India is a subcontinent made up of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The geography of this landmass separates it from the rest of the continent.


  • The Himalayas are the tallest mountain range in the world. They are located to the north of India.
  • The Hindu Kush mountains and the Karakorum mountains are an extension of the Himalayas, they lie the west of the Himalayas. Through the Hindu Kush mountains there is the Khyber Pass, it is a part of the mountain range that is flat and allows foreigners to invade. This causes problems for the Indians when Alexander the Great discovers this route.
  • Western and Eastern Ghats: Two low mountain ranges that outline the western and eastern sides of the southern tip of the Indian Peninsula.

Indo-Gangetic Plain: The Indus and Ganges Rivers make up this fertile plain. This land received silt deposits, as well as water for irrigation.

  • Indus River: flows southwest from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea.
  • Ganges River: flows south from the Himalayas and eastward across northern India.
  • Brahmaputra River: To the east of the Ganges River. This river flows through the Himalayas and merges with the Ganges River.

Thar Desert: Located in the lower Indus Valley. In this area of India, farming cannot be achieved very easily. It is only possible in parts where the Indus river directly waters.

Deccan Plateau: Below the Indo-Gangetic Plain lays the Deccan Plateau. It is a dry region because the Western and Eastern Ghats block out all moist air.

Monsoons: These seasonal winds control India’s climate. Winter monsoons blow dry air from the northeast across the country, westward. Summer monsoons shift in direction carrying moisture form the ocean in huge clouds. These clouds bring massive storms which cause floods. Sometimes, summer monsoons do not develop, which causes drought.

Geographical Challenges:
  • Indus floods unpredictable.
  • Rivers sometimes changed course.
  • Cycle of monsoons sometimes resulted in floods or droughts, this cycle was unpredictable.


Little information is known about how the first settlers arrive in India, possibilities may be that travelers came through the Khyber Pass, or by ship from Africa. People were settled in ancient civilizations as early as 7000 BCE. The largest cities were Kalibangan, Mohenjo-Daro, and Harrapa. The Indus Valley Civilization is also known as the Harrapan Civilization.

Mohenjo-Daro: This city is most known for its plumbing system. Almost every house in this city had a plumbing system in their house in which connected pipes carried dirty water to underground sewage systems.

Harrapa: This ancient city is a good example of how urban planning was used. The city was built partly on top of mud-bricks to prevent flooding. Also, a thick wall about three and a half miles long surrounded the city itself. Streets were paved in a grid system and walls divided residential areas.

Culture of the Indus Valley
1) Language
  • Developed written language that remains impossible to decode.
2) Culture
  • Each of the cities had the same culture and religion. Social divisions in society were not great.
  • Economically, the cities were prosperous due to the fabrication of nonessential items. For example, children’s toys.
  • Little conflict existed, limited supply of weapons.
  • Animals were an important part of culture and were depicted on many artifacts.
3) Religion in Daily Life
  • This civilization is believed to be a theocracy in which religion played a major part of life.
  • Artifacts reveal close ties to Hindu culture.
4) Trade and Agriculture
  • Culture was based on agriculture.
  • Trade was people close to their own region and foreign settlements.
  • Stones, silver and gold, sometimes made into jewelry were the main basis of trade. Cotton was also popular since not many people knew know to grow it.
  • The Indus River provided transportation for trade in close regions and also linked to the sea for trade with distant peoples.

Decline of the Harrapan Civilization
Around 1750 BCE the Indus Valley cities began to decline. Shifts in tectonic plates provide evidence that earthquakes and floods contributed to the downfall. Trade decreases and many cities were destroyed. Environmental challenges prevented good harvests.


In 321 BCE, Chandragupta Maurya killed the unpopular Nanda King and claimed the throne. He proclaimed the Mauryan Empire, the first Indian empire. He united most of India by conquering all others with a vast army. He ran a bureaucratic-like government. Chandragupta relied on his adviser, Kautilya for advice. The Indian Empire was divided into four zones, each having a prince. Each of the four zones was made up of many local regions headed by officials who collected taxes and enforced law.

chanakya.gif(Chandragupta Maurya)

Chandragupta’s son ruled the empire for only 32 years before Asoka brought the Empire to its greatest heights.


Buddhism in India originated when Chandragupta’s grandson, Asoka became king of the Mauryan Empire in 269 BCE. He studied Buddhism and decided to rule by Buddha’s teaching of peace to all being’s. Asoka’s rules promised his subjects would be treated fairly and humanely. He built extensive roads and improved communication in India to uphold the well-being of the Indian people. When Asoka died in 232 BCE, his policies of nonviolence and toleration no longer controlled India.

