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Jammu and Kashmir
Himachal Pradesh

History of North India

Punjab was part of the Indus Valley civilization which then spread southwards along the western seaboard and eastwards to the Ganga. Some of the Harappan cities now in North India had trade links with Egypt and Mesopotamia. A Harappan dry dock has been excavated at the Harappan port of Lothal in Gujarat. The Harappan people were followed – perhaps sven swept away – by the invading Aryans, their onslaught like a hurricane: a people who had never known a city according to a Mesopotamian chronicler. As the Aryans

North India History

settled to an agricultural way of life new religious ideas and practices began to take shape. Indigenous tribes were displaced and retreated to the remoteness of the hills and forests. Well-wooded Madhya Pradesh still has a significant tribal population of which the Gonds are the most numerous. Kausambi in Uttar Pradesh dates from the 8th century BC, when the Aryans had taken up farming. By this period the early Vedas were already written down, and the upper plains of the Ganga had become the hearth of what was to become modern Hindu civilization. This was the setting for the classics of Sanskrit literature.

Small communities of Greek origin settled in the Punjab and Northwest Frontier following Alexander’s invasion of 326 BC. Owing to his untimely death in 323 BC, arrangements to annex the Indian provinces proved fruitless. At Vidisha (MP) there is the 2nd century Heliodorus votive pillar named after the Greek who had settled in India and become a Hindu. At this time many of the cities of N India where already long-established.

The Gupta period (4th-6th centuries AD), was the golden age of Hindu culture in N India. The Guptas created an empire that stretched across northern India from the Punjab to the Bay of Bengal and to a line running from the Gulf of Cambay in Gujarat to Orissa. The Chinese traveler and Buddhist pilgrim Fahien visited India at the beginning of the 5th century and his account gives a picture of India as a prosperous and peaceful country. However, Hun invasions from the north west contributed to the collapse of the Gupta Empire which finally ended in 535 AD. Eighty years later a new king, Harsha, inherited his father’s small kingdom at Thanesar (Haryana) on the Upper Yamuna. The capital was at Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh. By this time Buddhism was already in decline. After Harsha’s death the region lapsed in to a state of political anarchy. Kashmir developed into a fairly strong kingdom whilst in Rajasthan there arose a number of Hindu principalities. Until the end of the 12th century, control of the region was concentrated in the hands of the Hindu ruling classes, of which the Rajputs are the best example. They rose to political supremacy in the 9th and 10th centuries and many of the Rajasthan dynasties trace their origins to this period. Most authorities now accepts that the Rajput clans were descended either from the Huns who settled in North and West India during the 6th century AD, or from other Central Asian tribes who accompanied the Huns. Though the Rajputs spanned a wide range of social groups, they boasted a proud warrior heritage and raised the concepts of loyalty, honour in battle and bravery to the highest moral plane. The Chandelas emerged as a strong regional power in Madhya Pradesh and their fine temples at Khajuraho are evidence of a period of enormous wealth.


Mahmud of Ghazni, a local ruler from Afghanistan, was attracted to India by its proverbial wealth and the fertility of its lands. By launching regular raids rather than full-scale invasions, Mahmud financed his struggles in Central Asia. Careful planning of the campaigns saw the arrival of the Afghans in India during the harvest season. The temples of N India, with their enormous wealth in cash, golden images and jewellery, made them natural targets for a non-Hindu. Mahmud’s insatiable greed for gold was

History of North India

complemented by his religious motivation as an image-breaker. He sacked the wealthy centres of Mathura in 1017, Thanesar in 1011, Somnath in 1024 and Kanauj. Mahmud died in 1030 but in spite of him, India did not become more aware of the world to the NW. Defence remained purely local, its purpose to defend one king against another.

The Rajput clans returned to their battles against each other in the 11th and 12th centuries. In the late 12th century Muhammad Ghuri attacked the plains. Entering India by the Gomal Pass near Bannu in Pakistan, by 1191 he had overrun the former Ghaznavid (after Mahmud of Ghazni) dependencies in the Punjab and acquired the suzerainty of Arab Sind. Muhammad was thinking in terms of establishing a kingdom rather than indulging in periodic raids and this brought Rajput chivalry a fresh challenge. At Taraori on the Panipat plain N of Delhi, the Rajputs gathered together as best they could, won a first battle, but were only able to hold off the Muslim threat for a year. In 1192 a second battle was fought in the same place, the Hindu commander Prithviraj was defeated and the kingdom of Delhi fell to the invaders. Muhammad pressed on and took Ajmer in Rajasthan. In 1206 he was assassinated, but this did not herald a general withdrawal. Muhammad had been determined to retain his Indian acquisitions and this policy was followed to by his successors.

