History of India

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India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe's languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India , in many ways, the mother of us all. - Will Durant .

The history of India begins with evidence of human activity of Anatomically modern humans, as long as 75,000 years ago, or with earlier hominids including Homo erectus from about 500,000 years ago.





  • In his diary, Hsuan Tsang has recorded that India was divided into five divisions or to use his language, there were ‘five Indies': (1) Northern India, (2) Western India, (3) Central India, (4) Eastern India and (5) Southern India and that these five divisions contained 80 kingdoms.... It is true that when Hsuan Tsang came, not only the Punjab but what is now Afghanistan was part of India and further, the people of the Punjab and Afghanistan were either Vedic or Buddhist by religion.


  • The age in which true history appeared in India was one of great intellectual and spiritual ferment. Mystics and sophists of all kinds roamed through the Ganga Valley, all advocating some form of mental discipline and asceticism as a means to salvation; but the age of the Buddha, when many of the best minds were abandoning their homes and professions for a life of asceticism, was also a time of advance in commerce and politics. It produced not only philosophers and ascetics, but also merchant princes and men of action.
  • “At most periods of her history India, though a cultural unit, has been torn by internecine war. In statecraft, her rulers were cunning and unscrupulous. Famine, flood and plague visited her from time to time, and killed millions of her people. Inequality of birth was given religious sanction, and the lot of the humble was generally hard. Yet our overall impression is that in no other part of the ancient world were the relations of man and man, and of man and the state, so fair and humane. In no other early civilisation were slaves so few in number, and in no other ancient lawbook are their rights so well protected as in the Arthasastra. No other ancient lawgiver proclaimed such noble ideals of fair play in battle as did Manu. In all her history of warfare Hindu India has few tales to tell of cities put to the sword or of the massacre of non-combatants…There was sporadic cruelty and oppression no doubt, but, in comparison with conditions in other early cultures, it was mild. To us the most striking feature of ancient Indian civilisation is its humanity.” (pp.8-9)].
    • A.L.Basham in his “The Wonder That Was India” quoted in [1] [This article is a major extract from the article "Sita Ram Goel, memories and ideas" by S. Talageri, written for the Sita Ram Goel Commemoration Volume, entitled "India's Only Communalist", edited by Koenraad Elst, published in 2005.


  • Historians usually focus their attention on the past of countries that still exist, writing hundreds and thousands of books on British history, French history, German history, Russian history, American history, Chinese history, Indian history, Brazilian history or whatever. Whether consciously or not, they are seeking the roots of the present, thereby putting themselves in danger of reading history backwards. As soon as great powers arise, whether the United States in the twentieth century or China in the twenty-first, the call goes out for offerings on American History or Chinese History, and siren voices sing that today’s important countries are also those whose past is most deserving of examination, that a more comprehensive spectrum of historical knowledge can be safely ignored.
    • Norman Davies, Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe (2011)
  • Nothing should more deeply shame the modern student than the recency and inadequacy of his acquaintance with India. Here is... an impressive continuity of development and civilization from Mohenjo-daro, 2900 B.C. or earlier, to Gandhi, Raman and Tagore; faiths compassing every stage from barbarous idolatry to the most subtle and spiritual pantheism; philosophers playing a thousand variations on one monistic theme from the Upanishads eight centuries before Christ to Shankara eight centuries after him; scientists developing astronomy three thousand years ago, and winning Nobel prizes in our own time; a democratic constitution of untraceable antiquity in the villages, and wise and beneficent rulers like Ashoka and Akbar in the capitals; minstrels singing great epics almost as old as Homer, and poets holding world audiences today; artists raising gigantic temples for Hindu gods from Tibet to Ceylon and from Cambodia to Java, or carving perfect palaces by the score for Mogul kings and queens—this is the India that patient scholarship is now opening up, like a new intellectual continent, to that Western mind which only yesterday thought civilization an exclusively European thing.” ... We cannot tell yet whether, as Marshall believes, Mohenjo-daro represents the oldest of all civilizations known. But the exhuming of prehistoric India has just begun; only in our time has archeology turned from Egypt across Mesopotamia to India. When the soil of India has been turned up like that of Egypt we shall probably find there a civilization older than that which flowered out of the mud of the Nile.


  • In the present context, the link between history-writing and actual politics is extra-ordinarily strong. Witness the crucial role of the Aryan invasions theory in the secularist and casteist/Ambedkarist ideologies, as earlier in the missionary and colonial ideologies. In fact, I can not think of any situation in world history where history-writing was so intertwined with both long- term political philosophy and short-term political equations. This is partly because an unusually large chunk of India's history is fundamentally under debate, either because it has not yet been mapped (so many unknowns may be decided on overnight once the Indus script is conclusively deciphered), or because it has been questioned for ideological reasons even while well-established (like the denial of Islam's utterly destructive role). Nowhere else can so much be read into history according to one's ideological compulsions, because nowhere else is so much history so undecided and disputed.
    • Elst, Koenraad (1991). Ayodhya and after: Issues before Hindu society.


