School in a Book: History of India

Not long after the first civilizations sprang up in the Middle East and China, India’s Indus Valley similarly developed. Gradually, the people united politically until, after the fall of the Gupta Dynasty in the Middle Ages, India became divided again. Parts of the empire fell to Hun invaders for a time. Other parts were led by various other dynasties, some of which were Hindi and some of which were Islamic. The invasion of the Turks and, later, the Mongols further hampered Indian unity. During this time, Indian culture further blended with Muslim and Persian culture.

Then, during 1500s to the mid-1900s, the colonial period occurred. During this time, European countries colonized India. This began with the arrival of the Portuguese and continued as British, Dutch and French companies competed for trading rights and governmental control. The British were most successful, and by the mid-1800s, they were the de facto rulers of all of India.

India gained her independence in the mid-1900s, though, and a democratic form of government took Britain’s place. In the 1990s, the new system instituted a series of economic reforms that led to rapid economic growth. These included reduced government intervention, reduced trade barriers and increased foreign investment. During this time the country also improved their education, healthcare and infrastructure systems. However, poverty, corruption and environmental concerns continued to the present day.


Ancient Times (3000 BCE to 500 CE)

The Indus Valley civilization/Harappan civilization: One of the world’s first civilizations, and the first known civilization in modern-day India, which lasted from about 2600 BCE to about 1900 BCE. It is named for the fertile region in which it was established, the Indus Valley, and for one of its major cities, Harappa. It is known for its sophisticated architecture and drainage systems; its advanced agricultural and trade practices; its animal husbandry; its carts pulled by water buffaloes; its pottery, copper, bronze and spun cotton crafts; and its trade with the Middle East. It was larger than either of its close contemporaries in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Mohenjo Daro: One of the two most well-known ancient Indus Valley cities, located in modern-day Pakistan. It is known for its citadel; its public bath; its granary; its assembly halls; its effective drainage system; its system of standard weights and measures; its writing system; and its population of around 40,000.

Harappa: One of the two most well-known ancient Indus Valley cities, located in modern-day Pakistan. It is known for its well-planned grid layout; its complex drainage system; and its pottery, jewelry, and textiles.

The Vedic age: The period of Indian history lasting from about 1500 BCE to about 500 BCE during which the Vedas, the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism, were composed. It is known for the introduction and spread of Hinduism; the start of Indian literature; the dominance of the Aryans; and the rise of the caste system.

The Aryans: A group of Indo-European peoples who migrated into northern India around 1500 BCE. They spoke related languages and had shared cultural traditions. They are known for establishing the Vedic civilization in India; writing the Vedas; and possibly introducing the caste system to India.

The Indian caste system: A hierarchical social structure that determined one’s position and occupation in society based on birth. At the top were the Brahmins (priests and scholars), followed by the Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), then the Vaishyas (merchants and farmers), and finally the Shudras (laborers and artisans). Below them were the Dalits (untouchables) who performed the lowest and most undesirable jobs. The caste system was rigid and prohibited social mobility between castes.

The Mauryan Empire: The first unified Indian empire, which lasted from the 300s BCE to the 100s BCE and was established by Emperor Chandragupta Maurya. It is known for its strong central government; its greatly increased trade routes and wealth; its advancements in art and architecture; and its role in the spread of Buddhism.

Ashoka: The greatest Mauryan ruler, who in the 200s BCE expanded the empire through conquest then converted to Buddhism, helped spread this religion, and advocated for peace

The Gupta Dynasty: The dynasty that ruled during the Golden Age of Indian history from the 300s CE to the 500s CE. It is known for reuniting India after a time of decline; for increasing trade with China; and for making significant advances in literature, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and medicine.

The Middle Ages (500 CE to 1500 CE)

The Bhakti movement: A religious tradition that emerged during Medieval India that promoted the worship of a personal god through devotion (bhakti) rather than through ritual or sacrifice. It greatly contributed to Indian culture, creating a new form of poetry and literature.

Early Modern Times (1500 CE through 1900 CE)

The Mughal Empire: One of the greatest empires in Indian history, which was led by Muslim rulers and which lasted from the early 1500s to the mid-1800s. It is known for reuniting of India under a single ruler; for making significant advancements in infrastructure, administration and the arts; and for constructing many well-known monuments, including the Taj Mahal. However, by the mid-1800s, the power of the Mughals had declined significantly due to colonialism, and much of India was under the control of the British.

Akbar the Great: The greatest Mughal emperor, who ruled over much of India from the mid-1500s to about 1600. He is known for establishing a centralized government; creating a new system for revenue collection; promoting Persian and Hindu culture; instituting other social reforms; and promoting religious tolerance.

Shah Jahan: One of the last Mughal emperors, who is most famous for building the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal: A mausoleum located in Agra, India, which was built built in the 1600s by emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife after her death. It took 22 years to complete.

The British East Indian Company: The organization created by England in the 1600s to conduct trade with India. It operated in Calcutta, Bombay and elsewhere and eventually became the dominant political power in the country.

Bombay: The English name for Mumbai, an important trading center of the British East Indian Company that eventually became a major administrative center for the British Raj

The British Raj: The British empire in India that lasted from the mid-1800s to 1947. It is also called the British Indian Empire. It is known for its economic exploitation and cultural and political oppression of the Indian people through legal, bureaucratic and police force means as it actively prevented independence movements from forming. It is also known for instituting several helpful reforms, such as the introduction of modern education and legal systems and the building of railroads and other infrastructure. For a time, Queen Victoria served as the Empress of India, and the title was held by subsequent British monarchs until India gained independence.

The Modern Era (1900 CE to the Present)

The Indian industrial revolution: The widespread increase in manufacturing that gained momentum in India the 1930s, particularly in the production of steel, textiles, and chemicals and increased further after independence

Mahatma Gandhi: The Indian nationalist leader who led the long fight for Indian independence from World War I on. He was a lawyer who lived in South Africa for a time and served as a leader of Indians living there. After returning to India, he launched a movement of non-cooperation with the British which included boycotts of British goods and schools. He advocated for non-violence, though others involved in the movement did not follow this recommendation. He also advocated for Hindu-Muslim unity and religious tolerance. He went to prison multiple times during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. He was assassinated in 1948, a year after India won independence.

Indian constitution: The constitution created after India gained independence from Britain in 1947. It provided for a strong central government along with smaller state governments, democratic processes and civil rights.

Jawaharlal Nehru: The first prime minister of India. He played a key role in the Indian independence movement, working alongside Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders to fight for India’s freedom from British rule. He is known for helping modernize, industrialize and democratize India; helping to create the Indian constitution; helping to reduce poverty and improve the status of women and minorities; and helping to boost agricultural production. However, despite these efforts, poverty and illiteracy remained widespread, particularly in rural areas.

Indira Gandhi: The prime minister of India during parts of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. During her leadership, the country experienced inflation and a recession due in part to rapidly rising oil prices. It also experienced political instability leading to a temporary emergency rule during which civil liberties were curtailed. She is known for her reforms aimed at reducing poverty. She was assassinated in the 1980s and succeeded by her son.

Bollywood: The Hindi film industry, which experienced a resurgence in the 1990s with the emergence of new stars and a new style of filmmaking


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