The history of India is a subject of fascination and awe for every individual. If there is a place on Earth where human civilization has reached its pinnacle, it is none other than India.
However, most of us are not aware of India History. Today, we take a dip down the ancient history of India and provide facts that highlight the India history.
So, fasten your seat belts as we take you through the history of India. Although it is a long journey, the Indian history has lots of interesting aspects to it which you would surely want to explore.
Table of Contents
Ancient History of India
The start of the Indian history is marked by many prehistoric settlements and societies which spread across various parts of the Indian subcontinent.
However, the first noticeable period in the ancient history of India came with the advent of Indus Valley Civilization.
It can be regarded as the turning point in the ancient Indian history which made India stand at par with the best ancient civilizations of the world such as Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Indus Valley Civilization
The Indus Valley Civilization is considered as the cradle of civilization and was the first major civilization in South Asia. It flourished in the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent from the period 3300 to 1300 BCE.
It was characterized by sophisticated and advanced urban culture. In fact, the Indus Valley Civilization is recognized as one of the world’s earliest urban civilizations. Its inhabitants were known as Harappans.
The Indus Valley Civilization flourished on the Indus River and its tributaries. It extended and covered regions such as Ghaggar-Hakra River Valley, Gujarat, South Eastern Afghanistan, and Ganges-Yamuna Doab.
It was primarily located in the states of modern-day India such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, and Punjab, as well as covered several provinces of Pakistan such as Punjab, Sindh, and Baluchistan.
Its main urban centers included places such as Ropar, Lothal, Rakhigarhi, Kalibangan, and Dholavira in India as well as Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Ganeriwala in Pakistan.
The civilization’s distinguishing features included cities built of brick, multi-storeyed houses, and roadside drainage system. It also had some municipal organization.
The people of Indus Valley Civilization had developed new techniques in handicraft and metallurgy. They were able to produce copper, bronze, tin, and lead.
Signs of a gradual decline began to appear by around 1700 BCE when most of the cities were abandoned. Historians are of the opinion that the Indus Valley Civilization did not disappear suddenly. Some of its elements may have survived in the form of small villages and isolated farms.
The Vedic Period
The decline of Indus Valley Civilization saw the advent of Aryan influence over the Indian subcontinent. It gave rise to the Vedic Period in India which prevailed from the 1700 BCE to 150 BCE.
The hallmark of the Vedic Period centered on the religious texts known as the Vedas. In fact, the Vedic Culture has been described in the sacred texts of the Vedas which were composed in Vedic Sanskrit.
The foundation of Hindu Religion was laid in the Vedic Period. Several cultural aspects were also laid during this period. Many concepts of Indian philosophy such as Dharma, Karma, etc. were developed during this period.
The Aryans followed a pastoral lifestyle and the society adhered to the caste system comprising of the Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishya, and the Shudra.
In the beginning, the caste system was a reflection of one’s occupation, but later on, it became very rigid and was determined by one’s birth.
No one was allowed to change caste, and neither anyone could marry into another caste other than one’s own.
The Vedic Period is characterized by the systemization of religious beliefs under the name of Sanatan Dharma which later came to be known as the Hindu Religion.
Great literary and religious works were composed during this period such as The Upanishads, The Mahabharata, The Ramayan, and The Puranas.
This period also saw the rise of religious reformers such as Vardhaman Mahavira (549-477 BCE) and Gautama Buddha (563-483 BCE) who broke away from the mainstream Hindu Religion to eventually create their religion in the name of Jainism and Buddhism.
The period witnessed widespread social and cultural upheaval. Powerful kingdoms such as Magadha emerged (under the ruler Bimbisara).
The latter period also saw the Persian invasions under ruler Cyrus. There was an assimilation of the Persian and Indian religious beliefs.
The Great Empires of Ancient India
Persians were ruling a large part of Northern India until the conquest of Alexander the Great in 327 BCE. After the departure of Alexander, the Indian subcontinent saw the rise of the Maurya Empire (322-185 BCE) under the reign of Chandragupta Maurya (322-298 BCE). The Maurya Empire ruled over almost all of northern India.
Ashoka the Great was the greatest of the Mauryan Kings who ruled from 269 BCE to 232 BCE. Under his reign, the Maurya Empire reached its height.
The Kalinga War was the turning point in the Ashoka reign as a king. It had resulted in a death toll of over 100,000 people.
The massive destruction and killing at the Kalinga War transformed Ashoka, and he embraced the teachings of the Buddhist Religion.
He became a follower of Buddha and took widespread measures spreading Buddhist thought and principles. He established many monasteries and gave lavish donations to Buddhist communities.
The ancient history of India would not be complete without the mention of the Gupta Empire (320-550 CE). In fact, the Gupta Rule is considered as the Golden Age of India.
It was founded by Sri Gupta who ruled between 240-280 CE. Under the reign of the Guptas, every aspect of culture reached its height.
Unprecedented progress was made during this period in the fields of Philosophy, art, literature, science, astronomy, mathematics, engineering, architecture, and religion.
The world famous caves of Ajanta and Ellora were built during this period. Puranas of Vyasa and Kamasutra were compiled during this period.
Varahamihira and Aryabhatta made their discoveries in the field of astronomy and mathematics respectively. Kalidasa wrote the masterpiece Shakuntala.
As Gupta rulers advocated and practiced Buddhism, there was a widespread prevalent of Buddhist works of art across the land of India.
The Decline of Hindu Empires and coming of Islam
Following the succession of weak rulers, the Gupta Empire finally collapsed around 550 CE. After the fall of Gupta Empire, Harshavardhan (590-647 CE) rose to power who ruled large parts of India for almost 42 years.
Besides being a great King and a highly skilled military tactician, Harshavardhan was a man of considerable accomplishments in the field of literature.
He authored three plays as well as several other literary works. He was a devoted Buddhist who forbade the killing of animals in his kingdom.
However, following the death of Harshavardhan, his kingdom collapsed, and India got fragmented into small kingdoms which lacked unity to ward off invading forces.
712 CE saw the invasion of Muslim general Muhammad bin Qasim who conquered large parts of Northern India. From then on, India fell into the hands of Muslim invaders who went on to establish great empires in the Indian subcontinent.
Maharana Pratap, a great Rajput ruler of Mewar, offered tough resistance to the Muslim invaders.
The Tughlaq Dynasty, the Khilji Dynasty, the Mughal Empire were some of the prominent Muslim empires in India.
Akbar was the greatest of Muslims Kings who ruled India. He believed in religious tolerance. During his rule, India experienced peace and prosperity along with great religious movements.
Many religious preachers emerged in India who had a profound influence on the masses. Guru Nanak Dev was the first Sikh Guru who was well known for his spiritual teachings.
Consequently, India was subjected to various foreign influences and powers including the Portuguese, the French, and the British. The British ruled India from 1858 to 1947.
The start of the twentieth century saw the great Independence Movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. Finally, India got independence on 15th August 1947. However, the Indian subcontinent was partitioned into the Union of India and Dominion of Pakistan.
This was a brief history of India. Here, we have summarized various aspects of the ancient history of India as well as shown how India history has evolved over various periods of time.
The ancient land of India has seen many golden periods as well as survived many tough times. Many Heroes have emerged who have shaped the Indian destiny for good. This itself is a testimony of the Greatness of the ancient land of India.