Buddha-Dharma-Sangha Buddhist Ayurvedic Medicine History


India (HindiBhārat), officially the Republic of India (HindiBhārat Gaṇarājya),[23] is a country in South Asia. It is the second-most populous country, the seventh-largest country by land area, and the most populous democracy in the world. Bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the southwest, and the Bay of Bengal on the southeast, it shares land borders with Pakistan to the west;[f] ChinaNepal, and Bhutan to the north; and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. In the Indian Ocean, India is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka and the Maldives; its Andaman and Nicobar Islands share a maritime border with Thailand and Indonesia.” (WP)

“India is a country in southern Asia that ranks as the second largest country in the world in population. Only China has more people. India is also one of the most densely populated countries in the world and one of the largest in area. Its capital is New Delhi. Mumbai, formerly called Bombay, is its largest city.

Much of India forms a peninsula that extends southward into the Indian Ocean. India is bordered on the west by the Arabian Sea and Pakistan; on the north by China, Nepal, and Bhutan; and on the east by Myanmar, Bangladesh, and the Bay of Bengal. India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Pakistan are sometimes said to make up a region called the Indian subcontinent.

India is a land of great variety and contrast. The mighty snow-capped Himalaya, the world’s tallest mountain system, rises along its northern border. A vast, scorching desert lies in the west, but parts of eastern India receive some of the highest rainfall in the world. The country also has broad plains, winding rivers, lush rain forests, and tropical lowlands.

The people of India belong to a variety of ethnic groups and speak hundreds of dialects and languages. Hindi is the national language and is widely spoken in north and central India.

The people of India practice a number of religions. A large majority are Hindus, but India has one of the largest populations of Muslims in the world as well.

Indians vary widely in terms of education and wealth. India has a growing number of scientists and engineers, but a large part of the population cannot read and write. India is one of the world’s major manufacturing countries, but many of its people live in extreme poverty.

Most Indians are farmers, and they depend on seasonal rains to grow their crops. These farmers live in villages throughout the land. On the other hand, a growing number of Indians work in offices and factories in the country’s cities. The urban centers of Calcutta (or Kolkata), Delhi, and Mumbai are among the largest in the world.

India has been home to several major empires and civilizations through the ages. The first of these civilizations, the Indus Valley civilization, was established about 4,500 years ago. Through the centuries, travelers to India described it as a land rich in gold, spices, textiles, and other valuables, and India became fabled for its wealth. Eventually, it attracted European traders, and in the late 1700’s, India came under British rule. In 1947, after a long struggle for freedom, India became independent.

This article discusses INDIA (History).


India is a republic made up of 28 states and 7 territories, including the National Capital Territory of Delhi and 6 union territories. Its Constitution went into effect on Jan. 26, 1950. The Constitution guarantees equal rights to all citizens, and it prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, caste (social class), religion, or place of birth. The Constitution also includes guidelines called directive principles of state policy. These principles call for the government to promote the welfare of the people. For example, they urge the government to establish a minimum wage, provide education and jobs for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and improve public health.

Central government. India has a parliamentary system of government. The president of India is the head of state, and the prime minister is the head of the government. Parliament is the chief lawmaking body of India. It consists of the president and two houses-the Lok Sabha (House of the People) and the Rajya Sabha (Council of States).

The president of India is elected to a five-year term by an electoral college consisting of the elected members of Parliament and the state and territorial legislatures. Bills approved by Parliament must receive the president’s signature before they can become law.

The prime minister, who is appointed by the president, is the most powerful person in the Indian government. The prime minister is usually the leader of the party that has the largest number of seats in Parliament. The prime minister heads the Council of Ministers. Members of the council are appointed by the president on the prime minister’s recommendation. They assist in running the day-to-day operations of the government. A prime minister who loses the support of a majority in the Lok Sabha can be dismissed by the president. The president can then dissolve the Lok Sabha and call a new election.

The most important of the two houses of the Indian Parliament is the Lok Sabha. States and territories with larger populations send more representatives to the Lok Sabha than do those with smaller populations. Voters elect 543 of the 545 members of the Lok Sabha. The president names the other 2. Members serve a five-year term unless the president calls for elections earlier.

The Rajya Sabha has a maximum of 250 members, who serve six-year terms. The state and territorial legislatures elect all but 12 of the members. The president may nominate up to 12 remaining members, who are well-known academic or cultural figures.

State governments. Most Indian states have one legislative body, but some have two. Most members are elected by the people. Each state has a governor and a chief minister. The governor is appointed by the president of India. The chief minister is appointed by the governor and is typically the leader of the party with the most seats in the legislature.

The states traditionally have had little power in relation to the central government. For example, Parliament has the right to establish or abolish states and to change state boundaries and names. In addition, Parliament taxes the largest sources of revenue, such as business and personal income. The states have extremely limited and poorer sources of income, including real estate taxes and licensing fees. As a result, most states rely largely on assistance from the central government for their income.

Courts. The Supreme Court is India’s highest court. Its justices are appointed by the president. The Supreme Court hears cases that involve disputes between states or between a state and the central government. It also acts as the final court of appeal in certain criminal and civil cases. In addition, the Supreme Court serves as the final interpreter of the Constitution and can declare legislation passed by Parliament to be unconstitutional.

India has 18 high courts, which serve the individual states and territories. The high courts hear original cases as well as appeals from lower courts.

Politics. India has many political parties. The Congress Party, or one of the branches that developed from it, dominated Indian politics for nearly all the years from 1947 to the 1980’s. Since then, the party’s strength has declined. Other national parties in India include the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP-Indian People’s Party), the Janata Dal (People’s Party), and the Communist Party (Marxist).

Regional parties play an important role in Indian politics. In some parts of the country, political parties representing certain language, religious, or ethnic groups have successfully formed governments. All Indians who are at least 18 years old can vote.

Armed forces. India has an army, navy, and air force. More than a million people serve in the armed forces. Military service is voluntary.


Ancestry. India’s people belong to a variety of ethnic groups. The two largest groups are the Dravidians and the Indo-Aryans. Most Dravidians live in the south. Most Indo-Aryans live in the north.

The Dravidians are descended from some of the earliest inhabitants of India. About 2500 B.C., these early people are believed to have established an advanced civilization that spread through the Indus Valley in what are now Pakistan and western India. The Indo-Aryans trace their ancestry to a central Asian people called the Aryans. Around 1500 B.C., the Aryans invaded India. They gradually conquered the Dravidians and drove some of them south.

From about the A.D. 400’s to the late 1400’s, central Asian peoples settled in northern India. Many of their descendants live in the area now occupied by the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. Some groups who live in the far north and northeast are closely related to peoples of East and Southeast Asia.

A number of smaller groups of peoples live in remote forests and hills throughout India. Often referred to as tribes or tribal groups, these peoples include the Bhils, Gonds, Khasis, Mizos, Mundas, Oraons, and Santals.

Languages. People in India speak over 1,000 languages and dialects-more than in any other part of the world. Most Indian languages belong to two main language groups: Indo-Aryan, which is a branch of the Indo-European family of languages, and Dravidian.

Modern Indo-Aryan languages are based on an ancient language called Sanskrit. About three-fourths of the Indian population, mainly in north and central India, speak one or more of the main Indo-Aryan languages. These languages include Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kashmiri, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, and Sindhi.

The four principal languages of southern India-Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu-belong to the Dravidian family of languages. About a fifth of the population speaks these languages.

In the Himalayan region of the northeast and along the border with Myanmar many people speak Kuki, Manipuri, Naga, and other Sino-Tibetan languages. Some groups in the northeast and certain central areas use Mundari and Santali, which belong to the Mon-Khmer, or Austro-Asiatic, family of languages.

India’s national language is Hindi, one of the Indo-Aryan languages. More than two-fifths of the people speak one or more of the dialects of this language, and at least some Hindi is understood by as many as two-thirds of the population. The study of Hindi is required in elementary and secondary schools in India.

English has an official status as an associate national language. It is the common language among educated people across India, and much of the nation’s official business is conducted in English. In cities especially, many parents try to send their children to English-language elementary and secondary schools. English is widely used at colleges and universities.

Through the years, the Indian government has at times sought to introduce Hindi in non-Hindi speaking areas. Immediately after independence, the Indian government argued that national unity would be best promoted by encouraging the spread of Hindi, the most widely spoken Indian language. But non-Hindi speakers feared that they would face discrimination in their search for jobs. They also wanted recognition for their own languages. They urged that Indian states be reorganized according to language groups. After much pressure on the Indian government, the first of such states, Andhra (now Andhra Pradesh), was established for Telugu speakers in 1953.

