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India (Sanskrit, Hindi: भारत, Bhārat) is the largest country in the South Asia Region, located primarily in the center of South Asia, and shares International borders with Pakistan to the north-west, China and Nepal to the north, Bhutan to the north-east, and Bangladesh and Myanmar are to the east. Sri Lanka lies to the south, Maldives to the south-west and has maritime boundary 8 Indonesia to the south-east of India in the Indian Ocean.
The Republic of India is the seventh largest country in the world by area and, with over a billion people, is second only to China in population, although its much higher birth-rate makes it likely to reach pole position in less than ten years.
It is an extremely diverse country, with vast differences in geography, climate, culture, language and ethnicity across its expanse, and prides itself on being the largest democracy on Earth and a hub of trade in Southeast Asia.
The geographical term Bharat, which is recognised by the Constitution of India as an Official name for the country, is used by many Indian languages in its variations. The eponym of Bharat is Bharata, a theological figure that Hindu scriptures describe as a legendary Emperor of Ancient Bharat. According to Sanjeev Sanyal’s Land of Seven Rivers: History of India’s Geography, the Rig Veda, describes a terrible war known as ‘Dasharajnya’ or War of ten Kings. The war was between ten powerful tribes who plotted to overthrow King Sudasa of the Bharata tribe. The mighty battle took place on the banks of the River Ravi in Punjab. According to legend, the Bharata tribe was outnumbered yet King Sudasa, led them to victory due to his highly advanced military skill and established his power throughout the South Asia Region. King Sudasa‘s diplomacy ensured that the Vedas did not just record his victories but the ideas of the sages, including the famed Vishwamitra, from other tribes were also meticulously recorded. This led to the popularity of King Sudasa and eventually more and more people started identifying themselves as members of the Bharata tribe. The name ‘Bharata’ stuck on and ultimately, India was named ‘Bharat varsha’ meaning the land of Bharata.
Mahabharat and Bharata Chakravarthi
The most popular theory states India was called Bharatvarsha after the King Bharata Chakravarthi. He was son of King Dushyanta of Hastinapura and Queen Sakuntala and thus a descendant of the Lunar Dynasty of the Kshatriya Varna in the Mahajanapada (literally “Great Realm”,) History of the Nation started around 600 B.C. where Vedic Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism flourished and Sanskrit was the Official language. Legend has it that Bharata had conquered all of Greater India, uniting it into a single political entity which was named after him as “Bharatavarsha” “This country is known as Bharatavarsha since the times the father entrusted the Kingdom to the son Bharata and he himself went to the forest for ascetic practices” — Vishnu Purana “The country (Varsam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains is called Bharatam; there dwell the descendants of Bharata” — Vishnu Purana In the Mahabharata, Modern New Indian Republic is referred to as Bharatvarsha, and this Bharat Empire included the whole territory of the South Asia Region, including parts of present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tibet, Himalayas, Bangladesh and Burma. Bharatavarsha did not include the whole of the Republic of India and never did, but only denoted the Kingdom of the Bharata, who was a chieftain of one of the tribes. This small region comprised only a small part of the Upper Ganges Valley. The epigraphic evidence confirms that Bharata originally did not mean the whole of India, but only a small part of North India. Kharavela who lived c.63 B.C.-c.23 B.C., was one of the most famous Kings of the Kingdom of Kalinga. His conquests ranged far and wide. They are celebrated in the Hathigumpha inscription. The 9th and 10th lines of this inscription clearly mention that he invaded Bharata from Kalinga thereby implying that Bharata at that time did not include the whole of Republic of India – Line 9-10: “And, in the 9th year, (His Majesty) [Kharavela] caused to be built the great victory place – royal residence at the cost of thirty eight hundred thousand (coins).”Then, in the 10th year (His Majesty) who embodied the principles of politics, diplomacy and peace, caused (the army) to March towards Bharatavarsha for conquest”. After the wars of annexation, the Raj of Bharata extended over the entire Doab between the rivers Ganges and the Jumna right up to the junction of these 2 rivers. It is thus obvious that Bharata’s Empire, Bharatavarsha, only included a few provinces in the Ganges Valley. His son Hastin founded Hastinapur further down the Ganges Valley. It is thus evident that even the lower Ganges Valley was beyond Bharata’s control.
Bharata is the Official Sanskrit name of the country, Bharata Ganarajya, and the name is derived from the ancient Indian texts, the Puranas, which refers to the land that comprises India as Bharata varsam, and uses this term to distinguish it from other varsas or regions. The Sanskrit word Bharata is a derivation of Bharata, which was originally a description of Agni. The term is of the Sanskrit root bhr-, “to bear / to carry”, with a literal meaning of “to be maintained” (of fire). This term also means “one who is engaged in search for Knowledge” “Bhaa” Meaning Light (equivalent in usage for Knowledge) “Bhaa”nu -Meaning Sun (Light source) “Bhaa”skara – Meaning Sun (Light source) “Bha”rga – Meaning Sun (Light source- this is from Gayatri Mantra) “Ra-ta” Meaning being engaged in or in search of. So, A land where its people are engaged in assimilating and/or are in search of Knowledge (light) is called Bhaarata and few great Kings who ruled/served this land are hence termed as Bharata. The Foremost of them is Sarvadamana (son of Dushyanta and Shakuntala). In Sanskrit, Bhayam – Knowledge/wisdom rat-ah – continuously engaged in.
