India’s history and culture is dynamic, spanning back to the beginning of human civilization. It begins with a mysterious culture along the Indus River and in farming communities in the southern lands of India. The history of India is punctuated by constant integration of migrating people with the diverse cultures that surround India. Available evidence suggests that the use of iron, copper and other metals was widely prevalent in the Indian sub-continent at a fairly early period, which is indicative of the progress that this part of the world had made. By the end of the fourth millennium BC, India had emerged as a region of highly developed civilization.
The Indus Valley Civilization
The History of India begins with the birth of the Indus Valley Civilization, more precisely known as Harappan Civilization. It flourished around 2,500 BC, in the western part of South Asia, what today is Pakistan and Western India. The Indus Valley was home to the largest of the four ancient urban civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China. Nothing was known about this civilization till 1920s when the Archaeological Department of India carried out excavations in the Indus valley wherein the ruins of the two old cities, viz. Mohenjodaro and Harappa were unearthed. The ruins of buildings and other things like household articles, weapons of war, gold and silver ornaments, seals, toys, pottery wares, etc., show that some four to five thousand years ago a highly developed Civilization flourished in this region.
The Indus valley civilization was basically an urban civilization and the people lived in well-planned and well-built towns, which were also the centers for trade. The ruins of Mohenjodaro and Harappa show that these were magnificent merchant cities-well planned, scientifically laid, and well looked after. They had wide roads and a well-developed drainage system. The houses were made of baked bricks and had two or more storeys.
The highly civilized Harappans knew the art of growing cereals, and wheat and barley constituted their staple food. They consumed vegetables and fruits and ate mutton, pork and eggs as well. Evidences also show that they wore cotton as well as woollen garments. By 1500 BC, the Harappan culture came to an end. Among various causes ascribed to the decay of Indus Valley Civilization are the recurrent floods and other natural causes like earthquake, etc.
The Vedic civilization is the earliest civilization in the history of ancient India. It is named after the Vedas, the early literature of the Hindu people. The Vedic Civilization flourished along the river Saraswati, in a region that now consists of the modern Indian states of Haryana and Punjab. Vedic is synonymous with Hinduism, which is another name for religious and spiritual thought that has evolved from the Vedas.
The Ramayana and Mahabharata were the two great epics of this period.
The Buddhist Era
During the life time of Lord Gautam Buddha, sixteen great powers (Mahajanpadas) existed in the 7th and early 6th centuries BC. Among the more important republics were the Sakyas of Kapilavastu and the Licchavis of Vaishali. Besides the republics, there were monarchical states, among which the important ones were Kaushambi (Vatsa), Magadha, Kosala and Avanti. These states were ruled by vigorous personalities who had embarked upon the policies of aggrandisement and absorption of neighbouring states. However, there were distinct signs of the republican states while those under the monarchs were expanding.
Buddha was born in BC 560 and died at the age of eighty in BC 480. The place of his birth was a grove known as Lumbini, near the city of Kapilavastu, at the foot of Mount Palpa in the Himalayan ranges within Nepal. Buddha, whose original name was Siddhartha Gautama, was the founder of Buddhism, the religion and the philosophical system that evolved into a great culture throughout much of southern and eastern Asia.
In 326 BC, Alexander invaded India, after crossing the river Indus he advanced towards Taxila. He then challenged king Porus , ruler of the kingdom between the rivers Jhelum and Chenab. The Indians were defeated in the fierce battle, even though they fought with elephants, which the Macedonians had never before seen. Alexander captured Porus and, like the other local rulers he had defeated, allowed him to continue to govern his territory.
During this trip to rivers Hydaspes and Indus in the south, Alexander sought out the Indian philosophers, the Brahmins, who were famous for their wisdom, and debated with them on philosophical issues. He became legendary for centuries in India for being both, a wise philosopher and a fearless conqueror.
One of the villages in which the army halted belonged to the Mallis, who were said to be one of the most warlike of the Indian tribes. Alexander was wounded several times in this attack, most seriously when an arrow pierced his breastplate and his ribcage. The Macedonian officers rescued him in a narrow escape from the village.
Alexander and his army reached the mouth of the Indus in July 325 BC, and turned westward for home.
The Mauryan Empire
The period of the Mauryan Empire (322 BC-185 BC) marked a new epoch in the history of India. It is said to be a period when chronology became definite. It was a period when politics, art, trade and commerce elevated India to a glorious height. It was a period of unification of the territories which lay as fragmented kingdoms. Moreover, Indian contact with the outside world was established effectively during this period.
The confusion following the death of Alexander gave Chandragupta Maurya an opportunity to liberate the countries from the yoke of the Greeks, and thus occupy the provinces of Punjab and Sindh. He later overthrew the power of Nandas at Magadha with the aid of Kautilya, and founded a glorious Mauryan empire in 322 BC. Chandragupta, who ruled from 324 to 301 BC, thus, earned the title of liberator and the first emperor of Bharata.
At a higher age, Chandragupta got interested in religion and left his throne to his son Bindusar in 301 BC. Bindusar conquered the Highland of Deccan during his reign of 28 years and gave his throne to his son Ashoka in 273 BC. Ashoka emerged not only as the most famous king of the Maurya dynasty, but is also regarded as one of the greatest king of India and the world.
His empire covered the whole territory from Hindu Kush to Bengal and extended over Afghanistan, Baluchistan and the whole of India with the exception of a small area in the farthest south. The valleys of Nepal and Kashmir were also included in his empire.
The most important event of Ashoka’s reign was the conquest of Kalinga (modern Odisha) which proved to be the turning point of his life. The Kalinga war witnessed terrible manslaughter and destruction. The sufferings and atrocities of the battlefield lacerated the heart of Ashoka. He made a resolve not to wage war any more. He realised the wickedness of worldly conquest and the beauty of moral and spiritual triumph. He was drawn to the teachings of Buddha and devoted his life to the conquest of men’s heart by the law of duty or piety. He evolved a policy of Dharma Vijaya, ‘Conquest by Piety’.
End of the Mauryan Empire
Ashoka was succeeded by weak rulers, which encouraged the provinces to proclaim their independence. The arduous task of administering such a vast empire could not be executed by the weak rulers. The mutual quarrel among the successors also contributed to the decline of the Mauryan Empire.
In the beginning of the 1st century A.D., the Kushanas established their authority over the north-west frontier of India. The most famous among the Kushana kings was Kanishka (125 A.D.-162 A.D.), who was the third in the Kushana dynasty. The Kushana rule continued till the middle of 3rd century A.D. The most notable achievement of their rule was the development of Gandhara School of Art and further spread of Buddhism into distant regions of Asia.
After the Kushanas, the Guptas were the most important dynasty. The Gupta period has been described as the Golden Age of Indian history. The first famous king of the Gupta dynasty was Ghatotkacha’s son Chandragupta I. He married Kumaradevi, the daughter of the chief of the Licchavis. This marriage was a turning point in the life of Chandragupta I. He got Pataliputra in dowry from the Lichhavis. From Pataliputra, he laid the foundation of his empire and started conquering many neighbouring states with the help of the Licchavis. He ruled over Magadha (Bihar), Prayaga and Saketa (east Uttar Pradesh). His kingdom extended from the river Ganges to Allahabad. Chandragupta I also got the title of Maharajadhiraja (King of Kings) and ruled for about fifteen years.
Chandragupta I was succeeded by Samudragupta in about 330 A.D., who reigned for about fifty years. He was a great military genius and is said to have commanded a military campaign across the Deccan, and also subdued the forest tribes of the Vindhya region.
