History of South Asia

Introduction

Cultural Foundations

Greco-Roman culture is the foundation of Western civilization; consequently, all Western nations (despite their immense diversity) have much in common, culturally speaking. Several other large regions of the world, namely South Asia, East Asia, and the Middle East, also feature a shared cultural foundation (see Global Civilizations). The unifying foundation of South Asia is Indian culture; of East Asia, Chinese culture; of the Middle East, Islamic culture.

Geography

South Asia is a relatively flat region bordered by steep mountain ranges. South Asia can be divided into a main portion (Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh), an island (Sri Lanka), and two countries perched in the Himalayas (Nepal and Bhutan). (In historical discussion, "India" often denotes all of South Asia, not just the region of modern India.)

South, East, and Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia

The cultural foundation of Southeast Asia is an Indo-Chinese blend. Across most of Southeast Asia, the Indian portion of this blend is stronger; only in Vietnam is the Chinese portion dominant. Civilization (urban life) flourished in Southeast Asia from the medieval period onward.

Southeast Asia can be divided into three parts: western mainland (Myanmar, Thailand, and mainland Malaysia), eastern mainland (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia), and maritime (maritime Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines). Mainland Southeast Asia is also known as Indochina.

Regions of Southeast Asia

This article surveys the primary historic powers of South Asia. Little is said about Southeast Asia, which has always been secondary to its neighbours (South Asia and East Asia) in terms of might and influence. Suffice it to say that many kingdoms (often quite decentralized, especially in the fractured geography of maritime Southeast Asia) rose and fell across the region, ultimately giving rise to its familiar modern nations.

Largest of these kingdoms was the medieval Khmer Empire, which lasted over five centuries and came to govern most of Indochina; the greatest Khmer city was Angkor, located in what is now Cambodia. During the Early Modern period, most of Southeast Asia was conquered by European powers, with the sole exception of Thailand. Independence was gradually regained during the "age of decolonization" (ca. WWII-1980).

Main Article

Rise of Indian Civilization

Timeline of India
3000-2000 BC 2000-1000 BC 1000 BC-0 0-1000 1000-present
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1 Indus civilization ca. 2500-1500 BC
2 Vedic period ca. 1500-500 BC
3 Indian kingdom period ca. 500 BC-1200 AD
4 early Islamic period ca. 1200-1500
5 Mughal Empire ca. 1500-1800
6 British India ca. 1800-WWII
7 modern India ca. WWII-present
Summary of Indian History
ca. 2500-1500 BC age of Indus civilization
ca. 1500-500 BC Vedic age (formative age of India: Indic people settle northern South Asia and develop Indian culture)
ca. 500 BC-1200 AD Indian kingdom age (age of mature, independent Indian civilization)
ca. 1200-1500 early Islamic period (various Islamic states exert partial rule over South Asia)
ca. 1500-1800 Mughal Empire (exerts strong rule over most of South Asia)
ca. 1800-WWII British India (Britain exerts strong rule over most of South Asia)
ca. WWII-present modern India (independent democracy)

South Asian civilization began with the Indus civilization (2500-1500 BC), which flourished in the region around the Indus River (which runs mainly through Pakistan). It featured two great cities, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, along with smaller settlements. These cities, which are laid out in orderly grids, may be the world's first examples of urban planning.3,4

Region of Indus Civilization

The age of Indus civilization is typically dated ca. 2500-1500 BC. In the second half of this period, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa became depopulated, and the Indus culture faded away.64 Urban life thus disappeared from South Asia. Meanwhile, as the Indus civilization declined, Indic nomads began to arrive from the northwest.

Indic is a branch of the Indo-Iranian language family, which is itself a branch of Indo-European (see Indo-European Languages). The Indo-European family emerged in the western Steppe. During the second millennium BC, great migrations of Indo-Europeans carried the family across much of Europe and Asia. The Indo-Iranian branch spread southward, splitting into speakers of Iranian (who settled Central Asia and Iran) and Indic (who settled northern South Asia).10

Modern Distribution of the Indo-Iranian Language Family

The extent to which the Indic people wrought violence on the Indus civilization is uncertain. Regardless, the two peoples lived side-by-side for a significant period of time, during which the Indic people absorbed much of the Indus civilization's culture (e.g. artistic style, iconography, religious beliefs).11,13,64

