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India, History

India’s history begins not with independence in 1947, but more than 4,500 years earlier, when the name India referred to the entire subcontinent, including present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh. The earliest of India’s known civilizations, the Indus Valley civilization (about 2500 to 1700 bc), was known for its highly specialized artifacts and stretched throughout northern India. Another early culture—the Vedic culture—dates from approximately 1500 bc and is considered one of the sources for India’s predominantly Hindu culture and for the foundation of several important philosophical traditions. India has been subject to influxes of peoples throughout its history, some coming under arms to loot and conquer, others moving in to trade and settle. India was able to absorb the impact of these intrusions because it was able to assimilate or tolerate foreign ideas and people. Outsiders who came to India during the course of its history include the Greeks under Alexander the Great, the Kushanas from Central Asia, the Mongols under Genghis Khan, Muslim traders and invaders from the Middle East and Central Asia, and finally the British and other Europeans. India also disseminated its civilization outward to Sri Lanka and much of Southeast Asia. Buddhism, which originated in India, spread even farther.

Central to Indian history are the people of India who established complex political systems, whether local kingdoms or mighty empires, in which learning and religion flourished. Until the modern industrial era, India was a land famed for its economic as well as cultural wealth. Europeans visited the country to trade for the finest cotton textiles as well as spices. Eventually, the British colonized the region. Their exploitation of India’s economic wealth and the subsequent destruction of its indigenous industry provoked and then fueled a nationalist movement, eventually forcing the British to grant India (partitioned into India and Pakistan) its independence in 1947. Since that time India has developed into a vibrant democracy, making slow but steady progress in development.

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