Samudragupta’s successor Chandragupta II, also known as Vikramaditya, conquered the extensive territories of Malwa, Gujarat and Kathiawar. This provided exceptional wealth, which added to the prosperity of the Guptas. The Guptas in this period engaged in sea trade with the countries of the west. It was most probably during his reign that Kalidas, the greatest Sanskrit poet and dramatist, as well as many other scientist and scholars flourished.
Decline of Gupta Dynasty
The decline of the Gupta power in northern India between the close of 5th and the 6th century A.D. gave rise to various small independent kingdoms and attracted foreign invasions of Huns. Toramara was the leader of the Huns and was successful in annexing large parts of the Gupta Empire. His son, Mihirakula was a cruel barbarian and one of the worst tyrants known. Two native powerful princes, Yasodharman of Malwa and Baladitya of Magadha crushed his power and put an end to his reign in India.
With the commencement of the 7th century, Harshavardhana (606-647 A.D.) ascended the throne of Thaneshwar and Kannauj on the death of his brother, Rajyavardhana. By 612 Harshavardhana consolidated his kingdom in northern India.
In 620 A.D. Harshavardhana invaded the Chalukya kingdom in the Deccan, which was then ruled by Pulakesin II. But the Chalukya resistance proved tough for Harshavardhana and he was defeated. Harshavardhana is well known for his religious toleration, able administration and diplomatic relations. He maintained diplomatic relations with China and sent envoys, who exchanged ideas of the Chinese rulers and developed their knowledge about each other.
The Chinese traveller, Hiuen Tsang, who visited India during his reign, has given a vivid description of the social, economic and religious conditions, under the rule of Harsha spoke highly of the king. Harsha’s death, once again, left India without any central paramount power.
The Chalukyas of Badami
The Chalukyas were a great power in southern India between 6th and 8th century A.D. Pulakesin I, the first great ruler of this dynasty ascended the throne in 540 A.D. and having made many splendid victories, established a mighty empire. His sons Kirtivarman and Mangalesa further extended the kingdom by waging many successful wars against the neighbours including the Mauryans of the Konkans.
Pulakesin II, the son of Kirtivarman, was one of the greatest ruler of the Chalukya dynasty. He ruled for almost 34 years. In this long reign, he consolidated his authority in Maharashtra and conquered large parts of the Deccan. His greatest achievement was his victory in the defensive war against Harshavardhana.
However, Pulakesin was defeated and killed by the Pallav king Narasimhavarman in 642 A.D. His son Vikramaditya, who was also as great a ruler as his father, succeeded him. He renewed the struggle against his southern enemies. He recovered the former glory of the Chalukyas to a great extent. Even his great grandson, Vikramaditya II was also a great warrior. In 753 A.D., Vikramaditya and his son were overthrown by a chief named Dantidurga who laid the foundation of the next great empire of Karnataka and Maharashtra called Rashtrakutas.
The Pallavas of Kanchi
In the last quarter of the 6th century A.D. the Pallava king Sinhavishnu rose to power and conquered the area between the rivers Krishna and Cauveri. His son and successor Mahendravarman was a versatile genius, who unfortunately lost the northern parts of his dominion to the Chalukya king, Pulekesin II. But his son, Narsinhavarman I, crushed the power of Chalukyas. The Pallava power reached its glorious heights during the reign of Narsinhavarman II, who is well known for his architectural achievements. He built many temples, and art and literature flourished in his times. Dandin, the great Sanskrit scholar, lived in his court. However, after his death, the Pallava Empire began to decline and in course of time they were reduced to a mere local tribal power. Ultimately, the Cholas defeated the Pallava king Aparajita and took over their kingdom towards the close of the 9th century A.D.
The ancient history of India has seen the rise and downfall of several dynasties, which have left their legacies still resounding in the golden book of Indian history. With the end of the 9th century A.D., the medieval history of India started with the rise of empires such as the Palas, the Senas, the Pratiharas and the Rashtrakutas, and so on.
For a period that has come to be so strongly associated with the Islamic influence and rule in India, Medieval Indian history went for almost three whole centuries under the so-called indigenous rulers, that included the Chalukyas, the Pallavas, the Pandyas, the Rashtrakutas, the Muslims rulers and finally the Mughal Empire. The most important dynasty to emerge in the middle of the 9th century was that of the Cholas.
Between 8th and 10th centuries A.D., a number of powerful empires dominated the eastern and northern parts of India. The Pala king Dharmpala, son of Gopala reigned from the late 8th century A.D. to early 9th century A.D. Nalanda University and Vikramashila University were founded by Dharmpala.
After the decline of the Palas, the Sena dynasty established its rule in Bengal. The founder of the dynasty was Samantasena. The greatest ruler of the dynasty was Vijaysena. He conquered the whole of Bengal and was succeeded by his son Ballalasena. He reigned peacefully but kept his dominions intact. He was a great scholar and wrote four works including one on astronomy. The last ruler of this dynasty was Lakshamanasena under whose reign the Muslims invaded Bengal, and the empire fell.
The greatest ruler of the Pratihara dynasty was Mihir Bhoja. He recovered Kanauj (Kanyakubja) by 836, and it remained the capital of the Pratiharas for almost a century. He built the city Bhojpal (Bhopal). Raja Bhoja and other valiant Gujara kings faced and defeated many attacks of the Arabs from west.
Between 915-918 A.D, Kanauj was attacked by a Rashtrakuta king, who devastated the city leading to the weakening of the Pratihara Empire. In 1018, Kannauj then ruled by Rajyapala Pratihara was sacked by Mahmud of Ghazni. The empire broke into independent Rajput states.
This dynasty, which ruled from Karnataka, is illustrious for several reasons. They ruled the territory vaster than that of any other dynasty. They were great patrons of art and literature. The encouragement that several Rashtrakuta kings provided to education and literature is unique, and the religious tolerance exercised by them was exemplary.
The Chola Empire of the South
It emerged in the middle of the 9th century A.D., covered a large part of Indian peninsula, as well as parts of Sri Lanka and the Maldives Islands.
The first important ruler to emerge from the dynasty was Rajaraja Chola I and his son and successor Rajendra Chola. Rajaraja carried forward the annexation policy of his father. He led armed expedition to distant lands of Bengal, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh.
The successors of Rajendra I, Rajadhiraj and Rajendra II were brave rulers who fought fiercely against the later Chalukya kings, but could not check the decline of Chola Empire. The later Chola kings were weak and incompetent rulers. The Chola Empire thus lingered on for another century and a half, and finally came to an end with the invasion of Malik Kafur in the early 14th century A.D.
The Rise of Islam in South-Asia
The initial entry of Islam into South Asia came in the first century after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The Umayyad caliph in Damascus sent an expedition to Baluchistan and Sindh in 711 led by Muhammad bin Qasim. He captured Sindh and Multan. Three hundred years after his death Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, the ferocious leader, led a series of raids against Rajput kingdoms and rich Hindu temples, and established a base in Punjab for future incursions. In 1024, the Sultan set out on his last famous expedition to the southern coast of Kathiawar along the Arabian Sea, where he sacked the city of Somnath and its renowned Hindu temple.
Muslim Invasion In India
Muhammad Ghori invaded India in 1175 A.D. After the conquest of Multan and Punjab, he advanced towards Delhi. The brave Rajput chiefs of northern India headed by Prithvi Raj Chauhan defeated him in the First Battle of Terrain in 1191 A.D. After about a year, Muhammad Ghori came again to avenge his defeat. A furious battle was fought again in Terrain in 1192 A.D. in which the Rajputs were defeated and Prithvi Raj Chauhan was captured and put to death. The Second Battle of Terrain, however, proved to be a decisive battle that laid the foundations of Muslim rule in northern India.
