Overview: This article contains information about ancient, medieval and modern history of India. The history of India is characterized by great and courageous rulers, unique civilizations, and times of peace and war.
- Ancient History of India and Early Medieval Period (Prehistoric era to upto 1200 CE).
- History of Medieval India
- History of Modern India
Ancient History of India and Early Medieval Period (Prehistoric era to upto 1200 CE)
The following are the major events associated with the history of Ancient India.
Indus Valley and Harappan Civilization: The Indus Valley civilization existed around the Indus River between 3300 to 1300 BCE. It is also referred to as the Harappan Civilization.
This period is known as the Bronze Age because the civilization had techniques in metallurgy. The Indus Valley Civilization is characterized by the following:
- Support of the common and the living people,
- few weapons,
- no violence, and
- a highly organized society.
The population had social classes, a writing system, established trade routes, and well-planned cities.
Vedic Period (1500 – 500 BCE): The Vedic era in India refers to the historical era when the Vedas (the oldest scriptures in the Hindu religion) were written. The Indo-Aryans settled in the northern part of present-day India at the onset of the Vedic Period. The civilization engaged in agriculture and had four social classes. The Vidic Civilization is believed to have been a composition of the Indo-Aryans and the Harappan Civilization after the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization. As the period came to an end, movements that opposed the Vedic orthodoxy emerged.
Also read: Vedic Society
The Sixteen Mahajanapadas: Monarchical polities were a defining feature of the Vedic Civilization. Around 600 BCE, the political units or the Vedic States came together to form large kingdoms referred to as Mahajanapadas. In total, there were sixteen Mahajanapadas. The general economy was characterized by agricultural communities. Through the use of iron technology, both the cattle as well as the crops increased in numbers. It also marked the emergence of territorial boundaries as well as organized taxation.
Also read: Sixteen Mahajanapadas
Maurya Empire (321 BCE – 185 BCE): The Maurya Empire was a dominant power in Ancient India. It unified India into a single state. It was the first empire to do so and also the largest in the sub-continent. During this period, India thrive in trade, agriculture, as well as other economic activities.
- Chandragupta Maurya was responsible for the establishment of the empire after defeating the Nanda Dynasty.
- He was succeeded by his son Bindusara Maurya.
- Ashoka the Great, who later embraced Buddhism, was next on the throne and his reign lasted about four decades.
- After his death, the Maurya Empire began to decline. Brihadratha Maurya was his successor and the last of the Mauryan dynasty to rule the empire. He was assassinated, and the Sunga Empire established.
Satavahana Empire: (230 BCE): The Satavahana Empire was large and extended to many parts of India. The dynasty lasted for around 450 years. The royal dynasty was formed out of the opposition to the Maurya Empire and declared independence once the Mauryan dynasty began to decline. The era was notable because it was a generally peaceful era. The period of Satavahana empire is notable for the following:
- the the use of coins with images of the ruler,
- taking care of Buddhist facilities and traditions, and
- resistance to foreign invasion.
Also read: Satavahana History
Saka: The Saka people were people who originated from the horse-riding pastoralists of Ancient Iran. They were displaced by another powerful tribe and they therefore invaded other parts of Asia including Iran. In India, they established a number of major kingdoms including in the following places: Taxila, Mathura, Nasik, and Ujjain.
Also Read: The Sakas in India (Saka Kingdom)
Kushan Empire (50 CE): The Kushan empire was a dominant world power then. It began in the present-day Afghanistan and expanded into the northwestern parts of the India sub-continent under the leadership of Emperor Kujula Kadphises I. The first emperor was succeeded by his son Kadphises II also known as Vima Kadphises. Kanishka the Great was the third ruler of the empire, and his rule was marked by a growing urban life and great wealth. Their history is known with the following:
- gold pieces coins,
- great respect to its rulers,
- a kingdom which was not divided, and
- rising prosperity.
Also read: Kushan Empire
Gupta Empire (Golden Age of India): The Gupta Empire, was a notable Indian era due to the Indian contribution to engineering, arts, science, technology, philosophy, as well as religion. The era is also known as the Golden Age of India due to its prosperity. The Gupta Empire was established by Sri Gupta, and it was associated with peace and prosperity which allowed the growth of arts and sciences. Its other rulers included Chandragupta I (320 AD), Samudragupta (335 AD), Chandragupta II (380 AD). The Huna invasion contributed immensely to its decline.
