World Hot Spots
India is a very vast nation geographically; it forms the meeting ground between the East and the West and hence an important destination to conduct trade with the Western nations. This point in particular, attracted many a foreign invaders to lay hands over this nation - known for her rich culture, wealth as well as tradition. India has always seen a variety of religions taking birth in different parts of the country an as a result, a natural tolerance grew for different groups following different religion types. However, as evil follows good, rifts took birth too. And one has been seeing bloodshed over matters of religious bias time and again.
India has seen a variety of rulers including Persians, Greeks, Chinese nomads, Arabs, Portuguese, British and other raiders all of whom conquered over the local Hindu kingdoms who invariably survived their depradations, living out their own sagas of conquest and collapse.
All the while, these local dynasties built upon the roots of a culture well established since the time of the first invaders, the Aryans. The discovery of India's most ancient civilization literally happened by accident. In the mid-1800's, British engineers who were busy constructing a railway line between Karachi and Punjab, found ancient, kiln-baked bricks along the path of the track. This discovery was however treated as a little more than curiosity unless archaeologists later revisited the site in the 1920's and determined that the bricks were over 5000 years old.
Close on heels came the discovery of two important cities: Harappa on the Ravi river, and Mohenjodaro on the Indus. The civilization that laid the bricks, one of the world's oldest, was known as the Indus. People belonging to this creed were highly sophisticated and had a written language. Dating back to 3000 BC, they originated in the south and moved north, building complex, mathematically-planned cities. Some of these towns were almost three miles in diameter and contained as many as 30,000 residents. These ancient municipalities had granaries, citadels, and even household toilets. In Mohenjodaro, a mile-long canal connected the city to the sea, and trading ships sailed as far as Mesopotamia. At its height, the Indus civilization extended over half a million square miles across the Indus valley river.
As far as the history of invaders is concerned, the first group to invade India were the Aryans, who came from the north in about 1500 BC. They were primarily warriors and conquerors. They brought along with them strong cultural traditions that still remain in force till date. They spoke and wrote in a language called Sanskrit, which was later used in the first documentation of the Vedas.
The Aryans lived along the Indus and imposed themselves in the class system which they changed to a caste system thus sowing the seeds of modern Indian religions. They inhabited the northern regions for about 700 years, then moved further south and east when they started developing iron tools and weapons. Eventually, they settled in the Ganges valley and built large kingdoms throughout a greater part of northern India.
It was in 500 B.C. that Persian kings Cyrus and Darius decided upon expanding their reign eastward and conquered the ever-prized Indus Valley. However, the Persian influence was marginal as compared to that of the Aryans. This happened because Persians occupied the Indian land for only a period of 150 years. Compared to the Aryans, the Persian influence was marginal.
The Greeks in turn conquered the Persians under leadership of Emperor Alexander, who swept through the country as far as the Beas River, where he defeated king Porus backed by an army of 200 elephants in 326 BC. The tireless, charismatic conqueror wanted to extend his empire even further eastward, but his own troops (undoubtedly exhausted) refused to continue.
Alexander returned home, leaving behind garrisons to keep the trade routes open. While the Persians and Greeks subdued the Indus Valley and the northwest, Aryan-based kingdoms continued developing in the East. In the 5th century BC, Siddhartha Gautama founded the religion of Buddhism, a profoundly influential work of human thought still espoused by many worldwide.
Next in line came the king known as Chandragupta who swept back through the country from Magadha (Bihar) and conquered his way well into Afghanistan. This was the beginning of one of India's greatest dynasties, the Maurya dynasty. The leadership and foresight of the great king Ashoka (268-31 BC), hrlped the Mauryan empire conquer almost the entire subcontinent, extending as far as Mysore in the south. When Ashoka conquered Orissa, however, his army shed so much blood that the repentant king gave up warfare forever and converted to Buddhism. As dedicated a missionary as a king he was, Ashoka spread Buddhism to a greater part of central Asia. His rule marked the zenith of glory of the Maurya empire, that collapsed only a century afer the death of the mighty emperor.