The Delhi Sultanate
The period between 1206 A.D. and 1526 A.D. in India’s history is known as the Delhi Sultanate period. During this period of over three hundred years, five dynasties ruled in Delhi. These were: the Slave dynasty (1206-90), Khilji dynasty (1290-1320), Tughlaq dynasty (1320-1413), Sayyid dynasty (1414-51), and Lodhi dynasty (1451-1526).
The Slave Dynasty
The concept of equality in Islam and Muslim traditions reached its climax in the history of South Asia when slaves were raised to the status of Sultan. The Slave Dynasty ruled the Sub-continent for about 84 years. It was the first Muslim dynasty that ruled India. Qutub-ud-din Aibak, a slave of Muhammad Ghori, who became the ruler after the death of his master, founded the Slave Dynasty. He was a great builder who built the majestic 238 feet high stone tower known as Qutub Minar in Delhi.
The next important king of the Slave dynasty was Shams-ud-din Iltutmush, who himself was a slave of Qutub-ud-din Aibak. Iltutmush ruled for around 26 years from 1211 to 1236 and was responsible for setting the Sultanate of Delhi on strong footings. Razia Begum, the capable daughter of Iltutmush, was the first and the only Muslim lady who ever adorned the throne of Delhi. She fought valiantly, but was defeated and killed.
Finally, the youngest son of Iltutmush, Nasir-ud-din Mahmud became Sultan in 1245. Though Mahmud ruled India for around 20 years, but throughout his tenure the main power remained in the hands of Balban, his Prime Minister. On death of Mahmud, Balban directly took over the throne and ruled Delhi. During his rule from 1266 to 1287, Balban consolidated the administrative set up of the empire and completed the work started by Iltutmush.
The Khilji Dynasty
Following the death of Balban, the Sultanate became weak and there were number of revolts. This was the period when the nobles placed Jalal-ud-din Khilji on the throne. This marked the beginning of Khilji dynasty. The rule of this dynasty started in 1290 A.D. Ala-ud-din Khilji, a nephew of Jalal-ud-din Khilji hatched a conspiracy and got Sultan Jalal-ud-din killed and proclaimed himself as the Sultan in 1296. Ala-ud-din Khilji was the first Muslim ruler whose empire covered almost whole of India up to its extreme south. He fought many battles, conquered Gujarat, Ranthambhor, Chittor, Malwa, and Deccan. During his reign of 20 years, Mongols invaded the country several times but were successfully repulsed. From these invasion Alla-ud-din Khilji learnt the lessons of keeping himself prepared, by fortifying and organizing his armed forces. Alla-ud-din died in 1316 A.D., and with his death, the Khilji dynasty came to an end.
The Tughlaq Dynasty
Ghyasuddin Tughlaq, who was the Governor of Punjab during the reign of Ala-ud-din Khilji, ascended the throne in 1320 A.D. and founded the Tughlaq dynasty. He conquered Warrangal and put down a revolt in Bengal. Muhammad-Bin-Tughlaq succeeded his father and extended the kingdom beyond India, into Central Asia. Mongols invaded India during Tughlaq rule, and were defeated this time too.
Muhammad-Bin-Tughlaq first shifted his capital from Delhi to Devagiri in Deccan. However, it had to be shifted back within two years. He inherited a massive empire but lost many of its provinces, more particularly Deccan and Bengal. He died in 1351 A.D. and his cousin, Feroz Tughlaq succeeded him.
Feroz Tughlaq did not contribute much to expand the territories of the empire, which he inherited. He devoted much of his energy to the betterment of the people. After his death in 1388, the Tughlaq dynasty came virtually to an end. Although the Tughlaqs continued to reign till 1412, the invasion of Delhi by Timur in 1398 may be said to mark the end of the Tughlaq empire.
It was during the reign of the last king of the Tughlaq dynasty that the mighty king Timur or Tamerlane invaded India in 1398 A.D. He crossed Indus and captured Multan, and just walked over to Delhi without much resistance.
Then came the Sayyid dynasty founded by Khizar Khan. The Sayyids ruled from about 1414 A.D. to 1450 A.D. Khizar Khan ruled for about 37 years. Last in Sayyid dynasty was Muhammad-bin-Farid. During his reign there was confusion and revolts. The empire came to an end in 1451 A.D. with his death.
He was the first king and the founder of the Lodhi dynasty. With a view to restoring the Delhi Sultanate its past glory, he conquered many territories including the powerful kingdom of Jaunpur. Buhlul Khan extended his territories over Gwalior, Jaunpur and Uttar Pradesh.
The Slave Dynasty
Buhlul Khan Lodhi (1451-1489 A.D.)
He was the first king and the founder of the Lodhi dynasty. With a view to restoring the Delhi Sultanate its past glory, he conquered many territories including the powerful kingdom of Jaunpur. Buhlul Khan extended his territories over Gwalior, Jaunpur and Uttar Pradesh.
Sikander Khan Lodhi (1489-1517 A.D.)
After Buhlul Khan’s death, his second son Nizam Shah was proclaimed the king, under the title of Sultan Sikander Shah, in 1489. He made all efforts to strengthen his kingdom and extended his kingdom from Punjab to Bihar. He was a good administrator and a patron of arts and letters. He died in 1517 A.D.
Ibrahim Khan Lodhi (1489-1517 A.D.)
After the death of Sikandar, his son Ibrahim ascended the throne. Ibrahim Lodhi did not prove to be an able ruler. He became more and more strict with the nobles. He used to insult them. Thus, to take revenge of their insults, Daulat Khan Lodhi, governor of Lahore and Alam Khan, an uncle of Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi, invited Babar, the ruler of Kabul, to invade India. Ibrahim Lodhi was killed at Panipat in 1526 A.D. by Babar’s army. Thus came the final collapse of Delhi Sultanate and paved the establishment of Mughal Empire in India.
When Muhammad Tughlaq was losing his power in Deccan, the two Hindu princes, Harihar and Bukka founded an independent kingdom in the region between the river Krishna and Tungabhadra in 1336. They soon established their sway over the entire territory between the rivers Krishna in the north and Cauveri in the south. The rising powers of the Vijayanagar empire brought it into clash with many powers and they frequently fought wars with the Bahmani kingdom.
The most famous king of the Vijaynagara Empire was Krishnadeva Raya. The Vijayanagar kingdom reached the pinnacle of its glory during his reign. He was successful in all the wars he waged. He defeated the king of Odisha and annexed Vijaywada and Rajmahendri.
Krishnadeva Raya encouraged trade with the western countries. He had a cordial relationship with the Portuguese who had at that time established trade centres on the west coast of India. He was not only a great warrior, but was also a playwright and a great patron of learning. Telegu literature flourished under him. Painting, sculpture, dance and music were greatly encouraged by him and his successors. He endeared himself to the people by his personal charm, kindness, and an ideal administration.
The decline of the Vijayanagar kingdom began with the death of Krishnadeva Raya in 1529. The kingdom came to an end in 1565, when Ramrai was defeated at Talikota by the joint efforts of Adilshahi, Nizamshahi, Qutubshahi and Baridshahi. After this, the kingdom broke into small states.
The Muslim kingdom of Bahmani was established by some nobles of the Deccan who revolted against the repressive policies of Sultan Muhammed Tughlaq. In 1347, Hasan became the king under the title Abdul Muzaffar Ala-Ud-Din Bahman Shah and founded the Bahmani dynasty. This dynasty lasted for about 175 years and had 18 rulers. At the height of its glory, the Bahmani kingdom extended from north of Krishna river up to Narmada, and stretched east-west from the coasts of the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. The rulers of Bahmani were often at war with the neighbouring Hindu kingdom Vijayanagar.