Today, the boundaries of India’s states are based largely on language. But each state still includes people from multiple language and dialect groups. Several states have large numbers of Hindi speakers. Each state also has its own official language. For example, Bengal’s official language is Bengali and Tamil Nadu’s is Tamil.

                Way of life 

India is such a large and varied country that there is no one way of life practiced by all-or even most-Indians. Food and clothing vary throughout the country. People follow a number of religious beliefs and practices. Social structure differs from place to place. Nevertheless, there are some features of Indian life that are common among most people throughout the country.

Family life. Family ties are important to most Indians. The number of nuclear families-that is, households that consist of only parents and their children-is increasing, especially in cities. However, many families continue to live as traditional extended families. In a typical Indian extended family, three generations live together in one household. Upon marriage, a woman leaves her parents’ home and shares a household with her husband and his relatives, including his brothers and their wives, his unmarried sisters, and his parents.

Parents usually arrange marriages, though a couple may reject an arrangement made by the parents. Marriages for love do occur, but many people think of marriage more as an alliance between families than as a relationship between two people. The bride’s family typically pays a dowry to the husband’s family. The dowry may be money, goods, or both. Today, the paying of a dowry is illegal, but the practice continues nonetheless.

Indians generally expect a young married couple to have a child within a few years after marriage. In India, as in most other rural societies, sons are preferred over daughters. In rural areas, sons are expected to work on the land and take care of their parents.

Village life. Most of India’s people live in villages. Most villagers are farmers who work in nearby fields. A typical Indian village is a collection of mud-and-straw dwellings. These homes are generally small, consisting of one or two rooms with mud floors. Wealthier families live in brick or concrete houses.

Most villagers own few possessions. These belongings typically include brass pots for cooking and clay pots for carrying water and storing grain. Village people cook foods on a chula, a clay oven that burns coal. People sit and sleep on cots of woven string, which are dragged outside on warm days. Many people also sleep outside. If the village is without electric power, kerosene lanterns are used for light. A local well or nearby pond or river provides water for most villages. Some larger villages have running water.

A council of elected elders, called a panchayat, governs most villages. The panchayat has the power to hear complaints and administer punishments.

City life. Varanasi (also called Banaras or Benares), Patna (formerly called Pataliputra), and some other Indian cities were commercial, political, and religious centers in ancient times. They attracted pilgrims, traders, and people seeking their political fortunes. After arriving in India in the 1600’s, the British developed the fishing villages of Bombay (now Mumbai), Calcutta (now Kolkata), and Madras (now Chennai) into major ports. These cities are now among the largest in India.

Older Indian cities have a densely populated center. Many of these cities once had walls surrounding them for protection against enemies. After the city expanded outside its walls, the section inside became known as the walled city. Buildings occupy most of the space in city centers, which bustle with activity. People, animals, automobiles, and smaller vehicles, such as rickshaws, hand-pulled carts, and bicycles, compete for space on the narrow, twisting streets. Various traders sell their wares in shops with fronts open to the street. Entire families live in, above, and behind the shops.

During the British rule of India, the Britons who lived in Indian cities made their homes in areas called cantonments. The cantonments had pleasant bungalows and wide, treelined streets, and lay far from the crowded sections where the Indians lived. Today, politicians, military officers, wealthy business people, and other leaders live in the cantonments. These areas now include modern buildings and shopping districts.

Most Indian cities have a growing middle class, which includes government employees, office workers, and shopkeepers. A large number of urban dwellers work at manual labor or in factory jobs. Many vendors, such as vegetable and fruit sellers, cobblers, and plumbers, peddle their goods and services on the street.

The population of Indian cities has increased tremendously since independence. Millions of people have moved from rural to urban areas in search of jobs. This rapid population growth has strained city resources. For example, the supply of water and electric power has not kept up with the needs of the increasing population. Despite efforts to build low-cost and improved housing, many people-including some members of the middle class-still lack adequate homes. As a result, they must live in slums or on the streets. In the slums, as many as 10 people may be crammed into a one-room shack, and toilet facilities may be shared by the entire slum.

Social structure. Indians, especially Hindus, have traditionally been organized into social groups called castes. A person’s caste determines his or her social status within the community and influences what occupations a person might hold.

Ancient Hindu texts described four main groups called varnas. The Brahmans (priests and scholars) were the highest group, followed by Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), Vaishyas (merchants and professionals), and Shudras (artisans, laborers, and servants). Over time, each varna came to include smaller castes called jatis. Altogether, the caste system has thousands of categories.

Complicated rules govern contact and behavior between the castes. For example, marriages between people of widely different castes are rare, and the upper castes do not eat with the Shudras. In principle, when members of a caste eat cooked food, it should be prepared only by someone of the same caste or a higher caste. For example, Brahmans would eat only food cooked by other Brahmans. Many members of the upper castes do not eat meat, fish, or eggs.

Today, caste barriers are weaker than they have been in the past, especially in cities. There the various castes mix with one another every day. They work side by side in factories and offices, ride in buses and trains together, and mingle on the streets. In the cities, too, rules against castes dining with one another have greatly relaxed.

A large group of people-approximately 15 percent of the population-is considered to be outside the caste system. Known as untouchables, harijans (children of God), dalits (downtrodden), or the scheduled castes, this group has an even lower status than the Shudras. Untouchables have traditionally held the most undesirable jobs, such as the cleaning of toilets and the disposal of garbage. Some upper-caste people believe that they will be polluted by the touch of members of this group.

Under the Indian Constitution, the untouchables are supposed to have equal rights. Discrimination in jobs and education against the untouchables is forbidden by law. The government has also set aside for them and other disadvantaged groups a significant percentage of government jobs, scholarships, and legislative seats. Nevertheless, the untouchables remain an oppressed group, especially in villages. There, for example, they are often denied entry to Hindu temples and forbidden to draw water from certain village wells. They also may be excluded from participation in village political life.

Religion plays a vital role in the lives of most Indians. India has no official religion, and people of various faiths practice their religion freely. More than 80 percent of the people are Hindus. About 12 percent are Muslims. Smaller percentages of Indians practice other religions. They include Buddhists, Christians, Jains, and Sikhs.

Hinduism. The religious beliefs and practices of Hindus vary enormously. Hindus have many sacred texts, including the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Puranas. These writings serve as a guide to moral conduct.

Hindus believe in reincarnation-that is, that the body alone dies, and the soul, which does not die, is reborn in another body. This process can be repeated for thousands of years. Liberated beings are those whose souls, having achieved spiritual perfection, enter a higher state of existence. Hinduism also teaches such virtues as ahimsa (nonviolence), yoga (a spiritual discipline that involves fitness of body and mind), and the unimportance of material goods. Hindus consider cows to be sacred and therefore do not believe in eating beef.

Hindus believe there is a single spiritual force-God, also called Brahman-that takes many forms. These forms make up the many gods and goddesses of Hindu belief. People worship whichever form-that is, whichever god or goddess-pleases them the most. Most Hindus worship Shiva or Vishnu. Vishnu’s two most popular incarnations (human forms) are Krishna and Rama. Popularity of the individual gods and goddesses varies from place to place. In Bengal, for example, worship of the goddess Kali is common, but in Maharashtra, people worship Ganesh, an elephant-headed god.

There are a number of Hindu religious festivals. They include Holi, which marks the arrival of spring, and a festival popularly called Diwali, which is celebrated in the fall. During Holi, people sprinkle colored water and powders on one another. Fireworks light up the night during Diwali, which honors several Hindu deities.

Islam. India has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. Most Indian Muslims live in the north, but there are also major Islamic centers, such as Hyderabad, in the south. Many Muslims live in urban areas.

Islam came to India in the 700’s, but most Muslims in India are descendants of Hindus who converted to the new faith. There have been outbreaks of violence between Muslims and Hindus through the years. But they have also lived together peacefully. Over time, they have developed a common culture in some areas.

Buddhism was founded in India about 500 B.C. by Siddhartha Gautama. It flourished in ancient India. It later spread to other countries but declined in India. Today, Buddhists are mainly converts from the lower castes.

Christianity existed in several small communities when Europeans came to India about 1500. But it spread mainly after the Europeans arrived. Indian Christians live largely in the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and in the tribal regions of northeast India.

Jainism was founded in India in the 500’s B.C. by a religious reformer named Mahavira. Jains believe all life is sacred, and most are strict vegetarians. They have been especially successful in business and the professions.

Sikhism is a religion founded in India by Nanak, a guru (religious teacher) who lived in the late 1400’s and early 1500’s. Sikhs pride themselves on their bravery and do not believe in caste. As a mark of equality, many Sikh men use the same last name, Singh, which means lion. Most Sikhs are farmers and traders. They also make up a large part of the Indian army.

