India through the Lens of History
If you are visiting India as a tourist, to understand the rich layers of modern India, you have to understand its history. We have covered for your the evolution of India through its major historic landmark empires and cultures. We hope you make the best of your journey on Indian Visa Online (eVisa India)
Every country bears a history of its own, what happens within the geographical border of a country becomes its history. Sometimes, certain incidents overlap the determined border of a region and further the story in the pages of history. If you are looking at the country of India today, you might also be required to look at its past to understand its today better. The lingual heterogeneity, the cultural diversity, faith of different disciplines, tribal and non-tribal difference, the pros and cons of the colonial hangover, world before the colonisation, the legacy of the Mughals and Maharajas of India, all of this left a distinctive imprint on the soft soil of India. History of this nation as if got fossilized as civilization trampled upon it generations after generations.
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We can agree on the fact that every country, every continent, in fact, is always in the act of ‘becoming’. There is no conclusive truth to origins or languages or history. Places and countries are always in a state of change, they are constantly metamorphosing while still leaving behind a hint of the past. The existence of languages like Sanskrit, the grandeur of the Taj Mahal, the taste of Irani chai, the Banarasi saree so fondly worn by women, are all witnesses of the lost time in India. Let us give you a certain degree of clarity on what is India today and what is it made up of.
As a traveller and explorer of the world, it is one's duty to learn certain interesting stories and facts about a country. Not only does it broaden one's knowledge of world history, but it also helps you navigate better through the million narrow lanes of the world. Here's to knowing and understanding the country of India!
The chronology of civilizations that breathed in India are as follows:
- Palaeolithic Period (2 million BC to 10,000 BC)
- Mesolithic Period (10,000 BC to 8,000 BC)
- Neolithic Period (8,000 BC to 2,000 BC)
- Indus Valley Civilization (2,000 BC to 1900 BC)
- Chalcolithic Period (4,000 BC to 1,500 BC)
- Iron Age (1,500 BC to 200 BC)
- Mauryan Empire (324 BC to 187 BC)
- Gupta Empire (300 AD to 800 AD)
- Medieval Age (AD 700 to AD 1857)
- Modern India ( AD 1857 to AD 1991)
Of all the eras mentioned above, only a few could bring dynamic changes to the time they existed. Others while not insignificant in their existence, could only further the passage of time, from one age to another. Thus, not being able to contribute to the history of India profoundly. We will be focusing on certain specific civilizations and ages to understand the Heritage India holds today. Let us dive into the womb of Indian history!
Indus Valley Civilization
The first ever civilization to have thrived on the soil of India is the Indus Valley Civilization or also known by the name Harappa civilization. The civilization ranged from 2500 BCE to 1700 BCE, however, the legacy lasted for a bit longer on the sudden region of the Indian subcontinent. Out of the world's three major and earliest civilizations, the other two being Mesopotamian and Egypt, we can safely say that the Indus Valley civilization was the most expansive form of civilization the world ever witnessed.
The very first discovery of the civilization was made in the year 1921, at Harappa situated in Punjab and the very next discovery was made shortly in the year 1922 at the Mohenjo-Daro site located very close to the Indus river in the region of Sindh. In today's date, both these very crucial sites are present within the geographical border of Pakistan. The remains of the Mohenjo-Daro civilization was designated at UNESCO World Heritage Site. The civilization is known to have flourished in the form of two separate expansive cities, called Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro and curtailed about a hundred towns and villages which were comparatively of smaller size.
While the two cities were located at a distance of about 1 mile from each other, it suggested from the archaeology and divisions that the political ground for both these cities was one. The division could have been such that it was one singular empire that ruled over the two states or the two individual states complied with each other politically.
One of the many readings suggests that Harappa civilization took over Mohenjo-Daro civilization which might also be the result of heavy flooding. The population strength of Harappa was estimated to be around 23500 to 35000 and in the state of Mohenjo-Daro, it was probably 35000 to 41250. The Southern region of the Kathiawar Peninsula looks like the region which developed gradually. Newer compared with the other established regions of the Indus valley civilization.
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Iron Age marks the finality that began with the three-term age division with prehistory and proto-history of humanity. Later, the age was ultimately taken over by the Bronze age and the Stone age respectively. Although the civilization left its imprint primarily in the region of Europe, a significant amount of its existence was reflected in other parts of the world; one of them being the country of India. To measure the duration of the iron age is a little tricky because of its extensive territory operating individually. While in certain regions the age thrived for a considerable time, in other parts of the old world it could not develop to a fruitful extent.
As the name itself suggests, the Iron Age has evolved locally with the production of the iron or steel and prospered to the extent where labourers begin to invent iron tools and advanced weaponry to replace it with their existing bronze equivalents. As you already know, bronze as a metal is costlier than iron. This effectively uplifted the economy and served the same purpose in use. Coming to the subcontinent of India, the Iron age paved in in the form of paintings. Beautifully painted grey wares began to surface as exquisite all over India and beyond.
Studies suggest that the paintings range up to the 15th century BC which extends to the reign of Ashoka. In the archaeology of South East Asia, the term 'Iron age' began to be used quite recently while in the country of China the documentation of the age's history began even before the iron paintings arrived, therefore, the term is not in frequent use there. They later went for the nomenclature.
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The Mauryan Empire was born in 321 BCE and breathes it last in 185 BCE (dates can vary depending upon the region). Geographically, the Mauryan Empire stretched almost all over India. Other than expansively covering the Northern and Southern portions of India, it also expanded to regions of modern-day Iran. The first-ever leader to rule the Mauryan Empire was the very celebrated King, Chandragupta Maurya. He strategically consolidated his empire considering Alexander the Great deteriorating power and fame.