The Hunas: The Hunas originated from Central Asia. The invaded Asia in two groups: one extending towards India while the counterpart extended towards the Roman Empire. They destroyed the influence of the Gupta empire.
Harsha Empire: The empire was ruled by Harsha Vardhana (606 AD – 647 AD). Harsha Empire was one of the monarchical states that rose after the decline of the Gupta Empire. It was also characterized by peace and prosperity. It was also a time that Ancient India recorded visitors of religion and scholarship.
Also read: Biography and History of King Harshavardhana
Late Classical Era (600 AD – 1200 aD)
Badami Chalukya: This period saw the rise of the Badami Chalukya dynasty which ruled most parts of central and southern India. Due to the fact that the kings built special temples for Shiva, the Hindu God, there was a drastic improvement in architecture.
The Rashtrakuta Dynasty: The Rashtrakuta Dynasty was founded around 753 AD and ruled for about two centuries.
The defeat of Raja Dahir: The late classical ear also saw the defeat of Raja Dahir, the ruler of Sindh, by Muhammad Bin Qasim in 712 AD.
The Gurjara Pratiharas: The Gurjara Pratiharas ruled a high portion of the Northern part of India in the period between mid-seventh to eleventh century. The Gurjara Pratiharas Dynasty was instrumental in repulsing the Arab invaders that had been moving towards the east of the Indus River.
The Chola Empire: The Chola Empire became prominent around 930 AD. The Chola dynasty mainly ruled the Kaveri River and beyond. The dynasty is notable because of the following: guarding the Tamil literature, builders of great temples, unique architecture, and a centralized government. The Cholas used their naval skills to spread their influence to countries in Southeast Asia.
The Chauhans: The Prithviraj Chauhan era is characterized by a number of battles.
The Kakatiya Dynasty: The Kakatiya Dynasty showed a striking balance between sculpture as well as architecture. The loyal sub-ordinates helped the dynasty resist internal rebellion as well as external invasion.
Early Medieval Period: This period is characterized by the growth of Muslim population in India. The Chauhan Dynasty was successful in resisting the Arab invasion. Its most famous ruler was Prithviraj Chauhan. His battles with Mohammad Ghori, a Muslim sultan, are considered to be very significant in India’s history. The Kakatiya Dynasty, on the other hand, ruled southern India between 1175 AD and 1324 AD. It was conquered by the Delhi Sultanate.
A study of Ancient India helps one understand the history of Indian culture, economic activities, military use, and democracy.
History of Medieval India
The History of Medieval India is rich and fascinating. An overview is provided below, with particular emphasis on the Delhi Sultanate.
The Slave Dynasty.
The Delhi Sultanate was actually founded by a former slave, and for this reason in its early years the Sultanate was known as the Slave Dynasty (Ghulam Dynasty, Mamluk Dynasty). The slave who rose to become the first Sultan of Delhi was Qutubuddin Aibak (who reigned between 1206 and 10). Some scholars believe that Aibak started the construction of the gigantic Qutub Minar. He was a former slave of Muhammad Ghori. His dynasty was later ruled by Shams-ud-din Iltutmish and the Sultan Razia (or Raziya).
Aram Shah ruled Delhi for a short period from 1210 to 1210.
Shams-ud-din Iltutmish succeeded Aram Shah and became the third ruler of the slave dyansty in 1211 AD with the support of officials at Delhi. He is credited for completing the splendid structure of the Qutub Minar. He died in 1236 A.D.
Rukn-ud-din Firoz succeeded his father to gain the throne of Delhi Sultanate. However, he could not manage the affairs of kingdom and was soon replaced by his sister, Razia Sultana.
Razia Sultana reigned from 1236 to 1240 and was the only women to ever ascend to rule over Delhi Sultanate.
The Khiji Dynasty.
From 1290 onward, the main dynasty in India was a Muslim dynasty known as the Khiji Dynasty. This dynasty ended in 1320, but during that short period it ruled a large part of South Asia. The two most important rulers of this dynasty were Jalal-ud-din Firuz Khilji (who founded the dynasty) and Alauddin Khilji.
The Tughlaq Dynasty.
Like the main players in the Khiji Dynasty, the Sultans of the Tughlaq Dynasty were of Turkic origin. One of the most famous members of this dynasty was Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, who succeeded his father Ghiyas-ud-Din Tughlaq.
