India is the name
given to the vast peninsula which the continent of Asia throws out to
the south of the magnificent mountain ranges that stretch in a sword
like curve across the southern border of Tibet. Shaped like an irregular
quadrilateral, this large expanse of territory, we call India, deserves
the name of a subcontinent. Ancient Geographers referred India as being
“constituted with a four-fold conformation” (chatuh samasthana
samsthitam), “on its South and West and East is the Great Ocean, the
Himavat range stretches along its north like the string of a bow”. The
name Himvat in the above passage refers not only to the snow capped
ranges of the Himalayas but also to their less elevated offshoots -the
Patkai, Lushai and Chittagong Hills in the east, and the Sulaiman and
Kirthar ranges in the west. These go down to the Sea and separate India
from the wooded valley of Irrawady, on the one hand, and the hilly
tableland of Iran, on the other. The Himalayas standing tall in
breathtaking splendor are radiant in myth and mystery. These, the
youngest and tallest mountain ranges, feed the Ganga with never-ending
streams of snow. The Himalayas are home to the people of Kashmir,
Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
Indians love these snow-capped peaks because they are a part of every
Indian's life. Indian's revere the mountains, as they would, the father.
Even today, when Urban india is racing against time, in the caves of the
snow-clad peaks, live hermits - seeking the divine. Not a surprise when
you consider that even this century has seen some great philosophers
like Ramana Maharishi, Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramhansa and J.
Land And Location
The Vindhya mountains cut right across the country, from West to East,
and form the boundary between North and South India.
India is also fortunate in possessing one of the world’s most extensive
and fertile lands, made up of the alluvial Soil brought down in the form
of fine silt by the mighty rivers. Lying south of the Himalayas, these
Great North Indian Plains consist of the Indus basin, Ganga-Brahmaputra
basin, and the tributaries of these mighty river systems.
To the south of the Great Plains of northern india lie the Great Plateau
of Peninsular India, which is divided into two parts, viz., the Malwa
Plateau and the Deccan Plateau. The Malwa plateau - bounded by the
Aravalli hills in the northwest and the Vindhyas in the Vindhyas form
the northern half of this peninsula. Chhota Nagpur region forms the
northeastern part of this plateau and is the richest minerals producing
region of India. The valley of the Narmada river forms the southern
boundary of this plateau. The Deccan plateau, extends from the Satpura
hills in the north to Kannayakumari, in South.
Towards the west of this plateau lie the Western Ghats that comprise of
the Sahyadri, the Nilgiri, the Annamalai and the Cardamom Hills. On the
eastern side, this plateau merges into a layer of discontinuous low
hills known as the Mahendra Giri hills, which comprise of the Eastern
Narrow coastal plains along the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal flank
the Deccan Plateau, on its eastern and western sides, respectively. The
Western coastal plains lie between the Western Ghats and the Arabian
Sea, further split into the northern Konkan Coast and the southern
Malabar Coast. The eastern coastal plains, on the other hand lie between
the Eastern Ghats and the Bay of Bengal and like the western plains are
divided into two parts - the Coromandel Coast as the southern part and
the Northern Sircaras as the northern.
Towards the western half of India lies a vast stretch of land that is
divided, by the Aravalli mountains, into two separate units. The area
west of the Aravalli comprises of the Thar Desert - made up of sand and
interrupted by rocky hills and waterless valleys, this arid land, extend
deep into Pakistan. The state of Gujarat lies to the east of this range
and is one of the most prosperous regions in India.
These mainland areas apart, India has two groups of islands - the
Andaman and Nicobar in the Bay of Bengal and the Lakshadweep in the
Politically, India as it existed before its independence, however,
extended beyond these natural boundaries and included not only
Baluchistan beyond the Kirthar range, but also some small areas that lay
in the Bay of Bengal.
Historically, this vast landmass - we call India, was known as
Bharat-Varsha, or the land of Bharata, a king famous in Puranic
tradition. This territorial unit was said to form part of a larger unit
called Jambu-dvipa - the innermost of seven concentric island-continents
into which the earth, as conceived by the Hindu cosmographers, was
supposed to have been divided.