The most distinguished figure of the Bahmani kingdom was Mahmud Gawan, who was the principal minister of the state – Amir-ul-ulmra for over two decades. He fought many wars, subdued many kings and annexed many territories to the Bahmani kingdom. Within the kingdom, he improved the administration, organized finances, encouraged public education, reformed revenue system, disciplined army and removed corruption. A man of character and integrity, he was held in high esteem by the Deccani group of nobles, especially Nizam-ul-Mulk, and their machinations led to his execution. With this, started the decline of the Bahmani empire, which came to an end with the death of its last king Kalimullah in 1527. Thereafter, Bahmani Empire was disintegrated into five regional independent principalities – Ahmadnagar, Bijapur, Berar, Bidar and Golkonda.
An important landmark in the cultural history of medieval India was the silent revolution in society brought about by a galaxy of socio-religious reformers, a revolution known as the Bhakti Movement. This movement was responsible for many rites and rituals associated with the worship of God by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs of Indian subcontinent. For example, Kirtan at a Hindu Temple, Qawaali at a Dargah (by Muslims), and singing of Gurbani at a Gurdwara are all derived from the Bhakti movement of medieval India (800-1700). The leader of this Hindu revivalist movement was Shankaracharya, a great thinker and a distinguished philosopher. And this movement was propounded by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Namadeva, Tukaram, Jayadeva. The movement’s major achievement was its abolition of idol worship.
The leader of the bhakti movement focusing on the Lord as Rama was Ramananda. Very little is known about him, but he is believed to have lived in the first half of the 15th century. He taught that Lord Rama is the supreme Lord, and that salvation could be attained only through love for and devotion to him, and through the repetition of his sacred name.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was an ascetic Hindu monk and social reformer in 16th century Bengal. A great proponent of loving devotion for God, bhakti yoga, Chaitanya worshiped the Lord in the form of Krishna.
Sri Ramanuja Acharya was an Indian philosopher and is recognized as the most important saint of Sri Vaishnavism. Ramananda brought to North India what Ramanuja did in South India. He raised his voice against the increasing formalism of the orthodox cult and founded a new school of Vaishnavism based on the gospel of love and devotion. His most outstanding contribution is the abolition of distinctions of caste among his followers.
Followers of Bhakti movement in 12th and 13th Century included saints such as Bhagat Namdev, and Saint Kabir Das, who insisted on the devotional singing of praises of lord through their own compositions.
Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru and founder of the Sikhism, too was a Nirguna Bhakti Saint and social reformer. He was opposed to all distinctions of caste as well as the religious rivalries and rituals. He preached the unity of God and condemned formalism and ritualism of both Islam and Hinduism. Guru Nanak’s gospel was for all men. He proclaimed their equality in all respects.
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries continued to witness the rise of many religious reformers. The exponent of the Rama cult and the Krishna cult among the Vaishnavas branched off into a number of sects and creeds. The leading light of the Rama cult was saint-poet Tulsidas. He was a very great scholar and had made a profound study of Indian philosophy and literature. His great poem, ‘Ramacharitamanasa’, popularly called Tulsi-krita Ramayana is very popular among the Hindu devotees. He set before the people the image of Sri Rama as all virtuous, all powerful, the Lord of the World, and the very embodiment of the Supreme Reality (Parabrahma).
The followers of the Krishna cult founded the Radha Ballabhi sect under Hari Vamsa in 1585 A.D. Sur Das wrote ‘Sursagar’ in Brajbhasha, which is full of verses of the charm of Lord Krishna and his beloved Radha.
The terms Sufi, Wali, Darvesh and Faqir are used for Muslim saints who attempted to achieve development of their intuitive faculties through ascetic exercises, contemplation, renunciation and self-denial. By the 12th century A.D., Sufism had become a universal aspect of Islamic social life as its influence extended over almost the entire Muslim community.
Sufism represents the inward or esoteric side of Islam or the mystical dimension of Muslim religion. However, the Sufi saints transcending all religious and communal distinctions, worked for promoting the interest of humanity at large. The Sufis were a class of philosophers remarkable for their religious catholicity. Sufis regarded God as the supreme beauty and believed that one must admire it, take delight in His thought and concentrate his attention on Him only. They believed that God is ‘Mashuq’ and Sufis are the ‘Ashiqs’.
Sufism crystallized itself into various ‘Silsilahs’ or orders. The 4 most popular among these were Chistis, Suhrawardis, Qadiriyahs and Naqshbandis.
Sufism took roots in both rural and urban areas and exercised a deep social, political and cultural influence on the masses. It rebelled against all forms of religious formalism, orthodoxy, falsehood and hypocrisy and endeavoured to create a new world order in which spiritual bliss was the only and the ultimate goal. At a time when struggle for political power was the prevailing madness, the Sufi saints reminded men of their moral obligations. To a world torn by strife and conflict they tried to bring peace and harmony. The most important contribution of Sufism is that it helped to blunt the edge of Hindu-Muslim prejudices by forging the feelings of solidarity and brotherhood between these two religious communities.
The Mughal Empire
In India, the Mughal Empire was one of the greatest empires ever. The Mughal Empire ruled hundreds of millions of people. India became united under one rule, and had very prosperous cultural and political years during the Mughal rule. There were many Muslim and Hindu kingdoms split all throughout India until the founders of the Mughal Empire came. There were some men such as Babar, grandson to the Great Asian conqueror Tamerlane and the conqueror Genghis Khan from the northern region of Ganges, river valley, who decided to take over Khyber, and eventually, all of India.
the great grandson of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, was the first Mughal emperor in India. He confronted and defeated Lodhi in 1526 at the first battle of Panipat, and so came to establish the Mughal Empire in India. Babar ruled until 1530, and was succeeded by his son Humayun.
Humayun (1530-1540 and 1555-1556):
the eldest son of Babar, succeeded his father and became the second emperor of the Mughal Empire. He ruled India for nearly a decade but was ousted by Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan ruler. Humayun wandered for about 15 years after his defeat. Meanwhile, Sher Shah Suri died and Humayun was able to defeat his successor, Sikandar Suri and regain his crown of the Hindustan. However, soon after, he died in 1556 at a young age of 48 years.
Sher Shah Suri (1540-1545):
was an Afghan leader who took over the Mughal Empire after defeating Humayun in 1540. Sher Shah occupied the throne of Delhi for not more than five years, but his reign proved to be a landmark in the Sub-continent. As a king, he has several achievements in his credit. He established an efficient public administration. He set up a revenue collection system based on the measurement of land. Justice was provided to the common man. Numerous civil works were carried out during his short reign; planting of trees, wells and building of Sarai (inns) for travellers was done. Roads were laid; it was under his rule that the Grand Trunk road from Delhi to Kabul was built. The currency was also changed to finely minted silver coins called Dam. However, Sher Shah did not survive long after his accession on the throne and died in 1545 after a short reign of five years.
Humayun’s heir, Akbar, was born in exile and was only 13 years old when his father died. Akbar’s reign holds a certain prominence in history; he was the ruler who actually fortified the foundations of the Mughal Empire. After a series of conquests, he managed to subdue most of India. Areas not under the empire were designated as tributaries. He also adopted a conciliatory policy towards the Rajputs, hence reducing any threat from them. Akbar was not only a great conqueror, but a capable organizer and a great administrator as well. He set up a host of institutions that proved to be the foundation of an administrative system that operated even in British India. Akbar’s rule also stands out due to his liberal policies towards the non-Muslims, his religious innovations, the land revenue system and his famous Mansabdari system. Akbar’s Mansabdari system became the basis of Mughal military organization and civil administration.
Akbar died in 1605, nearly 50 years after his ascension to the throne, and was buried outside of Agra at Sikandra. His son Jehangir then assumed the throne.
