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History of India

The history of India is one of the grand epics of world

history and can be best described in the words of India's
first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as "a bundle of
contradictions held together by strong but invisible
threads". Indian history can be characterised as a work in
progress, a continuous process of reinvention that can
eventually prove elusive for those seeking to grasp its
essential character. The history of this astonishing sub
continent dates back to almost 75000 years ago with the
evidence of human activity of Homo sapiens. Indian
history begins with the birth of the Indus Valley Civilization
as evident from the sites at Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, and
Lothal which were earlier a part of the Indian subcontinent.
The inhabitants were known as Dravidians who later
migrated to South India probably due to ecological
changes. Amazingly, almost five thousand years ago, the
inhabitants of the Indus Valley Civilisation had developed
an urban culture based on commerce and sustained by
agricultural trade. The Aryan tribes from the North West
Frontier migrated into the sub continent around second
millennium BC and gradually merged with the pre-existing

Mark Twain, aptly defines India, the world's archaeological

gem -

"India is a cradle of human race, the birthplace of human

speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend,
and the great grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable
and most instructive materials in the history of man are
treasured up in India only".

India had often been overlooked, though her history and

culture is just as rich as that of Mesopotamia or Egypt.
Archaeological excavations in the last fifty years have
brought forth India's illustrious past and have changed the
world's view about one of the oldest inhabited regions on
the planet. The village of Balathal (near Udaipur in
Rajasthan), dates back to 4000 BCE, illustrating the
antiquity of India's history. Balathal was discovered after
1962 CE and excavations began there after 1990 CE.

Following is the history of India through the Ages:

The Pre Historic Era

The Stone Age:

The Stone Age began 500,000 to 200,000 years ago and
recent finds in Tamil Nadu (at C. 75000 years ago, before
and after the explosion of the Toba Volcano) indicate the
presence of the first anatomically humans in the area.
Archaeologists have discovered up to 1.5 million years
old, stone-age tools, at this prehistoric site
(Attirampakkam) near Chennai. This discovery would
probably change the existing notion about the earliest
human ancestors being from Africa into India. Peninsular
India abounds in Paleolithic sites. These are more
prominently found at Pallavaram in Tamil Nadu, Hunsgi in
Karnataka, Kuliana in Orissa, Didwana in Rajasthan, and
Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh. Tools crafted by proto-
humans that have been dated back to two million years
have been discovered in the North-western part of the

The Bronze Age:

The Bronze Age in the Indian subcontinent dates back to
around 3300 BCE with the early Indus Valley Civilisation.
Historically part of ancient India, it is one of the world's
earliest, urban civilisations, along with Mesopotamia and
Ancient Egypt. Inhabitants of this era developed new
techniques in metallurgy and handicraft and produced
copper, bronze, lead and tin, evident from the seals and
statues found such as that of the Dancing girl. Harrappa
was a significant bronze-age community; statues of
various deities have also been found.

Early Historic Period

Vedic Period:
The Aryans were the first to invade the country. They
came out of the North in about 1500 BC and brought with
them strong cultural traditions. Sanskrit, one of the most
ancient languages spoken by them, was used in the first
documentation of the Vedas, which date back to the 12th
century BC and are believed to be oldest scriptures still in

The Vedas are some of the oldest extant texts, next to

those in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Vedic era in the
subcontinent lasted from about 1500-500 BCE, laying
down the foundation of Hinduism and other cultural
dimensions of early Indian society. The Aryans laid down
Vedic civilisation all over North India, particularly in the
Gangetic Plain. Society was divided into four 'Varnas' or
classes popularly known as `the caste system' comprising
of the 'Brahmana' or priests and scholars at the top, the
'Kshatriya' or the warriors came next, then the 'Vaishya'
which included farmers and merchants, and the Shudra or
labourers. The 'Dalits' who handled meat and waste were
considered the untouchables and formed the lowest caste.

To start with, this caste system was merely a reflection of

one's occupation but, in time, it became more rigid and
was determined by one's birth. Changing the caste or
marrying into a caste other than one's own was not
This period saw the second major rise in urbanisation in
India after the Indus valley Civilisation. The word "maha"
means great and the word "janapada" means foothold of a
tribe. In the later Vedic Age, a number of small kingdoms
or city states had mushroomed across the subcontinent
and also find mention in early Buddhist and Jain literature
as far back as 1000 BCE. By 500 BCE, sixteen territorial
states, "monarchies and republics" or Mahajanapadas has
had come to be established, namely; Kasi, Kosala, Anga,
Magadha, Vajji (or Vriji), Malla, Chedi, Vatsa (or Vamsa),
Kuru, Panchala, Matsya, Surasena, Assaka, Avanti,
Gandhara, and Kamboja.