The name ‘India’ was applied to the country by the Greeks. It
corresponds to the “Hi(n)du” of the old Persian epigraphs.Like “Sapta
sindhavah” and “Hapta Hindu”- the appellations of the Aryan country in
the Veda and the Vedinand - it is derived from Sindhu (Indus), the great
river that constitutes the most imposing feature of that part of the
sub-continent, which seems to have been the cradle of its earliest known
civilizations. Rising in southwestern Tibet, at an altitude of 16,000
feet, Indus enters the Indian territory near Leh in Ladakh.
The river has total drainage area of about 4,50,000 square miles, of
which 1,75,000 square miles lie in the Himalayan Mountainsand foothills.
After flowing eleven miles beyond Leh, in the north Indian state of
Jammu and Kashmir, the basin is joined on the left by its first
tributary, the Zanskar, which helps green the Zanskar Valley. Many
interesting mountain trails beckon the mountaineering enthusiasts to the
The Indus then flows past Batalik. When it enters the plains, its famous
five tributaries-Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej-that give Punjab
(the food bowl of India) its name as the “land of five rivers,” join it.
However,much of the myth and sentiment attached to India is related with
the Ganges. The gushing waters of the Ganges are at once peaceful, and
at once tumultuous. Nature’s glory and man’s aspirations have long met
along the Ganges. As her civilization spread out further, a pilgrimage
had to be undertaken to reach her watery shores. Fairs and festivals
began to be celebrated on her banks. The history of Ganga is as long as
the history of Indian civilization. Barring the period of Harappan
civilization, Ganga basin has been the spectator to all the actions that
shaped mythology, history, and people of India. It was in this plain
that the great kingdoms of India, viz., Magadh, Gupta, and Mughals found
their home. It was in this region that one of the most homogenous
cultures of all times was born. Furthermore, it was in this place that
the essence of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism was established
in india. Ever since then, the river has been the lifeline of India,
economically,spiritually and even culturally.
The mighty Ganga (also Ganges) emerges from beneath the Gangotri glacier
at a height of 3,959 m above sea level, in the Garhwal region of North
India. Here she is known as the Bhagirathi, after the legendary prince
Bhagirath who is accredited with bringing her down from heaven to earth.
Bursting forth at Gaumukh, out of a huge cavern shaped like the mouth of
a cow, snow laden and hung with giant icicles, the Bhagirathi goes
rushing, sparkling, foaming around chunks of ice that are constantly
breaking off from the glacier above. Eighteen kilometers downstream,
stands Gangotri, which was the source of the river until the glacier
melted and retreated to its present position above Gaumukh. From here,
onwards the river passes through the plains of North India, covering the
states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, and Bangladesh. Along the
route that Ganga and her tributaries took, they set up different
settlements, each of which was distinct and developed its own indigenous
Uttarkashi,Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag, Rishikesh and Haridwar
are some of the important sites on the coast of this holy river during
the early phase of its journey through North India. From Haridwar to
Allahabad, the Ganga flows parallel to the Yamuna, another important
river flowing through North India, each describing a huge arc. It flows
past Garhmukteshwar, the very place where the goddess Ganga is said to
have appeared to Shantanu (ancestor of the Pandavas), and Bithur, a city
close to but much older than Kanpur, the site of an ancient Shiva
temple, before reaching Allahabad, an important religious centre of
Allahabad is a sacred place with soul cleansing powers, particularly so
because the mythical, subterranean river Saraswati is said to join the
Ganga and Yamuna at this point-a speck of white sand known as the Sangam.
In Vedic times, there was a settlement at this confluence, known as
Prayag, where the Vedas were written. Brahma himself is said to have
performed a sacrifice here. Huen Tsang visited Prayag in ad 634. It was
under Mughal Emperor Akbar that Prayag was renamed Illahabas, later to
be changed to Allahabad. Overlooking the confluence is a massive,
historic, red stone fort built by Akbar.
Like Haridwar, Varanasi is also a temple town of India. However, it is
difficult to describe Varanasi. As Shri Ramakrishna once said, “One may
as well try to draw a map of the universe as attempt to describe
Varanasi in words.” As old as any currently inhabited city on earth, it
was already well known in the days of Buddha, 2,500 years ago. It finds
constant mention in ancient literature and has all along been a
pilgrimage center, sacred to Shiva. Hindus consider it an auspicious
place to die, for then one goes straight to heaven. Surprisingly,
Varanasi does not mark one of Ganga’s great confluences, but is named
after two small rivers that join here, the Varuna and Asi. The oldest
habitation site of India - Kashi, lies north of the Varuna.
