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India has been inhabited for hundreds of thousands of years; of this there is little doubt. And if you read India was civilized as long as 5,000 years ago. By "civilized" we mean that the citizens of India's two most famous cities (only discovered some 80 years ago), Mohenjadaro and Harappa, lived in style, in multi-story brick houses which offered such conveniences as running water, in cities all of whose streets were paved. About a thousand years later, the Aryans moved into India from the region that eventually became Persia, bringing with them their own cultures and traditions. This included India's oldest chronicles, the Rig Veda, a collection of more than a thousand hymns which, according to tradition, were passed down orally, and which some amongst the faithful of Hinduism believe are far older than the 1,500 B.C. timeframe usually assigned to them.

The inhabitants of the Indus River valley first developed an urban culture based on commerce and sustained by agriculture around 2500BCE, but declined around 1500 B.C., probably due to environmental changes. During the second millennium B.C., pastoral, Aryan-speaking tribes migrated from the northwest into the subcontinent, settled in the middle Ganges River valley, and adapted to antecedent cultures.

The Vedic AgeEdit

The Vedic Age is the "heroic age" of ancient Indian civilization and the formative period when the basic foundations of Indian civilization were laid down. These include the emergence of early Hinduism as the foundational religion of India, and the social/religious phenomenon known as the varna or caste system. Much of what we know about this period of ancient Indian history is as a result of the faithful word-of-mouth transmission of the Vedas from one generation to another. This period of India's history lasted from around 1500 BC through to 500 BC; that is, from the early days of the Aryan migration into north-west India through to the age of the Buddha, introducing into India a religion based on the worship of many gods and goddesses.

The Aryan belief-system that the Vedas reflect was distantly-related to those held by other Indo-European peoples of the ancient world, such as the Greeks and the Germans. This ancient religion is depicted in collections of oral poetry and prose - hymns, prayers, chants, spells and commentaries - known as the "Vedas" which were first composed at around the time of the Aryan entry into India and in following centuries before being written down many centuries later, long after the "Vedic Age",

However, some time in the centuries before they had entered India, the practice of fire ceremonies of the god Agni had become a focal part of their worship, a trait which they shared with their near-relatives, the Iranians (the word "Iranian" comes from the same root as the word "Aryan"). Another leading god was Indra, the High God. Also, the concept of the "Cycle of Life" - reincarnation of the soul from one earthly life to another - also arose in this period. A clay goblet used in Vedic times Violent times The Aryans came into north-west India as pastoral, semi-nomadic tribes led by warrior chieftains.

Once in India, they settled down as rulers over the native Dravidian populations they found there, and formed tribal kingdoms. The different kingdoms were often at war with one another, and echoes of these violent times can still be heard in one of the greatest epics of ancient India, the "Mahabharata", which has come down to us from this period of history. The Upanishads Another body of literature that was composed towards the end of the Vedic Age were the "Upanishads". Originally, these were included in the Vedas, to which they formed commentaries; however, they were gradually separated out and assumed an identity of their own. The 200 sections of prose and poetry of which they are composed explore concepts only dimly perceived, if at all, in the earlier Vedas. These include the idea that the material world is unreal - indeed, it is an illusion. So too are earthly emotions such as desire and suffering. To break the weary cycle of reincarnation which all souls have to go through, therefore, involves renouncing desire and other human feelings which bind the soul to the material world. This will allow the soul to be united with the "World Soul" (Brahma), and so achieve peace.

These ideas helped to give the religious thought of ancient India a very distinctive flavour. They have influenced Indian civilization throughout its long history, right up to the present day. (Read more on ancient Indian literature, including from the Vedic age) A great religion takes shape The Vedas, the Mahabharata and the Upanishads formed the foundational writings of the Hindu religion, which was gradually taking shape in the Vedic Age. They show that the ancient Vedic religion was evolving into something different. This was probably to a large extent the result of influences from the older Dravidian populations over whom the Aryans ruled. During the course of centuries the Aryan nature deities lost much of their importance, and three new gods took their place: Vishnu, the preserver; Shiva, the destroyer; and Brahma, the creator. An image of Vishni Author: Ramanarayanadatta astri An image of Vishni Author: Ramanarayanadatta astri The ideas associated with the Upanishads became important, and these had a profound effect on social life. The notion that every element of creation - humans, animals, plants, rocks and so on - had a portion of the World Soul dwelling in them ("Atman") gained acceptance within ancient Indian society. With it came a respect for all living things.