Akbar was succeeded by his son, Salim, who took the title of Jehangir, meaning “Conqueror of the World”. He married Mehr-un-Nisa whom he gave the title of Nur Jahan (light of the world). He loved her with blind passion and handed over the complete reins of administration to her. He expanded the empire through the addition of Kangra and Kistwar and consolidated the Mughal rule in Bengal. Jehangir lacked the political enterprise of his father Akbar. But he was an honest man and a tolerant ruler. He strived to reform society and was tolerant towards Hindus, Christians and Jews. However, relations with Sikhs were strained, and the fifth of the ten Sikh gurus, Arjun Dev, was executed at Jehangir’s orders for giving aid and comfort to Khusrau, Jehangir’s rebellious son. Art, literature, and architecture prospered under Jehangir’s rule, and the Mughal gardens in Srinagar remain an enduring testimony to his artistic taste. He died in 1627.
Jehangir was succeeded by his second son Khurram in 1628. Khurram took the name of Shah Jahan, i.e. the Emperor of the World. He further expanded his Empire to Kandhar in the north and conquered most of Southern India. The Mughal Empire was at its zenith during Shah Jahan’s rule. This was due to almost 100 years of unparalleled prosperity and peace. As a result, during this reign, the world witnessed the unique development of arts and culture of the Mughal Empire. Shah Jahan has been called the “architect king”. The Red Fort and the Jama Masjid, both in Delhi, stand out as towering achievements of both civil engineering and art. Yet above all else, Shah Jahan is remembered today for the Taj Mahal, the massive white marble mausoleum constructed for his wife Mumtaz Mahal along the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra.
Aurangzeb ascended the throne in 1658 and ruled supreme till 1707. Thus Aurangzeb ruled for 50 years, matching Akbar’s reign in longevity. But unfortunately he kept his five sons away from the royal court with the result that none of them was trained in the art of government. This proved to be very damaging for the Mughals later on. During his 50 years of rule, Aurangzeb tried to fulfill his ambition of bringing the entire Sub-continent under one rule. It was under him that the Mughal Empire reached its peak in matter of area. He worked hard for years but his health broke down in the end. He left behind no personal wealth when he died in 1707, at the age of 90 years. With his death, the forces of disintegration set in and the mighty Mughal empire started collapsing.
Rise of the Sikh Power
Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak Dev at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Guru Nanak was born on April 15, 1469 in the Western Punjab village of Talwandi. Even as a child, he was given to deep thinking with no interest in worldly life. At the age of thirty, he got enlightenment. Thereafter, he travelled almost the whole of the country and went over to Mecca and Baghdad, preaching his message. On his death he was followed by nine other Gurus in succession.
Guru Angad Dev Ji (1504-1552) was Guru for thirteen years (1539-1552). He created a new script gurmukhi and gave the Sikhs a written language. After his death Guru Amar Das Ji (1479-1574) followed in succession. He showed great devotion and made the langar an integral part of Sikhism. Guru Ram Das Ji took over as the fourth Guru, he composed hymns, which were later incorporated in the sacred writings. Guru Arjan Dev Ji became the fifth Guru of Sikhism. He built the world famous Harmandar Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple in Amritsar. He also compiled the holy Granth Sahib, a sacred religious book of the Sikhs. Guru Arjan Dev suffered martyrdom in 1606 and was followed by Siri Guru Hargobind, who maintained a standing army and symbolically wore two swords, representing spiritual and temporal power.
Guru Siri Har Rai, the seventh Guru was born in 1630 and spent most of his life in devotional meditation and preaching the teachings of Guru Nanak. He passed away in 1661 and ordained his second son, Harkishan as the Guru. Guru Siri Har Krishan Ji got enlightenment in 1661. He gave his life while serving and healing the epidemic-stricken people in Delhi. The place where he breath his last is the one where, the renowned Gurdwara Bangla Sahib stands in Delhi. Siri Guru Tegh Bahadur became Guru in 1664. When Mughal Governor of Kashmir resorted to forcible conversion of Hindus, Guru Tegh Bahadur decided to fight it out. Gurdwara Sisganj in Delhi stands at the place of Guru Sahib’s martyrdom and Gurdwara Rakabganj at the site of his cremation. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, was born in 1666 and became guru after the martyrdom of his father Guru Tegh Bahadur. Guru Gobind Singh, at the time of his death invested the ‘guru Granth Sahib’ as the supreme head of the sikhs, thus bringing the practice of nominating a religious head to a grinding halt.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj
Chhatrapati Shivaji (1630-1680), the great Maratha hero established the Maratha Empire in the Deccan fighting the powerful Mughals who were ruling India then. He motivated and combined the common man to fight against the domination of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, by inculcating wisdom of pride and nationality in them. Shivaji showed his spirit at the young age of 18, when he overran a number of hill forts near Pune. He raised a strong army and navy, built and renovated forts. A regular element of his campaigns was his use of guerilla warfare.
He joined together the Maratha chiefs from Maval, Konkan and Desh regions for the promotion of Maharashtra Dharma and carved out a small kingdom. Shivaji became an inspirational leader to his people and took the responsibility of leadership of the Marathas. The audacious Shivaji provided a thrust to the Marathas and other Hindus with martial tactics, which the Marathas effectively used against the sultans of the peninsula as well as the Mughals.
The small kingdom established by Chhatrapati Shivaji known as “Hindavi Swaraja” (Sovereign Hindu state) grew and stretched from Attock in Northwest India (now in Pakistan) beyond Cuttack in East India, in course of time, to become the strongest power in India. Shivaji died in 1680 at Raigad, at the age of fifty from an attack of dysentery. His premature death at the age of 50 (April, 1680) created a blankness, though his place in Indian history has been documented, recognised and remembered.
The Decline of Mughal Empire
The Mughal Empire started disintegrating with the death of Aurangazeb in 1707. His son and successor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was already old when he took the throne and was confronted with one rebellion after another. At that time, the Empire was facing challenges from the Marathas and the British. The inflated taxes and religious intolerance weakened the grip of Mughal Empire. The Mughal Empire was split into numerous independent or semi-independent states. Nadirshah of Iran sacked Delhi in 1739 and exposed the fragility of the power of Mughals. The empire rapidly shrank to the extent of being reduced to only a small district around Delhi. Yet they managed to rule at least some parts of India until 1850s, although they never regained the dignity and authority of their early days. The imperial dynasty became extinct with Bahadur Shah II who was deported to Rangoon by the British on suspicion of assisting the sepoy mutineers. He died there in 1862.
In ancient times, people from all over the world were keen to come to India. The Persians followed by the Iranians and Parsis immigrated to India. Then came the Moghuls and they too settled down permanently in India. Chengis Khan, the Mongolian, invaded and looted India many times. Alexander the Great too, came to conquer India but went back after a battle with Porus. He-en Tsang from China came in pursuit of knowledge and to visit the ancient Indian universities of Nalanda and Takshila. Columbus wanted to come to India, but instead landed on the shores of America. Vasco da Gama from Portugal came to trade his country’s goods in return for Indian spices. The French came and established their colonies in India.
Lastly, the Britishers came and ruled over India for nearly 200 years. After the battle of Plassey in 1757, the British achieved political power in India. And their paramountcy was established during the tenure of Lord Dalhousie, who became the Governor- General in 1848. He annexed Punjab, Peshawar and the Pathan tribes in the north-west of India. And by 1856, the British conquest and its authority were firmly established. And while the British power gained its heights during the middle of the 19th century, the discontent of the local rulers, the peasantry, the intellectuals, common masses as also of the soldiers who became unemployed due to the disbanding of the armies of various states that were annexed by the British, became widespread. This soon broke out into a revolt which assumed the dimensions of the 1857 Mutiny.