Persian and Greek Conquests:

Much of the Northwest subcontinent (currently Afghanistan
and Pakistan) came under the rule of the Persian
Achaemenid Empire in C. 520 BCE under the rule of
Darius the Great and remained so for two centuries. In
326 BCE, Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor and
the Achaemenid Empire, when he reached the Northwest
frontier of the Indian subcontinent he defeated King Porus
and conquered most of Punjab.

Maurya Empire:
The Maurya Empire, ruled by the Mauryan Dynasty from
322-185 BCE was a geographically extensive and mighty
political and military empire in ancient India, established in
the subcontinent by Chandragupta Maurya in Magadha
(present-day Bihar) it further thrived under Ashoka the
Great. At its pinnacle, the empire covered parts of modern
day Iran and almost the entire Indian subcontinent, except
the southern peninsular tip.
Ancient India Timeline

Prehistoric Period: ( 400000 BC - 1000 BC ): The period when man, basically a food gatherer,
discovered fire and wheel.
Indus Valley Civilisation: (2500 BC - 1500 BC): Derived its name from the river Indus and
thrived on agriculture and worshipped natural forces.

Epic Age: (1000 BC - 600 BC): The period saw the compilation of the Vedas, distinction of
Varnas in terms of Aryans and Dasas (slaves).

Hinduism and Transition: (600 BC - 322 BC): As caste system became more rigid, the period
saw the advent of Mahavira and Buddha who rebelled against casteism. Mahajanapadas were
formed - Magadha under Bimbisara and Ajat Shatru and Shisunanga and Nanda dynasty.

The Mauryan Age: (322 BC - 185 BC): Founded by Chandragupta Maurya, the empire
encompassed the entire North India and Bindusara further extended it. After fighting the Kalinga
war, Ashoka embraced Buddhism.

The Invasions: (185 BC - 320 AD): The period saw the invasion of Bactrians, Parthians, Shakas
& Kushans, opening of Central Asia for trade, issuance of GOLD coins and introduction of the
Saka era.

Deccan and South India: (65 BC - 250 AD): The southern part was ruled by Cholas, Cheras
and Pandyas This period is known for construction of Ajanta and Ellora cave temples, Sangam
literature, and arrival of Christianity to India.

The Gupta Dynasty: (320 AD - 520 AD): The Gupta dynasty founded by Chandragupta I,
ushered in classical age in north India with Samudragupta extending his kingdom and
Chandragupta II fighting against Shakas.

Shakuntalam and Kamasutra were written during this period, Aryabhatta achieved feats in
Astronomy and Bhakti cult emerged.

Age of Small Kingdoms: (500 AD - 606 AD): The period saw migrations from Central Asia and
Iran as Hunas moved to north India. There was rise of many small kingdoms as the North was
divided into warring kingdoms.

Harshavardhana: (606 AD - 647 AD): The famous Chinese traveller Hieun Tsang visited India
during Emperor Harshawardhana's reign. But his kingdom disintegrated into small states even as
Hunas invaded. It was a period when the Deccan and the south became powerful.

The Southern Kingdoms: (500 AD - 750 AD): Empire of Chalukyas, Pallavas & Pandya
flourished. Zoroastrians (Parsis) came to India.

Chola Empire: (9th Cent. AD - 13th Cent. AD): Founded by Vijayalaya, the Chola empire
adopted a maritime policy. Temples became cultural and social centres and Dravadian languages

The Northern Kingdoms: (750 AD - 1206 AD): The Rashtrakutas became powerful, Pratiharas
ruled in Avanti and Palas ruled Bengal. The period also saw emergence of Rajput clans.

Temples at Khajuraho, Kanchipuram, Puri were built and miniature painting started. The period
witnessed invasion from the Turks.

Battles that have shaped the History of


In the long march of centuries, India has witnessed the

rise and fall of several empires and conquerors. The
political map of pre-modern India, before the British
arrived, was made up of countless kingdoms with
fluctuating boundaries that rendered the country
vulnerable to foreign invasions. There have been various
dynasties fighting battles among themselves and against
foreign invaders - Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Chinese
nomads, Arabs, Mughals, French, Dutch, Portuguese,
British and others. Wave after wave of foreign aggressors
descended on India, founded empires and left a deep
imprint on the history and culture of the country. But none
could subdue or subjugate the indomitable soul of
Bharatvarsh. (According to the religious/historical texts
written down in the 5th century CE, the 'Puranas', king
Bharata conquered the whole sub-continent of India and
ruled the land in peace and harmony. The land was,
therefore, known as Bharatavarsha (`the sub-continent of

As history is a great educator, it would be interesting to

recapitulate some of the major battles that have marked
turning points in the history of India:

 Battle of Buxar
 Seleucid-Mauryan War
 Kalinga War
 Battle of Haldighati
 Rohilla War

 Battle of the Hydaspes

 Huna Invasions of India
 Nadir Shah's Invasion of India
 Timur invades India
 Anglo-Maratha Wars

