The Republic of India is a country rich in ethnic and cultural diversity and is the world's largest liberal democracy. India is also the second most populated country in the world with over one billion people speaking about four hundred languages. The Indian economy is the fourth largest in the world, in terms of purchasing power parity, and is the world's second-fastest growing economy. India has grown significantly, in terms of both population and strategic importance, in the last twenty years, attributed to economic reforms.
Strategically located in Asia, constituting most of the Indian subcontinent, India straddles many busy trade routes. It shares its borders with Pakistan, the People's Republic of China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan.1 Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia are the nearby island nations in the Indian Ocean. Home to some of the most ancient civilisations in the world, India was formally ruled by the British for almost ninety years before gaining independence in 1947.
Origin of names
Main article: Origin of India's name
The official name India is derived from Sindhu, the historic local appellation for the river Indus and is the most internationally recognisable of the country. The Constitution of India and general usage also recognises Bharat as the other official name of equal status. Bharat comes from the name of an ancient Hindu king and means seeker of knowledge. The third name is Hindustan, meaning land of the Hindus (where Hindu refers to those who dwell to the right of the Indus/Sindhu river) used from the Mughal times onwards.
Like a palimpsest, witness to many distinct layers of cultural history, India has a rich and colourful past. Many disruptive events have shaped its civilisation even as threads of continuity were maintained.
Stone age rock shelters with paintings at Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh constitute the earliest known traces of human life in India. The first known permanent settlements appeared 9,000 years ago. This indigenous culture developed into the Indus Valley civilisation, which peaked between 2600 BC and 1900 BC. Around 1500 BC Aryans tribes from Central Asia migrated to India and melded with the indigenous culture. This modified version of Max Mueller's initial Aryan Invasion Theory is accepted in most academic institutions around the world. However, recent theories, held by a minority, deny the claim of ingress and posit continuity.
Classical Hinduism arose from the interaction of Vedic and indigenous culture. Later, Buddhism and Jainism flourished in a flurry of religious reformation, adding to the richness of Indian culture. The first millennium saw many highly developed independent kingdoms, some of which acquired imperial stature, come to the fore. The great Hindu Gupta dynasty oversaw the period which historians refer to as India's "Golden Age" and the Mauryas (including the Buddhist king Ashoka) made great contributions to the cultural landscape. Arts, mathematics, engineering, astrology, religion and philosophy all flourished under the patronage of kings. Most parts of India were ruled by the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal dynasty following the Islamic ingress during the second millennia, though some Hindu kingdoms remained in or subsequently arose to power.
With the arrival of the Portuguese, French and English traders, advantage was taken of the fractured, debilitate kingdoms to colonise India. In 1857, an insurrection amongst the army sepoys ensued in the popular Revolt of 1857 against the powerful British East India Company; this mobilised resistance, though short-lasting, was caused by the widespread resentment against discriminatory policies of the British. After the revolt, the Indian independence movements started demanding complete independence. On August 15th, 1947, India was finally granted independence from British rule and became a secular republic.
After independence, India has fought four wars with its neighbours. From 1975 to 1977, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a "State of Emergency in India", thereby freezing civil rights and detaining civilians without trial. The destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 resulted in religious strife in much of India. In the desert town of Pokhran, in 1998, the Indian government exploded five nuclear warheads, confirming India's nuclear status. In 1999, India mobilised its military in Kargil, Kashmir to repel Islamist terrorists who, under the auspices of the Pakistani government, were encroaching upon Indian territory.
Government and politics
Main article: Politics of India
The Republic of India is a democratic republic. It is a Union of states within a federal structure. The head of state is the President and has a largely ceremonial role. The President and Vice-President are elected indirectly through an electoral college for 5 year terms.
The Prime Minister wields the executive power. He or she is assisted by the Council of Ministers (The cabinet) whom the Prime Minister appoints. All ministers are sworn in by the President. The Prime Minister is designated by legislators of the political party or coalition commanding a parliamentary majority. The President then appoints subordinate ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister.
India's bicameral parliament consists of the upper house called 'The Council of States' (Rajya Sabha) and the lower house called 'The House of the People' (Lok Sabha). The Rajya Sabha consists of incumbents elected through an electoral college whereas the Lok Sabha consists of directly elected representatives.
For most of its independent history, India's union government has been ruled by the Indian National Congress Party. Having been the biggest political organisation in pre-Independence India, the Congress enjoyed nearly-unchallenged dominance in national politics for over forty years. The first party to actually bring the Congress party down from its pedestal was the Jan Sangh which formed a coalition with other regional parties in the 1970s. They did not, however, last their full term. In the early and mid-1990s, left-leaning parties intermittently formed non-Congress governments at the center. It was only in 1999 that the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) finally became the first non-Congress party to hold on to power with the help of regional allies. In the 2004 elections, in a surprise result, the Congress returned to power, leading a centre-left coalition.
Kashmir is currently administered by India, Pakistan and China (and coloured in as such). The delimiting of the three administered regions is not the international boundary but a ceasefire line demarcated in red. The boundary separating India and Pakistan is known as the Line of Control, that separating India and China as the 'Line of Actual Control'.
Geography and climate
Main article: Geography of India
A land of varied landscape that occupies most of the Indian subcontinent, India has snow-capped peaks, tropical islands, fertile plains and a sandy desert to offer. India's entire north and northeast states are made up of the Himalayan Range. The rest of northern, central and eastern India consists of the fertile Indo-Gangetic plain. Towards western India, bordering southeast Pakistan, lies the Thar Desert. The southern Indian peninsula is almost entirely composed of the Deccan plateau. The plateau is flanked by two hilly coastal ranges, the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats.
