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India History

India in the past - its rulers

Different parts of India have different histories and legends. Indians in different parts of the country look at their past from a different point of view than Indians in other parts of India. Indian history has a past of over thousands of years. The Hindus record their religious history at over millions of year. They believe that the world is created and destroyed every few million years. Religious Hindus and some Hindu historians record their present history at over 7000 years. This belief is different from the accepted general history which claims Indian history to be shorter than 5000 years.

In general Indian history different kingdoms were established in different parts of India, some by foreign invaders. The first known invaders of India were Aryans (also mentioned sometimes as Indo-Aryans). It is believed that the Aryans arrived in north India somewhere from Iran and southern Russia at around 1500 B. C. The Aryans fought and pushed the local people called Dravidians southwards. The Aryans are referred to in Indian history as fair skinned people who pushed the dark skinned Dravidians southwards (see also Aryans and Dravidians - a controversial issue).

The north Indians are considered to be the descendants of the Aryans and the south Indians are considered descendants of the Dravidians. Even today the most basic division of the Indian society is of north Indian Aryans and south Indian Dravidians. But this division isn’t proper. Many Indians emigrated from one part of India to other parts of India and not all local people of north India were pushed southwards by the Aryans. Some stayed and served the Aryans and others moved to live in the forests and the jungles of north India. There were also other foreign immigrations and invaders who arrived mainly in north India. Many Dravidians consider themselves as original Indians and their culture as the original culture of India. They also feel that their culture is discriminated by the north Indians (see also Regional parties).

After the Aryans many others invaded India. Alexander the Great and other Greeks arrived in India. The ancient Persian Empire expanded its boundaries up to India. But the Persian Empire like Alexander the Great, didn’t arrive to the center of present India but to present day Pakistan and up to the borders of present India. But there were other Greeks who arrived in India and established kingdoms in India. Others to arrive in ancient India were Scythians, Kushans and Huns. These invaders also established some kingdoms in India. At a much later period there were Muslim invaders - Turks, Arabs, Afghans and others. And of course the Europeans - Portuguese, Danish, Dutch, French and English. In between Indians also established their own kingdoms and empires. These different kingdoms fought among themselves to expand their kingdom boundaries. But never in Indian history was there a kingdom that ruled the whole of India. These different kingdoms that were established in different parts in India created different aspects of Indian history for different regions of India.

Different regions of India adore different heroes and empires from India’s past. For example people from Maharashtra in west India adore the Maratha Empire which was created in Maharashtra and ruled over large parts of India in the 17th and 18th century. Their most respected hero is Shivaji who created the Maratha Empire. People of Tamil Nadu have their own Tamil originated heroes and empires like the Chola Empire that ruled south India and some parts of north India between the 9th to 13th century. For some period the Cholas also reigned over parts of south Asia, including Sri Lanka, and some islands now parts of Malaysia and Indonesia. At other periods in Indian history other empires were established from Tamil Nadu among them the Pandya Empire and the Pallava Empire.

Two famous empires from Bihar in north-east India were Gupta and Maurya Empires, which ruled most of north India and large parts of south India. One of the Mauryan Emperors, Asoka, had perhaps the largest Indian Empire which covered almost the whole of present India. The Maurya Empire existed somewere between 4th century B. C. till 1st century B. C. The Gupta Empire existed between 4th century A. D. till 7th century A. D.

There were many other empires which were established at different periods in different parts of India and reigned over large parts of India. In south India the Vijayanagar Empire was established in the 14th century. In central India the Bahmani Empire was also established in the 14th century. Alongside with the empires, there were also small kingdoms which ruled on small parts of India. In present day Rajasthan there were many such kingdoms and their rulers belonged to the Rajput caste. The Rajputs even today symbolize the warrior castes of India. These kingdoms sometimes were completely independent and at other times acted as autonomies of bigger empires. Some of these kingdoms came into existence after a collapse of bigger empire and sometimes after a mutiny in a bigger empire. The Bahmani Empire broke up into five kingdoms. The world famous Moghul Empire from the Delhi-Agra region collapsed into many small kingdoms and into Maratha Empire.