The Indian Mutiny of 1857
The conquest of India, which could be said to have begun with the Battle of Plassey (1757), was practically completed by the end of Dalhousie’s tenure in 1856. It had been by no means a smooth affair as the simmering discontent of the people manifested itself in many localized revolt during this period. However, the Mutiny of 1857, which began with a revolt of the military soldiers at Meerut, soon became widespread and posed a grave challenge to the British rule. Even though the British succeeded in crushing it within a year, it was certainly a popular revolt in which the Indian rulers, the masses and the militia participated so enthusiastically that it came to be regarded as the First War of Indian Independence.
Introduction of zamindari system by the British, where the peasants were ruined through exorbitant charges made from them by the new class of landlords. The craftsmen were destroyed by the influx of the British manufactured goods. The religion and the caste system which formed the firm foundation of the traditional Indian society was endangered by the British administration. The Indian soldiers as well as people in administration could not rise in hierarchy as the senior jobs were reserved for the Europeans. Thus, there was all-round discontent and disgust against the British rule, which burst out in a revolt by the ‘sepoys’ at Meerut whose religious sentiments were offended when they were given new cartridges greased with cow and pig fat, whose covering had to be stripped out by biting with the mouth before using them in rifles. The Hindu as well as the Muslim soldiers, who refused to use such cartridges, were arrested which resulted in a revolt by their fellow soldiers on May 9, 1857.
The rebel forces soon captured Delhi and the revolt spread to a wider area and there was uprising in almost all parts of the country. The most ferocious battles were fought in Delhi, Awadh, Rohilkhand, Bundelkhand, Allahabad, Agra, Meerut and western Bihar. The rebellious forces under the commands of Kanwar Singh in Bihar and Bakht Khan in Delhi gave a stunning blow to the British. In Kanpur, Nana Sahib was proclaimed as the Peshwa and the brave leader Tantya Tope led his troops. Rani Lakshmibai was proclaimed the ruler of Jhansi who led her troops in the heroic battles with the British. The Hindus, the Muslims, the Sikhs and all the other brave sons of India fought shoulder to shoulder to throw out the British. The revolt was controlled by the British within one year, it began from Meerut on 10 May 1857 and ended in Gwalior on 20 June 1858.
End of the East India Company
Consequent to the failure of the Revolt of 1857 rebellion, one also saw the end of the East India Company’s rule in India and many important changes took place in the British Government’s policy towards India which sought to strengthen the British rule through winning over the Indian princes, the chiefs and the landlords. Queen Victoria’s Proclamation of November 1, 1858 declared that thereafter India would be governed by and in the name of the British Monarch through a Secretary of State.
The Governor General was given title of Viceroy, which meant the representative of the Monarch. Queen Victoria assumed the title of the Empress of India and thus gave the British Government unlimited powers to intervene in the internal affair of the Indian states. In brief, the British paramountcy over India, including the Indian States, was firmly established. The British gave their support to the loyal princes, zamindar and local chiefs but neglected the educated people and the common masses. They also promoted the other interests like those of the British merchants, industrialists, planters and civil servants. The people of India, as such, did not have any say in running the government or formulation of its policies. Consequently, people’s disgust with the British rule kept mounting, which gave rise to the birth of Indian National Movement.
The leadership of the freedom movement passed into the hands of reformists like Raja Rammohan Roy, Bankim Chandra and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. During this time, the binding psychological concept of National Unity was also forged in the fire of the struggle against a common foreign oppressor.
Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833):
founded the Brahmo Samaj in 1828 which aimed at purging the society of all its evil practices. He worked for eradicating evils like sati, child marriage and purdah system, championed widow marriage and women’s education and favoured English system of education in India. It was through his effort that sati was declared a legal offence by the British.
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902)
the disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, established the Ramkrishna Mission at Belur in 1897. He championed the supremacy of Vedantic philosophy. His talk at the Chicago (USA) Conference of World Religions in 1893 made the westerners realize the greatness of Hinduism for the first time.
Formation of Indian National Congress (INC)
The foundations of the Indian National Movement were laid by Suredranath Banerjee with the formation of Indian Association at Calcutta in 1876. The aim of the Association was to represent the views of the educated middle class, inspire the Indian community to take the value of united action. The Indian Association was, in a way, the forerunner of the Indian National Congress, which was founded, with the help of A.O. Hume, a retired British official. The birth of Indian National Congress (INC) in 1885 marked the entry of new educated middle-class into politics and transformed the Indian political horizon. The first session of the Indian National Congress was held in Bombay in December 1885 under the president ship of Womesh Chandra Banerjee and was attended among others by and Badr-uddin-Tyabji.
At the turn of the century, the freedom movement reached out to the common unlettered man through the launching of the “Swadeshi Movement” by leaders such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Aurobindo Ghose. The Congress session at Calcutta in 1906, presided by Dadabhai Naoroji, gave a call for attainment of ‘Swaraj’ a type of self-government elected by the people within the British Dominion, as it prevailed in Canada and Australia, which were also the parts of the British Empire.
Meanwhile, in 1909, the British Government announced certain reforms in the structure of Government in India which are known as Morley-Minto Reforms. But these reforms came as a disappointment as they did not mark any advance towards the establishment of a representative Government. The provision of special representation of the Muslim was seen as a threat to the Hindu-Muslim unity on which the strength of the National Movement rested. So, these reforms were vehemently opposed by all the leaders, including the Muslim leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Subsequently, King George V made two announcements in Delhi: firstly, the partition of Bengal, which had been effected in 1905, was annulled and, secondly, it was announced that the capital of India was to be shifted from Calcutta to Delhi.
The disgust with the reforms announced in 1909 led to the intensification of the struggle for Swaraj. While, on one side, the activists led by the great leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal waged a virtual war against the British, on the other side, the revolutionaries stepped up their violent activities There was a widespread unrest in the country. To add to the already growing discontent among the people, Rowlatt Act was passed in 1919, which empowered the Government to put people in jail without trial. This caused widespread indignation, led to massive demonstration and hartals, which the Government repressed with brutal measures like the Jaliawalla Bagh massacre, where thousand of unarmed peaceful people were gunned down on the order of General Dyer.
Jallianwala Bagh Massacre
Jalianwala Bagh massacre of April 13, 1919 was one of the most inhuman acts of the British rulers in India. The people of Punjab gathered on the auspicious day of Baisakhi at Jalianwala Bagh, adjacent to Golden Temple (Amritsar), to lodge their protest peacefully against persecution by the British Indian Government. General Dyer appeared suddenly with his armed police force and fired indiscriminately at innocent empty handed people leaving hundreds of people dead, including women and children.
After the First World War (1914-1918), Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi became the undisputed leader of the Congress. During this struggle, Mahatma Gandhi had developed the novel technique of non-violent agitation, which he called ‘Satyagraha’, loosely translated as ‘moral domination’. Gandhi, himself a devout Hindu, also espoused a total moral philosophy of tolerance, brotherhood of all religions, non-violence (ahimsa) and of simple living. With this, new leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose also emerged on the scene and advocated the adoption of complete independence as the goal of the National Movement.
The Non-Cooperation Movement
The Non-Cooperation Movement was pitched in under leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress from September 1920 to February 1922, marking a new awakening in the Indian Independence Movement. After a series of events including the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, Gandhiji realised that there was no prospect of getting any fair treatment at the hands of British, so he planned to withdraw the nation’s co-operation from the British Government, thus launching the Non-Cooperation Movement and thereby marring the administrative set up of the country. This movement was a great success as it got massive encouragement to millions of Indians. This movement almost shook the British authorities.
The Non-cooperation movement failed. Therefore there was a lull in political activities. The Simon Commission was sent to India in 1927 by the British Government to suggest further reforms in the structure of Indian Government. The Commission did not include any Indian member and the Government showed no intention of accepting the demand for Swaraj. Therefore, it sparked a wave of protests all over the country and the Congress as well as the Muslim League gave a call to boycott it under the leadership of Lala Lajpat Rai. The crowds were lathi charged and Lala Lajpat Rai, also called Sher-e-Punjab (Lion of Punjab) died of the blows received in an agitation.
