Few countries in the world have such an ancient and diverse culture as India´s. Stretching back in an unbroken sweep over 5000 years, India´s culture has been enriched by successive waves of migration which were absorbed into the Indian way of life. Its physical, religious and racial variety is as immense as its linguistic diversity. Underneath this diversity lies the continuity of Indian civilisation and social structure from the very earliest times until the present day.
Modern India presents a picture of unity in diversity to which history provides no parallel.
The roots of Indian civilisation stretch back in time to pre-recorded history. The earliest human activity in the Indian sub-continent can be traced back to the Early, Middle and Late Stone Ages. Five main races of people were in existence when the move to an agricultural lifestyle took place, in the middle of the 9th millennium BC. These were the Negrito race, the Proto-Australoid, the Mongloids and the Alpine people.
The first evidence of agricultural settlements on the western plains of the Indus is roughly contemporaneous with similar developments in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia. These settlements gradually grew and the inhabitants started to use copper and bronze, domesticated animals, made pottery and began trade activities.
·) The Indus Valley Civilisation:
From the beginning of the 4th millennium BC, the individuality of the early village cultures began to be replaced by a more homogenous style of existence. By the middle of the 3rd
millennium, a uniform culture had developed at settlements spread across nearly 500.000 square miles. This earliest known civilisation in India, the starting point in its history, dates back about 3000 BC.
b) Urban development:
The emergence of this civilisation is as remarkable as its stability for nearly a thousand years. All the cities were well planned and were built with baked bricks of the same size; the streets were laid at right angles with an elaborate system of covered drains. There was a fairly clear division of localities and houses were earmarked for the upper and lower strata of society. There were also public buildings, the most famous being the Great Bath at Mohenjodaro and the vast granaries. Production of several metals such as copper, bronze, lead and tin was also undertaken and some remnants of furnaces provide evidence of this fact.
Evidence also points to the use of domesticated animals, including camels, goats, water buffaloes and fowls. The Harappans cultivated wheat, barley, peas and sesamum and were probably the first to grow and make clothes from cotton. Trade seemed to be a major activity at the Indus Valley and the sheer quantity of seals discovered suggest that each merchant or mercantile family owned its own seal. These seals are in various quadrangular shapes and sizes , each with a human or an animal figure carved on it.
c) Society and religion:
The Harappan society was probably divided according to occupations and this also suggests the existence of an organized government. The figures of deities on seals indicate that the Harappans worshipped gods and goddesses in male and female forms and has also evolved some rituals and ceremonies. No monumental sculpture survives, but a large number of human figurines have been discovered. Countless terra-cotta statues of Mother Goddess have been discovered suggesting that she was worshipped in nearly every home.
·) The Aryans and the Vedic Age:
The Aryans are said to have entered India through the fabled Khyber pass, around 1500 BC. They intermingled with the local populace , and assimilated themselves into the social framework. They adopted the settled agricultural lifestyle of their predecessors, and established small agrarian communities across the state of Punjab.
The Aryans are believed to have brought with them the horse , developed the Sanskrit language and made significant inroads in to the religion of the times. All three factors were to play a fundamental role in the shaping of Indian culture
Sanskrit is the basis and the unifying factor of the vast majority of Indian languages. The religion, that took root during the Vedic era, with its rich pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, and its storehouse of myths and legends became the foundation of the Hindu religion, arguable the single most important common denominator of Indian culture.
A settled lifestyle brought in its wake more complex forms of government and social patterns. This period saw the evolution of the caste system, and the emergence of kingdoms and republics. The Aryans were divided into tribes which had settled in different regions of northwestern India. Their social framework was composed mainly of the following groups: the Brahmana (priests), Kshatriya (warriors), Vaishya (agriculturists) and Shudra (workers).
·) Rise of religions and emergence of the State:
a) Buddhism and Jainism:
The 6th century BC was a time of social and intellectual ferment in India. It was then
that Mahavira founded the Jain religion, and Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment. The two great religions, Jainism and Buddhism, preached non-violence to all living creatures , tolerance and self-discipline, values that have become the cornerstones of the Indian ethos . The sermons of both were preached in commonly spoken languages. Later, Buddhist monks were to spread their religion south to Sri Lanka and north-east to
China, Japan, Korea and the whole of South-east Asia, where it is practised till today.
b) Rise of the State:
With land becoming property and the society being divided on the basis of occupations and castes, conflicts and disorders were bound to arise. Organised power to resolve these issues therefore emerged, gradually leading to formation of full-fledged state systems, including vast empires.
c) The Mauryan Empire:
The Mauryan economy was essentially agrarian. The State owned huge farms and these were cultivated by slaves and farm labourers. Taxes collected on land, trade and manufacture of handicrafts were the other major sources of income during this era.
