Indian History I: Prehistoric Times though Chola Dynasty
British engineers in the mid-1800's, busy constructing a railway line between Karachi and Punjab, found ancient, kiln-baked bricks along the path of the track. Archaeologists later determined that the bricks were over 5000 years old. Soon afterward, two important cities were discovered: Harappa on the Ravi river, and Mohenjodaro on the Indus. The civilization that laid the bricks, one of the world's oldest, was known as the Indus. Dating back to 3000 BC, they built complex, mathematically-planned cities. Some of these towns were almost three miles in diameter and contained as many as 30,000 residents. These ancient municipalities had granaries, citadels, and even household toilets. In Mohenjodaro, a mile-long canal connected the city to the sea, and trading ships sailed as far as Mesopotamia. At its height, the Indus civilization extended over half a million square miles across the Indus river valley.
The first group to invade India were the Aryans, who came out of the north in about 1500 BC. The Aryans brought with them strong cultural traditions that, miraculously, still remain in force today. They spoke and wrote in a language called Sanskrit, which was later used in the first documentation of the Vedas. Though warriors and conquerors, the Aryans lived alongside Indus, introducing them to the caste system and establishing the basis of the Indian religions. The Aryans inhabited the northern regions for about 700 years, then moved further south and east when they developed iron tools and weapons. They eventually settled the Ganges valley and built large kingdoms throughout much of northern India.
The second great invasion into India occurred around 500 BC, when the Persian kings Cyrus and Darius, conquered the ever-prized Indus Valley. Compared to the Aryans, the Persian influence was marginal, perhaps because they were only able to occupy the region for a relatively brief period of about 150 years. The Persians were in turn conquered by the Greeks under Alexander the Great, who swept through the country as far as the Beas River, where he defeated king Porus and an army of 200 elephants in 326 BC.
While the Persians and Greeks subdued the Indus Valley and the northwest, Aryan-based kingdoms continued developing in the East. In the 5th century BC, Siddhartha Gautama founded the religion of Buddhism, a profoundly influential work of human thought still espoused by much of the world. As the overextended Hellenistic sphere declined, a king known as Chandragupta swept back through the country from Magadha (Bihar) and conquered his way well into Afghanistan. This was the beginning of one India's greatest dynasties, the Maurya. Under the great king Ashoka (268-31 BC), the Mauryan empire conquered nearly the entire subcontinent, extending itself as far south as Mysore. When Ashoka conquered Orissa, however, his army shed so much blood that the repentant king gave up warfare forever and converted to Buddhism. Asoka brought Buddhism to much of central Asia.
After Maurya collapsed only 100 years after Asoka’s death, the regions it had conquered fragmented into a mosaic of kingdoms and smaller dynasties. The Greeks returned briefly in 150 BC and conquered the Punjab, and by this time Buddhism was becoming so influential that the Greek king Menander forsook the Hellenistic pantheon and became a Buddhist himself. The local kingdoms enjoyed relative autonomy for the next few hundred years.
In AD 319, Chandragupta II founded the Imperial Guptas dynasty, which conquered and consolidated the entire north and extended as far south as the Vindya mountains. When the Guptas diminished, a golden age of six thriving and separate kingdoms ensued, and at this time some of the most incredible temples in India were constructed in Bhubaneshwar, Konarak, and Khahurajo. It was time of relative stability, and cultural developments progressed on all fronts for hundreds of years, until the dawn of the Muslim era.
South India was divided into three kingdoms namely the Cholas, the Chera and the Pandyas. The Cholas occupied present Tanjore and Trincnopoly districts with some adjoining areas. The Chola dynasty rose to prominence when in 850 their ruler Vijayalaya defeated the Pallavas and snatched Tanjore from them. Then Tanjore became the capital of the Chola kingdom. In the ninth century Aditya Chola and Parantaka I were the successors of Vijayalaya.
India History II: Islam through the Mughals
THE COMING OF ISLAM (1206—1555)
Constant internal warfare between the different kingdoms, in the north as well as the south, had left them vulnerable to outside attack. From the 11th century, a volatile political situation in Central Asia, coupled with tales of India’s fabulous wealth, fuelled a new wave of invasions by Muslim Turkic rulers from the northwest. Many of them stayed on in India to found dynasties, and with them came soldiers, scholars and merchants, artists and Sufi preachers, who brought new ideas in art, architecture, theology and warfare from the Islamic world. These were to have a lasting impact on religion, art, culture and history in the Indian subcontinent.
