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Civilisation & History

EVEN TODAY, much of life in India is rooted in the past, a continuous flowing stream that goes back 5,000 years to the Indus Valley and the ancient cities of Mohenjodaro and Harappa (in what is now Pakistan). But these were not the first cultures of the subcontinent. Before them flourished the Dravidians. When the Aryans arrived round 1500 BC from Central Asia, they settled along the fertile banks of the Ganges, taking control over most of the north and forcing the Dravidians south into the peninsula. As pastoral life evolved, riverine and inland trade was established, a social hierarchy emerged, language, philosophy developed. The Vedas, Upanishads Ramayana and Mahabharata all belong to this period of India’s history.

Increasing population and surplus production provided the bases for the emergence of independent states, which led naturally to the extending of influence and building of empires. The fourth century BC saw the consolidation of the first of the great empires in India – the Maurya. At its peak under the emperor Ashoka who ruled from 269 to 232 BC, the kingdom extended from Bengal in the East to Afghanistan in the North-West. It would have been larger but, having conquered Mysore and set to take Orissa, Ashoka awoke to an awareness of the bloodshed and carnage his territorial acquisitions were responsiblke for Appalled, he renounced warfare an dedicated himself to the propagation of Buddhism.
A succession of empires followed the fall of the Mauryan. One of the more notable was the Kushana, which was the crucible of trade among the Indian, Persian, Chinese, and Roman empires and controlled a critical part of the legendary Silk Road. Art and culture prospered and with the synthesis of Greek and Indian styles, a new form known as Gandharan art emerged. It was the Kushans who initiated the Shaka era in AD 78, and their calendar, which was formally recognized by India for civil purposes starting on March 22, 1957, is still in use.

The Gupta Empire (319 BC–647 BC) was the last of the great empires of ancient India. Though their control did not extend further than the northern boundaries of the Deccan, the Guptas reigned over the entire Indo-Gangetic Plain. Often referred to as the ‘golden age’ the period was characterised by a flowering of literature, art, painting and sculp­ture particularly at the Buddhist centres of Ajanta, Ellora, Sarnath and Sanchi.

The disintegration of the Gupta Empire, saw the rise to regional principalities particularly in the South where the Chalukyas (556–757) of Vatapi, the Pallavas (300–888) of Kanchipuram, and the Pandyas (seventh through the tenth cen­turies) of Madurai vied for political domination. While the North continued to be fought over by the Muslim Turks and Afghan princes in a wave of invasions from Central Asia, South India saw the rise of competing southern dynasties: the Muslim Bahmani Sultanate (1347–1527) and the Hindu Vijayanagar Empire (1336–1565).
Then, in 1526, the Mughals made their appearance and though the first Emperor, Babur did not find the land quite to his liking, subsequent emperors adopted it as their own, consolidating their holdings until the Mughal Empire extended from Punjab in the northwest to Bengal in the east; from the foothills of the Himalaya to Konkan in the south. It saw the establishment of political and administrative system based on an effective bureaucracy. Trade and production flourished and with it culture. Their contribution in every field and all the arts, painting, poetry, music … is visible is almost every aspect of culture today.

The Europeans took their bow at the court of Mughals, though the Portuguese had controlled Goa since as early as 1510. The British arrived a little late, with the East India Company establishing its first trading in Surat, Gujarat, in 1612. The assertion of supremacy took a little time for, in addition to
local and Portuguese resistance, they faced opposition from the French, Danes and Dutch all of whom had trading posts. But slowly and steadily, the Company increased its influence, taking advantage of the weakening Mughal hold and staying clear of any controversial interference in religion, customs or culture. Though it professed to trade as being its only objective, by 1849, when it gained control of the Punjab, The British East India Company effectively had an Indian Empire.
In 1857, following an uprising against the Company in northern India, its holdings were acquired by the British Crown. But the uprising had sparked the spirit of independence. The Indian National Congress was founded in 1885, to unite the people of India in opposition to foreign rule. Its demand was self­governence. Under the charismatic lead­ership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, purna swaraj (complete inde­pendence was realised: On August 15, 1947, India became a free nation. But the occasion was not without pathos. The subcontinent saw the creation of two new nations, India and Pakistan, created on the basis of religion. In the upheaval that followed, even the most conservative estimate that over 25,000 lost their lives.





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