The history of South Asia begins with evidence of human activity of “Homo sapiens” as long as 75,000 years ago, or with earlier hominids including Homo erectus from about 500,000 years ago. The Indus Valley Civilization which spread and flourished in the northwestern part of South Asia from c. 3300 to 1300 BCE in present-day Pakistan and India, was the first major civilization in South Asia. A sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture developed in the Mature Harappan period, from 2600 to 1900 B.C., before it slowly declined and disintegrated around 1500 B.C.
The Vedic period is dated from approximately 1500 to 500 BC by most scholars but a few maintain that it began as early as 2500-2000 BC. The Vedic people, a semi-nomadic people who lived in scattered tribal groups, were the predecessors of the Indo-Aryans, who founded India’s major empires and held sway over South Asia for millennia. Beginning in c. 1000 BC with the introduction of
- Writing (the Vedic script)
- Sculpture (Parallel-sided/rough hewn)
- Classical Sanskrit literature;
- Orthodox system of ritual worship with the superstrate Harappan culture
During this time, some of the great Hindu epics, such as Ramayana and Mahabharata were written. Around 500 BC, the Aryan culture began to emerge into northern India their earlier pastoralist roots, evolving into the Vedic Civilization.
Sangam literature in Tamil language
The Sangam literature in Tamil language, which has been dated between c. 300 BC and c. 300 AD, refers to the ancient era of South India when the three Tamil dynasties Chera dynasty, Chola dynasty and Pandyan Dynasty dominated the land. The Sangam literature extolled the virtues of war heroes laying emphasis on ethics, while elegies lamented their deaths in battle.The central theme was highly Sanskritized rooted around
- kingship rituals,
- Warfare techniques and
- Principles of honor
Some early Sangam era texts mention cultivation of crops such as paddy rice alongside trade in wine, pepper corn and silk across South India. During this period, the kings depended on the agricultural income and taxes were codified into a form of tribute paid by people who dwelt in the conquered villages.
During this period, South Asia became an exporter of spices such as cinnamon to Rome in return for gold. The religion that emerged around 500 BC was rooted in Vedic traditions which gradually transitioned from ritualistic sacrifices to yoga with asceticism becoming more pronounced over time. During the
Gupta reign (4th-6th century AD),
A strong south Indian empire emerged whose dominance peaked during Emperor Harsha’s rule (606-647 AD).This period gave rise to new forms of literature in Tamil language and Kannada language called Jain Prakrit respectively., in the 9th century AD in a time known as a “Golden age of southern India in art, religion and literature.”
The Chola Empire was one of the longest-ruling dynasties in the history of southern India. With territory once spread over much of South Asia, the Chola territories stretched from Southern Burma to the Indian peninsula and Sri Lanka. The empire emerged under its reign dominance most notably being extended over almost all of Sri Lanka,coastlines in Andhra Pradesh, Lakshadweep, Kerala, Kalinga, Orissa and islands in the Philippines and Indonesia between 1022 and 1070 AD. Rajaraja Chola conquered all of peninsular south India and parts of Sri Lanka.Rajendra Chola’s navies went even further, occupying coasts from Burma (now Myanmar) to Vietnam, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Sumatra, Java, Malaya in South East Asia and Pegu islands. He defeated Mahipala, the king of Bengal, and to commemorate his victory. he built a new capital called Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
Earthquakes were common during the various stages of history with each period having its own disasters caused by nature such as floods & drought leading to wars. The life of people was very much dependent on the advent of monsoon rains that brought needed fertility to their land for farming. The history of South Asia is intertwined with the history of a larger Indian subcontinent which includes Nepal, parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, sometimes also extending up to Burma (Myanmar) and Bangladesh; Sri Lanka lies off the subcontinent’s southeast Asia.
- Aksumite Empire (North-South Yemen): 50 BC – 525 AD
- Arrival & Early Periods: 1st century BC – 2nd century AD
Aksumite Empire (North-South Yemen): 50 BC – 525 AD
The Aksumite Empire was situated in northern Ethiopia just south west of Egypt. It existed during two periods from the first until the third century.The empire became a major player in the commerce between India and Europe through trading spices, gold, cloth and more.