Civil Disobedience Movement
Mahatma Gandhi led the Civil Disobedience Movement that was launched in the Congress Session of December 1929. The aim of this movement was a complete disobedience of the orders of the British Government. During this movement it was decided that India would celebrate 26th January as Independence Day all over the country. On 26th January 1930, meetings were held all over the country and the Congress tricolour was hoisted. The British Government tried to repress the movement and resorted to brutal firing, killing hundreds of people. Thousands were arrested along with Gandhiji and Jawaharlal Nehru. But the movement spread to all the four corners of the country Following this, Round Table Conferences were arranged by the British and Gandhiji attended the second Round Table Conference at London. But nothing came out of the conference and the Civil Disobedience Movement was revived.
During this time, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were arrested on the charges of throwing a bomb in the Central Assembly Hall (which is now Lok Sabha) in Delhi, to demonstrate against the autocratic alien rule. They were hanged to death on March 23, 1931.
Quit India Movement
In August 1942, Gandhiji started the ‘Quit India Movement’ and decided to launch a mass civil disobedience movement ‘Do or Die’ call to force the British to leave India. The movement was followed, nonetheless, by large-scale violence directed at railway stations, telegraph offices, government buildings, and other emblems and institutions of colonial rule. There were widespread acts of sabotage, and the government held Gandhi responsible for these acts of violence, suggesting that they were a deliberate act of Congress policy. However, all the prominent leaders were arrested, the Congress was banned and the police and army were brought out to suppress the movement.
Meanwhile, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, who stealthily ran away from the British detention in Calcutta, reached foreign lands and organized the Indian National Army (INA) to overthrow the British from India.
The Second World War broke out in September of 1939 and without consulting the Indian leaders, India was declared a warring state (on behalf of the British) by the Governor General. Subhash Chandra Bose, with the help of Japan, preceded fighting the British forces and not only freed Andaman and Nicobar Islands from the Britishers but also entered the north-eastern border of India. But in 1945 Japan was defeated and Netaji proceeded from Japan through an aeroplane to a place of safety but met with an accident and it was given out that he died in that air-crash itself.
“Give me blood and I shall give you freedom” – was one of the most popular statements made by him, where he urges the people of India to join him in his freedom movement.
Partition of India and Pakistan
At the conclusion of the Second World War, the Labour Party, under Prime Minister Clement Richard Attlee, came to power in Britain. The Labour Party was largely sympathetic towards Indian people for freedom. A Cabinet Mission was sent to India in March 1946, which after a careful study of the Indian political scenario, proposed the formation of an interim Government and convening of a Constituent Assembly comprising members elected by the provincial legislatures and nominees of the Indian states. An interim Government was formed headed by Jawaharlal Nehru. However, the Muslim League refused to participate in the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly and pressed for the separate state for Pakistan. Lord Mountbatten, the Viceroy of India, presented a plan for the division of India into India and Pakistan, and the Indian leaders had no choice but to accept the division, as the Muslim League was adamant.
Thus, India became free at the stroke of midnight, on August 14, 1947. (Since then, every year India celebrates its Independence Day on 15th August). Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minster of free India and continued his term till 1964. Giving voice to the sentiments of the nation, Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said,
Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we will redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance…. We end today a period of ill fortune, and India discovers herself again.
Earlier, a Constituent Assembly was formed in July 1946, to frame the Constitution of India and Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected its President. The Constitution of India which was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26th November 1949. On January 26, 1950, the Constitution was came into force and Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected the first President of India.
People & Lifestyle
India is a land of festivals and fairs. Virtually celebrating each day of the year, there are more festivals celebrated in India than anywhere else in the world. Each festival pertains to different occasions, some welcome the seasons of the year, the harvest, the rains, or the full moon. Others celebrate religious occasions, the birthdays of divine beings and saints, or the advent of the New Year. A number of these festivals are common to most parts of India. However, they may be called by different names in various parts of the country or may be celebrated in a different fashion. Some of the festivals celebrated all over India are mentioned below. However, this section is still under enhancement. There are many other important festivals celebrated by various communities in India and this section shall be further enriched with information about them…
Lord Vishnu is invoked in his human incarnation as Krishna on his birth anniversary in the festival of Janmashtami. This festival of Hindus is celebrated with great devotion on the eighth day of the dark fortnight in the month of Sravana (July-August) in India. According to Hindu mythology, Krishna was born to destroy Mathura’s demon King Kansa, brother of his virtuous mother, Devaki.
Men and women fast and pray on the occasion of Janmashtami. Temples and homes are beautifully decorated and lit. The temples of Vrindavan, in Uttar Pradesh witness an extravagant and colourful celebration on this occasion. ‘Raslila’ is performed to recreate incidents from the life of Krishna and to commemorate his love for Radha. This festival is also known as Krishnastami or Gokulastami.
The image of the infant Krishna is bathed at midnight and is placed in a cradle. Devotional songs and dances mark the celebration of this festive occasion all over Northern India.
In Maharashtra, Janmashtami witnesses the exuberant enactment of Krishna’s childhood endeavours to steal butter and curd from earthen pots beyond his reach. A matka or pot containing these is suspended high above the ground and groups of young men and children form human pyramids to try and reach the pot and eventually break it.
Christmas originates from the word Cristes maesse, or ‘Christ’s Mass’. The first Christmas is estimated to be around 336 A.D. in Rome. It is celebrated on 25th December all over the world, to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is regarded as one of the most important of all Christian festivals. It is a public holiday in India and most of the other countries.
There is the widely accepted Christian legend of the New Testament relating to the birth of Christ. In the story, God sent angel Gabriel to a girl named Mary, a virgin. Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to the Son of God, and the child would be named Jesus. He would grow up to become a king, and his kingdom would have no boundaries.
The angel Gabriel also visited Joseph and told him that Mary would give birth to a child and advised him to take good care of her, and not to abandon her. On the night that jesus was born, Mary and Joseph were on their way to Bethlehem to get their names registered as per the rules then. They found refuge in a stable, where Mary gave birth to Jesus at midnight and laid him in a manger. Thus Jesus, the Son of God was born.
Christmas celebrations begin with a midnight mass, which is considered to be an essential part of the celebrations, it is followed by merrymaking. Children in brightly colored dresses, accompanied by an orchestra of drums and cymbals, perform group dances using gay-colored sticks.
St. Benedict, alias Santa Claus, is a legendary chubby oldie figure, clad in red and white dress, who rides the reindeer and forms a significant part of the celebrations especially for children. He loves kids and gets chocolates, gifts and other desired goodies for them, which he apparently places in their stockings at night.
People sing carols in the glory of the Lord during Christmas. They go from door to door preaching the message of love and brotherhood.
The Christmas tree is popular all over the world for its grandeur. People decorate their homes with trees and hang mistletoe in every corner. After the church mass, people engage in friendly visits and feast and by exchange of greetings and gifts, they spread the message of peace and goodwill.
There are some popular churches in India specially in Goa, where Christmas is celebrated with great fervour and enthusiasm. Most of these churches were established during the Portuguese and British regime in India.
Some of the major churches in India include St. Joseph Cathedral and Medak church in Andhra Pradesh; St. Cathedral, The Church of St. Francis of Assisi and the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa; St. John’s Church in Wilderness and the Christ Church in Himachal Pradesh; Santa Cruz Basilica Church and St. Francis Church in Kerala; Holy Christ Church and Mount Mary Church in Maharashtra; Christ the King Church and Velankanni Church in Tamil Nadu; and All Saints Cathedral and Kanpur Memorial Church in Uttar Pradesh.