The Caste SystemEdit

It was during this period of history that ancient India developed its distinctive caste system. The tendencies towards social division had been present ever since the coming of Aryans into India. As happened at many different times and places in world history, the conquerors set themselves up as a ruling class. However, unlike in other parts of the world, where the differences between the conquerors and the conquered gradually disappeared over time, in India they solidified in the form of divisions between the castes, between whom intermarriage was forbidden. The priestly caste - the Brahmins - were at the top of the social ladder, as being closest to Brahma. Below them came the warrior caste, the Kshatryas. Then came the Vaishyas, the ordinary Aryan tribesmen, farmers, craftsmen and traders. Finally came the Shudras, menial workers, the labourers, servants and those performing services which are ritually unclean. There were also many people outside the caste system altogether, excluded from Aryan-dominated society. These were called the "Untouchables". They were not really regarded as human beings, and performed the most degrading tasks of all, such as dealing with human waste. Group of Brahmanas, 1913 Group of Brahmanas, 1913 The rebirth of urban civilization As the Vedic Age drew to a close, the tribal society of the early Aryans gave way to a more complex social organization. The use of iron spread form the Middle East from around 800 BC. This made agriculture more productive, and populations grew. Trade expanded, both within India and with the lands to the west. From the Middle East came the use of writing, and the great oral traditions of Aryan society began to be written down. Organized kingdoms with centralised authority emanating out from the royal palaces arose in place of the looser, clan-based tribal states. Not just kingdoms, either; in some places, particularly in the mountain areas and on the fringes of the Aryan world (essentially present-day modern Pakistan and northern and north-central India), confederations of clan-chiefs arose which later generations have labelled "republics". This makes ancient India the only place (as far as we know) in which the republican form of government flourished in the ancient world apart from in the Classical world of the ancient Mediterranean. The Vedic Age in World History The place of the Vedic Age in World History is as the period of ancient India which gave birth to Indian civilization - one of the great civilizations of the world. The fact that Vedic society gave pride of place to the priestly caste of Brahmins is directly related to the emergence of a religious culture which, in the following period of India's history, would lead to the appearance of three distinct but closely-related religions - mature Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Together, these religions claim the allegiance of billions of people in the world today.

Gods and KingsEdit

The political map of ancient and medieval India was made up of myriad kingdoms with fluctuating boundaries. In the 4th and 5th centuries A.D., northern India was unified under the Gupta Dynasty. During this period, known as India's Golden Age, Hindu culture and political administration reached new heights.

Foreign AggressorsEdit

The Aryans were not the only ones to arrive - they were then followed by many others - the Macedonian Greeks of Alexander the Great, the Scythians, the Huns and the Islamic empires. Of these, however, the Muslims would be the most resilient and pervasive in influence, bar the Aryans.

Islam spread across the subcontinent over a period of 700 years. In the 10th and 11th centuries, Turks and Afghans invaded India and established sultanates in Delhi. In the early 16th century, Babur, a Turkish adventurer and distant relative of Timurlane, established the Mughal Dynasty, which lasted for 200 years. South India followed an independent path, but by the 17th century large areas of South India came under the direct rule or influence of the expanding Mughal Empire. While most of Indian society in its thousands of villages remained untouched by the political struggles going on around them, Indian courtly culture evolved into a unique blend of Hindu and Muslim traditions. 

By the end of the mediaeval era, India was now a patchwork of different states, all of them in competition with one another. To the north, there were the Muslim sultans, while Hindhus continued to hold sway in the south as they had since time immemorial.

The Lion meets the ElephantsEdit

In 1526, an adventurer hailing from Central Asia, Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, met and defeated the native sultanate of Lodi in battle at Panipat outside Delhi with Ottoman firearms. This man would soon be known as Emperor Babur and would go on to be the scion of the Mughal dynasty, named so because Babur was descended from the Uzbek emperor Timur, who in turn was descended from Genghis Khan, one of the greatest conquerors the world had ever known.

However, Babur and his successors would still face many challenges over the next century. When Babur died, his son and grandson would be forced to fight for Delhi, until his grandson Akbar finally took the city. Under Akbar, the Mughals not only ruled present-day Pakistan, but also controlled Delhi in the north, as well as Gujarat to the west and Bengal to the south.