Various regions in India challenged other for independence and control of the others. The kingdoms in central India gained independence. The Andhra Dynasty then dominated this region for hundreds of years. This dynasty benefited because of its central location, it was able to trade with many parts of the Indian subcontinent. Northern India experienced a period of new people arriving to escape political instability in other parts of Asia. These invaders disrupted Indian culture and introduced new culture. Southern India was at constant war because it was made up of three kingdoms that were never part of the Mauryan Empire.

After 500 years or turmoil, a leader came to power, his name was Chandra Gupta. He founded India’s second empire, the Gupta Empire. This period was characterized as a golden age of India and Hinduism was made an important part of life.


The founder of Buddhism was Siddhartha Gautama. As a child, he was isolated from the outside and kept in his father’s palace to uphold a prophecy that he would become a great ruler. Throughout his entire life he was always very curious about the outside world. When he was 29, he left the palace four times and discovered things he had never seen before. He witnessed the sick, the dead, the holy and the elderly. Siddhartha decided to spend the rest of his life searching for a way to end suffering.

In his search for enlightenment, or wisdom, Siddhartha attempted many different ways to reach enlightenment. After 49 days of meditation he understood the cause of suffering and became known as the Buddha. He then established four main understandings he had learned of in his search for enlightenment. They were named the four noble truths:

Four Noble Truths
1) Life is filled with suffering and sorrow.
2) The cause for suffering is people’s selfish desire for temporary pleasures of this world.
3) The way to end all suffering is to end all desires.
4) The way to overcome such desires and attain enlightenment is to follow the Eightfold Path, which is called the Middle Way between desires and self-denial.

The Eightfold Path: a guide to behavior, like a staircase. Those seeking enlightenment have to master one step at a time, this would occur over various lifetimes. If one followed the eightfold path, they accomplish nirvana. Nirvana is the release from selfishness and pain to end reincarnation.



Hinduism was developed slowly over time, and cannot be traced back to a specific founder unlike Buddhism, Christianity and many other religions. Hindus see religion as a way of liberating the soul from anything bad. Hindu teachers tried to interpret the meaning behind hymns from the Vedas. The Vedas is the holy book for Hindus. The discussions between the teachers and students about the hidden ideas were written down and became known as the Upanishads. In these discussions, the teacher and student try to describe how a person can reach moksha. Moksha is the state of complete liberation in which the cycle of re-birth, or reincarnation, ends. Karma, or the soul’s good or bad deeds follows from one reincarnation to another. Karma influences one’s caste, health, etc.
The world soul of Hinduism, or the Brahman is sometimes described as three different gods.

  • Brahma- the creator
  • Vishnu- the protector
  • Shiva- the destroyer


Hindus are free to choose the gods they worship, if any at all and the path they want to take to achieve moksha. There are three paths: 1) the path of right thinking, 2) the path of right action, and 3) the path of religious devotion. Most follow a family tradition.

The beliefs of Hinduism and the Caste System dominated every part of a Hindu’s life. They control what a person wears, eats and the way they ate, the people they could associate with, their cleanliness and their wealth. The Caste System is the social stratification of India in which the different castes, or divisions of social groups are hereditary, but can change between lives. This system was made by the Aryan settlers in India before 2000 BCE.

The Gupta Empire

The Gupta dynasty ruled the Gupta Empire of India from around 320 to 550.


The Gupta Empire covered almost all of Northern India and Eastern Pakistan. It also included parts of what is now west India and Bangladesh. The capital of the Gupta Empire was Pataliputra which is present day Patna.

gupta_dynasty.JPG(The Gupta Dynasty)

The Gupta Empire had many contributions throughout the years that it existed.

  • Advances in astronomy by using math.
  • Philosophers proposed the idea of a round earth, rotating on axis.
  • Horoscopes introduced by extensive knowledge of the solar system.
  • Created the game Chess.
  • Numerals based on the number 10.
  • Medical instruments and procedures invented by doctors.


The Gupta Empire was founded by Sri-Gupta. His reign was from about AD 240-280. After a man named Ghatotkacha ruled from AD 280-319.

Ghatotkacha had a son named Chandra Gupta who marred a princess named Kumardevi, and she held power in Magadha. With the help of an alliance with the Lichchhavis and a large dowry he expanded his power and conquered a lot of Magadha, Saketa and Pryaga. Chandra Gupta got control on the flow of northern India's commerce on the Ganges River which was the major flow of commerce in northern India. In 319, Chandra Gupta came up with a title for himself which was King of Kings, “Maharajadhiraja


Ten years later Chandra Gupta died and told his son named Samudra to rule. Samudragupta ruled for about forty-five years until his death in AD 380. His reign had much to do with the military, so there was constant warfare. There was war over the Ganges plain, he took over Bengal, different kingdoms paid him tribute (Assam and Nepal), and he conquered Ujjayini and Malava, as well as many others.

