With a song in my heart, I finally finished India: A History by John Keay. This 600+ word tome was not easy to get through. But I persevered.
This history starts at about 3100 B.C. which might be around the time the first Indian civilization—the Harappan Civilization—lived. Of course no one can be sure. For a few thousand years, this civilization flourished, and then died out to be slowly replaced, possibly via migration, with the Aryans (who wrote the Vedic Hymns).
If you don’t want to read the entire book—and if you don’t, I don’t blame you—here are the highlights following the Harappans:
- The Aryans built a civilization, or rather several small civilizations in the Indian peninsula that changed as further waves of migrating people came down from the northwest.
- Everybody seemed to want to conquer this pre-India from Alexander the Great to the British.
- The first people to really do it, though, were the Muslims who came down from the Middle East a few hundred years A.D. Eventually the Mongols invaded as did the British (albeit in a more civilized way with the same result).
- India was a mismatch of principalities, kingdoms, and states under Muslim, Hindu, and even Christian rule. There wasn’t just one India; there were several little kingdoms that later became India.
- Most of these kingdoms constantly underwent bloody succession wars whenever the king or sultan died. And don’t forget the pillaging and plundering that occurred between them.
- Eventually the Portuguese and other European powers established trading relationships with these kingdoms.
- Great Britain especially came in, sponsored certain leaders who wanted to trade with them, and eventually took over most of the subcontinent under the guise of keeping order.
- They took control of India from the Muslims and held it for a few hundred years, until 1947.
- In 1947, India won its freedom, but because of the enmity between the Hindus and Muslims, British India was partitioned into Pakistan and India for the Muslims and Hindus respectively. Later Bangladesh joined the mix.
- Democracy for these new states was very dicey for the first 50 or so years. It seems to have gotten better since then. At least, those three countries haven’t killed each other yet.
Yeah, that’s a lot of history. I found it interesting that the earliest Indian civilization (which equals Egypt and Mesopotamia for having the oldest civilizations) has a great flood in their mythology.
While the history was interesting, it was a little too much. Just too much. Possibly because from about 1000 B.C. t0 1700 A.D., the history is a disjointed creature containing unpronounceable names and a multitude of different kingdoms and dynasties. Keeping track of them was nigh impossible.
If Indian history is your thing, then by all means read this. If you, however, just have a casual interest—like me—start with something more manageable and half the size.