History of India
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A WALK THROUGH INDIA'S HISTORY 

For those who wish to take a walk through India's history, the journey would begin in Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh. Close to the capital city of Bhopal, are a series of primitive rock shelters. Huddled within a radius of a few kilometres, the shelters have paintings that give a marvellous view of the life of man, right from pre- historic times.
Beasts are drawn m larger than life sizes, as they depict man's fear of the unknown. But the man himself was a settled creature, who lived off the land rather than wandering from place to place.

The earliest recorded history lies in rums now, in the west of the country, m the fertile valley of the Indus. The urban settlements at Mohenjodaro and Harappa (both in Pakistan) around 3000 BC belonged to the Indus Valley Civilisation Even today the ruins of these cities point to the existence of an astonishingly evolved people. Built only slightly later than the world's oldest cities in Mesopotamia, these settlements show a sophisticated understanding of urban design, following a rectangular grid of paved roads, well-built brick houses, granaries, public baths and even a drainage system.

The people of this predominantly agrarian culture also utilised money, engaged in trade and actually used a written script. Excavated seals give some indications of the life and times. The most frequently seen ones that depict a bull, symbolize the agrarian culture; while others depicting the mother goddess indicate the honour given to women. Perhaps the most engaging find is the statue of the dancing girl — confident, uninhibited, attitudes arising from a peaceful, settled existence.

A major change took place with the arrival of the Aryans in 1500 BC. Some historians believe they were invaders, others that they were migrants who came in successive waves. There is an ongoing debate on whether they forced the inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilisation southwards or whether this migration was due to other factors like earthquakes and floods. In either case, the result was that the early Aryans established themselves in the Greater Indus Valley and became primarily agricultural societies, and established small village communities in Punjab.

Beyond living off the land, the Aryans also made some contribution to the Indian diversity. They brought with them the horse and their own religion. Cavalry warfare led to the rapid spread of Aryan culture across north India, and we see the beginnings of large empires. Sanskrit, their language, is the basis and the unifying factor in many Indian languages while the Aryan pantheon of gods and goddesses and myths and legends, became the foundation of Hindu religion.

This settled lifestyle brought administrative systems, a form of government, and complex social patterns, foremost among which was the establishment of the caste system Meant to function initially like a guild system, it degenerated into a rigid social and political system based on birth The period also saw the emergence of kingdoms and republics, the events of the two great Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, both of which are supposed to be set around this time Allegorical and highly symbolic, the two epics provide some of the best known lectures on worldly wisdom This is best seen in the Bhagwad Gita, a part of the Mahabharata which forms the god Krishna's advice to the Pandava prince Ar)una It is not surprising to find other texts such as the four vedas, all of which collectively helped to transform a crude, brash and aggressive culture to a refined, sophisticated civilization.

By the 6th century BC, the true spirit of Hinduism became locked m ritual and rigid interpretation causing thinkers like Mahavir and Gautama Buddha to seek and offer alternate paths — Jamism and Buddhism respectively Common to both religions is an emphasis on tolerance, self discipline and non-violence. In Jains, this is expressed more visibly. Traditional Jains wear cloth masks on their faces and sweep the area before them when they walk, so no creature can enter their mouths or nose or be crushed by their feet. Buddhists give expression to this belief through an attitudinal approach. Jainism spread mainly within the country, mostly in the western regions, while Buddhism was exported to other lands, beginning with Sri Lanka and spreading through east and south-east Asia.

Foremost among those responsible for the spread of Buddhism was the Mauryan emperor, Ashoka the great (268 231 BC), grandson of the first great Indian emperor, Chandragupta Maurya The kingdom Ashoka inherited from his father Bmdusara extended over almost the entire sub- continent. Giving vent to imperial ambitions, Ashoka successfully annexed several kingdoms, the last of which was Kalmga.

This event was to change the life of the king and the course of Indian history. Overcome with remorse at the sight of so much bloodshed, Ashoka realized the futility of worldly power. He became a Buddhist but never forced his religion on his subjects However, he spared no effort, whether in the form of rock or pillar edicts or ambassadors to other countries, to facilitate the spread of Buddhism.

The four lions shown atop the Ashokan capital, the Indian national emblem, are said to be symbolically spreading the Law in four directions.

By the second century, north India was fragmented into several petty principalities Down south, however, three major dynasties rose, the Cholas, the Pandyas and the Cheras who battled for supremacy in the region It was during this period that contact was first established with seafaring Roman traders St Thomas is said to have landed in Kerala in the first century AD and established a Christian community there.

In the north, the period between 320 AD and 480 AD saw the emergence and flowering of the Gupta empire in Magadha This period, also referred to as the Golden Age of India, saw the development of classical art forms The art, architecture and most notably sculptures of the period were at once technically perfect, yet sparkling in their novelty Creative expression was varied and new strains of thought flourished Erudite treatises were written on the art of love — Kamasutra.

All this was to be shortlived The Hun invasions in the northwest hastened the fall of the Gupta empire and a long period of political instability followed.