After Alexander died in 323 BCE, Chandragupta Maurya seized this opportunity to further expand his empire by inculcating a strong army and defeating the deep-rooted Nanda power established in the land of Magadha (present-day eastern India). This inscribes the grand beginning of the modern empire after crowning himself the king of the newly-formed emperor Chandragupta Maurya. Later, he conquered more lands through his valour and by forming alliances in respective territories
The lands he conquered and won was not just a result of heroism, but calculated moves that proved his intelligence as an emperor. They say a true friend and advisor is a boon to one's life and this boon was given to Chandragupta in the form of Chanakya. He would always advise and contribute greatly to further the legacy of Chandragupta. Chanakya (sometimes also referred to as Kautilya) was also famous for politically strategizing Chandragupta's political affairs.
Chanakya wrote the 'Arthashastra', which is a book of treatises defining leadership and government. The Arthashastra describes in detail how an ideal state should function how it should be organising its economy, politics, culture, while still maintaining absolute power over the state.
Picture source: Pinterest.
You would be interested to know that one of the most spectacular descriptions in Arthashastra was the involvement of spies in state affairs. These spies functioned as the eyes and ears for the ones holding power. Thus, making sure that there is no form of divisive politics happening in the state. They would greatly contribute to the purpose of surveillance of the king and his ministers while they were away at war. If we observed from a zoomed-out perspective, this also exposes the feeble and flickering human nature, the lack of trust between the government and its people and within the people itself.
The Maurya Empire functioned on a single currency system all across India and beyond. To make sure this distribution is done and in justifiable manners, a committee of regional governors and administrators was appointed to make sure that full security and trust is given to farmers, traders, labourers and everyone who contributed to society.
The government also effectively erased all signs of violence by removing gangs of bandits, chieftains who tried to authorise power over the locals, regional armies that functioned against the government and other signs of violent perpetrators. The revenue collection was always regimental, however, the emperor made sure that facilities such as building water channels and trade access was sponsored and looked after by the ministers themselves.
Due to the consistent stability within the empire itself, internal trade flourished to its best during Chandragupta's reign.
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Medieval India can be best described as the passage which bridged the Gupta Empire of the 6th century AD and the beginning of the Mughal empire in 1526. It is the transitional period from ancient India to modern India. One of the longest eras to have thrived in the country giving the maximum amount of transformation that took place within India. The period began with the slow disintegration of the Gupta Empire, from 480 to 550, marking the end of the so-called 'classical period' of India or what call it as the 'ancient period'. However, please note that the ranges of both these periods are vastly different, especially when concerned with art and religion.
While there was no consolidated rule in the country, independent dynasties were ruling all over the region of India for a considerable period. Some dynasties were paying some sort of tributes to larger dynasties. Towards the beginning of the medieval age, the Pratihara dynasty was considered the largest and most powerful dynasty to exist in that period of transition. It was also considered one of the greatest rivals of the Gupta Empire which ruled over a huge chunk of the land extending from the sixth century to the eleventh century. They were always distinguished from the existing kingdoms and were called the Imperial Pratiharas. Few other prominent dynasties to have thrived during the medieval age were:
- Chalukya Dynasty
- Rashtrakuta Dynasty
- Chola Empire
- Empire of Harsha
- Kalachuri Dynasty
- Eastern Ganga Dynasty
- Western Ganga Dynasty
- Hoysala Empire
- Kakatiya Kingdom
- Sena Dynasty
Following this, Indian history witnessed the fall of Buddhism in India and the rise of the Delhi Sultanate which was brought about by Muslim conquests in the territory of India. From here began the Indo-Islamic transformation which progressed in India through architectural forebodings, art, religion, language and most importantly, a trade which was furthered by the Bengal Sultanate forming one of the world's most crucial trading centres. The reigns that followed later were:
- Delhi Sultanate
- Chero Dynasty
- Bengal Sultanate
- Reddy Kingdom
- Seuna Dynasty
- Individual Rajput States
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The early modern period began with the strengthening of the new dynamic rule - the Mughal Empire in the 16th century. The term 'dynamic' has been used to define the power of the Mughal Empire because it brought about the revolutionary proto-industrialisation pushing India towards a global economy to an uprising of GDP, comprising of a quarter of the world GDP. At that time, it was considered stronger than the combined GDP of Europe. However, towards the early eighteenth century, the Mughal Empire slowly came to a standstill, thus, making way for the Marathas, Mysoreans, the Nawab of Bengal and the Nizams to gain authority over the vast regions of the Indian subcontinent.
As soon as the power was individually vested to the local government, it provided the much-needed opportunity for the East India Company to make its way into the territory of India and begin its expansion in terms of politics and economy. With great convenience, the East India Company established sovereign British rule all over India and began to operate from the country itself. With the settlement of the colonisers on the foreign land of India begin the discomfort of the native Indians who had to pay heavy monthly taxes to the Britishers and were denied certain individual rights in their own land. Additionally, they also suffered severe consequences if they refused to follow the law imposed upon them by the government or requested their basic human rights. This led to the first act of rebellion in the year 1857 which shook parts of Central and North India. This led to the immediate abandonment of the company.
Picture source: The Guardian.
India later got undertaken by the British Crown in the British Raj. However, since the incident, nothing eventually took place in favour of the British Raj. The struggle for independence came into full force by the Indian National Congress, which was led by Mahatma Gandhi who later got the title of 'The Father of the Nation' and was celebrated for his non-violence approach.
Later, due to the history that existed between the religion of India and their current political situation the country got divided into India and Pakistan with the intention that Pakistan would be the land of Muslim majority and Hindustan India will be the land of Hindu majority the partition of India took place on both gaining their own definition of independence.
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