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History of South Asia

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This article is about the History of South Asia. The territory of South Asia has been the home of many civilizations both ancient and modern. It it one of the cradles of civilization and one of the longest continuous civilizations in the world.

Table of contents
1 Pre historic civilizations
2 Indus Valley civilization
3 Vedic civilization
4 Middle Kingdoms
5 Rise of Islam
6 British Colonialism
7 Partition
8 Related Articles

Pre historic civilizations

The ancient village of Mehrgarh in Baluchistan was settled in about 7000 BC, making it one of the oldest permanent settlements in the world. Agriculture and animal husbandry reached the area at about the same time, again, making it one of the first in the world. Pottery was introduced into this culture by about 5,500 BC. This would make it seem as a culture as developed if not more than others at that time. This culture slowly spread southwards and eastwards where it came to the Indus River Valley.

Indus Valley civilization

Main article: Indus Valley civilization

Archaeological explorations have revealed impressive ruins of a 4,500-year old civilization in parts of the Indus River and the extinct Ghaggar River / Hakra River / Sarasvati River river valleys in the Indian sub-continent. This areas corresponds to the Western parts of present day India and southern parts of present day Pakistan

This culture was formed when the Mehrgarh culture spread to the this area. The newcomers encountered huge riverine plains and waterways. The massive plains and an abundant supply of water meant massive increases in the production of food. The waterways meant a massive expansion of trade and transportation. The result of this change in geography initiated the need for coordinated and amplified effort by the people. This caused the birth of an urban culture based on commerce and sustained by agricultural and trade. At its peak its population may have been close to a figure of five million people.

At its height it contained many large cities such as Dholavira, Ganweriwala, Harappa, Lothal, Mohenjo-daro and Rakhigarhi. These cities were well planned and show the first instances of proper town planning in the world. These cities contained many important and imposing buildings clustered in the Citadel and housing in the lower level. The cities were laid out in a geometric pattern with the same sizes for roads in all cities. This indicates the presence of a centralized and effective control of an autocratic or bureaucratic nature over the whole region.

The Indus Valley Civilization started to declined between the 19th and 17th centuries BC. Archaeologists have seen that construction in the later periods was of a lower quality. The houses became smaller and dingier and the materials used deteriorated. This may have been due to a slow economic decline. This coupled with the slow desertification of the region may have led to the decline of the civilization and the abandonment of its cities.

Unfortunately the Indus Script has not been deciphered and this has become a huge impediment in learning more about this civilization.

Vedic civilization

Main article: Vedic civilization

A major (but politically contentious) theory is that the Indus Valley civilization was crushed by successive invasions (circa 2000 B.C. and 1400 B.C.) of Aryans, Indo-European warrior tribes from the Caucasus region in what is now Russia. According to this theory, as they settled in the middle Ganges River valley, they adapted to antecedent cultures. Another theory states that the Aryans did not so much invade as they migrated; slowly and gradually changing the complexion of the population. Another recent theory is that the Aryans were not from outside South Asia but were a local culture who most probably developed from the dying Indus Valley Civilization.

Whatever the starting of the Aryans be. It is generally accepted that Aryan culture started in present day Pakistan (specifically the Punjab) from where it spread eastwards and southwards. Initially the people lived in rural settings with small tribal states. With time there is evidence of larger states and cities (e.g. Indraprastha and Hastinapura) emerging all over the Vedic lands. It is generally believed that the religious, cultural, economic and political setup of South Asia changed completely during the Vedic and Epic periods. Many practices considered revolting by the later society were common in the earlier periods. Similarly it is believed that the Caste system took roots in South Asia during this period.

It is generally believed that the core of the Hindu religious literature was written during this period. Thay is why the vedic and epic literature is consulted to get an idea of the setup of South Asia (particularly north central South Asia) during this time.

