Thursday, July 24, 2008

INDIA AT GLANCE

So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.
It is impossible not to be astonished by India. Nowhere on Earth does humanity present itself in such a dizzying, creative burst of cultures and religions, races and tongues. Every aspect of the country presents itself on a massive, exaggerated scale, worthy in comparison only to the superlative mountains that overshadow it. Perhaps the only thing more difficult than to be indifferent to India would be to describe or understand India completely.

HISTORY OF INDIA

The spirit of India has thus fascinated the world with its very mystique. A subcontinent with a 5000-year old history. A civilization united by its diversity - India has always been known as a land where history echoes itself with all its wonders in every piece of stone and every particle of dust.

India’s first major civilization flourished around 2500 BC in the Indus river valley much of which lies within present day India. This civilization, which lasted for 1000 years, and is known as the Harappan culture, appears to have been the culmination of thousands of years of settlement. From around 1500 BC onwards, Aryan tribes from Afghanistan and Central Asia began to filter into northwest India. Despite their martial superiority, their progress was gradual. Eventually though these tribes were able to control the whole of Northern India as far as Vindhya Hills, and many of the original inhabitants, the Dravidians, were pushed into south India. As the Aryan tribes spread out across the Ganges plain, in the seventh century BC, many of them were grouped together into 16 major kingdoms. Gradually these amalgamated into four large states, with Kosala and Magadha emerging to be the most powerful during the fifth century BC. North India however came to be dominated by the Nanda dynasty in about 364 BC. During this period however, North India narrowly avoided two other invasions from the west. The first was by the Persian king, Darius (521- 486 BC) and the second by Alexander the Great who marched into India from Greece in 326 BC.
The Mauryas were the first ruling dynasty to control large parts of North India and some parts of South India, as one territorial unit. Founded by Chandragupta Maurya with the able guidance of Kautilya, the author of the famous treatise - Arthshastra - he was able to set up ahighly centralized administrative setup. The empire reached its peak under Ashoka, who left pillars and rock-carved edicts, which delineate the enormous span of his territory that covered large areas of the Indian subcontinent; these can be seen in Delhi, Gujarat, Orissa, Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh and Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh. Following the death of Ashoka, in 232 BC, the empire rapidly disintegrated, finally collapsing in 184 BC.
A number of empires rose and fell, especially in North India, following the collapse of the Mauryas. The next dynasty worth a mention is that of the Guptas. Although the Gupta empire was not as large as the Maurya empire, it kept North India politically united for more than a century from AD 335 to 455.
Following the decline of the Mauryan Empire a number of powerful kingdoms arose in central and south India, among them Satavahanas, Kalingas and Vakatakas hold precedence. Later on these regions saw the rise of some of the greatest dynasties of South India in the form of the Cholas, Pandyas, Cheras, Chalukyas and Pallavas.
The decline of the Guptas, in North India, and the consequent rise of a large but ineffective number of regional powers made the political situation very fluid and unstable by the ninth century AD. This paved the way for the Muslim invasion into India during the early half of the eleventh century. These were felt in the form of seventeen successive raids to North India, made by Mahmud of Ghazni between 1001 and 1025. These raids effectively shattered the balance of power in North India allowing subsequent invaders to claim the territory for themselves. However the next Muslim ruler to invade India achieved the establishment of foreign rule in India, in its truesense. This Mahmud of Ghauri attacked India and after some futile resistance by the local leadership was able to successfully lay the foundation of a foreign empire in India. Under him, large parts of India came under Muslim rule and very soon his successor Qutub - ud - Aibak became the first of the sultans of Delhi. His was followed by the rule of the Khaljis and Tughlaq, also known as the rule of the Delhi Sultanate, who ruled over a large portion of North India and parts of South India till until the coming in of the Lodis andSayyids and after them the Mughals who established, what came to be known as the most vibrant era of Indian History. Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb were some of the most prominent rulers of the Mughal dynasty. Although the Mughal’s heyday was relatively brief, their empire was massive, covering, at its height, almost the entire Indian subcontinent. Its significance was not only in its size, however. The Mughal emperors presided over a golden age of arts and literature and had a passion for building, which resulted in some of the greatest architecture in India. In particular, Shah Jahan’s Taj Mahal at Agra ranks as one of the wonders of the world. This apart, the large number of forts, palaces, gates, buildings, mosques, baolis (watertank or well) gardens, etc., forms the cultural heritage of the Mughals in India. The Mughals were also instrumental in establishing one of the most efficient administrative setups in India. Most noteworthy being their revenue administration, the characteristics of which form the basics of the revenue and land reform laws in India till date.
The decline of the Mughals saw the corresponding rise of Marathas in Western India. In other parts of India, however a new trend of foreign invasion under the garb of commercial links had started from the fifteenth century AD onwards - first, with the arrival and gradual takeover of Goa by the Portugese led by Vasco da Gama -between 1498 and 1510 AD; and then with the arrival, and the setting up of the first trading post at Surat, in Gujarat, by the East India Company.
The British and Portugese were not the only Europeans in India. The Danes and Dutch also had trading posts, and in 1672 AD, the French established themselves at Pondicherry, an enclave that they held even after the British had departed. The British represented by the East India Company established their commercial control over vast areas in India, which very soon had an administrative dimension to it. The British rule in India was however formalized by the direct takeover of India by the British Crown, through the post 1857 reforms.
Since then uptill independence the history of India is one of constant struggle between the nationalists - who assumed different names, ideologies, backgrounds and methods - and the Britishers and their repressive policies in India.
Historians however, use the beginning of mature agriculture in the Indus and Ganges valleys as the starting point of the story of Indian civilization. The calendar reads first millennium BC. By now, iron had been discovered, and even iron implements for clearing of forests and cultivation had been fashioned out. Beginning here, the art or science of metallurgy developed very rapidly in India. India had many copper, tin, lead, brass and silver reserves, not to mention gold mines. Indian steel was so well known that after the famous battle between Alexander the Great and Porus, the only gift Porus could think of giving Alexander was steel. Today, apart from many steel plants, India has held this thread of continuity even in indigenous research in titanium technology and composites.

