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
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
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.
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
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
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:
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
Japan, Korea and the whole of South-east Asia, where it is practised till
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.
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.
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:
The Delhi Sultanate:
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,
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.
Impact of Islam:
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.
Kabir and Nanak:
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.
The great Mughals:
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:
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:
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.
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
The years of "The Raj":
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.
all former rulers, the British did not settle in India to form a new local
empire. The English East India Company
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
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.
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
The Indian Mutiny of 1857 or The First
War of Independence:
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.
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.
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:
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
idea of Indian unity by physically bringing all the peoples of the subcontinent
within easy reach of each other.
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:
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.
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
knell of British Imperialism, and changed the political face of the globe.
·) The New State:
history, India has absorbed and modified to suit its needs, the best from all
the civilisations with which it has come into contact.
is today the largest and most populous democracy on earth, with universal adult
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.