The focus of development consequently shifted south of the Vindhya mountains For 600 years after the mid sixth century, four major kingdoms were involved in a see saw conflict — the Chalukyas, Cholas, Pallavas and the Pandyas The period saw the flowering of Tamil culture with distinct styles of art and architecture (as well as a distinct script) which reached its zenith in the 12th century, under the Cholas.

The southern kingdoms exhibited a democratic give-and-take that is, in a sense, essentially Indian During the Chola regime, seafarers took Indian culture and Hinduism across the seas to countries in south-east Asia, where it spread and acquired local flavours Back home in Kerala, the Cheras hosted an influx of Arab traders who had discovered the fast route to India, using the monsoon winds. Many chose to settle m India, and were allowed to freely practice their religion Their descendants are the Maplahs or Malabar Muslims. This cross cultural character is most evident in the Lakshadweep archipelago, off the coast of Kerala, where traditional Islamic religion is followed as strictly as the un-Islamic matriarchal tradition imported from the mainland.

The Muslim impact in the south was echoed in the north Lured by tales of the fertile plains of Punjab and the wealth of the Hindu temples, Mahmud of Ghazni from Afghanistan first attacked India in the 10th century AD. He was followed by other Central Asian raiders Late m the 12th century Qutb-ud-din Aibak founded the Slave Dynasty in Delhi, setting up the nucleus of the Delhi Sultanate, or the rule of Turkish or Afghan sultans — Khiljis, Tughlaqs, Lodis.

But a far more permanent impact was created by the Mughals, a central Asian tribe founded m the 16th century by Babur Though the conquest of Hindustan was his ambition, Babur never looked towards settling in India — a land bereft of the famous "Ferghana melons" that he was so fond of. But destiny had other plans for him. After the first battle of Panipat, which he won from Ibrahim Lodi, Babur found himself the father of the Mughal dynasty.

His son, Humayun established the Mughal base more firmly, but greatness for the dynasty was reserved for his grandson, Akbar (1562-1605). Worldly might was not the only reason why this emperor was referred to as Akbar the Great. Apart from adding vast lands into his empire, he attempted one of the more effective forms of administration, followed for centuries after him. But his legacy will always be that he tried to create a culture that included the best of Hinduism and Islam in his Din-i-Ilahi. To put his ideas into practice he even married Hindu princesses, while the architecture of Sikandra and his created city, Fatehpur Sikri near Agra, amalgamated Hindu and Muslim strains. Mughal culture reached its zenith during the reign of his grandson. Shah Jahan, known as a great builder and patron of the arts. Shahjahan moved the capital to Delhi from Agra although he reserved the banks of the Yamuna in Agra as the immortalized resting-place for his beloved queen, Mumtaz Mahal — the Taj Mahal. An exquisite example of architecture and pietra dura work, the Taj now draws, heads of state and ordinary tourists with the same sense of wonder and beauty. As a visiting US president observed, "the world is divided into those who have seen the Taj and those who haven't."

Aurangzeb, the last major Mughal emperor, expanded the empire even further into south India, but between his habitual intolerance of other religions and the rise of Rajput and Maratha clans challenging the empire, his was a disturbed reign. It was the beginning of the end, because subsequent emperors could not contain the growing uprisings and after the British empire took hold in India, became more and more ineffective. The last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar was even banished from India by the British to Burma, where he died a lonely death.

The impact of Islam on Indian culture has been immense. It permanently influenced the development of all areas of human endeavour, language, dress, cuisine, all art forms, architecture, urban design, social customs and values.

In the religious sphere, the teachings of the two great religious figures of the 14-15th centuries, Kabir and Nanak, reflected the absorption of both cultures. Drawing on the devotional Hindu Bhakti and Islamic sufi cult, the tolerance of Hinduism and the ideas of equality of Islam, they practised a religion that advocated simple living and practical common sense. Kabir emphasised the oneness of the divine in his couplets, while Guru Nanak founded Sikhism which has a large following in the Punjab.

The next wave of influence that changed the course of Indian history came from the Europeans, and finally the British The great seafarers of north-west Europe, British, French, Dutch and Portuguese arrived on Indian shores early in the 17th century and established trading outposts along the Indian coast. These newcomers soon developed mutual rivalries and sought the help of local rulers to fight on their side and consolidate their territorial or trading positions In time, this metamorphosed into political ambitions and they manipulated disunity among Indian rulers to their advantage. The ultimate victors were the British, who established political supremacy over eastern India after the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and by the time of the first war of independence m 1857 had established their sway over a large part of the subcontinent.

Unlike their predecessors the British did not settle in India to form a local empire Instead India provided an enormous boost to the nascent industrial revolution in England by providing cheap raw materials, capital and a large captive market for British industry The land was reorganised under the harsh zamindari (landlord) system to facilitate collection of taxes and in certain areas, farmers were forced to switch from subsistence farming to commercial crops such as indigo, jute, tea and coffee This resulted m famines and uprisings on a large scale.

