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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Political Maps of India Throughout the Ages

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Aryavrat Yug (कृण्वन्तो विश्वमार्यम्।)

Ramayan Yug

Mahabharat Yug

2000 BCE - Indus-Valley Civilisation

Modern humans (Homo sapiens) settled in India tens of thousands of years ago, and the people of India have not changed much in appearance since then. At the end of the last ice age, they developed farming, due to changing climate. Eventually, they created one of the world's first civilizations along with Egypt and Sumeria. No other civilization at the time was as extensive in geographical area as the Indus-Valley Civilization. It flourished between 3300 BCE and 1300 BCE, at a time when India was in the bronze age.

Ships of the IVC sailed as far west as the Persian Gulf and Africa, and probably just as far east, as part of the earliest trading and sharing of ideas. Their cities were amongst the largest and most advanced of the world. Eventually, they began adopting foreign languages and religious practices, which combined with existing Indian ones, to form Vedism and Sanskrit. The Vedas, some of the earliest documents in human history, were composed during this era.

1000 BCE - The Mahajanapadas

When the cities around the Indus valley were slowly abandoned due to changing climate, the rest of India began to increase in importance, perticularily around the Ganges valley. Slowly, numerous tribes, minor kingdoms, chiefdoms and clans adopted Vedic practices across India, and incorporated it into their existing beliefs.

Sixteen kingdoms and republics, similar to the Greek city-states of the same period, rose across India, to become the most powerful states amongst many. They adopted new iron-age technology, and wrote great epics such as the Ramayan and Mahabharat. A great age of invention and philosophy took place across the great civilizations of the world, in India, Greece, China and Persia.

The Buddha and Mahavira founded Buddhism and Jainism in India. The Upanishads, one of the most revolutionary philosophical texts in human history, were written by Hindu philosophers. Panini became the first person to formalise a written language (Sanskrit) with grammar and rules. Even the game of chess was invented.

200 BCE - The Mauyan Dynasty

Inspired by the Persian Empire, the conquests of Alexander, and the revolutionary philosophy of Indian politician Chanakya, India's first emperor, Chandragupta Maurya, united the entire Indian subcontinent a century before the first Chinese emperor united China. He ruled one of the sixteen Mahajanapadas, called Magadha, which had risen to be the most powerful under previous dynasties, and expanded that power even further.

At its height, this empire controlled one third of the population of the planet, and was the richest and largest. It was ruled from Pataliputra, the modern day city of Patna, which was the largest city of the time. It controlled the largest army of the ancient world, and its rulers comissioned some of India's greatest monuments, which have long since collapsed. Its dynasties would continue to rule the Magadhan Empire for centuries, but none would match the Mauryas. Even the small independent kingdoms of the far south, defended by rugged terrain, agreed to pay tribute, and rulers in Sri Lanka adopted Buddhism.

Today, the edicts of Emperor Ashoka, grandson of Chandragupta, can still be read across India, where they were carved almost 2500 years ago. The Indian flag bears the dharma chakra of this ancient emperor, who gave the world the first treaty of human and animal rights, and engaged in massive civil engineering projects, such as road networks lined with trees and wells, and policed by soldiers.

100 BCE

The Shunga dynasty were successors to the Maurya dynasty in the rule of the Magadhan Empire. They managed to rebuild a large area of the empire, which had collapsed under later Mauryan rulers, but ultimatly, could not match the huge Mauryan Empire. In the northwest, in Afghanistan, remnant Greek kings from the time of Alexander, created a kingdom which combined Greek, Persian and Indian civilization, spreading Indian philosophy and art, and combining it with Greek and Persian philosophy and art.

100 CE - Kushan Invasion

A century after the birth of the Christian religion in the middle east, which some suspect was influenced by the earlier Buddhist philosophy of India, one of the greatest empires of the ancient world once again rose in India. A tribe of nomads, from the area of Tibet and Turkestan in modern China, created an empire across Central Asia and India, adopting Indian culture, and allowing trade to flourish between east and west, along the silk route.