Muhammad Bin Tughlaq’s reign was blighted by rebellion (there were no less than 22 rebellions against his rule), and he was renowned for being a learned man, interested in medicine and fluent at speaking several different languages, including Persian. He ruled from 1324 to 1351.
Firoz Shah Tughla, (reigned from 1351 to 1388), the cousin brother of Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, became the next Sultan of Delhi. He is known for lowering tariffs and abolishing several taxes.
This dynasty began in 1320 and ended in 1413. At the same time, the Vijayanagara Empire was controlling much of the South of India.
The Sayyid Dynasty.
This dynasty was founded after the end of the Tughlaq dynasty by Khizr Khan, and he was succeeded by Mubarak Shah, Khizr Khan (who ascended to the throne with the title of Muhammad Shah) and finally Ala-ud-Din Alam Shah. The end of Ala-ud Din Alam Shah’s rule in 1451 marked the end of this dynasty as a whole.
1.5 The Lodi Dynasty.
Founded by Bahlul Lodi after the end of the Sayyid Dynasty, this dynasty was ruled afterwards by Sikandar Lodi. Sikandar’s son Ibrahim Lodi was elevated to the throne without any opposition. However, he did face opposition from other forces. The First Battle of Panipat was fought between armies of Ibrahim Lodi and Mughal Emperor Babur. Ibrahim Lodi was defeated in the battle, which took place on 21st April, 1526 thus marking the end of this dynasty and the start of the Suri Empire.
The Suri Empire.
This empire was controlled by the Sher Shah Suri, whose real name was Jalal Khan. Ethnically, he was a Pashtun and he belonged to a house known as Sur. His empire, which controlled most of northern India, and which supplanted the Mughal rulers who had previously controlled this territory, was in place until 1545.
The Mughal Empire.
This empire is one of the longest running empires in the world. It ran continuously from 1526-1540, and then after a break of some years, ran continuously again from 1555 to 1857. The empire covered most of the Indian subcontinent, with the exception of the very south. The Mughal emperors included Babur, Humayun, Akbar, (who put in place the Rajput Policy of Akbar or Religious Policy of Akbar which, in the mid 16th century aimed to gain the co-operation of the powerful Rajputs with the Mughal Empire’s projects), Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb. During this period, the Sikh religion took root, with the birth of Guru Nanak in 1469.
The Maratha Empire.
In 1674, the Maratha Empire came to rule much of the Indian subcontinent. This empire, which ran until 1818, is sometimes also called the Maratha Confederacy. As is clear from the above, it overlapped with, and often clashed with, the Mughal Empire. Key figures in this empire include Chhatrapati Shivaji (who was also known as Shivaji Bhonsle or Shivaji Maharaj), Chatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, Chhatrapati Rajaram Maharaj, Shivaji II, and Chatrapati Shahu. A notable feature of this Empire was the fact that it involved figures known as Peshwas, who have been compared to prime ministers in modern times. The first Peshwa was Moropant Pingle, who served until 1683. He was succeeded by his son Nilopant Pingale, and subsequent Peshwas included Ramachandra Pant Amatya, Parshuram Trimbak Kulkarni, and various members of the Bhat family who were the last Peshwas, serving until the mid 18th century.
The Third Battle of Panipat.
This battle took place in 1761. It was a decisive moment in Indian history because it marked the victory of the Afghan Durrani empire over the Maratha Empire, which was led into battle by the Peshwa of the time.
History of Modern India
The History of Modern India is absolutely fascinating, and it is important to have a good grasp of this history as it continues to affect our lives in the present day.
Below, you can find a detailed overview of some of the main historical events relating to India from the mid-eighteenth century until the late 20th century.
Company Raj (East India Company ) from 1757 to 1858.
- Also known as the HEIC (Honourable East India Company) or British East India Company, Company Raj was a trading company. Though originally the aim of the company was to trade with the island nations of the East Indies, it ultimately ended up doing most of its trade with China and India.
- Though the coat of arms of the company was developed in 1698, and it was founded back in 1600, it only really traded substantially with India from the mid-eighteenth century onward. It was dissolved in 1874.
- However, the East India Company was involved not just in trade. The Battle of Plassey (1757) and the Battle of Buxar (1764) stand out here: they were two examples of how the East India Company consolidated its trade dominance in the Indian subcontinent by battling with indigenous people and other traders. In both battles British forces associated with the East India Company fought the Nawab of Bengal and the Nawab’s allies (in the case of the Battle of Plassey these allies included French forces).