This was the Mughal empire at its zenith. For two generations beginning with Akbar, the Mughal sultanate enjoyed a golden age of peace and plenty. Not only was Akbar a gifted commander known for his innovative use of war elephants in what would today be called "combat engineering", but he was a skilled mahout, also was a cultured and relatively humane individual in the same mould as his own personal hero, Alexander of Macedon. Akbar was also liberal with religion, and although born a Muslim, he nevertheless left his subjects alone, and was tactful when dealing with religious-related unrest. Some say this was because unlike his successors such as Aurangzeb, he was an open-minded man, but Akbar's tolerance as well as that exercised by his successors Jahangir and Shah Jahan was probably due to the fact that as much as the Mughals were Muslim, a majority of their subjects were Hindhu and the last thing the Mughals could afford was a major rebellion. The next two emperors too were cultured men: Jahangir himself was interested in biology, and took down research notes on the biology of birds and elephants, while his son Shah Jahan, a keen general and architect, was known for the building of the Taj Mahal. Mughal India in their time was estimated to be one of the richest, if not the greatest, nations in the world.

Shah Jahan, for all his virtues, was nonetheless a decadent man, and soon was deposed in a palace coup by none other than his son, Aurangzeb, who could only be best described as controversial. Aurangzeb's rule saw the enforcement of puritanical Muslim law in Mughal lands, and although he did expand the empire to its farthest extent, he was forced to fight multiple wars throughout India to maintain Mughal hegemony. To make matters worse, religious tensions, formerly sublimated by the previous emperors, began to rear their ugly head once more, and Aurangzeb was beset with enemies within and without his lands. Despite his financial parsimony and his even stooping down to becoming a copyist to maintain his own self, the empire was soon impoverished with Aurangzeb's many wars. To his son Aurangzeb confessed, near death in 1707, that:

"I came alone and I go as a stranger. I do not know who I am, nor what I have been doing."

After Aurangzeb, the Mughal Empire was a shadow of its former self, and continued its decline. In 1739, the Persians invaded India from Afghanistan, seizing Pakistan and laying waste to the Mughal capital of Delhi.

Rise of the MarathaEdit

To the south, the Hindhus were now making a comeback after almost 900 years of Muslim hegemony in India. In 1674, a nobleman named Shivaji became ruler of of what would soon be called the Maratha confederacy. He fought several wars with the Mughals and other rulers, and in 27 years, he had created a small kingdom centred around Raigad, near present-day Pune. By 1760, this kingdom, along with several other smaller vassal states, now stretched across the Deccan plateau, and for a while withstood the challenges of even the Portuguese and the British. The Marathas were enlightened men, and Shivaji was said to have had Muslim sufis and Brahmins in his entourage, but even so, their greatest contributions to modern India was an improved navy. Although native Indians did indeed have navies and the Cholas of Tamil Nadu certainly needed them to project power into Southeast Asia in the 13th century, by the time of the Mughals the internal feuding going on in India meant that little was spent on naval defence. With the Mughals on the run, the Marathas now had new enemies and these were the piratical western powers - the Portuguese and the Dutch, and later on the British. Under the sekhal or admiral Kanhoji of Satara, the Maratha were now ready to teach the Portuguese and the British East India Company a lesson, by seizing their own ships, eventually defeating two Anglo-Portuguese fleets in actions off Pune in 1722 and 1730.

The Princely StateEdit

Further south, there too was a third state: the kingdom of Mysore. Following the defeat of Maratha forces up north near Delhi in 1760 at the hands of Muslims dissatisfied with Maratha rule, the dalwai or military commander of Mysore Haidar Naik launched a coup, making himself dictator; Haidar Naik was subsequently crowned sultan and took on the regnal name of Haidar Ali, and fought a series of territorial wars against the other Indian states as well as the British, expanding his territory. Haidar's son Tipu took over after the former's death from cancer in 1782, and proved a most able commander and administrator.

The state of Mysore, although smaller and in fact part of the larger principality of Hyderabad must be mentioned for one sole reason - Tipu Sultan was the only one of the many Indian rulers who realised the danger posed by the Westerners to Indian independence, and strove through military and diplomatic means to establish a united front against the English. Tipu recognised that more was needed than the mere bravado that exemplified the ancient Kshatria class and the more recent spirit of ijtihad imported by India's Muslim population. He established links with revolutionary France, attempted to modernise the military and civics of Mysore, and even introduced rockets and copper-bottomed ships, which were more resistant to wood-boring molluscs in the ocean. Yet despite these dazzling reforms and many bloody defeats inflicted on his British nemeses, Tipu finally met his end, fighting to the last at his palace of Seringapatam in 1799.