Crossing the vast Gangetic plain, the Ganga flows past Patna, the famous
Pataliputra as mentioned in the history books across India. She flows
past Mokamah a place famous as the working destination of the great
hunter-conservationist Jim Corbett while in India. It flows past Farakka
Barrage, built to divert more water from Ganga to Hooghly to prevent the
latter from silting. Soon thereafter, the Ganga splits into the numerous
tributaries that form the Gangetic delta. The Hooghly, regarded as the
true Ganga, is one of these tributaries. The main channel proceeds to
Bangladesh as the river Padma, so dearly loved by Rabindranath Tagore -
the legendary poet of India.
Like the Ganges, the vast networks of rivers flowing throughout India
are sacred to its people. The same goes for the region south of the
Gangetic Plains in north India. This region is a highland zone rising to
the chain of the Vindhya Mountains - forming the land of the river
Cauvery Long revered by the people of India, for the bounties
offertility bestowed by the gentle waters, this river flows from the
azure mountains of the Nilgiris. Today, this region covering the four
south Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kanataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh
offers visible continuity with traditions in time. Above the land of
Cauvery lies Orissa, another culturally rich state in India that is fed
by the river Mahanadi.
Through the east of India, flows the very cascading Brahamputra. The
waters of the Brahmaputra travel all the way from China through the
Indian States of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. Further northeast are
seven other states - Tripura, Meghalaya, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh,
Nagaland and Mizoram.
The two rivers Narmada and Tapti in central and western India have a
unique distinction of flowing in the east to west direction, unlike
other major rivers in India India with the exception of Brahmaputra. Out
of the two, Narmada has more mythological significance as being the
mother and giver of peace. Legends in India have it that the mere sight
of this river is enough to cleanse one’s soul, as against a dip in the
Ganga or seven in the Yamuna.
India is also home to a large and diverse population that has added to
its vibrant character since ages. There are about 3,000 communities in
India. So wide and complex is the mix of the Indian population that
two-thirds of her communities are found in the geographical boundaries
of each of her states. They are a mingling of the Caucasoid, the Negrito,
the Proto-Austroloids, the Mongoloid and the Mediterranean races. The
tribals constitute eight percent of the total population of India.
Based on their physical type and language, we can easily divide Indian
people into four broad classes. First, a majority of high class Hindus,
who live in North India and whose language is derived from Sanskrit.
Secondly, those who live in that part of India that is south of the
Vindhyas and whose languages - Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam -
are entirely different from Sanskrit. These are known by the generic
name of “Dravidians”. Thirdly, primitive tribes living in hills and
jungles of India, who as mentioned above constitute eight percent of the
total population in India. The Kols,Bhils and Mundas belong to this
class. Fourthly, there are a people with strong Mongolian features
inhabiting within India the slopes of the Himalayas and the northeastern
To add all this, India is perhaps the only place in the world where
twenty religious streams flow together. If that sounds clichéd, here is
a surprising piece of information. About 500 communities of India say
they follow two religions at the same time! India has a population of
over 1 billion people, the majority of whom are Hindus.
No wonder then that India is today known all over the world as the “Land
of several Religions”. Ancient India witnessed the birth of Hinduism,
Jainism and Buddhism; but all these cultures and religions intermingled
and acted and reacted upon one another in such a manner that though
people speak different languages, practice different religions, and
observe different social customs, they follow certain common styles of
life throughout the country. India therefore shows a deep underlying
unity inspite of its great diversities.
The term Hinduism has emanated from the name given to the people who
lived on the banks of the river Sindhu or Indus as it was denominated by
the foreign invaders who came from the North West into India many, many
However, Hinduism is not really a religion, it is a philosophy and a way
of life that has evolved over the millennia in the Indian subcontinent.