POPULATION OF INDIA
India is also home to a large and diverse population that has added to its vibrant character since ages. There are about 3,000 communities in India. So wide and complex is the mix of the Indian population that two-thirds of her communities are found in the geographical boundaries of each of her states. They are a mingling of the Caucasoid, the Negrito, the Proto-Austroloids, the Mongoloid and the Mediterranean races. The tribals constitute eight percent of the total population of India.
Based on their physical type and language, we can easily divide Indian people into four broad classes. First, a majority of high class Hindus, who live in North India and whose language is derived from Sanskrit. Secondly, those who live in that part of India that is south of the Vindhyas and whose languages - Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam - are entirely different from Sanskrit. These are known by the generic name of “Dravidians”. Thirdly, primitive tribes living in hills and jungles of India, who as mentioned above constitute eight percent of the total population in India. The Kols,Bhils and Mundas belong to this class. Fourthly, there are a people with strong Mongolian features inhabiting within India the slopes of the Himalayas and the northeastern states.
To add all this, India is perhaps the only place in the world where twenty religious streams flow together. If that sounds clich├ęd, here is a surprising piece of information. About 500 communities of India say they follow two religions at the same time! India has a population of over 1 billion people, the majority of whom are Hindus.
No wonder then that India is today known all over the world as the “Land of several Religions”. Ancient India witnessed the birth of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism; but all these cultures and religions intermingled and acted and reacted upon one another in such a manner that though people speak different languages, practice different religions, and observe different social customs, they follow certain common styles of life throughout the country. India therefore shows a deep underlying unity inspite of its great diversities.
The term Hinduism has emanated from the name given to the people who lived on the banks of the river Sindhu or Indus as it was denominated by the foreign invaders who came from the North West into India many, many centuries ago.
However, Hinduism is not really a religion, it is a philosophy and a way of life that has evolved over the millennia in the Indian subcontinent. Although there are many texts from the Vedic times, which enunciate the basic truths and lay down certain doctrines, Hinduism is not a doctrinaire religion but a catholic one with tolerance as its corner stone. Hence, the myriads of people of different racial, linguistic and religious faiths who have come in from the east and from the west, through the mountain passes and along the sea coast, bringing with them their own ideology their customs and their languages into India, have continued to live their lives according to their own traditions.