Rise of the RajEdit

With Tipu gone, there was nothing left either to unite India - increasingly divided by the politics of religion - or to drive away the British, who now dominated the Mughals. The Maratha decided to make a last stand, but were decisively defeated in 1818 in the Third Anglo-Maratha War, and the last Maratha potentates were forced into permanent house arrest by the East India Company. The East India Company, however, would suffer a disastrous setback. Failing to keep social pressures in check, its rule was challenged by a massive rebellion in 1857 that was only successfully put down with much bloodshed by the British in 1858. The East India Company was liquidated and its assets seized by the British Crown, and its empire was to become the pride of the British imperium for well over ninety years.

Expulsion of the BritishEdit

The roots of the Indian nationalist movement date back to the 1870s, leading to the founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885. The decolonization movement began in 1919. The year 1919 was one of serious incidents, notably the Amritsar massacre, which marked a point of no return in the history of British India. From that moment onward, the colonial government had to face a nationalist opposition capable of coordinating mass agitation. The noncooperation movement of 1920-22 and the civil disobedience of 1930-34 demonstrated the growing scope of anti-British mobilization in India. In an attempt to stabilize the situation, London granted a more liberal constitution in 1935, which notably reinforced provincial autonomy. But the Congress Party took advantage of this move to form governments in eight provinces, thereby consolidating its political foothold. The Amritsar massacre of 1919 sounded the death knell of the British colonial adventure. Agrarian resistance and revolt were chronic during the colonial period, and began taking a modern turn in the 1920s when peasants, led by Mohandas K. Gandhi, began manifesting their discontent in the context of political demands made by the nationalist intelligentsia, progressively transforming the emancipation movement into an unstoppable mass movement. At the same time the British lost interest in India, seeing it more as a burden than a glory.[2] Beginning in 1920, Gandhi transformed the Indian National Congress political party into a mass movement to campaign against British colonial rule. The party used both parliamentary and nonviolent resistance and non-cooperation to agitate for independence. By the mid-1930s, India was still the cornerstone of the world's largest colonial empire, but tghe Empire had been badly shaken by World War I, the Great Depression, and the effective independence of the dominions such as Canada. The empire was costing Britain heavily. To facilitate the inevitable trnasition, London organized the first true elections, sparking the confrontation of two great leaders - Mohammed Ali Jinnah (who founded Pakistan) and Jawaharlal Nehru (who led independent India).

Republican EraEdit

Congress rulesEdit

After independence, the Indian National Congress, the party of Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, ruled India under the leadership first of Nehru and then his daughter (Indira Gandhi) and grandson (Rajiv Gandhi), with the exception of brief periods in the 1970s and 1980s, during a short period in 1996, and the period from 1998-2004, when a coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party governed.

Indira GandhiEdit

Prime Minister Nehru governed the nation until his death in 1964. Nehru was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri, who also died in office. In 1966, power passed to Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi (1917-84), Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977, and again 1980-84.[3]

Intense political factionalism prevailed her first term as prime minister, 1966-71. Conservative elements who had supported her election - thinking she could be "molded" to their will - fought back bitterly (but unsuccessfully) when she proved to be an ardent defender of Nehru's liberal political philosophy. In 1969 the Indian National Congress split into two factions. The majority, led by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, promoted socialist economic and social reforms. The conservative minority, called the Syndicate, advocated more capitalism as the solution to the nation’s massive poverty. Cooperating with other conservative parties, the Syndicate weakened Gandhi's popular programs by threatening the parliamentary majority of the Congress party. Mrs Gandhi responded by closer links with leftist parties.

Considerable real economic growth took place, often in spite of or contrary to her proposals. Prosperity enabled Mrs. Gandhi to win a landslide reelection victory in 1971. It partly resulted from her reputation for strong leadership, and also resulted from the effects of the New Economic Policy, implemented in 1966. After hesitant beginnings in the early 1960s the Green Revolution rapidly improved food production and spurred the entire economy after 1967. She nationalized India's banks in 1967 to allow for easy credit. Social discontent resulting from the Green Revolution was still limited.