States and Union territories
Main article: States and Territories of India
India is divided into 28 states (which are further subdivided into districts), 6 Union Territories and the National Capital Territory of Delhi. States have their own elected government, whereas Union Territories are governed by an administrator appointed by the union government.
National Capital Territory:
See also: List of states of India by population
Main article: Economy of India
A nation in rapid development, India has an economy ranked as the fourth largest in the world and recorded the second-fastest annual growth rate at around 8% in 2003. However, owing to its huge population, India's per-capita income works out to be US$2,540. India's foreign exchange reserves amount to over US$120 billion. Mumbai serves as the nation's financial capital and nerve centre; it is home to both the headquarters of the Reserve Bank of India (which controls the economy) and the Bombay Stock Exchange.
The Indian economy has shed much of its initial dependence on husbandry, with agriculture now contributing to less than 25% of the GDP. Other important industries are mining, petroleum, diamond polishing, films, textiles, information technology services and handicrafts. Most of India's industrial regions are centred around the major cities. There are also a lot of small-scale industries that provide steady employment to many of its citizens in small towns and villages. While India receives only around 2 million foreign visitors a year, its tourism base is still an important aspect of its national income. India's major trading partners are the United States, Japan and the European Union.
See also: List of Indian companies
Main article: Demographics of India
India is the second most populous country in the world, with only China having a larger population. Language, religion, and caste are major determinants of social and political organisation within the highly diverse Indian population today. Its biggest metropolitan agglomerations are Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Delhi, Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), Chennai (formerly Madras).
India's literacy rate is 64.8%, with 53.7% of females being literate. The sex ratio is 933 females for every 1000 males.
Although 80.5% of the people are Hindus, India is home to a large population of Muslims (13.4%). Other smaller religious minorities include Christians (2.33%), Sikhs (1.84%), Buddhists (0.76%), Jains (0.40%), Jews, Parsis, Ahmadi and Baha'i. Religion in India is very public, with many rich and colourful practices imbued with pomp and vitality accompanying their underlying spiritual qualities. A melting pot of many religions, India has rich festivals celebrated by one and all. The most widely known and popular celebrations include the Hindu festivals of Diwali, Holi and Dussera.
India is home to two major linguistic families, those of the Indo-Aryan and Dravidian-derived languages. India's national language is Hindi. English, which is classified as the Language of the Union for official purposes, is seen as the language of social mobility and standing, owing to its centrality in international business. Two classical languages native to the land are Sanskrit and Tamil.
Main article: Culture of India
India has a rich and unique cultural heritage, having striven to preserve its established traditions throughout history; its dynamic nature is manifest in its willingness to respect and tolerate foreign ways and practices.
Living in a pluralist, multilingual and multicultural society, Indians are largely tolerant and peaceful. Religious practices of various faiths are an integral part of everyday life in society. Education is highly regarded by members of every socio-economic stratum. The traditional Indian family values are highly respected and considered sacred. Some urban families have grown into a nuclear family system, owing to the socio-economic constraints imposed by the traditional joint family system.
Indian music is represented by a wide variety of forms. The two main ones in terms of classical music are the Carnatic and Hindustani. Popular forms of music also prevail, the most notable being Filmi music; interestingly, Hindu religious bhajans and Urdu ghazals often cross over between the classical and popular realms. In addition to this are the diverse traditions of folk music. Many dance forms exist in India—Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Kathakali and others. They often have a narrative form (based on the Indian epics) and are usually infused with devotional and spiritual elements.
The earliest literary traditions were mostly oral and were later transcribed. Most of these spring from Hindu tradition and are represented by sacred works like the Vedas and the epics of the Mahabharatha and Ramayana. Sangam literature from Tamil Nadu represents some of India's oldest secular traditions. Indian writers in modern times have been the cynosure of wide acclaim, both in Indian languages and English. India's only Nobel laureate in literature was the Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore.
India produces the world's highest number of films annually. The most recognisable face is that of Bollywood, based in Mumbai, which produces mainly commercial Hindi films. Cinema in other language bases is particularly strong, with movies regularly produced in well-established Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu industries. India's gift to world cinema was the internationally renowned Bengali language director Satyajit Ray.
Rice and wheat (in bread forms) are the staple foods in the country. The gastronomy of India is extremely rich and varied, as spices and other ingredients vary from region to region. Notable is the country's diverse and extensive vegetarian cuisine. Indians love their famous spicy food as much as their wide variety of sweets. Traditional dress in India greatly varies across the regions in its colours and styles. The Sari and Salwar Kameez are popular styles of dress for women. Traditional accoutrement for men comprises the Kurta and Dhoti.
Sports and games
Main article: Sports in India
India's national sport is field hockey, although many would assert that cricket is now the de facto national game due to its success in recent times. Football (soccer) too finds large viewership in almost the entire country. Some traditional indigenous games are kabaddi and gilli-danda. Chess, carrom, polo and badminton are some other games and sports that are said to have originated in India.
Indian athletes, however, do not shine in the international arena in many sports. Many blame the Indian government for not having an active sports policy and allowing for the breakdown of the sporting infrastructure. Others choose to criticise the perpetual media fixation on cricket as a distraction from other sports.
See also: Facts about India
1The government of India recognises the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir to be a part of India. This state borders a part of Afghanistan. A ceasefire sponsored by the United Nations in 1948 freezes the positions of Indian- and Pakistani-held territory. As a consequence, the region bordering Afghanistan is in Pakistani-administered territory.
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