Maurya (Brhadratha Dynasty) (North-Central & Eastern South Asia): 321 BC – 185 BC
The Maurya Empire was based in Magadha that stretched over nearly all of South Asia from modern day Afghanistan to Bangladesh and then spread into Central Asia to include parts of Persia during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. It ruled over almost all of South Asia until 185 BC when it was overthrown under leadership of Ashoka by emperor Kalinga.
Shunga Dynasty: 185 BC – 75 BC
During this period, the Mauryan Empire was overthrown by the Sunga Dynasty in 185 BC.
Kushan Dynasty (North-Central & Eastern South Asia): 30 – 375 AD
The Kushans were one of five branches of Kshatriya Varna in northern India and Pakistan that established an empire stretching into Central Asia. They “promoted Buddhism” during their rule over South Asia.The Kushans’ territories included modern Kyrgyzstan in addition to more northernly areas of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan.
Shaka (Candelavese) Dynasty: 269 AD – 550 AD
The Shaka or Candelavese kingdom emerged in southern parts of South Asia in the 1st century AD and lasted until 550 AD.
Harsha (Pushpabhuti Dynasty) (North-Central & Eastern South Asia): 606 – 647 AD
The Harshavardhana or Pushpabhuti dynasty was located in northern India with its capital being Thaneswar or Thaneshwar in modern day Haryana state. The kingdom included areas of Bangladesh, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar states in addition to parts of Punjab.The empire’s capital was moved from Pratisthana near Kurukshetra to Kanauj when King Harsha converted to Buddhism.
Huna Kingdom (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Northern India) : 325 – 670 AD
The Huna Kingdom was situated in eastern south Asia between Ancient Gandhara and Kamboja before moving further northwards.The kingdom “was founded by the Hunas, nomadic pastoral tribes from Central Asia.” The Hunas ruled over parts of western and central South Asia.
Turkic (Hun) Dynasties: 7th century – 12th century
The Turkic Khaganate was a nomadic confederation that emerged as a notable regional power in Turkistan after 546 AD.The empire’s expansion accelerated under the leadership of Bumin Qaghan who defeated their rivals such as those under Tardu shah and subdued numerous tribes to control and move further west toward Europe and Persia. “During this time they launched several invasions into rival territories such as those within the Gobi Desert.” The empire’s influence spread as far as Korea and China.
Gurjara-Pratihara Dynasty: 7th century – 10th century
The Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty was located in central India. Their territory included part of the modern day Rajasthan state, eastern Pakistan, Gujarat state and Madhya Pradesh states. At one point during their reign they controlled Kannauj or Kannavakeh which was a city they built themselves within this kingdom.Inscriptions from the time period indicate that Indian society had several classes including royalty, nobles, saints, warriors and merchants with most being commoners who worked to support soldiers or traders. “Much of the land was fertile with extensive irrigation systems. A system of water management enabled the region to support an abundance of crops.”
Rashtrakuta Dynasty: 7th century – 10th century
The Rashtrakuta Empire included parts of central India. During their time rulers used Kannauj as a capital city.The Empire’s territory expanded during this period though many borders were disputed. “The empire had its head in the [[Ganges]] valley where it controlled most of the sub continent.” Their reign lasted through several generations and they experienced periodical conflicts with enemies such as those under Chalukya dynasty or later led by Tailapa II who helped defeat them.
Chola Dynasty: 10th century – 13th century
The Chola dynasty was located in southern India and had an empire which included Sri Lanka, Maldives, parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh. They built a large navy that dominated areas of the Indian Ocean. The rulers expanded the Empire’s territory through military campaigns though some territories were difficult to control due to geography or hostile resistance from those living there. “In one campaign alone he captured as many as 123 forts all around his kingdom.” The empire declined after their reign because of external invasions from enemies such as those under various Islamic dynasties who established themselves throughout northern south Asia.
Kadamba Dynasty: 345 – 525 AD
The Kadamba Kingdom was located in southern India. They developed a strong military that assisted the empire in controlling territory and securing borders.The rulers encouraged trade with other states to increase wealth within the kingdom though some of their success also came from exercising control over people living within their Empire through taxation, forced labor or land ownership.
Somapura Mahavihara: 8th century – 12th century
The Somapura Mahavihara monastery was a Buddhist temple located near Paharpur, [[Bihar (India)|Bihar]] state, [[India]]. It is “the earliest known example of brick-making in the Indian subcontinent.”The rulers were able to take control over a large section of land within their kingdom due to a strong military which was further supported by several Buddhist traditions and customs.
