Overview of India
India, also referred as Bharat or Hindustan, the largest
democracy in the world, is a land of unparalleled majesty, comparable in size to entire continent of Europe,
and home of nearly 16% of the world population. Although modern images of India often show poverty and lack of development, India was the richest country on earth until the time of the British in the early 17th century. Christopher Columbus was attracted by her wealth. Historian Elphinstone said:
“The Hindu kingdoms overthrown by Muslims were so wealthy that the historians tire of telling of the immense loot of jewels and coins captured by the
invaders." Numerous countries have plundered the wealth of India. It is not just the material wealth that makes India rich. The achievements, history, culture and geography all are part of this richness. People throughout the ages admired the richness of India. French scholar Romain Rolland said:
"If there is one place on the face of earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is
The peninsula of India, with an area of over 3.3 million sq. km, is separated from mainland Asia by the
Himalayan Mountain ranges. India lies to the north of the equator between 8° 4' and 37° 6' north latitude and 68° 7' and 97° 25' east longitude. It is bounded on the south west by the Arabian Sea and on the south east by the Bay of Bengal. On the north, north east and north west lie the Himalayan ranges. Kanyakumari constitutes the southern tip of the Indian peninsula where it gets narrower and narrower, loses itself into the Indian Ocean.
The Himalayas form the highest mountain range in the world, extending 2,500 km over northern India. Bounded by the Indus
(Sindhu) river in the west and the Brahmaputra in the east, the three parallel ranges, the Himadri, Himachal and Shivaliks have deep canyons gorged by the rivers flowing into the Gangetic plain.
The western Himalayas, with the Kashmir, Kulu and Manali valleys, include the lofty highland plateau of Ladakh. The central Himalayas extend over northern Uttar Pradesh and Nepal, while the eastern Himalayas stretch into North Bengal, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. In the eastern areas of the country are the Purvanchal mountains which consist of Patkai Bum, Naga, Garo, Khasi and Jaintia and the Mizo and Lushai hills, named after the tribes that inhabit them.
The constant erosion of these lofty mountains by the raging torrential rivers builds the vast alluvial plains of the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra. The Ganga meanders across this vast plain from the north-west to the east where it is joined by the Brahmaputra. The two rivers form the world's largest and most fertile delta before flowing into the Bay of Bengal.
The Indian peninsula is an ancient land and was once part of the larger continent of Gondwanaland. Its Deccan Plateau is formed of old crystalline and lava rocks. It is cut off from the Gangetic plain by a series of low ranges like the Aravallis and Vindhyas. The plateau has the Eastem Ghats on its eastern extremity and the higher ranges of the Western Ghats to the west. A narrow uneven coastal plain in the west is dissected by swift flowing rivers, beautiful estuaries, lagoons and backwaters. The east coast is wide and has deltas of the Godavari, Mahanadi and Cauvery rivers. Flanking the peninsula on either side are the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal and the Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea.
The rivers may be classified as follows: (a) the Himalayan, (b) the Deccan, (c) the coastal and (d) the rivers of the inland drainage basin. The Himalayan rivers are generally snow-fed and flow throughout the year. During the monsoon months (June to September), the Himalayas receive very heavy rainfall and the rivers carry the maximum amount of water, causing frequent floods. The Deccan rivers are generally rain-fed and, therefore, fluctuate greatly in volume. A very large number of them are non-perennial. The coastal rivers, specially on the west coast, are short and have limited catchment areas. Most of these are non-perennial as well. The rivers on the inland drainage basin are few and ephemeral. They drain towards individual basins or salt lakes like the Sambhar or are lost in the sands, having no outlet to the sea.
The Himalayan range in the north acts as the perfect meteorological barrier for the whole country. Despite the country's size and its varied relief, the seasonal rhythm of the monsoon is apparent throughout. Although much of northern India lies beyond the tropical zone, the entire country has a tropical climate marked by relatively high temperatures and dry winters.
The Himalayan region, which is rich in vegetative life, possesses varieties that can be found practically from the tropical to tundra regions. Only the altitude influences the distribution of vegetation. In the rest of the country, the type of vegetation is largely determined by the amount of rainfall. Outside the Himalayan region, the country can be divided into three major vegetation regions: the tropical wet evergreen and semi-evergreen forests, the tropical deciduous forests, and the thorn forests and shrubs.
India is probably the country with the largest and most diverse mixture of races. All the five major racial types - Australoid, Mongoloid, Europoid, Caucasian and Negroid - find representation among the people of India, who are mainly a mixed race.
