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India has been inhabited for hundreds of thousands of years; of this there is little doubt. And if you read India was civilized as long as 5,000 years ago. By "civilized" we mean that the citizens of India's two most famous cities (only discovered some 80 years ago), Mohenjadaro and Harappa, lived in style, in multi-story brick houses which offered such conveniences as running water, in cities all of whose streets were paved. About a thousand years later, the Aryans moved into India from the region that eventually became Persia, bringing with them their own cultures and traditions. This included India's oldest chronicles, the Rig Veda, a collection of more than a thousand hymns which, according to tradition, were passed down orally, and which some believe are far older than the 1,500 B.C. timeframe usually assigned to them.

The Aryans were not the only ones to arrive - they were then followed by many others - the Macedonian Greeks of Alexander the Great, the Scythians, the Huns and the Islamic empires. Of these, however, the Muslims would be the most resilient and pervasive in influence. By the end of the mediaeval era, India was now a patchwork of different states, all of them in competition with one another. To the north, there were the Muslim sultans, while Hindhus continued to hold sway in the south as they had since time immemorial.

The Lion meets the ElephantsEdit

In 1526, an adventurer hailing from Central Asia, Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, met and defeated the native sultanate of Lodi in battle at Panipat outside Delhi with Ottoman firearms. This man would soon be known as Emperor Babur and would go on to be the scion of the Mughal dynasty, named so because Babur was descended from the Uzbek emperor Timur, who in turn was descended from Genghis Khan, one of the greatest conquerors the world had ever known.

However, Babur and his successors would still face many challenges over the next century. When Babur died, his son and grandson would be forced to fight for Delhi, until his grandson Akbar finally took the city. Under Akbar, the Mughals not only ruled present-day Pakistan, but also controlled Delhi in the north, as well as Gujarat to the west and Bengal to the south.

This was the Mughal empire at its zenith. For two generations beginning with Akbar, the Mughal sultanate enjoyed a golden age of peace and plenty. Not only was Akbar a gifted commander known for his innovative use of war elephants in what would today be called "combat engineering", but he was a skilled mahout, also was a cultured and relatively humane individual in the same mould as his own personal hero, Alexander of Macedon. Akbar was also liberal with religion, and although born a Muslim, he nevertheless left his subjects alone, and was tactful when dealing with religious-related unrest. Some say this was because unlike his successors such as Aurangzeb, he was an open-minded man, but Akbar's tolerance as well as that exercised by his successors Jahangir and Shah Jahan was probably due to the fact that as much as the Mughals were Muslim, a majority of their subjects were Hindhu and the last thing the Mughals could afford was a major rebellion. The next two emperors too were cultured men: Jahangir himself was interested in biology, and took down research notes on the biology of birds and elephants, while his son Shah Jahan, a keen general and architect, was known for the building of the Taj Mahal. Mughal India in their time was estimated to be one of the richest, if not the greatest, nations in the world.

Shah Jahan, for all his virtues, was nonetheless a decadent man, and soon was deposed in a palace coup by none other than his son, Aurangzeb, who could only be best described as controversial. Aurangzeb's rule saw the enforcement of Muslim law in Mughal lands, and although he did expand the empire to its farthest extent, he was forced to fight multiple wars throughout India to maintain Mughal hegemony. To make matters worse, religious tensions, formerly sublimated by the previous emperors, began to rear their ugly head once more, and Aurangzeb was beset with enemies within and without his lands. Despite his financial parsimony and his even stooping down to becoming a copyist to maintain his own self, the empire was soon impoverished with Aurangzeb's many wars. He confessed, near death in 1707, that:

"I came alone and I go as a stranger. I do not know who I am, nor what I have been doing."


After Aurangzeb, the Mughal Empire was a shadow of its former self, and continued its decline. In 1739, the Persians invaded India from Afghanistan, seizing Pakistan and laying waste to the Mughal capital of Delhi.

Rise of the MarathaEdit

To the south, the Hindhus were now making a comeback after almost 900 years of Muslim hegemony in India. In 1674, a nobleman named Shivaji became ruler of of what would soon be called the Maratha confederacy. He fought several wars with the Mughals and other rulers, and in 27 years, he had created a small kingdom centred around Raigad, near present-day Pune. By 1760, this kingdom, along with several other smaller vassal states, now stretched across the Deccan plateau, and for a while withstood the challenges of even the Portuguese and the British. The Marathas were enlightened men, and Shivaji was said to have had Muslim sufis and Brahmins in his entourage, but even so, their greatest contributions to modern India was an improved navy. Although native Indians did indeed have navies and the Cholas of Tamil Nadu certainly needed them to project power into Southeast Asia in the 13th century, by the time of the Mughals the internal feuding going on in India meant that little was spent on naval defence. With the Mughals on the run, the Marathas now had new enemies and these were the piratical western powers - the Portuguese and the Dutch, and later on the British. Under the sekhal or admiral Kanhoji of Satara, the Maratha were now ready to teach the Portuguese and the British East India Company a lesson, by seizing their own ships, eventually defeating two Anglo-Portuguese fleets in actions off Pune in 1722 and 1730.

The Princely StateEdit

Further south, there too was a third state: the kingdom of Mysore. Following the defeat of Maratha forces up north near Delhi in 1760 at the hands of Muslims dissatisfied with Maratha rule, the dalwai or military commander of Mysore Haidar Naik launched a coup, making himself dictator; Haidar Naik was subsequently crowned sultan and took on the regnal name of Haidar Ali, and fought a series of territorial wars against the other Indian states as well as the British, expanding his territory. Haidar's son Tipu took over after the former's death from cancer in 1782, and proved a most able commander and administrator.

The state of Mysore, although smaller and in fact part of the larger principality of Hyderabad must be mentioned for one sole reason - Tipu Sultan was the only one of the many Indian rulers who realised the danger posed by the Westerners to Indian independence, and strove through military and diplomatic means to establish a united front against the English. Tipu recognised that more was needed than the mere bravado that exemplified the ancient Kshatria class and the more recent spirit of ijtihad imported by India's Muslim population. He established links with revolutionary France, attempted to modernise the military and civics of Mysore, and even introduced rockets and copper-bottomed ships, which were more resistant to wood-boring molluscs in the ocean. Yet despite these dazzling reforms and many bloody defeats inflicted on his British nemeses, Tipu finally met his end, fighting to the last at his palace of Seringapatam in 1799.

Rise of the RajEdit

With Tipu gone, there was nothing left either to unite India - increasingly divided by the politics of religion - or to drive away the British, who now dominated the Mughals. The Maratha decided to make a last stand, but were decisively defeated in 1818 in the Third Anglo-Maratha War, and the last Maratha potentates were forced into permanent house arrest by the East India Company. The East India Company, however, would suffer a disastrous setback. Failing to keep social pressures in check, its rule was challenged by a massive rebellion in 1857 that was only successfully put down with much bloodshed by the British in 1858. The East India Company was liquidated and its assets seized by the British Crown, and its empire was to become the pride of the British imperium for well over ninety years.

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