Indus Valley Civilization. The earliest civilization in the subcontinent developed in the valley of the Indus River, in what was formerly northwestern India and is now part of Pakistan. Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of two great Indus Valley cities, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, which date from about 2500 B.C. The cities were large and laid out in streets. Some houses had bathrooms with drains connected to sewers that ran underneath the streets.
The Aryans. About 1500 B.C., Aryan people from the northwest of the subcontinent settled in India and built a highly developed civilization. During the following centuries the Aryans gradually spread over all of northern India. In the 500's B.C. two great religions, Buddhism and Jainism, originated in eastern India. During the next 1,000 years Buddhism spread over most of Asia, and India became a "holy land" visited by pilgrims from far-off places. In the meantime, part of western India was conquered by Persia. Through the Persians, India came into contact with the Greek world. In 327-26 B.C., Alexander the Great of Macedonia invaded India but withdrew after his homesick army refused to go farther.
Hindu Kingdoms. Up until Alexander's invasion, the Aryan people had been divided into many small kingdoms. Inspired by Alexander, Candragupta Maurya, king of Magadha (modern Bihar), began to conquer the smaller kingdoms and build an empire in northern India. He unified the Aryan people under a single rule. Asoka, Candragupta's grandson, who reigned during the 200's B.C., was one of the great rulers of India. He introduced a policy of religious and racial tolerance.
After the death of Asoka, India again broke up into many small kingdoms. New waves of people from southwestern Asia entered the country, bringing foreign influence to northern India. In the same period several Dravidian kingdoms flourished in southern India. These kingdoms spread Indian influence to Southeast Asia, in what are now Cambodia (Kampuchea), Thailand, and Indonesia.
Gupta Rulers. In the A.D. 300's the Guptas, a new dynasty (or ruling house), came to power in northern India. The best known of the Gupta rulers was Candra Gupta II, who extended his empire across northern India. The Gupta period was the golden age of Indian culture. Poets and artists flourished. Several great universities were established. It was during this era that the mathematical concept of zero was developed in India. Later the concept was carried by the Arabs to Europe.
The Gupta empire was destroyed at the end of the 400's by the Huns, a tribal people from Central Asia. Thereafter, for more than a century, northern India was under the control of a number of local kingdoms. Finally, early in the 600's, one of the kings, Harsa, was able to unify much of northern India. But Harsa died in 647, leaving no heir to his throne. As a result, northern India was again broken up into a number of small kingdoms.
During the post-Gupta period several Dravidian kingdoms flourished in southern India. Among these were the Chola and Pallava kingdoms, which were seafaring states on the east coast.
Muslim Invasions. During the 1000's, Muslim invaders from Central Asia conquered northern India. They founded the sultanate (kingdom) of Delhi that dominated northern India for almost two centuries. In 1398 the Mongol conqueror Tamerlane invaded the Delhi Sultanate. As a result, northern India was again split into a number of kingdoms. However, in the south the Hindu empire of Vijayanagar was established, and it flourished until 1565.
The Mogul Conquest. The political disintegration of northern India led to an invasion by another Muslim people from Central Asia, the Moguls. Their leader, Babur, a descendant of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, conquered northern India in 1526 and proclaimed himself the first Mogul emperor of India. His grandson Akbar, who reigned from 1556 to 1605, was one of the ablest and best-known rulers of India. Unlike other Muslim rulers, Akbar allowed people of all religions to worship as they pleased. Akbar's son Jahangir ruled from 1605 to 1627. During his reign, an English ambassador sent by King James I became the first Englishman known to visit the subcontinent.
Mogul architecture reached its highest development during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan (1628-58), who built the famous Taj Mahal at Agra as a tomb for his wife. Shah Jahan's successor, Aurangzeb (or
European Penetration of India. In 1498 the Portuguese navigator and explorer Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India. Soon afterward European traders--Portuguese, Dutch, French, and English--came to India to look for the fine cotton cloth, rare woods, jewels, silk, and spices they had heard about. The Portuguese were the first to establish colonies on the west coast of India. They later lost most of their Indian territories but remained in Goa until 1961.
During the first half of the 1700's, the Dutch, French, and British set up trading settlements on the coast of India and became active rivals. In 1757 the British, under Robert Clive of the East India Company, won an important battle at Plassey by defeating the French and their local allies. As a result, the rich Ganges Valley region came under the control of the British East India Company.
The British Indian Empire. The Battle of Plassey laid the foundation of the East India Company's empire. The company, through war and diplomacy, continued to take over more and more Indian territory during the second half of the 1700's. Indian resentment of the British led to the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, in which Indian troops (sepoys) serving under the British revolted. The mutiny was put down by the company. But in the following year, the British government took over the East India Company's Indian empire. In 1877, Queen Victoria was proclaimed empress of India. The political map of India remained basically the same from the time of the Sepoy Mutiny until the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947.
