India, historical background

The Republic of India is a federation of states with separate governments. Measuring one third of the size of Europe, with a very long, dramatic cultural history. The official name of the country is Bharat or Bharatavarsha, which comes from Sanskrit. Its giant rivers, the Indus and Ganges, were crucial to the development of its earliest cultures, for transportation, irrigation and agricultural productivity.

An immigration wave of Indo-European, Aryan peoples began about 1000 BC. About 500 years later, the ancient Veda religion was replaced with Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

The first crucial meeting with Europe occurred in 326 BC, when the Greek general Alexander the Great’s army had conquered Persia and began invading what is now India. The campaign was extensive, but the soldiers did not want to pass the Ganges. One result of this was that India was blessed with rich trade opportunities with Southern Europe and the Near East.

These contacts remained, despite political changes, long after the beginning of the Common Era, and trade was conducted along caravan routes via Egypt. During the rule of Emperor Hadrian, 117 AD, the Roman Empire reached its farthest eastern point, never extending beyond Mesopotamia.

The Mughal Empire
The foundations of modern India began being laid in the 12th century by the Mughals. The Mughal Empire lasted 300 years and included Akbar the Great in the 16th century, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb in the 17th century.

On and off, India has been invaded by other peoples. In 1739, the country was once again plundered by Persians, who did not stay and occupy the land, but took great riches back with them.

European colonization
For Europe, the late 15th century marked the beginning of great geographic discoveries. Europe’s first encounter with India by sea was prepared when Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama (1460-1524) visited Calicut on the southern part of India’s west coast in 1498, the first of three such visits. With the biggest ship of his era, he was the first European to sail around the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa. The Portuguese were also the first Europeans to begin colonizing India, by taking the city of Goa, also on the west coast, by force in 1510. They then brought home luxury goods such as dyed, patterned fabrics, rugs, spices, pearls and gems.

Almost right from the start, the Portuguese had competition. From the 16th century on, multiple European colonies were established in India. British, French, Danish and Dutch, all of whom opened many trading stations in the coastal regions.

British India
The British takeover of India was a slow process, initiated through trade with the British East India Company. With the Royal Navy and soldiers, they gradually conquered more and more of the country. This is also true of the Portuguese and the other countries’ colonies. At the same time, the Mughal empire was gradually weakening, which the British took advantage of.

In the mid-19th century, the Company had taken over a large portion of India and ruled the country as a colony with a monopoly on trade. The rest of the country was also more or less dependent on them. India was rich in key raw materials that British industry needed. It had coal, copper and iron, but unfortunately it had very primitive transportation routes, so roads and railways became a top priority. Revenues from trade at this time helped make London the richest city in the world. The British exported factory goods, which were traded for tea and raw materials to be refined in Britain. The British Empire made good use of the advantages they gained in the Industrial Revolution. Many factories in Willenhall, Wolverhampton and Bilston manufactured padlocks, among other things, which were exported to British colonies.

In 1877, India became a Crown colony, with Queen Victoria as the “Emperor of India”. The Indian national Congress was formed in 1885. In 1947, on gaining independence from Britain, the country split into India in the west and Pakistan in the east. India became an independent republic in the British Commonwealth in 1950. Today, the Indian part of Asia borders on China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

In 2010, multiple religions thrive in India: Hinduism (about 80%), Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Christianity.

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