Things began changing a little after the demise of the Maurya dynasty when regions under the Mauryan dynasty began breaking into smaller parts belomging to different dynasties. The Greeks returned in 150 BC and conquered Punjab, and by this time Buddhism was becoming so influential that the Greek king Menander became a Buddhist himself. The local kingdoms enjoyed relative autonomy for the next few hundred years, occasionally fighting (and often losing to) invaders from the north and China, who seemed to come and go like the monsoons. Unlike the Greeks, the Romans never made it to India, preferring to expand west instead.
Chandragupta II founded the Imperial Gupta dynasty in 319 AD. He conquered the entire north and consolidated the entire area into his empire. He spread his roots in the south of India too to as far as the Vindya mountains. When the reign of the Gupta clan came to an end, a golden age of six thriving and separate kingdoms ensued, and at this juncture some of the most incredible temples in India were constructed in Bhubaneshwar, Konarak, and Khahurajo. It was time of relative stability, and cultural developments progressed on all fronts for hundreds of years, until the dawn of the Muslim era.
Arab traders started visiting the western coast ever since 712, but it wasn't until 1001 that the Muslim world began to make its impact felt. In that year, Arab armies swept down the Khyber pass and hit like a storm. Under the leadership of Mahmud of Ghazi, they raided just about every other year for 26 years. They returned home each time, leaving behind their trail in the form of some ruined cities, decimated armies, and probably a very edgy native population. Then they more or less vanished behind the mountains again for nearly 150 years, and India once again went paved way with destiny.
But the Muslims knew India was still there, waiting with all its riches. They returned in 1192 under Mohammed of Ghor, and this time they meant to stay. Ghor's armies laid waste to the Buddhist temples of Bihar, and by 1202 he had conquered the most powerful Hindu kingdoms along the Ganges. When Ghor died in 1206, one of his generals, Qutb-ud-din, ruled the far north from the Sultanate of Delhi, while the southern majority of India was free from the invaders.
Turkish kings ruled the Muslim acquisition until 1397, when the Mongols invaded under Timur Lang (Tamerlane) and ravaged the entire region. One historian wrote that the lightning speed with which Timur Lang's armies struck Delhi was prompted by their desire to escape the stench of rotting corpses they were leaving behind them. Islamic India fragmented after the brutal devastation Timur Lang left in Delhi, and it was every Muslim strongman for himself.
This however changed in 1527, when the Mughal (Persian for Mongol) monarch Babur came into power. Babur was a ruler of his kind. He hailed from Kabul and loved poetry, gardening and so on. He even wrote cultural treatises on the Hindus he conquered, and took notes on local flora and fauna. Afghan princes in India asked for his help in 1526, and he conquered the Punjab and quickly asserted his own claim over them by taking Delhi.
This sowed the roots of the Mughal dynasty, whose six emperors would comprise most influential of all the Muslim dynasties in India. Babur died in 1530, leaving behind Humayun who was absolutely unlike the father. Humayun's own son, Akbar, however, would be the greatest Mughal ruler of all. Unlike his grandfather, Akbar was more warrior than scholar, and he extended the empire as far south as the Krishna river.
Akbar had a certain level of religious tolerence and got married to a Hindu princess, thus establishing a tradition of cultural acceptance that would contribute greatly to the success of the Mughal rule. And the Mughal reign saw many a leaders change seat as time elapsed. In the year 1605, Akbar was succeeded by his son Jahangir, who passed the expanding empire along to his own son Shahjahan in 1627.
Shah Jahan left behind the colossal monuments of the Mughal empire though he spent much of his time subduing Hindu kingdoms to the south. The monuments included among others the Taj Majal (the tomb of his favorite wife), the Pearl Mosque, the Royal Mosque, and the Red Fort. Shah Jahan's campaigns in the south and his flare for extravagant architecture increased taxes thus bringing distress to his subjects. Due to the prevailing conditions, his own son imprisoned him, seeking power for himself in 1658.