Chandragupta_II.JPG(Chandragupta II)

Following Samudrgupta was his son Chandra Gupta II which was around 380. He extended the empire through the west coast of India, where there were trading ports to increase the commerce of India. The Gupta Empire was prosperous in many ways:

  • Guptas made their own businesses and were prosperous.
  • Weathly and middle class people in the cities who enjoyed music, dancing, drinking wine and many other pleasures.
Chandragupta II passed away in 415 and his son Kumara Gupta I at first maintained the prosperity of India. The Gupta Empire however suffered invasions and after Kumara Gupta’s forty year rule, during the invasions his son Skanda Gupta fought off the invaders (Hephthalites). He became in charge in 455 after his father. After some time the Hephthalites returned where all Skanda Gupta was doing was fighting them for twenty-five years which was weakening the Gupta Empire. Skanda Gupta died in 267 and the empire collapsed eventually after not being able to withstand attacks.

Kumaragupta_I_coin.JPG(Kumaragupta I coin)

Skandagupta_coin.JPG(Skandagupta coin)

Religion in the Gupta Empire

Hinduism was very important in the Gupta Empire. It focused on the idea that suffering could be avoided and that by performing good deeds a person could achieve a higher reincarnation with the attempt to reach nirvana as their main goal. Hindus believed that in order to gain higher positions a person had to not complain about their caste status. In Hinduism a good father was obliged to have many children and keep his family happy as well as give a certain amount of wealth to the priests who performed many rituals. Buddhism and Jainism have influenced Hinduism in that both Jainism and Hinduism have much to do with the concern for the idea of suffering. Hinduism uses the Buddha as one of the ten incarnations of Vishnu which shows the relationship to Buddhism. The main gods that are praised in Hinduism are Vishnu (The Preserver), Shiva (The Destroyer) and Brahma (The Creator).


“ The Gupta Empire is considered by many scholars to be the "classical age" of Hindu and Buddhist art and literature. The Rulers of the Gupta Empire were strong supporters of developments in the arts, architecture, science, and literature. The Gupta Empire circulated a large number of gold coins, called dinars, with of Nalanda and Vikramasila. ”

Alexander the Great in India

The time period from the late 4th century BCE to the 1st century CE that was characterized by Greek achievement and a blending of Persian, Egyptian, Greek, and Indian cultures due to the empire of Alexander the Great was called Hellenism.


Alexander the Great, a Macedonian king, conquered northern India in 325 BC. One of Alexander the Greats battles in India was against Porus, a powerful Indian leader on July 326 B.C.E at the Hydaspes River. Alexander and his army crossed the river to meet Porus’ forces and Alexander captured him but allowed him to still govern his territory like he often did to the rulers he captured. Alexander the Great also gave an independent territory to Porus as a gift.


After the battle against Porus his next goal was to reach the Ganges River because he thought that it flowed into the Ocean.


His troops heard stories about Indian tribes that lived on the Ganges and as a result refused to go further east. Even though Alexander was upset about the refusals he accepted their concern and had them travel south down the Indus and Hydaspes rivers so they could possibly reach the southern part of the Ocean. During the trip they stopped at a village that was the territory to the Mali, an Indian war tribe. Alexander the Great became wounded many times from the attacks. Some Macedonian* officers rescued Alexander. Alexander and his troops in July 325 B.C.E reached the Indus and after returned home.

alexander_the_great_two.JPG(Alexander the Great)

(Indus and Hydaspes Rivers) Indus_and_Hydaspes_Rivers.JPG

* “Macedonia is an area of southeast Europe on the Balkan Peninsula roughly coextensive with ancient Macedon and including parts of modern-day Greece, Bulgaria, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. After the fall of the Alexandrian empire, it was held by Romans, Byzantines, Bulgars, Serbs, and Turks. The present division was largely determined after the Second Balkan War (1913).”


East India Company

The East India Company was at first a English joint-stock company that was made to trade with the East Indies. It ended up trading with China as well as the Indian subcontinent. The East India Company was granted a charter on December 31, 1600 by Elizabeth I under the name of Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies. Eventually the two companies came together to be called the United Company of Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies, also known as Honorable East India Company. The East India Company traded mainly indigo, cotton, silk, tea, opium, and salt.