Other religions. India also has the largest population of Zoroastrians in the world. Usually called Parsis in India, the Zoroastrians fled Persia (now Iran) over 1,000 years ago when it was being converted to Islam. They have become business leaders. India has had a Jewish community since about the A.D. 100’s, though many Indian Jews moved to Israel during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Many Indians also practice folk religions.

Clothing worn by Indians varies greatly by region. Members of the various religious or ethnic groups also may dress differently. But most Indians wear light, loose clothing because of the hot climate.

Most Indian women wear a sari. This garment consists of a straight piece of cloth about 5 yards (6 meters) long that is draped around the body as a long dress. Its loose end is flung over a shoulder or used to cover the head. A sari is usually worn with a blouse. Unmarried women and young girls, especially in northern India, commonly wear long flowing trousers called a shalwar and a long blouse known as a kameez. Tribal women wear long skirts. Many Christian women in the south wear Western-style skirts and blouses. Some young women in cities, especially wealthier women, wear jeans.

Many men wear a dhoti. This simple garment, which is usually white, is wrapped between the legs to form a kind of loose trousers. It can also be wrapped around the lower half of the body like a skirt and is then knotted at the waist. A shirt is worn over the upper half of the body. Poor laborers and farmers may wear only a loincloth, which is a piece of cloth wrapped around the hips and between the thighs. On formal occasions, some men wear a long, tight coat over loose trousers called a pajama that are wide at the top and sharply taper toward the bottom. In the cities, Western-style shirts and trousers, and increasingly, jeans, are popular.

Food and drink. Rice, wheat, and other grains rank among the chief foods of India. Pulses, which are the seeds of such pod vegetables as beans, chickpeas, and lentils, are also widely consumed.

Indian cooking is extremely varied, and foods eaten in one part of the country may be completely unknown elsewhere. For example, a typical north Indian meal consists of chapattis, dal, and a vegetable dish. Chapattis are thin, flat breads. Dal is a porridge made with specially prepared lentils. A typical meal in West Bengal would probably also include fish, and rice would substitute for the chapattis. In the south, a typical meal would consist of rice, sambar (a lentil preparation that resembles dal), and vegetables. Yogurt, pickles, and such fresh fruits as apples, bananas, guavas, and mangoes are part of most meals throughout the country.

Most Indian meals are cooked in ghee (liquid butter) or vegetable oil. A number of spices, such as coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, mustard seeds, red pepper, and turmeric, flavor most dishes. Chicken and mutton are expensive and are eaten mainly on special occasions. Hindus do not believe in eating beef, and Muslims do not believe in eating pork. Many Indians are vegetarians.

The most popular beverage in India is tea, though many southern Indians prefer coffee. Western soft drinks are widely available, but fairly expensive.

Food production in India increased enormously in the late 1900’s, and today the country exports wheat and rice. Even so, the nutritional needs of at least a third of the population are not being met, in part because many people cannot afford sufficient food. Many women, in particular, have trouble getting adequate nourishment. Especially in traditional homes, the men and children are served by the women and older girls, who eat what is left at the end of the meal.

Health care. Life expectancy rates for both women and men are much lower in India than in the United States and Europe. Infant death rates are much higher. See LIFE EXPECTANCY (table: Life expectancy at birth for selected countries).

Dismal living conditions account for many diseases. Standards of sanitation, hygiene, and nutrition are poor, especially in villages and urban slums. High levels of pollution in the cities have led to a sharp increase in illnesses of the lungs.

On the other hand, India has made great strides in controlling cholera, malaria, and other infectious diseases. Government clinics across the country provide cheap medical care to government employees and their families. Other public clinics and hospitals attend to the needy. In addition, the government runs family-planning clinics to help control the growing population. In urban areas, thousands of doctors have set up private practices, often at their own homes.

Recreation. The favorite sport in India is cricket. Field hockey and soccer are also popular. Indians enjoy playing cards and chess. Kite flying is also a common recreational activity. Many people spend their evenings watching television or going to motion-picture theaters. In large cities, people also attend concerts and plays.

Education. The Indian Constitution provides for free education for children from age 6 through 14. Nearly all Indian children receive some schooling, but only about half of those 10 years of age or older continue their education. There are several reasons why children drop out of school. Some children leave school because their parents put them to work on the family farm. Other children have to get jobs to help support their families or are needed at home to look after smaller children.

Because Indians receive little formal education, illiteracy is a major problem in India. Since about 1950, the government has spent much money on training teachers, publishing schoolbooks, and building schools. As a result, literacy rates have improved, and school attendance has increased substantially. However, about half of India’s adult population still cannot read and write. For the country’s literacy rate, see LITERACY (table: Literacy rates for selected countries).

Universities are run by the central or state governments. India has over 8,000 universities and colleges. The University of Delhi has about 200,000 students.

                The arts 

The arts of India have a long history. They had reached high levels thousands of years ago. Indian arts also include a wide variety of forms and styles.

Architecture and sculpture. Sculpture flourished during the Indus Valley civilization, which was established about 2500 B.C. Buddhism was the next great influence on Indian architecture and sculpture. Several ruins of Buddhist monasteries and dome-shaped stupas (monuments) have survived from ancient times.

Caves were cut into a cliff of solid rock at Ajanta in western India between the 100’s B.C. and the A.D. 600’s. They feature spectacular examples of frescoes (wallpaintings on plaster) and sculpture. Artists worked at the nearby caves at Ellora until about A.D. 1000. The greatest monument at Ellora, dating from the late 700’s, honors the Hindu god Shiva. It was carved out of the cliff like a great piece of sculpture. Magnificent sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses were also carved in the caves at Elephanta, near Mumbai, mainly from the 600’s to 900’s.

Hindu temples are noted both for their architecture and for their exquisite sculptures. The temples have rows of sculptured columns, richly carved exteriors, and open porches. Temples in northern India have tall towers with curving sides that taper at the top. South Indian temples have gateway towers shaped like trapezoidal pyramids and made of steplike layers of stone. Each step has carvings that tell a story.

Muslims conquered parts of northern India during the 1200’s and introduced their style of architecture. Muslim architecture in India reached its peak in the 1500’s and 1600’s. The outstanding Islamic building in India is the Taj Mahal (about 1650) in Agra. The Emperor Shah Jahan ordered the Taj Mahal built as a tomb for his favorite wife. The building features magnificent Islamic-style decoration, in which geometrical patterns and floral designs are inlaid in marble with semiprecious stones. Islamic art and architecture use such patterns and designs because Islam forbids the depiction of God or the human form.

The British and other Europeans added many buildings in Western styles to India after their arrival. During the 1700’s, the British constructed churches and other buildings in the neoclassical style. Neoclassical architecture reflected a renewed interest in Europe in the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. In the 1800’s, the British designed many public buildings in India in the Gothic Revival style, with tall spires and pointed arches. Some British buildings include curved domes and other features of Islamic architecture.

Modern Indian architecture borrows from many styles. For example, the internationally recognized works of Charles Correa and Balkrishna Doshi mix traditional Indian forms with contemporary designs.

Painting. The frescoes in the caves at Ajanta are the most important early examples of Indian paintings. Wallpaintings that show scenes from Buddhist stories are commonly found in Buddhist temples and monasteries.

Miniature paintings on small pieces of paper developed into a distinct art form in India from 1500 to 1800. These paintings portrayed rulers, members of the nobility, scenes of hunting, or stories from Hindu legends.

In the 1800’s, Indian painting was mainly an imitation of Western styles. Many artists of the 1900’s, including Maqbool F. Husain and Amrita Sher-Gil, show both Indian and Western influences. Husain’s paintings resemble those of the European expressionists, who attempted to give form to powerful emotions. Sher-Gil studied art in France but painted mostly Indian subjects. Nandlal Bose’s works are based mainly on Indian folk forms.

Literature. All of India’s major languages have written literatures, many of which are at least 1,000 years old. The earliest Indian written works-the Vedas-are about 3,000 years old. Composed in an early form of Sanskrit, these Hindu scriptures are poetical compositions that discuss God, the universe, and the nature of life.

India’s two great epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana, were also composed in Sanskrit. Parts of the Mahabharata, which includes the Bhagavad-Gita, are probably more than 2,500 years old. The Ramayana was likely begun about the same time. These poems have inspired Indian literature through the centuries. Today, they are generally read not in Sanskrit but in other Indian languages and English.

Many of the world’s fables and folk tales come from India. The oldest collection of fables in India, the Panchatantra, may date from as early as the 200’s B.C.