In 327 BC, Alexander of Macedonia crossed into northwest India. He conquered a large part of the Indian territory before his generals, tired of war, forced him to return home.
·) The Southern kingdoms:
While kingdom rose and fell in the north of India, the south remained generally unaffected by these upheavals. Religions like Jainism and Buddhism gradually became popular in the centre and north of India, but Hinduism continued to flourish in the south.
The prosperity in the southern parts of the country was based upon the long-established trade links of India with other civilisations. The Egyptians and Romans had trade relations with southern India through sea routes and later , links were also established with South-East Asia. Saint Thomas brought Christianity to India.
·) The Muslim invasions:
a) The Delhi Sultanate:
An event of immense and lasting impact in Indian history was the advent of the Muslims in the north-west. In 1192 Muslim power arrived in India on a permanent basis. In that year,
Mohammed of Ghori, who had been expanding his power all across the Punjab broke into India and took Ajmer. After Mohammed Ghori´s death 1206, his general Aibak became the first of the Sultans of Delhi.
b) Impact of Islam:
The impact of Islam on Indian culture has been inestimable. It permanently influenced the development of all areas of human endeavour - language, dress, cuisine, all the art forms, architecture and urban design, and social customs and values. Conversely, the languages of the Muslim invaders were modified by contact with local languages, to Urdu, which uses the Arabic script, and the more colloquial Hindustani, which uses the Devnagri script. Both are major Indian languages today.
c) Kabir and Nanak:
The synthesis of Hinduism and Islam is exemplified by the emergence, at this time, of the ideas of two great saints, Kabir and Nanak. The tolerance of Hinduism and the ideas of equality in Islam preached religions that advocate simple living and practical common sense. The followers of Guru Nanak founded the Sikh religion, which has a large following.
d) The great Mughals:
The most important Islamic empire was that of the Mughals, a Central Asian dynasty founded by Babur early in the sixteenth century. Babur was succeeded by his son Humayun and under the reign of Humayun´s son, Akbar the Great (1562-1605), Indo-Islamic culture attained a peak of tolerance, harmony and a spirit of enquiry. Akbar married a Hindu princess. He tried to consolidate religious tolerance by founding the Din-e-Ilahi religion, an amalgam of the Hindu and the Muslim faiths. Mughal culture reached its zenith during the reign of Akbar´s grandson Shahjehan, a great builder and patron of the arts. Shahjehan moved his capital to Delhi and built the incomparable Taj Mahal at Agra.
·) The Marathas:
The power that came closest to imperial pretensions was that of the Marathas. Starting from scratch, the non-Brahmin castes in the Maharashtra region had been organised into a fighting force by their legendary leader, Shivaji. He led everyday of his life like a drama in which he was always a step ahead of his adversaries. The Marathas moved like lightning and appeared in areas where least expected, at times hundreds of miles away from their home. They always went back with their hands full of plunder. Gradually, states began to pay them vast amounts in "protection money", insurance against their plundering raids.
·) Coming of the Europeans:
The next arrival of overwhelming political importance was that of the Europeans. The great seafarers of north-west Europe, the British, French, Dutch and Portuguese, arrived early in the seventeenth century and established trading outposts along the coasts. The spices of Malabar (in Kerala) had attracted the Portuguese as early as the end of the 15th century when, in 1498, Vasco da Gama had landed at Calicut, sailing via the Cape of Good Hope.
Early in the 16th century, the Portuguese had already established their colony in Goa; but their territorial and commercial hold in India remained rather limited. During the late 16th and 17th century they remained unrivalled as pirates on the high seas; but inland the other European companies were making their presence felt, though entirely in commercial terms.
a) The years of "The Raj":
The newcomers soon developed rivalries among themselves and allied with local rulers to consolidate their positions against each other militarily. In time they developed territorial and political ambitions of their own and manipulated local rivalries and enmities to their own advantage.
Unlike all former rulers, the British did not settle in India to form a new local empire. The English East India Company
continued its commercial activities and India became "the Jewel in the Crown" of the British empire, giving an enormous boost to the nascent Industrial Revolution by providing cheap
raw materials, capital and a large captive market for British industry. The land was reorganised under the harsh Zamindari system to facilitate the collection of taxes to enrich British coffers. In certain British areas farmers were forced to switch from subsistence farming to commercial crops such as indigo, jute, coffee and tea. This resulted in several famines of unprecedented scale.
In the first half of the 19th century, the British extended their hold over many Indian territories. A large part of the subcontinent was brought under the Company´s direct administration. By 1857, "the British empire in India had become the British empire of India".