Although there are many texts from the Vedic times, which enunciate the
basic truths and lay down certain doctrines, Hinduism is not a
doctrinaire religion but a catholic one with tolerance as its corner
stone. Hence, the myriads of people of different racial, linguistic and
religious faiths who have come in from the east and from the west,
through the mountain passes and along the sea coast, bringing with them
their own ideology their customs and their languages into India, have
continued to live their lives according to their own traditions.
During the last 50 years since India gained Independence, the
Constitution has guaranteed the freedom of worship and way of life to
all its citizens. This has ensured the rich kaleidoscope of festivals
that are celebrated throughout the realm.
Since the majority of the inhabitants of India are Hindus, their
festivals dominate the calendar. The most colorful of all the festival
is Deepawali or Diwali as it is commonly known, the festival of lights.
The central figure in the Indian epic, Ramayana, is Rama who went into
exile for fourteen years at his father’s behest, accompanied by his wife
Sita and his brother Lakshman. During their wanderings in the forests,
Ravana, the king of Lanka, carried Sita away. It was only after an epic
battle that Rama vanquished Ravana, rescued Sita and returned home to
his kingdom of Ayodhya. The journey from Lanka in the south to Ayodhya
in the north took twenty days. His triumphal return to Ayodhya brought
great joy to his people who illuminated the whole city to celebrate the
occasion. This joy and this illumination continues to this day as houses
and cities throughout the India are lit up (traditionally with small
earthenware cups or diyas filled with oil) to commemorate the
anniversary. Deepawli signifies the triumph of good over evil and light
The battle between Ravana and Rama and the latter’s victory are
celebrated as Dussehra in many parts of India, twenty days before
Deepawali. Dussehra is the day when the effigies of Ravana, his brothers
Meghnath and Kumbhakaran, are burnt. Dussehra is preceded by enactment
of the story of the Ramayana by amateur groups of people in all
villages, cities and in localities of the metropolis throughout India.
Practically all-night performances of the Ramayana from the beginning to
the end are enacted, analogous to street plays, and the actors are
mainly young boys who perform the role of the male and the female
characters. Immense popularity is reflected by the large gatherings for
these performances known as Ram Lila.
These are simplified accounts of two of the major festivals of the
Hindus in India but there are many variations and accretions as
different people perform different rituals and forms of worship. For
example, in Bengal, the worship of the Goddess Durga precedes Deepawali.
While Goddess Durga is the eminent icon crafted with great devotion in
West Bengal, Lord Ganesha - acknowledged universally in India as the
remover of obstacles - who is the central figure in the celebration of
Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra.
Since Independence of India, there is also a definite revival in general
of traditions and in particular of craft traditions. Crafts are an
intrinsic part of the religious and ritual traditions in India as
craftsmen often worked for the temples and for providing the
appurtenances necessary for worship. Before Indian Independence, many
village crafts languished as the British implemented the policy of
There are many gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon; different parts
of the country give importance to one or the other. Lord Krishna, the
eighth incarnation of Vishnu, is the divine core in the epic
Mahabharata. It was he who gave the sermon of the Bhagwat Gita (the song
Celestial) to Arjuna, one of the five Pandava brothers during their
battle with the Kauravas at Kurukshetra. This battle again epitomizes
the fight between the forces of evil and good. Lord Krishna, however, is
not a mythical character. Lord Krishna is venerated all over India and
there are temples dedicated to him specifically but in particular, his
home ground of Vrindavan and Mathura where he lived as a boy and
revealed his divinity by the miracles he wrought. His love for Radha has
been the inspiration for miniature painters of the Kangra or Pahari
school of Painting, as also for the elaborate style of painting
embellished with gold, known as the Tanjore styles from South India.
The Indian calendar, as opposed to the Gregorian, starts in April. New
Year’s day is April 13, celebrated as Baisakhi, which coincides with the
harvesting of the wheat crop in Northern India, especially in Punjab.
People wear new clothes, sing and dance in joy. In Eastern India the new
year begins on April 14th and again it is a joyous occasion with singing
and dancing by young men and women who don their best silken mekhalas
(sarongs) and chaddars (an overwrap) and dance to the beat of the drum.
This festival is known as Rangali Bihu in Assam.