From about A.D. 500 to 1600, a social and religious movement called bhakti swept across India. Bhakti influenced the development of regional languages because it emphasized people’s everyday speech. Many bhakti poets, including Jnaneshwar, Kabir, Mirabai, Surdas, and Tulsidas, are still among the most widely read authors in India. Their hymns are also set to music.

Later Indian literature continued to be written in all the major Indian languages and English. For example, Bankim Chandra Chatterji, sometimes called the father of the Indian novel, wrote in Bengali. His historical novels about Indian heroes helped spread Indian nationalism in the 1800’s. Bengali-language writers of the early 1900’s include Rabindranath Tagore, whose spiritual poetry won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1913, and Saratchandra Chatterji (also spelled Saratcandra Chattopadhyaya), whose novels emphasize social issues. Among the best-known Indian-born writers of the late 1900’s are two who write in English-R. K. Narayan, whose novels depict Indian village life; and Salman Rushdie, whose writings combine fantasy, satire, and Hindu and Islamic lore.

Music and dance. The beginnings of Indian classical music date to ancient times. Styles, forms, and principles of composition developed over the centuries. Indian music sounds different from Western music partly because it uses different scales and musical instruments. The notes of the Indian scale are arranged in various patterns called ragas. Each raga has a special meaning and may be associated with a particular mood, emotion, season, or time of day. Indian instruments include the sitar, sarod, and vina, which are plucked stringed instruments; the tambura, which produces a drone (continuous tone); and the tabla and mridangam, which are drums.

Music for motion pictures, called film music, is extremely popular in India. Film music combines Indian classical, folk, and religious music with certain features of Western music. Film music, for example, is typically played by a large orchestra that includes both Indian and Western instruments.

There are several major styles of classical Indian dance. They include the bharata natyam of southern India and the kathak of northern India. Both of these styles, like all classical Indian dances, draw upon the Hindu epics and other poems and stories about the lives of the Hindu deities. Both styles of dancing use highly stylized hand, foot, and arm gestures, and movements of the eyes and other facial features to indicate moods and tell stories.

Folk dancing is also popular and varies from region to region. For example, a favorite folk dance in the Punjab is the lively bhangra, in which male dancers jump high in the air. Like other folk dances, the bhangra has a freer form than classical dances.

Motion pictures. India’s motion-picture industry produces hundreds of films annually. The industry is centered in Mumbai. Indian movies are made in many languages, often for regional audiences. The most popular motion pictures are those made in Hindi, which are shown throughout the country. Hindi films also attract audiences in the Middle East, North and East Africa, the Caribbean, and in Indian communities overseas.

Indian popular films include love stories, crime thrillers, and social dramas. Like American musicals of the 1930’s, all Indian popular films feature song-and-dance sequences.

The Indian motion-picture industry is also known for its art films. These motion pictures are more realistic than popular films. They explore such serious social themes as the problems of life in the city, the oppressiveness of the caste system, the difficulty of human relations, and the nature of guilt.

Several Indian directors have won international recognition for their work. Satyajit Ray won particular praise for his Apu Trilogy, a series of three motion pictures describing the growth of a boy to manhood in modern India. Other directors noted for making realistic films about Indian life include Shyam Benegal, Ritwik Ghatak, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, and Mrinal Sen. Ismail Merchant, an Indian film producer, won international acclaim for his film adaptations of literary works.

                The land 

India covers 1,269,346 square miles (3,287,590 square kilometers) in South Asia. Tall mountains separate most of northern India from the rest of Asia. The southern half of the country is a triangular peninsula that juts into the Indian Ocean. The Arabian Sea laps India’s shores to the west, and the Bay of Bengal lies to the east.

India has three main land regions. They are (1) the Himalaya, (2) the Northern Plains, and (3) the Deccan, also called the Southern Plateau.

The Himalaya, the highest mountain system in the world, extends for about 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) from northernmost India to the northeastern part of the country. The three almost parallel ranges of the Himalaya in India are nearly 200 miles (320 kilometers) wide at some places. The tallest mountain in India, Kanchenjunga, stands 28,208 feet (8,598 meters) high on the border of Nepal and India in the Himalaya. Dozens of other peaks in the system are more than 20,000 feet (6,100 meters) high. Snow covers the tall peaks throughout the year. The foothills of the Himalaya have many kinds of wildlife, including tigers, deer, and rhinoceroses, and many wildflowers.

The Northern Plains lie between the Himalaya and the southern peninsula. They stretch across northern India for about 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) and are from 150 to 200 miles (240 to 320 kilometers) wide. The plains include the valleys carved by the Brahmaputra, Indus, and Ganges rivers and their branches. This region is the great heartland of India and forms the largest alluvial plain in the world. An alluvial plain is land formed of soil left by rivers. The soil in the Northern Plains is fertile, and farmers have tilled the land for centuries. The majority of Indians live in this region.

The Ganges, also known as the Ganga, is the greatest river in India. It originates high in the Himalaya and flows into the Bay of Bengal. Many important towns and cities, including Allahabad and Varanasi, lie along its banks. The Ganges is sacred to Hindus, and many Hindus bathe in the river to cleanse and purify themselves.

The Thar Desert (also called the Great Indian Desert or the Indian Desert) lies in the western part of the Northern Plains. It covers much of the state of Rajasthan and parts of Gujarat. Few people live in this area.

The Deccan Plateau forms most of the southern peninsula. It is separated from the Northern Plains by a mass of mountain and hill ranges, most prominently the Satpura, Vindhya, and Aravalli. On the eastern edge of the Deccan, a rugged mountain range called the Eastern Ghats rises to an average height of 2,000 feet (610 meters) before slanting down gradually to a wide plain. The Western Ghats form the western boundary of the Deccan. This range reaches a height of about 8,000 feet (2,440 meters) before falling sharply to a narrow coastal plain. The southernmost point of the plateau is formed by the Nilgiri Hills, where the Eastern and Western Ghats meet.

Major rivers of the Deccan Plateau include the Cauvery (also spelled Kaveri), Godavari, Krishna, and Mahanadi. Most of the Deccan is farmland. Parts of the Eastern and Western Ghats are heavily forested and are home to elephants, monkeys, and other wildlife.


Most of India has three main seasons. They are (1) the cool season, (2) the hot season, and (3) the rainy season.

The cool season lasts from October to February. During the cool season, the foothills of the Himalaya receive much snow, though the highest peaks are snow-covered the year around. During the cool season, the temperature in the Himalaya region drops well below the freezing point of 32 °F (0 °C). The northwestern and north-central parts of the Northern Plains have a wide range of daily temperatures during the cool season. Days are warm, but temperatures sometimes drop below freezing at night. In the eastern part of the Northern Plains and in the Deccan, the temperature never reaches freezing.

The hot season lasts from March to June, though the Northern Plains and the Deccan are hot for much of the year. In the hot season, temperatures in the plains routinely go up to 115 °F (45 °C). Temperatures often rise to 123 °F (49 °C) in the desert region. Temperatures on the coastal plain average 85 to 90 °F (29 to 32 °C). In the Deccan, daytime temperatures in the hot months generally average from 90 to 100 °F (32 to 38 °C).

The rainy season can last from June to September. However, India usually receives rain from five to seven weeks during this period. During the rainy season, seasonal winds called monsoons blow across the Indian Ocean and pick up moisture on the way. The monsoons, which strike from the southeast or the southwest, bring heavy downpours. Although there is some rain at other times of the year, most of India receives its rain through the monsoons.

There is much Indian lore about the monsoons, which provide relief after months of scorching heat. The monsoons also are of great importance to India’s agricultural production and the health of the economy. If the monsoons bring enough rain to the country, crops will grow. Sometimes the rains fail to arrive on time, and crops are poor as a result. Some monsoons drop too much rain and cause rivers to overflow, crops to be ruined, villages to be washed away, and many lives to be lost.

Rain falls most heavily in northeastern India. Some hills and mountain slopes in this region receive an average of about 450 inches (1,140 centimeters) of rain a year. The world’s heaviest recorded rainfall for a one-year period fell at Cherrapunji. This village had almost 1,042 inches (2,647 centimeters) of rain from August 1860 to July 1861. The Thar Desert in the northwestern part of the country receives less than 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain a year. Some sections of the desert get less than 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain annually.


India has one of the largest economies in the world in terms of its gross domestic product (GDP). Gross domestic product is the value of all goods and services produced in a country in a year. However, India has such a large population that the country has an extremely low per capita GDP. This figure is determined by dividing a nation’s GDP by its population. As a result of its low per capita GDP, India is considered a developing country and one of the poorest countries in the world.

