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Who is India and what is her claim? Is she as elusive to find as the insides of a seed? A mere country cannot assume the bewitching charms that hang on her slender wrists. Who is India?
Sit by the ruins, and see the inscriptions carved on the walls of caves, and listen. Listen to the seers and the folklorists, to the waters of the perennial rivers and the echoes from the immortal gigantic mountains. Look at the personifications of prayer carved out of marble or stone, and lie under a banyan tree, and listen - Listen to India.
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 Himavat 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. Krishnamurti.
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 Ghats. |
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.
These mainland areas apart, India has two groups of islands - the Andaman and Nicobar in the Bay of Bengal and the Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea.
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 a total drainage area of about 4,50,000 square miles, of which 1,75,000 square miles lie in theHimalayan 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 Zanskar Valley. 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 the Indian civilization. Barring the period of the Harappan civilization, the Ganga basin has been a spectator to all the actions that shaped the 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 known as the 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, were set up different settlements, each of which were distinct and developed their own indigenous culture.
Uttarkashi, Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag, Rishikesh and Haridwar are some of the important sites along 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 india.
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 of fertility 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 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 is 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 living in India on the slopes of the Himalayas in the northeastern states
To add all this, India is perhaps the only place in the world where twenty religious streams flow together. If that sounds cliched, 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 despite of its great diversity.
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 centuries ago.
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.
The Constitution of India 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 over darkness
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 most 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 modern industrialization.
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 Guru Granth Sahib. 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) are illuminated.
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 celebrated as Buddha Purnima. Falling on the full moon day, this is an important holiday in India. Buddhists practice their rituals and observe their special religious days all over India.
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 Christianity, 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 benediction.
Muslims in India celebrate all their festivals of Id, but they look westwards towards Arabia, which is their spiritual home. The Government of India has made special arrangements for Haj pilgrims who go to Mecca annually. Chartered airplanes take them to their destination and they enjoy this confessional 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 wedding 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 thorn forests of the 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's vegetation is tailored to its diverse topography. Some of the major Indian animals which inhabit its forest and green areas are: the royal Bengal tiger, monkeys, elephants, foxes, jackals, mongoose, Indian crocodile, the gharial, and lizards and snakes - including the cobra comprise the indigenous reptile population. The Indian peafowl (also known as the Peacock) - the Indian national bird joins the ranks of birds from cranes, storks, ibises, hawks, hornbills, parrots, and the common crow.
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 till date.
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, inGujarat, 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, up till independence the history of India is one of constant struggle between the nationalists - who assumed different names, ideologies, backgrounds and methods - and the British and their repressive policies in India.
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 and composites.
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 Vijaylakshmi Pandit.
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 essentially 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 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's 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 international thinkers.
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 activities.
The 'Green Revolution' of the sixties and the 'White Revolution' of the seventies brought about amazing results in agriculture and cooperative dairy farming.
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 international and domestic competition. Financial systems have been strengthened and India is well developed. India in recent years has emerged as one of the leading destinations for investors from developed countries.
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 it under international limelight. Its internal problems notwithstanding, India has stepped into the new millennium with great confidence.
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.
Last Updated on 17 December 2012