The people of India belong to diverse ethnic groups. At various periods of India's long history, successive waves of settlers and invaders including the Aryans, Parthians, Greeks and Central Asians came into the country and merged with the local population. This explains the variety of racial types, cultures and languages in India.
India has about 15 major languages and 844 different dialects. The Sanskrit of the Aryan settlers has merged with the earlier Dravidian vernaculars to give rise to new languages.
Hindi spoken by about 45 per cent of the population is the national language. English has also been retained as a language for official communication.
Indian literature dates back several millennia to the hymns of the vedic Aryans. The oral tradition nurtured classical literature, and produced great works of philosophy and religious doctrine. It also accounted for compilations of anecdotes like the Panchatantra and the Jataka tales, as well as epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha. In southern India, the creative energies of the poets found expression in the great works of Sangam literature. The epic Tirukkural by Tiruvalluvar is a masterpiece of this age.
Also the countless devotional songs composed by saints such as Annamayya,
Tyagaraya, PurandaraDas etc., enriched the devotional literature and music of
this land. In the north, dramatists like Kalidasa and Bhasa produced great dramas in Sanskrit.
Hinduism: The Hindu religion had its origin in the concepts of the early Aryans who came to India more than 4,000 years ago. It is not merely a religion but also a philosophy and a way of life. It does not originate in the teachings of any one prophet or holy book. It respects other religions and does not attempt to seek converts. It teaches the immortality of the human soul and three principal paths to ultimate union of the individual soul with the all pervasive spirit.
The essence of Hindu faith is embodied in the Lord's Song, the Bhagavad Gita: "He who considers this (self) as a slayer or he who thinks that this (self) is slain, neither knows the Truth. For it does not slay, nor is it slain. This (self) is unborn, eternal, changeless, ancient, it is never destroyed even when the body is destroyed."
Jainism and Buddhism: In the sixth century before Christ, Mahavira propagated Jainism. Its message was asceticism, austerity and non-violence. At about the same time, Buddhism came into being. Gautama Buddha, a prince, renounced the world and gained enlightenment. He preached that 'Nirvana' was to be attained through the conquest of self. Buddha's teachings in time spread to China and some other countries of South-East Asia.
Islam: Arab traders brought Islam to South India in the seventh century. After them came the Afghans and the Moghuls, among whom the most enlightened was the Emperor Akbar. Akbar almost succeeded in founding a new religion Din-e-Elahi, based on both Hinduism and Islam, but it found few adherents.
Islam has flourished in India through the centuries. Muslim citizens have occupied some of the highest positions in the country since independence in 1947.
Sikhism: Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism in the 15th century, stressed the unity of God and the brotherhood of man. Sikhism, with its affirmation of God as the one supreme truth and its ideals of discipline and spiritual striving, soon won many followers. It was perhaps possible only in this hospitable land that two religions as diverse as Hinduism and Islam could come together in a third, namely Sikhism.
Christianity: Christianity reached India not long after Christ's own lifetime, with the arrival of St. Thomas, the Apostle. The Syrian Christian Church in the south traces its roots to the visit of St. Thomas. With the arrival of St.Francis Xavier in 1542 the Roman Catholic faith was established in India. Today Christians of several denominations practice their faith freely.
Zoroastrianism: In the days of the old Persian Empire, Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion in West Asia, and in the form of Mithraism, it spread over vast areas of the Roman Empire, as far as Britain.
After the Islamic conquest of Iran, a few intrepid Zoroastrians left their homeland and sought refuge in India. The first group is said to have reached Diu in about 766 A.D.
Their total world population probably does not exceed 130,000. With the exception of some 10,000 in Iran, almost all of them live in India, the vast majority concentrated in Bombay. The Parsees excel in industry and commerce, and contribute richly to the intellectual and artistic life of the nation.
Judaism: Jewish contact with the Malabar Coast in Kerala, dates back to 973 BC when King Solomon's merchant fleet began trading for spices and other fabled treasures. Scholars say that the Jews first settled in Cranganore, soon after the Babylonian conquest of Judea in 586 BC. The immigrants were well received and a Hindu king granted to Joseph Rabban, a Jewish leader, a title and a principality.