Until 1991, the Indian government firmly controlled the economy. It owned all major industries. It also placed heavy duties (taxes) on the import of goods from other countries and allowed foreign companies to invest and trade only under strict supervision. Since 1991, however, India has moved closer to a free enterprise system. The government has encouraged foreign investment and corporate ownership, ended many government monopolies, and greatly reduced duties on goods imported from other countries.

Agriculture provides the main source of income for a majority of the population. Farms cover about half the country’s land. About three-fourths of the farmland is used to grow India’s major grains and pulses (seeds, beans, and lentils). The major grains include rice, wheat, corn, sorghum, and millet. Rice leads all crops in land area. Only China produces more rice than India.

India is the world’s leading producer of such crops as cauliflower, a fiber called jute, mangoes, millet, pulses, sesame seeds, and tea. It is a major grower of bananas, cabbages, coconuts, coffee, cotton, onions, oranges, peanuts, potatoes, rapeseeds, rubber, sugar cane, and tobacco. Cardamom, ginger, pepper, turmeric, and other spices are also important products.

In the past, India imported much of its food. Today, however, it is essentially self-sufficient in food production-that is, it produces enough food to meet its needs. The increase in agricultural production came about partly because of the Green Revolution, the introduction of high-yielding seeds in the 1960’s. Improved farming techniques, greater mechanization, and irrigation have also increased agricultural production. In addition, farmers are paid high prices for their crops to encourage them to grow more, and many rural development programs make credit and machinery easily available.

Large farms, such as those in the Punjab, which is called India’s “breadbasket,” grow food for sale. However, most Indian farmers are subsistence farmers, who grow crops mainly to feed their families, not for commercial purposes. About two-thirds of India’s farmers own the land on which they work.

Most Indian farms are small. Half the farms are less than 21/2 acres (1 hectare) in area, and only a few are larger than 25 acres (10 hectares). Indian farms are so small in part because of inheritance customs. After a farmer dies, his farm is divided among his sons. After these sons die, the land is further divided among their sons. With each generation, the size of the farm decreases, and it may become too small to provide a living.

India has more cattle than any other country. The animals serve a variety of purposes. In most of rural India, farmers still use oxen to plow the land. Dairy farming is important. Milk from water buffaloes is also sold commercially. The hides of cattle and water buffaloes are used to produce leather and leather goods. There is almost no beef farming in India, because Hindus are not supposed to eat beef.

Manufacturing. India is one of the world’s top producers of iron and steel. Huge iron and steel mills operate in Bhilai, Bokaro, Durgapur, and Raurkela. Indian factories use the iron and steel to manufacture such products as aircraft, automobiles, bicycles, electrical appliances, military equipment, railway cars, sewing machines, and tractors. Factories also produce cement, drugs, dyes, fertilizer, food products, industrial chemicals, paper, pesticides, petroleum products, and wood products. One of the largest employers in India is the textile industry. Cotton mills are in western India, near Mumbai and Ahmadabad.

Millions of Indians work at home or in small plants. Some of these workers produce cotton textiles on hand looms. Others manufacture matches, incense sticks, and a variety of handicrafts, including brassware, embroidered textiles, jewelry, leather goods, and woodcarvings. Although craft goods are made throughout the country, individual regions tend to specialize in certain ones. For example, Kashmir is famous for carpets, South India for brass, and Rajasthan for puppets.

Mining. India has valuable deposits of a variety of natural resources. The country is one of the world’s leading producers of iron ore. Iron ore deposits lie mainly in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa. India also has large deposits of coal and petroleum. Coal accounts for about 40 percent of the yearly value of all minerals mined in India, and petroleum accounts for about 35 percent. Huge coal deposits lie in Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, and the western end of West Bengal. There are some inland deposits of petroleum, mainly in Assam and Gujarat, but most drilling is off the shore of Mumbai.

India exports much manganese ore, which is used in steelmaking. The country has important deposits of bauxite, chromite, gypsum, limestone, magnesite, mica, natural gas, and titanium. There are smaller deposits of copper, lead, sulfur, and zinc. India also has supplies of two radioactive metals, thorium and uranium.

India has deposits of a number of precious metals and stones, including diamonds, emeralds, gold, and silver. Cut diamonds are one of India’s biggest exports.

Forestry and fishing. Forests cover only about 10 percent of India. India’s forestland has shrunk rapidly since the mid-1900’s, because each year more trees are cut down than are planted. Conservation movements are now working to restore Indian forests. In most cases, the previous forests, which had a variety of trees, are being replaced by fast-growing eucalyptus or pine trees. Villagers cut down trees for use as fuel. Deodar cedar, rosewood, sal, and teak trees are cut for timber.

Fishing is a way of life for millions of people who live on India’s coasts, and it is one of the chief industries in such coastal states as Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. The main varieties of fish caught from the seas around India include mackerel, perch, prawn, and sardines. Carp and catfish are the most important freshwater fish.

Service industries are economic activities that provide services, rather than produce goods. A growing urban population and increasing commercial and communication links between India and the rest of the world have led to a dramatic expansion of the country’s service industries. Government is the largest service industry. Other important service industries include business, computer programming, education, finance, health care, insurance, public administration, real estate, social work, tourism, transportation, and utilities.

India’s major stock exchange is in Mumbai, which is the nation’s business, finance, and trading capital. Calcutta (or Kolkata) ranks as the world leader in the wholesale trade of jute. Bangalore is the center of the country’s computer industry.

Energy supply. India has rich deposits of coal, and petroleum production is increasing. Nevertheless, India still imports large amounts of petroleum because it uses more than it produces. Plants that burn petroleum or coal generate about 80 percent of India’s electric power. Most of the rest comes from hydroelectric plants.

International trade. The value of India’s imports is greater than the value of its exports. The main import is petroleum, which comes from the Middle East. Other imports include chemicals, fertilizer, industrial machinery, and pearls and gemstones. Exports include chemicals, cotton textiles and clothing, cut diamonds and jewelry, engineering goods, handicrafts, iron ore, leather goods, and tea. India’s main trading partner is the United States. Its other trading partners include Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom.

Transportation. India’s railway system, which is owned and operated by the government, is one of the largest in the world. It has over 7,000 stations and more than 38,000 miles (62,000 kilometers) of track. It is also the single largest employer in the country. Railroads transport most goods in India and serve as the main carrier of passengers. About 4 billion passengers travel by train in India annually. The government keeps the price of train travel low enough for most people to afford it.

India is well connected by roads, but the roads generally are not well maintained. Each of the states has a long-distance bus system. There are many private bus companies as well, which operate mainly in the tourist regions or between large cities.

Although few Indians own an automobile, car and motorcycle ownership is growing rapidly. Many people ride bicycles. In urban areas, buses are a popular form of transportation. In rural areas, many people travel on buggies or carts drawn by horses or oxen. The Brahmaputra, Ganges, and other major rivers carry boat traffic.

The government owns and operates two major airlines. Air India provides international service to many countries throughout the world. Indian Airlines flies within India and to nearby countries. Several private airlines also operate within India. Calcutta (Kolkata), Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, and Trivandrum (also spelled Thiruvananthapuram) have major airports.

Communication. Telephone and telegraph services reach throughout India. However, few families have telephones. In towns and cities, especially, public telephones are widely available.

The radio remains the main source of news for most Indians. However, almost every village with electric power has at least one television set, and an entire village may gather around it for a film or special program. The number of connections to cable and satellite systems is growing rapidly, making more channels and a wider variety of television programs available to many viewers.

India has a lively newspaper culture. Newspapers are privately owned, and they freely criticize the government. India has about 3,500 daily newspapers, which are published in a variety of languages. The major English-language newspapers include the Times of India, Indian Express, Statesman, and The Hindu. These papers are published nationally and are highly influential.


Earliest times. People have lived in what is now India for at least 200,000 years. About 4,500 years ago, a civilization began to flourish in the Indus Valley in what are now western India and Pakistan. Archaeological excavations in the early 1920’s uncovered extensive ruins of two cities named Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.

The people of Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, and other Indus Valley cities had a system of writing. However, scholars have not yet succeeded in deciphering this script. The Indus Valley people also had systems of counting, measuring, and weighing. About 1700 B.C., the Indus Valley civilization gradually broke up. Scholars believe that changing river patterns, including a series of floods, may have caused the end of the culture.

The Aryans. About 1500 B.C., groups of warlike people left their homes in central Asia, possibly near the Caucasus Mountains, and came to India. These people called themselves arya (kinsmen or nobles). They are now known as the Aryans.