See also: Aryan invasion theory

Middle Kingdoms

Main article: Middle kingdoms of India

The political map of ancient and medieval India was made up of myriad kingdoms with fluctuating boundaries. The Aryans were followed in 500 B.C. by Persians and, in 326 B.C., by Alexander the Great. The "Gandhara culture" flourished in much of present-day Pakistan. The Indo-Greek descendants of Alexander the Great saw the most creative period of the Gandhara (Buddhist) culture. For 200 years after the Kushan Dynasty was established in A.D. 50, Taxila (near Islamabad) became a renowned center of learning, philosophy, and art. In the 4th and 5th centuries, northern India was unified under the Gupta Dynasty. During this period, known as India's Golden Age, Hindu culture and political administration reached new heights.

Rise of Islam

Main article: Rise of Islam in South Asia

Islam spread across the subcontinent over a period of centuries. Muslim traders arrived at the Malabar Coast in the 7th century. This accounts for a heavy muslim influence in the Malabar coast regions. Arab invasions of present-day southern Pakistan took place in the 8th century when Sindh and southern Punjab became a part of the Abbasid Caliphate.

In the 10th and 11th centuries Turks and Afghans invaded India from the the north west. They established a series of sultanates at Delhi known as the Delhi Sultanate. These included the Slave Dynasty (1206-1290), the Khilji Dynasty (1290-1321), the Tughlaq Dynasty (1321-1414), the Syed Dynasty (1414-1451) and the Lodi Dynasty (1451-1526). During this period the area usder the rule of the Dehli Sultanat fluctuated a lot. From being an empire spreading over nearly all of India under Ala ud din Khilji and Muhammad Bin Tughlaq to petty states that did not even control all the cities in the neighbourhood of Delhi.

In the early 16th century in the year 1526, descendants of Genghis Khan swept across the Khyber Pass and established the Mughal (Mogul) Dynasty. From 1526 upto 1707 the empire spread to include most of the subcontinent. This period was a golden age in the subcontinent. Architecture, art, literature and theology all saw unprecedented growth. Industry, public works and infrastructural developments took place all over the empire. A new administrative structure was introduced and worked very will in India. But after 1707 a long decline set in and the empire ended after defeat in the War of Independence of 1857 at the hands of the British.

From the 11th to the 15th centuries, southern India was dominated by the Muslim Bahmani Kingdom and the Hindu Chola and Vijayanagar Dynasties. The Bahmani Kingdom being powerful in the northern Deccan and the Chola and Vijayanagar Dynasties in the Southern Deccan. The Bahmani and the Vijayanagar kingdoms found a series of wars that did not result in either ones vicotry. Five smaller kingdoms succeeded the Bahmani Kingdom. They carried on the war with Vijayanagar and eventually captured and pillaged the capital. Hence closing the chapter of the glorious Vijayanagar empire.

The Mughal empire spread into the Deccan and one after the other all these kingdoms became part of the Mughal Empire. Then the power of the Europeans and the Marhattas started to push the Mughals back. In approximately 1710 Bengal became independent of the Mughal Emperors. In 1724 Awadh and Hyderabad also became independent. In 1757 the British East India Company won the Diwani of Bengal after winning the Battle of Plassey. In 1857 the British won and India became a British dominion.

During this time, the two systems -- the prevailing Hindu and Muslim -- mingled, leaving lasting cultural influences on each other. The Muslims added to the rich heritage of South Asia and made it even richer.

British Colonialism

Main article: British Raj

British traders arrived in South Asia in 1601, but the British Empire did not consolidate control of the region until the latter half of the 18th century. After 1850, particularly the War of Independence of 1857 the British or those influenced by them governed virtually the entire subcontinent.

In 1858 the Crown took over India from the British East India Company. In 1911 the capital was shifted to Delhi at the Delhi durbar of 1911.


Main articles: Partition of India

As the British left, they handed power in the region to two successor states: Pakistan and India. Pakistan was comprised of the Muslim-majority provinces (part of Bengal in the East, along with half of the Punjab and other Northwest provinces).

There have been three major wars between India and Pakistan since they came into existence.

In addition, the 1999 Kargil conflict is regarded by some as a fourth war between the two states.

In 1961 India forcibly annexed the Portuguese colony of Goa and in 1971 it took over the semi-independent principality of Sikkim. In 1971, East Pakistan seceded to become the present-day state of Bangladesh.

Related Articles

For information on the histories of present nation-states in South Asia, please read:

See also: