History of India

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For more information, see: India.

Stone Age rock shelters with paintings at the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh are the earliest known traces of human life in India. The first known permanent settlements appeared over 9,000 years ago and gradually developed into the Indus Valley Civilization, dating back to 3300 BCE in western India. It was followed by the Vedic Civilisation, which laid the foundations of Hinduism and other cultural aspects of early Indian society. From around 550 BCE, many independent kingdoms and republics known as the Mahajanapadas were established across the country.

The empire built by the Maurya dynasty under Emperor Chandragupta Maurya and expanded by Ashoka the Great united most of modern South Asia in third century BCE. From 180 BCE, a series of invasions from Central Asia followed, including those led by the Indo-Greeks, Indo-Scythians, Indo-Parthians and Kushans (or Yuezhi) in the northwestern Indian Subcontinent. From the third century CE, the Gupta dynasty oversaw the period referred to as ancient India's "Golden Age." While the north had larger, fewer kingdoms, South India had several dynasties such as the Chalukyas, Cholas, Pallavas and Pandyas, which overlapped in time and territory. In particular, the thassalocratic Chola Empire stretched across the east coast of India and extended to large parts of South-East Asia.

Science, engineering, art, literature, astronomy, and philosophy flourished under the patronage of these kings.

Islam first arrived in India through Arab traders in the 7th and 8th centuries. Military excursions by Muhammad bin-Qasim of the Ummayyid Caliphate began the first Islamic conquest of the subcontinent. This was followed by invasions from Afghanistan between the tenth and twelfth centuries, leading to the takeover of the country under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate, and later the Mughal dynasty by Central Asian invaders. Mughal emperors gradually expanded their kingdoms to cover large parts of the subcontinent. Nevertheless, several indigenous kingdoms, such as the Vijayanagara Empire, flourished, especially in the south. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the Mughal supremacy declined and the Hindu Maratha Confederation, under the Chhatrapati Shivaji Raja Bhonsle, became the dominant power. From the sixteenth century, several European countries, including Portugal, Netherlands, Denmark, France and Britain started arriving as traders and later took advantage of the fractious nature of relations between the kingdoms to establish colonies in the country. By 1856, most of India was under the control of the British East India Company. A year later, a nationwide insurrection of rebelling military units and kingdoms, variously referred to as the First War of Indian Independence or Sepoy Mutiny, seriously challenged British rule but eventually failed. As a consequence, India came under the direct control of the British Crown as a colony of the British Empire.

During the first half of the twentieth century, a nationwide struggle for independence was launched by the Indian National Congress and other political and revolutionary organisations. Millions of protesters engaged in mass campaigns of civil disobedience with a commitment to ahimsa or non-violence, led by Mahatma Gandhi. Finally, on 15 August, 1947, India gained independence from British rule, but not before losing its Muslim-majority areas, which were carved out into the separate nation-state of Pakistan. In 1950 India became a republic, and a new constitution came into effect.

Since independence, India has experienced sectarian violence and insurgencies in various parts of the country, but has maintained its unity and democracy. It has unresolved territorial disputes with China, which in 1962 escalated into the brief Sino-Indian War, resulting in a tactical victory for China; and with Pakistan, which resulted in wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and in 1999 in Kargil. India is a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations (as part of British India). In 1974, India conducted an underground nuclear test, called "Smiling Buddha." This was followed by five more tests in 1998. Significant economic reforms beginning in 1991 have transformed India into one of the fastest-growing economies, adding to its global and regional clout.