When the Aryans arrived in India, they found people with an advanced civilization living there. These people, called the Dravidians, lived in towns and grew crops. The Aryans gradually conquered the Dravidians and drove some of them southward. Eventually, the Aryans extended their rule over all of India except the south.

The Aryans tended sheep, goats, cows, and horses. They measured their wealth in herds of cattle. Over time, the Aryans settled into villages. Each village or group of villages was led by a headman and council.

Over many centuries, the caste system became established. The Brahmans-the priests-were the highest caste and the Shudras, who may have been Dravidians, were the lowest. The Brahmans perfected Sanskrit, the language of the Aryans; conducted elaborate rituals and sacrifices; and passed sacred knowledge from one generation to another. Beginning about 1400 B.C., the earliest known Hindu scriptures-the Vedas-were composed. The most important Hindu sacred writings, called the Upanishads, appeared between 800 and 600 B.C.

In the 500’s and 400’s B.C., two religions were founded in India. The great religious and social reformer Siddhartha Gautama, who became known as Buddha (Enlightened One), founded Buddhism. Another reformer, Mahavira, founded Jainism. Both religions rejected the authority of the Vedas and the Brahmans, and both spread rapidly throughout India.

Persian and Greek invasions. About 518 B.C., Persians gained control of the Gandhara region in the northwest, now in Pakistan. Alexander the Great of Macedonia led his Greek army into India in 326 B.C., but he went only as far as the Beas River in the northwest. He wanted to push eastward to the Ganges River, but his troops, tired and worn out by disease, refused to go farther. Alexander left India and named some of his generals as satraps (governors) of the conquered provinces. In a few years, Indian forces drove most of the satraps out.

The Mauryan Empire was established by Chandragupta Maurya about 324 B.C. By the end of Chandragupta Maurya’s rule in about 298 B.C., the empire extended over nearly all of northern India and into what are now Afghanistan and parts of central Asia.

Chandragupta Maurya’s grandson Ashoka became one of India’s most famous emperors. He ruled from about 272 to 232 B.C. In 261 B.C., Ashoka conquered the kingdom of Kalinga (now Orissa). The bloodshed caused by his war of conquest left Ashoka stricken with sorrow and regret. Ashoka gave up war.

Ashoka spent the rest of his life trying to spread a message, based on Buddhist teachings, that emphasized nonviolence and the importance of duty. He sent members of his family as Buddhist missionaries to other parts of India and to what is now Sri Lanka. Ashoka had laws and moral teachings carved on great pillars that were installed throughout his kingdom. India’s state emblem, a group of lions, is taken from one of these pillars.

The Mauryan Empire began to break up after the death of Ashoka in 232 B.C. The empire ended about 185 B.C. For about the next 500 years, groups of central Asian peoples, including the Scythians and the Kushans, moved into northern India. The Kushans established a dynasty in northern India around A.D. 50.

The golden age. Indian emperors of the Gupta dynasty reunited northern India about 320. Gupta territory eventually extended to what is now Afghanistan in the northwest and to the Vindhya mountains in the south. The Gupta Empire, which lasted until about 500, is often referred to as India’s “golden age.” Indian art, literature, mathematics, philosophy, and science achieved great heights under the Guptas, especially during the reign of Chandragupta II, who ruled from about 375 to about 415. India’s most famous dramatist and poet, Kalidasa, wrote works of great charm and beauty in this period. The finest frescoes at Ajanta were also painted at this time, and many Hindu temples were built. A system of medicine called Ayurveda also developed about this time.

Southern India. From about 50 B.C. to about the A.D. 1000’s, several dynasties competed for control of southern India and established a great civilization there. These dynasties included the Andhras, also called the Satavahanas; the Cholas; and the Pallavas. Southern India forged trading links with Southeast Asia that lasted for centuries. Indian traders and other voyagers spread Indian culture throughout Southeast Asia.

Period of invasions. From about 455 to the early 1500’s, armies from what are now Afghanistan, central Asia, and Iran invaded India. First, the Huns invaded from central Asia. Muslim armies came from Arabia in the early 700’s. Mahmud of Ghazni, a warrior from Afghanistan, began a series of 17 raids into India about 1000. During these attacks, Mahmud destroyed Hindu temples and looted Indian cities.

In 1206, the Muslim general Qutb ub-din Aybak proclaimed himself sultan (ruler) of northern India and established the Delhi Sultanate. In 1398, the armies of the central Asian leader Timur, also known as Tamerlane, swept over India. Timur sacked Delhi before returning to his capital at Samarqand (Samarkand) in what is now Uzbekistan. After Timur’s attack, the Delhi Sultanate began to break apart.

The Mughal Empire. In 1526, a central Asian leader named Babur defeated Ibrahim Lodi, the last sultan of Delhi, at the Battle of Panipat. Babur, a descendant of both Timur and the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan, then established the Mughal Empire in India. Babur ruled until 1530 and conquered much of northern India.

Babur’s grandson Akbar became the greatest Mughal emperor. He ruled from 1556 to 1605. He expanded his empire as far west as what is now Afghanistan and as far south as the Godavari River. Akbar was a tolerant ruler. A Muslim, he won over the Hindus of India by making many of their leaders government administrators and military commanders, and by giving them honors. The Mughal Empire under Akbar was among the most powerful in the world at that time.

Akbar’s grandson Shah Jahan, who ruled from 1628 to 1658, built a new capital in Delhi. He was also responsible for the construction of the Taj Mahal at Agra and many other great buildings.

Aurangzeb, one of Shah Jahan’s sons, became head of the Mughal Empire in 1658. Aurangzeb was a strict Muslim and a harsh ruler. He reimposed a tax on Hindus that had been abolished by Akbar. Hindus hold him responsible for destroying many Hindu temples and trying to forcibly convert Hindus to Islam. His policies caused many revolts. Under the Hindu leader Shivaji Bhonsle, the Marathas of western India launched attacks against Aurangzeb’s empire. Many local leaders in the south also rebelled. Partly as a result of Aurangzeb’s rule and his costly wars, the Mughal Empire began to fall apart.

The coming of the Europeans. The first European explorer to reach India was Vasco da Gama of Portugal. He arrived in Calicut in 1498. At the time, Portugal was challenging Turkish Muslims and traders from Italian city-states for control over the European trade with Asian countries in silk, spices, and other highly valued goods. The Portuguese gained control over Goa and some other areas on the western coast of India.

In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I of England granted a charter for the formation of a company to open trade with India and East Asia. This company, the East India Company, got permission from the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, Akbar’s son, to trade in India. The company soon set up trading posts and forts at Bombay (Mumbai), Calcutta (Kolkata), and Madras (Chennai). During the 1600’s, the English became the leading European power in India. Meanwhile, the French established a trading post at Pondicherry.

The rise of the East India Company. By the mid-1700’s, little remained of the Mughal Empire, and there was no effective central power. In these circumstances, the Europeans in India prospered. The East India Company expanded its trade and increased its political power. It also began collecting taxes in some regions. When Indian rulers refused to agree to the company’s terms, the company used force against them.

At the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the forces of Robert Clive, an agent of the East India Company, defeated the army of the nawab (Mughal governor) of Bengal. Most historians regard this British victory as the starting point of the British Empire in India, though at that time, most of the country still remained under the rule of Indian princes. Over the next 100 years, however, British political influence and territorial control expanded. In 1774, Warren Hastings was appointed the company’s first governor general of India.

The Indian Rebellion. Through the years, resentment against British rule grew, especially in the north. Land taxes imposed by the British caused many difficulties for farmers. Large numbers of people went hungry. British land reforms took away land from many Indian people. In addition, many Indians resented what they regarded as a growing British interference in Indian customs and religion.

Resentment against the British led to many small rebellions and, in 1857, to a widespread uprising. The 1857 rebellion, sometimes called the Sepoy Rebellion or Sepoy Mutiny, began at an army base in Meerut, near Delhi. There, Indian soldiers called sepoys revolted after British officers instructed them to bite open rifle cartridges believed to have been greased with cow and hog fat. Both Hindus and Muslims objected to the order. The religious beliefs of the Hindu sepoys forbade them to eat beef, and the Muslim sepoys could not eat pork.

The Indian Rebellion quickly spread from Meerut to the rest of northern and central India. However, the rebels were poorly organized, had few weapons, and lacked good leadership. By 1859, they had been defeated. Although the rebellion had failed, the British had faced a serious threat to their rule.

British India. In 1858, the British government decided to govern India directly. This direct rule is often called the British Raj. Raj means rule or administration. Parliament took control of the East India Company’s Indian possessions, which became known as British India. In most other parts of India, called the princely, or native, states, the British governed indirectly, through local rulers. A few small areas of coastal land remained French or Portuguese colonies until the mid-1900’s.