The Indian National Movement. An Indian national movement began in the late 1800's, because the Indians wanted a constitution that would give them a greater share in governing themselves. When the British proved slow in granting reforms, the revolutionary movement grew. Soon the Indians were demanding self-government and freedom from British control. Important constitutional reforms were finally carried out by the British after World War I (1914-18), but they came too late to stop the tide of nationalism.
Mahatma Gandhi. Mohandas K. Gandhi, often called Mahatma (Great Soul), became the leader of the Indian national movement. Gandhi, a Hindu, was trained in law in England. He served twice as president of the Indian National Congress (later the Congress Party), which had been established in 1885 to work for the self-government of the Indian people.
In 1919, Gandhi began a policy of nonviolent protest to gain self-rule for India. He also sought to end discrimination against the Dalits. As part of his campaign of civil disobedience, he urged Indians not to buy British goods and to reject taxation without representation. Gandhi himself often fasted as a form of protest.
Partition and Independence. In 1935, under the Government of India Act, Britain gave India a new constitution. Muslim Indians, however, complained that the Hindu majority would gain control of the country and thereby place Muslim religion and culture in a disadvantageous position.
In 1940, Muslim leaders demanded a separate state of Pakistan to be formed from areas in the subcontinent that had a majority of Muslims. When all attempts to form a single government in an undivided India failed, the creation of the separate Muslim state of Pakistan was finally agreed to.
On August 15, 1947, the Indian subcontinent achieved independence. It was partitioned into two nations, India and Pakistan (including what is now Bangladesh). After partition, about 9 million Hindus and Sikhs moved from Pakistan to India. The settling of these refugees was a major problem for India.
In January 1948, Gandhi was assassinated in Delhi by an extremist Hindu who blamed Gandhi for the partition of the subcontinent. Gandhi's principal lieutenant, Jawaharlal Nehru, became India's first prime minister.
Relations between India and Pakistan were often hostile in the years that followed. In 1947 and again in 1965, the two nations went to war over the disputed territory of Kashmir. India's relations with China also were strained after Chinese troops attacked Indian border posts in 1962.
Recent History. Nehru died in 1964 and was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri. When Shastri died in 1966, Indira Gandhi, Nehru's daughter, became prime minister. Clashes between India and Pakistan erupted once more in 1971, when civil war broke out in East Pakistan. Indian troops occupied East Pakistan and helped in its formation as the new nation of Bangladesh. In 1975 the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim became part of India as its 22nd state.
Indira Gandhi's years as India's leader were marked by accomplishment and controversy. For a time she governed under a state of emergency that caused much criticism. Her defeat in the 1977 elections seemed the end of her political rule and that of the Congress Party. The party, which had governed India since independence, split into rival factions. But in 1980, Gandhi returned as prime minister and as head of her branch of the party.
The 1980's were marred by conflicts among India's many ethnic and religious groups. The Sikhs were especially passionate in their demands for equal religious status and for greater self-rule for their state of Punjab. Some Sikhs resorted to violence. In 1984, government troops stormed the Golden Temple at Amritsar, where armed Sikh extremists had taken refuge. The attack on their holiest shrine angered the Sikhs, who denounced the Gandhi government. These events had tragic results. On October 31, 1984, Gandhi was assassinated by Sikhs. Her son Rajiv succeeded her as leader of the Congress Party and prime minister. He headed the government until the 1989 elections, when the Congress Party lost its majority in Parliament. In 1991, while he was campaigning for re-election, Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a terrorist bomb.
The new head of the Congress Party, P.V. Narasimha Rao, became prime minister in 1991, but his party lost its majority in 1996. His successor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, was soon replaced by H.D. Deve Gowda of the left-center United Front coalition. Inder Kumar Gujral, also of the United Front, became prime minister in 1997. Vajpayee returned as prime minister following elections in 1998 and again in 1999. Three new states--Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Uttaranchal--were created in 2000.
Challenges of the Future. India, which has preserved the democratic ideals and practices it adopted at independence, has made great economic strides. It is among the top ten industrial nations of the world and is self-sufficient in food. But economic gains have been erased by population growth, and in 2001 a devastating earthquake in the heavily industrial state of Gujurat set back the economy even further.
The government also faced challenges from groups seeking to break from the Indian union. Meanwhile, tensions with Pakistan continued. In 1998 both countries tested nuclear weapons, raising fears of a nuclear confrontation between the two countries over the disputed area of Kashmir. In 2001, Pakistani suicide bombers attacked India's parliament, killing 13 people. The attack strained relations between the two countries even further. But in 2002, Prime Minister Vajpayee ruled out the possibility of another war. Later that year, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a missile scientist, was elected president. His priorities were to combat poverty and develop rural areas.