The first major invader was Mahmud of Ghazni who raided India repeatedly between 998—1030, and took back vast wealth from its temples. He was followed by Muhammad of Ghur, who conquered Punjab and Delhi, and established his control over areas earlier dominated by Rajputs, after defeating Prithviraj Chauhan in 1192. He was succeeded by his slave, Qutbuddin Aibak (1206—1210), who founded the first of many Muslim dynasties, collectively known as the Delhi Sultanate. Qutbudidin built the towering Qutb Minar in Delhi. His successors included Iltutmish and Balban. Next came the Khiljis (1290—1320), whose ruler Alauddin condlueredl Gujarat, Rajasthan and Bengal, and made the kings of the Deccan and South India his tributaries. After the Khiljis came the Tughluqs (1320—1414), whose second ruler, Muhammad bin Tughluq, completed the conquest of the Deccan and South India, and annexed them. But he was unable to maintain control over these distant areas, which soon began to reassert their independence. This process was accelerated by the devastating invasion of northern India by Timur of Samarkand in 1398, which further weakened the power of the Delhi Sultans. The last two Sultanate dynasties, the Sayyids (1413—1451) and the Lodis (1451—1526), were riven with infighting among their nobles, and had only a tenuous hold over their territories.
During the early years of the Delhi Sultans, a number of independent kingdoms, such as the Solankis in Gujarat, the Eastern Gangas in Orissa, and the Kakatiyas, Pandyas and Hoysalas of the Deccan and South India had been absorbed into the Sultanate. However, as the Tughlugs began to decline, many new independent states emerged. In 1336, the Hindu Vijayanagar Empirein southern India established its independence, while in 1347 the Muslim kingdom of the Bahmani sultans was founded in the Deccan, by a Tughluq noble. By the early 16th century, the Bahmani kingdom had broken up into the five smaller Muslim kingdoms of Bijapur, Ahmadnagar, Golconda, Berar and Bidar. In 1565, the combined forces of three of these kingdoms defeated the Vijayanagar forces, after which this powerful Hindu empire declined. Meanwhile, as the Delhi Sultanate declined, its nobles and governors rebelled and founded their own kingdoms in Bengal (1388), Gujarat (1407), Mandu (1401) and Jaunpur (1408). In northeast India, the Ahoms who had migrated from Myanmar in 1228, established a kingdom in Assam. In Rajasthan too, several Rajput kingdoms, such as Mewar and Marwarreasserted their independence.
NEW CULTURAL INFLUENCES
Despite the turbulence throughout India between the 13th and 15th centuries, several new methods and technologies in agriculture, irrigation, administration, arts and crafts were introduced, many of them by the Muslim rulers, Trade flourished with Iran, the Arab countries, Southeast Asia, China and Europe, and a 14th- century historian records that Delhi was the largest city in the eastern Islamic world. The mosques, tombs and forts built by the Delhi Sultans ushered in new trends in architecture; and distinct regional styles, fusing Islamic and Hindu elements, developed at places such as Ahmedabad, Mandu, and the Muslim kingdoms of the Deccan.
In religion, mystical Sufi sects of Islam and saint-poets of the bhakti movement, such as Meerabai and Kabir, popularized the practice of religion as devotion to god, rejecting caste hierarchies, Guru Nanak (1494—1530) founded the Sikh religion taking elements from the bhakti movement and Islam.
THE COMING OF THE MUGHALS
In 1526 Babur, a Central Asian prince descended from Timur, and a brilliant military campaigner, marched into India, overthrew the Lodis at the historic battle of Panipat, and laid the foundations of the Mughal Empire. Mughal rule was briefly interrupted when Babur’s son Humayun was overthrown in 1540 by an Afghan chieftain, Sher Shah Sur. But Humayun regained his throne in 1555, and it was left to his son Akbar to consolidate and expand the Mughal Empire. The next two emperors, Jahangir and Shah Jahan, left a legacy of magnificent art and architecture. Aurangzeb, the last great Mughal, expanded the empire by adding new territories in the south.
THE DECLINE OF THE MUGHALS
The death of Emperor Aurangzeb, the last great Mughal, In 1707, heralded the decline of the Mughal Empire. He left a ruined economy and weak successors, and independent states now began to be established by the Rajputs in Rajasthan, the nawabs of Avadh and Bengal, the nizams of Hyderabad, and the Wodeyars of Mysore. Two new powers were the Marathas in the Deccan and the Sikhs in the north, The Marathas under their leader Shivaji expanded their territories after 1647. The Sikhs, originally a religious group, began to acquire territory in the hill states of the north, Jammu and Punjab. Under Ranjit Singh they became a powerful state in the early 19th century.
India History III: British Through Independence
The British presence in India began in Elizabeth's times with a few trading centers at Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta. In the eighteenth century, the French decided to challenge the pre-eminence of the British East India Company, and incited some of the states of the Mogul Empire to attack the British. Robert Clive decisively defeated the French at the Siege of Arcot (1751), for control of the Ganges delta. The French continued to contest Britsh control, however, creating problems for Warren Hastings, the Governor General of the East India Company's holdings between 1772 and 1785. He was impeached (unjustly, it now seems) for high crimes and misdemeanors in 1794 but was acquitted. Lord Cornwallis, fresh from Yorktown, Virginia, and Lord Wellesley (the Duke of Duke of Wellington's elder brother) consolidated British power and brought a measure of peace to the warring Indian states during their Governor-Generalships (1786-93 and 1794-1805, respectively).