As the Hindu gods and goddesses in their myriad forms were worshipped
with elaborate rituals, many introduced by the priesthood, there
appeared on the scene in North India a reformer who enjoined a simpler
form of worship shorn of rituals. He was Guru Nanak Dev, whose teachings
and those of the nine gurus who followed later are collected in the holy
book of the Sikhs, the Granthsahib. The birth anniversaries of Guru
Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last of Gurus, are very
important days and are celebrated with religious fervor and devotion.
Processions are taken out, the scriptures are chanted, without a break,
and the Gurudwaras (Sikh temples), illuminated in most parts of India
where Sikh population exists.
Lord Buddha was born in India and it is from the shores of this land
that Buddhism was disseminated to Sri Lanka and to Tibet. Lord Buddha’s
birth anniversary is celeberated as Buddha Purnima. Falling on the full
moon day and is a holiday in India for the last so many years. Buddhists
practice their rituals and observe their special religious days all over
Christians are equally at home in India. Two important Christian saints
came to India many centuries ago and preached the doctrine of
Christianity. It is believed that St Thomas, one of the twelve apostles
of Christ, came to India in the first century AD, and spent the rest of
his life in India preaching Christinanity, particularly in Kerala where
a large part of the population were converted to Christianity. His tomb,
St Thomas Mount in Chennai, Tamil Nadu has become a place of pilgrimage
for Christians in India.
The Spanish Catholic missionary, St Francis Xavier, also spent the
greater part of his life in Goa - a small coastal state on the western
coastal strip in India. His body, in a glass casket, has been kept in
the Church of Basilica of Bom Jesu in Panjim, Goa. Every ten years, his
relics are exposed to the public, and people from all over the world
throng to Goa in order to get a glimpse and receive the benediction.
The Muslims in India celebrate all their festivals of Id, but they look
westwards towards Arabia, which is their spiritual home, and the
Government of India has made special arrangements for Haj pilgrims who
go to Mecca annually. Chartered aeroplanes take them to their
destination and they enjoy this concessional privilege.
Thus, it is evident that all members of this country enjoy the same
constitutional rights and privileges since India got its Independence
and their festivals and rituals lend a new dimension to the many faceted
society that is India.
India is blessed with a wide variety of climates and soil types which
permit the growing of many unique earthy roots, precious woods, aromatic
spices, exotic flowers, balsamic resins and scented grasses.
Practitioners of Ayurveda (the traditional Indian system of medicine
dating to at least 1000 BC) were well acquainted with the uses to which
these plants could be put and prescribed them to treat the emotional,
mental and physical ailments of the people. Sandalwood, agarwood,
spikenard, vetiver, saffron, cinnamon, jasmine, rose, coriander and
ginger were but a few of the aromatic plants recognized by them as being
plants possessing pleasing fragrant charm as well as being plants
therapeutic value. These plants and many others were used in food
preparations, medicinal formulas, massage oils, cosmetics, natural
sandalwood-based perfumes called attars, incense, floral wreaths and
unguents, each of which served some special function in promoting the
well-being of the people. There is hardly any aspect of Indian life, be
it political, social, economic or religious that has not been profoundly
influenced by these plants.
A person interested in India’s botanical treasures will find there are
many fascinating worlds to discover throughout the country. Flower
markets, ayurvedic pharmacies and hospitals, traditional perfume houses,
incense stores and manufacturers, essential oil and attar distilleries,
botanical gardens and parks, temples, spice shops and marriage
ceremonies are all good places to experience the diverse ways in which
the wonderful jewels of the natural world permeate Indian life.
From the pine-clad slopes of the Himalayas to the scrub and thornforests
of north west and peninsular India and from the semi-arid central
forests to the ever-green deciduous groves of Kerala, Bengal, the
northeast hills, and the Andaman and Nicobar, India’svegetation is
tailored to its diverse topography. Some of the major Indian animals
which inhabit its forest and green areas are: Bengal tiger, monkeys,
elephants, foxes, jackals, mongoose, Indian crocodile, the gharial, and
lizards and snakes - including the cobra comprise the indigenous reptile
population. Peacock - the Indian national bird joins the ranks of birds
from cranes, storks, ibises, hawks, hornbills, parrots, and the common
The spirit of India has thus fascinated the world with its very
mystique. A subcontinent with a 5000-year old history. A civilization
united by its diversity - India has always been known as a land where
history echoes itself with all its wonders in every piece of stone and
every particle of dust.