 Sakas Invade India

 First Turkish Invasion of The Deccan
 Mahmud Ghazni's Invasions of India
 Anglo-Sikh War
 Siege of Pondicherry
 Invasions of Muhammad Ghori
 Arab Invasion of Sind under Mohammed-bin-Qasim
 Fourth Anglo-Mysore War

The Mughal Empire:

In 1526, Babur, a descendant of Timur and Gengis Kahn
from Fergana Valler (present-day Uzbekistan) swept
across the Khyber Pass and established the Mughal
Empire which covered modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan,
India and Bangladesh. The Mughal dynasty ruled most of
the Indian subcontinent till 1600; after which it went into
decline after 1707 and was finally defeated during India's
first war of Independence in 1857.

Family Tree of Mughals

Colonial Era:
From the 16th century, European powers from Portugal,
Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom established
trading posts in India. Later, they took advantage of
internal conflicts and established colonies in the country.

The British Rule:

The British Rule in India began with the coming of the
British East India Company in 1600 leading to the rule of
Queen Victoria. It culminated in the First War of Indian
Independence in 1857.

Heroic Figures of 1857

Bahadur Shah Zafar:

Most rebelling Indians accepted Bahadur Shah
Zafar as the Emperor of India under whom they
united. But he fell to the wily machinations of the
British. His fall marked the end of more than three
centuries of Mughal rule in India.
Bakht Khan:
Bakht Khan, a subedar in the army of the East
India Company, built up an army of Rohilla
sepoys. After sepoys in Meerut revolted against
the British in May 1857, he became commander
of the sepoy forces in Delhi.

Mangal Pandey: Mangal Pandey, part of the 34th

Bengal Native Infantry, is primarily known for his
involvement in attack on his senior British officers
on 29th March 1857 at Barrackpore, an incident
that marked the beginning of the First War of
Indian Independence.
Nana Sahib:
Nana Sahib, the adopted son of exiled Maratha
Peshwa Baji Rao II, led the revolt at Kanpur.
Rani Lakshmibai:
She fought valiantly against the British troops
along with Tatya Tope. However, on the 17th of
June 1858, while battling against the British near
the Phool Bagh area of Gwalior, she laid down
her life.
Tatya Tope:
Tatya Tope, a close associate and general of
Nana Sahib, fought against the British and joined
forces with Rani Lakshmibai.

Veer Kunwar Singh:

The king of Jagdispur, currently a part of Bhojpur
district, Bihar, Veer Kunwar Singh, led armed
soldiers against the British troops.
The Indian Independence Movement and Mahatma
In the 20th century Mahatma Gandhi led millions of people
in a national campaign of non-violent civil disobedience to
obtain independence from the British in 1947.

Leaders of Freedom Struggle

Independence and Partition:
Religious tension between the Hindus and Muslims had
been brewing over the years, especially in provinces like
Punjab and West Bengal, accentuated by the British policy
of divide and rule. All through this Mahatma Gandhi called
for unity among the two religious groups. The British,
whose economy had been weakened after World War-II,
decided to leave India and paved the way for the formation
of an interim government. Eventually, the British Indian
territories gained independence in 1947, after being
partitioned into the Union of India and the Dominion of

Post-Independence Period:
As many civilizations the Greek, the Roman, and the
Egyptian - rose and fell, leaving only ruins, the Indian
civilisation and culture remained unscathed. Even wave
after wave of invaders descended on the country, founded
empires and ruled over its different parts, the indomitable
soul of Bharatvarsh could not be subjugated.

Today, India marches proudly as the most vibrant republic

and largest democracy of the world, an influential nation in
South Asia and an emerging global superpower.

India is the second largest country in Asia and the seventh

largest and second most populous country on Earth. It
comprises as much as one third of Asia and supports one
seventh of humanity.

History Map of India

Indian Freedom Struggle

Pre-Partition Map of India

Mauryan Empire Maps

History Maps in Flash

Ancient India Map

Ancient Kalinga Map

Chalukya Dynasty

Chera Dynasty

Chola Dynasty

Pandyan Dynasty
Kuru Dynasty

Hoysala Dynasty

India in 1956

Khilji Dynasty

Lodi Dynasty
Mongol Dynasty

Pallava Dynasty

Sarasvati River

Sikh Empire

Slave Dynasty
Tughlaq Dynasty

Qutb Shahi Dynasty Map

British Empire Map

Mahajanapadas Map

Wodeyar Dynasty
Dandi March Route Map

Alexandar's Empire

Empire of Sher Shah Suri

Ghurid Dynasty

Harsha Empire
Kushan Empire

Maratha Kingdom

Rashtrakuta Dynasty

Vijayanagara Empire

Map of Delhi in 1857

Last Updated on : September 5, 2017
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