Celebrated on the full-moon day of the Hindu month of Sravana (July/August), this festival celebrates the love of a brother for his sister. On this day, sisters tie rakhi on the wrists of their brothers to protect them against evil influences, and pray for their long life and happiness. They in turn, give a gift which is a promise that they will protect their sisters from any harm. Within these Rakhis reside sacred feelings and well wishes. This festival is mostly celebrated in North India.
The history of Rakshabandhan dates back to Hindu mythology. As per Hindu mythology, in Mahabharata, the great Indian epic, Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas had torn the corner of her sari to prevent Lord Krishna’s wrist from bleeding (he had inadvertently hurt himself). Thus, a bond, that of brother and sister developed between them, and he promised to protect her.
It is also a great sacred verse of unity, acting as a symbol of life’s advancement and a leading messenger of togetherness. Raksha means protection, and in some places in medieval India, where women felt unsafe, they tie Rakhi on the wrist of men, regarding them as brothers. In this way, Rakhi strengthens the bond of love between brothers and sisters, and revives the emotional bonding. Brahmins change their sacred thread (janoi) on this day, and dedicate themselves once again to the study of the scriptures.
Deepawali or Diwali, is a festival of lights symbolising the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness. The word ‘Deepawali’ literally means rows of diyas (clay lamps). This is one of the most popular festivals in the Hindu calendar. It is celebrated on the 15th day of Kartika (October/November). This festival commemorates Lord Rama’s return to his kingdom Ayodhya after completing his 14-year exile.
The most beautiful of all Indian festivals, Diwali is a celebration of lights. Streets are illuminated with rows of clay lamps and homes are decorated with colours and candles. This festival is celebrated with new clothes, spectacular firecrackers and a variety of sweets in the company of family and friends. All this illumination and fireworks, joy and festivity, signify the victory of divine forces over those of wicked.
The Goddess Lakshmi (consort of Vishnu), who is the symbol of wealth and prosperity, is also worshipped on this day. In West Bengal, this festival is celebrated as Kali Puja, and Kali, Shiva’s consort, is worshipped on the occasion of Diwali.
In the South, Deepawali festival often commemorates the conquering of the Asura Naraka, a powerful king of Assam, who imprisoned thousands of inhabitants. It was Krishna who was finally able to subdue Naraka and free the prisoners. To commemorate this event, people in Peninsular India wake before sunrise and make imitation blood by mixing kumkum or vermillion with oil. After crushing underfoot a bitter fruit as a symbol of the demon, they apply the ‘blood’ triumphantly on their foreheads. They then have ritual oil baths, anointing themselves with sandalwood paste. Visits to temples for prayers are followed by large family breakfasts of fruits and a variety of sweets.
Another story of king Bali is attached to the Diwali festival in South India. According to the Hindu mythology, King Bali was a benevolent demon king. He was so powerful that he became a threat to the power of celestial deities and their kingdoms. And Lord Vishnu came as the dwarf mendicant Vamana, to dilute Bali’s power. Vamana shrewdly asked the king for land that would cover three steps as he walked. The king happily granted this gift. Having tricked Bali, Vishnu revealed himself in the full glory of his godhood. He covered the heaven in his first step and the earth in his second. Realising that he was pitted against the mighty Vishnu, Bali surrendered and offered his own head, inviting Vishnu to step on it. Vishnu pushed him into the nether world with his foot. In return Vishnu gave him the lamp of knowledge to light up the dark underworld. He also gave him a blessing that he would return to his people once a year to light millions of lamps from this one lamp so that on the dark new moon light of Diwali, the blinding darkness of ignorance, greed, jealousy, lust, anger, ego, and laziness would be dispelled and the radiance of knowledge, wisdom and friendship would prevail. Each year on Diwali day, even today, one lamp lights another and like a flame burning steadily on a windless night, brings a message of peace and harmony to the world.
Id-ul-Zuha (Bakr-Id), is a festival of great rejoice, special prayers and exchange of greetings and gifts mark this festival of Muslims. Id-ul-zuha, the festival of sacrifice is celebrated with traditional fervor and gaiety in India and the world. It is called Id-ul-Adha in Arabic and Bakr-Id in the Indian subcontinent, because of the tradition of sacrificing a goat or ‘bakr’ in Urdu. The word ‘id’ derived from the Arabic ‘iwd’ means ‘festival’ and zuha comes from ‘uzhaiyya’ which translates to ‘sacrifice’.
According to Islamic belief, to test Ibrahim, Allah commanded him to sacrifice his son Ismail. He agreed to do it but found his paternal feelings hard to suppress. So he blindfolded himself before putting Ismail on the altar at the mount of Mina near Mecca. When he removed his bandage after performing the act, he saw his son standing in front of him, alive. On the altar lay a slaughtered lamb. Joyous festivities and somber rituals mark this event. Every Muslim owning property worth 400 grams of gold or more is expected to sacrifice a goat, sheep or any other four-legged animal during one of the three days of the festival. This symbolises devotion to Allah and his desires. The sacrificial meat is then distributed and partaken of after the Id prayers.
The festival also marks the completion of Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia).
Ramnavami is dedicated to the memory of Lord Rama, the son of king Dashrath. He is known as ‘Maryada Purusottama’ and is the emblem of righteousness. The festival commemorates the birth of Rama on the ninth day after the new moon in Sukul Paksh (the waxing moon), which falls sometime in the month of April.
Lord Rama is remembered for his prosperous and righteous reign. He is considered to be an avatar or reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, who came down to earth to battle the invincible Ravana (demon king) in human form. Ramrajya (the reign of Rama) has become synonymous with a period of peace and prosperity.
On the Ramnavami day, devotees crowd the temples and sing devotional bhajans in praise of Rama and rock images of him in cradles to celebrate his birth. There are recitations of Tulsi Ramayan, the epic, which recounts the story of this great king.
Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama is the focus of great celebrations of Ramanavami festival. Rathayatras or the chariot processions of Rama, his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana and devotee Hanuman, are taken out from many temples.
Ramnavami is commemorated in Hindu households by puja (prayer). The items necessary for the puja are roli, aipun, rice, water, flowers, a bell and a conch. After that, the youngest female member of the family applies teeka to all the members of the family. Everyone participates in the puja by first sprinkling the water, roli, and aipun on the Gods, and then showering handfuls of rice on the deities. Then everybody stands up to perform the aarti, at the end of which ganga jal or plain water is sprinkled over the gathering. The singing of bhajans goes on for the entire puja. Finally, the prasad is distributed among all the people who have gathered for worship.
Guru Nanak Jayanti
Guru Nanak Jayanti, the foremost of all the Gurupurabs or anniversaries of the 10 Sikh Gurus, is the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh faith, who ushered in a new wave in religion. The first of the 10 Sikh Gurus, Guru Nanak was born in 1469 at Talwandi, near Lahore. The disinclination to accept the practice of several religions in society, professing different deities drove the much-travelled leader to break free from the shackles of religious diversity, and establish a religion based on a single God who is the eternal truth. The festive event of Guru Nanak Jayanti includes the three-day Akhand Path, during which the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs is read out from the beginning to the end without a break. On the day of the main event, the Granth Sahib is ornamented with flowers, and carried on a float in a proper procession throughout a village or city.
The procession is headed by five armed guards, representatives of the ‘Panj Pyaras,’ who carry the Nishan Sahibs or the Sikh flag epitomising their faith. Religious hymns from the Granth Sahib are sung throughout the procession, marking a special feature of the event. The procession finally leads to a Gurudwara, where the gathered devotees get together for a community lunch, which is called Langar.
Credits to – https://knowindia.gov.in/