India’s first major civilization flourished around 2500 BC in the Indus
river valley much of which lies within present day India. This
civilization, which lasted for 1000 years, and is known as the Harappan
culture, appears to have been the culmination of thousands of years of
settlement. From around 1500 BC onwards, Aryan tribes from Afghanistan
and Central Asia began to filter into northwest India. Despite their
martial superiority, their progress was gradual. Eventually though these
tribes were able to control the whole of Northern India as far as
Vindhya Hills, and many of the original inhabitants, the Dravidians,
were pushed into south India. As the Aryan tribes spread out across the
Ganges plain, in the seventh century BC, many of them were grouped
together into 16 major kingdoms. Gradually these amalgamated into four
large states, with Kosala and Magadha emerging to be the most powerful
during the fifth century BC. North India however came to be dominated by
the Nanda dynasty in about 364 BC. During this period however, North
India narrowly avoided two other invasions from the west. The first was
by the Persian king, Darius (521- 486 BC) and the second by Alexander
the Great who marched into India from Greece in 326 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.
Founded by Chandragupta Maurya with the able guidance of Kautilya, the
author of the famous treatise - Arthshastra - he was able to set up
ahighly centralized administrative setup. The empire reached its peak
under Ashoka, who left pillars and rock-carved edicts, which delineate
the enormous span of his territory that covered large areas of the
Indian subcontinent; these can be seen in Delhi, Gujarat, Orissa,
Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh and Sanchi in Madhya pradesh . Following the
death of Ashoka, in 232 BC, the empire rapidly disintegrated, finally
collapsing in 184 BC.
A number of empires rose and fell, especially in North India, following
the collapse of the Mauryas. 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.
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 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 into India during the early half of the
eleventh century. These were felt in the form of seventeen 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
allowing subsequent invaders to claim the territory for themselves.
However the next Muslim ruler to invade India achieved the establishment
of foreign rule in India, in its truesense. This Mahmud of Ghauri
attacked India and after some futile resistance by the local leadership
was able to successfully lay the foundation of a foreign empire in
India. Under him, large parts of India came under Muslim rule and very
soon his successor Qutub - ud - Aibak became the first of the sultans of
Delhi. His was followed by the rule of the Khaljis and Tughlaq, also
known as the rule of the Delhi Sultanate, who ruled over a large portion
of North India and parts of South India till until the coming in of the
Lodis andSayyids and after them the Mughals who established, what came
to be known as the most vibrant era of Indian History.
Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb were some of
the most prominent rulers of the Mughal dynasty. Although the Mughal’s
heyday was relatively brief, their empire was massive, covering, at its
height, almost the entire Indian subcontinent. Its significance was not
only in its size, however. The Mughal emperors presided over a golden
age of arts and literature and had a passion for building, which
resulted in some of the greatest architecture in India. In particular,
Shah Jahan’s Taj Mahal at Agra ranks as one of the wonders of the world.
This apart, the large number of forts, palaces, gates, buildings,
mosques, baolis (watertank 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.
Most noteworthy being their revenue administration, the characteristics
of which form the basics of the revenue and land reform laws 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
fifteenth century AD onwards - first, with the arrival and gradual
takeover of Goa by the Portugese 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 British and Portugese were not the only Europeans in India. 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. The British represented by the East
India Company established their commercial control over vast areas in
India, which very soon had an administrative dimension to it. The
British rule in India was however formalized by the direct takeover of
India by the British Crown, through the post 1857 reforms.
Since then uptill independence the history of India is one of constant
struggle between the nationalists - who assumed different names,
ideologies, backgrounds and methods - and the Britishers and their
repressive policies in India.