The Land in which people always remain engaged in acquiring Knowledge/Wisdom is called Bharat.
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” — Jawaharlal Nehru
Indians are known for their greeting to thir guest, “अतिथि देवो भवः” Atithi devo bhava meaning “Guest is God”. India’s culture and heritage are a rich amalgam of the past and the present. This vast country offers the visitor a view of fascinating religions and ethnography, a vast variety of languages with more than 438 living languages, and monuments that have been present for thousands of years. As it opens up to a globalised world, India still has a depth of history and intensity of culture that awes and fascinates the many who visit there.
India remains to be one of the world’s fastest growing economies and one of the fastest developing countries. It is considered to be an emerging superpower. Therefore, your visit will indeed be an interesting one.
“Nothing should more deeply shame the modern student than the recency and inadequacy of his acquaintance with India.” — Will Durant.
The Vedic civilization influences Republic of India to this day. Present-day Hinduism traces its roots to the Vedas, but is also heavily influenced by literature that came afterwards, like the Upanishads, the Puranas, the great epics; Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita. By tradition, these books claim to only expand and distil the knowledge that is already present in the Vedas. Some rituals of Hinduism took shape during that period. Most North-Indian languages come from Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas, and are classified as part of the Indo-European group of languages. In the 1st millennium BC, various schools of thought in philosophy developed, enriching Hinduism greatly. Most of them claimed to derive from the Vedas. However, three of these schools – Sikhism , Buddhism and Jainism – questioned the authority of the Vedas and they are now recognised as separate religions.
Many great empires were formed between 500 BC and AD 500. Notable among them were the Mauryas and the Guptas. This period saw major mathematical and astronomical advancements, many of which were ahead of their time and were rediscovered later in the West. In particular, Aryabhata theorised that the earth was a sphere that rotates about its axis and revolves around the sun. He also developed a calendar that is followed to this day. This period also saw a gradual decline of Buddhism and Jainism. The practice of Buddhism, in particular, disappeared from India’s heartland, though Buddha himself was incorporated into the Hindu pantheon. Jainism continues to be practiced by a significant number who are ambivalent about whether they consider themselves Hindus or not. Hinduism itself went through significant changes. The importance of Vedic deities like Indra and Agni reduced and Puranic deities like Vishnu, Shiva, their various Avatars and family members gained prominence.
Jamia Masjid, Delhi.
The Islamic conquest of India started in the 8th century. It was summed up by historian Will Durant in his famous line: “The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history”. Gradually the raiders started staying as rulers, and soon much of North India was ruled by Muslims. The most important of the Muslim rulers were the Mughals, who established an empire that at its peak covered almost the entire subcontinent (save the southern and eastern extremities), while the major Hindu force that survived in the North were the Rajputs. The bravery of the Rajputs in resisting invasion of their land is legendary and celebrated in ballads all over the forts of Rajasthan. Prominent among the Rajputs wes Rana Pratap, the ruler of Chittorgarh, who spent years in exile fighting Akbar, the third of the Mughals. Eventually, however, the Rajputs were subdued, and the Rajput-Mughal alliance remained strong till the end of the empire. This period of North India was the golden age for Indian art, architecture, and literature, producing the monumental gems of Rajasthan and the Taj Mahal. Hindi and Urdu also took root in medieval North India. During the Islamic period, some Hindus also converted to Islam, some due to force, some due to inducements, and some to escape the caste system. Today, some 13% of the Indian population is Muslim. Sikhism, another major religion, was established in Punjab during the Mughal period. Relations between Sikhism and the Mughals varied over time. The Golden Temple at Amritsar was built by the fourth guru, Guru Ram Das Ji. By the time of its tenth Guru – Guru Gobind Singh, however, relations were hostile. Conflict between the Sikhs and the Mughals was one of the causes for the eventual decline of the Mughal empire. The other cause was the challenge of the ‘Marathas in Maharashtra, which was started by Shivaji and carried on by the Peshwas. The Marathas established a short-lived confederacy that was almost as large as the Mughal empire. Marathas lost their command over India after the third battle of Panipat, which in turn paved a way for British Colonialism.
Shore Temple (c. 700;AD), Mamallapuram.