India was already the richest region of the planet at this time, according to the estimates of some economic historians, but trade via land with Persia and China, and via sea with the Roman Empire, flooded India with wealth, to the extent that some Roman Emperors were worried that their treasuries were being emptied by trade with India. Buddhism spread even further than before, establishing a foothold in the east, where it is still dominant.

400 CE - Gupta Period

After the fall of the Kushan Empire, another empire rose in Magadha, again ruling from Pataliputra, led by the Gupta dynasty. This is seen by many as a golden age for India. At a time when the people of Europe entered the dark ages, and rejected science and technology, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Gupta Empire in India was making huge advancements in technology, fine arts, medicine, philosophy and science.

Aryabhata made new discoveries in astronomy, which wouldnt be matched until Europeans invented the telescope a thousand years later. Kalidasa composed great plays in Sanskrit, incorporating advanced themes, a thousand years before Shakesphere. In the south, great Sangham poets did likewise. The concept of zero was invented, allowing a new era of mathematics. Metallurgy and plastic surgery were perfected. Some of their greatest monuments still stand today, and were the prototype for temples across Eastern Asia. Their art influenced scupture in China.

Eventually, the Gupta dynasty would fall to the same nomadic tribes who destroyed the Roman Empire, when after a long struggle, the Huns distroyed it.

625 CE - Harsha

After the Huns had destroyed the Gupta dynasty, Pataliputra again lost its importance. The earlier fall of the Kushans had also left historically powerful cities like Mathura less important, although holy cities like Varanasi and Madurai would retain vast importance as pilgrimage centers. Regional empires began to replicate the greatness of past empires by constructing new capitals across India, and placing great importance on them, as only a handful of cities along the Ganges had once had. The emperor Harsha was the first to unite a large portion of India after the fall of the Guptas, and he made his capital in the city of Kannauj, which gained great importance for centuries after.

900 CE - Three Kingdoms

In medieval times, three kingdoms dominated India, and battled each other for centuries over the city of Kannauj, which had gained great economic importance and symbolic imporance as a capital, due to the reign of Harsha. The Pratihara dynasty ruled the north, the Rashtrakuta dynasty ruled the south, and the Pala dynasty ruled the east. They were some of the most powerful kingdoms in the world.

In India's northwestern neighbour, Persia, the armies of the Islamic Caliphate took power, and began to interact directly with India, influencing Indian architecture, and being influenced by advanced Indian mathematics, medicine, metallurgy and astronomy. They desired the wealth of India, and invaded the kingdom of Sindh, but did not dare to challenge the rich and powerful Pratiharas. Meanwhile, in the south, the small kingdoms of Chola and Chera, warred with each other in the safety of their hard terrain, developing new Indian martial arts like Kalaripayattu.

Eventually, the Chola kingdom won their wars in the south, and rose to become the greatest Indian dynasty since the Guptas. Traditionally, power in the south tended to lie in the Deccan, where the Satavahanas and Rashtrakutas had been based, but the Cholas were based around Tamil Nadu instead. For the first time, Indian civilization in the south became even richer and greater than the empires of the north, ruling from Sri Lanka to Bengal, and sending fleets over the sea to establish colonies in South East Asia, where Hinduism and Buddhism became the dominant religions.

It is also in this era, that many of the local languages of India were born. Most of the north of India, had spoken languages related to Sanskrit, and most of the south spoke ones related to Tamil, and all regions used Sanskrit for religious rites. Under various regional kingdoms, many of the regional dialects gained importance as languages in their own right. As well as Sanskrit, kingdoms began to write inscriptions in languages like Kannada, and Marathi. For example, the Rashtrakutas wrote their inscriptions in both Sanskrit and Kannada.