The Moghuls are perhaps the most famous of the Indian Empires which ever existed. At their height they controlled the whole of north India, present day Pakistan and large parts of south India. In their empire they had many kings and rulers who were subjected to them. In west India, there were many local rulers who were subjected to the Moghul Empire. These rulers of West India were called Maratha (or Maharatha). Till the Moghul Empire, different Maratha rulers acted sometimes as independent rulers and at other times subjected to different larger kingdoms or empires including the Moghuls.

When Aurangzeb attained the Moghul throne, the empire began its first step towards collapsing. Aurangzeb was a religious and fanatic Muslim. He tried to enforce Islam and Islamic law on his citizens. As a result the Marathas under the leadership of Shivaji revolted and declared independence. Shivaji was also nominated emperor of the Marathas. The Marathas enlarged their empire by taking control over more Moghul territories and other rulers territories.

After Shivaji’s death in 1680 the Maratha people had lot of interior crisis. Sometimes the different Maratha parties acted as one power and at other times as separate independent powers sometimes fighting each other. After Aurengzeb’s death in 1707 the Moghuls started collapsing into separate independent kingdoms even though there was always a acting Moghul Emperor. In this period of chaos in the Moghul and Maratha empires, some European powers – English, French, Dutch, Danish and Portuguese - began controlling Indian territories.

Among these European powers the Portuguese arrived first in India in 1498 via sea after they had circled the whole of the African continent. The Portuguese had to circle the whole of African continent because in those days the Muslim Ottoman Empire of Turkey which ruled the middle east caused lots of problems to European Christian merchants who tried to pass through their land. Therefore the Europeans tried to find other routes to reach India. Columbus tried to get to India while sailing westwards from Europe. Columbus presumed that because the earth is round he would eventually get to India while sailing westwards, instead he found the continent of America whose existence was not known then to the Europeans. Columbus thought that he had arrived in India and called the natives Indians.

The Europeans came to India because of commercial reasons. The Indian sub-continent was then world famous for its spices. Local rulers leased to the Europeans, land so that they could build factories. Later on the Europeans got permits from local leaders to build forts around their factories. The Europeans then established forces to protect their interests. The next step of the European was occupying Indian land with these armies and so one of the European powers, the British, became the rulers of India.

The British control of India was a result of several factors. The Portuguese who along with their business tried to enforce Roman Catholicism on Indian(including the Syrian Christians) were defeated by local rulers sometimes in collaboration with Protestant European powers. But still the Portuguese remained in India with small pockets. Their main center in India was Goa. The Dutch and the Danes left India for their reasons. The two main European powers that remained in India were British and French. These two powers tried different ways to control India and to defeat each other.

The kingdoms of India, especially in north India, sought with the collapse of the Moghul Empire, patronage of another Empire. The French and the British both tried to fill this place. The British succeeded more than the French in convincing the local leaders. But not all Indian rulers were interested in British patronage or British rule on Indian soil. The Sikhs in north India, Marathas rulers in west India and kingdom of Mysore in south India were among those who opposed the British rule.

The British succeeded in defeating the Indian rulers (some of whom got also French assistance against the British) and became the rulers of India. But the French like the Portuguese remained in India with small pockets and both these powers remained in India even after the British left India in 1947.

The British ruled India via two administrative systems. One was ‘Provinces’ and the other ‘Princely States’. Provinces were British territories completely under British control. Princely States were states in British India with local ruler or king with honorary titles like Maharaja, Raja, Maharana, Rana, Nizam, Badshah and other titles meaning king or ruler in different Indian languages. These rulers were subjected to the British Empire.

During India’s independence in 1947 there were 562 Princely States and 11 Provinces.


Culture Smart! India (Culture Smart)

©Aharon Daniel


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