Aurungzebe was very unlike his predecessors and wanted to eradicate indigenous traditions, thus, his intolerance prompted fierce local resistance. Though he expanded the empire to include nearly the entire subcontinent, he could never totally subdue the Mahrathas of the Deccan, who resisted him until his death in 1707.
In this pretext, the legendary figure of Shivaji, a symbol Hindu resistance and nationalism. Aurungzebe's three sons disputed over succession, and the Mughal empire crumbled, just as the Europeans were beginning to flex their own imperialistic muscles.
Next in turn were the Portuguese, who had traded in Goa as early as 1510, and later founded three other colonies on the west coast in Diu, Bassein, and Mangalore. In 1610, the British chased away a Portuguese naval squadron, and the East India Company created its own outpost at Surat. This small outpost marked the beginning of a remarkable presence that lasted for as long as 300 years and eventually dominated the entire subcontinent.
As the British started gaining power, they began to compete with the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the French. Through a combination of outright combat and deft alliances with local princes, the East India Company gained control of all European trade in India by 1769. A seemingly impossible task, it was done through a highly effective and organized system called the Raj.
Treaties and agreements were signed with native princes, and the Company gradually increased its role in local affairs. The Raj helped build infrastructure and trained natives for its own military, though in theory they were meant for India's own defense. In 1784, after financial scandals in the Company alarmed British politicians, the Crown assumed half-control of the Company, beginning the transfer of power to royal hands.
In 1858, a rumor spread among Hindu soldiers that the British were greasing their bullets with the fat of cows and pigs, the former sacred animals to Hindus and the latter unclean animals to Muslims. A year-long rebellion against the British ensued. Although the Indian Mutiny was unsuccessful, it prompted the British government to seize total control of all British interests in India in 1858, finally establishing a seamless imperialism.
The British Raj that entered India as traders gradually expanded their rule and grew in power so much so that the princely states of the country saw their native leaders only as nominal heads. The British had gained control of the country by viewing it as a source of profit. Infrastructure had been developed, administration established, and an entire structure of governance erected.
The British needed a heavy manpower that they sought from India. However, Indian personnel were never allowed any authority in the jobs they earned. They British wanted the reigns of power to be solely under their control. The Indians didn't appreciate this much, and as the 20th century dawned there were increasing movements towards self-rule. Along with the desire for independence, tensions between Hindus and Muslims had also been developing over the years. The Muslims had always been a minority, and the prospect of an exclusively Hindu government made them wary of independence; they were as inclined to mistrust Hindu rule as they were to resist the Raj.
Then came in 1915, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, calling for unity between the two groups in an astonishing display of leadership that would eventually lead the country to independence. Gandhian views on non-violence, his impact on the people nationwide and his ability to gain independence through a totally non-violent mass movement made him one of the most remarkable leaders the world has ever known. He practised what he preached wearing homespun clothes to weaken the British textile industry and orchestrating a march to the sea, where demonstrators proceeded to make their own salt in protest against the British monopoly.
Indians gave him the name Mahatma, or Great Soul. The British promised that they would leave India by 1947. But independence came at great cost. While Gandhi was leading a largely Hindu movement, Mohammed Ali Jinnah was represented the Muslim group called the Muslim League. Jinnah advocated the division of India into two separate states: Muslim and Hindu, and he was able to achieve his goal. When the British left, they created the separate states of Pakistan and Bangladesh, and violence erupted when stranded Muslims and Hindu minorities in the areas fled in opposite directions. It took only a a few weeks, to kill as many as in the course of the greatest migration of human beings ever in the history of this world.
At that point of time, Gandhiji was ageing and as he couldn't see innocent lives being lost for a wrong cause he vowed to fast until the violence stopped; it did when his health faced serious threat. At the same time, the British returned and helped restore order. Excepting Kashmir, which is still a disputed area (and currently unsafe for tourists), the division reached stability.
India's history since independence has been marked by disunity and intermittent periods of virtual chaos. In 1948, on the eve of independence, Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanaticand Jawarhalal Nehru, became the first Prime Minister of free India. After Nehru, India has seen the leadership of many a leaders, some powerful, some subtle, and so on.