India is one of the world’s oldest civilizations. Its ancient history dates back further than most and has many periods. Very little is known about the earliest inhabitants of India. Ancient tools found in the Soan Valley and South India are the earliest evidence of humans in India discovered so far. Some of the tools date back to the Paleolithic Age – 400,000 to 200,000 years ago, other tools date to the Mesolithic Age and the Neolithic Age (8000 BC – 4000 BC).
The first organized civilization of India developed in the Indus River Valley, which is part of present-day Pakistan. The Indus Valley civilization dates back to 3000 B.C. Scientists and archaeologists that studied the Indus Valley, found that the civilization was highly organized and larger than any other ancient empire, including those of Egypt and Mesopotamia. The two major cities and cultural centers of this civilization were Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. These cities were built like modern cities, with streets at right angles, brick houses with bathrooms, sewer system, and a water supply system. The Indus Valley citizens depended on agriculture. The main crops were wheat, barley, dates, and melons. They also cultivated cotton. They domesticated cats, dogs, goats, sheep and maybe even elephants. The Indus people used bronze and copper and were very artistic. They made high quality pottery. A lot of terra cotta was found at the archaeological sites. Around 2000 B.C. the Indus Valley Civilization collapsed. There are different theories about how and why it collapsed, but none have been proven. Perhaps the cities were destroyed by terrible floods, or by the river changing course and drying up the farmland, or maybe the Indus people overgrazed the land. Or possibly the Indus Valley Civilization was destroyed by invaders.
Around 1500 B.C., tribes of Indo-Europeans traveled from present day Iran to northwest India. They called themselves Aryans, the “noble ones.” All that is known of the next 500 years following the fall of the Indus Civilization comes from a collection of sacred hymns called the Vedas. This period is known as the Vedic Age. The oldest of the four Vedas is the Rig-Veda, which is considered one of most sacred and oldest Hindu holy texts. The Aryans spoke Sanskrit and passed the hymns down by word of mouth. Centuries later the hymns were written down. Around 1000 B.C. the Aryans had created some epics. The period from 1000 B.C. to 600 B.C. is known as the Epic Age. The three great epics, the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the Upanishada describe history of that period. Scholars believe that some parts of the epics are not just stories or teachings, but historical accounts. One famous battle described in the Mahabharata is the Battle of the Ten Kings, where the Bharata tribe fought an alliance of ten rival tribes. “Bharat,” which is Sanskrit for “India” is the modern day Indian name for India. These epics also provide further guidance to Hinduism and describe the caste system, in support of the Hindu beliefs of reincarnation, causality and duty. For some Hinduism was a way of life. Others did not practice Hinduism and were called Dravidas. Still others rebelled against Hinduism and its ritual, sacrifice and above all, against the caste system. Vardhamana Mahavira (540 B.C. – 467 B.C.) founded Jainism and Gautama Buddha (563 B.C. – 483 B.C.) founded Buddhism.
By the sixth century B.C., the Aryan tribes had spread east to the Ganges Valley and grown into small republics. There were 16 states called the mahajanapadas that clashed for control over the region. While the Aryans spread out and fought amongst each other, Persian emperor Darius made the Punjab region (the plains between the Indus River and the Gandges River) part of his empire in 516 B.C. In 327 B.C. the Persians were overthrown by Alexander the Great of Macedon. In 326 B.C. Alexander crossed the Hindu Kush and the Indus River. He...