The early rulers of what came to be called to the Delhi Sultanate and a large number of their followers were Turks, mainly from Central Asia, who had settled in Afghanistan. The armies with which they invaded India consisted of Turkish, Afghan and Persian mercenaries. The majority were probably Afghan. The Ghuri (after Muhammad of Ghur) kingdom did not last long after the Muhammad's death but the Indian part of his kingdom became the nucleus of a new political entity – the Delhi Sultanate. Control passed to his slave governor, Qutb–ud–din–Aibak even handed policy of conciliation and patronage in Delhi he converted the Old Hindu stronghold of Qila Rai Pithora into his Muslim capital and commenced a number of magnificent building projects, the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque and the Qutub Minar, a victory tower.

The forces of the Delhi Sultanate were patently in disarray. The Hindus were not in much better shape. All over the N they had lost power. Many were forced into the Himalayas, where they formed ‘Pahari’ (Hill) kingdoms, for example in Garhwal, Chamba and Kangra. Only in Rajasthan had they held out, but here they were deeply divided by clan rivalry. In the Deccan they had given way to the Bahmanis, whilst in the S the hold of the Vijayanagar empire was more precarious than it seemed. Everywhere division met the eye and India was ripe for the picking. Just as it had been before the first Muslim onslaught. The family character had changed since Timur’s day. They also inherited from their gruesome ancestor a liking for learned men and a passion for beautifying their capital cities. Where his ambition was to terrify the world, theirs seemed more to impress it. Where he brought destruction to Delhi, they gave Muslim India one of its periods of greatest splendour. With magnificent buildings such as the Red Forts at Agra and Delhi, Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi, the Itmad-ud-Daula and Taj Mahal tombs at Agra, Akbar’s beautiful new capital at Fatehpur Sikri, Jahangir’s pleasure gardens in Kashmir, the pavilions and mosques at Ajmer in Rajasthan.


The Gurkha Wars of the early 19th century saw the inclusion of Garhwal and Kumaon in Uttar Pradesh and what is now Himachal Pradesh, into the territory of the East India Company. The Sikhs had developed as a strong regional power with a vigorous new religion in the Punjab and during the 18th century, tore free of the Mughals and established their own empire under Ranjit Singh. Ultimately they came into conflict with the British but, once beaten, proved loyal subjects. The British advance up the Ganga

Delhi History

saw the formal absorption of princely states into the Company’s territories or the indirect control of those who remained independent. Oudh was annexed under dubious circumstances and its capital Lucknow was one of the centres in which the flames of Indian discontent were fanned when the Mutiny broke in 1857. kanpur and Lucknow in Oudh, Meerut, Delhi and Jhansi were the scenes of desperate struggles. Afterwards, the British, shaken by the experience, adopted a more conciliatory attitude towards Indians. The railway system was rapidly expanded during this period, linking regions together economically, enabling the rapid movement of vital supplies during famines and other times of crisis. It also gave Indian’s an hitherto unknown mobility. Canals permitted the irrigation of larger areas of the Gangetic plain and the Punjab.

Hill stations developed as a means by which the overheated Europeans could cool off during the stiflingly hot summer months. Along the length of the Himalaya, at an average altitude of around 2,000 m, summer resorts emerged. The Himalayan stations include Nainital, Mussoorie and Ranikhet in Uttar Pradesh and Shimla, Dalhousie and Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. The Mughals had already developed Kashmir but Pahalgam and Gulmarg were also popularized. Mount Abu catered to residents of Rajasthan and Pachmarhi to those in Madhya Pradesh. Government escaped from hot and sticky cities of Calcutta or Delhi to the cool breezes of Shimla, over 1,500 km away. In May government officers, wives and servants went up to the summer capital. In September they all came down again. In 1911 the capital was transferred to Delhi, which naturally meant that the N became the focal region of India. To mark the change another new city was built. New Delhi is the extravagant work of Britain’s empire builders. In fact, within 15 years of the new city’s completion the British Indian Empire came to an end.

Independence came after a remarkable struggle initially orchestrated by Mahatma Gandhi and waged in the best principles of Jainism and Buddhism, through non-violence. The Partition of India along religious lines, however, let loose a violence which was often uncontrollable. The transfer of power and boundary delineation resulted in a broken Punjab and a horrible episode of fear and brutality as millions attempted to relocated to their chosen country. Independence saw the redrawing of state boundaries along linguistic grounds, the extension of the Panchayat Raj over village administration and the emphasis in the first Five year Plans on industrialization.


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