India — History and Culture
India has a long and colorful history that has produced an artistic and spiritual culture with fascinating architecture and world renowned cuisine. Religion has played a large part in shaping lifestyles, with Hinduism being the strongest influence, followed by the traditions of Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, and Jainism. Buddhist philosophy also contributed ideas that have molded habits, literature and art over the years.
Rock art indicates that there have been humans in India for at least 30,000 years, with an urban culture flourishing in the Indus Valley between 2,500–1,900 BC. Indo-Aryan migration during the Iron Age between 2000 and 500 BC saw the establishment of the caste system, which sidelined indigenous people. From 500 BC the Ganges Plain was ruled by various small chiefdoms until the Buddhist kingdom of Magadha annexed most neighboring states by the 3rd century BC.
Medieval India was defined by five culturally diverse kingdoms that produced the beginnings of modern Indian languages, as well as a flowering of religion, architecture, sculpture, literature, science, medicine, and mathematics. Temple towns became economic hubs with the Indian religion spreading to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in the 8th and 9th centuries.
From the 10th century, central Asian forces established the Islamic Delhi Sultanate ruling North India from 1206, periodically attacking south India, although it left the existing cultures of both areas largely intact. Soldiers and the educated fleeing from Mongol invasions in Western and Central Asia helped create a synchronous Indo-Islamic culture in the north, while the indigenous Vijayanagara Empire emerged in the south.
The Mughal Empire took over northern India in the 16th century, introducing a centralized rule of a god-like emperor. This largely peaceful period saw an in outpouring in agriculture and the arts. Military and political elites in the eastern and southern coasts sought self rule following the disintegration of the Mughal Empire.
The East India Company army gained control of Bengal in 1765 and annexed most of India by the 1820’s, in order to supply England with raw materials. The British government changed the Company to an administrative organization, which turned its attentions to education, social reform, telegraph and railway construction. They imposed harsh taxes which led to resentment and the Rebellion of 1857, which after being repressed in 1858, also brought about the dissolution of the East India Company and movement towards a limited British-style parliamentary system. The National Congress was founded in 1885 although economic setbacks and famines hampered India’s progress during the second half of the 19th century.
Post WWI, India witnessed increasing demands for self-rule. Mohandas Gandhi’s campaign of non-violent, non-cooperation won slow reform during the 1930’s. Independence was further hampered by WWII when it brought an increase in Islamic nationalism. The freedom achieved in 1947 was marred by the violent separation of India and Pakistan.
The 1950’s constitution cemented India as a sovereign, secular and democratic republic. Economic growth has created affluent middle classes, although poverty and overpopulation continue to challenge the nation. India has ongoing border disputes with Pakistan and China, which have erupted into conflict several times since 1962.
India is a diverse nation with a huge population made up of people of different castes and religions. Hindus are dominant, but there are also many Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, and followers of Jainism, all of which have literary and artistic traditions and religious festivals that contribute to the vibrancy of daily life. Indians are family oriented and largely conservative people with a scholarly and friendly nature.
Thousands of years of urbanized living have allowed literature, art, architecture and philosophy to flourish, which can be seen everywhere, particularly in the regionally varied buildings and cuisine. The cycles of nature, particularly of the might Ganges River, play a huge part in the national consciousness of India, which is a busy, noisy, colorful, diverse, and spiritually aware place.