  • The history of modern India tells us a complex, surprising, captivating, and yet unconcluded story of freedom. It is appropriate to express a Tocquevillesque astonishment at this historical phenomenon. If we look from age to age, from the earliest antiquity to the present day, we can agree with Tocqueville that nothing like this has ever happened before. We have not yet seen the end of this unprecedented historical process… For, the eventual shape of the destination of this process might be unclear, but the movement towards a greater expansion of freedom is irreversible.
    • Sudipta Kaviraj, The Enchantment of Democracy and India (2011), Ranikhet, India: Permanent Black, p. 91.


  • The effort to read the problem of India in the set terms of Marxism is rather an exercise in ingenuity than a serious intellectual contribution to socialist advance.
    • Harold Laski, Communism (London, 1927), p.194. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 3


  • History is the one weak spot in Indian Literature. It is, in fact, non-existent.
    • Macdonnel, quoted in Chakrabarti, D. K. (1984). Archaeology and the literary tradition: An examination of the Indian context.
  • Indians of old were keenly alive to the expansion of dominions, acquisition of wealth, and the development of trade, industry and commerce. The material prosperity they gained in these various ways was reflected in the luxury and elegance that characterized the society... The adventurous spirit of the Indians carried them even as far as the North Sea, while their caravans traveled from one end of Asia to the other.
  • Indian society has no history at all, at least no known history. What we call its history, is but the history of the successive intruders who founded their empires on the passive basis of that unresisting and unchanging society. The question, therefore, is not whether the English had a right to conquer India, but whether we are to prefer India conquered by the Turk, by the Persian, by the Russian, to India conquered by the Briton.” England had to fulfill a double mission in India: One destructive, and the other regenerating - the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying of the material foundations of Western society in Asia. Arabs, Turks, Tartars, Moguls, who had successively overrun India, soon became Hinduised, the barbarian conquerors being, by an eternal law of history, themselves conquered by the superior civilization of their subjects. [According to him the British were the first conquerors who were superior, and therefore inaccessible to Hindu civilization. They destroyed it by breaking up the native communities, by uprooting the native industry, and by levelling all that was great and elevated in the native society. The historic pages of their rule in India, report hardly anything beyond that destruction.] “The work of regeneration hardly transpires through a heap of ruins. Nevertheless, it has begun.
    • Karl Marx, “The Future Results of British Rule in India”, vide The Newyork Daily Tribune, 22 July 1853, cited by D.P. Singhal in his Presidential Address to the Indian History and Culture Society, 1981, Proceedings, P.155. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 3
  • India could not escape the fate of being conquered [by England], and the whole of her past history, if it be anything, is the history of the successive conquests she has undergone. Indian society has no history at all, at least no known history. What we call its history, is but the history of the successive intruders who founded their empires on the passive basis of that unresisting and unchanging society.
    • Karl Marx, “The Future Results of the British Rule in India”, The New York Daily Tribune, 8 August 1853, reproduced in Marx–Engels, The First Indian War of Independence, 1857–1859, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1959, p. 29. quoted in The Problem of Indian History by Michel Danino* (Published in Dialogue, April-June 2012, vol. 13, no. 4)
  • The history of India is not the story of how she underwent foreign invasions, but how she resisted them and eventually triumphed over them.... To be a history in the true sense...the work must be the story of the people inhabiting a country. It must be a record of their life from age to age presented through the life and achievements of men whose exploits become the beacon lights of tradition...the central purpose of a history must...be to investigate and unfold the values which age after age have inspired the inhabitants of a country to develop their collective will...such a history of India is still to be written. ... I had long felt the inadequacy of our so called Indian histories...for many years, I was planning an elaborate history of India in order... that the world might catch a glimpse of her soul as Indians see it.
    • The History and Culture of the Indian People: Volume 1, The Vedic Age: Foreword, K M Munshi, quoted in in: S. Balakrishna, Seventy years of secularism. 2018.
  • To be a history in the true sense of the word, the work must be the story of the people inhabiting a country. It must be a record of their life from age to age presented through the life and achievements of men whose exploits become the beacon-lights of tradition; through the characteristic reaction of the people to physical and economic conditions; through political changes and vicissitudes which create the forces and conditions which operate upon life; through characteristic social institutions, beliefs and forms; through literary and artistic achievements; through the movements of thought which from time to time helped or hindered the growth of collective harmony; through those values which the people have accepted or reacted to and which created or shaped their collective will; through efforts of the people to will themselves into an organic unity. The central purpose of a history must, therefore, be to investigate and unfold the values which, age after age, have inspired the inhabitants of a country to develop their collective will and to express it through the manifold activities of their life. Such a history of India is still to be written.
    • K. M. Munshi, in History and Culture of the Indian People Volume 7: The Mughul Empire [1526-1707]