The Indic people arrived via gaps in the northwest mountain ranges that separate South Asia from Central Asia. Indeed, this was the only feasible land route by which South Asia could be invaded. The remainder of South Asia's border is sealed by continuous mountains (including the Himalayas), thus precluding invasion by China or Southeast Asian powers.A61

The age of Indus civilization was followed by the Vedic period (ca. 1500-500 BC). During this period, Indic immigrants poured across northern India, gradually abandoning nomadism for settled agricultural life. Their settlements eventually grew into cities, thus restoring urban life to South Asia.11

The Vedic period was the formative age of Indian culture; by ca. 500 BC, Indian culture had matured.A181 Among the most prominent features of this culture are three religions, all of which emerged toward the end of the Vedic period: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism (see Religion). Another familiar aspect of Indian culture is the caste system, which persists in much of modern-day India; under this system, one is born into a specific "caste", which determines one's social position and occupation.A66 The caste system, though embraced by Hinduism, was rejected by Buddhism and Jainism.

The initial development of Indian culture took place in northern India; additional centuries were required for this culture to spread across southern India.A66 While northern India was settled by the Indic people, the south remained populated by its original inhabitants, the Dravidians (who spoke Dravidian languages; this language family remains predominant in modern-day southern India). Once the Dravidians had embraced Indian culture, they protected it fiercely against subsequent invaders.

Pre-modern Indian Civilization

Timeline of India
3000-2000 BC 2000-1000 BC 1000 BC-0 0-1000 1000-present
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1 Indus civilization ca. 2500-1500 BC
2 Vedic period ca. 1500-500 BC
3 Indian kingdom period ca. 500 BC-1200 AD
4 early Islamic period ca. 1200-1500
5 Mughal Empire ca. 1500-1800
6 British India ca. 1800-WWII
7 modern India ca. WWII-present
Summary of Indian History
ca. 2500-1500 BC age of Indus civilization
ca. 1500-500 BC Vedic age (formative age of India: Indic people settle northern South Asia and develop Indian culture)
ca. 500 BC-1200 AD Indian kingdom age (age of mature, independent Indian civilization)
ca. 1200-1500 early Islamic period (various Islamic states exert partial rule over South Asia)
ca. 1500-1800 Mughal Empire (exerts strong rule over most of South Asia)
ca. 1800-WWII British India (Britain exerts strong rule over most of South Asia)
ca. WWII-present modern India (independent democracy)

The Vedic period was succeeded by the Indian kingdom age (ca. 500 BC-1200 AD), which was the age of mature, independent Indian civilization. During this period, South Asia was generally covered in a patchwork of kingdoms (hence the name of the period), as opposed to being dominated by a single great empire. Indeed, great empires emerged only twice: the Mauryan Empire (ca. 300-200 BC) and Gupta Empire (ca. 300-500).7 The former was the largest empire South Asia would ever see prior to the British conquest; the latter, which witnessed an exceptional flourishing of arts and scholarship, is often considered India's "golden age" of traditional culture.3

Typical Political Patchwork of the Indian Kingdom Age
Mauryan Empire
Gupta Empire

During the first half of the Indian kingdom age, Buddhism and Hinduism vied for religious dominance of India. During the second half, Buddhism dwindled, leaving Hinduism as the majority faith of the region (which it remains today).L47 By this time, however, Buddhism had been widely dispersed by traders, settlers, and missionaries, notably to Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Indochina, and parts of East Asia (especially Tibet and Mongolia). In all of these regions, Buddhism remains the majority religion.

The Indian kingdom age was followed by the Islamic age of India, which lasted ca. 1200-1800. This age opened with the early Islamic period (ca. 1200-1500), during which northern India was dominated by a patchwork of Islamic states, while southern India featured both Islamic and Hindu states. The early Islamic period began with the rise (ca. 1200) of the Delhi Sultanate, the first Islamic state in South Asia, and the mightiest power of South Asia during the early Islamic period. Though limited to northern India for most of its history, the Delhi Sultanate did briefly swell to encompass most of India.K244-45,13

Typical Political Patchwork of the Early Islamic Age

The Islamic states of South Asia were established by invaders from Central Asia. Ethnically speaking, these invaders came in various blends of Iranian, Turkic, and Mongolic; culturally speaking, they belonged to the Persianate branch of the Islamic world (see History of the Islamic Middle East).