LOCATION, GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE
Set apart from the rest of Asia by the supreme continental wall of the Himalayas, the Indian subcontinent touches three large bodies of water and is immediately recognizable on any world map. It is the huge, terrestrial beak between Africa and Indonesia. This thick, roughly triangular peninsula defines the Bay of Bengal to the east, the Arabian sea to the west, and the India Ocean to the south.
India's puzzleboard of 26 states holds virtually every kind of landscape imaginable. An abundance of mountain ranges and national parks provide ample opportunity for eco-tourism and trekking, and its sheer size promises something for everyone. From its northernmost point on the Chinese border, India extends a good 2000 miles (3200 km) to its southern tip, where the island nation of Sri Lanka seems to be squeezed out of India like a great tear, the synapse forming the Gulf of Mannar. India's northern border is dominated mostly by Nepal and the Himalayas, the world's highest mountain chain. Following the sweeping mountains to the northeast, its borders narrow to a small channel that passes between Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, and Bhutan, then spreads out again to meet Burma in area called the "eastern triangle." Apart from the Arabian sea, its western border is defined exclusively by Pakistan.
India can be organized along the compass points. North India, shaped like a throat and two lungs, is the country's largest region. It begins with the panhandle of Jammu and Kashmir, a dynamic area with terrain varying from arid mountains in the far north to the lake country and forests near Sringar and Jammu. Falling south along the Indus river valley, the North becomes flatter and more hospitable, widening into the fertile plains of Punjab to the west and the Himalayan foothills of Uttar Pradesh and the Ganges river valley to the East. Cramped between these two states is the capital city, Delhi. The southwestern extremity of the North is the large state of Rajastan, whose principal features are the Thar Desert and the stunning "pink city" of Jaipur. To the southeast is southern Uttar Pradesh and Agra, home of the famous Taj Mahal.
West India contains the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, and part of the massive, central state of Madhya Pradesh. The west coast extends from the Gujarat peninsula down to Goa, and it is lined with some of India's best beaches. The land along the coast is typically lush, with rainforests reaching southward from Bombay all the way to into Goa. A long mountain chain, the Western Ghats, separates the verdant coast from the Vindya mountains and the dry Deccan plateau further inland.
Home of the sacred Ganges river and the majority of Himalayan foothills, East India begins with the states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, which comprise the westernmost part of the region. East India also contains an area known as the eastern triangle, which is entirely distinct. This is the last gulp of land that extends beyond Bangladesh, culminating in the Naga Hills along the Burmese border.
India reaches its peninsular tip with South India, which begins with the Deccan in the north and ends with Cape Comorin, where Hindus believe that bathing in the waters of the three oceans will wash away their sins. The states in South India are Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, a favorite leisure destination. The southeast coast, mirroring the west, also rests snugly beneath a mountain range---the Eastern Ghats.

Because of India's size, its climate depends not only on the time of year, but also the location. In general, temperatures tend to be cooler in the north, especially between September and March. The south is coolest between November to January. In June, winds and warm surface currents begin to move northwards and westwards, heading out of the Indian Ocean and into the Arabian Gulf. This creates a phenomenon known as the south-west monsoon, and it brings heavy rains to the west coast. Between October and December, a similar climatic pattern called the north-east monsoon appears in the Bay of Bengal, bringing rains to the east coast. In addition to the two monsoons, there are two other seasons, spring and autumn.
Though the word "monsoon" often brings to mind images of torrential floods and landslides, the monsoon seasons are not bad times to come to India. Though it rains nearly every day, the downpour tends to come and go quickly, leaving behind a clean, glistening landscape.