A century of accumulated grievances resulted m what used to be known as the great mutiny and is now known as the First Indian War of Independence in 1857. It precipitated a spontaneous conflagration against British laws such as Dalhousie's Doctrine of Lapse. The Princely states, aristocracy and the peasantry together rose up against the British The uprising was brutally suppressed and in 1858 India came under the British crown.

But the seeds of independence had been sown From then onwards, through education and social reform to armed uprisings and political movements, the soul of India stirred against the shackles of British exploitation. The vast railway network established by the British gave tangible idea to Indian unity, because with the travel of people traveled ideas and independent thought Since it was impossible for a handful of foreigners to govern this huge country the British set out to create a local elite to help them in this task These elite educated in the best British tradition and ideas, inculcated western concepts into India's social and intellectual fabric Largely through the efforts of this westernized intelligentsia, ideas of democracy, individual freedom and equality spread to the Indian masses which culminated in the freedom movement. This was also a period of great social ferment with Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Vidyasagar, all from Bengal leading great social reform movements The Indian National Congress was formed in 1885 and the psychological concept of national unity was forged.

At the turn of the century, the freedom movement reached out to the common man through the launching of the Swadeshi Movement by leaders such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Aurobindo Ghose. But the full mobilization of the masses came about only through the appearance of one of India's most charismatic leaders.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an Indian lawyer who studied law in England In South Africa he won his political spurs by organizing the expatriate Indian community against apartheid He later developed a technique of protest, called satyagraha, and was given the title of Mahatma, or Great Soul On his return to India in 1915 he became the lifeblood of the Congress which was searching for just such a leader. As Jawaharlal Nehru said, "He was a powerful current of fresh air that made us stretch ourselves and take a deep breath and revitalize the Freedom Movement."

Under his leadership. Congress launched a series of mass movements—the non-violent, non-cooperation movement (1920-22), the civil disobedience movement (1930) and triggered by the Salt March, Gandhi captured the imagination of Indians by leading a band of followers from Sabarmati to Dandi, 200 miles away, to make salt, violating the British salt laws. The independence movement grew in strength. In August 1942, the Quit India movement was launched against the British and they, in turn resorted to brutal repression It became evident to the British that it could maintain its empire in India only at an enormous cost At the end of the Second World War the British government initiated a number of constitutional moves to effect the transfer of power to India.
 
India achieved independence on August 15,1947 In his midnight speech in the Indian Parliament, the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru said, "Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny and now the time comes when we will redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but substantially At the stroke of midnight, when the world sleeps India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance ".

In the next three years India gave herself a constitution that remains the skeleton of her modern democracy, fashioned largely on the British parliamentary model, but including ideas from at least nine other world constitutions India became a republic on January 26,1950 when the constitution came into force and Indians were granted universal suffrage, guaranteed freedom of speech, expression and belief and protection against discrimination of all kinds.
 
India adopted a parliamentary system of governance, with two houses, the Lok Sabha (House of the People) and Rajya Sabha (Council of the States) as the supreme law-making authorities in the nation The process is replicated in the states, though some states have dispensed with the upper house The executive and the judiciary form the two other arms of governance in the country A huge bureaucratic system, devised by the British, continue to be the "steel frame" of governance, charged with implementing laws.

The earlier governments followed the ideals of socialist and secular thought, which sought to elevate the Indian state from favouring any particular religion, ethnicity or caste or social divides It remains the ruling credo of this nation with a billion-plus population of every imaginable religious and social persuasions In domestic policy, this led to a series of affirmative action and land reform policies to create a more equitable order.

In foreign policy, it led the nation's leaders to favour a more socialist outlook, which led Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister to become one of the founding fathers of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) consciously staying away from either the western bloc led by the US or the Soviet bloc led by the USSR Despite this though, after 1971, India did indeed ally itself more closely with the former Soviet Union, developing a deep and abiding relationship With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the USSR into Russia and other successor states, India's relationship expanded to include the new republics.

Meanwhile, the mixed economy model followed by India for over 40 years was dismantled after 1991. The spate of economic reforms enhanced substantially India's relations with the United States of America (USA) which is now India's largest trading partner. The growth of high technology sector in India too added more substance to the Indo-US relationship, indeed to India's relations with the rest of the world, as India seemed better able to grapple with the complexities of the new economic order emerging the world.

In the international trading order that has now emerged, India as one of the earliest members of the GATT and later, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been working tirelessly to ensure that the benefits of global trade accrue as much to the developed world as the developing world. Globalisation has shrunk the world and the death of distance is rarely understood better than, for instance, among the fishermen of Kerala, who even while out at sea can check on the latest fish prices in the wholesale markets.

With the onset of the 21st century, India now can boast of several achievements. It is the largest functioning democracy in the world with a billion-plus Indians participating actively in the political and social processes of this country. India is a vibrant and growing economy, moving steadily into high technology areas and a society based on secular and equitable principles.


 

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