While South Asia remained politically fragmented during the early Islamic period, the late Islamic period featured a single great power: the Mughal Empire (ca. 1500-1800), the only Islamic state to achieve lasting control over most of South Asia.9 Indeed, the strength of the Mughal Empire (aka Mogul Empire) was such that European imperialism was impeded for centuries. Only when civil conflict (caused largely by aggressive Islamic efforts to convert the majority Hindu population) sent the empire into decline did Britain extend its control over India.A277,3

Mughal Empire

Throughout the long Islamic period, Hinduism stubbornly retained its position as the predominant religion of India. Only two large areas of South Asia became majority Islamic: the far northwest (now Pakistan) and the far northeast (now Bangladesh).11 Like Buddhism, Islam was carried to neighbouring regions by missionaries and traders, where it met with exceptional success in Indonesia (which remains majority Islamic today).

Modern India

De facto British rule of South Asia lasted ca. 1800-WWII. As the British occupation drew on, vigorous independence movements (both Hindu and Muslim) developed. The best-known figure of these struggles is Mohandas Gandhi, who emerged as a Hindu independence leader during the interwar period.3

After World War II, the independent nations of India and Pakistan were established (the former chiefly Hindu, the latter chiefly Muslim); Pakistan included the region of Bangladesh, which later seceded. Hundreds of thousands were killed in the course of riots and mass migrations, as many Hindus moved from Pakistan to India, and many Muslims did the opposite. The (chiefly Muslim) region of Kashmir remains disputed by India and Pakistan.K410-11,2

India became a democracy and remained neutral in the Cold War. The nation has experienced vibrant growth since independence, and now stands among the world's top ten economies.3,7

1 - "City", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
2 - "Pakistan", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
3 - "Asia", Encarta 2004.
4 - "Indus Valley civilization", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed May 2010.
5 - "Aryan", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed May 2010.
6 - "Vedic religion", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
7 - "India", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed May 2010.
8 - "Magadha", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
9 - "Magadha", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed May 2010.
10 - "Indo-Iranian languages", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
11 - "India", Encarta 2004.
12 - "Vedic religion", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
13 - "India", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
14 - "China", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed May 2010.
15 - "China", Encarta 2004.
16 - "Shang dynasty", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
17 - "Zhou dynasty", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
18 - "Qin dynasty", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
19 - "Han dynasty", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
20 - "Sui dynasty", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
21 - "Tang dynasty", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
22 - "Song dynasty", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
23 - "Chinese examination system", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
24 - "Yuan dynasty", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
25 - "Ming dynasty", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
26 - "Qing dynasty", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
27 - "Manchu", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
28 - "Han", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed May 2010.
29 - "T'ang", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed May 2010.
30 - "Japan", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed May 2010.
31 - "Japan", Encarta 2004.
32 - "Vedic religion", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
33 - "Buddhism", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
34 - "Eightfold Path", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
35 - "Delhi sultanate", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
36 - "Mughal dynasty", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
37 - "Daoism", Encarta 2004.
38 - "Chinese art and architecture", Encarta 2004.
39 - "Chinese art", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed May 2010.
40 - "China", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
41 - "Taiping Rebellion", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
42 - "Japan", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
43 - "Shogun", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
44 - "Mao Zedong", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
45 - "Great Leap Forward", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
46 - "Mao Zedong", Encarta 2004.
47 - "Cultural Revolution", Encarta 2004.
48 - "Han dynasty", Encarta 2004.
49 - "Ming dynasty", Encarta 2004.
50 - "Qing dynasty", Encarta 2004.
51 - "Maoism", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed May 2010.
52 - "World Economic Outlook Database 2009", International Monetary Fund. Accessed May 2010.
53 - "Tibetan Plateau", National Geographic. Accessed May 2010, at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/04/tibetan-plateau/larmer-text/2
54 - "Cities of the Ancient World: An Inventory (-3500 to -1200)", George Modelski. Accessed May 2010. (https://faculty.washington.edu/modelski/WCITI2.html)
55 - "History of Southeast Asia", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 2011.
56 - "Korea", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed July 2011.