CULTURE & PEOPLE
With nearly 1 billion citizens, India is the second most populous nation in the world. It is impossible to speak of any one Indian culture, although there are deep cultural continuities that tie its people together. English is the major language of trade and politics, but there are fourteen official languages in all. There are twenty-four languages that are spoken by a million people or more, and countless other dialects. India has seven major religions and many minor ones, six main ethnic groups, and countless holidays.
Religion is central to Indian culture, and its practice can be seen in virtually every aspect of life in the country. Hinduism is the dominant faith of India, serving about 80 percent of the population. Ten percent worship Islam, and 5 perscent are Sikhs and Christians; the rest (a good 45 million) are Buddhists, Jains, Bahai, and more.


INDEPENDENT INDIA
India moment of glory finally arrived on the midnight of 15 August 1947. People delirious with joy flooded the streets to welcome the dawn of a new era. There was rejoicing everywhere. And within the Assembly Hall, Jawaharlal Nehru rose to make his famous “tryst with destiny” speech. By the early hours of morning, as the clouds sent a light drizzle to acknowledge the awakening, independent India was all set to transform a colonial society into a liberal polity.
A Constitution was drawn up in a matter of four years. It sought to assimilate different linguistic regions and religious communities of India into a cohesive Nation-State while, at the same time, conferring substantial autonomy upon the diverse states of the Indian Union. A concern for the citizens formed the basic principle for the guiding policies for governance laid down by the Constitution.

There was foresight in the visualization of the Indian Constitution, at every step. The founding fathers under the leadership of B. R. Ambedkar based governance of the country upon the free choice of its citizens. What is it that made them confident of the prudence and capabilities of the people from a society with modest social development? It was perhaps the strength of the oral tradition. The other was probably the existence of grass-root governance, a complex system having all the elements of a modern democracy. The Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary started functioning long before such systems were recognized by international thinkers.
Their faith was not misplaced. Time and again, the people of India have shown their ability to discern: to be able to match immediate interests with the over-arching interests of the nation. The unfailing mechanism of democracy assured stability for the nation. At another level, the politicization of the popular classes generated political aspirations. These aspirations were reflected in various movements, which helped redefine priorities, or in the formation of new political organizations, which added other dimensions to political thought. And, to the people, it became a source of hope for a better future.
India in 1949 was gearing up to face many challenges. She inherited a society administered for over a century by a civil service answerable to no one but itself. Her predominantly agrarian economy was stagnant, registering in fact a decline in production. In two phases, India tackled the situation.
In the first phase governmental planning and action addressed land reforms, improvement of agricultural marketing techniques and irrigation facilities. Reducing dependency on the fickle monsoons was a major priority area since most of Indian agriculture is rain-fed.
All this required, in addition to planning, a good deal of research. This was what the second phase was all about. Moving over to scientific research and development, India raised her agricultural production to a consistent growth rate of three percent per annum. Improved methodology and the spirit of innovation of her farmers are holding out dreams of reaching in far greater strength the markets of Europe, Middle East and Far East in the near future.
Contemporary impressions of India sometimes neglect the fact that the country is a great manufacturing nation. Economic charts reveal that many domestic brands of consumer goods, be they potato chips or trucks, computers or textiles are competing vigorously with global brands.
Simultaneously, India was building a scientific foundation for all her programs, be it agricultural research or pure scientific research or product designs for the craftsmen. If C. V. Raman, Subramanyan Chandrasekhar and Hargobind Khorana were recipients of the Nobel Prize, there were others with equal capabilities like Homi Bhabha, Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar,Jagdish Chandra Bose, Meghnad Saha Kothari, Krishnan, Vikram Sarabhai and Pal who concentrated their energies on creating the environment and infrastructure for further academic and developmental activities..
The ‘Green Revolution’ of the sixties and the ‘White Revolution’ of the seventies brought about amazing results in agriculture and cooperative dairy farming.

