Indian Empire Leaders: Asoka
, Gandhi Starting technologies: Mining Mysticism Unique unit: Fast Worker Unique building: Mausoleum
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The Indian subcontinent is the home of one of the world`s oldest and most influential civilizations. From about 5000 BC, increasing numbers of settlements of subsistence agriculturalists began to appear throughout the Indus Valley by 2600 BC some of these villages grew into urban centers, forming the basis for the early Harappan civilization, the peer of contemporary Egyptian and Babylonian civilizations. It was around this period that Hinduism, the world`s oldest religion, began to take form. Unlike the Egyptians and Babylonians, however, a central state failed to form in India until a much later period. It was not until the Mauryan Period (325-185 BC) that the first Indian empire ruling most of the subcontinent took shape.
Chandragupta Maurya was the warrior who carved out much of the territory that would form the Mauryan Empire. Using War Elephants to good effect, he defeated Alexander`s successor Seleucus, the ruler of the eastern Greek holdings in Iran and India. It was under Chandragupta`s grandson Asoka (272-232 BC), however, that the Mauryan Empire reached its height, covering the entire subcontinent except for the southern tip. Asoka`s India possessed an elaborate administrative and tax-collecting system, and trade flourished due to his construction of roads. Asoka converted to Buddhism during his rule and gave up violent conquest in order to live a moral life. His ethical teachings can still be found inscribed on pillars and rockfaces across India today.
A century later, the disintegration of the Mauryan empire gave rise to a number of feuding kingdoms, the Guptas and Pajputs in the north and Chola, Hoysalas and Pandyas in the south. These divided kingdoms were unable to stand against the coming Islamic tide. The first Arabic raids in the subcontinent were made along the western coast and in Sind during the 7th and 8th centuries, and there had been Muslim trading communities in India for decades beforehand. The permanent military movement of Muslims into northern India, however, dates from the late 12th century and was carried out by the Turkish dynasty that arose on the ruins of the Abbasid caliphate. Sultan Mahmud, who conducted more than 20 campaigns in India from 1001 to 1027 AD and established a large but short-lived empire, laid the road to conquest. By 1186 AD, the Mahmud realm had been destroyed by the Ghurids, who proceeded to conquer the Rajput kingdoms and establish a Muslim sultanate in Delhi, from which a series of able Turkish overlords ruled the north until 1526 AD.
The Muslim states were themselves supplanted by the Islamic Mughul Empire (1526-1761 AD), founded by Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babur (1526-1530 AD). Babur was a Mongol, a fifth-generation descendant of Timur and a 14th-generation descendant of Genghis Khan. In a lightning series of campaigns commencing in 1511 AD, he overran the Punjab and Hindustan. Akbar the Great (1556-1605 AD), his grandson, continued the conquest of the subcontinent, overrunning Gujarat, Bengal and Rajasthan. At its zenith, the Mughal realm commanded resources unprecedented in Indian history and covered almost the entire subcontinent.
The 16th and 17th centuries also saw the establishment and expansion of European trading organizations in the subcontinent, principally for the procurement of rare resources. By 1740, the Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French had all founded colonial trading posts, but after their defeat in the Seven Years War the French holdings were surrendered to the British East India Company. The collapsing Mughal Empire left a power vaccuum that the East India Company would step in and fill. Despite initially possessing no more than a handful of trading posts, the British soon won control of the rich province of Bengal, and continued their territorial expansion from there. Military adventurers using small numbers of British forces mixed with large numbers of Indian auxiliaries won a series of stunning victories against the dying Mughals and the independent princes of states such as Mysore, Rajputana, and the Maratha Confederacy. By 1850, the entire subcontinent was controlled by the British either directly or through alliances. The quarter-century following the bitter Indian revolt of 1857-59, which transferred the East India Company`s rule to the British crown, ended with the birth of nationalist agitation.
The Indian National Congress held its first meeting in December 1885 in Bombay even as Indian troops were fighting in upper Burma under the British flag. Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), later known as Mahatma ("Great-Souled"), was recognized throughout India as the spiritual leader of a nationwide movement for independence. The Jallianwala Bagh (1919) massacre turned millions of moderate Indians from patient and loyal supporters of the British Raj into fervent nationalists. The last years of British rule were racked by increasingly violent Hindu-Muslim conflict and intensified opposition to foreign rule. In July 1947, Britain`s Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act, ordering the demarcation of the dominions of India and Pakistan by midnight of August 14, 1947, and dividing within a single month the assets of history`s largest and richest colony. India today is the world`s largest democracy, with a population estimated at over a billion, and despite widespread poverty is viewed as one of the world`s rising powers.