South India followed a different trajectory, being less affected by Islamic rule. The period from 500 AD to 1600 AD is called the classical period dominated by great South Indian Kingdoms. Prominent among them were the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas and Vijayanagara empires who ruled from present day Karnataka and the Pallavas, Cheras, Pandyas and Cholas who ruled from present day Tamil Nadu; Kerala. Among them, the Cholas are widely recognised to be the most powerful of the South Indian Kingdoms, with their territory stretching as far north as Pataliputra and their influence spreading as far east as Sumatra, Western Borneo and Southern Vietnam at the height of their power. Some of the grandest Hindu and Jain monuments that exist in India were built during this time in South and East India.
European traders started visiting India beginning in the late 16th century. Prominent among these were the British, French and the Portuguese. The British East India Company made Calcutta their headquarters in 1772. They also established subsidiary cities like Bombay and Madras. Calcutta later went onto to become ‘the second city of the empire after London’. By the 19th century, the British had, one way or the other assumed political control of virtually all of India, though the Portuguese and the French too had their enclaves along the coast.
There was an uprising by Indian rulers in 1857 which was suppressed, but which prompted the British government to take over from the Company and make India a part of the empire. Many Indians converted to Christianity during the period, for pretty much the same reasons as they converted to Islam, though forcible conversions ended in British India after 1859, and Queen Victoria’s proclamation promised to respect the religious faiths of Indians.
Non-violent resistance to British colonialism under Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi led to Independence on 15th August 1947. However, independence was simultaneously granted to the secular state of India and the smaller Islamic state of Pakistan, and the orgy of Hindu-Muslim blood-letting that followed Partition led to the deaths of at least half a million and the migration of 12-14 million people.
Free India under Nehru adopted a democratically-governed, centrally-planned economy. These policies were aimed at attaining “self-sufficiency”, and to a large extent made India what it is today. India achieved self-sufficiency in food grains by the 1970s, ensuring that the large-scale famines that had been common are now history. However these policies also led to shortages, slow growth and large-scale corruption. After a balance-of-payments crisis in 1991, the country adopted free-market reforms which have continued at a meandering pace ever since, fueling strong growth. The IT and the business outsourcing industries have been the drivers for the growth, while manufacturing and agriculture, which have not experienced reforms, are lagging. About 60% of Indians live on agriculture and around 36% remain in poverty.
Relations with Pakistan have been frosty. The two countries have fought four wars, three of them over the status of Kashmir. The third war between the two countries in 1971 resulted in East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh. India continues to experience occasional terrorist attacks that are widely believed to originate in Pakistan and ordered by its military-intelligence complex.
China and India went to war in 1962 over a border dispute. Though current relations are peaceful, there is still military rivalry and no land crossings are allowed between the two countries, though one border crossing between Sikkim and Tibet was re-opened in 2006 for trade (but not tourists). Security concerns over Pakistan and China prompted India to test nuclear weapons twice (including the 1974 tests described as “peaceful explosions”). India wants to be accepted as a legitimate nuclear power and is campaigning for a permanent Security Council seat.
India is proud of its democratic record. Constitutional government and democratic freedoms have been safeguarded throughout its 60 years as an Independent country, except for an 18 month interlude in 1975-1977, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency, suspending elections and human rights.
Current concerns in India include the corruption, poverty, over-population, environmental degradation, ongoing disputes with Pakistan and China, terrorism, and ethnic and religious strife. But the current comparison, at least among the educated elite, is over whether India will be able overtake to China in economic growth. At the same time the Indians, both Elite or otherwise, are very specific that they would want to achieve equitable and sustainable growth, unlike China and also not be reduced to dictatorship or communist rule for the sake of economic growth.
India is a Parliamentary Democracy modeled on the British Westminster system. The President, indirectly elected, is the Head of State, but his or her position, while not entirely ceremonial, has limited powers. In practice, the Prime Minister is seen to wield the most authority, and runs the government with her/his cabinet. The Parliament is bi-cameral. The Lok Sabha, the lower house, is directly elected by adult franchise, while the Rajya Sabha, or the upper house, is indirectly elected. The Lok Sabha is the more powerful of the two, primarily because a majority in the Lok Sabha is required to form a government and pass budgets. India has a vast number of political parties,recently got a highly stable government led by hugely popular Narendra Modi where a single party got absolute majority after a slew of unstable coalition led governments in which no single party has secured a majority in the Lok Sabha, leading to unstable governments and raucous politics. However, unlike neighbouring Pakistan, transition of power has always been peaceful and always constitutional.
India has a strong and independent judiciary Supreme Court of India is apex court, and each state has an highcourt. and a free press.
India is also a Federal Republic, divided into states and union territories. Each of these have their own legislatures, with government run by a chief minister and a cabinet.
Street demonstrations and political agitations occur, as they do in any democracy, though there is also occasional low-level violence. A visitor has only a miniscule possibility of getting caught in these demonstrations.
Indian Standard Time (IST) is 5 hours and 30 minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+5.5). Daylight saving is not observed.
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