Kalachuri Dynasty: 11th century – 14th century
The Kalachuri Kingdom was located in central India. They built a kingdom that included areas such as parts of present day Madhya Pradesh, parts of Maharashtra and Orissa states.Their reign came to an end when they faced invasions from those under Delhi Sultanate who ruled during the same period.
Delhi Sultanate: 1206 – 1526 AD
A Turkish dynasty that ruled northern India. Like other states in the area these leaders were able to expand their control high into the Himalayas. Their territory included parts of present day Pakistan and Afghanistan states. The dynasty was brought to an end when a powerful leader, Babur, who established a new empire named Mughal Empire.
Babur: 1526 – 30th June 1530 AD
A ruler from Central Asia who became emperor of Mughal Empire after capturing Delhi Sultanate. He helped establish his empire through military campaigns throughout northern south Asia. His rule came to an end after being killed by a fellow family member while fighting in Agra.
Sultanate of Gujarat: 1407 AD – 1530 AD
The Sultanate of Gujarat was a Muslim kingdom located in western India. “It is noted for its monuments, architecture and craftsmanship.” The rulers expanded their territory through military campaigns into areas such as Ganges plain, Orissa which were previously controlled by the Chola dynasty. They helped establish a new empire after defeating Delhi Sultanate during a campaign launched from their base in southern India.
Mughal Empire: 1526 – 1857 AD
An empire that ruled northern south Asia. Their large army enabled them to expand their territory through military campaigns.This helped establish their empire through annexing other states including:
- Bengal Sultanate
- Sultanate of Gujarat
- Lahore Sultanate
vijayanagara empire: 1336 AD – 1646 AD
The Vijayanagara Empire was located in southern India. They ruled with a strong military that enabled them to expand their territory into areas such as the south Deccan Plateau. This helped establish their empire by expanding into new territories. The rulers faced invasions from Muslim kingdoms which caused their empire to decline.Some remnants are found within present day states of:
- Andhra Pradesh
- Tamil Nadu
Sikh Empire: 1799 AD – 1849 AD
The Sikh Empire was located in the Punjab region of India. They had a strong, well trained army that enabled them to extend their territory throughout the northern Indian subcontinent.This helped establish their empire by conquering other areas including: [Sindh (princely state)|British held Sindh], [Punjab (British India)|British held Punjab] and parts of Afghanistan. The rulers were eventually weakened after they faced military losses due to the rise of British forces within their territories which eventually forced them to sign treaties that included surrendering their states.
British empire: 1757 AD – 1947 AD
An empire that ruled northern south Asia. They are noted for being able to establish control through military might. This helped establish their empire which included areas such as present day India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and parts of Afghanistan.The Empire was brought to an end after India gained independence in 1947 due to the division of territories through the creation of independent states including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
East India Company: 1757 AD – 1858 AD
The British East India Company were noted for establishing control through military might.They helped establish their empire by conquering territories such as [[Sindh]], [Punjab (British India)|British held Punjab] and areas of present day Afghanistan with the use of force.After gaining power they faced military threats from other states which led to defeats against armies during [Anglo-Afghan Wars|Anglo-Afghan War]. This caused the company to lose its authority over some parts of northern south Asia including: British held Rajputana (present day Rajasthan) and west Punjab.
The former British Empire has now transformed into a union of independent states.
Sri Lanka’s History
Sri Lanka’s history has been influenced by the arrival of various groups from south India and China.Together with India they helped establish Sri Lanka as a nation state through military invasions which began in 543 BC, when King Vijaya from south India arrived on the island. This gave way to an increase of migration from southern parts of India after establishing control over north and east Sri Lanka. During the following centuries Sri Lanka was invaded by people including both native and foreign populations such as Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch and British forces who brought with them their customs and cultures.
Pakistan’s history has been influenced by the arrival of various groups from south Asia, including Italy who helped establish their nation through military invasions.They began a campaign to gain control over areas within modern day Pakistan which included provinces such as Sindh and Punjab after they formed a political party. They gained power through elections and eventually established their authority after winning wars against other states in the area. This gave way to an increase of migration from southern parts of India due to cultural similarities between two communities where there was also a large number of Muslims in the country.
Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are independent nations who share close cultural ties with each other through the legacy left by the British Empire.