During the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth, India was the place where many of the second sons of titled families (who would not inherit the family estate, and consequently had to choose between the Church and the Army) went as Army officers to make their fortunes. The British were more or less welcome (indeed, there were a number of highly connected Anglo-Indian families) until the Mutiny of 1857-58. Its immediate cause was the cartridge for the new Enfield rifle, which had to be bitten before it was loaded: Rumors spread that the cartridge was greased with cow-fat and pig-lard; and since the cow is sacred to the Hindus and the pig considered unclean by the Moslems, both religious groups were offended. After soldiers at Meerut mutinied and killed their officers in May 1857, British troops aided by Sikhs and Gurkas took a year to put down the rebellion.
The deeper causes of the Mutiny were resentment over the Westernization of India and fear that native customs, religions, and social structures would be lost. The India Act (1858), which abolished the East India Company and transferred its powers to the Crown, represented by the Viceroy, did nothing to alleviate those fears. Since 1853, India had been run by the Indian Civil Service, and the British only gradually allowed Indians to participate in the structure of government. In 1947, after a prolonged campaign of civil disobedience led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (the Mahatma, or great soul), England gave independence to the colony, which was divided into India, an officially secular state with a largely Hindu population, and Pakistan, an officially Muslim state.
The English East India Company
ENGLISH EAST INDIA COMPANY, formally (1600-1708) Governor And Company Of Merchants Of London Trading Into The East Indies, or (1708-1873) United Company Of Merchants Of England Trading To The East Indies, English company formed for the exploitation of trade with East and Southeast Asia and India, incorporated by royal charter on Dec. 31, 1600. Starting as a monopolistic trading body, the company became involved in politics and acted as an agent of British imperialism in India from the early 18th century to the mid-19th century. In addition, the activities of the company in China in the 19th century served as a catalyst for the expansion of British influence there.
The company was formed to share in the East Indian spice trade. This trade had been a monopoly of Spain and Portugal until the defeat of the Spanish Armada (1588) by England gave the English the chance to break the monopoly. Until 1612 the company conducted separate voyages, separately subscribed. There were temporary joint stocks until 1657, when a permanent joint stock was raised.
The company met with opposition from the Dutch in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and the Portuguese. The Dutch virtually excluded company members from the East Indies after the Amboina Massacre in 1623 (an incident in which English, Japanese, and Portuguese traders were executed by Dutch authorities), but the company's defeat of the Portuguese in India (1612) won them trading concessions from the Mughal Empire. The company settled down to a trade in cotton and silk piece goods, indigo, and saltpetre, with spices from South India. It extended its activities to the Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia, and East Asia.
After the mid-18th century the cotton-goods trade declined, while tea became an important import from China. Beginning in the early 19th century, the company financed the tea trade with illegal opium exports to China. Chinese opposition to this trade precipitated the first Opium War (1839-42), which resulted in a Chinese defeat and the expansion of British trading privileges; a second conflict, often called the "Arrow" War (1856-60), brought increased trading rights for Europeans.
The original company faced opposition to its monopoly, which led to the establishment of a rival company and the fusion (1708) of the two as the United Company of Merchants of England trading to the East Indies. The United Company was organized into a court of 24 directors who worked through committees. They were elected annually by the Court of Proprietors, or shareholders. When the company acquired control of Bengal in 1757, Indian policy was until 1773 influenced by shareholders' meetings, where votes could be bought by the purchase of shares. This led to government intervention. The Regulating Act (1773) and Pitt's India Act (1784) established government control of political policy through a regulatory board responsible to Parliament. Thereafter, the company gradually lost both commercial and political control. Its commercial monopoly was broken in 1813, and from 1834 it was merely a managing agency for the British government of India. It was deprived of this after the Indian Mutiny (1857), and it ceased to exist as a legal entity in 1873.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the British Empire was the largest and richest empire in the world. This naturally gave rise to the belief that the British themselves were the chosen race chosen to bring the benefits of western civilization to the backward areas of the world. This white supremacy was enforced in Britain's colonies, especially India, and naturally, native opposition was frequent. But most were unsuccessful due to the superior technology and organization of the British army.
In 1857, the Indian Mutiny broke out and with it, the British colonial administration fought its greatest imperial war. Thanks to the efficiency of British media coverage, the development of the mutiny was followed avidly by the British public. The British saw the India Mutiny as a fight against "barbarians who were rejecting the benefits of civilization" but as the suppression developed, the atrocities committed by both sides became obvious. The British armies swept across northern India in an enraged and cruel rampage of rape, murder and savagery, which shocked Victorian society.
The Indian Mutiny was even called the 'epic of the Race' by historian Sir Charles Crostwaithe and though in the modern context, this sounds ridiculous but it was nothing more than an illustration of Victorian British confidence and arrogance.