refocussing on arms build-up and an improvement in relations with the United States.

In 1965 in the Second Kashmir War India and Pakistan again went to war, with India again remaining victorious. In 1971, India intervened in a civil war taking place in Pakistan's eastern Bengal half; the clash resulted in the independence of East Pakistan, which became known as Bangladesh.

In 1966, power passed to Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, who served as Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977. In 1975, beset with deepening political and economic problems as well as threats to her power, Gandhi declared a state of emergency and suspended many civil liberties, a controversial move that thrust India into a two-year standstill. Seeking a mandate at the polls for her policies, she called for elections in 1977, only to suffer electoral defeat at the hands of Morarji Desai, who headed the Janata Party, an amalgamation of five opposition parties.

In 1979, Desai's Government crumbled. Charan Singh formed an interim government, which was followed by Gandhi's return to power in January 1980. On October 31, 1984, assassins killed Indira Gandhi, and the Congress (I) - for "Indira" - Party chose her son Rajiv Gandhi to take her place. His government fell in 1989 amidst allegations of corruption. V.P. Singh and then Chandra Shekhar in turn succeeded as Prime Minister.

After the 1989 elections, although Rajiv Gandhi and Congress won a plurality of seats, he did not succeed in forming a government with a clear majority. The Janata Dal, a union of opposition parties, formed a government with the help of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the right and of the communists on the left. This loose coalition collapsed in November 1990, and for a short period of time a breakaway Janata Dal group supported by Congress (I) controlled the government, with Chandra Shekhar as Prime Minister. That alliance also collapsed, resulting in national elections in June 1991.

On May 27, 1991, while Rajiv Gandhi campaigned in Tamil Nadu on behalf of Congress (I), assassins, apparently Sri Lankan Tamil extremists, killed him. In the elections, Congress (I) won 213 parliamentary seats and put together a coalition, returning to power under the leadership of P.V. Narasimha Rao. This Congress-led government, which served a full 5-year term, initiated a gradual process of economic liberalization and reform, which has opened the Indian economy to global trade and investment. India's domestic politics also took new shape, as traditional alignments by caste, creed, and ethnicity gave way to a plethora of small, regionally-based political parties.

The final months of the Rao-led government in the spring of 1996 suffered the effects of several major political corruption scandals, which contributed to the worst electoral performance by the Congress Party in its history. The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged from the May 1996 national elections as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha but without enough strength to prove a majority on the floor of that Parliament. Under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP coalition lasted in power 13 days. With all political parties wishing to avoid another round of elections, a 14-party coalition led by the Janata Dal emerged to form a government known as the United Front, under the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, H.D. Deve Gowda. His government lasted less than a year, as the leader of the Congress Party withdrew his support in March 1997. Inder Kumar Gujral replaced Deve Gowda as the consensus choice for Prime Minister of a 16-party United Front coalition.

In November 1997, the Congress Party again withdrew support for the United Front. New elections in February 1998 brought the BJP the largest number of seats in Parliament--182--but this fell far short of a majority. On March 20, 1998, the President inaugurated a BJP-led coalition government with Vajpayee again serving as Prime Minister. On May 11 and 13, 1998, this government conducted a series of underground nuclear tests, prompting United States President Clinton and Japan to impose economic sanctions on India pursuant to the 1994 Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act .

In April 1999, the BJP-led coalition government fell apart, leading to fresh elections in September. The National Democratic Alliance - a new coalition led by the BJP - gained a majority to form a government with Vajpayee as Prime Minister in October 1999.

In January 2004 Vajpayee recommended early dissolution of the Lok Sabha and General elections. The Congress Party-led alliance won a plurality of seats in election held in May 2004, leading to Manmohan Singh becoming Prime Minister.

Timeline approximate

40000 BCE -- Rock art in Bhimbetka
7000 BCE -- The beginnings of the Indus Tradition in Mehrgarh
3300 BCE -- Early Mohenjadaro and Harappa
3137 BCE -- Traditional date of the Mahabharata War
3102 BCE -- Kaliyuga calendar
2600 BCE - 1900 BC -- Unified Indus-Sarasvati Civilisation , or Harappan Civilisation
1900 BCE -- Indus-Sarasvati Tradition begins to fragment into regional cultures
500 BCE -- Buddhism and Jainism

Political timelines

Traditional Hindu reckoning

6676 BCE - 5000 BCE -- First Age, Krita yuga
5000 BCE - 4000 BCE -- Second Age, Treta yuga
4000 BCE - 3102 BCE -- Third Age, Dvapara yuga
3102 BCE - 424 BCE -- Brihadrathas, Pradyotas, Shishunagas, Nandas
(3102 BCE onwards -- Fourth Age, Kali yuga )

Shishunaga Dynasty Onwards

See also

External links


  • Dilip K. Chakrabarti, India : An Archaeological History : Palaeolithic Beginnings to Early Historic Foundations (New Delhi, OUP, 2001) ISBN 019565880-9.
  • Modern India, by William E. Curtis, Chicago Record-Herald, 1903-04.

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45