Historians however, use the beginning of mature agriculture in the Indus
and Ganges valleys as the starting point of the story of Indian
civilization. The calendar reads first millennium BC. By now, iron had
been discovered, and even iron implements for clearing of forests and
cultivation had been fashioned out. Beginning here, the art or science
of metallurgy developed very rapidly in India. India had many copper,
tin, lead, brass and silver reserves, not to mention gold mines. Indian
steel was so well known that after the famous battle between Alexander
the Great and Porus, the only gift Porus could think of giving Alexander
was steel. Today, apart from many steel plants, India has held this
thread of continuity even in indigenous research in titanium technology
At that time when man had just about created the right tools to throw up
an agricultural surplus, the population of the area, according to some
sources was recorded as one hundred million. No wonder Indian population
figures continue to be staggering. While the southern states of Kerala
and Tamil Nadu have managed to flatten their population growth curve,
the Gangetic plains continue with their upwards-rising graph. Women are
being empowered in this traditionally male dominated society with
literacy, rural banking systems, and vocational skills. Organized
women’s movements are gaining ground and this has managed to effect many
legislative changes in the country. The Parliament is facing a bill for
the reservation of 33% seats for women candidates. Of course, this comes
against the backdrop of the many firsts in India history. The first
woman president of the General Assembly of the United Nations was
As a matter of fact, the transformation being brought about in the
society today, due to both welfare schemes as well as economic
liberalization, makes it comparable to the period where our story
begins. Historians call the 1st century BC the first axial stage and the
20th century AD the second. The first axial stage set in motion the
gigantic transformation of a simple agrarian settlement into one of the
most complex and enlightened cultures. By the 5th century AD,there was a
wealth of material on every aspect of life-religion, philosophy,
medicine, astronomy, mathematics, arts, and crafts, even the art of
governance. Today, these treatises are constantly being sourced for
their eternal wisdom.
Accelerating the evolutionary process in the cultural sphere was the
birth of two new religions: Buddhism and Jainism. Hinduism saw a sudden
revival of activities and many magnificent temples came into being.
Arrival of Islam and interaction with Greece, Arabia, Persia and Central
Asia further enriched life, which can be discerned even in aspects like
architecture and irrigation technology. Literature was also greatly
influenced by these movements.
Equally, the process of communication became varied and spread out.
Stories, songs, theatre, craft were all vehicles of communicating with
the people. India has 325 languages and 25 scripts. Even today, all of
them are alive and being used. Tamil is the oldest language using the
Dravidian script. The ancient language of Sanskrit continues to be ever
charming with its highly developed grammar.
The reason why Indian Languages are not doing the disappearing act as
those in many other parts of the world is because Indians, it has been
found, are basically bilingual or even trilingual!
It is from within this society that the struggle for freedom against the
British rule grew. The largest national movement in history took shape.
People from every corner of India participated and all of them followed
the path set by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, one of the greatest
visionaries of this century. Naturally, a movement of this order finds
many interpretations, insights and possible causes.
Sustaining a high moral order could not have been easy. History reveals
an integrated vision of the leaders where truth and ahimsa or
non-violence were held supreme. Strengthening this vision was the newly
emerging intelligentsia. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Bankim Chandra,
Rabindranath Tagore, Subramanya Bharati and Abul Kalam Azad were some of
those who enthused the people through their soul-stirring writings and
songs to reach out to nationalism.
There were many who communicated directly with the masses. Bal Gangadhar
Tilak, Asaf Ali, C. Rajagopalachari, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Abdul
Ghaffar Khan, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhas Chandra Bose, and
Sarojini Naidu are some of the great names associated with the freedom
struggle. Jawaharlal Nehru, of course, was the charismatic leader who
later became independent India’s first Prime Minister. Rajendra Prasad
became the country’s first President. In addition, a million others made
this movement possible.
India moment of glory finally arrived on the midnight of 15 August 1947.
People delirious with joy flooded the streets to welcome the dawn of a
new era. There was rejoicing everywhere. And within the Assembly Hall,
Jawaharlal Nehru rose to make his famous “tryst with destiny” speech. By
the early hours of morning, as the clouds sent a light drizzle to
acknowledge the awakening, independent India was all set to transform a
colonial society into a liberal polity.
A Constitution was drawn up in a matter of four years. It sought to
assimilate different linguistic regions and religious communities of
India into a cohesive Nation-State while, at the same time, conferring
substantial autonomy upon the diverse states of the Indian Union. A
concern for the citizens formed the basic principle for the guiding
policies for governance laid down by the Constitution.
There was foresight in the visualization of the Indian Constitution, at
every step. The founding fathers under the leadership of B. R. Ambedkar
based governance of the country upon the free choice of its citizens.