- The British East India Company also took part in wars that stretched over three decades, known as the Anglo Mysore Wars. These are divided into the First Anglo Mysore War (1767-1769), the Second Anglo Mysore War (1780-84), the third Anglo Mysore War (1789-1792) and the Fourth Anglo Mysore War (1799). Here, the British forces fought primarily against the Kingdom of Mysore and their victories expanded and consolidated their control over much of India.
- These wars were followed by further wars, namely the Anglo Maratha Wars of 1775-1818 (which are divided into the first Anglo Maratha War of 1775-1782, the second Anglo Maratha War of 1803-1805 and the third Anglo Maratha War of 1817-1818) and then the Anglo Sikh Wars of 1845-1849 (which in their turn are subdivided into the first Anglo-Sikh War of 1845-1846 and the Second Anglo-Sikh War of 1848-1849). In all these wars, the British East India Company gained more and more control, both administratively and in terms of trade, over the Indian subcontinent.
- The Great Indian Revolt (1857). The tide began to turn, however, with the Great Indian Revolt of 1857. The East India Company had been recruiting Indian sepoys to serve in their army, however in 1857 these sepoys mutinied against their British commanders. The importance of Great Revolt of 1857 should not be underestimated. Also known by various other names, including the Sepoy Mutiny and the Indian Rebellion, it led directly to the dissolution of the East India Company and concomitantly to a significant financial and administrative restructuring in the country. Rather than a small mutiny, then, this revolt should be (and often is) considered as India’s first war of independence against British rule.
The British Raj (1857 to 1947).
After the Great Indian Revolt, it was clear that the East India Company was no longer fulfilling its function of governing India. As a result (and as the company was being dissolved), the British Crown under Queen Victoria officially took control of the governance of India for a period that lasted some 90 years.
- The Hindu Widows Remarriage Act, 1856: Before moving on to explain the way in which history unfolded during the time of the British Raj, it is important to note a key piece of legislation that came into force in 1856. The Hindu Widows Remarriage Act made it legal for Hindu widows to remarry.
- The Partition of Bengal (1905): A key event at the start of the twentieth century was the Partition of Bengal. In 1905, Bengal was essentially divided into two parts, separating the largely Hindu areas in the west from the largely Muslim areas in the east. It was effected by Lord Curzon, who was the Viceroy of India at the time.
- Led by the famous Mahatma Gandhi from around 1919 onward, the Non Co-operation Movement was one of the greatest acts of non violent civil disobedience that the world has yet seen. Indians from all walks of life became part of this movement and it involved refusing to co-operate with British officials (rather than opposing them by force), thus making life very difficult for them and causing some parts of the British Raj to start to grind to a halt or at least work inefficiently.
- In March-April 1930, Gandhi led a huge march in protest against British rule in India. This was known as the Dandi March or Salt Satyagraha.
- Another important movement was the Khilafat Movement (1919-1924). This movement was another movement aimed at promoting Indian independence. It was a largely Muslim movement and it had strong ties to other Indian nationalist movements.
- As a result of these protests and movements, round table conferences were held (1930-1932) and the Government of India Act, which was passed in 1935, became the final constitution of the British Raj.
- In 1939, the left wing political party known as the All India Forward Bloc led by Subhash Chandra Bose began to agitate for its beliefs, and it was followed in 1942 by the Quit India Movement.
- The Quit India Movement (8th August, 1942) was another movement led by Gandhi, and again it took the form of civil disobedience. There was also an associated Cabinet Mission. As a result of all of this, India gained its independence in 1947.
- The Indian Independence Act, 1947: In 1947, India’s independence from British rule was declared. In the same year, the Partition of India into what was once British India and Pakistan occurred.
The post-independence period in India was marked by several happenings. These included the India- Pakistan War of 1948, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on 30th January 1948, the India-China War (1962) and the second and third wars with Pakistan (in 1965 and 1971 respectively). In many ways this culminated with India testing a nuclear device for the first time in 1974. Thereafter, several positive developments did take place, such as the 1991 economic reforms.
Historians have made an educated attempt to explore the history of India. However, there is a slight variation between the British and Indian historians. However, such variation, in most instances, does not end or affect the outcomes of the study.
Studying the history of India helps scholars, students, and Indian citizens to understand their origin and their past. Consequently, they will be able to use this for the benefit of the present time and also lay a basis and foundation for the future.
Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_India
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