JANA-GANA-MANA-ADHINAYAKA, JAYA HE BHARATA-BHAGYA-VIDHATA
PUNJABA-SINDHU-GUJARATA-MARATHA DRAVIDA-UTKALA-BANGA VINDHYA-HIMACHALA-YAMUNA-GANGA UCCHHALA-JALADHI TARANGA
TAVA SUBHA NAME JAHE TAVA SUBHA ASHISHA MAGE GAHE TAVA JAYA GATHA. ANA-GANA-MANGALA DAYAKA, JAYA HE BHARATA-BHAGYA-VIDHATA,
JAYA HE, JAYA HE, JAYA HE, AYA JAYA JAYA, JAYA HE
The following is a translation of Rabindranath Tagore's rendering of the stanza:
Thou art the ruler OF the minds of all people, dispenser of India's destiny. The name rouses the hearts of Punjab, Sind, Gujarat and Maratha, of the Dravid and Orissa and Bengal; it echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas, mingles in the music of the Yamuna and Ganga and is chanted by the waves of the Indian Sea. They pray for thy blessings and sing thy praise. The salvation of all people is in thy hand, thou dispenser of India's destiny. Victory, victory, victory to thee.
National Emblem - Four Lions
The National emblem of India is a replica of the Lion of Sarnath, near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. The Lion Capital was erected in the third century BC by Emperor Ashoka to mark the spot where Buddha first proclaimed his gospel of peace and emancipation to the four quarters of the universe. The National emblem is thus symbolic of contemporary India's reaffirmation of its ancient commitment to world peace and goodwill.
The four lions (one hidden from view)--symbolising power, courage and confidence--rest on a circular abacus. The abacus is girded by four smaller animals --guardians of the four directions: the lion of the north, the elephant of the east, the horse of the south and the bull of the west. The abacus rests on a lotus in full bloom, exemplifying the fountainhead of life and creative inspiration. The motto 'Satyameva Jayate' inscribed below the emblem in Devanagari script means 'truth alone triumphs'.
The Indian flag was designed as a symbol of freedom. The late Prime Minister Nehru called it a flag not only of freedom for ourselves, but a symbol of freedom to all people.
The flag is a horizontal tricolour in equal proportion of deep saffron on the top, white in the middle and dark green at the bottom. The ratio of the width to the length of the flag is two is to three. In the centre of the white band, there is a wheel in navy blue to indicate the Dharma Chakra, the wheel of law in the Sarnath Lion Capital. Its diameter approximates the width of the white band and it has 24 spokes. The saffron stands for courage, sacrifice and the spirit of renunciation; the white, for purity and truth; the green for faith and fertility.
National Animal - Tiger
Large Asiatic carnivorous feline quadruped, Panthera Tigris, maneless, of tawny yellow colour with blackish transverse stripes and white belly, proverbial for its power and its magnificence.
There are very few tigers left in the world today. A decade ago the tiger population in India had dwindled to a few hundreds. The Government of India, under its Project Tiger programme, started a massive effort to preserve the tiger population. Today, thanks to Project Tiger, India's population of tigers is in a comfortable position.
National Bird - Peacock
I Male Bird of species P. critatus, is a native of India, with striking plumage and upper tail converts marked with iridescent ocelli, able to expand its tail erect like fan as ostentatious display. Peacocks are I related to pheasants.
Found wild in India (and also domesticated in villages) they live in jungle lands near water. They were once bred for food but now hunting of peacocks is banned in India. The peahen has no plumage. These birds do not sound as beautiful as they look-- they have a harsh call.
National Flower - Lotus
The Lotus or waterlily is an aquatic plant of Nymphaea with I broad floating leaves; and bright fragrant flowers that grow only in shallow waters. The leaves and flowers float and have long stems that contain air spaces. The big attractive flowers have many petals overlapping in a symmetrical pattern. The root functions are carried out by rhizomes that fan out horizontally through the mud below the water. Lotuses, prized for their serene beauty, are delightful to behold as their blossoms open on the surface of a pond. In India the sacred lotus is legendary and much folklore and religious mythology is woven around it.
National Tree - Banyan
Indian fig tree, Ficus bengalensis, whose branches root themselves like new trees over a large area. The roots then give rise to more trunks and branches. Because of this characteristic and its longevity, this tree is considered immortal and is an integral part of the myths and legends of India. Even today, the banyan tree is the focal point of village life and the village council meets under the shade of this tree.
National Fruit - Mango
A fleshy fruit, eaten ripe or used green for pickles etc., of the tree Mangifera indica, the mango is one of the most important and widely cultivated fruits of the tropical world. Its juicy fruit is a rich source of Vitamins A, C and D. In India there are over 100 varieties of mangoes, in different sizes, shapes and colours. Mangoes, have been cultivated in India from time immemorial. The poet Kalidasa sang its praises. Alexander savoured its taste, as did the Chinese pilgrim Hieun Tsang. Akbar planted 100,000 mango trees in Darbhanga, known as Lakhi Bagh.