The British monarch appointed an official called a viceroy to govern British India. An executive council of five members-all British and all appointed by the monarch-helped the viceroy. The viceroy appointed from 6 to 12 additional members, who met together with the executive council to form a legislative council. A few Indians could serve on the legislative council.

British India was divided into several provinces. An appointed governor or lieutenant governor headed each province. The provinces also had their own executive council and legislative council.

Britain placed a representative, called a resident, in each princely state. The resident advised the local prince about political and economic matters. The local prince had no power to make laws relating to foreign affairs, defense, relations with other princely states, and certain other matters. In internal affairs, however, the local prince generally had complete authority.

In 1876, Queen Victoria of Britain was given the title Empress of India by the British Parliament. Although the British did not further expand their territory within India, they were involved in several wars in which they used Indian troops. Indian troops serving under British officers fought the Second Afghan War (1878-1881). This war helped establish India’s boundary with Afghanistan. British India defeated the Burmese in the Third Burmese War (1885). Burma (now Myanmar) then became a province of India. It remained a part of India until 1937.

In the second half of the 1800’s, the British built railroad, telephone, and telegraph systems in India. They also established universities. Although the British enlarged the Indian irrigation system, agricultural production improved only slightly. Poverty levels remained high. The British spent little money on elementary education and did little to promote industrialization.

Rise of Indian nationalism. Indians did not generally feel content about British rule in India. Indians lacked equal job opportunities. They were not allowed to advance to high positions in government service or to become officers in the army. In 1885, a number of Indian lawyers and professionals formed the Indian National Congress. Members of the organization belonged to various religions and came from all parts of India. Congress members debated political and economic reforms, the future of India, and ways for Indians to achieve equal status with the British.

Some Muslims believed the Indian National Congress was a Hindu organization aiming for Hindu rule. In 1906, several Muslim leaders, encouraged by the British, formed the All-India Muslim League. Members of the organization sought to give the Muslims a voice in political affairs. However, most Muslims continued to support the Indian National Congress.

In 1905, the British divided the state of Bengal into separate Hindu and Muslim sections. Indians protested this action with a boycott of British goods and a series of bombings and shootings. In an effort to stop the violence, the British introduced the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909. These reforms enlarged the viceroy’s executive council to include an Indian. They also allowed Indians to elect representatives to the provincial legislative councils. In 1911, the British reunited Bengal.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Britain declared that India was also at war with Germany. Indian troops fought in many parts of the world. In return for support, the British promised more reforms and agreed to let Indians have a greater role in political affairs. Nevertheless, protests against the British continued.

In March 1919, the British passed the Rowlatt Acts to try to control protests in India. The acts attempted to restrict the political liberties and rights of Indians, including the right to trial by jury. But demonstrations against the government increased in response to the acts.

On April 13, 1919, thousands of Indians assembled in an enclosed area in Amritsar. Troops entered the meeting place and blocked the entrance. The British commander then ordered the soldiers to open fire on the unarmed crowd. The shots killed about 400 people and wounded about 1,200. This event, called the Amritsar Massacre, proved to be a turning point. From then on, Indians demanded complete independence from British rule. The British promised more reforms, but at the same time, they tried to crush the independence movement.

The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms were passed in late 1919 and went into full effect in 1921. The reforms increased the powers of the provincial legislative councils, where Indians were most active. The central legislative council was replaced by a legislature with most of its members elected. However, the viceroy and the governors still had the right to veto any bill. The Indians did not believe the reforms gave them enough power.

By 1920, Mohandas K. Gandhi had become a leader in the Indian independence movement and in the Indian National Congress, which had become the most important Indian political organization. Gandhi persuaded the Congress to adopt his program of nonviolent disobedience, also known as nonviolent noncooperation. Gandhi’s program asked Indians to boycott British goods, to refuse to pay taxes, and to stop using British schools, courts, and government services. As a result, some Indians gave up well-paying jobs that required them to cooperate with the British. Gandhi changed the Indian National Congress from a small party of educated men to a mass party with millions of followers.

New Constitution. In 1930, Gandhi led hundreds of followers on a 240-mile (386-kilometer) march to the sea, where they made salt from seawater. This action was a protest against the Salt Acts, which made it a crime to possess salt not bought from the government. The salt march and other acts of civil disobedience in the early 1930’s led the British to give the Indian people more political power. In 1931, Gandhi and the viceroy, Lord Irwin, signed an agreement. Gandhi agreed to give up his campaign of civil disobedience. The British agreed to release thousands of political prisoners.

The Government of India Act of 1935 created a new constitution. This Constitution gave provincial legislatures control over lawmaking in the provinces. It also increased the representation of Indians in all branches of government. However, the viceroy and the governors still kept their veto power over all bills, and the government controlled finances. As a result, many important changes that Indians wanted were never approved by the government.

Meanwhile, the Muslim League had become more politically active. In 1934, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who had been an important Congress leader, was chosen to head the Muslim League. Under Jinnah’s leadership, the league won a number of seats in the provincial legislatures, and membership increased rapidly. However, the provincial elections of 1937 showed that most Muslims still supported the Indian National Congress.

Jinnah increased his political activity and declared that the Congress could not speak for Muslims. In 1940, he demanded that a new country be carved out of India for Muslims. The name Pakistan , which means land of the pure in the Urdu language, came to be used for this proposed nation. According to Jinnah, India was to be for Hindus, and Pakistan for Muslims.

World War II (1939-1945). Britain declared war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939. As it had done before, in World War I, Britain again said that India was also at war with Germany. Indian leaders were angered because they had not been consulted. They continued to demand independence. Britain promised independence for India after the war. But members of the Indian National Congress demanded immediate self-government instead, and they refused to support the war effort.

Nevertheless, India was already helping Britain. Indian troops fought in Africa and the Middle East. Indian factories produced supplies for the British and Allied armies. The British exported coffee, tea, rice, and wheat from India to Allied nations. The export of these products contributed in part to the Bengal famine of 1943, in which about 3 million Indians died.

In December 1941, Japan entered the war on Germany’s side. Within a few months, Japanese troops had captured Burma. The Japanese invaded eastern India in March 1944. Many thousands of Indian troops decided to aid the Japanese in the hope of driving the British out of India. These soldiers, most of whom had been captured by the Japanese when they seized Burma, called themselves the Indian National Army. But British and Indian troops soon drove them back.

During the war, Britain continued to hold talks with the Indian National Congress. In a final effort to free India of the British, Gandhi launched another civil disobedience campaign, called the Quit India Movement, in August 1942. In response, the British jailed all Congress leaders for the rest of the war. The Muslim League, on the other hand, cooperated with the British during the war, with the understanding that their demands for a separate nation would receive serious consideration.

Independence and partition. At the conclusion of the war in 1945, Congress leaders were released and negotiations for independence were resumed. The British declared early in 1946 that they would grant India independence if Indian political leaders could agree among themselves on a form of government. Britain sent a special Cabinet mission to India, but the Congress and Muslim League could not settle their differences.

To show its strength and to warn the British not to make a separate agreement with the Congress, the Muslim League declared Aug. 16, 1946, as Direct Action Day. On that day, Muslims held nationwide demonstrations calling for the establishment of Pakistan. Bloody rioting broke out between Muslims and Hindus in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Similar violence later occurred elsewhere in India.

In 1947, Indian and British leaders agreed to partition (divide) the country into India and Pakistan. They saw no other way of bringing to an end the violence between Hindus and Muslims.

India became an independent nation on Aug. 15, 1947. Pakistan had become an independent nation the day before. Partition was accompanied by more violence and bloodshed. More than 10 million people became refugees, as Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan fled to India, and Muslims in India fled to Pakistan. About half a million people were killed in Hindu-Muslim riots.

Gandhi also fell victim to violence. On Jan. 30, 1948, while on his way to a prayer meeting in New Delhi, he was assassinated. A Hindu fanatic who hated Gandhi for his tolerance toward Muslims and disagreed with Gandhi’s policy of nonviolence shot him to death.

Although British India had become partitioned, an agreement also had to be reached with the princely states. Most local rulers agreed to merge their states into India. In return, the Indian government offered them annual payments. A few princely states joined Pakistan.

One state that initially merged into neither India nor Pakistan was Kashmir. Its ruler was Hindu, but the majority of its people were Muslims. Pakistani Muslims launched an invasion to take Kashmir by force, and Pakistan laid claim to the state. Kashmir’s ruler responded by seeking India’s protection and by making Kashmir part of India. The war between India and Pakistan lasted until 1949, when the United Nations (UN) arranged a cease-fire and set up a truce line. See KASHMIR.