What is it that made them confident of the prudence and capabilities of
the people from a society with modest social development? It was perhaps
the strength of the oral tradition. The other was probably the existence
of grass-root governance, a complex system having all the elements of a
modern democracy. The Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary
started functioning long before such systems were recognized by
Their faith was not misplaced. Time and again, the people of India have
shown their ability to discern: to be able to match immediate interests
with the over-arching interests of the nation. The unfailing mechanism
of democracy assured stability for the nation. At another level, the
politicization of the popular classes generated political aspirations.
These aspirations were reflected in various movements, which helped
redefine priorities, or in the formation of new political organizations,
which added other dimensions to political thought. And, to the people,
it became a source of hope for a better future.
India in 1949 was gearing up to face many challenges. She inherited a
society administered for over a century by a civil service answerable to
no one but itself. Her predominantly agrarian economy was stagnant,
registering in fact a decline in production. In two phases, India
tackled the situation.
In the first phase governmental planning and action addressed land
reforms, improvement of agricultural marketing techniques and irrigation
facilities. Reducing dependency on the fickle monsoons was a major
priority area since most of Indian agriculture is rain-fed.
All this required, in addition to planning, a good deal of research.
This was what the second phase was all about. Moving over to scientific
research and development, India raised her agricultural production to a
consistent growth rate of three percent per annum. Improved methodology
and the spirit of innovation of her farmers are holding out dreams of
reaching in far greater strength the markets of Europe, Middle East and
Far East in the near future.
Contemporary impressions of India sometimes neglect the fact that the
country is a great manufacturing nation. Economic charts reveal that
many domestic brands of consumer goods, be they potato chips or trucks,
computers or textiles are competing vigorously with global brands.
Simultaneously, India was building a scientific foundation for all her
programs, be it agricultural research or pure scientific research or
product designs for the craftsmen. If C. V. Raman, Subramanyan
Chandrasekhar and Hargobind Khorana were recipients of the Nobel Prize,
there were others with equal capabilities like Homi Bhabha, Shanti
Swarup Bhatnagar,Jagdish Chandra Bose, Meghnad Saha Kothari, Krishnan,
Vikram Sarabhai and Pal who concentrated their energies on creating the
environment and infrastructure for further academic and developmental
The ‘Green Revolution’ of the sixties and the ‘White Revolution’ of the
seventies brought about amazing results in agriculture and cooperative
Indian industrial policy could be broadly divided into two phases.
Before 1991, the need of the moment was seen to be the development of a
machinery-producing sector with associated economic skills. The second
part concentrated on creating a protected home market.
In 1991, India threw open the industrial sector to greater
internationaland domestic competition. Financial systems have been
strengthened and India are well developed. India in recent years has
emerged as one of the leading destinations for investors from developed
Supporting infrastructure facilities are also being made available. The
country has the largest railway network in Asia and the second largest
in the world under a single management. Roads are taking developmental
changes to the most remote corners of the country. Nearly 85% of the
villages have been electrified and there are nationwide grids for the
transmission and distribution of power.
New areas like oceanography, space, electronics and non-conventional
energy sources were developed. Her large scientific and technological
personnel were contributing to research and development all over the
world. Inter-university centers and consortia for advanced studies were
fast becoming active centers of learning.
Their success, it has been observed, is
based on a rare combination: scientific knowledge and the readiness to
test and match it to folk wisdom. A large number of wells, for instance,
have been dug with the help of space imagery! The Indian remote sensing
program, perhaps the best in the world, sends out a special broadcast to
fishermen who listen to this broadcast before getting their nets ready
to bring home a range of seafood! When science was busy with research
and applying its finds to traditional Indian life, artists of all genres
were busy discovering new idioms, languages and expressions.
India’s newly acquired status as a nuclear power and a booming economy
has thus brought under international limelight. Its internal problems
notwithstanding, India has stepped into the new millennium with great
India therefore can be defined as a land where humanity has lived since
ages; where different religions, societies, cultures, languages have
interplayed with each other in harmony; a land which has seen the best
and the worst of everything; a land where religion means more than their
name; a place where nature has bestowed itself in all its colors to end
it all a land which shall remain itself till eternity.