Saturday, November 18, 2006



Stone Age rock shelters with paintings at 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 Civilization 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 Ashoka united most of modern South Asia except the Tamil kingdoms in the south. From 180 BCE, a series of invasions from Central Asia followed including the Indo-Greeks, Indo-Scythians, Indo-Parthians and Kushans 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, in the south there were several dynasties such as the Chalukyas, Cholas, Pallavas and Pandyas, overlapping in time and space. Science, engineering, art, literature, astronomy, and philosophy flourished under the patronage of these kings.

The Sanchi stupa in Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh built by emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCFollowing the invasions from Central Asia, between the tenth to the twelfth centuries, much of north India came under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate, and later the Mughal dynasty, who gradually expanded their reign through large parts of the Indian subcontinent. Nevertheless, several indigenous kingdoms flourished, especially in the south, like the Vijayanagara Empire. From the sixteenth century onwards, several European countries, including Portugal, Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom, started arriving as traders, later taking advantage of the fractious nature of relations between the kingdoms, to establish colonies in the country. By 1856, most of India came under control of the British East India Company. A year later, a nationwide insurrection of rebelling military units and kingdoms, known locally as the First War of Indian Independence (known as the Sepoy Mutiny elsewhere) broke out, which failed even as it seriously challenged British rule. As a consequence, India came under the direct control of the British Crown as a colony of the British Empire.

Mahatma Gandhi (right) with India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal NehruIn the early twentieth century, a nationwide struggle for independence was launched by the Indian National Congress, largely led by Mahatma Gandhi. Millions of protestors would engage in mass campaigns of civil disobedience with a commitment to ahimsa or non-violence. Finally, on 15 August 1947, India gained independence from British rule not before losing its Muslim-majority areas which were carved out into a separate nation-state of Pakistan. Three years later, on 26 January 1950, India chose to be a republic, and a new Constitution came into effect.

Since independence, India has seen 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 escalated into the brief Sino-Indian War in 1962; 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. 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 and an emerging superpower in the world, and added to its global and regional clout.

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