<p style="marIn foreign policy she led the nation to a triumphant victory in a major war with Pakistan in 1972. It resulted in the independence of Bangladesh, which had revolted over the widespread mistreatment by Pakistan. Mrs. Gandhi's pragmatic, coldly calculated friendly relationships with the Soviet Union and her hostile attitude toward the United States left India a more important and independent regional power than it had been under her father. Her nuclear policy was characterized by the refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, insistence on the further development of peaceful uses of atomic energy, and maintenance of a nuclear technological capability in response to developments in Pakistan and China.[4]</p>

State of EmergencyEdit

In 1975, beset with deepening political and economic problems, Mrs. Gandhi declared a state of emergency and suspended many civil liberties. Although India had a strong tradition of democracy, that tradition was challenged when Mrs. Gandhi moved toward a personal dictatorship. In the summer of 1975, following a long siege of political invective and legal reverses, she arrested her chief critic Jayaprakash Narayan and thousands of his political supporters and suspended the constitution under the Defence of India Rules. She said the drastic action was necessary to preserve national unity. Mrs. Gandhi then issued edicts to curtail rising prices, improve the efficiency of government, and control crime and violence. The opposition, however, maintains that these things were accomplished only at the price of higher unemployment, increased government bureaucracy, and growth of hoarding, smuggling, and black marketeering. The newspapers of India were suppressed by heavy censorship rulings and the laws regarding the office of prime minister were altered to virtually ignore the role of the Indian Parliament.

Mrs Gandhi defeated by JanataEdit

Seeking a mandate at the polls for her policies, she called for elections in 1977, only to be defeated by Morarji Desai, who headed the Janata Party, an amalgam of five opposition parties.

<pl;">In 1979, Desai's Government crumbled. Charan Singh formed an interim government, which was followed by Mrs. Gandhi's return to power in January 1980.</p>

Assassinations and instabilityEdit

On October 31, 1984, Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated by Sikh bodyguards, followed by a nationwide outburst of violent attacks on Sihks. Her son Rajiv Gandhi, was chosen by the Congress (I)--for "Indira"--Party to take her place. His Congress government was plagued with allegations of corruption resulting in an early call for national elections in 1989.

Although Rajiv Gandhi's Congress Party won more seats than any other single party in the 1989 elections, he was unable to form a government with a clear majority. The Janata Dal, a union of opposition parties, then joined with the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the right and the Communists on the left to form the government. This loose coalition collapsed in November 1990, and the Janata Dal, supported by the Congress (I), came to power for a short period, with Chandra Shekhar as Prime Minister. That alliance also collapsed, resulting in national elections in June 1991.

While campaigning in Tamil Nadu on behalf of Congress (I), Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 27, 1991, apparently by Tamil extremists from Sri Lanka, unhappy with India's armed intervention to try to stop the civil war there.

Congress returnsEdit

In the 1991 elections, Congress (I) won 213 parliamentary seats and returned to power at the head of a coalition, under the leadership of P.V. Narasimha Rao. This Congress-led government, which served a full 5-year term, dropped much of the socialism associated with Nehru. Instead it initiated a gradual process of economic liberalization and reform, which opened the Indian economy to global trade and investment. India's domestic politics also took new shape, as the nationalist appeal of the Congress Party gave way to traditional caste, creed, regional, and ethnic alignments, leading to the founding of a plethora of small, regionally based political parties.

Political instability againEdit

The final months of the Rao-led government in the spring of 1996 were marred by several major corruption scandals, which contributed to the worst electoral performance by the Congress Party in its history. The Hindu-nationalist BJP emerged from the May 1996 national elections as the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha but without a parliamentary majority. Under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the subsequent BJP coalition lasted only 13 days. With all political parties wishing to avoid another round of elections, a 14-party coalition led by the Janata Dal formed a government known as the United Front, under the former Chief Minister of Karnataka, H.D. Deve Gowda. His government collapsed after less than a year, when the Congress Party withdrew its support in March 1997. Inder Kumar Gujral replaced Deve Gowda as the consensus choice for Prime Minister at the head of a 16-party United Front coalition.

In November 1997, the Congress Party again withdrew support from the United Front. In new elections in February 1998, the BJP won the largest number of seats in Parliament--182--but fell far short of a majority. On March 20, 1998, the President approved a BJP-led coalition government with Vajpayee again serving as Prime Minister. On May 11 and 13, 1998, this government conducted a series of underground nuclear tests, spurring U.S. President Bill Clinton to impose economic sanctions on India pursuant to the 1994 Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Act.

<p styIn April 1999, the BJP-led coalition government fell apart, leading to fresh elections in September. The National Democratic Alliance--a new coalition led by the BJP--won a majority to form the government with Vajpayee as Prime Minister in October 1999. The NDA government was the first in many years to serve a full five year term, providing much-needed political stability.</p>

<p styThe Kargil conflict in 1999 and an attack by terrorists on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 led to increased tensions with Pakistan.

ReferencesEdit

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