INDUSTRIAL SECTOR

Indian industrial policy could be broadly divided into two phases. Before 1991, the need of the moment was seen to be the development of a machinery-producing sector with associated economic skills. The second part concentrated on creating a protected home market.
In 1991, India threw open the industrial sector to greater internationaland domestic competition. Financial systems have been strengthened and India are well developed. India in recent years has emerged as one of the leading destinations for investors from developed countries.

Supporting infrastructure facilities are also being made available. The country has the largest railway network in Asia and the second largest in the world under a single management. Roads are taking developmental changes to the most remote corners of the country. Nearly 85% of the villages have been electrified and there are nationwide grids for the transmission and distribution of power. New areas like oceanography, space, electronics and non-conventional energy sources were developed. Her large scientific and technological personnel were contributing to research and development all over the world. Inter-university centers and consortia for advanced studies were fast becoming active centers of learning.
Their success, it has been observed, is based on a rare combination: scientific knowledge and the readiness to test and match it to folk wisdom. A large number of wells, for instance, have been dug with the help of space imagery! The Indian remote sensing program, perhaps the best in the world, sends out a special broadcast to fishermen who listen to this broadcast before getting their nets ready to bring home a range of seafood! When science was busy with research and applying its finds to traditional Indian life, artists of all genres were busy discovering new idioms, languages and expressions.

India’s newly acquired status as a nuclear power and a booming economy has thus brought under international limelight. Its internal problems notwithstanding, India has stepped into the new millennium with great confidence.
India therefore can be defined as a land where humanity has lived since ages; where different religions, societies, cultures, languages have interplayed with each other in harmony; a land which has seen the best and the worst of everything; a land where religion means more than their name; a place where nature has bestowed itself in all its colors to end it all a land which shall remain itself till eternity.

MODERN INDIA
As a matter of fact, the transformation being brought about in the society today, due to both welfare schemes as well as economic liberalization, makes it comparable to the period where our story begins. Historians call the 1st century BC the first axial stage and the 20th century AD the second. The first axial stage set in motion the gigantic transformation of a simple agrarian settlement into one of the most complex and enlightened cultures. By the 5th century AD,there was a wealth of material on every aspect of life-religion, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, arts, and crafts, even the art of governance. Today, these treatises are constantly being sourced for their eternal wisdom.
Accelerating the evolutionary process in the cultural sphere was the birth of two new religions: Buddhism and Jainism. Hinduism saw a sudden revival of activities and many magnificent temples came into being. Arrival of Islam and interaction with Greece, Arabia, Persia and Central Asia further enriched life, which can be discerned even in aspects like architecture and irrigation technology. Literature was also greatly influenced by these movements.
Equally, the process of communication became varied and spread out. Stories, songs, theatre, craft were all vehicles of communicating with the people. India has 325 languages and 25 scripts. Even today, all of them are alive and being used. Tamil is the oldest language using the Dravidian script. The ancient language of Sanskrit continues to be ever charming with its highly developed grammar. The reason why Indian Languages are not doing the disappearing act as those in many other parts of the world is because Indians, it has been found, are basically bilingual or even trilingual! It is from within this society that the struggle for freedom against the British rule grew. The largest national movement in history took shape. People from every corner of India participated and all of them followed the path set by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, one of the greatest visionaries of this century. Naturally, a movement of this order finds many interpretations, insights and possible causes.
Sustaining a high moral order could not have been easy. History reveals an integrated vision of the leaders where truth and ahimsa or non-violence were held supreme. Strengthening this vision was the newly emerging intelligentsia. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Bankim Chandra, Rabindranath Tagore, Subramanya Bharati and Abul Kalam Azad were some of those who enthused the people through their soul-stirring writings and songs to reach out to nationalism.

There were many who communicated directly with the masses. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Asaf Ali, C. Rajagopalachari, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhas Chandra Bose, and Sarojini Naidu are some of the great names associated with the freedom struggle. Jawaharlal Nehru, of course, was the charismatic leader who later became independent India’s first Prime Minister. Rajendra Prasad became the country’s first President. In addition, a million others made this movement possible.

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