In India, Jawaharlal Nehru, a close associate of Gandhi, became the first prime minister after independence. A constituent assembly drew up a new constitution. The assembly approved the Constitution in November 1949. The Constitution went into effect on Jan. 26, 1950. January 26 is now celebrated each year in India as a national holiday, Republic Day.

India in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. India’s first general election was held in 1951 and 1952. The Congress Party, under Nehru’s leadership, won a huge majority of the seats in India’s Parliament. Nehru sought to develop the country and raise the standard of living. Under Nehru, the central government ran the economy and controlled industry.

In 1951, India began its first five-year plan, a program designed to improve the country’s standard of living. This plan resulted in some notable achievements. Agricultural and industrial production grew rapidly, and school enrollment rose sharply. A rationing system enabled people to buy essential food items at low prices. New laws made it possible for more poor farmers to own the land they worked on. Women gained the right to divorce and to inherit property. Malaria was brought under control.

Nehru also sought to achieve the political unity of India. France gave up the last of its Indian territories in 1954, but Portugal refused to do so. It still had three small colonies in India-Damao (now Daman), Diu, and Goa. In 1961, Indian troops invaded these areas and defeated the Portuguese forces there. Goa became a state in 1987. Daman and Diu remained a territory.

Regional, language, and ethnic differences among Indians created difficulties for national unity. In 1953, after much pressure on the Indian government, the state of Andhra (now Andhra Pradesh) was created for Telugu speakers. In 1955, the States Reorganization Commission recommended the creation of other states based on language. At that time, the state boundaries were those that the British had drawn up. In 1956, most of India’s major language groups were given their own states. Additional states based on language were created later.

In foreign affairs, Nehru adopted a position of nonalignment. During the Cold War, a period of intense rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, most nations were allied with one side or the other. Nehru, however, refused to support either side. He chose to use the UN to resolve international conflicts and strongly supported UN peacekeeping operations.

Border disputes between India and China erupted into armed violence in October 1962, when Chinese forces swept into northeastern India. In November, the Chinese pulled back, and a cease-fire took effect. Nehru, who had been surprised by the Chinese invasion, decided that military spending should increase. As a result, more of the budget went to the armed forces and less to education, health, and social reform.

India under Indira Gandhi. Nehru died in office in 1964. He was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri, a member of his cabinet. In early 1965, fighting broke out along the Pakistan-India border, but Shastri and President Muhammad Ayub Khan of Pakistan quickly agreed to a cease-fire under UN supervision. There were many violations of the cease-fire, and later that year, Pakistan and India fought over Kashmir. Once again, a UN-sponsored cease-fire took effect.

In 1966, Shastri and Ayub Khan signed a peace treaty. Shastri died shortly after signing. A brief leadership struggle within the Congress Party followed Shastri’s death. Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, eventually became the prime minister in 1966.

In 1971, civil war broke out in Pakistan, and millions of East Pakistani refugees fled into India. India assisted East Pakistan in the fight against West Pakistan. West Pakistan was defeated , and East Pakistan became the independent nation of Bangladesh.

Gandhi had taken office during widespread unrest because of severe food shortages, unemployment, and other problems. The economic situation remained poor in the early 1970’s, and there were many demonstrations urging her removal. In June 1975, a high court found Gandhi guilty of using illegal practices in her 1971 election campaign. Rather than resign, Gandhi had the president declare a state of emergency. She claimed that external enemies and internal forces of disorder were trying to break India apart. She had her opponents jailed and imposed strict censorship. In November 1975, the Supreme Court of India overturned her conviction.

In 1977, Gandhi declared the state of emergency over. Political prisoners were released, and preparations were made for elections that year. For the first time, the Congress Party lost, and the newly formed Janata Party came into office. But the Janata Party, which was a coalition of several parties, could not hold itself together. By 1980, elections had to be held. Gandhi’s party, Congress-I (the I stood for Indira), won back power, and Gandhi once again became prime minister.

In the early 1980’s, a militant Sikh movement grew in the Punjab. The leaders of this movement claimed that the Sikhs suffered from widespread discrimination. They wanted a separate state only for Sikhs. Some Sikhs carried out acts of terrorism and violence against people who opposed the movement. Sikh militants occupied the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the most sacred Sikh shrine. In 1984, government troops attacked the temple. The leaders of the militants died in the fighting. Many Sikhs were angry that their shrine had been attacked, and two Sikh members of Gandhi’s security force assassinated her on Oct. 31, 1984. The assassination touched off riots in which several thousand Sikhs were killed. Gandhi’s elder son, Rajiv, succeeded her as head of the Congress-I Party and as prime minister.

Religious and ethnic unrest. In the late 1980’s, Muslim groups in Kashmir began to hold demonstrations against Indian rule. Many received the support of the Pakistani government. In 1989, the demonstrations turned violent. Since then, thousands of people have died as a result of clashes between Indian military forces and the Muslim groups.

In 1989 and 1990, violence between Hindus and Muslims erupted over the status of a mosque (Muslim place of worship) in the town of Ayodhya in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Some Hindus claimed that a Muslim ruler of the 1500’s had built the mosque at the site after destroying a Hindu temple there. They also claimed that the Hindu god Rama was born where the mosque had been built. They demanded that the mosque be removed and a temple be built to honor Rama. In 1992, Hindu extremists destroyed the mosque. This action led to violence between Hindus and Muslims in many areas of India.

A number of ethnic separatist groups emerged in the 1980’s and 1990’s. They included the United Liberation Forces of Assam, which called for independence for Assam, and the Bodo movement, which favored autonomy for the region inhabited by the Bodo people. In 1993 and 1994, violence broke out, mainly in Manipur, between Nagas wanting independence and Kukis, who also live in the region. The clashes left hundreds of people dead and many villages destroyed.

During Rajiv Gandhi’s term, the government-and the prime minister himself-came under suspicion of corruption. In 1989, the Congress Party lost its majority in Parliament, and Gandhi resigned. The National Front, a coalition of parties, then formed the government. The coalition proved unable to hold together, and new elections were called. While campaigning in May 1991, Gandhi was assassinated.

The 1991 elections returned the Congress Party to power, and P. V. Narasimha Rao became prime minister. Rao began a far-reaching policy of reform to liberalize the Indian economy by reducing government control over it. He ended many government monopolies and introduced competition in key industries. Investment by foreign corporations in India increased dramatically.

In elections in 1996, the Congress Party suffered a major defeat. India then entered a period of coalition governments.

Recent developments. In May 1998, India carried out several nuclear tests and declared itself capable of producing and using nuclear weapons. Pakistan, India’s long-time rival, responded by exploding several nuclear devices of its own.

In 1999, Indian troops clashed with Muslim guerrillas who had established positions on the Indian side of the truce line in Kashmir. India claimed that the guerrillas included Pakistani troops, but Pakistan denied that its troops were involved.

In 2000, the Lok Sabha voted to create three new states for India: Jharkhand, formed from the southern part of the state of Bihar; Uttaranchal, from northern Uttar Pradesh; and Chhattisgarh, from Madhya Pradesh. The three states came into being in November 2000.

On Jan. 26, 2001, a powerful earthquake struck the state of Gujarat. Tens of thousands of people were killed, and many more were left homeless.

In December 2001, armed terrorists attacked India’s Parliament building. They killed or injured over 20 people, though no elected official was harmed. India blamed Pakistan for supporting the terrorists, a claim that Pakistan denied. The incident led both countries to build up military forces along their common border.”

Contributors: Vinay Lal, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of History, University of California, Los Angeles.

Anil Lal, M.A., Instructor of English, Truman College.


Who is the most powerful person in the Indian government?

What is the caste system?

What major religions were founded in India?

What are monsoons? Why are they important?

Why does Indian music sound different from Western music?

What are some of the methods Mohandas K. Gandhi used in his campaign for Indian independence?

How does climate affect the way people in India live?

What are the earliest Indian written works? What language were they written in?

What was the Indian, or Sepoy, Rebellion? Why was it important?

What factors have had a negative effect on Indian unity?

                Additional resources

Kalman, Bobbie.India: The Culture. Crabtree Pub. Co., 1990. India: The Land. 1990. India: The People. 1990. Younger readers.

Mansingh, Surjit.Historical Dictionary of India. Scarecrow, 1996.

McNair, Sylvia.India. Childrens Pr., 1990. Younger readers.

Muthiah, S., ed.An Atlas of India. Oxford, 1990.

Nehru, Jawaharlal.The Discovery of India. Oxford, 1990.


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