History and Etymology

The name India is derived from Indus, which is derived from the Old Persian word Hindu, from Sanskrit Sindhu, the historic local appellation for the Indus River. The ancient Greeks referred to the Indians as Indoi, the people of the Indus. The Constitution of India and common usage in various Indian languages also recognise Bharat as an official name of equal status. Hindustan, which is the Persian word for “Land of the Hindus” and historically referred to northern India, is also occasionally used as a synonym for all of India.

Stone Age rock shelters with paintings at the Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh are the earliest known traces of human life in India. The first known permanent settlements appeared over 9,000 years ago and gradually developed into the Indus Valley Civilization, dating back to 3300 BCE in western India. It was followed by the Vedic period, which laid the foundations of Hinduism and other cultural aspects of early Indian society, and ended in the 500s BCE. From around 550 BCE, many independent kingdoms and republics known as the Mahajanapadas were established across the country.

In the third century BCE, most of South Asia was united into the Maurya Empire by Chandragupta Maurya and flourished under Ashoka the Great. From the third century CE, the Gupta dynasty oversaw the period referred to as ancient “India’s Golden Age.” Empires in Southern India included those of the Chalukyas, the Cholas and the Vijayanagara Empire. Science, engineering, art, literature, astronomy, and philosophy flourished under the patronage of these kings.

Following invasions from Central Asia between the tenth and twelfth centuries, much of North India came under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate, and later the Mughal Empire. Mughal emperors gradually expanded their empires to cover large parts of the subcontinent. However, in North-Eastern India, the dominant power was the Ahom kingdom of Assam, among the few kingdoms to have resisted Mughal subjugation.

From the sixteenth century, several European countries, including Portugal, the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom, started arriving as traders and later took advantage of the fractious nature of relations between the kingdoms to establish colonies in the country. By 1856, most of India was under the control of the British East India Company. A year later, a nationwide insurrection of rebelling military units and kingdoms, variously referred to as the India’s First War of Independence or Sepoy Mutiny, seriously challenged the British Company’s control but eventually failed. As a consequence, India came under the direct rule of the British Crown as a colony of the British Empire.

During the first half of the twentieth century, a nationwide struggle for independence was launched by the Indian National Congress and other political organizations. In the 1920s and 1930, under a movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, chatacterized by the commitment to ahimsa, or non-violence, millions of protesters engaged in mass campaigns of civil disobedience. Finally, on 15 August 1947, India gained independence from British rule, but was partitioned with independent governments for the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan in accordance with the wishes of the Muslim League, to create a nation state along the lines of religion. Three years later, on 26 January 1950, India became a republic and a new constitution came into effect.

Since independence, India has suffered from religious violence, casteism and insurgencies in various parts, but has been able to control them through tolerance and constitutional reforms. Terrorism in India is also a major security problem, especially in Jammu and Kashmir, North-east India and recently in major cities like Delhi and Mumbai, 2001 Indian Parliament attack being the most prominent one. India has unresolved territorial disputes with China, which in 1962 escalated into the Sino-Indian War; and with Pakistan, which resulted in wars in 1947, 1965, 1971, and 1999. India is a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations (as part of British India). In 1974, India conducted an underground nuclear test. This was followed by five more tests in 1998, making India a nuclear state. Beginning in 1991, significant economic reforms have transformed India into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, adding to its global and regional clout.