·) The struggle for independence:
a) The Indian Mutiny of 1857 or The First War of Independence:
A century of accumulated grievances erupted in the Indian mutiny of sepoys in the British army, in 1857. This was the signal for a spontaneous conflagration, in which the princely rulers, landed aristocracy and peasantry rallied against the British around the person of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah. The uprising, however, was eventually brutally suppressed. By the end of 1859, the "emperor" had been deported to Burma where he died a lonely death, bringing to a formal end the era of Mughal rule in India.
The Mutiny, even in its failure, produced many heroes and heroines of epic character. Above all, it produced a sense of unity between the Hindus and the Muslims of India that was to be witnessed in later years.
The rebellion also saw the end of the East India Company´s rule in India. Power was transferred to the British Crown in 1858 by an Act of British Parliament. The Crowns viceroy in India was to be the chief executive.
b) The Freedom Struggle:
The British empire contained within itself the seeds of its own destruction. The British constructed a vast railway network across the entire land in order to facilitate the transport of raw materials to the ports for export. This gave intangible form to
the idea of Indian unity by physically bringing all the peoples of the subcontinent within easy reach of each other.
Since it was impossible for a small handful of foreigners to administer such a vast country, they set out to create a local elite to help them in this task; to this end they set up a system of education that familiarised the local intelligentsia with the intellectual and social values of the West. Ideas of democracy, individual freedom and equality were the antithesis of the empire and led to the genesis of the freedom movement among thinkers like Raja Rammohan Roy, Bankim Chandra and Vidyasagar. With the failure of the 1857 mutiny, the leadership of the freedom movement passed into the hands of this class and crystallised in the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. The binding psychological concept of National Unity was also forged in the fire of the struggle against the common foreign oppressor.
c) Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi:
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a British trained lawyer of Indian origin from South Africa. He had won his political spurs organising the Indian community there against the vicious system of apartheid. Gandhi, himself a devout Hindu, also espoused a total moral philosophy of tolerance, brotherhood of all religions, non-violence and of simple living. He adopted an austere traditional Indian style of living, which won him wide popularity and transformed him into the undisputed leader of the Congress.
India achieved independence on August 15, 1947. The Indian Freedom movement was one of the most significant historical processes of the 20th century. Its repercussions extended far beyond its immediate political consequences. Within the country, it initiated the reordering of political, social and economic power. In the international context, it sounded the
death knell of British Imperialism, and changed the political face of the globe.
·) The New State:
Throughout history, India has absorbed and modified to suit its needs, the best from all the civilisations with which it has come into contact.
India is today the largest and most populous democracy on earth, with universal adult suffrage.
The Indian Constitution, adopted when India became a Republic on January 26, 1950, safeguards all its people from all forms of discrimination on grounds of race, religion, creed or sex. It guarantees freedom of speech, expression and belief, assembly and association, migration, acquisition of property and choice of occupation or trade.
The achievement of independence was the first step towards creating a modern nation. Today, economic development and social justice are the priorities of the Indian government.
India`s vanguard role in the international anti-colonial struggle has given her natural moral leadership of the Third World in its quest for international peace, equality and justice. India was a moving force behind the formation of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) in 1961.
At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, India strongly asserted the position of the countries of the South that environmental problems cannot be tackled in isolation from economic and developmental issues.
The international prestige enjoyed by the country has enabled India to take a leading role in multilateral initiatives toward finding solutions to some of the critical issues of the day, such as nuclear disarmament, apartheid, the rights of the Palestinian people, protection of the environment and the evolution of a more just international economic order. Mutual respect and cooperation have also been the basis of India´s relationship with her neighbours.
The U.N. Declaration of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace, which India has consistently supported, is another step in the direction of peace and stability in the era. The moral authority vested in India as a legacy of its anticolonial stand, has
enabled it to play a vigorous and principled role in all international for a, including the United Nations, in efforts to banish all forms of exploitation from the world.
India is the 7th largest and 2nd most populous country in the world. A new spirit of economic freedom is now stirring in the country, bringing sweeping changes in its wake. A series of ambitious economic reforms aimed at deregulating the country and stimulating foreign investments has moved India firmly into the front ranks of the rapidly growing Asia Pacific region and unleashed the latent strengths of a complex and rapidly changing nation.
India´s democracy is a known and stable factor, which has taken deep roots over nearly half a century. Importantly, India has no fundamental conflict between its political and economic systems.. Its political institutions have fostered an open society with strong collective and individual rights and an environment supportive of free economic enterprise.
Today, India is one of the most exciting emerging markets in the world. Skilled managerial and technical manpower that match the best available in the world and a middle class whose size exceeds the population of the USA or the European Union, provide India with a distinct cutting edge in global competition.