1050 CE - The Rajputs

The Cholas would eventually grow smaller due to the rise of other regional kingdoms, and elsewhere, the Rajput kingdoms, who had previously been part of the Pratiharas, found that they were under constant onslaught from new Central Asian, Turkic and Afghan warlords such as Mahmood of Ghazni. These warlords were again after the fabled wealth of India, and pillaged the north in much the same way as the Huns, Scythains, and other tribes had done before.

Buddhism declined across India as a result of the attacks which invading warlords made upon Buddhist monestaries and temples. Nalanda University, the greatest learning insitutute in the world, home to students from across India, China and the rest of Eastern Asia, fell to foreign looters and iconoclasts.

1280 CE - Warlords

Eventually, some warlords saw the profit that could be made by ruling within India itself, much as the Kushans had earlier realised. Despite stern resistence from various kingdoms, invaders managed to create a Sultanate based in Delhi, a former Rajput capital, which became the most important city in the north. These Delhi Sultans were often intolerant bigots, who did not respect the native people or their religions. Some controversy exists to this day about how many people in South Asia were forced to change religion by discrimination. But along with intolerant leaders, came liberal Sufi philosophers who were open to Persian, Hindu and Buddhist ideas, and believed in the equality of all religions.

1320 CE - The Delhi Sultanate

The Delhi Sultanate managed to briefly conquer a large area of India, via tribute and regional treaties, becoming the largest power in India since the Cholas. However, their reign was short lived, in part because of their loose hold on the Indian people, in part due to the rise of native kingdoms again, and in part because of the expansion of the massive Mongol hordes in Asia, who attacked India several times, but were bearly repelled by the Delhi Sultanate.

1400 CE - The Vijaynagar Empire

The kingdoms of India once again fragmented. The main powers of this era, were the declining Delhi Sultans, and the emperors of the Vijaynagara Empire, which was one of India's greatest kingdoms since the Cholas. When European sailors arrived in India for the first time since the days of the Roman Empire, they described the capital Vijaynagara as being stunningly rich. Eventually it fell in a war with the Deccan Sultanate, and its ruins may still be seen at Hampi. Vijaynagara was the largest city in the world at the time, just as other Indian cities such as Pataliputra had once been.

1630 CE - Mughal Empire

In time, one of the successors to the Mongol hordes, who had ruled Persia, invaded India. After numerous failures, he eventually succeeded in establishing Delhi as his capital, defeating the Delhi Sultanate. His name was Babur, and his Mughal dynasty would eventually become the largest Indian empire since the Magadhan Empire under the Mauryan dynasty 2000 years before. Indian art flourished under the tolerant rule of emperors such as Akbar, who abolished the intolerant laws of the Delhi Sultans.

All religions were equally patronised, and the rulers bore no real loyalty to any perticular faith, attending both Sufi and Hindu religious functions. After the tyranny of the warlords and Sultans, India returned to being a largely secular land. However, the last of the six great emperors, Aurangzeb, made the mistake of again becoming intolerant and partisan. He lost the loyalty of the local kings and people, and the Mughal Empire fragmented, allowing regional kingdoms to rise again, and European traders to make aggressive moves on the wealthy subcontinent.

1800 CE - Marathi Empire

One of the last great attempts to unite India came from the Maratha Empire, led by Shivaji and his successors. Fighting against the unpopular Aurangzeb, they played a part in the downfall of the Mughals, along with the rise of other regional powers such as Punjab and Mysore. However, European colonial powers divided each kingdom against one another, and invaded.

1860 CE - The British Raj

The map above shows how the British administered their Indian Empire. Surviving kingdoms were indirectly ruled by the British, and their Maharajas had little real power beyond capital ciites. Most provinces were directly ruled. A few more were indirect puppets of the British. Every Indian knows the story of the British Raj, the independence movement, and the last 60 years of modern history, so I will not cover it here.

I hope you enjoyed this tour of Indian history.



1. Gorah Pindu, http://www.desitorrents.com/forums/showthread.php?t=34271

2. Deepali, http://www.geocities.com/narenp/history/home.htm

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