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History

Indian history dates back to 3000 BC. Excavations in Punjab and Gujarat reveal that the Indus Valley civilisation was a highly developed urban civilisation. In fact the two cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, situated on two sides of the river Ravi, are known to have been built on a similar plan. But that only meant a new wave of urbanisation was taking place along the Ganges around 1500 BC. This has been recorded in the Rig Veda - the earliest known literary source composed in this period that sheds light on India's past.

The Great Dynasties

By 6th century BC, the Magadh rulers dominated the Northern plains. It was also the time when new thinking emerged in the form of Buddhism and Jainism to challenge Hindu orthodoxy. The Magadh rule was followed by the rule of Chandragupta Maurya (322-298 B.C.), one of India's greatest emperors. The Mauryan reign peaked under the reign of Ashoka the Great who extended his empire from the Kashmir and Peshawar in the North to Mysore in the South and Orissa in the East. Not only was Ashoka a great ruler, he was one of the most successful propagators of Buddhism in the country. After Ashoka's death in 232 B.C. the empire began to disintegrate and the country was repeatedly raided and plundered by foreign invaders, leaving India disunited and weak for the next 400 years. Stability returned with the reign of Chandra Gupta I (380-412 A.D.). His rule is considered the golden period in Indian history when art and culture flourished and the country prospered. Unlike the North of India, foreign invasions had little impact on life in South India which also saw the rise and decline of many empires. These included the Cholas whose rule extended to Sri Lanka and South East Asia, the Pandyas, the Cheras, the Pallavas and the Chalukyas. Under the various rulers, arts and craft in the South also saw the emergence of various styles of architecture and some of the grandest architectural accomplishments in the South - the most famous being the exquisitely crafted Chola bronzes. These were followed by the Hoysala and the Vijaynagar empires - among the greatest Hindu empires.

The Muslim Invasions

The first Muslim invasions of the country started with the Mahmud of Gazni, who plundered the sub-continent for its riches between 1001 and 1025. Later Mohamed Ghori defeated Prithviraj Chauhan, the Tomar ruler of Delhi and left it in charge of his deputy, Qutub-ud-din, the man who built the Qutub Minar in Delhi. His rule was followed by that of the Khilji, Tughlaq, Sayyid and Lodi dynasties. Known as the Sultanate of Delhi, it was during this period that the Muslim rulers introduced Islamic concepts of society and governance to most of the sub-continent, though the South remained largely untouched. In 1525, Babur, a descendant of Timur, as well as Genghis Khan invaded Punjab and eventually founded the Mughal empire in India. His rule was followed by that of his son Humayun. Humayun was ousted by Afghan chieftain Sher Shah but resumed power after Sher Shah's death. Sher Shah is, however, remembered as the one to build the Grand Trunk road spanning from Peshawar to Patna. Humayun's reign was followed up by his son Akbar who actually consolidated power and extended the empire across North India and parts of South India. One of India's wisest rulers and most able administrators, Akbar's reign is considered to be one of the best the country has known. Akbar was succeeded by Jahangir, followed by his son Shah Jahan - best known as the builder of the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid. Shah Jahan's reign was followed by Aurangzeb's. The death of Aurangzeb saw the decline of the Mughal rule in India

British Rule

Over the centuries India had always been attractive to traders, and one of the first Europeans to come to India was the Portuguese trader Vasco da Gama who landed at Calicut, sailing via the Cape of Good Hope in 1498. The Portuguese established their colony in Goa in the 16th Century but they did not expand it though their rule continued till 1961. Vasco da Gama was followed by the French, the Dutch and the English, all of whom were lured by the commercial interests that India offered. By the last quarter of the 18th century the English established themselves as the dominant power in India and they set about making revolutionary changes in the social, political and the economic life of the country.

Towards Independence

The disintegration of the Mughal empire, fighting among the Maratha rulers and inability of the various rulers across the country to unite against a common enemy saw the British consolidate their position in the country. However, the 19th century saw a revival of national pride and social reform and the Indians began to tire of the suppressive British rule. Things reached a flash point in the second half of the 19th century when the first war of independence in 1857 broke out in Meerut. It was sparked off by the introduction of a new rifle and cartridge by the British in the Army. The cartridges which soldiers had to bite off, allegedly contained pork and beef tallow, which offended the religious sentiments of both Hindus and Muslims. The soldiers rebelled, reached Delhi and proclaimed Bahadurshah Zafar the sovereign ruler of India. They were eventually overpowered by the British. But there was no looking back for the Indians who wanted social reform and freedom. The Indian National Congress was set up and educated Indians started formulating strategies to assert their birthright to independence. The anti-British sentiment became a mass movement with the arrival of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who devised a unique strategy for India's freedom struggle based on non-violence and civil disobedience. He conceived and led the non-cooperation movement in 1922, the Salt Satyagraha in 1930 and the Quit India Movement in 1942. All of which pushed the British into agreeing to transfer power on August 15, 1947, the day that is now celebrated as India's Independence Day. Today, India is the world's largest democracy with a federal form of government.

Geography

India is the seventh largest country in the world with a total land area of 3.3 million square kilometers. It is 2933 kms wide and the 3214 kms long. The Indian sub-continent is unique from the rest of Asia. In the North are the towering Himalayas which slope out into the great Indo-Gangetic plains. In Central India, the Vindhya ranges separate the Deccan Peninsula from the northern plains. On the east coast of the country is the Bay of Bengal, while on the west coast is the Arabian Sea. The southern-most tip of the country projects into the Indian Ocean

Apart from the mountains, plains and the seas, India has just about every geographical feature as well. In the West of the country lies the Thar desert in Rajasthan. A little south of it are the unique marshlands of Kutch, while on the east where the Ganges drains out into the sea is the world' s largest delta and a unique mangrove forest. Indian islands include the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal and the Lakshadweep Islands in the Indian ocean. These unique features mean that the country has a wide variety of flora, fauna and a climate that ranges from tropical to arctic.

Climate

The climate of the country varies from region to region. The North enjoys cold climate in the winter months between November and March. The coastal areas have a tropical climate throughout the year, while the plains and most central and southern regions of the country are hot in the summer months of April and June. Most of the country has a vigorous monsoon, which lasts from July and October.

Languages

India's official language is Hindi in the Devanagri script. It is the primary tongue of 30% of the people. The States are free to decide their own regional languages for internal administration and education, so there are 18 official languages spoken throughout the country. Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese, Kashmiri and Sindhi, are among the official languages which are also widely spoken. Sanskrit, though an official language is hardly ever used except in rituals and ceremonies. While English enjoys associate status, it is widely spoken and is one of the most important languages for national, political, and commercial communication. In all there are 24 different languages, each spoken by a million or more persons; as well as millions of other languages and dialects.

Religion

As the birthplace of four major religions that exist even today, India is rightfully known as the land of spirituality and philosophy. The most dominant religion in India today is Hinduism with almost 81% of the people being Hindus. One of the truly ancient religions of the world, Hinduism is believed to have developed nearly 5000 years ago.Around 500 BC two other religions made their mark in India: Buddhism and Jainism and today while these two religions together account for no more than 1.2% of the population, their impact on Indian culture and sensibility is far in excess of that. Between them these three ancient religions - Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism - moulded Indian philosophy and thinking. One comparatively new religion in India is Sikhism which was established in the 15th century. Today about 2% of Indians are Sikhs. There were other attempts to create new religions in India, and though they did not always succeed, they add to the mystic lore and spiriual depth of the land. For example, the great Mughal emperor, Akbar, who reigned between 1556 and 1605, tried to establish a new religion, Din-E-Elahi. Sadly, it did not survive. Along with the religions that developed in India, there are followers of non-Indian religions as well. Islam is the chosen faith of a hefty 12% of India's population. Christians account for more than 2%, and Zoroastrians (Parsis) though a tiny minority, still make their presence felt. There are also a few thousand Jews in India. As the birthplace of four major religions that exist even today, India is rightfully known as the land of spirituality and philosophy. The most dominant religion in India today is Hinduism with almost 81% of the people being Hindus. One of the truly ancient religions of the world, Hinduism is believed to have developed nearly 5000 years ago.Around 500 BC two other religions made their mark in India: Buddhism and Jainism and today while these two religions together account for no more than 1.2% of the population, their impact on Indian culture and sensibility is far in excess of that. Between them these three ancient religions - Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism - moulded Indian philosophy and thinking. One comparatively new religion in India is Sikhism which was established in the 15th century. Today about 2% of Indians are Sikhs. There were other attempts to create new religions in India, and though they did not always succeed, they add to the mystic lore and spiritual depth of the land. For example, the great Mughal emperor, Akbar, who reigned between 1556 and 1605, tried to establish a new religion, Din-E-Elahi. Sadly, it did not survive. Along with the religions that developed in India, there are followers of non-Indian religions as well. Islam is the chosen faith of a hefty 12% of India's population. Christians account for more than 2%, and Zoroastrians (Parsis) though a tiny minority, still make their presence felt. There are also a few thousand Jews in India.

For more information on India please email us at info@madrascafe.net.
Source: (c) Department of Tourism/Ministry of Tourism and Culture
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