Quick Reference

A South Asian country occupying most of the southward-pointing peninsula of the Indian subcontinent. It is bounded by Pakistan on the north-west, China, Nepal, and Bhutan on the north, and Myanmar (Burma) on the east.


India is roughly triangular in shape, most of the northern frontier following the Himalayas, the world's highest mountains. The two southern sides are formed by a coastline on the Arabian Sea and another on the Bay of Bengal: they are backed by the ranges of the Western and Eastern Ghats. Across a northern belt of the Himalayas, are the Thar (or Great Indian) Desert, the central Punjab watershed with its fields of wheat, the Ganges floodplain, and Bengal. The land rises to the middle of the country, Madhya Pradesh, and the forested hills of Orissa. Extending southward is the Deccan plateau, terminating in the Nilgiri Hills. The southern coasts, Malabar and Coromandel, are famous for their paddy fields and citrus fruit.


India's economy is largely agrarian. The country has become self-sufficient in food, although agricultural yields are comparatively low and malnutrition is a perennial problem. Manufacturing industry has been developed since independence in 1947, with considerable state investment. The mining of coal and iron ore is important. Electricity is produced by thermal, hydroelectric, and a few nuclear power plants. The principal exports are gems, engineering products, garments, and leather goods. The main crops are rice, sugar cane, tea, cotton, and jute, and the chief industrial products are steel, transport equipment and machinery, textiles, and cement. India now has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with further rapid growth forecast for the next 50 years.


Inhabited from an unknown date by Dravidian peoples, the Indus civilization sites, dating from c.2500 bc, indicate one of the world's earliest urban cultures. It was destroyed c.1500 bc, possibly by the Aryan invasions. The next 1000 years saw the evolution of the religious and social systems which remain characteristic of Hinduism. Regional kingdoms rose and fell under Hindu, and later Buddhist, dynasties, but mastery over the entire subcontinent was rarely achieved. The Mauryan empire (c. 325–185 bc), was the first all-India empire, only the southern tip remaining outside its influence. After its disintegration, internecine struggles between local powers remained the characteristic pattern.

Waves of invasion from Central Asia from the 11th to the 16th century resulted in Muslim control over the north and the Deccan, and the evolution, through immigration and conversion, of India's largest minority. Only in a few areas, notably the Rajput states and Vijayanagar, was Hindu political power maintained. Rule by the Moguls (1526–1857), who claimed most of the subcontinent, marked the height of Indo-Muslim civilization. On their decline European trading powers were poised to take advantage of the power vacuum and the renewal of internecine struggle. Victorious over its French rival, the English East India Company laid the basis in the 18th century for the subsequent hegemony of the British Raj. Following the Indian Mutiny control of India passed, via The Act for the Better Government of India (1858) from the English East India Company to the British Crown. The India Acts of the late 19th and early 20th century granted greater Indian involvement in government. The Indian National Congress, founded in 1885, conducted, under the leadership of M. K. Gandhi, major campaigns for self-rule and independence. During 1945–47 Congress negotiated with Britain for independence, which was achieved in 1947 when Britain transferred power to the new states of India and Pakistan.


Subjects: History.

Reference entries

See all related reference entries in Oxford Index »