As the juggernaut of world history rolled on, many civilisations rose and fell and passed into oblivion but the spirit of India remains eternal and invincible, unscathed by the onslaught of Time. Indian history follows a continuous process of reinvention that can eventually prove elusive for those seeking to grasp its essential character. The history of this astonishing subcontinent dates back to five thousand years ago when the inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilisation had developed an urban culture based on commerce and sustained by agricultural trade. Amongst the world’s oldest, richest and most diverse cultures, India’s unique ethos is rooted in its ethnic, cultural and religious diversity.
The political map of ancient and medieval India was made up of countless kingdoms with fluctuating boundaries that rendered the country vulnerable to foreign invasions. The Aryans were the first to invade the country. They came out of the North in about 1500 BC and brought with them strong cultural traditions. Persians, Greeks, Chinese nomads, Arabs, Portuguese, British and many others – the list of invaders who ruled India is long. Yet, none could crush the indomitable soul of Bharatvarsha!
Here is a brief account of the History of India, which seeks to articulate the undying magic of the amazing nation that – in the words of American author Mark Twain – ‘all men long to see, and having seen it once, would not give up that glimpse for all the wonders of the world’.
1. 2500 BC
The Mauryas were the first ruling dynasty to control large parts of North India and some parts of South India, as one territorial unit.
the empire reached its peak under Ashoka. He left pillars and rock-carved edicts, which delineate the enormous span of his territory that covered large areas of the Indian subcontinent.
Following the decline of the Mauryan Empire, a number of powerful kingdoms arose in central and south India, among them Satavahanas, Kalingas and Vakatakas hold precedence. Later on, these regions saw the rise of some of the greatest dynasties of South India in the form of the Cholas, Pandyas, Cheras, Chalukyas and Pallavas. The next dynasty worth a mention is that of the Guptas. Although the Gupta Empire was not as large as the Maurya Empire, it kept North India politically united for more than a century from AD 335 to 455.
The decline of the Guptas in North India and the consequent rise of a large but ineffective number of regional powers made the political situation very fluid and unstable by the ninth century AD. This paved the way for the Muslim invasion of India during the early half of the eleventh century.
These were felt in the form of 17 successive raids to North India, made by Mahmud of Ghazni between 1001 and 1025. These raids effectively shattered the balance of power in North India.
The next Muslim ruler to invade India Mohammad Ghauri attacked India and after some futile resistance by the local leadership, he founded a foreign empire in India. Under him, large parts of India came under Muslim rule and very soon his successor Qutub-ud-din Aibak became the first of the sultans of Delhi.
Defeating Lodis and Sayyids, the Mughals established, what came to be known as the most vibrant era of Indian History.
The Mughal Empire was massive, covering, at its height, almost the entire Indian subcontinent. The Mughal emperors presided over a golden age of arts and literature and had a passion for
buildings, which resulted in some of the greatest architecture in India, like the Taj Mahal at Agra. This apart, the large number of forts, palaces, gates, buildings, mosques, baolis (water tank or well) gardens, etc, forms the cultural heritage of the Mughals in India. The Mughals were also instrumental in establishing one of the most efficient administrative setups in India.
The decline of the Mughals saw the corresponding rise of Marathas in Western India. In other parts of India, however, a new trend of foreign invasion under the garb of commercial links had started from the 15th century AD onwards – first, with the arrival and gradual takeover of Goa by the Portuguese led by Vasco da Gama – between 1498 and 1510 AD; and then with the arrival, and the setting up of the first trading post at Surat, in Gujarat, by the East India Company.
The Danes and Dutch also had trading posts, and in 1672 AD, the French established themselves at Pondicherry, an enclave that they held even after the British had departed.