  • It is like reading of a land periodically devastated by hordes of lemmings or locusts; it is like turning from the history of a coral reef, in which every act and every death is a foundation, to the depressing chronicle of a succession of castles built on the waste sand of the sea-shore. This is Woodruff on the difference between European history and Indian history. He has chosen his images well. But the sandcastle is not quite exact. The sandcastle is flattened by the tide and leaves not trace, and India is above all the land of ruins.
  • I can see how what I said then could be misinterpreted. I was talking about history, I was talking about a historical process that had to come. I think India has lived with one major extended event, that began about 1000 AD, the Muslim invasion. It meant the cracking open and partial wrecking of what was a complete cultural, religious world until that invasion. I don't think the people of India have been able to come to terms with that wrecking. I don't think they understand what really happened. It's too painful. And I think this BJP movement and that masjid business is part of a new sense of history, a new idea of what happened. It might be misguided, it might be wrong to misuse it politically, but I think it is part of a historical process. And to simply abuse it as Fascist is to fail to understand why it finds an answer in so many hearts in India. .... It could become that. And that has to be dealt with. But it can only be dealt with if both sides understand very clearly the history of the country. I don't think Hindus understand what Islam means and I don't think the people of Islam have tried to understand Hinduism. The two enormous groups have lived together in the sub-continent without understanding one another's faiths.
    • V.S. Naipaul 'Hindus, Muslims have lived together without understanding each other's faiths', interview by Rahul Singh, The Times of India, Jan 23, 1998. [2]
  • India, as she is, is a problem which can only be read by the light of Indian history. Only by a gradual and loving study of how she came to be, can we grow to understand what the country actually is, what the intention of her evolution, and what her sleeping potentiality may be.
    • Sister Nivedita, Footfalls in Indian History (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1990), p. 6. quoted in The Problem of Indian History by Michel Danino* (Published in Dialogue, April-June 2012, vol. 13, no. 4)


  • Generally speaking, the men who hitherto have written on the affairs of India, were a set of liars.
    • Strabo, The Geography of Strabo : Volume I


  • “Those who expect from a people like the Hindus a species of composition of precisely the same character as the historical works of Greece and Rome commit the very gregarious error of overlooking the peculiarities which distinguish the natives of India from all other races, and which strongly discriminate their intellectual productions of every kind from those of the West. Their philosophy, their poetry, their architecture, are marked with traits of originality; and the same may be expected to pervade their history, which, like the arts enumerated, took a character from its intimate association with the religion of the people. It must be recollected, moreover,… that the chronicles of all the polished nations of Europe, were, at a much more recent date, as crude, as wild, and as barren, as those of the early Rajputs.” ... “My own animadversions upon the defective condition of the annals of Rajwarra have more than once been checked by a very just remark: ‘When our princes were in exile, driven from hold to hold, and compelled to dwell in the clefts of the mountains, often doubtful whether they would not be forced to abandon the very meal preparing for them, was that a time to think of historical records?’ ”... “If we consider the political changes and convulsions which have happened in Hindustan since Mahmood’s invasion, and the intolerant bigotry of many of his successors, we shall be able to account for the paucity of its national works on history, without being driven to the improbable conclusion, that the Hindus were ignorant of an art which has been cultivated in other countries from almost the earliest ages. Is it to be imagined that a nation so highly civilized as the Hindus, amongst whom the exact sciences flourished in perfection, by whom the fine arts, architecture, sculpture, poetry, music, were not only cultivated, but taught and defined by the nicest and most elaborate rules, were totally unacquainted with the simple art of recording the events of their history, the character of their princes and the acts of their reigns?” [The fact appears to be that] “After eight centuries of galling subjection to conquerors totally ignorant of the classical language of the Hindus; after every capital city had been repeatedly stormed and sacked by barbarous, bigoted, and exasperated foes; it is too much to expect that the literature of the country should not have sustained, in common with other interests, irretrievable losses.”
    • James Tod, Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, Routledge and Kegan Paul (London, 1829, 1957), 2 vols., I quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 3


  • “It is out of the past that the future has to be moulded; it is the past that becomes the future. Therefore the more the Indians study their past, the more glorious will be their future, and whoever tries to bring the past to the door of everyone is a benefactor of the nation.”
    • Swami Vivekananda. Quoted in Talageri, S. (2000). The Rigveda: A historical analysis. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
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