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Asia, India

Palk Strait, Gulf of Mannar, Thar Desert, National Capital Territory of Delhi, populous countries

India, officially Republic of India (Hindi Bharat), country in southern Asia, located on the subcontinent of India. It is bounded on the north by Afghanistan, China, Nepal, and Bhutan; on the east by Bangladesh, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), and the Bay of Bengal; on the south by the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar (which separates it from Sri Lanka) and the Indian Ocean; and on the west by the Arabian Sea and Pakistan. India is divided into 28 states and 7 union territories (including the National Capital Territory of Delhi). New Delhi is the country’s capital.

The world’s seventh largest country in area, India occupies more than 3 million sq km (1 million sq mi), encompassing a varied landscape rich in natural resources. The Indian Peninsula forms a rough triangle framed on the north by the world’s highest mountains, the Himalayas, and on the east, south, and west by oceans. Its topography varies from the barren dunes of the Thar Desert to the dense tropical forests of rain-drenched Assam state. Much of India, however, consists of fertile river plains and high plateaus. Several major rivers, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Indus, flow through India. Arising in the northern mountains and carrying rich alluvial soil to the plains below, these mighty rivers have supported agriculture-based civilizations for thousands of years.

With more than 1 billion inhabitants, India ranks second only to China among the world’s most populous countries. Its people are culturally diverse, and religion plays an important role in the life of the country. About 83 percent of the people practice Hinduism, a religion that originated in India. Another 12 percent are Muslims, and millions of others are Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains. Eighteen major languages and more than 1,000 minor languages and dialects are spoken in India.

India’s long history stretches back to the Indus Valley civilization of about 2500-1700 bc. For hundreds of years, India was home to massive empires and regional kingdoms. British rule in India began in the ad 1700s. Foreign domination engendered Indian nationalism, which eventually led to India winning its independence in 1947. Split from Pakistan at independence, India struggled with its Muslim neighbor over border differences and Hindu-Muslim relations. India and Pakistan still conflict over the Jammu and Kashmir region, parts of which are also occupied by China. India’s federal political system, a democracy for more than 50 years, has demonstrated a remarkable resilience in resolving domestic and international crises. India has grown since independence to have great influence on Asia and a massive world presence. The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of political entities that once gave or currently give allegiance to the British monarchy.

The Indian economy has also evolved since independence. Once heavily dependent on agriculture, it has expanded in recent years into the realms of industry and services. Economic reforms in 1991 dramatically increased the amount of foreign investment in the country.

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